Red telephone box

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An example of a K6, the most common red telephone box model, photographed in London in 2012. Like most K6s in central London, this example is a modern 'heritage' installation. There are today far more 'red boxes' in tourist city locations than there ever were originally.

The red telephone box, a telephone kiosk for a public telephone designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was a familiar sight on the streets of the United Kingdom, Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

Despite a reduction in their numbers in recent years, the traditional British red telephone kiosk can still be seen in many places throughout the UK, and in current or former British colonies around the world. The colour red was chosen to make them easy to spot.

From 1926 onwards, the fascias of the kiosks were emblazoned with a prominent crown, representing the British government. The red phone box is often seen as a British cultural icon throughout the world.[1] Although production of the traditional boxes ended with the advent of the KX series in 1985, many still stand in Britain.

The paint colour used most widely today is known as "currant red" and is defined by a British Standard, BS381C-Red539.[2] This slightly brighter red was introduced with the K8 model in 1968, but went on to be used across the estate on previous models too. Hence, for complete historical accuracy, any kiosks in pre-1968 settings should really be painted in the previous, and slightly darker, shade BS381C-Red538.

Design history

File:Kiosk K1.JPG
Replica K1 Mk236 telephone kiosk in Tintinhull, Somerset


The first standard public telephone kiosk introduced by the United Kingdom Post Office was produced in concrete in 1920 and was designated K1 (Kiosk No.1). This design was not of the same family as the familiar red telephone boxes. Very few high-quality examples remain. One early example is located in Trinity Market in Kingston-upon-Hull, where it is still in use. Most survivors are the later (1928) version, with full height glazing - the Mk236.


The red telephone box was the result of a competition in 1924 to design a kiosk that would be acceptable to the London Metropolitan Boroughs which had hitherto resisted the Post Office's effort to erect K1 kiosks on their streets.

The Royal Fine Art Commission was instrumental in the choice of the British standard kiosk. Because of widespread dissatisfaction with the GPO's design, the Metropolitan Boroughs Joint Standing Committee organised a competition for a superior one in 1923, but the results were disappointing. The Birmingham Civic Society then produced a design of its own—in reinforced concrete—but it was informed by the Director of Telephones that the design produced by the Office of the Engineer-in-Chief was preferred; as the Architects’ Journal commented, 'no one with any knowledge of design could feel anything but indignation with the pattern that seems to satisfy the official mind.' The Birmingham Civic Society did not give up and, with additional pressure from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Town Planning Institute and the Royal Academy, the Postmaster General was forced to think again; and the result was that the RFAC organised a limited competition.

The organisers invited entries from three respected architects and, along with the designs from the Post Office and from The Birmingham Civic Society, the Fine Arts Commission judged the competition and selected the design submitted by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.[3] The invitation had come at the time when Scott had been made a trustee of Sir John Soane's Museum: his design for the competition was in the classical style, but topped with a dome reminiscent of Soane's self-designed mausoleums in St Pancras' Old Churchyard and Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. The original wooden prototypes of the entries were later put into public service at under-cover sites around London. That of Scott's design is the only one known to survive and is still where it was originally placed, in the left entrance arch to the Royal Academy.

The Post Office chose to make Scott's winning design in cast iron (Scott had suggested mild steel) and to paint it red (Scott had suggested silver, with a "greeny-blue" interior) and, with other minor changes of detail, it was brought into service as the Kiosk No.2 or K2. From 1926 K2 was deployed in and around London and the K1 continued to be erected elsewhere.


K3, introduced in 1929, again by Giles Gilbert Scott, was similar to K2 but was constructed from concrete and intended for nationwide use. Cheaper than the K2, it was still significantly more costly than the K1 and so that remained the choice for low-revenue sites. The standard colour scheme for both the K1 and the K3 was cream, with red glazing bars. A rare surviving K3 kiosk can be seen beside the Penguin Beach exhibit at ZSL London Zoo, where it has been protected from the weather by the projecting eaves and recently restored to its original colour scheme.


K4 (designed by the Post Office Engineering Department in 1927) incorporated a post box and machines for buying postage stamps on the exterior. Only a single batch of 50 K4 kiosks were built. Some contemporary reports said the noise of the stamp-machines in operation disturbed phone-users, and the rolls of stamps in the machines became damp and stuck together in wet weather. This has been widely repeated (including by Stamp [4]) but Johannessen [5] chose not to, having found no evidence to support the story.


