An emergency GPO response.

Bob Nutley

   On Sunday afternoon, 9th January 1966, a G.P.O telegram boy came to my house on his red BSA Bantam motorcycle. The message was from my boss, asking me to collect my van from KempTown Goods Yard and meet him at the Installation Office in Totteridge, a G.P.O. building in Dyke Road, near the Seven Dials. I had previously worked on the telephone routing in this office so was asked to look at the availability of spare lines near Hove Museum, housed in Brooker Hall. I saw that there were two that could be diverted down from the next pole in up Pembroke Crescent to a pole adjacent to the Museum.

   I was then asked to go to the Museum, meet with another fitter, Pat I'Anson, and see about fitting telephones in every room as requested by the Town Clerk. Fortunately for both of us, the museum staff, who had already been asked to come to work, were moving and clearing exhibits from the first floor to the ground floor, leaving the rooms empty. Also a great help to us was the fact that the floorboards had all been screwed down when they were originally laid, so that this simplified the distribution of our wires from a central point on the landing.

   The Mayor of Hove, Councillor Edmonds, had already chosen his new temporary (Parlour) Office, a room on the front eastern side of the building. We soon had a couple of Exchange lines connected, with assistance from a colleague in Hove Exchange, keeping the same telephone number. The lines were constantly in use, I was surprised at the number of different towns all over Britain, telephoning, offering their sympathy and assistance to the Borough at this time.

   A couple of days later I went to the burnt out Town Hall, accompanied by a Hove Fireman, to see if any telephone equipment could be salvaged. He gave me a two-tone green telephone that had been in the caretakers flat. This phone had its dial about half the size it would normally have been, shrunken by the heat. It must have been a different composition of plastic from the body and handset, but to bring home the terror of the fire for the occupants of the flat, a red hot two and a half inch floor brad (used to fix the boards to the joists) had fallen from the ceiling above into the curved part in front of the handset, burnt its way into the body and the molten ends then curved around into a U shape. It must have been a terrifying experience for the caretaker.

   Also I had to look into the basement area in the Norton Road side, where the GPO main cable entered the Town Hall. This was undamaged and a Corporation employee arrived to collect all Police exhibits, labelled with the date and crime from early on in the century which had been stored there since the Police Station was first at the Town Hall. These were put into paper sacks to go out with the rubbish, a bit of a shame, I thought.

   When all our work at Booker Hall was completed Councillor Edmonds invited us to take coffee and cakes with him – a kind gesture.


This page was added on 19/02/2010.