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The Red Telephone Box… a British Icon

Red Telephone Boxes

When people think about London, many images permeate their minds. Images of the British bulldog, Red buses, telephone boxes and post office boxes that are as iconic as yellow new York taxis, the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal.

Red Telephone BoxAnother iconic structure famous around the world is Battersea power station and along with Liverpool Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge and the famous red telephone box they all have something in common. They were all designed by the same person, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott OM (9th November 1880 – 8th February 1960). Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was a famous architect who was born into a family of architects, most notably his grandfather George Gilbert Scott (13th July 1811 – 27th March 1878) who was responsible for the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, the Albert Memorial, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

At just 22 years old Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won a competition to design Liverpool Cathedral. The decision to appoint Scott as architect of the cathedral caused much consternation at the time due to Scott who had no previous building experience being chosen over older more experienced competitors. He actually beat a number of famous and well established architects to win the commission including Charles Rennie Mackintosh. However, the biggest controversy surrounding his appointment was that it was later revealed that Scott was a Roman Catholic…building an Anglican church.

With the building of Liverpool Cathedral, Scott’s reputation was in the ascendancy and more and more opportunities came his way. In 1923, the Royal Fine Arts Commission decided to replace the unpopular K1 design of the public telephone boxes. The commission invited Sir Robert Lorimer, Sir John Burnet and Giles Gilbert Scott to submit designs for the new K2 telephone box. Scott’s design was the winner, in bright red with a domed top, a global icon was born. It is interesting to note that when Scott won his commission, he was trustee of Sir John Soane’s Museum and the domed top of the telephone box resembles that of the mausoleum Sloane had designed for himself in St Pancras Old Churchyard, London.

Production of the K2 telephone box stared in 1926. There have been many variations of the K2 with the K6 being the most famous of all and the most iconic. The K6 was also designed by Scott for the celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. The k6 was made from cast iron with a wooden door.

The red telephone box is the most iconic telephone box in the world, however there is another telephone box that vies for it’s crown and that is the police telephone box that used the same technology as the public telephone boxes. In 1929 Gilbert Mackenzie Trench designed Police Box Mark 2. With a shallow pyramid roof, metal window frames, concrete construction, teak door, blue tinted windows and painted blue all over, it is perhaps know better by it’s acronym T.A.R.D.I.S , which if you’re not a Doctor Who fan means Time And Relative Distance In Space.

Incidentally, when Doctor Who returned to television back in 2005 (Christopher Eccleston) , the first episode, entitled Rose, featured London street scenes with the actress Billie Piper who played Rose sitting on a red London Routemaster bus (Sullivan Buses AEC Routemaster CUV272C RML2272).