History of Sidmouth’s telephone exchange

Sidmouth author John Ankins reveals the story behind Sidmouth’s telephone system

WITH today’s technology we can pick up a telephone and talk to almost any where by ‘phone. But it had to start somewhere, and in Sidmouth it was in the mid 1800s.

This week, local historian and author, John Ankins, is guest writer for Nostalgia and he takes a look at the telephone system in Sidmouth.

Admiralty plans in the mid-1820s for a London to Plymouth semaphore telegraph line, although not completed, included provision for an intermediate station at Sidmouth.

A Local Government Board had been formed in Sidmouth on May 20, 1863. This was replaced by Sidmouth Urban District Council in 1894.

On Friday, December 13, 1895, they held a meeting to consider the desirability of having telephonic communication in Sidmouth and to meet with the district manager of The National Telephone Company Ltd., Mr. H Bell of Plymouth, to hear his views on the subject.

At the meeting with Mr Bell, he stated that his company would be willing to establish the telephone in Sidmouth, providing at least 15 contracts for five years could be obtained.

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The annual contract would be for Communication within 1/2 mile �8.00, 3/4 mile radius �9.00 and one mile �10.00.

After discussions, it was felt that communication outside the town was now required. Mr Bell agreed that it was necessary there should be a local exchange first.

The first telephone exchange in Sidmouth opened in 1896. This was in a small back room in Tom Lake’s Old Fore Street shop.

This switchboard was manually operated by plugging the line into the subscriber’s number.

Even at night someone had to come downstairs to do this. This became the Call Office, with the number one. Number two was a doctor. By 1899 it had been taken over by The National Telephone Company.

In the 1899-1900 Directory there were 16 lines on the Sidmouth Exchange. Mr Lake’s number had changed to number three. A private number four. The Knowle Hotel five, and Mr Mock’s Fish Shop number six.

In January 1904, commutations had been established between Sidmouth and Sidbury. In 1919 underground cables were being laid around the town but the cost was more then for overhead lines.

So telegraph poles started to be put up in and around the town in Temple Street, Winslade Road, Ham Lane, All Saints Road, Station Road, Cheese Lane and Bickwell Road.

However in 1924, the UDC refused to allow telephone wires on overhead poles in Bickwell Road.

In 1930 the telephone exchange had been built on part of The Radway estate with the address Vicarage Roa’. This was still with a manual system. By 1831-2 a new switchboard was introduced (type known as a CB10) and by 1939 the address was Radway.

Between 1965 and 1967 the manual board was replaced by a new automatic exchange. The next change with a new technology called Remote Subscribe Stage. This allowed switching to be done from another exchange. The telephone exchange is still in Radway Road.

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