An extensive collection of historical British phonebooks, including many published during the Victorian period, is now available (for a price) online.
Included are more than 1,780 British Telecom phonebooks dating to 1880, the year after public telephone service was introduced in the UK.
From The Times, 28 November 2007:
"Little is known of him, and the house in which he lived has been razed to make way for another, more important piece of our heritage. But Mr J. W. Alt, of 14 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4, is assured a place in the footnotes of history as the person whose name appeared first in the first British telephone book.
"Mr Alt’s name is in a rare telephone book from 1880, and his and the 280 million that followed in the first 104 years of British directories have been digitised into a searchable archive.
"After Mr Alt come the names of men and women who distinguished themselves by more than their alphabetical precedence. In 1928 one might have called Edward Elgar, in the twilight of his composing career, on Stratford-on-Avon 30. Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline, pacifist and chronicler of the women’s suffrage movement, was available in 1931 on Buckhurst 2436, while she was living at West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex."
Read the rest of the Times article here.
Despite the fact that (according to BT's own website) "records produced before the date of privatisation are classed as public records under the Public Records Acts, 1958 and 1967" and "BT Archives undertakes the company's statutory responsibilities under these acts to preserve and make available public records to members of the public [italics mine] after 30 years," access to this new collection is restricted to those who fork over a fee to ancestry.co.uk. Annoying, to say the least.
BT information sheet: "British phone books from 1880" (PDF)