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BT History Family Tree

BT is the world's oldest communications company with, as this family tree shows, a direct line of descent from the first commercial telecommunications undertaking in the world, The Electric Telegraph Company, established in 1846. The history of BT is in many respects the history of telecommunications in the UK and internationally.

 BT Family Tree

The Electric Telegraph Company, the first electric telegraph company in Britain, was established by an Act of Parliament in 1846. It was set up by William Fothergill Cooke and Joseph Lewis Ricardo using Cooke and Charles Wheatstone's patents

In 1853 the British Electric Telegraph Company merged with the European and American Electric Printing Telegraph Company (1851-54) to form the British Telegraph Company. Its purpose was to lay down submarine and other telegraph cables to link London and Dublin and major towns in Great Britain, Ireland and Europe.

In July 1855 the Electric Telegraph Consolidation Act enabled the ETC and ITC to formally merge, becoming the Electric and International Telegraph Company (EITC). By 1868 it was the largest telegraph company in the country. The company was against nationalisation, however, the Telegraph Acts were passed and in 1870 it was taken over by the Post Office.

The United Telephone Company (UTC) was formed through the merger of The Telephone Company Limited (Bell's Patents) and the Edison Telephone Company of London on 13 May 1880. In February 1881 the UTC formed the Provincial Telephone Company Limited to promote new telephone companies across the United Kingdom leaving the UTC to concentrate on London.

Formed by the United Telephone Co Ltd in February 1881 the Provincial Telephone Company subsequently set up a series of subsidiary companies to operate in specific regions over which the United Telephone Co Ltd exercised a large amount of control. The subsidiaries were: the National Telephone Company (NTC); the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Company Limited; the Northern District Telephone Company; the Telephone Company of Ireland Limited; the Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company Limited; and the South of England Telephone Company Limited. on 1 May 1889 the National Telephone Co Ltd absorbed the United Telephone Co Ltd and the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Co Ltd with the other subsidiaries following later.

The Corporation of Glasgow was granted a licence on 1 March 1900 to serve an area of 140 square miles. Service opened with its Central Exchange on 28 March 1901. An agreement dated 6 September 1906 saw the undertaking transferred to the Postmaster General.

The Corporation was granted a licence on 21 September 1901 to serve an area of about 100 square miles. In March 1903 an exchange opened in the Town Hall. The system, comprising of eleven exchanges, passed into hands of the State on 1 October 1913. During 1916 these exchanges were closed with subscribers transferred to Post Office exchanges.

The General Post Office ceased to be a Government Department on 1 October and was established as a public corporation under the Post Office Act of this year.

A distinguishing name was given to the telecommunications business of the Post Office - British Telecom - following a Government decision to separate the major Post Office operations. Sir Keith Joseph, Industry Secretary, had announced in the House of Commons in July the Government's intentions to restructure the Post Office and relax the monopoly over terminal equipment and value-added services. However, British Telecom remained part of the Post Office until the following year.

British Telecommunications, trading as British Telecom, severed its links with the Post Office under the British Telecommunications Act, 1981 and became a totally separate public corporation on 1 October. They were now two separate organisations with their own chairmen and boards of directors.

The Telecommunications Bill, delayed the previous year because of the General Election, received Royal Assent on 12 April and became an Act of Parliament. British Telecommunications had been incorporated as a public limited company (plc) in anticipation of the Act on 1 April. The transfer to British Telecommunications plc from British Telecom as a statutory corporation of its business, its property, rights and liabilities took place on 6 August.

On 19 November BT Group plc was formed as the demerger of mm02 (formerly BT Wireless) was completed with shareholders receiving one BT Group plc share and one mm02 plc share for each existing British Telecommunications plc share. On demerger mm02 comprised BT's mobile activities in the UK (O2 UK, formerly BT Cellnet wholly owned since 10 November 2001), the Netherlands (Telfort Mobiel), Germany (Viag Interkom - wholly owned since February 2001) and the Republic of Ireland (O2 Communications, formerly known as Esat Digifone wholly owned since April 2001), Manx Telecom and Genie (BT's mobile internet portal). BT Group plc was principally structured through four lines of business: BT Retail, BT Wholesale, BT Ignite and BTopenworld focused around markets rather than geography.

See BT Group plc

The British Electric Telegraph Company was formed by Act of Parliament in 1850, and used the patents of Henry and Edward Highton. It was intended to rival the monopoly of the Electric Telegraph Company and had the opportunity to do so due to the expanding railway system. It merged with the European and American Electric Printing Telegraph Company to form the British Telegraph Company.

