Making the Admiralty Telegraph line less fuzzy


At the recent meeting of the Forncett History Group (Wednesday 18th May), David Kirk from Wreningham Heritage Group gave an illustrated talk entitled "Making the Admiralty Telegraph line less fuzzy - A journey over places and times".

When David first moved to Wreningham he consulted the Wikipedia entry for the village and read that "From 1808 to 1814 Wreningham hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in the port of Great Yarmouth." This sparked his interest in the Shutter Telegraph which he has since researched in great detail, especially with regard to the telegraph station that was sited in Wreningham.

David started by describing the history of communication using mechanical telegraph systems which began in France. The threat from Napoleon led the British Admiralty to invite proposals for a telegraph system in England that could allow rapid communication between London and some major ports. Trials were carried out in Portsmouth in 1795 and it was demonstrated that using high quality Dolland telescopes messages could be read over a distance of up to 10 miles. Four lines of telegraph to London were subsequently set up: the first from Deal, then Portsmouth and Plymouth, and finally Great Yarmouth. The East Anglian line was started in 1807 and completed in June 1808.

A Shutter Telegraph station, with its six moveable shutters

David has carried out detailed practical research to investigate how the visual signal could have been transmitted between Wreningham and Norwich. His work, using map studies, drone photography and computer simulations of microwave transmission, led him to conclude that the shutter station was almost certainly built on the top of Wreningham church tower. There is unfortunately no documentary evidence for this, but it is possible that the collapse of Wreningham church tower in 1851 was caused by stresses and water ingress to the tower as a consequence of structural pressures from the telegraph station.

The shutter telegraph was quite short-lived and by 1815 its use had been discontinued. This remarkable technology is now only commemorated by the word Telegraph on our maps, e.g. Telegraph Farm in Carleton Rode and Telegraph Lane in Norwich, both of which were the sites of former telegraph stations.

David's talk was very well received and led to a number of questions from the audience. The Chairman thanked David for a really excellent and beautifully illustrated talk.