London’s Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

London’s Iconic Red Telephone Boxes

Part and parcel of London’s unique iconography are the numerous red telephone boxes dotted around the streets of the city. It’s a familiar and comforting sight for locals, and a likely quirky curiosity for visitors new to the city.

What we can all agree on is that it is a point of interest, whether we have used those phone boxes in the past or simply pass by them on the daily commute. There is something so uniquely ‘London’ when you spot one that it’s almost impossible to imagine the city without them.

In the relative advent of mobile phone usage – although it feels like we’ve been using them ‘forever’ – red phone boxes, unsurprisingly, have very little practical use anymore. This is the reason why so many of them have now been creatively repurposed into miniature libraries, coffee bars and even sandwich shops.

So, when did these iconic red phone boxes first appear in London? And what is the future for these landmark kiosks we have all come to know and love?

We’ve also included a charming gift-list of red phonebox-themed items which we hope you’ll love.

So, let’s shed a light on London’s most noticeable and iconic, cultural touchstone.

Red Telephone Box

When did the first red telephone box make an appearance?

The original incarnation of the red telephone box was created in 1924, by noted architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, after winning a design competition devised by the General Post Office. His design was inspired by the tomb of Sir John’s Soane’s wife, as the domed roof of the original phone box resembled the grave of Eliza Soane.

His original design known as K1 (Kiosk Number 1) was initially going to be erected in steel, with the outside of the phone box painted silver and the interiors being blue-green, however, it was eventually decided upon to use cast-iron for the materials and a bright red hue for the colour. However, this wasn’t an altogether successful design, and it was decided that a newer, leaner version would be designed to commemorate King George V’s Silver Jubilee.

The new release became the iconic red K2 box we have come to know and love. This incarnation of the phone box popped up around the streets of London in 1926, and eventually grew to well over 1,700 over the course of the next 10 years.

The vibrant red colour was initially a bone of contention as many people found the bright red off-putting and found that the phone boxes really stuck out. Thankfully, there weren’t too many complaints otherwise we might have had a different colour entirely.

Today, there are very few left as they were deemed too expensive and have since been replaced with more modern, cost-effective versions.

If you want to see the original K2 you will find two phone boxes at the entrance to Burlington House on Piccadilly in Mayfair. One of the boxes is actually the initial wooden prototype of the original design. As the boxes have been granted Grade II status they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. They are truly magnificent to see up close.

Today, there are around 20,000 phone boxes currently in operation.

Phone Box Covent Garden

Where to find London’s best repurposed phone boxes?

In a bid to keep the classic red phone boxes alive, many have been creatively repurposed into thriving, local businesses. Did you know that you can adopt your very own kiosk for the bargain price of £1? All you have to do is apply to the ‘Adopt a Kisok’ by BT scheme (details at the end of the article) with the specific telephone box you would like, as well as your plans on how you could bring value to your community whether it be a creative project or even your very own small business. In that spirit, we have handpicked our favourite phone boxes and highlighted the remarkable vendors that have reconfigured these iconic telephone boxes into vibrant creative hubs for the local communities:

The Original Red Coffee Box

If you take a wander along Hampstead High Street (just outside Barclays bank) you will find one of the most beloved fixtures of this leafy community: The Original Red Coffee Box. Owner, Danny Baker, runs his wonderful miniature coffee business out of a Grade II-listed kiosk. He has become a familiar sight with locals, and a welcome respite if you’re heading to Hampstead Heath for a wander and need a hot drink to keep you going.

The Coffee Box is open Thursday – Sunday

Lewisham Micro Library

Have you ever heard of a library opening 24-hours a day? Well, you haven’t yet popped ‘into’ Lewisham Micro Library on Loampit Vale. Perhaps the world’s smallest library, a micro-library if you will. Anyone can use this library and take a book, just make sure you replace it with another page-turner! It’s a great place to meet the locals and have a chat. Well worth a visit.

The box stands on the corner Loampit Hill and Tyrwhitt Road


If you’re craving freshly made focaccia sandwiches (and who isn’t!) you can find these delicious lunchtime treats in perhaps the smallest sandwich kiosk we have come across. Located in Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead you will find owner Gabriele Contente make his tempting treats. If you try the incredible toasted Mortadella, pesto and mozzarella sarnie you will certainly be back for more.

Find Pinkadella on 40 Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, NW3 1NL


If you like your Tiramisu on the go, we have the perfect way to combine walking and the favoured Italian dessert. This adorable kiosk, in the heart of Bloomsbury, has some of the most delicious Tiramisu. Although fans of the classic will prefer the original, there are variations on this time-honoured recipe including; strawberry, pistachio and banana. All freshly made with the finest Italian ingredients. Dessert heaven!

Find Walkmisu at the Phone Box, east corner of Russell Square (open Friday-Sunday)

Blue Telephone Box

Where to find products with the iconic Red Telephone box?

If visiting the phone boxes wasn’t enough, taking a piece of the iconography is the ultimate way to incorporate the design as a gift or a vibrant decoration for the home. Here is our selection of our favourite Red Telephone Box gifts:

Lulu Red Lulu Calling Phonebox Clutch

British designer, Lulu Guiness, knows how to have fun with fashion. Her unique, often quirky designs are full of personality and none more brilliant than her ‘Lulu Calling Phonebox Clutch’. You’ll recognise the instantly iconic K2 phone box design, with its exquisite embroidery, which even includes pigeons on the roof. We think this could be paired with any outfit, particularly a little black dress to really make this clutch stand out.

Red Telephone Box A3 Print

Looking for something eye-catching to adorn your wall? This vibrant, retro print of a classic red telephone box brings a gorgeous splash of colour to the home. The artist’s style for this piece was inspired by the classic, mid-century book covers. As an added bonus, it’s also signed by the artist herself.

Telephone Box Christmas Decoration

No matter the time of year, it’s never too early to start shopping for the festive season, and this charming Red Telephone Box decoration is a timeless addition to your tree. Finished with a dash of red glitter, this is an adorable little gift or simply a reminder of your time in London.

For details on how to ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ click on the link below:

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