The Submarine Telegraph Company was founded in 1851 and granted an exclusive concession by the French government to lay a cable from England to France under the English Channel. On 31 March 1889 the Submarine Telegraph Company went into voluntary liquidation and the Post Office took over its property on 1 April 1889.

Merged with the British Electric Telegraph Co to form the British Telegraph Company.

See English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company

The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company (UKETC) was established by Act of Parliament in 1851, but did not start active operation until July 1860. Its intention was to introduce a system based on the penny post to convey messages at a uniform rate of one shilling per message of twenty words. By the time it started operating other telegraph companies were well established and it would have been difficult for a new company to compete at their rates. It was taken over by the Post Office in 1870.

The English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company was founded by Royal Charter in 1852 to work the patents of William Thomas Henley and David George Foster. It was previously known as the Magnetic Telegraph Company (1851-52).

Also known as the London and Provincial Telegraph Company. The London District Telegraph Company (LDTC) was established in 1859, to develop telegraphic communication within a radius of four miles from Charing Cross (London), with provision to extend to 20 miles. For a short time in 1867 it became the London and Provincial Telegraph Company and was taken over by the Post Office in 1870.

In April 1857 the British Telegraph Company merged with the English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company to form the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company. It was subsequently taken over by the Post Office in 1870.

The Universal Private Telegraph Company (UPTC) was established by an Act of Parliament in June 1861, but did not become fully operational until 1863. It undertook to construct and maintain lines of private wire between places of business or between residences and businesses. It was subsequently taken over by the Post Office in 1870.

The Telephone Company Ltd (Bell's Patents) was registered on 14 June 1878 to market Bell's patent telephones in Great Britain. Its offices were at 36 Coleman Street, London where in August 1879 it opened Britain's first public telephone exchange. On 13 May 1880 it amalgamated with its rival, the Edison Telephone Company of London Limited, to form the United Telephone Company.

Acquired by the National Telephone Co Ltd in 1888

The Edison Telephone Company of London Limited was floated on 2 August 1879 with its headquarters at 6 Lombard Street. On 13 May 1880 it amalgamated with its rival, the Telephone Company Ltd, to form the United Telephone Company.

The United Telephone Company (UTC) was formed through the merger of The Telephone Company Limited (Bell's Patents) and the Edison Telephone Company of London on 13 May 1880. In February 1881 the UTC formed the Provincial Telephone Company Limited to promote new telephone companies across the United Kingdom leaving the UTC to concentrate on London.

Formed by the United Telephone Co Ltd in February 1881 the Provincial Telephone Company subsequently set up a series of subsidiary companies to operate in specific regions over which the United Telephone Co Ltd exercised a large amount of control. The subsidiaries were: the National Telephone Company (NTC); the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Company Limited; the Northern District Telephone Company; the Telephone Company of Ireland Limited; the Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company Limited; and the South of England Telephone Company Limited. on 1 May 1889 the National Telephone Co Ltd absorbed the United Telephone Co Ltd and the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Co Ltd with the other subsidiaries following later.

An advert was placed in the Preston Guardian on 6 September 1879 by George Sharples promoting a telephone service in Preston. The Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Company Limited had opened their exchange in the town on 3 August 1881. Demand for service grew and an exchange on Fishergate, Preston was opened on 1 September 1881 known as the Preston Telephonic Exchange. There was active competition between the two companies until the Lancashire and Cheshire bought out Sharples on 1 December 1886.

The National Telephone Company (NTC) was the first United Telephone Co Ltd subsidiary to be formed on 10 March 1881 covering Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Ulster and part of Scotland. It was based in Glasgow.

Formed as a subsidiary of the UTC on 21 May 1881 covering Lancashire, Cheshire, Isle of Man, Westmorland and North Wales. In 1889 it was absorbed along with its parent company under the NTC.

Formed as a subsidiary of the UTC on 13 December 1881 covering Westmoreland, Cumberland, Northumberland and parts of Durham and Scotland. It was absorbed by the NTC on 30 April 1890.

Acquired by the National Telephone Co Ltd in June 1885.

Formed as a subsidiary of the UTC on 29 January 1885 to develop the telephone in the south of England in areas not previously allotted to any of the other subsidiary companies. It was absorbed by the NTC on 31 October 1890.

Formed as a subsidiary of the UTC on 17 December 1884 and acquired the interests and plant previously owned by the parent company. It was absorbed by the NTC on 1 January 1892.

