'Number Please': Brentwood Telephone Exchange, 1972

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield. October 1960.
Science Museum

Brentwood telephone exchange

Related links

Comments about this page

  • Just a brief thank you again for making ths recording available. It is a valuable record, and probably a rare one, of a time when the GPO employed a high number of operating staff with complex levels of management and processes. I’m sure that many (now retired!) staff have fond memories of those days.

    By andrew holland (13/06/2018)
  • Thank you for all of this wonderful detail! Is it based on first-hand experience? It really makes one appreciate how much work was involved in working in a busy exchange. Thanks!

    By Sarah-Joy Maddeaux (12/06/2018)
  • An interesting historical artifact. Thank you for making it available. What wonderful characters the recording has captured!
    I looked out for the building a while back, but it was demolished and a new block of flats replaces it.
    I think Brentwood became the largest manual exchange in the UK, and the subscribers grew in number so quickly that by the time the new crossbar exchange was ready it didn’t have enough capacity and needed an extension before it could be opened.
    The switchboards were divided into calling and answering sections; each subscriber appeared at just one operator’s position in the lower section and was answered when they wanted to make a call by plugging in one of the answer cords, but then the caller needed to be connected to any other number via calling multiple jack strips (the upper section) which were repeated at intervals over all the switchboards. As the exchange grew this meant more wiring, and the poor operators had to stand up and stretch to reach the highest jacks.
    If a particular operator was overburdened with calls, a supervisor who was standing behind would tell another operator to take a new call by plugging the answer cord into the subscriber’s number in the calling multiple. Managing high calling rates was quite a balancing act for them.
    Impatient subscribers waiting to get through to the operator might sometimes tap the handset cradle to make the calling lamp flash – probably not a good idea as a harassed operator might then overlook the call for a while… Public kiosks had an emergency button that would ensure the call was answered promptly.
    The exchange was scrapped after transfer; a company that was more used to cutting up trawlers in Grimsby came and made short work of it.
    I have a glass fronted fuse cabinet and a rather wobbly trestle table (stamped GR so it must be at least 80 years old) in my garage as a reminder.

    By andrew holland (11/06/2018)
  • That’s fascinating! Thanks for sharing. So does this clip bring back memories?

    By Sarah-Joy Maddeaux (08/01/2018)
  • I worked at the Brentwood telephone exchange from 1967 until 1973, when a five-storey automatic exchange was opened in Ongar Road. A permanent exchange was built in Queen’s Road in 1932 and was to the left as you exited St Thomas’s church yard .

    By Jackie (05/01/2018)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *