The Districts Public Telephones

Long before the days of telephones in almost every home

By Ian Mott

Photo:This would most likely to have been the Telephone Box we all remember

This would most likely to have been the Telephone Box we all remember

Alan has again set off the hare at a tangent. I have therefore started this article to collate the relevant comments and leave the original article on the High Road Shops to concentrate on that.

Alan's initial comment (14/09/2013)

Having commented on the plethora of meat purveyors and cafes I cannot but wonder about the paucity of public telephone boxes. (Admittedly a little off the subject of shops and public buildings but of the same genre I would suggest.) I can only remember two public telephone boxes. One outside the Challenger off licence and one outside the railway station booking hall. I have a vague thought that there might have been two others, one in St Nicholas Lane opposite Pound Lane and one up the Crown hill in the vicinity of the old ARP post, but I suspect memory is playing me false regarding these latter two. I have no memory of anyone ever using them. Who would you call anyway? No one I knew ever had a telephone in the house. I surmise they were used in an emergency, to call an ambulance, call the doctor's office, the police, report a fire, etc. I imagine a telephone existed at the other end to complete such emergency calls. Given such a small number of calls I am sure that the GPO could not make a profit on their investment. The existence of public telephone boxes in Laindon must have been simply to meet the community's needs.

This page was added by Ian Mott on 24/09/2013.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

I lived in Basildon drive between 1957-76, there was a telephone box sited outside Emery's grocers, in Basildon Drive at the junction with Dicken's Drive. Until the mid 1960's Basildon Drive was an un-made road (as was Dicken's drive), often referred as the "bumpy road". I well remember residents emptying their fire grates into the potholes in an attempt to fill them, with mixed results!

By Patrick Neville
On 15/12/2015

There was not a telephone box on or near the junction of Pound Lane with St Nicholas Lane. There was a post box right on that corner. If memory serves me well, I seem to recall the closest phone box to our house at this end of Pound Lane was just a short way from St Nicholas Lane in Markhams Chase. Other than this it would have been the one outside the shops in Kathleen Ferrier Crescent. While I lived with my family we never had a telephone in the house. "No time for new fangled stuff that we won't use anyway". That's right mum you tell it like it is!

By Donald Joy
On 12/12/2015

I do not remember there ever being a  telephone box in St Nicholas Lane near Pound Lane. However people could phone from St Nicholas Stores.  There was a sign outside the store which said "You may telephone from here."  The pay phone was not situated in the shop but in the hall of our bungalow.  I cannot remember when my father decided to have it taken out, but I think it might have been about 1949.

He had it removed because it was causing us so much inconvenience with people coming into our home (sometime with muddy wellies) to make calls, and others phoning and asking us to take messages to different people in the area;  the last straw was when a young girl wanted him to go round to her mother and tell her she would be staying with friend because she had missed the last train home from London!!  My father had got out of bed to answer the phone. To say the air was blue would be an understatement.  He told her to phone the police.

By Georgina Nottage (nee Ellingford)
On 12/12/2015

Hi Nina, Telephone boxes were not just for emergencies.

In 1961 while courting my husband-to-be he occasionally had to work in other parts of the country, in the steel industry. He was a refractory bricklayer, our arrangement was for me to be at the telephone box at the junction of Lee Chapel Lane and the High Rooad at 7 pm every evening, he would then call the number of the telephone box for us to still be in touch with each other.

I'm sure we were not the only young people to use them for the same purpose.

Oh what lovely memories.

Editor:  A great story Ellen, thank you.

By Ellen English Nee Burr
On 12/12/2015

I worked in the Laindon telephone exchange for about 2 years from late 1958 until about October 1960. The first exchange was in a private house building, sorry cant remember name of the road.  It was on the Crown Hill side of the railway station.  The house was on the corner of a road on the right. The switch boards were quite old, the signal that a caller had picked up their phone was a round flap drop down (like a doll's eye). There were only 3 or 4 operator positions there, quite a small room really, like someone's front room. There was a new exchange building at the back, in back garden, which finally opened around 1956/57 with new switch boards.  They were manually operated boards again but instead of 'doll's eye' we had lights.

