|The History of the Local Telephone Service in the Redhill and Reigate Area|
|A Brief Description of Victorian Pre-Exchange Communication Systems |
Previous to the invention of the telephone, communication between family members and servants in different parts of a large house had been by one of two methods. The first, familiar to watchers of old films or TV series such as 'Upstairs Downstairs', involved ranks of mechanically operated bells in the servants' quarters that were operated from a pulley in a family room to call for attention. The drawback with this was that the servant had to make two trips, one to inquire what was required, and another to comply with that requirement.
The second, less familiar method was a system of tubes, sealed with a bung at the family end and by a whistle at the servants' end. The hollow tubes could carry the sound of the voice from one part of the house to another. Pulling the upstairs bung and blowing down the tube sounded the whistle to alert the servants. They removed the whistle and announced their presence, thereafter a two-way conversation could take place and the instruction be given, cutting out the first journey and saving time and energy all round. This system was no doubt installed many large houses. At 4, Upper Bridge Road, Redhill, (now number 10) for example, it still existed in perfect working order in the early 1940s. The terminating points were subsequently done away with during redecoration, but no doubt the tubes are still buried in the walls.
The telegraph, unlike the telephone, was not designed to reproduce speech nor for use inside houses, and like the in-house communication system there was more than one type. The British system relied on the transmission of electrical signals from one end of a wire to move a pointer to the letters of the alphabet at the other end, thereby allowing messages to be spelt out. It was first used in 1837. The American system used Morse code, and came into service in 1844.
The First Telephones
The First Exchanges
The First Redhill Telephone
The First Redhill Telephone Exchange
The offices of Mr Leonard P. Rees, pictured here in 1908, stood on the corner of Station Road and Warwick Road. Note the high pole at the rear of the premises. Although unable to be read in this reproduction of the picture the words 'National Telephone Co.' appear over the window to the right of the entrance.
People who Used the Redhill Exchange
|An alphabetical extraction of the Redhill listings in the 1893 directory:|
9812 Adams, Richard, 32 Station Road, Redhill
9811 Adams, Richard, Church Street, Reigate
9803 Hall & Co., Redhill, Surrey
9801 Redhill & Reigate Borough Police, Police Station, Redhill
9804 Rees A & L, Station Road, Redhill
9813 Rennie, George B, Horley Lodge, Redhill, Surrey
9809 Rickett, Smith & Co., 12 Station Road, Redhill
9808 " " " Reigate Station
9807 Roberts, T.H., 'Covertside', Earlswood, Redhill
9805 Searle, James, Eversfield, Reigate
9802 Wood, Arthur, 45 Station Road, Redhill
Call Rooms were
9802 Arthur Wood, 45 Station Road, Redhill
9808 Rickett, Smith & Co., Reigate Station
Following the main directory listings were three new subscribers:
