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iPhone is a long way from the original Great Yarmouth phone network

PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 October 2019

Not a mobile telephone in sight! Elderly visitors outside the Britannia Pier in Great Yarmouth in 1954 before the phenomenon became commonplace.

Not a mobile telephone in sight! Elderly visitors outside the Britannia Pier in Great Yarmouth in 1954 before the phenomenon became commonplace.

Archant

Despite possessing a journalist's thick skin, I must admit to suffering an inferiority complex over... mobile telephones!

Butcher DW Bellamy's shop on the north side of Baker Street, Gorleston, had Gorleston 1 as its telephone number when the new exchange opened close by in 1897.Butcher DW Bellamy's shop on the north side of Baker Street, Gorleston, had Gorleston 1 as its telephone number when the new exchange opened close by in 1897.

Whether I am in Great Yarmouth's town centre or on Gorleston's promenade, I am acutely aware that I am in a minority.

Why? Because almost everybody else seems to have a mobile phone glued to one ear which produces side-effects of rendering me invisible, not there, because the animated conversation I am briefly overhearing induces the avoidance of eye-contact or nodding a polite "Hi!"

My fellow passengers on the bus are similarly engaged. From the moment they settle in their seats, they start scrolling on their mobile phones, then either make a call or exercise their thumbs typing texts,

Me? I am gazing out of the window at the long familiar views.

The thatched former ice-house and grain store of J & H Bunn on the quayside next to Yarmouth's Haven Bridge in 1977. It owner was allocated Yarmouth 3 when telephones were introduced in the late 19th century.The thatched former ice-house and grain store of J & H Bunn on the quayside next to Yarmouth's Haven Bridge in 1977. It owner was allocated Yarmouth 3 when telephones were introduced in the late 19th century.

Yes, of course I have a mobile phone, not a top of the range implement to keep abreast of the Joneses and to chat interminably but a basic model probably designed for elderly users.

Occasionally it rings, but my caller has usually rung off while I struggle to find which button to press to accept the call.

Its ability to take photographs is useful when the need arises for an illustration for these weekly columns, but generally it is for emergencies (provided immediacy is not of the essence) or for important calls between Mrs Peggotty and me - perhaps to inform one another where each of us is in a spacious supermarket so we can pair up again.

Even ringtones are abundant, the user able to choose from a wide range of music or sounds. Perhaps my ring tone ought to be the plaintive Norman Wisdom old favourite "Don't Laugh at Me ('cos I'm a fool)." Mrs Peggotty's has an orchestral arrangement sounding like film theme music.

Telephones have been ringing bells for readers of late, metaphorically speaking, with a reference here to the Yarmouth telephone exchange, built on Hall Quay in 1936 after origins in Regent Street and Howard Street South.

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The telecommunications role has long-since ceased but the building's main entrance door still has the original Winged Mercury sculpted head above it.

The property is now used for YMCA housing. Also recalled was the row of traditional red telephone boxes outside that frontage, now long gone.

Not all of those red kiosks were consigned to the scrap heap or became memorable garden adornments or "du-different" sheds in good old Norfolk tradition.

There are still one or two about, albeit lacking some of their striking colour.

Back in 1980 when this newspaper celebrated its centenary, we published a special supplement which reported that four years after our launch, the pioneer exchange was opened here by the United Telephone Company in 1884.

A dozen subscribers took advantage of the new-fangled communications facility although one wonders who they rang and, of course, who rang them.

Only a year later, it was taken over by the South of England Telephone Company, its control lasting only till 1889 when another new owner came along - the National Telephone Company.

Within five years the number of subscribers had grown to 23, the phone provider's directory for 1894 listing Yarmouth police station in Middlegate Street as being allocated phone number 1. NTC, the provider, gave number 2 to its own call office.

One of those pioneers was corn, cake, manure and seed merchants J & H Bunn in Southtown (phone number 3); the business is listed in the current directory as sited on South Beach Parade (01493 744700).

Originally, Gorleston had its own exchange and number - my family home when I was a lad was Gorleston 930, a party line shared with a family opposite although we never picked up the phone to find the Browns talking on it. Later all numbers were prefixed "Yarmouth."

The distinctive Gorleston 1 was allocated to butcher DW Bellamy in Baker Street, close to the Gorleston telephone exchange.

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