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MY PO/BT & BLS CAREERS

by Ron Blundell         

The purpose of these notes is to briefly record a working life spanning the 2nd half of the 20th century and the first two years of the 21st.

I have included many names of people I worked with or preceded me in the PO.

 If any names are spelt wrong or I am guilty of obvious omissions please let me know.

No one account can do due justice to the contribution made by these people to the development of communications and business support in West Somerset .

This is a mere thumbnail sketch of one individuals working life and some memories of contacts made during that period.

              “Our passing is like the footprints on the sand in the face of an incoming tide.”


 

My working life was over a period of 43 years and consisted of two distinct parts.

Part 1. 33 years with Post Office Telephones and British Telecom.  Barnstaple GPO memories.

Part 2. 10 years as a Business Adviser with West Somerset Enterprise Centre and Business Link Somerset

Part 1 - The Post Office Telephones and BT years.

"The world of wires and switches"

A web site about all things telephone- click here.

Telecoms Heritage Group (UK) Links

Details of Rons PO/BT Training Courses

After completing a 2 year engineering course at Taunton Technical College * I joined the Post Office Engineering Dept (Post Office Telephones) in 1959 as a apprentice (known then as a Y2YC - Youth 2 Year Course or YIT-Youth -in-training) 

*In 2007 after laying empty for a number of years this fine building suffered a mystery fire and has now been converted to flats with new housing alongside.

 I well remember the maths test and colour test done with a telephone cable (Blue, orange, green, brown, slate, were the basic colours) The training Officer at the time was Mr Don Lines. As a YIT about 3 months was spent with various sections such as fitting - installation of subs equipment in houses and offices where we were introduced to the complications of plan numbers and N Series diagrams .

Time spent with the gangs involved erection of poles and open copper wires, all this before the mechanised pole erection units so the holes were dug by hand or in country areas even blasted with a small stick of explosive. This method had two advantages- less effort and the foreman could claim an allowance for his expertise! There are many stories of small amounts of explosives being used to fish for trout in Exmoor rivers and a pole hole was even blown in Parkhouse Road, Minehead at the site of the then new Telephone Exchange. Trenches were laid for clay pipes known as ducts to take the underground cables which in the early 1960s were still lead sheathed with paper insulation. Time was spent with the jointers learning the colour codes and layer identifications of the newer polythene insulated and older lead sheathed cables. How it was done in the 1930's not much difference when I did a course at Bristol!

The final 6 months of my YIT training was spent with a TO Jeff Palmer on his dual mtce load of UAXs on the Blackdown hills South of Wellington. Part of his responsibilities lay in Culmhead Radio which was a very high secruity site near Blagdon Hill - because I had not had been positively vetted I spent some considerable hours in the Police Lodge close to the main entrance waiting for Jeff to deal with the unmentioned problems within the complex. This area with its airfields has a very interesting wartime and coldwar history. I remember asking about the wooden cotton reels nailed near the top of some telephone poles in the area. These were used by the army to support their landlines which  connected the many  temperary camps set up prior the D-Day 1944. I believe the army cable used was known as DON 8?

Myself with Post Office Technical Officer Peter Povey MBE

This photo was taken in Taunton Telephone Exchange and was taken for publicity purposes. We are shown looking at a 2000 type "switch" many more of which can be seen in the background. Peter was awarded the MBE for services to Telephone History and ran the Telecoms Museum at Taunton (adjacent to the HPO) for many years. This collection was later merged with the National Collection in London (Showcase?)

Click here to see and hear similar technology in another country. 

At the time I was an engineering apprentice known in the BPO as a "Youth in Training" or Y2YC or "Youth two year course". This two year course was following by more specialised training in Bristol, Penarth & Stone. This specialist PO/BT training was supplemented by other academic courses  resulting in C&G and HND Electrical & Mechanical qualifications obtained through part time study.

"The future is clearer looking backwards!"

