PK Cable Map 1880's

PK Cable Map 1880's

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Enderby Wharf again.........STOP PRESS

The large site by the Thames at Greenwich has been in the ownership of Alcatel-Lucent for several years now. Although they will stay on the site carrying oout work on submarine cable equipment ( though no manufacturing these days) , they have sold the entire waterfront area together with the 1840's Enderby House ( the white building in the centre of the photo) to developers West Properties.
Today's Sunday Times carries a piece ( Business p2) advising that Greenwich council have now approved plans for the development which is primarily aimed at becoming London's major terminal for large cruise liners. The Times states " as well as the Terminal it will be a base for the Thames Clipper service, site for 770 homes and a 251 bedroom hotel.......pending a final nod from Boris Johnson, work will begin this year and hopefully be up and running for the Olympic Games next year"
Earlier reports mentioned shops , restaurants and a heritage centre perhaps based on Enderby House which is a listed building.
Watch this space !........... afterall it was by far the world's largest manufacturing site for submarine cables for more than 150 years. John Pender was chairman of Telcon there from 1864 to 1868 and later during his 24 years as Chairman of Eastern Telegraph Company he dealt almost exclusively with Telcon at Enderby Wharf for his supply (and laying) for his cables.

Friday, 18 February 2011

On the front line in Valentia 1858

This man is James Burn Russell ( 1837-1904) best know as Glasgow's first Medical Officer of Health. He happened to be at Glasgow University studying under William Thomson ( Lord Kelvin) when Thomson was seeking assistants to accompany him on the 1857 ( and later 1858) Atlantic Telegraph cable laying trips..........and off he went !
I am very grateful to John Burnett and Alison Taubman curators at Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh for introducing me to this character and in particular his manuscript journal which he kept during his entire time with Thomson on the voyages and the fraught days on Valentia Island ( August-October 1858) when Dr Whitehouse was endeavouring to communicate with Newfoundland and was allegedly at loggerheads with William Thomson.
Russell's journal written for his sister Aggie is wonderfully detailed, he was clearly a very astute observer of everything happening both in and around the cable station. He was obviously "Thomson's man" which makes it even more interesting to read of his admiration and support for Whitehouse particularly his comments about how the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Co were, even then, in his opinion judging Whitehouse unfairly.
The manuscript journal is a very hard read, feint and difficult to transcribe in places. It is held at Glasgow City Archives ( Mitchell Library) under reference TD1434/1. It is an important document in relation to the Atlantic telegraph cable of 1857/8 and is currently providing me with useful details in the work I am doing on Whitehouse.
If you are interested but are unable to get to Glasgow and/or spend the time trying to decipher his manuscript there is another account which Russell wrote and was published in three parts in "The West of Scotland Magazine" in the " New Series " No59, 1859. It was titled "Leaves from the Journal of an Amateur Telegrapher" I should add that this is a much more romanticised and less technical account of his experiences than the journal. Nevertheless to find new, detailed, contemporary and "on the spot" accounts of the voyages and events on Valentia is rare and very useful.
Historians to date have usually taken positions either denigrating Whitehouse and his instruments and/or trumpeting the virtues and scientific approach of William Thomson and his mirror galvanometer (or both !). One can only hope that with interesting and useful information coming from sources such as the Russell journal a more balanced historical perspective will eventually emerge.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Wildman Whitehouse & H A C Saunders

Reading one of the few obituaries to Wildman Whitehouse who died in 1891 I came across the following:
" Mr J C Laws, Mr Frank Lambert, Mr Joseph May and Mr H A C Saunders (of whom only the latter survives), assisted him in his electrical work from early 1854 until his connection with telegraphy ceased.........etc"
Saunders pictured here was apparently Electrician in Chief to the Eastern Telegraph Company ( dates unknown....perhaps 1870's ?).
I have been unable to track down anything about Saunders in the archive so far and would be very interested to hear from anyone who has and particularly to know if there may be any references there to his work with Whitehouse.

I've just come across this Spanish map from 1882 of the Eastern Telegraph Company's cables (in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana). It's a good deal clearer than most cable maps I've been able to find, and is going to be particularly useful in the telecommunications history course I'm currently teaching.

The map suggests that the ETC, or one of its subsidiaries, operated a cross-channel cable from somewhere near Hastings to Le Harve. Does anyone know which firm ran it?

On the subject of cable maps, the ever-brilliant Distant Writing website has just posted a link to a high-quality scan of the Electric Telegraph Company's routes in 1852: . It's interesting to compare this to the earlier and later maps that Wendy found in the BT Archives, and the one that's in PK.


