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"Tunbridge wells home of the first municipal telephone company"
A Blast From the Past 1901

January: To the surprise of many sceptics the Tunbridge Wells Municipal Telephone Company has successfully completed its first great challenge by installing telephone links from the council offices to the High Street,to the sewage works and the isolation hospital not in Tunbridge Wells, but neighbouringTonbridge.


It is the first independent company in the country to achieve such a technical feat
and it happened because of a tragedy.
A few years ago there was an accident in Tonbridge and a call was made immediately to the local doctor in East Street. Contact could not be made, however, because the telephone wire had been broken, so a note was taken by hand to the doctor. He went quickly to the scene of the accident but too late the man had died.

The National Telephone System was bombarded by angry letters from people who considered the conditions of telephonic communication in both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells to be almost intolerable. As a result of this and other pressures the Government introduced legislation enabling local authorities to set up their own telephone services.

Tunbridge Wells was the first to apply and obtain a licence. In fact the new company decided to open exchanges in 49 locations covering 180 square miles, but it was Tonbridge who made the first request. "Fix up our town offices and departments by January 1901, or we will not join your system", wrote the Town Clerk. The target has now been met, the inaugural celebrations held and the two towns have a place in the history of telephonic communication.


This
new company has some catching up to do for the National Telephone Company has already more than 100 subscribers in Tunbridge Wells, 30 in Tonbridge and 48 in Sevenoaks. Nearly all the entries in the local directories are commercial customers but there are some exceptions. For example the honour of holding the number Sevenoaks 1 belongs to Mr Alfred J. St George McAdam Laurie of Rockdale. In Tonbridge, the numbers have three digits, starting with a 2; Baltic Saw Mills is Tonbridge 201.


The installation of tall masts to carry the dozen or so crossbars supporting the telephone wires and the introduction of public call offices where "anyone can use the telephone", continues to intrigue many people.


The first public call office in Tonbridge is on the premises of C.A.Woolley, cycle agent at 76 High Street.
In these three West Kent towns Alexander Graham Bell's wonderful invention is certainly showing its enormous potential and the signs are that it will be a huge success. In fact all over the county masts are being erected and exchanges opened. A submarine cable has even been laid

January: Shortly after becoming a naturalised British subject, Hiram Maxim, Crayford's eccentric inventor, has been knighted. And he plans to celebrate by constructing a new flying machine which, this time, he is confident will actually get off the ground.
Sir Hiram is a remarkable man. He was born in Maine, USA and went on to become chief engineer of the first electric light company in America before coming to England to organise electricity services in this country. In 1881 he began to work on an automatic machine gun and he carried out his experiments in a small factory in Hatton Garden, London.
Maxim perfected a singlebarrelled gun which could fire 666 rounds a minute and received a visit from the Prince of Wales who was intrigued by this new weapon.
By this time Maxim had relocated his works at Crayford, bought a house nearby called Stoneyhurst and eventually amalgamated with an Erith based firm of gunmakers which, in time, became known as Vickers and Son and Maxim. In 1891 the British army adopted Maxim's gun and it was used in the Matabele War and is currently used by both sides in the Boer War.
Sir Hiram's knighthood has delighted the people of Dartford and district. Few will forget the day a few years ago when his flying machine actually flew for 100 yards and how he put it on display at Baldwyns Park to raise money for the Bexley Cottage Hospital.
Some people actually paid five shillings for the privilege of hurtling down the trackway. They didn't take off. That privilege is for people of the



January: An extraordinary era in British history has ended with the death of Queen Victoria who has died peacefully in her sleep at "le House, Cowes. She was 81. Victoria becarne Queen of England at the age of 18 and ruled for 63 years, almost 40 of them as a widow.
High Court judges have declared the Maidstone general election void on account of widespread bribery by leading members of the Liberal Party. The MP John Barker has been unseated, prominent LiberaIs disenfranchised and one sent to jail. Barker cannot stand again for seven years.

Maidstone's electricity works have now opened at the Fair Meadow adjacent to the baths. This will enable the works to have the benefit of a riverside wharf for coal supplies.
April 4th: An electric tramway service between Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate was opened today by the Isle of Thanet Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Ltd. A Seeond service between Margate and Ramsgate via Dumpton is due to open in July.
Summer: The Sheppey Light Railway has opened from Sheerness to Leysdown.
May: The census of 1901 reveals that the population of Britain has reached a new peak of 41.5 million, overtaking France for the first time. The population of Kent in 1901 is approaching one million; more than two thirds, 667,170, live in the towns and the proportion is increasing.

July 16th:
There has been a fatal accident on the pier tramway at Hene Bay. A luggage trailer left the tracks, the driver and conductor panicked, jumped off and the carriage plunged through railings into the sea. An elderly passenger was killed.
July 19th: The West Kent manry have returned from the Boer War, to an overwhelming welcome in Maidstone and they have accepted the addition to their title of the word 'Imperial'.

The first motor buses in Gravesend two small 12-seaters operated by Messrs Smith and Day be
tween Gravesend and Northfleet have been inaugurated, while a tramway is being re-laid for electric operation.
September: A decision in the House of Lords that employers can sue for damages arising out of strike action has outraged Trade Union leaders and given fuel to a campaigning issue by the newly formed Labour Representation Committee.
Sir Edward Watkin, Liberal MP for Hythe (1874?1895), has died aged 82. As a promoter of great enter prises Sir Edward was known for his proposal to build a tower at Wembley 150 feet higher than the Eiffel. His grandest scheme, how ever, was aTunnel under the Channel He thought that military objections to his tunnel idea were absurd.