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a.]   British Electric Telegraph Company
b.]   English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
c.]   European Telegraph Company
d.]   Submarine Telegraph Company
e.]   Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland
f.]    Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company
g.]   International Telegraph Company
h.]   British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
i.]    London District Telegraph Company
j.]    United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company
k.]   Bonelli's Telegraph Company
l.]    Economic Telegraph Company
m.]  Reuter's Telegram Company
n.]   Great Northern Telegraph Company
o.]   Indo-European Telegraph Company
p.]   Other Companies

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On November 29, 1850 'The Times' newspaper contained four consecutive advertisements that all commenced "Notice is hereby given that application is intended to be made to Parliament in the ensuing session for an Act..." These related to the submissions of the Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and Ireland; the Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and France; the European & American Electric Type-Printing Telegraph Company, all dated November 14, 1850; and the Magneto-Electric Telegraph Company, dated November 12, 1850.

The five year monopoly that the Electric Telegraph Company had exercised had now formally ended:

a.] The British Electric Telegraph Company
The British Electric Telegraph Company was incorporated by Special Act of Parliament on July 29, 1850 with a capital of £100,000 in 4,000 shares of £25. It was promoted by the Highton family, brothers and son, to "assimilate its charges to the American tariff, thus to call into existence the use of the Telegraph to an extent hitherto not contemplated by the public". Edward Highton Jnr was the Company's managing director; the secretary was, from its inception, George Saward.

This was the first real challenge to the Electric company's patent monopoly. Edward Highton had launched its statement of intent on November 14, 1849.

The Board of Directors was chaired by James Simpson, an eminent civil engineer, and consisted of J C Cobbold, M P and brewer, W Gilbertson, A Henderson, E Highton Snr, E Highton, Jnr CE, W W Pearson MA, G G Scott and T Webster, MA, FRS. As well as the promoter, his father, also called Edward Highton, age 68, sat on the first board.

The British company was to remain inert for two years, without a mile of line, until Cooke & Wheatstone's master patent expired and until it was able raise working capital. The latter was made difficult by the shareholders' lack of limited-liability, compounding the risk being incurred in opposing by the well-established Electric Telegraph Company.

By 1854 the British company's board was to include, among others, William Gibb, a distiller, George Peel of the Soho Ironworks, Stephen Symonds, a calico printer, and John Pender and Alexander Corran, both of Pender & Company, merchants, all of Manchester. Pender was to be a massively significant figure in submarine telegraphy.

According to the prospectus dated January 10, 1851 the British Electric Telegraph Company was to acquire revenue from the sale of licences and applications to gas and water works, fire and police establishments, mines, docks, etc., and to make arrangements with railway companies for laying wires to the most important towns in England, Scotland and Ireland. Its Bill before Parliament in 1850 demanded access to all railways for its circuits whether or not they were contracted to other telegraph concerns; the legislature rejected this imposition.

However, this was the first company to compete commercially, although initially only in a local manner, with the Electric; its chief office was in Manchester, England's principal centre for textile manufacture, in the north-west of the country. This was an area that the old company had not yet covered.

It intended, from its statements in the prospectus, to imitate the Electric Telegraph Company by using overhead circuits alongside of railways. It acquired Parliamentary powers to carry wires along highways and turnpike roads only as a "precautionary measure". 

 The telegraph on the Northampton & Peterborough Railway 1845
This single-line railway was used in several telegraphic
experiments by Edward Highton and others
The circuit is shown here at Lynch Bridge in June 1845 with
short line-side poles and a single wire

The British company was formed to work the patents of Henry and Edward Highton, essentially a single-needle, single-wire telegraphic instrument with galvanic batteries, its wires carried overhead on poles. The brothers had a long history in electrical patents. Edward Highton claimed to have been employed by the London & North-Western Railway at Euston in the late 1840's, as did several others, to investigate alternative technology to that offered by the Electric company.

Highton expected his new concern to be granted a way-leave of the railway between the crucial cities of London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester in September 1851; indeed the new shareholders were brought in on that promise. He and his investors were disappointed; the Electric counter-offered and Euston stayed loyal to the old company. The British company's board were forced to admit on August 31, 1851 that they had no agreement with the North-Western Railway. This stunted the new concern's growth towards London and the south of England.

The Great Northern Railway, just being completed from London to the north-east of England, was initially a supporter of the British company; probably due to the Electric being so close to its bitter competitor, the London & North-Western Railway. But it, too, abandoned the new company. In any event connection from the British base in Manchester to the Great Northern lines to London had to be made by way of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, they refused access as well. Both gave wayleaves to the old company.

The Company also tendered to lay its telegraphs alongside of the Great Western Railway from London to Bristol on April 15, 1851 and again on May 30. The railway ignored its importuning.

In the summer of 1852 it eventually secured its first rights over the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in north-west England, with a network centred on Liverpool and Manchester. For these 160 miles of line it ordered 5,000 larch-wood poles, each 16 feet long by 4½ to 5 inches diameter. 

To June 30, 1852, the Board announced, £20,645 had been raised on capital account, and that £20,006 had been expended. Another call of £5 was to be made on each share to finance expansion.

These figures were open to interpretation. In May 1852 Edward Highton and George Saward were questioned in Parliament. The former declared that of the 4,000 shares of £25 only 300 had been subscribed for and that he personally held 240. Saward, the secretary, qualified this: there were then thirty-nine shareholders holding 1,330 shares, of the £17,065 paid up capital, £3,187 was from deposits on new shares, £13,937 was from shares deemed paid in full, and £10,000 of that from Edward Highton, the balance from the directors and one or two others. Unfortunately Saward also revealed that Highton had received an identical £10,000 from the Company for his services and patent rights!

Between January and August 1852 the British company negotiated rights to erect its pole telegraphs alongside several railway lines, including those of the Leeds Northern, the Stockton & Darlington, the West Hartlepool, the Newcastle & Carlisle, the Glasgow & South-Western and "a portion of the Midland Railway" companies as well as the Lancashire & Yorkshire, all in the north of England and in Scotland, creating a contiguous regional network. It had cost, up until August 1852, a total of £17,000. These circuits were all constructed as line side poles, with circuits in iron piping in towns.

In September 1852 the Company opened its new office at Exchange Street East, Liverpool, by connecting them with the overhead circuits at the Tithebarn Street terminus station of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway through subterranean iron conduits; completing this work in a single night. It repeated the exercise in that month in Manchester, joining its circuits at the Lancashire & Yorkshire's Salford railway station with its principal office at Ducie Street, Exchange, in twenty-two hours by underground cables.

A Poster for the British Electric Telegraph Company 1853
Showing its network before it acquired access to London by merging
with the European Telegraph Company
(Click on image for larger version, click on Previous Page to resume)

The chief offices of the British Electric Telegraph Company, although advertised as being in London, were at 11 Ducie Street, Exchange, Manchester.  

Its west to east long-line from Liverpool, through Manchester, Halifax, Bradford, Wakefield, Leeds, Barnsley and Harrogate, to Stockton-on-Tees was completed on October 1, 1852 alongside of railways.

By February 1853 the Company covered fifty towns with 330 miles of line. In mid-1853 it had 600 miles of line, east and west, from Liverpool to Goole, through every important town in Lancashire and Yorkshire, northeast from Liverpool to Newcastle, and was proceeding northwards to Carlisle, Glasgow and Greenock.

The British company's circuits encompassed the northern counties of England and reached Glasgow, the commercial and industrial metropolis of Scotland by late 1853, expending a little over £20,000 of its capital.

The British company granted railways telegraphic facilities, the railways on the other hand granted the Company "free passes" or wayleaves along their lines, and every facility for making and maintaining their works. Minor telegraphic stations were to be worked by railway clerks, the railway to hand over the proceeds to the Company. As is obvious, these negotiations and arrangements followed the Electric's business model.

The competitive effect of the British company on the market for public telegraphy was thus confined for the moment to the major northern cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Glasgow - it was frustrated in its need to construct circuits to London. It was unable to follow the railways to the capital and had to plan a roadside route 185 miles from Barnsley in north-east England.

For the British company's route from Goole to Hull its engineer John Lavender erected wires 140 feet above the river Humber at Howdendyke in 1853, on masts constructed as those on sailing ships. Lavender also introduced over-house telegraph wires for the first time in 1854 between the railway station and the city centre of Halifax. Until then municipal authorities had insisted on underground cables.

The British Electric Telegraph Company's Chief Office 1852
No 29½ Royal Exchange, Cornhill
It had rooms within the exchange complex, but no instruments or wires
Messages for its northern circuits were forwarded by the
original Electric Telegraph Company

Although it had no circuits to the capital the British Electric Telegraph Company maintained its Central Station at 29½ Royal Exchange in London. In early 1853 the Company was advertising as having stations at forty-one other places - 26 Exchange Street East, Liverpool; 11 Ducie Street, near the Exchange, Manchester; 6 Bond Street, Leeds; 9 Leeds Road, Bradford; Corn Market, Wakefield; Union Street, Halifax; Railway Station, Barnsley; Railway Station, Oldham; Railway Station, Newcastle; and Sandhill, Newcastle; as well as at Carlisle, Melton., Alston, Haltwhistle, Haydon bridge, Hexham and Blaydon; Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, Auchinlech, Ardrossen, Troon, Ayr, Annan, Dumfries and Sanquhar; Arthington for Otley, Harrogate, Ripon, Thirsk, Northallerton, Stockton, Middlesbro', Redcar, Yarm, Darlington, Sheldon, Bishop Auckland, Etherley and Crook.

Messages of twenty words between the large cities of Leeds and Manchester, Liverpool and Manchester, Liverpool and Oldham, Oldham and Manchester, Leeds and Wakefield, Leeds and Halifax, and other pairs of smaller towns were charged at 1s 0d. The Company added 6d extra for delivery.

To eliminate any confusion with the Electric company it re-titled itself the British Telegraph Company, confirming the change in a Royal Charter on June 13, 1853, which also provided its shareholders with limited-liability, and received from Parliament a Special Act to sanction an increase in its capital to £300,000 in that year, reiterating its authority to construct telegraphs on streets, roads, waterway towing paths and railways, and – more importantly – acquiring additional powers to lay submarine cables between Britain and Ireland.

With the failure of the Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland and that company's underwater cable and circuits to Belfast and Dublin in 1853 with which it was to connect, the British company determined to lay its own cable to Ireland. This it completed on June, 9 1854, from Port Patrick to Whitehead. It then had to erect posts from the coast to Dumfries with four wires to connect with its English circuits at Carlisle, and posts with two wires to Ayr to reach Glasgow. These lines were to be erected in two months. The Irish circuits with wires connecting at Carrickfergus to the city of Belfast were already constructed.

It also reached Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, in 1854. In that year the British Telegraph Company paid a 6½% dividend. The line south to Dublin from Belfast and the cable to England was intended to be made underground along the old coach road, using the circuits of the late lamented Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland, during 1855; it was never completed.  

In July 1854 the British Telegraph Company began to offer message rates in concert with the Submarine and European companies. Then on August 30, 1854 a general meeting of the shareholders in Glasgow confirmed merger arrangements with European Telegraph Company and the addition to its board of directors of eleven new members from the European company. In September of that year the British company completed negotiations to acquire that company's assets giving it access at last to the south of England, and even more importantly to the submarine circuits to the Continent. It exchanged £100,000 in shares and paid £30,000 in monthly cash instalments. The two companies' circuits were merged effectively under the British company's name during February 1855 using Highton's telegraph.

George Saward was appointed Secretary of the new united concern at a salary of £400 per year.

It adopted the European company's subterranean system, devised and patented by the contractor William Reid, for those lines that it had to construct alongside of roads; laying a roadside underground circuit from Manchester to Carlisle to access its new Irish cable by the summer of 1855.  The British Telegraph Company had the following seventy-one stations in June 1854:

Alston; Annan; Ardrossen; Arthington for Otley; Auchinleck; Ayr; Barnsley; Billingham; Birmingham, 104 New Street; Bishop Auckland; Blaydon; Bradford, 9 Leeds Road; Burnley, Post Office; Canterbury, 36 High Street; Carlisle, 6½ English Street; Carlisle, Newcastle & Carlisle Railway station; Chatham, 303 High Street; Consett; Coxhoe; Crook; Dalry; Darlington; Deal, 100 Beach Street; Dover, 7 Clarence Place; Dumfries; Etherley; Eston; Ferryhill; Glasgow, 147 Queen Street; Glasgow, Glasgow & South Western Railway station; Goole; Gravesend, 45 The Terrace; Guisbro': Halifax, Union Street; Haltwhistle; Harrogate; Hartlepool, dock office; Hartlepool, West; Haydon Bridge; Hexham; Huddersfield, Post Office; Hull, 36 Lowgate; Irvine; Kilmarnock; Leeds, 6 Bond Street; Liverpool, 3 Exchange Street West; London, 30 Cornhill; London, 43 Regent's Circus, Piccadilly; Manchester, 11 Ducie Street, Exchange; Melmerby; Middlesboro'; Milton; Newcastle, Sandhill; Newcastle, Central Station; Northallerton; Oldham; Paisley; Picton for Stokesley; Pontefract, Market Place; Redcar; Redheugh for Gateshead; Ripon; Sanquahar; Seaton; Shildon; Stockton, Stockton & Darlington Railway station; Stockton, Leeds Northern Railway station; Thursk; Troon; Thornhill; and Wakefield, Market Place.

Except where noted the telegraphs were located at the railway station. The concentration was in northern England, with the long-line to London and the Continent then owned by the European Telegraph Company.

BTC Regent Circus
British Telegraph Company's Chief Office 1855
43 Regent Circus, Piccadilly
On the north-east segment of what is now Piccadilly Circus.
It had been the West End office of the European Telegraph Company

The combined British Telegraph Company listed its premises in London in 1855 as: Secretary and Chief Officials at its Chief Office, 43 Regent's Circus, Piccadilly; Central Message Offices, 30 Cornhill, Stock Exchange, 8 Throgmorton Street, 82 Mark Lane and 34 Parliament Street. It also had a manufactory for Highton's telegraph instruments at Oliver's Yard, 26a City Road, Finsbury.

The British company’s line from England through to Dublin, due to open in June 1855, was abandoned. The Company’s only office in Ireland was that in Belfast. Its principal traffic was with Glasgow in Scotland. 

Its "chief officials" then comprised George Saward, secretary, John Rutherford Duff, accountant, and William Andrews, commercial superintendent in London, who was also responsible for works on the Submarine company's circuits. There were in addition, William Powell, engineer, and Samuel Percy, commercial superintendent in Manchester, at the Company's main offices, 11 Ducie Street, Exchange, Manchester.

The combined company adopted the European firm's policy of cheap message pricing, from 25% to 50% less than the competitive Electric company's rates. This proved to be a huge mistake on its new much larger, less efficient network; profits dropped and the dividend had to be abandoned in mid-1855.

Their inherited property from the European Telegraph Company proved a mixed blessing, although acquiring its valuable roadside wayleaves the workmanship proved to be less than perfect.

George Saward and the British company's engineer, William Powell, personally inspected the entire mileage of the European Telegraph Company from Dover to London and from London to Liverpool in 1854 and found decay in every segment of its gutta percha insulated lines. The wires were covered with "raw" gutta percha, without any preservative coating, buried shallow in untreated deal-wood troughs. Their state was so bad that the 84 miles between London and Dover had to be replaced immediately. This was done by the telegraph contractor, W T Henley, during 1855 without affecting message traffic. The old wires were re-manufactured with "rubbed" gutta percha, having a coating of preservative Stockholm tar applied, with a "serving" or additional covering of hemp tape, and were reburied in heavier creosoted hard-wood troughs from three to five feet deep in the earth. These new lines lasted for a decade.

The long underground lines from London to Liverpool were in a similarly poor condition, but still operable. This small piece of cheer was fortunate as the Company lacked sufficient funds to refurbish the newer circuits. Saward was allowed to inspect subterranean lines of the competitive Magnetic company, that paralleled their northern circuits in 1855; they were found to be in a much better state of preservation.

In August of 1855 the British Telegraph Company joined with the Electric and Magnetic companies in fixing a standard message tariff to all towns where they competed. The agreement was not publicised.

Under its original charter its entire capital had to be subscribed by July 1856. However by 1855 there was a general resistance from its shareholders to contribute more than their existing amount; this left a shortfall of £66,000. The balance in the capital account had been raised on loan. The board proposed to issue new preference shares to cover its legal obligations either at onerous 7½ % for seven years or at 5% in perpetuity.

In March 1856 Percy reported that the Company had raised £282,530 in capital, with £26,544 in annual receipts and £25,811 in expenses in 1855. It then had 1,200 miles of line and 96 stations open.

The British Telegraph Company in 1857 had a huge Board of Directors of twenty-eight, divided geographically into committees representing clusters of share- holders. As well as the chairman, James Simpson, and the deputy- chairman, William Gibb, the committee in London had eleven members, the majority from the Submarine Telegraph Company, Manchester had five, Glasgow six, Newcastle three and Bradford one.

At the beginning of 1857 the British and Submarine companies advertised their principal offices as at: 30 Cornhill; 43 Regent Circus; Stock Exchange, (New Court Entrance); 8 Throgmorton Street; 82 Mark Lane, corner of Fenchurch Street; and the House of Commons (during its session) in London; 7 Clarence Place, Dover; the corner of Exchange Alley, Exchange Street West, Liverpool; 11 Ducie Street, opposite of the side of the side entrance of the Royal Exchange, Manchester; 147 Queen Street, Glasgow; 2 Donegal Street, Belfast; Sandhill and at the railway station, Newcastle; 36 Lowgate, Hull; 9 Leeds Road, Bradford; 6 Bond Street, Leeds; 303 High Street, Chatham, and 45 The Terrace, Gravesend.

In 1855 and 1856 the British company also had had a public office at 34 Parliament Street, at the corner of Bridge Street, in Westminster, adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. As mentioned before, it never opened its promised office in Dublin. 

In early 1857 British company merged with the much larger Magnetic Telegraph Company.  

George Saward was to claim to Parliament in 1860 that it was the unaffordable cost of repairing its deteriorating underground trunk lines between London and Liverpool and Manchester that forced it into merger talks with the Magnetic company. It is not known whether the extent of this "poison pill" was revealed to the Magnetic's board.  

A special general meeting of its shareholders assembled on August 20, 1858 and voted to wind-up the rump of the British Telegraph Company. At this meeting William Andrews was officially the Secretary, George Saward having left to become manager of the Atlantic Telegraph Company and its cable to America. A final, modest dividend of 4% was declared. 

Although the motion was carried the British Telegraph Company remained in existence for a further ten years. The powers written into the Company's Act of Incorporation were to prove useful later. In 1868 its nominal Secretary was William Charles Daniell.

b.] The English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
The English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company was authorised by a Special Act of Parliament on August 1, 1851 as the 'Magnetic Telegraph Company' with a capital of £500,000 to work the 1848 joint patents of W T Henley and D G Foster. Uniquely at the time its instruments, devised by its promoter, W T Henley, did not require batteries of electric cells but consisted of two small magneto-electric devices that generated current to deflect a pair of needles on a distant dial.

Throughout its several name changes, it was initially promoted by Henley in 1850 as the ‘Magneto-Electric Telegraph Company’, the company was always known publicly as the ‘Magnetic’, just as the original concern, dubbed by its competitors the ‘old company’, was always the ‘Electric’.

The patent granted to William Thomas Henley, philosophical instrument maker, and David George Foster, metal merchant, on August 10, 1848 provided the Magnetic company with considerable technical differences over the existing telegraph concerns. Of the eight claims in the patent two were to have commercial utility; the third claim for the use of magneto-electric apparatus instead of using galvanic or voltaic electricity, and the fifth claim for a compound of gutta-percha and comminuted sand to make an insulation for cables. These two innovations led, as noted, to the first widely-used magneto telegraph, without batteries of cells, and to the first telegraph network using underground cables.

Henley had been instrument maker to Charles Wheatstone at King’s College, making his first magneto devices, becoming a contractor for works to Cooke & Wheatstone and to the Electric Telegraph Company.

A substantial trial of Henley’s new instruments was organised by the Magnetic Telegraph Company on the South Devon Railway in August 1850 under the latter’s Superintendent of Telegraphs, Thomas Bray Webber. I K Brunel, the railway’s engineer, was also present during several of the experiments. The line ran in part for five miles along exposed sea coast and its electric circuits consequently suffered from the damp conditions. In one experiment the magnetic telegraph was worked on the existing wires along the 52 miles of railway between Plymouth and Exeter. The circuit went back and forth between the two cities and then back again to Newton Abbot, giving a length of telegraph line of 138 miles “through 23 instruments”. Webber reported to Henley on August 20, 1850 that the results were “highly satisfactory” over twelve days of use despite the “very wet” conditions, with little or no leakage of current that had been prevalent with the old galvanic system.

Webber noted that the strength of the magneto-generated current allowed the dead-beat needle sufficient force to ring a bell, and that it therefore could easily be adapted to acoustic as well as optical working.

Despite this technical endorsement the South Devon Railway retained its Cooke & Wheatstone apparatus.

The Magnetic's provisional Board of Directors of April 1851 included C W Siemens, the controversial Prussian electrical pioneer, as well as W T Henley and what were otherwise professional or "City" directors, such as Richard Hartley Kennedy, alderman of London, a man to be convicted of bank fraud in 1858, W Rigby, W H Hatcher and W Nicholson. These were soon displaced by capitalists from the north-west of England including Joseph Ewart, a cotton magnate and Member of Parliament for Liverpool, and Edward Cropper, a director of the London & North-Western Railway and latterly of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. They were soon joined, too, by others representing Irish interests. Edward Brailsford Bright was its Secretary. 

By January 1854, in addition to Ewart and Cropper the Board consisted of, from Liverpool, Robert Crosbie, Christopher H Jones, Henry Harrison, James Holme, William R Sandbach, William Langton and Thomas D Hornby, from London, Charles Kemp Dyer and Charles B Stokes, from Dublin, Valentine O'Brien O'Connor, John Barton and John M'Connell. It continued to be a Liverpool- controlled concern; this is emphasised by its having the Liverpool Borough Bank managing its funds rather than a City bank.

Bearing in mind the dominance of the Electric company in Britain the Magnetic acquired a Royal Charter under its new, longer "English & Irish" title on April 5, 1852, in addition to the authority by its Act of Parliament. It announced that it intended to connect Britain and Ireland by an underwater telegraph cable and to erect lines throughout Scotland and Ireland. It anticipated circuits covering Dover, London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Bolton, Wigan, Liverpool, Preston, Carlisle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Greenock in Britain; and Donaghadee, Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Cork and intermediate towns in Ireland. It also offered to connect the Home Office in London with the seat of Government at Dublin Castle in Ireland.

The Company had a focussed view of their business. Its managers stated that "none but the largest towns yield any profit upon the working expenses of a telegraph, we therefore determined from the outset, not to extend our wires to any point where a profit could not be obtained." Its station list was short, limiting each circuit to no more than five, six or at the most eight stations. Most country towns, they thought, were adequately served by the speed of the post, the business of such towns being steady without any speculative trade. This sad attitude concentrates on the telegraph's initial dependence on commerce and trade, and not its potential.

In the late summer of 1852 it had an eight-wire underground roadside line in operation between Liverpool, Wigan, Bolton and Manchester in the north-west of England; intending to have a six-wire line extending south from Manchester to London and Dover; a four-wire line laid underground north from Liverpool to Carlisle; as well as plans for a six-wire submarine cable between Port Patrick in Scotland (with a road-side circuit to Carlisle) and Donaghadee in Ireland.

In Ireland it already, in June 1852, had a two-wire circuit between Dublin on the east coast and Galway on the far Atlantic coast, laid alongside the lines of the Midland Great Western Railway.

The Magnetic eventually became the dominant telegraph company in the relatively small market of Ireland connecting the country's major cities of Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Cork and Queenstown, mainly next to railways. Its circuit south from Dublin to Cork alongside of the Great Southern & Western Railway was completed on June 1, 1853. 

Charles Tilston Bright, engineer to the British Electric Telegraph Company, was poached by his elder brother, Edward, the Magnetic's secretary, to become Chief Engineer during 1852. He made several changes in the Company's technical arrangements, in particular reducing its dependence on W T Henley, the firm's promoter.

Fox, Henderson & Company, railway engineers and contractors, of 8 New Street, Spring Gardens, London, who had constructed the Great Southern & Western Railway and the parallel telegraph line, were commissioned in March 1852 to construct the Magnetic's new lines north from Manchester, including the submarine cable to Ireland, in place of its founder, W T Henley who had built the lines from London. Charles Fox had been Robert Stephenson's resident engineer at Euston Square on the London & Birmingham Railway in 1837 when Cooke & Wheatstone's original telegraph circuit had been laid.  This relationship did not last long and the contract for the underwater works passed to R S Newall, maker of the English Channel cable, and that for the Carlisle to Stranraer subterranean land line, in January 1854, to William Reid, the first and largest telegraph contractor in Britain.

The underground works to Stranraer were laid from Carlisle to Gretna along the Caledonian Railway, and from Gretna through Annan and Dumfries along the turnpike roads.  

It succeeded in laying the first undersea cable connecting Britain and Ireland on May 23, 1853, between Port Patrick in Scotland and Donaghadee in Ulster. In England it brought London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and the major towns of Lancashire in circuit during May 1853 using roadside, underground cables, ten gutta-percha insulated wires laid in wooden troughs, an increase on the initially planned six wires: this was the third circuit to enter London from north-west England. All of the Magnetic's initial long-distance circuits in Britain were laid underground; those in Ireland were mixed, pole and subterranean.

On August 19, 1853 in Dublin the Company completed an underground circuit between the terminals of the Great Southern & Western and Dublin & Drogheda Railways down the middle of Sackville Street. This allowed Cork in southern Ireland to connect through Dublin to Belfast in the north.

Its line from Donaghadee connecting with the cable to Britain was built alongside of the County Down Railway from Newtownards to the city of Belfast. The continuation to Dublin was by way of the Ulster, Belfast Junction and Dublin & Drogheda Railways. The long circuit from Dublin through to London was opened on January 17, 1854, from Cork on January 25.

The Magnetic then possessed the longest subterranean circuit in the world. It worked 670 miles of gutta-percha insulated wires in wooden troughs from London via Manchester, Liverpool, Carlisle, the Port Patrick to Donaghadee cable, and Belfast to Dublin.

The Company acquired wayleaves alongside of the East Lancashire and the Caledonian Railways, among a small number of others, in the north-west of England. 

English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company 1854

Miles of Line in 1853
From Charles Bright in 'The Telegraph Companion'

Underground (mostly 6 wires, 12 wires London – Liverpool)
London to Liverpool by Birmingham, Manchester, Bolton and Wigan - 250 miles
Liverpool to Carlisle - 130 miles
Carlisle to Port Patrick by Dumfries - 125 miles
Port Patrick to Donaghadee - 22 miles (submarine)
Donaghadee to Belfast by Newtonards - 32 miles
Belfast to Dublin 105 miles - 6 wires
Dumfries to Glasgow and Greenock - 115 miles
Cork to Queenstown - 16 miles
Street of London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin and other towns -13 miles
Scottish Central Railway, Great Northern Railway and Haigh Colliery - 8 miles

Total 821 miles of underground line, 6,348 miles of wire

Overground (averaging 6 wires per line)
Great Southern & Western Railway - 170 miles
Midland Great Western Railway - 150 miles
Dublin & Drogheda and Belfast Junction and Ulster Railways - 160 miles
Belfast & County Down Railway - 40 miles
Belfast & Ballymena Railway - 40 miles
Ballymena & Coleraine Railway - 30 miles
Londonderry & Coleraine Railway - 50 miles
Londonderry & Enniskillen Railway - 60 miles
Kilkenny Railway - 30 miles
Waterford & Limerick Railway - 80 miles
Caledonian Railway - 200miles
East Lancashire Railway - 100 miles
Killarney Junction Railway - 50 miles
Portarlington & Tullamore Railway - 30 miles

Total 1,196 miles of overhead line, 7,200 miles of wire 

The Company, or more particularly, W T Henley, had ambitions abroad. In 1853 it despatched W G Sprigg to Sydney, New South Wales, in Australia as its Agent. He went with two of Henley’s single-needle magneto instruments and a range of publicity material. The Magnetic company offered its telegraph instruments for £35 each and its alarms at £7 5s each, delivered in Australia. Sprigg also gave prices for importing insulators, screw-ratchets and winding apparatus for making overhead lines at £23 per mile. Although approaching the state government and the railways Sprigg had to report in 1856 that he had “been unsuccessful in all cases”.

According to Sprigg, Charles Todd had a similar mission from the Company in South Australia. Todd did have the Henley magneto installed on the short marine telegraph between Adelaide and the town of Semaphore, replacing an optical line.  

During May 1854 the English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company advertised its principal offices in Britain as at 72 Old Broad Street, London, 2 Exchange Buildings, Liverpool, 2 Exchange Arcade, Manchester, and 22 English Street, Carlisle. In Ireland its chief office was at 6 College Green, Dublin. 

The large telegraph station at 72 Old Broad Street, City, was opened on January 4, 1854. It was a rented property shared with eight or so other mercantile tenants; located, the Company repeatedly stated in its advertisements, "six doors from the Exchange". This was the busiest office outside of Liverpool, and was to be the temporary head office of the Magnetic Company when it merged with one of its competitors in 1857.

In 1854 it listed its stations as: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Carlisle, Glasgow, Greenock, Edinburgh, Stranraer, Port Patrick, Donaghadee, Belfast, Armagh, Drogheda, Navan, Dublin, Athlone, Ballinasloe, Galway, Kildare, Carlow, Thurles, Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford, Mallow, Killarney, Cork and Queenstown. A line was under construction along the railway from Limerick to Waterford. The lines from Belfast to Dublin and Dublin to Cork were overhead wires on poles. The Irish business was such that it required six underground wires from Liverpool to the cable-head at Port Patrick in Scotland. Six additional wires, three circuits, were also just about to be laid underground between Belfast and Dublin. Both of these long subterranean circuits were to be constructed by the Company's original promoter, the telegraph contractor, W T Henley of London.  Other stations on its list included Bolton, Bury, Blackburn, Accrington, Dumfries, Lanark, and Lockerbie in north-west England and Scotland; as well as Lisburne, Portadown, Athenry, Dundalk, Mullingar, Oranmore, Maryborough, Kilkenny and Newry in Ireland.

In 1854 the Magnetic paid its first dividend, 5%.

By 1855 the English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company had its main offices at 2 Exchange Buildings, Liverpool; 72 Old Broad Street, City, Stock Exchange at  Hercules Passage, City and 7 Charing Cross (opposite the Statue) in London; Exchange Arcade, Manchester; 101 New Street, Birmingham; 18 Exchange Square, Glasgow; 6 College Green, Dublin; Bridge Street, Belfast; Pembroke Street, Cork;The Quay, Queenstown; and the Railway Station, Galway.

At the end of 1855 the original English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company had 2,283 miles of line in circuit, two-fifths underground, with 14,926 miles of wire. It possessed 201 stations with 492 instruments and worked 264,727 public messages. Annual receipts to June 1855 were then £25,832 and expenses £17,517. Its dividend for that year was a healthy 6%.

The Magnetic considered laying a domestic cable between Burrow Head, Wigtownshire, Scotland and the Point of Air on the Isle of Man in February 1856. It did not proceed with the project.

A little later in that year it merged with the British Telegraph Company.

The final General Meeting of the proprietors of the English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company took place in Liverpool on April 28, 1857. As well as announcing the completion of the merger, the board noted that special sums had to be set aside for the repair of damages from the storms that crossed the country in July, August and December, 1856.

c.] The European & American Electric Type-Printing Telegraph Company
The European & American Electric Type-Printing Telegraph Company was another successful early, if short-lived, competitor to the old company. In January 1852 it became the second company, after the Electric, to commence constructing a circuit to connect London with the north of England, starting to lay wires next to the obsolete coach road by way of Birmingham to Liverpool and Manchester, completing its line in May 1854 just before the Magnetic company's.  

The European concern, the first real national challenge to the Electric company, originated not from within Britain but in France. On August 19, 1849 the government of France granted Jacob Brett monopoly rights to construct underwater electric telegraph cables between the two countries for a period of ten years. It was conditional that the concession be constituted in France. Under an agreement with the French government dated October 23, 1851 the monopoly was vested in a private partnership consisting of Charlton James Wollaston, Francis Edwards, Sir James Carmichael, John Watkins Brett and Frederic Toché, entitled Wollaston et Compagnie. On September 6, 1852 Wollaston and Toché withdrew and were replaced by Lord de Mauley and Frederick William Cadogan, at which moment the firm became de Mauley et Cie. On the death of Lord de Mauley in 1855 it was known as Société Carmichael et Compagnie. This final private partnership lasted as long as the concession.

