Boxes of photos Sam's Telecomms Documents Repository


Photographs from the BT Archive


Please see the note about Crown Copyright on the index page. All the images in this collection are copyright and are reproduced courtesy of British Telecom Heritage and Archives Click any image on this page for a larger view, ESC to return.

In 2021 Telecommunications Heritage Group member, Jay Day, kindly donated a hoard of photographs he acquired from someone who must have bought them at the massive auction held by BT when they disposed of their museum collection and set up Connected Earth in association with other museums. (Picture top right)There were over 1500 prints which have been scanned and made available for private study and educational use. Virtually all are of Post Office or British Telecom origin. Please respect the copyright and credit the source as requested if you use a picture. Commercial use will require a licence and probably a fee

The main photo images were scanned in greyscale (or colour where needed) at 400 dpi. I tried some samples at both 400 and 600 and could not tell the difference, so chose the more economical size. The reverse was scanned at 200 dpi to show any annotation on the back and the negative number. The initial scans were saved in JPG format with only light compression - 15 in my photo editor, where 1 is no compression and 99 is the most. The two images, front and back, have been combined into a single PDF file for display, but the original JPGs have been stored separately.

I've split the pictures into subject groups listed below. Click picture in the left-hand column for a larger view. The archive pictures are hosted on Google Drive under the links shown below the photo. The display defaults to thumbnail view but can be switched to a list view to show the negative number as the full title with the description gleaned from the BT Archive index.

Items that I deemed of more limited interest I combined in a common PDF file with the pages numbered by the negative number. These are:

There's about a couple of hundred that are unnumbered. Some have the Post Office or BT stamp but either no number or only the date. Others are devoid of an official number - some have a photographer's studio reference.

I've found that Google Drive is a bit quirky and fussy about which browser you use. It works OK in major browsers like Firefox, Opera, Chrome and MS Edge. The PDF reader is slow to load unless you are logged into Google. This web page works OK on a mobile screen but is best in landscape mode.

Cabling in wartime

Cabling in wartime

Work for the Post Office was a 'reserved occupation during WW2. Work continued to keep communications running for both civilian and military needs. In the photos, which would not have been published until after the war, we see a new cable being installed in the Severn tunnel (see below) and at Barmouth. There were also emergency repairs to cable routes damaged by bombing.

There are more pictures from WW2 in the section labelled 'Wartime' below.

Cable ship Alert

Cable ships and submarine cable

Cable ships have played a part in establishing international communications since the middle of the 19th century. Telegraphy helped to bind the British Empire together from the 1860 onwards. The first telephone cable to France was laid by HMTS Monarch (No. 1) in 1891. THe name Monarch has been applied to a succession of cable ships.

Ductwork in Victoria Street 1908

Cables and ductwork

In the early years of telegraphy and telephony, subscribers were connected by overhead wires suspended on poles and running above the rooftops. The untidy mess led to a move to run the cables underground. Using ducts allowed more cables to be added later as demand increased. The oldest pictures are from early in the 20th century.

GPO No8 wall clock

Clocks and watches

Timekeeping played an important role in all aspects of Post Office engineering. Telephone calls were charged by the minute and rates changed during the day. The postal service also needed clocks in Post Offices. The range of clocks and watches is staggering.

Computer tape drives at Charles House

Computers

All the pictures are from the 1960s when computers were a comparative novelty.

Sorting cables in preparation

Coronation 1953

The coronation of HM The Queen in 1953 had massive communications requirements. There was an influx of military personnel to control the crowds, direct traffic, manage the logistics. The world's press and radio and television required telephones, telexes, together with voice and vision circuits.

Card callmaker

Customer apparatus

Customer apparatus can be anything more than a straightforward telephone. Switchboards, answering machines, repertory call makers…

Processing international telegrams

Electra House

Electra House on Victoria Embankment was headquarters of Post Office Cable and Wireless Services, and subsequently Post Office Overseas Telegraphs. It was also the site of the International Telex Exchange.

Adjusting selectors

Exchanges and equipment

A miscellany of pieces of equipment, people working, buildings, switchboards etc.

Post Office Exhibition Portsmouth 1938

Exhibitions

There was a great push by the Post Office in the 1930s to gain customers. They took stands at all the major nationas exhibitions - Ideal Homes Show, Radiolympia etc - and set up shows of their own in provincial town. Following the introduction of Subscriber trunk Dialling (STD) in 1959 the PO again took stands around the country to promote the new service.

John Bull's telephone

General

A refuge for anything I couldn't categorise elsewhere.

Godliman Street aftermath

Godliman Street

On the 5th of August 1939 the St Pauls area of London was rocked by a gas main explosion. Faraday House which held a major telephone exchange was damaged.

Collating telephone directories

Harrow Printing Works

The Stationery Office printing works in Harrow was where the nation's telephone directories were printed. Photographs show various stage of the process from paper arriving through typsetting to assembling the finished directories.

Collating telephone directories

Holloway Factory

The Post Office Factory division was set up as early as 1900 to manufacture, repair and refurbish a multiplicty of items for use within the Post Office. These pctures are from the very early years.

Early design proposal

Kiosks

Various designs of kiosks from the original prototype proposals through to silence cabinets to the K8.

Early design proposal

Overhead construction

Putting up poles, poles in situ, mending poles, taking poles down, wiring up poles — it's all here!

Early design proposal

Posters

From the start the Post Office was promoting its services in posters. Cheap calls. Send a greetings telegram. A telephone in every home. Telephonist is a Good Job. Safety posters for staff.

Burnham Radio Station

Radio Stations

Parts of the world could not be reached by telephone over cable until the 1950s. Calls had to be made by short-wave radio from one of the many Post Office Radio stations. The Post Office also operated coastal radio stations to allow calls to ships at sea. In more recent years the microwave relay sites were designated as radio stations.

Running cable from the train

Severn Tunnel cable

The installation of a cable through the Severn railway tunnel in 1940 was a vital piece of war work to safeguard communications with South Wales. Post Office photographers documented the process showing loading the cable train, laying the cable and doing the jointing.

Greetings telegram

Telegrams

Greetings telegrams were a cheerful way of sending birthday wishes, announcing a new baby, or just saying hello.

Telex operator

Telegraphy

Before the telephone, telegrams were the only fast communication. First by Morse code and later by teleprinter. From the 1930s until 2008 Telex was the way businesses could communicate by the written word with legal validity.

Handset support

Telephone attachments

The 1920s proved to be a golden age for inventors of must-have attachments to make your use of the telephone easier, quicker or just plain fun.

Telephone No 121

Telephones

From the earliest wall telephones by Edison and Gower-Bell to Snoopy novelty phone. Pictures of happy people using telephones.

Operator school

Training Schools

The Post Office and later BT operated training schools to educate engineers, managers and operators in the skills needed for their work.

Tillings Stevens mobile motor trailer

Vehicles

The vehicle fleet of the Post Office and later BT covered a vast range from the small van for engineers, through land Rovers and small trucks to massive lorries. There were also specialist veheicles such as cable drum trailers and hydraulic hoists.

Emergency cable bridge in Old Bailey

Wartime

During WW2 the Post Office Telephones had the vital task of keeping communications going for both the civilian population and the armed forces, despite the relentless bombing campaign by the enemy. Many staff voluteered in their free time as Fire Wardens, ARP Wardens and Home Guard members.

Boxes of photos

The Full Collection

The link above takes you to the index page for the collection on my Google Drive folder.



Repository Index