City of Portsmouth NH Restores British Phone Booth Gifted in 1984

October 23, 2023

Since 1984 a British phone booth, or ‘phone box’ as the iconic structure is known in the UK, has stood at the back door of what is now the home of the Portsmouth Historical Society. A gift from Portsmouth NH’s Friendship City of Portsmouth, England, delivered by the HMS Sirius, the phone box had deteriorated from the effects of weather and vandalism over the past 39 years. It seemed appropriate in 2023 as Portsmouth is celebrating the 400th anniversary of European settlement, to spruce up the reminder of Portsmouth, England’s friendship.

The City considered sending the phone box back to Unicorn Manufacturing, Ltd., the UK manufacturer of the traditional cast iron structures. Rather than incur the significant shipping costs and delay, the Department of Public Works decided to order the needed authentic parts and to the restore the box here. A completely new red phone box from England was considered, but the City wanted to preserve whatever historical provenance it could in the original gift.

The phone box was carefully wrapped in plastic and transported to the DPW shop in Portsmouth where many hours of dedicated craftsmanship and original parts have gone into the restoration which will be unveiled on October 25, 2023. The short ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 pm will include remarks from Mayor Deaglan McEachern, and Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley. The public is then invited to visit the Historical Society for light refreshments, special footage from the 1984 delivery of the phone booth, and a curator tour of "A Sense of Place: an exhibition to accompany a History of Portsmouth NH in 101 Objects."

The scope of work, according to the proposal, included preserving the original HMS Sirius ship’s crest on the interior wall, removing glass and remaining fittings, sandblasting, multiple coats of paint, reglazing the booth with safety glass in glazing frames, installing a push/pull safety glass panel, and restoring the hinges and door pull handle.

The Portsmouth Historical Society will be responsible for posting the arts and culture information that will be displayed in the restored, lighted phone box at its new location in front of the Portsmouth Historical Society instead of at the back – where it is much more visible and secure.

The new location conforms with the planned realignment of the Islington Street sidewalk when the City continues the next phase of the Islington Street Corridor Project improvements. That project will include the replacement of underground utilities, roadway reconstruction,landscaping improvements, such as adding ornamental lighting, street trees and benches, and curbing and sidewalk installations. The sidewalk reconfiguration will be adapted to the new location of the phone booth, making it more visible and accessible.

Mayor unveils restored British phone box. (Credit: Ken Goldman for PNH400)