Universal Private Telegraph Company

Scope and Content

This collection contains secretariat and financial records of the Universal Private Telegraph Company.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Universal Private Telegraph Company was established by an Act of Parliament in June 1861 but did not become fully operational until 1863. It undertook to construct and maintain lines of private wire between places of business or between residences and businesses using instruments patented by Professor Charles Wheatstone.

In 1865 under the care of Frank Ives Scudamore the Government started to look at the possibility of nationalising the telegraph service in mainland Britain under the control of the Post Office. Initially these plans did not consider the nationalisation of private wires, but before the 1868 Select Committee the Universal Private Telegraph Company successfully argued that its business would be seriously damaged by being in competition with a nationalised industry. Consequently the scope of nationalisation was widened to include private wires. The company ceased operating and its network of wires was transferred to the Post Office at the beginning of 1870.

The company was a profitable concern during its years of operation. Despite nationalisation occurring in 1870 the price paid to the company was not settled until 1875 after a lengthy arbitration period where the profit level of the company was disputed along with the status of the agreement made with Professor Wheatstone regarding the ownership of his patent.


This collections has been arranged by business function.

Access Information

Available for research at BT Group Archives, see www.bt.com/archives .

Acquisition Information

These records were transferred by the Post Office Archives between 1 June 1991 and 30 April 1992.

Other Finding Aids

Full catalogues for BT Group Archives can be searched at www.bt.com/archivesonline .

Archivist's Note

These records were previously catalogued as part of the Post Office collection under the POST 81 and POST 82 classes. They have been recatalogued to better reflect the provenance of these records and to aid access to them.