|A numerical listing of the entries in the 1893 directory: |
9801 Redhill & Reigate Borough Police
9802 Wood, Arthur (Call Room)
9803 Hall & Co.
9804 Rees A & L
9805 Searle, James
9807 Roberts, T.H.
9808 Rickett, Smith & Co Ltd
9809 Rickett, Smith & Co Ltd
9810 Wyman and Sons
9811 Adams, Richard (Call Room)
9812 Adams, Richard (Local)
9813 Rennie G.B.
9814 Duncan J Hill
9816 Weston J
9821etc. to 9831
|From the above it would seem that the exchange had a capacity of at least 31 numbers when first installed, and probably a total of 50, this being the maximum number of lines one switchboard of the early types were equipped for. These were the pioneering few who were the forerunners of today's telephone list of thousands. In its first years the exchange covered a much greater area than it does today, as Reigate, Merstham etc. have since acquired their own exchanges. It is interesting that although Mssrs Rees seemed influential in the service in these early days they still did not have the first number of 9801.|
|The National Telephone Company's Redhill directory three years later, in 1896/1897, when extracted from the London directory, looked like this;|
Public call offices
2 Arthur Wood, 45 Station Rd, Redhill
8 Rickett, Smith & Co., Reigate Station
11 Richard Adams, Church St., Reigate
Other Subscribers in Alphabetical Order
12 Adams, Richard, 31 Station Rd, Redhill
19 Barton & Co, Wholesale wine merchants, 3 & 5 London Rd
14 Duncan, J.Hill, Hollycroft, Redstone Hill, Redhill
20 Eumorfopoulos G, Meadvale, Redhill
21 Garle John A., Pirbright, Chipstead
| 3 Hall & Co. Coal, gravel, cement, Brighton Rd, Redhill|
6 Hull E.C.P., The Mount, Redhill
10 Malcomson & Co. Ltd, Brighton Rd, Redhill
1 Metcalfe, James Chief Constable, Police Station, Redhill
17 Pollen, Captain F.H., Farley, Reigate
4 Rees, Leonard P., Auctioneer and Surveyor, 53 Stn Rd
13 Rennie, George B, Horley Lodge, Redhill
18 Richards, J Topham, Hilton Lodge, Reigate
9 Rickett Smith & Co. Ltd, Coal Mchts, 12 Station Rd, Redhill
7 Roberts T.H., Covertside, Earlswood
5 Schlesinger LB, Beechmount, Linkfield Lane, Redhill
15 Somerset, Isobel (Lady Henry Somerset) Priory, Reigate
22 Surrey Mirror, 65 Brighton Rd, Redhill
16 Weston J, Station Rd, Redhill
|This is a total of 22 entries, including the 3 public call offices, and shows that every number from 1 to 22 is in use, so from 1893 to 1896 the number of connected numbers had grown from 14 to 22. The shortest lines were those in Station Road, the longest the one at Chipstead.|
Early Manual Switchboards
Redhill's early switchboard had double ended cords to effect connections between calling and called subscribers. Telephones were installed in private houses with their own batteries for power. A handle on the telephone needed to be cranked to generate a varying DC current to drop an indicator on the switchboard with that telephone's number on it. The caller would then pick up his separate earpiece and mouthpiece and wait for the operator to come on the line. At the exchange switchboard the dropped indicator would set off a buzzer to alert the operator to the fact that there was a call. She, or he, would restore the indicator by hand, noting the number. With end of the double ended cord (the answer cord) the operator would plug into the jack (plug socket) associated with that number, connect her headset to the circuit by the operation of a key (switch) and ask for the number required.
The caller passed over the number and the operator would then plug the other end of the double ended cord (the calling cord) into the jack associated with the required number, restore the key with which she had connected her headset to the circuit to and operate it, or another key, to connect her ringer to the circuit. To actually ring the distant bell of the called line she would have to turn a handle on her board to generate the necessary ringing current, in the same way as the calling subscriber had needed to do to call the switchboard.
Later switchboards had supervisory systems which allowed the operator to visually monitor the progress of the call without intruding further on the line. The early boards did not have this facility so the operator would have to reconnect her headset to the circuit to make sure the called subscriber answered and the call progressed satisfactorily.
There were several sets of cords and keys on each switchboard to enable the operator to cope with more than one call at a time.
Because of this lack of supervisory system it was up to the caller to advise the operator when the call had finished. He did this by replacing his handset and once more cranking the handle of his generator. This once again dropped his indicator at the switchboard, previously restored when the operator had answered. The operator, seeing the indicator down, this time with a cord inserted in that subscriber's jack, would then know that the connection could be disconnected. She would restore the indicator by hand and remove both her cords.
No picture of the Redhill switchboard at Rees offices is known but above left is a picture of a similar installation at Purley (courtesy BT archives)
Above right is a picture of a magneto switchboard taken at the BT museum, London.
A New Site for the Exchange
Mr Rees' influence of the exchange sites continued for at some early stage the exchange moved from his Station Road premises to a house, apparently his property, called 'Hillside Villa', at 21 Chapel Road, Redhill. The exact year of this move is unconfirmed, but there are multiple choices.
1) 1896 or 1897 - In the 1897 directory there is listed a call office for use by the public at 'The National Telephone Company', 21 Chapel Road, Redhill. As this call office was not shown in the 1896 directory it looks as though the National Telephone Company had presence at the property by 1897. Whether or not the exchange moved at this time is not certain.
