Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 04, 2017
Webpage updated: December 31, 2021




The first announcement that Plymouth was to get a telephone service appeared in March 1881, when the local press revealed that a representative from the Post Office's Private Wire Department had made a visit to canvas support and that an exchange would be opened in October 1881.

However, in May 1881 Messrs Cox and Williamson held trials of a new central exchange that had been installed at their premises in Bedford Chambers.   On Thursday June 23rd 1881, an advert appeared in the Western Morning News confirming that their telephone exchange, the only one in the Three Towns licensed by the Post Office, was 'now in full operation and additional subscribers are being received daily'.  But the partners had infringed the patents of the United Telephone Company, who took them to court and they sold out to the Postmaster-General.

The United Telephone Company opened an exchange in the Town in July 1881.  Unfortunately, the Company failed to secure a licence to operate and was closed on October 31st 1881.  It remained closed until the Company was taken over in December 1884 by the newly formed Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company Limited, who re-opened the exchange in February 1885.

Although it is claimed that the Post Office opened their telephone exchange in Plymouth on December 15th 1881 it is curious to note that on December 29th 1881, the Western Daily Mercury commented that 'The Post Office authorities promise that the town shall not be forgotten'.  It was certainly open by July 1884 and in May 1885 the Western Morning News was moved to remark: 'The telephone is destined to become in England as it is now in America - an absolute necessity for business and domestic comfort'.  To which it added: 'But we move very slowly in this country, especially in the western districts'.

In May 1889 the National Telephone Company took over the United Telephone Company and further extended its system in January 1892 by absorbing the Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company

The Post Office took over the National Telephone Company's trunk system during 1896.  It would seem that the Post Office exchange in Plymouth had ceased to operate by 1907 but the National Telephone Company still had their Central Exchange at 27-28-29 Whimple Street, and an exchange at Crownhill.

The Telephone Transfer Act received the Royal Assent on August 18th 1911 and from January 1st 1912 and Post Office Telephones came into being.

Under the Post Office Act 1969, promoted naturally by a Labour Government, the General Post Office changed from being a Government department to becoming a public corporation from October 1st 1969.  Postal and telecommunications services were separated under the British Telecommunications Act 1981, when on October 1st 1981 British Telecom was created.

As a result of the Telecommunications Act 1984, which received the Royal Assent on April 12th that year, British Telecom was gradually privatized between November 1984 and July 1993.