If your an­ces­tor was a phone-owner, you can find out more about them than just their num­ber thanks to tele­phone di­rec­to­ries, writes Paul Blake

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

From 1880, tele­phone books have recorded the names and ad­dresses, as well as phone num­bers, of an in­creas­ing num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses. Early sub­scribers to the tele­phone ser­vice were nat­u­rally large busi­nesses or the well-to-do, but tele­phone own­er­ship by or­di­nary do­mes­tic sub­scribers grad­u­ally in­creased from the sec­ond quar­ter of the 20th cen­tury.

Tele­phone di­rec­to­ries can there­fore be an ex­cel­lent sup­ple­ment to, or re­place­ment for, the trade and street di­rec­to­ries pro­duced by Kelly and oth­ers.

The Tele­phone Com­pany Ltd (Bell’s Patents) is­sued the first known UK tele­phone di­rec­tory on 15 Jan­uary 1880. It con­tained de­tails of 248 Lon­don per­sonal and busi­ness names – but no num­bers as the caller just rang the ex­change and asked to be con­nected to a sub­scriber. De­tails of the 16 pro­vin­cial ex­changes were also given. By the time of the pub­li­ca­tion of their next di­rec­tory in April, now in­clud­ing tele­phone num­bers, the com­pany had more than 350 sub­scribers. The Edi­son Tele­phone Com­pany of Lon­don pub­lished its first list of sub­scribers on 23 March 1880.

The first phone book for the whole coun­try was is­sued in 1896: a sin­gle vol­ume con­tain­ing 1,350 pages and 81,000 en­tries. Dou­ble col­umns were in­tro­duced in 1900, a nec­es­sary ini­tia­tive as the num­ber of sub­scribers swelled.

By 1914, the phone book had be­come the largest sin­gle print­ing con­tract in the UK, with a to­tal of 1.5 mil­lion phone books be­ing printed each year. In 1938, the to­tal num­ber of phone books pub­lished ex­ceeded 10.5 mil­lion.

From 1970, phone books were com­piled by com­puter – the world’s first fully-in­te­grated com­puter print­ing process. In 2012, 22 mil­lion phone books were pro­duced in 168 edi­tions.

Pro­duc­tion of phone books has been more or less con­tin­u­ous since 1880, with the ex­cep­tion of 1913-1920. It is doubted that, apart from Lon­don, any books were pub­lished dur­ing this pe­riod, although it is pos­si­ble that they were all de­stroyed as part of the war sal­vage ef­fort.

Early se­ries of tele­phone di­rec­to­ries cover both busi­ness and pri­vate ad­dresses in the same vol­ume. Sep­a­rate clas­si­fied tele­phone di­rec­to­ries for Lon­don were pub­lished in 1938/9 and from 1947, but for other ar­eas of the UK sep­a­rate clas­si­fied sec­tions in phone books did not ap­pear un­til 1968.

Later phone books also

con­tain at the front use­ful lo­cal and op­er­a­tional de­tails, with con­tact in­for­ma­tion for im­por­tant gov­ern­ment agen­cies, in­struc­tions on how to make long dis­tance calls, ex­pla­na­tions of the ex­changes and their cov­er­age, or other nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion in or­der to use the phone book and tele­phone equip­ment.

BT Ar­chives (BT Ar­chives, Third Floor, Hol­born Tele­phone Ex­change, 268-270 High Hol­born, Lon­don WC1V 7EE; Helpdesk: 020 7440 4220) holds a near-com­plete set of phone books for the whole of the UK, pro­duced not only by BT but also by its pre­de­ces­sors in­clud­ing Post Of­fice Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, the Na­tional Tele­phone Com­pany and other pri­vate com­pa­nies. The col­lec­tion dates back to 1880, the year af­ter the public tele­phone ser­vice was in­tro­duced into Great Bri­tain, to the present day. This in­cludes phone books for South­ern Ire­land un­til 1921.

The cat­a­logue for BT Ar­chives is avail­able to search on­line www. dsweb­host­ This ref­er­ences thou­sands of doc­u­ments, books, ob­jects, images and films on sub­jects span­ning the devel­op­ment of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, from the birth of the elec­tric tele­graph in the 1830s to the ex­plo­sion of the in­ter­net and the rise of broad­band. This on­line cat­a­logue will soon be in­cor­po­rated into the BT Dig­i­tal Ar­chives found at www.dig­i­ta­ web/arena.

It is the al­pha­bet­i­cal list­ings of names in the phone book that are likely to be of most in­ter­est to fam­ily his­to­ri­ans.

If your an­ces­tor owned a busi­ness the ad­vert sec­tion might also be of in­ter­est.

Fol­low­ing a 26-month digi­ti­sa­tion project in con­junc­tion with an­ces­, the Bri­tish Phone Books (1880-1984) col­lec­tion on­line was launched in 2007. Giv­ing ac­cess to 1,780 phone books, it pro­vides near full county cov­er­age for Eng­land as well as sub­stan­tial records for Scot­land, Ire­land and Wales.

The col­lec­tion on An­ces­try is search­able by sev­eral cri­te­ria: first and mid­dle name(s) – but be­ware that most en­tries only give ini­tials – and sur­name; year and lo­ca­tion – usu­ally the ex­change; key­word; ex­change; street ad­dress, city/ town; and coun­try and county – it is nec­es­sary to se­lect th­ese last two be­fore a search can be made. Ad­ver­tise­ments can­not be searched in­de­pen­dently, but are usu­ally placed close to the name in the al­pha­bet­i­cal list­ing.

Guild­hall Li­brary in Lon­don holds a col­lec­tion of Lon­don tele­phone di­rec­to­ries and a range of na­tional tele­phone di­rec­to­ries from 1880. The Li­brary also holds files of tele­phone di­rec­to­ries from the 1950s for Repub­lic of Ire­land and the Chan­nel Is­lands.

Most of the col­lec­tion is in hard copy, but some older ma­te­rial from the BT ar­chives, in­clud­ing Lon­don and pro­vin­cial phone books from Jan­uary 1880 to July 1912, is only avail­able on mi­cro­film.

A switch room in a Lon­don tele­phone ex­change in 1883

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