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Shropshire phone boxes staying connected

Oswestry | News | Published:

The age of the mobile phone may have set the seal of doom on old-fashioned telephone kiosks – but dozens in Shropshire will be spared the axe.

Villager Martin Locke at the phone box in Astley, near Shawbury

Almost 40 of the iconic red phone boxes across the county have been classed by English Heritage as listed buildings.

It means they will continue to be a beacon of days gone by, when most people relied on them to keep in touch, and before the days of mobiles, the internet, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.

Nationally BT has removed 33,000 kiosks from the "street furniture" in towns and villages over the last decade because mass use of mobile phones has made them obsolete.

And now 1,000 more are to be removed across the country, including 50 in the West Midlands.

BT has not yet decided which of its 1,746 kiosks across the region will disappear – but 38 red phone boxes across Shropshire will be safe because of their grade II-listed status.

They include one in Castle Square in Ludlow and another in Belmont Road, Ironbridge.

Protected red phone boxes can also be found in Cleobury Mortimer, Craven Arms, Bishop's Castle, Clun, Bucknell and Ellesmere.

There are still nearly 500 phone boxes in Shropshire, of which 159 are red.

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BT spokesman Emma Tennant said: "More than 12,000 payphones make less than one call per month – more than 70 per cent are unprofitable.

"BT has removed 33,000 kiosks over the last decade.

"We plan to remove 1,000 more across the UK of which around 50 are likely to be in the West Midlands. Some will have already been removed.

"Due to the huge reduction in payphone use alongside the massive rise in mobile phones, BT is able to remove any kiosk that has another one within 400 metres. If there is no other kiosk within 400 metres we need to consult with the local authority."

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In some cases where red phone boxes are under threat, local people have rallied to save them.

In Coreley, near Clee Hill, villagers came up with the novel idea of adopting their village phone kiosk – and turning it into one of the smallest libraries in the world. They adopted it by paying £1 to BT, The phone box was placed there in 1935 as thousands of others were rolled out across the nation to commemorate King George's Jubilee.

BT decided to decommission the Coreley box after local residents switched to land lines and mobile telephones.

But it now has a new use, with villagers keeping it stocked up and borrow books, replacing them with their own used volumes.

There have been 22 other red phone boxes "adopted" by their local communities across the county, including in Oldbury Road in Bridgnorth, Little Ness near Shrewsbury, Tibberton near Newport, Hindford near Oswestry and Welsh End near Whitchurch. Villagers in Astley, near Shawbury, have also taken responsibility for their own kiosk in recent years.

Councillor Jon Tandy, mayor of Shrewsbury, said he appreciated the fact they were used less frequently these days but wanted to see at least some of them protected.

He said: "Most people do have mobile telephones these days but the red telephone boxes remain an icon of this country and – depending on where they are – I agree that they should be protected.

"Not everybody can afford a mobile telephone and what you could find, with people struggling financially, is that if they remove every box they could end up having to reinstall them in a few years when the demand returns. It could go full circle.

"Red telephone boxes can also be a vital resource if you have run out of mobile phone battery or in an emergency."

In recent years BT has encouraged communities to adopt telephone kiosks rather than seeing them disappear from the landscape.

Decomissioned phone boxes have also been bought by private collectors.

Learn more:

  • The ‘K6’ phone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1935 to coincide with the silver jubilee of King George V – but sadly he did not live to see any of them installed
  • They were first known as Jubilee Kiosks and around 70,000 were around the UK between 1936 to 1968. They stand at 8ft4 tall and have a 3ft sq base
  • The majority were painted red but in the 1940s some were painted grey to fit in with more natural surroundings
  • In 1952, Elizabethan crowns were added to new boxes, while north of the border they sported the Scottish crown
  • BT sold off thousands of the boxes to private buyers in the mid-1980s
  • Just 11,000 of the 51,500 public kiosks remain as traditional red boxes
  • Welsh singer Tom Jones reportedly paid £50,000 for a kiosk to be shipped to his mansion in California. It had sat on the corner of Laura Street in Treforest, south Wales and he used it to talk to wife Linda
  • BT runs an Adopt a Kiosk scheme – giving communities the chance to take over a red phone box for just a £1
  • The Community Heartbeat Trust has been working to convert some to be used to store defibrillators

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