Watsonians Linked

WatsoniansLinked - from the Archives


Lockdown is making communicating with each other more important than ever. Video calls, which were until recently a thing of science fiction are everyday experiences today. 

These framed instructions for using the Private Telephone System when Colinton Road was George Watson’s College for Boys are a recent acquisition into the School Archive. We are very grateful to Mr Hopley for ‘saving’ them for us. 

The telephones used would have had a rotary dial. The Strowger Automatic Dial Telephone worked by the user placing their finger in the hole over the number they required and rotating the dial to its stopping point. As the dial rotated back to its starting point, it sent electrical signals down the line. This meant that numbers could be called directly, without the need for a telephone exchange operator to connect your call.

Today, if someone is already on the line, you can usually leave a Voicemail message. As 5 instructs, then you had to replace the receiver and try later. 

We are not certain when these instructions were first in use at Watson’s. When the ‘new’ Watson’s opened in 1932 it was considered very modern, with ‘automatic telephones installed in every department.’ The Scotsman newspaper at the time commented that, ‘This arrangement obviously increases the headmaster’s power of control.’ There were changes to the internal arrangement of rooms in the early 1950s, when the Head’s study was moved from where the Senior School Staff Room is now to the front of the School. The Cashier’s Room was also relocated then, which may explain why it has been pencilled in. These instructions may date from after that.

There is however, an earlier means of communication or a headmaster increasing his power of control at George Watson’s Ladies’ College in the 1880s and 1890s. By then, the original building at George Square was too small for 896 girls. Adjoining houses were purchased, the courtyard between the original house and one of the newly acquired buildings was excavated and roofed over to form a central hall as well as other improvements. These included an elaborate system of speaking tubes which connected the Headmaster’s study to other rooms. The last of these were still in place in the 1960s. 

A Speaking Tube such as installed at George Square in 1893.