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Different phone types in police boxes

Started by russellsuthern, Oct 29, 2014, 07:21 pm

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Oct 29, 2014, 07:21 pm Last Edit: Oct 29, 2014, 07:22 pm by russellsuthern
Hi, All,
Just got a phone for my build, & it got me thinking.
I'm sure the real police boxes never used the style of phone seen it the new series, & most prop builders tend to opt for the black Bakelite style phone (as in Logopolis).
Some of the early reference photos show bobby's using 'candlestick' style phones-
My question is, was there a set type of phone used in the boxes & how often did it change over time? Was their much variation?
I'm wondering if phones got broken & replaced with whatever was handy, just like the window panes?
Any info, & reference piccys would be greatly appreciated!!

Thanks, all!



Oct 30, 2014, 01:45 pm #1 Last Edit: Oct 31, 2014, 06:56 am by hb88banzai
Ahhh, telephones...

As with most things Metbox related, it seems to be a long and tangled history well worthy of an Article all its own -- perhaps in the near future. For now I'll try to be as concise as possible.

The history of the Met's police box telephones predates, of course, the TARDIS shaped Metboxes - with these "Fixed Point" Police Telephone Boxes --


The telephones they used, at least until they were incorporated into the Metbox system, were the GPO Telephone No. 3 (if no hand crank generator were necessary) --


Or the GPO Telephone No. 11 (if a hand crank was needed to contact the station's switchboard) --


The above photo from the 1920's in Carshalton would seem to suggest it was a No. 11, as a hand crank appears to be visible on the right. These were state of the art telephones when the first such Box was erected in Cricklewood in 1897, and all photos of them to date that happen to also catch sight of the phone shows one of these, noting that they were local battery type telephones, so the Engineering Department of the Met had to regularly visit each box to replace the dry cells.

When the Metbox prototypes were installed on the Becontree Estate in December 1928, and then when the first full scale experimental installations in Richmond and Wood Green took place in 1929 & 1930, technology had progressed to the candlestick telephone (though the GPO 200 Series was introduced in 1929 with the Telephone No. 162, it was not yet in common use).

Here are various early boxes showing these candlestick phones:

1929, Richmond (timber Mark 1)

1931, Richmond (timber Mark 1's)



1931 Surbiton (concrete Mark 2)

And finally the much later box at Crayford Bridge in R Division (a middle period Mark 2), which though installed in 1934 still retained a candlestick well into 1936 when this photo was taken --

These candlestick phones were the GPO Telephone No. 2 (no provision for a dial) --


It should be noted that this type of telephone really only consisted of a stand for the microphone and ear-piece along with a cradle switch. The guts of the telephone which made it work, the network circuitry with its induction coils and large condenser (along with the bells that signaled an incoming call), had to be housed in a separate Bellset, specifically the Bellset No. 1 --


This was likely attached to the left wall inside the phone cupboard, or alternately somewhere in the main part of the Metbox's cabin.

The interesting things is that this type of Bellset formed the bases for the GPO 101 wall telephone --


Which in turn was the model meant to be emulated by the Eccleston/Tennant/Early Smith TARDIS phone --

TARDIS Phone (HumanNature).jpg

All of the Divisions south of the Thames save one, plus Y and K Divisions in the north, were eventually outfitted with these No. 2 candlestick telephones between 1928 and early 1935.

Now, there were some issues with this early telephone and signalling apparatus - poor line fault protection/detection, difficulty in making the top beacon flash reliably on demand, and the need to have the signal light reset by somebody on-site among them. The Met cast about for solutions, and though the new GPO/Ericsson PA 100/101 system seemed to solve many of these problems, it also had some requirements and features they didn't like, most notably that its primary technical "improvement" involved the use of a speakerphone on the public side of the kiosk.

Nonetheless, the Met was persuaded to try a modified version on an experimental basis on (if I recall correctly) P Division in 1934. This was a limited success, and though in the meantime the Met had found a separate solution, it was decided to implement this Met-specific non-speakerphone version of the Ericsson scheme in the remainder of the outer Divisions beginning with J and S Divisions in 1935. Major delays in this, caused by both the Met's continued tinkering with the apparatus (resulting in the much improved PA 150 system) and the GPO's inability to provide the updated system on a timely basis resulted in major delays in completing these installations, such that in both Divisions the already installed boxes were left standing disused for many, many months, to the consternation of the Met and the confusion of the public.

Regardless, this new systems used a modified version of this internal portion of the PA 1/PA 2 speakerphone apparatus utilized in most of the rest of the country from 1932 until the mid 1950s, including Glasgow and Edinburgh --


These telephone units were an absolute requirement of the scheme, as they provided special switching and telegraphed positional information back to the switchboard for this party-line system to operate properly. The previous system had used dedicated lines for each Box, while the Ericsson systems (PA 101(MP) and PA 150(MP) in the Metropolitan Police District) used a 3-way party line to supposedly save costs in both installation and use.