It was quite a busy exchange, there were usually 5 or 6 operators on through the week, weekends were only 2 or 3 for the quieter times.  It was a great place to work, our head supervisor was a Miss Singer, and the other ladies there were all local ladies. There was Lily Oakley, Ivy Thomas, Dolly, Barbara, Georgie, Rose Miller and myself. A great bunch of ladies!  We didn't work nights then, that was covered by the men. We did work a 7 day week and all holidays. I had previously worked at the Basildon telephone exchange and transferred to Laindon after the birth of my first child. I have fond memories of those days and the kindness and help I received from all my workmates and Miss Singer.

Editor: The exchange that Pat refers to was in a private house called 'The Ferns' on the corner of Vowler Road and the High Road, Langdon Hills.

By Pat Gregory
On 11/12/2015

Hi Ellen. We were on a party line to start with. I did mention it in a comment when the subject of telephones appeared on the ‘Laindon High Road Shops’ article, unfortunately that comment wasn't one of those that was transferred onto this break-away article. We never got to know the name of the lady who shared our line but on one occasion when my mum was in the middle of a conversation with somebody, she butted in and told my mum quite sternly to get off the line as she wanted to make a call! We wouldn’t ever have done that to her. The system wasn’t automated in those days of course, so we had to lift the receiver and wait until the operator asked ‘number please’, then wait again until she put us through and we were connected to the person we wanted to speak to. It was much better when we got our own line and a telephone with a dial.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 13/10/2013

Hi Nina, My future in-laws had a telephone in the late fifties early sixties,number 2530 as I remember, They had a party-line I don't think this has been mentioned so far. I remember when in there living room their phone would "Tinkle" not ring which meant the people up the road were receiving a call. I wonder how many of the first private phones were on party-lines?

By Ellen English nee Burr
On 13/10/2013

Further to Nina's comment in respect of ARP posts. There was also one in the High Road just south of the Dunton Rd. junction. It was a timber construction with sandbags stacked around the sides and on top. It might have stopped shrapnel, but any bomb blast in the near vicinity would probably have demolished it under its own weight.

By W.H.Diment
On 12/10/2013

There are a few mentions of ARP posts on the website. Under ‘Laindon Home Guard and ARP’ Harry Rossiter states in a comment, how in August 1939 the District Cyclist Messenger Service of the ARP was formed by two brothers from Fisher’s Farm (now known as Barleylands). Posts were mostly based at schools but the Laindon branch was based in Toomey’s garage in the High Road. There was also a post in Lower Dunton Road. It would appear therefore that messages were relayed by push bike riders.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 11/10/2013

This extended, and at times confusing, discussion on public telephone boxes began as an aside to the article on High Road Shops. Then to use Ian's term "the hare was set off at a tangent." During the discussion mention was made of the public telephone box adjacent to the ARP post at the T junction of Lee Chapel Lane and the High Road, just below the final and steepest ascent of the crown hill. Surely the ARP post mentioned could not have been the only one in the area. There must have been others but I cannot remember them. Where were they located? How many existed? How did they function? Was there a central command post? Did central command order out specific ARP posts when the need was in their area? How did central command know where the need existed? How did they communicate? 

I know for a fact that there was no telephone in the Langdon Hills post. There was no motorised transport. I know for a fact that some wardens reported to their ARP post via shank's pony. So how did they get where they were needed? One assumes that there must have been some sort of organised plan but what was it? From this distance in time it all seems a little like Dad's Army!

