The red phone box is a British icon along with London cabs and red buses. They will also be seen in the current and ex-British colonies world wide including Malta, Gibraltar, Bermuda and the Channel Islands. The primary standard telephone box in the UK was produced by the Post Office. It was made from concrete, painted cream with red glazing bars, and was designated as ‘K1’ (Kiosk No. 1).
The K1 design was so disliked that in 1924 a competition was run by the Royal Fine Arts Commission to design a kiosk. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design was selected, made out of cast iron and the first red telephone box, often called ‘K2’ was born. In 1925 there have been 1000 K1’s within the UK.
From 1926 it was deployed in and around London whilst K1’s were being distributed elsewhere. The color red was chosen to make them easy to identify and the unique wooden prototypes were placed into public service at undercover sites around London – the only known survivor is still in its original location at the entrance arch to the Royal Academy. All K2 kiosks still in existence on the streets at the moment are preserved as listed buildings.
‘K3’ was again designed by Gilbert Scott. It was introduced in 1929, constructed from concrete as this was cheaper to make use of and was intended for nationwide use. This was painted cream with red glazing bars, just like the K1.
‘K4’ was designed in 1927 and incorporated a post box and machines for purchasing stamps, however only 50 were built.
In 1934 the ‘K5’ was fabricated from plywood and designed to be assembled and disassembled easily for exhibitions.
In 1935 the ‘K6’ was designed to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V. It was the primary red kiosk to be distributed outside of London. It was deployed to virtually every town and city, being used to replace most of the present kiosks in addition to for 1000’s of recent sites.
In 1952 Queen Elizabeth II decided to alter the symbolic ‘Tudor crown’ as a symbol of her government and instead decided to use an actual representation of the crown used for British Coronations – the St Edwards Crown. This began to seem on the K6’s.
The red colour wasn’t universally accepted – plenty of locals wanted a less visible colour. In response, the Post Office agreed to paint the telephone boxes, in areas of natural and architectural beauty, grey with red glazing bars. Also, Kingston upon Hull was the only area within the UK that did not have red telephone boxes – it’s because their phones came under the control of the Corporation of Hull rather than the Post Office. Their phones were painted cream and did not have the crown on them.
In 1959 architect Neville Conder was commissioned to design the new box – the ‘K7’. This however, never went past prototype stage. The ‘K8’ was designed by Bruce Martin in 1968. It was a modular design with a single pane of glass – and was also the last of the red kiosks. It was also painted a slightly redder ‘Poppy Red’. By the 1980’s there have been 73,000 red phone boxes in existence.
Red phone boxes are now highly wanted as collector items. K6 replica flat packs are still being made and sold to the bar and restaurant trades. Those red telephone boxes still in situ are often restored to retain our heritage.
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