History of The Exchange
The Building’s Original Purpose
‘The Exchange’ is the name given to the old telephone repeater station in
The Building’s Original Layout
The building was made up of 5 parts:
- a large generator room on the ground floor;
- a large equipment room on the upper floor;
- an annex over two floors with offices, store rooms, mess rooms and dormitories;
- a heating plant in the cellar below; and
- a series of interconnecting underground passages and voids. (It was here that the ‘trunk’ telephone cables entered, before being routed to the appropriate equipment upstairs.
The Building Construction
The National Archives holds a document dated 1 February 1926 which refers to an application from F & E Small (builders) for the erection of the Taunton Repeater station. (Ref WORK 13/966). The work must have been completed well before 1930 since it is clearly visible on the Ordnance Survey map of that date.
The main structure remains largely unchanged. The generator and equipment rooms have a concrete frame with brick load-bearing walls and large iron-framed windows. The annex also has a concrete frame with conventional brick walls and steel-framed windows. The double pitched and hipped roof is finished with unusual interlocking Bridgwater clay roman style tiles with a central valley gutter separated by a lead lined valley gutter. The roof finishes to a raised brick parapet with outlets from the gutter to substantial cast iron downpipes. A bomb-proof room was formed on the ground floor. The chimneys, ornamental balconies and sheer presence of the building give it architectural significance as an example of service buildings of the pre-war era. The concrete-framed structure of the main building gave it a fairly adaptable space to hold equipment. The use of concrete in the U.K started with the invention of ‘
The construction seems to be of a ‘national’ design, probably by an architect who worked with the GPO on many projects. This would be expected since the GPO was a fairly centralised organisation and tended to standardise everything. Since it had gained a telecommunications monopoly in 1912 it wanted to make sure of its place by trade-marking many of its assets. On closer examination of the building, it can be seen that the architect has taken great care over details such as windows, small balconies, rainwater hoppers, exterior ironwork and even the building silhouette.
Position of the Building
The building was carefully sited alongside the main A38 trunk road where it would have been one of the first large buildings to be seen as visitors entered the town of
Ruston & Hornsby Ltd of Lincoln, who made oil engines, designed the generators. They supplied two of their 7HE models, which had integral electrical generators that provided the power to help amplify the telephone signal.
The following documents still exist in the British Telecom Archives:
- Plans of the engines in the power room - TCB/F4/370/51, TCB/F4/370/58 & TCB/F4/370/59
- Details of handrails for the two engines - TCB/F4/370/65
- Diagram of the foundations for the engines - TCB/F4/370/66 - dated 12 Feb 1927.
- Diagram of details of the supports of the overhead water tanks TCB/F4/370/68 - dated 9th Feb 1927
As to the telephone equipment and amplifiers used, these have yet to be established but it is likely that they would have been upgraded often over the years. We must bear in mind that then, as now, telephony was constantly leaping forward. We are still trying to establish the equipment used through various historic interest groups.
The later years
At the outbreak of war in 1939, the building would have been identified as a key point in the area that must be defended. It was a principle means of communication both west to east and south to north and therefore a vital tool to track any invasion and to organise any required defence. According to anecdotal reports, it also carried the special direct ‘Hot Line’ to the
During the 1950s, as the ‘Cold War’ deepened, it seems that these repeater stations were protected against the possibility of a nuclear attack. Certainly, eight extra “special” repeater stations were built at strategic points in the
More recent times
By the 1990s the building’s purpose had been superseded by more modern technology and was no longer required by British Telecom. It was left boarded up and unused, except for storage purposes, until it was purchased by
It is certain that this striking ex-industrial building is important to the
A key requirement for the restoration and maintenance of an old building is establishing a viable, ongoing purpose, and the more useful it can become the more secure its future.