Ringing the changes

Atraditional red phone box is to be auctioned tomorrow with a guide price of £45,000. The K2 Kiosk is located at the west end of Austin Friars on its junction with Cophall Avenue and Throgmorton Avenue. It is outside the offices of BlackRock who once had George Osborne as a director, as his colleague David Cameron bought a shepherd’s hut to write his memoirs, George might require its nine square feet.

Between 1926 and 1935 1,700 examples of the K2 were installed with the total number of surviving K2 kiosks being only about 224 in the UK.

In addition to this one, there are four more in Central London, all expected to go for around £40,000 – £45,000.

As iconic as my black cab, the K2 telephone boxes have since 1936 been an intrinsic part of London’s urban landscape. But who actually uses telephone boxes these days or even notices them? With almost universal mobile phone ownership, you could say that red telephone boxes are hidden in plain sight. Their original function has been overtaken by several uses its designer couldn’t have imagined possible.

Their use as a rather well-designed notice booth for call-girls (or boys) is now falling by the wayside as they find more effective ways of advertising their services and using it as a public urinal has its limitations, not least that its cramped compartment renders the user in danger of watering their shoes.

With brilliant originality they named it K2 for Kiosk No. 2, it was, of course, preceded by K1 which was constructed in concrete. The new design – this time in cast iron – by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had won a Post Office competition three years earlier and started a whole series of similar-looking telephone boxes.

Its distinctive domed roof and all-over red make it the prototype of the classic K6, which was introduced nearly ten years later. Ventilation was provided via the crown in the roof section – it was made up of small, round holes!

Legend has it that the dome was Scott’s homage to the 18th Century architect Sir John Soane, R.A. (1753-1837) whose family tomb is surmounted by a very similar feature. Unlike the tops of modern British phone booths, Scott’s Soanian dome is a proper roof, dealing effectively with rain and litter while also being aesthetically pleasing.
But what makes K2 special is that it was mostly restricted to the London area and considerably bigger than its successors.

In London kiosks positioned by tourist locations have survived BT’s desire to replace them with utility ‘shower cabinets’ and stand as an iconic feature of London, for many kiosks, their purpose now would seem only to be as a photo opportunity for visitors and Japanese girls modelling bridal wear.

Many entrepreneurs have found a new use for these beautiful structures, and for the remaining unsold kiosks, the London Tourist Board should come to an arrangement with BT to pay for their maintenance and cleaning, covered in grime they’re a disgrace.

I am indebted to wallyg at Flickr for permission to use his photo of K2; his pages contain a wealth of images and background information on London.

2 thoughts on “Ringing the changes”

  1. London without red phone boxes loses part of its soul, along with tradition. Where I live in Norfolk, there are no public phones of any type, or colour. If you break down in the countryside and have no mobile, you face a very long walk.
    Best wishes, Pete.


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