|By 1890, West Mersea was connected to the outside world by telegraph.
Kelly's 1890 Directory tells us that West Mersea had a money order and telegraph office. Messages would be transmitted to the island in Morse Code, written out in the office, and taken to the recipient by a boy on a bicycle.
The Post and Telegraph Office in the 1900s. Telegram Boy Reg Jay waiting outside on his bicycle.
High Street, corner of Yorick Road. The telegraph posts have capacity for many telephone lines.
Card posted August 1915
The telephone probably came to the Island during WW1 - a 1915 postcard shows poles down the High Street with room for 40 or 50 lines, even if they were not yet installed. The telephone exchange was in Yorick Road, perhaps initially in the back of the Post Office which was in the building that became Barclays Bank. But soon both Post Office and Telephone Exchange were to move to the house next door to Barclays Bank (Number 12). Around 1938 the Post Office moved over the road to the corner of High Street and Yorick Road, but the telephone exchange stayed where it was.
The exchange in Yorick Road was a manual exchange. Telephones on the island did not have a dial or buttons - you picked up the handset, which alerted the operator, who then connected you. The operators knew everyone on the island and their business - often you did not need a number to reach someone. Longer distance calls were trunk calls, and the local operator routed these via the trunk operator.
Telephone numbers on the island had been mainly three digit numbers, but actually started with West Mersea 1 which belonged to Clifford White.
Last days at the old manual exchange
In March 1967 a new automatic telephone exchange in Kingsland Road came into operation. Mersea was rather late in the conversion to automatic, but this was still an electro-mechanical exchange. Computerised exchanges were well in the future. With the new exchange, all phones on the island had a dial. Four 4 digits numbers were needed with a leading 2 added to most of the old numbers.
The automatic exchange gave subscribers access to Subscriber Trunk Dialing (STD), which was being introduced from 1958 onwards. It enabled you to dial not just local calls yourself, but calls to any part of the country.
The original STD code for Mersea was 0206 38 but a little bit of magic occurred later when Mersea became part of the Colchester 0206 dialling code and 38 was added to the Mersea numbers - which is why most of the numbers on the island begin with 38.
East Mersea had its own small automatic exchange, in a field a little beyond the Dog & Pheasant. It is gone now, replaced by a house, and East Mersea phones are integrated with West Mersea.
There were a number of telephone boxes around the island, mostly discontinued in recent years. In the 1930s the East Mersea Post Office was at Home Farm and it had a sign outside saying "You may telephone from here". But West Mersea Post Office on the corner of High Street and Yorick Road, had a proper telephone box outside. A small layby on the Peldon side of the Strood had an AA Box, to help those who had become stuck at the Strood.
Until 1981, the General Post Office ran Post Offices, Royal Mail and Telephones. In that year, the telephones were split off into British Telecom, and then in 1984 British Telecom was privatised - but you can still find GPO manholes in the pavements on the Island.
In 1993 there was a £400,000 update of the island's exchange.
BT disconnected the old electro-mechanical equipment and reconnected the island's 3,000 lines to a new computerised digital exchange.
The story does not end. Mobile phones were becoming generally available in the 1980s. Around 2004 broadband was available to homes and businesses at reasonable cost, and from 2015 the broadband network was gradually being converted to fibre, giving significantly increased speeds.
Thankyou to Brian Jay and Ron Green for the postcards, and David Mussett for the newspaper cuttings.
An early Mersea telephone directory