First telegraphic message sent in 1851

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

a) TELEGRAPHS: The first telegraphic message from Brighton to London was sent on 11 January 1851 by the Electric and International Telegraph Company from Brighton Station , and less than a month later, on 1 February, they opened the first telegraph-office at the Royal York Hotel . A rival service was offered by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company with a system which linked their stations. In 1856 Electric and International Telegraph moved their office to 18 Old Steine , formerly Donaldson’s Library, and opened a second office at the Bedford Hotel on 1 July 1865; this was removed to the eastern toll-house of the West Pier in 1867, the same year as a third office opened at Burlington Street .
In 1867 also, the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company extended a wire from the South-Eastern Railway at Battle to offices at 1 Castle Square and the Grand Hotel. On 5 February 1870, however, the two companies’ plant was statutorily purchased by the General Post Office which then extended the network throughout Sussex and developed Brighton into a large telegraphic centre handling some 110,000 messages a year. The Head Post-Office in Ship Street also handled telegraphs from 1871, and it became the Head Telegraph-Office in 1877 with Old Steine reduced to a branch office. By 1880 there were eleven telegraph-offices in Brighton plus the railway stations, and nearly half a million messages were handled. Other branch offices opened at Western Road, Hove, in June 1885; College Road in August 1888; and Cannon Place in June 1891, replacing the West Pier office. In 1891, when delivery charges in large towns were abolished, over 1.5 million messages were handled, and the telegraph service continued to grow until the universal introduction of telephones in the first half of the twentieth century. {15}

b) TELEPHONES: Magnus Volk , the local inventor, was the first person to use telephonic communication in Brighton when he connected his house at 40 Preston Road to a friend’s in nearby Springfield Road; soon after, he was appointed the local agent of the United Telephone Company. An exchange for the company was opened in 1882 at 48 West Street, the first on the south coast, and business increased rapidly when Brighton was connected to the London network in December 1884. In 1889 the principal companies throughout the country amalgamated to form the National Telephone Company, and in 1892 there were National exchanges at Brighton, West Brighton, Kemp Town, Preston, and Rottingdean. In 1896 however, all trunk-lines were statutorily transferred to the General Post Office (G.P.O.) with the National company left to operate only within specified exchange areas. By 1905 there were 3,002 National subscribers in Brighton.
The corporation was also keen to be involved in the new technology and at the end of 1903 the mayor, John Buckwell, inaugurated a municipal telephone system with an exchange in Palace Place; by March 1904 it had 750 subscribers. In 1905 the municipal system was licensed to operate over 120 square miles from Rottingdean to Shoreham and inland to Burgess Hill. However, the corporation’s system, with 1,404 subscribers, was sold to the G.P.O. for £49,000 in October 1906, and when the G.P.O. also took over the National Telephone Company on 1 January 1912, their monopoly was established.
On 12 November 1927 six new, automatic exchanges opened at Brighton (above North Road sorting-office), Hove (Holland Road), Preston (Bavant Road), Rottingdean (Park Road), Portslade, and Southwick, serving a total of 6,124 subscribers. This equipment was operational until October 1959 when, with 36,000 subscribers, the Brighton Central exchange was replaced by new exchanges at Hove, Kemp Town (Freshfield Road), and at Withdean Grange in London Road which was developed as the principal exchange; the Preston exchange closed in 1968. By 1988 there were some 70,000 subscribers in the Brighton area, and in June of that year Kemp Town became the first local exchange to change to digital operation, with others following over the next few months.
The traditional red ‘K6’-style telephone kiosks, designed in 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, have been mostly replaced with nondescript new kiosks, but a number in Brighton in sensitive locations have been preserved by including them on the list of buildings of special architectural interest. These listed boxes will be found at Dyke Road (opposite St Nicholas’s Church ); New Road; Pelham Square ; Powis Square; St Peter’s Place; Upper North Street ; and Vicarage Lane, Rottingdean . {44,115,123,171,189}

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

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