Britain 1st linked to the continent by Telephone

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Britain 1st linked to the continent by Telephone

The 18th of March 1891 AD

Or should it be the continent first linked to Britain?

Telephony began in 1875 in Massachusetts, USA, albeit with the Scottish Alexander Graham Bell carrying out experiments in the town of Salem. By 1878 he was demonstrating his new-fangled device to Queen Victoria , making the first long-distance calls in Britain from her residence on the Isle of Wight to Southampton and to London . Three years later long-distance telephony on a commercial basis was started, linking an office in Cannon Street London with Norwich nearly 120 miles away, using telegraph wires to carry the call, and by 1879 the first public telephone exchanges in Britain had opened.

It seems strange that with the accelerated development noted above, the next logical step, the linking of island Britain with the continent, should have taken so long to arrive. The delay was due in part to the unhelpful intervention of the Post Office, extending its monopoly on the telegraph business to telephones through a court case in 1880. After that case telephone companies were forced to pay what amounted to royalties to the Post Office, to obtain expensive licences from it, and even more restrictively they were given licences for very limited areas of operation.

The Post Office undertook to develop the telephone system itself, with all the dynamism, flair and entrepreneurial spirit typical of government departments the world over.

In 1883 The Monarch, the second cable-layer of that name, was handed over to its owners the Post Office. Cable laying for telegraphic communication had already been undertaken. In 1889 the PO bought the Lady Carmichael from the Submarine telegraph Company, at the same time obtaining that organisationís Anglo-European cable network. It was not until 1891, however, that the first HTMS Monarch laid the first purpose designed telephone cable between Britain and the European mainland.

On March 18 1891, then, the two capitals of England and France were officially linked telephonically, though the service was not opened to the public until April 1.

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