The Challenge

Communications Networks are at the heart of modern life yet too many the mysteries of how they work and how they have evolved over the past 170 years remains just that - a mystery hidden behind closed doors, in inconspicuous buildings, for the large part unnoticed and taken for granted.

Yet many are fascinated to discover some of the secrets, learn how phone calls are connected and routed, how internet data finds its way across the tangled web, and the unsung heroes over the years who have made it possible.

Most people have heard of Alexander Graham Bell, but what about Almon Strowger, Tommy Flowers, Donald Davies, Vint Cerf?

Why was 999 chosen as the emergency number? How does your broadband internet connection work? How does the mobile phone network find you wherever you are? How do engineers even begin to design electronic systems like a smartphone, an IP router, or a piece of software?

These are the questions we aim to answer, teaching about the past and preparing youngsters to be inventors and engineers of the future.

In summary our aims and objectives are :

Visitors often express a desire to see and learn about modern equipment alongside the old. This is a Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) installed in a roadside cabinet. By placing the DSLAM in the street closer to the customer, rather than in the towns central exchange building the length of copper wire between the DSLAM and the customer is reduced enhancing the speed of internet connection they can get.

  • To work towards the establishment of a comprehensive hands-on communications museum featuring both working hands on historic equipment, educational models to support the equipment by explaining specific principles, a classroom facilty for schools groups & courses, teaching electronics / software development and a library for public research using the many docuuments, books, journals & photographs we have in our collection.

  • To support communications collections, particularly those with a strong emphasis on "hands on" education.

  • To support such collections by providing finance, organising fundraising, seeking grants, visitor guide training, technical maintenance, and maintenance engineer training.

  • To support such collections with spare parts supply by co-ordinating supply & demand of hard to find parts

  • To act as a central clearing point for donors wishing to donate spares and equipment so that they can be disseminated to where they are needed, and providing the public, other organisations and companies with a single central contact for ensuring surplus equipment gets a good home at a museum.

  • To act as custodians of important equipment and artefacts which are facing disposal by providing storage until such a time that a museum can provide a home for them.

  • To ensure that equipment and artefacts at museums whose primary focus is not science/telecommunications, are looked after for future generations & not disposed of or left to deteriorate into a poor non functional condition, if necessary by seeking out a more suitable long term home for them from amongst museums.

  • To share the collective expertise and experience of its members, particularly with regard to technical maintenance, exhibition /display design, and story telling a.k.a 'interpretation'

For many kids & teens visiting the museum 'dialing' in the traditional sense is a new experience to a generation accustomed to push button phones & touchscreens. Back in the early days of automatic exchanges dialing was a new experiene for everyone so the GPO produced information cards showing how to use the new automatic system.

Bank wiring in a Strowger exchange. Each of these pairs of wires forms a path through the exchange from one line to another.

Key exhibits include this full 300 line Strowger automatic exchange preserved in full working order in its orginal building which served the villages of Stapleford Abbots & Stapleford Tawney, Essex from 1955 to 1992. Visitors love the awe of being able to walk into a fully working exhange building and get a sense of the scale of the equipment in its orginal setting.

Working exchanges are one of the big visitor attractions and keeping them working for years to come is a prime aim of the trust.