We are number one! Museum acquires village’s first telephone number

St Agnes Museum’s latest acquisition is an Art Deco telephone number! The very first telephone number ever to be installed in St Agnes recently became available, so the Museum wasted no time in adding it to the collection by making it a functional everyday tool as well as an artefact of local significance.

The first telephone exchange in St Agnes was opened in 1928 in what is now the Sorting Office Cafe. There were initially just 23 subscribers and ‘St. Agnes 1’ was the telephone number for the Post Office. Initially the first telephone exchange was manually operated, there was no need to know the numbers – “Just put me through to Doctor please”.

Bill Morrison, one-time Postmaster at St Agnes, wrote an article St Agnes Posts for the Museum Journal (No 5) and recorded that a camp bed was provided for the night operator and that the man who used to sweep up early every morning said that he could knock the bed with his brush and not wake the sleeper, but if he released the catch on a line on the switch board, the sleeper would plug in his jack and say “Number please” immediately.

Later, the number was allocated to a public telephone which was placed in a phone box outside the Post Office.

Phonebox outside Golden Bowl
Phonebox outside the Golden Bowl

In 1948, the exchange was moved and enlarged and all telephone numbers became three digit hence “1” became 301. The public phone box with this number was then relocated to the corner of what is now Taste restaurant and became 2301. The photograph here shows the Golden Bowl restaurant and would have been taken prior to April 1980 when it became the Entrecote.

In March 1981, a new spot was found for the phone box, outside what is now the St Agnes Parish Council office, and in the summer of 1991, the number became 552301.

The advent of the mobile phone obviously signalled the end of the telephone box and, like so many others, the phone box containing the first St Agnes telephone number became so little used that it was declared redundant and its phone disconnected and removed. All that now remains is an empty red shell itself earmarked for removal… but the number lives on! St Agnes Museum’s new ‘vintage’ number is: 01872 552301.

Roger Radcliffe.

Editors’ Note: On 30 April Roger appeared on Radio Cornwall’s Breakfast Show to talk to host, James Churchfield, about the Museum’s acquisition of the first telephone number ever issued in St Agnes. It was excellent free publicity for the Museum during a programme themed around telephones.