10 November 2015

The telephone kiosk in Wall
reaches a wider audience

A small local library is an imaginative use for a redundant telephone kiosk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I wrote last month [October 2015] about the Roman site in Wall and the charm of this small village three miles south of Lichfield.

In my monthly column in two diocesan magazines, I told the story of this small village in rural South Staffordshire, and how it developed on the site of Letocetum on the old Roman road of Watling Street.

Wall is a charming village, and two of us had been walking in the countryside outside Lichfield, through Wall, Chesterfield and Shenstone, on a summer afternoon earlier this year.

To illustrate my column, I also used a photograph of the former telephone kiosk in Wall, which has been turned into a small lending library by local people.

Now, many weeks later, my story has been taken up by a local newspaper, the Birmingham Mail, where Cathrina Hulse told the story yesterday, claiming this is Britain’s smallest library.

A Facebook friend drew my attention last night to the report in the Birmingham Mail yesterday, which quotes the chair of the parish council, John Crowe, saying the old telephone kiosk now rivals the village’s Roman ruins as a tourist attraction.

He says: “We bought the box from BT for £1 because it was redundant. One of our councillors carried out the work and installed a few shelves. Another county councillor gave us some books. A charity donated a few and residents now keep the library topped up.”

“The lending is based on trust and fortunately there have been no problems,” he adds. “We have a lot of visitors to the Roman site but now we have almost as many taking photographs of the phone box!”

Interesting snippets on a red telephone kiosk on Hills Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The red telephone kiosk was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and from 1926 on it was a familiar sight on streets throughout England, becoming a British cultural icon.

However, the production of the traditional boxes ended in 1985, and they have started to disappear with a change in habits and the popularisation of mobile ’phones.

During a visit to Cambridge earlier this summer, I noted how little-used red telephone kiosks have been adapted for interesting uses throughout England. Returning by Hills Road to the train station in Cambridge, I had a Wonderland moment when I stopped to look at the old telephone box outside the estate agents Strutt and Parker.

The kiosk outside the Cambridge offices of Strutt and Parker on Hill Street has become a clever advertising agent, decorated with miscellaneous pieces of information that invite passing pedestrians to stop and read:

“The first game of Association Football was played on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge” – the Cambridge University Rules were adopted by the Football Association in 1863.

“Pink Floyd are probably the most famous band from Cambridge.”

“Cambridge has more than double the people with a higher level qualification than the National average at 41.2%”

“Cambridge has the highest level of cycle use anywhere in the UK with 25% of residents travelling to work by bicycle, with 47% of residents travelling by bicycle at least once a week” – which might explain why I almost got myself run over a few times yesterday when I stopped off the footpath in King’s Parade, Trinity Street or Sidney Street.

And of course: “Cambridge was described as one of the most beautiful cities in the World by Forbes in 2010.”

Now the Birmingham Mail that disused boxes are finding “wacky new uses to save them from being scrapped.” It reports how earlier this year a local entrepreneur, Jake Hollier, launched a coffee pod in a box in Birmingham city centre. In Brighton a box has been converted into a tiny cafĂ© called Red Box Coffee, while another is an ice¬ cream kiosk. And some of London’s disused kiosks have been painted green and converted to free mobile phone chargers named solarboxes.

Patrick Comerford adds: On Wednesday 10 November 2015, The Guardian also published a photograph of this telephone kiosk in Wall

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