Many studies concern themselves with 'firsts' but in the history of recent times 'lasts' may be of equal or greater relevance.
- Last call before WW2
- Last manual exchanges in UK and Eire, in the USA and Australia
- Last strowger exchanges in UK, in Eire, in North America, world-wide
- Last STD conversion
- Last analogue exchange
- Last local dialling codes
- Last unusual numbers
- Last party lines in USA
- Last reminders of the National Telephone Company
- Direct from manual to electronic
- Other obsolete auto exchange technologies
- Oldest telegraph pole
Last manual exchanges in the UK:
Last manual exchange in the London Telecommunications Region was Upminster (Essex), converted to TXK1 Crossbar in 1970.
The last magneto exchange in the British public network ceased in service on 16th October1974. It was on the Isle of Jura off the west coast of Scotland and was replaced by a Small Automatic Exchange (SAX). It was a 100-line board.
The last magneto group switching centre was at Rhyl in North Wales. It was a multiple magneto board with two 50-line magneto boards as relief positions. It was converted to CB working in stages during June 1949 with changeover of Rhyl itself on 16th June. The original building, a large detached house, was bought by the GPO in 1923 and one of the conditions of sale was that "the GPO should not use the premises for the sale of ale or porter"—as if they would! [Ian Jolly]
Among the last magneto exchanges on British Railways were Dartford and Lewes (both SR, went auto in 1970), Kettering (LMR, went automatic during the 1970s) and Machynlleth (LMR, ex-WR, which went auto in 1988).
Tom Wall advises: "The last manual exchange in Ireland was at Mountshannon, County Clare, and was closed with some ceremony at 12.00 on 28th May 1987. The then Chairman of Telecom Eireann made the last call to the then Prime Minister, who took the call on his mobile phone. He also unveiled a plaque on the wall of the building (the local sub-post office) to mark the occasion. The exchange did indeed go from a magneto switchboard NT 7 to digital. I believe the swbd was acquired by a local hotel as a souvenir and a similar type of board was displayed in the entrance hall of Telecom HQ in Dublin for some years to mark the transition from manual to auto."
The last manual exchange in England, at Abingdon, Berkshire, ended its service at 07.00 hrs on Thursday 26th June 1975. It was CB and was replaced by crossbar automatic.
Ian Jolly states: "A programme on Welsh television mentioned that the conversion of Rhosllanerchrugog CBS2 exchange (to the TXE2 electronic exchange that I commissioned in 1971/72!) was the last manual exchange in Wales. The CBS2 was in two downstairs rooms of a private house—I was speaking to one of the ex-Operators recently."
The last manual exchange of all was a CBS2 (Central Battery Signalling No 2—the signalling battery was supplied by the exchange but each phone used its own battery for speaking). This exchange was Portree, on the Isle of Skye, and finished service on 14th October 1976. It marked the complete automatisation of telephone working in the UK (in the public network, that is).
