logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

UK area telephone letter codes,
mid 20th century

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When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, telephone numbers were much easier to remember. One reason was that fewer people were 'on the phone' so fewer numbers were needed and therefore did not need to be such a long string.

The other reason was that there was some logic to area codes, in that they started with the first three letters of the local telephone exchange. Our family number was STO 9804, where STO stood for Stonegrove, which was an area of Edgware where we lived. Such phone numbers were pronounced with their full name. So when we announced who we were when we answered our phone, we said, "Stonegrove 9804". (It was considered very bad form just to say "hello"!)

All the telephone dials that I knew had letters as well as numbers.

Areas which had letters in their 'phone numbers'

In the middle of the 20th century, only telephones in the wider areas of London, Birmingham, Edinburgh (from the early 1950s onwards), Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester had letters on their dials. Elsewhere, even the automatic telephones just had numbers. When dialling a city number from a rural area you had to go through the operator by dialling 0.

Ian Jolly, one-time telephone engineer
Large legible list of old letter area codes for all the London telephone exchanges

Below is a photo of a notice inside an old telephone box. It lists all the old London letter-based area codes. Notices in other telephone areas would show their own area codes. Photographed in Tilford Rural Life Centre.

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SDT call (Subscriber Trunk Dialling)

Area codes really came into their own around 1958 when Subscriber Trunk Dialling (SDT) started. It enabled users to make trunk calls without going through the operator - although it was still possible to get through to an operator, now by dialling 100 instead of 0.

The changes to the ways of dialling were already happening at the time of the notice on the left, as it instructs users to dial 100 for 'assistance'.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.