13th May 1896

Guernsey’s telephone wars broke out

Telephone mania was sweeping Britain, and Guernsey wasn’t immune. Why? Because there was an opportunity to make a quick buck.

The National Telephone Company had the monopoly right to provide telephone connections to every house in the United Kingdom. It believed that the UK included Guernsey, but the States Committee for Telephones disagreed.

Guernsey had its own plans for a network of 250 call stations around the island. Although few of them would be in peoples’ homes, it had outlined a system where the person manning the phone would head out and bring back whoever was needed on the phone. It’s a cumbersome solution, and barely seems believable today. However, knowing no different, nobody found the proposal that each call could involve a significant wait in any way unacceptable.

The plan was outlined in The Star on 12 May.

…a public call office will be provided for each hamlet or group of houses in the country parishes, and in the outskirts of the town; so that anybody wishing to talk to the offices and shops in St Peter Port or to other parts of the island may find an office almost at his door, whence, for a trifling sum, say 2d, he can at once converse with his correspondent… the States Committee for Telephones are proceeding to map out a project for a complete system of telephones for Guernsey and for this purpose they have published a list of nearly 250 stations of intending subscribers…

Pressing ahead anyhow

Unperturbed, the National Telephone Company decided to assert what it believed were its rights. It started setting up a series of poles and wires connecting various properties in St Peter Port on 13 May. This was just one day after the States’ plan had been publicised in The Star.

The National Telephone Company may have hoped that by taking the initiative it would be too late – and too much hassle – to remove them once residents had seen the benefits they could being.

But the National Telephone Company had miscalculated. The States gave it notice to remove its equipment. When it didn’t, the States closed the high street and tore down the wires and poles itself.

Legal action

The National Telephone Company appealed to the courts. Its action proceeded as far as the Privy Council, which found in Guernsey’s favour. This allowed the island to handle its own telephony.

On 29 July 1898, Guernsey’s own phone system finally went into operation. According to The History of Guernsey by James Marr, it had “three exchanges, fifteen staff, seventy subscribers and six public telephones”.

Guernsey got its first telephone connection to the mainland in 1931.


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