ID MMH_TEL / Tony Millatt

TitleThe Telephone on Mersea
AbstractBy 1890, West Mersea was connected to the outside world by telegraph. Kelly's 1890 Directory tells us that West Mersea had a money order and telegraph office. Messages would be transmitted to the island in Morse Code, written out in the office, and taken to the recipient by a boy on a bicycle.

The Post and Telegraph Office in the 1900s. Telegram Boy Reg Jay waiting outside on his bicycle.

High Street, corner of Yorick Road. The telegraph posts have capacity for many telephone lines.
Card posted August 1915

The telephone probably came to the Island during WW1 - a 1915 postcard shows poles down the High Street with room for 40 or 50 lines, even if they were not yet installed. The telephone exchange was in Yorick Road, perhaps initially in the back of the Post Office which was in the building that became Barclays Bank. But soon both Post Office and Telephone Exchange were to move to the house next door to Barclays Bank (Number 12). Around 1938 the Post Office moved over the road to the corner of High Street and Yorick Road, but the telephone exchange stayed where it was.

The exchange in Yorick Road was a manual exchange. Telephones on the island did not have a dial or buttons - you picked up the handset, which alerted the operator, who then connected you. The operators knew everyone on the island and their business - often you did not need a number to reach someone. Longer distance calls were trunk calls, and the local operator routed these via the trunk operator.

Telephone numbers on the island had been mainly three digit numbers, but actually started with West Mersea 1 which belonged to Clifford White.

Last days at the old manual exchange

In March 1967 a new automatic telephone exchange in Kingsland Road came into operation. Mersea was rather late in the conversion to automatic, but this was still an electro-mechanical exchange. Computerised exchanges were well in the future. With the new exchange, all phones on the island had a dial. Four 4 digits numbers were needed with a leading 2 added to most of the old numbers. The automatic exchange gave subscribers access to Subscriber Trunk Dialing (STD), which was being introduced from 1958 onwards. It enabled you to dial not just local calls yourself, but calls to any part of the country. The original STD code for Mersea was 0206 38 but a little bit of magic occurred later when Mersea became part of the Colchester 0206 dialling code and 38 was added to the Mersea numbers - which is why most of the numbers on the island begin with 38.

East Mersea had its own small automatic exchange, in a field a little beyond the Dog & Pheasant. It is gone now, replaced by a house, and East Mersea phones are integrated with West Mersea.

There were a number of telephone boxes around the island, mostly discontinued in recent years. In the 1930s the East Mersea Post Office was at Home Farm and it had a sign outside saying "You may telephone from here". But West Mersea Post Office on the corner of High Street and Yorick Road, had a proper telephone box outside. A small layby on the Peldon side of the Strood had an AA Box, to help those who had become stuck at the Strood.

Until 1981, the General Post Office ran Post Offices, Royal Mail and Telephones. In that year, the telephones were split off into British Telecom, and then in 1984 British Telecom was privatised - but you can still find GPO manholes in the pavements on the Island.

In 1993 there was a £400,000 update of the island's exchange. BT disconnected the old electro-mechanical equipment and reconnected the island's 3,000 lines to a new computerised digital exchange.

The story does not end. Mobile phones were becoming generally available in the 1980s. Around 2004 broadband was available to homes and businesses at reasonable cost, and from 2015 the broadband network was gradually being converted to fibre, giving significantly increased speeds.

Thankyou to Brian Jay and Ron Green for the postcards, and David Mussett for the newspaper cuttings.

Read More:
An early Mersea telephone directory

AuthorTony Millatt
SourceMersea Museum
IDMMH_TEL
Related Images:
 West Mersea Post Office in Yorick Road, with the White Hart just visible on the right. The notice on the front says Post Office for Money Orders, Savings Bank, Parcel Post, Telegraph, Insurance.
 