2) A brief history of exchanges at the BT Archives confirms the above, stating: 'A magneto exchange of the hand restoring type opened in 1902 at 21 Chapel St (road?) Redhill.' This is stronger, the word 'opened' more positively suggesting that possibly no exchange had been there before. I
The exchange is only fully listed in one document in the BT archives, a National Telephone Company publication; 'Sites and Buildings - 1908'. This contains a list of exchanges and details of buildings. Against their Redhill exchange, in the address column is: "21 Chapel Rd." In a separate column headed 'Conditions of Tenure' is the statement: '14 years from 25th December 1896. 6 months notice at end of 14th or any subsequent year.' Even this does not place the exchange in the building from 1896, only NTC presence, probably with a call office.
The 1898-9 Kelly's directory for Redhill lists the following: - 'National Telephone Company (Call Rooms) Chapel Road (for London & Provinces day & night) & 45 Station Road.'
It would seem that at the early eachanges no night service was offered and the exchange closed down at 7pm each day.' This means that if the Chapel Road Call Room offered day and night service it was certainly not connected to the Redhill switchboard at Rees' offices, at least, not at night. It was either permanently connected to, or switched via a junction after 7pm, to another exchange that did offer night service.
The date of the move from Rees offices to Chapel road is still not firmly established. If 1902 is indeed the date, which does seem likely, then it was in Rees offices for 10 years. The 1908 NTC document, previously referred to, also notes that the annual rent payable in that year on 21 Chapel road was £33-10-0.
The Problems of Moving an Exchange
The Type of Switchboard
Supervisor - Nell Kenwood.
|Staff from the Chapel Road Exchange pictured in 1928/29 on an outing|
|Back Row: Nel Kenward, Sybil Mallinson, Bernard Driver. Front Row: Mary Bugg, Enid Aldridge.||Dora Wadey and Gladys Saywell||Front row: 4th from right: Enid Aldridge, far right Sybil Mallinson and Mr Marsh..|
|In the early 1920s at Reigate manual exchange there had been five operators looking after the 300-odd lines in that town, and Mabel McGregor, pictured centre in the lefthand picture in Reigate Exchange, had been one of them. Unfortunately little can be seen of the switchroom which was situated over the Post Office in Bell Street. Her niece, who supplied this photo, said that Mabel had a fiancee who was killed in the first World War, and subsequently she never married. She remained in the telephone service all her career, becoming a training supervisor at local exchanges. Mabel is seen again in the centre of the righthand picture taken at the rear of the Reigate Exchange. When this picture was taken it is wondered who was looking after the exchange.|
Chapel Rd - a family house again
A note about the term 'Subscribers', is appropriate. The word was used instead of 'Customers' because people did actually subscribe to the telephone system in the early days, paying a subscription to belong to the service and using it accordingly. This worked fine for frequent users but was not so fair for infrequent users and the idea of a pay-by-call basis of charging was first introduced in 1884.
Call offices were available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike, the difference being that the latter would use them on a pay-by-call basis, whereas the former used them free on production of proof of their subscriber status.
The term 'subscribers' to describe customers outlived the subscription system by many years and was shortened to 'subs' within the communication industry.It was still in common use in BT jargon as late as the 1980s, when a BT campaign to officially substitute the word 'customer' was launched to assist the service out of the old electro-magnetic age and into the new electronic era.
Redhill Exchange 1930 - 1967
A 1933 Redhill map - Clarendon Road is in red, the new exchange in yellow
To remain with the subject of training it is interesting that when Enid Bell first went into a London exchange for experience she was amazed at the size of the switchroom and the noise generated by the operators voices as they asked for connection information and passed it on to called parties or operators in distant exchanges, and she wondered if she would be able to stand it. Fortunately both Redhill exchanges were far smaller and quieter. Redhill boards did not have so far to reach to the higher connection points as the London boards. Because an operator might have to stand to reach the uppermost working parts of the switchboard there was a minimum height requirement for operators of five feet. One of the operators at Chapel Road had been five feet and a quarter of an inch, just fulfilling this standard.
The Switchroom in Later Years
The Information Desk
Above photo - Two operators busily dispensing information from the Redhill Exchange
The Manual Boards
A view of part of the manual switchroom at Redhill manual exchange in the late 1950s or early 60s. Incoming calls appeared on the lower part of each board's facia, and outgoing calls to other exchanges were connected via junctions on the mid part of the facia. The multiple of all Redhill numbers can be seen above these with plenty of room to grow vertically. Every subscriber's number was repeated each two and a half positions, so the whole number range was in reach of every operator. The stool in the foreground and the table and chair on the left were for use of the section supervisors. The photo was taken by a professional photographer; the case on the floor was probably his.
