8 February 2011

Old London telephone exchanges

I have quite a few photos of old fire alarm bells. I was initially interested in the logos and typography, and the texture of the rusty old boxes. But just recently I noticed that a lot of them have pre-1966 telephone letter exchange codes on them.
Letter codes worked such that the first 3 letters of an area were used for that exchange, as in BIS 1234 = Bishopsgate 1234. You have probably heard a someone with clipped vowels in a 1940s film saying, "Mayfair 2743".
So I posted my most recent fire alarm pic to GWL and the interest was enough to set up a group to 'collect' them. I also realised I had others, embedded on old shops signs etc.
There were 263 London codes, so I doubt we'll find existing examples of them all.
If you have seen any yourself, do let me know or add them to the group.
Below are some of the one I have found myself:
Top row: Nags Head, Tower Bridge Road, Chatsworth Road, Roman Road
Middle row: Earlham Street, Wandsworth Road, Whitfield Street, Marylebone Lane
Bottom row: Curtain Road, Weston Park, Thornhill Road, Holloway Road


  1. I remember WHItehall 1212 being the number for Scotland Yard.

  2. Me too! Interestingly a lot of London police stations (if you can get through to them without being directed to some kind of call centre) still use 1212 along with the local exchange code.

  3. Iused to work in Bermondsey in the late 60s and the telephone exchange was HOP as the area was famous for hop merchants!

  4. HOP... that's a wonderful reason for a code!
    If you check the list you'll also see a few other wonderfully creative rationales

  5. London is a great place, interesting facts like this exchange number info prove there is more to the place than meets the eye.

  6. Our local butcher used to have his number POP (etc) in gold lettering on the cashiers' booth glass but, alas, this lettering was lost (although the booth itself and the beautiful internal tiling was preserved) when the shop changed hands and was brought 'up to code' a few years ago. Great campaign and wish it success.

  7. Thanks for the feedback.
    I just looked that one up. I'd assumed it'd be Poplar but it's Popesgrove, Twickenham. So that'll be the grove where the Pope lives.

  8. Alexander Pope's house was at Twickenham and there's still a road called Popes Grove. Perhaps the exchange was there?

  9. I had an auntie who lived in Acton, West london, back in the fifties and sixties. The code for her phone was ACO for Acorn. I have no idea of the history of that, but would really like to know, if anyone does ?
    Were there a lot of oak trees in the area, or was it a more convenient grouping than ACT for Acton ?.........David

  10. If you check that link in the post it lists all the 263 codes and why they were chosen... ACO was Acorn Gardens... tho bloody daft to not have ACT for Acton!

  11. You couldn't have ACTon because you've already got BATtersea allocated as "228".

  12. I worked in the Acorn exchange in 1962 where even a local number was through the Operator. A supervisor stood behind you all the time, checking you were being polite to callers. I must have done well as I
    was promoted to answer 999 calls.
    Those were the days

  13. Yesterday my reminiscing father came up with a gem: My mother had the number SWI 5000. How cool is that!

    1. Which is now the Royal Free Hospital! Given how much time mother spent in that hospital that is rather fitting!

  14. I was searching (I'm designing a retro business card), came across your wonderful blog, and this..


  15. Thanks Daviz... I've already put that list my Flickr group here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/lon_tel_let/

  16. The exchange for the Poplar area was EASt, as in the East End.

  17. I understand that the old code ACO (220) for the Acton Telephone Exchange comes from the Acorns (and Oak Tree) depicted on Coat of Arms of Acton Borough Council that was, in times gone by, in the County of Middlesex. Pop on over to:-
    http://www.civicheraldry.co.uk/middlesex.html for an example of the arms.

    Best regards, Paul.
    Formaly of Acton.

  18. That's fascinating. I wonder how many of the other not so obvious codes have interesting explanations...

  19. I lived in Hammersmith in the mid-60's- we were RIVerside, being right on the bank of the Thames. In the early 70's I worked in Victoria- we were ABBey, being but a few streets from Westminster Abbey! My aunt worked in Poplar/Bow - she was ADVance. My college girlfriend lived in Fulham - a RENown girl.

  20. There were other codes in Westminster; TCY (Telephone City) and SULlivan – any ideas where this derives from?
    Don't you just love the ADV code?! But, again, why?!
    Ditto RENown.
    And amusing that RODney is in Camberwell... ;-)

  21. I have just noticed that West Ken is a NOB!

  22. Hop = Southwark
    Rod =Walworth
    Ber =Bermondsey
    I used to work for BT and some of the old names were still used in the 70s.

  23. Some companies use acronyms even today as easy ways to remember tel numbers.


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