A-Z Archive: T Challenge

From My Archive I Chooseโ€ฆ

T is for Telephone Exchange…

The first Automated Telephone Exchange in the UK, located in Epsom, opened for service on 18th May 1912. This post celebrates 100 years since that event. The first generation of automatic telephone exchanges utilised Strowger electro-mechanical switching equipment; of which later examples can be seen below in a photograph taken at Lords Telephone Exchange in the late 1980’s.

Strowger Equipment

Lords Telephone Exchange is a fairly standard example of a London telephone exchange building…

Lords Telephone Exchange

…I worked in the building between 1974 and 1992 when I moved onto other work in my never-ending tour of duty for BT. Located nowhere near the cricket ground of the same name, the building was originally known as Cunningham Telephone Exchange. The exchange was built in 1937 and at one time housed two local telephone exchange strowger units, a tandem exchange (used for routing of calls only), a manual exchange and a directory enquiries bureau. A new building was added at the back in the early 1970’s to house new TXE4 local units, the first of the new semi-electronic type to enter service in London. The curved building behind the main building is the staircase / fire escape for both and was often referred to as the conning tower because of its shape. The original building suffered a fire in the mid-1990’s. All the old equipment was removed from the main part of the building. Modern equipment to provide local telephone services is now housed in a fraction of the space required for the older equipment types and much of the building has been sold off to become offices and apartments.

Both of these photos can be found on the Geograph website along with many others taken by myself and other Geographers, all accurately located geographically and often with detailed descriptions. Please pop in there and take a look ๐Ÿ™‚



  1. The telephone exchange is great. Never seen it before… Thanks for sharing it with us..

  2. I love to go through your A-Z archive because you always choose something simple and very important for all of us. This time it was no different. great post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks for the kind comment Arindam – I try to choose things that others may not for the various challenges. I was prompted on this one by the centenary of the first automatic exchange in the UK otherwise I might have been showing something completely different!

      I enjoy your challenging posts about awkward subjects – you always get me thinking ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Good one! It’s interesting to have a behind-the-scenes look. Very complex looking.

    • The wiring could be and often you had to work without being able to see what you were doing so you relied on touch… Then you had to stick in a Soldering Iron and Solder to complete the joint, still relying on sense of touch and a mental picture of where things were!

      I went to a classical music exhibition some years back and they had a stand demonstrating the work of the blind piano tuners. Visitors had the opportunity to try and wrap a piano wire around its peg without being able to see it – guess who had no issues with doing that and got a very amazed look from the person running the stand ๐Ÿ˜‰ That in no way dimishies their work – just illustrates that our work often required similar skills ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. so interesting martin, i remember the phone in my grandparent’s country house … we turned the handle to ring the exchange …then told someone the number such Canowindra 261 … and they put us through! we are all grateful for the work our modern telephone technicians do to keep us in touch with each other ๐Ÿ™‚

    • That was definitely a Manual Exchange Christine ๐Ÿ™‚ Modern equipment is much more reliable than when I first started working so there aren’t so many of us these days. I haven’t touched any actual equipment for the last 10 years – my job these days is mainly supervising our computer programmers ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I still get to use a soldering iron at home though when I’m doing work for my Amateur Radio antennas.

  5. T is also for Technical, at which you excel. I can’t imagine being interested in the subjects you post about, which always end up being fascinating, thanks to lucid texts full of interesting details and set off by wonderful photos ! Kind of magic — in plain sight.

  6. And I thought hooking up my electronics was a pain…wow!

  7. These buildings were always such a mystery to me! Now, with the help of your fascinating photo and a look inside, the mystery deepens! I am always getting my wires crossed.

  8. how could I forget the good old TELEPHONE
    greetings by

  9. Thanks, Martin . . . what a bank of technology. Our ingenuity as a species may still stand us in good stead as we solve the challenges facing us.

    On that note: WP has provided a quick fix to change default settings on comment threads:

    • Thanks for the link Nancy ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve always preferred to lob my hand grenades then wander back in my own time to see whether they have exploded ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I always wonder about our ability to use our ingenuity intelligently… We seem to be inordinately good at making Kalashnikovs and semtex when most problems could be solved by just picking up the phone and talking!

  10. That’s fascinating stuff, Martin! Especially to me, because my mother was a telephone switchboard operator for several years… it’s so much fun to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ history of places like this!

    • Sounds like you have a connection to my subject then Bob ๐Ÿ™‚ Was she working for Bell / AT&T or for a private company’s switchboard?

      • Oh, yes – sorry (can’t believe I forgot to mention that) – she worked for AT&T (and the very switchboard she used to work at is in a museum in that town… kind of fun)!

      • That’s great – Does your mother pop in there from time to time to think about the old days? ๐Ÿ™‚ The Science Museum in London used to have a display of Strowger equipment but clearly didn’t have anyone who knew how to maintain it so I’d visit and hear a switch that was suffering… The urge to leap over the barrier to help the stricken piece of equipment was sooo strong – it’s ingrained in us after so many years of service and very hard to resist! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Wow! The Cunningham Telephone Exchange is one interesting and historically rich facility. Wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing…


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