Payphones: End of the Line?

A Brief Look...
Payphones: End of the Line?

Photo: Red boxes (K6s and K2s) of bygone times

© LSA 2000.
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Telephone kiosks and payphones were once the only means to make a call, for those people who were not subscribers, or who were away from home. In the first decade of 2000, it is likely that mobile phones outnumber fixed lines, so that the need for public payphones is ever diminishing...
Public telephones have a long history, outside the realms of these pages. Here, we will look briefly at just some of the designs through the decades. More will be added as time and research permits.

The K1
Kiosk No.1
The G.P.O.'s first standardised telephone Kiosk No. 1 was designed in 1921. It was made of pre-fabricated concrete with metal glazing bars.

Photo: K1 at Amberley Museum © Light Straw 2008. 
The K2 - A Classical Design

The K2 - A Classical Design

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (architect) designed the K2 for production in cast iron.

The first K2s appeared in Kensington and Holborn in 1926. At 9 feet 3 inches high the K2 was a rather grand, elaborate and expensive enclosure, and so in 1934 the Director General of the Post Office noted that they should only be erected in the Metropolitan Boroughs of London, and elsewhere close to the offices of a great municipality.  Hence there were few K2s to be seen outside of London.

Photo: K2 at Mount Pleasant © Light Straw February 2011. 
The K3 Concrete Kiosk
The K3 Concrete Kiosk
Scott's K3 went into production in 1929 and for a while it was the standard kiosk for sites outside of London. However, the concrete fabrications were both difficult to transport and did not weather well.

Photo: K3 in the Science Museum, London © Light Straw September 2000.
The K4 'Vermillion Giant'.

The K4 was developed (in 1925) from Scott's K2, by lengthening two sides to allow room for a post box and stamp vending machine.
The K4 telephone kiosk
At one time, postage stamps could only be bought from a Post Office, so it seemed a logical idea to include both a stamp vending machine and post box on the outside of a telephone kiosk, hence the K4 'vermillion giant' was born.

Photo: K4 in Warrington © Philip Gates October 2006. 
K4 kiosk with stamp vending and post box.
It is said that the stamp vending machine was noisy for those using the telephone and was a liability to maintain.

Separate stamp vending machines could once be found outside Post Offices too.

Photo: K4 in Warrington © Philip Gates October 2006. 
The K5  
The K5 used an improved concrete moulding of the K3 design which was more suitable for volume production. However, this was superseded by the K6 before manufacture began.

The K6 'Mainstay of the GPO'

The K6 (or Jubilee Kiosk), produced in 1936...
The K6 Kiosk
Scott's K6 was designed for mass production (in cast iron) with the aim of allowing one to be sited by every Post Office. At a height of 8 feet 3 inches it was also smaller than the K2.

This remains true to this day, albeit that many Post Offices have closed and the uneconomical payphones have been removed!

Photo: K6 on a typical Essex street © Light Straw 2000. 
The K7 by Neville Conder
The K7 by Neville Conder
The K7 prototype kiosk was designed by Neville Conder CBE (architect) in 1958 and trialled in 1962.

Photo: K7 in store at the Science Museum © Light Straw 2009. 
The K8 'for New Towns'.

Bruce Martin's 1965 design for a striking new (cast iron) kiosk was produced in 1968. The K8  was a perfect match with the modern 'New Town' concepts of strikingly simple architectural designs.
The K8 Kiosk
Kiosks which were produced before the K8 have been preserved and a majority can be found in London. In the 21st century it is surprising that the comparatively modern K8 has not been thought worthy of preservation.

Light Straw Editor: "The K8 is a design icon of its time; the materials are too old-fashioned to still be used, but the styling is too modern for it to be considered historical." 

Photo: K8s awaiting restoration © Light Straw 2000. 
The Light Straw K8
The Light Straw Kiosk
In the mid-1980s when yellow (telecom) vans were all the rage, some telephone kiosks in Manchester were painted Golden Yellow too!

The Light Straw kiosk proudly sports this colour.

The original design of the K8 omitted the 'telephone' sign, but was to have a translucent fibre glass roof which would have glowed red when the fluorescent light was on inside.

Photo: Newly painted - Light Straw K8 © Light Straw 2009. 
The KX 100
The KX 100 Kiosk
The KX series of kiosks were designed by DCA (David Carter Associates) in 1986. This modular range KX100-400) was fabricated from stainless steel and was initially finished in black and telecom yellow. British Telecom's identity was still blue and yellow at that time.

Photo: A KX 100 kiosk displaying the BT Piper on the glass side panes © Light Straw June 2006. 
The KX +
The KX+
The KX + kiosk was also designed by DCA in 1994 and manufactured by GKN. The first KX+ was installed in London in August 1996. Conversion kits allowed existing KXs to be easily updated.

Additional features of the KX + were:-

A red domed roof giving extra internal light and external visibility.
Lower door handles for children and the disabled.
A seat rest.
A writing/parcel shelf.
Larger and back-lit notices.

Photo: A pair of KX kiosks (in Croydon) with Kit Kat advertising panes © Light Straw circa 1999. 
Street Talk 6
Street Talk 6
In June 2007 BT, in partnership with JC Decaux, launched the 'Street Talk 6' payphone.

The ST6 has a normal payphone on one side...

Photo: Installation in progress - A 'Street Talk 6' payphone on the high street © Light Straw Feb 2009. 
Street Talk 6
... And six scrolling advertisements on the other.

BT is hoping that the paid for advertisements will help offset falling revenue from the payphones themselves.

The first ten Street Talk 6 kiosks were installed in Richmond and Ealing, London.

Photo: A 'Street Talk 6' payphone on the high street © Light Straw Feb 2009. 
A 21st century ATM (cash dispenser) payphone.
Third party revenue from conveniently sited (dual purpose) new style kiosks allows continuing use of a payphone which might otherwise be uneconomical.

Photo: An ATM (cash dispenser) payphone  © Light Straw Feb 2009. 
Telephone Boxes by Gavin Stamp
Chatto Curiosities of the British Street:

T e l e p h o n e   B o x e s  b y  G a v i n  S t a m p 


The company specialises in designing for mass production.

DCA first collaborated with the Post Office in 1968 for the 'Compact' telephone.


The company is a global engineering business.

Design, images and text compiled by © Light-Straw. Page last updated 8th February 2011.

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