The Story of Kiosk No 1
The K1 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 a few years later a competition was organised to select a design for a new kiosk, the K2.
The K1 kiosk design is derived from the wooden 'Birmingham' kiosk, named for the area where it was installed. Designated the Mk 234 within the GPO, the kiosk 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.
In the mid-1920s the GPO appears to have experimented with making some changes to the K1. Rectangular "Public Telephone" signs were fitted on the roof on each side forming a box-like structure, which was crowned by decorative metalwork and a central finial. Period photographs show at least two styles were tested. One design had decorative scrollwork and tall spear-shaped finial, while the other design was more squat and angular in appearance. Presumably the elevated position of the signs was intended to make it easier for customers to see a kiosk on the street. In the end neither design was used and following the introduction of a revised K1 in 1927, the roof signage from that version was added to existing K1s from mid-1929 onwards.
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 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 and increased the need for a suitable national kiosk design.
The K1 kiosk was Britain's first attempt at a national telephone box, but its design was not appreciated by everyone. Following its introduction in 1921 the General Post Office introduced seven later types of kiosk (referred to as the K2 through to the K8). 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 around a dozen examples of some 6,300 K1s introduced across the GPO network.