K5 was a metal-faced plywood construction introduced in 1934 and designed to be assembled and dismantled and used at exhibitions. It is not known how many were produced, and there is little evidence they ever reached more than prototype stage. A fully detailed replica (constructed using the original drawings) can be seen at The Avoncroft Museum (Bromsgrove, Worcestershire), as part of the National Telephone Kiosk Collection.

A K6 (left) and K2 (right) together in St John's Wood High Street


In 1935 the K6 (kiosk number six) was designed to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V. It was consequently sometimes known as the "Jubilee" kiosk. It went into production in 1936.[6] The K6 was the first red telephone kiosk to be extensively used outside London, and many thousands were deployed in virtually every town and city, replacing most of the existing kiosks and establishing thousands of new sites. In 1935 there had been 19,000 public telephones in the UK: by 1940, thanks to the K6, there were 35,000.[7]

The design was again by Scott, and was essentially a smaller and more streamlined version of the K2, intended to be produced at a considerably cheaper cost, and to occupy less pavement space. The principal differences between the two designs were:

  • Size. The K6 was 8 feet 3 inches (2.51 m) tall and weighed 13.5 cwt (0.69 tonnes). This compared with 9 feet 3 inches (2.82 m) and 1.25 tons (1.27 tonnes) for the K2.
  • Elements of the design were simplified and streamlined, in keeping with the "moderne" aesthetics of the 1930s. The Grecian fluting was removed from the door and window surrounds, and the previously separate pediment and frieze were merged.
  • The Crown motif (see below), which had previously been pierced through the ironwork to give ventilation, was now embossed in bas-relief. A new, separate ventilation slot was provided.
  • A new glazing pattern was introduced. The door and two glazed sides of the K2 each had 18 equal-sized panes of glass arranged in 6 rows of 3. In the K6 the number of rows was increased to 8, and the central column of panes was made considerably wider than those to either side. This improved visibility, and gave a more horizontal appearance to the windows, again in keeping with "moderne" principles.[8]

The K6 has since become a British icon, but 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 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.

Kiosk installation: the early years

With continued demand for K6 kiosks, siting them was more widespread than ever before. A purpose built kiosk trailer was designed from 1953 to reduce the running costs of cranes.[9]

Numbers installed

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

Period Number Notes
1925– 1,000 (K1 Only)
1930– 8,000 (K2 & K3 added)
1935– 19,000 (K6 introduced)
1940– 35,000
1950– 44,000
1960– 64,000
1970– 70,000 (K8 introduced in 1968)
1980– 73,000


The K1 and the later K3 concrete kiosks were produced at various (and largely unrecorded locations), around the country. This made quality control and supervision of the manufacturing process difficult, when compared to the GPO's experience with cast-iron posting boxes, and was an important aspect of the GPO's move towards cast-iron telephone kiosks. Over the years, five foundries were involved in this work for the Post Office - Lion Foundry in Kirkintilloch and MacFarlane (Saracen Foundry) who both produced batches of the K2, the K6 and the K8, and Carron Ironworks near Falkirk, who did likewise and also produced the single batch of K4 kiosks. The other two manufacturers were McDowall Steven and Bratt Colbran, both of which produced only realively small batches of the pre-War Mk1 K6. Although many kiosks have been fitted with replacement backs over recent years, unmodified examples generally have the identity of their manufacturer marked on a plate on the outside at the bottom of their back panel. The only exception to this are the few Mk1 models made by Bratt Colbran, which are anonymous in this respect. An supplementary way of identifying the manufacturer is by means of casting marks on the various component parts - i.e. LF, CC, MF, MS and BC - which were used to various extents over the years. A more consistent, and thus fairly reliable, manufacturer mark can be found at about shoulder height on the inner face of the back panel. These, whilst to some extent variable in detail, generally identify not just the manufacturer but also the precise model of kiosk. Up to around 1949, the back-plate marks also include the year of manufacture. The more recently erected non-BT K6 kiosks (which are generally painted black) are for the most part new castings, sourced from new manufacturers.


