search only Distant Writing
Cooke & Wheatstone
The Electric Telegraph Company
Competitors & Allies
The Universal Telegraph
Non Competitors
How the Companies Worked
What the Companies Charged
The Companies and the News
The Companies and the Weather
The Companies Abroad
The Companies' Foreign Operations
Railway Signal Telegraphy 1838-68
Telegraph at War 1854-68
Technical Detail
Telegraph Stations 1862
Instrument Gallery
Telegraph Maps 1852-68
Telegraph Company Stamps
The Rest of the World
Links, Download & Contact

The Lost Future of Telegraphy

Charles Wheatstone's Universal Telegraph
The world's first electric telegraph made for ordinary people to use
in their offices, workplaces and homes; the first instrument
to interconnect private subscribers through hubs or exchanges. 
Patented in 1858, perfected by Augustus Stroh in 1863

The Complete Letter Writer
Mr Punch predicts…

"Since the electric telegraph is being extended everywhere, we think it might be laid down, like the water and the assessed taxes, to every house. By these means a merchant would be able to correspond with his factors at sea-towns - a lawyer would communicate with his agents in the country - and a doctor would be able to consult with his patients without leaving his fireside."

"What a revolution, too, it would create in the polite circles! Mrs. Smith, when she was giving an evening party, would 'request the pleasure' of her hundred guests by pulling the electric telegraph, and the 'regrets' and 'much pleasures' would be sent to Mrs. Smith in the same way."

"This plan of correspondence would have one inestimable blessing - all ladies' letters would be limited to five lines, and no opening afterwards for a postscript. If this plan of electric telegraphs for the million should be carried out, the Post Office will become a sinecure, as all letter-writing would be henceforth nothing more than a dead letter. In that case it might be turned into a central terminus for all the wires; and any one found bagging a letter by means of false wires should be taken up for poaching."

From 'Punch, or The London Charivari',
December 5, 1846

If little has been written about public telegraphy in Britain, then scarcely anything is recorded about private telegraphy; connecting individuals or houses by a wire for their sole use. This is all the more surprising given that one-fifth of all telegraph instruments in 1868 were in private circuits. 

Before dealing with the history of the Universal Private Telegraph Company, which revolutionised telegraphy in Britain, some context is necessary. This entire section is particularly elaborate as none of the detail has been previously recorded in one place.

On the same day, June 2, 1858, as he obtained his patent for the automatic telegraph which was to revolutionise public telegraphy Charles Wheatstone acquired a patent for the components of what he was to call the Universal telegraph, a device he uncharacteristically promoted on a personal level. The instrument, with two compact dials, the communicator and the indicator, did not require galvanic batteries and, as it indicated individual letters and numbers by means of a rotating needle, could be worked by anyone who could read in perfect safety. Two instruments in circuit was the most effective arrangement, but using up to four was possible on short lines.

In this patent he gave careful credit to W F Cooke as his co-devisor of the earlier galvanic dial or index telegraphs that inspired the Universal telegraph.

The first galvanic dial telegraph using as a receiver a disc rotated by clockwork, regulated by an electrically-controlled escapement, contained in a clock-like mahogany case, and as a sender a small capstan making and breaking a circuit was patented by Cooke and Wheatstone as far back as January 21, 1840. Cooke gave entire credit to Wheatstone for its invention, and was, unfortunately, dismissive of its commercial potential.

Wheatstone's patent galvanic dial telegraph 1840
Turning the capstan at the bottom rotated a disc in the small dial at the top
The receiver and its alarm were clockwork, and it needed batteries

The same patent of 1840 also included an improved dial telegraph, entirely replacing the capstan and galvanic battery with a metallic wheel or dial working a magneto device. Gently turning the wheel generated pulses of electricity that allowed the disc to turn step-by-step to each letter or number.

This electro-magnetic telegraph, as it was then called, was first used on the short line by the side of the Great Western Railway between Paddington and Slough, alternately with the original two-needle apparatus in 1843 until 1845, and on the London to Portsmouth line for a short period in 1845. It was also adopted by the Chemin de fer Paris à Versailles in 1845 and used on its line until the late 1850s. The Electric Telegraph Company allowed Wheatstone access to its circuits to further his development of the dial telegraph in 1846. It was widely copied and improved in Britain and abroad but was brought to perfection in Wheatstone's Universal telegraph of 1858.

The Universal Telegraph, the name he carefully chose, able to connect private individuals, ordinary citizens rather than technicians, was to be Charles Wheatstone's main preoccupation for a decade.

Wheatstone had introduced the galvanic dial telegraph to the public in 1840 and the magneto dial telegraph in 1842. It had been his intention even from that early date to create an instrument that ordinary people might use with facility and safety. In his arrangement with W F Cooke in April 1843 Wheatstone specifically retained to himself the rights for telegraphs with circuits of one mile or less in length, for a "district establishment" and for "domestic and other purposes". The rights expired without formal use along with the 1840 patent in 1854.

Wheatstone's patent magneto-electric dial telegraph 1840
The wheel on the box generated pulses of electricity to release the
escapement of the clockwork of the dial. No batteries!

It is not known who acquired the first private telegraph circuit in Britain. What is known is that, apart from the Admiralty's dedicated line from Whitehall to Portsmouth of 1844, the Royal Household in Buckingham Palace had a two-needle circuit installed in 1851. This was contained in an underground iron conduit along the Mall to Trafalgar Square and the Electric company's Charing Cross office. A similar circuit was carried from that station to the Metropolitan Police Office in New Scotland Yard, Whitehall. These required the employment of a telegraph clerk skilled in the two-needle code to work the instrument and to maintain the batteries of cells, which contained, among other chemicals, sulphuric acid.  Unsurprisingly, Lewis Ricardo, the Electric company's chairman, had a private wire to his London house in Lowndes Square.  The telegraph superintendent of the South Eastern Railway Company, C V Walker, had a circuit for a double-needle telegraph installed between his residence and the telegraph station at Tunbridge Wells in Kent before 1852. It is likely that others in the industry had similar arrangements.

It might be noted that the Royal Navy's messages from Somerset House and the Admiralty carried to its yards and docks at Portsmouth and Plymouth in the west by the Electric company and to Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, Deal and Dover in the east by the Magnetic's circuits were on leased circuits and were worked by the telegraph companies' clerks not navy personnel. Most of these official messages were in numeric cipher and the clerks were deliberately kept ignorant of the key used.  The instruments used were "locked" for security. 

One of the earliest private telegraph networks was that created for the collieries of the Earl of Crawford & Balcarres at Haigh and Aspull, near Wigan, in Lancashire in 1851. By January 1852 there were nine instruments in circuit at Haigh, managing the coal traffic from the pits down four inclined tramways, one being 1½ miles in length, to the near-by canal and railways. The code used allowed the signalling of different qualities of coals for different destinations, and had been developed by the Earl himself. The colliery telegraph was just then being extended with new circuits from Haigh to the Earl's Upholland Colliery at Rainford, nine miles distant, and from Haigh and Upholland to Wigan, alongside of public railways and private tramways. The system was installed by W T Henley and used a single-needle version of his magneto-electric apparatus and gutta- percha insulated subterranean copper wires. It did not extend underground into the pits. 

The Haigh Colliery was an advanced enterprise. As well as its extensive tramways and the telegraph, its engineer, William Peace, was to introduce the mechanical coal-cutter, an endless-chain driven by compressed air, in December 1853, to supplement men and picks.  

Wheatstone's galvanic dial telegraph 1855
Still with the capstan transmitter but now using electricity from cells
to move the index on the dial on the right step-by-step without clockwork.
This was sold by scientific instrument makers for educational use.

On July 30, 1862 George Warren, then age 23, was appointed Court Telegraphist, a new title recognising the duties of the travelling clerk attached by the Electric Telegraph Company to the Royal Household. He replaced James Hookey, telegraph clerk to the Queen, who had been promoted to Inspector of Works in the West Midlands. Warren had joined the Company in May 1855 and had been first appointed to the Court Telegraph Office in 1861. He travelled with the Queen between Buckingham Palace in London, Windsor Castle in Berkshire, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and Balmoral Castle in Scotland, working the Royal Household's private wires in those places leased of the telegraph company, and followed her overseas, having to be "experienced in telegraphing in French and German as well as the English language." Although board and lodging were provided wherever the monarch was staying Warren, a native of Wareham, Dorset, had a house at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. He received a salary of £154 a year with allowances for travel and board, paid by the Electric company's South Western District in Southampton, then by the Post Office. When George Warren died in 1896 the Queen had a monument placed on his grave "as a mark of regard for faithful and zealous service" after 34 years service as her private telegraph clerk.

The Royal Italian Opera House in the Haymarket, a place of popular fashionable resort in London during the 1850s, had its own telegraph in the lobby of the Grand Tier from May 18, 1853; connected to the Electric's Charing Cross office in the Strand. The telegraph company's clerk received and posted important Parliamentary news for the Opera's patrons and was able to send messages out to the provinces. It is difficult to think of this as anything other than a publicity exercise, but it was still in use in 1867.  

The Crystal Palace exhibition hall in Hyde Park in 1851 had its own telegraph between its many galleries and its entrances put in by the Electric Telegraph Company.

In May 1852 the Bank of England in the City of London installed a complex internal electric telegraph system between the Governor's Room and the chief accountant, chief cashier, secretary, engineer and other officers using G E Dering's patent single-needle instruments.

To give some idea of period thoughts on implementing private telegraphy the original prospectus of the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company in April 1853 "offered private wires for government departments, public companies or private mercantile establishments at an annual rent of from £2 to £3 per mile per annum, a single wire giving perfect secrecy at one-half the cost of regular bills". The company intended to lay an extra fifty wires for this purpose between the main cities. The plan was never carried out.

Waterlow & Sons, a large firm of law stationers, letterpress and lithographic printers with government contracts, had the first commercial private line constructed between 24 Birchin Lane and their works at 66 London Wall in the City of London in September 1857. It was engineered by Owen Rowland, of 5 Suffolk Lane, City, EC, one of W F Cooke's earliest collaborators, using single- needle galvanic instruments, alarm bells and a single roof-top iron wire in one 1,500 foot long span for just £35. The alternative of an underground circuit was costed at £1,200.

Owen Rowland had conducted trials of both steel and iron telegraph wires on Hackney Marshes to determine their strength and durability in 1858. He used tough steel wires protected by a coating of paint, “peculiarly adapted for the purpose”, on the over-house circuit for Waterlow and also for the first private wire created using Wheatstone’s Universal telegraph, for Spottiswoode, the Queen’s Printer, which he also engineered. 

In the following year Waterlow's had the telegraph contractor, W T Henley, extend their little system and erect a 2¼ mile long private circuit from their Birchin Lane premises to their office at 49 Parliament Street, Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament. The new circuit consisted of two overhead iron wires (one being spare) in twelve 1,000 foot long spans running along the river Thames, and crossing it twice. The short wooden poles carrying two insulators were mounted in specially-designed iron saddles secured on the ridge of the fourteen roofs by six substantial screws, and held in place by guy wires. The No 14 gauge line-wire was manufactured of steel and covered with four coats of paint as protection against the elements. The single-needle instruments used in Waterlow's system each cost £5, and the bell alarms £4 4s. The eleven intermediate posts were all fixed on the roofs of business premises, warehouses and breweries. The new line cost £160.

Until there was an alternative to the code-worked needle instruments and the need for liquid batteries the application of telegraphy to private use was restricted. It was not until Wheatstone and Siemens Brothers introduced their dial telegraphs using magnetos rather than cells, in 1858 and 1859 respectively, that private telegraphy became commercially viable.

Parliament Telegraph Room 1859

The Electric Telegraph Room in the Houses of Parliament 1859
Used by the reporters of the daily newspapers to send messages from
Westminster to their offices in the Strand and Fleet Street, February 1859

Seeing the opportunity that private wires offered, the London District Telegraph Company, on its promotion in January 1859, specifically wrote into its prospectus that it would provide them for individual and businesses in addition to its public circuits.

At the suggestion of the Waterlow family, who were involved in local government and had been lobbying for a fire and police telegraph for the capital since December 1857, the City of London Police Office at 26 Old Jewry was connected by electric telegraph with its six stations at Moor Lane, Fore Street; Smithfield West; Fleet Street, St Bride's Church; Bow Lane, south end; Seething Lane, Tower Street; and Bishopsgate Churchyard in 1859. The City police used Wheatstone's Universal telegraph and a system of single, overhead, roof-top iron wires, all suspended from the spires and towers of the city churches. The work was done under licence of Charles Wheatstone by Reid Brothers, the telegraph contractors, of University Street, who also undertook subsequent maintenance of the wires, and it cost the City Corporation £800.

The City of London Police, responsible for the small central district, should not to be confused with the Metropolitan Police that enforced law and order in the rest of the capital, whose chief office in Scotland Yard had been connected to the Electric’s national circuits with a private wire for a short period between 1851 and 1852. It was not until 1866 that the Metropolitan Police commenced their own network.

In Bristol, in the West of England, the large tobacco and snuff manufacturing firm of W D & H O Wills installed the first private telegraph line in the provinces, between their premises at 33 Mary-le-port Street and 112 Redcliff Street, during February 1859.

The iron ship-building yard of John Scott-Russell & Company at Millwall on the Thames in London engaged S W Silver & Company to construct a unique private telegraph to co-ordinate the installation of the machinery and the final fitting-out for sea of the mighty Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world, between February and September 1859. Using Wheatstone's Universal telegraph instruments it consisted of an underwater india-rubber insulated cable running from the hull of the great ship, floating off Deptford after her launching in January 1858, across the river Thames to Scott-Russell's works, along the length of the river-front shipyard, then underground to the separate engine-building shops and to the management and drawing offices on the Isle of Dogs. It is notable, at least to those of a sentimental disposition, that, given her epic contribution to intercontinental cable-laying, an umbilical submarine telegraph cable was facilitating the birth of the Great Eastern.


The Universal Telegraph

"The wire of one friend may be placed in communication with that of another, or in fact with any person who rents a wire. It may be that the friend may dwell in another part of the kingdom, in which case before sending a message, it would be necessary to have his wire placed in connection with a public railway telegraph, and this again at its terminus with the friend's wire."

"By combining beforehand different lines in this manner, two different persons may converse together across the island, sitting in their own drawing rooms; nay, only by extending the connection of these lines with the submarine cables across the seas, a person may converse with his friend travelling day by day at the other end of the globe, provided only that he keeps on some telegraphic line that is continuous with the main electric trunk-lines of the world."

"This may appear to be an idle dream, but that it will certainly come to pass we have no manner of doubt whatever."