By Alan Davies
On 09/10/2013

Colin. My older brother lived on the Pound Lane Estate and his number also started with a ‘2’. I believe the pre-fix ‘2’ was added when the numbers reached 998. (999 being the emergency number). This system apparently worked better as there would have been lots of 000s when going over 1000. I’m sure the telephone companies could provide a full explanation of the numbering system, the areas and prefixes. With all the building that is going on in this area and the rise in population, no doubt a ‘6’ will be prefixed to our number before too long.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 08/10/2013

It's interesting that sometime between 1923 and 1938 the telephone numbers appear to jump from 3 digits to 4 digit numbers with the 4 digit number prefixed by 3, however in the late 1940/early 50's some of the 4 digit numbers were prefixed by 2. My parents telephone, installed c1950 the number was 2256 .

By Colin Ferrier
On 08/10/2013

Hi Alan. Yes that did appear puzzling at first but I now assume that the ‘3’ prefix was added to accommodate the expected future increase in lines. In the fifties my parents number was 3537. I can remember a ‘4’ was added in front at some point (unsure what year) and later on a ‘5’ added in front of that. Now numbers in this area start 54….. Our wide area code is 01268… The prefixes reflect the areas within the code.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 07/10/2013

Nina, sorry I misunderstood you. If I now understand you correctly there were 31 phones in the 1923 directory. By 1938 this had increased to 3222 phones. Difficult to believe! 

I do not have population figures for 1938 but in 1931 it was 4552 people or roughly 1138 families. I know the population increased in the 1930's so let's give an arbitrary 50% increase over 1931 which would bring us to 2276 families in 1938. 

The number of phones had increased from 1923 to 1938 by over a hundredfold, from telephone number Laindon 31 to Laindon 3222!! This would lead us to conclude that by 1938 every family had a telephone and almost half the families had a second phone. Wrong!! Surely there is something else at work here. Or perhaps I have completely misunderstood you. Again! (Something that seems to happen from time to time now-a-days.) 

Perhaps the telephone company stopped a simple arithmetical progression when issuing new numbers and went to an alternate system. Why, I do not know. What sayest thou, Sherlock?

By Alan Davies
On 07/10/2013

Alan. I seem to have mislead you into thinking there were only 20 numbers for Laindon in the 1923 directory (the earliest directory in the records).  Sorry, I should have explained there were more than that but I only mentioned the first 20.

Other numbers were: J. G. Edwards, Vowler Road – Laindon 21. Wm. Muirhead McDonald, Contractors, Station Road – Laindon 22. H. English, Butcher, High Road – Laindon 23. Arthur F. Gore, Confectioner, High Road – Laindon 24.  E. J. Baigent & Son, Printers – Laindon 25.  Nothing found for 26, perhaps it was a spare line. Laindon Service Garage – Laindon 27. Smith Greenfield & Co., Printers, Durham Road – Laindon 28.  H. G. Cooper, High Road, Langdon Hills – Laindon 29.

There then appears to have been some shared lines: G. R. French, Farmer, Watch House Farm – Laindon 30x1.  F. A. Lucas, Haulage Contractor, Tavistock Road – Laindon 30x2.  C. Franklin, Motor Cycle Repairer, Wash Road – Laindon 30x2.  G. Nuttall, Plumber – 30x3.  F. F. Tubbs, Licenced Victualler, Fortune of War – Laindon 30x3.  F. A. Fordham, Builder, Station Road – Laindon 30x4.  Foulis Construction Supply, Station Road – Laindon 31.

More lines were of course connected over the years and looking through the 1938 directory I found numbers had reached over a hundred e.g. Laindon 181 - Edeans Builders of Dunton Road.

Some of the original numbers had changed hands e.g. Laindon 4 was now Grays Co-op in the High Road, and Laindon 16 was Henbests Outfitters, also in the High Road.

Revs. and Drs. also now appeared in the directory e.g. Rev. W J Hickson, Midhurst, High Road – Laindon 56. Rev. M N Lake, Laindon Rectory – Laindon 126. E. Henderson, Physn. Hiawatha – Laindon 45.  Dr Chowdhary had two Laindon numbers: Daisy Bank, High Road – Laindon 24 and Alton, High Road, Langdon Hills – Laindon 151. This was probably when he was in partnership with Dr Goldacre who lived in Langdon Hills.