File:K6 telephone box crown diffrences.jpg
K6s, Charing Cross Road, London, showing different styles of crown: the Tudor Crown, in use 1936–1953 (left); and St Edward's Crown on separate plate, 1955 or later (right).

From 1926 onwards, the fascias of Post Office kiosks were emblazoned with a prominent crown, representing the British government (of which the Post Office was an agency). The design was initially the "Tudor Crown", then in widespread use in government service. The same crown was used in all parts of the United Kingdom and British Empire. On the K2, the design was pierced through the ironwork, and acted as a ventilation hole. On the K6, a separate ventilation slot was provided, and the crown was embossed in bas-relief.

In 1953 the new Queen, Elizabeth II, decided to replace the Tudor Crown in all contexts with a representation of the actual crown generally used for British coronations, the St Edward's Crown. This new symbol therefore began to appear on the fascias of K6 kiosks.

St Edward's Crown was initially used on kiosks in all parts of the United Kingdom. However, from 1955, in Scotland, the Post Office opted to use a representation of the actual Crown of Scotland, in line with a wider policy for government agencies in Scotland. To accommodate the two different designs of crown on K6 kiosks, the fascia sections were henceforth cast with a slot in them, into which a plate bearing the appropriate crown was inserted before the roof section was fitted.

The crowns were originally painted the same red as the rest of the box. However, since the early 1990s, when the heritage value of red kiosks began to be widely recognised, British Telecom has picked out the crowns (on both K2s and K6s) in gold paint.

Kiosks installed in Kingston upon Hull were not fitted with a crown, as those kiosks were installed by the Hull Corporation (later Hull City Council, then Kingston Communications). All boxes in Hull were also painted in cream.

Modernisation – K7 & K8

In 1959 architect Neville Conder was commissioned to design a new box. The K7 design went no further than the prototype stage. K8 was introduced in 1968 designed by Bruce Martin. It was used primarily for new sites; around 11000 were installed, replacing earlier models only when they needed relocating or had been damaged beyond repair. The K8 retained a red colour scheme, but it was a different shade of red: a slightly brighter "Poppy Red", which went on to be the standard colour across all kiosks.

The K8 featured a single large glass panel on two sides and the door. While improving visibility and illumination inside the box, these were vulnerable to damage. There were two versions - the Mk1 and the Mk2 - with the most visible difference being in the detail of the roof and the surround of the 'TELEPHONE' opals. Only 12 remain — most having been replaced with the KX100 — making the K8 as rare as the K3.

With regards to create a new box with easier access, lower maintenance and brighter lighting, the Post Office introduced a prototype run of "Croydon" telephone boxes from 1972, named as such because they were erected in Croydon, Surrey.[10] The Croydon boxes, which featured a black handset silhouette with bright yellow paintwork, were erected as an experimental prototype to replace the red telephone boxes. However, whilst the trials were successful, the quality of the materials and design made it too expensive for the Post Office to mass-produce and the design was not adopted.[11]

In either the late 1970s or late 1980s, a new, smaller hooded booth was introduced known as Booth 7A.[12] These yellow booths were introduced into areas where previous red telephone boxes had been vandalised or even pulled out of the ground. They became known as "Oakham" boxes - a reference to the similarity in shape with an Oak Ham tin.

Privatisation and the KX series

In 1980, in preparation for privatisation, Post Office Telephones was rebranded as British Telecom (BT). In February 1981, it was announced that all the red telephone boxes would be repainted yellow, which was BT's new corporate colour. There was an immediate public outcry; the Daily Mail launched a campaign "against the yellow peril"[13] and questions were asked in Parliament. In the House of Lords, the Earl of Gowrie, the Minister of State for Employment, called on BT "to abandon this ridiculous scheme".[14] In the House of Commons, Mark Lennox-Boyd MP asked the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, if she would treat the decision "with the greatest possible dismay". Mrs Thatcher, who was responsible for the privatisation, would only say that she could "see my honourable Friend's point".[15] Shortly afterwards, BT announced that only 90 of the 77,000 remaining traditional boxes had been painted different colours "as an experiment" and that no final decision had been reached.[13]