Andrew Wynter, MD, 'The Nervous System of the Metropolis',
in 'Our Social Bees', 1861  

The Universal Private Telegraph Company
The Universal Private Telegraph Company was projected on September 20, 1860 to acquire Charles Wheatstone's patent of 1858 for his perfected magneto- electric dial apparatus, the easily-operated Universal telegraph, a small, neat instrument, to "carry out a system by which banks, merchants, public bodies and other parties may have the means of establishing a telegraph for their own private purposes from their houses to their offices, manufactories or other places". Its initial incarnation was as "The Universal Private Telegraph Company, Limited", incorporated under the new Joint Stock Limited Liability Act of 1857. It then sought a capital of £50,000 in 500 shares of £100 during October 1860, and had just two directors, Professor Charles Wheatstone and William Fairbairn, CE, the Manchester ironmaster. The Company's officials were Thomas Page, engineer, Lewis Hertslet, secretary and Nathaniel Holmes, electrician. It was almost immediately found that parliamentary powers were needed to facilitate its laying of wires over public roads, in addition to negotiating with parochial authorities in towns and cities for access and wayleaves, and that a broader capital base was required to ensure its viability.

Despite this the Limited Company was immediately active in marketing itself in Glasgow, rather than London. The first announcement of its services appeared there on April 10, 1860, in a very long descriptive article written for the 'Glasgow Herald' by Nathaniel Holmes.  This was followed up by another on October 11, and by the publication of the prospectus for the Limited Company on October 17, 1860. Holmes was then living in Carrick's Royal Hotel on George Square in the city.

However, Holmes and the Universal company had already been busy in London as the second Scottish article, on October 11, revealed that both Julius Reuter and the City of London Police had networks of private circuits working by then.

It announced on October 17, 1860 that "The main object of this Company is to enable the Government Offices, Police Stations, Fire Stations, Banks, Docks, Manufactories, Merchants' Offices, and other important Public and Private Establishments to have a private system of communication with their own Establishments and Manufactories at distances, either from their offices or residences, by means of Professors Wheatstone's new and valuable Patents, which combine such simplicity that anyone who can read and spell can work them without difficulty, thus affording each establishment a distinct wire and private means of communication exclusively their own. The Company will either erect and maintain such Telegraphic communication at a fixed annual rental, or charge a specific sum for each contract for a term of years, as may be agreed upon."

"It is intended to extend this system of private Telegraphic communication beyond the limits of the Metropolis to other important cities, as Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Preston, Bristol, Hull, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Plymouth, &c., additional capital being added from time to time for such purposes."

The original Indicator of the Universal Telegraph in 1859
Called the "coconut" from the shape of its wooden dial housing
The switch on the base: "A"  for Alarm, "T" for Telegraph

Even before this Nathaniel Holmes had been to War on behalf of the Universal telegraph. The 'Illustrated London News' of July 21, 1860 carried a long report on "Professor Wheatstone's Universal and Military Telegraph":

"This beautiful telegraphic apparatus, invented and patent by Professor Wheatstone, possesses great advantages over the many existing telegraphs from its extreme simplicity, portability and adaptability to all the various purposes for which communication may be required. The necessary qualifications for a complete telegraph were fully demonstrated by its arrangement upon the field under Mr N J Holmes, the electrician, at the volunteer sham fight at Camden Park, last Saturday [July 14, 1860]. Insulated lines of wire, payed off from portable drums, were extended over the ground from the central station in front of the grand stand to the divisions severally under the command of Lord Ranelagh and Colonel Hicks, forming terminal stations, which were afterwards moved over the ground as the volunteer forces shifted their positions, conveying intelligence of their movements from one division to the other, the whole of the evolutions being known to the central station at the grand stand. The instruments work with a single wire insulated by a coating of india rubber and covered with braided hemp as a further protection from injury and abrasion by the tramping of men and horses over it upon the ground, the earth connection being formed by the insertion of an iron spade or trowel attached to the wire into the ground and shifted as required."

"The telegraph consists of two distinct portions – the transmitter, or communicator, for sending; and the receiver, or dial, whereon the message is read. The communicator is a small box about one foot long by six inches deep by eight wide, upon which the twenty-six letters of the alphabet are engraved, together with the points of punctuation, and the cross or signal for the termination of words and messages. Opposite to these thirty spaces corresponding buttons are placed round the dial, each button representing the letter or sign annexed to it, so that messages are spelt out by generally depressing in succession the requisite buttons or letters composing the word, each separate word being marked by the depression of the cross. A pointer at the centre of the dial, when the telegraph is in action, revolves, and stops at the depressed button, the action of which will be presently explained. The interior of the box contains a permanent magnet, from which an induced current of magneto-electricity is obtained when required by the revolution of a small soft-iron armature and helix placed before the poles of the magnet, in close proximity, but not in contact. This armature by induction becomes itself a magnet in certain positions, and during its revolutions is continually parting with its charges and receiving fresh supplies, the several currents generated in this way being transmitted through the communicator and keys to the distant station along the wire. The revolving motion is communicated to the armature by the exterior handle and hand of the operator. The second or receiving portion consists simply of a small round barrel or dial, upon the face of which similar letters are engraved, to correspond with those of the transmitter; a hand or pointer on the dial, set in motion by the direct action of the current from the distant station points out the letter to be read off by stopping for an instant before it passes on to the next in succession composing the word. So rapidly are these indications received that over one hundred letters a minute may be read off with ease."

"The action of the instrument may be briefly explained as follows: Any letter, as H, being depressed upon the communicator, a certain number of distinct magneto-currents will be transmitted down the line to the distant station by the revolution of the soft-iron armature, each of which will register an advance of the pointer a letter upon the dial at that station. Now, as there are eight spaces between the cross or starting-point and the letter H, there will be eight currents, or eight advances of the index, which will stop at H, the current from the magneto machine being cut off from the line, and passed into the earth by the hand coming into contact with the depressed button. When another button is depressed the former key is raised and the currents again pass down the line until cut off by the hand as before, the index upon the distant station advancing as before, and so on, until the message is completed."

The Volunteer Sham Fight, Bromley, Kent 1860 
A mock battle with 6,000 riflemen co-ordinated for the first time
by Wheatstone's Universal field telegraph

The Volunteer Sham Fight took place at Camden Park, Bromley, Kent, on Saturday, July 14, 1860. It was intended as a mass field exercise for the newly formed Rifle Volunteer Corps in the metropolitan boroughs. To give some idea of its size there were, according to the 'Daily News', an estimated 25,000 spectators in the grandstand and on the park grounds. The troops comprise two "attacking" brigades and a defence, nearly 6,000 men in all: the first brigade, 1,300 strong, composed of three battalions, drawn from the Rifle Volunteer Corps in Middlesex, Surrey and Tower Hamlets, the second brigade, although also of three battalions, was even larger, from Kent and Middlesex. The defenders came from Corps raised in the City of London, Middlesex and Kent.

The South Eastern and West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway companies offered the volunteers a bargain return fare of 8d from the London Bridge and Pimlico termini in London to Southborough Road for Bromley. James Wyld, the Queen's geographer, prepared maps of the ground and of the anticipated military evolutions for the assistance of visitors.

The public assembled by 3 o'clock in the afternoon; although intended to commence at 5 o'clock it was not until 7 o'clock that the battle got underway, lasting two hours. By 10 o'clock the volunteers were marching out of the ground. The railway was still carrying off volunteers and visitors at 2 o'clock the following morning.

The 'Daily News' enthusiastically reported the use of "Professor Wheatstone's field telegraph" and Holmes' presence by the grandstand. It mentioned that Lord Ranelagh had used the telegraph in the delay to summon "Herr Schallehn with his accomplished artists of the South Middlesex band" from the front line to amuse the lady spectators.

The government, which was hostile to the Volunteer Rifle movement, had promised provisions and cooking stoves, but provided none. This meant that many of the volunteers went for fourteen hours without food in travelling to and from and engaging in the sham fight.

Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, had already created a télégraphe volant or"Flying Telegraph" to accompany his army when it expelled the Austrians from Savoy in northern Italy during June and July 1859. The field cables, laid from horseback, were bought from the Gutta Percha Company and Wheatstone's new instruments from the Universal Private Telegraph Company in London.

The original Communicator of the Universal Telegraph in 1859
Lightly pressing one of the keys stopped the rotating needle on the inner dial, as it was propelled round by a hand cranked magneto

The next campaign on behalf of the Universal telegraph was led by a promotional visit for journalists to Julius Reuter's premises in the City of London on the morning of Friday, December 21, 1860, conducted by Holmes. The major London morning papers published detailed, favourable reports of the new Universal apparatus, its overhead cables and its costs. These reports were copied over the next week by the main provincial daily and weekly journals.

It was not until April 8, 1861 that the first paid advertisements in the 'Times', the 'Daily News' and the other London morning papers appeared, promoting its terms of £4 per mile of wire and the option to buy or rent instruments. These coincided with a demonstration of "Professor Wheatstone's Universal telegraph" at the Royal Polytechnic Institution at 309 Regent Street in London's West End during that month.

The Company obtained a Special Act of Parliament for its statutory incorporation on June 7, 1861, with a capital of £100,000 in 4,000 shares of £25, half of which was called-up, and to acquire powers to erect and maintain private telegraph wires at a fixed annual rental and provide the instruments necessary to work them. The promoters modestly anticipated a minimum net dividend of 10% per annum. The new Statutory Company was launched on November 18, 1861; as Wheatstone's Universal telegraph had been introduced in 1858 there were already a large number of private circuits in use in London and in Glasgow. 

Initially 2,000 shares were issued and taken up, mainly in London; eventually calls were made for £20 on each of these from 1861 through to the end of 1862. This would provide a working capital of £40,000 to finance and extend its first circuits in London and Glasgow.

The Universal company initially took rooms for its secretary and its clerks at The Estate Market, 3 Hanover Square, London W, a newly redeveloped building, formerly a hotel, with offices and chambers, as well as a board room, to let. Lewis Cooke Hertslet, the Company's secretary was also Manager to the Estate Market, owned by Mark Markwick, a property auctioneer. It was not there long, and had moved to 448 Strand, in rooms above the Electric Telegraph Company's Charing Cross station, by December 1861.

By June 6, 1861 there was already an aerial cable in operation between Finsbury Square and the Royal Exchange, containing 24 miles of wire, and another from the Royal Exchange along Fleet Street and the Strand to Waterloo Place, with 158 miles of wire, each wire ready to be connected to a private subscriber. In progress were lines from Charing Cross to the Houses of Parliament, 42 miles of wire, and from Waterloo Place to Camden Town, the Goods Depot of the London & North Western Railway, containing 45½ miles of wire.

The Universal company had a Board of eight directors; chaired by David Salomons, chairman of the London & Westminster Bank, the country's largest financial concern, among whose directors was J L Ricardo. The Board had, too, at its table, Charles Wheatstone – his only directorship and by far the largest shareholder. It also had the remarkable scientific weight of his friends and colleagues, Joseph Carey, William Fairbairn, and Edward Frankland. Latterly the active directors were: Frederick C Gaussen, Robert O'Brien Jameson and C Wheatstone. Its Secretary was Lewis Cooke Hertslet, a professional manager, and its electrical engineer was the ubiquitous Nathaniel J Holmes, who was also active in canvassing support among the scientific community at Wheatstone's behest.  Holmes had been the original London station manager of the Electric Telegraph Company in 1846, working with Wheatstone in the 1850s and became engineer to cables and land lines in Europe and Asia. 

Among the largest of the shareholders in the earliest days were S W and H A Silver, the manufacturers of india-rubber cable insulation, and William Reid, the second largest shareholder, principal of Reid Brothers, the telegraphic engineers and contractors, long associated with Charles Wheatstone in making his instruments. The Reid family retained their considerable interest until the end in 1870 when there were six, men and women, holding shares. Holmes had one share in the Company.

The initial shareholders were David Salomons (30 shares), S W Silver (40), H A Silver (40), C Wheatstone (44), Edward Frankland (26), Sam Mendel (10), William Reid Jnr (10), William Reid Snr (60), William Fairbairn (30) and “Glasgow” (200 shares). Together they contributed the first £18,000 in capital.

The prospectus noted that its bankers, where deposits for shares ought to be made, were the Union Bank of London, Temple Bar branch, the Manchester & County Bank and the National Bank of Scotland.

The eminent civil engineer, Thomas Page of Middle Scotland Yard, Whitehall, responsible for many major bridges, docks and sewerage works, was appointed consultant to the Company in 1860. He was not much troubled by his appointment. Page had lent his name to the alternative transatlantic telegraph cable promoted by James Wyld MP, by way of Scotland, Iceland and Greenland to Canada, in 1859, and did so again in 1866.

One of the first acts of the Board was to engage in an Agreement with the Electric Telegraph Company, with its immense network of public circuits; this complex seven-year arrangement was signed on September 3, 1861. Its clauses stated the strategic ambitions of the two companies; 1] the Universal was to operate private wires in cities and towns, it would not allow the wires of any other company on its premises, and it was to transcribe messages from its private lines to the public system only through the Electric's circuits. 2] In return the Electric would accommodate the Universal's clerks and instruments on its premises but would not be responsible for any costs. Messages would be transcribed at the Electric's current rate and all such income would be retained by the larger company; equally all revenues from private lines and instruments would go to the Universal company. 3] Unless the Electric agreed otherwise the Universal would not engage in public telegraphy or in third party agreements for service; in return the Electric would not engage in private telegraphy other than for government service which it was obliged to do under its Acts. 4] The Electric undertook to match the rate for any foreign messages transcribed from the Universal's circuits to the lowest available. Private subscribers were only able to specify another company's foreign route if were to be quicker to the destination. However, foreign press despatches and newspaper messages could be sent by any route or company. 5] The Electric Telegraph Company agreed "to support and assist the Universal Private Telegraph Company, other than by pecuniary means".

The two companies clearly demarcated their spheres of work, and anticipated transcription traffic from private to public circuits, co-operating to achieve this. There was to be no revenue-sharing or inter-company discounting. The early importance of private press messages was highlighted in concessions.

The Company opened its chief office at Charing Cross, the geographical centre of London, initially within, then as it expanded to offices next door to, the Electric Telegraph Company's West End station, at 448 Strand, so that private messages could be transcribed from private to public circuits and vice versa by the hub station. Instruments in offices and houses were hence able to connect with the entire domestic and foreign telegraph system. It paid the Electric company £100 per year rent for "an office".

Eventually the Universal Private Telegraph Company was to have its principal office at 4 Adelaide Street, West Strand, housing the secretary, the engineer and three or four clerks. Its District offices were at 15, later at 11, St Vincent Place, Glasgow; at Hartford Chambers, St Ann's Square, Manchester, and then, from 1864, at 52 Brown Street, Manchester; and at Printing Court Buildings, Akenside Hill, Newcastle, each managed by a Local Secretary and two or three clerks. With such a small workforce the firm relied heavily on contractors for originating all of its services, whether constructing its lines or providing instruments, for maintenance and for storing materials. The prime role of its few clerks was in billing and accounting. The only other staff members were the Engineer, the Assistant Engineer and two local "line assistants".

