AA answers Sheila’s emergency call to save Aysgarth sentry box

Emergency call-out: Bob Donnison with paint at the ready.

By Betsy Everett

An emergency call-out to a roadside remnant of a past era has brought a quick response from the AA.

Leyburn historian, Sheila Simms, had complained that the long-defunct sentry box on the A684, one of only a handful left in the UK, was rapidly deteriorating. The rear of the structure had been severely damaged by ivy and the woodwork and paintwork were in a sorry state, despite Sheila’s repeated attempts to draw attention to its plight.

The AA had said the box was on “on the schedule” for repair, along with 18 others throughout the country, but they could not set a date for the work to be done.
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Then, within days of Sheila’s latest plea, the North East branch of Bell Group UK, decorating contractors, had despatched an emergency repair team from their North Shields depot to do the work. Bob Donnison, 67, maintenance and storeman for the Bell Group, travelled 80 miles from his Gateshead home yesterday to complete the painting following the repairs.

Looking smart: the ‘phone that was once a lifeline for motorists.

“I am delighted they have acted so quickly,” said Sheila, 73, who makes the 30-mile round trip on the Acorn Wensleydale Flyer bus service every Sunday during the summer to tend the wildflower gardens at either side of the box. “I went to clear the lay-bys with a friend and the man had just finished replacing the back of the box. He had done a really good job and they were due to come the following day to paint it. I was very impressed. My original intention was to paint the box myself, but being a listed building I thought I’d better not.”

Contract supervisor at Bell Group North East, Keiron Sanderson, said they were pleased to be doing the Aysgarth box, along with another at Beadnall in Northumberland.

“It’s a bit different from the usual jobs we do,” he said. “These boxes are very quaint, and they wouldn’t survive in a a city. But in rural areas it’s good to help keep them up to scratch.”

“It’s a great place to be working on a summer morning. I remember the days when these call boxes were in use, and the AA man used to salute you if you had the black and yellow badge on the car. Those were the days,” said Bob.

A rare glimpse of the interior.