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Telephone Exchanges
Aylesbury street, in the early 20th century, with the post office on the right .

Milton Keynes Citizen, December 13, 2012

Apparently it’s now possible to buy an ‘app,’ some sort of cyber gizmo to ‘download’ on to a phone.

Although quite how to install one on my 1940’s Bakelite model, complete with dial, braided cord and – I kid you not – nifty little pull out tray, is not entirely clear. But if it was possible, one I’d part with some pennies for would have the ability to decipher ‘teen speak,’ especially as regards teenage daughters.

A pre-requisite would be to obviously filter out the word ‘like,’ after which the much reduced content could then be played at a civilized speed with, of course, a pause facility, such that unintelligibles such as ‘LOL’ and ‘OMG’ could be looked up.

Stone the crows, how the world has changed since I was a lad, when mobile phones consisted of two empty treacle tins and a taut length of string. Regarding Fenny Stratford, it had been in July 1888 that permission was granted for the United Telephone Co Ltd to erect ‘posts and wires’ in the parish and in many photographs of the early 1900s often to be seen along the main highways is a line of wooden telephone poles, this overhead arrangement being used to limit the signal loss between the very large distances spanned. The town’s first telephone exchange was installed on December 18, 1905, in the Aylesbury Street post office and occupied one side of the double fronted house which served as the premises.

Initially there were 30 subscribers and they were given a 24-hour service due to a bell being fitted into the bedroom of the post mistress, Mrs Rose Symington. She had succeeded her father, John Aylesbury street, in the early 20th century, with the post office on the right Riddeford, and her husband had a drapery and men’s outfitters shop in Aylesbury Street. (This would later be occupied by Mr Cook, a greengrocer, but the building has long been demolished, with the site now a part of Durrans Court.) Together with Miss Ethel Grant, from London, Mrs Symington and her daughter Juliet (later Mrs W Elmer of Northampton) were the first ‘Hello girls’ in the town and in the year following the installation
of the exchange Herbert ‘Morny’ Cannon, a famous jockey, had a telephone installed at his home, ‘Brooklands,’ being the fourth of the 20 subscribers that year.

In 1909 Ethel married Alfred Staniford (who for 52 years would work in the office of Rowland Bros, a local timber merchants) and with her daughter Alice she began a newsagents and stationers at 61, Aylesbury Street.

This continued until 1929 while four years later in March a new telephone exchange in Aylesbury Street came into operation.

The 185 subscribers were transferred automatically and with extra staff engaged provision was made for a caretaker’s flat in the upper half of the building,

which in 1900 had accommodated the International Stores, later becoming premises for a Mr Croxford, of Leighton Buzzard and then, during the First World War a Soldiers’ Institute. By 1949 the staff comprised one supervisor, nine female operators and three male operators for night duty, with the number of subscribers being 449. However, by October 1955, this had increased to over 800, who were allocated new four figure numbers to replace the old two and three figure ones. This was in preparation for a switch in February 1956 to a new automatic exchange in Victoria Road – work on which had commenced in July 1954 – and when complete it would be possible to dial direct not only to subscribers in Bletchley but also to those on nine other automatic exchanges, all within 15 miles.

Then in further progress from September 29, 1967, about 2,500 telephone subscribers in Bletchley would be able to use STD while in 1973 to cater for the town’s expansion a vast extension of the exchange began. All a far cry from the early days, when one council official disdainfully remarked that most ordinary residents could not ‘now or ever’ have the need for a phone. To which of course the requisite teen speak would nowadays be, ‘Yea, whatever.’