Friday, 11 February 2011

Enderby Wharf Greenwich the birthplace of the British submarine cable business

This photo dated 1890 shows the Test Department at Telcon with some beefy looking buoys ( perhaps boys too !) in the background
If I have loaded this correctly it should be possible to click and enlarge to a really high definition shot and allow identification of the names of the staff. This may be interesting to anyone looking into Greenwich family histories.
The photograph is one of a number related to the early days of Telecon held in the Porthcurno archive ( Alcatel)
By the way if you are interested in buoys (careful!!) we have engineering drawings of such devices in the archive dating back to 1860 and before.

GPO Time

I asked Julian Stray at the BPMA about GPO time for Adam Hart-Davis. This was the response.... it links into Post Office Telegrams, thought you might be interested...

As you are aware. The Post Office tended to reply on contracted services to supply the transport element of mail collection and delivery. This would apply to sea (Packet boats), road (Mail Coaches, Mail Vans, Horsed mails etc.), railways (the various railway companies, light railway etc) and any other (air, trams, bus and so on). This was via competitive tender. Constraints were specific and demanding. For example, on the railways, the 1838 Conveyance of Mails act gave the Postmaster extraordinary power in demanding that the companies transport mails at times set by him, regardless of how that fitted in with their own operating requirements. Any disputes went to an independent arbiter (Railways and Canals Commission I believe), contractors were paid an agreed rate. Needless to say there were frequent disputes and some contracts remained unresolved for years, the Post Office frequently unwilling to go to an independent arbiter in case they were found against, with a large financial loss as a result. Things like the 1903 GWR test case had repercussions still felt in the 1960s.

Both on the road (Mail Coaches from 1784) and on Rail (from 1830), to avoid unnecessary conflict and argument, the Mail Guard (the only Post Office employee accompanying the mails on Mail Coaches and many trains) carried a locked Time Piece (clock) together with a Time Bill. The Time Bill detailed the stopping points, times of arrival and departure, time allotted for stopping etc. Along with a few other extra details depending on the mode of transport, type of mail, period etc.

It has been quite difficult for me to locate much relating to these within the RM Archive, the detail may be there but it has proved to be elusive. To add a little more detail from what I have found:

We have four timepieces in the collection. One has a key, none have a case. Two are manufactured by George Littlewort, London, one by David Murray, Edinburgh and the fourth by Edward Smith, Dublin. Time pieces were no doubt supplied by other manufacturers too. The Inland Incident Books will almost certainly show payments to those firms. Even though I have not found it, I have also (in the past) seen mention of a person being paid to wind the clocks at GPO (St. Martin’s-le-Grand).
Object numbers: OB1995.328, 2009-0060/14, E11988, OB1996.549. Three are out on loan or display at present.

These could become quite battered and misused. There is a lovely account from 1795:

“ … the Guards frequently throw the time pieces in the Pouch from one to the other when they change…”.

The same report also contains a detail that I had not seen before:

“… we have regulated them to gain about 15 minutes in 24 hours, that when they are travelling Eastward they may be with real time, therefore they gain about 10 minutes in their way to Weymouth which, added to the Clocks so far west, being a few minutes slower than in London, is the cause of the variation in the time Bill at Weymouth”
Ref: POST 10/26 pp211, 212

Certainly if this was the case, making clocks run faster or slower depending on the direction in which the mails were running, it did not remain the case. I can not see this being the practice for long. I have my doubts over practicality despite the reference, for example, what happened on the return trip (The Up mail)? Despite time pieces being individually numbered the logistics of ensuring the gain (or loss) for each particular piece on each particular route would, I feel, be insurmountable.

We also hold a number of time bills for the various routes, some used, some not. These show the expected/contracted times. You may recall the lovely example from December 1840 from the York-Manchester route that records the delay due to the death of a horse on the journey!

Bills were usually printed in batches of 200 and in the earlier years the colour of ink also explained the service: black ink for Night Mails, red for Day Mails and green for trains not under a fixed notice but accompanied either by a Mail Guard or Mail Messenger.

As you know, time varied across the country. Most of this was put to ease before the Royal Assent was given to the 1880 Statutes (Definition of Time) Bill. The railways had already introduced ‘London’ time across much of the network. I have seen catalogued reference to some previous efforts by the Post Office in this direction:

‘Greenwich time signals relayed from Central Telegraph Office, period 1870-1946’ Ref: POST 30/2536
This is held at the BT Archives so I haven’t seen it. The relevance to the Post Office is that they had taken control of Inland Telegraphs in this country from 1870.

The Post Office Circular (that is, instructions to postal staff) for 29 July 1872 contains the following:

“Greenwich Time to be observed at all Post Offices in England & Scotland.
Hitherto it has been the rule of the service to observe local time for certain purposes at Country Post Offices, while Greenwich time (spoken of in the Book of Rules as “London” or “Railway time”) has been observed for certain other purposes.
In future, Greenwich time (which is notified daily to all Postal Telegraph Offices) is to be observed solely at all Post Offices in England and Scotland.”
Ref: POST 68/471, p100

Just thought I would add something to get you started..

have a good weekend, Libby