- For more information on manual exchanges see http://www.light-straw.co.uk/ate/ar1/network1.html
Last manual exchange in the USA
The last real manual exchange in the USA was Bryant Pond, Maine, which went dial around 1982. It had 400 or so lines, and had become a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right. Telecom Digest had a lot of articles about it, and the fight to prevent its downfall -- I have a t-shirt with the slogan "Don't Yank the Crank" spelled out in what kind of looks like a telephone cord leading to a candelestick phone. Oxford Tel, which bought Bryant Pond Tel, stuck in an old mechanical switch at first, but nowadays it's a digital remote of some sort. There's a book out about it, but I don't remember the name. Its title alludes to the switchboard's location in the living room of the owner's (Eldon Hathaway) house [Fred R. Goldstein]
Unless it's out of print you can still get the book "It Happened Around the Switchboard" from Phoneco Inc. http://www.phonecoinc.com . I got one of the remaining candlestick phones with the magneto box from them. I did a senior research project on the history of telephone development in the state of Maine for my school Hebron Academy. At that time (1970) there were still a few magneto offices still in existance among them Bryant Pond, Weld, West Gardiner and a community that I can't recall up near Bangor. All wasn't rosy though with those magneto offices. The Weld office got into major doodoo when they only would man their switchboard during the day. There was a bad fire and no one could summon anyone because the switchboard was essentially closed. The state PUC finally relinquished the phone company from Perry Rhodenizer and it was taken over by the Somerset Telephone Company. Actually, the Somerset company was very progressive in that they were the first non-Bell company to have an operator center (207+038 if I recall) and also were the first telephone company in the state to offer 0+ dialing for operator assisted calls... and not using TSPS type equipment! They ran North Electric NX-UN2 crossbar equipment. As for Bell (New England Telephone) I believe the last manual offices were cutover to dial in the mid-sixties. I believe they had a combination of manual common battery and magneto. As for the way step offices worked, there were many communities that in order to get services such as "information" or repair service you'd dial part of the office code to reach these offices. As an example if you lived in Gorham, Maine which is outside of Portland, Maine you'd dial 77-411 to reach information. Portland at the time wass 772 - 775 for the office codes. We had 5 digit abbreviated dialing until 1963 when NET&T installed a new crossbar office in Portland and "officially" you couldn't use 5 digit dialing any longer, but certain offices such as 774 could still be dialed with the last five digits. [Joseph Singer Seattle, Washington USA]
As a matter of interest the last maggy exch in Australia was decommissioned on 12 December 1991 at a place called Wanaaring which is in outback NSW. There were still a few individual manual subs about, but these were connected direct to so-called Manual Assistance Centres until automated.
Last Strowger exchanges—in the UK
The last Strowger exchange in the British public network was on the Isle of Canna in the Inner Hebrides, replaced in September 1995.
The last Strowger switch in Jersey was cut over at the end of 1988 and in Guernsey on 8th December 1992.
There is reputed to be a Strowger PABX in BT's Newhall exchange, Birmingham, working as a tandem switch on a private wire network but this has not been confirmed. A number of PAXs survive in electricity power stations, in a shopping centre in Exeter, on Weston Super Mare pier and, allegedly, on a number of British warships. There are still a number of Strowger PABXs on the Railtrack network as well. Many Strowger exchanges survive in technology museums and on preserved railways too.
The last 'public' telephones in London with the old purring dial tone are in the Science Museum. There you can pick up a Tele. 706 and hear old-style dial tone! The location is the telecommunications gallery of the Science Museum in Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2DD (020-7942 4454, 4455). As well as a working Strowger exchange, there are many other interesting communications exhibits. The museum is open 10.00-18.00 daily except 24/25/26th December.
Last Strowger exchange—in Eire
Telecom Eireann commemorated the closure of the last Strowger exchange in the system on Saturday 29th April 1989. They used this event to gain some publicity by sending a copy of a leaflet to all subs in the Clontarf area and by hosting a ceremonial 'last call' for the Press. A line was run to the Royal Dublin Golf Club and from there on 9th May 1989, the Deputy Chairman of Telecom Eireann made the last call through a step by step exchange to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the exchange being reactivated for the occasion. The phone used was a No 162 mounted on its moulded bellset, as illustrated in Old Telephones, page 19. [Tom Wall]
Last Strowger exchanges—in North America
One of the last in the USA was La Crosse, Indiana (219 754 nnnn), due to be replaced around 1st November 1998.