Telegram boy Reg Jay on bicycle waiting outside - he was Telegram Boy for Ashton Turner, the postmaster. The wage was six pence and for that he was expected to deliver anywhere on the Island including East Mersea [BJ].
 He has his black leather pouch attached to his belt. His left foot resting on a step which was attached to the back spindle. I remember in my young days several of the older men didn't cock their leg over the seat with one foot on the pedal, they scooted along with one foot on this step and lifted themselves onto the saddle from the back [RG].
 Photograph before 1911 as the hedge etc is 'younger' than in the Cleghorn photograph from September 1911.
 The building is now [2015] Barclays Bank.  RUD_MIS_025
ImageID:   RUD_MIS_025
Title: West Mersea Post Office in Yorick Road, with the White Hart just visible on the right. The notice on the front says "Post Office for Money Orders, Savings Bank, Parcel Post, Telegraph, Insurance.
Telegram boy Reg Jay on bicycle waiting outside - he was Telegram Boy for Ashton Turner, the postmaster. The wage was six pence and for that he was expected to deliver anywhere on the Island including East Mersea [BJ].
He has his black leather pouch attached to his belt. His left foot resting on a step which was attached to the back spindle. I remember in my young days several of the older men didn't cock their leg over the seat with one foot on the pedal, they scooted along with one foot on this step and lifted themselves onto the saddle from the back [RG].
Photograph before 1911 as the hedge etc is 'younger' than in the Cleghorn photograph from September 1911.
The building is now [2015] Barclays Bank.
Date:Before 1911
Source:Mersea Museum / Peter Rudlin Collection
 Mrs June Williams at the West Mersea Telephone Exchange.  DM1_AB5_064_005
ImageID:   DM1_AB5_064_005
Title: Mrs June Williams at the West Mersea Telephone Exchange.
Date:15 January 1965
Source:Mersea Museum / David Mussett Collection
 The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
 Back L-R Jenny Jopson, Wally Gooch.
 Front Margaret Heard, Sylvia Lamb.
 From Album 8.  FL08_028_003
ImageID:   FL08_028_003
Title: The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
Back L-R Jenny Jopson, Wally Gooch.
Front Margaret Heard, Sylvia Lamb.
From Album 8.
Date:March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum / Owen Fletcher Collection
 The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
 Joyce French, Jenny Jopson - still with her headset.
 From Album 8.  FL08_028_005
ImageID:   FL08_028_005
Title: The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
Joyce French, Jenny Jopson - still with her headset.
From Album 8.
Date:March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum / Owen Fletcher Collection
 The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
 Margaret Heard née Weeks.
 From Album 8.  FL08_028_007
ImageID:   FL08_028_007
Title: The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
Margaret Heard née Weeks.
From Album 8.
Date:March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum / Owen Fletcher Collection
 The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
 Back row Wally Gooch, Hylda Cudmore.
 Front Jenny Jopson, Jean Connon.  FL08_028_009
ImageID:   FL08_028_009
Title: The last days of the manual telephone exchange in Yorick Road, West Mersea.
Back row Wally Gooch, Hylda Cudmore.
Front Jenny Jopson, Jean Connon.
Date:March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum / Owen Fletcher Collection
 Conversion of manual telephone exchange to automatic.
 L-R 1. June Williams, 2. Joyce French née Green, 3. Erica Whitmore, 4. Jenny Jopson, 5. Marie Davies, 6. Hilda Cudmore, 7. Joan Everrett.
 From Album 8.  FL08_028_001
ImageID:   FL08_028_001
Title: Conversion of manual telephone exchange to automatic.
L-R 1. June Williams, 2. Joyce French née Green, 3. Erica Whitmore, 4. Jenny Jopson, 5. Marie Davies, 6. Hilda Cudmore, 7. Joan Everrett.
From Album 8.
Date:9 March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum / Owen Fletcher Collection
 Mersea goes automatic. The new automatic telephone exchange, incorporating STD, was opened at West Mersea on Wednesday [8 March 1967]. Mrs E.I. Cox, UDC chairman, talks to Miss J. Jopson, the supervisor. Others at the ceremony included the Colchester's assistant head postmaster, Mr J.W. Saunders, left, and Mr Bill Carrington, clerk to Mersea UDC.  DM1_AB6_018_001
ImageID:   DM1_AB6_018_001
Title: Mersea goes automatic. The new automatic telephone exchange, incorporating STD, was opened at West Mersea on Wednesday [8 March 1967]. Mrs E.I. Cox, UDC chairman, talks to Miss J. Jopson, the supervisor. Others at the ceremony included the Colchester's assistant head postmaster, Mr J.W. Saunders, left, and Mr Bill Carrington, clerk to Mersea UDC.
Date:10 March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum / David Mussett Collection
 The new West Mersea telephone exchange building cost £11,000. The equipment inside cost a further £37,000.  DM1_AB6_018_003
ImageID:   DM1_AB6_018_003
Title: The new West Mersea telephone exchange building cost £11,000. The equipment inside cost a further £37,000.
Date:16 March 1967
Source:Mersea Museum
 Better telephone service on line. Mersea mayor Patricia Stewart and her husband James bringing the new telephone exchange on line by pulling out thousands of wedges.
 Mersea residents can look forward to a better telephone service after a £400,000 update of the island's exchange. 
 BT has disconnected the old electro-mechanical equipment and reconnected the island's 3,000 lines to a new computerised digital exchange in Kingsland Road, West Mersea.
 From Evening Gazette, 14 January 1993.  MMC_2004_05_003
ImageID:   MMC_2004_05_003
Title: Better telephone service on line. Mersea mayor Patricia Stewart and her husband James bringing the new telephone exchange on line by pulling out thousands of wedges.
Mersea residents can look forward to a better telephone service after a £400,000 update of the island's exchange.
BT has disconnected the old electro-mechanical equipment and reconnected the island's 3,000 lines to a new computerised digital exchange in Kingsland Road, West Mersea.
From Evening Gazette, 14 January 1993.
Date:14 January 1993
Source:Mersea Museum