The Corporation was granted a licence on 3 May 1901 to serve an area of 120 square miles. The service opened on 5 October 1903. In October 1905 disposal of the Corporation telephone system began to be talked of and in February 1906 the Postmaster General offered to purchase it, but was rejected. A subsequent higher offer was accepted in July, with the transfer taking effect on 22 October 1906.

The Corporation was granted a licence on 27 September 1902 and a service was opened on 5 November 1903. In early 1906 overtures were made by the Government for the purchase of the system, but the offer was seen as ridiculous. The Corporation, therefore, entered into negotiations with the NTC and sold their system on 31 March 1907.

The Post Office telecommunications monopoly in the Channel Islands ended on 1 January with the transfer of responsibility for running such services to the States of Guernsey (covering Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm and Brechou) and Jersey.

The Isle of Man Electric Telegraph Company was formed in 1859. In addition to the inclusion of the Channel Islands, The Telegraph Act of 1870 extended its provisions to include the Isle of Man. It gave orders to the Postmaster General to nationalise the Isle of Man Telegraph Company (the sale of which to the government had already been agreed in October 1868).

The Telegraph Act of 1868 authorised "His Majesty's Postmaster General to acquire, work and maintain electric telegraphs". At this time its provisions did not apply to the Channel Islands. However, two years later The Telegraph Act of 1870 extended its provisions to include the "Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney and the islands and islets adjacent thereto respectively", and provided for the purchase of the Jersey and Guernsey Telegraph Company Limited, thus nationalising the service in accordance with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Messrs. Blakey and Emmott of Halifax commenced business on the 1st January 1878 and had the first telephone exchange in Yorkshire. Situated in Leeds, it included about 30 subscribers. The switchroom was a small waiting room in the Royal Exchange, the switchboard being placed on the mantelpiece. The company became one of the leading electrical engineering concerns in the north of England and were actively engaged in not only the exploitation of the telephone in its application to private and public telephone service, but also in the manufacture of telephone and other electrical apparatus. It was ultimately bought out by the Provincial Telephone Company (see separate entry).

Founded by David Moseley Messrs. D Moseley & Sons, india-rubber manufacturers, was one of the first British companies to become active in the telephone business. It was by Charles Moseley, of Messrs. David Moseley & Sons, that the first telephone was introduced into Manchester. Charles Moseley became keenly interested in the telephone soon after its invention and in November 1877 he recruited Mr William F Bottomley, as the firm engineer. Under his engineering direction the company became a telephone agent, providing private telephone services to local customers. The company also manufactured and supplied telephone equipment of varying descriptions to the Post Office, railway companies and private firms. The telephone business of the company was absorbed in 1881 by The Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Company Limited.

1846 Electric Telegraph Co 1851 Reuters Telegram Co 1853 Electric & International Telegraph Co 1862 Jersey & Guernsey Telegraph Co 1870 Post Office 1880 United Telephone Co Ltd 1880 Provincial Telephone Co Ltd 1900 Glasgow Corporation Telephone System 1902 Portsmouth Corporation Telephone System 1916 Cable & Wireless Co Ltd 1969 Post Office Telecommunications 1980 British Telecommunications 1981 British Telecommunications 1984 British Telecommunications 2001 BT Group plc 2001 MM02 2001 1853 British Telegraph Co 1849 British Electric Telegraph Co 1850 Submarine Telegraph Company 1851 European & American Electric Printing Telegraph Co 1851 Magnetic Telegraph Co 1851 United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Co 1852 English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Co 1859 London District Telegraph Co 1857 British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Co 1861 Universal Private Telegraph Co 1878 The Telephone Co Ltd 1979 Tasker, Sons & Co 1879 Edison Telephone Co of London Ltd 1880 United Telephone Co Ltd 1880 Provincial Telephone Co Ltd 1880 George Sharples & Son Co 1880 National Telephone Co Ltd 1880 Lancashire & Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Co Ltd 1880 Northern Telephone Co Ltd 1884 Dundee & District Telephone Co Ltd 1884 South of England Telephone Co Ltd 1885 Western Counties & South Wales Co Ltd 1903 Brighton Corporation Telephone System 1903 Swansea Corporation Telephone System 1973 Telecomms services in Channel Islands transferred to States of Jersey & Guernsey 1859 Isle of Man Telegraph company 1878 Messrs Blakey & Emmott 1877 Messrs D Moseley & Sons