Could this be the country's best kept secret? Avoncroft Museum located at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, houses the BT National Telephone Kiosk collection and four working telephone exchanges. However few ex-employees seem to be aware of its existence, which is a great shame as it would make an interesting day out to see how telephone exchanges worked before the digital age.
The main feature is a working Unit Automatic eXchange (UAX13), the workhorse of village telephone exchanges during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Over 2,500 of this design were in the network at their peak in the mid-sixties. Complete with its wooden building, the exchange from Stapleford in Essex was moved to Avoncroft in its entirety and rewired on site.
Within the UAX building is a UAX5, first introduced in 1929, this working example, originally from the village of Longworth in Oxfordshire, was made redundant in 1932 when it was replaced by a UAX12. The UAX5 serves 25 customers with a two digit numbering scheme. Only four calls can be in progress at any one time. There was no 999 service, but for this and calls to any other exchange, the code 01 gave access to the GPO Operator in a nearby town, to complete the call.
There is a working Mobile Non-Director eXchange (MNDX). These exchanges used Strowger electro mechanical technology to provide an automatic system for customers and now connect the telephone boxes on site.
Also on site is a working mobile Telephone eXchange Electronic No.2 (TXE2) exchange in a trailer, probably the only working specimen in the country. Designed in the mid-Sixties before integrated circuits and digital technology it was the first design to go into production using transistors and reed relays to replace the moving parts of Strowger exchanges.
Surrounding the exchanges are telephone boxes of all vintages charting the history of public phone box development in the U.K. Starting with the first standardised Kiosk No.1 (K1) in 1922 right through the GPO era with the Kiosk No.8 and the first BT Kiosk KX100 and later boxes offering Internet access circa 2000.
The phoneboxes are equipped with the appropriate type of coinbox for their era, ranging from the antique to the modern. The three above are a simple mechanism where the public telephone operator collected the money, the A and B button box, and pay-on-answer allowing long distance and international calls to be directly dialled and fees collected automatically.
As well as public boxes, there are two police pillars too. A popular feature with visitors is a Police Box from Glasgow, looking very much like the TARDIS from the BBC's Doctor Who series. There are a variety of AA and RAC roadside boxes, originally for use for free, by means of a special member's key.
Avoncroft is a large open air museum featuring many restored buildings and a working windmill. The telecom exhibits are lovingly maintained by volunteers, many worked for the GPO / BT before their retirement. They endeavour to be on hand to explain and demonstrate the telephone exhibits whenever the museum is open during the summer months.
For precise opening times especially during the winter and spring period, entrance charges and directions, please consult the Avoncroft Museum Website. Most SatNavs, mobile phones, Google and Bing maps will accept latitude and longitude giving better directions than when entering a postcode. Enter 52.314826, -2.069133 in their search box for the museum car park entrance.