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About the resouces at BT Archives

Viewing a marketing literature at BT Archives

BT Archives looks after documentary heritage of British Telecommunications plc and its predecessors dating back to 1846.

This unique and nationally significant body of records reflects the development of the telecommunications service in the UK and for the UK to overseas including the rise of regulation and the development of competition.

All aspects of telecommunications history are covered, for major scientific breakthroughs and national events to histories of individual local exchanges and telecomms pioneers.

BT Archives are a resource of information, image and film for all the Connected Earth partners, and are also open to the public.

News from BT Archives.

3D objects from BT Archives

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Victorian marketing

This pamphlet was produced in 1879 by The Telephone Company to encourage people to take up the telephone. It contains an amusing series of cartoons in an attempt to show people how they might use this newfangled technology. These include a lady phoning her stables, to ask them to bring the carriage round and - less plausibly - some fishermen phoning an underseas worker! It includes advice on how to use the telephone, with instructions on speaking clearly and correct pronunciation of numbers.

Shareholder register

This document unfolds to reveal a subscription contract for the shareholders of the British Telegraph Company. Signed in 1853, the contract includes the list of shareholders and the capital they had put into the company. The company merged with a competitor in 1857 to become the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, which was subsequently taken over by the Post Office when the inland telegraph service was, to all intents and purposes, nationalised.

Post Office Telephones advertising material, 1930s

These eye-catching pieces of ephemera were distributed by the Post Office from the early 1930s to market the telephone to domestic users. At this time the cost of the telephone was falling in real terms, making it more affordable to a wider section of society than the businesses and very wealthy people who had been the majority of customers to that point.

Photograph albums, 1911 and 1932

These are two of many photograph albums in BT Archives' collection. The open album is from the National Telephone Company (NTC) and shows photos of the cable department staff. It dates from 1911, the year before the NTC was taken over by the Post Office. The Young People's Own Telephone Exhibition was an event held in 1932 and the album shows photos of the exhibits, as well as the then Post Master General surrounded by eager children trying out the phones.

Phonecards, 1990s

Phonecards were first introduced in 1981. They allowed payphone users to make calls without cash, and were introduced partly to combat damage caused by vandals attempting to break into payphone coin boxes. Phonecards were extremely popular, and special editions quickly became collectors items. Sales of phonecards peaked in 1990/91 until, after a significant decline following the wider availability of mobile phones, they were finally withdrawn from sale in October 2002.

National Telephone Company Midland province, staff dinner programme

This event was arranged by National Telephone Company (NTC) employees in Birmingham on 11 November 1911, prior to transfer to [the] Post Office and to bid farewell. The NTC was the largest of the private telephone companies that had competed to offer a telephone service in the UK. When on 1 January 1912 the Post Office took over the NTC it inaugurated a unified telephone system throughout most of Britain.

Model vans

This is a selection of models of vehicles used by the General Post Office. The GPO's motor transport division was started in 1906 and went on to become the largest vehicle fleet in the country. As transport became increasingly essential for engineers, the fleet expanded and vehicles became much more tailored to the job. The distinctive green livery lasted until the 1970s, when it was replaced by a bright yellow.

London telephone directories

These directories, produced by the National Telephone Company and the General Post Office between the 1890s and the 1930s, demonstrate how the telephone companies quickly realised the directories could offer an opportunity to carry advertisements, as well as list telephone numbers.
By the 1930s, two directories were produced each year for every area, reflecting the wider access to the telephone service as its cost fell.

Liverpool scrapbook

This volume was used as a scrapbook by staff of the Post Office Liverpool telegraph service. It includes photos of senior members of staff from the 1870s, as well as group photos and press cuttings. The last press cutting dates from 1946, but there is a final annotation from 1957, noting the book had been recovered from the Post Office soon after the blitz on 1 May 1941 and that the residue of an incendiary bomb casing still adhered to the front cover.

Experimental notebook, 1896 - 1897

This notebook belonged to James E Taylor, an assistant engineer in the Post Office Engineering Department. It records work with the early Post Office long distance telephone network, and also Post Office experiments with Marconis wireless telegraphy equipment at Penarth in 1897. Taylor was only 25 at the time he was working with this leading edge technology.

Early telephone directory

The National Telephone Company issued this list of its subscribers in the Yorkshire district in 1888. The directory shows how extensive telephone use had become, just eight years after the issue of the first telephone directory - which only covered London and was just five pages long. It includes a list of subscribers to the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Company's system, a company which was to amalgamate with the National Telephone Company in 1889.

Bell's Telephone, edited by Kate Field

This book was published in 1878, the year the first telephone company in the UK was established. The book appears to have been a marketing tool for the company, explaining the history of Alexander Graham Bell's experiments as well as warning against infringing Bell's patent, which the company controlled in the UK.

Visitor information

BT Archives location map

Customers are advised that BT Group Archives cannot undertake research on their behalf, but are encouraged to visit the Archives in person to make use of the well equipped facilities. We are open to the public throughout the year on Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 am - 4 pm. An appointment is essential to ensure access to the building, and to reserve a study desk.

Telephone: (020) 7440 4220

Postal Address:
BT Archives
Holborn Telephone Exchange
268-270 High Holborn


By road:
Holborn in Central London is clearly signposted from all routes into the city.
NCP Car Parking is available at: Holborn, Museum St WC1; Brunswick Square WC1; Russell Court, Woburn Place WC1; Caxton House, Cowcross St, EC1; Cardinal House, Cowcross St, EC1; Bloomsbury Square Car Park, WC1

By train:
City Thameslink (Holborn Viaduct entrance)
Underground: Holborn (Piccadilly and Central Lines), Chancery Lane (Central line) or Farringdon (Circle or District Lines)

By bus:
High Holborn is served by bus numbers 8, 242, 25, 501, 521
Holborn Kingsway is served by bus numbers 1, 68, 91, 168, 171, 188, 501, 505, 521, X68

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...