It was reported that each of the three District offices in the provinces had “stores” for instruments and apparatus. No record of such premises has been found, so they are likely to have been in the nature of a “cupboard.”

In 1864 it also advertised offices in its own name at Dundee in Scotland and Belfast in Ireland. These were actually the premises of  its sales agents, George Lowden, instrument maker, of 25 Union Street, Dundee, and P L Munster & Sons, merchants, of 6 Corporation Street, Belfast.

Universal Private Telegraph Company's Plan for London 1860
Solid lines shewing circuits already built, broken lines planned
The three offices of Reuter's news agency indicated
Click the thumbnail above for a greatly enlarged version 
(Click on Previous Page to resume)

It laid Wheatstone's patent 'aerial cables' at roof-level along discrete side streets in cities from which subscribers' wires were led off. Access to a circuit was leased at £4 per mile of line; the dial instruments could be purchased for £36 each with a £1 1s a year maintenance agreement or a pair leased over several years at £1 per month, "including keeping the instruments in perfect working order".  

The Company's works throughout its existence were in the hands of a small number of suppliers: Reid Brothers were contractors for all overhead and road works in London, Glasgow, Manchester, and Newcastle. The Company used Reid Brothers' stores at 12 Wharf Road, City Road, London N, as their depot for materials. The Company paid Reids £80 per annum for "a storehouse". S W Silver & Company manufactured the india-rubber insulated aerial cables. Where it needed wooden poles the Company bought them from the Electric company's depot at Gloucester Road, Camden, or, for the north of the country, from Thomas Robinson & Son, Oldham Road, Rochdale, timber merchants.

Other major suppliers included Barwell Brothers & Smith of Hockley for iron swivels and bolts; Binks Brothers of Millwall for copper wire; W T Henley of North Woolwich for copper wire and coils; R Johnson & Nephew of Manchester for coils; and R S Newall & Company of Gateshead for copper-cable lightning conductors.  

The principal manager was the Company's Engineer, a fact of some novelty; for most of its life this was Nathaniel Holmes, with an annual salary of £600. When he became involved with other work in the mid-1860s his assistant and eventual replacement in 1866, Colin Brodie, became equally active in promoting the Company's telegraphs and dealing with the Board. Lewis Hertslet, with a salary of £300, remained as Secretary in London from 1861 until 1864 when William Brettargh, one of the Company's longest serving clerks, took over and remained in that position until 1868.

Each of the three provincial districts had a Local Committee of directors or major shareholders of five or six members that managed the business. As with the Board in London these were assisted by a Local Secretary. In Manchester this was Basil Holmes, the brother of Nathaniel Holmes, then Frederick Evan Evans; with Robert J Symington in Glasgow and Arthur Heaviside, Wheatstone's nephew, in Newcastle. The Local Secretaries had a salary of £200 per annum. Their clerks were each paid £52 a year.

Holmes was originally supported in 1861 by two "line assistants", Eugene George Bartholomew (£200 a year) and Colin Brodie (£150 a year). Bartholomew, who had previously been telegraph superintendent of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway and superintendent at the Valentia station of the Atlantic Telegraph Company left in 1864. Brodie then became Assistant Engineer at £300 a year, and was finally to replace Holmes in 1866.  

As regards the apparatus on private premises, maintenance and repair was placed in the hands of "Inspectors of Instruments", effectively sub-contracted, self-employed clock, chronometer and watch makers in the cities in which the Company had district offices. None of these individuals were employees of the Company and there were probably less than a half-dozen. The instruments, by all accounts, were remarkably reliable.

The Universal Private Telegraph Company, even from its first years, was not just a provider of communications - as its presence at the International Exhibition of 1862 at South Kensington shows. The influence of Charles Wheatstone was overwhelming; of course the Company displayed to the audience two of Wheatstone's Universal telegraphs, but it also included and offered for sale examples of immensely advanced technology; his automatic printing telegraph – which it claimed could print 500 code-characters a minute; his magnetic clock connected with several other small clocks; alarm and "exploding" bells worked by electricity; and a magnetic register or telemeter, showing the number of persons passing through the doors and turnstiles of the exhibition.

The "exploding" bells were actually Wheatstone's patent magnetic exploder for detonating explosive charges. It had been advertised by the Company in June 1861, and was widely demonstrated indoors and outdoors during the 1860s by remotely letting-off small fireworks and flares. The exploder was adopted by the British Army for demolitions in 1861.

Commencing in 1863 the Universal Private Telegraph Company installed a series of 'time guns' in Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast. These sounded the hour at one o'clock each day based on an electric time signal from the Observatory at Edinburgh, Scotland.

On January 11, 1865 Nathaniel Holmes wrote to Captain Matthew Maury from the Company's office that he was negotiating with General Sir John Burgoyne, inspector-general of fortifications, in regard to electrical torpedoes that they and Wheatstone had been developing. "Tact and delicacy" were required in proceeding to avoid revealing anything to the Americans, with whom Maury's country was at war.  

In 1868 the Company was also selling cipher machines or "cryptographs", another of Wheatstone's inventions, to monarchs, governments and the police.

Developing the Business 1861
Unlike in public telegraphy where Miles of Line are important in securing particular profitable routes and Miles of Wire are less so as they address capacity and to some extent are adjustable to suit demand – in private telegraphy Miles of Wire are the determining factor in the model. The more Miles of Wire that it rented out to private subscribers the greater its income will be; the private wire company must determine the optimum number of wires for any district that it intends to serve and ensure maximum uptake of those wires. The use of multi-strand cables was the key to effectiveness in this, rather than the multiple use of single iron wires.

The original costs for private telegraphy were similar to public telegraphs: in negotiating rights-of-way, paying wayleaves, and in constructing the lines.

The Universal Private Telegraph Company initiated two income streams; rentals from private wires and rental and sales of instruments. During 1861 and 1862 it had constructed ten aerial cables in London, each carrying from fifty to thirty circuits or "strands", its marketing effort was in finding renters for each of these circuits. It planned to buy or lease houses at triangulation points across London to form secure places for the attachment of its aerial cables on their roof-tops and then let the premises to businesses or residents conditional on access to their circuits.

Even before the Company's creation the Universal telegraph instruments had been installed on internal circuits at newspapers in London, by Reuter in his foreign news agency and by the City Police.

The Company's initial twelve page prospectus, issued in 1860 from Hanover Square, revealed that the first Universal telegraph circuit had been made in the autumn of 1858 between the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and the Queen's Printers, Eyre & Spottiswoode, in Shoe Lane, Fleet Street in the City of London.

It also said that in 1860 the London Dock Company had nine instruments in operation, between its Dock House, their chief office, in Princes Street in the City of London, to the Superintendent's office at their docks at Ratcliff Highway, to the Commercial Sale Rooms in Mincing Lane and to several warehouses. The Surrey Dock Company had joined their Dock House in St Helen's Place, Bishopsgate, City with their docks in Rotherhithe, and the Commercial Dock Company their Dock House in Fenchurch Street, City, to the other great dock complex at Rotherhithe, both with two instruments. The City of London Police then had nine instruments; Julius Reuter had six, connecting his offices in Waterloo Place, the Houses of Parliament, Royal Exchange Buildings and Finsbury Square; the 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper, most appropriately, also had two, between its offices in Fleet Street and the Houses of Parliament. De la Rue & Company, banknote and stamp printers, had four, connecting Bunhill Row, Cannon Street, and the Government offices in Somerset House, Strand; Glass, Elliot & Company, the telegraph cable makers, had two, from Cannon Street to their works in Greenwich; the North London Railway had an experimental line with two instruments between its stations at Hampstead Road and Camden Road (the latter being opposite the site of Wheatstone's first line of telegraph in 1837).

Alfred Waterhouse, the proprietor of the large tea-dealing firm of Dakin & Company, was to have his home at 44 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, his City office and shop at 1 St Paul's Churchyard, City, and his West End outlet at 119 Oxford Street, linked by telegraph, acquiring four instruments.

Outside of London, in 1860, Platt Brothers, textile machinery makers of Oldham, Lancashire, had three Universal telegraphs to connect their several workshops. The Forth & Clyde Canal Company in Scotland had two to communicate between their lock gate stations. Lord Kinnaird installed two, between his house at Rossie Priory and his factor's office in the City of Dundee, twelve miles distant.

There were, in addition, thirty-one commercial and industrial concerns in the City of Glasgow that were awaiting completion of the Company's first private circuits in Scotland's other capital.

South Australian Railways had also bought fifty-two sets of Universal telegraph apparatus "capable of working over a distance of 150 miles" in 1860.

The earliest additional subscribers for rental of a private wire in London included, in April 1861, S W Silver & Company, Bishopsgate to Silvertown; Ravenhill & Salkeld, engineers and shipbuilders, Ratcliffe to Blackwall; the ‘Daily Telegraph’, Fleet Street to Russell Square (the owner’s residence) and the Thames Graving Dock Company, Silvertown; in September 1861, Pickford & Company and Chaplin & Horne, the carriers, and Bass & Company, the brewers, from their City premises to Camden Town railway goods depot; in March 1862, J Reuter, Royal Exchange Buildings to the offices of ‘The Times’, ‘Daily Telegraph’ and ‘Morning Star’ newspapers; and in July 1862, the Zoological Society of London, from its premises in Regent’s Park to its offices in Hanover Square, Middlesex Water Works and Price’s Patent Candle Company. The famous photographic artist, Antoine Claudet, had a private telegraph connecting his house in Chester Square with his studio at 107 Regent Street in that month.

It also listed John Penn, the ships' engine builder, and Elkington & Company, the electroplaters, as clients in its first year, as well as other manufacturing and engineering firms in London.

From its commencement the Company had a strong interest from Glasgow; almost simultaneously with the cables in London a series of circuits were established in Scotland's commercial and engineering capital.

The first contract for a private telegraph outside of London was agreed with Reid & Ewing, muslin and calico printers, of Maryhill, Glasgow, on October 23, 1860, to connect with their city office in George Street.  

In September 1861 the City of Glasgow Police; Loch Katrine Waterworks; the Glasgow Gas Light Company; the City & Suburban Gas Company; the Forth & Clyde Canal; Dalglish, Falconer & Company, calico printers; Henry Monteith & Company, dyers; G & J Burns, steamboat owners and engineers; A & A Galbraith, spinners and cloth manufacturers; Charles Tennant & Company, chemical manufacturers, David Hutcheson & Company, steamboat owners; Yates, Brown & Howat, muslin manufacturers; and many other mercantile, shipping and engineering firms were already subscribers. Whilst most acquired two instruments to connect their city office with their works, the ship-owners, G & J Burns required six, and David Hutcheson, four Universal telegraphs to cover all their premises.

William Mackenzie, a "letterpress printer, stereotype founder, engraver, lithographer, bookseller and publisher" of 45 & 47 Howard Street,  Glasgow, had a private circuit installed between his office and works. He also engaged to print the Universal company's initial prospectus, and went on to produce the firm's stationery and instrument manuals for most of its existence.
In October 1861 the Company was canvassing for private wire customers in Manchester, the centre of the cotton trade and manufacturing in Britain and was engaged in building its first aerial cables there. It appointed an Agent to solicit business on commission, Wheatley Kirk & Company, of Albert Street, St Mary's, Manchester, a firm of surveyors, valuers and auctioneers of factories, plant and machinery. Kirk, who styled himself "District Engineer & Agent", for Manchester, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and the Midland Counties, was to be found exhibiting the telegraph to trade associations in Manchester during 1861. 

Nathaniel Holmes, the Company's engineer, was the driving force in the initial development of the Universal company; he was to be found soliciting share holders from the scientific and mercantile communities, touring the country in this role as well in engineering and managing its works. In 1862 he was travelling between London, Bristol, Newcastle, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool and ran up £907 in costs and expenses.

Looking for major users, during 1861 Holmes provided a costing to the Government for private circuits in Whitehall to serve fifteen cabinet ministers; 19 instruments, 11 extra bells and 4 switches, totalling £337. In the same year he quoted the Metropolitan Police for circuits connecting Scotland Yard with the seventeen divisional chief offices and to the City Police; 21 instruments, 13 bells and 4 switches, at £335. Both of these projects were to be adopted in subsequent years in slightly modified forms.

However, the Company's activities were producing results, orders for private lines in June 1862 were: in Glasgow 37; in Manchester 54; in Liverpool 15 and new lines in London 20.  

In this year a substantial network was commenced for the Marchioness of Londonderry connecting her residence at Seaham Hall, Durham, with several of her collieries and the harbour at Seaham. This grew to five separate circuits by 1868, and connected with the Electric Telegraph Company at Sunderland.

Reuter's West End Office, 9 Waterloo Place, Pall Mall, 1861
one door from Charles Street, above a firm of
Army, India and Colonial Agents

The Universal Private Telegraph Company
and Mr Julius Reuter's Establishments

The 'Glasgow Daily Herald', Saturday, August 10, 1861

"The eye is arrested at the corner of Threadneedle Street by a singular tripod erection upon the roof of Mr Alderman Moon's [bookselling] premises, Royal Exchange Buildings. In appearance this resembles one of those iron river beacons placed to warn mariners off some dangerous shoal, with the exception that sundry ropes, supported by iron wires, appear to diverge from the top, and spread out in different directions. These rope-like appendages enclose the electric conductors of fine copper wire, fifty or one hundred being combined together according to the requirements of the district through which the "telegraphic main" is carried. Each separate wire of this bundle of conductors is carefully secured from contact with adjacent ones by insulation with Messrs Silver's patent india-rubber process, and further protected to resist mechanical injury and the effects of atmospheric exposure by coatings of prepared tape and hemp. The rope thus constructed is suspended between the poles, in lengths of about 200 yards, to the two iron wires by means of hooks drawn with it over the wires. The ends of each length of rope are carried down the pole into a box, the several wires separated and passed through little canals of ebonite arranged in a disc, and numbered consecutively, to correspond with those of the wires. By these means a communication with the "main" can be opened as any point along the line, and private wires carried down from the nearest post to the house or premises required to be placed in communication. If any accident happens to any particular wire, it can be discovered where the fault lies by testing from post to post."

"Passing onwards from the Royal Exchange, the "telegraphic main" traces its path down Birchin Lane, across the tower of St Clement's Church, to Cannon Street, where it enters another tripod, and meets the lines coming in from Whitechapel, Bermondsey, and North Woolwich. These tripods are placed wherever several lines meet or fall into one another, and are intended as stations for combining the wires coming in one direction with those entering from another. The ends of these cables are carried down the post into the connecting box. The box consists of a sheet-iron frame fitted with a lid, and about three feet long by two broad, and four inches in depth. The interior is furnished with insulating slips of ebonite, corresponding in number to that of the cables entering the box. Each ebonite slip is furnished with a series of small screw terminals, numbered consecutively 1, 2, 3, 4, &c, to correspond with those of the discs along the line, and receive the several insulated wires of the rope which it represents. These wires are severally attached to the screws of each lip, and by means of cross-connection, can therefore be combined together in any desired direction. Entire command is thus given over the whole of the lines."

