Early Telephones in Newport

As early as 1877, there were experiments using ‘telephonic sounders’ which were attached to the existing ordinary telegraph wires at Newport and Dundee Post Offices. Using these wires and the underwater telegraph cable, it was possible, in the right conditions, to transmit the voice of a singer perfectly clearly from Dundee to Newport.

The first telephones proper arrived in Newport in July 1882 when a cable was laid over the new Tay Bridge which was then still under construction. There were 4 subscribers in Newport who could only call each other via the operator in Dundee.

In October 1883 an underwater cable, which ran from near the Stannergate in Dundee across the river to a point west of the Tayport lighthouses, allowed much improved communications. The first call was to Mr John Jessiman, Hillbank, East Newport and the speaking at either end was said to be remarkably distinct. The newspaper believed it was the first submarine cable of any importance laid and used for telephonic service in the UK.

In August 1884 the National Telephone Co. opened a telephone exchange in Newport. By now there were 7 subscribers with another 4 about to be connected. This first telephone exchange was in Royal Buildings, in the close running off Union Street.

From 1885 to 1896, the valuation rolls show the Newport Lawn Tennis Club leasing a wooden house from the National Telephone Co., but this had been brought in from another site as a pavilion for the newly-formed tennis club and formed no part of the Newport telephone system.

In 1896, telephone numbers start appearing in the annual directories and by 1899 there are 59 subscribers including the Newport Curling Club, and an underwater line to the ‘Mars’. All entries in the 1899 telephone directory are listed here.

This is the 1902 invoice from the National Telephone Co Ltd to Thomas Roger for the telephone in his shop (line rental plus table instrument for 1 year, £8-15-0 [£8.75]).

Around 1906, Wormit got its own exchange in Ashbank (now 13 Riverside Road); around 1935 a purpose-built telephone exchange was built next door.

A new Newport exchange was built further along Union Street (now 2 Union Street) and opened on 8 July 1939. It required that all existing numbers in Newport be changed but allowed direct dialling from Newport to Wormit and Tayport without the need for an operator. Dundee subscribers could dial Newport directly, and one assumes that Newport subscribers could also dial Dundee. Communication with the outside world was again via the operator in Dundee. A downside was later to be found by the residents of the houses opposite who would find it difficult, if not impossible, to get a good television picture.

Sources:
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 3 December 1877;
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 14 July 1882;
Dundee Courier & Argus, 17 October 1883;
Fife Herald, 13 August 1884;
Peoples Journal, 23 August 1884;
Fife Herald & Journal, 12 July 1939.
Newspapers can be found on the British Newspaper Archive or Find My Past sites.
Admiralty Chart 1481 River Tay, 1902 at National Library of Scotland maps.

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