The coming of the telephone
Before 1907 the only means of communication would have been by letter or telegram, using either the GPO system or railway telegraph facilities. The coming of the telephone to Thrapston in this year must have been a great event.
A tall pole was set up in the garden of what is today, the Post Office and all lines from local phones as well as one ‘outside’ line to Peterborough terminated here. By modern standards the exchange was very small indeed. The cost of operating the system was met by subscriptions, and ever since people having telephones installed have been known as ‘subscribers’.
Another name which has ‘stuck’ is ‘telegraph’ poles. The present poles, carrying overhead wires, have probably never carried telegraph messages (i.e. sent by Morse Code) since speech messages became possible.
In the first Thrapston Telephone Directory there were only 70 numbers in use, and of these only 8 were private addresses, the remainder being businesses. (The manual exchange probably had a maximum capacity of 100 lines). Phone numbers were simply I, 2, 3 … up to 70, there being no need for the 4 or even 6 figure numbers we have today.
In these early days there was a very limited National network of lines. These were limited to one or two between principal towns or cities. As a result supposing a subscriber living in Woodford wished to talk to someone in Irthlingborough (a distance of under 4 miles), then the call would be carried via overhead lines to Thrapston exchange, who would then send it via their only ‘outside line’ to Peterborough.
There, because they had no direct link to Northampton, it would be routed to Nottingham and then to London whence it would go to Northampton who actually had a line to Irthlingborough. (well over 200 miles!)
There were long delays in putting such a call through 5 exchanges as any one of the lines connecting exchanges could have been engaged Later an improvement was made when the call was routed via Peterborough, Birmingham and Northampton.
In 1931 Thrapston exchange, (still manually operated) was moved to the shop on the corner of Market Road and Midland Road.
The switchboards and operators used the ‘shop’ part of the building, and the rear rooms for batteries and welfare. The night operator who worked from 8 p.m. lo 8 a.m. could usually go to bed around midnight with a warning bell beside the bed if a call was required. As demand increased, more links were installed, including 1 line to Lowick and 10 lines to Brigstock.
In the 1960’s the exchange moved to purpose built premises in Grove Road