On the trail of the London Police box…

The sight of a navy blue police box might conjure up visions of Doctor Who and the TARDIS but in their heyday police call boxes were commonplace and an essential communications tool for constables on the beat.

The public were also permitted to use police boxes for reporting emergencies by means of telephone located behind a ‘pull to open’ panel.

Appearing in a variety of shapes and sizes over the years, each box came with a glass light mounted on the roof for signalling to officers nearby. Larger scale versions were designed by Gilbert Mackenzie Trench and acted as small makeshift stations. Features inside included a desk, heater, lighting, log book and first aid kit (hence the St John Ambulance emblem on the front door of some boxes). They could also be used to incarcerate criminals apprehended on the streets until suitable backup had arrived to transfer them to a holding cell.

A Police Box in operation in the 1950s. Source: Open University

With the invention of mobile communications, police boxes soon became obsolete and only a few disused originals remain on the streets today of the UK today, some under Grade II listing.

In London, examples can be found near the Guildhall and London Wall, Piccadilly Circus and Temple underground stations as well as Trafalgar and Grosvenor Squares.


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