Somehow Britain's famous red phone boxes said something about who we were as a nation. They were strong, permanent structures made from iron and boldly painted red. They had glass panes for there was confidence that law-abiding citizens would not break them. And they were a visible declaration of our belief in both new technology and communication.
Every community of any size had its own red phone box and you would also find them at remote crossroads in the countryside or in banks of half a dozen in busy city centres. They had pierced royal crowns beneath domed roofs and the word "telephone" appeared on all four sides - illuminated at night like a beacon.
The iconic K2 design was the brainchild of one of this country's leading architects - Giles Gilbert Scott back in the mid-nineteen twenties. From London, the phone boxes spread all over the kingdom like an army of red-coated guards. They were reassuring and as I say very solid on their concrete plinths. In contrast, so much that we now have in the modern world is flimsy, with limited lifespans - disposable, plastic, tissue-thin. The K2 phone kiosk was not meant to be like that. It was made to last in a time when nobody predicted personal portable communication devices.
This blogpost was inspired by the content of "Shadows and Light" this very morning so thanks to Steve Reed. Looking back through my "geograph" library, I see that I have taken more than fifty pictures of red phone boxes on my many rambles. Whenever I spot an old phone box, I am tempted to snap it in the belief that next time I walk there the box may be gone.
In practical terms, we do not need them any more. We hold them in affectionate regard partly because they have come to represent a golden time in our history. A simpler time between the wars, a time of carthorses, unlocked doors, endless summers and upright pianos when swallows cavorted over barley fields and Britannia still believed that it ruled the waves.
How sad to see them rusting now, paint peeling, wreathed in cobwebs, converted into toolsheds, showers, homes for defibrillators, community libraries, phones ripped out, "Telephone" no longer lit up, places where men urinate or prostitutes leave calling cards, places for litter and invading ivy. By these boxes memories were made - of love and friendship and family connections to faraway places. It's not the same now. The world has changed.
Phone kiosks from top to bottom: Elsham (Lincolnshire), Fenny Bentley (Derbyshire), Kersall (Nottinghamshire) South Wingfield (Derbyshire) Whaley Bridge (Derbyshire).
I always think of the world, of history, of anything really, as a pendulum that swings back and forth. Kindness and trust will return. At least I hope so.ReplyDelete
Stay safe my friend.
The pendulum swings but not for the red phone box Lily.Delete
If I had to come up with three English landmarks (apart from Picadilly Circus on a Friday afternoon) I'd say those red telephone boxes, black London Taxis, white cliffs of Dover, Heathrow Airport, Branston Pickle (one needs a Melton Mowbray pork pie as an excuse to eat it) and, naturally, Yorkshire Pudding. Not to forget Mince Pies and Knickerbocker Glory. I know that's more than my promised three but then since when doesn't my cup overspill. Oh, yes, and orderly queues. And saying sorry when someone stands on YOUR toes.ReplyDelete
Can't remember now when they started taking down the red boxes replacing them with those ghastly plastic abominations (now also largely defunct). Twenty five years or so ago? Councils sold them off to private buyers. At the time I had a large garden, a very large garden, and visions what plants I might raise in and around the red telephone booth. Alas, father-of-son (I believe him to be minimalist Kondo's twin) vetoed my idea. Yeah, whatever, anything to keep the peace.
I think the last call I made from a red telephone booth was in some village, just before hitting Bruton, Somerset, ca. 1997. The country side awash with glorious yellow rape seed fields. Hot summer's day. I don't even need a photo of that "red box" so seared is its image in my mind.
Smashing reflections on our red telephone boxes. Like you I have often mused about having a redundant box in our garden. I could store my garden tools in it. Probably just another daydream.Delete
I remember at least one post of yours where you showed us a picture of a red telephone box that had survived in the shape of a community library. I quite like that - it is still about communication, even though reading is a rather one-directional form of that, moving ideas and information from the writer to the reader and not the other way round. But reading can spark off proper communication, and therefore it is a fitting use.ReplyDelete
German telephone boxes were yellow for as long as I can remember. Then they turned grey and magenta until they largely disappeared altogether. Last time I happened to notice, my hometown (of 93,000 inhabitants) boasted two or three dotted around the city centre.
As you know, many English towns have a twin town in Germany. The small town next to Ludwigsburg, Kornwestheim, is twinned with Eastleigh. When the red boxes began to be sold off, Eastleigh gave one to Kornwestheim. It is odd to walk along a quiet residential road in a small German town and suddenly come across a proper English telephone box.
As usual - thoughtful and interesting input Meike. Sheffield is twinned with Bochum in Westphalia. There's a road here called Bochum Parkway.Delete
Sheffield is twinned with Bochum? Weep. I was born in Bochum. Not that I ever made a call.Delete
I will suggest to Sheffield's city fathers (and mothers) that a statue of your good self should be erected on the roundabout at the end of Bochum Parkway. How about a Wonderwoman pose?Delete
When I was about 18 I would arrange to phone my friend next Friday at 6.30. This would be by using the Public Telephone kiosk. Today we can email or even use our mobile phones (not you YP) to communicate. Like the post boxes they were green over here in the Emerald Isle.ReplyDelete
You had a friend? Wow! That's amazing Northsider.Delete
I fear that once the last of the generation who used the phone boxes to make calls from is gone, no one will care at all. Which is sad but also the way of the world. Lovely post, YP.ReplyDelete
You are probably right. Nostalgia works in strange ways.Delete
That is so sweet remembering the old telephone boxes. Now their gray replacements round here have either village libraries or defibrillators to warrant their stay in the landscape.ReplyDelete
And as I don't own a 'smart' phone, but a lousy mobile and the reception round here is also bad, I would not mind returning to the good old fashioned telephone exchanges.
I wouldn't mind returning to beacons on hilltops.Delete
Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire ... what about good old Yorkshire? I bet before Pay-On-Answer boxes you were unable to pass one without going in to press Button B.ReplyDelete
We have to give these lesser counties a little airtime - such is the generosity of The Master Race.Delete
Lesser county? How very dare you! Our sausages are far better than yours.Delete
Sounds like you are turning into a true yellowbelly Sue. My Shirley is also a yellowbelly.Delete
Wow -- you turned this post around quickly! LOLReplyDelete
To me, the important thing is that the memories are still being made -- people are just using their private phones now. I never developed much sentimentality about pay phones. Of course, in the States, they're less visually iconic and more purely functional. (And now, equally obsolete.)
I think it's great that people are maintaining some of the boxes and using them for new purposes. I would hate to see them disappear entirely.
I turned it round quickly as your post inspired me young man!Delete
Familiar with the red Telephone box too.. but they are a scarce landmark these days in Australia and have become quite the collectors piece for land owners along with the red steel government Postboxes .. both prized possessions if you can afford one.ReplyDelete
Hope you are feeling well Yorkie.. your fortnight duration after the Pub evening would be up eh?
It is sobering to think how much technology has changed not only the substance of our world, but the very face of it. As you point out these telephone boxes were iconic symbols of Britain, perhaps especially so for those of us who visit from other lands. When that will be possible again is anyone's guess!ReplyDelete