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Communication: Old Telephones and Telegrams UK

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Old telephone area codes with letters UK: direct dialling

The 1950s saw the beginnings of a system by which callers no longer had to go through an operator to connect to a phone outside their local area; they could get through directly from their own phones with a new system called Subscriber Trunk Dialling.

Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD)

Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD for short) required every phone to have a letter code for its local area telephone exchange as well as its own local numerical number. It was still possible to get through to an operator, but by dialling 100 rather than the old-style O, for which there was no charge.

The process of dialling is explained on a separate page.

Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) was introduced in 1958 and completed in 1979.

Area codes with letters not numbers: early STD codes

There was a logic to area codes being letters rather than all numbers, in that they were the first three letters of the name of a local area. Our family lived in Edgware on the outskirts of London where the code was EDG, but so as not to overload the system, we were allocated STO which stood for Stonegrove, an area on the outskirts of Edgware. So our telephone number was STO 9804. Yes, it was still called a 'telephone number' even though it contained letters.

How telephone numbers were spoken

These old phone numbers were always spoken with the full name of the area code. So, with our STO 9804 telephone number, we announced who we were when we answered our phone, by saying, "Stonegrove 9804", not STO 9804. It was considered very bad form just to say "Hello". How times have changed!

dialling on an old UK telephone

Telephone dial showing letters and numbers

Guest contribution

First areas to have letters in their phone numbers

In the middle of the 20th century, only telephones in the wider areas of London, Birmingham, Edinburgh - and 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 still had to go through the operator by dialling O.

Ian Jolly, one-time telephone engineer

Telephone directories

Directories of the heads of households on STD were supplied free of charge to those households and to public phone boxes. These were huge tomes, even though the print was tiny and the paper flimsy. A single book was out of the question because there were so many telephone numbers. So the directories came in several books. I remember that the first one was A-D but I can't remember the others. Inside, heads of household contributors were listed by their surname and the initial of their given name(s) followed with their address and telephone number.

The first photo below gives an indication of the size of telephone directories. Ours were kept on a shelf under the telephone table. They were updated regularly, but I can't remember how frequently.

A separate directory with a yellow cover gave business telephone numbers. Everyone called it the 'Yellow Pages'.

Full set of telephone directories in a telephone box

A full set of telephone directories in a telephone box. The whole telephone box is included for scale to give an indication of the size of the directories.

As another indication of the size and thickness of telephone directories, it was a typical strong-man display at fairs to demonstrate that he could manage to tear one apart. Visitors were invited to have a go, but only a very small few could manage it.

Telephone directories didn't last long in telephone boxes as people took them for various reasons, but there was a display of area codes mounted on the wall of each box. One is shown in the next photo. It enlarges to a legible size on tap/click, but there is also a transcription below.

List of old letter area codes for all the London telephone exchanges

Information mounted on the wall of London area telephone boxes showing all the London letter-based area codes. Notices in other telephone areas would show their own area codes. Photographed in Tilford Rural Life Centre.


Note the instruction for users to dial 100, rather than O for 'assistance'.

London area text-based telephone area codes

A:
ABBey
ACOrn
ADDiscombe
ADVance
ALBert Dock
ALPerton
AMBassador
AMHerst
ARChway
ARNold
AVEnue

B:
BALham
BARnet
BATtersea
BAYswater
BECkenham
BELgravia
BERmondsey
BEXley Heath
BIShopspate
BOWes Park
BRIxton
BRUnswick
BUCkhurst
BUShey Heath
BYRon
BYWood

C:
CANonbury
CENtral
CHAncery
CHErrywood
CHIswick
CITy
CLErkenwell
CLIsgold
CLOcktower
COLindale
CONcord
COPpermill
COVent Garden
CREscent
CROydon
CUNningham

D:
DANson Park
DERwent
DICkens
Diligence
DOLis Hill
DOMinion
DRUmmond
DRYden
DUNcan

E:
EALing
EASt
EDGware
EDMonton
ELGar
ELStree
ELTham
EMPress
ENField
ENTerprise
EUSton

F:
FAIrlands
FELtham
FIEld End
FINchley
FITzroy
FLAxman
FLEet Street
FLOral
FOOtscray
FORest Hill
FOX Lane
FREmantle
FRObisher
FULham

G:
GEOrgian
GERrard
GIBbon
GIPsy Hill
GLAdstone
GOOdmayes
GRAngewood
GREenwich
GROsvenor
GULliver

H:
HADley Green
HAMpstead
HARrow
HATch End
HAYes
HEAdquarters
HENdon
HILsde
HITher Green
HOGarth
HOLborn
HOP
HOUnslow
HIGhgate Wood
HILside
HITher Green
HOGarth
HOLborn
HOP
HOUNSLOW
HOWard
HUNter
HURstway
HYDe Park

I:
ILFord
ISLeworth
IVAnhoe
IVYdale

J:
JUNiper

K:
KEAts
KELvin
KENsington
KILburn
KINgston
KIPling
KNIghtsbridge

L:
LABurnum
LADbroke
LAKeside
LANgham
LARkswood
LATimer
LEE Green
LEYtonstone
LIBerty
LIVingstone
LONdon Wall
LORds
LOWer Hook
LPR
LUDgate Circus

M:
MACaulay
MAlda Vale
MALden
MANsion House
MARyland
MAYfair
MEAdway
MELville
METropolitan
MIL Hill
MINcing Lane
MITcham
MONarch
MOOrgate
MOUntview
MULberry
MUNicipal
MUSeum

N:
NATional
NEW Cross
NORth

P:
PADdington
PALmers Green
PARK
PERivale
PINner
PLUmstead
POLlards
POPesgrove
PRImrose
PROspect
PUTney

R:
RAVensbourne
REDpost
REGent
RELiance
RENown
RIChmond
RIPpleway
RIVerside
RODney
ROYal

S:
SCOtt
SEVen Kings
SHEpherds Bush
SHOreditch
SILverthorn
SKYport
SLOane
SNAresbrook
SOUthall
SPArtan
SPEedwell
SPRing Park
STAmford Hill
STEpney Green
STOnegrove
STReatham
SULlivan
SUNny Hill
SWIss Cottage
SYDenham

T:
TATe Gallery
TCY
TEDdington Lock
TEMple Bar
TERminus
THOrnton Heath
TIDeway
TLD
TOTtenham
TOWnley
TRAfalgar
TREvelyan
TSW
TUDor
TULse Hill
TURnham Green
TWIckenham Green

U:
UNDerhill
UPLands
UPPer Clapton

V:
VALentine
VANdyke
VICtoria
VIGilant
VIKing

W:
WANstead
WARing Park
WATerloo
WAXlow
WELbeck
WEMbley
WEStern
WHItehall
WIDmore
WILlesden
WIMbledon
WOOlwich
WORdsworth

Some areas on the outskirts had a code which did not readily indicate the area concerned and could not necessarily be pronounced as a word. For example for Orpington you had to dial MX followed by the number. If you are interested in more in the list, magnify the above image to a legible size.


All-number telephone numbers

As more and more people went on the phone, more numbers were needed and it was decided to change area codes from letters to numbers. Then more numbers could easily be added at any stage by putting an extra digit in front of the original numbers.

Most people I knew were irritated rather than impressed by the change. For a start, telephone numbers with letters were much easier to remember than all-number ones. Also people had invested in printed headed writing paper showing their address and telephone number which was now out of date. Some people decided to buy new showing the all-number phone number, only to find that after a very short time, the new phone number was again out of date as more digits were added.


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.


Text and images are copyright


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