To work the concession and to raise the capital required a Société en Commandité (effectively a limited-liability joint-stock company authorised and supervised by the government) was formed, la Compagnie du télégraphe sous-marin, supported by the Rothschild and Lafitte banks. Its authorised capital was 1,250,000 francs, in 5,000 shares of 250 francs. In England it was to be known as the Submarine Telegraph Company between France and England, represented by J Brett, Toché & Co., for the concessionaires, another private partnership, whose gérants or managers comprised Sir James Carmichael Bt, Francis Edwards, Charlton J Wollaston, John Watkins Brett and Mons. F Toché. Its capital was effectively secured by its absolute monopoly in telegraphy between England and France. The capital of £100,000 was primarily subscribed for in London; but it had to have an Anglo-French directorate based in Paris. Technically and operationally the company was always headquartered in London. The chairman in Paris was Edgar Aimé, its chairman in England was Lord de Mauley; latterly its driving force was Sir James Carmichael, Bt., who succeeded to the chairmanship in 1856. The Company's engineers were Thomas Crampton, a civil and locomotive engineer, and Charlton Wollaston, an electrician.

John Watkins Brett had previously promoted two expensive Special Bills in the Houses of Parliament on November 12, 1850, one to acquire powers and capital for the Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and France and another for the Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and Ireland. The need for special powers for France and capital for the proposed Irish line were found irrelevant; and the two bills were withdrawn on June 2, 1851, after having incurred the large cost of legal drafting.

Despite the Company being a joint-stock organisation the capital was raised through a handful of individuals; Crampton put up over one half, the balance was provided by Lord de Mauley, Sir John Carmichael Bt, Davies Sons & Campbell (the firm's solicitors), the Hon F W Cadogan and George Hadden.

The steam-tug 'Goliath' laying the very first, but unsuccessful
submarine telegraph cable in August 1850. 
'Goliath', a wooden vessel, was built in 1846 for the Shipowners'
Towing Company of London, 44 tons register, 100hp engines. 

The concession acquired by Jacob Brett in August 1849 required that electrical communication be made between England and France before September 1, 1850. To meet this deadline the Company laid a lightweight unarmoured, gutta-percha insulated single-core cross-channel cable on August 28, 1850. It was so light that it required lead weights to stop it floating. After a few messages the circuit failed, but the terms of the concession had been met and the Company gained time, and publicity, for the financing and manufacture of a much heavier, multi-core cable.

The Submarine company successfully laid the first underwater electric telegraph cable between Dover in England and Calais in France on September 25, 1851. The cable possessed four copper conducting wires, each insulated with gutta-percha, covered with tarred hemp and protected with armour formed of spiral-wound No 1 gauge iron wires. All subsequent underwater telegraph cables were made to this model. According to T R Crampton, he "undertook the entire charge and responsibility of the form, construction and laying of the cable" from Dover to Calais, as well for that from Dover to Ostend. Crampton therefore may be said to have invented the viable submarine cable.

It initially used the Foy-Breguet instrument in its circuits; this used a small black arm working in jerks from the centre of a white dial, so as to describe angles of 45o and 90o, with a fixed vertical line passing through the centre. Rotating a handle and arm in a very quick rotation indicated letters by various angles to the centre line.  The Foy-Breguet instrument imitated the action of the Bonaparte-era Chappe mechanical semaphore telegraph, an optical device with rotating swing-arms on tall posts, used for several decades in France, the Italian states and other European countries until the 1840s. The Submarine company had tested the Foy-Breguet and the Brett type-printer, settling on Cooke & Wheatstone's two-needle telegraph in 1852, until finally adopting the American telegraph in 1855, which was by then used throughout Europe.

Its original London office in 1851 was at 9 Moorgate Street, on the opposite side of the road to the Electric's 'house'. It moved in the same year to 30 Cornhill, City, where it had an instrument room on the upper floor. The Submarine company's official headquarters was at Place de la Bourse 10, Paris. The location of these offices shows its reliance on the mercantile community. It also had, in its first few years, a public office at the railway station at Calais, from where its circuits followed the Chemin de fer du Nord to Paris.

As the Submarine Telegraph Company did not yet have its own circuits into London when the cable was opened for public traffic on November 13, 1851 messages had to be accepted at the London Bridge station of the South Eastern Railway Company, sent on the railway's overhead wires to Dover. In addition messages were accepted and forwarded to London Bridge by messenger at the much more convenient office of Julius Reuter, telegraph agent, 1 Royal Exchange Buildings, across London Bridge, in the City.  On Tuesday, February 6, 1852 the Submarine company required that all messages be sent from its new offices at 30 Cornhill, City, nine months before it was to secure its own circuit to the cable end at Dover. These, too, were sent electrically from London Bridge.

Between November 19, 1851, when it opened its circuits to the public, and June 30, 1852 it handled 9,045 messages, receiving £6,889 13s 9d in income. On the latter date it had just two instruments at Cornhill, working to the Continent; this increased, to four by January 1854, when it had access to the European company's long domestic line to Manchester.

If connection with the state-owned telegraph monopoly in France was straight- forward, circuits at the English end were to be problematic.

As has been mentioned, the partnership of Cooke & Wheatstone had granted a licence to the South Eastern Railway Company to work an experimental circuit on one of its branches in November 1841. This had been extended in September 1845 to cover its main line between London and Dover, as well as the rest of its system in Kent and Sussex. Unfortunately, the South Eastern company resisted a common circuit with the Submarine company. It was already sharing technology with the Electric company; in addition, although lacking permission to land wires in France, the railway company's telegraph department was experimenting with a lightweight underwater cable of its own in the English Channel off Dover. So, for a short period, the Submarine company was without direct connection with the rest of England – messages were hand-carried between the two telegraphs in Dover town and transcribed from one system to the other.

To overcome this isolation the Submarine proprietors in London projected a new company in 1851 under English law, the European & American Electric Type-Printing Telegraph Company, with a capital of £200,000, in 40,000 shares of £5, of which £93,000 was soon paid-up, to connect London, Liverpool and Manchester by one mainline (Dover, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool). It was to be laid underground to be free atmospheric interruption or maintenance (under contractor's guarantee) for 10 years at £112,000 on 300 miles. Its principal promoter was John Watkins Brett, managing director of the Submarine company; his brother Jacob owned (among several other assigned telegraphic patents) the British licence for the original type-printing telegraph patent of Royal Earl House, an American, which the Company acquired. The company and its capital was authorised by Special Act of Parliament on August 7, 1851. Its chief offices were shared with the Submarine company at 30 Cornhill, City.

The European's original Board of Directors had nine members. The chairman was Lord de Mauley, also chairman of the Submarine company, A Anderson MP, chairman of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, W J Chaplin MP, chairman of the London & South-Western Railway, Samuel Laing, chairman of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, John Masterman Jnr of the Submarine company, Sir James Carmichael Bt of the Submarine company, Ernest Bunsen of the Submarine company, and Admiral Richard O'Connor KCH. The original secretary was W M Shaw, he was replaced quickly by George Lockyer Parrott.

The European Telegraph Company (as it was generally, and mercifully, known), unlike all other potential competitors for the Electric's business, had a real commercial advantage – it had for the moment sole access to the Continent of Europe through the Submarine company's Dover cable and worked as one with it. 

The "Type-Printing" element in the legal title of the Company was almost immediately abandoned from its public information as the Brett type-printing telegraph just could not be made reliable enough for service.

The European became the first effective challenge to the Electric company. It was to quickly lay six resin-insulated wires eighteen inches deep underground in kyanised (rot-proofed) wooden troughs, with test boxes at every mile alongside of the old London to Dover coach road, by way of Greenwich, Gravesend and Canterbury. Two of these wires were planned for the Paris circuit, two for Brussels and two for a prospective Mediterranean line. These circuits, it was claimed, were laid by between 200 and 300 men working at the rate of one-and-a-half miles a day during the summer of 1852 from London. They had reached Chatham by September 1852. The line was constructed by Frend & Hamill of 44 Bedford Row, London, a small and short-lived firm of general public works contractors. Their workmanship was not of the first quality and the Dover cables had to be thoroughly renovated by W T Henley, the telegraph engineer, after just three years.

For the difficult metropolitan connection between their new offices in Cornhill in the City of London and New Cross Gate, south of the river Thames in Surrey, a distance of about 7 miles, William Reid was employed as contractor. On July 31, 1852 he billed for the 12 wire section between Cornhill and London Bridge, and on August 21 for the 8 wires hence to the beginning of the Dover Road, and for 6 wires to New Cross Gate. These circuits were laid underground in 4,400 cast-iron troughs with lids, to Reid's patent design.

The South Eastern Railway Company vigorously opposed the construction of the new circuits. It proved in the Exchequer Court on January 16, 1854 that the European's "digging and boring under the railway at the point where the highway crossed" for its roadside underground wires at Canterbury was trespass. This precedent overturned the powers all telegraph companies assumed in their authorising Acts of Parliament regarding rights-of-way along public highways. They could not cross railways without permission. 

The division of revenue between the Submarine Telegraph Company, South Eastern Railway and, later, the European Telegraph Company on the circuit between London, Dover and the Continent over the first fifteen months from the public opening of the cable in November 1851 is shown below:


Dec .........774...........455..........143..........-............598

Aug......... 1,295........526.........446............-...........825



The European company opened its office in the City, the financial district of the capital, on November 1, 1852; with a direct circuit between 30 Cornhill, London, and place de la Bourse 10, Paris. Under French pressure it tried the Foy-Breguet telegraph once again, using twenty-five to thirty batteries each of twelve pairs of cells on the circuit, but replaced it on the same day with the Cooke & Wheatstone two-needle instrument.

On December 8, 1852 the European company's shareholders resolved to extend the line from Dover to London onwards to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The extension was estimated to cost £50,000, the same as the newly completed Dover line. A new issue of shares was confidently made to meet these costs.

The firm laid a subterranean circuit from the City to the West End in London and opened a telegraph office at 43 Regent Circus on September 7, 1853. Its new long line of six wires to the north-west of England then already extended past this to follow "Watling Street", an ancient Roman road, commencing at the Marble Arch, striking north along the Edgware Road in West London to Rugby in the Midlands where it diverted west along the turnpike to reach Birmingham.

 Within the short period of two years the European Telegraph Company was to lay underground wires to Birmingham, in the midlands of England, completed on August 8, 1853, reaching Manchester, the north's principal industrial city, by way of Wolverhampton, Stafford and Macclesfield on March 1, 1854, and the great Atlantic port of Liverpool on May 6 1854. It also obtained a contract of the Royal Navy to connect the Admiralty in Whitehall, London, with the dockyards to the east of London at Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, Deal and Dover, all on its roadside route, by leasing it a wire.

The first messages from its office at 1 Market Place, Manchester to Paris and Brussels via London were sent at 7 o'clock in the morning on May 12, 1854. On May 10 and 11, 1854 the European Telegraph Company and the Submarine Telegraph Company created direct circuits between their offices in Liverpool and Manchester and those in Paris and Brussels, 535 miles and 520 miles distant. Although experimental these lines, using Cooke & Wheatstone's two-needle telegraphs, demonstrated the capacity of the new technology.

Once the European telegraph arrived John Hunter of 2 Paradise Street, Liverpool, advertised that he would receive telegraph messages from England and the Continent for British North America and the United States and forward them by fast steamer to Halifax, Nova Scotia and New York in America. Hunter was correspondent to the Associated Press of New York. Julius Reuter also opened Continental Telegraph Offices in Liverpool and Manchester to distribute and collect news during 1852 and 1853.

Most of its business was for the Submarine line to cities and towns on the Continent, but domestic traffic within England was increasing. In the latter half of 1853 there were 24,382 messages (earning £2,789) by the first half of 1854 this had become 31,332 messages (£3,572). Rental from the Admiralty for connecting its Kentish naval stations was £1,000 per annum. It paid a modest 3% dividend in its first full year, 1853.

The European Telegraph Company in May 1854 had offices at 30 Cornhill, London; 43 Regent Circus, London; House of Commons, during the session; 23 Castle Street, Liverpool; 1 Market Place, Manchester; 104 New Street, Birmingham; 45 The Terrace, Gravesend; 303 High Street, Chatham; 36 High Street, Canterbury; 7 Clarence Place, Dover; and 100 Beach Street, Deal.   

The directors of the European and Submarine concerns also promoted the Railway Electric Signals Company in 1855 to work Edward Tyer's patents for train control. This had offices at 30 Cornhill and in Paris, France.

A general meeting of its proprietors in London on August 30, 1854, held on the same day as one by the shareholders of the British Telegraph Company, voted for a merger between the two firms, to create a second national telegraph network.

In an agreement confirmed on September 20, 1854 the British Telegraph Company acquired the capital of the European Telegraph Company by an exchange of shares and a cash sum. The remarkably effective European company vanished from history after just four years existence. The British and European companies immediately merged their circuits, the latter abandoning its own apparatus for the simple Highton single-needle telegraph.

d.] The Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and the Continent of Europe.
The owners of the Submarine company had in the meantime negotiated another telegraph cable monopoly, this time of the Belgian Government, to which end it cloned itself to create the parallel, elaborately and confusingly titled Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and the Continent of Europe. It was a company, unlike the original, created in Britain and secured limited–liability protection for its shareholders by means of a Royal Charter on April 14, 1851. In London the two companies had identical boards and to all intents and purposes were one organisation. The new cable between Dover in England and Ostend in Belgium was completed on June 20, 1853 with an office in Brussels at Place de la Monnaie, using Wheatstone's two-needle telegraph and then the American telegraph.  

The prospectus called for £150,000 in capital. It was the original intention to expend one half, £75,000, in buying-out the French Submarine company, with the remainder to be used on the Belgian works and promotional costs. The buy-out never happened as money proved difficult to raise. The original Submarine Telegraph Company maintained an independent existence.

The three linked Submarine companies, the 'French', the 'Belgian' and the European, effectively united their managements and operations, though not their capitals, in a set of agreements dated August 19, 1852. This arrangement lasted only for two years.

Before the first telegraph conventions of 1855, which formalised the transmission of messages between national systems, the Submarine companies had offices for Continental correspondence at the offices of the European company in England; London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Gravesend, Chatham, Canterbury, Deal and Dover; and from its own premises at Calais, Paris, Brussels and Antwerp.  For their entire existence the Submarine companies worked in tandem with a domestic service provider in Britain, with whom they shared proprietary. This consolidated in 1857 into a monopoly relationship for continental traffic with the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company. In return the Submarine rebated one-fifth of the tariff rate for messages from the Magnetic's London offices, and two-fifths of those from its provincial offices, to the domestic company.

Landing the Submarine Telegraph Company's Belgian cable 
at Middelkerke in May 1854

When the British company absorbed the European concern the 'French' and 'Belgian' cable firms henceforth traded simply as the Submarine Telegraph Company, although having separate capital, working from its original office at 30 Cornhill, City.

The chartered 'Belgian' Submarine company obtained permission to land and work underwater cables in Hanover, from Cromer in East Anglia to Emden, 280 miles, laid on November 4, 1858, with a 20 year concession acquired for £7,000 from the provisional North-of-Europe Telegraph Company in September 1857; and in Denmark, from Cromer by way of the British North Sea island of Heligoland to Tonning, 374 miles, laid on July 14, 1859, with a 25 year monopoly; neither of these cable connections was to be lasting. The Magnetic company constructed a dedicated long line from London to Cromer in December 1858 by way of Norwich and Newmarket.

It was originally planned early in 1858 to lay the Company's so-called 'Direct European' cables from near Hull in the north of England to Emden and Tonning, but the shorter route from Cromer was soon adopted.

An issue of £150,000 in new shares was required to pay for these cables. Interest at 5% was allowed on this stock until the end of December 1858, when the holders would be entitled to the ordinary dividend.

The Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Hanover agreed the concession with the Submarine Telegraph Company on May 8, 1858 for a cable between the English coast and the Hanoverian province of Ostfriesland. The Company was to provide a minimum of two underwater circuits to connect the büreaus of the Königlich Hannoverschen Telegraphenverwaltung with London.

The Company was to make an immediate deposit of 7,000 thalers for the duration of the concession, and a subsequent 30,000 thalers as security for the successful completion of the works for a period of ten years at 3% interest. The concession, as noted above, was to last for 20 years from October 31, 1858, on which date the cable was expected to be completed. There were then seven thalers to the English pound.

The rate for a twenty-five word message to London from Hanover was set at a maximum of 4 thalers. In the event the tariff was set at 2 thalers 15 gröschen or equivalent currency for twenty words to Britain for all the German states.

The cable from Cromer to Emden was not actually completed for public messages until April 1, 1859. It was soon attracting traffic for England from all of Germany with reduced rates, and without the need to pass through Holland or Belgium.

On January 23, 1860 the Submarine Telegraph Company opened its new long cable from Cromer to Westerhever by Tonning in Denmark, via Heligoland. As well as connecting with Denmark, Norway and Sweden, messages to and from the German states for England could now be routed through this cable by way of the important Hamburg station of the German-Austrian Telegraph Union as yet another alternative to the older Hague cable. Ominously the Union described the cable end as "by Tönningen in Schleswig", as if it were a German province, ignoring Danish sensibilities.

To serve these long new cables the Submarine Telegraph Company opened its own station at Tucker's Hotel Yard, Tucker Street, Cromer, in 1858. Its other offices, in London and Dover, were all worked in concert with the Magnetic company.


The Submarine & European Telegraph Companies' City Office
No 30 Cornhill, London 

The working of the Submarine Telegraph Company's Cornhill office in 1854 was described during a criminal court case in 1857 by one of its directors Frederick Cadogan and several of its clerks:

"The course of a message proceeding to the Continent is this: it is brought by the sender to the counter on the ground floor, where the number of words is computed; the money is paid, and the message is taken up by a lift to the transmitting room, the instrument room; the message is then sent to its destination immediately, if there is no other message on the file previously sent up; if there are other messages to be sent by the same instrument, it is placed underneath, and is dispatched in its turn. The duty of dispatching it in its turn would attach to the Superintendent of the room in the first place, and to the transmitting clerk at the instrument in the second place."

"The history of a message coming from abroad is this: it is received on and by the instrument in connection with the foreign and Continental line, or town, as the case may be, say Paris; it is received at an instrument in a room at No 30, Cornhill; that room contains several instruments, several clerks; in the centre, the superintendent's table, and the Superintendent; in one corner is the dispatch office, with a hole in the wall, or door; it is received in manifold; that is to say, the clerk reads off the message, and writes it in manifold; that is done either by the clerk at the instrument or by his assistant. As soon as the message is complete, he hands it to the Superintendent sitting in the centre of the room; having been received by the Superintendent, it is read by him, the words are counted by him, the message is prepared for transmission, and all the different formularies are arranged upon it; the hour, etc., is seen to be correct. The time is inserted by the superintendent, or by his clerk; then it is handed to the clerk, who sits near the door. By him it is put into an envelope, and sealed; he makes some signal, either rings or knocks, and he hands the message, through a trap in the door, to the boy, the next boy on the rota for taking messages. All Government messages are in cipher, except those that are upon public matters."

"In 1853 the Company laid down wires to the West End, to four or five club houses; at the time those wires were opened, the Company made an arrangement with a news agent at Paris, of the name of Havas, who is a general news agent at Paris, to supply them with a summary of news in the afternoon; and that summary of news, which he was in the habit of supplying at a fixed price, was to be sent to the different club houses (in St James's Street), into which buildings our wires were taken—we did that more as an advertisement. It lasted a very short time."

"In January, 1854 the office was open at night for anybody to receive messages. In August, 1854 there were two rooms, and there were three instruments in one, and three in the other. There were always ten or twelve persons there. There were a great many messages to Paris; at certain hours of the day, scarcely anything else—at certain hours of the day the telegraph is almost conclusively confined to stock transactions between Paris and London."

"We do not now translate messages sent to us in English for transmission, but we did in 1852—the translation of a message will very often completely alter the number of words; it is very often impossible to translate a French message of twenty words into an English message of twenty words."

The Submarine Telegraph Company
Message Traffic to Europe and Dividend
1852 - 1859 

1853…………..34,616 ………….8%

The opening of the International Telegraph Company's England to Holland cables early in 1854 clearly affected the Submarine's Continental business. 

In 1856 the Submarine company benefited from new arrangements between the French authorities and the German-Austrian Telegraph Union. This allowed access through direct circuits from London to Paris, to Hamburg and to Berlin, as well as a reduction in rates to the Union countries. Previous to this the French transcribed or rewrote inward and outward messages at Calais and Paris. The changes were made at the insistence of the Union. The Belgians then also allowed the Company a direct circuit to Brussels, abandoning transcription at Ostend, and reduced their rates.

The Board of Directors were able to report on September 10, 1857, that "Messages are now generally forwarded to most of the chief towns in Europe without retransmission through any intermediate office". This statement was open to question, in regard to the definition of "chief towns" and to the use of "generally". Transmissions by the Company to southern Europe, evidenced by complaints in the daily press, proved notoriously unreliable into the 1860s.

During November 1858 J W Brett, representing the 'French' component of the Company, approached the "Directeur des lignes télégraphiques" in Paris to renew their monopoly concession which was due to expire in 1862 for a further thirty years. In addition Brett sought rights for new cables between Boulogne and Folkestone, Havre and Southampton and between France and the Channel Islands. The concessionaires promised to construct their own land lines from Folkestone and from Southampton to London.

The French authorities on January 12, 1859 authorised the Submarine company to lay two new cables, from Folkestone to Boulogne and from Jersey in the Channel Islands to Pirou for the town of Coutances on the Cherbourg peninsular. 

Coincidental with the opening of the Boulogne cable on September 14, 1859, the Company moved its chief office in London from Cornhill to 58 Threadneedle Street; to be in the newly-built headquarters of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company.

On the same day, September 14, the Company opened a direct line with a Special Wire from the Stock Exchange in London to the Paris Bourse, using the cable between Boulogne and Folkestone.

In 1859 the Submarine company possessed six highly-profitable cables; two to France, Dover – Calais (24 miles), and Folkestone - Boulogne (25 miles); one to Belgium, Dover – Ostend (70 miles), one to Denmark, Cromer – Heligoland (a British island) – Tonning (380 miles), one to Hanover, Cromer – Emden (80 miles) and one between Jersey in the Channel Islands and Coutances in Normandy, France (30 miles). Unfortunately for a long period in 1859 only the two cables to Boulogne and Hanover were working, the others being damaged or under construction.

It then employed 127 staff, all men, and was working the American telegraph as made by Digney of France and Siemens & Halske of Prussia in all of its circuits.

The Electric Telegraph Company, in an attempt to break the Submarine's monopoly to France, proposed a new cable from Newhaven to Dieppe, just as the Company was renegotiating its concession in 1859. The French renewed the concession for another thirty years but insisted that the Submarine build the new cable to Dieppe, which it completed in 1861.

In 1860 the Submarine Telegraph Company between Great Britain and the Continent of Europe, reported to the Government that it and its 'French' equivalent had a paid-up capital of £340,000; £75,000 for the Dover – Calais works, £80,000 for Dover-Ostend, £150,000 for Cromer-Tonning, and £35,000 for Folkestone-Boulogne and Jersey-Pirou. Their receipts in 1852 from 96 miles of wire and 3,049 messages had been £4,632 and expenditure £1,922, in 1859 with 2,366 miles of wire and 122,969 messages it received £26,995 and expended £14,121. In both years they declared a 6% annual dividend, although in the intermediate years 7%, 7½% and 8% had been paid.

As well as advertising all of its new routes to Europe, especially to Hamburg, by way of Denmark, in March 1860 it, rather prematurely, promoted message rates to India by way of the Red Sea cables. This line was not to be completed for another ten years.

The Submarine Telegraph Company had its monopoly concession with France extended for thirty years on January 2, 1861 till 1890. It sent and received a total of 230,000 messages in 1861, rising to 310,595 in 1863.

The long cable from Cromer to Emden in Hanover broke in December 1860. The Submarine company employed F C Webb to repair it, but after three months was forced to abandon the work because of consistently bad weather. Another expedition was commissioned in April 1861, under its own engineer J R France, and after a further three months work succeeded in repairing the circuit to Germany in June. 

On January 31, 1862 a speech of the Emperor Napoleon III in Paris, consisting of 1,200 words with 6,200 letters, was transmitted by the Submarine Telegraph Company from Paris to London in 30 minutes. Four wires and four sets of American instruments were employed.

The Submarine company’s semi-annual shareholders’ meeting on March 4, 1862 was informed that the Belgian government had renewed its concession on the same terms as that of France, extending the term for thirty years. A disgruntled shareholder pointed out that in addition to the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company’s corporate holding in their company of £22,000 its directors held a further £30,000 and independent cross shareholders £40,000. The Company had reduced its continental tariff by 50% on February 1, 1861, this had led to a widely-predicted decrease in revenues and an increase in message traffic and expenses.

The Submarine company opened a temporary office in Cromwell Road, London, opposite the newly-opened International Exhibition at South Kensington in May 1862. The messenger had to be issued with a season ticket to deliver the many telegrams for the exhibitors, the government’s event managers not letting him enter otherwise.

In 1863, after it laid the new line from Newhaven in England to Dieppe in France the Submarine Telegraph Company had 887 miles of line containing 2,683 miles of wire in circuit, worked by 51 instruments and carried 345,784 messages to and from Europe. The capital of the 'French' element was then £100,000, of the chartered or 'Belgian' part, which included the cable concessions to Hanover and Denmark, £300,000.

Its cable between Jersey and Normandy was out of circuit through damage between November 1863 and April 1864. As the competitive cable to England was also broken the Channel Islands were then isolated.

Number and duration of the cables laid by the
Submarine Telegraph Company, 1863

J W Brett to Cyrus Field, July 3, 1863

1] From Dover to Calais (France), laid September 25, 1851
4 cores, 24 miles, 96 miles of wire

2] From Dover to Ostend (Belgium), laid May 6, 1853
5 cores, 70 miles, 350 miles of wire

3] From Cromer to Emden (Hanover), laid November 4, 1858
2 cores, 280 miles, 560 miles of wire

4] From Folkestone to Boulogne (France), laid June 26, 1859
6 cores, 24 miles, 144 miles of wire

5] From Cromer to Tonning (Denmark), laid July 14, 1859
3 cores, 368 miles, 1,104 miles of wire

6] From Jersey to Coutances (Channel Islands), laid January 9, 1860
1 conductor, 21 miles, 21 miles of wire

7] From Beachy Head to Dieppe (France), laid June 27, 1861
4 cores, 78 miles, 312 miles of wire

Totals: 25 cores, 865 miles of cable, 2,587 miles of wire,
all insulated with gutta-percha

The Submarine company's longest cables to Emden in Hanover and to Tonning in Denmark were disrupted by the war between Denmark and the German states. Hostilities lasted from February 1 until October 30, 1864 with Prussian and Austrian armies occupying German-speaking Schleswig-Holstein, effectively reducing the land area of the Kingdom of Denmark by 40%. In March 1864 the cable end of the Company's Danish cable fell within the German portion and was stated to be in the hands of the "Austro-Germanic authorities" and not being allowed to be worked.

The sector of the Danish cable between Cromer and the island of Heligoland remained operational. On May 9, 1864 it was able to provide eye-witness reports of the sea battle between the Austro-Prussian and Danish fleets, in which the Danes drove off the allied navies under the Austrian Admiral Wilhelm von Tegethoff. The reports were some of the few messages sent over the remnant of the Tonning cable.

Virtually all of the German states were involved in the war; Hanover supported the intervention, and all of the independent Hanse port-cities of Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck and Rostock were blockaded by the Danish Navy. However, the Company advertised early in February 1864 that messages for Denmark, Sweden and Norway could be telegraphed to Warnemünde, an out-port of Rostock, and forwarded by blockade-running steamer every alternate day to Ystadt in southern Sweden from where the state telegraph was still connected with its Scandinavian neighbours.

Its Emden cable was initially reported as being damaged by a ship's anchor in March 1864 and was then consistently described as "under repair".

The loss of the Emden cable was severe. Its traffic had grown quickly from 7,218 messages in the last eight months of 1859 to 11,390 in 1860, reaching 27,296 in 1863. It succeeded in attracting substantial through traffic from the other German states and Russia away from the Electric company's Hague cable: with 3,143 "international" messages in 1860, and 12,304 in 1863.

In the evening of September 26, 1864 a fire started on the fourth floor of the Magnetic company’s central station in Threadneedle Street. It consumed the stationery store and instrument room of the Submarine Telegraph Company that shared the premises. The continental service was considerably interrupted for several days, but the Magnetic lent its Submarine cousin instruments to restore communication.

The concession to Hanover was forfeit in 1865 and the Company's German cable from Cromer to Emden abandoned. The rights were to be acquired by Julius Reuter, a close ally of the Electric Telegraph Company. The Company's access to Eastern Europe, the Levant and to Asia, of necessity by means of the circuits of the German-Austrian Telegraph Union, seems to have suffered from its intimate connection with the Imperial French regime of Napoleon III.

The Hanover cable was not wasted. At least forty-seven miles from the English end were recovered and refurbished in 1866 by W T Henley. This was used in a new cable from Dover to La Panne in Belgium that was completed in November 1867.

The Submarine's board in 1868 comprised Sir James Robert Carmichael Bt, chairman, Francis Edwards, Captain Grant RA, Samuel Gurney, Henry Moor, the Hon Ashley Ponsonby, Charles Saunderson and Arthur John Otway MP. Ponsonby was the grandson of Lord de Mauley, the Company's first chairman.  

Its chief manager or secretary in London from 1852 had been Leonard Walter Courtenay. In 1863 he left to become traffic manager of the British government's Indo-Ottoman Telegraph in Constantinople, rising in service to be a Commissioner in the Indian Telegraph Department. Courtenay was then replaced as secretary by Stephen McDonnell Clare, who remained in post until its final year of 1890, sadly to liquidate the concern.

The Company's original electrical engineer for the Calais and Belgian cables had been Charlton Wollaston; he was succeeded in 1852 by William Andrews, who had previously been employed by the telegraph department of the South Eastern Railway. Andrews, who was also commercial superintendant for the British Telegraph Company in London, supervised the construction of the new long lines to Germany and to Denmark before leaving in 1860 to become Secretary and General Manager of the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company. James Robert France, a loyal servant of many years who had been called on from assisting Andrews to advise on the Brett brothers' cables in the Mediterranean in the 1850s and on the Atlantic cable of 1858, then became engineer. In the early 1870s France became engineer to Hooper's Telegraph Works Company, responsible for several long cables in South America. The Submarine company's engineer for the balance of its existence was John Bourdeaux, who had started his professional life with the Electric Telegraph Company in 1848, joining its employ in the mid-1850s.

Thomas Crampton, the civil engineer who had supervised the mechanical elements of the first two cables, continued to act as consultant for major works, such as repairs and replacements, at least until August 1859. In that month he and William Andrews inspected the two original cables and found them in “excellent preservation”. In those first eight years the Company had needed to spend only £5,000 on their maintenance.

BIMTC Threadneedle Street

The Offices of the Submarine Telegraph Company
Originally on the third floor of the central station of the
British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, 58 Threadneedle Street, City
It occupied most of the building after 1868 until 1880

When the domestic companies were appropriated by the government in 1870 the Submarine company had possession of the following cables:

• Dover – Calais, completed September 1851, with 4 circuits and a length of 24 miles
• Ramsgate – Ostend, completed May 1853, with 6 circuits and a length of 70 miles •  Folkestone – Boulogne, completed June 1859, with 6 circuits and a length of 25 miles
•  Jersey – France, completed January 1860, with 1 circuit and a length of 30 miles
•  Beachy Head – Dieppe, completed June 1861, with 6 circuits and a length of 78 miles
• Dover – La Panne (Belgium), completed November 1867, with 4 circuits and length of 47 miles
•  Beachy Head – Le Havre, completed September 1870, with 6 circuits and a length of 69 miles 

It then had in its direct ownership a total of 33 circuits to Europe, 343 miles of cable in all. Its other cables had either been replaced or had failed; the Company's long cables between England and Denmark by way of Heligoland and to Hanover had been terminally "interrupted" by the Danish – Prussian war of 1864. The station at Cromer was abandoned in 1865. The profits from the directly-owned circuits were divided between the original or "French" Submarine company and the later "Belgian" company in proportion to their capital; in 1870 this was £75,000 (16.8%) and £370,806 (83.2%).

For a few months from August 1869 the Submarine company handled English and Scottish traffic for the Société du câble trans-atlantique Français through its Dover and Folkestone cables to Paris, Brest and the United States. In this it worked in concert with the United Kingdom Telegraph Company, rather than its 'parent', the Magnetic company, which was agent for the Anglo-American cable of 1866. It would have been interesting to see what this new competitive situation might have achieved had not the government appropriation of the domestic telegraphs been carried out in 1870.

Subsequently it also was to lease from the Post Office the two cables to Holland, previously owned by the Electric & International Telegraph Company, and the Norderney cable lately the property of Reuter's Telegram Company. For these an elaborate rental was arranged: one quarter of gross receipts was set aside for repairs, one-fifth of gross receipts from London, two-fifths from English and Scottish country towns and one-half from Irish towns was retained by the Post Office, the balance being divided equally between the Company and the Post Office. This formula effectively doubled the Company's dividend. 

e.] The Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland 
The Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland was initially promoted in December 1851 as the "Irish Channel Submarine Telegraph Company" and provisionally registered in January 1852. It talked in the press of a capital of £500,000 for lines from Dumfries in Scotland, where a connection was to be made with the mainland circuits, to an underwater cable between Scotland and Ulster, and by a line "thence to Belfast, Dublin and other places in Ireland". 

