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A hiker’s library: Telephone kiosks

Three Points of the Compass recently looked at some of the iconic telephone kiosks that can be stumbled across while walking in the UK. That was only a cursory glance but there are a few books that will sit happily on the bookshelf of anyone a little curious of the more extensive history.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, for such a notable feature of both British landscape and culture, there has been little in the way of published books on the history of telephone boxes in the UK. Both Johannessen and Bunker’s books are excellent but for those wanting a more ‘in-depth’ history of kiosks that also covers their more recent post ‘red kiosk’ period, there is nothing beyond Linge and Suttons all-encompassing volume. There is some information online and scattered through various archives, but nothing to the depth of what is included in the volumes below, certainly not as a one-stop shop. For this particular history, the printed medium still rules.

The British Phonebox- Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton

The authors of this, the most up-to-date volume covering the history of telephone kiosks, are Professor of Telecommunications Nigel Linge and Visiting Professor Andy Sutton, both from the School of Computing, Science and Engineering. With such academic credentials it is unsurprising that this book is so authorative. Kiosk expert Neil Johannessen has also been consulted during the research process and his input in addition to primary research of archival material ensures formative to recent history is as inclusive as may now be possible. Thankfully it is no dry tome and is very accessible to the casual yet curious reader.

The balance between classic ‘red’ K series kiosks and those subsequently installed is appropriate and design influences, right or wrong, of more recent phonesboxes is touched upon where relevant to the success or not of an installation. While there is some mention, including images, of the telephone handsets themselves (they are deserved of independent coverage) they are only included where relevant to the design aspect of the kiosk itself.

The British Phonebox
The British Phonebox– Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton

This is the best volume that has been written on the British telephone kiosk. It is informative, authoritative and well-written. It is unlikely that it can be improved. Recommended.

The British Phonebox
The British Phonebox– Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton
Telephone Boxes- Neil Johannessen
Telephone Boxes– Neil Johannessen

Telephone Boxes- Neil Johannessen

Neil Johannessen curated the historic museum collection held by BT, prior to that organisation committing one of the most awful examples of cultural vandalism in recent times when they disposed of the very great majority of their museum objects, scattered to the wind or physically disposed of.

Neil is an expert on the subject of telephone boxes and this affordable volume is concise yet informative. The thin little book probably contains all that anyone with even a passing interest in the history of phone boxes would want. The ‘Early Years’ section is especially helpful as there is a dearth of surviving testimony beyond the scattered primary resources and what is included here goes a long way to explaining the roots of the various concrete and cast iron K series kiosks.

The further reading section included in this book points mostly at various informative engineeering texts so may be of less help than hoped. One of the best Shire books published but it is now a victim of age and could do with being updated slightly.

Telephone Boxes- Neil Johannessen
Telephone Boxes– Neil Johannessen

Telephone Boxes- Gavin Stamp

This is now quite an old volume and part of the short-lived ‘Chatto Curiosities of the British Street’ series, along with Shop Fronts and Troughs and Drinking Fountains. Of the 106 pages, just 28 pages are given over to text with the remainder mostly a good selection of images. The author is also unrestrained by any loyalty to an employer and critiscism is harsh at times. The book is all the better for this. There is helpful information on kiosk designs that briefly cluttered our streets in the 1980s- those of Mercury Communications for example, though anyone wandering the streets today looking for examples of these will be disappointed. This book is a fine visual accompaniment to the Shire volume. The author, an architectural historian, and an admirer of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was closely involved in attempts to preserve the red kiosk in our streets and countryside.

Telephone Boxes- Gavin Stamp
Telephone Boxes– Gavin Stamp
Telephone Boxes by Gavin Stamp
Telephone Boxes– Gavin Stamp

Requiem for a Red Box- John Timpson

Requim for a Red Box- John Timpson
Requiem for a Red Box– John Timpson

This book is exactly as advertised- a requiem. And by a fan too. The author makes no secret of his fondness for classic K2’s and K6’s, he permits the K4 a little leeway and readily admits his belief that with the arrival of the K8, the rot had well and truly set in. This is a landscape format ‘coffee-table’ tome of decent proportions and includes a great number of affectionate photographic portraits of boxes in various guises. These form the bulk of the book with many true to life, i.e. kiosks looking pretty dilapidated at times. The history is mostly sound with only a small number of wayward dates.

Requim for a Red Box, p74
Requiem for a Red Box by John Timpson includes a refreshing amount of irrelevance in his paean to a cultural icon

The Rise and Fall of the Police Box- John Bunker

John Bunker served as a Metropolitan Police officer for thirty-six years and used these boxes himself when serving as a young constable. A member of The Police History Society, his research of primary documents has been extensive.

The Rise and Fall of the Police Box- John Bunker
The Rise and Fall of the Police Box– John Bunker
The Rise and Fall of the Police Box by John Bunker
The Rise and Fall of the Police Box– John Bunker

This excellent volume fills a void in the printed medium admirably. It is difficult to see how this book could be improved. It is not only a good history of the Police telephone box, but also covers phone pillars, converted existing examples and touches on overseas equivalents. Frequently humorous first-person accounts are included and official notices, instruction and publicity photographs abound. I was aware of a little of the history of these boxes but this book astonishes with the coverage of the variety demonstrated across disparate police forces over the decades. It spans a history beyond the 1920s-1960s heyday of the police box system. Recommended.

Books from my shelves:

The Rise and Fall of the Police Box. John Bunker. Brewin Books, 2011. 143pp. ISBN: 978-1-85858-465-2

Telephone Boxes. Neil Johannessen. Shire Publications Ltd. 2nd edition 1999, reprinted 2010. 32pp. ISBN 0-7478-0419 2

The British Phonebox. Nigel Linge & Andy Sutton. Amberley Publishing. 2017. 93pp. ISBN 978-1-4456-6308-1

Telephone Boxes. Gavin Stamp. Chatto & Windus, London. 1989. 106pp. ISBN 0-7011-3366 X

Requiem for a Red Box. John Timpson. Pyramid Books, Hamlyn. 1989. 128pp. ISBN 1-855-10008-8

All of us have a few books that we like to rely on, or to which we frequently return. Here are links to some of mine

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