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Met Box Mk1, Mk2, Mk3 - Post List Discussion

Started by lorisarvendu, Mar 23, 2012, 08:12 pm

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I've always assumed that the Mk1, Mk2, Mk3 naming of Met boxes was similar to the "NST Mk1, 2, 3" naming convention.  In other words, created and adopted solely by the Tardis Building Community.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Mk1 is commonly used to describe boxes that appear to be based on the original Trench plans - in other words the phone panel and St John Sign are not in the usual "TARDIS" place.

The Mk2 is what I would term the commonest, most "TARDIS-like" box, with phone and sign on the top two front panels.

Finally, the Mk3, which would seem to be that weird box with odd windows and panels (the best example of which is in the grounds of Hendon Police College).

Then of course there's the recent discussion of "Crich" and "Barnet" varieties (where the roof stacks and sign box width seem to come in two distinct flavours).

Up until the List was scanned by Mark D, there was often discussion about which order each different design hit the streets of London, and as far as I can gather there really hasn't been any evidence, photographic or otherwise, to indicate that they actually were built in that way.  As far as I can see, the only evidence for the "Mk1" being the earliest is that it appears on plans dated 1929.

However, the Location List now tells us that far from boxes appearing all over London over a period of about 10 years, they actually seem to have appeared in Division order.  Thus we seem to have V Division (Richmond & Kew) first bringing boxes into operation in December 1929.  And that's all their boxes.  Every one goes operative on the same date. So presumably they were all built round the same date as well.

Boxes in A, B, F, G, H Division on the other hand appear in January 1938. Again all of them.

Well I say all, but it's actually the majority (there are some cases where boxes appear later, but that could be because they have been resited from another Division).

Now that we have a list, we should be able to tell from photographs that exist what "Mark" of box was installed on what date. So if we see a "Mk1" and a "Mk2" in a particular Division, we know that the different types were not due to evolution in design, but for some other reason.

On the other hand, if every photograph of a box in V Division shows a Mk1 box, then we know that one design did supersede another.

For example, the Mk3 in Holloway Road is in N Division, where all the boxes went active in August 1937.  But we already know that several  Divisions got their boxes in January of the next year (and some later). If the Mk3 was simply a "later" design, then one might expect every box after it to be of the same design, and that's not the case.


Mar 23, 2012, 09:20 pm #1 Last Edit: Mar 23, 2012, 09:23 pm by domvar
Unless the mk3's were replacements for damaged / bombed boxes with the amount of hammer London took during ww2 it would not surprise me if many were destroyed.

and that's on day 1


I've never really bought into the whole mk. this and mk. that's purely because I could never figure out what came first.

I have to say I always presumed the version sitting at Hendon with the odd window arrangement was a later version because of the simplified design perhaps 50's or 60's, but even that theory doesn't seem to hold water.

As far as the blueprints go, they appear to show a Crich style box but without the phone panel writing on the panel but rather underneath. The roof structure all lines up as per that design.

The number of pictures showing Barnet style boxes seem to show that this style of box is predominant as far as designs go.

What mystifies me is the boxes start off life as the wooden "prototypes" that don't look like the one drawn on the plans (Crich type) but almost look like a Glasgow box  ???

I agree there were probably a number of boxes destroyed during the blitz but the few destroyed due to "road collision" were noted in the list an appear not to have been replaced. If they weren't replaced during peace time why bother during the war when manpower and material were scarce?

There is definitely a lot to ponder about the development of the Police Box, wonder if there are more clues (or answers) in the following archive boxes Mark D mentioned?


I agree. I can't see any evidence that the different designs that we refer to as Mks 1-3 are designs separated in time, or even (if they were) that they are in that order.  There's a tendency to think that 1 came first, followed by 2, then 3.  But I think that's solely based on the assumption that the Trench plans must be the earliest design, and therefore boxes that look like that were the earliest, while what we see as the Mk2 is the second design.  The Mk3 is only called that because it was named after the other two (and I think on this forum), not because there's evidence that they were designed and built after the other two.

