The Story of the AA Sentry Box

Summary

The 'AA' sentry box would have been a welcome sight for their patrolmen, offering shelter from bad weather while on the lookout for troubled motorists. First introduced in 1912, by the Second World War there were more than 600 boxes. But as technology developed and telephones became smaller, sentry boxes were replaced by pedestals with slim telephones. Yet with increasing mobile phone ownership even the pedestal phones became redundant, and now only 19 sentry boxes survive.

Design

The 1927 Sentry Box is of timber construction, and the main body of the box tapers outwards towards the base. The body is finished in black gloss paint. The vertical edges of each side and edges to the door are marked with strips of wood, painted in AA yellow. The door carries a large 'winged' AA logo with an oval cast-iron number plate above, whilst on the remaining signs are cast-iron number plates, with the edges of the sign and the number picked out in yellow. The right-hand side of the box carries the telephone equipment and external bells. There is a thin, projecting architrave above the main body of the box. Above, the roof is formed of gables on each side, forming a cross-gable roof when viewed from above. The zinc-metal plated roof projects from the gable ends and is faced with black-painted wooden eaves. The roof is topped with a finial, which provides the box with ventilation. Each gable end carries a large 'winged' AA logo, the base of which is pierced by a rectangular sign, with the word 'Phone' spelt in san-serif lettering. Either side of the logo, at the base, are two further yellow-edged signage plates, spelling out the location of the sentry box.

History

The term sentry boxes is derived from military structures of the same name, essentially a small shelter to provide cover for a sentry on duty. In 1912, the Automobile Association, usually referred to as the AA, began the introduction of a network of sentry boxes. The earliest AA sentry boxes were fitted with a stable door, which was divided horizontally in half so that the top half could be opened independently of the bottom half. At the time, seven years after the association was first founded, motoring was still a hobby and not the form of mass transportation it is today. Cars were expensive to purchase and they were prone to breaking down. The AA employed patrolmen to help its members and their sentry boxes provided shelter for its patrolmen. The patrolmen would man the boxes, providing motorists with roadside assistance, directions and first aid. Each sentry box carried its own unique number which helped the AA dispatch patrolmen to a specific location. Following the development of the telephone, these were fitted and members were given a key so they they could use the telephone. Members could make free local calls, as you only had to pay for long distance calls at the time.

Heritage legacy

Between 1912 and 1968 around 1,000 examples were installed, with the AA estimating a peak of 787 examples in 1968. With the passing of time and with improving technology patrolmen travelled in their own vans and telephone equipment could be housed in smaller pedestals. By 1968 the AA starting phasing out its sentry boxes and by 2002 all AA phones were decommissioned due to the widespread ownership of mobile phones. Today there are believed to be 19 surviving examples in-situ, just 2% of boxes installed. Eight examples have Grade-II listed status.

Sources

  • Automobile Association, The (2013) AA telephone boxes Basingstoke: http://www.theaa.com/aboutaa/history.html
  • CKD UK (2011) AA Call Boxes - A Complete Guide Truro: http://www.conked.co.uk/the-aa/aa-call-boxes
  • Connected Earth (2013) AA Kiosk London: http://www.connected-earth.com/thecollection/artefacts/image.cfm?imageid=KC_K30

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