This landmark has become so familiar that we barely notice it now. But, this police box, next to the Town Hall, on Surrey Street, is the only survivor of a system of 120 boxes that once existed across Sheffield.
Police boxes 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.
They were designed to increase efficiency by decentralising police constables away from the police station and preventing the necessity to return to base several times during their beat.
Other northern cities then followed suit including Sheffield in 1928.
The Sheffield police box system was introduced by Chief Constable Percy J Sillitoe, subsequently appointed as Chief Constable of Glasgow in 1931, where he also set up a police box system; he was later to receive a knighthood and became Director General of MI5. (Think, Sam Neill’s Major Chester Campbell character in Peaky Blinders).
The Sheffield boxes were sited on police beats all over the city where they provided contact points for both police officers and members of the public, with each box having a direct telephone link with the local police station.
The telephone was in a small compartment accessible from the outside of the box, as was a first aid kit, both intended for public use. They were also used by patrolling officers, who visited the boxes at hourly intervals when information was passed by phone between the officers and supervisory staff at police stations.
Additionally, a ‘blue’ electric lamp was located on the top of each box; the Sheffield boxes originally had bulb lights suspended from curved metal brackets. These were controlled from the local police station and used to indicate when there was an important message to be relayed.
Inside, the boxes had a desk and stool where the patrolling officers could have meal breaks and write reports. The boxes could also be used as temporary lock-ups if necessary, for those arrested and awaiting transport to a police station.
The police boxes remained in regular use until the 1960s when the development of improved communications and increased use of police cars made them obsolete.
This box is the sole survivor and has latterly been used as a public information point by Sheffield’s city centre ambassadors, though it is not presently in regular use.
The police box is well-known as Doctor Who’s Tardis, but the type used on TV is typical of the shallow pyramidical roof boxes, adopted by the Metropolitan Police in 1930.