A retrospective view of the technology used during my first 10 years with the PO has become clearer to me in recent years and together with development of manufacturing, materials and methods  is very relavent to the story I am trying to record. The late 50s and early 60s were what I would describe as the "Manchanical age of Technology". What I mean is that man/women power was an intergral part of the world of work not least that of Post Office Telephones. There were still many relatively large exchanges that were manual (ie all the calls within that exchange area were connected by women or male operators 24 hours a day 365 days a year) Until 1958 and the introduction of STD at Bristol all UK trunk calls were connected by operators. Operators at work.

  Those exchanges that were automatic used switches that made the connections by electomechanical movement.

This was a time before integrated circuits had been invented or before even transistors were  in common use. The radio was limited to Medum & Long wave ( no domestic FM) and the only commercial radio was "Radio Luxembourg". There were very few computers outside of very large organisations and these were massive afairs needing large rooms and special rooms. Thermionic valves were still in common use in telecommunications and domestic equipment.  There were no mobile phones, fax machines or digital cameras - it was a different world!

Most private houses did not have a phone and emergency communication for the masses was by telegram. This involved the use of many telegram boys who traveled the contryside on lightweight motor bikes. Teleprinters (Teleprinter 7) were in common use for business (Butlins had one in the PBX room in the early years after the camp opened.) Bakelite (Bakelite Museum Williton) was a common material used in telecoms and radio equipment. Wires in internal cables were insulated with a coat of shelac and then wrapped with several layers of silk and cotton thread. The leads used to connect the block terminals terminating the underground cables with the open copper wires on disribution poles were of this type with a outer lead sheath. Bitumen was melted into the tops of hollow insulators (Insulator no.16) where this cable joined the copper wires to improve insulation. The cords on telephone instruments were insulated by natural materials which readily absorbed water - the cause of some faults on telephones could be traced to window condensation or the household cat.(always paid to wash your hands after changing a handset cord)  

 All the work in all the various dept was fully documented in books of Engineering Instructions thus pre-dating ISO9000 requirements by many years.

Above -A gang lorry used for erecting overhead routes.

A period of three months was spent with engineers who put up poles & erected the overhead lines of (still at that time - 1959) open copper wire. These engineers known as gangs were usually 3 or 4 men. This was heavy physical work coping with a wide range of physical and weather contitions. No day was the same, variation of work, place and season. Holes for the poles were dug by hand or where possible in isolated location blown using explosives!. If the work of the day involved putting up a pole, the pole was carried to site in the vehicle, angled through the back compartment and with the top protruding out of the front, above the cab. I then travelled to site sitting in the back alongside the pole accompanied by the smells of creosote, hession, rope and dried earth and the sounds of rattling spindles and insulators, metal bucket and heavy tools. Poem.

After 2 years training I became a Tech.2A and after expressing a preference to work on exchange construction I was put in Taunton Exchange (Taunton B) on exchange maintenance! However I really enjoyed my time in this large exchange where all the staff both engineers and operators were like part of a big family. Part of the work was repairing faults on the operators switchboard, a time I particulary cherish - but thats another story.


The Photo below shows Taunton (B) ATE Engineering Staff as on 14/2/69 some years after I left to go to Minehead. However I worked with most of them and hope I can call them friends - a term I hope they would reciprocate.

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Front row L-R

Don?Cridge, W.Percy Musslewhite, John P.Coles, F.R.Gordon Sleeman, O.A.K. Ferguson (EE), Charles H.Gardner (AEE), H.Len Evans, Ken T.Berryman, Peter J.Povey MBE,

Second row L-R

Derrick Whitfield, Bob.M.Vallance, Gordon Webber, A.(Tony).J.Raymond,  Lionel Whitfield,  A.A.(Dickie) Ostler, Ray Sweet, Reg Eric Colman, Dave Hearn, A.B.(Mac)Templeton, Paul I.Betty, Roy Gordon, Pete J.Allington,  John E.G.Adams, Dave Summerhayes, John C.Fish. Brian J.Miles.

Third row L-R

Alan R.Weetch ,Tim Martin, Len North,  AlanR.Walker,  Tim Goodsell, Rob Fevin, Dave J.Perry, Chris S.Hollingworth, Bev.I.Marks, Tim G.Randle, R.Clive Vian, Chris Davey, Alfie G.Pepperell, Alan J.Richards.

