Shared lines and telephone kiosks: Life before smartphones in Norfolk
- Credit: Archant Library
In the second story of a two-part series, Derek James retells the history of the telephone arriving in Norfolk.
Remember this? You dialled the number (or gave it to the operator) and pressed button A.
If there was no answer you gave button B a push to get your pennies back.
That was the way it was in the kiosks dotted around our streets… and then if you were in your own home you could pick your telephone up to make a call and discover someone else was talking.
It was tempting to listen in but I was told as a boy it was against the law to do such a rude thing.
This was the old party-line. When two families shared the telephone line.
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Most people today have mobile phones and could not imagine life without one.
Last week we told how the telephones arrived in Norwich with a musician playing at Colman’s and the music being heard in London.
It was in early 1883 when the first telephone exchange was opened in Norwich at, of course, Exchange Street.
The hours of operation were from 8.30am to 6pm on weekdays and 8.30am to 10am at the weekend.
The 30-odd subscribers, most were businesses, were all connected to the exchange by overhead wiring, supported by pole or brackets to the roof-tops.
The relationship between the telephone company and the council was often strained as the demand for more and more telegraph poles grew.
The next exchange in Norfolk was at Great Yarmouth in 1884 with just 12 subscribers and a couple of years later there was a trunk line to Norwich.
The telephones were ringing loud and clear across Norfolk, the rest of the country, and eventually the world.
When did the telephones start ringing near you?
Let’s have a look at where and when the first exchanges opened in these parts.
- Aylsham – 1913. Sub-post office. 15 subscribers.
- Beccles – 1896. Private house. 16 subscribers.
- Cromer – 1898. Private house. Eight subscribers.
- Eaton (later known as Norwich West) - 1905. Private house. 23 subscribers.
- Fritton – 1899. Rented accommodation. Five subscribers.
- Gorleston – 1897. Former shop. Eight subscribers.
- Great Yarmouth – 1884. Ex-hotel. Twelve subscribers.
- Hethersett – 1927. Sub post office. 27 subscribers.
- Lowestoft – 1890. Rented accommodation. 21 subscribers.
- Mundesley – 1909. Private house. Five subscribers.
- Norwich – 1883. Leased accommodation. 32 subscribers.
- Oulton Broad – 1901. Private house later absorbed into Lowestoft. 15 subscribers.
- Quidenham – 1908. Sub post office. Five subscribers.
- Scole – 1907. Sub post office. Four subscribers.
- Sheringham – 1899. Private house. Eight subscribers.
- Wymondham – 1907. Sub post office. 25 subscribers.