A telephone number first featured in a Jersey Times and British Press advert – H Elliot’s Springfield Nursery & 34 King Street Telephone No 18 - on 18 August 1888. The exchange which was installed on the first floor of 66 Bath Street on the corner of Minden Place was taken over in 1895 when the company was incorporated into the National Telephone Company (NTC) and is very close to the present day main exchange building in Saint Helier. This exchange was moved to 2 New Street in 1901.
These were very modest beginnings, with a single public telephone adjoining the office and switchboard of agent T A Bates It was possible to make calls to the company’s offices in London, Edinburgh Glasgow and Belfast, but not within the island itself, because there were as yet no other telephones.
Soon, however, the number of local subscribers had reached 50 and the island began to get used to a completely new means of communication What those early subscribers would have thought if told that their grandchildren would eventually carry phones in their pockets and be able to make calls to anywhere in the world can only be imagined.
Immediate thoughts were much closer to home, and as more public call rooms were established throughout the island, a newspaper report at the time noted that they were ‘’open night and day, thus if a doctor were wanted or a fire broke out anywhere near the company call offices in the country, a message could be sent to town immediately”
Post Office takeover
The Jersey exchange network was taken over in 1912 by the British General Post Office when the NTC licence expired, and then consisted of 14 magneto exchanges and 1,313 subscribers. The GPO offered the system to the States of Jersey but the offer was declined. The GPO managed the system until it was again offered to and then bought by the States of Jersey in 1923 for £32,000 , and named the States Telephone Department. On takeover there were still 14 exchanges with a total of 1,598 subscribers. The Post Office awarded the States a 30-year licence with a royalty of 10% of revenue per annum. The first engineer manager was Alfred Rosling Bennett, a renowned telephone engineer who had previously assisted the States of Guernsey and Kingston-upon-Hull Corporation in setting up their telephone systems. Communications out of the island continued to be operated by the GPO.
The St Helier magneto exchange, based at New Street, was replaced in 1926 by a new exchange in a new building in Minden Place and renamed Central exchange. This exchange also took over Samarès exchange at the same time. St Mary's exchange was merged with St Ouen's exchange in 1927. Exchanges at Five Oaks, Trinity, Gorey, St Aubin and Millbrook were converted from magneto to CB10 during 1938, some moving to new buildings at the same time.
The only communications out of the island were via telegraph cables from 1858, when the Channel Island Telegraph Company opened the first telegraph cable to Portland via Guernsey and Alderney. In 1931 the GPO converted the former German Borkum - Azores telegraph cable that had been cut and diverted to serve Jersey via Guernsey and Dartmouth in 1914 for military signals, to a single telephone voice channel connected via Guernsey and Exeter to London.
This cable was increased in capacity to two circuits by 1933, then a third was added in 1935. By 1936 five circuits were available between the islands and six circuits from Guernsey to the UK, three being provided by high frequency wireless circuits, at the time the longest distance circuits in use anywhere. A new submarine cable from Dartmouth to Jersey via Guernsey was laid by the GPO in the summer of 1939 to provide 12 multiplexed channels which were shared with Guernsey in addition to the wireless circuits. The provision of this new cable necessitated the construction of a separate repeater station at Trinity Gardens, St Helier to accommodate the multiplex equipment. In 1940 the War Office decided to install a second cable to serve the British Expeditionary Force in France in case the cables in the north English Channel were cut. A further cable between Fliquet and Pirou, Normandy was installed. Although the Jersey-UK section was put into service briefly, the German invasion prevented the French circuits from being used beyond basic testing.
In 1940, during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, all communication with the outside world was stopped except under licence from the occupation forces. Communications to France were restored by the Germans after the cables were severed by the departing British forces and GPO engineers. The German army took over as many as 2000 of the lines and cables in the network but the civilian exchanges were allowed to continue in operation.
After the war trunk services were rapidly restored and telegraph services were connected in days using military wireless equipment. The cables were quickly picked up and the pre-war circuits put back into service. The GPO upgraded the cable capacity in 1952 and opened in the spring of 1953 a new trunk manual board in an extension over the Telephone Department offices. The GPO installed new cables to cater for increased demand in 1958. A further submarine cable from Bournemouth to Grève D'Azette was added jointly by the Telecommunications Board and British Telecom in 1982 after the takeover of the trunk system by the States of Jersey in 1973.
The telephone services experienced a post-war boom for demand and it quickly became apparent that the existing exchange network was not sufficient. It was decided to rationalize the network and reduce the number of switches. The first exchanges to be converted were St Ouen and St Peter, which were amalgamated to form Western exchange. Northern Exchange, which absorbed Sion, Trinity, St John and St Lawrence exchanges, was opened in 1951, Southern exchange replaced St Aubin's exchange in 1952 and Eastern exchange absorbed Five Oaks and Gorey in 1955. A relief exchange for Central was opened directly opposite in Lyric Hall, Cattle Street in 1953.
Jersey's first automatic exchange was brought into operation on 1 November 1959 with a capacity for 9,000 lines. This exchange absorbed Millbrook exchange on 30 March 1960. Automated information services were introduced in 1960 providing subscribers with Mail Boat arrival data and a Daily Diary service, a Speaking clock service was introduced in 1964. Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) was introduced in Jersey in 1966 which meant that most UK calls could now be dialled direct instead of having to go through an operator. The same year South exchange was converted to automatic working. Between 1968 and 1969 public telephone kiosks were converted to the GPO pay on answer phone box type to enable STD.
On 1 January 1973 the States of Jersey took over the trunk exchange and cable network from the Post Office and assumed a monopoly for the supply of telecommunications services on the island under the Telecommunications (Jersey) Law 1972. This followed on from the takeover of postal services in 1969 after the restructuring of the GPO. The maintenance of the postal telegraph services was taken over by the newly formed States Telecommunications Board.
Automatic exchanges were also commissioned at the East and North of the Island in 1975. The new equipment could accept tone dialling and allowed the introduction of telephones with keypads instead of a dial. Two further electronic exchanges were introduced in 1975 in Central and 1976 at West to increase the number of available lines.
1976 also saw the introduction of International Subscriber Dialling (ISD) enabling local subscribers to dial direct to over 250 million telephones in 26 countries. ISD was not available from coin boxes until July 1982.
- A timeline of telecommunications in Jersey
- A history of telephone exchanges in Jersey Added 2016
- Reminiscences of a switchboard operator Added 2019
- A history of phone boxes in Jersey
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Jersey Telephones staff sports day at Biles Field, First Tower, in 1949