The Telephone

In 1897 Hugh persuaded the Parish Council to take advantage of a concession made by the Post Master General Office in regard to rural telegraphs and to guarantee the payment required under the new regulations. This guarantee was that the parish should pay half of any deficit in income from receipts of £33 per annum.  This was a lot for a small place and Parish Council did pay £10 a year for the first two years, but after that it decreased and after some years reversed into payments received. The telegraph was a great success, enabling news of all sorts, but of particular interest to the Brandsby community, it was now possible to get news of agricultural prices at markets and to make better decisions about whether to sell or hold their produce. Business at the Post Office doubled.

Encouraged by the success of the telegraph, in 1907 Hugh began to think about the telephone,

“I therefore asked the GPO if they would make the Brandsby Office a Public Call Office. It took nearly twelve months before I got any definite answer and I had to get into communication through the Board of Agriculture and my friend Arthur Rogers there, before I achieved anything. There were technical difficulties, because the iron wire of the telegraph gave an imperfect hearing and was only suitable for short distances. Finally I got through a scheme where by all the sub-telegraph offices connected with Easingwold were made into Public Call Offices for intercommunication with York. But by the time the GPO was ready to put this scheme into execution, I had worked up sufficient interest to secure six subscribers at Brandsby for private wires of the ordinary telephone service, at a subscription rate of £5 per annum each. The telephones were installed in 1908 or 1909 I think and were of immense benefit to us. The original six subscribers were Brandsby Lodge (Hon. Hugh Fitzwilliam), the Hall (Learoyd), the BATA, myself at Mill Hill, Strickland at Warren House and the estate office at the Low Farm. I also put on the store at Stillington.”

Hugh then turned his attention to trying to get a telephone service for the farmers who could not afford £5 per year. He went to his friend A.G. Rogers, then at the Board of Agriculture. The result was that the Post Master General agreed to allow £2000 for an experimental party-line scheme for farmers. The lines to the farms would be party lines at a rate of £3 per annum subscription, with a possibility of trunk connections on payment of the Trunk fees for a radius extending up to 80 miles. It was a condition that there should be three farm houses to every mile. Brandsby was put down as the first place at which the scheme was to be tried.

Hugh had to get ten subscribers in a hurry, and had the usual difficulties and obstructions, but managed by dint of persuasion and diplomatic manoeuvring to get 10 subscribers. These included his own estate office at Low farm, which he changed from a private line and a line to Spella Park Farm which was never installed, but for which Hugh paid the £3 annual fee himself.

“The telephone service was an immense success, and I don’t believe that one of the original subscribers would ever have liked to lose it. Strickland told me he not possibly do without it, and that he made money over it the first time he used it. At the time he used to regularly converse once a week with a Shorthorn breeder in Scotland. John White also testified eloquently to the value of the telephone to him and told me the subscription was repaid to him over and over again by extra business. Johnson whose farm is a small one is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of its value. The two Graingers found it of great value during the critical years when Willie first set up independently. I know that the Rector uses it a good deal and that even his wife is now accustomed to use it frequently. I doubt if they would care to be without it. S. Frank is the only one whose testimony might be doubtful, but his family’s verdict would be favourable. Since the installation I have added another installation for my own use on the estate.

This service created some sensation in the country and I received an autograph letter from the PMG, Herbert Samuel, thanking me for my services in the matter. He also mentioned Brandsby in the House of Commons as an example of the use of the telephone to farmers. This brought down a host of reporters to Brandsby and I was of course visited by the ubiquitous representative of the Daily Mail, who arrived posthaste at nine o’clock at night.”

“The telephone was a great help to the B.A.T.A. as it enabled the Society to consult about prices at a moment’s notice and really put us on an equal footing with the town traders, so far as information was concerned. It was also an immense convenience to the private residents and made a great difference to the life of the place.

It made committee work much more real and alive, because it was now quite easy to call members up from the office and arrange meetings at short notice at convenient times, thus ensuring attendance of a quorum. If buy chance a quorum did not turn up, the secretary could always get into communication with one of the missing men, or meetings could be postponed at the last moment, thus avoiding those dreadful failures that used to occur, when one or two men walked long distances, only to find that the rest had failed to keep the engagement. It was the constant occurrence of this sort of fiasco that made committee work so difficult formerly.

Then again it was easy to get the decisions of committees carried out, now it was possible for the secretary to communicate over the telephone and consult members concerned about details or unexpected incidents arising after the meeting, which might modify his action. Formerly people used to wait for days together for an opportunity of meeting one another to consult about some small matter, and often the next meeting would come round before such consultation took place and no step had therefore been taken. Now, this was all changed and we used to appoint sub-committees without difficulty or delay by consultation with the secretary or one another over the telephone. This put life into all the democratic institutions and even the Parish Council woke up.“

Once the Brandsby scheme had been deemed a success, the Postmaster General opened the scheme to new requests. By 1910, the party-line telephone scheme was promoted widely by AOS, with the Brandsby scheme as the model for AOS recommendations.