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Wood & Concrete -- Towards a more comprehensive Timeline

Started by hb88banzai, Apr 22, 2016, 10:45 am

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hb88banzai

Quote from: Tony Farrell on Apr 22, 2016, 08:02 am
...After all, weren't the original Police Boxes made primarily from concrete (which kind-of makes a nonsense of Martha Jones' statement in 'Smith and Jones' that "your spaceship is made of wood?!").
...


A bit off topic, but just have to answer this.

There were actually around 60 Met Boxes that were mostly made of wood (they did have a concrete roof), and that's over and above the prototypes (as many as ten, eight of which were probably very close to the final Mark 1 form, eg the first Coulsdon Box). Further, in some ways they looked more like the TARDIS than many of the all concrete versions. So, really not so strange the TARDIS is always described as a "wooden box" if the old girl decided to base her disguise off of one of these.

tony farrell

Apr 22, 2016, 03:01 pm #1 Last Edit: Apr 22, 2016, 04:28 pm by Tony Farrell
Quote from: hb88banzai on Apr 22, 2016, 10:45 am
A bit off topic, but just have to answer this.
There were actually around 60 Met Boxes that were mostly made of wood (they did have a concrete roof), and that's over and above the prototypes (as many as ten, eight of which were probably very close to the final Mark 1 form, eg the first Coulsdon Box). Further, in some ways they looked more like the TARDIS than many of the all concrete versions. So, really not so strange the TARDIS is always described as a "wooden box" if the old girl decided to base her disguise off of one of these.


Forgive me HB (I've no desire to contradict you - you clearly are our resident expert in this regard) but is what you've just stated entirely correct? (Also, if this is covered elsewhere, I apologise.)

My understanding is that the Mackenzie-Trench design was piloted in 1929 and these (ten or so 'pilot') Police Boxes were made from wood with lead-clad roofs. (Surely concrete would have been a strange choice to place atop of a wooden supporting structure if only for reasons of weight? **)

After the success of this initial 1929 trial, the design was rolled out across London from 1930 onwards with the fully-fledged boxes being made from concrete (apart from the door which was of teak) with iron-framed windows. Concrete was chosen for the roll-out as it could be mass-produced from a mould and didn't require the maintenance which a wooden construction would have entailed.

I also understand that the 1929 'pilot' boxes had no roof lamp with which to summon the local policeman and that the windows were lead-framed (and permanently closed) rather than being made out of iron (with one or more of them being open-able):

prototype mackenzie trench.png

Following the initial roll-out of the fully-fledged concrete boxes, in 1935 - in response to concerns that the public weren't using the boxes to call for police help - it's my understanding that a London-wide publicity campaign was undertaken to increase awareness and, as part of this campaign, the decision was made to update the lintel signage from simply "POLICE" to the more familiar "POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX" wording. (I've added the 1935 publicity poster to the main photo above.)

I'd appreciate it if you could clarify/expand on these points to improve my understanding (though I acknowledge that perhaps this particular thread might not be the appropriate place to do so).

Thanks.

T

** Edited - just so people know, a one inch thick concrete roof (16 square feet - approx 20 square feet including the stepped sections) would weigh approximately 130 kilograms/287 pounds or just over an eighth of a tonne). That's a hell of a lot of weight to be placed on top of a wooden frame which itself would only be an inch thick. Hence the reason for me querying the construction of the 1929 'pilot' Police Boxes.

Mark

I would but Banzai will do it far better. The wording on the Pull to Open sign was also changed for the same reason.

fivefingeredstyre

Quote from: Tony Farrell on Apr 22, 2016, 03:01 pm
prototype mackenzie trench.png
Can I just say I always loved that picture...

Its like people are looking at the box as if it's just materialised out of thin air...  ;D

domvar

Quote from: Tony Farrell on Apr 22, 2016, 03:01 pm

Forgive me HB (I've no desire to contradict you - you clearly are our resident expert in this regard) but is what you've just stated entirely correct? (Also, if this is covered elsewhere, I apologise.)

