The First Dewsbury Telephone Numbers

Our bulletin number 3, which carried an article on early telephone subscribers in Dewsbury, included a list of some 79 names of early users of the service, together with their numbers.

Much of the information relating to these names and numbers had been culled from early advertisement in local journals and newspapers. It was also augmented by both members and visitors who attended the summer exhibition we mounted in Dewsbury Library. Readers may recall the large display board where visitors were encouraged to contribute to our existing register by filling in blank numbers with known subscribers names.

At its completion, it was assumed the list represented names and numbers of the earliest users of telephonic communication in Dewsbury. However, with the recent discovery of a Dewsbury telephone directory for 1890, this assumption is thrown into some doubt.

The first telephone service in Dewsbury was provided by the National Telephone Company, whose local office and exchange was situated at 2, Nelson Chambers, Nelson Street. The company commenced operations in the early eighteen eighties and by 1890 had 25,713 lines nationwide, 175 of which were in Dewsbury.

photo of 2 Nelson Street, Dewsbury

2, Nelson Street - The former home of the National Telephone Company

At their office in Nelson Street, a non-subscriber could make a call to a local number at a charge of 3d. for 3 minutes. Telephone calls made to outside town were referred to as inter-town communications and charged for at a higher rate. It was also possible, subject to prior arrangement, for non- subscribers to make calls between call offices, to other nonsubscribers in different towns. A kind of early telephone booth arrangement.

Instruments were quite different to the models of today, and all calls were routed through exchanges with the assistance of The National Telephone Company Limited operators. Instructions on how to make or receive telephone calls make fascinating reading.

old poster giving Directions for using the Phone in Dewsbury

As can be seen from the list of early subscribers to the telephone services - the various railway companies who operated in the town were amongst the first users. Other points of note are the foreign names (possibly of German extraction and engaged in the local textile industry) and also the number of subscribers with premises on Wellington Road.

photo of old telephone instructions

And instructions for new users!

The list of subscribers and their numbers has been extracted from the 1890 local telephone directory, a time when there were 175 telephone installations in Dewsbury.

Nowadays, almost every' household is ‘on the phone’ and a telephone is absolutely essential for all commercial enterprises. Most of us are all too familiar with the ubiquitous mobile telephone, the use of which has grown enormously in recent years. Ownership of ‘mobiles’ has grown to such an extent that one has to use eleven numbers to make contact - a far cry from the days when only 2 numbers (Dewsbury 50) were required to call Mrs. ‘George’ Oldroyd!

image of advert for private telephone

To save your eyes - the small print says:

Subscribers occasionally complain of being rung up and asked questions to which their clerks could attend; also, that they do not like having to speak from the Telephone on private matters in the hearing of others.  These difficulties are easily overcome by having one set of Instruments fitted up in the clerks' outer office, and a second set fitted up on a pedestal, and standing on a table in the private room.  The charge for such extra Instrument is £3 15s. per annum.

Alan Thomas

Dewsbury History Group

This article by Alan Thomas was first published in the Winter-Spring Bulletin 5 of Dewsbury Matters, the former name of the Dewsbury History Group in March 2004. Text in italics indicates an update reflecting changes as at this date.


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