As my husband and I walked throughout the Cotswolds for 12 days, I thought that the contrast between the iconic red telephone box and red post office box, and the equally iconic honey-colored stone of the Cotswolds, made for some artistic photographs. Little did I realize that I was actually photographing a piece of valued history – a piece that is being preserved by the British in unique ways.
Have you actually ever wondered why the telephone boxes throughout Britain are painted red? – “Currant red,” to be exact, as “defined by a British Standard.” – It is because historically, the telephone boxes were introduced by the General Post Office whose mail boxes were already painted red. And well, red was used for the mail boxes because it is a “highly visible color.” So it was concluded that the telephone boxes should also be highly visible. And they certainly are!
The telephone boxes have been red since 1924, when Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a “scholar of classical architecture,” known for “designing cathedrals, bridges, and power plants,” designed the iconic shape of the telephone box as we all have come to recognize. With a “low curved dome at the top,” and some with “fluted columns down the sides,” these telephone boxes are said to resemble an “ancient temple.” Sir Scott originally intended for the telephone boxes to be painted silver, but again, the General Post Office decided on the “currant red” color.
Also known as Kiosks, the first telephone box was actually created in 1921, and was known as Kiosk No. 1, which had a couple of variations. The 1924 creation is Kiosk No. 2, and six other telephone boxes of various designs, and made of different materials, have evolved through to Kiosk No. 8 in 1968. Then the modernization began in 1985, losing much of the red. Of course, with the advent of the cell phone, the usage of the telephone box as a pay phone has dramatically declined.
Today, many boxes are empty of the telephone that used to be inside.
However, while the numbers of telephone boxes have declined from “92,000 in 2002 down to 48,000 in 2014,” the remaining boxes were actually voted by the British public as one of the top ten “favorite design icons since 1900.” Moreover, a few thousand are actually listed on Britain’s register of historic places, as historic buildings. They are popular, and people still want them around. Including the tourists, who love taking pictures of them (as I did), and with them. The most photographed red telephone box is the one in front of Big Ben.
Back in 2008, British Telecom, who eventually took over the boxes from the General Post Office, introduced an “Adopt a Kiosk” program. Through this way of preserving the telephone boxes, local communities were able to purchase a box for only one British Pound. Then they could then use them in a variety of unique ways. A location for a Public Access Defibrillator has been one of the most common uses. Brilliant!
The use that I loved the most is the one that we saw in the hamlet of Calcot in the Cotswolds, which included a combination of the “Calcot Visitor Information” area, complete with the hamlet’s history and some photographs, as well as a miniature library/book exchange. Brilliant, brilliant! In fact, the 1500th telephone box that was adopted was in the village of Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds.
Some other unique uses for the iconic red telephone box are a place for an ATM, as art galleries, as notice boards, and if you turn one on its side, and add some cushions, I have seen a picture of one as a couch. A red couch.
As we were walking through the Cotswolds, I found red telephone boxes, as well as red post office boxes, next to the Post Office itself, next to park benches, and near the historic churches of the Cotswolds.
Indeed, the highly visible currant red of the telephone box and post office box definitely went well with the honey-colored stone of the Cotswolds!
I would like to acknowledge three websites where I obtained most information for this blog:
The Telephone Box.co.uk
Some Brits Not Ready To Say ‘Ta-Ra’ To Iconic Telephone Box by Ari Shapiro, NPR
Red Telephone Box, Wikipedia