My understanding is that the Mackenzie-Trench design was piloted in 1929 and these (ten or so 'pilot') Police Boxes were made from wood with lead-clad roofs. (Surely concrete would have been a strange choice to place atop of a wooden supporting structure if only for reasons of weight? **)

After the success of this initial 1929 trial, the design was rolled out across London from 1930 onwards with the fully-fledged boxes being made from concrete (apart from the door which was of teak) with iron-framed windows. Concrete was chosen for the roll-out as it could be mass-produced from a mould and didn't require the maintenance which a wooden construction would have entailed.

I also understand that the 1929 'pilot' boxes had no roof lamp with which to summon the local policeman and that the windows were lead-framed (and permanently closed) rather than being made out of iron (with one or more of them being open-able):

prototype mackenzie trench.png

Following the initial roll-out of the fully-fledged concrete boxes, in 1935 - in response to concerns that the public weren't using the boxes to call for police help - it's my understanding that a London-wide publicity campaign was undertaken to increase awareness and, as part of this campaign, the decision was made to update the lintel signage from simply "POLICE" to the more familiar "POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX" wording. (I've added the 1935 publicity poster to the main photo above.)

I'd appreciate it if you could clarify/expand on these points to improve my understanding (though I acknowledge that perhaps this particular thread might not be the appropriate place to do so).

Thanks.

T

** Edited - just so people know, a one inch thick concrete roof (16 square feet - approx 20 square feet including the stepped sections) would weigh approximately 130 kilograms/287 pounds or just over an eighth of a tonne). That's a hell of a lot of weight to be placed on top of a wooden frame which itself would only be an inch thick. Hence the reason for me querying the construction of the 1929 'pilot' Police Boxes.


Hi Tony,

HB is correct the concrete was supported by being set into the 4 corner posts lead was used above the sign boxes as flashing between the concrete and the wood.  Some of them stayed in service as late as the 40s 40.jpgvlcsnap-2012-01-19-21h40m00s207.pnglarge.jpg

and my particular favourite:-

GrangeCinema,Dagenham-BookPlate-(claimsLate1920s).jpg  You wouldn't do that with lead :D

tony farrell

Apr 23, 2016, 12:33 am #5 Last Edit: Apr 23, 2016, 11:06 am by Tony Farrell
Sorry Domvar, but the picture of the Grange Cinema dates from at the earliest 1930/1 and therefore isn't relevant to what I'm asking about.

(The cinema opened in either December 1928 (see http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/29125) or December 1929 (see http://barkingdagenhamlocalhistory.net/page3.html) and - according to the Met Box catalogue - the dome-topped police box was replaced in 1934 with an all-concrete box which therefore post-dates what I'm asking about here. And, in any case, where is the evidence that this 'dome' was made from concrete?)

Again, with apologies - I realise that this isn't the appropriate place but, this is my understanding of the sequence of Police Box designs:

1. 1928/9 - two pre-prototype boxes trialled (very pointed roof/no lamp). Contract awarded to cheapest bidder.

2. 1929 - Prototype boxes (all wood?) introduced - note the increasing size of the panel recesses as they progress up the box and the fact that the stepped roof sits inside the corner posts, no evidence of any lead flashing above lintel signage (lock just underneath the window), no door signage:

prototype police box.JPG

3. 1929/30 - First production run: Panel recesses all the same size, lock still just under the window and roof still set within the corner posts (mixture of wood and concrete), lead flashing visible but door signage not fitted at the time of this picture:

prototype mackenzie trench.png

I believe that either 42 or 43 boxes were constructed like this with the 43rd box(?) possibly being re-used at the Olympia Exhibition of 1936:

Exhibition-1936.jpg

Costs for this initial production run of 42/43 boxes stated by John Bunker in "The Rise and Fall of the Police Box" as
G. Groves & Sons - for boxes                                      £1,615.18s.6d.
Patent Victoria Stone Co. - concrete roofs                          £189.0s.0d.
Dales - name plates                                                         £60.4s.0d.
Wood Green UDC - altering railings (unsure what this means) £3.10s.3d.
R. Cooper & Sons - altering phone cupboards                      £9.11s.10d.
Engineering Branch Services
(which I take to mean electricity and telephone supplies)    £545.19s.8d.

