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British Industrial History

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National Telephone Co

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National Telephone Company, provider of telephone services

1880 A court judgement, in favour of the Post Office, concluded that a telephone was a telegraph, and that a telephone conversation was a telegram, within the meaning of Section 4 of the Telegraph Act, 1869[1]. This meant that telephone companies had to obtain a licence from the Postmaster-General, the Post Office would take some of their income and had the option to purchase them after a certain period.

1881 March: The company was registered on 10 March to operate telephone exchanges and provide telephonic services to the general public[2]. It was formed under license from United Telephone Co who were sole proprietors of the patents of Bell, Edison, Crossley, Gower and others. Some of the shares were issued as part payment to Provincial Telephone Co Ltd (floated in February 1881), the Scottish Telephonic Exchange, and Messrs D. and G. Graham of Glasgow. It would concentrate on areas of operation outside London [3], initially certain towns and the areas around them: Birmingham, Wolverhampton, York, Middlesborough, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Nottingham and Leicester, Belfast and Ulster.

1883 New uses were found for the telephone system including the first sermon by wire, and chess matches by telephone.

1884 The restriction on exchanges to five miles was relaxed, enabling telephone companies to instal trunk wires, and thus create the basis for a national network[4].

1889 Amalgamation with the United Telephone Co and the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Co (company started 1881) took place, effective 4 July[5] despite protests from the Postmaster General about the proposed amalgamation. This provided 23,585 lines. The United Telephone Co was then liquidated. Reassurance from the chairman that if the Post Office were to purchase the company it might be done at the next break-point in the licence; the price would likely be decided by arbitration.

1890-1892 Several minor companies were absorbed - the Northern District Company (1,551 lines) in April 1890, the South of England Telephone Company (3,255 lines) in October 1890, and the Western Counties and South Wales Company (4,027 lines) in January 1892[6]; the former company was formed in 1881, the latter 2 companies had been floated in 1884. Also absorbed the Telephone Company of Ireland (c.1892).

1890 Installed the first trunk circuit, between London and Birmingham[7].

1891 Committee of subscribers formed to achieve reduction in rates of the National Telephone Co[8].

1891 The New Telephone Co was announced by the Duke of Marlborough; its twin wire system would offer an improvement on the National Telephone Co's single wire technology, it would not use Blake transmitters and its system would be installed throughout London[9].

1892 One of 2 telephone exhibitors at the Crystal Palace Electrical Exhibition, the other being Consolidated Telephone Co[10].

1892 Court case between National Telephone Co and Leeds Electric Tramways who were using the Thomson-Houston method of distributing current, concerning interference to the telephone signals; the eventual decision seems to have been in favour of the tramways on the grounds that they were in use first[11].

1892 The New Telephone Co offered better terms to members of the Association for the Protection of Telephone Subscribers than the National Telephone Co's terms[12].

1892 The National Telephone Co and the New Telephone Co promoted Bills in Parliament to gain extensive new powers. These were opposed by the Postmaster-General who countered with a proposal to purchase the trunk lines of the National Telephone Co, confining its operations to local areas under new licences. There had been complaints about the quality of service; the growing amount of overhead wires in towns was causing disquiet; also the Post Office found the telephone was markedly affecting the revenue of its telegraph services.

1892 Acquired the Sheffield Telephone Exchange

1892 The Post Office would grant licences to companies installing twin-wire systems if they gave up their rights to trunk lines[13].

1893 Established a factory at Nottingham

1894 The New Telephone Co seems to have been put into liquidation because it could not compete effectively with the entrenched National Telephone Co system[14].

1896 In April, the government took over the company's trunk lines. [15].

1897 It was stated that the Post Office's telephone system was uncompetitive on cost compared with the National Telephone Co's offering, notwithstanding the recognised dissatisfaction with the quality of service provided by the latter. The New Telephone Co had been absorbed by National Telephone Co[16].

1898 National placed order with Ericsson's of Sweden for 100,000 telephones[17].

1899 The Telegraph Act allowed local municipalities outside London to set up their own local telephone systems in direct competition with the National Telephone Company. A large telephone system was set up in London by the Post Office but competition was to be allowed in the provinces if local authorities wanted to take licences. In the event only 6 authorities set up telephone networks. In rural districts not previously served by the National Telephone Company, the Post Office would open small exchanges[18].

1900 There was concern in Salford about the poor quality of the telephone service provided by National Telephone Co and its cost; discussion about setting up an alternative to break the existing monopoly[19].

1900 Approximately 7 times as many telephone calls were made using National Telephone Co in past year in the UK as telegrams sent[20].

1901 Opened a factory at Beeston on the site originally used by Humber for cycle manufacture but since vacated[21] in order to cope with the greatly increased demand for new apparatus; the Nottingham factory then concentrated on repair work.

1901 Three Engineering districts were formed to deal with London's telephones. These were the Metropolitan North, Central and South Districts.[22]

1902 Acquired the Tunbridge Wells telephone network.

1901 The Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company signed an agreement to minimise duplication in London. The two systems in London would be connected for the first time. The agreement also provided for the purchase of the National Telephone Company's system on the expiry of its licence in 1911

1903 In response to increased UK demand for Ericcson's telephones, a private company, British L. M. Ericsson Manufacturing Co, was registered November 6th to acquire the UK business of L M Ericsson. Capital provided in equal parts by L. M. Ericsson and Co. of Stockholm and National Telephone Co Ltd[23]. The factory that National Telephone Co Ltd used at Beeston for repair was expanded[24].

1905 The Post Office announced that National's license would be ended in 1912, at which time the Post Office would buy out its customers and networks[25].

1907 The Swansea Corporation Telephone Service was sold to the National Telephone Company

1912 The National Telephone Co Ltd was absorbed by the Post Office; this included 1,565 exchanges serving 561,738 subscribers; National's shareholding in British L. M. Ericsson Manufacturing Co was taken over by Stockholm Ericsson Co, the directors and their friends[26]. The only networks outside the Post Office system were the municipal services in Hull, Portsmouth and Guernsey[27].

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Bt Archive [1]
  2. Birmingham Daily Post 23 May 1881
  3. [2]Wikipedia
  4. BT Archives [3]
  5. The Times, 5 July 1889
  6. BT Archive [4]
  7. [5] Bobs Old phones
  8. The Times, 16 April 1891
  9. The Times, 5 September 1891
  10. The Times, 9 January 1892
  11. Leeds Mercury 16 December 1892 and subsequent articles
  12. The Times, 7 May 1892
  13. The Times, 6 September 1892
  14. The Times, 20 December 1894
  15. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  16. The Times, 17 July 1897
  17. [6] Bobs Old Phones
  18. BT Archives [7]
  19. Manchester Times 12 October 1900
  20. Manchester Times 7 December 1900
  21. History of industry in Beeston [8]
  22. Post Office Engineering Dept in the National Archives
  23. The Times, 31 May 1926
  24. [9]Bobs Old Phones
  25. [10] Bobs Old Phones
  26. The Times, 31 May 1926
  27. BT Archives [11]