Photo taken by AEE Vic Bagwell.

Additional background information from Alan Weetch:

"Bob Valance went on to found "Bruford & Valance" Insurance brokers in St James Street Taunton with another ex-PO engineer the son of John Bruford AEE.

Percy Musslewhite went on working until his seventies I believe but by then doing the more staid and gentle "PO Scales routines" working to the RSC in TU/B with Alfie P, John Adams And Alan Richards. I (Alan Weetch) was at the time of the photo a Youth in Training on the RSC and we were hauled up there to have the photo taken on the flat roof outside the tea room where Peter Povey was then storing to the general disinterest the germs of his telephone equipment collection."

Thank you Alan for this contribution.

 This collection later became the Taunton Telecommunication Museum which was open to the public in a number of small rooms to the LHS of the Archway into the exchange beside the HPO.


On promotion to Technical Officer (TO) I (Ron Blundell) worked in the new Automatic Telephone Exchange 1966 (Non Director Group Switch Centre) at Parkhouse Road, Minehead which replaced the the Manual Exchange (Central Battery Type 10) which was situated in a three storied brick building behind the then Head Post Office. This manual exchange was staffed by about 20 operators as well as a Test Desk (Later Repair Service Centre) manned by Bart Naylor.

                                                          Photo below shows Minehead manual telephone exchange

Bart Naylor standing - George Reynolds Night Telephonist seated- Date about 1950?  

                                                                                                                                                    

Minehead Telephone Exchange L-R Bart Naylor Engineer and Emlyn Mortimer Night Telephonist

                    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fault reports were received by the operators who prepared a docket which was then dropped down a tube to Bart who entered the details on a subs fault card (each sub (customer) had an individual card). When the fault was written by hand on the card they were put into pigeon holes and the information given to the field engineers who maintained the overhead lines and small automatic telephone exchanges (Unit Automatic Exchanges) . Most were UAX13s  (click here to hear one in action) but Crowcombe was a UAX 12 in the early 1960s. Up until the late 1950's due to there still being no mains electricity available in some rural areas the following exchanges relied on 50v batteries which were charges twice weekly by Stuart Turner engines: Anstey Mills, Brompton regis, Exford, Timberscombe and Winsford. These exchanges and others were connected to their parent exchange by overhead copper wires known as junction circuits. Other circuits using overhead open wires were telegraph and teleprinter lines. Goosemoor Radio Station on the Brendon Hills was opened in 1961as a relay station to provide a service for Westward television and is still in use today carrying many more microwave links. (Update - all microwave dishes now removed  2011)

When the faults were cleared the engineers rang the details through to Bart who entered the details on the fault card. In those days the connection from the end of the U/G cable was usually by open wires which were very fault prone due to weather disturbance, (wind and ice) A typical clear to a fault report could be "Short circuit Poles 6-7 due to trees, The clear being recorded as Trees cut and wires regulated". If the telephone was found to be working when the engineer visited the subs premises a clear of "RWT -right when tested" was not unusual. All these reports were then catagarised by a number. A fault on the O/H lines would be a "line 7" an RWT was a line 15?. All this fault information was bought together to form the basis of a Form A51 from which the manager could see an overview of individual exchange performance. If there was no access to the house a card A108 was left for the customer who then had to arrange access.

Around this time the managers at Minehead ( AEs -Assistant Engineers - a term later changed to Assistant Executive Engineers) (earlier managers were known as inspectors) were Mr McVitte, Mr Arthur Vardigans & Mr George Dodd. The manual exchange was maintained by Technical Officer John Bruford until his promotion to AEE just prior to the opening of the automatic exchange. I was fortunate enough to be allocated his position and subsequently took over the “new” exchange when it replaced the old manual exchange- a day of mixed emotions for many particularly the operators who saw their jobs replaced by mechanisms.

