Sitting outside Earl’s Court tube station is a blue police box — a TARDIS — the first to be introduced to London since 1969, and it was built by London Underground.
The famous blue police box — or red for Glasgow — was introduced in the 1930s, and are all based on a design by the Met police’s own surveyor and architect, Gilbert MacKenzie Trench. By 1953, there were 685 police boxes on the streets of Greater London, but the arrival of the personal radio started to render them redundant and with a few heritage exceptions, they were slowly removed.
There was however never one outside Earl’s Court tube station, but there is now — and it’s not some fancy fake, but an experiment by the police in returning the police box to the streets.
Back in the mid-1990s, Earl’s Court was still a very run-down area with plenty of prostitution and drug migrating over from the cleaning up of King’s Cross, so a £1.6 million revamp was announced to clean up Earl’s Court.
Part of that was to be the introduction of a police box to give the local bobby somewhere to use as a local base of operations. It was former beat bobby, PC John Hodges who came up with the idea of a vandal-proof box in the style of the old police box, and after a year of paperwork and fuss, managed to secure permission from the Home Office for one to be added as an experiment.
It was installed in April 1996, with the first police shift taking place on the 18th April as part of a plan to provide four additional beat bobbies for the area. Designed to the same original Trench model, it added a CCTV camera on the top to keep an eye on the area, plus a direct telephone link to the nearby Kensington police station for use by the public.
The £11,000 cost of the new Tardis was mostly met by local businesses, with the local traders often supplying components of the police box, from the camera itself right down to the doorknobs.
The main material for the box came from an unexpected source though – the London Underground, who also assembled the box at their nearby depot and provided the manpower to install it outside the tube station entrance.
Sadly, they’ve never managed to replicate its fictional counterpart’s ability to pack more people into the tiny space, otherwise, I am sure that technology would now be in use on the tube trains.
At the time, the tube station manager, Graeme Goudie told the Kensington Post that the £3,000 cost to the London Underground was far outweighed by the benefits.
“There are a large number of drunks, drug pushers pimps and prostitutes who hang about the entrance to the tube station and we don’t like it any more than people living here. The box offers police protection and safety and hopefully, it will push the undesirables away from the station”.
Unlike the originals, which were made of concrete with a wooden door, this one is entirely wooden. The interior is not that exciting for a Tardis, being a simple chair, first aid kit, a small heater, and an awful lot of electrical plugs. Although Google streetview seems to disagree.
While the police box was not the only thing done to clean up the area, which was as much a societal problem as a policing one, it was the most significant visible change made.
It had been suggested that the new police box might be the first of many to reappear on the streets, and while the police box is synonymous with Doctor Who, the TV show had been off the screens for a decade so it was felt that enough time had passed that they could reuse the design for policing rather than travelling.
Despite optimistic opinions at the time, the police box wasn’t to be that useful and was decommissioned in April 2000, although in 2005, the Met Police agreed to take over the refurbishment and maintenance of the box.
Today it’s mainly a tourist attraction for modern-day Doctor Who fans, but it’s still serving its original function, keeping an eye on the area from the restored CCTV on the top.
Addendum – if you want to set through the doors of a TARDIS, pay a visit to the Doctor Who Museum in East London.