An engineer at work on the exchange floor at St Albans Telephone Exchange

Online archive showcases UK's telecoms history

A £1m project to digitise BT’s historical photos and documents from the past 165 years launched today.

BT has teamed up with Coventry University and The National Archives to create a searchable digital resource of almost half a million photographs, reports and items of correspondence preserved by BT since 1846.

The project has been funded by Jisc, which provides digital services for UK education and research, and the collection will be freely available to the public under a Creative Commons licence to encourage sharing and the use of the material in school curricula and for research.

Professor Neil Forbes, director of research at Coventry University, said: “It is a great pleasure to be able to launch the BT digital archives. Teams of experts from across the partners involved have worked together to produce an extraordinarily rich and important online archive. It’s a magnificent achievement.”

Users anywhere in the world can explore 50 terabytes worth of images and documents detailing how Britain laid the foundations for global telecommunications, including the first telephone exchange in 1879 and the Queen making the first automatic long distance telephone call in the 1950s.

The archive is recognised by UNESCO and Arts Council England as being of international importance.

David Hay, head of heritage at BT Group, said: “BT’s archive documents over a century of the achievements of British telecommunications engineers and scientists in pushing the boundaries of communications technology.

“I’m constantly fascinated by the photographs and documents in the archive; it’s fantastic that the public can now enjoy it so easily, using our technology and networks.”

Chris Mumby, head of commercial delivery at The National Archives, said: “Our renowned expertise in creating and preserving digitised records ensures that this important collection is accessible to more people now and in the future.”

Paola Marchionni, programme manager, Jisc said: “We’re very proud at Jisc to have funded the digitisation of this internationally recognised archive. The strength of this project lies in a partnership that goes beyond the higher education sector and which has made openly available hundreds and thousands of digital resources for just anybody to enjoy.

“At the same time, the academic team has produced fascinating case studies which show how digitised archival material can be used to explore new avenues both in research and teaching in a wide range of subjects, from design to linguistic and cultural studies.”

Browse the BT Digital Archives here.

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them