BT digital archives to celebrate UK’s Telecoms heritage

A £1 million project to digitise BT’s historical collection of photos and documents has brought 165 years of UK telecoms heritage to the public’s fingertips today, with the launch of an interactive online archive. 

BT has teamed up with Coventry University and The National Archives to create a searchable digital resource of almost half a million photographs, reports and items of correspondence preserved by BT since 1846. The project has been funded by Jisc, which provides digital services for UK education and research. 

The remarkable collection showcases Britain’s pioneering role in the development of telecommunications and the impact of the technology on society, and will be freely available to the public under a Creative Commons licence to encourage sharing and the use of the material in school curricula and for research. 

Users anywhere in the world will be able to log on to www.bt.com/btdigitalarchives and explore 50 terabytes worth of images and documents detailing how Britain laid the foundations for global telecommunications, including the first telephone exchange in 1879 and the Queen making the first automatic long distance telephone call in the fifties. 

The project and its new website – which has been built by Coventry University’s Serious Games International in collaboration with BT – aims to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the archive, and to highlight the positive impact that telecommunications has had on social issues such as gender and race equality in the workplace. 

The organisations involved expect the archive – which is recognised by UNESCO and Arts Council England as being of international importance – to appeal to a wide range of audiences including teachers, students, researchers and the general public, who for the first time will have easy access to an archive of cultural and technological significance to the UK. 

David Hay, Head of Heritage at BT Group, said: “BT’s archive documents over a century of the achievements of British telecommunications engineers and scientists in pushing the boundaries of communications technology. I’m constantly fascinated by the photographs and documents in the archive- it’s fantastic that the public can now enjoy it so easily, using our technology and networks”. 

Professor Neil Forbes, Director of Research at Coventry University, said: “It is a great pleasure to be able to launch the BT digital archives. Teams of experts from across the partners involved have worked together to produce an extraordinarily rich and important online archive. It’s a magnificent achievement.” 

Chris Mumby, Head of Commercial Delivery at The National Archives, said: “Our renowned expertise in creating and preserving digitised records ensures that this important collection is accessible to more people now and in the future.” 

Paola Marchionni, programme manager, Jisc said: “We’re very proud at Jisc to have funded the digitisation of this internationally recognised archive. The strength of this project lies in a partnership that goes beyond the higher education sector and which has made openly available 100,000s of digital resources for just anybody to enjoy. At the same time, the academic team has produced fascinating case studies which show how digitised archival material can be used to explore new avenues both in research and teaching in a wide range of subjects, from design to linguistic and cultural studies.” 

Highlights from the BT digital archives include: 
 documents relating to BT’s ancestor company, the Electric Telegraph Company, which in 1846 became the first nationwide communications company in the world; 
 a letter from 1877 from Alexander Graham Bell’s agent offering Bell’s telephone to the British government - who turned it down 
 correspondence between Guglielmo Marconi and the General Post Office from 1896 discussing the Italian’s “new system of telegraphy without wires”; 
 photos of Britain’s first national telephone kiosks with concept drawings and correspondence detailing their design and public reaction to their introduction; 
 pictorial records of the advent of the world’s first emergency call service, 999. 
 Images of Central Telegraph Office staff dealing with congratulatory telegrams to Buckingham Palace on the birth in 1948 of Prince Charles, the future Prince of Wales, and other Royal events. 
 research reports by Tommy Flowers and his team on their work at Dollis Hill, where they built Colossus the World’s first programmable computer during the Second World War 
 photographs of bomb damaged streets and buildings around the UK during WWII 
 documents illustrating the role of British telecommunications workers in the war effort during both world wars 


About BT Heritage 
BT’s commitment to its heritage is published in its Heritage Policy (www.bt.com/archives) adopted in 2004. BT is the only major company to have made such a public commitment to safeguard its heritage on behalf of the nation. 

BT continues to fulfil this long-standing commitment to preserve and make accessible Britain’s rich telecommunications history, still being made today. 

About the National Archives 
For the record, for good…The National Archives is a government department and an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). As the official archive of the UK government and England and Wales, we look after and make available to the public a collection of historical records dating back over 1,000 years, including records as diverse as Doomsday Book and MI5 files. 

Our 21st-century role is to collect and secure the future of the record, both digital and physical, to preserve it for generations to come, and to make it as accessible as possible. We do this by devising technological solutions to ensure the long-term survival of public records and working to widen access to our collection. The National Archives also advises on information management across government, publishes all UK legislation, manages Crown copyright and leads the archive sector. We work to promote and improve access to public sector information and its re-use. 

Follow the press office on Twitter @TNApressofficer and for general news @UkNatArchives. 

About Coventry University 
Coventry University is a modern, forward-looking university whose roots can be traced back to 1843 to the Coventry College of Design. With both a proud tradition as a provider of high quality education and a focus on multidisciplinary applied research, the University has established an academic presence regionally, nationally and across the world. 

Through its links with leading-edge organisations and its longstanding culture of business support, the institution has earned a strong reputation for enterprise and innovation which sees it work with more SMEs each year than any other university, and helped it to secure the Times Higher Education ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ award in 2011. Find out more at www.coventry.ac.uk. 

About Jisc 
Jisc offers digital services for UK education and research, owned by the Association of Colleges (AoC), GuildHE and Universities UK (UUK). The charity enables people in higher education, further education and skills in the UK to perform at the forefront of international practice by exploiting fully the possibilities of modern, digital empowerment, content and connectivity. 

Jisc has been at the forefront of the practical application of technology in schools, colleges and universities for over two decades. We’ve earned a reputation as a trusted partner for the education and research sectors and today we combine the latest in digital thinking, network and IT services with access to content and resource procurement to deliver new and better ways of working for all customers to achieve operational advantage. 

Find out more at www.jisc.ac.uk