Thursday, February 21, 2019

Temple Place, London

At a slight angle to the universe

In Temple Place the other day* I was charmed to see this – a 1920s K2 telephone kiosk, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, still in situ and sill apparently with a telephone inside. This is the ‘original’ red telephone box design – not in the sense that it’s the earliest type of telephone kiosk, but that it is the first of the red, shallow-domed designs by Scott to be made in quantity. I’ve notice before the prototype, preserved at the entrance to the Royal Academy in Piccadilly and slightly different in detail from the ‘standard’ K2 that developed from it.†

It was an instant success in terms of effective, recognisable design: from the 1920s on, until the 1970s, the ‘red box’ meant a public telephone – even if the later, slightly shorter and simpler K6 box was the one that was made in the largest quantities.§ The K2 has a taller upper part than the K6, gold crowns (which are pierced for ventilation), and a band of fluted moulding running around the doorway. Today, relatively scarce K2s are listed and although they can now be little used they are such a familiar part of the scene that it’s good to see them retained. This one did slightly worry me, though. Look and lean as I might, the box itself does seem to be leaning rather alarmingly. Every other building around it seems to be vertical, but the box is a few degrees out of true. I hope it’s stable, and continues to give visual pleasure and good service for many years.

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* To visit the current exhibition about John Ruskin, which is well worth catching. It’s a curious coincidence that I seem to notice telephone boxes when going to art exhibitions: see the links below for a couple of other examples.

† My post about the prototype K2 box near the Royal Academy is here.

§ There is post about a K6 box near Henry Moore’s old house at Perry Green here.


Hels said...

Perfect timing Philip!
When my next post appears this Saturday morning (Melbourne time), it will be about Ruskin. Not because I saw the exhibition and loved it or hated it, but because I have to modify my long held, negative views of Ruskin.

I hope you see the Ruskin exhibition and write it up in your blog.

bazza said...

I have no idea if it's true but I once read that the interior of the K2 is slightly higher because, in the City, so many users were wearing top hats! I did not notice the incline when I was last there last year.
I know that particular box very well because I often lead one of my London walks along Temple Place to see the fabulous Two Temple Place (where the Ruskin expo is of course).
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s silently sagacious Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Hels. I like your latest post, and I do hope to post about Ruskin myself. I have seen the exhibition and found it fascinating. I know Ruskin could be infuriating, but I have long found much to admire in Ruskin – his superb drawing skills, his admiration of Gothic, what he writes about Venice, his questioning of Victorian methods of 'restoring' old buildings, his charity, his advocacy of Turner (a shame he didn't like the superb late works, though), and his mission to bring knowledge of high culture to the working people of Britain. Much of this was covered in the exhibition, which I'd urge anyone within striking distance of London to see.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza. The story about the top hats is a myth, I think, albeit a nice one. The K2 was Scott's preferred design; the K6 came along later as a more economic design that could rolled out on a large scale. That's the main story here.