At duty on the moors


Ripped from our posts,
Dumped in this wasteland,
Together we rust

Crankily, nastily
“Old fool’s gone all mottled”
“Her door don’t work”

We hiss and huddle,
Waiting for a ring.

Why don’t you
Ever call? Why?

My caption for poignant images of the “UK’s red telephone box graveyard, Carlton Miniott, north of England” on the Facebook page Abandoned World.

Some details from the Atlas Obscura website, “Red Telephone Box Graveyard: The ghosts of Britain’s telecommunication past sit rusting away in a small village in England”:

Cherry red and adorned with a striking crown marking it as wholly British, the red telephone box was once an iconic symbol of The Commonwealth.

The public telephone boxes once lined the streets of the UK, lit up the roads of Bermuda and Malta, and stood proudly on the corners of Gibraltar. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the streamlined, brightly colored boxes were convenient, easy to spot, and much loved by the people. So much so that by the 1980’s over 73,000 were in use.

Like a lot of technology, what was once innovative and convenient can become clunky, expensive, and high-maintenance, seemingly overnight. By 1985, the telephone box had been deemed obsolete and more trouble than it was worth, and the kiosks had to find new homes now that they were no longer welcome on the city streets.

And find new homes they did. The iconic boxes still had many admirers who couldn’t bear to see the brightly colored booths go to waste. Repurposing ventures included turning them into shower stalls in homes, mini libraries, and of course a wide array of art projects. Those that weren’t lucky enough to fall into the hands of creative patrons were carted out en masse to rural storage areas, left to rust in messy stacks, the elements having their way with the formerly vibrant cherry red paint.

One of these rural “graveyards” is a small village in northern England called Carlton Miniott. Hundreds of decommissioned phone boxes lay in various stages of decay [on Carlton Road] in what is part of an Imperial Service Station [a petrol / gas station]. One of many dumping locations for the boxes that weren’t adopted out to artists or benefactors, the fate of these telecommunication corpses is an eventual trip to recycling heaven.

The place. Carlton Miniott is a tiny place in the midst of the Yorkshire moors. From Wikipedia:

(#2) To the southwest, the green of Yorkshire Dales National Park; to the northeast, the green of North York Moors National Park

Carlton Miniott, formerly Carlton Islebeck[,] is a village and civil parish in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, England, on the A61 road to the immediate west of Thirsk, 25 miles (40 km) north of York. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 926, increasing to 990 at the 2011 census.

To give you some sense of the distances on the map, here’s the Thirsk Milepost at Carlton Miniott:

(#3) 2 miles to Thirsk, 9 to Ripon

The presentation of places. Places are described in reference works, in guide books, in advertising, and now on touristic websites that intend to be both informative and enticing.

Brief descriptions give some indication of the relevant political unit(s) within which a place lies (“the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, England”); some rough indication of its size (“a village”; civil parish is a technical term in English government administration) and, where relevant, its cultural significance; and its location with respect to important geographical features and other places of note: Carlton Miniott is just to the west of Thirsk, which is the closest market town (an important status in rural England) and also a place with some cultural significance (see below), and 25 miles north of York, which is the closest city.

On Thirsk (from Wikipedia), which is culturally significant because of James Herriot:

Thirsk is a small market town and civil parish in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, England. Historically part of the North Riding of Yorkshire, it is 8 miles (13 km) south-south east of the county town of Northallerton. [population about 5,000]

… Thirsk was home to the veterinary surgeon and author James Herriot (pen name of James Alfred Wight, OBE, FRCVS). Thirsk was referred to as Darrowby in the semi-autobiographical books about a vet’s life in the Yorkshire Dales. Wight and his business partner Donald Sinclair (Siegfried Farnon in the books) established their veterinary practice at 23 Kirkgate which now houses The World of James Herriot museum, dedicated to Herriot’s life and works.

And on York (also from Wikipedia):

York is a historic [Roman] walled city in North Yorkshire, England. At the confluence of the River Ouse and Foss, it is the traditional county town of the historic county of Yorkshire. York Minster and a variety of cultural and sporting activities make it a popular tourist destination. [populaton about 200,000]

(It also has the University of York, a reseach university founded in 1963, which from its early days has had a significant Department of Language and Linguistic Studies. Linguists are everywhere.)

The Wikipedia article on Carlton Miniott provides photos of:

Hambleton Evangelical Church and St Lawrence’s Church Parish Rooms; Thirsk railway station; Carlton Miniott primary school; Carlton Miniott post office; Vale of York public house, Carlton Miniott; the Dog and Gun pub in Carlton Miniott; Thirsk Milepost at Carlton Miniott (#2 above); East Coast main [railway] line, north of Thirsk Station

but not of the Imperial Service Station or the post box graveyard (#1 above) on its premises. The way places — especially smaller places — are presented in Wikipedia very often fails to take note of local attractions that are quirky (like fiberglass roadside figures in the U.S.) or unsavory (like the Parliament (gay men’s) Resort in Augusta GA). Wikipedia descriptions are mostly composed by locals, who are embarrassed by kitsch and sleaze, however attractive these might be to tourists.

The TripAdvisor people, however, tend to cast their net wider, but even they fail to catch the post box graveyard: on their site for “Things to do near Thirsk Station” (which is in Carlton Miniott), they list 130 attractions, but not the decaying treasures at the Imperial  Service Station — 130 attractions in Carlton Miniott, Thirsk, and all these other towns:

Ripon, Husthwaite, Bedale, Boroughbridge, Leeming Bar, Coxwold, Bagby, Northallerton, Sowerby, Wath, Rainton, Easingwold, West Tanfield, North Stanley, Harrogate, Grinton, Kirby Hill, Leyburn

Among the towns near Thirsk Station that didn’t make the TripAdvisor cut, even for  a pub or shop, are

Thornton Watlass, Kirby Fleetham, Little Crakehill, Thimbleby, Over Silton, South Otterington, Wiske, Sinderby, Snape, Brafferton Helperby, Cundall, Feixkirk, Birdforth, Tholthorpe, Bishop Monkton, Topcliffe, Sessay, Winsksley, Dishforth, Borrowby, Yafforth

(Ok, I just enjoy the names.)

As for Thirsk Station (in Carlton Miniott), here it is on a March 2006 rail map, between York and Northallerton going north to Edinburgh from London King’s Cross (a train I have taken twice):


Grantchester. The antique post boxes in #1 brought me to another sort of British post box, the Victorian one embedded in a wall, like this one in the wall of “The Old Vicarage” in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire (surrounded by Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia):


(As far as I know, the post box still exists, but is no longer functional.)

The house, from Wikipedia:

The Old Vicarage in the Cambridgeshire village of Grantchester is a house associated with the poet Rupert Brooke, who lived nearby and in 1912 immortalised it in an eponymous [light] poem – The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.

And the village, also from Wikipedia:

Grantchester is a village and civil parish on the River Cam [or Granta] in South Cambridgeshire, England. It lies about two miles (3 km) south of Cambridge.

It has often served as a picnic spot for visitors from Cambrdge (who could get there on the river). The village is famous for the number of (Cambridge) Nobel laureates who have lived there and for its associations with other visitors– some from the Bloomsbury circle (Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes) and others (Alan Turing, Ludwig Wittgenstein, A.A. Milne). Any one of these might have mailed letters from the postbox in #5.

Railway note. On the map in #4, Cambridge can be reached by train from Stevenage, Peterborough, or London King’s Cross. Well, I think that’s still true; these days, one never knows.

One Response to “At duty on the moors”

  1. [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky takes a look at the classic red phone booths of the United Kingdom, now almost all removed from the […]

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