Nantes PQ/QC (Quebec) is still a SxS office as of today, Thu 6 July 2000.+1-819-547-xxxx. Nantes is not BellCanada, but rather a small local independent telco (it "homes" on a BellCanada tandem in Montreal). There might still be a #5XB switch in Ontario - again, another "independent" telco - it might be one from Northern Telephone Company in the northeastern part of Ontario. Northern Tel is a subsidiary of Bell Canada, though -- but they are treated as an "independent". There might still be some step offices in other parts of ON or PQ/QC that are still in operation, as well as in the mid-west (US) such as Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, etc... they would be "independent" and not Bell telcos. I know that (GTE)/Telus-BCTel had a few Automatic Electric SxS switches in British Columbia back then, but I think these have been replaced. The last #1XB switches still in service were cut to digital around 1990/91. This was in the NYCity, Philadelphia, Boston, etc. northeast corridor. [Mark J. Cuccia]
Last Strowger exchanges—world-wide
One of the last regions using Strowger is central Africa (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, etc.) where the shortage of foreign exchange money makes replacement impossible.
Another is Cuba, of which Roger Conklin writes: There are still four very old Strowger central offices in service in Cuba. I am not sure if it is still there, but an assistant vice president of Empresa de Telefonos de Cuba S.A. - ETCSA, the government controlled telephone company, told me last year when we talked at length when we met while both attending CANTO, the Caribbean National Telecomunications Organization's annual meeting, which was held in Aruba in 1999, that one Havana exchange dating back to 1912 was still in service at that time. This year in Curacao at the 2000 CANTO meeting, the vice-minister of communications from Cuba told me that the last SxS exchange is planned for replacement in about 2 more years. The following Strowger exchanges are still in service in Cuba: In Havana: Principe, Vedado, Monte, Luz and Santiago de la Vega. Outside of Havana: Cienfuegos. Their current plans are that these remaining Strowger exchanges will be replaced within two years. When one is removed it is immediately cannibalized for parts to keep the others limping along (my expression, not his). Alcatel has been their supplier of digital switching equipment in recent years, although the governments of Cuba and China have very recently signed an agreement whereby China will be supplying substantial quantities of telecommunications equipment over the next several years.
Sask-Tel of Canada sold 'tons of' redundant Northern Electric SxS equipment to Cuba during the 1980s to augment its existing AE and WE equipment.[Bruce Crawford] After ITT's Cuban Telephone Comapny was expropriated in 1961 and the US embargo on trade with Cuba became law, spare parts for Cuba's SxS exchanges were supplied by Compaña Standard Eléctrica Argentina (CSEA). Siemens later acquired CSEA from ITT and continued to supply SxS spare parts to Cuba until it ceased SxS production in 1985. [Roger Conklin].
Exchanges that went from manual direct to new technology (Crossbar/Electronic/Digital, not Strowger)
Upminster—the last manual in the London Telecomms Region—was converted to TXK1 crossbar in 1970. Abingdon CBS2 went to crossbar without passing Strowger in 1975. The last manual in Britain, Portree (a 10-position CBS2) went to Crossbar TXK1 on 14th October 1976.
There were at least two CBS2 direct to TXE2: 'Rhosllanerchrugog' near Wrexham went from a three position CBS2 (in a private house) to TXE2 in about 1971. Another local exchange near Wrexham, 'Caergwrle', also went from CBS2 to TXE2 just before.
Obsolete auto exchanges:
Among the last UAX5s in southern England were Crux Easton (near Newbury, closed 21st April 1971) and Langney (Eastbourne, which closed around the same time or a little earlier). The last UAX5 in the UK, on the Isle of Coll, was converted to a SAX during November 1974.
Incidentally, telephone dirctories may give unreliable clues to the survival of UAX5-type exchanges. For example the Oxford directory for June 1965 (shown below) mentions the 01 dialling code for the operator but in fact no UAX5 exchanges survived in the Oxford area by then. We can assume that this was a standard text used in all directories.
The last S16 exchange in Britain, at Portslade (Sussex), was replaced on 17th January 1973.
The last S17 exchange in Britain was probably the large PAX in the head office of Lloyds Bank, city of London. This was replaced by a PABX in 1987. Another that lasted into the 1970s was at Imperial College, London.
