The History of The Telephone Kiosk


History

In 1921, the first standard kiosk appeared, the K1. Two years later, the GPO held a competition to design a new kiosk. In 1926 the chosen design appeared, Giles Gilbert Scott's K2. The K2 was too big and too expensive for mass production so the K1 Mk 236 was introduced. 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.

Introduced in 1927, the K4 was intended to be a 24-hour post office with a stamp machine and letterbox added to the back. It was nicknamed the Vermillion Giant and was a fantastic failure with only 50 produced. In 1934, a K5 was produced, made of plywood as a temporary kiosk for use at exhibitions and fairs etc.

With problems occurring with the K3, 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 K1 and K3 mixed with the solidness of the K2 and most importantly, the small size and elegance the Post Office were looking for. The K6 was widely used to replace K1's and K3's. The K6's were given to every town or village with a post office , regardless of cost. As a result, more than 8,000 new boxes were installed by the end of 1936.

In the 1960's the Post Office were considering a new design. Neville 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 five were made.

In 1965, another competition 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 one 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. Vandalism was always a problem with telephone boxes and during the 1970's 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.

The K6 Red Phone Box

In 1935 the K6 Red Phone Box (kiosk number six) was designed to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V. K6 was the first red phone box to be used extensively outside of London, and many thousands were deployed in virtually every town and city, replacing most of the existing kiosks and establishing thousands of new sites. It has become a British icon, although it was not universally loved at the start. The red colour caused particular local difficulties and there were many requests for less visible colours. The red that is now much loved was then anything but, and the Post Office was forced into allowing a less strident grey with red glazing bars scheme for areas of natural and architectural beauty. Ironically, some of these areas that have preserved their telephone boxes have now painted them red.

The K6 was the most prolific kiosk in the UK and its growth, from 1935, can be seen from the BT archives:

1925 - 1,000 (K1 Only)
1930 - 8,000 (K2 and K3 Red Phone Boxes added)
1935 - 19,000 (K6 Red Phone Box introduced)
1940 - 35,000
1950 - 44,000
1960 - 65,000
1970 - 70,000 (K8 Red Phone Box introduced in 1968)
1980 - 73,000

K6 Red Phone Box Facts

  • The K6 or "Jubilee Kiosk" commemorates the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King George V.
  • Kiosk No 6 was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and Bankside Power Station now Tate Modern
  • Sir Giles also designed the K2 and K3. The K4 kiosk was developed by the Post Office Engineering Department based on the K2 design.
  • The K6 was the first kiosk installed nationwide and the standard kiosk across the UK until the introduction of the K8 in 1968
  • The K6 kiosk is made from cast iron with a teak door. It is 8'3" tall (2.4 metres), 3' wide (0.92 metres) and weighs three quarters of a ton (762 kilograms)
  • The K6 design was approved by the Post Office and the Royal Fine Arts Commission, which endorsed "Post Office red" as the standard colour
  • Although Scott agreed to the use of "Post Office red" he was never a supporter of the colour and initially suggested the outside of the kiosk be painted silver and the inside greenish-blue. He strongly urged rural kiosks be painted dove-grey
  • Two K6 kiosks were installed in France during 1995, for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings
  • Two red K6's have been transformed into combined payphones and cash machines