Many more private households also had telephone connection by this time. Schools were also listed.

I was surprised by the following high numbers as I wouldn’t have imagined there were that many lines in 1938. Laindon Service Garage, High Road – Laindon 3201. Laindon Country Club, Arterial Road – Laindon 3204. Leonards Domestic Stores, High Road – Laindon 3217. Essex County Council Office, Arterial Road – Laindon 3222.

Neither would I have ever imagined that reading a Telephone Directory could be so interesting!

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 04/10/2013

I was musing on the contents of Nina's posting dated 24/09/13 concerning the twenty Laindon numbers in the 1923 directory. Several questions and conjectures occurred to me.

1. My guess would be that E.C.Andrews Post Office--Laindon 1 was a public telephone, not the personal property of E.C. Andrews.  The sole public telephone in the village.  The date of 1923 would pre-date the iconic red telephone boxes and I imagine the telephone would simply have been on the counter in the post office.  Perhaps in a corner but providing little in the way of privacy.

2. I can understand the reason for a telephone at the Laindon Hotel and the Crown.  Business purposes such as taking reservations from overnight guests, the ability to make immediate contact with suppliers for delivery of beer and food etc., clearly would be improved with a telephone.  Similarly it would be useful to run down to the post office and report poste haste a ruptured water main to the Southend Water Works at Laindon 18.  Perhaps the solicitors, Burnie and Coleman at Laindon 7 would profit from immediate contact with the records office in Chelmsford or Billericay and fellow solicitors in London or elsewhere.  Beyond these examples I would suggest the cost (and it must have been expensive in those days) would have made it more of a puzzle.

3. J.W. Lagdon, butcher, at Laindon 12 and A.H. Cole, fish shop and green grocer at Laindon 15 are good examples of what I take to be a greater puzzle.  With twenty telephones in the whole of Laindon and surrounding areas, who is going to call up Lagdons to ask if he has sausages today or Coles to ask if it is still too early for strawberries?  In any case the only place to make such a call would be from the post office.  If I am correct in assuming E.C. Andrews is a public phone and the need to place a call occurs during the day when the post office is open. If my assumption is incorrect then there is simply nowhere to originate such a call.  So why did Lagdon, Cole and others of a similar stripe install telephones?  What purpose did they serve?  How often were they, in fact, used?

4. I am surprised to see that there are no church priests or ministers listed.  I would have thought that churches would be the first to see the advantage of rapid communication in the inevitable cycle of illness and death which has always been part of their milieu or perhaps priests and ministers are indeed listed and I simply do not recognise the names among the six private numbers.  Or again, perhaps the rationale was simply what's the use?  No one in the congregation has a telephone to call no matter what the need!!

5. So who did most of these households call and who called them? Aunt Agatha who had retired to Eastbourne?  Did aunt Agatha have a telephone?  Long distance, Eastbourne would definitely have been long distance in that era, was extremely expensive and difficult.  I remember when I first started work in the city and one of the executives needed to speak to our agent in Colombo or Calcutta.  Arrangements had to be made to "book" the call a day in advance for a specific time tomorrow. That was 1950!  Imagine what it must have been like in 1923.

6. Did they place most of their calls to each other?  Odd as this sounds, perhaps it is not so farfetched. They were all (or most) prominent members of the community.  Today we might term them the "movers and shakers."  They might have been involved in or headed, many of the same local civic enterprises.  Church, British Legion, local government, charities, schools, road improvement to name just a few. They probably knew each other well and found it a big advantage after business hours to use the telephone to talk over the civic issues before them, rather than go out to meet in person in the rain and the mud.

7. All conjecture of course with no proof one way or the other but not totally unreasonable theories I would hope.

By Alan Davies
On 03/10/2013

Further to Ian's comments in respect of the use of the telephone which appear to suggest may possibly be age related and that the more up to date methods of today's communication has somewhat minimised its usage. I personally find making contact with most business outlets such as banks and many of our service providers and shops to b e extremely difficult. I am in my nineties and profoundly deaf and as such I am unable to use a telephone and my only methods of communication are by post or e-mail. Yet almost all businesses and service providers only publish phone numbers and I have to write letters to obtain an e-mail address to resolve any problems I encounter. It would seem that most businesses have an aversion to using e-mail making life difficult for persons such as myself.

