The curious story of the Plymouth mansion that had Britain’s first telephone


Plymouth has a rich and rich history of which Janners proudly shouts, and rightly so.

But every now and then you may stumble upon a story you’ve never heard before, like the one about Britain’s very first permanent phone line, set up in the middle of Ocean City.

Today, Torr Home is a retirement and care home in Hartley. Amy Burns, who works there, is keen to keep the history of the place alive, as well as the relationship of the former owner with the famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

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“The 19th century mansion was the vision and home of Sir Robert Bayly,” she said. “He was a partner in a timber haulage company that owned over 43 acres of prime estate, from the Manadon roundabout to Torr Lane, which connects Outland Road to Hartley. It was mainly farmland at the time.

“During his lifetime Sir Robert Bayly served as chairman of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce and many other city councils and committees, declining repeated offers to become mayor of Plymouth and run for general election.



Torr Home in Hartley, Plymouth. No date.

“Bayly’s wife Emma was often left at home and it was a fortuitous event that led to such historical significance. Bayly was good friends with Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

“In the fall of 1877, Mr. Graham Bell stayed with the Bayly family while giving a talk on the future of telecommunications at a local event.

“It was at Robert’s request that Bell installed the country’s first working telephone on the estate, to alleviate some of Emma’s loneliness. This telephone linked the Torr house to the lodge where the gardener lived so that Mrs. Bayly can call him in case of need.

The phone was donated to the Plymouth Museum in 1924 by a Miss Bayly, one of Robert and Emma’s eight children, when she realized what an ‘interesting historical relic’ it was. He still lives there today.

“Speaking on the phone to a newspaper reporter in 1926, Miss Bayly is said to have said ‘These were quite strange things and quite different from today’s phones.



Torr House in Hartley, Plymouth

A spokesperson for the Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives gave a different date but confirmed that they had a piece named ‘Bell Telephone’ in the archives and also said: ‘According to our file it was acquired by the museum service in 1923 with a bag of related information.

“It is now part of The Box’s social history collections. “

Although difficult to access at the time of writing, they were able to provide an image and said, “The part on the left carries the Bell 716 patent. The right part bears the Bell 712 patent.



The left carries Bell’s 716 patent. The right bears the Bell 712 patent. They both engraved Telegraph Works Silvertown London.

“They both have Telegraph Works Silvertown London engraved on it.”

Local historian Chris Robinson confirms the existence of the phone on his website.

He wrote: “Robert Bayly had purchased the estate in the mid-1870s and the present Torr House (which has served as Torr Home for the blind since 1929) was built for him in 1882, just behind the previous Torr Grove House.



People sunbathe around Smeaton Tower

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“Strangely enough, the old house became part of British social history when in August 1877 Alexander Graham Bell, staying here as a guest of Robert Bayly, installed the first permanent telephone installation in Britain.

“It was between the old house and the gardener’s house and was done because Mrs Bayly was feeling nervous in ‘such a secluded place’ so ‘deep in the country.



November 14, 1968. Presentation of the tape recorder at Torr Home for the Blind

“Queen Victoria was obviously not amused. She had wanted to have the first private connection and although some sources credit her with this honor, her first telephone at the Isle of Wight summer house was not installed until January 1878. “

Torr Home is located in a beautiful 19th century country mansion in the highest part of town.

It is an awe-inspiring setting for a nursing and nursing home, with expansive three-acre grounds, and enjoys panoramic views across Plymouth, Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and out to sea over Plymouth Sound to the Lighthouse of Eddystone.

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