“THE picture of Shildon telephone exchange brought back many happy memories of when I worked there,” says Joan Goad. “On leaving school in 1955, I was employed at the GPO in Tenters Street, Bishop Auckland as a “Hello Girl”, and I often went to Crook and Shildon to cover.

“I think Crook exchange was above the Post Office in the Market Place. I enjoyed going to both places as you could claim travelling expenses - but I wasn’t so keen in winter going up Newton Cap bank or Busty Bank in a bus.”

In Bishop, Joan remembers a large horseshoe-shaped switchboard with plugholes labelled with the places people wanted to call – STH was for Stanhope, WOL for Wolsingham. These were colour-coded for how far away they were and how much people would pay for a connection.

Once she’d put them through, she would push back a key which rang the bell in the receiver’s home.

Joan married Ray in 1959 and transferred to Shildon, where the exchange was in a large house, now demolished, which faced St John’s Church.

“The caretaker operator, Ruth Gell, lived there with her family and answered all calls from 6pm until the next morning when the day staff returned,” says Joan.

“Saturday afternoons were very busy when it seemed as if half the phone users in Shildon rang the local bookmaker, Fred Simpson of Eldon Lane, to place their bets on each horse race. It got to the stage that we didn’t ask them what they wanted – we knew the people who were calling and we put them through.”

Joan, who remembers that Ferryhill also had an exchange in a house. left Shildon in 1964 to start a family, but she briefly returned to telephony work in the mid-1970s at the Darlington exchange when a directory enquiries unit was opened.