Here's what these phones looked like:

In the 1936 Radiolympia Exhibition Box (timber)--

In a concrete (Mark 3) box on the accompanying brochure--

And in another concrete box appearing in a circa 1960 public service film --

The units were a simple jack-in box (to make things quick to replace when serviced) containing most of the guts of the system, together with a standard Handset No. 164 as used in the GPO 200 and 300 series desk phones --


GPO 164 Handset with coiled cord.jpg

Despite the costs involved, along with the pending Police Box installations (X and T Divisions) it was decided to retrofit all the previous installations in the outer Divisions with the final PA 150(MP) version of the Ericsson/GPO system between 1936 and 1938 (completion of which also coincided with the long planned changeover from red top beacon lights to white, btw).

After using the system for awhile, the Met finally saw that the purported savings of the party-line scheme never materialized and decided to go back to dedicated lines for the inner Divisions, which were brought into the Police Box System with installations beginning in 1937. For this they utilized a modified form of their previous alternate system, which essentially became the GPO's PA 350 system for Posts and Kiosks in the inner Divisions, and ultimately the basis for the PA 450 system of the mid-1950s and beyond which replaced the old speakerphones in the rest of the country.

Anyway, this "new" system had the added benefit of using non-proprietary telephone units to reduce complexity, save costs and make replacements easier. They used a very slightly modified standard Series 200 GPO phone, merely eliminating the calling card tray and dial, as well as fitting a mounting bracket to the underside to allow it to be screwed down in the Kiosk or Post phone cupboard to help deter theft.

The result was this, the GPO Telephone No. 244 --

GPO 244-1.jpg

GPO 244-2.jpg

GPO 244-3.jpg

Here they are in use in a couple of inner Division boxes:

F4 in the late 1940's --

M1 from the mid to late 1960's --


Up until the 1950's this pretty much remained the situation - the modified Ericsson phones in the outer Divisions, the more standard No. 244 telephones in the inner Divisions. In the later half of the 1950's, however, things begin to get less clear. For a dozen or so years before their demise, it would seem things were much more fluid and variable, items being replaced with more modern instruments where necessary or expedient. It seems clear that many, if not all the outer Divisions were eventually upgraded to PA 350 or PA 450 standards, with which just about any modern phone could be used.

Here's a photo purportedly from the mid to late 1950's in Z Division --

The handset is clearly not a No. 164 (no prominent spit cup), but instead either a No. 1 or No. 3 Handset:

No. 1 --

No. 3

These would correspond to either the later field trial GPO Telephone No. 700 (the Handset No. 1, from 1956 to around 1959, with the phone being essentially 700 Series internal parts in a 300 Series case) --


or the even later standard issue No. 706 (the Handset No. 3, from 1959 on) --


The photo of Z21 above looks to be more like the field trial (700 Series) version of handset, or the No. 1, because of the more pronounced and sloping nature of the ring around the mouthpiece's grill.

In the end, though, almost every type of phone you could imagine probably ended up in the things at one time or another in later years, including the type of 300 Series phones shown in the Classic Doctor Who's (eg, Logopolis & Delta and the Bannermen) and the most recent Smith/Capaldi stories.

Here's one (with a dial) in a Glasgow type box at the Chatham Dockyards (noting that many Glasgow boxes appear to have had their speakerphones removed and this type of cupboard installed in their later years) --

Glasgow Box in Kent - Chatham Dockyard - Phone Cubby.jpg

Then there's this one from very early on at Crich (though it was probably installed by the museum's staff) --


And here's a modern phone as currently installed in the re-purposed Met Post outside the Northwood Police Station (courtesy of Starcross) --

Northwood Post - Open Phone Door-reduced-(Starcross).jpg

One last bit - here's a shot of the handset visible in a 1959 British Pathe short showing a replacement Mark 4 box on Wimbledon Common --


The main body of the handset looks more than a bit like a No. 164 as on the Ericsson's, the GPO No. 244 and standard 300 series, but the mouthpiece is very, very different, and unlike the 700 Series phones is flattened off with a very small grill area. I have no idea what type of telephone this would have been attached to.

Hope this helps and hasn't been too long-winded a description.


hb88banzai once again your attention to detail astounds me.  Good work!


You are truly a genius!
Once again you have outdone yourself!
Brilliant answer, just what I was after.

Thanks for all your help.



Oct 31, 2014, 04:56 pm #4 Last Edit: Oct 31, 2014, 07:35 pm by domvar
BTW I could be miss remembering but I'm sure the one at crich pictured had the same mouth piece as the pathe clip, I was up there all the time in the 80s/early 90's as my folks live down the road at Matlock.  The staff at Crich are usually quite helpful and possibly still have the old phone somewhere so may be worth some one asking next time they visit.

This linemans telephone has the same sort of mouth piece and dates from the 50s


It's mouth piece 18


Nov 01, 2014, 01:08 pm #5 Last Edit: Nov 01, 2014, 01:16 pm by hb88banzai
That handset does indeed look like a dead ringer for the Wimbledon Box's. Well spotted!