There was an elaborate provisional structure with three noble Patrons, three Trustees and nine Directors on the Board, many of whom were naval and military retirees and local gentry. It was clear from the beginning that, despite its aristocratic components, the projecting power was George Featherstone Griffin, a wharfinger, trading as Charles & George Griffin & Company, of Beal's Wharf, Southwark, London. The Superintendant Engineer and Secretary was S F Griffin, his son. No one connected with the existing electrical establishment was involved.

The prospectus of the "Irish Channel Submarine Telegraph Company", eventually issued on April 6, 1852, was optimistic in extreme: it had reduced its anticipated capital needs to just £40,000, it anticipated using circuits line side of the railways between London and Carlisle and from Dublin to Belfast, laying two lines each of four wires. Only the land sector between Carlisle and the coast was required to be constructed in addition to the cable. It anticipated also that a Royal Charter would be granted before the laying of the cable from Port Patrick to Donaghadee and the land line to Dumfries,  all due to be completed on May 20, 1852. It was to use the system adopted on the French submarine cable, devised by Samuel Statham of the Gutta-Percha Company. A clause in the Company's original deed of settlement bound it to co-operate with the Electric Telegraph Company. Very few in this series of promises were to come to fruition.

It all commenced enthusiastically. By May 1852, the Company had indeed started entrenching a two-core, or "double line", as the Company phrased it, gutta-percha insulated but otherwise unprotected underground land line along the road from Dumfries to Port Patrick, intending to have it complete by June 31.

On July 12, 1852 the old title was abandoned and the scrip for 40,000 shares issued in its newly adopted name of the Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland. The much reduced board was chaired by Rear Admiral Sir W H Dillon, KCH, and included the Hon George Massey, the Hon E C Curzon, Lt Col Leonard Morse Cooper, George Featherstone Griffin, and John Newman Tweedy. Its direction and shareholding was still in the hands of Anglo-Irish landholders and mercantile interests, unfamiliar with the management of a large joint-stock enterprise or of new technology. The Secretary was named as Sandiforth Featherstone Griffin.  

The Ireland company adopted George Edward Dering's single-needle galvanic telegraph, patented in 1851, in all of its circuits, and took his advice on all matters electrical. G E Dering was a notable scientific dilettante, and, although an English landowner by birth, had strong connections with Ireland through his mother, inheriting 11,200 acres of County Galway from her brother in 1870.

A lone Dering single-needle telegraph survives. It is, like its competitors, in a substantial, nicely moulded mahogany case around eighteen inches high by nine inches wide, with a round-topped, glass-fronted housing for the diminutive single needle, mounted on a squat rectangular base. The commutator or transmitting switch in the base is worked by a horizontal tee-bar; there is an ivory knob to the right to switch between alarm and telegraph. The interior of the dial has two very small coils. The round top contains the mechanism for a large electro-magnetic alarm bell.

William Reid, the telegraph instrument maker and contractor, was a shareholder in the Ireland company and probably made Dering’s apparatus, taking the shares in full or part payment.

The Seal of the Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland
The motto "Per mare, Per terras, Mobilitate viget",
by land, by sea, thriving on movement, from Virgil's Aeneid

On July 18, 1852 the Reliance under Captain Edward Hawes RN, the Admiralty's general superintendent at Port Patrick harbour, set out from the Scottish coast with S F Griffin, now styled engineer, W L Gilpin, the contractor, G Dering, the electrician, and J Fletcher, the company's superintendent of works, on board. The Reliance, accompanied by a steam tug from Belfast, carried twenty-five miles of underwater cable; it successfully laid and electrically-tested seven miles of wire out from Port Patrick. Captain Hawes then decided that strong sea currents were setting in and continuing cable-laying could only proceed after the spring tides were over. The line was marked by buoys.

On the Saturday morning of July 24, the Reliance returned to grapple the cable-end, which the crew did with immense difficulty, as it had fouled an abandoned ship's anchor. The ends were joined and the vessel continued towards Donaghadee at three miles per hour, succeeding in laying a further fifteen miles. It reached Ireland at ten o'clock at night in heavy gales. The cable was tested, found electrically sound and, then as it was not possible to land it, buoyed-off in the sea.

The principal length of the Ireland company's first underwater cable was described as being of two copper wire cores insulated with gutta-percha protected by a thick covering of hemp rope. The cores had been manufactured by Christopher Nickels & Company, of Lambeth, who also made the Company's land-lines. For the vulnerable shore-ends at Port Patrick and Donaghadee, which were subject to wave action and abrasion, W Küper & Company, wire-rope makers, of Camberwell, London, were to have made two short armoured cables but money for these apparently ran out. A temporary shore connection was made with unarmoured insulated wire and worked for a matter of days, but eventually the long hemp cable had to be sealed and buoyed-off in the sea at both ends.

At the moment of this failure in July the Ireland company was in direct competition with the Magnetic Telegraph Company which had been similarly active with cable works over the same short stretch of water to Ireland during May and June.

In August 1852 William Lawrence Gilpin of Bayswater, London, a civil engineer and partner in a wire mill at Aston, near Birmingham, agreed to complete its entire works in Scotland and Ireland for £27,000. Gilpin had in the previous year been proprietor of Gilpin, Guy & Company of Workington, iron manufacturers, before taking up general contracting.

The Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland belatedly completed all of its legal requirements with the registrar of joint stock companies on December 4, 1852. Just before this event its solicitor, Alfred Mayhew, deposited its Bill for a Special Act on November 25, 1852. The draft Bill sought the same wide ranging powers that other telegraph companies possessed; the right to place its wires over or under railways, roads, rivers and canals throughout England, Scotland Wales and Ireland, cables from Britain to Ireland, and enabling it to acquire patents from individuals and to work them.

Following these legal milestones, on December 27, 1852, the Board of Directors reported that the 69 miles of two-core underground cable in Scotland were completed and they were working messages on the 42 miles from Dumfries to Newton Stewart. It had also received a report by Captain Hawes that the isolated six-month-old underwater cable was still in good condition. With 16,000 out of 40,000 shares already applied for, it confirmed that they had decided to apply to Parliament for a Special Act to authorise its works, rather than obtain a Royal Charter as originally planned.

The state of the cable may or may not be truly reported: the newspapers claimed that a schooner from Larne had accidentally grappled and then cut out 472 yards of four-inch thick hemp cable with a copper core from the sea floor on July 30, 1852. Informed of their error when they landed, the schooner's crew were said to have returned their haul to the owners in Belfast.

In February 1853 the Ireland company advertised two offices for messages in Belfast, at Ann Street and at the Commercial News-room, Waring Street. Twenty word despatches could be forwarded from there to stations in Britain for 6s 0d and 6d for every extra word, by steamer rather than electricity.

The Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland eventually obtained a Special Act of Parliament to authorise its formation, its cable and its circuits in Scotland and Ireland on August 4, 1853, with a modest capital of £40,000 in shares of £1 and £8,000 in debenture debt that could be incurred once all of its share capital was called-up. However only 27,000 of its 40,000 £1 shares were taken up, and not all of the shareholders could be got to pay their calls into its account with the Royal British Bank in London.

Parliament granted the Company powers under its Act to open up streets, highways and public roads only through Scotland and Ireland. As it was limited by its Act, in addition to the cable, to circuits in Ireland and Scotland, it apparently intended to connect onward from Dumfries by transcribing messages to the circuits of the British Telegraph Company.

The Annual General Meeting of July 28, 1853 noted the success of the Act and the completion of 73 miles of double line of wire between Dumfries and Port Patrick. Their electrician G E Dering was at that moment supervising the construction of double and quadruple lines of wire from the Irish Industrial Exhibition in Dublin through their office at Eden Quay, shared with W H Smith & Son, the news-agents, in the city northwards way beyond Glasnevin, on the road to Drogheda and Belfast. The double and quadruple line of wire from Belfast was already laid twenty miles south towards Dublin through Lisburn, Hillsborough and Dromore. A telegraph office had opened at Lisburn communicating with Belfast.

To better prosecute these operations W L Gilpin, the contractor for telegraph works, opened offices at 40 Camden Street, Dublin, in addition to his chambers at 7 Northumberland Court, Charing Cross, London. 

Whilst it was not legally associated with its English namesake, the original Electric Telegraph Company of 1845, the Ireland company did participate in a preferential message exchange agreement in 1852 after the old company's Holyhead to Dublin cable failed.

Although reported sound and, in August 1853, capable of recovery, the first underwater cable was not to be put in circuit and was abandoned and the Company adopted G E Dering's curious theories regarding insulation in 1853 for a replacement cable.

Dering described his theory on underwater cables in his patent of 1853 as follows "I have discovered that a metallic circuit formed of wires, either wholly un-insulated or partially so, may be employed for an electric telegraph, provided that the two parts of the circuit are at such a distance apart that the electric current will not all pass direct from one wire to the other by the water or earth, but that a portion will follow the wire to the distant end." He apparently successfully demonstrated this discovery across the river Mimram on his estate in Hertfordshire, England, for the Company's board of directors.

The new bare wire cable was shipped to Belfast on September 23, 1853, it was a single No 1 gauge galvanised iron wire instead of a twisted strand wire which Dering had recommended. It was, he said later, poorly made with many bad welds, but it was tested and the weak parts removed. It was then tarred for its whole length and loaded into the contractor's vessel, the Albert. The cable was to be laid on November 21, 1853 from Donaghadee to Port Patrick by the Albert, escorted by HMS Asp. A half-mile shore-end wire was initially laid, then on November 22, in foul weather, the 28 miles of main wire was joined and a further 3½ miles laid before it broke. On November 26 another attempt was made by the Albert, this time 12 miles were laid before the wire broke again in 82 fathoms of water. After several attempts to grapple the underwater wire by the Albert it too was abandoned. Its 200 miles of two-core gutta-percha underground cable circuits were all manufactured by Christopher Nickels & Company, of 20 York Road, Lambeth, London, which traded also as the "Gutta-Percha Company of Lambeth". Nickels was a large-scale manufacturer of india-rubber and gutta-percha goods, and was a licensee of Charles Hancock's patent wire-covering machine.

The Ireland company made a brave face at the Irish Industrial Exhibition in Dublin between May and October 1853; displaying three of Dering's instruments, and working traffic from the halls to its office at W H Smith's news-agents on Eden Quay then north towards Belfast. Its much larger competitor, the Magnetic Telegraph Company, which already had a submarine line to Britain, completed in May 1853, did not even have a stand. During 1853 the Ireland company was also supplying news to papers in Dublin and Belfast.

But after this initial burst of enthusiasm money to pay the contractor Gilpin ran short and work slowed down over the coming year. The extension south from Newry through to Dundalk was completed on June 2, 1854, and the final connection between Belfast and Dublin was to be made only on August 1, 1854. 

After laying 192 miles of underground line with 400 miles of wire in Scotland and Ireland, but being without the intermediate cable, the Ireland company was in severely difficult financial circumstances, having raised and expended £26,255 in share capital and, despite not having Parliamentary authority to do so, having raised £16,560 in loans; whilst still owing money to its contractor, W L Gilpin, to Nickels' Gutta Percha Company of Lambeth for its land-lines, and having judgements for other debts made against it. Gilpin agreed to forgo all of his claims against the Company and surrender the works and materials still in his possession in July 1854 in return for a final payment of £600 and the writing-off of a debt of his of £2,000 to the Royal British Bank used to buy materials. The Ireland company's new secretary, James Troup, and three directors had to find the money among themselves to settle his claim. 

In February 1855 W L Gilpin was lodged in the Queen's Prison for Debt. In the previous two years it was revealed that he had had twelve different private and business addresses. He had traded in that period as coal merchant, iron master, chemical manufacturer, steel maker, general contractor for engineering works, and contractor for telegraph works.

The line from Dublin through Belfast to Newtownards, a distance of 117 miles, was complete and ready for business. In Scotland the line had been laid down from Dumfries to near Port Patrick, about 79 miles. But with no more working capital the Company had to close its offices and the shareholders led by George Massey and its solicitor, Alfred Mayhew, finally resolved to petition the Court of Chancery to wind it up on May 7, 1856. Shambles continued; another set of shareholders under the director John Newman Tweedy deposited a competitive petition on May 26, 1856! When the complex and disputed winding-up went before the court it was ordered that the miserable, long-suffering shareholders in addition to losing their investment had, as "contributors" to its management, to pay off all of the Ireland company's debts. 

William Reid, the telegraph contractor, took 1,000 of the £1 shares in the Ireland company, of which 750 were paid-up. On January 16, 1856, presumably getting wind of its likely failure and his liability for additional loss, he transferred his holding to his youngest son, John Reid, age 15, for the sum of five shillings on the assumption that the Company could not pursue a minor in law. He did not comprehend the depths to which the Ireland company had sunk: in February 1856 John Reid, 15, was elected a director as no one else would take the position! The Courts rejected William Reid’s ruse and found him liable as a contributory to the Ireland company’s many debts a year after its failure in May 1856.

Latimer Clark, engineer to the original Electric Telegraph Company of London, was appointed by the Court of Chancery to inspect condition of the Irish works. He completed this in September 1857 and provided a detailed report evidencing that the lines were complete and viable. An independent contractor then offered to complete the whole line from Dumfries to Dublin for £15,000.

The Court ordered that all of the Ireland company's assets and rights be sold-off to the highest bidder. The auction in the City of London on August 27, 1858 of the 196 miles of line in Ireland and Scotland, as well as its plant and materials, ended with a bid of £500.

As a final nail in the Ireland company's coffin, its bankers, the Royal British Bank, had collapsed in criminal disgrace in September 1856. Richard Hartley Kennedy, once a director of the competitive Magnetic Telegraph Company was Deputy Governor of the bank.

But some people never learn; the promoter of the Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland, George Featherstone Griffin, and the Company's contractor for works, William Lawrence Gilpin, got together once again with another set of investors during 1857 to form the 'London Anti-Oxyde Paint Company'. It was bankrupt within a year. Subsequently W L Gilpin, after another period in debtors' prison, became sales agent in 1862 for the railway fishplates patented by G E Dering, the Ireland company's electrician. G F Griffin met his fate in July 1858 after the failure of the paint enterprise: he, too, ended up bankrupt and enjoying accommodation in the Queen's Prison for Debt.  

The British Telegraph Company, which anticipated working in concert with the Ireland company, subsquently promoted its own underwater cable from Scotland to Ireland which was successfully completed on July 9, 1854.

f.] The Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company
The Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company was first promoted on January 5, 1852. A novelty was its formation under the Anonymous Partnership Act of 1781, which applied only to Irish companies, enabling it to offer joint-stock limited liability without a Special Act or a Charter. Using the authority of this Act it proposed to issue fifty thousand "certificates" of £1 as capital. Against this it would provide the public with 15,000 preference shares on which 7% per annum was guaranteed. However, by March 1852 it had adopted a more conventional corporate structure, registering under the Joint Stock Act of 1844 and stating its intention to apply for a Royal Charter.

It was to be incorporated by Royal Charter on May 15, 1852, with a capital £100,000 in shares of £5, with power to increase that to £200,000, however only £20,000 was called-up. Its board of directors was under the chairmanship of Lord Erskine, a former diplomat, with Edward Hoare, a landowner of Cork, and George Lathom Browne, a barrister and author; Cusack Patrick Roney, onetime Secretary of the Eastern Counties Railway Company, was Managing Director in Ireland. Its secretary was William Morgan, and its engineer was Charles West, who had obtained permission from the Admiralty for a telegraph cable from Britain to Ireland as early as January 1846. The Charter covered not just a long submarine telegraph between Anglesey in North Wales and Ireland, from Holyhead to Howth, the most direct route from England to Ireland, but also included additional powers for connecting London and Dublin and various towns in Great Britain and Ireland, and with the Submarine Telegraph at Dover. The Earl of Howth donated the cable's landing site on his estate at Howth. It negotiated an exclusive connection with the Electric Telegraph Company in Britain for Irish traffic and was to have a dedicated circuit on that company's lines between Holyhead and London. The Electric was sufficiently interested to allow the Irish Sub-Marine company 25% of the cost of messages between Britain and Ireland, in addition to the cable charges.

The Irish Sub-Marine company's land line to Dublin city was planned to run from Howth on the coast to the Amiens Street terminus of the Dublin & Drogheda Railway just as the British end ran to the Holyhead terminus of the Chester & Holyhead Railway. Its engineer, Charles West, designed and had made an experimental length of two-and-three-quarter miles of underwater cable, of four cores insulated with india-rubber covered in spun yarn and armoured with plaited iron wire early in 1852. There were twelve plaits, each of six closely-woven No 15 BWG galvanized iron wires. It had the advantages that it could not untwist or form kinks; its disadvantage was that it could not be coiled but had to be stored in straight lengths. The armour was manufactured by Binks & Stephenson, makers of patent wire-rope, 17 West Ferry Road, Millwall. The Company rejected this innovation; so different from the existing, successful, gutta-percha insulated, spiral-wire armoured cables made by R S Newall & Company. 

As the dispute continued R S Newall, without a contract from the Company, manufactured a very light, single-core underwater cable for use between Holyhead and Howth in just four weeks to the design of Thomas Allen. It was laid on June 2, 1852 supervised by Henry Woodhouse for the Irish Sub-Marine company, using the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company's steamer Britannia, accompanied by HMS Prospero. Connected with the Irish Sub-Marine company's land line to Dublin and to the Electric's to London, it failed three days later. The connection did not affect Woodhouse's career; he went on to be engineer on submarine cables in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company then came to an arrangement with the Electric Telegraph Company to transfer its landing and other rights on September 25, 1852, by which the old company acquired £16,000 of its £20,000 capital. It then sought to amend its Charter on November 9, 1852, by which alteration it ceased to exist.

The Electric inherited Charles West's original but abandoned plaited cable from the Irish company. It had been left in the maker's yard at Millwall since 1852. The two miles or so of stock was used for the Isle of Wight cable and for several lines in land tunnels.

After a second attempt to connect the two countries by way of Holyhead failed, a heavy single-core cable was eventually completed on September 4 and 5, 1854 by the International Telegraph Company, who worked the long underwater cables of the Electric company. A second single-core cable between Holyhead and Howth was successfully laid by the International company in the following year, on June 13 and 14, 1855. Edwin Clark was engineer to both of these cables.

g.] The International Telegraph Company
In 1852 Lewis Ricardo of the Electric company negotiated with the Minister of the Interior of the Netherlands sole rights to lay underwater cables between the two kingdoms; to run from Orfordness in eastern England and Scheveningen in Holland, hence underground to The Hague and, in 1855, by pole telegraph to Amsterdam. In London it claimed it was to connect Amsterdam, Breda, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Dordrecht and The Hague in competition with the newly-formed state-enterprise, the Rijkstelegraaf. But apart from the circuit from the coast to Amsterdam the other lines were not built. Its concession to Holland was for 20 years, from May 10, 1852, expiring in 1873. 

The Electric Telegraph Company formed a subsidiary, the International Telegraph Company, to contract to lay four separate single-wire underwater cables between England and Holland, one each on May 30 and 31, June 16 and 17 and September 8 and 9, 1853, and then on September 29 and 30, 1855. The board of directors of the International company was identical with that of the Electric in London, J Lewis Ricardo was chairman. Jan Pieter van Hoey Smith was the executive director in the Netherlands.

Edwin Clark of the Electric was engineer, being paid £400 a year, Frederick Webb was assistant engineer at £300. For a few months James Gutteres was secretary and manager, he was summarily dismissed and replaced in September 1853 by Douglas Pitt Gamble, also on £300. At the office in The Hague Henry Weaver was clerk-in-charge, earning £250 a year, with six foreign clerks and two British clerks, two messengers, a linesman and a battery and instrument man. Although paid less than the foreign clerks (17s v 20s per week) the British received 5s 0d a week in subsistence money.  

Despite his dismissal, Gutteres joined the English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company and was to rise in their hierarchy.

The International was capitalised in an unusual manner. All of its expenditure, £77,194 up to December 7, 1853, was paid by the Electric Telegraph Company which took shares in the International in exchange. These shares were held by its directors Wylde, Till and Crutchley in trust for the Electric. There were then liabilities outstanding of £9,000 to Newall & Co for the manufacture of the cables, of £5,000 to Tupper & Carr for the cost of the iron wire armour, and of £500 to the Gutta Percha Company for insulation.

There was a plan to extend their lines to Brouwershaven, Brielle and Helvoetsluys in February 1854, but this would only be proceeded with if shares were taken up in the Netherlands.

The Company was keen to extend their circuits from The Hague to Amsterdam. In January 1855 Latimer Clark costed a four wire line at £4,360. They negotiated a contract or wayleave with the Hollands Railway on February 21, 1855, and an office was acquired in the Amsterdam at £1,449 in the same month.

The Company's engineers, Edwin Clark for the first three of its cable and his brother, Latimer Clark for the last, managed the laying operations rather than letting the cable-makers carry out the work, using the Company's own steamer, the Monarch.

It used the Cooke & Wheatstone two-needle device in its circuits until 1854 when that was replaced by the American telegraph of Siemens & Halske allowing direct electrical connection through to the rest of Europe.

Royal Exchange Buildings, London
An office block built in 1845 that served the International Telegraph Company,
Julius Reuter's news agency and Nott & Gamble's Telegraph Office

The International Telegraph Company, an apparently independent new concern, working from the 'Continental Telegraph Offices' at 1 Royal Exchange Buildings, London, separate from the Electric's, was projected to placate Dutch sensitivities to an English intervention, to own and work these foreign circuits. It leased a wharf at Blackwall on the Thames for its stores. The International company was not formed by Act of Parliament (it did not need to as it used the Electric company's circuits in Britain) but was incorporated by Royal Charter on June 13, 1853 on the same day as the British Telegraph Company, so was able to offer its shareholders in England and Holland limited liability. The International had a short independent existence; it and Electric were in common circuit and had a common shareholder base; Parliament formally permitted their merger in 1855.

Its Secretary and Manager, Douglas Pitt Gamble, had been previously sued by the Electric company for trying to introduce Nott & Gamble's dial telegraph in competition with Cooke & Wheatstone's, and apparently forgiven. Pitt Gamble combined his secretary's duties with being the Electric's District Superintendent in London and then manager-secretary of the Channel Islands Telegraph Company.  For a short period the International Telegraph Company had its own station in The Hague, but on September 1, 1855 it moved to share the Rijkstelegraafkantor first on Nes and then on NZ Voorburgwal in Amsterdam, which provided connections with Arnhem for German circuits and to Breda for Belgium. It had its own clerks, messengers and linemen in Amsterdam. The Company appointed paid Agents for forwarding messages in Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg and Trieste. The International Telegraph Company adopted as its motto Nec nos mare separat ingens; the wholly appropriate objective "great seas shall not separate".

When the International company opened its circuits to public messages on December 1, 1853 it offered charges to the Continent from Brighton, Bristol, Holyhead, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow the same as from London. It initially worked only to Holland, North and South Germany, Prussia, Austria and Tuscany. It claimed that its charges were 25% cheaper than any competition. 

To generate business the International company offered Julius Reuter, on September 14, 1853, as a "collector and transmitter of messages" for others, a commission of 7% to use only its circuits to the Continent. When he commenced distributing foreign news to his business clients in London and British news to his associates on the continent it offered him a rebate of 50% on all messages sent or received containing "public intelligence" on January 12, 1854.

The relationship with Julius Reuter was remarkably close; from mid-1853 until it was absorbed by the Electric in 1855 the Company shared offices with his news agency at 1, Royal Exchange Buildings, City.

The International Telegraph Company, as has been previously noted, when an independent entity and as merged as a trading name, was to manage the Holyhead to Howth cables as well as those to Holland for its parent the Electric & International company. 

When Pitt-Gamble was summarily dismissed in 1857 Henry Weaver became Manager of the International Telegraph Company, as well as being Superintendent of the Electric's London District. Weaver had previously been Clerk-in-Chief at the Company's Amsterdam station, where he was replaced by A Bayly, who remained there until 1863.

The Rijkstelegraaf acquired ownership of the Company's land lines and stations in Holland during 1859.

h.] The British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
In a logical consolidation, in the face of the ever-expanding and combative Electric company, the Boards of its two main competitors, the 'new', combined British company and the English & Irish company, met in Manchester on September 23, 1856 and agreed to merge their capital, interests and circuits to form one concern. The merger was to take effect from January 1, 1857. The British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company was created on April 22, 1857 under the new Joint-stock Companies' Limited Liability Act of 1855. This Act allowed, for the first time, joint-stock companies to be formed limiting the liability of shareholders without Parliamentary approval, merely by legal registration. The original statutory powers possessed by the merged English & Irish and British concerns passed seamlessly to the new, enlarged firm. It continued to be known to all as the 'Magnetic'. 

It anticipated replacing all of its message apparatus with Charles Bright’s new Bell telegraph that used Highton’s current-reversing tappers to work two sounders, each with a different note. This proved to be the fastest of all instruments before automatic telegraphs were introduced, working its own “Magnetic Code”. Its organisation and finances were such that the Company never quite succeeded in abolishing the Highton and Henley needles that it had inherited, which worked different systems of coding.

The Magnetic's new motto, a quotation from Virgil's Aeneid, was Quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris? This conventionally translates as "Which part of the world is not filled with our sorrows?" - a sentiment with which the Company's shareholders, after its subsequent adventures in Atlantic cables, might have had sympathy. The preferred interpretation was "Which part of the world is not filled with our toils?" 

On its formation by merger in April 1857 the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company possessed 3,248 miles of line, 15,365 miles of wire, 230 stations and 574 instruments. It connected all of the major cities and towns in the country and had ten offices in London: 72 Old Broad Street, 30 Cornhill, Royal Exchange (under the Clock Tower), Stock Exchange, 22 Mincing Lane, 82 Mark Lane, 22 Chancery Lane, 7 Charing Cross, 43 Regent Circus and the House of Commons. 

The Company's head office was still in north-west England, at 2 Exchange Buildings, Liverpool; the offices of the 'old' Magnetic company. It advertised wayleaves over fifty-four railways in Britain and Ireland; it also possessed the two cables between Scotland and Ulster and a News Exchange for provincial newspapers. The Company adopted the same message tariff as the Electric except on its circuits to Ireland, where the latter was only just starting to compete. 

It, too, offered pre-paid adhesive franks or stamps for its message forms, allowing purchasers 5% discount for purchases over £1 worth of franks. Franked forms could be sent "in an envelope" by messenger or by post to the nearest telegraph office for transmission.

Edward Brailsford Bright continued as the Company's Secretary and General Manager. The Assistant Secretary, residing in London, was Edward Moseley; he was later replaced by a local Manager, James Gutteres, who had been superintendent in Leeds and Cork.  

The merger was not one of equals. Several important figures in the British Telegraph Company were disregarded in the new hierarchy. William Andrews, its London superintendent, and William Powell, its senior engineer, both left the new firm's service. George Saward, its manager, was already working for the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

The first General Meeting of the shareholders the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company took place on February 16, 1858. Edward Bright, the secretary of the combined concern, presented its history to the end of 1857. It had been initially sanctioned by the directors of the two firms in November 1856, and the merger implemented in April. There had been an increase in revenues of £5,000 from 1856 over 1857. A further 193 miles of line, 323 miles of wire had been laid, and 20 more stations opened. This amounted to totals of 3,441 miles of line and 15,888 miles of wire throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, working 240 stations. There were 356,182 messages transmitted, excluding railway, service and press traffic. The Company, Bright claimed, had agreements with 36 railways for wayleaves, although most of its circuits were laid underground alongside highways. “Glass insulators” (sic), on poles, had been installed in the Midland, the North-Eastern and Scottish Districts, in place of gutta-percha insulation on 260 miles of line.

There was a unified capital of £600,000 in three categories of shares, as well as debentures or loans to service. Joint revenues in 1857 had been £73,947, less £2,200 “on account of messages sent beyond the lines of the Company.” Working expenses had been £38,888, loan interest £1,775 and the dividend on the Class B preference shares £4,257. This left sufficient to pay 5½ % on the Class A shares and 4½ % on the Class C shares. Rather belatedly, the auditors suggested that a Reserve Account be established to fund contingencies and emergencies, the surplus in the accounts of £2,000 was then allocated to this.

There was slightly euphoric air to the meeting: Bright continued by noting that special facilities had been extended to the corn trade markets to facilitate exchange of information and trade, con-nections to Spain and Portugal had been opened during the year, and access to the East Indies, China and Egypt was anticipated by new cables being laid from Malta. The Atlantic Telegraph Company, in which the Magnetic was deeply in-vested, was proceeding rapidly with its immense cable across from Ireland to Canada. He also mentioned that the Company was considering purchasing the Baltic Coffee House, a major trading exchange, to form its headquarters in London. Much of this happy speculation was to prove specious.

The Combined Revenues of the British and Magnetic Companies
1854 - 1857

1854     £37,937
1855    £54,555
1856    £68,980
1857    £73,947

Figures from the report of Edward Bright to the shareholder’s meeting,
February 16, 1858

On August 13, 1858 the Magnetic company established contact between London and New York in the United States for the first time. The messages were sent from London via Cambridge, Doncaster, Liverpool, Stranraer, Belfast, Dublin and Killarney to the Atlantic Telegraph Company's cable end on Valentia Island in the far west of Ireland using Bright's Bell acoustic telegraph. They were forwarded by the cable company to Newfoundland and New York. The cable, always unreliable in working, failed shortly afterwards.

The Magnetic company took some pains to keep in with the public press of the day from its creation. When Queen Victoria visited Leeds during September 6 and 7, 1858, she stayed at Woodsley House, Woodsley Moor, the home of the Mayor of Leeds. The telegraph company arranged a private wire from there to the Scarborough Hotel, were “Her Majesty’s chief attendants” were lodged. Three years later, when the Queen toured Ireland, visiting Dublin and Killarney between August 26 and 31, 1861, J H Sanger, its manager in Dublin, ensured that press messages were forwarded without charge in return for repeated mentions of the Company in the articles published. He also forwarded messages and press comment from London to the Royal party.  The Queen sent her thanks for this “public service”. 

By 1859 the Magnetic had expanded its circuits to 4,196 miles of line and carried 550,772 messages. It then had 350 stations in Britain, including 10 in London, and 83 in Ireland.

By then the Magnetic had had built a new Central Office at 58 Threadneedle Street opposite the Bank of England in the financial district of London; in design much like the Electric's at Founders' Court, with a small alley-like frontage and a large public hall squeezed in behind, with "a rather fanciful and very ornate French Renaissance façade, crowned by a lofty clock-tower. There was a good deal of very well executed carving in the front; the roof with its dormer windows made a leading feature in the composition." The design was by Horace Jones, who was to be appointed architect to the Corporation of the City of London in March 1864. 

The British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company's Central Station
58 Threadneedle Street, City, in 1859
(Click on image for larger version, click on Previous Page to resume)

Opened to the public in March 1859, as originally designed the ground floor at 58 Threadneedle Street contained the Public Office, the first floor the secretary's and clerical offices, the second floor the instruments of the London District Telegraph Company, and the third floor the apparatus of the Magnetic and Submarine companies. It conveniently backed on to the trading floor of the Stock Exchange, one of whose many entrances was adjacent, next to 54 Threadneedle Street.

The gated entrance on the street frontage on ground floor was flanked by the shops of a gunmaker and a hosier. Once the London District Telegraph Company moved to its own premises in Cannon Street in 1860, their rooms in the superior storeys were tenanted to the English & Scottish Marine Insurance Company.

The near-by premises at 72 Old Broad Street, City, were then let go. Pender & Company, merchants, took offices in the building, along with several other commercial tenants. John Pender of Manchester was a director of the Company, and of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

Its new system of overhead insulation, using porcelain insulators devised by C T Bright, allowed it to telegraph Dublin direct from London by way of the northern underwater cables and Belfast, a distance of 700 miles, without any form of relay. The primary exceptions to the new system were the continuation of underground circuits between London and Dover and London and Manchester.

In 1859 the 'new' Magnetic company had sole access to the six cables of the Submarine company into France, Belgium and Hanover, in which it had invested heavily. These cables contributed a disproportionate amount to its income, reflecting the success of this investment. It retained one-fifth of the tariff rate for all messages sent by the cables of the Submarine company from its London offices, and two-fifths the cost of messages forwarded from its provincial stations.

At the end of September 1859 the Magnetic arranged a telegraph at the Curragh, the large military station near to Dublin, for the War Office in London, where a “competent officer was appointed to the duty of receiving and despatching messages between headquarters”. Every garrison town was to have similar communication, as well as strategic points on the Irish coast. 

