20 January 2010

Arrival of the K6s

Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, he of the Liverpool Anglican cathedral and the power stations at Battersea and Bankside (now Tate Modern), the elegant K6 telephone kiosk is an archetypal symbol of Britain, along with the Spitfire, Routemaster buses and London cabs.

K1, the first standardised telephone kiosk, was usually made of concrete and went into production in 1921. It wasn't liked by the London metropolitan boroughs, which resisted its introduction to their streets. In 1924 the Royal Fine Arts Commission ran a competition to find a replacement design, on the basis of three invitations to architects. Designs by the GPO and the Birmingham Civic Society were also considered.

Scott's design was chosen, and the resultant K2, in cast iron, was introduced in and about London from 1926. This was the first "red box." Shortly after he designed the K2 Scott became a trustee of the Sir John Soane Museum. The lantern of the mausoleum at Soane's Dulwich Picture Gallery, and similarly domed tomb of Soane at St Pancras Old Churchyard, appear echoed in Scott's design.

The K2 was expensive, and in 1928 Scott was commissioned by the GPO to design a cheaper version for nationwide use. The result was K3, introduced in 1929, similar in look to its cast iron cousin, but built in concrete and usually liveried in cream with red glazing bars. K4 was designed by the Post Office Engineering Department, starting in 1925, and incorporated a post box and two stamp vending machines; only 50 were made. K5 was made of metal-faced plywood and intended for temporary use at exhibitions.

The K6 box, the first red kiosk to be extensively installed outside London, was designed, again by Scott, to commemorate the 1935 silver jubilee of King George V. Essentially a scaled-down and simplified K2, it was also more modern in its lines. The K6 first appeared on British streets in 1936, and was standard issue through to 1968. At one time over 60,000 were in service. Approximately 11,700 remain, 2,500 of which have Grade II listed status.

K6 boxes can be roughly dated. In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II decided to stop using the so-called Tudor Crown as the symbol of her government, and adopted instead the St Edward Crown, used at coronations. Pre-1953 K6s, as pictured, thus sport the 'Tudor Crown.' Some while after introduction of the St Edward Crown, it was realised that QEII was not the second Queen Elizabeth of Scotland - Scots had doubtless recognised this immediately - and from 1954 K6s sited north of the border featured the Crown of Scotland. In the interests of efficiency, from 1955 K6s were cast with a slot into which the correct crown could be introduced.

Eight feet and four inches tall, three feet square, and formed of 18 cast iron sections and a teak wood door, K6s weigh upward of three-quarters of a ton. Mark and Jules of Schneider Electric Logistics did a fabulous job of positioning their truck so as to drop the boxes, using the Palfinger, precisely where desired.

1 comment:

abijsmith said...

I've heard that a solution of 2 parts white vinegar and 4 parts water does wonders for the lingering smells....