                                              Total                          £2,424.4s.3d.

In which case, how do we arrive at a figure of 60 primarily wooden boxes (albeit with a concrete roofs)? And, returning to my original point, how the hell do you support that amount of concrete on top of a wooden box? My logic is screaming at me that there has to be something else holding it up.

4. All concrete boxes introduced (1931/2 onwards). Lock still initially under window but much wider stepped roof section and wider lintel signs (some windows now open-able):

all concrete police box.jpg

5. !935/6 design of signage altered in the hope of increasing public awareness and to encourage public's use of the boxes. (Replacement signage retrospectively fitted to existing boxes and - as a result of blocking up the void in the original signage - some windows are refitted so that they open to provide ventilation.)

As I say, I'm not disputing what anyone has stated, I'm simply seeking clarification.  :)

T

(Edited to correct my numbering - Doh!)

hb88banzai

Wow - didn't think my comments would get so out of hand.

I obviously haven't done my job in making the time line more clear in other posts, and/or that those posts are too separated to have gotten the points across in a coherent way.

A lot of questions and details to answer here, and don't have the time to address it properly at the moment. Hopefully tonight. I do have answers, however, so hang in there. I will split all these sections out to its own Topic, so don't worry about that.

But for the moment, Tony - yes, I am absolutely certain - I can dot the i's on this one. There were at a minimum 58 wooden Mark 1's with concrete roofs that were supported by the pillars, and more than likely at least 3 more. Further, all but one of the probable additional 10 prototypes were of basically the same construction - concrete roof on a timber frame (a bit of supposition here, but not much). Do note that the wood used was almost certainly teak, and that the roofs extended all the way down to the top of the sign boxes (just like the all-concrete Boxes), making them notch at least half way into the tops of the 7" thick solid timber pillars on each corner of the Box. I assure you that that much teak in compression could easily support a mere few hundred pounds of concrete.

Note that only one of the photos you posted is of a Prototype Box - that in front of the Grange Cinema - and it most definitely had a "stone" (probably concrete) roof. Both of the initial prototypes (December 1928) were considered the "lowest bidders" and were in direct competition for the final contract. The winner was the one thought most suitable, not just the lowest bidder, though apparently additional changes were thought necessary so more prototypes were constructed to refine the design while trying to get all the ducks in a row for siting of the broader experiment in the Richmond and Wood Green Sub-Divisions.

Getting the public to use the Boxes was an ongoing fight, with multiple waves of publicity campaigns to do so, culminating between 1936 and 1939 with the Met displays at the Radiolympia and Ideal Homes Exhibitions (where that leaflet/brochure image is from). Signage evolved throughout, achieving its final form ala Crich in late 1937 (though retrofitting of the top signs on older Boxes was catch as catch can through the late 1950s). As initially installed and commissioned, the first two batches of Mark 1's in fact had no external signage at all save for the perforated "POLICE" signs up top - none was thought to be needed (and the St. John badges weren't added until the First Aid supplies were installed a couple of months later, despite being planned from the beginning).

Top lights were on the Boxes from the beginning, but assembled and installed by the Met's Engineering Department rather than the contractor that built the Boxes. The electrical, telephone and lighting equipment were all installed after the Boxes were erected by the separate applicable authorities, days, weeks or even months later. The publicity photos shown above without top lights were merely taken between the dates of erection and final equipment installation, hence the curiosity on the part of the bystanders - it was very new to them.

BTW - all Mark 1's had weather flashing above the top signs, where the concrete met the wood, though I very much doubt it was lead. Lead was already falling out of fashion by the 1920s, partly due to being recognized as a health problem by then, at least in Europe. Further, you can see by the thinness of the flashing and how well it keeps it's shape over time that it has to be either solid copper or tin plated sheet steel (both commonly used at the time, though obviously the latter would have been cheaper). Even the photo that looks to be sans flashing has it - it's just not a great copy of that photo and it's a bit shorter than on other examples. Blow it up and you can still make it out, though.