The problem with assuming the "Crich"/"Barnet" style differences are an earlier and later design is that the list shows us this assumption is wrong.  The Barnet style may be the commonest, but that doesn't mean it's the earlier, or that it's the later.

There are four more or less verified cases (with photographic evidence) that show this:

Blackwall South box (Barnet style) - erected 1934
Ealing box (Crich style - well, actual Crich box) - erected 1936
Barnet By-Pass box (Barnet style) - erected 1936
Blackwall North box (Crich style) - erected 1938.

By assuming that the different styles of box were designed and built in a particular order, one can fall into the trap of looking for evidence to confirm it.  This is a form of circular reasoning.  There must be other reasons why some police boxes look different to others, and as you say the Archives may hold it.  Personally I really do think it's down to different contractors.


Mar 24, 2012, 07:56 am #4 Last Edit: Mar 24, 2012, 08:00 am by domvar
I would imagine as they were used for AR siren control and were a vital item of coms equipment they would have been a target and also required replacing urgently, this might explain the wooden mk 2 seen during the war.  maybe these were replaced with later style mk2's and 3's post war.

I think it is possible that mk 1s and modified mk 2's were being installed in parallel from about 1936 on but I cant belive that mk3's were anything other than post war because of the differing equipment (the combined heater / lamp for example) and the fact I am yet to see a picture of one earlier than 1950.

I had heard the boxes referred to as mk1 / 2 / 3 in the 80's & 90's before any one was discussing it in any depth (I'm sure one of the target books describes the tardis as a mk2 police box) so I feel sure there must be some more evidence somewhere.

Fingers crossed for the other 7 files


Jun 04, 2012, 10:30 am #5 Last Edit: Jun 04, 2012, 11:40 am by hb88banzai
Actually, I believe there is ample evidence in the photographic record that what we term "Mark 1" was in fact installed first. I think where a great deal of confusion occurs is that our designations were based solely on visual differences, not structural ones.

I'm not positive of the original history of the terms, but the first time I saw them used was in a Doctor Who Magazine article from 1983 ("Death of the TARDIS"). I think either the person doing the research for that article was told of different "Marks" of Police Box by the Met, or the person writing the article coined the term to try to make sense of the obvious differences between the 1929 dated Trench plans (portions of which were included in the article) and the more familiar later form taken by the TARDIS, noting that only two Marks were described. Regrettably, this article contains a great deal of misinformation, but then even the Met's own Police Box history page leaves something to be desired on that front.

The appellation of Mark 3 was coined at a later date by a different source when an attempt was made to fit these very different boxes into the naming scheme.

An earlier discussion that attempted to come to grips with all this (including reproductions of the above article on page 2) can be found in this thread:

What most people think of as "Mark 1" vs. "Mark 2" is in fact entirely a question of appearance - the type, form and position of signage, and to a lesser extent the type and color of the top Beacon.

There is some evidence in textual sources that the very first boxes only had the "POLICE" sign up top. This was made of pierced metal for ventilation as the windows didn't open. In short order (probably between the first two rollouts of the first "experimental" installation) it was discovered that more information needed to be displayed in order to encourage use of the phone by the public, so a sign was made up to be positioned under the clear glass phone door, with a St. John plaque being installed in the panel opposite this sign to show that First Aid supplies were also available. These were the first 43 wooden boxes with concrete roofs installed in Richmond, et al, Dec 1929 to Jan 1930 (actually, The List says 42 boxes were installed, but the archives apparently say 43 were made - the missing box may have been for training or exhibition purposes as the 1936 Radiolympia box is clearly one of these).

At the end of 1930 the next batch of boxes installed were the first all concrete boxes and the signage was changed so that the top signs were now backlit glass (blue letters on white). Some time later, the globe style Beacon was replaced by a red lit Fresnel and the form represented by the Dinky toy of 1935/1936 was complete. Please note that the earliest picture we have of a concrete box (one with Mark 1 livery and still retaining a globular red beacon) is of a different design than either Barnet or Crich. Based on structural differences in the sign boxes, pillars and roof lines there were at very least four different concrete designs - plus the Mark 3's - probably all due to being constructed by different contractors.

