A history of telephone exchanges in Jersey

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A history of telephone

exchanges in Jersey


Telephone girls in 1916

This article was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

Automatic satellite exchanges

At 6.45 am on Tuesday 7 June 1966 the island's south telephone exchange became the first of the four "satellite" exchanges to go automatic. It took just ten minutes to effect the mechanical side of the change-over.

In that time over 2,500 subscribers were given new numbers and the familiar voices of the girls of the south exchange were gone for ever. These 20 girls have been absorbed into the other exchanges and a caretaker-engineer will now run the south exchange.

The new exchange was planned, designed and installed by the States of Jersey Telephone Department and the equipment was manufactured by GEC in accordance with specifications prepared in Jersey. lnitally the exchange will cater for 3,000 lines, but the new building has been designed for a minimum of 5,000 lines.

This change-over is the first phase of the Telephone Committee's plans for making the whole island automatic. Next on the list will be east, then west, and finally north. However, manual exchanges do not pay until they reach 2,000 lines and these exchanges have not yet reached this capacity.

"It will be about 15 years before we can go automatic over the whole island," said a spokesman for the committee.

1898 proposals

The ironic thing about all this is that in 1898 a company called the Automatic Telephone Company attempted to convert the people of Jersey to an automatic system. In a leaflet which they issued they declared:

"Notice is hereby given that Mr King of London has been empowered by the Roads Committee of St Helier to introduce an improved telephone system, the advantages of which are as follows:
  • secret communication
  • instantaneous connection
  • no interruption
  • continuous service day and night
  • 20 per cent cheaper than the existing system
"Unlike the present system the new telephone exchange is automatic, hence business transactions and social intercourse may be conducted in absolute secrecy. This important feature is responsible to a large

extent for its recent adoption by several governmental departments, notably in Washington, while in England, energetic action is now being taken by such municipalities as are unaffected by the monopoly of National Telephone Company, to secure the services of this wonderfully ingenious system."

This sales leaflet also contained some quotes from national newspapers, notably the Daily Mail which said : "It is at your beck and call noon and night, Sundays and holidays and never gets tired, short tempered and vindictive."

But, as in England, the appeal for this automatic telephone system fell on deaf ears.

The telephone exchange in 1924

Profitable service

The Jersey Telephone Service is, today, a considerable money spinner for the States of Jersey. The service currently makes a profit of about £40,000 annually and local calls for the March quarter of the year numbered 2,966,970, an increase of 244,368 over the same period last year.

Since 1961 the number of exchange lines has increased from 12,502 to over 15,000.

Telephones first came to Jersey in 1898 when the National Telephone Company comenced a telephone service with a small exchange in Minden Place (only a few yards from where the Central exchange now stands). This service was taken over by the British Post Office in 1912. Eleven years later the States bought back the system for £30,000, with a proviso that the British Post Office could take it over whenever they wished at the current capital cost. This proviso in still stands.

At the time of the takeover the telephone system consisted of 14 small magneto exchanges, miles of overhead wire and very little underground plant serving 1,447 subscribers.

Central exchange was converted to modern Common Battery working in 1925, when Siemen’s of Woolwich supplied and installed a 2000 line switchboard, with facilities for extension to 3000 lines. This was located on the site of the former Toy Market in Cattle Street and from here in April 1931 the first trunk calls were made to the mainland. Between 1925 and 1939 St Aubin, Five Oaks, Gorey and Trinity were converted. This meant that prior to the German Occupation in June 1940 the number of exchange lines had increased to 4,654 and the number of extensions to 642.

Telephone girls in 1926

Occupation damage

During the five years of occupation the plant suffered a considerable amount of damage, the major part of it being requisitioned by the German forces. Due to the position and extreme shortage of materials, very little repair work was carried out. Nevertheless the Telephone Service contributed much to the administration and maintenance of essential public services in Jersey. At the Liberation in 1945, the number of exchange lines had been reduced to 3,457.

At this time there was an unprecedented demand for new services as the island;s life settled down once again to peacetime activity. The prime task of the Telephone Department was to play its part in the rehabilitation of local business and social life by providing communication wherever required as quickly as possible.

Its secondary task was to overhaul all communication equipment which had been neglected during the war years and to replace that which was obsolescent or work out. Both staff and materials were in short supply and in spite of this all services were restored by the end of 1946 and an additional 1,500 new lines were connected.

The first phase of replacing the small country exchanges was commenced in 1949 when the 1,000 line Common Battery exchange, then called Western, was opened. Western replaced the old St Peter and St Ouen exchanges. Four other country exchanges were closed down when Northern was opened in 1951. To cater for a new housing area, also to replace the old St Aubin, South manual exchange commenced operations in July 1952 with 2,000 lines.

By 1954 a modern trunk exchange switchboard had been installed by the GPO in accommodation provided by the department to replace the old trunk switchboard in the Central Manual exchange. October 1955 saw the opening of Eastern exchange by the Bailiff, Sir Alexander Coutanche. This replaced Gorey and Five Oaks and was the completion of the scheme to modernise the country exchanges.

Central exchange conversion

In 1959 the first conversion of the Central manual exchanges to one main Central exchange took place. The cost of the project was £362,000 which was borrowed from the States. The principle of such conversions to automatic working is mainly that the new systems meet the ever growing density of traffic without delays or disorganisation.

By 1967 it is anticipated that there will be very little congestion on routes to the mainland and the continent due to possible redeployment of cables. New cables of the very latest design and specifications will link Jersey with Bristol and eventually Holland and Norway.

All policies and activities are controlled by Senator Stephen Venables, president, and six members of the Telephones Committee.

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