More later.




tony farrell

Apr 23, 2016, 03:38 pm #7 Last Edit: Apr 23, 2016, 10:48 pm by Tony Farrell
Thanks for the reply - I look forward to a more detailed chronology when you get the time (don't rush on my account).

If I could ask a favour (not just for myself, but for newer members as well), can you add a photo of each version of the boxes as you go? That way potentially confusing terms like prototype, Mark 1, Mark 2, etc can be readily identified. (As an example, I'm thinking here that we've currently identified the boxes with three windows on the sides and back as both a Mark 3 and as a Mark 5.) Thanks.

BTW, in the 1930s in the UK, lead wasn't quite as out-of-favour as you might think: My house was built in the autumn of 1932 and had both leaded lights (windows of pebbled stained glass of various colours and geometric shapes) as well as lead pipes (in fact the the water supply to the garage still has (though I've permanently capped this pipe so it can no longer be used and I don't get poisoned)). For information lead pipework for drinking water was only made illegal in the UK in 1970 and this didn't and still doesn't apply to pre-existing houses!

Thanks again.

T

Oh, I hope you don't mind but, be prepared for more questions!

I graduated in History and have been in research and development for the last eighteen years so, for example, when you say that you're positive that the domed Police Box's top was made from concrete, I'd expect that you could explain why you're so positive. Similarly, whilst the plans for the concrete boxes specify teak for the door, where has the information that the (mainly) wooden boxes were made from teak come from i.e., what documentary evidence is there? If that is just an opinion, then that's fine but, please be clear what is 'opinion' and what is 'fact'. Thanks again!

hb88banzai

Apr 24, 2016, 03:18 am #8 Last Edit: Apr 24, 2016, 09:54 am by hb88banzai
Already intended to provide sources and documentation where possible, and explain justifications for opinions where not. Also planned to show pics of each.

I, like you, have been quite annoyed with so much rumor, myth, opinion and unjustified supposition being thrown around all these years and repeated on the web as fact. It positively grated on me every time I went to wikipedia and saw how badly wrong some parts of the "Police Box" entry was, only to see it quoted in many web pages as gospel. Finally got to the point where I broke down and rewrote part of it last year. It was amazing that even so long after Bunker, to say nothing of our own discoveries in photos before that, the article was still denying the existence of wooden Met Boxes outside of a very few prototypes and that the Trench plans (attributed as being the "original" 1929 blueprints while actually dateable as c.1935 on morphological grounds) were proof they had always been intended to be concrete. Separating wheat from chaff has been my whole goal from the start.

BTW - some of what you seek in the way of photographs, timelines, etc, is already here: http://tardisbuilders.com/index.php?topic=4403.0

It's largely a couple to a few years old, but shows the beginnings of our current understanding, most of which has been validated in the interim (just ignore the stuff in the middle about the Tower of London type Boxes).

Most pertinent sections are beginning here: http://tardisbuilders.com/index.php?topic=4403.msg51036#msg51036

...and here: http://tardisbuilders.com/index.php?topic=4403.msg66149#msg66149

One thing, "most definitely" was probably a bit strong as regards the Grange Cinema box having a concrete roof as I have no primary evidence for same, but the secondary evidence by way of Bunker, who has proven to be a fairly reliable researcher and source if not taken as comprehensive, can lead to no other conclusion. I'll explain why - with pictures!

Similarly, regarding the likelihood of the Mark 1's being made from teak, I have no original written documentary sources, but the photographs that clearly show the grain pattern (consistent with moderate to lesser grade teak), coupled with the relative availability of suitable weather & pest resistant lumber and the Boxes' proven durability over several decades exposed to all weather conditions (and the privations of war), again seems to leave few options. The only other likely alternative would have been Scotch Pine. As the c1935 Trench plans specified Teak for the door, it seems a reasonable extrapolation that it had always been part of the specification for these Boxes (and likely the Mark 0's before them). Especially convincing when taking into consideration the ready and cheap availability of Teak in the UK before WWII (having a lock on most of the world supply at the time). As a weather resistant, structurally sound and stable building material, Teak has few equals, especially the old growth being harvested at the time.