In addition to the principal cities and towns of England and Scotland the Magnetic company possessed over 300 stations in minor places:

Accrington, Adlington, Ainsdale, Aintree, Alderley, Alne, Alston, Altrincham, Annan, Antrim, Appley, Ardrossan, Ardsley, Armagh, Armley, Arthington, Arundel, Ashton, Auchinleck, Aylesford, Aylsham, Ayr, Bacup, Bagnalstown, Balcombe, Balham, Ballybrophy, Ballymena, Ballpallady, Barnard Castle,
Beckenham, Belmont, Belvedere, Billingham, Billingshurst, Bilton, Bishop Auckland, Blackburn, Blacklane, Blackpool (Lancashire), Blackpool (Ireland), Blaydon, Bray, Bricklayer's Arms, Brockhole's Junction, Bromley, Bromley Cross, Brompton, Burnley, Burgess Hill, Burscough, Burscough Bridge, Burton Salmon, Bury, Byer's Green, Cahir, Carlow, Carrick Junction, Carrick-on-Suir, Castle Douglas, Caterham, Caterham Junction, Catford Bridge, Cavan, Chapel Town, Chatham, Chatburn, Chichester, Chorley, Cirencester, Cleckheaton, Clifton Junction, Clitheroe, Clonmel, Cooksbridge, Colwich, Coleraine, Colne, Consett, Cooper Bridge, Corhoe, Cromer, Crook, Crosby, Crystal Palace, Curragh Camp, Curton, Daist Field, Dalry, Deptford, Didcot, Drumsough, Dudley Port, Dumfries, Dunfermline, Dungannon, East Grinstead, Eastbourne, Eastwood, East Woolwich, Elgin, Elland, Enniskillen, Entwistle, Eston, Etherley, Eurton Junction, Evenswood, Farrington, Fay Gate, Featherstone, Fleetwood, Ford, Forres, Forest Hill, Formby, Frosterley, Gainford, Garston, Gartsberry, Gathurst, Gatehouse, Gipsy Hill, Glanmire, Gobowen, Gowan, Guisborough, Hailsham, Halshaw Moor, Haltwhistle, Hartlepool (Old), Haslingdon, Hassock's Gate, Havant, Haydon Bridge, Heckmondwike, Herham, Heywood, Hindley, Hipperholme, Holme, Holmfirth, Horbury, Horbury Junction, Horley, Horsham, Horwick, Hurlford, Hythe (Kent), Inchicore, Inverness, Irvine, Johnstone, Kells, Kendall, Kenley, Kilbirnie, Kildare, Kilkenny, Kilmarnock, Kilwinning, Kingstown, Kingston-on-Sea, Kirkby, Kirkcudbright, Kirkham, Kirriemuir, Lady Well, Laister Dyke, Langho, Lightcliffe, Limerick, Limerick Junction, Littlehampton, Londonderry, Longford, Lostock Junction, Loughton, Lower Norwood, Lower Sydenham, Lowmoor, Luddenden Foot, Lurgan, Lymington, Lytham, Malahide, Mallow, Market Rasen, Marsh Lane, Mauchline, Melmerby, Mickley, Middlesbrough, Middleton Junction, Milton, Milcham, Moate, Monaghan, Moses Gate, Musselburgh, Nairn, Navan, Newark (Nottingham), Newbridge, Newburgh, Newby Witte, New Wandsworth, North Camp, North Dean, Norton Junction, Norwood, Oldbury, Oldham, Omagh, Ormskirk, Orrell, Oswestry, Over Darwen, Parsonstown, Pemberton, Petworth, Picton, Piere Bridge, Pimbo (Lancs), Pimlico, Plumstead, Polegate, Pontefract, Portarlington, Port Glasgow, Portsea, Port Talbot, Poulton, Prestonpans (Tranant 1 mile), Preston Junction (Durham), Preston Junction (Lancashire), Preston Road (Walton-on-Hill), Pullborough, Rainford Junction, Ramsbottom, Rawcliffe, Rawtenstall, Redcar, Redheugh, Ribchester, Ripon, Rochester, Roscrea, Rose Grove, Ruabon, Runcorn Gap, St, Boswell's, Sanquahar, Scarva Junction, Seaton, Shildon, Shoreham, Silloth, Sinderby, Sleaford, Slough, Snaith, Snodland, Southboro' Road, Southport, Spenny Moor, Spon Lane, Stanningley, Stillington, Stockton-on-Tees, Stoneclough, Stow, Strabane, Stranraer, Streatham, St Helen's (Durham), St Helen's (Lancashire), Sydenham, Templemore, Thornhill (Yorkshire), Thornton, Thrapstone, Three Bridges, Tipperary, Todmorden, Towsaw, Troon, Tullamore, Uckfield, Valentia, Warlingham, Waskerley, Waterford, Waterloo, Welbury, Wellington College, Westhoughton, Whalley, Whitley Bridge, Whitstable, Wicklow, Wigtown, Winchfield, Windermere, Winston, Witton Junction, Wollsall, Wolsingham, Woodfort, Woodgate (for Bognor), Worthing and Wrexham.

The Magnetic also began to trespass on the Electric company's turf by improving its relationships with the railway companies. It won the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's tender to reconstruct its whole overhead telegraph system that it had itself had made in part in 1852. This involved 20,000 insulators, 8,000 poles and 200 tons of iron wire, with 185 new instruments and 400 Daniell cells, and training 200 special clerks. The work was planned by its consultant engineer, Charles Bright, and supervised by its District Manager in Manchester, Robert Dodwell, and was completed in September 1859.  

In 1858 it projected the Dock Telegraph Company in Liverpool to make use of a wayleave granted by the municipal harbour board along the long waterfront on the Mersey. It was revived under harbour board ownership, and they accepted the Company's tender for the works on January 1, 1860, which were completed in April 1860 using the Magnetic's bell instruments. It had a cheap flat message rate structure, as the London District Telegraph Company's, which the Magnetic had also promoted in 1859.   

The new combined Magnetic company's capital was £284,847 for the 'old' Magnetic, and £297,130 for the British company. Another £110,368 was acquired and spent between 1857 and 1860; to make £692,345 in all.

Its dividends on the share categories were:

Year………………1857……..1858 …….1859
Class A……………5½%........5%.........4¾%
Class B…………….7%...........7%.........7%
Class C…………….4%...........4%.........4%

The new Magnetic was committed to a shareholding of £137,760 in the Submarine Telegraph Company and a substantial £107,210 in debenture debt in 1860.

John Watkins Brett and Charles Tilston Bright of the Magnetic company were to be the driving force for submarine telegraphy in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean; being the promoter and engineer respectively for virtually all such works for over twenty years.

The Magnetic's management was to be distracted for many years from 1857 by its expensive involvement in the Atlantic cables; it owned the land-line from the Atlantic cable-end in Ireland as well as providing the bulk of its capital and engineering support. The Board of Directors, guided by John Watkins Brett and Charles Bright, expected the Atlantic Telegraph to contribute to its income to an even greater degree than its investment in the Submarine company. The great cable's immediate failure substantially hindered the Magnetic's domestic growth and innovation. It, like the Electric, only gradually expanded its coverage in the 1860s but it was not able to introduce the same sort of cost-saving efficiencies through technical advances as the Electric. Compounding this, unlike the Electric, the Magnetic company did not gain immediate income from foreign circuits to the continent. These circuits were in the hands of its close associate the Submarine Telegraph Company, which retained the extra-domestic revenues. This also meant that it had no opportunity to create relationships with overseas telegraph administrations.

It was also struck with the "sudden decay" of the gutta-percha insulation in subterranean circuits that comprised most of its capacity during 1859. The Magnetic's directors had to declare that "gutta-percha utterly failed underground" and had to start to replace its underground circuits with overhead lines.

The Company used the powers granted to one of its components, the British Telegraph Company, to plant roadside poles on the public highway. The original Magnetic company had no such rights, and the British company maintained a shadow existence until 1870 to keep this legal authority. 

The ten subterranean wires of the Magnetic company and the six of the British company between London and Liverpool had to be replaced with overhead poles immediately. The very long and difficult roadside underground circuit from Liverpool through Preston and Carlisle to Glasgow and to the Port Patrick cables was to be taken up and "poled" by 1860.

The great cost was met in some way by selling off the old, rotten covered wire for about £5 a mile to "doll-makers" who separated the gutta percha and the copper for re-use. The Gutta Percha Company also would buy back old wire at 1s 0d a pound, which had cost from 2s 3d to 2s 4d a pound new, for reworking.

The underground wires in Ireland were also attacked by more substantial vermin in November 1860. Over 1,400 lbs of copper wire was lifted from its main Dublin to Belfast roadside cable by thieves at Dunleer in County Louth, destroying its primary revenue-earning circuit in the island. Most of the metal was recovered within the month by the City of Dublin Metropolitan Police from dealers there.

In another case, of embezzlement, a Magnetic clerk in Liverpool in 1861 regularly accepted messages with the firm’s telegraph stamps loose rather than stuck on to the forms and resold them...

On August 3, 1861 two boys were fined 2s 6d each for throwing stones that broke the Company’s glass insulators at Stamford Hill in London. The penalty could have been higher but no one could be found in the engineer’s office to put a value on the damage to materials and to traffic, as the magistrate requested.

The Company was not, however, unaware of its social obligations to Irish culture and welfare. The Magnetic supported the "Queen's Institute for the Training and Employment of Educated Women" in Dublin when the establishment commenced in 1861. It supplied teachers and apparatus to the Institute to train telegraph clerks, and made grants-in-aid to the less well-off women that it later employed.

The Liverpool establishment joined the enthusiasm for the Volunteer movement. On November 31, 1859 Edward Brailsford Bright, the Magnetic’s secretary and general manager, announced the formation of the Exchange Rifle Company from the clerks of his firm and others in the city. It was to become the 22nd Lancashire (Liverpool Exchange) Rifle Volunteer Corps. Bright was commissioned Captain in January 1860, then Captain-Commandant in March. He and the other “Magnetic officers” left the Corps in January 1863.

On a lighter note the Magnetic organised a regular annual picnic lunch and a "pedestrian handicap" (walking races by men were fashionable at the time) for its lady and men clerks in London every May.  

Starting in 1858 the Magnetic began to replace its long-line and urban underground cables with roadside overhead circuits. John Lavender, its acting engineer, had undertaken similar work for the former British Telegraph Company before the merger, and began to connect London and Manchester with roadside poles, starting with isolated sections at Poynton, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stony Stratford. Lavender was then sidelined into a clerical role by the Magnetic company and left its employ in 1859, along with several other managers and engineers from the British company.

In January 1860 the Magnetic's board was complaining about the continued absence of its chief engineer, Charles Bright, and the lack of an assistant engineer, at the time of its very large projects on the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and in replacing the underground circuits. The works had been left to the District Superintendents to manage, and the engineering stores department, without leadership, verged on chaos. It was compelled to employ John Lavender as a consultant and as contractor for new works.

High poles to Lavender's design were introduced into cities, starting with Manchester in 1862, connecting its central station at Ducie Place with the Salford railway station by sixteen wires. By 1864 poles were also being used in the city centres of Stockport, Newcastle and Coventry. The poles in the cities were 60 and 70 feet tall, formed to Lavender's specification by splicing together two 30 and 40 foot poles, as ships' masts were constructed.

During May 1860 the Magnetic company publicised a new service to accelerate despatches to America, in concert with the new Galway Line of trans-Atlantic steamers. It would accept messages at any of its telegraph offices in Britain and Ireland for New York, to be sent to Galway in the far west of Ireland to be put aboard the mail steamer up to a few hours before it was due to depart for America. By July the other trans-Atlantic steamship lines had joined up, so that “last minute” public messages could be sent by ship to New York, Portland and Halifax via the Magnetic’s offices in Queenstown (Cork), Galway and Londonderry, in a service that was almost daily in frequency. This combination of telegraph and steamer was only disrupted by the outbreak of yet another war in America in 1861.

The British & Irish company had had a fair year in 1861, according to the report to its shareholders on February 2, 1862. It had reduced message costs to Ireland by 33% and had added 382 miles of line, attracting 90,000 more messages from 1860. However its net revenues were affected by the new 1s 0d tariff of the United Kingdom company and by the failure of the Submarine telegraph Company to pay a dividend on its substantial shareholding.  There was also the cost of a new land line from London to Beachy Head on the Channel coast to connect with the latest Submarine cable to France, as well as two new circuits alongside of railways in Scotland, Leith & Dundee and Port Patrick. On the res-ignation of its chief engineer, Charles Bright, no replacement was appointed. A dividend of 4% was paid on its ordinary shares.

Its finances were, however, less certain. The Magnetic’s board felt obliged to issue another £275,000 in 6% preference shares to redeem its even more expensive 7% existing preferences and debentures, and to have £40,000 remaining for extensions in to the West of England. The old shares and bonds had been issued to cover its liabilities on the failed Atlantic cables of 1857 and 1858.

During 1861 the Magnetic possessed 3,903 miles of line and 17,043 miles of wire serving 401 telegraph stations with 1,084 instruments. In the next year it had 4,126 miles of line, 16,733 miles of wire, 449 stations and (oddly, just) 932 instruments, when it sent 671,500 public messages.

British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
Growth 1857 - 1859

Year……….Miles of line……….Stations……….Staff.………Messages

Figures from the Parliamentary Report on the State of the Telegraph Companies in Britain, 1860

The Magnetic company had been lax in advancing electric timekeeping, which had served others well in publicity. In 1857 it acquired the patent of Robert Lewis Jones of Chester for regulating electric clocks, and began to use Jones' clocks in its offices. The public appreciation of such clocks it measured from the large electric clock it had in the window of its office at Exchange Buildings, Liverpool, controlled by the local Observatory. On February 4, 1861 it counted the number of people who "took the time from the clock" between 6am and 5pm – the number totalled 1,860. 

The Edinburgh Time-Gun 1861
The 12 pounder cannon is connected to Jones' electric clock
and Ritchie's clock trigger

Professor Charles Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer-Royal for Scotland, introduced the Time-Gun to Mill's Mount Battery, on Edinburgh Castle on January 29, 1861. In this one of R L Jones' electric clocks and a clock-trigger, regulated by a circuit from the Royal Scottish Observatory, fired a blank charge in a 12 pounder artillery piece at one o'clock every day. The time circuit was led underground from the Observatory to the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill (where a time ball was in use), then by an immense single 4,020 feet seven-strand steel wire span across the city to the Castle. The span was constructed by R S Newall, the wire-rope maker of Gateshead in England. Frederick James Ritchie, a watch and clockmaker of Edinburgh, designed the clock-trigger that instantly ignited the gun as Jones' timekeeper "struck". The time-gun could be heard over a distance of twenty miles. By 1864 the Magnetic company was providing signals from Edinburgh for time-guns in Newcastle, North Shields, Sunderland, Glasgow, Greenock and Dundee. Liverpool Observatory used the apparatus for its own time-gun on the Mersey. Those in Newcastle, North Shields, Glasgow and Greenock, worked in cooperation with the Universal Private Telegraph Company, were short-lived. The Smyth time-gun and the Ritchie clock-trigger devised in Edinburgh were widely adopted throughout the world, in competition with the more sedate, quieter time-ball advocated by the Electric Telegraph Company. 

At a Telegraphic Soirée in its heartland at Manchester on September 7, 1861, the Magnetic demonstrated its abilities to the visiting public. Bright's Bell telegraph was connected directly to London and Glasgow. Highton's single needle telegraph was in circuit with Dublin through its Irish cables. It also allowed visitors to work their own messages on Henley's new magneto-dial telegraph between the exhibition hall in Manchester and its office in Liverpool, thirty-five miles away. At the same event its close associate, the Submarine Telegraph Company, used Siemens American telegraphs on its circuits through London to send messages to and receive replies from Paris, Brussels, Flensburg and Moscow. However, the Electric company, also exhibiting, went one step further and was in contact with Odessa on the Black Sea!

On June 24, 1862 the Magnetic company enabled the Astronomer-Royal George Airy to determine the exact longitude of the telegraph station on Valentia Island on the extreme western shore of Ireland by exchange of galvanic time signals. This involved a temporary dedicated circuit from Greenwich Observatory through Cambridge, Doncaster, Sheffield, Liverpool, Carlisle, Port Patrick, Belfast, Dublin, Mallow and Killarney to Valentia, about 800 miles in length. After providing Airy with a battery of 192 cells on the island and 144 cells at Greenwich, and having to repair the short cable from Caherciveen on the mainland to Valentia (unused since the failure of the Atlantic cable in 1858), the Company allowed the professor several weeks of scientific traffic in the summer of 1862.

In that spring its board of directors authorised the liquidation of its expensive 7% Class B shares, which it achieved by the end of the year. The remaining Class A and Class C shares and a new issue of £275,000 were then turned into Consolidated Stock from March 1862 onwards.

On January 25, 1862 Sir Charles Bright was presented with a testimonial on his relinquishing the post of engineer-in-chief to the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company. It consisted of a candelabrum costing 140 guineas. Organised by Robert Dodwell, the District Superintendent in Manchester, 260 people contributed £148 12s 7d. Bright reminisced to the party that when he had joined the Magnetic company ten years previously it had 40 miles of line in operation whereas in 1862 it had 4,000 miles, with 20 employees, compared with 1,500. Officers and clerks of both the Magnetic and Electric companies were present to wish him well.

The Magnetic’s board allowed Bright to remain as Consultant Engineer on a modest retainer, but chose not to employ another engineer-in-chief. Bright’s brother, Edward, the Company’s General Manager, took on the role of supervising any technical work needed.

A testimonial of a fine gold watch was presented to Samuel Percy, formerly the Magnetic’s District Superintendent in Manchester, on October 18, 1862, in reward for ten years service with the Company and its predecessors. There were fifty-seven subscribers and the award was made by his former colleague, William Powell, engineer of the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company.

Somewhat incestuously, on April 8, 1863 William Powell was also given a dinner and testimonial chaired by John Doherty, the United Kingdom company’s superintendent, on the occasion of Powell’s removing to London. Samuel Percy, of the Magnetic company, was then the honoured guest, presenting Powell with a gold watch and chain.

The Magnetic grew gradually from 4,196 miles of line with 464 offices in 1863 sending 827,424 messages, through to 4,329 miles with 479 offices in 1864.

On Thursday, February 20, 1863 an explosion caused by someone leaving the valve of a gas-light open after extinguishing its flame severely damaged the back rooms used as offices on the second floor of the Company’s central office in Threadneedle Street. The ceilings of the rooms below were also damaged by water and a great many windows broken. The clerks on duty turned the gas off at the main pipe and fought the fire until the fire engines arrived.

On November 2, 1863 the Magnetic laid a short submarine cable across the New Passage on the Severn river for the Bristol & South Wales Union Railway. This joined England with Wales, and was one of the few domestic cables that the Company worked, other than those to Ireland. 

In the same month, November 1863, the Company laid another short cable from Baltimore in County Cork to Cape Clear in far south-west of Ireland with a station to intercept news off the steamers from New York. It was made in competition with a landline from Cork to Crookhaven made for Reuter’s news agency. This complemented its marine telegraph from Londonderry in Ulster to Greencastle at the mouth of Lough Foyle that took news off the steamers using the northern route across the Atlantic. The Magnetic had laid a cable along the bottom of the Lough to connect these two stations on April 2, 1863. During the American war, the Cunard liners commonly carried Confederate despatches from Halifax, Canada, past Cape Clear and Crookhaven in the south. The Inman liners carried the U S despatches past Greencastle in the north. 

Another fire destroyed the top floors of the Magnetic company’s central station in Threadneedle Street on September 26, 1864. It affected the circuits of the Submarine Telegraph Company to Paris and Brussels for several days, in whose instrument room on the fourth floor it started, The lower floors were hardly affected and the Magnetic’s service was maintained, but the necessary building works had the Magnetic’s secretary and engineer move temporarily to its old branch office in Hercules Passage by the Stock Exchange.

By 1865 it possessed 4,401 miles of line, 18,668 miles of wire, with 491 stations, 1,042 instruments and had improved its working greatly to 1,252,265 messages. 

Like all of the companies the Magnetic had to make huge repairs to its pole circuits around London after the storm of January 11, 1866, which cost it over £1,000.

The Company's long-held confidence, and investment, in the Atlantic cable to the Americas was rewarded in August 1866 when not one but two circuits were completed from Valentia in Ireland to Newfoundland. The Magnetic company, unfortunately, did not gain that much in revenues as it was compelled to share access with the Electric Telegraph Company which by then had a shorter route to southern Ireland from London. However its cross-shareholding in the Atlantic Telegraph Company now had a substantial market value.

Fenian terrorists noted how vulnerable the Magnetic’s overhead land line was, connecting England with the cable end, on the section between Killarney and Valentia, and cut it for the first time at Cahirciveen on February 13, 1867, isolating America for several days.

As part of its opposition to the campaign for Government appropriation of the telegraphs during in 1867 Edward Bright, the Company's chief manager, published a revised version of the widely-circulated book, 'The Electric Telegraph Popularised' of 1855. He added a section comparing the continental systems to that in Britain, to the considerable disadvantage of the former.

In its stronghold of Ireland the Magnetic Telegraph Company and the Electric Telegraph Company pooled their revenues for all public stations. They divided the total in fixed proportion, in reverse of the traffic situation in Britain, to the Magnetic's considerable advantage. In 1866 coverage of Ireland totalled 113 cities and towns; Antrim, Armagh, Athenry, Athlone, Bagnalstown, Ballybay, Ballybrophy, Ballycarny, Ballinasloe, Ballycarry, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Ballypallady, Bandon, Belfast, Birdhill, Boyle, Bray, Cahir, Cape Clear, Carlow, Carrickfergus, Carrick Junction, Carrick-on-Suir, Carrick-on-Shannon, Castlebar, Castleblayney, Castlerea, Cavan, Charleville, Clare, Claremorris, Clones, Clonmel, Coleraine, Cookstown, Cork, Curragh Camp, Donaghadee, Downpatrick, Drogheda, Drumsough, Dublin, Dundalk, Dundreary, Dundrum, Dungannon, Dunbar, Enfield, Enniscorthy, Enniskillen, Ennis, Fermoy, Fiddown, Galway, Gorey, Greencastle, Inchicore, Kingstown, Kinsale, Kildare, Kilkenny, Killarney, Larne, Limerick, Limerick Junction, Lisburn, Londonderry, Longford, Lurgan, Magherafelt, Malahide, Mallow, Markethill, Maryborough, Maynooth, Midleton, Moate, Monaghan, Monasterevan, Mullingar, Nenagh, Navan, Newbridge, Newry, North Limavady, Omagh, Parsonstown, Pomeroy, Portadown, Portarlington, Portrush, Queenstown, Roscommon, Roscrea, Sallins, Skibbereen, Sligo, Strabane, Summerhill, Templemore, Thurles, Tipperary, Tivoli, Tombe, Tralee, Tuam, Tullamore, Tynan, Valentia, Waterford, Youghal and Wicklow. Most of these offices were open from 9 o'clock to 7 o'clock, those in Dublin and Belfast were open twenty-four hours a day, Cork and Waterford stayed open until 11 o'clock at night. 

Although the second largest provider of public telegraphs in Britain and Ireland its coverage of the population was far less comprehensive than that of the Electric company. On its creation through merger in 1857 it possessed a substantial and profitable regional network in Lancashire and Yorkshire contiguous with Northumberland and Durham, another between Glasgow and Edinburgh and in South West Scotland, and a virtual monopoly of messages into Ireland and between the centres of population there. These three networks were interconnected and fed its long lines to Birmingham and London. Its principle asset continued to be its relationship with the Submarine company, with its cables to Europe fed by a single line from London to Dover. The rest of England, Wales and Scotland, a truly huge area, much of great telegraphic potential, lacked any Magnetic circuits.

It is of note that throughout is ten year life the Magnetic’s busiest stations were Manchester and Glasgow, followed by London.

Its investment in route extension and overall expansion in the 1860s was very limited. In fact there were just two major construction projects in that decade. An eastern long line was made from London through Peterborough, Newmarket and Norwich to connect with Cromer on the East Coast, serving the Submarine company’s Hanover and Danish cables in December 1858 and January 1859, later extended northwards from Peterborough to Doncaster to relieve pressure on its original north-south underground circuits via Birmingham; and then in 1863 a western long line was created from Birmingham through Gloucester to Cardiff and Swansea, with branch to Bristol.  In addition an independent line was erected from London to Brighton and Beachy Head in 1861, also to link with a cable end.

This effectively was the sum total of the Magnetic company’s increase in strategic route mileage from its creation until the appropriation in 1868. It, of course, increased its working capacity in its heartland networks with new circuits, and promoted the London District Telegraph Company to create a new feeder network in the capital. Geographically this still left the bulk of Southern England, Eastern England, South West England, Wales, the Midlands, South East Scotland and Northern Scotland without access to its telegraphs. 

 At the end of the decade the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, as well as its Chief Offices, 2 Exchange Buildings, Liverpool, had the following offices in London, the Central Station, 58 Threadneedle Street, opposite the Royal Exchange; and branch offices at Baltic Coffee House; Stock Exchange; 27 Leadenhall Street; 82 Mark Lane; Corn Exchange Chambers, Seething Lane; 22 Mincing Lane; Lloyd's; 7 Charing Cross; 43 Regent Circus; South Sea House; the Central Lobby, House of Commons (during the Session); any office of the London District Telegraph Company; and 98 Lower Thames Street. For most of its existence the Magnetic maintained a large factory for instruments at Bolton, in Lancashire; with another, rather smaller, at 46 City Road, Finsbury in London, acquired and expanded from the old British company's works.

The Company's final Board of Directors comprised William Langton, chairman, Sir James Robert Carmichael Bt, deputy chairman, Edward Cropper, Henry Harrison, Thomas Dyson Hornby, Valentine O'Brien O'Connor, L   J McDonnell, William Haughton, Charles Kemp Dyer, David Webster, Anthony Hannay, John Blackie, John Pender, William Gibb, Edward Johnston and John Holme.

The largest stockholders in 1868 were J C Ewart, MP, with £15,850, Edward Cropper, £20,000 and T D and H F Hornby £8,250. The Brett family still possessed £7,500 in that year, as the late J W Brett’s estate had yet to be settled. The Magnetic then had around 520 stockholders.

Edward Beresford Bright was General Manager in Liverpool with an annual salary of £1,290, and Sir Charles Tilston Bright, consulting engineer, on an annual retainer of £350, to the end. E B Bright was assisted in London during 1867 by W D S Alexander, the assistant secretary and William Walsh, its District Superintendent there. Walsh had been District Superintendent in Newcastle- upon-Tyne in 1858 before coming to London in the mid-1860s, and was later to become Secretary to the West India & Panama Telegraph Company.

During 1870 the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company was organised in the following Districts each under a Superintendent, whose responsibilities were mainly related to engineering. The names of the District Superintendents, where known, are also given.

Central [London], William Walsh
Irish [Dublin], Thomas Sanger
Northern [Manchester], John Walton
North Eastern [Newcastle], J C Chambers
Midland [Birmingham], James Radcliff
Scotch [Glasgow], Edward Tansley
Southern No 1 [Dover]
Southern No 2 [Brighton]
Western [Gloucester]

There was also a department known as General Maintenance, also under a Superintendent.

During 1868, at the passing of the government's appropriation Act, the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company had a total capital of £779,259 with 4,696 miles of line (19,235 miles of wire). It then had 513 stations. Of its capital £124,484, or 16%, was in 6% fixed interest preference shares, and a hefty £139,605, 18%, was in loans and debentures. It was a sign of its overall weakness that it was unable to sell its ordinary shares to the public even in the 'Little Mania' years of the mid-1860s. Despite this the final two years, 1868 and 1869, saw it reduce expenses to such a cynical extent that it was able to announce dividends of 9½% and 12%. Its 647 clerks and 433 messengers then sent 1,530,961 inland messages and 212,764 foreign messages.

The Telegraphs in 1859

Miles of Line………….......……..10,186
Miles of Wire…………........…….48,990
Telegraph Stations….....……….953
Public Messages…….......………1,320,086

From Government returns for public telegraphs dated January 1, 1859 from the Electric & International Telegraph Company, the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, the South Eastern Railway Company and the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Company 

The Telegraphs in 1861
Analysis by Leone Levi 1865

Five companies working public telegraphs were listed in government returns: the Electric & International, the British & Irish Magnetic, the South Eastern Railway, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, the London District, and the Submarine.

Miles of land wire.....................53,036 ¾
Miles of underwater wire..........2,484
Instruments Domestic..............5,067
Instruments Continental...........54
Messages Domestic...................2,112,040
Messages Continental................230,000
From returns by the companies to the government

i.] The London District Telegraph Company 
The London District Telegraph Company was launched on January 4, 1859 by the management of the Magnetic company with a capital of £60,000 in 12,000 shares of £5, one-fifth of which was called-up. It was intended to have one-hundred offices in the metropolis within a four-mile radius connected to a central or interchange station. It estimated that only £35,000 would be needed to achieve its object. Messages were promoted as costing 3d for twenty words – in the event they were to be 4d and then, in 1861, 6d for fifteen words. It relied on roof-top poles and wires that required laborious negotiation with individual householders and landlords. As with local Post Offices its stations were to be within the premises of other businesses, hotels, public houses, shops, etc, worked with a single lady clerk between 9am to 7pm, six days a week.

It also proposed to provide telegraphs and separate circuits for private subscribers.

Although its promoters had previously deposited a Bill on November 17, 1858, to "lay down, erect and maintain telegraphic wires throughout the metropolis", it was not continued and the District was the only public telegraph company within Britain that contrived to operate without powers granted by Parliament in its own name or inherited through a merger, prior to the Telegraph Act 1863, which gave general authorisation for such work. How it managed to avoid the huge expense of an Act of Parliament was concealed from the press for several years.

The District planned for a large central station in circuit with ten district hubs each with nine telegraph stations. The hubs were to be located at Mile End Gate, Kingsland Gate, the 'Angel' at Islington, at the junction of Highgate and Hampstead Roads in Camden Town, at the junction of the New Road and Edgware Road, at Charing Cross, at the north end of Sloane Street, at the 'Elephant & Castle', at Camberwell Green and at Greenwich. In the event its circuits were more ad hoc.

It intended to have a station no more than five minutes walk away from any household and to deliver its messages within half-an-hour from their receipt. Although the District company promised that it could deliver messages in nine or ten minutes at a cost of 6d, when a messenger would cost 2s or 3s and take several hours, it opened for business in early in 1860 with far too few stations about the metropolis to make this promise come true.

The first meeting of the shareholders on August 20, 1859, noted that it had successfully raised £10,740 in capital, sufficient for its planned growth. It had premises within the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company's new offices in Threadneedle Street. Three "hub" stations were then open, South Central at London Road, Elephant & Castle; South at Camberwell Green, and North Eastern at Kingsland Gate. There was already an agreement with the Magnetic company for an interchange of traffic from local to national circuits. It hoped, vainly, for a similar interchange with "other" companies, presumably the dominant Electric Telegraph Company.

The Magnetic company took a large rebate from the District’s revenue for retransmission of messages to its national network, for premises and for other services, hampering its growth considerably. At one point in 1862 this reached 40% of the smaller company’s income. 

On August 20, 1859 Edward Tyer, its electrical engineer, reported that the contractors had successfully laid underground trunk lines from Threadneedle Street to Charing Cross, to Westminster, to Islington and, south of the river Thames, to the London Road, near the famous ‘Elephant & Castle’ public house, 6 miles of line and 106 miles of wire. These were all insulated with gutta-percha. Over-house wires were completed along the Waterloo Road, Kennington Road, New Kent Road, Walworth Road and the Camberwell Road, all south of the river, 3½ miles of line and 10 ½ miles of wire.

A further 5 miles of underground line containing 33½ miles of wire and 3½ miles of over-head line with 4½ miles of wire was in the hands of contractors; and 4½ miles of line with 15 miles of wire was being surveyed by the engineer. This gave a grand total of 22½ miles of line and 169½ miles of wire.

The Surrey Canal Company had granted a wayleave for poles and wires allowing access to the Commercial and Surrey Docks. The first eleven stations were ready for opening; optimistically another 89 small stations were anticipated to be opened by January 1860.

On the same day in 1859 the Board of Directors revealed that to work these stations the Company had taken on fifty-five "young females", of which forty-five were already under instruction as telegraph clerks. Their training was supervised by a matron and several sub-matrons.

The District was to be the only radical domestic innovation of the Magnetic company's management. Its message circuits were worked in concert with those of the larger concern and with those of the Submarine company, sending and receiving messages on their behalf throughout London. However with these it only retained the income from the segment borne by its own circuits.

Its original Board of Directors in 1860 comprised seven members, chaired by Samuel Gurney, a major money-dealer and financier, and a director of the Magnetic and Submarine Telegraph companies; it included Charles Kemp Dyer, a member of Magnetic’s board, Robert Taylor, a useful member of the Metropolitan Board of Works (effectively the municipal authority in the capital)  John Watkins Brett, a director of the Mediterranean Telegraph Company, but most notable for the promotion of the Submarine Telegraph Company, and a balance of City-men, merchants and financiers, including William A Rose, Charles Reynolds, and George Sheward. Edward Bright of the Magnetic company was later involved in its direction and management for a short period as it struggled through several crises. Its first secretary was Alfred Ogan.  

The ill-health of Samuel Gurney caused Robert Taylor to act as chairman for most of the Company's early meetings, to be effectively, in this instance of corporate governance, its chief executive.

Alfred Ogan, the Company’s initial secretary and manager, was by profession a public accountant of long experience but was otherwise unqualified for the position. He returned to his accountancy practice in Hackney within a year.

Latterly, from 1861 until 1870, the position of secretary and manager was occupied by Charles Henry Curtoys, who had previously been Assistant Secretary to the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, and before that District Superintendent with the Electric Telegraph Company for the West-of-England at Paddington railway station in London. Curtoys proved to be an imaginative and determined manager; introducing into the telegraph industry a broad range of marketing innovations in very difficult circumstances.

The Company called-up 50% of its capital during 1859 when it opened its first 22 telegraph stations.

By February 1860 new over-house extensions to Kingsland, Mile End Road, London Docks, Greenwich, Clapham, Camden Town and Highbury were completed, as well as underground cables to Edgware Road railway station and Mile End. Optimistically the engineer reported that the overhead wire had been “severely tested” by the winter weather without incurring any damage. These new works comprised 2 miles of underground cable holding 12¾ miles of wire, and 10¾ miles of over-house line carrying 38½ miles of wire. In hand were a further ½ mile of cable, 5¼ miles of wire; and 20 miles of overhead line, 20 miles of wire. The engineer was surveying 11½ miles of overhead line with 28 miles of wire. In all there were 44¾ miles of new line and 104½ miles of new wire.

On 1st February, 1860, it advertised the following offices open for the receipt of messages:

Central Station, No 58. Threadneedle Street.
Baltic Coffee House, No 40
Borough, No 58, London Road,
Camberwell Green, (West side)
Camden Town, No 12 Cornwall Crescent
Chancery Lane, No 22  
Charing Cross, No 7
Corn Exchange, Mark Lane, (on Market Days)
Edgware Road, No 94, Grand Junction Terrace
Greenwich, London Street, corner of Royal Hill
House of Commons, Central Lobby, (during session)
Islington, No 7, Rufford's Buildings, opposite the "Angel"
Kennington Cross, near the "Horns"
Kingsland, No 1, Dalston Terrace, near Turnpike Gate
King William Street, No 3, Adelaide Place, London-bridge
Knightsbridge, No. 21, Park side
Lloyd's, Royal Exchange
Mark Lane, No 82; and Corn Exchange on Market Days
Mincing Lane, No 22
Oxford Street, No 326
Regent Circus, No 43
Rotherhithe, Commercial Docks
Stock Exchange

Initially it lodged at the Magnetic's Threadneedle Street office, but in late 1860 took its own head office at 90 Cannon Street, City, later renumbered 101. Its next busiest office was at 7 Charing Cross in the West End; this was also owned by the Magnetic company.

In 1860 it joined the seethingly busy wharfs of the London and Commercial Dock companies to the City and offered ship-owners and merchants a substantial discount on its basic message rate for regular traffic by an annual rebate. In that year, too, it made an agreement with the Astronomer-Royal to convey a time-signal from the Greenwich Observatory to all of its offices.  On February 21, 1860 the District company offered a free wire to the British Horological Institute at 35 Northampton Square, Clerkenwell, for the hourly receipt of time from Greenwich Observatory by way of circuits on the South Eastern Railway and its head office in Cannon Street. The Institute used a simple, very sensitive galvanometer made by Henry Moore, of Spa House, Lloyd's Row, Clerkenwell, to receive the time signal; Moore had provided a similar device in 1857 to receive signals on the Atlantic cable.

The Company's difficulties were compounded by the failure of its contractor; it took the construction works into its own management. Even so it handled 73,480 messages from 52 stations, 73 miles of line and 335 miles of wire during the whole of 1860, with an operating loss of £2,200. 

On February 27, 1860 the shareholders agreed that the Company might extend its circuits over the four mile radius from Charing Cross up to twelve miles, but only for police and fire purposes.

John Watkins Brett abruptly retired from the Board in February 1860 and was not immediately replaced.

In comparison to London's 52 district stations in 1860; Paris then had just ten telegraph offices, with another at the Palais législatif open, as with that at the Houses of Parliament, when it was in session; and New York had a central telegraph office at 21 Wall Street and nine other City offices, to serve ten separate lines. 

The report of George Airy, the Astronomer-Royal, on June 2, 1860 to the committee of the Royal Observatory recorded in 'The Athenaeum' magazine shows that the Company continued its interest in "time transmission" and working in the public interest:

"One of the most important departments in the Observatory is that of making Galvanic Communications. Under this head, Mr Airy says: 'Our external galvanic communication has received a very important change. We had found for some time that our two underground wires leading to the Blackheath Gate of the Park, and there adapted to communicate either with one of the Admiralty wires (to the Admiralty, or to Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness or Deal), or with one of the Submarine Company's wires (to the London offices, or to Calais or Ostend), had become practically useless. One of  the four underground wires crossing Blackheath to the Lewisham Station of the North Kent Railway (there communicating by the London Bridge Station with Lothbury and with Deal) had shown signs of decay, but the others were very good; but about the month of August last year the whole of the four wires failed. We have taken up parts and replaced them by new wire, but apparently the whole of the gutta percha has perished. No special fault has been found, but every yard is faulty. I determined after this to trust no more to underground wires; and having received the permission of the Right Honourable the First Commissioner of Parks and Public Works to extend wires at sufficient elevation above the Park, - and having been met in my application to the London District Telegraph Company by the most liberal offer on their part, - I have stretched seven wires in the open air from the top of the Octagon Room to the top of a house in George Street. From this point the wires are carried on in a similar manner to the following destinations: - one is the property of the London District Telegraph Company; four are led to the [South Eastern] Railway Station in Greenwich, whence, under the care of Charles V. Walker, Esq., they are continued on poles till they rejoin the continuation of the former North Kent lines at the railway junction (Mr. Walker is preparing arrangements for placing the wires in open air all the way to the London Bridge Station); two are led along the poles of the London District Telegraph Company to Deptford Broadway, where they meet the lines of the Submarine Company, and where they will communicate by turn-plate either with the Admiralty line or with the Submarine line, as formerly at the Blackheath Gate of Greenwich Park.'"

On July 21, 1860, His Royal Highness Said Hadj Abderahman el Ajee (Alaoui), emissary of the Emperor of Morocco, then negotiating a loan of the City of London, and His Excellency Said Mahomet el Shamee, the Moorish ambassador to Britain, visited the premises of the Submarine and London District Telegraph companies in 58 Threadneedle Street. As well being introduced to the eighty young ladies in the District's telegraph gallery, His Highness sent messages to and received replies from the Moorish envoys in Paris and Berlin, and, rather more locally, to his aide-de-camp, General Kaid, at Claridge's Hotel, 41 Brook Street, Mayfair. The newspapers pointed out, undiplomatically, that reception of the Royal party was left to the officers of the companies, no directors being present.

Later, on August 25, 1860, revenues from public messages and private wires were reported at £550 19s 11d and expenditure £2,282 10s 7d for the previous half-year. Initial revenues were modest, but increasing: in February 1860, £52 2s 8d; in March £89 0s 1d; April £86 19 11d; May £134 17s 11d; and June £142 14s 1d. New lines opened in the half-year connected the Commercial Road, Poplar, the East & West India Dock Road, Bunhill Row, Blackfriars Road, Westminster Road, the Great Northern Railway Coal Depot and Paddington. An agreement had been made with the Thames Tunnel Company to lay wires connecting north and south London beneath the Thames river, its second such connection. A long circuit was also to be built around the Isle of Dogs in east London, connecting the wharfs, docks, industries and shipyards along the river. A capital of £24,472 had been raised by June 20. This had paid for thirty-seven stations, with another twenty properties in process of lease, and £1,282 had been spent on 80 instruments and office furnishings. There were then ninety “young ladies” employed or in unpaid training.

In numbers; 4¾ miles of new overhead line with 9½ miles of wire had been completed, and 6½ miles more of line, with 15½ miles of wire, were in progress. A further 11 miles of wire were added “on existing supports”. A further ½ mile of underground cable was completed, with 5¼ miles of wires. This permitted the opening of 29 new offices. The network total in August 1860 was 47 miles of line and 262 miles of wire.

The District took over its own central office in Cannon Street early in August 1860

The directors agreed to take only half of their annual fees until the District's telegraphs achieved a dividend of 5% on its ordinary shares, saving the Company £500 a year.

The Company’s network in at the beginning of 1861 was 73½ miles of line and 335½ miles of wire.

Great changes took place in the District company during first half of 1861. Charles Curtoys, late of the Magnetic Telegraph Company, took over as Secretary and General Manager, imposing better systems and processes, and implementing new ideas for marketing. A new role of Superintendent of Clerks was introduced at the chief office, to be assisted by a Lady Matron, to provide leadership and technical education. “Inferior” stations were to be closed and new ones of a “better class” opened. The Company’s network was now almost complete, and, except for private wires, no further capital expenditure was thought necessary.

The outlook was healthy, based on revenues in June 1861, estimated annual income was set at £4,680 from messages (£90 a week), from sub-letting property £910 and from rental of private wires £600. Twenty new offices had been opened in the previous six months and an agreement made with the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway to exchange message traffic at the District’s low tariff on its West End of London & Crystal Palace branch to Balham, Battersea, Crystal Palace, Norwood, Streatham and other places. Underwater cables were laid for the first time across the entrances of the West India, Victoria and Surrey Docks to shorten its lines. A further 2½ miles of underground cable with 6¾ miles of wire and 2½ miles of overhead line with 7¾ miles of wire were constructed, giving a system total of 78½ miles of line and 350 miles of wire. Another 15 offices were opened by the end of the year.

The meeting of the proprietors on February 21, 1861 noted that the income from the 4d for ten word messages was inadequate, and that ten words were too few for most users. It agreed a new rate of 6d for fifteen words. A porterage charge was also then introduced for messages over a quarter mile from the receiving station, it was hoped that the introduction of more stations would render this unnecessary. Fifty-two stations were then open, fourteen opened in that previous six months and another twenty-one were nearing completion. It was made clear that the new stations were “experimental” and would be closed if working expenses were not covered, or if a guarantee of income was not provided by the local community. The new works completed totalled 12 ½ miles of new overhead line, with 20 ½ miles of wire, and 14 miles of cable, holding 53 miles of wire.

Dalston, Stoke Newington, Upper Clapton, Hackney, Cambridge Heath, Bow, Deptford, Lewisham, Blackheath, Sloane Square, Brompton, Kensington, Notting Hill, Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, Kentish Town, Haverstock Hill, Hampstead, Highgate, Holloway, Pimlico, Maida Hill, St John’s Wood and Kilburn were now provided with telegraph offices.

The mileage of line at the end of 1861 was 92¼, carrying 378¼ miles of wire. This was only slightly increased over subsequent years. There were then 77 telegraph offices open. Although the District often was often condemned for its unsightly over-house wires, one-third, 30 miles, of its line, and nearly 60% of its wire, 218 miles, was actually in underground cables.

In the latter half of same year, 1861, Edward Tyer resigned as electrical engineer, and Sir Charles Bright, of Atlantic telegraph fame, joined the Board of Directors having previously been their consultant engineer.

During a court case in Hammersmith in West London during May 1861 it was revealed that the London District Telegraph Company, to avoid the cost of an Act of Parliament, was erecting overhead wires on public property under the Parliamentary authority granted in the British Electric Telegraph Company's Act of 1851. The British company maintained a shadow legal existence to continue these powers until the end of the domestic telegraph companies, although the Telegraph Act of 1863 gave general powers to all existing service providers and new concerns. 

Later in the year, on October 18, 1861, the District launched its major discount scheme for trade customers, offering 100 pre-paid messages for twenty shillings, with an additional incentive of 500 printed advertising flyers included. Among its other promotional devices was the provision of flags and staffs for display by licensed victuallers’ outside of their public houses to celebrate the arrival of the local telegraph.

The Company had constructed 78 miles of line with 350 miles of wire by mid- 1861. It contracted with the new West-End of London & Crystal Palace Railway in 1861 for circuits to its suburban stations at Balham, Battersea, Norwood and Crystal Palace. But to June 1861 it had accumulated a working loss of £5,672 on an expended capital of £43,231.

“The low rate charged for messages, sixpence for fifteen words exclusive of address, and half-rates for pre-paid answers, does not by any means affect the precautions taken for the safe keeping and delivery of the messages entrusted to the Company’s care. Each receives its particular and goes through its regular course from desk to desk and room to room, until its work is finally accomplished, when it is carefully put up in company with all papers bearing in any way upon it, and preserved for three months in one of the numerous presses close at hand, from thence to descend at the end of that period to the cellar, after a two years’ sojourn in which it is finally destroyed.”

As promised in its prospectus, in February 1861 the District company began a nine-month long campaign offering "Telegraphs for Private Use" with apparatus "of the most simple and cheapest description". It was to construct and lease extra overhead wires along its routes for private subscribers in London and provide them with their own Siemens magneto dial telegraphs. At the annual meeting of February 22, 1862, it claimed an income of £1,000 a year from private circuits and it was said that the private wire business, which until then had utilised spare capacity in its public circuits, required additional investment and capital would be raised for this on loan.

Their private wires were, initially, constructed to the same model as its public circuits, that is running from the subscriber’s premises to its central station in the City where messages could be transcribed and sent on to any of its own or to any other public station. Later, from 1863, it also created several closed, wholly private networks within London, on the model of the competitive Universal Private Telegraph Company.

The District commenced a unique arrangement in May 1861, supplying a brief summary of parliamentary debates during the evening sessions each half-hour to Members of Parliament and other subscribers in London at their private addresses. They would be telegraphed from Parliament to the local station, where 'manifold' copies would be made and delivered by the Corps of Commissionaires rather than by its messengers. It is not known how long this expensive service was continued.

Charles Bright, chief engineer of the Magnetic, was Consultant to the District. Its own engineer was Edward Tyer who is best known for the development of a system of railway signal telegraphs. He founded his own signal equipment manufacturing company in Dalston, London, which lasted well into the next century. Tyer left the District’s service late in 1861. 

Although it used Tyer's simple single- needle telegraphs with his "piston" key (see left) and Highton single-needle instruments with "tappers", the over- house circuits were difficult and expensive to acquire and construct, vulnerable to the elements and consistent in losing money. During 1862 it sent 250,000 messages, just 10 per day per station, but reduced its annual operating loss to £894. 

Always vigorous in its marketing, the District in 1862 offered the public, as well as trade customers, one hundred of their 6d message stamps for one pound; this reduced the charge for a fifteen word message to 2½d. Its message capacity in 1862 with 83 stations was said to be one thousand per hour; but it rarely achieved one thousand messages in a day.

With this discounting the Company was able for the first time to develop the "social" nature of messaging. It became aware that there was considerable increase in traffic about great public and social events, such as the Derby horse race and the Queen's opening of Parliament. The greatest number of messages was sent on the on the day before the new Princess of Wales arrived in London, when 1,500 were transmitted by the public arranging seats and trips to view her cavalcade.   Common 'domestic' messages sent on the District's circuits included booking theatre and opera tickets, calls for doctors, for forgotten door keys, and 'I am on my way home', as well as ordering coal and other deliveries. Suburban tradesmen placed daily orders for perishable fish and poultry with Billingsgate and Leadenhall markets. Travelling salesmen sent orders to their principals in the City. Doctors and barristers were enabled to learn of the need for their services in different hospitals and courts during their day's work.

The Company’s greatest success was in attracting commercial firms to use the telegraph for order-taking, with its 100 pre-paid messages for 20s, just 2½d for fifteen words, and the facility to receive orders at any of its offices in London and the suburbs, so that customers could place their orders by telegraph free- of- charge, widening the retailer’s catchment area immeasurably. The hundred messages for 20s rate to tradesmen included a bonus of 500 printed circulars that publicised their readiness to take orders by telegraph without charge to the sender. The variety of users can be judged by this selection who advertised this service in the press:

One of the first to give his customers this option was Samuel Plimsoll, coal-merchant, at Great Northern Railway Coal Depot, King's Cross. Orders for coals by telegraph were received free-of-charge from July 20, 1860, and all through the winter 1860-61. The enterprising Mr Plimsoll also advertised a railway "Excursion to the Coal Mines" including a "descent into the mines", the train leaving at 7 o'clock, October 6, 1860; bookings and enquiries to be received free by telegraph. On his previous trip to the Northumberland pits in 1859, widely described in the weekly press, the excursionists were carried free as well, as a publicity exercise.

He also had a private telegraph from King's Cross to the Company's central station.

Plimsoll went on to famously campaign for marine safety, brought on by ship casualties among overloaded coastal colliers.

George Walker & Co., wine and spirit merchants, 61 Edgware Road, W, 326 Oxford Street, Regent Circus, WC and Great Tower Street, City, EC, took orders for their fine beverages from December 13, 1860 at all stations of the London District Telegraph Company. Walker was an agent of the Company and had a public telegraph on several of his premises.

The much larger Imperial Wine Company of 314 Oxford Street, W, with cellars under the Marylebone Court House, and export and bottling vaults at 15 John Street, Crutched Friars, EC, also advertised that orders for its wines and spirits, ‘direct from the producer’, could be made free at any office of the District company in 1862.

The services of George Shillibeer, patent funeral carriage proprietor, 1 & 2 Commercial Place, City Road, Finsbury Square, City EC, could be summoned electrically, free-of-charge, by District telegraph from March 13, 1861. The novelty of the patent carriage was that the bereaved and the coffin were carried, economically, in the same vehicle. Shillibeer had introduced the omnibus to London in 1828.

The Corps of Commissionaires, which gave employment to military veterans after the Crimean war, allowed the London District Telegraph Company to install a public telegraph at their Barracks in the Strand on October 17, 1861. Through this a commissionaire for a message or parcel delivery could be ordered without charge from any part of London and or the suburbs.  

In December 1861 Samuel Brothers, tailors, of 29 Ludgate Hill, City EC were advertising the "Instantaneous Transmission of Orders" free-of-charge by District telegraph to their shop.

The Royal Cremorne Gardens and Hotel in Chelsea on its reopening on May 1, 1862 made a point of mentioning that the District company had arranged a telegraph station at its King's Road entrance for bookings.

Dakin & Company of St Paul’s Churchyard, a very large firm of retail tea-dealers, received orders for their teas by telegraph without the customer incurring one farthing of extra expense, “indeed, at the saving of a penny [for postage]”, and having delivery twelve hours sooner. The firm’s owner also had his several branches and his house connected by private telegraph.

Chubb & Company, the famous lockmakers, offered owners of its safes who might have misplaced its key the ability of having a replacement sent to their premises by messenger on receipt of free telegraph message containing the number of the safe.

The District also worked in co-operation with the London General Omnibus Company from early December 1862. The bus company’s Express Parcels Service used the telegraph company’s agencies in shops as receiving offices for its shipments, and included a free message to the recipient to advise them that it would soon be ready for collection.

Charles Frederick Field, of the Private Inquiry Office, 20 Devereaux Court, Fleet Street, advised use of the District telegraph for speedy communication with his office on February 19, 1863. He went further and had the Company install a private telegraph at his premises on June 4, 1865.

The Ruabon Coal Company, coal merchants to the Queen, of Paddington station on the Great Western Railway, advertised "Coals by Telegraph" on October 7, 1867. Once again orders by the District company could be sent free-of-charge.

During a small-pox outbreak in 1869 there was a scare campaign against the use of public cabs for carrying suspected cases. On January 21, the London Fever Hospital, St Pancras' Old Road, King's Cross, London NW, offered patients and the anxious an ambulance to its wards that could be ordered, without charge for the message, by District telegraph. The cost to the patient for the ambulance being just the cost of horse hire, about twice a cab fare.

Imperial Wine by Telegraph 1862

Ordering wine online in 1862 - and its a Secure connection
"Orders received at all Stations of the London District Telegraph Company
free of charge to Sender. Important Feature - Infallible Security"

Never short of ideas to gain additional revenue, the District printed paid advertisements on the back of its received message forms, rather than the usual list of stations, and on their envelopes. It was the only telegraph company to do this.

It also distributed thousands of almanacs or calendars in December and January each year, advertising its list of stations, its scale of charges and its connections; "in a form that fits into an ordinary pocket book".  

After it took its own building at 90 Cannon Street the Secretary advertised offices to let in the spare floors of the new premises in February 1861, as well looking for offers for the offices it had occupied at 58 Threadneedle Street.

The coverage of the Metropolis even in 1862 by the London District Telegraph Company’s public offices is shown in this list taken from ‘Kelly’s Post Office Directory’, showing over ninety locations, to which are added the names of their agents, where discoverable:

90 Cannon Street; Chief Office
45 Ernest Street, Albany Street, Regent’s Park; John Morris, hosier
Baltic Coffee House, Threadneedle Street;
Railway station, Battersea; West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway
3 Norfolk Place, [Larkhall Lane], Battersea; Alfred Fox, furnishing ironmonger
2 Inverness Terrace, Bayswater; William Brunker, bookseller & stationer
30 New Weston Road, Bermondsey (Leather Market); John Hickson, tailor
Royal Hotel, 26 New Bridge Street, Blackfriars;
455 New Oxford Street; William Alfred Putnam, china, glass & chandelier manufacturer
68 London Road, opposite ‘Elephant & Castle’; Henry Mitchell, chemist & druggist
8 Great Dover Street; Robert Sutcliffe, wine & spirit merchant
21 High Street, Bow; William Tamlyn, linen draper
14 Commercial Place, Brixton; Chesterman & Taylor, baby linen warehouse
15 Rose Terrace, Fulham Road, Brompton; Edmund Garbett, iron merchant & contractor
Camberwell Green, west side;
Cambridge Heath, opposite Gate;
12 Cornwall Terrace, Camden;
32 King Street, near Camden Hall; George Jay, stationer & tobacconist
22 Chancery Lane; British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
7 Charing Cross; British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
153 Cheapside (near Peel’s Statue); George William Henri & Co., manufacturers of cattle feed
29 Sloane Square, Chelsea; Thomas Evans & Co., military tailors
10 High Street, Clapham; Thomas Hookham Silvester, physician
Dock House, Plough Bridge, Rotherhithe;
3 Heath Place, Commercial Road; Gwen Ratcliffe, earthenware dealer
Commercial Sale Rooms, [30 to 34] Mincing Lane;
Jerusalem Coffee House, Cowper’s Court, Cornhill;
Tavistock Hotel, Covent Garden;
30 Crawford Street; John Dent & Co., cabinet maker & upholsterer
Crystal Palace railway station;
West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway
DeBeauvoir Town, corner Downham and Kingsland Road;
Post Office, Broadway, Deptford;
Doctors’ Commons, corner Godliman Street;
1 Commercial Street, Shoreditch;
94 Grand Junction Terrace, Paddington; Alfred Wiseman, printer & compositor
72 Euston Square, corner Seymour Street; Charles Shepherd, chemist and druggist
‘Eyre Arms’ [public house], St John’s Wood;
15 Finsbury Place north, Finsbury; Thomas Riddington, bookseller & post office receiving house
102 Fleet Street, the ‘Dial’ newspaper office;
159 Goswell Street, near Wilderness Row; Rebecca Odell, tobacconist
24 Gracechurch Street, corner Lombard Street;
47 Gresham Street, corner Wood Street; Henry Walker, needle & hook & eye manufacturer
Guildhall Law Court;
Haverstock Hill, opposite Adelaide Road;
255 Upper Street, Islington; John Morrell, hairdresser
285 High Holborn; London Linen Company
5 Hercules Terrace, Upper Holloway; Edwin Applegate, chemist
House of Commons Central Lobby;
Isle-of-Dogs, near Pontifex & Wood’s factory;
7 Rufford’s Buildings, High Street, Islington; George Porter, fruiterer
The ‘Horns’ [public house], Kennington;
8 Windmill Row, Kennington; Joseph Sirgood, stationer
1 Somerset Terrace, Campden Hill, Kensington; William Cole, tobacconist
8 New Chapel Place, Kentish Town;
10 Morton Terrace, Kentish Town;
1 Dalston Lane, Kingsland;
4 York Place, Mansfield Street, Kingsland;
65 King William Street; Christopher Lalor Philpott, stationer & post office receiving house
21 Park Side, near Albert Gate, Knightsbridge; John Jones Vaughan & Co., pawnbroker
2 Leadenhall Street, Billiter Street; Fribourg & Treyer, tobacconists
Clock Tower, London Bridge;
3 Adelaide Place, London Bridge terminus;
Railway Station, Norwood;
5 Maida Hill East; William Page, grocer
82 Mark Lane; Jay & Baker, corn & seed merchants
7 Mile End Road; George Macksey, ginger beer manufacturer
Railway Station, New Wandsworth;
West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway
24 High Street, Notting Hill; Mary Ann Gilbert, tobacconist
Old Bailey Criminal Court;
Old Jewry, corner of Poultry;
326 Oxford Street, corner Regent’s Circus; George Walker & Co., wine & spirit merchant
Bishop’s Road, opposite ‘Royal Oak’, Paddington;
Peckham Rye, at Mr Miller, chemist;
43 Regent Circus, Piccadilly; British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
Victoria Railway Terminus, Pimlico;
West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway
78 Gloucester Street, [King’s Road] Pimlico; Henry Clinton Cooper, auctioneer
134 High Street, Poplar; John Matthews, tobacconist
11 Southampton Street, Euston Square; Thomas Kingston, Italian warehouseman andrailway booking office
Commercial Dock House, Rotherhithe at the Thames’ Tunnel;
Corn Exchange Chambers, Seething Lane;
1 Commercial Street, Shoreditch;
South Kensington Museum;
16 Southgate Terrace, DeBeauvoir Town; John William Gibbs, news-agent
Commercial Road, Stepney;
1 Stockwell Place, Clapham Road, Stockwell; Charles Martin, chemist
337 Strand, opposite Somerset House; William Tweedie, bookseller & publisher
Commissionaires’ Barracks, Exchange Court, Strand;
58 Threadneedle Street; British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
1 Bridge Foot, Vauxhall; Georgiana Quin, tobacconist
Vauxhall, next Arrival Platform, South Western Railway station;
4 Wellington Place, West India Road; John Whitmore, dining-rooms
3 Myra Place, West Ham;
Great George Street, Westminster;
18 Great Smith Street, Westminster; James Harvey, chemist
Westminster Palace Hotel, Victoria Street

Several of the ninety-five stations listed above were shared with the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company and with the Submarine Telegraph Company; the District only claimed eighty stations of its own in its returns to the Board of Trade. The District had public telegraphs at the stations of the West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway (shortly to be acquired by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway) and, from 1863, at the underground stations of the Metropolitan Railway. All could access the Magnetic's national and the Submarine's foreign circuits by transcription at the chief office in Cannon Street.  

On January 2, 1862 the District company began advertising Trade Circulars by Telegraph, in addition to order taking. Retailers and others in trade could use its common 20s for 100 message discount rate to broadcast telegrams promoting their wares to potential customers. The scheme was to cause a storm of protest when unsolicited messages began to be delivered to a general public used to receiving only bad news by telegraph.

In response to virulent press criticism of its service the District stated in March 1862 that it was handing 700 messages a day and that there had been one customer complaint for every 2,100 transmitted. This was less than the industry average.

It was announced on August 13, 1862 that Charles Bright, the controversial engineer of the failed Atlantic Telegraph, was now one of the directors, “in place of John Watkins Brett”, who had retired in February 1860.

On March 26, 1862, Samuel Gurney, MP, chairman of the London District Telegraph Company, held an evening soirée at his house at 25 Prince's Gate, Hyde Park. To amuse his visitors the Company laid on a telegraph apparatus in his dining room and connected it with their underground wires in Kensington Road, by which means there were able to communicate with "the capitals of Europe, Malta, Alexandria and the East" through their head office in Cannon Street and the cables of the Submarine Telegraph Company.

Traffic in 1862 was 243,849 messages, a huge increase from 144,022 in 1861. Public business during 1862 went up to £125 a week, from £93 a week. The private wire income then was said to be £1,000 a year, the Company having spent £3,000 to secure that business. The directors said another £2,000 was needed to develop the profitable private wires.

The major factor in the financial affairs of the District was the rebate required by the Magnetic company for retransmission and other services, in July 1862 of its half yearly message income of £6,515 it had to hand-over £2,557 to the larger firm. 

On December 21, 1862, the "Great Gale" destroyed lines from the western end of the Whitechapel Road to Mile End Gate; the wires spread across the road were gathered up by police and the clerk at its Mile End office. It was the shape of aggravations to come.

Its half-yearly shareholders’ meeting of February 10, 1863, noted that all of the head office batteries, which enabled its entire system, had been renewed, but it had spent only £167 on new lines in the previous six months, with just a few new private wire contracts, but they included an important one to connect the stations of the London Fire Engine Establishment. 

By 1863 the District had constructed 107 miles of line and 430 miles of wire across the metropolis; in 1864 115 miles of line and 454 of wire. As its stations dropped from 81 to 80 so the number of instruments in circuit also fell from 192 to 191. Messages rose from 247,606 in 1863 to 308,032 in 1864.  In September 1863 fifteen of the Company's stations were disabled by a massive electric storm over London with lightning strikes on it over-house wires. No one was injured.

During August 1863 the District announced that messages for its offices could now be sent from most other telegraph stations in the country, having come to an agreement with the Electric & International Telegraph Company as well as with its promoter, the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company. The Metropolitan Railway, the first wholly-underground railway in the world, gave the District its “exclusive commercial and general telegraph business”; its tunnels were laid with a new cable and telegraph offices opened at all of its subterranean stations. The instruments and batteries at most of the District’s offices were renewed in the previous six months. Tyer’s needle instruments with “push-pull” transmission were replaced by Highton’s needle apparatus with double-keys at this time.

Of some importance, the District also completed the first of what was to become one of its many closed private telegraph networks, for the London Fire Engine Establishment.

Another gale, on October 29, 1863, brought down its lines in the heart of the City of London, between Bartholomew Lane and Old Jewry, running across the Bank of England, Princes Street and Grocers' Hall. The fragility of its over-house system was all too publically demonstrated to its City investors.

The weather was to inflict far worse damage on the District's fortunes three years later.

The Company's returns to the Government recorded that the District carried 316,000 messages over 123 miles of line between its 83 urban offices in 1865. In itself this was a great achievement. In that year too it had a net surplus of £242 and paid its first dividend on its ordinary shares, sadly just 1%.

Mr Punch was not impressed with a service that allegedly
took over twenty-four hours to deliver a message

As has been noted its offices were lodged in the shops of small tradesmen, preferably one that also had the local post-office within it. As well as the Company's lady clerk the tradesman was permitted to receive messages when necessary. A boy was also retained as a messenger; if he were absent for more than ten minutes an "extra messenger", any handy lad, was employed. 

Nine hotels, varying between the huge 'Westminster Palace' by Parliament, the almost equally large 'Grosvenor' at the Victoria railway station, the 'Railway Terminus' at London Bridge station, the 'Bridge House' for the packet steamers at London Bridge, the 'Tavistock' in Covent Garden, 'Haxell's' close by in the Strand, the 'Royal' in Blackfriars and the 'Eyre Arms' in suburban St John's Wood, as well as the 'Royal Cremorne Hotel and Pleasure Gardens' in Fulham, had public telegraphs in their lobbies by 1864 for visitors and passers-by; as did the City of London Club and the Junior Carlton Club, for gentlemen in the financial or business and West End districts respectively.

These were eventually joined by the new 'Langham Hotel' above Regent Street in Marylebone.

A sense of gloom set in during 1864 when it was stated that it had made losses for every year of its short existence. But by mid-1865 the economic prospects of the District company improved markedly. For the first time it was able to announce a trading profit, albeit only of £242. Its private wire business was flourishing, now that it was carving a niche in making large closed networks for utilities and government service. Another cable was needed in the tunnels of the Metropolitan Railway as message traffic to and from West London was substantially increased. The public telegraphs of South Eastern Railway, the fourth largest network in the country, had joined the other service providers in accepting messages for the District’s offices.

The District was subject to much public criticism due to its ugly overhead iron lines protruding on posts above roof-tops, which, as every station had a single wire connecting to its hub office, led to a great mass of wires in the City centre, and to its general poor performance. In fact 60% of it wires were underground.

London District Telegraph Company
Growth 1860 – 1868



Other stations were shared with the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company and the Submarine Telegraph Company

From the Returns of the Railway and Telegraph Companies to the Board of Trade

Then many of its roof-top circuits were destroyed by the snows of the Great Storm of January 11, 1866, necessitating a temporary increase in rate to 1s 0d for fifteen words, as it was unable to raise capital for the immense repair bill. Half of its overhead lines had been brought down and half of its offices were closed for over a month, only its underground cables were unaffected. It started to transfer some of its over-house wires into additional subterranean conduits and to the weather-resistant tunnels of London’s new underground Metropolitan Railway Company, which opened in 1863 from the Paddington station of the Great Western Railway beneath the streets to the northern fringe of the City at Farringdon Street, and offered public telegraphy at its seven stations. It planned to leave just a third of its lines on roof-top poles.

Regarding the physical effects of the Storm (reported with the capital "S"), on January 12, 1866 'The Times' reported:

"The most serious consequence of the storm is the injury it has done to the telegraph posts and wires, and more particularly to those which cross the streets of London. At 9 o'clock yesterday morning the snow had formed a thick coating upon the wires and bent them down at the points midway between the posts, many feet lower than their usual level. In many places they sank so low as to interrupt the traffic, and in others the posts snapped and fell with them to the ground."