Position 17 - Post Office board
The Manual Equipment
The Change to Automatic Working
Customers were familiar and at ease with the operator service, they had only to lift the receiver and either talk or listen all the way through their call. This led to a few being apprehensive about the change. In 1967 the owner of The Chocolate Box, a sweet shop on the East side of London Road, situated roughly where the entrance to Sainsbury's now is, on finding out that Redhill was going to be converted to automatic working, commented; "I pick up the 'phone, the girl asks me for the number and gets it for me; that's automatic! This new way I'll have a dial and have to do it all myself. What's automatic about that? What do I want it for?"
Few pictures of the inside or outside of the old house, 'The Moorings' exist. This photograph was taken in the exchange dining room, which was on the first floor of the house until it was rebuilt at the rear of the building in the mid 1960s. A group of operators, engineers, catering and cleaning staff sit down to the 1956 Redhill Exchange Christmas dinner.
|An Automatic Exchange|
The conversion of Redhill manual exchange to an automatic one in December 1967 was the start of a new era, with all of the operating staff gone and most of the engineers who had looked after the manual equipment replaced by others trained on the automatic equipment. Even they had to learn their way around some of the newer, STD, equipment, which was of the latest design, and no-one, at the beginning, had had the training courses on it. STD stood for Subscriber Trunk Dialling, and was the system that enabled customers to make many of their own calls to various parts of the country without going through an operator. For those calls that still needed operator assistance, dialling 100 gave access to the manual board at Purley.
This was the pre-electronic age. Transistors were in use but the auto equipment was overwhelmingly of the electro-magnetic type. When a telephone's receiver was lifted the first part of the call was initiated, with a set of movable contacts being set in motion, sweeping over a set of fixed contacts, either to find the calling line and connect it to the subsequent stage equipment, or to find the next stage directly. When this had been achieved the impulses from the telephone's dial stepped more movable contacts on equipment called 'selectors' to levels of other banks of fixed contacts over which they would then hunt for the next stage in the selection of a path through the exchange to the number required. The second dialled digit similarly activated the next stage of equipment, and the last two digits both activated the last stage equipment.
All of this equipment worked by the operation of electro-magnets. Some of the magnets were under the control of the telephone user's dial. They were initially operated then released and re-operated by one pulse from a the dial - the digit 1 being dialled - and released and re-operated ten times by ten pulses - the digit 0 being dialled. These pulses were generated by the dial at a rate of at 10 pulses per second. The magnets operated armatures with pawls attached to engage ratchets to step the equipment. As there were four digits in the numbers at that time this meant there were four sets of dial controlled positioning operations to enable the customer, via his dial, to select a path through the exchange to the number he wanted.
|The diagram is the one of the Moorings shown previously but modified to show how the new building was extended to accomodate the automatic exchange. The yellow hatching shows the original extension onto the old house built to accomodate the manual exchange. The red hatching shows how extra extensions were added, one being built where the house once stood. The enlongated orange hatching is where a new battery room went and the almost square hatching behind it was the standby generator room.|
|The enlarged building. The original 1929/30s building can be seen in darker brick. The 1960s extensions back and front show up in lighter brick. Two other features of 'The Moorings' building are worthy of note. One is the lifting beam on the roof (top left) to which lifting tackle could be attached to hoist heavy racks and other equipment up to the 1st floor where there was access via double doors. The second is the nearer of the two built up appendages on the roof - the white walled one that runs the length of the old part of the building. This was originally a roof light for the manual board. It had windows all around it but provided light until 1939 only, as owing to wartime restrictions its glass was painted over so no light would show to enemy aircraft. This paint remained for 28 years - until 1967.- when the windows were removed and the gaps bricked in. The small bricked area in the centre of the roof is the capped off chimney of the original boiler. This was replaced by a new oil-fired boiler provided at the far end of the building in the 1960s. Its chimney can be seen alongside the new water tank room from where access to the roof was gained. Note also that whereas most of the building consists of two floors only where the apparatus rooms were, the front of the building has three floors for a stairway and some office accommodation. On the corner of this front part of the building can be seen the number 25 and the nameplate 'The Moorings'. There was another stairway at the east end|
| As there were several thousand telephones connected to the exchange only the night-time was reasonably quiet. During the busy periods of the day, with simultaneous calls in the course of being set up or clearing down, and others constantly following on, the exchange's apparatus rooms were noisy places. Around some of the noisier STD equipment ear defenders were used. It got worse when numbers were changed from four to five digits, and eventually to six digits, with the consequent additional equipment being installed. |
Two other features of 'The Moorings' building are worthy of note. One is the lifting beam on the roof to which lifting tackle could be attached to hoist heavy racks and other equipment up to the 1st floor where there was access via double doors. The second is the nearer of the two built up appendages on the roof - the white walled one that runs the length of the old part of the building. This was originally a roof light for the manual board. It had windows all around it but provided light until 1939 only, as owing to wartime restrictions its glass was painted over so no light would show to enemy aircraft. This paint remained for 28 years - until 1967.- when the windows were removed and the gaps bricked in.
