The Telephone comes to Harpenden

The first 100 subscribers

Further information from Geoff Woodward added in November 2016 and February 2017

The first indication of telegraph and later telephone services in Harpenden came with the Government’s intention, in 1893, “to erect telegraph or telephone posts through the village” (as reported in The Hertfordshire Illustrated Review, 1893, see Newsletter 60, p.7, February 1993).

The Cock Pond, with telegraph pole – c.1894. Not surprisingly, this pole caused outrage. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 4473

The pole route was constructed through Harpenden, much to the annoyance of residents, but poles were not allowed alongside the road across the Common: they were instead routed alongside the Midland Railway. The National Telephone Exchange and call office operated from until 1913 in a single storey building alongside The George  and was used to summon fire brigades from St Albans and Luton for the Red House fire in 1894.

The National Telephone Exchange 1890s. Credit: LHS archives

In 1900 planning permission for more poles between Harpenden and Luton was given. Phone services came to Harpenden in February 1901, with the first telephone exchange at Island Cottage in Leyton Road (behind Simons Grocers in the High Street, later no.34). Users in Harpenden were first connected by Mrs Rose Haynes via St Albans, and then via Luton to the National Telephone Company around 1902-3.

Early telephones had no dials, and the caller would wind a handle to alert the call office and give the number required. The operator would find the corresponding cable to plug into the system and send a signal to the number being called.  There was considerable investment in telegraph poles and wires stretching over the town, with more poles erected along Luton Road in 1907 – though an application to erect poles in Station Road in 1906 was initially refused.

Early wall receiver. Credit: Internet images

Harpenden subscribers were allocated numbers as they joined, and these numbers were retained until the 1920s or later, until new dialling systems required extra digits to be added to accommodate the rapidly increasing demand. Thus Rothamsted Experimental Station (The Lawes Trust) was initially Harpenden 21, but later became Harpenden 621, Harpenden 3621, Harpenden 63133. In 1989, it became 01582-763133, when 5 digit numbers had 7 added in front, and 4 digit numbers had 71 added in front. The national code was changed from 0582 to 01582 on 3 April 1995.



In 1912 the National Telephone Company was nationalised and taken over by the Post Office. A new exchange was opened at White Heather Cottage, 10 Leyton Road in 1913, but when the Post Office moved in 1928 to a larger new building at 9 Station Road, the telephone exchange was established on the first floor.

The Telephone exchange was at White Heather Cottage, 10 Leyton Road from 1913 to 1928. Credit: Geoff Woodward

Harpenden Telephone exchange at 28 Station Road (on the top floor, above the Post Office) in 1963. Frances is 3rd from the right, and Mrs Ivy Clifford, the supervisor, is standing between the two men. Credit: Frances Franklin, from Old Harpenden, Years Gone By FB page

This exchange was expanded in March 1950 to 2,800 lines. In 1961 the exchange moved to Bowers Way and in 1968 Harpenden subscribers were transferred from the London Region to Bedford.

Kelly’s Directories began to include telephone numbers if householders or businesses supplied them, and the 1923 edition included a telephone directory.  Numbers up to 100 indicate the names of the first subscribers in Harpenden, given in the following table:

Official and Commercial
4   Herts County Police
8   Midland Railway
11   C Piggott, High St
13   British Furniture Ltd, and Harpenden Building Co
14   Field & sons, Hat Manufrs, Grove Road
19   Robert Harding, Auctioneer, Station Road
20   Barclays Bank
21   Lawes Trust, Rothamsted
24   T Dunckley, High St
25   National Children’s Home Sanatorium
32   Alfred Pratt  & Co, Builders, Amenbury Lane
33   E Jarvis, Vaughan Road
38   Abbott, Andersen & Abbott, Heathfield Works
42   Harpenden Dairies
49   A Saunders, Wheathampstead Rd (Southdown)
50   Millwall Rubber Co, Grove Road
55   Anscombe & Sons
59   Palmer & Co, Willmotts Stores, High St
60   J Pestell, Outfitters, High St
62   Winter and Ward, Building Contr, High St
65   Great Northern Station
78   Herts Farmers Direct Supply, Station Road
79   Harpenden District Gas Co
82   Kennels, Herts Hunt, Kinsbourne Green
86   Associated Rubber Mfs, Amalgam Mills
88   Lockhart & Co, Midland Railway
89   George Hotel
91   Waverley Mills
93   Brentall and Cleland, Station Appr
95   Railway Hotel, (A Wright)
99   T Simons & Son, High St
Private addresses
2   E Hett, Wood End Farm
3   W Sneath, Park Avenue
6   John Kitchen, Holmfield, Milton Rd
7   J Bridgman, Tennyson Road
9   H Steers, Salisbury Ave
12   R Bricker, Hatching Green
15   T. Bonser, Longcroft Ave
16   L Heath, Annables
17   W Sibley, The Grove
18   Donald Wilkins, Tennyson Road
22   Geoffrey Paget, East Common
23   F Watson, The White House, High St
26   C Latter, Melford House, Longcroft Ave
27   Dr. F Cheese, The Elms
28   Henry Salisbury, 1 Arden Grove
29   Hugh Fraser, Westlands, Milton Rd
30   Austin Reed, Shenstone Lodge, Kirkwick Ave
31   W Smallbone, Arden Grove
34   E Gurney, Lynwood, Ave St Nicholas
35   H Newson Davis, Bamville Wood
36   W Seabrook, Vaughan Road
39   Rev Hodgson Smith, Kirkwick Ave
40   A Merrett, Hollybush Lane
43   C Clay, Moreton Ave
45   T Rolt, Heath Road
46   Mrs J. Oakeshott, Chelsfield, Rothamsted Ave
47   H Trewman, Firdale, Rosebery Ave
48   Archibald Blake, Craigie Lea, Milton Rd
51   R Combe, Hollybush Corner
52   Edwin Nott, Milton Road
56   Arthur Garland, East Moor House
57   C Howland, Moreton Ave
58   Mrs Bonnett, St Mary’s, Milton Rd
61   John Miller, St Martin’s Lodge, Salisbury Ave
63   W Parnell, Gorselands
64   C Warren, Tennyson Rd
66   Dr T Kelynack, Homecot, West Common
67   M Fairer, Townsend Road
68   Major Baynes, Kinsbourne Green
69   G Lowthian, Milton Road
70   P le Mare, West Common
71   G Washington Gray, Bencleugh, Rosebery Ave
72   Mrs A Wootton, West Common
73   Robert Hogg, Red Gables
74   Arthur Taylor, Rothamsted Lodge
75   B Laporte, The Bungalow, Southdown Rd
76   Charles Wren, the Sycamores, Leyton Rd
77   J Darnton, Mackerye End
80   E. Browne, Longcroft Ave
81   W le Maistre, Rothamsted Ave
83   F Darby, Rothamsted Ave
84   F Higgins, Furzedown, Milton Rd
85   John Fouldes, Chepstow, Douglas Rd
90   R Sampson, Church Green
92   W Pratt, Field House, Townsend Rd
94   Henry Peacock, Hollybush Lane
96   A Willmott, Vaughan Road
97   Wilfred Brown, Hillcroft, Douglas Rd
98   H Blundell, Hestercombe, Carlton Rd
100   F. Pearce, Upper Crabtree Lane



‘Daffodil’ receiver. Credit: Internet images

Telegraph pole in Connaught Road. Credit: G. Ross, 2013

Birthday card received. Credit: Private collection

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