Intriguing Sights No.3

A bit beyond the graveyard at Bendochy in Perthshire, there’s an Intriguing Sight parked up on grass just off the road.

At first sight it might not seem all that intriguing. If you’re familiar with the British landscape you might think it was just one of those old – probably defunct – red phoneboxes:

In my youth we didn’t have mobile phones. In order to make calls when out and about, we relied on the Post Office to provide red phoneboxes with public phones in them. You could shove a 10p piece into a slot to make a call, and when the money was running out the ‘pips’ would alert you to the fact that you were about to be cut off. This was all part of normal life.

In this day and age, with virtually everyone having a mobile phone, I don’t know how many red phoneboxes still contain working phones, but it seems to me to be not very many.

Britain’s red phoneboxes, or kiosks as they were first known, came into being in 1921, and were painted red to make them stand out. There have been a variety of designs over the years, all of which are illustrated and described on the impressively detailed website, The Telephone Box.

When you get closer to the phonebox at Bendochy, you find that where it used to say ‘TELEPHONE’ in the white space at the top, it now says ‘Bendochy’ and there’s a little ‘i’ after it, signifying ‘information’.

As you approach the door of the phonebox, you might think you’re seeing shelves of books inside:

And you’d be quite right:

The sides of the phonebox that are not supporting books or acting as the door, are mounted with pinboards, one of which has maps of the area stuck to it, and an explanation of what’s going on inside the phonebox:

The pinboard on the other side has been left for advertisements:

I keep meaning to pin up a little flyer about my book on the pinboard, and stick a copy of the book on a bookshelf.

Bendochy’s phonebox is just one of over 1,500 such boxes to have been adopted by local communities and put to good use now that they no longer contain phones.

The decomissioned boxes have found all sorts of new leases of life. Quite a few contain defibrillators purchased by local villagers and installed in case of medical emergencies. There are also phoneboxes that have turned into art galleries and grocery shops.

If you fancy adopting your local phonebox, you can do it for the bargain price of £1.00 by applying to British Telecom.

They have a website all about it here, and they’re very keen to hear from people with interesting suggestions.


46 thoughts on “Intriguing Sights No.3

  1. What a clever idea, makes me want to have one, lol, if I could think where to put it and what to use it for, other than providing an impromptu shelter from a sudden downpour 😉

    • I’ve seen one in someone’s garden, but it’s right outside the house so unless they locked themselves out it wouldn’t be especially useful. It is a nice idea to have one though, isn’t it? Perhaps you could get one of those blue police boxes and a pillar box to go with it. 🙂

    • I did wonder if I could remember the pre-10p days but I’m not sure. Could you ever use a 5p piece for a call? I don’t remember 2p being enough to make a call, but I do remember full coin boxes when you couldn’t get your coin to go in.

    • It is ingenious, I agree. Definitely full size though, I stood inside it. Sadly there are no tearooms that close to it, which is a pity as it’d be nice to take a book from there and then sip a cup of tea in view of the phonebox.

  2. That is such a good idea, so much better than leaving them derelict or vandalised. In a few years’ time they will be wishing they’d made them Listed Buildings. It’s hard to explain to the girls just what life was like without mobile phones, and without the internet. So much simpler, and it was certainly quieter! I’m enjoying your Intriguing Sights, by the way!

    • Thanks Jo, it’s great that they’re being preserved isn’t it? I had no idea there were so many until I did a bit of research into it. This is the only one I’ve seen for myself, but I think it’s marvellous that there is this nationwide arrangement to adopt them for a quid. I already feel like a dinosaur, having been brought up in a house with no home computer, never mind mobile phones. It would be hard to lose access to the internet now, but I remember looking up an encyclopaedia or dictionary for information and it didn’t seem like a hardship at the time.

      I’ve just read online that about 2000 red phoneboxes have been given listed buildings status. I’m not sure where they all are but I gather most of them are in London.

  3. Lorna, you write the most interesting blog posts! really fabulous. ah, the infamous pips … along with the tricky bit where you put the money in; it had some kind of lever that you had to get the 10p just right on top of it. definitely got cut off a couple of times. how we are dating ourselves … before cell phones, if you can imagine. so, i am curious about these books … is this like a lending library or do you just take them? how interesting about these decommissioned phone boxes.

    • Thank you Alison, you are alway so complimentary! I had forgotten about the lever mechanism, but now that you mention it I do remember the coin had to be pushed in at the correct angle. The book scheme is more of a swap than a lending library, although I wouldn’t be surprised if people do borrow books and then return the same ones sometimes. I can’t quite remember what it said on the notice inside, but I think what they encourage you to do is bring one of your own books and take one of theirs in return, so that there are always new titles appearing on the shelves.

  4. How fun is that?! I’m so glad that the old phone boxes are being used somehow. They are quite the icon. I recently saw a documentary that featured a British graffiti artist (I want to say Banksy?) and he took one of these phone booths, cut it in two and reassembled into a very interesting configuration.

  5. I’m an artist who works mainly with cast-offs and discards so anything that’s been transformed into something else has my vote. I wish we had something like this in the US. The phone company just took the old phone booths away. Of course, ours weren’t nearly as interesting as yours. The idea for an information booth is terrific! Tiny little libraries.

    • I think you have a wonderful job, Kathleen! It’s very satisfying to reuse and recycle things, particularly when they’ve been such design classics in the first place. It would have been a great pity to lose all these old phoneboxes and I’m sure the people who designed them would be delighted to know that their creations are living on in new guises.

    • Every country has its own little bits of interest to visitors doesn’t it, and I think the red phonebox is one of those that stands out when people visit Britain. I’m very glad they haven’t completely disappeared with the advent of mobile phones, we need to keep them as a British tourist attraction.

  6. They look so aesthetically stunning with all the greenery around! Very interesting recycling idea 🙂 books look so cool… too
    Lorna, this is a very interesting post!! Btw, I will be in London and Paris in summer 🙂

    • Thanks Aparna, I totally agree, the red against the landscape is lovely. They look just as good in towns and cities as they do in the countryside, wherever you see them they seem to fit in. That’s very exciting about your visit to Europe this year, I wonder if you’ll spot any red phoneboxes being used for something else. You’ll certainly see some like this in London, although they might not have phones in them any more.

  7. I think of an old cartoon called Danger Mouse, the HQ was inside an old post box and it was decorated with all manner of things. Truly, this is one of those charming things that I would love to discover in the country! 🙂

    • I remember Dangermouse and Penfold, didn’t they used to lift a cobblestone in a pavement to get into somewhere? These red phoneboxes do look lovely in the countryside, it’s a pleasure to see them.

  8. One of these red pillar boxes would be great, and you know what, I actually looked into getting hold of one before. The Royal Mail used to sell them off, but no longer as they prefer to keep and refurbish them 😦 I hadn’t thought about the police boxes, Tardis springs to mind hehe. A red phone box would look so much better though…

    • I’ve seen postboxes for sale online, but perhaps they were reproduction ones. In any case, they were quite pricey. Mind you, they are pretty substantial pieces of furniture. As for the phoneboxes you can’t go wrong with £1! A tardis would be great, too, it would be quite a talking point.

  9. That’s so fab! I’ve seen some blog posts, from my hometown in Portland, Oregon, about people putting up little “lending libraries” outside their homes that are smaller than the phone box but a similar idea. There’s a house not far from me that has a phone box in its front garden.

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