 "By means of one of these boxes, at Waterloo Place, the various foreign ambassadors having private wires carried into that office, can, at will, be thrown in to communication with one another, the correspondence, though passing through Mr Reuter's establishment, remaining entirely secret. The various telegraph companies each having a private wire carried into Waterloo Place, any ambassador may likewise, by means of this box, at once be placed in direct communication between his own residence in London and his government abroad through the agency of the International or Submarine company's Continental system."

"Following the rope at a considerable elevation along Cannon Street, St Pauls' Churchyard, and Ludgate Hill, the line enters another tripod, at the corner of Bridge Street, Blackfriars, meeting the Holborn and Southwark "mains". Leaving this, the wires pursue their zig-zig course along Fleet Street, and the Strand, the 'Illustrated London News', and Somerset House, to Hungerford Market, where they are lost to the eye. Here, by permission of his Grace the Duke of Northumberland, the cable passes along the roof of Northumberland House, descending into the street at Messrs Prater's [army clothiers], from whence is passes underground to Mr West's, the optician, of Cockspur Street, and, re-appearing again at his roof, is carried across Pall Mall to Waterloo Place, where, for the purposes of the present description, we will leave it to worm its tortuous and various windings up Regent Street, Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road to Euston Square, and the goods station, Camden Town. At Messrs Prater's, [No 2] Charing Cross, the "telegraph main" diverges in the direction of Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament; and by permission of the First Commissioner of Works, also passes almost the entire distance along the cornices of the Government Buildings, entering the Houses of Parliament, at the Clock Tower, and under the basements to the lobby of the House and the Reporters' Gallery."

"At Mr Reuter's telegraph office, 9 Waterloo Place, the wires descend into the house; and there we propose to examine more minutely the system. On entering this establishment we proceed up a staircase, and find ourselves in a suite of handsome apartments, used for the transaction of important business."

"Ascending the stairs, we enter the signal room on the right round which, ranged on shelves, are the call-bells, twelve or thirteen in number, each furnished with a tell-tale, and numbered 1,2, 3, &c. From these bells wires proceed into the instrument room, and can be placed when required in communication with the corresponding instrument, to give notice that a "telegram" is about to be sent. As soon as any bell rings, a boy in the alarm room calls out the number to the instrument clerk, who immediately prepares for the message. Passing from here, we enter the instrument room, into which thirty wires descend from the telegraphic "main" on the roof. Eighteen of these wires branch off into a box fitted with terminable screws placed in the instrument room, the remaining twelve being carried into a similar box in the ambassadors' room. At these boxes the ends of the wires are all numbered to correspond with those in the "main". From these boxes, also, another series of wires proceed to the various instruments ranged round the room, by which means the ends of a wire, at any particular instrument, can at any moment be thrown into communication with any of the thirty wires leading into the "main". Standing in the centre of the room, we have time to examine more closely the details of this wonderful arrangement; and the first thing that strikes us is, that each of the instruments has a plate attached to indicate to which direction of the metropolis it is in communication. On one we can read 'Times', Printing House Square; on others 'Times', Houses of Parliament; 'Daily Telegraph', Houses of Parliament; &c., other tables enumerate the 'Daily News', 'Morning Post,' 'Morning Herald', 'Morning Star', 'Morning Chronicle', 'Morning Advertiser', each of the various newspapers having its own private representative, and distinct channel of news. Other series of tables and instruments point out fresh sources of intelligence – wings of thought by which the genius of the house, Mr Reuter, carries on his business. Here we read Reuter's Cornhill, Reuter's Houses of Parliament, Reuter's Finsbury Square. Then again there is the representative from the International Telegraph Company, standing in the room ready for the instantaneous receipt of the Continental Service "telegrams"; messages can be received here simultaneously with their despatch from the Continent. Here, indeed, the mind seems bewildered at the comprehensiveness of the arrangements and system, which can, at a grasp, place an individual not only in complete command of the Continent, but also of the metropolis, and almost every important town and sea port in the United Kingdom."

"The power and resources of this little room are almost fabulous. Presently one of the alarms rings in the next room, and without further preparations, beyond shifting a handle to throw the telegraph into connection with the "main", the little index in front of the operator revolves with marvellous rapidity, and the words, "Paris, July 29, evening. It appears that the king of…" just catch our eye as we retire, amazed to think that the quiet house in Waterloo Place is in exclusive possession of intelligence that only a few moments before was whispered in Paris."

This extract is quoted in such length as it describes the remarkably sophisticated private electric communications system that the Universal company and Julius Reuter had together developed in 1861!

Reuter's offices at Lothbury and Finsbury Circus were said to be equally complex in their arrangements. Nathaniel Holmes, the Company's engineer, provided access to Reuter's Waterloo Place hub, and was the guide during the tour. He may have written this revealing, indiscrete article.


The Year 1862
After a year’s construction activity the Company had achieved in September 26, 1862, in miles of wire constructed in cables, with the number of strands (circuits available) and those miles of wire that it had found renters for:

London District 1862
Line A – Finsbury, 30 strands, 1 mile length, 30 miles wire , 9 ½ miles rented
Line B – Strand, 50 strands, 3.2 miles length, 160 miles wire, 51 miles rented
Line C – Whitehall, 50 strands, 1,200 yards length, 35 miles wire, 6 ½ miles rented
Line D – Camden, 30, 20 and 15 strands, 1,430 yards length, 76 miles wire, 17 miles rented
Line E - Oxford Street, 30 strands, 660 yards length, 16 miles wire, 4 miles rented
Line F – Pimlico, single wire, 7 miles, 6 miles rented
Line G - Victoria Docks, 30, 20 and 15 strands, 124 miles wire, 10 miles rented
Line H - Southwark ,30 and 19 strands, 13 miles wire, 3 ½ miles rented
Line J – Lambeth, a single wire, 6 miles, 2 ½ miles rented
Line K – Wapping, 30 strands, 59 miles wire, 4 miles rented

This totalled 526 miles available in London. It then had 412 miles of spare capacity in London, but 35½ miles had applications from potential customers.

The District was also advertising heavily and canvassing for subscribers in industrial Birmingham in the English Midlands during December 1862.

Glasgow District 1862
Line A – 20 and 15 strands, 29 miles of wire
Line B – 20 and 15 strands, 17 miles
Line C – 30, 20, 15 and 10 strands, 38 miles
Line D – 20 and 19 strands, 10 miles
Line E - Govan and Renfrew in progress
Line F – 20 and 15 strands, 14 miles
Line G – 30 and 15 strands, 69 miles

This totalled 177 miles of wire available in Glasgow.

In October 1862 the Universal company listed the following thirty firms as having private wires in Glasgow; Dalglish, Falconer & Co., calico printers, Glasgow to Campsie, Robert Napier & Sons, engineers and iron founders, Lancefield to Govan, Parkhead Forge Company, Vulcan Foundry of James Napier, Henry Monteith & Co., calico and silk printers, G & J Burns, ship-owners, Handysides & Henderson, ship-owners, William Sloan & Co., steamship agents, Charles Tennant & Co., manufacturing chemists, W & J Blackie & Co., printers and publishers, W & J Fleming & Co., linen works, A & A Galbraith, spinners and cloth manufacturers, David Hutcheson & Co., steamship agents, William Holmes & Brothers, shawl manufacturers, Murdoch & Doddrell, sugar refiners, Glasgow Iron Company, City & Suburban Gas Co., William Miller & Sons, turkey red dyers and calico printers, Strang & Hamilton, "twisters", Mitchell & Whytlaw, cloth manufacturers,  Muir, Brown & Co., calico and silk printers, Robert Laidlaw & Son, ironmongers and iron merchants, Wylie & Lochhead, house furnishers, Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company, P & W McClellan, ironmongers and iron merchants, Greenock Foundry Company, J & A Allen's United States Steamship Office, George Miller & Co., manufacturing chemists and oil refiners, Bulloch, Lade & Co., spirit merchants, Lancefield Forge Company, among others.

It was to extend its lines in the autumn to the Vale of Leven, Barrhead, Thornliebank, Busby, Hurlet, Paisley, Greenock and Wemyss Bay. A plan was already in hand to link the Cumbrae, Pladda and Kintyre lighthouses to Glasgow city to provide information on shipping movements in the Clyde river.

Manchester District 1862
There were problems in developing the Manchester business. On September 26, 1862 there were no multi-strand aerial cables in use, but 20 miles were “suspended”, along with a single open wire.

A long report to the Board of Directors in August 1862 noted that Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Company and the Globe Telegraph Company were active in "tapping" its business. Their agent, Wheatley Kirk, had been dismissed but retained a stock of instruments and the books. Basil Holmes, the engineer's brother, was appointed Local Secretary in his place. In response to the competition Holmes, after negotiations with George Edward Preece, the Electric Telegraph Company's District Superintendent, proposed that extensions be immediately carried out using the Electric's rights-of-way on existing overhead pole lines at 1s a mile wayleave, and through rental of wires where they were already up on an annual payment. These would consist of circuits 1] Manchester to Liverpool (6 wires); 2] Liverpool to Northwich (3 wires); 3] Manchester to Warrington (2 wires); 4] Manchester to Patricroft (4 wires); 5] Manchester to Bolton (4 wires), and 6] Manchester to Ashton and Stalybridge (2 wires). He also wished to acquire rights-of-way from Manchester to Stockport, Bolton to Bury and Rochdale, and Rochdale to Oldham and Ashton. This would rapidly extend the Company's coverage of Manchester and Liverpool, which he felt could be quickly rented to private subscribers.

The remarkably competitive situation in Manchester was such that Holmes identified seven firms active in private telegraphy: Bonelli’s, W T Henley, Clyatt Morgan, Henry Wilde (the Globe Telegraph Company), John Faulkner & Company, Lundy Brothers and Wheatley Kirk & Company, their late agent. This came about, at least in part, through the policy of the Corporation of Manchester of freely granting permission for the carrying of open wires across and along public streets, which most local authorities refused.

Basil Holmes left the Company’s service in Manchester after a couple of years and returned to his previous profession of artist, painting landscapes and sculpting, in Exeter, Devon. He was replaced by Frederick Evan Evans, who proved more determined and subsequently joined the Post Office Telegraphs.

The Company sought to lay its own cable across the Mersey connecting Liverpool and Birkenhead on November 7, 1861. The Docks and Harbour Board rejected the application.

The international mercantile cotton brokers of the port of Liverpool and the huge textile manufacturing industry based on cotton in Manchester were to prove some of the most enthusiastic adopters of private telegraphy. This was true even in the depths of the cotton famine brought on by the start of the latest internecine American war in 1861.

In March 1862 the Universal company proposed to erect a shipping telegraph between Cork and Queenstown in Ireland on the vital sea route to America, to report maritime traffic through a proposed new cable to South Wales and England. The Electric Telegraph Company invoked its agreement of September 1861 prohibiting any connection with other circuits. This dispute initially went to court but the suit was abandoned when the Electric bought out the cable company and agreed to the Universal's participation.

On September 15, 1862 Reid Brothers agreed to erect the “Coal Line” for the use of William Cory & Company, the coal factors. It was a roadside circuit leading from North Woolwich, 14 miles to Purfleet on the Thames estuary, to give early notice of colliers arriving in the river. The long private line cost £364. Cory handled a million tons of coal a year and was famous in the 1860s for the monster coal derrick, Atlas, moored on the river for mechanically unloading the firm’s colliers.

S W Silver & Company had manufactured 534 yards of 60 strand cable, 416 yards of 50 strand, 8,079 yards of 30 strand, 8,769 yards of 20 strand, 5902 yards of 15 strand and 5,125 yards of 10 strand by the end of 1862.

It was not all business. The Company was always ready to promote itself to the public in social events. A soirée musicale, artistique et scientifique was held by the London Cambrian Society at the London Coffee House, Ludgate Hill, on the evening of November 9, 1862. The principal event was a concert with two fine singers and a harpist from the Welsh community in London. Even so, as part of the scientifique element, Professor Wheatstone was there with his Universal telegraph, which was personally tried out by many of the visitors. He was not alone in the telegraph interest; the Submarine and London District Telegraph companies laid on wires to connect with their systems; Thomas Allen showed his “light cable” to span the oceans, Cromwell Varley had his new “fault finder” on display, Owen Rowland, some cables, Messrs Silver, some of their india rubber insulated wires, as did Messrs Hall & Wells, and, on a lighter note, Francis Pulvermacher, the medical electrician, demonstrated his batteries and other electrical apparatus, to “cure, without pain, trouble, or any other medicine, all kinds of rheumatic, neuralgic, epileptic, paralytic, & nervous complaints, indigestion, spasms & a host of others.”

Wheatstone's Universal telegraph instrument of 1863
Now made much more compact and neater in a single mahogany case
There is a separate bell in this instance

Extension in 1863
On January 9, 1863 Reid Brothers completed the connection of private wires between the head office of the London & Westminster Bank at 41 Lothbury, City, and its two major branches in London in the West End at 1 St James’s Square, and in the “Borough” (Southwark) at 3 Wellington Street. David Salomons, chairman of the Universal Private Telegraph Company, was also chairman of the London & Westminster Bank.

When the Pneumatic Despatch Company opened its underground tube railway between the arrivals platform at the Euston Square station and the North- Western District Post Office in Eversholt Street, London, during January 1863 Reid Brothers installed the Universal telegraph to signal the arrival and departure of its novel carriages loaded with letters and parcels. The Pneumatic Despatch was a development of the Electric Telegraph Company’s air circuits carrying messages between its offices in the City of London. Its cast-iron tubes were scaled up from 1½ inches in diameter to 30 inches, to contain close-fitting, four-wheeled railway waggons propelled by a vacuum. It was similar in operation to the “atmospheric” system worked on the London & Croydon and South Devon Railways, whose air pumps were controlled by Cooke & Wheatstone's newly- patented electric telegraph, 20 years previously, in the 1840s. The 580 yard long tube line opened for service on January 15, 1863 and worked thirteen miniature trains a day carrying mail for the Post Office.

PDC Euston 1863

The Pneumatic Despatch Company's 30 inch tube railway 1863
Moving mail bags from Euston Square railway station to a sorting office,
controlled by the Universal telegraph

Nathaniel Holmes presented a series of maps to the Board of Directors in March 31, 1863 illustrating the aerial cables that the Company had already erected in Manchester and Glasgow, and his future plans:

• Manchester to Hyde, Stalybridge and Glossop
• Manchester to Oldham
• Manchester to Middleton, Bury, Haslingden, Accrington, Blackburn and Preston
• Bury to Wigan and Blackburn

Cables in the Manchester district were planned from Middleton to Rochdale and from Manchester to Stockport.

