Former village telephone box transformed into an art gallery

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The old Rotherfield Grays telephone box has been restored after four years.

Residents and businesses contributed to the cost of refurbishing the Red Bandstand, which BT sold to Rotherfield Grays Parish Council for a nominal £1 in 2017.

The booth, which is a listed building, was in disrepair and could only call village numbers.

But on Friday it was opened as a mini art gallery and information center to show people places in and around the village.

Nicola Whittle, who chaired the restoration committee, cut the ribbon with member Tom Marshall, who did most of the restoration work.

She then thanked the small group of villagers present, including committee members Claire Howlett and Rosie Clinkard and Jayne Price, who was clerk when the box was passed. She also thanked committee member Emma Turner, who moved to Devon.

Brian Sills, father of Ben Sills, who is the new tenant of the Maltsters Arms pub in the village, was also there with a bottle of Prosecco to toast the occasion.

Ms Whittle said: ‘Restoring the phone box was a labor of love, taking nearly four years. We struggled through the years of covid and whatever the weather could throw at us, collecting money, scraping and painting, replacing broken glass and frames and collecting postcard-sized works of art to display in the box.

“Emma was at the ceremony in spirit and her children produced some of the art for the box.”

The committee first met in the spring of 2018 and began fundraising for materials. including paint and glass as well as tools. There was also a ‘drink at the bar’ collection at the pub.

While work waited to begin, the box was wrapped in plastic and taped shut to protect it.

Then, at Christmas, it was wrapped in tinsel and tied around it to make it a festive item. Ms Whittle said: ‘Progress on the restoration has been slow as the committee all have busy lives and the work involved a great deal of hand scraping to remove many layers of red paint.

“The weather – scorching hot summers and wet winters – and covid-19 didn’t help either, but the restoration was finally completed in the spring.

“Many people pass the box every day and when it was painted they said how happy they were to have it refurbished. It now looks amazing. I got a lot of emails telling me it was great.

“One thing everyone asked was whether or not it would be a book exchange, but we thought almost every old phone booth in the area had been turned into one of these. and we wanted something different.

“However, the phone box is in a rather dangerous position at the side of the road that runs through the village, so it was decided that it would be safer not to use it in a way that would attract large groups of people. .

“We produced an information leaflet and decided to exhibit works of art instead. There are about 24 photos, including old and new photographs taken in the village.

The telephone box is a K6 model and was designed for the General Post Office by architect Giles Gilbert Scott in 1935.

He had been commissioned to design a simpler and cheaper model than the older K1 to K5 boxes and he introduced more glazing which improved lighting.

The boxes also had a perforated cast iron crown, although this had a fuller Tudor crown.

The people, organizations and companies who donated money were: R & GM Ovey; welding and fabrication engineers from JR Hill & Sons; Ella’s kitchen; Hennell vehicle services; Knox & Eames accountants; Bruton Charles chartered accountants and auditors; Gray’s Green Golf Club; Rotherfield Grays Parish Council; the Green Grays Cricket Club; Rotherfield Grays party committee; and an anonymous donor.

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