As I mentioned in the last post the telephone was slow to be adopted by individual households in the UK. Wolverton was no exception. Most people relied on strategically placed telephone boxes to make calls and these were usually for rare occasions like telephoning distant relatives (if they had a phone) and calling the doctor. Yes, they still made house calls in those days.
The two photo above show the placement of the telephone box in the Square. There was also a telephone box by the Post Office in Church Street and one by the Station. I imagine this was intended for travellers who needed to call car hire to take them with their luggage to their final destination.
After Furze Way was built in 1947 another box was added at the corner of Windsor Street, and later, in the 1960s when Southern Way was built another box was added at that end of town.
I am not sure that the residents of Jersey Road and Anson Road were as well served. Until the new police station was built along the Stratford Road, circa 1960, and a new telephone kiosk added, I rather think that those residents had to trail all the way to the Square of the Post Office to make a call.
In our present age of mobile phones and instant communication it now seems hard to imagine that only two generations ago most people managed quite happily without making a phone call. Most conversations were face-to-face. Astonishing!
Telephone exchanges were once very local. Up to 1945, the exchange was not automated and the numbers were very simple. A S Byatt, the grocer on Cambridge Street had the telephone number Wolverton 2. The Co-op was Wolverton 10. One of my grandfather’s had the number Wolverton 4. When the automated exchange came in it became 3104.
As improvements came in technology the numbers got longer. Byatt’s telephone number of 2, became 3102, then 313102. Now of course it is an 11 digit number.
The Bedford area telephone directory which appeared in our house in the early 1950s was a slim blue volume which covered a large territory – Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, North Bucks and part of Hertfordshire. I have reproduced part of it here.
For most people the telephone was quite new and the directory was full of advice on telephone etiquette. Generally people answered the phone with, for example, the number “Hello, Wolverton Double two, seven, eight!” It seems very quaint today.
Telephones back then used dials. Push button technology was at least 20 years into the future. Dialling was a very slow affair, particularly if you had to wait for an 8 or 9 to click round.
We were all slow to adopt the telephone. There was a gap of between 40 and 60 years between the availability of the telephone and its use in the home. Most were satisfied with the call box – and there were few enough of those. There was one by the station, another by the Post Office on Church Street, one on the Square and there may have been another on Anson Road – I am not sure.
The MK Museum has an excellent exhibit at Stacey Hill of the development of Wolverton telephones and is worth a visit. 60 years ago the telephone engineers came to our house in Windsor Street to install the house’s first telephone. The phone itself was quite heavy and the flex connecting the handset to the phone was quite thick. The bakelite box bolted to the wall contained various solenoids and a bell, similar to those on old alarm clocks.