red telephone booth beside road

Can You Really Send a Text from a Traditional Red K6 Phone Box?

A few miles from my home stands a very sad and forlorn public telephone box.

Like so many thousands around the country, there just isn’t the demand for them.

I came across the one on the right whilst on a walk in rural Hampshire and it’s in desperate need of attention.

Some communities have rallied round and put them to good use as miniature libraries or tiny shops but most are slowing decaying, a much cherished but sadly unused British design icon.

Ovington K6 phone box
Ovington’s Phone box unloved and destined for removal

Does This Archaic Texting Service Still Work?

I noticed that one particular box in Westbury-on-Trym, proudly boasted that not only could you phone but you could also text and email. Intriguing. This warranted further investigation.

K6 phone box showing you can email and text
Can you really send a text from a phone booth?

Was it really possible to send a text from a phone box? I can’t really remember that being a thing. Why on earth would you want to? Surely I wouldn’t be able to receive a reply making it a fairly pointless one way activity.

Despite being on a main road with plenty of passing foot traffic, this telephone box is also destined for recycling as the notice inside apologetically explained.

Next to the handset itself, there was a notice explaining how to use the phone.

The instructions made it clear that that no coins could be accepted but credit cards or reversing the charges would.

There was absolutely no information about sending texts or emails.

So my phone box texting ambition was in tatters before it had begun. I can only guess that this was a service that someone at BT came up with in the late 90s or early 00s when texting volumes were increasing at amazing rates and BT felt it had to invite its landline network to the party.

Before exiting the grim box through the familiar heavy cast iron door, I glanced down and noticed that as ever, the floor was littered with an unpleasant mix of rubbish and debris.

Filthy K6 phone box with rubbish

The only thing that distinguished it from a 70s or 80s phone booth was that it didn’t smell of piss. Small mercies.

Just as I thought my mission had failed, on a trip to Sydenham, South East London, I noticed a grubby modern 1980s KX100 phone booth also with an e-mail + text + phone banner.

email and text from a phone box

Maybe my luck was on the turn. In we went to see whether we could blow the dust off this service.

Inside the booth my hopes weren’t high. The handset and phone seemed to be in place but all instructions seemed to have long since been destroyed.

At least the machine could accept coins which meant if the service was live, there’s a way of paying.

press x to send a message

The badly scratched screen showed a scrolling display of services offered and to my delight, the last of these was ‘TEXT SERVICES’.

Following the on-screen instructions, I pressed X to start. What followed was a logical step by step process of entering the mobile number, sender name, the message itself and the 20 pence charge for using the service.

It was long-winded, but I wasn’t expecting anything less.

After a brief pause, the display showed, ‘SENDING MESSAGE PLEASE WAIT’. This was looking promising.

No sooner had I taken the picture of the screen, it changed promptly to ‘MESSAGE SENT SUCCESSFULLY’.

screen showing message sending from KX100 phone box
text sent from kx100 phone box
Phone screen showing text send from a phone box

Seconds later, the text arrived on my phone!

How satisfying. An archaic texting service that was still being supported.
I wonder how many texts are sent nationally from phone boxes every month. I imagine it’s in the single figures.

K6 due for removal notice
Kiosk removal notice with washer hanging from cobweb

How long will it be before this service is removed along with the phone boxes themselves?

It’s only a matter of time.

Blog page image credit. Photo by Arthur Osipyan on Unsplash

author avatar
Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry