British Phone Books Collection Completed, 1880-1984

Ancestry has added the last installment to the British Phone Book collection which spans the years 1880 to 1984. The contents of 1,780 different British phone books containing 280 million names are the result of a 26-month digitization project. Included are the phone books for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

The British Phone Books, 1880-1984 contain names, numbers and addresses, including those of famous historical figures such as former Prime Minister Harold McMillan at his cottage in Chelwood Gate, composer Edward Elgar at his estate in Warwickshire and writer Evelyn Waugh at his home in the West Country where he wrote Brideshead Revisited.

Spanning 104 years, the collection also includes the very first phone book – for London – released in 1880 and containing just 248 entries, to those published in the 1980s when more than 47 million phone books were distributed in 145 separate editions.

The first phone book contained no numbers and callers were put through by the operator, while the first person to appear in the original phone book was one J.W. Alt living at 14 Queen Victoria Street, East Central. Interestingly, this building no longer exists after the remains of a Roman Temple found nearby were moved to this site, which is now named Temple Court.

Early versions of the phone book also included advice on how to make a telephone call and tips on phone etiquette. Some useful tips were:

Speak clearly and directly into the transmitter – the lips should be almost touching the mouthpiece and there is rarely need to shout
Answer promptly and announce your identity at once upon receiving a call
Extend the exchange officers the same courtesy and consideration that you would expect from them
The collection will allow family history researchers to trace where their UK ancestors lived at a given time and place and will also fuel the trend for “house history,” where residents trace the previous occupants of their homes. has partnered with telecommunications company BT to bring these phone books online. BT Archives ( is a designated place of deposit for Public Records where researchers can consult the original documents (1840s to date) that tell the history of BT and its predecessors. BT’s heritage policy is available here.

One thought on “British Phone Books Collection Completed, 1880-1984

  1. These British phone books are very useful, but the standard of transcription is dreadful. There are obvious place-name mis-spellings (eg Mirfielj instead of Mirfield); place-names being mixed with personal names (eg Robert Farnley Lodge Armitage – Robert Armitage lived at Farnley Lodge, as is perfectly clear from the entry); places being listed hundreds of miles from their actual location (eg Leeds numbers as Central London) – I could go on. The standard is far, far worse than anything else I’ve come across in Ancestry, and if I were them I’d be very embarrassed.

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