City’s part in revo­lu­tion in com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

GLOUCES­TER-BORN sci­en­tist Charles Wheat­stone in­vented a de­vice he called the tele­phone in 1823.

How­ever, his in­ven­tion had noth­ing to do with what we call a tele­phone to­day.

His was used by mu­sic hall ma­gi­cians to make stringed in­stru­ments such as a pi­ano, or harp, ap­par­ently play them­selves.

But Glouces­ter does have a place in the pi­o­neer­ing days of the tele­phone as a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This week in 1877 Dr Bond, who was the city’s med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health, demon­strated the phone at the School of Sci­ence and Art.

This was one of the ear­li­est oc­ca­sions that the phone had been used in Bri­tain.

Even Queen Vic­to­ria didn’t see one un­til more than a year later.

The lec­ture aroused a good deal of in­ter­est in the lo­cal press, but Glouces­tri­ans re­mained un­con­vinced of the tele­phone’s at­trac­tions.

When the United Tele­phone Com­pany ad­ver­tised of­fer­ing phones for rent in the city there were no tak­ers.

Not sur­pris­ing re­ally. If you were the only per­son with a phone, who was there to ring?

Adverts ex­tolling the ad­van­tages of the phone were placed in the Glouces­ter Jour­nal and 16 pri­vate and busi­ness users in the city even­tu­ally sub­scribed to the new ser­vice.

The first two busi­nesses to have phones in­stalled were the Wagon Works and Fos­ter Broth­ers oil mills.

An over­head line from the premises of each sub­scriber ran to the tele­phone ex­change, which was found on the up­per two storeys of 9, Berke­ley Street, a build­ing the tele­phone com­pany shared with a firm of so­lic­i­tors and the city’s Cham­ber of Com­merce.

That first ex­change was dif­fi­cult to miss, as the roof was topped by a web of wires and poles as you can see in the pho­to­graph.

This der­rick caused some con­ster­na­tion. A ru­mour spread that the over­head wires would at­tract light­ning and the phone com­pany had to place an an­nounce­ment in the Glouces­ter Jour­nal as­sur­ing lo­cal folk that this was not the case.

As the sys­tem ex­panded the Berke­ley Street ex­change be­came too small and so new premises were found in Bull Lane.

Bear­land House be­came Glouces­ter tele­phone area head­quar­ters in 1915 and re­mained so un­til 1970.

Glouces­ter’s first trunk line en­abled calls to be made to Bris­tol.

Other con­nec­tions with South Wales and the Mid­lands soon fol­lowed.

When a link was in­stalled be­tween the city and Chel­tenham, a gent named Mr W A Jones, who worked for the tele­phone com­pany, made the first call.

A group of 130 dig­ni­taries gath­ered for the oc­ca­sion in the Assem­bly Rooms in Chel­tenham’s High Street for the in­au­gu­ral con­nec­tion.

Crowd­ing round the re­ceiver, they heard Mr Jones play Men of Har­lech on the ac­cor­dion.

» To share your pic­tures and mem­o­ries of lo­cal peo­ple, places and events, please email them to nos­te­[email protected] gmail.com

The multi-ta­lented Jones then fol­lowed this by singing a ditty en­ti­tled They All Love Jack.

Prior to the tele­phone, the telegram was the swiftest means of long dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This is where Charles Wheat­stone reen­ters the story be­cause he in­vented the tele­graphic sys­tem.

A noted physi­cist of the Vic­to­rian era, Wheat­stone tapped out the world’s first telegram, send­ing a mes­sage be­tween Eus­ton and Cam­den Town rail­way sta­tions.

Great pub­lic­ity for the in­ven­tion was at­tracted when a telegram helped po­lice ap­pre­hend a mur­derer.

Af­ter killing a woman in Slough, the killer was seen to jump aboard the Padding­ton train.

By the time he ar­rived in Lon­don a po­lice party, alerted by telegram, awaited him.

Work­ers at the Glouces­ter tele­phone ex­change in the 1950s

Bull Lane, Glouces­ter

The Berke­ley Street ex­change

Charles Wheat­stone

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