Who would have thought that Cuckfield once had it's own telephone exchange, complete with it's own set of 'Hello Girls' and a few boys of course ! Here is a piece contributed by Steve Turner, a former local telephone engineer, who has written an excellent history of local telephone exchanges, the staff behind them and the technology that linked us to the outside world:
Opened on 12 November 1902 by the GPO, the manual switchboard was in the front room of Hawarden House, now a private home on the corner of London Road and Brainsmead Close.
From day one there were live in staff and day staff. Few records exist as to who worked there in the early days but there are still those who remember the war years of the early 1940's and beyond.
During WW2 the supervisor was a Scotsman named Jock Creedigan, he was well known for liking a chat and finding out all the callers news before finally connecting their call .
A kindly man who was known to call people living remotely to check if they were alright , especially if there had been an air raid overnight.
24 hour operation
Gillian Deklever, an operator in the 1950's; recalled that ladies did day shifts and Jock did night shifts, sleeping on a camp bed beside the switchboard. She also remembered the telephone box outside the exchange and leaning out the window to explain to people how and when to put their money in the slot.
Betty Powell, lived in Lindfield but because her sister Vera was the supervisor on the Lindfield exchange, Betty had to cycle , rain or shine, to work either on the Haywards Heath or Cuckfield switchboards.
Janet Coleman recalled that calls out of Cuckfield went via 'trunk circuits' to Haywards Heath, sometimes the associated relay sets would jam and 'chatter' . She says the quickest way to fix it was take the cover off and poke it ! She didn't like the quietness of Cuckfield, much preferring the frantic bustle of the much bigger switchboard at Haywards Heath.
Shirley Freeman laughs when she recalls how the engineers would take the wooden covers off the front of the switchboard when doing plug and cord replacements and then go round the back, having taken the rear covers off they would often reach through and grab the operators ankles. Often engaged on a call, it took all our concentration not to let out a scream !
She remembers that whilst it was a very serious and responsible job, they were very happy years of her life, despite the supervisors looming large behind, making sure that you were doing as you should.
Reasons for its demise
In the early 1960's Cuckfield exchange was approaching it's upper limit of 600 connections; Haywards Heath, the nearest main exchange and also manual with 2930 subscribers had run out of numbers
A new automatic exchange was built in Paddockhall Road to replace Haywards Heath's manual board and with Cuckfield so close, rather than replace with a small automatic exchange, Haywards Heath and Cuckfield would merge into one.
At 1.30pm on 10th March 1965 the little Cuckfield exchange was closed and all the numbers transferred to the new exchange at Haywards Heath, bringing to an end the 'Hello Girls' cheery greeting of 'Number please' .
Now simply a private house, nothing remains to show it was once the centre of life in the village. Except for me writing about it that is !!
This short synopsis of Cuckfield's telephone history is taken from my book ' Haywards Heath to Cuckfield; A tale of two exchanges'. This is an 80 page A4 look at the the history and development of the telephone system in both Cuckfield and Haywards Heath, with photographs, technical information as well as memories and social history from engineers and operators who worked there.
Produced and being sold at cost it's available locally for £10 and is selling fast. If you are interested in a copy then email Steve Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributed by Steve Turner.