As boring as it sounds, the English Phone Box has become internationally recognised as one of the symbols of Britain, almost as synonymous with London (in Hollywood) as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
Yet as the years go by, more and more of the icons are taken off the streets, mostly because of vandalism and lack of profitability, in an era where mobile phones are used more and more because of the portable convenience they are.
In the early 1900′s, the telephone started to become more of a commonplace piece of technology, and was available at many shops and places where often it would be operated by an attendant.
There was no standard centralised designed, with each town having its own type of kiosk.
In 1921 the United Kingdom Post Office produced and distributed the K1, (which stood for Kiosk No.1), a rather elegant red and white booth with highlighted brackets around the window panes and a Elizabethan looking metal decoration on top.
However, the London Metropolitan Boroughs resisted the design and efforts by the Post Office to place them on the streets, so in 1924 a competition was set up with an objective to find a design that the fussy London Boroughs (meaning areas of a city) would permit. The Royal Fine Art Commission, after some fuss about building materials and various other design and architectural issues, decide to limit the competition so that only three respected architects could submit designs. The eventual selected design was from Giles Gilbert Scott, which the Post Office decided (against his wishes) to make it out of Cast Iron and paint it Red for visibility. It was a success and 1200 were produced.
Over the years, later attempts were made at phone boxes, including an effort to integrate the phone box and a letter box, and a move back to creamy-white boxes. The most popular design, called the K6, had over 70,000 produced and resembles closest the original K2, only less expensive and less prone to vandals.
Nowadays, however, with over 95% of households in the UK having a built-in landline, there seems little point economically in having phone boxes anywhere, what with their cost, size and expense of maintenance. Most of the surviving old fashioned boxes are in London and other touristy and traditional parts of Britain, but are vastly out-ranked by the ugly standardised “glass and steel” BT boxes, called the KX range, often with a numerical classification (such as KX-100). Even the name sounds horrible. However they still come in handy for study-abroad exchange students and people with family abroad, because international calls from them are cheaper than using a mobile phone, although even that trend seems set to die with the recent surge of internet telephony, such as Skype, which can be utilized without the need for having to step outside.
Nowadays I find they’re most often missed when it’s raining like only it can rain in England, and you’ve forgotten your umbrella.
Photo of London phone boxes by Spoungeworthy Redux