The small bricked area in the centre of the roof is the capped off chimney of the original boiler. This was replaced by a new oil-fired boiler provided at the far end of the building in the 1960s. Its chimney can be seen alongside the new water tank room from where access to the roof was gained. Note also that whereas most of the building consists of two floors only where the apparatus rooms were, the front of the building has three floors for a stairway and some office accommodation. On the corner of this front part of the building can be seen the number 25 and the nameplate 'The Moorings'. There was another stairway at the east end.
Each rack of equipment was 6' wide and 10' high, with varying numbers of 'shelves' of apparatus, so travelling ladders were positioned along each row to give access to the upper reaches. Every single piece of apparatus was connected to the network with many wires, in some cases hundreds of wires each. These were run overhead in cables, the smallest contained 1 wire only, the largest carrying 200 wires inside its protective sheath. The cables were laid on grids, and were up to a foot deep over most of the racks, their numbers were so many.
The amount of equipment, with its vast quantity of wiring and cabling, made the apparatus floors look very technically complex places, which they were to a great extent, but many of the wiring carried similar circuits multiplied a number of times to cope with the maximum traffic at the busiest time, so were repeats of each other. Set against this was the fact that, due to the varying destinations of the calls, and the differing conditions met on different routes, there were a great many types of equipment.
All of these types had to be understood by all of the engineers working there. Each had a section of the exchange to maintain, and rotated sections on a six monthly basis. Engineers' duties included regular, routine cleaning of the banks of fixed contacts, plus cleaning and oiling of the mechanisms. Also there were worn parts to be changed and the regular functional testing of those selectors to be carried out. Faulty equipment was removed from service until the fault was rectified.
Reports of service difficulties emanated from two sources. One source was customers who had experienced trouble dialling through the exchange and had reported the fact to an operator. The operators would pass the complaints on for investigation. The other source was engineers in distant exchanges. They ran daily test calls through all the other exchanges to which they had routes, analysed the results and reported problems to the distant exchanges concerned. By these methods most system faults were nipped in the bud at an early stage of their development.
The picture shows a part of the apparatus room on the upper floor of Redhill Exchange. The part of the apparatus room in the foreground was once part of the manual switchroom. That in the distance is part of the west end extension.
The biggest single subsequent change-over occurred when the vast amount of mechanical equipment serving the Redhill customers for all their local calls was converted to the new system X equipment that is still in use today. The preparatory work for this was mainly complete by Easter 1987, and the new facility was brought into operation on May 14th of that same year. Redhill went almost as quite on that day as it had become noisy twenty years earlier at its conversion to mechanical automatic working. In fact, the 'new' automatic equipment did not last quite the whole twenty years, showing how rapidly technical innovation was progressing. Redhill 'The Moorings' lasted three more years, acting as a tandem exchange for through traffic while modernisation took place elsewhere. It finally closed in May 1990.
|Now you see it, now you don't. |
The hole in the ground left after
the demolition of the old 'Moorings'
|Other Telephone Exchanges in the Redhill and Reigate Area|
Although Redhill was the first exchange the numbers of lines connected to it meant that over the years additional exchanges had to be built to lighten its load. These were built in the areas they served and a brief history of each one follows.
