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Police Boxes

Here beginneth the lesson..

The history of the British Police Public Call Box begins, quite strangely, in the US at the end of the nineteenth century. Quick to fully exploit the potential of Alexander Graham Bell's new telecommunications device, police telephone boxes and posts soon populated the routes walked by US law enforcers in every state in the union. By 1888, the police box began to appear in Britain when the new telephones were being added to policeman's watch boxes around the metropolitan district.

A full city wide system was actually pioneered by the Chief Constable of Sunderland, Mr. Frederick Crawley, and was introduced on Friday 13th July 1923. Each beat was provided with a box made by the local firm Binns which was similar to a sentry box and was large enough to hold a bench desk, a chair or stool and a telephone. The cost of each wooden box was £12.18s.6d and Post Office engineers installed the telephone wiring.

When the scheme was in full operation there were 22 boxes, each with a direct telephone line to Police Headquarters. Frederick Crawley left Sunderland in 1925, becoming Chief Constable of Newcastle City Police, and introduced the Police Box system to Newcastle. It was after this time that the system was adopted by Police Forces throughout England and Scotland.

The Sunderland and Newcastle boxes did not really resemble the TARDIS type boxes.  In 1929, the first Police Boxes that were 'TARDIS like' appeared in Scotland. Designed by G McKenzie-Trench, they were constructed from the more sturdy medium of concrete, setting the mold for the 703 boxes that were erected around London, starting in 1930.


Construction continued side by side with the smaller 'Police Posts' until 1953. Police posts were basically the telephone section of the full kiosk on a concrete pillar, with the same panel inscription (pictured below). 73 of these were made in total. Also, all Police Stations and Substations of the time were fitted with a boxed telephone for public access on the front of the building with this same panel. 

Most major cities throughout the UK had boxes, but budgetary constrictions meant that there were many variations on the Police Box.
The TARDIS style boxes were the most expensive and the cost for building a box in 1931 was 55pounds 16 shillings and 7pence, with another 3 pounds for number plate, coat hook, lino, stool, a fire extinguisher and bracket, as well as a brush and duster to keep the mini police station tidy!There were 2 main variations in this design - the MK1 had the plaque pictured here on the panel below the telephone door, with a St. John's Ambulance badge on the opposite panel.
The sign post bar across the top of the box read simply 'Police'. The MK2 had the plaque on the telephone door, and was hinged on whatever side the carpenter felt fit. The St. John's Ambulance badge was also raised up a panel on the MK2. No Scottish boxes carried this badge as far as I know. This was present due to the standard St John's First Aid kit that each box carried inside, along with it's telephone, police incident and log book and small desk. The Police Box was effectively a fully equipped miniature police station in it's own right.

Decommissioning of the Police Box started in 1959 in the Metropolitan area, due to the introduction of two way radio - all were broken up on site or shortly afterwards. The Boxes had to be blown apart with a controlled explosion due to their sheer weight of 2 and a half tons, which deterred private collectors! The Mk2 signpost on the top cross bar read 'Police (public call) Box' Metropolitan boxes were royal blue with white window frames.
The windows contained frosted glass, with the bottom middle panel of each window either tinted blue or clear. It is worth noting that, although Glaswegian boxes were pretty much Mk1 style metropolitan boxes, they were in fact originally red in colour. Many of them were painted blue at the end of the sixties, but a couple of red boxes still remain. The Mk1 and the Mk2 had only one door that opened - the right hand side one, which opened outwards on a chain, not at all like the Doctor's TARDIS! It was the only section of the box constructed from wood (teak), the rest being cast concrete. All the windows apart from the front set were 'hopper' style and could be opened a few inches, being hinged at the bottom.

The lock was usually a double locking Yale latch, for the purpose of detaining any nearby apprehended criminals until assistant officers could arrive. Many other cities commissioned designs of their own, which were usually variations on a garden shed theme. Constructed mainly of sheet timber, very few police boxes of this style have survived - Edinburgh is one of the few cities where boxes of this style can be seen.

By 1969 all Metropolitan Police Boxes bar one had been decommissioned and removed. Curiously, this box remained in working order until 1980 when it was finally destroyed. It was in fact the now legendary Barnet By-pass box. However a few still remain intact, some in the cherished hands of private collectors, some in various museums and a few still litter city streets in Scotland. These pages offer you a guide to where you can find these few last remaining gems of British heritage that have become icons to Doctor Who fans the world over. My heart still skips a beat every time I see one - re kindling the spark that was first lit on winter Saturday evenings in the mid '70s when I first saw *that* show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
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