What you have pictured is a GPO Linesman's Portable Telephone No. 250 or 250A from what I can tell. Why it (or at least the handset or mouthpiece from one, if interchangeable) would be on the Wimbledon Common Box, however, is anyone's guess.


The mouth piece in question (no 18) was also used on some semens wall phones where the receiver hung vertically.  I have sent the picture of the crich phone box to a guy who runs an old phone website to see if he can identify it.           


Nov 02, 2014, 03:27 pm #7 Last Edit: Nov 03, 2014, 12:53 am by hb88banzai
The only wall phones in the Siemens Brothers section are all horizontally hooked from what I can see, but two of them do indeed have this No. 18 mouthpiece instead of the usual 'spit cup'. There is also a reference that sometimes these showed up on GPO equipment as well, so they appear to be fully interchangeable with the Handset No. 164's usual 'spit cup' mouthpiece.

The important thing is this means that the Wimbledon Common Box at this point could have had any telephone which would accept a No. 164 handset - a No. 244, a 300 Series, a wall phone like Crich's, or even still had the modified Ericsson (party-line) PA 150 MP system phone it would have received in the late 1930's as part of the outer Divisions retrofit.

Good to know.


Nov 02, 2014, 08:26 pm #8 Last Edit: Nov 02, 2014, 08:27 pm by domvar
If you look at the siemens cradles the handset can be placed across the top or hung between the prongs from the ear piece, I'd guess that 18s were used where this was the preference to avoid catching on the bottom edge. But yes the mouth piece is interchangeable not just with the 164 but also the 184 which has a squeeze trigger in the handset (I have one of those in my shed somewhere)


Ah, I see that now. I should have realized as we had similar horizontal/vertical designs over here at the time,

The 'spit cup' was mainly intended for channeling sound to help separate out unwanted ambient noise, mostly before anti-sidetone circuits came into common usage (though its use persisted afterwards for some time - more in the UK than the US), so perhaps on a box like at Wimbledon Common, where pedestrian traffic in non-existent and street traffic well removed, it was considered unnecessary so a more rugged mouthpiece used (spit cups could be a bit more fragile with rough handling).

The No. 244 used in the PA 350 system for the inner Divisions was the first Met-used telephone that had anti-sidetone circuits, btw. It must have been an interesting experience trying to make yourself heard by the station on a busy street while holding a candlestick phone, even without wind and rain or dealing with a prisoner making it worse.


This is properly old news, but I found a company a while back while restoring and installing 1940's Western Electric rotary dial phones in the house, that does nothing but provide parts & sells antique phones. Some of the phones listed on this thread appear or are a real close similarity to the ones by the company. Their site is Hope this helps


at about 2:54 in the above video there is a flat metal panel behind the pull to open sign. Circa 1998.

Are there any good photos of that system? When was that introduced?
why doesn't the Guide mention them? - Oh, it's not very accurate.
Oh? - I'm researching the new edition.


Cool video, even though my TARDIS is going to be a liquor/wine cabinet, this gives me so good ideas on shelving.  It also looks like they completely shuttered the left entrance door, interesting. Another question? Was watching the episode "Age of Steel" last night and I thought I saw a drip panel above the phone door. Has anyone else noticed that or was it just a shadow from studio lighting?


Feb 09, 2015, 04:58 pm #13 Last Edit: Feb 09, 2015, 05:00 pm by galacticprobe
Quote from: bdhuey on Feb 09, 2015, 12:21 pm
Cool video...  It also looks like they completely shuttered the left entrance door, interesting.

Definitely a cool video! Not sure what you're referring to about having "completely shuttered the left entrance door", though. Real Police Boxes had only one entrance door (the one on the right, with the St. John badge on it). The only thing that opened on the "left" side was the phone door (and maybe the window tilted inwards, but that doesn't seem to have been done with the windows on this particular box).

Quote from: bdhuey on Feb 09, 2015, 12:21 pm
Another question? Was watching the episode "Age of Steel" last night and I thought I saw a drip panel above the phone door. Has anyone else noticed that or was it just a shadow from studio lighting?

Good question?! Now I'll have to go back and re-watch that episode - again! (Twist my arm, why don't you? ;) :D ;D)

"What's wrong with being childish?! I like being childish." -3rd Doctor, "Terror of the Autons"


Feb 09, 2015, 10:54 pm #14 Last Edit: Feb 09, 2015, 11:40 pm by bdhuey
Oh ok, was totally misinformed on how they were built. Seeing some episodes where both doors are open, I assumed they did - wrong. Thanks for info, now I know.  LOL on watching that episode.  Again, thanks for info and input. BD
Also, Dino, don't bother to look for drip rail, I went back and looked at the two episodes I watched last night, Rise of Cybermen & Age of Steel, and no rail. Seeing things, too much Police Box info overload.  Sorry for dumb observation.