"The London District Telegraph Company are the chief sufferers. Their posts have been torn from the tops of the houses in all directions. In Great George Street, Westminster, fallen wires were entwined round several lamp-posts, and in Regent-street they were hanging from one side to the other, and the drivers of the various vehicles had to remove them in order to pass. Similar damage was experienced in the Euston Road, Farringdon Road, and in many of the leading thoroughfares in the city - in some cases the lamps being completely carried away. At the chief office in Cannon Street the poles have been completely demolished, and the wires have been coiled up in heaps on the top of the premises. From the London Road station to the Rockingham Arms the wires, of which there were about twenty, were hanging in loops so low as scarcely to admit vehicles to pass under them. During the whole of the morning gangs of men were employed in coiling up the wires, and every preparation was being made to repair the injury and re-establish communication. It was the opinion of the inspectors that it was not the wind alone that has caused the damage to the wires, but that the accumulation of snow on them has so increased their weight that when the wind blew strong in a lateral direction the lines were unable to bear the strain."

"The wires of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company have suffered in the same way. The damage to the wires and posts along portions of the Great Western Railway is very great, miles of wire between Langley, Slough, Taplow, Reading, and Wallingford having been borne down. At Slough the wires lie tangled, broken, and strewn over the station, works, and buildings in the greatest disorder, and from this state it will take some time to restore them. The telegraph wires upon the London and South-Western Railway have also experienced great damage, more especially between the Windsor terminus, near the Home Park, and the Datchet, Wraysbury, and Staines stations of the Richmond and Windsor branch line. Between Mortlake and Barnes the wires and posts lie upon the common. From Barnes to Putney twisted and broken wires are strewn about. The wires are also injured between the Clapham Junction and Waterloo. The result has been the stoppage of all telegraphic communications to the provinces; but the Electric and International Telegraph Company are still able to forward messages to the Continent. The loss to the District Company will be great; but as most of the Electric Company's wires are underground in London it is thought that the communication, so far as they are concerned, will soon be resumed."

It took until the following April for the District company to repair most of its overhead circuits. Its finances were such that, on May 7, 1866, it had to advertise a debenture loan with a hefty 7% interest to help pay for the storm damage. The Company desperately appealed for investments of £25 or more, for periods over two years, with interest payable half-yearly or quarterly. It raised £1,800.

The Company’s South Eastern District was still in disarray at the end of 1866, where both public and private circuits remained in disrepair. This was ameliorated by the South Eastern Railway Company granting the District wayleaves along its own lines to several stations.

The only positive element of the year was the remarkable increase in private telegraph business, with large new networks being built for the Fire Brigade, the Salvage Corps and the Post Office.

At its first half-yearly shareholders’ meeting after the Storm, on August 16, 1866, the District’s directors claimed that “except for a short distance in the south east... [its circuits had been] renewed on an improved and more secure system”. Instead of having three-quarters of its lines over-house and unprotected only one-third were then so constructed, the remainder being underground “or equally well-protected”. Its private wire contract with the insurance companies’ fire service had been successfully transferred to the new state-owned London Fire Brigade; new contracts were in negotiation with the Post Office, the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London Salvage Corps, to connect several of their offices and stations. After the appropriation of their fire engines in 1865 the insurance companies had set up the Salvage Corps to assist homeowners and businesses remove property threatened by fire.

The overwhelming majority of the staff of the District company were women; a considerable innovation for the time. The Board of Directors had particular views on its lady clerks and instructed on August 23, 1859 that "Any male clerk or officer who held communication with them would be instantly dismissed". At Cannon Street, where eighty circuits entered, they worked in a single large instrument room having three long counters for the apparatus. As well as instrument clerks the Company employed ladies as ordinary clerks in the Clearing Room where the paper work connected with each message was collected and collated. The "clerks rustle about in silks, and manage to place a pen behind their ears with the best commercial air." The working hours in the instrument room and in the local stations were very long; from nine in the morning until seven at night. To compensate for this, at Cannon Street, they were provided with a dining room, and a cook prepared the food the ladies brought in for their dinner and tea. They also had use of a lavatory "embellished with a fountain".

The messengers, however, were all 'boys'.

As well as public telegraphy the District company from 1859 offered individual subscribers private wires to connect offices and residences: for example it connected docks and dock-offices, post offices and fire stations. These private circuits used Siemens magneto-electric dial telegraph, which sent and received the plain alphabet, for use by ordinary people, rather than trained clerks. Each circuit consisted of a single wire and two dial instruments, or multiples of this set where several places were to be connected.

The Company continued with its unique 6d for fifteen word message rate and its discounted telegraph stamps which resulted in a rate of 2½d for fifteen words for bulk pre-payers until the 1866 Great Storm. Its circumstances were then such that from May 16, 1867 it needed to adopt a uniform 1s 0d for twenty words rate. It also felt compelled to increase its tariffs for its expanding private wire business. With that, at the end of the year, it was at least able to pay the 10% dividend on its £10,000 of preference shares, the other shareholders once again got nothing.

In the first 22 weeks of 1867 under the 6d tariff the Company worked 93,346 messages. In the first 22 weeks of 1868 under the new 1s 0d tariff it transmitted 88,346 messages, a 5½% reduction in traffic. 

In comparison the Electric Telegraph Company maintained a 6d for twenty word tariff between its metropolitan stations from January 1861 until 1870. However it did not offer any discounts.

Latterly, in 1867 the District listed 116 stations, some shared with the Magnetic and Submarine companies, in the Post Office Directory, on 150 miles of line, the same mileage as in 1866. In competition with these the Electric company then had a further forty-seven and the United Kingdom company sixteen public stations in London, giving the capital nearly 180 telegraph offices.

In the same year New York possessed 74 and Paris 46 public telegraph stations.  

Unfortunately, and uniquely for a telegraph company of the period, the District’s messaging business collapsed from its record of 316,272 in 1865, to 214,496 in the Great Storm and Crash Year of 1866, recovering a little to 239,583 in 1867, even after the increase in tariff, plummeting to just 183,304 messages in 1868. This led to yet another annual loss on working of £1,068.

The general meeting of the District on August 27, 1867 altered its name to the London & Provincial Telegraph Company, ostensibly to encompass a wider catchment area, and increased its nominal capital to £70,000. The name change was undertaken in an attempt to distance the firm from its unfortunate reputation, no extensions were made. At the end of the year it recorded another operating loss. It was then in a perilous state, just before the reconstruction it had only £269 in the bank and just £10 in telegraph stamps to hand. The District was the smallest of the public telegraph companies and was never an economically-sound business, although it set a world-wide precedent for intense urban telegraphy.

The Board of Directors, ever resilient and ever hopeful, commissioned Stephen H Emmens, DCL, consulting actuary to the long-established Church of England Assurance Institution, to analyse its prospects based on past performance. In his long report of October 13, 1868, Dr Emmens calculated that the Company would be paying a respectable dividend of 4½% by 1871 and an effective 5½% by 1872.

The Board then consisted of George Sheward, chairman, Charles Kemp Dyer, vice-chairman, Charles Reynolds, R P Taylor and William Austin. Most of these had loyally and determinedly stuck with the London District Telegraph Company throughout its ten year struggle for prosperity.

Charles Henry Curtoys was Secretary and Manager on a salary of £550 a year. Little is known about Curtoys who, almost alone, seems to have kept the District company in business. John Isherwood was latterly described as Engineer to the Company; he was to join the Post Office Telegraphs in London in 1870.

The London & Provincial Telegraph Company had a final paid-up capital of £66,350, of which 18% was in new 10% preference shares and loans. It possessed 82 stations, 163 miles of line with 545 miles of wire and had in its employ 114 clerks, almost all of whom were women, and 66 messenger-boys in 1868, who, as noted above, transmitted 183,304 domestic messages.

London District Telegraph Company
Income & Expenditure 1862 - 1868

    Year                               Income £                             Expenditure £
    1862                               6,549                                     9,741
    1863                               8,215                                     9,669
    1864                               9,128                                     9,857
    1865                               9,561                                      9,432
    1866                               8,732                                     8,895
    1867                               7,347                                     8,119

There was a loss of £1,068 in 1868, and further operating losses in 1869,
though this was reduced to £54 in the final half-year

Its shareholders had some reason to feel aggrieved over the terms of the government appropriation, which, in the case of the other companies, were based on 20 years net profits. As the District / Provincial company had never made a net profit and only once, in 1865, an operating profit it was acquired on the basis of its highest market value in June and July 1868 plus “an allowance” for prospective profits as determined by Dr Emmens, the actuary. The shareholders received £60,000 for assets that had cost them £65,000, countered by accumulated losses over ten years of £15,214.

On February 11, 1870 it was proposed that the Directors liquidate the London & Provincial Telegraph Company in return for a fee of £1,200, the shareholders unanimously rejected this and gave the task to Charles Curtoys, the General Manager, and awarded him £300.

j.] The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company

The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company had been created in 1851 by Thomas Allan, an engineer, to work his patent instruments and a flat-rate system irrespective of distance, similar in pricing to Post Office letter-carriage, in that every twenty-word message would cost one shilling (12d). It had then acquired rights in an Act of Parliament in 1851 to make telegraphs alongside and beneath public highways with authority for a capital of £250,000. These rights, in 1860, were vested in Thomas Allan, the original promoter.

To recommence the business and to acquire the rights held by Allan, a new concern was registered in July 1860 under the Joint Stock Limited Liability Acts 1855 and 1856, - the “United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company, Limited”. On July 26, 1860 the prospectus for this new Company was issued for a capital of £150,000, in 30,000 shares of £5 each. A deposit 10s per share was payable on application, with 10s more on allotment and the remainder in calls of £1 each at intervals of not less than three months. John Lilwall, who for the previous 20 years had been honorary secretary to the ‘Early Closing Association and Saturday Half Holiday Movement’, was appointed Secretary to the Company, and Thomas Allan, the electrician and engineer.

The United Kingdom company assembled a populous and businesslike board of twelve in 1860 consisting of an admiral, a railway company chairman, four bankers, Frederick Doulton, the potter, James Pilkington, the glass-maker, A A Croll, a major gas entrepreneur, and, to add some style, Lord Alfred Churchill.

According to Jeffrey Kieve’s analysis of the share registration, Angus Croll was to possess 3,000 shares of £5 in the United Kingdom company, Lord Alfred Churchill, 1,350, W B Passmore, a wholesale stationer in London, 622, and W T Henley, the telegraph contractor, 415. Nine directors held over 50% of its share capital in 1865. Otherwise the capital base was divided among many small investors: 89 in 1861, rising to 784 in August 1865, mostly holding under 10 shares each. 

Thomas Allan of Edinburgh, owner of the ‘Caledonian Mercury’ newspaper and printer of the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’, had devised and patented an improved needle telegraph using compound magnets in 1850. He had obtained finance for the 1851 Act that created the Company (and to purchase and work his patent), and had managed the launch of the United Kingdom company’s first incarnation in 1853. On July 24, 1860 he agreed generous terms with the new joint stock company: a salary of £2,000 a year as electrician and chief engineer, £10,000 in cash and £15,000 in shares for his previous efforts and a 10% royalty on all net shareholder profits above 5%. The directors of the Company, becoming quickly disillusioned with Allan’s competence, gave notice in October 1860 that the relationship would be terminated on January 21, 1861.

Having abandoned, without use, the telegraphic system of its initial promoter, Thomas Allan, during 1861, the United Kingdom company adopted the American telegraph. The American instrument was used on all of the lines it erected until 1863.

With the eclipse of Allan, William Andrews was appointed electrician to the Company on November 20, 1860, and then promoted to Secretary and Manager on January 1, 1861, replacing the ineffective John Lilwall. With eight years experience in the business, Andrews had previously been employed in the engineering department of the Submarine Telegraph Company, and as Commercial Superintendent of the British Telegraph Company. He was soon joined by his former colleague at the British company, William Powell, as engineer. Andrews and Powell had been passed over for promotion in the merger that formed the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company in 1857-8.

During its first year of operation the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company made 305 miles of line and 1,968 miles of wire. Its 16 stations possessed 65 American telegraph instruments and worked 11,549 messages. In that first year, 1861, it constructed lines between Liverpool and Manchester and London and Birmingham, with the company seeking local shareholders to finance the intermediate route between Manchester and Birmingham. Although it attempted to erect telegraphs along public highways the Company’s right to do so was repeatedly challenged in the courts in 1860 and 1861; all of these circuits had to be made by the side of canals.

The United Kingdom company had the temerity to cross the tracks of the Buckinghamshire Railway, a branch of the London & North Western Railway, at a level crossing with its roadside wires. The circuits were led between poles 35 feet high and 80 yards apart. On November 8, 1861, the railway company despatched a locomotive engine with several workmen who cut the wires. The Crown challenged this action as a malicious act but the Oxford Quarter Sessions found that the railway was within its rights to do so.

By March 1862 the Company had eleven complaints of it obstructing the public highway with its roadside poles, across Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. It was finally determined by the courts that the highway extended for the full width between any fences on either side, not just to the metalled portion set aside for vehicles, animals and pedestrians, and that any permanent obstruction without Parliamentary authority was unlawful. This final decision left the telegraph company unable to use the public highway for its wires without returning to Parliament.

Its legal status was thoroughly confused by its relationship with Thomas Allan, the sole owner of the original United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company of 1853, who had obtained an Act of Parliament authorising the laying of wires under and over ground along public roads. Although the new body of proprietors initially agreed to purchase the old company and all of its rights the deal fell through in 1860 when they dismissed Allan. The transaction was never completed leaving the new concern in limbo as far as using public rights of way. It had to prepare its own expensive Bill in Parliament in November 1861 against a vicious storm of opposition from the existing telegraph companies, and from the extraordinarily bitter Thomas Allan, who went to the expense of depositing his own competitive Bill. It did not help its case by refusing to include in its Bill a permanent commitment to the hugely popular 1s 0d for twenty words flat rate message charge. This unwillingness is easily explained as by mid-1862 the United Kingdom company, with 415 miles of line in operation working the 1s 0d rate, was failing to cover its operating costs, and had already incurred a net loss of £6,000.

This anomalous situation regarding rights to use public highways was not confined to the United Kingdom company. The Magnetic and London District telegraph companies both lacked any rights to place poles on the roads; they relied through acquisition or license on the powers granted by Parliament to the original British Electric Telegraph Company of 1851.

Thomas Allan continued to be involved with telegraphy, devising armouring for underwater cables, whilst harbouring a considerable grudge against the board of the United Kingdom company. He lost his entire, very substantial, fortune in subsequent, wholly fruitless, legal battles with the telegraph industry.

After much delay and opposition the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company Act 1862 was successfully read in Parliament for the third time and passed into law on June 30, 1862.

The first long line of the United Kingdom company, between London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, was opened throughout to the public on November 16, 1861 using the American telegraph.

It was the flat-rate message that was regarded as the greatest challenge to the existing companies’ business; especially when the United Kingdom company launched itself noisily in 1861 with a pamphlet with the headline “Cheap Telegraphs; or, Telegrams for the Million”. The two competitive telegraph companies, the Electric and the Magnetic, both adopted the shilling rate in those towns and cities served by the United Kingdom’s circuits. They also pointed out that the United Kingdom’s 1s rate did not include porterage. The Company’s board had to admit in 1861 that the cost of a twenty-word message including delivery four or five miles from one of its offices should not be more than 2s 6d or 3s, and even more if for immediate delivery.

On November 19, 1861 the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company advertised the following nineteen offices open: London, 200 Fleet Street, Temple Bar; Gresham House, entrance, 162 Bishopsgate Street; 7 Mincing Lane; Stock Exchange, Hercules passage, Old Broad Street; 20 Cockspur Street, Charing Cross (Waterloo Chambers); Birmingham, 101 New Street; Banbury, High Street, opposite Town Hall; Liverpool, Liverpool and London Insurance Buildings (C Basement); Manchester, 24 St Peter's Square; Stock Exchange; Bank Street, St Ann's Square (opposite principal entrance Royal Exchange); Oxford, 1 Carfax and High Street, St Clements (near Magdalen Bridge); Southam, the Post Office; Uxbridge, at Mr Gurney's, chemist, London Street; Wycombe, Mr Ashton, seedsman, Market Place (opposite Corn Market). Four more stations were about to be opened at Chester, the Crypt Buildings; Leamington, 18 Bath Street; Runcorn, Harbour Place; and Wolverhampton, 67 Queen Street (Dudley Place). It was then looking for premises for its instruments in Ashton, Macclesfield, Stalybridge, Tetworth, Warrington, Weston Point, Wheatley and Wigan on its new lines, as yet unconnected with each other!  

This crucial line between the centres of English industry and population completed in the autumn of 1861 at a cost of £35,000 connected the principal centres of trade and commerce in England. It gave the Company a vital flow of income, enabling it to acquire capital and hence to expand.

During 1861, too, the Company came under the vigorous chairmanship of Alexander Angus Croll, late Managing Director of the Great Central Gas Consumers Company of London, a man who had a long history of challenging monopolies. Under his control it became to be seen as the 'people's company'.

Challenged as to its rights to use roadside circuits it quickly and cheaply erected lines on tow-paths by the side of waterways between 1861 and 1862; most of these canals and navigable rivers were near-abandoned after the arrival of railway competition for freight. The main circuit connecting London, Birmingham and Manchester commenced alongside of the Grand Junction Canal from Brentford in West London to Braunston in Northamptonshire, reaching the populous towns of Leicester and Northampton on canal branches. It acquired wayleaves northwards along the Warwick & Birmingham Canal, through the Birmingham Canal Navigation and on to the Trent & Mersey Canal. From the latter waterway it used the Duke of Bridgwater's Canal and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal for access to Liverpool and Manchester. From the canal terminal basins overhead and underground lines had to be made by the side of roads to access the city centres.

The United Kingdom company reached the important industrial towns of Blackburn, Bradford, Burnley, Leeds and Wigan in northern England using the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It accessed the docks of London by means of the Regent's Canal, leading from the Grand Junction at Paddington.

Unlike the railways who had a mutual interest in having the telegraph alongside of its tracks for signalling and messaging the canals did not, and charged substantially for the wayleaves. 

In January 1862 the United Kingdom Telegraph Company and S W Silver & Company canvassed a proposal for a new cable between South Wales and Queenstown in Southern Ireland. This was an ambitious venture requiring £100,000 in new capital. It also involved new, untried cable technology. The core was to be insulated with Silver's india-rubber rather than tried-and-tested gutta percha; the outer armour was to be made of metallic tape to Siemens, Halske & Company's design, not iron wire. The tape armour caused it to be observed in the press, "This will be a difficult cable to pay out or manage in water". Already a controversial concern, an expensive Irish cable was a step too far for the market and it was quickly abandoned. The line, but not the tape armour, was immediately adopted by the competitive Electric Telegraph Company.

Then, during 1862 the Company acquired the patent for David Hughes’ type-printing telegraph and began to gradually install this complex device in its busiest circuits. The Hughes apparatus, which printed the alphabet on a paper tape, was to be the exception to the needle telegraph then used almost universally in British telegraph circuits.

The first experimental messages using the Hughes printer took place between London and Liverpool between September 15 and 17, 1862. The long-lines were at one stage connected at Liverpool to create a single circuit back to London and the type-printer successfully worked over 700 miles of wire.  The tests were extended to Manchester on October 13, 1862. The press reports mentioned that the instruments were made by Froment in Paris.

During 1862 the Company had opened six offices in London, all working the American telegraph: 237 Gresham House, Old Broad Street, EC; Hercules Passage, 82 Old Broad Street, EC; 7 Mincing Lane, EC; 200 Fleet Street, EC; 20 Cockspur Street, SW; and Oxford Circus, Regent Street, W. It then had 371 miles of line, 2,741 miles of wire, 22 stations and 88 instruments, to work 133,514 messages, over ten times as many as in the previous year! The effect on public messaging of the 1s 0d  flat rate was remarkable, particularly as the United Kingdom company had so few stations.

In popular culture it soon became known, and often appeared in the press, as "the Shilling Telegraph Company" from its flat rate.

Just a year after it opened its long line between London and Manchester the Company arranged a coup to impress both the public and the newspapers:

Richard Cobden, one of the most important and verbose Liberal speakers of the age, spoke at Rochdale, Lancashire, for two hours between 7.50 pm and 9.50 pm on November 4, 1862. By special arrangement the reporters of the ‘Daily Telegraph’ newspaper took down his deluge of words meticulously in shorthand and travelled by railway to Manchester, the United Kingdom company’s nearest station, transcribing their notes into script on the short train journey. Once there they took a cab to the Company’s offices at 61 Stock Exchange Buildings, Ducie Street, Manchester. At 11 pm the Company set aside three wires to send the verbatim report of the speech to London using their American telegraphs. The text arrived at the offices of the ‘Daily Telegraph’ at 3 am. Within an hour it was “being struck off [their printing machines] at a rate of 40,000 copies an hour”, for their morning edition of November 5!

This repeated the performance of the original Electric Telegraph Company reporting one of Cobden’s interminable orations from Wakefield for the London papers thirteen years previously, in April 1849.

 The Hughes Type-Printing Telegraph 1863
Used on the long lines and the busiest circuits of the United Kingdom
Electric Telegraph Company.
It was normally worked by lady clerks in the 1860s

After extensive trials in the previous Autumn the Hughes type-printing telegraph was introduced to the public by the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company on January 19, 1863. It was then put into daily operation between London and Birmingham, with the initial messages in type being the Lord Mayors of both great cities at the Company’s offices exchanging greetings. The Hughes printers were worked by the lady clerks at the United Kingdom company without difficulty, transmitting 30 to 40 words per minute, or from 40 to 46 messages “of average length” per hour per single wire, a marked increase in speed and efficiency. On January 28, a long speech by the radical politician John Bright in Birmingham was transmitted for the first time verbatim onto printed tape for the London newspapers.

Economy was always a primary consideration for the Company; it installed Hughes circuits – with its expensive type-printers – only where traffic would bear the cost, using the simple American telegraph with the key-and-inker elsewhere. 

Its messages off the Hughes circuits, uniquely in Britain for the period, were printed and delivered on a paper tape pasted onto its ordinary received message form. By this system the directors claimed that "errors are almost entirely obviated", important to its principal category of customers, the mercantile class.

Then, after acquiring new powers from Parliament in 1863 authorising roadside lines, the Company began an aggressive expansion. At last free of the canals it doubled its line mileage with overhead pole circuits alongside of coach-roads and turnpikes. It never reached Ireland, only working circuits on the British mainland.

The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company's explosive system growth after the acquisition of its Special Act was described at the general meeting of shareholders in August 1864:

In mid-1863 the Company's entire working system comprised the long line working between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, with some canal-side branches. It was then anticipated that its new long lines in England would be opened by the end of the year but as finance was not forthcoming these had been delayed.

The new trunk line from London north through Northampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Barnsley, Wakefield and Leeds to Hull, and across west to Bradford, Halifax, Rochdale, and Huddersfield, to Manchester and Liverpool, encompassing as well Beverley, Chesterfield, Loughborough, Mansfield, Selby, Sheffield and Todmorden, was opened between October 1863 and March 1864.

The section from Wolverhampton to Manchester, embracing Burslem, Congleton, Hanley, Macclesfield, Stafford and Stone, was also opened between October 1863 and March 1864.

The section from Leeds to Newcastle-on-Tyne, embracing East and West Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland and Thirsk was opened between February and May 1864. The long line between Stockton, Sunderland and Newcastle was opened on February 23, 1864.

The extension from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Leith, Edinburgh and Glasgow, embracing Falkirk, in Scotland opened on May 19, 1864.

The South Wales line from Oxford to Bristol and Cardiff, embracing Gloucester and Newport opened in June 1864. 

Route mileage increased from 370 miles of line and 3,020 miles of wire in August 1863 to 1,305 miles of line and 7,591 miles of wire in August 1864.

Due to pressure of business attracted by the 1s 0d message rate new circuits were also being installed on existing routes; two more between London and Nottingham, three between Nottingham and Wakefield, four more from Wakefield to Leeds, four wires from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, and seven new wires between Liverpool and Warrington. The new long line from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Glasgow also required more circuits.  Most of these improvements were intended to create direct circuits between large business centres.

Completely new lines were then under construction from Bristol to Plymouth and from Cardiff to Swansea, and to Dundee and Aberdeen alongside of the Scottish Central and Scottish North Eastern Railway companies. Short branches were being erected to Greenock in Scotland, North Shields in north-east England and a few other places to complete the system.

The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company's long line to the West of England, almost its last, was opened to Exeter in Devon on February 3, 1865.

A total of £213,133 had been expended on works by July 1864, with another £25,000 anticipated to finish its entire network, which was intended to total 1,658 miles of line and 9,318 miles of wire. 

The United Kingdom company had introduced a new tool in its campaign to extend its system. From 1862 it had had a 'road-show' led by Lord Alfred Churchill and William Andrews travelling the country for the purpose of raising 'subscriptions' in the various towns on its planned long lines, to make it a "consumers' company".  They were "asking for subscribers in the towns in the country to be embraced by their telegraphic communication, giving the subscribers stamped bonds, bearing 7½% interest. The system of getting subscriptions formed an intimate connection between the towns and the company; it made the town tied to them, and that had been a great strength of the Company hitherto."  The novelty was in the paying of the bond interest in telegraph message stamps rather than money. By January 1864 the Company had acquired 133 subscribers in Glasgow, 42 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 69 in Edinburgh and Leith and 53 in Hull, as well as others that totalled 734. This had increased remarkably by August 1864 to 1,148 subscribers, 1,000 of whom were people who made considerable use of the telegraph in manufacturing and business.  

In May 1863 the Board of Directors explained, "To raise capital the Company issue either the ordinary shares of the Company, or bonds bearing 7½ per cent interest per annum, payable half-yearly, in advance, in frank message stamps. Thus for each hundred pound bond, the bondholder is entitled to send seven pounds ten shilling worth of messages per annum, at the tariff for the time being of the Company," adding "the amount of interest paid in frank stamps constitutes but a small proportion of the sum annually spent by subscribers in sending telegrams."

The Company had been unable to place more shares above the 26,000 already issued given the lack of dividend or prospect of such. Hence the raising of capital through "stamped bonds".

With its massive annual growth in 1864 the state of its finances was approaching the untenable. In August 1864 it had raised £104,709 on its common shares (on which no dividend had yet been paid), £28,087 in bank loans, £15,902 in debentures, £29,266 in "stamped bonds" and £37,784 in open trade accounts. 

In the Board of Trade reports at the end of 1863 it had 831 miles of line and 48 telegraph stations, handling 226,729 messages; a year later it had 1,343 miles and 100 stations, with 518,651 messages; by 1865 it had 1,672 miles of line, 9,506 miles of wire, 125 stations and 358 instruments, and was working 743,870 public messages.

All of its principal telegraph apparatus, comprising American inkers and relays, was purchased from Siemens, Halske & Company of London. The Hughes type-printing telegraphs were bought of Gustave Froment in France.

United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company
Growth 1861 - 1865


From the Returns of the Railway and Telegraph Companies to the Board of Trade

The United Kingdom company had more than its fair share of accidents. At 11am on November 9, 1864 an explosion blew out the glass front, tore up the inner partitions and even threw over the heavy counter at its busy Liverpool station. There had been the smell of gas when the office opened and two messages had been sent to the gas office to call and inspect the pipes. A private gas fitter was then summoned who "took a light to examine the meter", causing the blast. Surprisingly the only injuries were minor cuts from flying glass. It was noted that the premises were not insured; saying something about its financial circumstances.

At the vital transmission station of the Company in Park Row, Leeds, where its long-lines north and south met, a line-man was re-insulating wire in the main switch box on December 4, 1864. Unfortunately the lamp used to warm the gutta-percha resin set the box on fire and destroyed the circuits within, isolating the office with its twenty-two instruments. Connection to London was restored by carrying an American telegraph and a battery of cells up to the roof and joining it directly to the overhead circuit wire. 

In the spring of 1865, just as its circuits reached Plymouth, its most westerly station, the Company's financing became critical. The 1s 0d rate, which the competitive Electric and Magnetic companies adopted wherever the United Kingdom opened offices, had produced traffic but not profit. Its Board, in some desperation, approached the two other telegraph firms; they speedily came to a temporary, secret agreement to subsidise the United Kingdom company. This was achieved by creating a national pool for messaging; the Company being contracted by the older two firms to transmit all messages north of Manchester, sharing the total income in arbitrary proportion. This subsidy lasted three months.  

In July 1865 the United Kingdom company joined the existing pricing agreement between the Electric and Magnetic companies and abandoned the 1s 0d national flat rate for twenty word messages. The three companies adopted a simple common zone tariff, 1s 0d within 100 miles, 1s 6d within 200 miles and 2s 0d beyond 200 miles, including delivery.

The struggle that the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company went through was summarised by W M Shaw, one of its district superintendents, in 1871:

 "With the United Kingdom company it was, as you say, sir, simply a struggle for life. We started a system that none of our clerks really understood, and we had to get inferior clerks from the other companies, and we had to train them from almost the very lowest point that you could train a clerk. I may say that in Manchester, where we first started, I found it necessary myself to establish a school, or schools, so far as this, that every clerk had to be put under a system of instruction, not only of manipulation but of regulating. We started with very bad wires, and we had to use relays, which required a certain amount of training, and the company were not in a position to pay very high salaries, and consequently we got somewhat unskilled clerks. Our system was to take them into the office and put them to the instrument, and to show them the simple arrangements for regulating, and in a very short time we found that they were able to manage their instrument and to regulate it, and afterwards to obtain a knowledge of batteries; but, as I said before, we were obliged to have a small staff, and we had to make the clerks-in-charge their own engineers. It became a standing rule with me, as the superintendent of the company, that every clerk-in-charge of a small station should not only be able to regulate his instrument, but that he should be able to make up a battery, and maintain a battery, and detect a fault in the instrument, and, if a simple one, repair it. The only way in which we could do this with the higher class of instruments which we afterwards used was by giving them some five or six weeks' instruction in the use of the instrument, which I may say was Professor Hughes'. Professor Hughes came over to England and gave us three months of instruction."

It had kept construction costs of its pole telegraphs to a minimum, its “timber” was to a poor specification and they were set with fewer per mile than on other lines, 12 rather than 8 to the mile. The insulators, of its engineer’s own design, were of the cheapest nature. To save further on money many of its smaller offices were accommodated in shop premises whose owners were rewarded not with rent but a share of message revenue as agents of the Company.

By 1866 as well as its Chief Office at 237 Gresham House, Bishopsgate Street, City, within what would now be called a block of offices, it had stations at 20 Cockspur Street, Charing Cross; 59 Cannon Street, City; 284 High Holborn; and 7 Mincing Lane, City, in London, working the Hughes type-printer. These effectively covered the residential and retail West End, the banking centre, the legal centre and the produce markets of the capital. In addition it had stations working the American telegraph at 2 Hercules Passage, Old Broad Street; 200 Fleet Street; 51 Mark Lane; 40 Gresham Street; and 64 New Bond Street.

Unlike the Electric and Magnetic companies, the United Kingdom did not contrive to build any regional networks to feed business into its long lines. Its principal traffic centres were London, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Gloucester, Nottingham, Glasgow and Aberdeen. It also had lines to Hull, Exeter and Cardiff. This left much of England, Wales and Scotland, in particular the South and East of the country, as well as all of Ireland, without any access to its circuits.

It achieved a total of 1,676 miles of line and 9,712 miles of wire in operation by mid-1867.

Always regarded as a risky investment given the well-established competition; the United Kingdom company financed its 1,700 miles of overhead line primarily with fixed-interest preference shares and with perpetual bonds on which a substantial 7½% interest was paid in telegraph message stamps. The ordinary shareholders received very little over the life of the Company. It had had to borrow nearly 40% of its capital, an enormous burden in interest payments, although a third of this was paid in its own stamps.

After six years operation, in September 1868, the United Kingdom company achieved its maturity, and gained a valuable new source of income, by connecting its circuits with those of continental Europe through a cable between Newbiggin-by-the-Sea in north-east England and Jutland in Denmark owned by the Dansk-Norsk-Engelske Telegrafselskab A/S, and in the following year by another between Norway and Scotland belonging to the Norsk-Engelsk Unterjøiskstelegrafselskab of Christiania (now Oslo), both of which were shortly afterwards absorbed into the Great Northern Telegraph Company of Copenhagen. This valuable continental traffic was routed through the United Kingdom company’s offices in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, and Aberdeen in Scotland.

As its final, if short-lived, triumph before it was appropriated by the government the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company contracted to send and receive messages for America from all of its London and provincial offices through France by the cable of the Société du câble transatlantique Français, despite its title, an English company, when that opened for public business on August 15, 1869. It worked in co-operation with the Submarine Telegraph Company to connect with Paris.

The United Kingdom's final Board of Directors comprised Alexander Angus Croll CE, chairman, Admiral Sir Henry Leeke KCB, KH, deputy chairman, Lord Alfred Spencer Churchill, Colonel William Elsey HEICS, the Hon Ralph Harbord, Prof David Hughes, Robert Bryce Hay, Edward Greaves, Edward W H Schenley and George Virtue. William Andrews was secretary and manager, then earning £1,150 a year. William Powell, the consulting engineer, received £50 a year as a retainer.

