The History of our Kiosk - El Tel

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The Beginning

So how and why did all this begin? I'm fairly certain it was probably a passing comment I made to Andrew on a hot sunny afternoon in July 1996. In those days we seemed to have had lots of sunny afternoons and enjoyed sitting outside, in the garden, after work. Something had triggered the memory of a red telephone kiosk and I probably made a chance remark to the effect that I had always wanted one. It may have been a memory that there was, supposedly, a field somewhere in Hucknall that had had a stack of telephone kiosks dumped in it and which had been abandoned there.

Telephone Kiosks for quiet snogs

Not sure what the provenance of this is except it has been lurking in my cheque book case for some time!

Maybe the story had reared its head again that afternoon? It tends to surface every so often and I have, over the years met other people who have heard of this (urban) myth. Maybe the kiosks looked something like this : (although I must admit I had always pictured them lying down .....)

Derelict Kiosks

Thanks to Salvo.co.uk for the image.

Andrew asked the question everybody asks me, even the editor of the Hucknall Dispatch - 'why did I want a red telephone kiosk?' - everyone knows that I don't even like the colour red (and for those who know me well, let me assure you that the kiosk will never be painted purple, not in my lifetime anyway.) It's not a question I can answer simply or easily - I just did! I always felt it was a terrible shame and unforgiveable waste when the decision was made to dispose of these very iconic British relics in such a cavalier manner. At the time of the decision, mobile phones were still the size of a brick, telephone kiosks were used regularly and were an essential lifeline. The design of the replacement kiosks did not suit rural villages up and down the country and many inhabitants mounted protests to retain their Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed kiosks. The residents of Linby in Nottinghamshire dressed up their kiosk with Christmas lights during the 2011 festive season and featured in the local newspaper.

The old-style kiosks were, as we have discovered, high maintenance. By not maintaining them to any acceptable standard, because there was no longer a need to do so, the owners achieved their aim in making them appear unwanted and discarded. The kiosks started to look pathetic and generated hostility as they become blots on the landscape. The new telephone booths that replaced the traditional cast iron kiosks were made from modern materials and their low maintenance proved to be their greatest asset.

Talking of painting - the kiosks have to be maintained using special paint and it isn't cheap! (I hope eventually to cover our restoration of El Tel in a separate section of this site - we will be receiving help from Unicorn Kiosk Restorations).

The Find

Coincidentally - and it was a coincidence, what else could it have been, only a few days later, on the 23rd July 1996 the Nottingham Evening Post carried a story entitled 'Phone that's not so mobile' - its sub-heading read 'Piece of Britain's history goes up for grabs.'

Newspaper Article

Jimmy Etherington, former owner, pictured with Australian memorabilia, an upright kiosk and friends Keith Harris and Bobby Crush.

Andrew didn't tell me about this as he was fairly secure in the knowledge that it was unlikely that I would have seen the article in the Nottingham Evening Post. Having already contacted Jimmy Etherington about a viewing he 'casually' suggested to me that we could go out to Ruddington for a drink. Andrew lived for most of his life in the Bridgford / Ruddington area so I didn't find anything particularly unusual about going out (I tend to hate 'surprises' even nice ones) - although it did seem to be a long way to go on a week night when we were both working the next day. My curiosity was aroused when we ventured up what looked like a farm lane that did not look as if it was leading to a public house. However, as we had, apparently, arrived at our destination I waited to find out what would happen next. The house was quite big and we were led into a dining room that had the ugliest and most ostentatious chandelier I had ever seen and I was still none the wiser about who it was that we were coming to visit or why. Eventually, Andrew, having now explained to Jimmy his purpose for keeping the secret, we were escorted to where the kiosk had been 'stored' (I use the word kindly).

Kiosk stored

Hmmm - what do they say about a picture saying a thousand words, this one speaks volumes.

So there it was - our kiosk-to-be - down and out!

Other than, of course, wanting to rescue this piece of history, there was still the matter of purchase. It was a sort of 'free for all' auction as the kiosk had already generated a lot of interest through the same newspaper article that Andrew had seen. At the conclusion of our first visit and after I had got over the shock of potentially owning a kiosk, I felt almost bereft at the thought that we might not succeed in being the winning bidders. I couldn't see quite such a remarkable opportunity coming up again in a hurry. Luckily for me Jimmy mentioned his Music Hall background and as I had worked for the BBC, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Nottingham and Derby Playhouses we found we had much in common. My profession as a prop maker also helped him to warm to me and reinforced our statement that we intended to restore the kiosk rather than converting it into a novelty bar or shower. We left after over an hour of chatting and were told that Jimmy would make his decision and let us know after he had spoken to everyone who had shown interest in the kiosk. It was actually quite nerve-racking, like waiting for exam results or a job interview result and we were poised for disappointment. Luckily Jimmy came down in our favour for two reasons - the obvious one was that we had met and bettered his asking price but he added that he had genuinely enjoyed talking to us because we had made the effort to talk to him rather than just turning the whole thing into a business deal. Between us we had touched on two of his favourite subjects, the world of entertainment and real ale! Some of the other potential candidates had not been interested in 'networking' and he told us he suspected that they had only wanted the kiosk for its commercial value and eventual selling power. The thought of turning this piece of history into something cosmetic did not got down well with Jimmy and, as stated above, he believed us when we said that our sole purpose in wanting to buy the kiosk was to restore it to its former grandeur as well as having a talking point in the garden!

Successful Purchase

So now, having successfully purchased the kiosk, the Nottingham Evening Post wrote a small follow-up story and the interest in the sale even generated a cartoon :

Purchase Article

Hucknall man Andrew Ludlow thinks the Kiosk will make a nice 'garden ornament.'