• Glasgow to Partick
• Glasgow to Campsie Junction and Kirkintilloch and Lennoxtown
• Glasgow to Leven
• Glasgow to Pollockshaws and Thornliebank with branches to Barrhead and Busby
• Thornliebank to Paisley, Port Glasgow and Greenock, to Paisley and Dalry

A long aerial cable was planned in the Glasgow district to connect with Edinburgh and Leith.

The five lines of aerial cable operating in the Manchester District during most of 1863 were designated:

Line A – Pendlebury
Line B – Halmer
Line C –
Line D – Oldham
Line E – Victoria Station  

On December 8, 1863 the first subscribers and the first private wires were created in Belfast, Ulster, in Ireland. William Ewart & Son, flax spinners, linen manufacturers and bleachers, connected their office at 11 Donegall Place with their works at the Crumlin Road Mills; William Girdwood & Company, Old Park Print Works were joined to their offices at 16 Donegall Place; and Johnston & Carlisle, of Brookfield flax spinning mills in Crumlin Road had a line to 30 & 34 Donegall Street in Belfast city.

Virtual Office 1863
On May 1, 1863 the Universal company announced in Glasgow that "The large Saloon on the ground floor, 15 St Vincent Place, is to be fitted up into small counting rooms for the accommodation of those firms in the suburbs and neighbouring towns who have no offices in the city, and who may wish to have private telegraph communication betwixt their works at a distance and Glasgow. The premises are in close proximity to the Exchange. By this arrangement a person whilst transacting business in the city can consult or be consulted by those at the works as easily as if in the next room. They will be let at £10 per annum."

An inclusive rate for telegraph and office was offered, an example of which was £34 per annum for a three mile line, inclusive of all maintenance. There was a "smaller rate per mile" for longer distances. As well as the City centre Pollockshaws, Barrhead, Hurlet, Nitshill, Paisley, Port Glasgow, Greenock, Springburn, Kirkintilloch, Campsie, Maryhill, Dalmuir, Kilpatrick, Bowling, Dumbarton, Dalreoch, Renton, Alexandria and Balloch were all then in private circuit.

Newcastle 1863
In January 1863, Basil Holmes in Manchester began advertising for private wire clients in a new market: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the major centre for the coal-trade and for heavy engineering in north-east England. This canvass was immediately successful, leading to the establishment of a separate Newcastle District office. In March 31, 1863 it planned three cables:

• Newcastle to Elswick and Scotswood
• Newcastle to St Anthony, Willington, North Shields and Tynemouth
• Newcastle to Gateshead, Friarsgoose, Jarrow and South Shields  

In Newcastle the commonest aerial cable was one of seven "strands"; however a nineteen strand cable was run 440 yards across the river Tyne near Robert Stephenson's famous High Level Bridge.

In that District the earthenware insulators on its roadside open-wire circuits near colliery villages became a regular target for young vandals.

In January 1863 the Company began renting wires in Dundee through an agent, George Lowden of Union Street, in that Scottish city, initially to the Royal Exchange building.

The board of directors, on June 12, 1863, anticipating substantial expansion and expenditure in the next few years, decided to increase its authorised capital. It would then amount to £190,000 in 7,600 ordinary shares of £25, all except £5 per share to be paid-up. The balance of 5,600 shares, not yet with the public, was then offered for sale. Not all of this was taken up, but it did cause a considerable change in shareholding, with provincial participants overtaking London capitalists.

The Universal company was able throughout its life to avoid the use of preference shares and the need for any loan or debenture issues, such was its strength in the capital markets.

Mr Holmes' Artillery

One day, a coalminer from some distant part of Durham, who had never heard of such things as time-guns, was passing across Newcastle Bridge, when he was startled by the sudden roar of the gun just above him. Amazed, he asked a passenger "what that was," who replied that it was "one o'clock." "One o'clock!" exclaimed the miner; "I'm very glad I were not here at twelve."

Mechanics' Magazine 1864

Time Guns
In Newcastle, from August 17, 1863, the Universal Private Telegraph Company, at the instance of Nathaniel Holmes, took a time-signal from Royal Observatory, Edinburgh in Scotland, off the Magnetic Telegraph Company's circuits and used Wheatstone's magnetic exploders, rather than galvanic batteries, in its office at one o'clock each day to ignite the charges of "time-guns" at the Old Castle in the city and at Barrack Hill several miles away in North Shields, signalling the precise hour of the day as a public service.

The process was described in 1865: "Mr N J Holmes... arranged a time-gun at Newcastle, 120 miles distant [from Edinburgh], to be fired by means of Wheatstone's magneto-exploder and Abel's magneto fuse; and on a fair day the current sent off along the telegraph wire discharged the gun with no sensible hesitation or 'hang fire;' but on a foggy day the highly intense magneto current was in too great a degree dissipated and lost. A practical system was finally devised, by causing a large signal-sending clock to discharge along the line of telegraph wire, at the due moment, a galvanic current of low intensity; this, on reaching Newcastle, was made to liberate in the proper apparatus there the more intense magnetic current, which had then only a few hundred yards to travel to the gun."


The Edinburgh Electric Time-Gun 1861
In August 1863 it was improved by Nathaniel Holmes, dispensing with
the local clock shown here and made to work remotely over 120 miles distant from the Edinburgh Observatory in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Prof Piazzi-Smyth, the Astronomer-Royal for Scotland, who introduced the very first electrically-controlled time-gun in Edinburgh in 1861, stated in November 1864 that his Observatory "looked on (Holmes) as the inventor of the distant time gun system".   

The Company provided three more time-guns in Scotland: at St Vincent Place, Glasgow on October 29, at Broomielaw, Glasgow on November 10, and at Greenock on the Clyde on November 21, 1863. However all of these were abandoned in November 1864 at the insistence of the Electric Telegraph Company who objected to the use of the Magnetic's circuits, and who wanted to install its own time-balls regulated from Greenwich.

Not all Glaswegians appreciated the time-gun. Nathaniel Holmes was summonsed at the Police Court on a charge of discharging a cannon from the roof of No 15 Vincent Square to the inconvenience or danger of passers-by on November 16, 1863. Holmes' defence was that proper notice had been given. He also pointed out that, two years previously, when the first time-gun had been commenced in Edinburgh all the complaints came from a single individual who adopted a multiplicity of names in writing to the Police there. The justices dismissed the summons.

A temporary time-gun was set up by the Company in the yard of the Orphan Asylum in Sunderland on August 26, 1863 to fire off at one o'clock each day in celebration of the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in that city. The reaction of the orphans is not recorded.

The Company established a time-gun at the entrance to the basin in Dundee harbour in Scotland on December 23, 1863 for a short period.

By December 1863, it had, or anticipated, working remote electric time-guns at Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Birmingham, Coventry, Hull, Dover and Tilbury, as well as those in Newcastle and North Shields.

Its last time-gun was introduced in Belfast in Ireland at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce in 1865. It, too, was connected by a circuit to Edinburgh Observatory and was installed by the Company at the Harbour Office. The gun fired daily at 1 o'clock Greenwich time as part of the Chamber's campaign to have time uniformity with Britain.

When the Electric Telegraph Company took over the management of the Newcastle time-guns on November 17, 1863 things went seriously wrong. With the original system of the Universal company, for the thirty-one days between October 17, 1863 and November 17, 1863 there were; Correct guns fired 30, No guns fired 1 and Incorrect time 0. Under the Electric between December 14, 1863 and January 14, 1864, also 31 days, the performance was; Correct guns fired 12, No guns fired 18 and Incorrect time 1. The Electric also abandoned their promised new gun at Sunderland. There was a public row in the newspapers between the City fathers and the Tyne River Commissioners, who had insisted on the change, over the poor service.

More Innovations 1863
The "Confidential Message System" was marketed by the Company, allowing subscribers with distant premises but without city offices to place terminal instruments in its hub station. The terms were the usual rental for wire and instruments, but with an additional sum for use of the Universal's office and clerks. There were three such contracts in Newcastle and one in Glasgow. A further three in Bradford terminated in the Electric Telegraph Company's office in that city.  

One of the Company's most enthusiastic subscribers was to be Sir William Armstrong. The 'king of cannon' had a private wire from the office at his Elswick Ordnance Works to the Universal's hub in Newcastle which handled his messages on and off the Electric company's national circuits to an "enormous extent". 

The great Museum at South Kensington had each of its many departments and its entrances connected by Universal telegraph in 1863. This was intended to protect its public and private exhibits; the doors being instantly shut upon any loss being signalled. 

The London & Westminster Bank, of which the Universal's chairman, David Salomons, was also chair, had its head office at 41 Lothbury, City, and its branches in the West End at 1 St James's Square, and in the "Borough"  (Southwark) at 3 Wellington Street, connected by Universal telegraph in December 1863.

A new, very small Universal type-printing receiver of Wheatstone's design was offered in 1863 in place of the dial indicating instrument. The ordinary magneto-electric communicator was used with this device, which printed the message in alphabetic type on a tape. An "inkless" foil tape was originally used but was soon replaced by an inker and paper. As its mechanism was driven by clockwork the Universal type printer was far less popular than the self-powered dial indicator. 

It was described thus, in April 1863: "Wheatstone's New Printing Telegraph - A self-recording letter printing telegraph exhibited for the first time here [in Glasgow]. By this apparatus, the message can be read by the receiver, if present, or recorded in legible type for his perusal during his absence. It consists of a small box divided into three compartments, the first of which contains, wound continuously on a wheel, several thousand feet of the slip on which the message is to be printed. The second compartment, about four inches square, contains the recording machine, capable of being worked either as a reading or printing telegraph, at the will of the operator, according as a small handle, placed in front of the dial, is turned to "read" or "print". This machine stops and starts itself without the assistance of any attendant, hitherto so necessary with former similar apparatus. The last compartment is an empty space, into which the message is received on leaving the machine. The box can be locked at pleasure, thus ensuring complete privacy in the transmission and receipt of intelligence."

Wheatstone's "miniature" printer worked by the Universal sender although revealed in 1863 was only patented, in concert with Augustus Stroh, in August 1871.

The Company’s aerial cables had 50, 30, 20 or 15 copper strand or cores dependent on the potential of the district through which they were to run. There were also single india-rubber insulated wires, and “open wires”, ordinary iron wire overhead circuits on earthenware insulators. Open wires were used primarily in their provincial lines.

The iron wires caused problems for the Company: in a year of electrical storms throughout the country large numbers of instruments were "thrown out-of-order" and one clerk rendered senseless by lightning in Glasgow during February 4, 1863. The use of paratonnerres or lightning protectors was obviously not obligatory in the private circuits.

It was working three private wires for marine telegraphs by the end of the year. One from Roche's Point to Cork in Ireland for the London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company reported the movements of the trans-Atlantic steamers of the Cunard line for relaying to Liverpool and London. The others were both for the coal-owners; on the Tyne reporting the arrival of empty colliers to Newcastle, and then along the north bank of the Thames reporting the arrivals to the Coal Exchange in London and to the Victoria Dock where the colliers from the north-east of England unloaded.

The long marine telegraph reporting the arrival of colliers to the Coal Exchange from the mouth of the Thames, a single wire on wooden poles, was worked on the Company's "timber"between London and Rainham in Essex, then on that of the Electric Telegraph Company from Rainham to Tilbury, forty miles in all. 

Having previously sold fifty instruments to the South Australian Railways, on April 3, 1863 the Company appointed Rattray & Matheson, solicitors, of Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand, as agents for the Universal telegraph in all the Australian states and New Zealand. John Matheson advertised instruments for sale on September, 30, 1863.

The ‘Argus’ newspaper in Melbourne was to have a private wire using the Universal telegraph between its office in Collins Street and the reporters’ gallery at the Parliament House in the Australian State of Victoria for several years.

Extensions in 1864
The Company opened 63 new private lines in 1864; new clients included Tupper & Company, iron wire makers; William Cory & Son, coal factors and merchants; South Kensington Museum; Victoria Dock Company; Odams Chemical Manure Company; Land Securities, a mortgage bank; Bryant & May, matchmakers; the Government's India Stores; Kennard & Hankey, bankers; St Katharine's Dock; Waterlow & Sons, printers; London Dock Company and the Chartered Gaslight & Coke Company. Reid Brothers, the Company's principal contractor, rented a wire between their City office and their works at Wharf Road, Islington.

A private line was opened in 1864 to Professor Wheatstone's home in Portland Place, off the aerial line to Finsbury. "It was his delight to startle a visitor or friend by sending a message to and receiving a reply from connexions or friends in distant parts of the country or abroad". 

Names from the telegraphic past with private wires included Henry Brett, the gin and brandy distiller and early telegraph investor, and C W Tupper, the maker of the first iron wire circuits used in telegraphy by W F Cooke.  The general manager of Price's Patent Candle Company, W H Hatcher, had a wire installed between their oil mill at Battersea and their factory at Vauxhall in South London. In 1846 Hatcher had been the first engineer of the Electric Telegraph Company.

In this year the Company began replacing its india-rubber insulation with gutta-percha, changing their suppliers from S W Silver & Company to the Gutta-Percha Company. A fire at Silvertown on May 26, 1864 destroyed a large mileage of the Company's newly-manufactured aerial cable.

The Universal Private Telegraph Company took a twenty-one year lease of No 4 Adelaide Street, Charing Cross, London, in July 1864, for its head offices. It inherited these premises from the Westminster Society for Insurance on Lives and Survivorships, and Granting Annuities, when the society's business was transferred to another concern.

The London lines had cost by December 1864 £16,574 to erect; the 596 miles of aerial cable at £19 3s 10d per mile of wire, the 135 miles of conventional "open wire" circuits cost £31 11s 2d per mile of wire.

In Manchester Robert Dodwell, the former District Manager of the Magnetic Telegraph Company, was employed as commission agent to acquire new renters in July 1864. He managed to gain over thirty new customers in the rest of that year from Manchester and Yorkshire. He had previously acted as agent for W T Henley's unsuccessful magneto dial telegraph and as engineer to Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Company in Manchester. The Company looked at acquiring the long six-wire circuit constructed by Dodwell for Bonelli's company between Manchester and Liverpool after that concern ceased trading in 1864. Although this line was on a prime commercial axis, with clear potential for private wire rental, and it experimented with transmissions on the circuit, terms could not be agreed.

The Newcastle District at the end of 1864 had 303 miles of wire, 138 in aerial cables and 165 miles of "open wire". It possessed eleven lines: for Gosforth, North Shields, a Loop at North Shields, South Shields, the River Tyne, Northumberland Docks, Birtley and Chester-le-Street, Blyth, Low Walker, Whittledean and Sunderland.

In that year the Company introduced the first switching or, as it came to be called, exchange between subscribers in Newcastle. Initially three renters of instruments were able to communicate with each other through a Swiss Commutator or Umschalter, a small switch-board, at the Akenside Hill hub. By 1868 the network had increased to eight intercommunicating subscribers. Colin Brodie, the Company's assistant engineer, devised this, the very first, private exchange system.

