The iconic red telephone box as originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott almost 90 years ago remains a familiar site around Britain and elsewhere. There are estimated to be around 10,000 traditional red telephone boxes across the UK. Their numbers have been declining over the years as they have been replaced or removed but many people are keen to ensure that they retain a place in our towns and villages.
Over 2,000 booths have been “adopted” by groups within their local community and put to a variety of uses. Such is their popularity that a phone box in the village of Marden was recently “twinned” with another in Thurlestone! If this might be going a little too far, the affection that some people hold for the red phone box should not be underestimated.
Once adopted, the phone box is no longer in service but there has been no shortage of ideas to put them to good use. The Marden kiosk is used by villagers as a “swap shop” for everything from books to vegetables. The idea of a “min-library” has proved particularly successful as locals can drop off or exchange their books rather than have them sit gathering dust.
Other uses include tourist information kiosks or just a resting place for walkers. Some have even been converted to shower cubicles in private homes and their value can range from £1,500 to £2,500. They have also been the inspiration for artwork.
In Kingston upon Thames, a display of old boxes have been used to form a work of art resembling a row of fallen dominoes. At Settle in North Yorkshire, the locals have established a small Gallery on the Green in the old box adopted by the Parish Council. The Gallery has featured well-known exhibitors including Tessa Bunney, Martin Parr and Mariana Cook. Its most famous contributor was Brian May, with his stereoscopic photography show ‘A Village Lost and Found’.
The condition of the boxes can vary but residents of the village of Brookwood in Surrey went to great lengths to restore their old broken down box with the held of sponsorship and donations. They produced a detailed blog of the restoration online.
The distinctive red phone box can be found as far afield as the University of Oklahoma, where they continue to serve their original purpose. There is even one outside the British Embassy in Washington! They can also be found painted green, in the centre of Kinsale in County Cork and in St. John’s, Antigua. Their presence stretches as far as Malta, Antigua, Barbados and Cyprus.
This box was accidentally knocked over by a farm vehicle in the tiny clachan of Elrig in south west Scotland and faces possible removal. Efforts are being made to secure it’s future and it will be exciting to see what function it may serve. The red phone box may be seen as a symbol of our past but it seems we are not prepared to let it go just yet!