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Great Northern Railway Telephone Directory, 1916

The Great Northern Railway's domain started at King Cross Station in London and extended up the present East Coast Main Line to Doncaster. The directory starts with a list of exchanges as follows:

List of Exchanges

Name Place
Central King's Cross, Second Floor, Western Offices
Boston Boston Telegraph Office
Doncaster Doncaster Telegraph Office
East Goods Holloway East Goods Telegraph Office
Five Arch King's Cross Goods Yard, telegraph Office, Five Arch Bridge.
Grantham Grantham Telegraph Office
Hatfield Hatfield Telegraph Office
Hitchin Hitchin Telegraph Office
Hornsey Telegraph Office, near Hornsey up Goods Signal Box
Huntingdon Huntingdon South Box
Loco. King's Cross Goods Yard, District Loco. Superintendent's Office
Parcels King's Cross Parcels Office, First Floor, Western Offices
Peterboro' Peterboro' Telegraph Office
Police King's Cross Police Superintendent's Office, First Floor, Eastern Side
Retford Retford Telegraph Office

Next come a series of definitions. Some of them are just as good today as they were in 1916.


An "Exchange" is a place where a switchboard is provided in connection with a number of offices, etc., where telephonic communication is established, the switchboard being used to connect the various places with each other.

The "Central Exchange" is the principal Exchange, situated at King’s Cross Passenger Station.

A "Sub-Exchange" is a smaller Exchange permanently connected with the “Central Exchange” or with another Sub-Exchange, as well as with a number of other offices, etc.

An "Extension Switch" is a switch used at an office connected with an Exchange, for connecting another office (where telephonic communication is provided) with an Exchange.

A "Line" consists of the wires connecting any two places where telephonic communication is established.

A "Party Line" consists of the wires permanently connecting two or more places (where telephonic communication is established) with each other as well as with an Exchange.

Instructions as to communications between places on the same party line are given for each line by separate notice.

A "Junction Line" consists of the wires permanently connecting the Central Exchange with a Sub-Exchange, or one Sub-Exchange with another.

The "Ring Off" is a signal to indicate that the persons using a line have completed their conversation and consists of two short, distinct rings, to be given by each office, except in cases where the telephones are fitted with automatic "call" and "ring off" signals.

A "Trunk Line" consists of wires connecting the Central Exchange with specified Sub-Exchanges at various Provincial Stations.

There follow directions for use of telephones. It is evident that most of the telephones were magneto at this time, since the exceptions are marked specially in the directory. Party line working appears to have also been quite common.

Note also the reference to "The Trunk Line " in the singular.

Directions for use of Exchange Telephones.

Offices marked ¶ are provided with telephones for automatic " call " and " ring off " signals. When using instruments so fitted the act of removing receiver from the hook will call the Exchange and replacing it will give the "ring off" signal.

From offices not provided as above, "To call Exchange" turn handle sharply, take receiver off hook, place it close to ear and await reply from exchange, state number of office wanted, note that such number is correctly repeated, then listen with receiver to ear for reply from office wanted, on receipt of which give your number (and name if necessary) and commence communication; when finished hang receiver on hook, ring off by giving two rings - say one revolution of handle, twice separately with a pause of about three seconds between - to intimate to Exchange that you require disconnecting from office to which you have been speaking. Where special buttons are provided they must be pressed whilst the “ring off" signal is being given.

To answer a call when your bell rings, place the receiver to your ear and speak to transmitter, giving your number, then wait with receiver to your ear for communication. Do not ring in answer to a call.

When finished place receiver on hook and give the "ring off" signal.

If the office from which you are speaking is connected direct to the Central Exchange, the operator at that place will call up the office asked for, and no further call after the first should be necessary; but in the case of offices connected to Sub-Exchanges the person initiating the call may ring after being put through if the attention of the office wanted is not promptly given. When communicating through the Central or through more than one Sub-Exhcnage, however, it is very desirable to avoid ringing unnecessarily, as the calling ring with an answering ring may be taken by operators at the Exchanges for a "ring off."

