Saturday, 3 July 2010

K6, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, one on every corner, everywhere, 1935 – 1965

designed once again by Sir Giles Gilbert-Scott in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V, this was the first truly national or nationwide kiosk, often referred to as the "London" or "English" phone box. it’s the one tourists the world over have their photos taken inside and still evokes the UK landscape whether bustling city or windswept countryside.

that essential tweaking of the K2 can also be spied throughout - the windows give greater visibility with the central panel of each horizontal band being wider that the others, whilst for night use there was an interior light (on a timer). the K6 also featured a writing shelf and, according to the GPO, "combined a smaller exterior with a roomier interior."

about 70, 000 k6’s were installed across the length and breadth of the country from 1936-1965 including four major design changes. boxes from the original 1936 Jubilee Kiosk programme of 8000 boxes have the entry and exit holes for the cable runs on opposite sides of the rear base of the box. from 1939, improved security measures called for a redesign that saw window frames rivetted rather than screwed, improved coin box fixings and the cable runs now brought together on one side of the box. also until 1952 all kiosks bore the Tudor Crown, until the present Queen introduced the St Edward’s crown, the one used for all coronations. this change happened in 1955 affecting all public telephones across the Empire, a useful dating clue for those obsessed by typological ordering.
although we think of the K6 as the red phone booth, there are some notable exceptions - kiosks installed in Hull were not fitted with a crown at all as they were installed by the Hull Corporation & were painted cream. they are also distinguishable by the complete absence of the crown, tudor or otherwise!

meanwhile there were battles fought across the land about the strident red colour, which wasn’t immediately well received and exceptions were made to appease their roll out - boxes for use in areas of outstanding natural beauty, could be painted Dark Battleship Grey with PO red window bars.

such teething problems ironed out, the K6 was to dominate the landscape for the next 30 years until the break-up of the gpo and the introduction of the new generation telecom boxes. in reality people increasingly had a phone in their own home, then came the mobile phone, the home computer and wifi, changing the way we communicate yet again, and making the need for these miniature buildings almost entirely obsolete. decommission was inevitable by the late 1980’s. yet the redundant k6 had an army of devotees, and a series of public campaigns led to some protection for some of the stragglers, with around 3000 becoming listed.

nowadays any surviving K6 can be designated a Grade II listed structure. the 4 survivors in city centre Manchester (two in st peters square, one on the corner of deansgate and Liverpool rd, and one on the top of st johns street) fall into this lucky category. they are in a pitiful state despite residing in prominent conservqtion areas of our 'original, modern city'.

pity that marketeers tag doesnt extend to the truly original & modernistic K6.....

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