Heritage calling for help

An important part of our national heritage is making an urgent call for help!

A cursory search of Historic England’s listings database reveals this K6-series telephone kiosk in Braintree, Essex, is a Grade-II listed building.

K6s are the most numerous and recognisable of the surviving kiosks, this type being designed in 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and this particular example being added to the Heritage List for England in 1988. The listing doesn’t specify the reason for its inclusion – around 2,500 of the original 60,000 installed in the UK are now listed; 11,700 survive. Despite their near-redundancy in modern times, their retention enhances street aesthetics and they provide a much-needed constant in ever-changing and unpredictable surroundings. The setting of this example, central to a scheme of several other Grade-II and II* listed buildings in the historic core of Braintree, must have influenced the decision behind its listing. 

The photograph in the online Historic England listings database shows a tidy K6 kiosk in 2001, well-maintained and proud to be providing the public with telecommunications services in an era before the proliferation of smart mobile phones. However, with the decline in demand for public kiosks and the disregard for heritage in many urban locations such as this one, it now looks neglected, vandalised and tired, its original purpose, providing an essential service for its community, long forgotten for many. 

Our urban street furniture represents some the most abused, ignored and attacked of all of our heritage assets, with telephone kiosks being particularly vulnerable. Each time the kiosk is sprayed with graffiti, each time a window is smashed, each time the handset is damaged, we should be recording a crime of criminal damage and investigate a ‘heritage’ crime, but this is impracticable and many would consider this a victimless crime with enquiries beyond what is considered by the police as reasonable or proportionate.

Maybe a renewed campaign for our urban heritage is overdue? Maybe an ‘adopt a K6’ campaign should be commenced with the objective of encourage more innovative use and the re-purposing the kiosks. Unless we can revive interest in urban cultural heritage, we risk losing much of what survives of our historical streetscapes. 

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

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