The First Police Boxes

The original police boxes looked very different to this familiar sight, the TARDIS from Doctor Who.

Snippets 182.  Most people nowadays would associate a police telephone box with Doctor Who and little else, but they were once a common feature of British streets.  They were not actually a British invention though.  The first one in the world was installed in Albany, New York in 1877, just a year after the telephone itself was patented by Alexander Graham Bell.  The first ones in Britain were introduced in Glasgow, in 1891, and remained an exclusively Scottish feature in Britain until the 1920s.  They were initially very different in appearance to the now familiar image of the TARDIS, accommodating far more than just a telephone.

The following quote explains some of the uses a police box could be put to.  It is taken from the Aberdeen Free Press, on 3rd September 1891.  This was of course the year of the introduction of the police telephone box in Glasgow, and it clearly had not gone unnoticed in other Scottish cities.  There were plans at the time to expand the boundaries of the city of Aberdeen considerably, to include Old Aberdeen, Woodside and Torry, and this needed extra policing provisions.  Two new police stations would be needed, and an extra twenty constables added to the existing force.  But perhaps some of those newfangled police boxes could be utilised, to avoid the need for the costly new stations…

As already reported when this proposal was previously brought under the notice of Captain Munro, he suggested the substitution of telephone boxes for the more costly police stations. Yesterday Captain Munro submitted a sketch of the proposed boxes. The boxes, he explained, would be of wood, erected on a foundation of concrete, and placed upon wheels, so that they could be moved about to any part of the city desired. Each box would about the length of the ordinary cabmen’s shelter, but slightly wider, and would contain an operating room, an office, two cells, and accommodation for hose reel and other fire extinguishing apparatus. The boxes, he thought, could be erected for about £100 each, whereas the police stations which the committee originally proposed to be erected would cost from £2000 to £3000. One had recently been erected in Edinburgh at a cost of between £3000 and £4000. The suggestions of Captain Munro in this matter were very favourably received by the committee. It was considered that three of the telephone boxes would be necessary, one in the Rosemount district, one in the vicinity of Holburn, and the third at Torry — the present police accommodation at Woodside and Old Aberdeen would, it was considered, be sufficient to meet the necessities of these parts the city. The working of the arrangement would that, in the daytime, on the occasion of an alarm a bell would ring at the box, and an automatic signal would be set in motion; during the night the bell would ring, and a red light would immediately be turned on. A constable would, of course, be always in the neighbourhood of the box. When any apprehensions are made, the prisoners would in the first instance be placed in the cells of the telephone box. Communication would be opened with the central office, whence “Black Maria” would be dispatched, and the prisoners removed in it to the central police cells.

The boundaries of Aberdeen were expanded, the following month, in October 1891.  The police box idea was approved and three boxes were constructed of teak, and contained cells, fire hose reels, a stretcher, office facilities and a toilet.  Several more boxes were built over the next few years.  Unfortunately none of them were bigger on the inside.

If Doctor Who is your thing, take a look at the Doctor Who articles on my other blog: The View from the Junkyard

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Britain, Crime, History, Newspapers, Snippets and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The First Police Boxes

  1. scifimike70 says:

    “It’s still a Police Box! Why hasn’t it changed? Oh, dear, dear! How very disturbing!”
    – William Hartnell as Doctor Who: The Cave Of Skulls (1963).

    Thank you very much for this most timely article.

    Liked by 2 people

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