A magneto (manual) exchange opened on 7th September 1909. The number of lines served at 1st Jan 1910 was 80, many of which would have been transferred from Redhill. Following the take-over of the private telephone companies by the Post Office, Reigate exchange was re-located over the Reigate Post Office in Bell Street on 17th February 1912 with CB10 (manual) equipment. In the 1920s there were 5 operators employed there. Reigate exchange was converted to automatic working on 12th December 1937 in one of the few public buildings in Great Britain completed during the reign of Edward VII. (It is interesting to note that at the front and sides of the exchange in the 1960s and 70s contained a number of fruit trees: there were pear, apple and plum.The ground had probably been part of the Wilderness, the large old house that once stood on the corner of Church Street and Monks Walk, later became the Monks Court a hotel and is now the site of flats). Its auto-manual switchboard was at Redhill. Its numbers all had four digits. The services of the operators, who had been at Reigate for 25 years, were no longer needed. On 27th February 1963 the numbers were converted to 5 digits, the old numbers receiving 4 as a prefix. In the late 1960s Reigate obtained STD services via Redhill, and later the numbering range was further altered to six digits with the addition of 2 at the front of each number. On 4th June, 1987, Reigate was converted to electronic working. The new equipment occupies only a part of the space used by the old auto equipment and some of the building has been used for other purposes
. Prior to this conversion to electronic, the exchange had a resident staff of up to six engineers and 2 cleaners employed to maintain it. After the conversion they, like the 1937 Reigate operators from the manual exchange over the Post Office, were no longer required. The exchange almost runs itself and is unmanned, visits being made only by mobile engineers.
Reigate Exchange pictured in 1996 with, below, a close-up of the 1936 Edward VIII crest.
The old Merstham Exchange in Station Road, Merstham
|Power to Work the Telephone |
Before finally leaving the history of the Redhill telephone service it might help to mention a little about the power that worked telephones. This has been mentioned in several places above but not explained.
Telephones were always very much independent of Mains power. In the early days batteries were housed in customers' premises to work the 'phone installed there but a great step forward was the change from local battery (LB) working to central battery (CB) working. In local battery working each customer had to have the battery to operate their telephone located at their premises. This had the disadvantages of a need of space to store the battery and of regular maintenance visits to keep them in good order. With central battery (CB) working working the power was provided from the exchange via a large battery situated there. This meant that the batteries at the customers' houses could be done away with and the installation there could be much smaller and less obtrusive.
The replacement for all these individual batteries were two batteries centralised at the exchange. Each consisted of twenty-five 2 volt cells connected in series to give a nominal total of 50 volts. In spite of being only 2 volts each the cells were physically quite large, resulting in a large ampere/hour capacity. The batteries were connected together in parallel but could be split for maintenance purposes. In practice the voltage was slightly over 2 volts per cell, and the total voltage was maintained between approximately 51-52 volts.
The batteries were floated across a rectified mains supply, transformed to 50v and could take over instantly should that mains supply fail. This meant that although the lights went out during an electricity power cut the town's telephones continued working, and due to their large capacity could usually last until normal power was restored. This was a fact overlooked by many people, who thought that if the lights in their house did not work then neither would the telephone. In manual days there was a mains driven generator that was used to charge the batteries. Later there was charging from the mains via rectifiers and a diesel generator that started automatically in the event of a mains failure to provide essential power supplies to the exchange, including replacement of the 250v AC supply to those same rectifiers from which the 50v floated power supply was derived. This meant that the only time the batteries alone took the full power load of the exchange was between the mains failure and the diesel generator starting and running up to full speed, a time of around a minute or so. This meant that the battery capacity could remain the same and would not have to be increased to cope with the extra power demand due to the ever growing popularity of the telephone.
The power was distributed around telephone exchanges via 'bus' bars, large copper (sometimes aluminium) conductors which carried the power from the rectifiers (which converted the 240 volts AC mains to DC 50 volts) and batteries to the equipment. From the equipment it provided power to provide ringing, supervisory and speech currents to all the customers' lines.
An engineer at inspects the strength of the electrolyte in the exchange's batteries
The photograph is of the battery room at Redhill Clarendon. The batteries are arranged in four rows of twelve cells. The right hand pair of rows are connected together by a large copper connector and comprise one battery. The second battery is identical, although its second row of cells is partly obscured. The bus bars carrying the supply to the exchange are visible at the far end of the room. They rise vertically and then pass out through the left hand wall to the control panel where coupling or decoupling of the two batteries, charging etc., may be controlled. The batteries in The Moorings were a little smaller than those in Clarendon. Reduced physical size meant less plate area and therefore a smaller ampere-hour capacity (a measurement of how much current could be delivered for how long). Batteries in smaller exchanges, such as Tadworth and Betchworth, which had lower power demands, had smaller batteries still.
