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History & CommunityCable and Wireless

Cable and Wireless

This is the title of what grew to become a large company working in communications by either means. But it made me think of two unrelated local stories. Technology had to be established first to enable either means of communication to exist.

 

The Cable part of the story :   

The name Ferranti is known to most of us, but perhaps not that of Alfred Bolton. At Easter 1883 they were both in Bridport, but it is unlikely that they were here on holiday. Bolton was the head of Thomas Bolton & Sons of Birmingham, a company making copper wire for the growing electrical industry. Sebastian Ferranti was not then 20 and about the same age as Alfred’s brother Frank. Ferranti founded the company which made his name a household name which we have all seen on television sets, radios and other electrical apparatus.

So what were these two “bright sparks” doing in Bridport at this time? The answer lies in electric cables with which they were both associated. By 1888 Bolton & Sons were supplying Ferranti with power cables and had also been involved with submarine telegraph cables from 1850 and the Atlantic cable laid by Brunel’s “S.S. Great Eastern” in 1865. Submarine cables had to stand wear from the undersea conditions as they were laid and also from chafing caused by underwater movement. Tarred hemp twine was used to cushion and insulate the copper cables, suggested by Sir Charles Wheatstone about 1840. Bridport was used to handling hemp. Some years ago several of us were shown a small section of cable by Mrs. Frances Sanctuary, which incorporated Bridport hemp, an unusual byproduct of Bridport’s industry.

In 1851 a cable was laid between England and France. The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1858 but failed shortly after. Brunel’s ship “The Great Eastern” was then the largest ship available and carried more than 1,000 km of cable and was in service in 1866 between Valentia, Ireland and Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. An American merchant, Cyrus West Field proposed the scheme and raised the necessary funds. After testing was complete the first official message in 1858 was from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanon. Newfoundland was linked to America. After a short time, the cable failed but was replaced soon after.

 

Wireless is the second part of this duo:

The name Marconi is also well known now. But in his earlier days, Guglielmo Marconi had a struggle to raise money for his developments. Marconi came to Britain aged 25 and contacted the British Post Office and received help from Sir William Preece, Engineer in Chief, from 1896. He took out British Patent no. 12039 for a system of telegraphy using Hertzian waves, the world’s first. As with many inventions, it came after a number of scientists in several countries, for example, Heinrich Hertz and Sir Oliver Lodge, had published information of their discoveries in the same field, but Marconi was able to bring all the ideas together as a working product. By 1897 Marconi had broadcast across the Bristol Channel. He achieved the first shore to ship communication on Christmas Eve 1898 from South Foreland Lighthouse on the White Cliffs, near Dover to the East Goodwin Lightship about 12 miles out in the English Channel. Marconi also set up the world’s first transmitting station at the Royal Needles Hotel on the Isle of Wight, signals to be received at a station set up in the Haven Hotel at Poole, 18 miles away. The Haven continued as one of Marconi’s experimental stations until 1926. In 1899 signals were sent across the English Channel and in 1901 from Poldhu, Cornwall to St John’s Newfoundland. His early transmitters used a spark discharge, rather like a motorcar ignition and transmitted messages in Morse Code, not the human voice.

Many ships were fitted with Marconi equipment and shore stations were erected. The Post Office took over the service in 1910. The Titanic was fitted with Marconi equipment and sent out distress signals on hitting the iceberg in 1912 which were picked by the “SS Carpathia”. It was the first time that “SOS” had been used, previously “CQD”—“Come Quick Danger” was in use.

You may have noticed a group of buildings on the right-hand side of the A35 road shortly after leaving the roundabout from Dorchester towards Bridport. Most prominent now, and modern, is a building concerned with computer printing, but lurking behind are some earlier, somewhat derelict buildings which were known as the Dorchester Radio Station from 1927. An aerial tower is adjacent but I believe this is modern. The radio station was part of the Imperial Wireless Chain for the British Post Office set up to link countries of the British Empire and apart from two transmitter buildings, it fronted a large number of curtain antenna systems on 460 acres of land. This was a shortwave radio system with directional antennas, known as a Beam Transmitter. These were conceived by the Marconi company, with the first transmitter on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall and a receiver at Bridgewater, Somerset. The Dorchester Station soon followed and another West Country station was at Portishead, Somerset.

An International Wireless Conference was held in Bologna, Italy in 2015 and two Dorset men spoke, as reported in the Bridport News. Both ex-apprentices at the Dorchester Station, Peter Garland who originated in Bridport and Paul Hopkins from Dorchester were able to show photographs of Marconi visiting the Dorchester Station to Princess Elettra, Marconi’s daughter. Princess Elettra gave the keynote address at the conference. They described how Marconi’s experiments with shortwave technology were made between Pohldu, Cornwall and his yacht Elettra, after which his daughter was named. The first transmission using this network was from Bodmin to Yamachichi receiving station. The system was useful when Britain needed an alternative to cables to connect with parts of its distant Empire. The Dorchester Station closed in 1979.

This brings to mind a visit I made to the Rampisham Transmitting Station of the BBC World Service just off the A356 road some years ago arranged by a friend who was employed there when it was still operational. He knew of my interest in all things electrical, especially the power supplies there. Sadly it has since closed and the field which once carried a large number of masts carrying antennae has been the subject of a planning dispute for an array of solar panels or alternatively a wildlife area.

Bridport History Society meets on Tuesday 12th of June at 2.30 pm in the United Church Main Hall, East Street, Bridport. You may be aware of a new film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel  Pie Society. The subject of this months talk will be “The occupation of the Channel Islands” by Paul Radford. All welcome, visitors entrance £3.

 

Cecil Amor, Hon. President Bridport History Society.

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