As I take my guided walks around the city – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I cannot fail to regularly come across cast iron buildings which have been on our streets since before World War II.
It had been proposed to place these Police Beat Boxes around the city to allow Officers to ‘parade and retire’ whilst still on the beat, rather than starting at their home Police Stations and marching or walking to their patch. This of course would have allowed criminals to take advantage of shift changes and go about their nefarious deeds without fear of detection. And in 1933, from a design by the City Architect Ebenezer MacRae, 142 Police Boxes were sited throughout Edinburgh.
Manufactured at the Carron Foundry in Falkirk in Central Scotland, these boxes were painted blue (what else?). They contained a built-in desk, doo’cots (small shelves) for paperwork, a stool for the Officer to rest his weary feet and a small bench chair for his partner/probationer or, if required, his prisoner whilst he awaited some assistance. There was a light, a sink and running water and a very small and inadequate heater. Why inadequate? Well, the Police Inspector didn’t want the water to freeze for the sink, but similarly he didn’t want it snug enough that the Officer wouldn’t go out in the cold! There was also a phone which could be accessed from outside so that the public could request the Officer in their hour of need.
The windows were frosted glass and the light could be seen by the public too. Often fitted to the roof was a blue flashing lamp which would alert the patrolling Officer to return to his beat box as there was an urgent message. This was in the days before personal radios were carried. During World War II, air raid sirens were also fitted (the flatbed for the siren can be seen in the top photograph here).
These Police Boxes were used as part of the beat box system until the mid-1980’s even though personal radios were used by Officers from the early 1970’s. But even after the mid-1980’s, the boxes were still utilised for the use of the telephone (remember….no mobile phones!) and to keep out of inclement weather.
Having become mostly redundant the City of Edinburgh Council started a sell off of these historic buildings. Some in prime positions, others in suburban backwaters. One box in the city centre was for sale with an expected price of £3,500-4,000 and sold for over £100,000.
Most sold for a lot less than this. I’m told one Police Box in the middle of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town sold for £500 last year.
But what have the owner done with them? Well, some are just storage and some have been left to deteriorate with smashed windows and graffiti. The majority have been looked after and they have become coffee stops – with varying success going by the picture above – food outlets, art spaces amongst other things. The one that sits in Croall Place in Leith Walk (the old Box 10-D, Leith Police Division) is the Edinburgh Tool Library which lends out power tools.
So, when out and about in the city have a look for these wonderful little buildings.
+++STOP PRESS+++ 10 Police Boxes across Edinburgh will open to the public on the 4th and 5th July 2015. Check out www.facebook.com/policeboxes or visit the website on www.edinburghexpoliceboxes.co.uk for more information.