Proof of how well they were built, and how durable the materials used, is that as of May 1947 there were reported to be "about 20" wooden Mark 1's still in service, likely in addition to the Box at Peel House (based on context), with at least one still seen on the streets as of the mid-1950s (Sheen Lane). Considering how many younger all concrete Mark 2's and 3's were being replaced with Mark 4's and 5's in the same time frame, this is quite remarkable.

On the numbers, though, I have primary sources - photocopies/scans of original documents, etc.

tony farrell

Thanks for the reply HB and for splitting the topic from the Brighton Box. (I may call you HB mayn't I? I don't know your name and hb88banzai is a bit of a 'mouthful'!)

Thanks also for your positive attitude to my comments. I'm glad that you share my view and haven't taken offence at my requesting clarification. I also like the title of this thread as it nicely encapsulates my view that research is an on-going, dynamic, 'living' thing which, over time, will change and expand.

Rest assured I've read all the articles and discussion threads within the Police Box section of the forum (including the older topics where - sadly - a great many of the links to external sites no longer work). Possibly it is these missing links which are the source of my confusion as to what constitutes the prototype boxes, what constitutes the initial 'trial' run and what constitutes the initial 'roll-out' of the boxes (I'm still not clear whether this roll-out was 42, 43 or somewhere nearer sixty so am looking forward to reading more).

At the risk of boring people (and I don't want this to come across as a conversation just between the two of us), clearly, nothing happens in a vacuum and the history of the Police Boxes (like the gestation of Brachacki's Tardis interior) is a case in point: Obviously other influences come into play - the socio-economic conditions of the time, the building materials available, the amount of money available and, indeed, the architectural trends of the late 1920s/early 1930s all have a bearing. (One only has to look at the Police Box design to realise it was a 'child of its time' - the geometry of the box, the stepped roof, the frosted/pebbled glass, the corner post quadrants all 'scream' Art Deco.)

I'm not after some great re-working of your excellent research, just some slight clarifications e.g., which were the prototype boxes (with photos if possible) and which boxes constituted the initial roll-out (again with representative photos), what lessons were learnt (what you called getting the ducks in a row) and how these lessons were incorporated into the main production run. (If I've understood you correctly, the overwhelming majority of the Metropolitan Police Box network was complete by 1937 so, we're only talking about a nine year period from initial concept/prototype to a fully fledged network. Okay, I realise that there was 'tinkering' after that, but I hope you 'get my point'.)

As regards opinion/rumour being presented as fact perhaps we should call ourselves "the Myth Busters". Now there's a good title for a topic!  :)

T

domvar


hb88banzai

Apr 24, 2016, 01:06 pm #11 Last Edit: Apr 24, 2016, 03:10 pm by hb88banzai
Hmmm, interesting - not sure you could get away with that under code here in the US, at least not in California. And I wasn't aware withdrawal of lead pipes was about the same as in the States. Had been led to believe the lack of a big lead lobby there had made changes easier.

Knew I should have expanded on that when I wrote it, though. Real reason it went out of favor in building is because "tin" was cheaper. Then galvanized steel and aluminium came along to replace that (though neither is quite as durable when tinned steel is maintained). Of course copper has always maintained the top rung, but it's gotten a lot more expensive over the years.

Regardless, it's primarily on structural grounds that I eliminated lead from consideration for the flashing, as well as for the roofing of the Mark 0's when they went to metal clad roofs instead of shingles. Lead would have been too easily deformed to have looked as good and clean as it did on either, especially after a few years of use.

BTW Tony - it's Alan. Feel free to use that, HB, or Banzai, I'm easy.

domvar

Hi HB, Sorry to contradict you but they wouldn't use tin in the uk because of the rain / rust, copper has never been very popular in the uk ether.

I'm convinced (mainly due to the wonky edges) that it is lead on both the mk 0 and mk1 wooden boxes.  

The Sheffield police boxes all had lead roofs including the remaining one.

I would also think it would have been the obvious choice for a gap between concrete and wood because it is soft as the compression from the concrete would make a better seal.

hb88banzai

Apr 24, 2016, 02:27 pm #13 Last Edit: Apr 24, 2016, 05:50 pm by hb88banzai
I live to be corrected, however my research (if I'm remembering it all properly) doesn't quite agree with all your points, and I'm really not at all sure lead fits the observations.

