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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Other events that occured in May

Priaulx Library opens for the first time 1st
Horse racing returns to L’Ancresse race course 2nd
Guernsey deportee, nurse Gladys Skillett was born
“Twink” goes missing on its way to Guernsey 3rd
Role of Chief Minister of Guernsey abolished 4th
Guernsey Airport opened for business 5th
Alderney debated in the House of Commons 6th
Songs of Praise comes from Guernsey 7th
Final issue of Deutsche Guernsey-Zeitung was published 8th
Guernsey was liberated from German occupation 9th
A Guernsey retiree’s £1m offer attracts 57,000 requests 10th
A liberation celebration ended in disaster 11th
Guernsey plays Tottenham Hotspur 12th
Guernsey’s telephone wars broke out 13th
British papers reported Dame of Sark’s deportation 14th
The States of Guernsey bought Aurigny 15th
Alderney was liberated at the end of the second world war 16th
Herm goes back on the market 17th
A mainland murder with a Guernsey connection 18th
Guernsey declared a State of Emergency 19th
Wartime diplomat Wilfred Gallienne born in Guernsey 20th
Hauteville House is bequeathed to the City of Paris 21st
Guernsey poet and painter Denys Corbet was born 22nd
John Doyle was appointed Lieutenant-Governor 23rd
The Imperial Hotel opened for the first time 24th
Elizabeth College is founded in St Peter Port 25th
Game of Thrones actor Roy Dotrice was born 26th
Head of Guernsey CID is shot in St Peter Port 27th
Work started on the Victoria Tower
Guernsey’s first paid constables were hired 28th
Guernsey woman advised to leave for her safety 29th
Occupation stories occupy the mainland papers 30th
“Overdose” verdict in Guernsey farmer’s death inquiry 31st