After privatisation in 1982, British Telecom introduced the KX100, a more utilitarian design, which began to replace most of the existing boxes. The KX100 was one of a series of designs, including the wheelchair-accessible open-sided KX200, and the triangular-footprint KX300.[16] In January 1985, Nick Kane, the Director of Marketing for BT Local Communications Services announced that the old red telephone boxes would be replaced because they " longer meet the needs of our customers. Few people like to use them. They are expensive and difficult to clean and maintain and cannot be used by handicapped people".[17] This time, BT did not relent, despite another vociferous campaign. Many local authorities used legislation designed to protect buildings of architectural or historic importance to keep old telephone boxes in prominent locations and around 2,000 of them were given listed status. Several thousand others were left on low-revenue mostly rural sites but many thousands of recovered K2 and K6 boxes were sold off. Some kiosks have been converted to be used as shower cubicles in private homes. In Kingston upon Thames a number of old K6 boxes have been used to form a work of art resembling a row of fallen dominoes.[18] It is estimated that 11,000 traditional red telephone boxes remain in public service.[19] The KX+, better known as the KX100 PLUS, introduced in 1996 featured a domed roof reminiscent of the familiar K2 and K6. Subsequent designs have departed significantly from the old style red boxes. BT followed the KX series with the in 1999 and the ST6 in 2007.


Little-used red telephone boxes can be adopted[20] by parish councils in England for other uses. Some examples are shown below. The kiosk may be used for any legal purpose other than telephony and the contract of sale[21] includes the following clause 5.5.4:

The buyer shall covenant not to sell, lease or license the Goods to a competitor to the Seller nor to permit a competitor to install electronic communications apparatus (as defined in schedule 2 of the Telecommunications Act 1984) within the Goods or itself (as the Buyer) shall not install, provide or operate any form of electronic communications apparatus (as defined in schedule 2 of the Telecommunications Act 1984) within the Goods.

It is unclear why BT wishes to prohibit the kiosk from being re-used for electronic communications and why the regulator, Ofcom, has allowed it. In the US, there is an active movement seeking new telecom uses for little-used telephone booths, e.g. as wi-fi hotspots.[22]


During 2009 a K6 in the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset was converted into a library or book exchange replacing the services of the mobile library which no longer visits the village.[23][24][25] Similar libraries now exist in the villages of North Cadbury in Somerset, Great Budworth in Cheshire,[26] Little Shelford and Upwood in Cambridgeshire,[27] and some 150 other locations.[28]

Art gallery

Also in 2009, the town of Settle in North Yorkshire established the Gallery on the Green in a K6, which had been adopted by the Parish Council. The Gallery has featured a range of exhibitions (see the online gallery on the website) of both notable artists and photographers (Tessa Bunney, Martin Parr, Mariana Cook) and local community groups. Its most famous contributor was Brian May, with his stereoscopic photography show 'A Village Lost and Found'.


In 2010, in the village of Brookwood, Surrey, a project was initiated to restore and preserve the sole remaining K6 kiosk in the village. The kiosk had been adopted by Woking Borough Council in 2009 and a group of residents set about restoring the kiosk. This was achieved through private donations and sponsorship from local businesses.[29] A blog detailed the restoration.[30]

Following a competition by a Girl Guide unit in 2011 to find a use for their local disused telephone box in Glendaruel, Argyll, it has been fitted with a defibrillator. The equipment can only be accessed by following instructions from the Scottish Ambulance Service during an emergency call. The conversion of the box was paid for by BT under the Adopt A Kiosk scheme and the defibrillator was supplied by the Community Heartbeat Trust. It is one of five similar telephone box conversions in the United Kingdom.[31]

As of 2012, remanufactured units were offered for sale by X2Connect.[32][33][34]

From October 2014, several of London's disused K6 telephone boxes have been painted green and converted to free mobile phone chargers named Solarboxes.[35] They have been considered an outdoor kiosk alternative to indoor chargers such as the Chargebox.

