Cups of tea, fish and chips, and Her Majesty the Queen. These are just three of the quintessential quirks that have come to define the nation. Bold, red structures such as London’s double decker buses also play a huge part in Britain’s branding and legacy across the world. And of course we can not forget the telephone boxes.
We have Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to thank for the country’s iconic red telephone box. He was born in Hampstead in 1880, and grew up with his mother and brothers in Battersea – spending weekends in the Sussex countryside. Gile’s mother encouraged him and his brother to become architects. And the rest was history.
When he was just 22, he won a competition to build an Anglican cathedral in Liverpool – the biggest in Britain, and one of the largest in the world. While Liverpool dominated Giles’s life (the cathedral was not finished until 1978, long after he had passed) he made plenty of time for other incredible works – especially in London.
READ MORE: ‘I watched one of London’s famous red phone boxes for an hour to see if anyone used it in the age of the mobile phone and I think most people were put off by the smell’
Waterloo Bridge, Battersea and Bankside power station (now Tate Modern), the Guinness brewery at Park Royal, post-war rebuilding at the Guildhall and the House of Commons are just a handful. But we also have him to thank for the humble red telephone box.
You may be surprised to hear that Giles’s design for the iconic box, which was actually called the K2 box, was inspired by a tomb. It was that of architect Sir John Soane’s wife.
Soane’s memorial at St Pancras Old Church was raised over the grave of his wife. The inspiration came when Sir Gilbert Scott was a trustee at the Soane museum. The shape, curve and roof of the tomb boast a striking resemblance to what became Britain’s iconic telephone box.
What may surprise you more is that Giles did not want his telephone boxes to be red. He wanted them to be silver and made from steel. But The Post Office changed the color to red and made them from iron.
Luckily, the architect did not seem to mind too much, as he went on to design the K3 and even smaller K6 kiosks that also filled streets across the country. And while these boxes may not be used for their original use, many have been transformed into arguably much more important devices (such as the defibrillator pictured above).
According to the Gilbert Scott website, “Giles was a modest, unimposing, chain-smoker happiest when either on the golf course or behind his drawing board.” He features on the new British passport, where he belongs as one of the greats who gave us so many lovely things to love about London, and the whole country.
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