This web site is to remember Post Office and BT services and people who provided these services from the 1950's to the 1980's


A History of the EHRCA
by Dennis Wood

What follows is an adaptation of an article that was originally written in 2008 to explain the EHRCA to members of the Cable and Wireless Pensioners Association which was published in an edition of that Association’s quarterly magazine CAWPANews

The Electra House Retired Colleagues Association by Dennis Wood 

I have found it difficult to write about the EHRCA without starting with some brief, and I hope not too inaccurate, history of the International Telegraph Service. 

Electra House, Temple Place, Victoria Embankment, London WC2, had been Cable & Wireless Ltd’s Headquarters from 1933 and, from the early 1940s, it also housed London Station which was the hub of the C&W ‘Via Imperial’ worldwide telegraph network. Previously, the C&W Operating Galleries had been accommodated at the original Electra House in Moorgate but were moved when that building suffered bomb damage during the London Blitz.

On April 1st 1950 C&W Ltd’s assets in the UK, including London Station, with its staff of some 3,500 men and women, passed under the control of the Post Office according to the provisions of The Commonwealth Telegraph Act of 1949, under the administration of the London Telecommunications Region.  When this proved unwieldy the External Telecommunications Executive was formed and assumed responsibility for London Station (EH) and the PO Central Telegraph Office, at King Edward’s Buildings, on October 1st 1952. From that time the staff and circuits of the CTO were gradually transferred to the EH operating galleries.  When in 1971 the telecommunications arm of the Post Office was “Corporation-ised”, and became British Telecom, the International and Inland telegraph services were integrated.

Until the mid-1970s staffing levels were maintained at or about the 3000 mark as all traffic passing through London Station had to be manually re-processed before onward transmission. .  I do not know what telegram traffic levels were during the 1940s/’50s , when sending a telegram was undoubtedly the quickest way to contact anyone abroad, but in the mid-‘70s something like eighty thousand items, made up of transit and UK delivery/acceptance traffic, were processed daily. However, semi-automatic and computerised systems, entitled the Overseas Tape Relay Unit and the Message Relay Centre, were introduced to EH in the late ‘60s/early’70s.  These replaced the multitude of telegraph circuits which had occupied three floors of EH and noticeably affected the staff requirement.

At this time London Station itself was, in effect, decentralised with smaller offices being opened at Broadway, Falcon House, St Botolphs and Livonia Street to serve specific areas of London with operators, engineers and members of the Postal Force being withdrawn from EH to staff these various offices. Two larger Units serving wider areas, London Postal District and Outer London & Home Counties, were accommodated in EH and the bulk of the various administrative departments continued to be situated there. International Telex and London Inland Telegraphs had been operating from Fleet Building for some years but telegraph staff were also stationed at the Central Office of Information on the South Bank, BT Headquarters Telex Unit, the International Telegraph Training School at Cardinal House, Back-date Services in Caxton House, and the satellite communication station at Goonhilly Downs.

However, in the mid-1970s, when the Telegram Relay Centre, the fully computerised communication system which had been installed at Cardinal House, came into operation the staff requirement fell drastically and redundancy in the form of “Early Voluntary Retirement” was introduced. In the main it was people nearing normal retirement age who accepted the terms at that time.  However, there was a continuing programme of staff redundancy as the demand for the telegram service declined consequent to improved communications systems becoming available for private and commercial use. The early 1980s saw a large increase in people accepting voluntary redundancy shortly before BT became privatised in 1982.    In 1991 the TRC system was transferred to Coventry. All remaining telegraph staff were either made redundant or offered employment in other BT departments, and the title “Telegraph Operator” became obsolete. At that time it was still possible to send a telegram but the person handling it had some other job title and, incidentally, received a lower salary. 

I have often heard the remark that “Electra House was the best club in London”.  The Refectory served decent food, there was a well stocked bar, and various leisure activities and clubs existed within the building under the banner of the External Telecommunications Executive Sports and Social Association. Further, as Telegraph offices were open plan with staff moving around the office performing different operating functions throughout their period of duty, everyone knew everyone else particularly as the offices were open 24 hours per day every day of the year, which required a multiplicity of duties being performed.

As a result of the number of retirements from the service various offices  formed their own informal groups enabling people to keep in touch. There was, of course, the “Cable and Wireless Retired Officers Association” but the number of EH staff eligible for membership as ex-C&W employees was dwindling.  When “Cable & Wireless Pensioners Association” came into being existing CWROA members were basically absorbed into that organisation.  The “CTO Veteran’s”, now sadly defunct, was a similar organisation. However, this meant that the staff recruited by the Post Office and/or BT had no official retirement group to call their own.  It was felt that some more formal association should be formed dedicated to maintaining the esprit de corps and the general air of bonhomie that develops amongst people who have worked together for many years and shared similar experiences.

