London On The Ground
City of London Police Boxes: Which is Your Favourite?
The City Police call posts: history, pictures and my personal ranking.
Eight cast-iron 20th century police boxes occupy prime historic locations in the Square Mile, with some wonderful views and backdrops.
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These police boxes provided a means for the public to call the police. They were also used by police stations to contact constables patrolling the area. Each one had an amber light, which would flash to let passing PCs know that the station wanted them to call.
The light sat either directly on top of the post, or at the end of a pylon sprouting from its roof to give the light more height and prominence.
According to some, the cupola housing the light was inspired by Sir John Soane's design for the lantern on top of the Dulwich Picture Gallery mausoleum.
(Soane's design for his own family tomb in St Pancras Churchyard influenced Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's design of the K2 and K6 pubic telephone boxes. That's a different story, but you can compare the K2 and K6 in my video Smithfield's Red Phone Boxes.)
The telephone in the police call posts could be accessed by the upper of their three doors. Helpfully, this door on the eight remaining call posts in the City now has a sign informing the public that it is no longer operational and advising: "Please use nearby payphone".
The middle door opened down like a bureau to provide a horizontal writing surface. Inside the bottom door was a storage cupboard, which contained a first aid kit and other items.
Some PCs in the Smithfield market area used these cupboards to store cuts of meat until it was time to go home at the end of their shift.
The eight call posts are not to be confused with the much larger police call box that was adopted by the BBC's Doctor Who as the TARDIS. That call box, from 1929, was made from concrete and took up a lot of space.
A smaller design, known as the PA1, was designed for national use, but not used in London. The PA2, introduced in the 1930s, and the similar but lighter PA3, introduced in 1958, were used in the capital (not only in the City). According to Historic England, the call posts in the City of London date from c.1935 or earlier.
The man responsible for the design of the larger call box and the smaller call posts was a Scottish architect named Gilbert Mackenzie Trench, who was surveyor to the Metropolitan Police from 1920 to 1945.
The introduction of hand-held radios made the call posts obsolete and most were decommissioned in the late 1960s. According to notes I made at the City of London Police Museum in 2019 (sadly, now closed), the City Police continued to use call boxes until the 1980s.
Most of the decommissioned units were removed and many were subsequently sold. A firm of conservators, Rupert Harris Conservation Ltd, restored the eight call posts in the City, although its website does not say when this work was done.
The restoration included repainting them in the original light blue colour used by the City of London Police for its call boxes. At some point in their history, the City posts had been painted dark blue, the colour used by the Metropolitan Police for its boxes.
Glass for new amber lights on top of the posts was blown and the City of London coat of arms was reapplied to the front of each.
The eight call posts, some listed Grade II by Historic England, provide colourful variety to the streets of the Square Mile. Their locations link to a number of historic buildings and offer some great views. It is fairly easy to walk to all of them in the course of a morning or an afternoon.
City of London Police Call Posts: The Ranking
The eight police call posts in the City of London and their locations, in reverse order of my personal preference, are listed below. After a brief comment and a photo for each, there is a gallery with more photos of the eight and the surrounding parts of the City (two more photos for each, shown in the same order as the list below).
8) Friday Street, at the Corner with Queen Victoria Street (outside Bracken House, home of the Financial Times). It is easy to miss this call post and it doesn't offer great views around it, although I did manage one decent photo into the late afternoon sun (see the gallery at the end of this post) .
7) Aldgate, outside St Botolph's Aldgate. This stands just outside the church and its newly re-laid gardens. It adjoins the recently created Aldersgate Square, a new public space that used to be a traffic roundabout.
6) Liverpool Street, outside McDonald's next to the railway station. This is probably the busiest location of the eight, one where the City is constantly changing and blending the past with the future.
5) Aldersgate, by the entrance to Postman's Park and close to St Botolph's Aldersgate. This one leans at a pleasing angle. In addition, a wrought iron gate and railings and a neo-Gothic drinking fountain from 1870, all Grade II listed, keep it company.
4) Victoria Embankment, overlooking the Thames. It has the best vistas of the eight and is tucked in next to one of the Embankment's dolphin lamp standards commissioned by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1870. It also stands on London's first avenue to be planted with London plane trees.