Police Box

Sheffield, United Kingdom | C.1928

Photo Credit: Hayley Doyle

In early 20th century England, when policemen patrolled the streets by foot, the need for increased communication emerged in the form of Police Boxes. Soon popping up throughout the country, Police Boxes provided contact points for both officers and the public with a direct line to the local police station.

Introduced by Chief Constable Frederick James Crawley, who first installed a Police Box in Sunderland, the Sheffield Police Box arrived in 1928 under Chief Constable Percy Sillitoe, who would go on to become Director General of the United Kingdom’s MI5. Within three years, the Metropolitan Police Force began a widespread installation of boxes in London.

The Sheffield Police Boxes provided not only a point of contact with emergency services, but they also contained a first aid kit for public use, and a desk where officers could file reports. Patrolling officers checked in at boxes in hourly intervals and relayed updates by phone. Blue electric lamps were located at the top of each box. The Sheffield police boxes originally had bulbs suspended from curved metal brackets that the local police station could illuminate when there was an important message.

Since individual police units installed boxes in their jurisdictions, Police Boxes varied in appearance. The Sheffield box is known for having a segmental-arched roof, rather than the shallow pyramidal roofs used by a number of other forces including the Metropolitan Police Force in London.

Police boxes remained in use until the 1960s when improved radio communications and increased use of vehicles eventually phased them out. The police box near Sheffield’s town hall is the lone survivor of the 120 boxes that were located in the town, and is a rare artifact of England’s emergency response history.

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