In the early 20th century, drivers didn’t have phones or GPS at the touch of a button. There were paper maps for wayfinding, of course, but what is one to do if their car breaks down in the middle of a rural route? In the United Kingdom, the black-and-yellow boxes of the Automobile Association (AA) were once a common sight. Each wooden sentry box bore plates with a number and its location and offered motorists a lifeline in the form of a telephone or a real-life patrolman, who could help with directions or car trouble.
The old AA sentry boxes were originally built to provide shelter for the AA patrolmen, who originally traveled by pushbike, then later motorbike. They were first introduced in 1911, and by World War II, there were over 600 spread across the United Kingdom. This reached a peak of nearly 1,000 boxes before decommissioning began in the 1960s.
The earliest sentry boxes were fitted with a stable door, which was divided in half horizontally so that the top half could be opened separately from the lower half. Patrolmen would man the boxes, providing motorists with not only roadside assistance for broken-down cars, but also directions and first aid as needed.
All of the sentry boxes were finished with a layer of glossy black paint, and details such as the AA crest were picked out in the distinctive AA yellow, which is still used today. Each sentry box carried its own unique number, painted on the side in white or yellow paint, which helped the AA dispatch patrolmen to a specific location.
As technology improved, sentry boxes were replaced by telephones on small pedestals. By 1968, the AA began to phase out its sentry boxes. As mobile phones became more widespread, even the telephones were deemed obsolete. By 2022, all AA phones had been decommissioned.
Today, there are just 18 surviving AA sentry boxes standing in their original locations, including this one near the Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion, Wales. A further 12 have made their way into museums or private collections.
Know Before You Go
The address above is for the Devil's Bridge AA Box only. A full list of AA Sentry boxes can be found here.