Lecture on the teleprinter using a Creed machine

Photo essay: 175 years of UK telecommunications

2012 marks the 175th anniversary of the UK patent for Cooke and Wheatstone’s commercially practical electric telegraph: the first step in the era of electrical telecommunications in Britain, highlighted in these images from the New Connections BT e-Archive Project now being undertaken by Coventry University.

  1. A Central Telegraph Office School lecture on the teleprinter using a Creed machine, March 1939. Frederick George Creed (1871-1957) was an inventor working for Western Union who became fed-up with using hand-operated Morse keys and Wheatstone tape punches, so had the idea of a typewriter-style machine that allowed an operator to punch Morse code signals on to paper tape by pressing the appropriate character key.
  2. The first experimental public automatic telephone exchange installed in the UK opened for service at Epsom, Surrey, on 18 May 1912 using Strowger two-wire type equipment.
  3. Demonstration room ‘A’, July 1935. The Research Section of the Post Office Engineering Department was moved from the City to several army huts at Dollis Hill in 1921; the Dollis Hill Research Station was built on the same site in 1933.
  4. Telephony Transmitter and Control Table at Rugby Radio Station, February 1926.The long-wave wireless station at Hillmorton, near Rugby, with its worldwide range, was brought into service on 1 January 1926. The station used a large water-cooled transmitter (call sign GBR), dissipating 10kW and using 54 thermionic valves on a wave length of 18,750m. Initially, it commenced transmission in Morse code on 16kHz with an aerial power of 350kW. At the time it was the world’s most powerful transmitter using thermionic valves. In 1926 two-way conversation by radio telephone was established for the first time between UK and US via Rugby Radio Station.
  5. On 10 June 1837, William Fothergill Cooke and Professor Charles Wheatstone patented a five-needle telegraph for which five wires were necessary. The telegraph worked by deflecting any two of the needles at the same time to point to any one of 20 letters on the grid behind the needle. Sending and receiving messages was slow: each word had to be spelt-out and with only 20 letters, proper spelling sometimes had to be compromised.
  6. Kingston Telephone Exchange, August 1918, showing substantial cable run from left. The scene in some ways prefigures cable configurations found in latter-day data centres.
  7. The Telephone Company Ltd (Bell’s Patents) opened the UK’s first public telephone exchange at Coleman Street, London, in August 1879. It served eight subscribers with a two-panel ‘Williams’ switchboard. Two more exchanges opened at Leadenhall Street, EC2, and Palace Chambers, Westminster, by the end of the year, with the number of subscribers by then up to 200.
  8. From poster by Ellis Silas, 1948. Artists were commissioned to design posters for display in Post Offices to give the public a better understanding of the range and scale of work undertaken by the Post Office.
  9. Crew pulling first segment of the first transatlantic telephone cable - TAT 1 - ashore at Newfoundland, December 1955. TAT 1 was laid between Oban in Scotland and Clarenville in Newfoundland, a distance of 2,240 miles. After crossing Newfoundland, a further submarine cable was used to complete the connection to the mainland of North America, some of the circuits terminating in Canada and some in the US. The cable entered service on 25 September 1956 at 6pm. It was withdrawn in 1978.
  10. Pulse code modulation at the Empress Exchange. Equipment for an automatic tandem exchange at Dollis Hill research station. The Post Office installed the world’s first PCM exchange at the Empress telephone exchange near Earl’s Court, London. Postmaster General John Stonehouse opened the exchange on 11 September with an inaugural call to the Mayor of Hammersmith. Empress was the first of its type in the world to switch PCM signals from one group of lines to another in digital form. Pulse-code modulation (PCM) is a method used to digitally represent sampled analog signals.The first transmission of speech by digital techniques was the SIGSALY encryption equipment used for high-level Allied communications during World War Two. In 1943, the Bell Labs researchers who designed the SIGSALY system became aware of the use of PCM binary coding as already proposed by British scientist Alec Reeves.
  11. Engineer at work in the trunk switching centre in Reading, August 1964. The centre featured a facility that enabled calls to the new directory enquiry the point to queue-up, and be taken in strict rotation. The new building was one of the country’s biggest switching centres: over 10,000 miles of copper wire and soldering, more than a million connections to link the 32 separate cables which emerged from the basement.
  12. Post Office Satellite Communications Station at Goonhilly Downs, Cornwall, began working in 1962. The station was designed to track communication satellites and transmit and receive telephone, telegraph and television signals. The station used a British-designed dish-type aerial which was the first of its type but later adopted throughout the world for satellite communications.

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