The old phone boxes in London were originally created for making and receiving phone calls well before mobile technology.
If you are a boomer like myself, rewind several years back when mobile phones were non-existent. Rain or shine, most people made calls in these red metal boxes because there was no other options. But these iconic red phone boxes are now great for creativity.
They were made from cast iron and for the sake of visibility, they were built with a large glass panel. But this design also meant that the boxes carried a greater risk of vandalism in those days and even today.
Used to make phone calls
Although, it seemed like everyone made their calls from these boxes, some had their dial up phones in the privacy of their homes while others had pay phones; that required the caller to simply drop sufficient coins into the box and then they were good to go. But as expected, International calls, did of course cost more.
Fast-forward into the 21st century, in 2019 its completely different ball game. There is a huge contrast to today’s mobile-phone generation who have probably never had the need to step inside a phone box, let alone use one.
Some of the remaining iconic red phone boxes have now been transformed into micro libraries. Others into cashpoint machines, mini Cafes spilling on to the pavements, like these ones in Russell Square, Central London.
Others are even used as backdrops for photo shoots by tourists as they stroll the scenic streets of London and stand side by side with the British phone box.
These cute mini libraries have invite members of the public to donate their books in exchange for one of their choice. The benefit is not to have to spend a penny! The downside to this system is that some people are dishonest and can simply pick up a book without leaving one of theirs.
Sadly today, I discovered that many of these boxes are seldom used and as a result they have attracted vandals. For example, some have been misused as lavatories!
One of my memories was making my calls from these kiosks (as they were sometimes known) back in the days. I had to search hard for the correct coins beforehand then wait patiently for my turn to make a call from the pay phone.
I can’t forget the hostile experience of queuing up in the cold to use the pay phone especially after college and how using a 10p coin wouldn’t last a long time. On the other hand there were some good memories of having conversations while waiting in the queue.
A few more ideas for transformation:
After researching and interviewing a couple of young Londoners, they’ve suggested transforming them into:
- Polaroid Photo boxes
- Video games kiosk
- Pickup points for deliveries
- Supervised food banks
- Temporary storage units
- Supervised mini gallery
Regardless of them being partially obsolete, they are still iconic.
Do you remember having to use a phone box in London or your home country and what were your fondest memories? Did you ever dread using them? What can they be transformed into? Drop me a line or two as always.
Great post Bola! I recall using phone boxes up until the late 1990’s when I finally caved and purchased a mobile phone! When meeting my friends in town and they were running late, I recall calling their home to ask how long ago they had left.
I agree that some phone boxes were smelly. I remember wiping the ear piece before making the call whilst holding my nose!
Thank goodness for technology!?
Very interesting post, Bola. I have indeed used those red booths to make phone calls in London. But not for a very long time! It’s amazing how quickly things can become obsolete.
They have quickly become obsolete and I’m wondering what life would look like if mobile phones become dated.
What a fun post! This creativeness will keep these iconic phone booths around for generations. I like the ideas the Londoners had too!
The colour makes them even more attractive.
I did not have the chance to use one of those, but I loved how they were creatively used to make something interesting. It’s one of those things that I feel like it’s missing in African countries…the re-utilization and furbishing of old and unused infrastructures.
Re-utilised and refurbished infrastructure will be beneficial to our environment.
It’s funny to hear your memories of using these phone boxes – as both an American and someone who almost never had to use a phone booth at home, it’s oddly shocking to think about how ordinary these were to people who lived in London! I love some of your ideas for reusing them – how fun to find a mini gallery or gaming station in one!
A mini gallery or gaming station might even appeal to teens and young adults.