The dual maintenance (Subs apparatus, lines and exchanges) staff of Technical Officers included Bert Reed (Special Fault Investigator) Gordon Edwards, John Newcombe, Dennis Giblett, Andy Hyde, Arnold Clothier (Arnold went to Bournemouth on promotion to AEE) Vyv Goss who later become the areas AEE Safety Officer and Gordon Jewell who was based at Dulverton who went to the Central Training School at Stone as an instructor and later AEE Lecturer. Later in the 1980s my cousin Bob Blundell took over SA&L mtce duties in the Dulverton area. Jimmy Hurley was based at Williton. Dave Lloyd left BT to take over the family business in Friday Street. Tony Holman left to start his own business in the Avenue PO.

Previous Engineering staff at Minehead included:

Dave Stoate, Ken Stoate, Ray Howe, Bill Gill.

Telephonists  Some pictures

As an example of the man/women power requirements for operators in the relatively small area of West Somerset in the 50s and early 60s Rita & Dennis Giblett, Shiela & John Newcombe and Roger Chalebois have kindly provided the following list of operators names -applogies for any omissions or spelling errors.

Minehead Exchange Day Staff

Una Chubb -Supervisor, Margaret Cridland - Supervisor, Barbara Binding (Nee Down), Marie White (Nee Parsons), Josie Holman (Nee Ball), Thelma Martin (Nee Willis), Doreen Woodyatt, Barbara Hyde, Rita Giblett (Nee Mortimer) Sheila Newcombe (Nee Mortimer), Jean Prout ( Nee Graddon), Jean Townsend (Nee Cook), Heather Baker (Nee Holt), Valerie Chidgey (Nee Vile), Doreen Warren, Phyllis Redd (Nee Tapp), Hazel Fry, Shirley Turner (Nee Saunders), Pauline Burnett, Ann Morris (Nee Harding), Sheila Sherrin (Nee Chubb), Ann Block, Jennifer & Anita Spencer, Geraldine Millington .

Minehead Exchange Night Staff

Bill Davies - Supervisor, Emlyn Mortimer, Fred Rogers, Max Tapp, Roger Charlebois, Norman Hammett, Pop Selwood, Phyll Broughton, George Reynolds, Bill Slater, Bob Myerscoft, ? Freegard, Trevor Cruttendon, Arthur Hibbard, Jack Slater, Auther ?, Charley Freeman, M.Trask, Neil Block, Jim Wyerscough, Fred Piears.

                                                               Some Minehead night staff at play

Charley Freeman, Trevor Cruttenden, Roger Charlebois. Pop Selwood Jack Slater

Freddie Rogers, Miss Broughton, Em Mortimer

Jim Myerscough, Norman Hammet, Bill Davis, George Reynolds

Part Time Minehead Exchange Night Staff

Margaret Chorley, Stella Elston , Colin Mortimer, Isobel Hole, Phyllis Stoodley, Eillen Grant, Mabel Conrad, Alfie Keal, Dorren Stephens, Joan Stonestreet, Harry Smith, Fred Cane, Jenny Hawkins, Rita Giblett, Liz Cowling and George Reynolds.

Dulverton Exchange

Bertha Lynch, Joyce Evans, May Bowden, Eileen Thomas, Mary Gibbs, Josie Rendell.

Winsford Exchange

Kit Veysey, Violet Colman

Williton Exchange

Maud Treble, Joyce Stephens, Peggy Cridge.

Porlock Exchange

Bridget Ladd, Heather Gibbons

And so to Minehead

I was working in Taunton Exchange as a T2A on exchange mtce in 1962 when I was told to go to Minehead to help out during the severe Winter of 1962/1963 which had rought havoc with the overhead lines. This suited me as Minehead was my home town and put the period of living in Taunton digs in Belvedere Road behind me.

Some of the other engineering staff based at Minehead at the time were: (Gang members and later subs fitters) Ernie Griffiths, Jack Warder, Bob Wilkins, Donald Ferris, Alan Vickery & Brian Lewis. Les Land was the Survey Officer. Vyv Goss came to Minehead as a fitter from London and was later promoted to AEE as the Taunton Area Safety Officer. Fitter Tony Holman who later left the PO to run several successful local businesses. Later other staff joined including Chris Hollingsworth as dual maintenace lineman, Terry Groves was the faultsman jointer with Neil Fennell. Prior to taking up POEU duties in Taunton Eric Luxton was the faultsman jointer.

