boxes were introduced in Britain in the 1920s, but the first designs
were of the garden shed style. Police boxes were used by constables
to keep in contact with their police station, because at the time
there were no personal radios, but there was actually more to it
They were introduced to increase the efficiency of constables on
the beat. Much of a constable's time was used up travelling to and
from his beat to the police station - for example, a half-hour refreshment
break called for a visit to the police station and then a return
to beat duty. This meant that a large amount of a constable's beat
time could be wasted. Constables who lived on their beat, sometimes
a distance from the station house, would use either the police box,
or its smaller brother, the police pillar, to book on at the start
of his shift, and of again at the end. Placing police boxes on the
street was like giving each constable his own mini police station.
In those boxes supplies of accident and statement forms and other
'ready-use' forms could be left, for the officer to write up in
the comfort of a warm and dry location.
A police box in 20th century Britain was a special type of telephone
kiosk or callbox for use by members of the police force, or for
members of the public to contact the police, fire or ambulance.
At coastal sites, the lifeboats could be summoned too.
typical police box contained a telephone linked directly to the
local police station, allowing patrolling officers to keep in contact
with the station, reporting anything unusual, requesting help if
necessary, or even to detain suspects until a vehicle could be sent
to transport them to the station. This was in the day when most
police officers patrolled on foot or rode a bicycle rather than
using a police car. A light on top of the box would flash to let
an officer know that he had to contact the police station. British
police boxes were usually blue, except in Glasgow, where they were
red. In addition to a telephone, they contained equipment such as
an incident book and a first aid kit. Today the image of the blue
police box is a trademark of the BBC as it is widely associated
with the science fiction television programme Doctor Who?, in which
the protagonist's time machine, a TARDIS, is in the shape of a police
Towards the end of the 1960s, the more widespread availability
of telephones, walkie-talkies, personal radios and police radio
cars, as well as a general reduction in the number of constables
walking the beat, signalled the beginning of the end for the police
Police boxes pre-date the era of modern telecommunications; today,
every police officer (in technologically developed countries) is
likely to carry a two-way radio and/or a mobile phone.
Gilbert Mackenzie Trench designed the well-known police box that
is now world famous thanks to Doctor Who. Early boxes were made
of wood, but on Trench's suggestion concrete was later used, cast
iron having been rejected on account of cost.
were initially two types of London 'Police Box'. The smaller version
was known as a police pillar, and contained just a telephone and
a first aid kit, topped by a light. In Kent, it was the local Borough
Police who implemented the use of pillars and boxes, these being
taken into use by The Kent County Constabulary in 1943, when they
took over the borough forces.
In order to comply with blackout regulations during World War Two,
special cowlings were designed to cover the top lights, although
the police complained that the overall effect was to render the
lights virtually useless. The Police Pillar situated at the Kent
Police Museum has a large collar above the light, to show how they
would have been. Very few of these Police boxes are still in existence,
but one can be seen at the Kent Police Museum, in The Historic Dockyard,
The Kent Police Museum was lucky to get in contact with the Curator
of the Civil Defence and Emergency Services Preservation Group,
who allowed us the use of this police box at our museum. It was
brought to Kent on a low loader, and was placed in position in January
2008. Since that time it has been visited by hundreds of 'Dr Who'
fans who want to see what a real police box looks like inside. Many
are amazed that it is made from pre-cast concrete.
The pink Police Box below is now used as a coffee bar in Scotland.
The polka dot version can be found in Glasgow. The bottom picture
is the classic blue version found outside the Museum.