There is a story about painters who were redecorating the inside of the ground floor apparatus room at 'The Moorings'. They found themselves close to the bus bars, did not like the look of them, so asked the engineer-in-charge if they were safe. "Of course," he replied, and demonstrated by climbing the ladder and grasping the unprotected positive and negative bars, one in each hand. "They're only 50-odd volts," he explained.
"Oh, good," exclaimed the painter, and to the engineer's horror, promptly placed his paint pot across them. The paint pot disappeared in an brilliant and instantaneous flash of molten metal, and the paint went everywhere.
For those whose electrical knowledge is sketchy it ought to be explained that the ability of an electromotive force (a source of power such as a battery) to push a current through any object is dependant not only upon the magnitude of its voltage but upon the electrical resistance of the material of the object. The body of the officer who grasped the bars was of sufficiently high resistance for 52 volts not to harm him, but the resistance of the metal paint pot was extremely low. The result was that whereas next to no current had flowed through the man because he had excellent resistive properties, the metal paint pot had no resistive properties at all, in fact it was extremely conductive and represented almost a full short circuit to the bars. A high current flowed instantly through it, high enough to melt the pot in a flash of light and flame.
Perhaps to painters (and others) the moral of the story is: Beware! When around electricity all may not be as it seems.
|A condensed version of the above appeared in the Surrey History Magazine volume VI No.2|
|MY HISTORY AS A BRITISH TELECOM OPERATOR by Margaret Ellison|
.......I joined British Telecom to train as an operator in 1978 at Balham Telephone Exchange in South London. We used to call it: - Gateway to the South. Unfortunately the job was to last only 6 years when in 1984 the building was sold to the then Labour Exchange. When they announced this to us operators we all felt very sad as we thought this was going to be the end of our lovely jobs but fortunately we were given the choice to transfer to any other exchange of our choice which was not closing at the time. I transferred to Impact House near the flyover in Croydon as this was the nearest to where I lived at Pollards Hill, Mitcham.
........Then in 1984 or thereabouts another blow was dealt us operators. Croydon Telephone Exchange at Impact House was to close and move to Ryland House which fortunately was not far away and still in Croydon. The volume of British Telecom business was starting to increase therefore more lines and equipment were needed. Ryland House had the vast amount of space to cope with it.
.......Whilst at Ryland I was offered to train to become a subbing officer. A subbing officer is one who helps out the Supervision if and when they are short of Supervisors to man the exchange. A Supervisor is there to answer any queries from customers so that it leaves the operators free to answer calls. At times, in cases of Emergencies, the exchange got very busy, especially in cases where the 999 service got stretched to its limit. I did quite a lot of subbing then and thoroughly enjoyed it as it gave me a bit of variety and broke the sometimes monotony of sitting on the board just answering 100 calls.
.......Then I was asked if I would travel to do my subbing at any other exchange. I said yes I would but the furthest I would be prepared to go was Redhill in Clarendon Road. I stayed at Croydon until 1987 when we decided to sell our house and move to Horley. My husband at the time was still with Royal Mail at Heathrow Airport and it was easy for him to go on the M25 to get there. From Mitcham to Heathrow was a much longer journey. I then transferred permanently to Redhill. The journey was also shorter for me. I continued to work as an operator and subbing officer until 1988 when I decided that enough was enough. The service within British Telecom was changing so drastically that it was no longer a pleasure to work for B.T. Also more and more automatic exchanges were being installed and fewer operators were needed. By this time, I was only working part time nights.
.......In 1988 I resigned from British Telecom as an operator. I was given a very memorable farewell by my colleagues, a signed card by all the operators and management, which I still have in my possession. I will treasure this forever. It was a sad end to a very enjoyable 10 years of my working life as a British Telecom Operator. It was the best ever. It is not the same nowadays.
.......Operator Service, can I help you?
. . . . . . . Composed and typed by Mrs. Margaret Ellison, July 2007.
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