Word was spread over the grapevine and a meeting of interested parties was held in the Electra House Refectory on 18th May 1983. Approximately 120 people attended the inaugural meeting . Those present were representative of all grades and levels within the various divisions of the telegraph service; operators, engineers, postal force, Counter&Writing, etc, regardless of where their department was situated. The meeting was addressed by Mr John Fisher, the National organiser of the National Federation of PO and BT Pensioners, who spoke on the importance of such Associations.

The National Federation of PO and BT Pensioners, subsequently suffered from declining membership due to the falling numbers of Royal Mail and BT retirees eligible for membership. Consequently, a few years ago the Nat Fed was re-organised, re-titled “UNITE”, and other Pensioner organisations were allowed to join. I would point out that this organisation was in no way connected with the Trade Union entitled “UNITE”. However, the Trade Union wanted sole rights to the use of the title “UNITE” and recently agreement was reached at high level to cede the title to them. Consequently a further re-organisation took place and “The National Federation of Occupational Pensioners” came into being in 2010. Further, because of various legal niceties, the NFOP has basically become a Limited Company with limited liabilities.   This further re-organisation allows any pensioner drawing an occupational pension to join a nationwide organisation.  The NFOP membership, as of 31/12/2010, totalled 88,013 accommodated in some 181 Branches.  Members receive a Federation magazine entitled The Magazine which is issued some half-a-dozen times a year. This magazine contains articles on various general subjects together with news of Federation activities, pension information and, of course, branch and members’ activities.  All Federation members have access to free advice on computing, legal matters, pension and State benefits and allowances.  Federation/Branch Membership subscription is currently £18 per annum.            

In the light of the foregoing it is therefore difficult to explain just why the “Electra House Retired Colleagues Association” is so called with telegraph departments being in so many different locations.  Despite the words “Electra House” in the Branch title, membership of EHRCA does not, and never was intended to exclude members from other regions or departments of British Telecom regardless of grade or rank. We’re a cosmopolitan crowd and would welcome new members. However, at the inaugural meeting, a committee was elected and the title agreed.  Draft rules were dealt with in a workmanlike manner and it was determined that the EHRCA should become affiliated to the National Federation as Branch 234.  A second meeting was held on 10th August 1983 and the Association went from strength to strength up to a maximum membership of somewhere in the region of 1,500.  Unfortunately, as was bound to happen when the service doesn’t exist anymore, membership is falling and currently stands at 824. 

At that first meeting it was proposed that a quarterly Newsletter should be circulated to all members to enable everyone to keep in touch.  It is here that I must mention Ron “Tug” Wilson who volunteered to do this and filled the post of Editor more than adequately, in his own inimitable manner, for twenty years or so.  The Newsletter continues to be issued to Branch members and I have the honour of being the current Editor, a task that is time consuming but, I find, very rewarding.

Initially, quarterly meetings were held in Electra House and, when that became unavailable, other BT buildings, but somehow the atmosphere didn’t seem quite right. Happily, over the years, the Social Secretary/s have managed to talk various public house managers into accommodating our meetings on the basis of relying on bar profits rather than making a special charge.  This was a very satisfactory arrangement for both sides as attendance often ran well into the 200’s in the early days.

Unfortunately, more recently, attendance has fallen considerably with quite often less than 100 people coming resulting in various venue managers, albeit regretfully, having to withdraw their availability. The drop-off in attendance is quite understandable as, on retirement, many members have moved some distance away from London and we are all ageing. 

Central London is really the only convenient place to hold our meetings and it is encouraging that a surprising number of people make the effort to travel up occasionally from Cornwall, Dorset, Yorkshire, etc, and, occasionally, Australia and Tenerife, to attend.   Our most recent venue is The Crosse Keys, a Wetherspoon’s pub, in Gracechurch Street which is quite close to Monument Station.. Although the bar is open to the general public during the time of our meetings, 11am-3pm, EHRCA has a large area set aside for our sole use on the four Saturdays involved. There’s a well stocked bar, food is available at quite reasonable prices, and it’s a very pleasant way to spend a few hours renewing old acquaintances.                                                                            

Finally, Electra House no longer exists as an entity.  It was demolished some years ago and replaced by an office building.  However, for many of us, Electra House was not just an office of employment but virtually an alma mater and the words ‘Electra House’ not only symbolise the International Telegraph service but also evoke many happy memories amongst those who served there. 


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