The last all-relay exchange of any size in Britain was almost certainly the PABX at Kings Cross railway station, supplied by the Relay Automatic Co. It closed some time in 1972 ( ). In the USA an all-relay exchange was reported on the Internet to exist in Heath Canyon, Texas with only 36 subscribers at 915-376.A neighboring town that was also all-relay was to be found at 915-386. Sadly these have passed on now; they may well have been the last of their kind in service in the USA. In Cuba the following Relaymatic exchanges (manufactured by Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Co and installed in 1957-58) are still in service, all outside of Havana: Aguacate, Camilo Cenfuegos and 2 or 3 other small cities. There are also several manual common battery switchboards still in service in small towns in the interior of Cuba. This information was provided to Roger Conklin by René López Alvarez, vice minister of the Informatics and Communications Ministry of Cuba.
There was at least one Rotary exchange functioning in Bucharest, Romania in 1997 and it may still be there. Britain's last Rotary exchange was Newland, part of the Hull system, and was replaced in 1975.
Miramar was the last in New Zealand, replaced on 22nd February 1985, preceded by Oamaru. Ron Kay <firstname.lastname@example.org> adds: Oamaru Rotary lasted until November 1984. It was about the last 7A friction drive system left although it was a bit like my best hammer and had had the friction drive registers replaced by the later gear drive 7A2 registers. However all the groups and finals and finders were all friction drive. Miramar was gear driven and was known as the 7A1 version. The line finders were totally different but the groups and finals were similar. 7A2 was much improved and is possibly what was used in most other countries. Oamaru is possibly unique in that it had 3 exchanges in its free calling area. Rotary, 2000type step and a Penta-Conta crossbar all interworking and the PentaConta was removed and an NEC SPC system took its place and interworked with the rotary for a few months. Christchurch also had NEC xbar working through S X S into rotary for a couple of years.
Rotary in NZ was hindered by three events beyond its control. The original 7A order in 1913 was interrupted by the Great War, gear-driven 7A1 which got into full production about the late 1920's was never very common because of the Great Depression and the 7A2 version was stopped by WW2. There is some 7A2 on the ocean floor if any "real collector"is interested.
The vice minister of communications in Cuba told Roger Conklin this year (2000) that the "Universal" exchange, a type of rotary developed by ITT at their Federal Telecommunications Laboratories in the US during the second world war, remained in service until the exchage was destroyed by fire "of unknown origin" in the late 1980s. This was the only exchange of that type ever built.
There are several preserved Rotary exchanges in New Zealand:
- Rotary 7A main exchange and 7001 PABX at Ferrymead Museum, plus about a dozen full size racks in storage."One day we may be able to display but haven't got a high enough building. Have got 7A L/F rack. 7A register rack,(23 inch) Group rack and Final rack, Also a 7A1 register rack which could be the only one left in the world as 7A1 was not common due to the depression. Also a 7A1 1st L/Finder rack ex-Christchurch Central. We also have a cabinet mounted display unit ex-Oamaru. This has no wiring but one day we might get it going. It is physically complete with shafting. It has a 7A2 register. I also have enough equipment to make a complete demo unit. The same as Ferrymead but only one of each type of switch, so watch this space."
- Rotary 7A demonstration exchange located in the foyer of the Telephone Exchange building, 45 Airedale St, Auckland,
- Stout Street, Wellington. As Airedale street. Was done at the same time as Airedale street by the same team. May be falling into disrepair.
- Museum of Transport and Technology. Auckland. They have a collection of full size racks erected. Not going but two retired Technicians, Ross Martin and Geoff Jull are trying to turn it into a static exhibit.
- Ross Martin has a private layout. "I don't think you can call on it but the switches drive round and a series of LEDs explain how a call went through."
- The Kapiti Coast Museum brochure says they have a working 1930s Rotary. "I deduce that it is a W.E 7000, which was a 100-line PABX. We only had one of these in Christchurch and removed in 1966.I salvaged the switchboard and have loaned it to Ferrymead." [Notes by Ron Kay <email@example.com>]
Other Rotary exchanges can be found in The Netherlands (Postmuseum, Zeestraat, The Hague) and Hungary (Telecomms Museum, Budapest http://www.modemido.hu/november/nyiltavk.htm ).