In a radical change in its business model circuits in the lines at Blyth and Chester-le-Street were opened for public traffic to the District office in Newcastle on December 14, 1864. The cost for a local twenty-five word message, including addresses of sender and recipient, was 6d; this was different from the standard twenty word message base of the national companies. These circuits also retransmitted messages to the Electric Telegraph Company's national lines when required.

The Company appointed an agency in Ireland to market private telegraphy during 1864; P L Munster & Sons, commission merchants, 6 Corporation Street, Belfast, in the industrial north of the island.

Jonathan Mellor, a cotton magnate from Manchester and a director of the South-Eastern Railway, joined the board of directors on February 24, 1864 and became chairman. Of more interest, Mellor was also a director of the India Rubber, Gutta-Percha & Telegraph Works Company, the joint-stock successor to S W Silver & Company, the principal supplier of the Universal's multi-core "aerial cables". Behind this appointment is the back story of the brothers Silver who, as well as being suppliers, were large shareholders and at the same time in litigation with the Company over their patent insulation. Mellor replaced David Salomons, the powerful chairman of the London & Westminster Bank, who withdrew from the board for health reasons.   

Unsurprisingly the Company, on Mellor's election, reverted to having the India Rubber, Gutta-Percha & Telegraph Works supply its multi-core aerial cables. However it also bought some stock from Wells & Hall, telegraph wire makers, of Mansfield Street, Borough Road, Southwark, in November 1864 using their patent india rubber insulated cores. Arthur Wells and Walter Hall had already contracted with the government to manufacture standard telegraph wire for the army and navy, a No 18 BWG tinned copper wire insulated with india rubber to a quarter inch diameter, weighing 90lbs per mile. This field cable had been successfully tested underwater for four years at the ordnance testing grounds at Shoeburyness on the Thames estuary.

In June 1864, at Mellor's suggestion, the Company's shareholders voted for the board of directors to share equally an annual honorarium of £600. Previously the directors had received no fees.

The Year 1865
New clients in 1865 totalled thirty-one in London and five in Newcastle, as well as others in Manchester. These included the Manchester Steel Company (owned by Joseph Whitworth), the Corporation of Salford (a local government authority), Shaw, Savill & Company (ship-owners), the 'Daily Telegraph' (two more wires), the Birmingham Police, the Birmingham Gas Company and the 'Newcastle Daily Chronicle'.

Losses in wire renters in the later 1860s averaged at about ten a year.
The year 1865 also saw the completion of the Company's major venture into public telegraphy which it called its Cantyre (Kintyre) Line, from Glasgow to Campbeltown on the Mull of Cantyre, to Oban, and to Rothesay in Scotland. Reid Brothers completed the 130 miles of pole telegraph for £6,244, as well as 5 miles of submarine cables across the lochs.

The Glasgow District Telegraph Company, a message-forwarding concern, also began to use the Universal's circuits in November 1865, continuing to do so until 1868. It seems to have been a trading style of the Universal company, as it shared its premises at 11 St Vincent Place, with a network of Agents in shops that fed messages to its public telegraph offices by messenger, at a cost of 6d for a twenty word message, delivered free within a radius of a half-mile.   

The Glasgow to Greenock public wire by way of Paisley and Port Glasgow was worked under an agreement with the Electric Telegraph Company in that messages were not to be transmitted off the Universal's circuits, in competition with the older concern.

The Forth & Clyde Canal Company gave the Universal company free rights of way for all its circuits along its waterway so long as it needed its own private wire between Glasgow and Grangemouth, a distance of 27 miles, for which it paid £60 per annum. 

The Company began a dispute with Reid's over their costs in this year. It had relied implicitly on its major suppliers for all of its supplies and services; its four offices each employed only four clerks who worked exceptionally long hours in keeping the books up to date. Colin Brodie began a test of direct labour and costed the processes involved in construction of its lines, and showed Reid's charges to be excessive. 

At the end of 1865 the Company had a total of 366 subscribers, of which 47 were new business drawn from 108 miles of new circuits. It had also let or sold 95 sets of Universal instruments.

It was not all utilitarian business. On the evening of April 27, 1865 a Sunday Schools' Soirée was held at Warlter's Road School, Holloway, in London for 250 young scholars and their teachers. "The wires of the electric telegraph were conveyed across the room, and two gentlemen from the offices of the Universal Private Telegraph Company were in attendance to explain the instruments in operation at each end of the room".

Holmes' Electrical Torpedo 1866
To lie on the sea-bed or be suspended by submerged floats below
the surface and detonated remotely under warships

The Electrical Torpedo
The Universal Private Telegraph Company was drawn in 1865 into the War between the Confederate and United States in America. During the summer and autumn of 1864 it had provided its magnetic exploders, insulated wire and magnet fuses to agents of the Confederate States Navy. At this time Nathaniel Holmes and Matthew Maury, a Confederate naval officer and renowned scientist, had begun developing a system of coast, harbour and river defence based on electrical torpedoes or submarine mines.

On June 20, 1864 Stephen Russell Mallory, Secretary of the Navy in the Confederate States, on the advice of Commander Maury, instructed that 5,000 pounds of the nitro-cellulose explosive, gun-cotton, ten miles of gutta-percha insulated copper wire and twelve "Wheatstone Batteries" with necessary wires and primers be shipped from Europe. The new device had already come to the notice of Confederate agents in England; a previous order from the navy department for 25 miles of insulated copper wire and 1,000 pounds of gun-cotton, dated April 11, 1864, was despatched from Liverpool to the southern states in July with the gratuitous addition of a Wheatstone Magnetic Exploder and 100 Magnet Fuses. These advanced materials were all to be used in making electrical torpedoes.

In Britain Holmes approached Sir John Burgoyne, the general in charge of fortifications at the War Office in London, in January 1865 informing him of the experiments with electrical torpedoes that he, Wheatstone, Maury and the Dutch naval officer Marin Jansen had been carrying out independently. Holmes sought government support for their work. Burgoyne apparently was positive, but it had to be carried out discretely to keep it secret from the abolitionist minister in London.  

On April 20, 1865 Maury, just about to leave for Mexico, and Holmes, writing from the Company's offices, came to a secret agreement to market the electrical torpedo to national governments, dividing the income equally. Its ignition was based on the magnetic exploder with the addition of a mechanism for accurate cross-bearing by two operators to ensure that a vessel was over the torpedo, an electrical gauge to safely test the circuits and the igniting fuse, and plans for planting torpedoes in deep water and in water with strong currents. The torpedo was based on the experiments in Europe and, more importantly, on Confederate experience in submarine demolitions in America. Its use was to be offered preferentially to Russia, Holland and Mexico.

Nathaniel Holmes and Matthew Maury obtained a patent for the electrical torpedo on December 8, 1865.   

The Year 1866
By April 1866 the Company's Miles of Wire in aerial cables and wires had expanded:

London District 1866
Line A - Finsbury, 42 miles of wire
Line B - Strand, 127 miles
Line C - Whitehall, 27 miles
Line D - Camden, 65 miles
Line E - Oxford Street, 111 miles
Line F - Pimlico, 15 miles
Line G - Victoria Docks, 200 miles
Line H - Southwark, 60 miles
Line I - Lambeth, 11 miles
Line K - Wapping, 91 miles

The London District included Birmingham, with 15 miles, and Derby, Coventry, Bristol, Kendal and Dublin, 12 miles.

In 1866 the Company's London District totalled 776 miles of wire; 629 miles in aerial cable and 146 miles in "open wire".  

The medical profession was much taken with the Universal telegraph. Two eminent practitioners, Morell Mackenzie at the Throat Hospital and Charles Brooke at the Westminster Hospital had the Company provide them with private wires between hospital and house. In December 1866 two lesser surgeons, Louis Little and John Couper, had a three-mile long private wire and instruments to connect their rooms in Brook Street and Park Street in the West End with the 445-bed London Hospital on Whitechapel Road in the depths of the East End.

The doctors and surgeons paid for these facilities themselves that they might be immediately summoned for emergency duties at their hospitals.

In March 1866 the Board of Directors reported that the company had 366 renters. Expansion in the previous half-year had been considerable; with 108 miles of new line wire costing £2,145, 47 new renters earning £1,303 per annum and 95 new instruments rented or sold. A dividend of 6% was declared.

The principal increase in business in 1866 came with the acceptance by the Metropolitan Police of the Company’s tender to connect Scotland Yard with twenty-one of its Divisional Stations in October. The work was finally completed on September 30, 1867. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, Sir Richard Mayne, and the Assistant Commissioners, Captain William Harris and Captain Douglas Labourdiniere, were then also provided with personal lines to their residences, at Chester Square, Porchester Square and South Audley Street, respectively.

Surprisingly, in a year that was to see the collapse of the financial system in Britain, the Bank of London, the London Joint Stock Bank, the National Bank, the Union Bank of London, the Manchester & County Bank and the National Bank of Scotland all subscribed for new private wire circuits from the Company.  

In 1866 the Company laid a new 30 strand cable in London, alongside of the South Eastern Railway from Cannon Street station to St Saviour’s Church, Deptford. It already had 15 renters lined up, including the Surrey Commercial Dock Company, Peter Rolt, a major timber dealer, G & J Rennie, engineers, the Metropolitan Police and Peek Frean, the famous biscuit makers.

Despite continued expansion the Company was to have a poor year in 1866: the Great Storm in January 1866 caused £2,092 worth of damage to its "open wire" circuits. This, and the expense of expanding in a year of financial crisis, especially the construction of the Cantyre line, wiped out its annual dividend.

The provincial shareholders complained that Charles Wheatstone, still the principal proprietor, continued to receive a royalty on new instrument rentals and on every new mile of aerial cable in these hard times. However, a tighter rein on spending had the shareholders' rewarded once again in the next financial year.

The stationhouses of the Liverpool Fire Police were connected by Universal telegraph in October 1866. The Mersey Docks & Harbour Board also opened its immense property either side of the river in Liverpool and Birkenhead to the Company's private wires for the use of merchants and brokers.

The Year 1867
At the end of the following year the Engineer's report in December 1867 consisted of:

London District 1867
Line A – Finsbury [Birchin Lane, Founders' Court, Moorgate Street, King Street, Wharf Road, Highbury]
Line B – Strand [Birchin Lane, Lombard Street, Bedford Street, Tavistock Street, Adelaide Street]
Line C – Whitehall [Parliament Street, Bridge Street, Clock Tower, House of Commons]
Line D – Camden [Oxford Street, Goodge Street, Euston Station, Camden Station & Piccadilly Circus to Conduit Street]
Line E – Oxford Street [Founders' Court, Baker Street, Russell Square, Guildford Street]
Line F – Pimlico [Victoria Street, Grosvenor Place, Halkin Street, Grafton Street, Chartered Gas Works, Thames Bank]
Line G – Victoria Dock [Birchin Lane, Hayden Square, Mile End Gate, West India Dock, East India Dock, Orchard Street, Victoria Dock, Silvertown, Purfleet, Chartered Gas Works, Bow, Hackney Wick]
Line H – Southwark [Hibernia Wharf, Hay's Wharf, Free School Road, Dockhead, Wade Street, Spa Road, Deptford, China Hall, Rolt's Yard]
Line I – Lambeth [Belvedere Road]
Line K – Wapping [King William Street, Adelaide Place, Nicholson's Wharf, Wapping Basin, St Bede's Wharf; and Custom House, Mincing Lane, London Road; and Minories, St Katharine's Wharf, Broad Street, Ratcliffe]

Outside of the capital itself the Company's London District in 1868 managed private lines in Birmingham, 27 miles of wire, Derby, 1 mile, Coventry, 1 mile and Bristol, 1 mile, as well as 39 miles of Metropolitan Police lines.

Newcastle District 1867 
Line A - Gosforth, 29 miles of wire
Line B – Tynemouth, 96 miles
Line C – Jarrow, 60 miles
Line D – Whittle, 29 miles
Line E – Malhead, 13 miles
Line F – Willington, 70 miles
Line G – Percy Main, 3 miles
Line H – Northumberland Dock, 5 miles
Line I – Gateshead, 5 miles
Line J - Town, 1 mile
Line K - Durham, 54 miles
Line L – Sunderland, 8 miles
Line M – Chester-le-Street, 18 miles
Line N – South Hetton, 28 miles
Line O – Riddick House, 8 miles
Line P – Miscellaneous, 7 miles
Line Q – Stella Staith, 5 miles

Manchester District 1867
Line A – Wear Lane, 54 miles
Line B – Studdart Bridge, 17 miles
Line C – Blackburn, 129 miles
Line D – Brealey, 13 miles
Line E - Patricroft
Line F – Beckton Hall, 5 miles
Line G – Ashton, 52 miles
Line H – Stockport, 12 miles
Line I – Wanting, 17 miles
Line J – Pendleton, 31 miles
Line K – Jackson's Row, 4 miles
Line L – Miscellaneous, 4 miles
Line M – Bradford, 7 miles
Line N – Kendal, 3 miles

Liverpool Sub-District 1867
Line A – Vauxhall Road, 23 miles
Line B – Christian Street, 9 miles
Line C – Prince's Dock, 20 miles
Line D – Canada Dock, 72 miles
Line E – Sandy Lane, 3 miles

In September 1867 the Company noted the range of people that were working its instruments: "the Universal telegraph is used by Reuter's Telegram Company for the transmission of news to 'The Times' and other newspapers; between newspaper offices and the Reporters' Gallery of the House of Commons; by police constables and firemen and by all classes of commercial employee, as well as by butlers and housemaids; and, on the Cantyre line, by country shopkeepers, most of whom are postmasters and postmistresses."

Wheatstone Dial Indicator 1868

Wheatstone's Large Dial Indicator 1868
A wall-mounted device for showing telegraph signals or other messages

By 1867 the Universal telegraph was adapted for use on the Royal Navy's new ironclad warships with very large dials that signalled the commander's orders from the vessels' armoured conning tower to the engine room and to the helm. It was planned to install a new version in the House of Commons with large dial indicators and replaceable paper inserts that showed the business in progress and yet to be transacted for the members throughout Parliament.