Usage elsewhere

Imitation British-style box used as the entrance to a jazz club in Havana, Cuba

Several of these distinctive telephone boxes have been installed on the Norman, Oklahoma, campus of the University of Oklahoma, where they continue to serve their originally intended function. Elsewhere in the United States, a few have also been installed in downtown Glenview, Illinois. There is also one outside the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. A red telephone box can also be found on the Courthouse Square in Oxford, Mississippi. There are two in use in Tennessee. One is located on the square in Collierville, Tennessee, and the other is located next to Pepper Palace in The Village Shops shopping center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.[36] In Massachusetts, there is also a red telephone box in the student centre of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, there is a red telephone box outside the town building (town hall/police station/post office) in the tiny mountain town of Rowe, Massachusetts, which is an original installation dating back to when the town of Rowe first got telephone service. Two red telephone boxes are on display at the World Showcase area of Disney's Epcot in Orlando, Florida, one located in the United Kingdom area and one in the Canada area. One is on display at English Gardens a Place for Weddings in Winter Park close to downtown Orlando.An original K6 can also be found outside of the Allied Building in Treasure Island, Florida. There are also a few red boxes at the Ellenton Outlet Mall, just off I-75, near Bradenton, Florida. These still have their original STD code cards in place and have working US payphone equipment. There is a red telephone box in Westminster Maryland on the corner of West Main Street and Rt. 27 out side of Johanson's Dining House.[37]

File:Fake Red Telephone Box -- Ross Tasmania.jpg
Imitation Red Telephone Box in Ross, Tasmania

In Lake Havasu City, Arizona, a few K6s arrived when the old London Bridge was preserved there. As they are in the US, and not under British restriction, they are fully functional, but with updated electronics to make them code compliant.

British K6 phone boxes are to be found, painted green, in the centre of Kinsale, an old historic town in County Cork within the Republic of Ireland.

Red telephone boxes are also found across Malta, Gozo, parts of the Caribbean such as Antigua, Barbados, as well as in Cyprus, showing that the colonial influence is still present. Some of those telephone booths are being used as internet kiosks. A box can also be found in the centre of the town of Chinon, France [38] and another in the German town of Bad Münstereifel.

Australia and New Zealand each had their own design of red telephone box, and some examples have been preserved in sensitive or historic sites. A brief and colourful campaign was run to "save" the red telephone box in New Zealand by the Wizard of New Zealand.[39]

In 2008 ten K6 telephone boxes were imported from the United Kingdom to the Israeli city of Petah Tikva and installed on its main street, Haim Ozer.[40]

Kingston upon Hull

Kingston upon Hull was the only area of the UK not under the Post Office monopoly, with telephones being under the control of the Corporation of Hull (city council). In Hull and the surrounding area this meant that the telephone boxes were painted cream and had the crown omitted. The Hull telephone system was subsequently privatised and is now operated by Kingston Communications. Kingston Communications (KC) have removed many of the famous cream K6 boxes circa 2007. An outraged public complained that they were losing part of their heritage. KC have retained approx 125 K6s in use today. KC allocated limited numbers (approximately 1,000) to be sold to the general public, and many were sold off before they had even been removed from service.

Crown dependencies

The telephone services of the Crown dependencies were split at various times from the GPO.


Guernsey Telecoms painted its kiosks yellow with white window frames; they were repainted in blue when the company was sold to Cable and Wireless in 2002.


Jersey Telecom used locally made kiosks, painted in cream and yellow.


Gibtelecom operate Red Kiosks of various vintages.

Isle of Man

Manx Telecom has left its kiosks in the red colour used by its predecessors British Telecom and the GPO. A green telephone box exists in Cregneash, as was the practice in many rural areas of Britain.


Outside of the former British Empire, red phone boxes can be seen in Portugal – for example, they are a common sight in the city of Porto.[41]

Use in contemporary art

Out of Order

Out of Order

Scottish sculptor David Mach created the permanent public work Out of Order in 1989 in Kingston upon Thames, London. It takes the form of a row of twelve K6 telephone boxes, the first one upright, the others gradually falling over like dominoes. It was originally intended that the first upright box was to contain a working telephone.

BT Artboxes

In 2012, BT helped celebrate the 25th anniversary of the free-phone charity ChildLine by commissioning eighty artists to design and decorate full-sized K6 replicas. These were displayed in public spaces across London and then auctioned by Sotheby's as BT Artboxes. Artists included Peter Blake, Willie Christie, David Mach, Denis Masi, Zaha Hadid and Ian Ritchie.

Replica telephone boxes

Lightweight replica K6 telephone kiosks are manufactured as flat-packs by commercial vendors and are shipped around the world for installation in such places as bars, restaurants and offices.


See also


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External links