By W.H.Diment
On 27/09/2013

Richard, I am 69 and also still have an interest in the latest technology, which I use while editing this website. 

There are many differences between what we perceive to be the normal way of life now and what those reaching our age in the 1920's. 

  • Firstly only 15.3% of the male population lived to 60 and that reduced to 9.5% reaching 70 at that time. 
  • The telephone in the early 20's was a step change that was only just being rolled out to the provinces and like many innovations had to show that it had advantages over the existing communication method of writing letters. 
  • We have grown up with technology. I can still remember having to learn new computer languages to enable me to use what was by todays standard a programmable calculator but I was in my late teens and at an age where I had a thirst for a challenge. I doubt that I would take up that challenge now even though I have been involved in technical work all my life. 
  • There are still an ever increasing number of innovations to tempt the active mind but those we use in our every day life now evolve and become more user friendly with each update and new model. 

There are and always will be those who prefer to continue with what they have been brought up with. Isaac Levy could well have been such a man.

By Ian Mott
On 27/09/2013

I can't believe Ian Mott's comment that because Isaac Levy would have been sixty when the telephone came to Laindon he doubted he would have been interested. 

I am 66 and can't wait to get my hands on an iPhone 5. I've just received the laptop I am writing this on, its a Dell fitted with Windows 7. Us ex Laindon High Road boys like our technical kit. Age is only a number.

By Richard Haines
On 27/09/2013

Hi Alan. Following the interesting question you raised, I did a further search through the on-line telephone directories (1880 – 1984). The earliest directory I can find for our area is 1923. I did a general search for ‘Levy’ but drew a blank for his family. I also wondered about Thomas Helmore (Land Agent) and Henry Foulger (Builder and Land Agent), both around at that time, but neither appear to have swopped pen and paper for a telephone. However, I did trace Bebington, Estate Agent in the 1925 directory – Laindon 25, Smith Greenfield, Printers, Durham Road – Laindon 28 and A.M.A. Builders, Station Road – Laindon 44. The confusion over the name of our main road was evident in the 1937 directory: Fordham Building Contractors, Station Road – Laindon 32, Cramphorn, Seed Merchants, High Street – Laindon 83 and Baigent Printing Works, High Road – Laindon 157. I found my family’s number in a fifties directory: G. A. Burton – Laindon 3537. We were on the same page as the funeral director A. G. Butler – Laindon 3135.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 26/09/2013

Alan, Isaac Levy would have been sixty when the telephone came to Laindon and I doubt he would have been interested.

By Ian Mott
On 26/09/2013

Nina, upon carefully reading through the first twenty Laindon numbers, I was surprised not to see the name of Isaac Levy. I thought that surely the name of such a prominent resident would have been included. Particularly since the exchange was situated in one of the houses he built. Then I realised that Isaac Levy died in 1922 and the year of the telephone directory is 1923. You state that the first telephones were installed in 1912. Is it possible that Isaac Levy did have one of the original 1912 telephones and that this was taken out after his death in 1922. This would account for his name being missing from the 1923 directory. Or was he simply not interested in having a telephone installed?

By Alan Davies
On 25/09/2013

Telephones were first installed in Laindon in 1912, the exchange being at ‘The Ferns’ (built by Isaac Levy) on the corner of Vowler Road and High Road Langdon Hills. 