Police Wires

Captured by the Telegraph!
(Click the thumbnail above for an enlarged version,
click on Previous Page to resume)

Police Telegraph
One of the first adopters of the Universal telegraph had been the City of London Police in 1859, before the Company was organised. It had a web of circuits connecting its six stations with the chief office in Old Jewry. Its utility was described by its senior field officer, writing in March 1864:

"Captain Charles Hodgson, the Superintendent of the City of London Police force, speaking of the value of the telegraph for police purposes, states; by its means, information is immediately transmitted from the several divisions of the chief offices of all occurrences of an important character, of which particulars were, formerly, only supplied every twenty-four hours. So, likewise, any matter of which it is desirable to send notice speedily to the different stations, is now telegraphed, instead of being sent round in writing by a messenger – a course that formerly occupied about two hours. The telegraph is also found very convenient in promptly obtaining from a division any particulars required relating to matters under investigation at the chief office. On the occasion of fires or other unforeseen emergencies, the telegraph has been found especially useful, not only in conveying the information from station to station, but in enabling the officers to collect from all the stations the requisite number of men, without denuding the streets in the immediate neighbourhood of the occurrence of the constables in charge of beats. As an illustration of its value in this respect, I may instance the occasion of the great fire in Tooley Street, when London Bridge and the city side of the river were, for a considerable period, occupied by a vast and excited crowd, which required the greatest exertion of police authority to control and, through which, only be the greatest effort could the circulation of traffic be maintained. The large number of City Police so engaged were drawn from the several divisions by a series of telegraphic messages, as the increase of the fire, and the accumulation of spectators, made hourly additions to the strength of the police necessary. A further, and by no means unimportant, aid rendered by the police telegraph, is the general facility it affords to officers in charge of divisions of conferring with the chief office on matters presenting unusual difficulties, and of communicating with the superintendent at his residences, at any hour of the night. For these reasons I consider the telegraph most valuable to the force, in economising time, and giving to its officers more direct control over its resources."

Captain Charles George Hodgson, born in 1812 and late of the Grenadier Guards, had been appointed Superintendent of the City Police on its establishment in 1839. He remained as the force’s operational chief until just before his death in 1869.

Whitehall Place

Scotland Yard 1860
Actually the Office of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis,
  No 4, Whitehall Place, Westminster.
It is the single house to the right of the bow front.
Scotland Yard with A Division Police Station was to the rear of this.
It was a requirement that the circuits installed by the Universal Private Telegraph Company had to enter the premises by underground cable
and not by their usual over-house wires

Regarding law enforcement in the rest of London, it was only in 1866 that the Executive Branch of the Commissioner’s Office of the Metropolitan Police in Whitehall Place, London (better known as “Scotland Yard”), invited tenders for connecting twenty-one of its larger Divisional stations and three private residences of the senior officers with Scotland Yard by electric telegraph. The tenders were to be received by October 6, 1866. The specification required the use of Wheatstone’s Universal telegraph. The contract had to include the maintenance of all instruments, apparatus and wires, which had to be ready for service by March 1, 1867 and was to run henceforward for a period of seven years. Two tenders were received.

The London District Telegraph Company quoted a rental of £900 per annum, with an alternative outright purchase price of £4,000, plus £50 a mile for any additional wires.

The Universal Private Telegraph Company quoted £786 per annum, a purchase price of £3,200 and £30 a mile for extensions. They were awarded the contract.

At each of the designated Divisional police stations and residences the Company provided one of its three-piece Universal dial telegraphs, comprising a communicator, an indicator and a bell. It also established a Telegraph Office at Scotland Yard, with four sets of Universal telegraph apparatus, twenty-four bells, one for each station, and four switches that each connected with six stations. Additional telegraphs were to be rented at £6 per year for a complete set, or £5 without bells.

Training in the use of the Universal telegraph was commenced early in November, 1866 for a senior police officer, usually an Inspector, from each Divisional station. The Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners each had a Clerk appointed to work the instrument at their private residences when they were at home. Only those formally trained were allowed to touch the apparatus. The Telegraph Office at Scotland Yard was under the charge of Superintendent Thomas Kittle, head of the Executive Branch. A sergeant and a constable were to work the apparatus in the Office in eight hour shifts throughout the day. Communications received by the Office and by all other stations were to be recorded in Telegraph Message Books.

On September 30, 1867 the Universal company’s secretary, William Brettargh, wrote to the Commissioner of Police confirming that the entire network was completed, linking Scotland Yard with the Police Stations at Whitehall, Westminster, St James’s, Marylebone, Holborn, Covent Garden, Finsbury, Whitechapel, Stepney, Lambeth, Southwark, Islington, Camberwell, Greenwich, Hampstead, Kensington, Wandsworth, Brixton, Paddington, Highgate and Wapping, as well as the private houses of the Commissioner of Police and the two Assistant Commissioners. Police Orders of the same day announced the telegraph’s operational introduction on October 1, 1867.

The relationship between the Metropolitan Police and the Universal Private Telegraph Company proved to be a fruitful one. Extensions to the new network were soon authorised: in December 1867 the Commissioner’s Office was connected with the Home Office in Whitehall at an additional annual rental of £32; in January 1868 the police office in the Houses of Parliament was added for an extra £36, and during 1868 the London Fire Brigade, the Horse Guards, headquarters of the Army, and the City Police were put in circuit with Scotland Yard, too. Eventually, on April 18, 1868, the Company was instructed to extend the police network to the majority of the 117 smaller stations (out of a total of 138) then without the telegraph, at an additional rental cost of £1,936. This final agreement was never completed as the Company was appropriated by the Post Office during that year.

Although the Post Office eventually agreed, in May 1871, to fulfil the Company’s contract to complete the police network, by March 1873 only another 75 stations had been put in circuit. It also resisted applying the maintenance clauses in the Company’s agreement whereby broken circuits had to be made good within three days and that Scotland Yard would decide the order in which circuits should be repaired.

Metropolitan Police rental to the Universal company for the telegraph was £786 in 1868, when 14,719 messages were sent, and £1,124 for the period 1869 to 1870, including £45 per annum each for the three personal wires, after which years the Post Office assumed the arrangements.

Thomas Kittle, born in Barrowby, Lincolnshire, in 1831, had a remarkable rise through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police. Joining in 1857, he was a Sergeant at Scotland Yard with the Executive or operational administration section of the Commissioner’s Office by 1861, becoming Inspector with A Division, Westminster, in 1864, giving expert evidence as such before Parliament. In mid 1868 Kittle was appointed Superintendent in charge of the Executive Branch where he was responsible for introducing many technical improvements in police communications as well as for the adoption of the telegraph. He appears to have died in the early 1870s.

I must thank Superintendent John Bunker, late of the Metropolitan Police, for providing much of the information above, contained in his exceptionally detailed work on police communications, ‘From Rattle to Radio’.

One the earliest users of the Universal telegraph outside of London was the City of Glasgow Police. The Municipal Police Committee negotiated a bargain rental of £100 a year, down from £180, on June 17, 1861 to connect the Central Police Office at South Albion Street, the District Police Stations, the Fire Engine Station and the Exchange. It was originally only a one year contract, but the system was found efficient and the agreement extended, eventually comprising twelve separate lines. The circuits, by October 1862, included the City Prison and the home of the chief of the detective police, Captain Alexander McCall, who "in his own bedroom, can be spoken with from any part of the city". McCall was to become the City's Chief Constable.

The Newcastle City Police connected the Central Police Station at the New Buildings with the Police Offices at Northumberland Street and Prudhoe Street on September 15, 1863. This was one of the first private circuits in north-east England.

The Birmingham Police possessed one central instrument and a four-way switch to connect to its four out-station circuits. These linked the Central Station at Moor Street and the District stations at Kenyon Street, Duke Street, Alcester Street and Ladywood. The system was completed on May 12, 1865.

On October 11, 1865, the Liverpool Fire Police authorised the Company to connect the Public Offices at Cornwallis Road, the Hotham Street waterworks, the five dock fire stations and the twelve town fire stations by Universal telegraph. The cost for this very extensive system was to be £230 per annum.

The Leeds Police united its Central Police Office at the Town Hall with its wide-spread stations at Duke Street, Kirkstall Road, Hunslet, Holbeck, New Wortley and Sheepscar, as well as the borough gaol at Armley on July 8, 1868. The system was to cost £550 a year.

In July 1868 the Newcastle City Police extended its single circuit dating from 1863 that was costing £65 a year, adding four more circuits, eventually renting 3 miles of wire, five Universal instrument sets and ten bells. The neighbouring Northumberland County Constabulary also acquired a single circuit in that year.

Wheatstone had developed several methods of recording distant operations, including the electric thermometer for use in mines and at high altitude, and had had installed experimental magnetic counters at the entrances of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, in 1851 so that visitor numbers could be monitored minute by minute.

Wheatstone's Magnetic Recording Instrument or Counter 1862
For remote registration of people and processes,
up to 99,999 units

The Universal company introduced for sale Wheatstone's much improved 'Recording Instrument for Newspaper Offices and Public Buildings', an adaptation of the Universal telegraph. It was operated by an electro-magnetic trip and required no galvanic batteries. This was first used in the London Exhibition of 1862 to count and record electrically on a dial everyone entering through the turnstiles. It was modified to count the copies of 'The Times' newspaper as they were printing on its rotary presses, indicating the performance on a dial on the editor's desk.  

Wheatstone's Magnetic Counter 1872
Above, the electro-magnetic transmitter worked by a trip or lever, at right,
needing no battery, it was similar in action to his "magnet & bell" of 1841;
below, not to scale, the recorder, for up to 999,999 units

The Cryptograph
On March 29, 1856, 'Chambers' Journal' in London reported, "Mr Wheatstone has solved the problem of a method of secret correspondence, easy of application and undiscoverable. He has invented and patented an instrument – the Cryptograph – by means of which any two persons may intercommunicate without fear of betrayal. It is so simple, that the writer, as he sits at the table, turns the barrel with a finger of his left hand, while recording the symbols with his right. These he may send to his correspondent, who, provided with a similar instrument, makes the necessary movements, and reads off the despatch. Or the symbols may be transmitted as a telegraphic message, in full confidence that none but the receiver to whom it is addressed will get at the interpretation. No matter that it be intercepted by anyone having a similar instrument; none but the two who have agreed beforehand the key can find out what is meant. There are two or three forms of the instrument; and one is so contrived as to interpret its own signs at pleasure. We hear that the impossibility of detection by any third or unauthorised person is clearly demonstrable. So unhappy lovers may take heart once more, assured that Mr Wheatstone's cryptograph will enable them to correspond by cipher-advertisements in the Times to their heart's content, and without fear of discovery from the most lynx-eyed of guardians. The price of the instrument will be sufficiently moderate – in the advertisers' phrase – to bring it within the reach of all who may wish to use it."

Wheatstone's Cryptograph 1860
A cipher machine, first demonstrated in 1856, with twenty-seven
divisions on a 3¾-inch diameter nickel-silver dial or disc.
The inner divisions have permutatable alphabetic ivory inserts.
Marketed by the Universal Private Telegraph Company from 1867
Plan and section from 'Cryptologia', April 1985

'Scientific American' gave a more serious and precise description on May 18, 1867: "The importance of a secure cipher for commercial, military and other telegrams of a confidential nature, grows with every step in the extension of telegraphic correspondence, and has brought forth a most ingeniously simple and effective invention for the purpose mentioned, which has been adopted by the British War Office. The parties to a confidential correspondence by telegraph are each furnished with a little instrument consisting of a dial having the letters of the alphabet printed in regular order in a circle near the circumference, with one blank space, making 27 intervals. In a circle within this runs a flanged groove having room for just 26 letters, and in which the letters, printed on separate bit of card of the exact size, are arranged in any arbitrary order understood between the parties. A secure and convenient way to fix this arbitrary order in the mind without risking it on paper, is to agree upon any word easily remembered, and when a despatch is to be sent or deciphered, write down the letters of this word, and under them write the remaining letters of the alphabet in the proper order from right to left, one letter under each letter of the word, then beginning another line under this in the same way, and so on until the entire alphabet in arranged in both lines and columns, which are to be read vertically, and the letters in the inner circle of the dial are to be arranged in that order. After the despatch is sent or deciphered, as the case may be remove the letters, and the instrument is again uncommunicative."

"But the mode of communication remains to be described. The centre of the dial is penetrated, exactly like a clock, by a shaft or arbour passing through a hollow arbour, the former bearing a long and the latter a short index hand. Each of these arbours has also fixed on its spur wheel, gearing on a loose pinion common to both, so that turning the one turns the other. But the spur wheel of the short hand has twenty-six teeth and that of the long hand twenty-seven, answering respectively to the divisions of the inner and outer circles, so that at every revolution of the long hand, the short hand completes the circuit of the alphabet and one letter further, thus gaining one every time. Consequently, a message spelled out with the long hand, and written out in the letters simultaneously indicated by the short hand, would be in a constantly changing cipher, in which no letter would be represented twice by the same substitute, and no possible clue could be obtained without first obtaining the magic word upon which the inner circle of letters was arranged. The receiver of the message having properly arranged the arbitrary alphabet in the instrument, has only to turn the short hand to the letters of the despatch as received, in succession, and write off those indicated by the long hand. The instrument is, of course, only to be turned forward, or from left to right."

During February 1868 the Company sold four of the Cryptograph machines to the Metropolitan Police. These small, pocket-sized, nickel-silver devices, around four-inches in diameter, could render messages into an unbreakable cipher. Each cost £1 5s. It had been previously adopted by Queen's household and by that of the Emperor of the French.

Superintendant Thomas Kittle of the Metropolitan Police was responsible for introducing the Cryptograph to the Home Office in London, to the Irish Office in Dublin and to the police at Dublin, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, as well as to the Lancashire Constabulary. These instruments were used to protect government and police messages related to the fight against Fenian terrorism. In October 1867 Kittle had been placed in charge of the police telegraphs in London leased of the Company. He spoke approvingly of the simplicity and ease-of-use of both the Universal telegraph and the Cryptograph, and of the absolute security of the latter instrument, to Parliament in 1868.

In appearance the Cryptograph was extraordinarily simple, being a disc of white metal with a shallow rim, grooved for outer and inner alphabet rings, about 3¾ inches diameter overall and ½ inch deep over the central knob. It was intended to be pinned to a table for one-handed use, all the sensitive information being easily removed from the disc or dial. The outer alphabet, on a fixed flat ring, and the separate inner alphabet letters were engraved on ivory, fitting into two grooves on the dial, the inner groove being pierced with holes to push out the letters. There were also removable cardboard inner rings, as well as the loose ivory letters, on which a cipher or even a sequence of symbols could be handwritten and kept separate for regular use. Donald W Davies described its manufacture thus in 'Cryptologia' in 1985: "The construction is very precise. It is hollow at the back, and a small case is attached to hold and cover the gears. The surfaces appear to be silver. The way in which the back surface conforms to the front suggests that it was made by electro-deposition onto a pattern... Three screws at the edge have pointed ends which protrude a little, to fix the device on a surface. It is carried in a felt-lined case together with the ivory peg and a few complete inner rings that can be used to hold alphabets for easy removal and replacement". The ivory peg was used to push out the individual letters on the inner groove.

The design and size of the Cryptograph remained constant, although the disc was also later made in brass and other materials. It always came, with accessories, in a hinged case or box, 4¾ inches by 4⅛ inches by 1 inch in size. Instrument serial numbers show that over two thousand were made between 1868 and 1890.

