Monthly Archives: July 2011

Silence!

by Julian Stray, Assistant Curator

As telephones became increasingly available to the public in the late 19th
century there was a growing need for ‘kiosks’ in which to house them.

‘Public call offices’ were authorised by the Postmaster General in 1884. There were a number of suppliers and designs varied. Indoor versions had flat roofs while those outside were usually given pitched roofs, the better to withstand the weather.

The wooden kiosks did not stand up to the elements well and it is not surprising that once most responsibility for the telephone network passed to the Post Office in 1912, cast iron and the occasional flirtation with concrete were the preferred materials for manufacturing telephone kiosks.

Few wooden ‘silence cabinets’ survive today and if encountered it is normally the indoor variant that has had a more sheltered existence.

The BPMA hold four cast iron telephone kiosks from the period when the majority of the telephone systems fell under the auspices of the Post Office, these are the K2, K4, K6 and K8.

One of the BPMA’s most recent acquisitions is a ‘Silence Cabinet’. This rare survivor from between the wars was in use until quite recently in a hotel in North Norfolk.

While the modern internal telephone equipment had been removed prior to the
kiosk being acquired by the BPMA, much survives in original condition. The panelled dark wood and cream coloured interior is typical of this style of kiosk.

Arrival of the Silence Cabinet

Arrival of the Silence Cabinet. The new acquisition was carefully lowered onto a new pallet so that it could be easily moved by museum curators. We were pleased to see the delivery occurring via one of the rare surviving kiosk trailers originally used by Post Office Telephones, sadly, not part of the BPMA collection!

Most were installed in high status shops, railway stations, hotels and some post offices.

Crown glass is for the most part double glazed for privacy and the legend ‘PUBLIC TELEPHONE’ on the glass in the door would have announced its purpose to any passer by. A special handle pulls the door tightly closed when shut, compressing the rubberised seal round the edge. Faint marks on the rear of the kiosk suggest that the kiosk may have been supplied by Siemens in 1923.

The Silence Cabinet joins the other kiosks in the Museum Store. Now dwarfed by its larger cousin, the K4, or Vermillion Giant.

The Silence Cabinet joins the other kiosks in the Museum Store. Now dwarfed by its larger cousin, the K4, or Vermillion Giant.

BPMA also visited Le Strange Arms Hotel at Old Hunstanton where Robert Wyllie, the hotel manager, was interviewed for the BPMA Oral History collection.

Consequently now hold a rarely obtained complementary history from someone who knew the object well.

Are we your Archive of the Year?

Here at the BPMA we are constantly striving to improve our services to our customers. We like to think we already do pretty well and the feedback you give us supports this. In the 2011 Public Services Quality Group Survey of Visitors to British Archives, 65% of our visitors rated our overall service provision as ‘very good’. This is backed up in our ongoing feedback, over the last quarter 100% of users have rated our services ‘very good’ or ‘good’.

BPMA Archive Search Room

BPMA Archive Search Room

It seems that our users are generally happy with the service we provide, and are good at telling us how pleased they are. Now we want you to tell other people how happy you are with the service we provide. We are participating in the Archive of the Year awards run by ‘Your Family History’ and we need as many of our users as possible to nominate us for the award. Nominations can be made at www.your-familyhistory.com, full details of the award are also available there. Nominations are open until December 2011 and the award will be made at Who Do You Think You Are Live in February 2012 (which we will be attending).

We would like to thank all our users in advance for their support. Equally if there is anything you think we could do better please let us know via info@postalheritage.org.uk.