An old phone box outside the front of the British Museum has been turned into a miniature museum of its own – the Visionary Brit Museum.
Despite its name, it’s more an art gallery than a museum though, it mainly shows off art for sale. Wander past, and you can open the door to step inside the gallery and with a bit of contorting, take a look around at the art on display.
It opened to the public at the start of this year, and you can step inside London’s smallest art gallery between 10am-5pm daily.
For phone nerds, it’s a pre-1955 K6 telephone box – you can tell the date by the way the Crown is fitted. Early K6 boxes have a Tudor Crown cast into the metal as a single piece, and originally painted red, but these days the crown is painted gold.
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II, decided to replace the Tudor Crown in all contexts with a representation of the actual crown generally used for British coronations, the St Edward’s Crown. These were added to telephone boxes, but in Scotland, this provoked protests about Scottish phone boxes being decorated with an English Crown (overlooking the fact that the Tudor crown was also English), so it was decided to use the Crown of Scotland in Scotland instead.
To do that, the top of the phone box was changed and a slot was added in the top to drop in whichever crown is suitable. So, if you look at a phonebox and the crown is cast into the top, it’s pre-1955, and if you can see a slot for the crown, then it’s from 1955 onwards.
There is, however, a bit of awkward history behind using telephone boxes for commercial ventures.
A Brighton based charity set up by Edward Ottewell and Steve Beeken bought a large number of phone boxes for just £1 each to rent out to social enterprises, but it’s claimed that they then sold many of them to another company, the Red Kiosk Company, which is also owned by Edward Ottewell for commercial rent.
This particular phone box was then used as a tourist souvenir stall, without planning permission from Camden Council, and after enforcement was started, a planning application was filed, but refused by the council, who argued that the stall occupied by the seller outside the phone box was blocking the pavement.
British Telecom is reportedly considering action to prevent the phone boxes, which BT intended to be used for local community groups, from being sold off for profit.
In the meantime though, a museum/gallery inside a telephone box is a rather charming idea.
It’s on Great Russell Street, just to the right side of the British Museum’s front entrance.