A busy time in the linemens room ground floor Minehead Old Telephone Exchange Post Office Lane about 1960.

                                           Lionel Crocker,  Roy Cridland,    Jack Warder

                                                                                                       Les Land, Bert Franklin

                                                                                         Andy Hyde with his trusty pipe but not his beard.

                                                                             Mr McVittie (Assistance Executive engineer)

 

                                                     The photograph below was taken at Les Lands retirement 1965?

                                                

3rd Row Bert Franklin, "Brub" Mason

2nd Row Gordon Jewell, Geoff Ford, Les Land, Andy Hyde, Dennis Giblett, John Newcombe, Bob Wilkins.

1st Row Ron Blundell, Tony Holman, Ernie Griffiths, Brian Lewis, Jack Warder,

On promotion to TO in the pool I worked in Burnham -on -Sea and spent about 9 happy months in the Barnstaple area.

Some gang members at Minehead - Picture taken about 1962? in Post Office Lane Minehead.

L-R Fred Hunt, Jack Warder, Harry Bosson, Lionel Crocker

The name of the ganger seated at the front is under investigation.

Pole testers

Frank Lewis assisted by Fred Jones were the pole testers who carried out a 7 year program to test all the areas poles for damage and decay. Later Les Yeandle inherited this mantle. Any found unsatisfactory were marked with a red metal D.

(Gang Foremen) Fred Hunt, Taffy Wright, Harry Bosson and Bert Franklin, Gang members Lionel Crocker, Roy Cridland and Donald Ferris who later worked in the “new exchange connecting new subscribers and maintaining records. There was quite a fleet of PO vehicles to support the PO engineers and postmen and this fleet was maintained by Harry Stevens (Foreman/workshop supervisor), Jeff (Jasper) Ford, Ted Prescott and later Roger Coles & Guy Howe. Their workshop was adjacent to the sorting office behind the then main Crown Post Office (now converted to flats) and they then moved into a first class workshop integral with the exchange building in Parkhouse Road (Post Code TA24 8AB)

The “New”exchange was built by a firm of builders from Taunton (Stansells) on a field that was used for keeping the donkeys that plied for hire in the summer on Minehead Beach. To the rear of the site adjacent to the mill stream was the "pole stack" where new telephone poles were stored prior to their erection around the area. The size of these poles were described as either XL (Extra light) L (Light) M (Medium) or S (Stout) together with their height in feet, eg 28' L.

At the time the exchange technology was "Strowger", an electro-mechanical system, see http://www.seg.co.uk/telecomm/ for a description, also http://www.thg.org.uk/strowger/index.htm. All the switching of telephone calls involved the use of mechanism or relays controlled by the subs (customers) telephone dial, consequently it was a noisy environment. The equipment needed a lot of maintenance and was inclined to faults due to wear and tear which had to be located and rectified. At night most equipment was routine tested automatically by equipment using the same technology which itself was subject to failure from time to time. The faults found by the test equipment (routiners) were printed out on dockets which received attention when work was started at 08.00. Working hours were 5 days a week 08.00 to 17.00. Out of hours faults activated an alarm which appeared at Taunton Exchange where the operators then rang the duty engineer (me) who went into the exchange and dealt with the fault. This was the procedure out of normal workings hours and meant broken nights sleep and disturbed Xmas dinners. However the financial rewards were a good compensation for these disturbances. The maintenance of the equipment was a team effort and I worked with fellow Technical Officer and friend John Newcombe for about 12 years until my promotion to AEE in 1979 first temporarily at Bridgwater and then permanently taking over from my old boss George Dodd which was a hard act to follow. During my time in the exchange I had 4 apprentices working with me namely, Peter Rawle, Stephen Stearn and Stephen Eggar, all went on to develope their own careers in BT. Peter Chaffey left to go surfing as I remember?

Technical training was extensive and courses were run at Stone in Staffordshire at the CTS  or the Regional Training School at Shirehampton.

The lot of the equipment needed 1sec, 6 sec or 30 sec pulses and these pulses were provided by various mechnical clocks. Click here to see one type working.

