“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a telegram” said Janet Harrison in the Wetherby News office when I showed her a historic document unearthed from the Wetherby Historical Society archives by Ian Leadley.
“You are showing your age” I said. She was certainly much too young to have received one. British Telecom announced that it was scrapping the telegram in 1981 as there was very little use being made of the telegram service. In the 1930s the service was delivering an average of 65 million telegrams per year. But by 1976 the number had dropped to 844.
This particular telegram was one which had been received from Buckingham Palace by Wetherby Town Council and expressed the King’s thanks for the message of congratulations which had been sent to him by the council on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee in 1935.
In those days, few people had telephones. Messages had to be sent by letter or telegram with the telegram being reserved for the more urgent or important messages. They would be sent by telegraph or telephone to the nearest post office before being taken by messenger to the destination address. The mistakes in this telegram would probably have been made at the Wetherby post office when the telegram was transcribed.
I can only remember having received one telegram myself. It was 50 odd years ago and it just said “Urgent, phone xxxxxxxxxxx”. Telegrams were expensive and charged by the word so messages were kept short and this one didn’t even contain the name of the sender.
In view of the expense, telegrams were usually reserved for good or bad news occasions and if one wasn’t expecting either, it was always a bit scary to open a telegram. I hadn’t a clue who had sent the telegram but it was obviously something important. When I telephoned the number, it was Dora Rowbotham on the other end and she gave me an invitation to the one and only séance which I’ve ever attended – and yes, it was a bit scary.