Phone Box Phantom

I am trying to remember the article I’ve read in the last few days about how BT, now that most people seem to have mobile phones, is quietly removing phone kiosks from our streets rather than mend them after being vandalised.

I guess I can sort of see the argument, but I should be extremely sad to see those fabulous old cast iron monoliths that are still dotted around Greenwich and which add such character go the way of the last round back in the 1980s where they were replaced by nasty clear plastic hoods with all the sound-proofing qualities of a loudhailer and souless modern pastiches of the classic Superman call box.

They’re odd in the way that we hardly notice them while they’re around, but if they were to go we would lose something really rather special. I’ve become a bit of a Phantom Phone Box Anorak in the last few days, ever since I found out that English Heritage does occasionally list phone boxes. I would argue that Greenwich, being a World Heritage Site, needs all the heritage it can get – and that means 20th Century classics as well as stuff from hundreds of years ago.

I’ve been learning a bit about phone boxes. No – stay with me – it’s quite interesting being a callbox-spotter, honest.

The first type is the
  • K1 – it’s from 1921 and is distinctive in that it’s concrete and has a red wooden door. I don’t think that we have any because apparently it was universally hated and was replaced by the
  • K2 – This was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in 1924 as the result of a competition. It’s neo-classical, in cast iron and with a segmented vaulted roof, with reeded strips to the corner. The crown in the top is perforated and set in the upper faces of the canopy. It has six rows of small panes of glass in each side. This is eligible for listing, as far as I can tell. The one at the end of Whitworth St (above) appears to be a K2, so it will be well worth a punt at trying to get it listed (if it isn’t already…) The street would be a sadder place without it.
  • K6 – is the most common kind and dates from King George V’s jubilee in 1935. It’s painted red overall and the crown is in relief, not perforated. If you’re getting really technical, it has 8 strips of glass each side, with little margin lights. English Heritage needs a good reason to list these because quite a few of them have survived, but if BT are busily removing them this will not always be the case.

EH like particularly kiosks “closely associated with other listed buildings.” So I reckon we could put up a case for, for example, the one on the South-west corner of Greenwich Park, near Rangers House. (I can’t remember which one that is, offhand, I’m not THAT much of a geek – yet…) and maybe even the one (can’t remember what that is either) outside East Greenwich Library (which is, I believe, Grade II listed.) They will also consider boxes that are “playing a key part in a notable town landscape.” Maybe boxes within conservation areas will stand a chance.

I think it’s worth having a go here. These lovely little examples of British street furniture are so much part of our world that we don’t always notice them. I was going to give you a list of them, but realised that I just tend to walk straight past them. All I would know if they went was that I would feel I were missing something.

Maybe we can compile a list of boxes between us then do some kind of class-action appeal? Is there a lovely old K1, K2 K3 (unlikely, this is another concrete affair) or K6 at the bottom of your road? let me know. I guess if we could come up with some cunning new use for them – off the top of my head maybe some kind of top-up station for mobile phones, BT might be a bit keener to keep them without listing. Of course, you might totally disagree with me and think that the sooner these unofficial pissoirs are off the street the better. Now there’s an idea – they could be plumbed-in and actually made into official pissoirs (sorry…)

In the meanwhile, if anyone wants to look at English Heritage’s policy on Listing,

is as good a place to start as any.

Remember. BT will not warn us that it’s removing these little classics – you’ll just come home one evening and your local lovely bit of vernacular heritage will be gone.

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