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Sheffield's Police Box

Many visitors to Sheffield, particularly Doctor Who fans, can hardly fail to notice the green police box near the city’s Town Hall. Police boxes, designed to increase efficiency by giving police constables facilities away from the police station and preventing the necessity to return to base a number of times during their beat, were introduced in Britain in the 1920s. Chief Constable Frederick James Crawley installed them initially in Sunderland in 1923 and then in Newcastle upon Tyne after he became Chief Constable there in 1925. Sheffield followed in 1928. The Metropolitan Police Force began a widespread installation of police boxes in London from 1930.

In Sheffield, there used to be 120 boxes. Chief Constable Percy Sillitoe introduced them in October 1928 before being appointed as Chief Constable of Glasgow in 1931 where he set up a police box system. He later received a knighthood and became Director General of M15.

The Sheffield boxes provided contact points for both police officers and members of the public with each box having a direct link with the local police station through a telephone, located in a small compartment accessible from the outside of the box, along with a first aid kit, both intended for public use. Patrolling officers visited the boxes at hourly intervals and information was passed by phone between the officers and staff at police stations. A 'blue' electric lamp was located on the top of each box; the Sheffield boxes originally had bulb lights suspended from curved metal brackets, controlled from the local police station and used to indicate when there was an important massage to be relayed. Inside, the boxes had a desk and stool where officers could have meal breaks and fill in reports. Police boxes could also be used as temporary lock-ups if necessary for those arrested and awaiting transport to a police station.

They remained in regular use until the 1960s when the development of improved radio communications and increased use of police vehicles made them obsolete. The box near the town hall in Sheffield is the sole survivor of Sheffield’s 120 and is currently listed due to its having a segmental-arched roof, rather than the shallow pyramidal roofs used in a number of other places, including in London.

The picture shows the box with its telephone compartment - and unfortunately, with its door open, we can see that it is not bigger inside than out.

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