Britain's last crossbar, at Droitwich, was withdrawn in 1994. The first TXK2 exchange was opened at Nutfield Ridge, Surrey (1971). The first TXK3 exchange was opened at North Cheam, Surrey (1971). The first production TXK3 exchange was opened at Liberton, Edinburgh (1971). The first of the modern four-wire gateway international exchanges in Britain was opened at Wood Street in London using Plessey 5005 crossbar equipment (1970).
- For more information on automatic exchanges see http://www.light-straw.co.uk/ate/network.html
Last analogue public exchanges in the UK
The UK network became totally digital on 11th March 1998 with the conversion of Leigh-on-Sea and Selby TXE4 exchanges to System Y (AXE 10) and Systems X respectively.
The last TXE2 exchanges in the UK (Ballycastle in N Ireland, Llandovery in Wales and Ramsbury in England), were withdrawn from service, on 23rd June 1995.
Britain's TXE4 electronic exchange was opened at Rectory exchange, Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham in 1976.
Subscriber Trunk Dialling:
Last director exchange converted to STD working was Ilford Central (London) in 1971. Last exchange in the London Telecommunications Region to be converted was Nazeing, in 1973. The conversion programme, which commenced in 1958, was completed in 1979.
Among the last exchanges to have STD were the UAX7 type, of which Paul Ebling says: "STD was not provided for the UAX 7. Wallingford UAX 7 and its relief, Crowmarsh MNDX, were replaced by a TXK 1 to provide STD. Wolverton UAX7 was also replaced by TXK1. Nutfield Ridge and Woldingham UAX7s were replaced by TXE2s (and I was involved briefly with these during the acceptance testing period)."
Ian Jolly adds: "What about Portree on 14th October 1976? The TXK1 GSC came into use during September 1976 followed by the conversion from CBS2 of Portree exchange in October. There can't have been many GSCs that did not have STD by then. There were still a very few exchanges without STD in 1977 - they were probably U12s & 13s."
The last single digit phone number was ‘Rhenigidale 1’ which ceased in March 1990—it was an ‘attended’ call office on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides which terminated on the auto-manual board in Inverness.
The last two-digit numbers dialled by BT subscribers were on the Isle of Canna in the Inner Hebrides, where there were only nine customers on the exchange (which Ian Jolly has preserved, being the last public electro-mechanical exchange in the British public network). Canna changed over in September 1995.
The last three-digit numbers were on Crawford, Elvanfoot and Crawford John exchanges, which BT thought were the last electro-mechanical exchanges, in June 1995. The last four-digit numbers were on Bampton exchange near Carlisle in 1997.
Brampton in Cumbria still has four digit numbers in 2011. These are in the range (016977) 2xxx and (016977) 3xxx.
There still a few five-digit numbers in the UK (e.g. Newbury, Camberley) but all these will have gone soon.
There are 52 area codes with five digit numbers in 2011. 40 areas have 4+5 format. 2 areas have 5+5 format.
Last use of local dialling codes:
Local dialling codes were abolished progressively during the 1990s. They were finally abolished in June 1995. See Numbering above.
Last phone calls before outbreak of World War II:
An entry in the PO Circular dated 6th September 1939 reads:
"The whole of the public telephone service between this country and countries abroad has been suspended until further notice. Telephone communication is however being maintained with Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland for Government Services only and is strictly confined to fully accredited and officially authorised persons."
Last party lines in the USA
Party lines have disappeared from some states and been outlawed in others. In Mississippi, once served largely by party lines, Bell South says it has two left: one with four homes on it, one with two homes. And this summer, the last few hundred Bell Atlantic party lines in Pennsylvania were converted to private service.