Eventually the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company obtained a capital of £352,247 with 1,692 miles of line (10,001 miles of wire). Only £137,480 was in ordinary shares, the balance was in £112,955 6% and 10% preference shares and £101,812 in debentures and loans at from 6% to 7½% interest. In 1868 its 270 clerks and 207 messengers handled 776,714 inland messages and 30,441 foreign messages.

Somewhat surprisingly the shareholders, at their final general meeting on December 9, 1870, awarded the directors £5,000, the manager and secretary, William Andrews, £1,000 and the remainder of the Company's staff £2,000 from the government's purchase money to reward them for their contribution to its survival.

Croll Testimonial 1871

The Croll Testimonial 1871
In silver and gilt, featuring Mercury at the head  and several ladies cradling scrolls and telegraph instruments around a globe by Stephen Smith
Gifted to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers by Angus Croll, who have recently had the piece gloriously restored

Even more surprising was the gift of a spectacular testimonial in silver plate to A A Croll, the Company’s chairman, at a banquet given and paid for by the late shareholders at Willis’s Assembly Rooms, 25 King Street, St James’s, on March 22, 1871. The piece, in the form of a fountain, was said to have cost a thousand guineas (£1,100).

k.] Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Company
Gaetano Bonelli was one of the instigators of electric telegraphy in Italy in the 1840s and 1850s advocating the American telegraph and is recognised as a pioneer of communication in his own country. In 1860 Bonelli obtained an English patent for the so-called 'typo-telegraph', a substantial desk-top apparatus in which a long rectangular carriage reciprocated on a set of rails beneath a bridge holding two sets of combs of electric feelers, one for sending, one for receiving messages, at the home and distant stations.  Messages were set in metallic type in a holder and inserted in the machine. The carriages at the sending and receiving stations were released simultaneously and moved under the bridge either by hand or mechanically by weights upon an acoustic signal. The set of feelers passed over the surface of the metal type making and breaking an electric circuit.  Each Bonelli line required from five to twenty wires, one for each feeler circuit, depending on the definition required in the message. The resulting pulses then copied the message set in the metal onto an electrically- activated chemical-treated paper tape on the other side of the carriage in the distant station. Service messages such as "go on," "stop," and "repeat," were made by a separate wire and bell.

The Bonelli typo-telegraph instrument was first exhibited in 1862. Using paper impregnated with manganese nitrate its elements produced a brown image. Only four were ever used in Britain. 

On trials in Manchester in 1863 it was found that a single clerk could 'set-up' twenty to twenty-five words in brass metal type in about 85 seconds and slide it under the feelers in six seconds. It was claimed that 20,000 words an hour printed in type could be transmitted by these means; a more realistic claim was for 200 words a minute. However each dispatch received on the chemically- treated tape had to be passed under a stream of water, blotted off, dried by hot rollers and put into an envelope before delivery.

 Bonelli's Typo-telegraph 1863
A large electro-chemical sender and receiver 

Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Company was formed by the owner of Bonelli's patent, Henry Cook, an American, of 69 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, and Eastbourne, in August 1860 with an initial capital of £25,000, and obtained an Act of Parliament on June 28, 1861 to acquire the patent and work it throughout the United Kingdom. Its secretary was Simon Rendall, a lawyer, also of 69 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, used as the Company's offices. Although Bonelli's telegraph was shown in the Italian section of the International Exhibition of 1862 it stalled for some years and it was not until July 1863, when it acquired a further Act to increase the Company's powers and capital, was progress made.

Exploitation of the Bonelli patent had had to wait until after 1862 when the protection provided by the competing patent of Frederick Bakewell for his chemical copying telegraph of 1848 expired.

At the General Meeting of February 2, 1863, Edward Grundy, a Manchester merchant, in the chair, revealed that the Company was "formed to test and if successful introduce Bonelli's telegraphic machines." It had lines in progress between Manchester and Liverpool, and "a number of lines connecting various important towns in the neighbourhood of Manchester," intending to have twenty stations along 120 miles of line with 900 miles of wire. It had, so far, expended "no promotional money".

In March 1862 Bonelli’s company stated that it intended to install a total of fifteen overhead wires from its office in Dale Street to Market Street, along Deansgate to the New River, which it was to follow to Liverpool, for completion by August. In fact it took until September 1863 to complete the Manchester to Liverpool circuit.

The long experimental line originally had what might be called a ‘high definition’ printing circuit of eleven wires, plus extra service wires; this was reduced to a lower definition of five wires with one service wire by February 1863. It required a substantial 300 cells, sixty cells per wire, to work a single circuit.

According to N J Holmes, a competitor, Bonelli's business model in 1863 was based on "a cheap tariff for paid public messages and an annual income on capital account derivable from the letting of private wires to manufacturers, and the selling of rights-of-way along their poles to any person applying".

The Company obtained its second Act of Parliament on July 28, 1863, which optimistically authorised a capital of £250,000, as well as powers to take on debenture debt, and it issued a new prospectus for a national network of Bonelli telegraphs. 

In 1863 Bonelli's "new" company attracted the Earl of Shrewsbury & Talbot to the chairmanship, as well as several substantial Manchester and Liverpool businessmen, including the glassmaker, John Pilkington. The power in the company still rested in the hands of Henry Cook, who styled himself managing director. He anticipated receiving £25,000 for the Bonelli patent, in return paying all the promotional expenses and settling outstanding debts, once the company was launched nationally. He also sought to buy out the circuits and wayleaves owned by the Economic Telegraph Company (q.v.) in Manchester to extend Bonelli's network.

It completed an experimental five message- and one service-wire line, a single Bonelli circuit, between 2 Dale Street, Liverpool and 2a Victoria Street, Manchester in northern England on September 19, 1863. Except for an underground section between Garston and Liverpool, this was erected roadside on poles. It charged a flat rate of 6d for a twenty word message, printing and issuing Telegraph Stamps in 3d, 6d, 9d and 1s 0d denominations, accounted as 3d for every 10 extra words.

The Company also produced for sale two books of 3d stamps; one containing with seven pages of twelve franks, the other with seven pages of six franks, stitched into paper covers.

The Bonelli company's largest engineering work was an aerial cable across the Mersey at the Runcorn Gap, supported on two 136 foot tall wooden masts. The aerial cable was carried away in a gale in December 1863 and the circuit between Liverpool and Manchester only restored in February 1864. It was damaged again by a ship's mast in March 1864, but speedily repaired.

On April 25, 1864, Bonelli's company was surprised to see the following in the London and Manchester newspapers:

"The Bonelli Telegraph System: The Directors of the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company (Limited), having seen it stated by the Bonelli Telegraph Company that the Bonelli instrument is more rapid and can be more economically worked than any other instrument, whilst it produced the message printed at both ends simultaneously, thus guarding against errors, beg to inform the public that the Hughes printer, the sole right to work which is possessed by the United Kingdom Company, requires only one wire instead of five, that the messages do not need first composing with type, nor any chemical solutions, that the messages are printed in ordinary print by the current itself at both ends simultaneously, and that only one clerk at each end is required to work the apparatus. The Directors of the United Kingdom Company challenge the Bonelli Company to a competitive trial of the system they propose with the system of the United Kingdom Company between Liverpool and Manchester, and are prepared to prove the Bonelli system, wire for wire, to be slower, infinitely more costly, and, from the number of wires required, impracticable. By order, W Andrews, Secretary."

Although initially welcoming the challenge, James Gutteres, the Bonelli company's secretary, contrived to avoid a direct comparison, and all that happened was a public display of the Bonelli machines in Manchester on May 2, 1864. This evasion cannot have helped the Bonelli company's cause.

However Henry Cook was a determined man. He had his son, Harry Whiteside Cook, take Bonelli's typo-telegraph apparatus on a tour of northern English and Scottish cities, during April and May 1864, even visiting Dublin and Belfast in Ireland. He demonstrated the new telegraph to potential investors and journalists in mercantile exchanges and public halls across the country.

For much of its short life the Company's board of directors consisted of the Earl of Shrewsbury & Talbot, chairman, Erskine Beveridge, Dunfermline, Albert Cooper, Manchester, Frederick Elin, London, Edmund Grundy, Manchester, Charles Stewart, Manchester, Henry Cook, Manchester, managing director, William Hamilton, Manchester, Charles Trueman, London, and William Hardinge Tyler, London.

James Gutteres, the Magnetic company's London manager, joined Bonelli's as Secretary in London on a salary of £200 a year. Robert Valentine Dodwell, who had previously been the Magnetic company's engineer in Manchester, managed its works, which were completed by Thomas Robinson & Son, timber merchants and manufacturers, of Oldham Road, Rochdale. Warren Thompson, an American, was employed as electrician. Its Bonelli printing instruments were manufactured by Elliott Brothers of 268 High Holborn, London, makers of scientific instruments.  

As well as facing fierce commercial competition, the share issue in March 1864 was ignored by the public and the Economic Telegraph Company sued for its money. The Courts froze its bank account and Bonelli's company failed in June 1864. By 1865 it was looking to lease its wires to other telegraph companies.

A Bonelli telegram 1863
Chemically-printed roman type formed from five elements 

In keeping with the tradition of telegraph companies having obscure and recondite mottoes, that for Bonelli's was Noi usitata nec tenui ferar penna, "I have not been borne by the accustomed wing, nor have I held the accustomed pen."

In 1867 its rump fell into the hands of Alexander Collie, a cotton-speculator from Manchester, who contrived to sell its rights to the government when it created a telegraph monopoly. The directors of the defunct company had been willing to sell-out for £5,000 but Collie challenged the valuation and got £22,000 from the Post Office, receiving 25% of the purchase money as his reward. In their final years Bonelli's and the South-Western of Ireland Telegraph Company shared the offices of Collie & Company at Leadenhall Street in London.

l.] The Economic Telegraph Company
The Economic Telegraph Company was established in August 1863 at Corporation Street, Manchester "prepared to construct and maintain private telegraph wires for merchants and others, between their mills, warehouses and private residences." It was formed by James Edward McConnell of 2 Dean's Yard, Westminster, whose address was also its "Chief Office", and George Hinton Bovill, of 24 Duke Street, Westminster and Durnsford Lodge, Wandsworth. McConnell had until March 1862 been locomotive superintendent of the London & North Western Railway, and had joined with Bovill, a well-known mechanical engineer, in the mid-1850s to acquire several metal-working patents. McConnell was closely associated with William Fairbairn's engineering works in Manchester.

McConnell and Bovill seem to have had a plan to create a "saleable" concern; assembling sufficient assets in the way of legislative authority and rights of way that together would pose a threat to existing telegraphic interests. This was a tactic that had grown up in the railway world during the 1850s and 1860s with a proliferation of over-capitalised branch lines that offered themselves for sale to competing, established major companies. As part of this, McConnell and Bovill contracted in August 1863 for Thomas Robinson & Son, timber merchants of Rochdale, who had supplied poles to the Universal Private TelegraphCompany and Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Company, to construct 94 miles of private wires, all on poles or roof-tops, in Manchester and Liverpool for £5,500. In addition to this they negotiated a series of twenty-one year wayleaves or rights of way in 1863 and 1864 alongside of the waterways across northern England from Liverpool to Hull totalling 400 miles. They commenced with the Aire & Calder Navigation Company, owning thirty-three miles of waterways between Leeds and Goole, and a branch of seven-and-a-half miles from Wakefield to Castleford, on August 21, 1863. This was followed quickly with the Calder & Hebble Canal, owning twenty-one miles of waterway between Wakefield and Sowerby Bridge, the Bridgewater Canal Trust, with a waterway between Liverpool and Manchester, and the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway Canals which connected Manchester with Ashton and Macclesfield. They also created the Economic Telegraph Company as a simple partnership to work private wires.

On January 9, 1864 McConnell and Bovill agreed to sell their assets to Henry Cook, managing director of Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Company for £11,000, and to assist in extending that company nationally. Although Bonelli's took over the working of their lines the deal collapsed and Bovill sued Bonelli's, obtaining an order to stop their very limited bank account and effectively ending the company's existence in June 1864.

In the latter half of 1864 the Economic Telegraph Company took back its Manchester and Liverpool lines and the private wire contracts there before launching into public telegraphy with a small local network during September, advertising a local message rate of 6d for twenty words, and making arrangements for the interchange of messages with other companies. Its public system extended, allegedly, over 12 miles of line, from Manchester to Oldham, Stockport, Buxton and Bolton, and "nearly" to Liverpool.

On November 21, 1864 the Magnetic Telegraph Company noted that the Economic company had opened a public line between Manchester and Oldham, and was offering a service from Manchester to Liverpool and London.  It collected a range of stationery from the new concern. The rate for twenty words from Oldham to Manchester was 6d, to Liverpool 1s 0d, and to London 1s 6d. The distant destinations were offered in co-operation with the United Kingdom Telegraph Company. It had attracted Charles Frederick Clyatt, formerly clerk-in-charge of the Electric Telegraph Company's Manchester office, who in 1863 was practising as a telegraph engineer in that city, to its employment.

The Magnetic soon ensured that the working in pool with the United Kingdom company ended; Mr Clyatt moved on and, in April 1866, felt it necessary to advertise the fact in the newspapers. That was the end of the Economic company's foray into public telegraphy.

The Economic Telegraph Company completed registration for joint-stock limited liability under the Companies Act 1862 on December 15, 1865. It had then, and for several years subsequently, seven shareholders, the minimum allowable in law.

In July 1865 the Company was widely advertising the "Abolition of High Rates for Private Telegraphs" in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and Birmingham. It offered line rental at £2 per mile per annum, and new French instruments, that "can be worked and read by anybody" at a rental of £2 per annum each.

Unperturbed by its set-backs McConnell and Bovill, the proprietors of the Economic Telegraph Company, found the money to obtain an Act of Parliament on July 16, 1866 with a capital authorised at £100,000 and powers to raise an additional £25,000 by borrowing. 

The new manager was David Leon Bensusan, with offices at the Economic company's former public station at 6 Lord's Chambers, Corporation Street, Manchester. He was to receive a salary of £156 per annum (£3 per week) and the cost of his railway season ticket into Manchester, £34 a year. 

It worked the Breguet galvanic dial telegraph in all its circuits, with electric bells made by local artisans.

On June 29, 1866 J E McConnell was writing to the Earl of Caithness, a director of the Electric Telegraph Company, that:

"I have been organising the formation of a body of gentlemen who agreed to carry out the development of our system and to find the whole capital (which unless otherwise disposed of) will now be done and we can see our way to make it pay well with private wires working in connection with public messages at low rates. We have at present about 100 miles of poles and wires radiating from Manchester. We have very valuable leases of rights of way over all the canals and navigations from Liverpool to Hull, including the Bridgewater Navigation, the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire (Railway) Canals & Navigations, Calder & Hebble Canal, &c."

"We consider the property now the Act is obtained worth £12,000 which the new company is to pay for all the wire rights of way and a present rental for private wires of around £300 a year. If it is worth the serious consideration of your company to acquire us and our Act it will have to be done at once before the shares are allotted."

McConnell and Bovill met Henry Weaver, secretary of the Electric Telegraph Company, on July 12, 1866. They claimed to work 127 miles of private wire and to rights over the property of the Bridgewater Trust, the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and the Aire & Calder canals, with overhead private wires in Liverpool and Manchester. They added that there were 70 miles of public wires "not at present employed". Since the pair was unable to provide any detailed accounts the Electric let the offer pass on July 30.

After this rejection none of the many canal and railway wayleaves negotiated by the Economic company were to be used for public telegraphy.

Charles Edward Matthews of Matthews & Smith, solicitors, of 29 Water Street, Birmingham, was writing to the Post Office on July 19, 1868 reiterating the offer made to Lord Caithness two years earlier. He repeated the list of assets, the canal rights and the Act of Parliament, indicating that £8,100 had been expended as capital and that its wires produced £300 a year in rentals.  The principle directors seem to have been Henry Howell, of 47 Anne Street, Birmingham, an accountant, and Jonah Andrew, of Moseley, Worcestershire.

Breguet galvanic dial telegraph
Used by the Economic Telegraph Company 1864 - 1868

By 1868 the Company had seventeen private wire clients: nine in Manchester, Rylands & Son, manchester warehousemen, with four circuits, S Hodgkinson & Co., yarn and cloth commission agents, G Andrews & Sons, cotton spinners and calico printers, F W Ashton, calico printers, S Schwabe, calico printers, Berger Spence & Co., chemical manufacturers, Chorlton Union, municipal authority, Thomas Milner & Son, Phœnix Safe Works, and Sharp, Murray & Co., manufacturers of ginghams and checks, contributing £234 in that year; eight in Liverpool, Hamilton's Windsor Iron Works of Garston, Higginson & Co., ship-owners, D Chadwick & Co., of Wavertree Rope Works, J Morrell & Co., provision merchants, Fairrie & Co., sugar boilers, Midland Railway Co., Blood, Wolfe & Co., brewers, and Carstairs, Drysdale & Co., merchants, all with single circuits, producing £170. Its commonest annual rental was around £18 a year. Its expenses included 60 wayleave agreements for poles and wires in Manchester, costing £18 per year, and 90 similar wayleaves in Liverpool that cost £9. The Breguet instruments were then in poor condition and its locally-made bells "all defective".

The line rented of the Economic company by Salis Schwabe & Company, calico printers and bleachers, running between their office in George Street, Manchester, and their great Rhodes' Mill, near Middleton, five miles distant, with two Breguet instruments and bells at £24 a year, is probably typical of the many private wires leased in the textile districts of Lancashire. This was the only contract that survived into 1871.

As four years previously, the chief office of the Economic Telegraph Company was still at 2 Dean's Yard, Westminster, where Charles Holmes was Secretary, on July 17, 1869. On that day the proprietors met and signed the assignment of its assets to the Post Office.

The government agreed to pay £15,000 for its network of private circuits in 1870, acknowledging its £8,000 valuation and paying twenty-years purchase of its rental income. Examination of its cash-book, which commenced in July 1866, showed that the Economic Telegraph Company had never made a profit and that the manager's salary and expenses consistently absorbed half the company's revenue. Mr Matthews, the Company's solicitor, had to harass the Post Office until 1875 to get the final instalment of its money.

m.] Reuter's Telegram Company
Reuter's Telegram Company was the last substantial domestic company to be formed, on February 15, 1865 with an initial paid-up capital of £80,000, before the British state took over. This did not offer direct public access as it was projected as a speculation by Julius Reuter to acquire his telegraphic news agency and, more importantly, the 30 year rights to a new underwater cable between Lowestoft in Eastern England and Norderney in Hanover, on the North German coast. Reuter displaced the Submarine Telegraph Company who previously had the Hanoverian landing rights. To fund the new cable Reuter's capital rose to £250,000.

The 224 mile long Norderney cable was engineered by Fleeming Jenkin, a former employee of R S Newall.  Construction of its four-wire circuit was let to the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company, who took one-quarter of the cost in shares, and then sub-contracted the work to W T Henley's Telegraph Works Company. It was a massive cable, the main part weighing 10½ tons to the mile, the 20 miles at the shore ends, 20 tons a mile; completed and in circuit on October 3, 1866 at a cost of £153,000 including its landlines in Hanover.  Reuter's company also possessed rights over lines connecting Norderney with the towns of Hanover, Hamburg, Bremen and Cassel granted by the government of the then independent German state of Hanover. After Prussia absorbed Hanover in July 1866 the concession was renewed but the cable head office had to transfer to Berlin. Reuter contracted with the Electric company to send and receive public messages for Europe and the Orient using one-quarter of the cable's capacity, in concert with that company's own Holland cables, for a period of five years from its completion.  

The enlarged Company was something of a speculation; its board of directors comprised John Dent, Sir John Dalrymple Hay, Bt, MP, FRS, Col James Holland (London & South Africa Bank), John Sydney Stopford (Agra & Masterman's Bank), and Julius Reuter. Its secretary was Frederick John Griffiths, who had joined Reuter in 1851 as a twelve-year old messenger.

It is not immediately clear why Reuter's Telegram Company was included in the government's appropriation scheme, as it had no circuits in Britain. It is probably sufficient to say that Julius Reuter and the other proprietors knew a good thing when they saw it. They were to receive a total of £725,000 for a company capitalised at £250,000. Alone among the companies appropriated by the Government Reuter's Telegram Company was reorganised in 1868. It then reverted to being a foreign news agency, with its original capital of £80,000.

As a point of detail, there has never been a Reuter's "Telegraph" Company; the firm's only name change since 1865 dates from 1916 when it became Reuters Limited.

n.] Det Store Nordiske Telegrafselskab A/S
This was the only foreign-owned telegraph company to access British circuits (if one excludes the French-registered Submarine Telegraph Company with its predominantly English capital); providing the Continental connection of the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company. Known then and now as the Great Northern Telegraph Company, it was a merger of the Danish, Norwegian & English, the Danish-Russian and the Norwegian & English Submarine telegraph companies, incorporated in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 1, 1869, with a capital of £400,000. The engineer responsible for its works was the Englishman, Nathaniel John Holmes. Its seal (above) featured the Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted.

The Danish, Norwegian & English Telegraph Company had been established on January 10, 1868, with a capital of £100,000 and the assistance of R S Newall, the makers of the original Channel cable, to connect those three countries with two cables. It also had financial support from the Danish government, without which it would not have been able to proceed. A few months later, on August 12, 1868, the Danish-Russian Telegraph Company was created in Copenhagen with a capital of £75,000. This series of cables in the Baltic Sea was enabled by a subsidised message rate from the Russian government, making it economically viable, to ensure that it had access to Britain and the rest of the world without passing through Prussia or France. The Baltic cables were made and laid by W T Henley of London.

The Norwegian & English Submarine Telegraph Company had been formed in Christiania, Norway, to connect to Britain by a cable avoiding Denmark; the closest point for landing the circuit, incidentally, being in Scotland, not England! This, too, was made by W T Henley.

The cores of all of the Great Northern company's early cables, before armouring and laying, were manufactured with india-rubber insulation by Hooper's Telegraph Works Company of London.

The Great Northern Telegraph Company owned on its formation six underwater cables: the Danish – Norwegian, the Moen – Bornholm (Denmark to a Baltic-Danish island), the Bornholm – Libau (to Russia), the Norwegian – Scottish (with a cable-end at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire) and the Swedish – Russian underwater cables; as well as the original Danish – English cable (the cable-end being at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland). As much of its capital originated in Britain it maintained an administrative office in London. 

The original cables were:

Sondervig to Newbiggin                                334 miles
Hirtshalts to Arendal                                     66 miles
Moen to Bornholm and Libau                    304 miles
Egersund to Peterhead                                 270 miles
Grislehamn to Nystad                                   96 miles

It also acquired in 1868 the lapsed Danish concession for the North Atlantic telegraph that intended to connect Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Canada by a series of short cables. This had been promoted by several British and American interests since 1854 but was never to be started.

The Company's English cable was opened on September 10, 1868 and the Scottish cable was completed on August 21, 1869. Within Britain, the Great Northern also built and owned a 33 mile overland circuit from the cable-end at Newbiggin to the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, and a 30 mile land circuit from its cable-end at Peterhead to Aberdeen in Scotland.

In 1870 the Great Northern company leased a land line of the Russian government from Moscow across Siberia to Lake Baikal and Kiachta on the Chinese border and hence to Posietta Bay on the Pacific coast from where it had Hooper's Telegraph Works Company of London lay a 1,200 mile underwater cable to Shanghai and one from there 1,100 miles on to Hong Kong in 1870; anticipating another cable from Posietta to Japan. The Company obtained a 30 year concession of the Imperial Russian authorities in return for 40% of its extension's income. The message charge was to be 100 francs or £4 for twenty words from St Petersburg or Moscow to any station in China or Japan. The Great Northern's land lines and cables were worked throughout from the beginning with Wheatstone's automatic telegraph and Varley's repeaters.

The Great Northern Telegraph Company is the only telegraphic concern mentioned in this work that still operates today.

o.] The Indo-European Telegraph Company
The Indo-European Telegraph Company was founded in 1868, just as the Government was legislating to appropriate the domestic telegraph companies. It was almost certainly intended to be a successor-enterprise for the proprietors and management of the Electric & International Telegraph Company. The Chairman of the 'Indo' was Robert Grimston; the Secretary and Manager was Henry Weaver, who had identical positions at the Electric. Its head office was at 16 Telegraph Street, next to the General Offices of the Electric company. Julius Reuter also had a substantial interest.

The Indo-European Telegraph Company was incorporated under the Companies Act 1862, as a simple joint-stock limited-liability company with a share capital of £450,000 in seventeen thousand shares each of £25 to construct an overland telegraph to India by special lines, in connection with the Government of India cables, through the Persian Gulf. An annual income of £85,000 was expected from 200 messages a day, which would provide a yearly dividend of 20%.

This capital compares with the £2,500,000 raised by the domestic telegraph companies, the £1,200,000 of the British-Indian Submarine Telegraph Company and the £250,000 of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.

The Indo-European Telegraph Company was registered and projected on April 8, 1868 to complete a line from London to Calcutta in competition with a planned all-submarine route. The circuit extended from Lowestoft to Emden in Prussia, then to Berlin to Thorn on the Vistula river in West Prussia, into Russia to reach Warsaw, Zhitomir, Odessa, Kertch, Suchum, Tiflis, Erevan, then to Djulfa in Persia through Tabreez to Teheran, then to Bushire on the Gulf, underwater to Kurrachee, through India to Calcutta on the Gulf of Bengal. Of the capital of £450,000, 80% was taken up in Britain and 20% by the Siemens companies in London and Berlin. Siemens financed their shareholding through the Rothschild, Schaafhausen and Mevissen banks.

The Siemens family were the power behind the Indo-European: they involved their three manufacturing companies, in Berlin, St Petersburg and London. They had used their close relationships with the director of the Royal Prussian Telegraphs, Colonel of Engineers Franz von Chauvin, and the head of the Russian telegraph administration, General of Engineers Karl Karlovich von Lüders to facilitate the concessions in those countries for the line in 1867. In addition the concessions for circuits through the dangerous territories in the Caucasus were negotiated by members of the Siemens family. Werner, Walter, Otto, Karl and William all visited Georgia in connection with the telegraph lines in the Caucasus from Tiflis to Kutaissi, Poti and Djulfa, and the separate wire from Tiflis to Baku. Siemens were to be paid £400,000 for the construction of the Indo line and £34,000 a year subsequently to maintain its length. 

Siemens Brothers in London and Siemens & Halske in Berlin jointly acquired a 25 year concession of the Russian government in St Petersburg for transit rights across the Empire to the Caucasus on October 22, 1867 in preparation for the scheme.

The Russian Vice-Royalty of the Caucasus was on the margins of the Empire; it had been nominally subdued in a vicious war in the 1830s but was in a constant state of tribal unrest. The Russian Army had a substantial presence and required communications. Lüders had managed the creation of a basic military telegraph from Moscow to Tiflis in Georgia and Erevan in Armenia. Although this had been relatively inexpensive to construct, just a single wire on wooden posts, it was expensive in money and lives to maintain. Lüders was convinced that this militarily-essential telegraph could be made more efficient by having the English mercantile interests in London and India pay for a replacement, effectively subsidising Russian communications. The risks of wires through the Caucasus were such that Siemens proposed an in-shore underwater cable between Kertch and Suchum rather than land-lines in the interior. The gangs erecting the line in the Caucasus and in Persia were given an armed escort of cavalry.

Although Walter Siemens was initially unsuccessful in Teheran after several months of talks, Georg Siemens eventually convinced the Persian government to accept 12,000 Tomans per annum on January 11, 1868 as the price of the wayleave, as well as a share of the cost of each message sent through its wires.

The commitment of the Siemens family to the Indo was total; Walter Siemens, on his way home from Persia in 1868, and Otto Siemens, supervising the construction works in 1871, both died of illness in the South Caucasus and are buried at Tiflis in Georgia.

The whole line from London to Calcutta was to be 6,900 miles in length. Of the 3,725 mile segment of this circuit between Emden and Teheran the Company were required to build 2,900 miles as new through Russia and Persia, as well as the 110 mile submarine cable in the Black Sea between Kertch and Suchum. For part of the line, through the wild Caucasus and Persia regions, cast-iron poles with iron capped insulators for its overhead wires were used. The bulk of the materials were provided from Britain by Siemens Brothers.

The Indo directly owned only the circuit between Emden and Teheran, it leased circuits from the Electric in England, from Reuter in the Norderney cable from Lowestoft to Hanover, Persian overhead lines south of Teheran, the 1,400 mile long British-Indian cable from Bushire to Kurrachee, and across India to Calcutta. As part of its concessions the Indo provided an extra third circuit in its Black Sea cable, as well as through the Caucasus and on its Persian overhead lines for Russian and Persian domestic traffic. 

The königlich preussischen Telegraphen-Direktion, the Royal Prussian telegraphs,  constructed a line of two wires from Norderney to Thorn on the Russian border. Siemens continued these two wires from Thorn to Balta by way of Warsaw in Russia, using heavy oak poles. They continued their construction to Odessa, Kertch and Ekaterinodar in the north Caucasus. These wires were on Siemens patent iron posts. There was a four miles cable under the Dnieper river and a fifteen mile cable across the Straits of Kertch, as well as the longer three-core Black Sea cable to Suchum.

For the Persian sector Siemens shipped 11,000 iron posts, 33,400 insulators and 900 miles of iron wire from St Petersburg to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea by the Neva and Volga rivers and canals. These were then taken by ship to the Persian Caspian ports of Lenkoran, Astora and Resht.

Of the new construction, the three wires of the isolated Persian section between Djulfa on the Russian border and Teheran, 480 miles, was opened by the Indo in August 1868, connecting to Erevan and Tiflis.

The circuit was completed after two years construction throughout to Calcutta on April 12, 1870.

The short underwater cable was almost immediately broken by an earthquake on July 1, 1870, and had to be replaced by a coastal land line during 1871.

The Company adopted Siemens adaptation of Wheatstone's automatic telegraph for its circuits and Varley's relay that allowed point-to-point transmission on its very long lines. It advertised that all of its messages were received on recording inkers for accuracy and that it used the English language with English operators throughout its system.

A twenty word message from London to Calcutta was estimated as costing £3 10s, this was to be split between the Electric Telegraph Company and Reuters Telegram Company 3s 3d, Prussia 1s 9d, Russia 3s 6d, Persia 8s 0d, the British India cable between Bushire to Kurrachee 16s 3d and for the Indian telegraphs 8s 8d, totalling £2 5s; the balance going to the Indo-European Telegraph Company. The agreement for these rates was negotiated with the recalcitrant Prussian and Russian members of the International Telegraph Conference by William Siemens personally.

In 1870 messages could be sent from any office of the Electric & International Telegraph Company or from the offices of the Indo to Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and all places west of Chittagong. Messages reached Teheran by automatic relay in just one minute; Calcutta was reached in twenty-eight minutes. 


The Indo-European Telegraph Company in 1870
Although working a line from London to Calcutta it actually only owned the
circuit from Norderney in Hanover to Teheran in Persia
Click on image for larger version, click on Previous Page to resume

The Department
The Indo-European Telegraph Company is often, and unsurprisingly, confused with the Indo-European Telegraph Department of the British-Indian Government. The Department worked overland telegraphs in South Persia to connect the lines of the Ottoman Turkish system and the British cables to India. It was based on a convention between London and Teheran dated February 6, 1863. A line was erected by Government engineers between Khanaquin on the Persian-Ottoman border by way of Hamadan and Kermanshah to the British-Indian cable head at Bushire on the Gulf coast. This was opened for messages on March 1, 1865. As messages on the Department's line had to be transcribed twelve or fourteen times, by Armenian, Greek, Turkish, French and Italian clerks, the messages in that year took an average of 6 days, 8 hours and 44 minutes to travel from London to Kurrachee.

A further convention in April 1868 allowed the Department to build an overhead line from Bushire along the Persian coast to Gwadur in British India which was connected to Kurrachee so as to avoid reliance on the underwater cables. The average message times for telegraph messages between London and India, showing the improvements in the Ottoman circuits and, in particular, the effect of the Indo-European Telegraph Company, were:

via Turkey……..Days……….. Hours…….Minutes

via Russia……..Days………...Hours……..Minutes

The alternative, riskier submarine cable, sponsored by the Magnetic company's interests, was to be laid across the Bay of Biscay, into and along the Mediterranean Sea, down the Red Sea and across the north Indian Ocean. This was completed in 1871.

The Indo-European Telegraph Company was not affected by the Government's acquisition policy.

Indo Line 1865

Siemens iron pole with its three 'iron-clad' insulators in Persia in 1965
A relic of the Indo-European Telegraph Company

Apart from the obvious break in working between August 1914 and August 1923 the Indo was in continual operation until its concession in Persia was terminated in 1931, and the wires abandoned. Siemens engineering was so substantial that its iron posts of 1870, each still with three iron-capped insulators, are still visible on the Caucasian coast and in the Persian desert.

