The bright red British telephone boxes, that stand like sentry's guarding our streets, are slowly disappearing. This icon of the British street scene, which has been recognised by the Design Museum, will soon be a thing of the past. As more people now use mobile telephones as their main means of communication, today's technology has made the classic red phone boxes almost obsolete. The characteristic British telephone box, with its distinctive "currant red "colour, was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Scott's original wooden prototype phone box, the K1was constructed in 1925.There is the only one known to be still in existence today. It can be found in its original position, at the left entrance arch of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. A latter model the K3 kiosk, can be seen at the penguin beach exhibit at London zoo, where it has been protected from the elements by the overhanging eves of the building.
This example of an early telephone box has recently been restored to its original colour scheme.
From 1926 the fascias of these kiosks were decorated with a crown that represented the British government. All phone boxes at this time were operated by the G.P.O. (General Post Office) a government agency in charge of communications. Today all telephone systems are operated by a private company, British Telecom, (B.T.).In 1936 a special design, known as K6 (Kiosk six) went into production. This red phone box was commissioned to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George the fifth, and was used extensively around the U.K. It could be found in virtually every town and city in Great Britain. These iconic phone boxes were produced at the Lion Foundry in Kirkintilloch, Scotland, until 1984.
Today, with the old telephone boxes being de-commissioned entrepreneurs have found many ingenious ways to revive their popularity. In Brighton's pavilion gardens for example, two red phone boxes are being used as a coffee shop and ice cream parlour.Red Box coffee is the idea of Eddie Ottewell and Steve Beeken.
They have brought the phone boxes under a scheme that is run by British Telecom, called Adopt a Kiosk. The scheme has now sold over 1,800 decommissioned boxes. This arrangement allows local community's and charities to purchase a under used red telephone box for as little as one pound. However the terms and conditions of the sale do ironically state that "the phone box is not to be used for telecommunication purposes".
Eddie Otterwell and Steve Beeken started a charitable trust called "Thinking outside the Box". Their intentions are to breathe new life into the iconic red telephone kiosks. They approached B.T and proposed the idea of turning the unused telephone boxes into marketing units. The pair teamed up with the charity Friends First. An aid organization that helps people to break the cycle of unemployment, homelessness and drug dependency. Eddie and Steve donate ten percent from every Red Box Coffee purchase to the Friends First charity.
Meanwhile, the residents of Kingston Magna, near Gillingham, Dorset have turned their old red phone box into a library. The villagers who were feed up with having to face a ten mile round trip to the nearest library, decided to take matters into their own hands.
The parish council brought the iconic red phone box from B.T. under the adopt a phone box scheme, and turned it into the Britain's smallest library, containing around 300 books.
Val Mills, who is the voluntary phone box Liberian, said "several ideas were suggested for the use of the old phone box, before councilors decided upon a library, Mainly because the village has a lot of elderly residents who have, difficulty traveling to the nearest library, which is a 10 mile round trip away. We put a notice in the local paper asking for donations of books and we were overwhelmed with the response. There are now over 300 books in the library and we have the same amount in storage. Every few months we freshen up the stock. Once books have reached the end of their lifespan we donate them to charity".
The Kingston Magna book exchange is open 24 hours a day. Unlike a regular library, this simple operation is based on trust. Once you have finished a book you simply return it or replace it with another. There is no receptionist to tell you to be quite, because only one person can use it at a time. To avoid any confusion a sign has been put outside the box that reads "Kingston Magna Book Exchange. This is not a public phone box". The idea of turning unloved phone boxes into small libraries has now been employed by many other local communities across the U.K.
It is not only Great Britain that has found an alternative use for old phone boxes, French artists Benoit Deville and Benedetto Bufalino, have built an extraordinary fish tank out of an old phone box for the Festival of Light in Lyon. France. The Festival of Light is an annual event that celebrates the Virgin Mary. Who, as legend goes, spared Lyon from the plaque in 1643.Every year on December 8th residents of Lyon place lighted candles in their windows to honour the mother of Jesus a spectacular sight that attracts over 4 million visitors to the city. The fish tank telephone box is a big hit with locals and visitors alike. This amazing conversion has turned a plane telephone box into something visually exciting.
The telephone box aquarium has indeed proved to be popular, so much so that a 20ft goldfish phone booth has mysteriously appeared in the city of Osaka, Japan. A group who called themselves "Kingyobu" have claimed that they were the ones who were reinventing the once obsolete phone boxes, by turning them into a bubbling tank filled with live goldfish. Not only did the Kingobu boys manage to recycle the old ugly phone box, but in so doing added significance to the brightly coloured goldfish. In Japanese culture goldfish are a reminder of summer festivals, childhood games, and good luck. The highlight of summer festivals in Japan is goldfish scooping (kingyo-sukul).Armed with a paper net (pol) and a bowl, children attempt capture as many goldfish from the pool as they can, before the paper net brakes. The children can then take their captured goldfish home. Such are the popularity of goldfish in Japanese culture that goldfish breading has been elevated to an art form. Goldfish aficionados join local goldfish clubs to trade breading tips and to organise goldfish competitions.
In the United Kingdom, a 72 year old pensioner, John Long, brought an iconic red telephone box from a salvage yard two years ago. He then set about converting it into a functional outdoor toilet for his back garden. John, who is a retired salesman, fitted a porcelain toilet bowl and high level cistern, and connected it to the main sewer system. He also fitted a wash basin and soap holder, the washbasin is made from an old water fountain that he found in the same reclamation yard where he found the phone box. He even managed to install frosted glass for privacy, along with a heater for those cold winter days.
John, who lives near Taunton, Somerset said "I've wanted a telephone kiosk for donkey's years and then one night in bed, the idea came to me to do it as a toilet. Before I brought the phone box I made sure that everything would fit in. There is a red telephone box about 300 yards from where I live so I crept out after dark and carried a toilet pan down to the box to measured it.I finished the toilet a few weeks ago, and love it. It even works better than the one in my bungalow, because of the high level cistern you get better speed and a greater rush of water."
There are currently 11,000 traditional red telephone boxes across the U.K, but payphone use has declined by 80 per cent over the past five years, and more than 60 per cent of all payphones now lose money. Research by the regulator Ofcom "found that in 2006 virtually no consumers rely on public phone boxes as their primary means of making calls". However the classic red phone box will not disappear completely as BT are under a legal requirement to give "reasonable geographical access to call box services from public call boxes."