Telephone House, Newhall Street, Birmingham, UK

Unknown but probably the Department of Public Works
Date Built
104 Newhall Street
This Art Deco building on Newhall Street in Birmingham is a British Telecom telephone exchange.  It was built in the early 1930s and a date above the entrance suggest that it opened in 1935.

The clue to passers-by that this is and has always been a telephone exchange is the symbol carved in stone above the entrance. 

This symbol appears on telephone exchanges of this vintage around the country.  It is a caduceus similar to the single snake symbol associated with the medical profession.  In fact this symbol is representative of the Hermes, known to the Romans as Mercury, the messenger of the Gods.  Appropriate therefore for a building dedicated to the transmission of messages.

Apparently, the building once contained a post office at street level, harking back to the days when the Post Office ran the telephone system.  The only clue to that today is that above a door at the corner of the building you can see the pattern of holes for a series of letters that have been removed.  The holes correspond to POST OFFICE.

Around the back of the building is another clue to the history of the building.  In a yard at the back protected by a high fence and razor wire, is an old ventilation shaft (indicated in the second picture below by a black arrow)

In the 1950s, during the Cold War, with worries about the possibility of a nuclear attack, three secure secret underground telephone exchanges were built.  One was in London, known as Kingsway, the second in Manchester called Guardian and the third in Birmingham known as Anchor.  This structure is one of the ventilation shafts for the exchange that occupied a series of tunnels beneath the city centre.  One access point was via a lift at the rear of Telephone House.  The exchange was apparently used until the 1980s but today the tunnels are used to carry cables across the city.

It appears that the original building has been modified or added to over the years.  It looks as if it was built in three stages.  The original 1930s building seems to have been made up of three elevations on Newhall Street, Lionel Street and a wing from Lionel Street across what is today the back of the building.  Then it seems a much later 6-storey extension was added on Fleet Street.  Finally a 3-storey block was added to the top of the Fleet Street extension.

It also seems that a new floor was added to the 1930s building on the Newhall Street side.

More views of the building.

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