Party lines are telephone lines shared by more than one household. No one knows exactly how many remain in the nation, but there are very few true ones—perhaps 5,000 out of 167 million access lines. No telephone company offers new party-line service, and existing party lines are gradually being converted to single party lines.
Although they are slightly cheaper than private lines, most party lines can’t handle digital signals and don’t allow users to have services such as caller identification, speed dialling and call waiting. In fact, about 90% of what phone companies call multiparty lines are really telephonic ghost towns. They’re old party lines that over the years have lost all but one party—a single household still billed at a party-line rate for what amounts to a private line, and thus might pay a dollar or two less a month.
But 70 years ago, most people had party lines. In the Bell System, 36% of residential customers were on two-party lines, and 27% were on four-party lines. In the late 19th century, the Bell System had used the cheaper (and less profitable) lines to get more Americans hooked on what company executives called “the telephone habit.” The ultimate goal was to move customers on to more expensive private lines.
Although party lines are thought of as a staple of rural life, in fact some big cities had quite a few. In the 1920s, they made up fewer than 10% of the phones in Detroit but more than 60% in Minneapolis and Oakland. By 1930, neither New York City nor Washington, D.C., had a single party line.
Condensed considerably from an article by Rick Hampson in USA Today on 23rd October 2000.
Last reminders of the National Telephone Company
We all know the NTC was absorbed into the Post Office telecommunications system in 1912 but its legacy lives on. Currently (or within the last two years) the BT list of stores still listed the following :
Part No 114988 Key Lifting N.T. No 1 " for lifting Cover Manhole NT No 1 or NT No 4". Who says that the National Telephone Co is forgotten? [Ian Jolly, firstname.lastname@example.org]
There are still some of these covers around; I walked over one this morning, did a double take then stopped for a good look, it caused much amusement to one chap watching the other pedestrians whom were not looking where they were going, all pile up into each other whilst I was engrossed. [Ian Satterthwaite, email@example.com ]
In addition the following NTC items of equipment remained in use for a considerable time after amalgamation but are long gone now.
- Switch N.T. No 16 (Diag N 1293)
- Switchboard Wall Pattern Double Cord N.T. Nos 1 -15, 19-21
- Switchboard Wall Pattern Single Cord N.T. Nos 1 - 7
Outside the Crown Post Office (next to Bangor ATE), there is a British Insulated & Helsby Cables Ltd footway cover which could hide the entrance to a cable hole for the old PO manual exchange that would probably have been in the building. It is very old and worn - the inlay is not the usual concrete but yellowish stone. There are certainly plenty of other relics - I was only looking at an exchange building yesterday with 'NTC' emblazoned on it. [Ian Jolly, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Oldest telegraph pole
Probabaly the oldest pole in the BT network? Unless you know different!
Bristol-based planner Richard Beese believes he has found one of BT's oldest telegraph poles - and it's still in use. The pole has stamped on its base the year 1895 when it was put up in Gloucester Road on the outskirts of Bristol. It was probably then in the middle of the countryside but, as the city grew, the pole ended up in the corner of a garden and the owner would like it removed - which is how it was drawn to Richard's attention.
He explained: "You can see the marks where the engineers in the old days had used spiked climbing irons instead of ladders to work on the wires. Nowadays a hoist has to be used because it has long been marked as a D pole - 'Dangerous---do not climb'."
Since trying to remove the pole, Richard understands why it has enjoyed such a long life. He explained: "The way the overhead network in that particular part of the city is configured is confounding our efforts to remove the pole. It seems that whatever solution we come up with, something stops us from doing it.
"We have run up against regulatory requirements to old sewers that prevented us from putting in a new pole. When we looked at running service to the affected customers from a new direction we discovered that it would have to come from a different exchange. The pole seems to have a charmed life and looks set to be with us for a while yet." [BT website, July 2001]
Thanks for assistance (in alphabetical order) to John Chenery, Ian Jolly, Martin Loach and Ian Satterthwaite.
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