Telephone Exchanges Request For Information

We have had this request for information. Please read the post and if you can help with information please respond to (John Cranston)


Once upon a time, a telephone was a rarity. A piece of wood, metal or bakelite screwed or tied to a wall, it offered few opportunities to annoy one’s fellow passengers or theatre-goers with. Rather it was an object of respect, its shrill metallic ring to be answered with a firm “Shottisham two-five-seven” (if you happened to be Mr A. F. Rash of Fern Cottage, Hollesley, that is). For these were the days when phones were connected to things called telephone exchanges, all of which had names.
The first telephone on the peninsula was allotted the number Felixstowe 10, although it was more likely to have been answered with the words “Sir Cuthbert Quilter’s residence”. It’s unsurprising that the National Telephone Company laid on a connection across the Deben for the owner of Bawdsey Manor as early as 1897; after all, he was one of its first directors.
It was the 1920s before lesser personages in the area gained access to the service. The first Shottisham exchange was a small switchboard opened in the post office in 1923, where an operator would handle the calls – when they weren’t too busy in the shop, that is, and never at night or on Sunday afternoons. This personal service appears to have lasted until the 1950s, although not for the Quilter family.
In the same year – 1936 – that Bawdsey Manor was sold to the RAF, the automatic Bawdsey telephone exchange was opened. The second Baronet Quilter, now installed at Bawdsey Lodge, found his phone number changed from Felixstowe 10 to Bawdsey 202 (Bawdsey post office having been given, as was the custom, 201).
The Bawdsey exchange, like thousands of others, would have been housed in a small brick building with relays and switches clicking and whirring in response to the dialled instructions of its subscribers. It continued to function thus until around 1966, I believe, when the present exchange was opened in Hollesley, taking over the name and telephone lines of the old Shottisham exchange and also replacing Bawdsey.
Through the years, new names of telephone exchanges have appeared in the phone books, such as Bentwaters and Columbia (the latter serving RAF Woodbridge), along with the dialling codes essential to make a connection.
Soon, all but a few telephone exchanges will be redundant as copper wires are replaced with optical fibres. Before it’s too late a handful of us – with nothing better to do, admittedly – are trying to make a record of those which survive.
Whatever happened to Bawdsey exchange, for example? Is it now a shed in someone’s garden? Or was it demolished? And then there was the old Shottisham automatic exchange… and the one at Orford. Do they survive? And was Columbia ever a real exchange or just a bit of equipment tacked onto the works in Woodbridge? If anyone knows the answers, I would greatly appreciate hearing from them. Thank you.

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