The AA Box
The Automobile Association's black and yellow call boxes were once a common sight on the UK's major roads, with a network of over 1,000 boxes at one time.
The first AA 'sentry box' was built in 1911, and initially the boxes provided a base for a patrol-man between emergency calls. In later years, the boxes (later known as 'call boxes') provided a means for AA members to seek assistance, and to shelter from weather while waiting for that assistance. The boxes were lit by oil lamps by night, and had maps, a fire extinguisher and a telephone available for members' use. Members were issued with a key that was standard for all AA boxes.
By the 1960s, 'one button' telephones were standard, allowing members to contact the AA for assistance. The 1970s and 1980s saw boxes phased out and replaced by more economical designs, ultimately simply a telephone on a post. The spread of mobile phones in the 1990s rendered the boxes largely obsolete, and in 2002, the AA abandoned its telephone network.
In September 2002, this decision was reported in the national press, along with the AA's plans to dispose of its remaining 21 roadside boxes, 13 of which it was offering to transport museums. The decision was made to seek one of these, and the Society was given a choice of two boxes, both in Scotland. It emerged that one of these was at Cappercleuch in the Scottish Borders, quite close to Moffat, close to the home of the son of a Society member, who was promptly dispatched to photograph it and duly sent us a whole film full. One of our members living in Glasgow also went to the trouble of coming down to take pictures.
A little later two of our members while in Scotland went to see the box for themselves. It was complete enough, but in quite a poor state of repair, with one front corner fallen away and the door hanging open restrained only by a piece of string and/or two stones. It looked very much as though the combination of Scottish climate and the box's situation "far from the madding crowd" made it an ideal shelter for passing walkers caught in the rain. Clearly, the sooner the box was removed from the site the better.
The AA's offer was formally accepted in April 2003, and transport possibilities were investigated. However, the project came to an abrupt halt when Historic Scotland applied for all remaining boxes in Scotland to have listed status, which would mean that they could not be moved. The box has since seen restoration work - recent photograph here.
Further discussions with the AA led to the identification the box formerly at the A41 / B4451 junction at Gaydon, Warwickshire (Box No. 3), which had become surplus to the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust's requirements, and it was rapidly moved to Lincoln, arriving at the Museum at the end of May 2003.
With assistance from the AA, a retired AA archivist who provided further information about the construction and fittings, and a number of individuals who have donated or loaned items, the box has been restored to form part of a small display on the AA, and the box has been restored to carry the identity of box number 122, Caenby Corner (junction of the A15 and A631, approximately 10 miles north of Lincoln.)
An extract from the 1932/3 AA Members' Handbook, showing the list of boxes in the region can be seen here on our Flickr site.
|Box interior, displaying a number of AA documents, a traditional black bakelite telephone, and a 1950s AA Patrolman's summer jacket|
|The telephone was provided for members' use on an 'honour' system for local calls.|