The Story of the RAC Sentry Box
In 1912 the Royal Automobile Club began introducing sentry boxes across the country. Sentry boxes were soon fitted with telephones and members of club were provided with keys, so that they could use telephone to summon assistance. At its height the RAC's network of sentry boxes totalled some 500 examples. Later RAC pedestal phones were introduced as telephone equipment became less bulky. However, widespread mobile phone ownership marked the end for the RAC's sentry boxes.
The box is of timber construction and sits on a square base. It has a timber outer frame, with sides of tongue-and-groove timber boards. The box is painted in Royal Blue, which makes the box stand out in it environment. The box is fitted with a stable door, divided horizontally in half so that the top half could be opened independently. The top half has a recessed rectangular panel with a white-painted RAC sign. The sign is pierced with circular cats-eyes to reflect car headlights in the dark, to increase the visibility of the sentry box at night. Above, a small rectangular name sign showing the box's location is affixed to the door lintel. The left and right-hand sides of the box carry metal-plate diamond signs showing the RAC logo, picked out in Royal Blue on a white background. There is a white-painted projecting architrave above the main body of the box. The front has a drip mould over the top edge of the door to provide protection from wet weather. A central, diamond-shaped metal-plate sign is affixed to the architrave and shows the box's number. On the left and right- hand sides, smaller number plates are affixed to the architrave. The box is surmounted with a tiered-flat roof.
Sentry boxes are small shelters providing cover from bad weather and originated in the military where they were used on sentry duty. The Royal Automobile Club was the first organisation of its kind in Britain, founded in 1897 and receiving its Royal Charter in 1907 from King Edward VII. The club was formed to provide motoring assistance to its membership and in 1901 the club began employing patrolmen to help its members. In 1912, following their introduction by the Automobile Association, the RAC began installing sentry boxes for its patrolmen and members to use. Today motoring is a necessity and car ownership is high Britain. However, in 1912 motoring was am expensive hobby and cars were prone to breaking down. The RAC's patrolmen would provide assistance to motorists in trouble. Sentry boxes were equipped with first aid kits and petrol cans. With the development of the telephone, boxes were soon fitted with phones for patrolmen to keep in touch with RAC headquarters. Members had keys so that they could use the phones to summon assistance. Each RAC sentry box carried its own unique number and name plate, helping identifying the box's location, which allowed the RAC to dispatch a patrol to assist a motorist in need.
Over five decades, beginning in 1912, the RAC installed around 500 examples of sentry box across the country. The boxes were of timber construction and were never intended to be permament structures, especally with Britain's inclement seasonal weather. This goes some way to explain the small number of surviving examples. Today it is believed there are no examples of sentry box remaining at their original location, with the last examples disappearing in the 1990s. A handful of examples can be found in heritage museums across Britain.
- Connected Earth (2013) RAC Kiosk London: http://www.connected-earth.com/thecollection/artefacts/image.cfm?imageid=KC_K41
- RAC Ltd (2013) About Us Walsall: http://www.rac.co.uk/about-us/
- Royal Automobile Club, The (1913) About the Club London: http://www.royalautomobileclub.co.uk/about-the-club