TODAY, you pick up your mobile phone, press a name in your contacts book and you can connect to anywhere on the planet in a few seconds.

If you are lucky.

Only a small number of decades ago, you had to pick up your phone and ask a telephonist to put you through.

If you were in a town like Darlington in the 1950s, you would go straight through to the Barnard Street exchange where there were up to 20 female receptionists awaiting your call. If you lived in the villages around, you went through to your local exchange which was usually situated in someone’s front room. They then put you through to Darlington where another receptionist would connect you further.

If you were lucky.

Marjorie Bateson was one of the Darlington receptionists but she also did relief cover at the satellite exchanges, like the one in Hurworth Place, which featured in Memories 493.

“It was a very big switchboard with ‘eyeballs’ on it,” says Marjorie. “When someone picked up their phone, the eyeball dropped. The telephonist put a cord into the hole beneath the eyeball and asked the caller what they wanted, and most of the calls were then routed to the Darlington exchange.

“It was a complicated process, but very efficient.”

The Hurworth Place exchange – which was called “the Croft” – was in the front room of a house opposite the Station Hotel.

Muriel Joy lived in the Station Hotel during the Second World War with her parents, Charles and Alice Hanson. Her friend, Barbara Littlewood, lived over the way in the exchange which was run by Mr and Mrs Littlewood.

These village switchboards were used run by the man of the house during the day, but during the night most of the family seems to have pitched in to put callers through.

“In those days, everybody knew everybody, and the man who operated the switchboard knew everybody in the village who had a telephone,” says Marjorie. “Of course, at night there weren’t many calls – only emergencies.”

As well as operating the Croft exchange, Marjorie was sent to run the Dinsdale exchange. “It was also in the front room of a house, but I can’t remember where it was – was it in Middleton One Row?”

She also worked at the exchanges in Ferryhill and Catterick, which were also in a private house.

Marjorie worked for the General Post Office for seven years which qualified her for a £13 dowry when she got married. She moved to Northallerton and spent all her working life in phones, including on the County Hall switchboard.

So where was the Dinsdale exchange? Can anyone locate it for us? And are there any other exchanges you can tell us about?

THE Station Hotel in Hurworth Place is another that should be added to our growing list of lost pubs, as it is currently being converted for residential use.

Muriel Joy, though, remembers when it was a very lively place, with a large concert hall at the rear and the airmen from nearby Croft aerodrome at the bar.

“I remember the Canadians coming in, and the piano was going, because when they were called out, they never knew if they would ever come back,” she says.

The Station is beside the East Coast Main Line, and opposite the hotel, there was a station, which opened to passengers on March 30, 1841.

The railway company was like budget airlines today. It called its station Croft because Croft was well known due to its spa, and passengers would want to go there, even if the station was in County Durham and their tourist destination was in North Yorkshire.

Indeed, from 1896, the station was known as Croft Spa.

Anyway, Croft Spa station in Hurworth Place was demolished in 1970, and now you have to have a vivid imagination to work out where it was.

“IN the days before Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD), which anyone under 50 will think is a sexually transmitted disease, calls within the same exchange were dialled using just the phone number,” says John Heslop, of Durham City.

“Local calls to nearby exchanges required a two digit prefix. For example, to ring a Darlington number from Bishop Auckland, the prefix 93 was used, and to ring Bishop Auckland from Darlington, you needed 94.”

Long distance trunk calls began with a 0, and the STD system was slowly introduced across the country from 1958.

“These trunk calls cost significantly more than local calls,” continues John, “so people continued to use the local prefixes. This proved invaluable to me when I went to Teesside Polytechnic, as I could ring home for 4d by using the prefix 9294, which was Middlesbrough to Darlington to Bishop Auckland.

“The quality, though, was poorer than using the STD code, which was then 0388.

“Finally, a useless piece of trivia: you could call a number without dialling by tapping it out on the cut-off button which was on the receiver rest. The number of taps would correspond to each digit with a pause in between.”

Who remembers the pips?