In pictures: The opening of Weston’s telephone exchange 50 years ago
PUBLISHED: 16:00 27 May 2018
Communication is so easy these days, it is hard to think back to a time when connecting with a loved one could ever require much hassle. It was only 50 years ago, however, when a vicar in Hutton complained he could overhear other people’s conversations when he was trying to place a call from his home. He was told this would all stop with the coming of the new Weston-super-Mare exchange.
The exchange was installed in May 1968, and it introduced a system of ‘subscriber trunk dialling’ which meant people would no longer need to speak to an operator to make long-distance calls.
Many miles of fine wire and complicated equipment was installed in the new exchange.
The Weston Mercury and Somerset Herald reported: “Some idea of the tremendous amount of money needed to cope with the ever-increasing demand for telephone services can be gained from the fact the new building has cost £50,000, but the cost of the equipment and installing it will be £450,000.”
While the new equipment would doubtless lead to fewer jobs in the future, it initially created additional work for the staff.
Engineers had to install new telephones, and the programme had revealed unexpected problems, which brought them even more work.
Many telephone subscribers were also given new numbers, and this added to the difficulties for the phone operators.
So although operators were theoretically not going to be needed in the future, more staff were taken on as it was felt subscribers would have to make even more enquiries without an operator available to help them.
The Mercury said: “More subscribers and greater use of the telephone, both from incoming and outgoing calls, has made a great deal more work for the Weston exchange.
“The Weston system is complicated by the fact there is one exchange in the Boulevard and another above the head Post Office.
“Many of the hotels are on the Post Office exchange, and this one becomes particularly busy in the summer months.
“Although work in the Boulevard Exchange increases in the summer, the fact all the factories and other new developments are connected to this exchange means it is busy every day of the year.”