I do agree that flashing in the valleys of the roof joint, where it meets the pillars, would be best achieved by something very malleable like lead or pure tin, but for those very reasons something that forms a drip edge like that above the sign boxes would be horribly deformed in a short period of time if pure lead, and with the thinness of the material evident in the photos I might even expect to see some tearing. If you look carefully, you can see it extends out to, or even past the outer surface of the screwed on sign frames, making each flashing with 1/2"-3/4" of unsupported metal almost four feet long. While there is some waviness present in the photos, it doesn't get much worse over time, and it looks more like what I've seen copper flashing do. Lead coated copper was and is used, and is certainly a possibility here. Not sure about how thin tin plated steel would act in similar situations, but I suspect with the stresses of being installed and/or erected it might look the same, especially if the Boxes were assembled in the workshop instead of on site, due to the additional handling involved in transport and positioning.

As to tin (or rather tin plated steel) in the UK, not at all sure your assessment is correct. As far as I recall, my older research said it was invented there. Main thing to consider is that with proper installation it was painted, something you can't easily do with galvanized, for instance. Quite often it was painted to look like corroded copper, and this is exactly what we often see on colourised period postcards of Mark 0s, though sometimes they do look darker, like old tarnished lead, or even lighter like new copper. The vagaries of colour tinting being what it is, this should be considered with caution either way, but it is an interesting data point. Note that the drip flashing on the Mark 1's was painted like the rest of the Box. Point is, when properly maintained and kept painted, it's useful life is rated at 50-100 years - far longer than anything but copper and lead -and yes, this is even in very wet environments. If you keep it painted (to seal any scratches though the tin), it's incredibly durable.

My understanding is that copper was indeed used in the UK, but as here it tended to be for higher end applications (homes of the rich, or where the need for durability outweighed the expense). Run of the mill was most usually lead until the turn of the last century.

Regardless, my argument against lead on the Mark 0s is similar to that against it on the sign flashing of the Mark 1s - lack of significant deformation. I would expect something as extremely malleable as lead to appear dimpled, wavy or at least noticeably uneven from the stresses of application on a roof and/or from being pounded on by the weather over time. Instead, on the Mark 0s the metal sheeting appears very flat on those pyramidal roofs, and the raised seam finishing treatment at the corners is typical of plated sheet steel or copper roofs. And as already stated, on something like a drip edge it would be far, far worse looking than what we see in the photos of Mark 1s.

This is opinion, or at best a working hypothesis based on some experience with these metals and on analysis of the available photos, so if we have a builder among our group or somebody else who knows better, please don't hesitate to set me straight.

tony farrell

Alan (BTW, thanks for letting me have your name - it somehow makes things much more friendly) and Domvar, with respect rather than talking about Mark 0s and Mark 1s, and trying to describe how the flashing has been fitted, it really would be incredibly helpful to post a picture showing what you're referring to; a picture paints a thousand words!

(For the benefit of newer readers - and future readers - we really also need to sort out what we're calling the various iterations of the Police Boxes as well - is there anything in the documentation to indicate what versions were called what at the time? I vaguely recall reading something here on TB that the box versions had a numeric code with a three digit suffix or sub-code but I'm damned if I can find that at the moment.)

Domvar (would you care to share your name as well?) I agree with Alan that copper is actually quite widely used here in the UK as a roofing material (though it rapidly goes green (verdigris)) and is largely confined to major civic buildings and the homes of the rich and powerful.

It's pouring down here at the moment (oh the joys of the British spring!) but when it dries off, I'll take some pictures of the lead flashings on my neighbour's house (which has been untouched since it was built in the 1930s) and for comparison some of my house where I've been forced to refit the original flashings after replacing the windows. Hopefully this will show just how smooth lead flashings can be even after eighty-odd years (and - in the case of my house - how easy it is for the lead to take on a dimpled appearance once you start tampering with it).

I'm enjoying this thread and I'm looking forward to reading more and - hopefully - getting some clarifications as we go along!

Cheers

T