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Telegraph Pole

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Telegraph Pole

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Telegraph Pole

GK Chesterton once wrote, "If the telegraph pole is hideous (as I admit) it is not due to doctrine but rather to commercial anarchy".

There was nothing anarchic, though, about the spread of the telegraph system and its emblematic wooden poles. It was developed alongside the railway system in the 1840s. The first commercial public telegraph line, running between London and Gosport, opened in February 1845, with a transmission of a speech by Queen Victoria.

Burying the telegraph wires was expensive, and it became standard to hang them from insulators on poles. In the 1850s, telegraph companies made agreements, known as "wayleaves", with landowners and homeowners to erect poles or run wires over roofs. In 1859, Charles Dickens noted that around 160 miles of telegraph wires were running over London’s roofs.

Nowadays, "telegraph" poles usually carry both power and communications lines. British Telecom telegraph post markings include the pole length and size, and the year it was erected.

Photo: Keith Marshall


Your comments

The traditional English telegraph pole, studded with porcelain insulators sitting on top of crossarms, was an omnipresent feature of every railway and minor road to main road throughout the second half of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th. In the second half of the 20th century trunk wires went underground and most of the remaining poles have been quietly replaced by plain insulator-less poles. However, generations remember the traditional pole, its complicated construction and its very visible purpose of enabling a message to be sent, perhaps around the world, at the speed of light. It was a truly amazing leap forward for the human race in the later 19th century. Even though telegraph messages have been replaced by the telephone and modern data technology, at least the term 'telegraph pole' very much lives on.

David Reynolds Photo: Keith Marshall

Well, I am into telegraph poles in a big way. I live opposite one, full of wires. I have watched for years the birds landing and stopping for a rest. The old fashioned street light with no case over the bulb was a great place for the birds to hide. One day I saw a telegraph man changing the old lamp for a new 'orange' one, I was mortified I had loved that old fashioned shade that the birds so loved! I still watch the pole and the old lamp is attached to my house as it was to be scrapped. I am doing a degree in Fine Art with History, my project is on telegraph poles. I suppose it's the contrast between the sky and black lines that attracts me to them - and the birds. Ta ra!
Tracy Anne Smith

The telegraph poles which ran alongside both main and minor roads (and also sometimes alongside rivers and canals) were maintained by the General Post Office (GPO) which was responsible for the telephone system. Unlike the insulator arrangement on the telegraph poles belonging to the railway companies, these poles were more carefully constructed. There were two kinds of cross beam - those capable of bearing four insulators (two either side of the pole) or eight insulators (four either side of the pole). The trunk lines tended to maintain the same combination of crossbeams so that it was possible to recognise same line of poles at difference points along their route. The early trunk lines had two upright poles bolted together at the base and had cross bars capable of bearing only six insulators, with two between each post and two either side of the twin posts. These could be seen on routes such as the old A1 Great North Road. When they were first constructed the crossbars bars on the trunk lines were always bolted on the London side of each post. Such was the Victorian attention to detail.
Owen Spencer-Thomas

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My nomination is the garden shed.