Early Communication, Oxford Museum

28 October 2008

Oxford Museum

Oxford’s first telephone exchange was sited at the Railway Station. The railway system has long since gone.

It was manned by operators (no automatic exchanges then, as we know today). The callers connected by the operator to the line they wanted.

The operators worked in shifts, two a day, to cover 6am until midnight. On Sunday the time of operation was reduced to 8am until 8pm. There was no night service, and as part of their training they had to learn Morse Code too.

The days of a small exchange manned by people made it more personal, even if the time of operation was limited. If someone was expecting a call, but they were going out, they would contact the exchange operator and ask them to intercept the expected call and redirect it to where they were visiting. Or, if the farmer was busy out in the paddocks, such as lambing or harvest, advise them to call later. Such was the personal touch of a small country exchange.

VJ day at the end of the War and the Japanese surrender, caused a very busy time with relatives and friends phoning each other. All lines were busy and the telephone operators were celebrating too. One happy co-worker pulled some of the cords out of the jack socket in fun. The lines were reinstated by another operator, but, not all to the right connections. So there was some explaining to do to surprised callers!

In the 1960’s it was expanded from one to three banks of switchboards. This was a 24 hour service manned by operators. In 1974 it was upgraded again to an automatic exchange.

More of Oxford Museum’s collection.