In the days before mobile phones, as far as I have been able to discover, this system for contacting police officers on the beat, or allowing them to contact the station, was in use in Leamington from 1941 to about 1956. I have managed to find the location of nine of the known pillars, and would be grateful for any information which would help me complete the set.
Each pillar stood a little over average adult shoulder height, with a cube-shaped box at the top, surmounted by a lantern. (See picture, left) The cube had a central door with a small recess at either side, one containing a Police telephone and the other, a connection to the Fire Service. The lantern would flash when a patrolling policeman needed to contact the station. All he had to do was reach into the recess, lift the receiver and he was immediately put in contact with the switch board at the station
The installation of the eventual twelve pillars in Leamington was a long-drawn out affair, even though this was supported by Warwickshire Constabulary. The Pillar System was first aired publicly at a quarterly meeting of the Warwickshire Joint Standing Committee at Shire Hall, Warwick, in July 1934. The Chief Constable, Commander E R B Kemble presented his report, in which he recommended the installation of a Police Pillar Telephone System, which he considered would be of great assistance in carrying out Police work throughout the County. He suggested starting in Rugby town centre, at a cost of £526 per annum. The Committee declined to make a recommendation. (Leamington Courier, 13 July 1934)
The Leamington Courier reported a similar recommendation by the Chief Constable in October 1936, when the verdict was, “We have decided to take no action thereon at the present time.” The request was repeated in April and July 1938, by which time, forward planning for possible emergencies was at the forefront of the Agenda, as the shadow of war loomed over Europe, and the cost to the Boroughs in the District had risen to £3000. The Chief Constable now presented the provision of the telephone system as “a matter of considerable importance”, but the matter was shelved yet again, in the hope of receiving a Home Office Grant towards the cost. It took until 18 October 1940 for this report to appear:
The Town Clerk reported to the Highways & Town Planning Committee with respect to a planning application submitted by the Post Office Telephone Department for permission “to place telegraphic lines (underground and overground) and poles in various parts of the borough, in connection with the Police Telephone System recently approved by the Council. It was resolved that consent be given.” (LSC Friday 18 October 1940)
Things then moved swiftly on. The following spring, the first Leamington Telephone Pillar was inaugurated in Avenue Road: “On Tuesday morning the Mayor (Alderman M. S. Moore) opened the pillar telephone service recently installed at 12 convenient points in the borough, and thus brought Leamington into line with those cities and towns which have proved the utility of this up-to-date police equipment. The system simplifies communication with three police departments. Opening a little door in the pillar puts the service into operation, and the caller has only to speak into a microphone. The voice is amplified at the receiving end. The Mayor tested the efficiency of the ambulance service when he spoke into the robot.” In just over two minutes the ambulance drew up at the pillar in Avenue Road, where the call had been put through. The Mayor said he was sure the service would prove real asset to the public. Policemen on patrol can called up the flashing of a red light on top of the pillars. Each pillar contains a first-aid set. Standing behind the Mayor in the picture are Councillor R. S Salt and Alderman K. R. England (Chairman of the Watch Committee). The Chief Constable (Mr A E Young) is on the left.” LSC 11 April 1941
The attached image (right) from the archive of the late W G Gibbons, shows the pillar at the junction of the Parade and Regent Street, backed by the 1953 Coronation Display in Woodward’s window.
Terry Gardner, February 2021.
Sources: Warwickshire Police Local History Society Archives; Leamington Spa Courier; GPO Police Telephone and Signal System, 1932; All images courtesy of T G Gardner.