By the middle of 1936 it is clear from the sample box at the Radiolympia Exhibition and its accompanying graphics and pamphlet that the basic Mark 1 layout was still in effect, but that the top sign graphics had been changed to the complete "POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX", though still in dark (blue or black) letters on a white background, and now with a serifed font.

Some time after the 1936 Radiolympia Exhibition, the first boxes installed with the classic Mark 2 layout appeared. There is a later picture from an Exhibition in a subsequent year that shows what is obviously the Radiolympia Box, but with Mark 2 livery.

As you can see, what we call a Mark 1 has a lot of variability, both in details of signage & other fittings and in basic structure (wood vs. concrete, and several versions of concrete).

Those WWII wooden boxes were not newly built, btw, they were almost certainly from the original "experimental" installation, but retrofitted with new signage (and hopper windows). The fact that they were fully utilized for so long I think should put an end to the idea that these wooden boxes were mere prototypes. They were a relatively large production run put into full service, with many (if not most) still in use through WWII, and only lost out to the more expensive concrete designs in subsequent contracts due to the decision to go with concrete construction as it was thought more durable.

Based on the dating of photographs, it appears that upgrading boxes to new standards in fittings and signage was carried out in a systematic way as the new standards were finalized (with some things like changing white BG top signs to blue BG ones taking lower priority). The Barnet Box started out as some version of Mark 1 based on photographic evidence of prior sign placement (probably looking like the Radiolympia box from its commissioning date), with the signage being changed only later to its final Mark 2 form. In contrast, there is no evidence that the Crich box was ever fitted out as a Mark 1.

I think there is circumstantial evidence that what we now call the "Mark 2" layout was established as a new standard by the Met at the time of the design of the classic Metropolitan Police Posts (and the GPO's PA350 system to support them) in mid-to-late 1937, as they appear to represent the first use of the backlit Phone Doors that we all know and love and that form the central feature of the Mark 2 design. Even the change to White letters on Blue BG in the top signs seems to be a reflection of those in the new Police Posts. If true, then based on the chronology in "The List", most Police Boxes were likely installed as one version or another of the "Mark 1" and only later converted.

Note then that there are complications to the whole nomenclature as it's been adopted, but as long as we understand that it is essentially a cosmetic descriptor, it can still make sense. Of course when it comes to the Mark 3, those cosmetic differences also coincide with some pretty major structural alterations to the design.

By the way, I am of the camp that believes the Mark 3's were a postwar replacement design. The fact no early pictures of one has come to light and that the design aesthetic and all the internal fittings are circa 1950 seems to clinch this for me.

Dating of the other sub-designs is much more problematic, and unfortunately "The List" doesn't help us much here as it doesn't give a complete picture of the repair or replacement history of a given Box, only the commissioning and decommissioning dates of a given site along with a few cryptic notes. I mean, it's even possible that the Crich pattern was a WWII replacement design for boxes damaged or destroyed during The Blitz (hence the haphazard fitting of front doors - some right side out, some not). A lot of further study will have to be done before we can answer some of these questions with any authority.


An excellent, very informative post! 

It seems to me that the life of the Police Box is more and more coming to parallel the life of the TARDIS prop.

The initial attempt to tease some kind of rational order out of the evolution of the BBC's TARDIS design by using the designer's name has turned out not to be the whole story. For example the "Brachaki" design has gone through so many changes in the two decades of it's life that any attempt of a builder to come up with a "definitive" design is doomed to failure.

Paint jobs, sign position and colour, lamp design and roof, all seem to change with each season.  Basically you picks your episode of Doctor Who and builds that TARDIS!

Now it appears the history of Met Box design isn't that much different! Up until a year ago it might have been possible to draw up 4 designs to cover the whole spectrum of Police Box manufacture, but it now seems that again you picks your box and builds that version.

Although a part of me mourns the loss of simplicity, it certainly makes the subject more interesting.