The first public telephone service in Folkestone was introduced in 1886 by the South of England Telephone Co Ltd, registered the previous year at 50 Old Broad Street, London, who in that year installed an exchange above a boot shop at 30 Rendezvous Street occupied by Messrs Brett, outfitters.  The exchange switchboard was primitive in design and accommodated only 50 lines, each subscriber having their own numbered red plug and corresponding jack.  A control plug was used by the operator for answering and supervision purposes.  The original service was limited to the hours between 9am and 6pm, and two boys were employed as operators, following the usual practice of the day.  However, after complaints about the manner and politeness of boy operators, they were replaced by girl operators - known as 'Hello Girls' - the following year, again reflecting practice elsewhere.

In 1894 the exchange was moved to 13 Grace Hill and shortly afterwards the 50 line switchboard was extended to give a 100 line capacity.  At the time of the move the exchange handled around 50 calls a day.  In 1896 the original telephone company was taken over by the National Telephone Company, and by 1898 the number of calls handled by the exchange had risen to 150 calls a day, requiring the recruitment of further staff.  In 1912 control of the telephone service passed to the Post Office when the GPO took over the National Telephone Company network throughout the country.  At that time 529 subscribers made use of the service in Folkestone.

In 1931 a new telephone exchange was built in Bouverie Square and on 13 June of that year at 2pm a new level of service was inaugurated when the Folkestone telephone system was converted to automatic working.  Subscribers were now able to make local calls themselves with dial telephones without needing to go through the operator.  The conversion to automatic working provoked much interest and, it has to be said, anxiety in the community.  Many features of the new service with which we are now totally familiar, such as the increased number of numbers required to make a call, were at first regarded with suspicion.  To overcome any problems the Post Office undertook a wide series of lectures and exhibitions to educate the public in the new system before the official opening.  A working model of the exchange had been displayed in the Folkestone Head Post Office in Sandgate Road, and the conversion received much attention in the local press.  By this time 1,543 subscribers were connected to the Folkestone Exchange, but in anticipation of further subscribers the equipment installed in the new building was designed to serve 4,700 callers.

The next major event in Folkestone's telephone service was the introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling, officially inaugurated by the Mayor on 1 May 1963.  Full automatic working was now possible with subscribers able to make long distance as well as local calls without recourse to the operator.  By this time around 4,500 subscribers were connected to the system.

Today, Folkestone is served by a TXE4A electronic exchange and provides a service to 15,000 subscribers.

[This article was kindly contributed by the BT Archives and Historical Information Centre]

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