City’s part in revolution in communication
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.
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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