According to the 1923 telephone directory, the first 20 numbers were as follows, only six being private, the others businesses. E C Andrews. Post Office - Laindon 1. John Markham, Bluehouse Farm – Laindon 2. Laindon Hotel – Laindon 3. W. G. Boss – Laindon 4. Crown Hotel - Laindon 5. Alfred Brooks, Goldsmiths – Laindon 6. Burnie & Coleman Sols. High Road – Laindon 7. W. J. Clark, Langdon Hills – Laindon 8. Johnson & Co, Timber Yard, Station Wharf – Laindon 9. E. Richardson, Stationers Langdon Hills – Laindon 10. Robinson & Co, Fishmonger & Fruitier, High Road – Laindon 11. J. W. Lagdon, Family Butchers. High Road – Laindon 12. Fred. Jobson, Langdon Hills – Laindon 13. Chas. Francis, Contractor and Carman, High Road – Laindon 14.  A.H. Cole, Fish Shop, Green Grocer, Fruitier – Laindon 15. E. J. Brooks, Hill Rise, Vange – Laindon 16. Parkinson Bros, Motor Cycle Engineers, High Road – Laindon 17.  Southend Water Works Co. – Laindon 18. Carey Bros. High Road – Laindon 19. J. E. Gibbons, ‘Seaborg’ Devonshire Road – Laindon 20.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 24/09/2013

The Post Office I believe had a 2 telephone boxes as I remember waiting outside there to make calls whilst they were in use by others.

By Eric Pasco
On 24/09/2013

There also was a red phone box outside the small shop on the corner of Berry Lane and Railway Approach up until the end of the 1980s when the road layout was changed and the shop demolished

By Barry Ellerby
On 24/09/2013

Further to Richard Haines comment 22/09/13. Yes, there was a phone box on the A127 between Pound Lane and Church Rd., but I suggest it stood outside Reeves Post Office next to Coles Body Builders.

By W.H.Diment
On 23/09/2013

Yes Richard you are correct there was a phone box at Kathleen Ferrier estate shops, it was right next to the newsagents.There was also one along Railway Approach in between Worthing Rd and Victoria Rd and one outside Flacks shop in Wash Rd. They have all gone now. The one from Kathleen Ferrier was relocated to the junction of Basildon Dr and Tavistock Rd in the mid 1970s and is still there.

By Barry Ellerby
On 23/09/2013

There was a phone box at the top of Crown Hill, just before the Crown pub,on the same side.

By Chris Markin
On 23/09/2013

I have recollection of a phone box on the Arterial Road at the junction of Pound Lane. This may have just been off the A127, maybe in Pound Lane itself. Certainly there was one in that locality as we used to ring school-friends (those who were lucky enough to have phones at home) from there. Also the one at the Challenger off licence may have moved later to a position outside Slopers Dairy in the High Road. I'm trying to remember if there was one on the Kathleen Ferrier estate, near to the shops but I can't be sure. As for our house in Nichol Road, no we never had one so had to phone from the Challenger call box to our nan in Ilford (Seven Kings 7179) or to my auntie in Putney (I think that was a Wandsworth number). A far cry from the iPhones and BlackBerries of today.

By Richard Haines
On 22/09/2013

Lesley confirms a telephone at the junction of the High Road and Lee Chapel Lane and Nina adds a telephone box up King Edward Road. 

I do not remember this one. It must have been a later addition servicing the King Edward estate. I have no memory of going up King Edward Road once the building had gone beyond Tattenham Road. Prior to that time we would play football in the onion field but it was still all waste land at that time. 

Adding these to the two of which I am aware, outside the Challenger off licence and in the booking hall of the railway station, that makes a total of four. Was there one on St Nicholas Lane opposite Pound Lane? Were there any others?

By Alan Davies
On 22/09/2013

Hi Alan, I can 100% confirm that there was a telephone box at the junction of High Rd Langdon Hills and Lee Chapel Lane at the foot of Crown Hill, not sure of north south east or west as I have mentioned on previous articles. 

Our family from Nightingale Ave used this box for emergency calls over the years. In fact my husband and I communicated via this box when he was working away around the country ie; Scotland, Northeast or Wales etc. we used to arrange for him to call this box at 7.15 pm and me to be there for us to continue our courtship. Oh Happy Happy days of youth.

