A Bloomsbury resident writes…
If you had worked in the switchboard room when the Museum Telephone Exchange building at North Crescent opened in 1914, you might have connected callers ringing up for Virginia Woolf, the Omega Workshop, or numerous other members of the Bloomsbury Group who lived locally and were subscribers to this exchange.
Then, through two world wars, you may have been one of the telephonists who remained at their switchboard, working under the “lantern skylight” glass roof during the London air raids wearing a helmet or even a gas mask.
In April 1922, The Woman’s Leader ran an article entitled “The Work of the Telephonist” about the immense importance of the telephone and the women who connected important calls, often walking through streets to their exchanges while bombs were dropping. Many, mostly under the age of 30, received medals and OBEs but later were dismissed on account of their sick records.
The former Museum Telephone Exchange at North Crescent today sits quietly, a rare gem mostly hidden behind the Rangers War Memorial and the Eisenhower Centre at North Crescent, but one only need scratch the surface to find a rich and remarkable history.
The exchange, opened on 20 April 1914 at Chenies Street WC1, the name being derived from the building being in close proximity to the British Museum. The architect, John Rutherford of H.M. Office of Works, designed a number of other telephone exchanges and post offices throughout England, some of which now are Grade II listed.
Museum Exchange converted to automatic working on 29 July 1944 at its new home in Howland Street W1. There was some slight damage due to enemy action in 1944.
The old manual exchange building in Chenies Street became a Trunk Control Centre on 16 October 1950 known as Trunk Control Bloomsbury. You can see a view of one of the floors in use here.
In December 1974 the exchange was again in the firing line when a IRA bomb was left at the door killing one telephonist and injuring one other.
The special social, historic and architectural value could be lost if the current partial demolition plans proceed.
This endangered place deserves listed status on the Historic England register alongside its near neighbours in our precious conservation area.