It was here that the era and the legacy of W F Cooke, Charles Wheatstone and the Electric Telegraph Company, the first 'Lords of Lightning', finally ended.

p.] Other Companies
Several railway companies worked public telegraphs independently of the telegraph companies: 

The South Eastern Railway Company
The South Eastern Railway had the fourth largest mileage of public electric telegraphs in Britain. It had an original Cooke & Wheatstone licence dating from 1841 and connected with the Electric company for national messages. Its superintendent, C V Walker, made serious contributions to electrical science; in railway signalling, cable-laying and the precise transmission of time signals from its station at Greenwich Observatory to its terminus at London Bridge.

The railway opened its telegraph system to the general public on September 1, 1846, connecting all its stations between London and Dover, Folkestone, Ramsgate and Margate.

In March 1850 the South Eastern Railway's entirely self-contained system comprised 182 miles of line with 47 telegraph stations, these utilised 77 instruments and 2,200 galvanic cells. All of these circuits were in the form of No 8 gauge galvanized iron wire suspended from brown earthenware insulators on wooden posts. Its equipment was entirely to Cooke & Wheatstone's patents, with two-needle and one-needle apparatus for messaging, and magnets-and-bells for train management. The railway company organised its circuits in a similar manner to those of the Electric Telegraph Company, with stations arranged in closed groups or divisions of six or seven.

SER Clementine 1849

The steamer Princess Clementine 1849
Laying the first telegraph cable in the open sea in January 1849

On January 10, 1849 the Princess Clementine with C V Walker on board steamed out of Folkestone harbour into the English Channel towards France paying out a weighted gutta-percha insulated cable made by J & T Forster of Streatham. At 12.45 pm he used a single-needle telegraph to exchange greetings with the South Eastern Railway Company's board of directors at London Bridge station over two miles of submarine wire and 83 miles of land line. Later in the day Walker reeled-in the cable and was to re-use it in a railway tunnel, leaving it to others to complete the underwater telegraph to France.

Folkestone Cable 1849

Landing the first cable at Folkestone Harbour 1849
Connecting with the South Eastern Railway's circuit to London

Walker and the South Eastern Railway continued to be involved in underground and underwater telegraph cables. Its first experimental gutta-percha insulated wire had been bought of J & T Forster on November 11, 1848. Eight wires made by Forster's for the railway were laid in two metallic tubes through Folkestone harbour in September 11, 1850. They were still viable in 1859. A two-core cable was laid under Deptford Creek on January 6, 1853, and another under the Stour river at Sandwich on August 30, 1853. Its underground wires were then made by Nickel's Gutta-Percha Company of Lambeth. On March 12, 1859 Walker used Silver's newly-patented india-rubber insulated wire for a cable through the Martello Tower tunnel at Folkestone.

Charles Dickens’ ‘Household Words’ magazine called upon Walker at Tonbridge in 1851, publishing the interview with the title “Wings of Wire”:

“In the telegraph room at Tonbridge, the central station of the South Eastern Company, we find the superintendent of that system, Mr C V Walker, seated before a very business-like, but in a way remarkable, table, covered with papers. The apartment is small; for science, again, claims but little houseroom. Upon the shelf, are a few specimens of apparatus. On one side of the wall, run numerous electric wires, concentrating above a kind of side-board or counter, on which there stands a row of the telegraph instruments, looking at first glance, not unlike the counter-fittings of a very gay public-house; on close observation, like the fronts of little mahogany churches, with very large clocks. Under the counter you may see a number of galvanic batteries - wooden troughs filled with alternate plates of copper and zinc, buried in sand that has been saturated with sulphuric acid water. These batteries generate the electro-galvanic fluid that is to be sent on its eternal round through wires and earth, the interpretation of which is to set the needle in motion that messages may be read between Tonbridge and London or Dover, or any other station on the line.”

“Some of the instruments have, on their large clock-looking faces, only one vibrating needle, whilst others have two. The needles, in the improved instruments, are much smaller and lighter than those first constructed; it being naturally demonstrated by experience that the smaller needle turned the more readily and quickly on its axis.”

“Mr Walker’s fairer and better half is mistress [of the telegraph alphabet], and both despatches and reads messages with great facility, by a little electric telegraph established between the Tonbridge Station and his private house.”

The mystery of the telegraph evaporated quickly in regular service on the railways, in one instance the message was asking that “a pounds worth of coppers” be sent by the next train to make up the change in the station’s till.

South Eastern Railway Company Telegraphs in 1850
The only wholly-independent railway network,
that worked from 1841 until 1868
Click on image for larger version, click on Previous Page to resume

The South Eastern Railway's telegraph stations divided into three categories: those at London Bridge, Tonbridge, Ashford, Folkestone and Dover were open twenty-four hours a day; Red Hill, Reading, Tunbridge Wells, St Leonard's, Hastings, Maidstone, Canterbury, Deal, Ramsgate, Margate, Blackheath, Woolwich Arsenal, Gravesend and Strood were open from 7.30am until 10pm during weekdays and between 8am and 10am, 1pm to 3pm and 6pm to 9pm on Sundays to allow attendance at Divine Services; all of its other stations were open 8am to 8pm each weekday, and 8am to 10am and 7am to 8pm on Sundays.
During 1855 the railway had 285 miles of telegraph line and 1,083 miles of wire, with 73 stations and 130 instruments. In that year it transmitted 35,698 public messages.

Its message rates for twenty words from January 1, 1856 on its own circuits were 1s 0d for twenty miles, 1s 6d for from 25 miles to 50 miles and 2s 0d beyond 50 miles. Addresses were sent free but there was a 1s 0d additional charge for messages sent on Sunday. Until the mid-1860s these were the only telegraph circuits in Britain that worked on the Sabbath. 

The railway introduced its own telegraph stamps on September 1, 1860. In the following year of 1861 it had 309 miles of line, 2,432 miles of wires, 89 telegraph stations and 135 instruments to work 55,085 messages.

In May 1862 Walker had a very special pair of miniature single-needle telegraph instruments made at the railway’s instrument works at Tonbridge for the visiting Viceroy of Egypt, carrying the Pasha’s monogram on their faces. They were permanently connected by a 30 yard cable clad in green silk, made and insulated with india-rubber by Wells & Hall in Southwark. It was identical with a set of portable telegraphs used on Queen Victoria’s royal railway trains. The set was delivered to the Viceroy’s yacht off Greenwich. The vulgar press claimed it was to be used in his seraglio. 

By 1863 the South Eastern Railway had 316 miles of line and 2,642 miles of wire with 94 public telegraph stations and carried 62,968 messages. There were in all 299 stations divided into 1) 94 public stations and 205 railway-business stations, 2) 138 speaking and 161 non-speaking stations, 3) 152 bell stations for signalling, 96 bell stations for hearing only, 51 non-bell stations, and 4) 161 stations with bells only, 56 stations having instruments and bells for public use, 31 stations having instruments and bells for railway use, 38 stations with instruments only for public use, and 13 stations with instruments only for railway use. The system was worked with Cooke & Wheatstone's needle telegraphs and C V Walker's bells by 6,900 cells, mostly Walker's graphite batteries.

In April 1864 the South Eastern Railway established working arrangements with the Magnetic and London District Telegraphs for the exchange of messages, as well as with the Electric.

In 1865 the South Eastern managed 323½ miles of line and 3,064½ miles of wire. There were then 104 public telegraph stations working 159 instruments, sending 88,711 messages and producing £6,000 in income.

Although long connected with the Electric company the South Eastern Railway granted wayleaves to the Magnetic Telegraph Company for circuits over its rail lines when the Magnetic had to replace its failing roadside gutta-percha cables to the south coast and, especially, to the Submarine company's cable end for Europe at Dover. These new circuits eventually totalled 1,355 miles of wire for which the South Eastern bargained hard and obtained £1,390 in rent per annum, the largest annual wayleave payment paid by a telegraph company. 

In the years 1866 the South Eastern possessed 333 miles and in 1867 and 1868 it had 351 miles of line, with 113 public telegraph stations.

SER London Bridge 1849

The telegraph office at the London Bridge terminus
of the South Eastern Railway in 1849

The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Company
The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, which had rails to the west of the South Eastern Railway and to the east of the London & South-Western Railway, was fifth in terms of public telegraph line. It began to work its circuits independently from 1856 when it had 43 miles of line, 86 miles of wire and 10 stations, sending 1,199 messages. This had grown to 192 miles of line, 396 miles of wire, and 35 telegraph stations with 131 instruments by 1861, when it managed 21,680 messages. 

By 1863 the Brighton had 212 miles and 541 miles of wire, 46 telegraph stations, and was working 43,208 messages. By 1865 it expanded to 240 miles of line, 57 stations and 66,523 messages. Although it managed its own telegraph system the Brighton's circuits were in connection with those of the Electric company. In the final two years, 1867 and 68, it worked 284 miles of line, in which latter year it had 104 telegraph stations.

The London, Chatham & Dover Railway
In 1868 the recently-created London, Chatham & Dover Railway worked 140 miles of telegraph line and 50 public message stations. It was a speculative promotion of Morton Peto, the great railway contractor, lately a director of the Electric Telegraph Company, and his allies in 1861 set to challenge the continental monopoly of the South Eastern Railway. It imitated the South Eastern in working its own telegraphs, and likewise allowed the Electric Telegraph Company to work long line traffic over its system, whilst retaining the local business.

Other Railway Companies
By 1868 the relationship between the railway companies that owned the rights-of-way between the centres of population and the two major telegraph companies that provided electrical communication had increased in complexity.

In the original mature business model dating from 1852 the telegraph company provided the railway with separate circuits for its own internal messaging and for signalling or traffic control in return for the rights for public messaging for a period of years. This model was the commonest business relationship until the Post Office appropriation.

From the mid-1850s, as the railways grew familiar with the operation of the telegraph, and especially in the late 1860s, when the government first showed interest in appropriating the telegraph companies, a small number of railway companies sought to own and work public messages as well as their internal messaging and signalling circuits. This came about as their wayleave agreements with the telegraph companies gradually expired and came up for renegotiation.

In the last five years of their independent existence the telegraph companies adopted a policy of licensing other railway companies, as their original agreements expired, to work public telegraphs in connection with their systems. This would give the railways another source of income and an additional incentive to oppose the government’s plot to appropriate the telegraphs. The Lancashire & Yorkshire; London, Chatham & Dover; North British; Caledonian and Taff Vale Railway companies were among the largest to commence working their own telegraphs, keeping the revenues for the  circuit segment alongside their rails. The government in any appropriation would have to buy out these rights as well as the wayleaves or rights-of-way.

Only the three competing railway companies in the South-of-England and the two in Scotland generated any significant telegraph message traffic. The large telegraph mileage owned by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway was worked on its behalf by the Magnetic company, a unique arrangement.

In comparison with the 16,879 miles of line worked by the telegraph companies 1868, the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway had 432 miles of public telegraph line; the South Eastern 351 miles; the London, Brighton & South Coast 284 miles and the London, Chatham & Dover 140 miles, out of 4,871 miles worked by railways.

The railway companies, flush with new capital, had consolidated in the 1860s. This led to them inheriting contracts of various terms and provisions with telegraph companies through their acquisitions. The North British Railway, for example, had agreements with the Electric, the Universal Private and the Magnetic companies. It came to a new agreement with the Electric on December 1, 1867 to rationalise its several contracts and began to work its own public telegraphs on those circuits, allowing the Electric to work long lines alongside of its rails and to handle external traffic. The railway then adopted a flat rate, 1s 0d for twenty words, on these local circuits and achieved a substantial telegraphic revenue.

According to the Post Office there were 96 railways having working agreements with the telegraph companies in July 1868 under the different relationships; with 13,470 miles of line and 54,724 miles of wire in circuit.

The overwhelming bulk of public messages continued to be handled by the three national telegraph companies, who, of course, managed all of the city-to-city long lines and foreign traffic.

The Mersey Docks & Harbour Board
The Mersey Docks & Harbour Board, created in 1856 by merging the municipally- owned Liverpool and Birkenhead docks, decided to replace the long-established optical marine telegraph, that advised it of approaching vessels and which extended seventy miles from Chapel Street, Liverpool, over nine semaphore signal stations at Bidston, Hilbre Island, Prestatyn, Colwyn Bay, Great Orme's Head, Puffin Island, Point Lynas and Llanrhyddlad to the observation and reporting post on Holyhead Mount off Anglesey island, North Wales. It had cost on average £1,500 per annum to work.  

On February 7, 1851 the Electric Telegraph Company had previously proposed a land circuit to the Docks Committee, predecessor of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board, which would replace the optical telegraph between Liverpool and Holyhead, reducing the coastal stations by three. It would cost the Docks £800 per annum. Its offer was rejected.  

Realising the wintertime weaknesses of its semaphores, during March 1856 the Board sought estimates for an electric circuit from Liverpool to Holyhead, with seven seaside stations. The Electric company quoted £6,400 for construction of a railway and overland line and £500 per annum in maintenance. The Magnetic company proposed to build a roadside and overland line from Holyhead to Woodside, Birkenhead, for £7,000 and a short cable across the Mersey for £130. It also wanted £500 a year to operate seven coastal stations for ten hours a day.

The Board rejected these and proposed on September 19, 1857 a private two-wire electric telegraph extending from Liverpool to the lighthouse at Point Lynas on Anglesey, which would become the new ship reporting station and on to Holyhead. It was planned in three short inshore underwater sections: from Liverpool to Birkenhead across the River Mersey; from Hilbre Island off the Wirral peninsular to the Point of Air across the mouth of the River Dee; and from Great Orme's Head to Point Lynas, totalling 22½ miles of cable, connected across the Wirral, along the North Wales coast and across Anglesey by 56 miles of overhead land wires along the roads. The engineer was Lionel Gisborne and the cables were manufactured by Glass, Elliot & Company of Greenwich and laid by them on July 9, 1859 by the chartered steamer Resolute.

Twenty-five miles of cable were made with two No 16 gauge copper cores insulated to No 3 gauge with gutta-percha and armoured with twelve No 6 gauge iron wires. It weighed 3 tons 2 cwt per mile.

This was the first telegraph in Britain made with public (albeit municipal) funding. It duplicated the Electric's long extant public circuit alongside of the coastal Chester & Holyhead Railway, so was essentially superfluous. Being inshore its underwater cables were easily damaged by ships' anchors and weather. The line between Great Orme's Head and Point Lynas soon ceased working and the cable taken up in late in 1860, to be replaced by a land line across the Conway and Menai Straits road bridges. The Mersey cable was also repeatedly broken and an alternate inland circuit routed via Chester. A new cable was laid in 1862. In all the Harbour Board spent £16,290 between 1858 and 1862 on building, repairing and re-routing the cables and land lines between Liverpool and Holyhead.

The Harbour Board eventually retained only the rump of the Holyhead telegraph, the section from its Pierhead offices in Liverpool to Bidston Hill on the Wirral peninsular and, farther west, to Hilbre Island, at the entrance to the river Dee. It maintained lighthouses and telegraph stations at both these places for reporting shipping and "for signalling the lifeboat". In 1866 the Liverpool Observatory moved from the Harbour Board's Pierhead to Bidston. There were continued disputes between the Harbour Board and the Customs and the Coast Guard over use of these private wires in reporting wrecks; priority being given to informing the ship-owners and underwriters on the Liverpool Exchange.

The Mersey Docks & Harbour Board, after much consideration, sought tenders on June 24, 1859 for a public telegraph serving all of its dock property along the Liverpool or east shore of the Mersey, extending five miles from north to south. The Dock Telegraph was to have eleven stations, five owned by the Board. The Dock Telegraph Company had been pre-emptively promoted in 1858 by the Liverpool-based Magnetic Telegraph Company to work a similar line. The Harbour Board determined to keep independent control but still contracted for the Magnetic company to install their instruments along the new line, whose circuits cost them £363 to erect. A message rate of 6d for twenty words was fixed, with priority given to Harbour Board traffic. It was opened in April 1860.

John Sacheverell Gisborne was Telegraph Engineer to the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board in October 1862. He replaced his brother, Lionel Gisborne who had died in 1861, who also had been involved in engineering submarine cables in the Mediterranean and Red Seas since 1855 with another brother, Francis.

As the Harbour Board's docks in Birkenhead on the opposite side of the Mersey were not served by the Dock Telegraph, after many complaints in 1866, the competitive Electric Telegraph Company opened new offices convenient to the several dock entrances there.   

Neither did the Dock Telegraph meet the urgent needs of the ship-owners and underwriters on Liverpool Exchange; the Harbour Board was compelled to open up its dock property to the circuits of the Universal Private Telegraph Company in 1865.  Private wires were then run from the individual docks and the pier head to business chambers in Liverpool. 

The public circuits of the Board’s Dock Telegraph were taken over by the Post Office in 1870; the cost of this unforeseen acquisition was never revealed.  

The South of Ireland Cable 
In early January 1862, the London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company, with an authorised capital of £100,000, prepared to lay an underwater 62 mile four-core cable between Milford in Wales and Greenore Point, near Wexford in Ireland. The Chairman was Lord Fermoy,  Lord Lieutenant of Cork, its Secretary was Lewis Cooke Hertslet and its engineer was Nathaniel J Holmes; the latter pair holding similar positions with the Universal Private Telegraph Company. Latterly the Secretary and Manager was William Alves Travers Cummins, a relative of the Cunard steam shipping family. From this initial project Holmes was to become engineer to many other domestic and international cable companies. This, the third route (and fourth cable) between Britain and Ireland, although with independent capital, was worked by the Electric Telegraph Company as part of its circuits, using the American telegraph. As its name implied it gave faster access from England to southern Ireland, especially to the proposed cable-head for America on Valentia Island in the south-west of the country and the important ports of Cork, Queenstown, Waterford and Wexford.

The Ireland Direct company's powers included a concession for a station at Roche's Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour where the pilots resided, enabling telegrams to be sent from the ocean steamers before the mail tender came out from Queenstown. For this line it used the Universal telegraph, which spelt out the alphabet and did not need knowledge of any code.

The four circuits of the South-of-Ireland company’s cable were intended to be insulated with india-rubber by S W Silver & Company of Silvertown, London, who also provided their patent ebonite insulators for the associated two-wire overhead land line in Ireland.

In somewhat mysterious circumstances a competitor appeared on January 21, 1862, initially called the St David’s Head & Wexford Telegraph Company, latterly known as the London & Queenstown Direct Telegraph Company, with a capital of £30,000. As it was to transpire the Queenstown company raised sufficient money to commission the Gutta Percha Company and Glass Elliot & Company to make and lay its own four-core gutta-percha insulated cable on the shorter route between Abermaw Bay in South Wales and Wexford on March 28, 1862. Glass Elliot, the contractors, were to guarantee the cable for eleven years of service. This left the South-of-Ireland company in possession only of land lines and cross-river cables in Ireland connecting Wexford with Cork.

The combined connection eventually comprised 454 miles of wire, these in 50 miles of land line between Cork, Waterford and Wexford in Ireland, in a short cable across the Blackwater river at Youghal, another across Cork Harbour and in the 62 mile underwater cable from Wexford to Abermawr where it connected at Milford with the Electric’s existing circuits along the South Wales Railway to Cardiff and London. 

Both the cable of the London & Queenstown Direct Telegraph Company and the Irish land lines of the London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company were absorbed and worked as one by the Electric company from their completion in March 1862.

The South-Western of Ireland Telegraph Company
The South-Western of Ireland Telegraph Company joined Cork city with Crookhaven, a village on County Cork's far-southern coast, with an 85 mile landline in December 1863. It was built by Siemens Brothers as a marine telegraph to report Atlantic shipping arrivals, to forward private messages and, especially, to provide early news from civil war-torn America, as a promotion of Julius Reuter. The fast Cunard liners from New York to Liverpool carried a watertight container filled with telegraph messages from throughout America and Canada and, after crossing the Atlantic, dropped it off Crookhaven where the telegraph company's steam tender Marseilles picked it up. The messages were then brought ashore and re-transmitted by the South-Western company's telegraph to Britain and Europe, a half-day before the Cunard liner reached Liverpool. In addition to Reuter in London the South-Western forwarded news for the Associated Press of New York, whose European offices were at 10 Exchange Street East, Liverpool.

Although financially unviable, the Company's lines were bought by the Electric company in June 1864; the canisters of messages were still being picked up in 1872. While it was independent its secretary and manager was George Saward, of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. As a corporate relic it was acquired by Alexander Collie, a cotton-speculator, who anticipated selling its rights to the government in 1868.
The canister exchange imitated a similar service that had a steamer waiting off Cape Race, Newfoundland, to swap containers with inbound and outbound Cunard steamers in the early 1850s, working from the telegraph station at St John's, Nova Scotia. 

The Magnetic Telegraph Company raced with Reuter to open a circuit from Cork though Skibbereen to Baltimore and a cable to Cape Clear on Clear Island, in the extreme west of County Cork. It opened in November 1863. Crookhaven proved more convenient for the news traffic and Cape Clear was used as a meteorological station. The Magnetic had a similar station at Greencastle at the mouth of Lough Foyle in communication with Londonderry in Ulster that took containers from the Inman liners between Liverpool and New York and the Anchor Line steamers to Glasgow.

The West Highland Telegraph
Although established to lease-out private wires the Universal Private Telegraph Company erected and worked the West Highland Telegraph, a long line for public use, through some of the wildest parts of Scotland. It ran from its hub in Glasgow through industrial Dumbarton to Helensburgh, into the highlands to Inverary, Ardrishaig and Campbeltown on the isolated Cantyre (Kintyre)  peninsula, a distance of 130 miles. The line was completed throughout on September 4, 1865. The West Highland Telegraph went to the trouble of issuing telegraph stamps to encourage its public business. A further 18 miles of private line extended from Campbeltown to the lighthouse on the Mull of Cantyre for the Glasgow shipping interests.

In Scotland the Universal company also built public lines from Glasgow to Oban and Rothesay and opened a public circuit in its private lines to Greenock. It opened, too, public circuits on its private wires from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Blyth, Chester-le-Street and Sunderland in north-east England. Their history is explained in the chapter on "The Universal Telegraph".

Independent Companies
A new Joint-Stock Limited Liability Companies Act of 1856 permitted the general formation of corporate concerns, this became even more liberal, regarding capital-raising powers, with the Companies Act 1862; in addition the Telegraph Act 1863 allowed all incorporated companies to make lines of telegraph for their own use or for public messaging. The Electric Telegraph Company encouraged local capitalists to use this to finance circuits that it felt were otherwise unviable. It then put them in circuit with its own lines. 

The Gloucester & Sharpness Electric Telegraph Company was promoted during 1858 with a capital of £500 in 50 shares to make and work a 16 mile line alongside of the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal in the rural west of England. It actually raised £640, including money borrowed from local bankers and the canal company. The circuit cost £520 to construct. It primarily recorded ship-canal traffic, managing 500 messages per year and paid an annual dividend of 3% to its shareholders in 1859. It had offices at Commercial Road, Gloucester, supervised by Henry Waddy, the secretary.

The Poole, Bournemouth & South Coast Printing Telegraph Company was formed in 1859 with capital of £500. It was promoted by William Mate, owner of the 'Poole & South-Western Herald', and ran from the paper's office in High Street, Poole to the office of James Rebbeck, a property developer, in Southbourne Terrace, Bournemouth in the West of England. Of its capital only £312 12s 7d was expended and its message rate of 6d for ten words produced an income of £517 17s against costs of £441 12s 5d in the four year period from 1860 to July 1864; leaving enough for an annual dividend of 6% (£7 19s!). Messages had to be carried from Poole to the Electric company's circuit at Hamworthy on the South Western railway.

The Bodmin, Wadebridge, Padstow, St Columb & New Quay Telegraph Company worked a small network on the isolated north coast of Cornwall, totalling 36 miles of roadside overhead wires from about 1865. It connected with the London & South-Western Railway's circuits at Wadebridge.

Other "independent" lines established after the new Companies Act of 1862 included the Portadown & Gilford Telegraph Company, a private circuit owned by Dunbar, McMaster & Company, proprietors of a major flax spinning mill in Ulster; the Whitworth Telegraph Company, owned by Joseph Whitworth, the steel master, to serve his works in Manchester; the Abergavenny & Crickhowell Telegraph Company of six miles in South Wales; and the Yarmouth & Kingston Telegraph Company, a fifteen mile long marine line, primarily for reporting ship movements, terminating at St Catherine's Point on the Isle of Wight. 

The Coast Telegraph Company was promoted by Charles West, a telegraph engineer, to form a series of marine telegraphs on Britain's shore. In June 1862 it constructed a signal station on Capstone Point at Ilfracombe in Devon, overlooking the Bristol Channel. From there merchants, ship-owners and mariners could send messages by flag from their vessels to the coast station and hence to any station in the world using the circuits and tariffs of the Electric & International Telegraph Company. A charge of 1s 0d was made for signalling messages to or from ships in the Channel. Only one such station was built by the Company.

The smallest of all firms appropriated by the Government in 1868 appears to be the Tavistock, Princetown & Dartmoor Telegraph Company. It worked eight miles of road-side single wire from Her Majesty's Convict Prison Dartmoor to the London & South-Western railway station at Tavistock in Devon, in the far west of England, from 1862 and cost just £400. 

 Roche's Point Telegraph, Cork, Ireland 1862
In centre, the Cork Harbour Lighthouse; to the left, the new cable station of
the London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company;
the two connected by a wire of the Universal Private Telegraph Company

There were several other very small un-incorporated lines in Britain and Ireland, including the Roche's Point Telegraph serving the lighthouse that marked the entry to Cork Harbour, and Lady Londonderry's Telegraph, in County Durham serving the coalfields. All were taken over by the government, paid for by the public purse. 

The "Lady Londonderry" above mentioned was Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry, of Seaham Hall, Seaham Harbour, County Durham, who lived from 1800 until 1865. The Marquis of Londonderry having died in 1854, she, as his widow, was left to manage his vast coal property in the County, comprising the immense Seaham Colliery, opened in 1846, the coal port at Seaham Harbour and the seven-mile private railway between Seaham and Sunderland, as well as coal royalties from other pits. Lady Londonderry's Telegraph had been in existence for some years, at least since 1861, as one of the first private networks provided by the Universal Private Telegraph Company. 'Murray's  Guide for Travellers in Durham and Northumberland' of 1864 describes it thus: "The numerous telegraph-wires which are to be seen traversing the coal country in all directions, have their terminus in an apartment at Seaham Hall, by which means the Marchioness is kept au courant of all that is going on in all the different collieries on her property." Her Ladyship's telegraph system was of sufficient competence to be in circuit not just with the Electric Telegraph Company at Sunderland but to send and receive messages to and from the Continent of Europe in 1861. There were in total five separate lines at Seaham.

The Jersey & Guernsey Telegraph Company was the last public telegraph company formed for domestic traffic. It was actually formally registered on February 4, 1870 on the eve of the government's appropriation of the telegraphs. The Company's aim was to replace the failed cables of the Channel Islands Telegraph Company connecting England with Alderney, Guernsey and Jersey. It was promoted as a simple joint stock concern with a capital of £30,000 in £2 shares by a local islands' magnate, William Henry LeFeuvre under the Companies Act 1867. It intended to lay a long cable from Start Point near Dartmouth in Devon to Guernsey, with shorter lengths between the islands. The Post Office complicated the project in its granting of landing rights and this led to some cables being laid by W T Henley's Telegraph Works Company, some by the India Rubber, Gutta-Percha and Telegraph Works Company, and the land works being made by W Warden & Company of Birmingham. Despite this the whole length was completed on November 8, 1870 and it was opened to the public between the Channel Islands and England on December 21, 1870. It opened seven offices on the islands, using the American telegraph on the inter-island circuits and Wheatstone's automatic telegraph on the English circuit. Its engineer was W H Preece, apparently combining the work for a public company with his job at the Post Office Telegraph Department without too much difficulty. The Jersey & Guernsey company was taken over by the government in August 1872.

During their relatively brief, twenty-year existence the public telegraph companies raised £2,496,744 in paid-up share and loan capital to build and operate their competing national and local systems. The Electric in the 1860s regularly paid 10% dividends, the Magnetic 8%, and even the United Kingdom company ultimately managed 5%.

In perspective this compares with the combined paid-up capital of their gigantic allies, the domestic railway companies in 1868, at £502,000,000, with their receipts of £39,500,000 and their operating expenses of £20,000,000. Railway investors in the 1850s and 1860s were lucky to get 4% on their money.

The Final Reckoning

Telegraphs in 1868
The Companies and the Railways

Company……………..Line Miles….………%...........Wire Miles…….….… %
British & Irish……….4,696……..….……. 28.12…..19,235…………..……..23.97
United Kingdom……1,692………….…….10.13……10,001…………..…….12.46
London District....…163………….……….00.98……545………………..…..00.68



Grand Total………….21,750………..……..100……….91,268…………..……100

Company……………..Messages Inland…%.............Messages Foreign…%
British & Irish……….1,530,961…………..27.07…….212,764………………27.19
United Kingdom……776,714……………..13.73……..30,441……..………..03.89
London District…….183,304……………..03.42……..-………………………..-


Railway………………..Messages Inland ...%.. ……….Messages Foreign…%
South Eastern……….103,386……………..28.64……..-…………………………-
North British…………51,023……………….14.14……..-………………………….-



Grand Total………….6,016,913……………100…………782,393……………..13.00

In 1868 the telegraph companies possessed 2,155 stations in 1,882 cities and towns, the railway companies had a further 1,226 offices (The South Eastern Railway possessing 113, the Brighton 104 and the Chatham 50); a national total for Britain and Ireland of 3,381 public telegraph stations.

These statistics, from the Returns of the Railway and Telegraph Companies to the Board of Trade, not the Post Office, show the relative position of the several public service providers. The London District company sent 316,000 messages in 1865 before it adopted an increased tariff. The Universal company's figures are for their public lines.

The nature of the Post Office administration was such that, in 1880, it claimed that in 1868 there were just 5,651 miles of line, 48,990 miles of wire, 2,488 stations and 2,200 (sic) instruments. Then in 1895 it stated that in 1868 there were 14,776 miles of line, 59,430 miles of wire, 2,932 stations and 4,045 instruments.

Colonial Telegraphs
A final novelty is the only colonial company formed in England in this period to work telegraphs:

The Cape of Good Hope Telegraph Company was established in Cape Province in April 1860. It opened its first line between Cape Town and Simon's Town on May 8, 1860, using Cooke & Wheatstone's needle instruments. The engineer and manager was Charlton Wollaston, the son of the engineer of the first cable across the Channel. In 1861 it opened a line between East London to King William's Town; another was completed in 1864 from Cape Town through Port Elizabeth to Graham's Town. Its last main line was built between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

In April 1862 the Good Hope company was incorporated in London as a joint stock company with a capital of £62,000 in 12,500 shares of £5, all paid-up, to complete the long 610 mile line from Cape Town through Caledon, Swettendam, Riversdale, Mossel Bay, George, Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth to Graham's Town, and to acquire its several branches. John Read was its Secretary and Manager in London. It had a subsidy of the Cape Legislature of £1,500 per annum for fifteen years. Siemens, Halske & Company of London were then employed to renovate and complete its system and install their instruments. It brought its latest American inkers and "iron-clad" insulators in circuit. Their workmanships was so good that the 600 miles of No 6 BWG iron-wire between Cape Town to Graham's Town was worked with just fifteen Daniell sulphate cells.

In 1864 its charges for twenty words from Cape Town were to Graham's Town 12s 6d, Port Elizabeth 10s 0d, to Caledon 2s 6d, Swettendam 3s 0d, Riversdale 4s 0d, Mossel Bay 5s 0d, George 5s 6d and Uitenhage 8s 0d. The Good Hope company had an arrangement by which messages for its stations could be sent from any of the Electric company's offices in Britain and forwarded by steamer to the Cape. By 1867 it was paying a dividend of 6%. The Cape of Good Hope Telegraph Company was purchased by the provincial government on July 1, 1873 for £40,750. It then had 760 miles of line and sixteen stations.

Britain's other great dominions, Canada and Australia, were sufficiently independent to go their own way in regard to the electric telegraph. British North America was to organise many joint-stock telegraph companies with its own and with American capital. The individual states that then formed Australia all adopted the European bureaucratic model with wholly government-owned public circuits. Both countries used the American telegraph on their public wires.

In 1864 there were four self-governing colonies in Australia having public telegraphs:

Victoria                                                2,826.5 miles     63 stations
184,441 messages,                           £29,121 receipts

New South Wales                             2,520 miles         53 stations
130,500 messages,                          £28,678 receipts

South Australia                                 1,074 miles         26 stations
106,874 messages,                           £10,994 receipts

Queensland                                         792 miles             18 stations

The wires in Victoria were worked at a substantial loss, the others were all profitable. A new tariff of 2s 0d for ten words put Victoria’s telegraphs into profit by 1869.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand was then just embarking on the building of a system, the Telegraph Department being established in 1863. By June 1869 it possessed 1,330 miles of line including a cable connecting the North and South Islands. It sent 156,157 messages in that year, an increase of 60% over 1868; giving receipts of £31,080. The tariff was 2s 6d for ten words.

However, as in British India, the railways in Australia, in the hands of domestic public companies, initially adopted the Cooke & Wheatstone needle telegraph for safety and for messaging, influenced by their iron cousins in Britain.

The Telegraph from a book-title of 1850

Telegraph, from the Greek “tele”, distant, and “graphos”, writing
© Copyright - Steven Roberts 2012