I'm still here

When you look at the activity on some blogs, I am surprised this one has not been deleted for lack of activity. Anyway I am still around and intend to add to the website when I get the famous round tuit.


Unsolicited testimonial from Hogwarts

Dear Mr Haworth,

I am an amateur genealogist, I found your pages by accident & just wanted to say thank you. The phone pages are models of what a website should be.

My best - Miriam Margolyes
(Professor Sprout in HARRY POTTER & the CHAMBER of SECRETS)


PECkham - good.  STOnegrove - bad

On 2004 March 30 Kim wrote in her blog:
London Director system exchange names

Or, in less geeky speak - the original text messaging!

My mother still has the occasional slip and refers to London numbers as ARChway blah-blah-blah-blah. Which is charming (as is her habit of occasionally converting prices into pounds, shilling and pence without seeming to actually think about it).

I'm gutted to discover that my old phone number still had its proper code (PECkham 7762, please, operator!) whereas I'm now in some pseudo-exchange.  STOnegrove, in Edgeware? Pah.
Apparently she means: 'PECkham - good.  STOnegrove - bad.'

But what were the GPO (as it was then) to do when they had used up all the 10,000 numbers available on EDGware exchange?  They opened up, in their geek-speak, a 'second unit', looked round for a name with some local significance and which would not clash with any existing exchange name and decided on STOnegrove.

I have to admit that living south of the river I did have to look up Stonegrove on the map. But having done so, I agree with the GPO: to anyone living in the area STOnegrove is only slightly less helpful as a mnemonic than EDGware.

And either name is infinitely more meaningful than a three digit code!

And at least some of the subscribers in Edgware had an exchange name which matched where they were: the inhabitants of Bromley had to make do with WIDmore and RAVensbourne (both good names suggestive of the area - at least to me) because CROydon had got there first for a code of 270.  Likewise Dalston had to use CLIssold and SPArtan (the significance of the latter I still have to discover) beause EALing had bagged 325.

I fail to see the connection between exchange names and text messaging. Perhaps Kim is too young to remember that the original text messaging was the telegram.

Edgware vs Stonegrove

This is just a link to PECkham - good. STOnegrove - bad

Crystal Palace BT Telephone Exchange

Crystal Palace TX
CRYstal Palace BT telephone exchange in Crystal Palace Park Road, London, SE26 viewed from the end of Thicket Road.

Historical throwbacks

I sometimes hear what sounds to me like a telegraph operator keying morse at a very respectable rate.  It turns out to be a young person energetically keying an SMS message into their cellphone.  That young person might be surprised to learn that their great-parents would have been familiar with the mapping of letters to digits on the phone dial.
NOR 1386 Seen on 335 Caledonian Road in 2002.
The director system using a three letter exchange code was introduced in London in 1922.  And letters appeared on dials probably a few years before that in the USA.
The arrangement of letters on the US dial, given in this Wikipedia entry, is the same as on cell phones except that Q and Z are omitted - probably to give a neat three letters per digit arrangement.  The UK dial was slightly different.
While on the subject of dials, on computer numeric keypads and on calculators the 0 (zero) key is usually near the 1 key.  But on telephone keypads the 0 key is near 9.  This is a throwback to the rotary dial where 0 was next to 9.  0 sent ten pulses.  (A few countries did have different arrangements but 0 next to 9 was the most widespread.)
Also on computer numeric keypads and on calculators the 1 to 9 keys are usually in a square with 789 on the top row.  But on telephone keypads the top row is 123.  I do not think this difference can be blamed on the rotary dial.


Brian Houghton

I've just been looking at your web page. The names are so much more romantic somehow than the numbers we have now.

When I was growing up my parents' number was LAB 4418. I used to think (aged 5) that this was because we had a Laburnum tree in our back garden. As we lived at least a mile from the Winchmore Hill exchange, I now don't think this was the reason!

I came to your site because for some reason I remembered this and was trying to find out where the exchange name did originate. No news there unfortunately.

A couple of other things I did notice while I was looking over the page:

My father was a shopkeeper, his number was BOW 3610, but his shop was in Tottenham, nowhere near Twickenham.

The Enfield exchange KEAts was presumably because the poet John Keats attended school in the town. One of the houses at my school in nearby Edmonton was Keats House, so he is still remembered in the area.

Hope that this is of some interest. I enjoyed looking at your page.

Brian Houghton


Houghton Safety Services


Comms have got slower - The Pips

Back in the years BD (Before Digital) when you heard the time signal on the radio you could be confident that you were hearing it a few milliseconds after it had left the signal generator.

Nowadays you can have several radios going in the same room and they will all put the time signal out at slightly different times:
  • conventional analogue radio
  • DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio
  • sound only channel on cable TV
  • sound only channel on satellite TV
  • on a computer over the internet - up to 20 seconds delay
And of course if you are using a 'listen again' facility on a radio station on the web, then the time signal will bear no relation to reality.

All the digital transmission methods incorporate data compression. This involves taking a sample of the signal over a time frame, say 50 milliseconds and looking for patterns in it. You cannot send the compressed data until the end of the time frame so there is an inherent delay.

But in fact most of the delay on DAB and cable TV and part of the delay on the other digital methods happens in your receiver and is due to buffering. The packets which make up the program you are hearing are interleaved along the transmission path with packets for other channels and may not arrive at regular intervals. To avoid glitches, the receiver keeps a queue of received packets so that it can process them at regular intervals.


but Comms have definitely got cheaper

The call made by the Queen on 1958 Dec 5 from Bristol to Edinburgh to inaugurate Subscriber Trunk Dialling lasted 2 minutes 5 seconds and cost 10d (4p); under the old (pre 1958) charging system the call would have cost 3s 9d (19p - operator connected).
In 2004 a call of this duration to anywhere within the UK will cost you no more than 9 pence.  Indeed HMQ can make the call for just 3 pence at weekends.  But for other purchases, what would have cost you 4p in 1958 will cost you about 60p today.
Despite this, I read somewhere that the average family now spends more on comms than on food.  The comms spend probably includes cable and satellite TV.