The letters "A," "B," "C," etc., when appended to the number on the Exchange, indicates that the office referred to is connected on a party line - for example :-

Five Arch   12B    Cattle Dock, Holloway
  Do.       12C    Goods Inspector, Holloway
  Do.       12D    East Goods Telegraph Office
  Do.       12E    Ferme Park Up Shunters

Are all connected on one party line. [Ferme Park is between Harringay and Hornsey Stations - Sam]

Trunk Lines

Communications may be obtained over the Trunk Line with certain Stations named herein.

To initiate a call from London proceed as in paragraphs 1 and 2 on page 10.

To make a call from any Sub-exchange connected to the Trunk Line, having obtained the attention of the Operator in accordance with special instructions applying to the particular Sub-exchange, state the number, station, or office required and wait with Receiver to ear for call to be put through.

If Trunk Line is engaged, replace Receiver on Switch-hook and repeat call at short intervals until required connection is established.

When communication is finished the Clearing signal should be given to the Sub-exchange in accordance with special local instructions.

Stations connected direct to the Trunk Line should proceed in accordance with instructions on page 19.

Hitchin Telegraph Office Interestingly, the Directory also includes instructions for telephone operators at the subexchanges. The picture shows the office that used to house the Telegraph Office at Hitchin Station. I should be grateful of any explanation of how the London to Doncaster Trunk worked. The reference to "Vibrator Key" and the "Ringback Buzzer" leave me baffled.

The switchboards must have been of a fairly crude design. Notice the reference to separate speaking and interconnect cords. Evidently the cord circuits did not include provision for connecting the operator's speech circuit.

Instructions To Operators At Sub-Exchanges.

When an annunciator falls, [an annunciator is a drop-flap indicator operated by magneto ringing - Sam] you must immediately place your telephone plug into the spring jack corresponding to the number calling, and say, "What number, please?"

When number of office wanted is given repeat it, then if disengaged say, "You are through," then quickly transfer your telephone plug to the jack corresponding to the office required, give one long ring and, without waiting for a reply, insert pair of intercommunication plugs in the two jacks corresponding to the offices requiring to communicate.

Should the calling office or place asked for be one of the stations on a "party line," for example, Cattle Dock, Holloway, the words "Keep on the line. please, I will call them," should be used, instead of "You are through" ; you must then insert the operator’s plug in the jack of the "party line" required, and, having ascertained that the circuit is not in use, call the station wanted, as per code. Having obtained the attention of the station required, say "Number - (giving number of office requiring to communicate) wishes to speak you, keep on the line, please"; then quickly insert a pair of intercommunication plugs in the two jacks.

Should the office asked for be engaged, you must say to the office calling, "Number - is engaged : call again, please." When the "ring off" is heard, the intercommunication plugs must be immediately withdrawn from the spring Jacks and the switch restored to its normal position.

In the case of two offices having been switched through to each other for more than five minutes (and the "ring off" has not been received), should one or other of the offices be asked for by a third office, you may withdraw one of the intercommunication plugs, inserting your own plug in the spring jack, and say, " Have you finished, please?" if no reply, after a reasonable interval you may interrupt the connection and establish the fresh one asked for.

Should the communications asked for necessitate the use of the London - Doncaster Trunk Line, proceed as follows :-

London - Doncaster Trunk Telephone Line


Insert the telephone plug in jack. If busy back buzzer sounds a private message is passing on the line and the plug must be immediately withdrawn.

If when the telephone plug is inserted in the jack, the busy back buzzer does not sound, place receiver to ear, and if no conversation be heard, press button and speak to operator saying, "Are you there," "Is line engaged." If no reply is received replace receiver on hook and call Exchange on vibrator key. Do not wait for reply ring back, place receiver to ear , speak to operator in London and ask for office required and wait with receiver to ear until called party speaks, occasionally saying, "Are you there" to warn any party listening in that the line is engaged.


If Station required is one of the stations permanently connected to the trunk line the busy back buzzer will sound whilst the operator in London is calling the party asked for. Under these circumstances the busy back buzzer may be disregarded and the buzzing will cease when the operator has gained the attention of the party wanted.


When call bell rings, insert plug in jack, place receiver to ear, press transmitter button, and speak to operator at London Exchange giving names of your station. Upon receipt of reply from Exchange, wait with receiver to ear for calling party to be put through.

The party waiting on the line should press the transmitter button at intervals and say, " Are you there " to warn any party listening in that the line is engaged.

Railway Telecomms Index