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Alfred Cunnington’s Private Telephone System

This is the earliest commercial telephone in Britain, made by Alfred Cunnington in 1877 to connect his wine merchant business at the Old Town Hall with his home at Southgate House, Devizes. Cunnington had read about Alexander Graham Bell’s invention published in Scientific American in 1876 and using the diagrams in the article set about making his own version.

Below is a portrait of Alfred Cunnington, taken in around 1870.

Photo of Victorian gentleman with moustache and large sideburns, wearing a stiff collar and double-breasted jacket

In 1933, Capt. B.H. Cunnington wrote a newspaper article - Early Telephones of Wiltshire Make

What people thought

The telephone cable connecting the Cunnington's Wine Shop at the Old Town Hall with his house ran along Long Street.

Mr Sloper refused to allow the wires to be attached to his house, as he feared it would attract lighting and bring ruin to his premises. Many complaints were received that they could hear the talking going on over it during the night. Some even protested that they could hear it during the day-time. Generally speaking, this telephone did not meet with a friendly reception from the inhabitants over whose homes the wire passed, but it created a great deal of interest. Both Southgate House and the Old Town Hall were, int he early days of the installation, often visited by persons anxious to see and hear the "speaking instruments".

The story of Cunnington's Telephone

In 1877, the late Alfred Cunnington constructed a set of telephones from sketches and descriptions published in The Scientific American. These were fitted up in the Old Town Hall between the ground floor and the cellars. The following year Mr Cunnington began the work of connecting the Old Town Hall with Southgate House, then the residence of his family ... what is all probability was the first telephone put up for practical purposes in England.on of electrical appliances in London.

They were there until the National Telephone Comany obtained exclusive rights ... and they were hastily dismantled under a threat of pains and penalties by that Company. They were exhibited at a scientific soiree in the Town Hall, Devizes in 1879 and again about 1900 at Edison's exhibition of electrical appliances in London.

An abbreviated version of the newspaper article was published in WANHM 47.


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