Saturday, 18 March 2023

Hull’s cream-coloured phone boxes given Grade II-listed status

source - Wikimedia Commons/kitmasterbloke

Well here we go, straight back in the saddle with this latest article about a rare variant of an already-endangered piece of technology - the public call box.

In this instance the phone boxes in question are not the earlier, more famous Giles Gilbert Scott-designed glass-and-metal K2 to K6 series of red boxes but rather the later K8 design from the pen of architect Bruce Martin, which were introduced across Great Britain in the late 1960s to supplement the existing 50,000-odd K2 and K6 boxes that were still prevalent at the time.

source - Wikimedia Commons/Oxyman
Markedly different from the designs that had come before it, the K8 boasted a modern light and airy Sixties feel thanks to large single panes of glass bereft of any intricate metalwork.  Intended to be easier to repair and maintain, over 11,000 K8s were installed up and down the country - only replacing existing K2s and K6s where absolutely necessary.  While many continued in service over the next 20 years or so, the design ultimately never gained as much appeal as the iconic red boxes that came before it.  It's only really lasting claim to fame is that it sported a slightly different shade of crimson - "Poppy Red" - one which went on to become the standard colour and was retrospectively applied to all existing boxes throughout the country.  However, the design's supposed strength over its predecessors - its ease of maintenance - was ultimately outweighed by the frequency of repairs as a result of vandalism.  Allied to the fact that it actually cost more to manufacture than the older models, a great number were subsequently replaced by the (rightly) unloved KX-series following the creation of British Telecom after the privatisation of the GPO in the 1980s.   As of 2023, a mere fifty-odd K8s still exist around Britain - some, I'm pleased to note, already with listed status.

Unusual among these few remaining K8s are the handful still to be found in the city of Hull, which was (and still is) the only place in England where the telephone network was run by either the local council or a private provider and not the GPO/ BT.  As a result, all Hull's phone boxes were painted not the traditional red but a rather fetching shade of cream to reflect their independence from the national network.  Now I am pleased to see that nine of these surviving boxes have been given Grade-II listed status by Historic England, hopefully preserving them for future generations to at least see what we used - and sometimes still use - before the advent of the mobile telephone (for, I am delighted to note, these particular boxes continue to fulfil their original function, containing as they do working telephones which must also now be preserved in working order).  

I join with the Twentieth Century Society and the people of Hull in celebrating this decision, which gives me great hopes for the future of all the remaining 10,000 or so phone boxes in this country, that there will never come a time when we have none left. 

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