Submarine Telegraph Office

Was Ramsgate at the forefront of technology? The 1872 map of Ramsgate shows a Submarine Telegraph Office in Shah Place. Do you have any information on this. More details HERE


Michael Cates said...

Sadly, I don't think this was a Ramsgate 'first', though the proximity of Shah place and the then railway station might mean it was fairly early. The Maritime Museum has a section of submarine cable from an experimental link to one of the Lightships - I can't remember which one, or the date, or where its shore base was! This link describes the early experiments in Folkestone:

Michael Child said...

This relates to one of the very first cross channel telegraph cables that was used to transmit Morse Code between the UK and Belgium, the cable was laid between Ramsgate and Ostende in 1853.

I believe the engineer Thomas Russell Crampton as in Crampton’s tower in Broadstairs was involved.

I think that the Submarine Telegraph Company was eventually bought by the Post Office in about 1890.

It is important to remember Ramsgate’s significance as a town in the mid 1800s the first 60 towns in the UK to be connected to a telegraph network in 1847 included Ramsgate.

Michael Cates said...

Thanks Michael, Come to think of it, Crampton Tower also had some submarine cable on display a few years ago, but again I can't remember its provenance. I also can't remember when the Ostende mail packet steamers were operating from Ramsgate rather than Dover, which might have been another reason for the link. I think around 1848? Rather like recent times, the shipping companies tried to establish Ramsgate as an alternative to Dover, but it was short-lived.

Michael Cates said...

Just looking more deeply into the History of the Atlantic Cable and Underse communications website and found the following page:

Were there really rival cables laid from Dover and Ramsgate to Ostende in the same year (1853)? There is no mention of any Ramsgate cable in this work until 1864.

Phil said...

Thanks gentlemen. How would the cables have been laid from London to the coast? Would the railway have been used as the route? I'm sure I read somewhere that a railway engineer was involved in submarine cable trials.

Michael Child said...

Michael I think the first Dover cable was 1850 and only lasted long enough to send one telegram, the next and first successful cross channel one, Dover – St Margaret’s Bay to be exact, to Calais – Sangatte- to be exact, cable laying started on 25th September 1851 and lasted about 30 years.

We are talking here about cutting edge technology and the competition could be intense, if say you were first to obtain news of a substantial shift on a foreign stock exchange.

I am pretty certain that the Ramsgate one was the second successful one, relationships with the French at that time were not so stable as they are now, ours is a naval family and my grandmother remembered a time when “death to the French” was a normal toast at family meals.

Michael Child said...

Phil Telegraph poles beside the track.

Michael Cates said...

Michael - look at the source in the link I posted earlier, it is very specific and is an exact contemporary of the Dover cable.

However,p129 of The worldwide history of telecommunications By Anton A. Huurdeman, available on Google Books, does mention Ramsgate.

So - I think more work is needed to resolve these interesting events.

Michael Cates said...

Just an aside - the Clock House has replica signs, which I researcherd in the 1980s, reminding us that "Ramsgate Mean Time is 5 mins 41 seconds faster tahn the above clock" and telling us that the stroke of the, now missing, bell indicates GMT. The original signs were erected in 1848when reliable telegraph time information could be sent alogside the railway from Greenwich. This marked the end of RMT - but led to confusion amongst the train catching visitors to Ramsgate used to setting their watches to the old RMT of the Clock House. At least one attempt at litigation is recorded due to the changed time 'zone'.

Michael Child said...

Michael I will look into it when I get some spare time, I am afraid most of this information comes from my probably faulty memories when studying telecommunications in the 1960s.

At the time I also worked part time for Querne Marine in the harbour as an engineer and I think the information that Ramsgate had the second functioning cross channel cable came from the other engineers I worked with then.

I did look at the link, it conflicts with my own notes, but then history is like that, Richardson and Brayley two of our most eminent historians differ by at least a year on the date when steamboats first arrived in Thanet, which one do you believe?

Busson and the editors of the millennium book both use Hinds’s map that dates from before the railways that Cotton drew the railways, on and date it from the date of Cottons book, once you get an error in our history it is hard to remove like Hasted restating Lewis’s assertion that Ramsgate is a man made cut to the sea. Obviously modern historians know that the permafrost of the last ice age made the chalk impermeable to water and Ramsgate was eroded by the resultant rivers, but who do you believe the later or earlier source in this instance, I don’t know.

Ah but at that time the clock house had two clocks one showing GMT and the other RMT any idea what happened to the other clock.

I used to think this was the clock house’s darkest hour:

“The Admiralty have also fitted up a wireless station at the clock house in the pier yard (Ramsgate.) During the week the public have been allowed on the pier the London boats have run as usual, but we were not surprised on Saturday morning to find the pier gates closed, and the following notice posted up:-

that any unauthorised
person approaching or
attempting to enter the
Navy Office, commonly
known as the Clock House
is liable to be SHOT by the
sentry or police constable.”
It looks very grim to see such a notice on our usually peaceful front. A space around the Clock House is roped off, and a sentry with a loaded rifle and fixed bayonet is stationed there.”

But with the recent antics of the council I am not so sure that it isn’t now

Michael Cates said...

I think it would be appropriate to reproduce that sign too!

The point with (local) history is to check as many sources as possible against one another, trying to get as near to a contemporary account as possible always remembering who wrote the original record and why!

You have to develop a nose for the lazy historians who compound the mistakes of earlier mistaken authors by citing them as established fact, as you have illustrated.

The submarine cable enterprises should have left enough evidence to establish when and where they were laid - I'll look too but will be busy with Preston Rally for a week or two.

Anonymous said...

Here is my contribution. The following information came from the Times newspaper. Accessed via Kent County Central Library and using library card to logon.

22 July 1846. Tests were conducted across Portsmouth harbour to test insulation on cables.
5 September 1850. Dover cable break after a week on the rocks off Cap Gris Nez. Lead sheathing too soft over rocks near coast.
12 September 1851. Messrs Crampton & Wollsaton exploring French coast for best landing point.
14 November 1851. On the 13th a temporary receiving station was set up 3 miles from the South Foreland lighthouse. This was a mile from the South Eastern Railway office which completed the London Paris telegraph connection. Financial exchange prices were also passed during this test.

There are also mentions about the underground land line following the old Dover road, South Eastern Railway losing their contract with installation of this new underground cable, and experiments with operators having silver and zinc plates in their mouths to power system.

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