Being promoted within ones own unit was difficult both for the staff and myself. I must say however that from my perspective all the staff treated me as I would have hoped despite any reservations they may have had over my promotion. After all I had learnt an awful lot from these engineers and owed them a lot. There was a particular difficult time during the NCU strike when I had to go through their picket lines as their manager who was in a different union.(SPOE) However I believe that we all “played our parts” with both parties respecting each others position I hope without too much long term resentment.

In 1987 along with other managers I was selected and trained as a career counsellor, the aim was to support engineering staff through the changes ahead as a result of exchange modernisation and the resulting downsizing of the technical staff.

The Minehead exchange was later replaced by a system X exchange. All the small surrounding exchanges were also modernised to either system X or system Y units. Thus the BT national network was converted to herald in the digital age. This modernisation led to a downsizing of front line engineers together with their managers and after a career of 32 years I took voluntary redundancy in 1992 after 32 years of happy service both as a civil servant and an employee in a fully privatised BT.

Although I have focused on PO/BT people who lived in Minehead and West Somerset this is not the complete story. Not all engineering work was done by local engineers. Exchange construction was done by contract or PO/BT engineers based in Taunton as was the larger customer equipment and power maintenance. 

Names that spring to mind are:

Exchange construction:

Jim Weaver, Doug Yeandle, John Thomas, Roy Gordon, John Fish, Brian Miles, Barry Snowball, Chris Sainsbury, Malcolm Reid.

Power maintenance:

Stan Granville ? Varney

I know I have forgotten many more but if you can help please contact me.

 

Telephone links

A different place - a similar story

A wider perspective

 

Part 2 - A change of direction WSDEC & BLS.

"The world of SMEs"

 In the lead up to leaving BT I undertook a number of Business courses at the then Taunton Enterprise Centre with a view to possible self employment. However to cut a long story short in about a year I had secured employment with the West Somerset District Enterprise Centre at the Vennlands Centre about 0.25 miles from home. Here I must record my thanks to the Centre manager Gill Howard for the opportunity to prove my worth in a new and untried role. I worked as a Customer Development Adviser which meant making personal contact with all the small businesses (SMEs – Small to Medium Sized Enterprises) in the West Somerset area and after some basic business diagnosis matching their needs with the centres services or making an appointment with a business adviser for more detailed. diagnosis and advice.

The DEC was led by a voluntry Board Chaired by Dennis Taylor and included local businessman Mervyn Yendole and WSDC Chief Executive Colin Rockall. 

This time for me was a steep learning curve with the adoption and development of new and existing skills. My time with the DEC was a happy and satisfying period working with younger office staff who had a real feel for the business needs of an isolated rural community that sometimes contrasted with the vision of the then TEC(Training & Enterprise Council) and DTI (Department of Trade & Industry). The older experienced Business advisers were willing to share their friendship and advice which was worth its weight in gold.

The key staff at this time were Gill Howard, Elaine Stone, Peter Ducket, John Ratcliff, David Younge, Maggie Pumphry, Lindy Harding and Judith Facey. Later Charles Barrowman joined the team. Elaine later became Mrs Barrowman.

The DEC was a company Ltd by Guarantee that had experienced local businessmen on the board which was chaired by Dennis Taylor and included Mervyn Yendole, & Colin Rockall of WSDC.

          

                 

                           A successful business start-up course - photo taken outside of West Somerset DEC

The work of the DEC (District Enterprise Centre) was after several years subsumed within Business Link Somerset which had a different feel entirely with the introduction of more managers and PBAs  (Personal  Business Advisers). For a about a year I was the manager of the Business Link Minehead Outlet. There ensued a period of continued development (Coup and counter coup) which I felt focused more on the needs of personalities & the system rather than fully meeting the identified needs of very small West Somerset Businesses – however this must remain a personal view. I left BLS in 2002 after turning down a position at the Taunton Office.

                                                       

                                 

The picture above is of three good friends who also worked with me as Business Development advisers

L-R John Woods, Sandra Lavelle & David Bates

It was now time to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up – a problem I continue to grapple with - so much to do, so little time!

 

                                                          This is an ongoing project

                                                                       Feb 2012  

 

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