NEP Cartoon

And yet another cartoon at my expense - they seem to follow me around.

The Dr Who character in the cartoon is quite obviously based on Tom Baker - yet another coincidence as I have a little bit of a history with the man - all good, which will probably appear somewhere on this web-site in the 'My Brush With ....' section.

Now we've bought it - what next?

If we had realised, at the time, what getting the Kiosk from Ruddington to our garden would entail, I'm not convinced that we would have gone ahead with the purchase.

First of all we had to find someone who would be prepared to transport it - not easy and we had nearly given up hope when someone suggested trying to find a company that may have experience of moving very old heavy safes from locations that were not on the ground floor. Joseph Merritt and Sons were at first reluctant, but then relented and decided they would take the job:

Letter from Removals Experts

The letter of confirmation from Industrial Removers Joseph Merritt & Son plc.

It would not be possible to hoist the kiosk from the front of the house - access would have to be gained from the school property adjoining our boundary - permission was sought and gained and appropriate gratuities made. Then, having had some of the best weather possible for an English summer, we needed to dig the foundations for a plinth to hold the kiosk in place. That was when the heavens decided to open and as we have clay soil, the hole for the foundations quickly filled up with rainwater and our frogs, having discovered this new source, loved their second 'pond' and all changed from their usual hue to a bright orange. We also hit a soakaway about five feet down which meant - all STOP as when it happened we didn't actually know what we had fractured! Naturally we needed to know that we had not hit anything more important (or even worse a sewage line) and a proper repair job had to be done by more professionals. That put us back by about three days and meant that our deadline might be breached - the concrete had still not been poured in, let alone set and we had been told it needed at least 10 dry days to 'weather'.

But lo and behold, someone, probably a much higher authority was on our side and the day for transporting El Tel to his new home had arrived. It helped that it was dry or the removers may not have made the attempt. The concrete had set and the frogs, put out that their second pond had disappeared migrated back to their original one under the Lilac Tree.

Let's Get you Home El Tel!

Bright and early Merritt and Sons arrived in Ruddington and started the process of mounting El Tel onto their lorry with the aid of a hydraulic powered winch - the first three photographs will show this start to the proceedings:

Transportation arrives

Waiting patiently

The wait is over

Now securely fastened, the next three pictures show El Tel being hoisted onto the Merritt lorry:

Lift Off

Nearly there

Safe

Safe and sound and giving a whole new meaning to 'falling off the back of a lorry'.

The next sequence of photos will show the arrival at the boundary of our rear garden and the near catastrophe that was, luckily, averted!

Arrival

Parking Up

Winch testing

Even after the successful drive to our adjoining property, the final touches had to be made to ensure that the winch could reach the 'disembarkation' point for El Tel - as you can see there are quite a few overhanging branches in this beautiful glade .......

The next two photographs show the kiosk suspended from the hoist and being manoeuvred over a not very high, but sufficiently so, fence which needed to be negotiated to get El Tel onto his new stomping ground.

The hoist lifts kiosk

The hoist swings

The foliage strikes back ......

This is the moment when everything could have gone disastrously wrong, all hands to the pump which is why the next sequence of photographs omits the frenzy and shows the happy conclusion as everyone, friends, neighbours, onlookers, photographers, even the cats (possibly the frogs from a safe vantage point) rushed to help! The problem began as the kiosk began its forward descent and snagged a branch. Not much of a contest you might think - over half a ton of metal against a branch - and the branch did break - but the momentum caused the kiosk to start swinging .... Luckily the experts were able to lower the kiosk sufficiently to allow everyone to 'grab a bit' in an effort to steady the swing - it worked, but not without an awful lot sweat pouring down brows accompanied by colourful language.

The story continues in picture form with a now steadied kiosk being manoeuvred down to the 'boarding' provided by Joseph Merritt & Son plc.

Steadily down

Coming into land

Safely down

The Kiosk has landed - safely!

Can't imagine what all the fuss was about can you? In the hands of the professionals it looks so easy!

A couple of hefty pushes and shoves and El Tel reaches the specially prepared plinth and have you noticed? The sun is out!

Last pushIn place

And finally in situ:

Emplaced

And finally, emplaced on the plinth, the offending branch that caused the worry strategically placed at the forefront - El Tel was home!

A deserved round of applause

Well certainly we all did a bit of a whooping and a-hollering as El Tel was finally home, but in dire need of a facelift. First things first, having such a lush and green garden and the kiosk being so red made for some great contrasting photography!

First Photo

All the rubbish cleared away and our first photograph of the kiosk standing proud again!

Pretty as a picture

This is my favourite 'in situ' photo despite the ladder in the background reminding us of the earlier work in hand because the fuchsias (my favourites) in the foreground create a lovely and lasting framework for El Tel the day he came home.

This page was created specifically for the purpose of recounting and recording the provenance and arrival of the telephone kiosk in our garden. (You cannot believe the relief we felt the following morning as we peered anxiously out to see if the plinth had held - which it had and still does 16 years later). More pictures will migrate to this section in time - but this story has been a long time coming and should have been written up months ago. I knew where the important factual documents were, but, I had, in a moment of madness, not knowing I would eventually create my own web-site, laminated everything! Glue on the back of documents under a laminated field - nightmare, luckily I was able to cut and separate most of what I needed and the computer software removed all the dingy, nasty yellow gluey stuff on the newspaper articles. It has given them a sort of washed out photocopy feel, but at least that has to be better than the nicotine-stained effect the originals really possess!

I hope you have enjoyed this little tale and now, right at the end, I will confess - I was not there when it all happened, I was at work and I thank Andrew for sticking through with the whole adventure right to the end - but then it was his idea to buy the kiosk, now wasn't it?

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Page updated : 6th May 2016