Tag Archives: K6

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.

Walking back through 400 years of postal history

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

For the last three years BPMA has been running popular walking tours, which take you into the heart of old GPO London, exploring 400 years of postal history and developments in the iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The full tour lasts around 3 hours but next year, as part of our programme of activities to celebrate the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, we’re developing a ‘highlights’ version that will last around 1.5 hours and finish up at Guildhall Art Gallery. This will give you the opportunity to visit the fascinating exhibition, Empire Mail: George V and the GPO which will contain many significant objects and items of postal history from the reign of George V, when the GPO (General Post Office) was at its height.

Last week, Chris Taft, one of the curators at the BPMA who helped to develop and run the tours, took me out on the route of the new walking tour.

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1920s

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1935

It takes in the old GPO heartland around St Martin’s Le Grand, once the bustling hub of communication throughout the empire. This incorporates the majestic former GPO headquarters of King Edward Building – opened in 1910, the front of which is still standing today – and the sites of GPO North, the Central Telegraph Office and GPO East, from where crowds gathered each night to witness the spectacle of racing mail coaches leaving London.

Today King Edward Street is overlooked by a statue of Rowland Hill, the social reformer who revolutionised the postal service in 1840, making mail communication within reach of ordinary people for the first time.

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Then travel further back in time to the site where the ‘bishop mark’ the world’s first postmark was struck in 1661. Continue to the area of the City where many coffee houses clustered in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Coffee houses were significant in the development of communication because many had the facility for visitors to post letters. Due to the coffee shop owners’ close relationships with ship owners, this was considered a more efficient way of carrying letters overseas than using the Post Office.

A little further on is the site of the office of the Postmaster General. In 1680 this was the only place you could post letters in the country. By 1808 the office was called “the most important spot on the surface of the globe.”

Dates for the new walking tour will be announced later in the year.

The last full-length walking of 2009 takes place on Saturday 26 September (1.00 – 4.00 pm). Click here to find out how to book tickets