The Story of Kiosk No 1 Mk 234
The K1 Mk 234 was Britain's first national kiosk following the unification of private public telephone companies under the control of the General Post Office in 1912. The idea of a universal design stemmed from attempts to harmonise the different systems inherited by the General Post Office. The Mk 234 arrived in 1921. At the time it appeared out-dated and local authorities were less than impressed with the K1 Mk 234 kiosk and only 500 had been produced two years later.
The K1 Mk 234 kiosk design is derived from the wooden 'Birmingham' kiosk, named for the area where it was installed. The Mk 234 is constructed of pre-cast concrete sections (although a small number were constructed of wood) bolted together, standing on a wide concrete base. Its general form is a four-sided rectangular box with a pyramidal roof. Three sides of the kiosk are half glazed above two rectangular panels. The windows comprise three rows, with two square panes above and below a central, single panel of glass. The central pane has opaque, white 'Public Telephone' lettering. The two square panes below have similar lettering spelling out 'Open Always'. Public telephone boxes were still a novelty in Britain; the 'Open Always' helped educate the public that the kiosk could be used any time of the day or night. The back of the kiosk comprises two rectangular panels beneath a single larger rectangular panel. Above the main body of the kiosk rise a series of tiered, projecting cornices, with a shallow pyramidal roof topped with an orb-shaped finial. The exterior of the kiosk is painted white, with the exception of the wooden door, door frame and wooden window frames which are painted red.
Following the 1868 Telegraph Act the General Post Office gradually absorbed many of the private public telephone companies in Britain. By 1912 the National Telephone Company, the biggest rival to the General Post Office, was taken over leaving just the General Post Office and two municipal telephone networks: the States Telephone Department in Guernsey and Kingston upon Hull Corporation. The General Post Office started standardising the combined networks, and soon looked at a single design for a national kiosk. Earlier kiosks were in a variety of styles, varying from simple wooden 'sentry' boxes, to ornamental octagonal domed kiosks. The outbreak of the First World War stalled the plans of the GPO to introduce its first national kiosk. When it finally appeared in 1921 the lineage of the K1 Mk 234 was clear. The K1 followed the earlier kiosks with its traditional appearance, based on the 'Birmingham' kiosk. However, the design appeared outdated in 1920s Britain. It was unpopular with local authorities and the Metropolitan Boroughs of central London were particularly hostile to the K1. The K1 Mk 234 was installed in very small numbers and the General Post Office re-worked its design, producing to the K1 Mk 235.
The K1 kiosk is Britain's national telephone box, but it was installed more widely in rural locations than in cities. Since its first introduction in 1921 the General Post Office introduced seven additional types of kiosk, two of which can be considered direct successors to the K1. As these types were introduced they will have been installed as replacements for many older K1s. This has radically reduced the number of surviving K1 kiosks nationwide to just five examples of some 6,300 K1s introduced across all three marques.