This page gives a brief history of the telephone box from its origins to the present day


The history of the public telephone actually begins in the late 1880's but it was not until the early 1900's that telephone kiosks started to appear. Many early kiosks were silence cabinets which were commonly inside shops & other public places and had attendants who would do most of the work for you. Of the street kiosks, there were many different designs, often localised to specific towns, Birmingham & Norwich each producing their own designs.
In 1921, the first standard kiosk would appear, the 'K1'. It was adapted from the Birmingham model and would later be redesigned with a different window frame. Many places would only have the kiosks in their own colours and in some cases, modifications were made to boxes. A well known example of this was Eastbourne, which had 2 K1 kiosks with thatched roofs.


In 1923, the GPO held a competition to design a new kiosk. Several designs from companies and architects were entered. It was 1926 when the chosen design appeared, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's K2. The new design had one feature that would become fluent in the telephone box, a domed roof. It is said that the idea came from a lantern at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The K2 was too big and too expensive for mass production so the K1 Mk 236 was introduced in 1927 and produced throughout the country.


The GPO still wanted a new design and asked Sir Giles to produce another design, in 1929 the K3 appeared, a smaller, concrete version of the K2. The kiosk was a success with 12,000 appearing over the country. However, cheap concrete proved a problem and the boxes started to crack. Today, only a handful of the original K3s survive.


The next kiosk to be introduced was the K4 in 1927. It was intended to be a 24 hour post office with a stamp machine and letter box added to the back of what looked like a stretched K2. It was nicknamed the Vermillion Giant and was a fantastic failure. Only 50 were produced.

K1mk234
(Crich Tramway Museum)
K2
(Mount Pleasant, Islington)
K3mk1
(London Zoo)
K4
(Amberley Museum)


In 1934, a K5 was produced, made of plywood as a temporary kiosk for use at exhibitions and fairs etc.. It was only in the 1990s that the designs of this box were rediscovered and it is not known if any originals still survive as the one which stands at the National Telephone Kiosk Collection at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings is a mockup from the original designs.


With the K3s still at large and problems occuring with them, a new cast iron box was needed and in 1936 the K6 appeared for the first time on the streets. The kiosk was perfect, it had all the good points of the K1s and K3s mixed with the solidness of the K2 and most importantly, the small size and elegance the GPO were looking for. It did have vandal problems though, so in 1939 a Mk 2 design came out with improved features to make them less of an easy target for the vandal. The K6 was widely used to replace K1s and K3 and by the end of production, there were nearly 70,000 K6s in Britain. Many areas didn't approve of the red and so were allowed to paint them in alternative colour schemes (although these days, most of them have been returned to red!).


Now into the 1960's and the GPO were considering a new design. Nevill Conder's design for a K7 was chosen. It was made in aluminium and was tested in 1962. The K7 was not adopted as a new design and only 5 were made.


In 1965, another competiton was held to design a new kiosk, the K8. Bruce Martin was the winning architect and his design appeared in 1968. It was a very new design to the previous ones. The main differences were that the glazing bars had gone to be replaced with just 1 big window on each side of the kiosk and the domed roof was replaced with a much flatter design. Nearly 4,000 K8s would appear, some of which replaced K6s. For a brief time, the K8 was painted yellow but this didn't last and they were soon returned to red.

K5
(Avoncroft Museum)
K6
(Highmoor Cross, Oxfordshire)
K7
(Avoncroft Museum)
K8
(Camerton, Somerset)


Vandalism was always a problem with telephone boxes and during the 70s British Telecom made another modification to the K6, many kiosks had their glazing bars ripped out and had a single piece of glass put in like the K8. Another design was tried out for areas where kiosks suffered extreme vandalism (boxes set on fire and some ripped out of the ground altogether!) called the Booth 7A commonly know as the Oakham as it resembled the Old Oak ham tin. The design was essentially a telephone bolted onto a yellow hood. The design proved to be a success in the areas it was used.


Things were still to change, over the next few years many different designs of telephone kiosk were looked at but none chosen as kiosks for the country. In 1985, the most radical change was to happen, British Telecom announced there would be a major improvement to the public telephone service and introduced the 'KX' range. A selection of new designs that were to be the most perfect telephone kiosks you could imagine. The most commonly used design was the KX100 which was the kiosk design but also introduced were the KX200, a hooded unit, the KX300, a triangular unit designed to be used in groups and the KX410 & 420, phones on posts. Nobody could deny the fuctionality of the designs as their main objectives were to be easy for disabled people to use and very easy to maintain, but everybody could deny the attractiveness of the designs. In the late 90s, BT made an attempt to win the public over to the KX range by introducing the KXPlus which is basically a KX100 with a red bar round the sides and a domed red roof. The K6 was widely replaced with KXs and there was much uproar at the loss of the classic kiosk. Today, many places are being reunited with K6s as a scheme mainly in the mid to late 90s to reinstall the kiosks took place.


Another factor in the story of the telephone box is that particularly in the mid to late 90s, several companies challenged BT's telephone boxes by bringing out their own new and perfect kiosks.


BTs KXPlus range are now appearing in blue with Broadband access in them which could be the last throw of the dice to save the telephone box. The idea is good but the practicality isn't, you are unable to print out your internet findings in these boxes as a printer and paper would create mess. The latest attempt to save the under threat telephone boxes has been to install a cash machine on 1 side and have the telephone on the other.
In 2007 BT teamed up with JCDecaux to try a new design, the ST6. The unit has a telephone on one side and a scrolling advertising board on the reverse. The idea being the advertising would pay for the running of the phone, they started appearing mid 2007.


With BT's removal scheme very much at large lots of communities were unhappy at their classic kiosks being removed. This didn't go unnoticed by BT so in 2009 they introduced the "Adopt A Kiosk" scheme where for the fee of £1, they would hand over the kiosk to the local council and remove the telephone equipment. Alternatively, if the desire was for the equipment to stay, councils could "Sponsor A Kiosk". Many communities have taken up the opportunity to adopt their kiosks and are now using them for a wide variety of things. One of the most popular used for adopted kiosks is as book exchanges, another is art galleries.


Many tried hard but never got close to designing that kiosk that would become worldly recognised and used on countless items of London merchandise and treasured garden ornaments etc... as Sir Giles Glibert Scott did.

 

KX100
(Brenchley, Kent)
KX200
(Epsom, Surrey)
KX300
(Ruckinge, Kent)
KX410
(Corhampton, Hampshire)
       
KX420
(Near Eridge, Kent)
KXplus
(Shirley, Croydon)
ST6 front
(Sevenoaks, Kent)
ST6 back
(Sevenoaks, Kent)
       
 
KX520
(County Mall, Crawley, West Sussex)
Booth 7A "Oakham"
(Stradsett, Norfolk)
Modified K6
(Godstone, Surrey)