Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 21, 2018
Webpage updated: November 21, 2018




Although the Post Office made the first move to provide a telephone service to Plymouth it was a private company that became the first telephone operator.

An announcement in the Western Daily Mercury for May 25th 1881 told of the trial the previous day of a central telephone exchange installed by Messrs Cox and Williamson in their offices at Bedford Chambers, Plymouth.  The exchange was licensed by the Postmaster-General and it linked Mr Sanders Stevens on the Barbican with Messrs Fox, Roy and Company in Old Town Street and Messrs Fox and Sons in Hoe Gate Street.  The switch-board was capable of dealing with thirty subscribers.  Those within half a mile of the Exchange paid 15 per annum, with a maximum of 25 for up to 2 miles.  Discussions were under way about linking the Exchange with the Central Telegraph Office.

Less than a month later, on June 21st 1881, the Western Daily Mercury reported that There have been several ineffectual attempts to establish a Telephonic Exchange in Plymouth, but from what we hear, it seems very probable that at last all the difficulties have been overcome, and within a month from date the telephone will be in active operation in the Three Towns.

As if to dispel any anxieties the business community might have, just two days later, on Thursday June 23rd 1881, an advert appeared in the Western Morning News stating that the Telephone Exchange, Bedford Chambers, Plymouth, was 'now in full operation and additional subscribers are being received daily'.   Furthermore, it said: 'This is the only Exchange that is licensed by Her Majesty's Government for the Three Towns and Suburbs'.

It was not long before Messrs Cox and Williamson were looking to expand their network into Devonport and Mutley.  On July 9th 1881 they announced the opening of branch exchanges at 1 Saint Aubyn Street, Devonport, and at the Post Office, North Hill, for the Mutley and Mannamead districts.  Wires were to be run from them to the Central Exchange at Bedford Chambers.

On September 1st 1881 the partnership was dissolved and the business was left in the hands of Mr Cox.  The United telephone Company took Mr Cox to court; he admitted that his instruments were manufactured in accordance with patents that he did not own, and by November 1881 the business had ceased trading.

The editor of the Western Morning News clearly objected to the Postmaster-General running the local telephone network because he suggested that the United Telephone Company should offer to purchase from the Post Office the wires and plant that Mr Cox had sold to them.  Apparently, the United Company had passed a resolution that they were not going to buy off any alleged infringer of their patents, which the Cox and Williamson system was, but now that the Post Office had effectively done that for them, the press considered it would be beneficial before the eyes of Parliament for the Company to buy Cox's system.