WITH technology now so advanced and calls made instantaneously with smart phones, it is hard to imagine a time someone had to connect calls by hand.

But with the advances in technology being among the reasons British Telecom has just announced a major international restructuring of its operations, it is a fitting time to look back about how it used to be - particularly in Essex.

And until actually quite recently this is exactly what happened with a skilled team of staff working round the clock and linking customers with their calls personally.

And these images from our archives are getting another airing in a bid to recall that time.

There were exchange offices, which varied in sizes, across the county including in Braintree, Manningtree and West Mersea, but in the 1960s a purpose built central office was created in West Stockwell Street to house the exchange.

Gazette: The night shoift at work in 1984. The directory enquiries are in the centre of the room..

Telephone House continued to be used until very recently and the exchange remains next door.

Cheryl Will worked for the telephone exchange from 1964 until it finally closed, putting in shifts at a number of different offices during that time.

She recalls it was complicated work for which she had six weeks training in Portsmouth.“In those photographs the things that look like books with flip up pages were called a VIF, a Verifying Index File.

“That had all the numbers of where callers would want to go and we had to look in there to see the best route for the call to take.

“Staff then filled out tickets and the calls were constant throughout their shift.

“After that it changed to subscriber trunk dialling which was where they could dial out from their own homes.”

Gazette: Working - the inside of Telephone House in the 1980s.

Cheryl says: “Some of the smaller exchange offices were tiny, above post offices and things like that.

“We still connected calls in that way, and did directory enquiries, right up the 1990s.”

The building was eventually sold for development three years ago having been left empty for a number of years.

It was bought for more than £2 million by London-based developer Brooksplace and in 2016 it was turned into more than 50 luxury apartments which were soon filled up with homeowners eager to make the most of the panoramic views many of them afforded.

The Penthouse flats look out across most of the town centre including Castle Park.

But the building maintains its historic connection to a time when all calls were connected by hand by still being called Telephone House.

Cheryl says she is still in contact with many of the women she met at the exchange, during the four decades she worked there.

Gazette: Homes - the building, seen here in the 1970s is now luxury apartme.