By Ellen English nee Burr
On 22/09/2013

So as Lesley says, there WAS a telephone box at the T junction of the High Road and Lee Chapel Lane. As I remember the west side of the high road had, at that point fences adjoining the road. No room for a telephone box there if memory is correct. The north east side of the T junction had a hedge which ran alongside the road. The south east side of the T junction was a piece of waste ground in the middle of which stood the old ARP post. Alongside the high road on this south east corner of the T was where the telephone box was presumably. However, I was not sure such a telephone box even existed until Lesley confirmed it so perhaps I am all wrong about its exact location. 

This exchange prompts another question. How did the ARP post receive communications that they were needed at such and such a location? My father was an ARP warden at that post and although I was inside the post on several occasions (a simple, small, cinder block building) I can remember no telephone. My memory is of maps on the walls and the single table, a line of coat hangers on the wall on which raincoats hung, topped by tin hats and wellies lined up underneath. No phone!! 

Did the wardens in the post use the adjacent public call box? Was there always a warden stationed in the telephone box during a raid waiting a call that they were needed at such and such an address. 

Following that, how did they reach the address where they were needed? There was no motorised transport that I remember. Bicycles were a possibility but then there were some wardens, including my father, who had no bicycle. For them it must have been Shank's pony. It all sounds rather like "Dad's Army."

By Alan Davies
On 21/09/2013

I can remember making calls from the King Edward Road phone box, (or perhaps I was with my mum or sister when they were making a call). It was necessary to have a handful of coins ready to feed into the slot. You’d dial the number, listen for the dialling tone and then ‘press button A’ to get connected (you’d hear the coins clank into the machine) and when the pips started, you’d have to feed in more coins otherwise you would be cut off. If there was no reply, you would ‘press Button B’ to get you money back. On the way home from school we used to go into the box and ‘press button B’. Occasionally we would be rewarded with a clanking sound and a few pennies would fall out. A short local call from a phone box cost 2d at that time. I remember that because of an incident that happened soon after we had the phone put on around 1956. A rather rude and unpleasant visitor of one of our neighbours asked to make a call from our house with the attitude that it was her right as we were the only bungalow in the road that had a phone. Mum let her in and the lady insisted we leave the room while she made her call. We obligingly vacated the living room for her so she could have her privacy. When she had finished her call, she asked how much she owed. Mum said “6d please”. The lady kicked up a stink saying “it’s only 2d from the phone box”. Mum replied by explaining “That is so, but you had the use of our warm living room which we vacated for you, otherwise you would have had a long walk along a muddy road to the cold phone box”. The lady huffed, handed over a sixpence and left. Mum said “if she’d had a friendlier manner, I would probably only have charged her 2d”.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 15/09/2013

Before we had the telephone connected in the mid-fifties, our local telephone box was at the western end of King Edward Road (there is still one there today). We lived about half a mile further on along the unmade road. 

If any of us or our neighbours were taken ill, somebody would have to trudge along there to make a call. When my dad developed bronchitis one winter, my mother had to make the trip through the mud in wellington boots and raincoat in the pouring rain to let his work place in London know that he wasn’t well enough to get to work that night (he was a night worker). 

Surprisingly, I remember that phone box being very well used. There was often a queue of people waiting outside and it wasn’t unusual for someone to start knocking on the door to hurry the person inside if their call went on more than two or three minutes.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 15/09/2013

The phone box that I think you are referring to in Langdon Hills, was on the corner of Lee Chapel Lane at the bottom of Crown Hill. They all had the same horrible smell, I can still smell it now! The other thing I remember is that they all had telephone directories in them. 

I lived in Nightingale Ave, and we had a telephone in our house from the early 50's, we didn't have electricity, and I remember you had to turn a handle and wind it up, to get the operator who connected you to the number you wanted, no direct dialling in those days. You also never stayed on the phone very long as the pips used to go even on our phone at home.

By Lesley Gibson nee Cousins
On 15/09/2013
Add a comment about this page

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.