The public telephone service started to be introduced in the UK in 1880, but the telephone initially received a mixed reception, often meeting opposition from local councils. Local authorities eventually won the right to operate their own services in competition with the Post Office and the National Telephone Company.
In Hull, various telephone exchanges were attempted by the Post Office and National Telephone Company from the early 1880s onwards. However, by the end of the 1880s the Hull Chamber of Trades was lobbying for a municipally owned service. In 1899 the City Council passed a resolution for the Corporation to consider providing a telephone service. After some delay, Hull Corporation was granted a license to operate a municipal telephone system in August 1902 and the first telephone exchange was opened in 1904 on Trippett Street.
At the time, there were a number of such municipal telephone companies around the UK, but Hull’s is the only one to have survived without being absorbed into the Post Office Telephone department, which subsequently became British Telecom (BT).
In 1914, Hull’s bid to renew its licence was made conditional on it purchasing the National Telephone network infrastructure for £192,423 (equivalent to over £15m in today’s prices). This was approved, which secured the future of the service.
Following privatisation in 1999, Kingston Communications (now KCOM) remains the only locally operated telephone company in the UK, hence the distinctive cream coloured phone boxes in the city (they also don’t feature the crown like their red counterparts).
Using Telephone Directories for research
In many ways telephone directories are similar to trade directories. The first phone books were a simple listing by name that didn’t always supply a full address, but did sometimes include details of a person’s trade. From 1947 they also contain a classified business directory. From 1993 onwards a separate Yellow Pages was produced by Kingston Communications, which became known as the Colour Pages from 1999.
Telephone directories are most often used by those researching family history in order to pinpoint individuals in a particular place and time:
- Households are listed by name, as opposed to the electoral registers which are only listed by address
- The Classified section (or Colour Pages) can also be helpful in tracing local businesses, especially for periods not covered by trade directories
- Telephone directories can be used for the period for which no census records are currently available (1911 onwards)
- Telephone directories also supply contemporary information about the telephone service and other local information.
- Most listings only give the head of household
- Full names are rarely supplied, most listings give surname and initials
- By their nature, ex-directory entries are excluded
- Entries are not listed by address (try trade directories for this).
Hull Phone Books
Historical telephone directories are available on open access in the Searchroom. Hull phone books include Hull as well as parts of the East Riding including Cottingham, Hedon, Elloughton and Beverley.
- The earliest surviving telephone directory is for 1923 [U DDX/16/313].
- We also have a complete run of Kingston Communications telephone directories from 1937 to the present, with the exception of 1939, 1945 and 1983 which are all missing.
Phone books for other areas
British phone books (1880-1984) are also held at the BT Archives and are available through the Ancestry website which can be accessed for free at the History Centre. Coverage is selective and often doesn’t include Hull. Current issues of telephone directories for other areas can be found at Hull Reference Library.
Further reading on the development of telephone services in Hull
Additional material can be searched on our online catalogue.