The Story of the Police Box


The Police Box was made famous by the BBC science-fiction series 'Doctor Who', which first appeared on British television in 1963. The Time Lord - the Doctor - travelled through time and space in a TARDIS. In the series, the TARDIS was meant to adapt and blend into its surroundings, but a fault left it frozen in the form of a Police Box. Through the fifty years of the television series, the Police Box has become internationally recognised, yet only around 1,000 examples were installed.


The Police Box is constructed of pre-cast, reinforced concrete. Its general form is a four-sided rectangular box atop a wide base. The box is topped with a shallow pyramidal roof, which rises in three, tiered steps. A light is affixed to the apex of the pyramid, clad within a protective mesh with a domed top. The sides of the box are formed by thick corner posts supporting a projecting concrete frieze, which carries a rectangular sign on all sides. The sides of the box are recessed within the corner posts and are formed of two vertical sections, each with four regularly sized and spaced panels. The upper panel is glazed, with a six-pane mullioned metal-framed window. The upper row of window panes are clear glass, with frosted glass on the bottom row. The central pane is blue-tinted, so that a blue light is visible externally when the box is lit internally. The front of the kiosk has a teak door on the right hand side and a fixed panel on the left. The upper part has a square hatch, which when opened provides a telephone to call the emergency services. The bottom part holds a first aid outfit behind a door, which can only be opened with a key obtained by breaking a small glass panel.


The development of a public telephone network in Britain was also mirrored in the Police service. The same technologies that allowed the general public to make telephone calls from street kiosks also allowed police officers to keep in touch with their station. The earliest police boxes were introduced in Glasgow in 1891. However, it was the Metropolitan Police Service boxes introduced in 1929 that became Britain's most recognisable police boxes. Designed by the service's surveyor Gilbert Mackenzie Trench the police box evolved through three basic marques, although the essential differences between the three were small. The Metropolitan Police design was adopted in Glasgow, with changes to the door frontage which comprised three panels instead of four. In Glasgow the boxes were painted red, unlike the blue Metropolitan Police kiosks, although many were subsequently repainted blue. Some 685 examples were introduced in London and a further 323 in Glasgow. As radio communication technologies improved, the police boxes became more and more redundant. In 1969, it was decided to start decommissioning the boxes with the majority being removed, or demolished in-situ, with the last box in London removed by 1981.

Heritage legacy

Between 1929 and 1938 around 1,000 examples of the Mackenzie Trench Police Box were installed. The majority (over 98%) have been removed, and surviving examples are a rare sight. There are only two Mackenzie Trench boxes listings with English Heritage, with a further three other police boxes (of different designs) also listed. Historic Scotland has listed 42 police boxes, four of which are Mackenzie Trench examples. Approximately five Mackenzie Trench boxes reside in museum collections across the country.

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