Wheatstone developed a larger, desk-top version of the pocket Cryptograph that printed, or rather embossed, the enciphered or deciphered text on a tape. "The dial had a handle and pointer with a spur wheel of 26 teeth, gearing with another of 27 teeth fixed on the axis of a frame round which the type is set. On striking the knob in the centre of the dial, the letter corresponding to the cipher indicated on the dial is embossed on a strip of paper, fed through by a ratchet and pawl, and received in locked receptacle."

The Cryptograph was seen at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, but little further was heard of it in the public press. It was rumoured to be still used, enciphering government secrets, at the end of the century. A variant was proposed for army field ciphering in 1914.

1868 - The Last Year
In Leeds and Bradford, and many other towns in the north of England, including Middlesbrough, industrialists and coal-owners preferred to own their private wires outright, commissioning the Universal company to erect the line and provide the instruments, avoiding rentals, having only a maintenance agreement with regard to apparatus.

Examples of the contracts undertaken for private wire work are those with the extremely large mining firm of Bell Brothers of Middlesbrough, in 1868. Bell Brothers were owners of South Brancepeth and Tykedale collieries, the Normanton, Skelton, Kilton and Cliff ironstone mines, Wear ironworks and Clarence ironworks. 

Bell Brothers line from Royal Exchange, Middlesbrough, to Port Clarence Ironworks, comprised a half-mile of overhead line and three-quarters of a mile of roadside line:

•250 yards, one No 8 iron wire and wooden standards, Exchange to Port Clarence Ferry
•250 yards single-core submarine cable across the Tees, Middlesbrough to Port Clarence 200 yards, one No 8 iron wire and 30ft larch poles Port Clarence to North Eastern Railway
•1,000 yards, one No 8 iron wire and 30ft larch poles North Eastern Railway to Port Clarence Ironworks

The cost of these works was £62 2s 6d, but the cost of the submarine cable across the Tees is not recorded; two sets of Universal instruments cost £50.

Bell Brothers line from Royal Exchange, Middlesbrough, to Normanby coal mines, comprised one-quarter mile of over-house line and five-and-a-quarter miles of roadside line:

•150 yards, one 3/16 iron wire, over-house, Royal Exchange to Middlesbrough railway station
•1 mile 680 yards, one No 8 iron wire and one-third larch poles, 26ft and 30ft, Middlesbrough railway station to Cargo Fleet
•3 miles 1,200 yards, one No 8 iron wire and whole larch poles, 26ft and 30ft, Cargo Fleet to Normanby mines

The cost of these works was £172. The costs of one set of Universal instruments was £25, of one tell-tale bell and one switch, £5 5s and of one short circuit piece, 12s 6d.

For the South Bank Iron Company, Middlesbrough, a line was built from Royal Exchange, Middlesbrough, to Clay Lane Ironworks, one-quarter mile over-house and two-and-half miles of roadside line:

•150 yards, one 3/16 iron wire, over-house, Royal Exchange to Middlesbrough railway station
•1 mile 680 yards, one No 8 iron wire and one-third larch poles, 26ft and 30ft
•1 mile, one No 8 iron wire and whole larch poles, 26ft and 30ft

These works cost £87 and two sets of Universal instruments, £50.

For Swann Coates & Company, ironmasters, of Middlesbrough, a private wire was made from Royal Exchange Middlesbrough to Cargo Fleet ironworks, two-and-a-half miles of roadside line:

•150 yards, one 3/16 iron wire, over-house, Royal Exchange to Middlesbrough railway station
•1 mile 680 yards, one No 8 iron wire and one-third larch poles, 26ft and 30ft
100 yards, one span No 8 wire, railway to their office

These works cost £54, the two sets of Universal instruments, £50.

The four private telegraph systems above were all construction contracts and not rental agreements. They, however, still demonstrate the Universal company's standard specification and costs for erecting and equipping their open-wire private circuits.  

On December 31, 1868 the report to the Board of Directors showed that the Universal Private Telegraph Company possessed the following miles of wire:


The Company continued to invest in additional mileage, driven by continual demand for private circuits. In 1868, the year in which it achieved its best dividend return, its spare capacity still varied from 30% in London to 20% in Manchester, 10% in Newcastle and 15% in Glasgow. This gave it a large margin for expansion; and the original Universal telegraph and aerial cable patents still had five years before they expired and competition could enter the market.   The Universal Private Telegraph Company on June 20, 1868 had 2,294 miles of wire, of which 629 miles was yet to be let, with 1,196 instruments on lease. The on-going rental income for that year was £12,676, new renters contributed £2,086 and terminating renters £888, totalling £15,532 income.

In July 1868 a new 30 strand line, its last, was to be laid alongside of the South Eastern Railway from Cannon Street and St Saviour's Church to Spa Road, Jamaica Road, Neckinger Road and on to Greenwich.

In the last year the Company's directors were Jonathan Mellor, of Manchester, chairman, Frederick C Gaussen, London, deputy chairman, C H Bousfield, Glasgow, John Cameron, Glasgow, Joseph Cary, London, J G T Child, Manchester, Henry Kimber, London, Walter Mackenzie, Glasgow, Samuel Mendel, Manchester, James R Stewart, Glasgow, Alfred Watkin, Manchester and Charles Wheatstone. There were then 127 shareholders. The growing influence in the board of the regional shareholders is noticeable.

The liquidation of the assets of the Universal Private Telegraph Company took a remarkably long time; the last meeting of the proprietors to approve the final accounts and disbursements took place on May 25, 1878.

Company classified its instruments as Communicators (transmitters), Indicators (receivers) and Bells (alarms). Each type had a separate number series in the Instrument Account. For most of its existence the Universal company referred to "stations" or "sets of instruments" which comprised a communicator, an indicator and an alarm bell. These were originally separate items, though by 1863 Augustus Stroh had combined the Communicator and Indicator into a single instrument with its own Bell. The functions continued to be accounted for individually as private users requested separated instruments, particularly more alarm bells.

Wheatstone's magnetic bells continued to be used to provide acoustic signals in mines and factories, as they had on the railways previously. The Company also provided switches to combine more than one circuit and tested relatively complex switchboards, designed by its engineer Colin Brodie, to interconnect multiple circuits.  

Wheatstone's Universal Telegraph 1858
The very first Communicator or Transmitter

October 1862…....…Coms…..…Indics…...…Bells

September 1863......Coms…..…Indics…...…Bells

June 1864………....…Coms…...….Indics….....Bells

December 1866….....Coms…...….Indics…....Bells

December 1868….....Coms…….....Indics…....Bells

Curiously, the Company rented twenty-four Universal instruments to the competitive London District Telegraph Company for use on its own private circuits. The District's contract with the Post Office, connecting its main sorting depots, was worked entirely with sixteen Universal telegraphs. Line rental was entirely separate from instrument rental, so users of a line could specify which type ought to be installed.

Wheatstone's Universal Telegraph 1858
The original Indicator or Receiver with the Alarm in the base

The first two-part Universal telegraph communicators or transmitters were 6¼ inches high by 7½ inches wide by 11½ inches long, weighing 9¼ pounds; the companion “barrel” indicators, 7¼ inches high by 5¼ inches wide by 6¾ inches long, weighed 5½ pounds.

The single piece Universal telegraph was 12 inches high by 7⅝ inches wide by 13½ inches long, and weighed 16 pounds.  Where separate, the alarm bell in its box was 7½ inches by 4¾ inches by 6¾ inches.

The Siemens device was 24¾ inches tall by 23½ inches wide by 17 inches long, and weighed 100 pounds (!).

The Company had acquired the patent for the Universal telegraph outright in 1861. They bought all of their instruments, free-of-royalty, from Charles Wheatstone. Of the 1,500 instruments rented at the end of 1868 one third were to the original two-part design and the remainder to the unitary design of Augustus Stroh, on which they paid a royalty of one-eighth of the cost. Stroh manufactured all of the Company's instruments on behalf of Charles Wheatstone, at his workshops at 42a Hampstead Road, London NW. 

The retail price of a Universal telegraph reduced considerably from its introduction when it was £36 for the two-part version. From 1865 to 1868 the one-piece telegraph varied in price between £25 for commercial customers to £20 for the War Office. As they cost £13 10s from the maker, Augustus Stroh, the gross margin on these was in the region of 50%. The separate magnets-and-bells sold for £5 5s, and cost about £3.  Of course, only a tiny proportion of instruments were sold outright, the overwhelming number were rented to subscribers. In comparison, Siemens 'Patent Alphabetical Dial Instrument', used in the London District Telegraph Company's private circuits, cost £18 18s in 1865; and, incidentally, Siemens competitive electrical machine for exploding charges in mines, the so-called "ebonite machine" using static electricity, cost £12. By mid-1864 Siemens had made and sold a total of 700 magneto-dial instruments in Britain and Prussia.  

Wheatstone's Universal Telegraph 1863
After Augustus Stroh put the sender, receiver and alarm in one case
14 inches deep by 7.75 inches wide by 12 inches high

As Wheatstone used the Company as sales agent the difference in retail price and cost was divided equally between the two parties. Of more consequence in the long-term was the profit share that he received on all instrument rentals, £1 per instrument per annum. In November 1862 the Universal company was also marketing Wheatstone's "automatic printing telegraphs, alphabetical printing telegraphs, railway signal telegraphs and apparatus, mining telegraphs and exploding machines". 

  Wheatstone's Universal Type Printer 1863
A miniature type-printing receiver used with the dial sender 

However, Wheatstone personally absorbed the costs of improving the instruments and for defending the patent rights; the latter was to amount to £3,000 by 1867.  

Wheatstone's Portable Universal Telegraph 1867

The Company did not employ any mechanics. Instead local "Inspectors of Instruments" were appointed from ordinary clock and watchmakers. These worked as independent Agents of the Company, contracted to maintain subscriber's equipment as part of their own general repairing business as and when required.

The close, enduring and creative relationship that Wheatstone maintained with Augustus Stroh is entirely in keeping to that which the professor had with all of his mechanical suppliers, including the ill-tempered telegraph contractor William Reid, from 1836 and Louis Lachenal, the Swiss craftsman who manufactured and improved his patent concertinas, from 1845.

UPTC Cables

Aerial Cables of the Universal Private Telegraph Company
No 1 - 5 strands or copper cores, London; No 2 - 7 strands, London,
Newcastle, Manchester  and Glasgow; No 3 - 10 strands, London and
Manchester; No 4 - 10 strands, London;  No 5 - 20 strands, London;
No 6 - 30 strands, London, Newcastle, Manchester and Glasgow;
No 7 - 50 strands, London, insulated with rubber and protected with hemp, suspended overhead from an iron wire between roof-top iron poles
Manufactured by the India-Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph
Works Company, Silvertown.
(Click the thumbnail above for a greatly enlarged coloured version,
click on Previous Page to resume)
Courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

During the straitened year of 1866 Colin Brodie, the Company's engineer, at the instance of the Board, was able to enforce a marked reduction in construction and maintenance costs:

Costs - Aerial cable                                     1862            1866
Iron Pole                                                         £11 10s      £7 0s
One span with insulation                          £1 5s           £1 4s
Brackets                                                           £1 0s           10s
Leading down and
fixing gutta-percha wire                                 6d                  2d
Suspending cables                                       £1 0 s          12s 0d
Suspending light cables                            12s 0d          7s 6d

Costs - Road wire                                          1862            1866
Poles and one wire a mile                          £30             £20
Extra wire a mile                                           £10              £8
Painting poles (two coats)                         22s 6d        22s 6d

All of this work was undertaken by Reid Brothers of London, who also provided most of the materials.

UPTC Posts

The Iron Pole and Wire Suspension System for the Aerial Cables
of the Universal Private Telegraph Company 1863

A Connecting Box is attached to the right pole
(Click the thumbnail above for a greatly enlarged version,
click on Previous Page to resume)

A Connecting Box of the Universal Private Telegraph Company 1863
With one every mile on its aerial cables this shows the technical
complexity of its urban circuits
A cast-iron frame and lid, 3 feet high by 2 feet wide by 4 inches deep

Underground Cables
As well as its aerial cables by 1868 the Universal Private Telegraph Company possessed thirty cables of the common sort in London, several of which were submarine. These were manufactured by S W Silver & Company in a similar but more robust manner to the aerial cables. There were multiple copper cores, each of No 21 gauge insulated with india-rubber, felted and covered with two lays of hemp, occasionally with an intermediate layer of india-rubber under the hemp.

•Adelaide Street to Scotland Yard, 25 cores, 500 yards, laid 1867*
•Scotland Yard to King Street, Westminster, 20 cores, 730 yards, laid 1867*
•King Street to the Clock Tower, Parliament, 10 cores, 280 yards, laid 1867*
•Clock Tower to Westminster Bridge Road, 7 cores, 450 yards, laid 1867*
•Across Charing Cross [from Adelaide Street], 50 cores, 200 yards, laid 1861* 
•Charing Cross to Admiralty, 50 cores, 180 yards, laid 1861*
•Downing Street to King Street, Westminster, 50 cores, 60 yards, laid 1861*
•Across entrance to Victoria Dock, 7 cores, 100 yards, laid 1862*
•Across entrance to Surrey Docks, 7 cores, 100 yards, laid 1866*
•Across entrance to Commercial Docks, 7 cores, 100 yards, laid 1866†
•Across entrances to West India Docks, 7 cores, 200 yards, laid 1867†
•Across entrance to Millwall Dock, 7 cores, 200 yards, laid 1868†
•Across Deptford Creek, 7 cores, 80 yards, 1867
•Across entrances to London Docks, 30 cores, 38 yards, laid 1862†
•On roof of Somerset House, 50 cores, 250 yards, laid 1860‡
•Admiralty to Downing Street, 30 cores, 560 yards, laid 1860‡
•Euston to Camden, 10 cores, 1,760 yards, laid 1861‡
•West India Docks, 25 cores, 880 yards, laid 1862‡§
•East India Docks, 25 cores, 700 yards, laid 1862‡§
•East India Docks, 20 cores, 880 yards, laid 1862‡§
•East India Docks, 10 cores, 600 yards, laid 1862‡
•London Dock wall, 30 cores, 1,400 yards, laid 1863
•Stepney railway station, 50 cores, 450 yards, laid 1867‡
•Stepney to Bow Bridge, 10 cores, 2,400 yards, laid 1864‡
•Cannon Street to St Saviour's, Southwark, 30 cores, 870 yards, laid 1866‡
•St Saviour's to Duke Street, Bermondsey, 19 cores, 350 yards, laid 1868‡
•Duke Street, Bermondsey, to Neckinger Road, 29 cores, 1,500 yards, laid 1866‡§
•Neckinger Road to Spa Road, 21 cores, 300 yards, laid 1866‡
•Spa Road to Blue Anchor Road, 14 cores, 1,150 yards, laid 1864‡
•Blue Anchor Road to Deptford Creek, 5 cores, 3,250 yards, laid 1868‡

[* in iron piping; † stapled to dock sill; ‡ stapled to wall; § two paired cables]

The Admiralty to Downing Street cable served all of the adjacent government offices, turning and twisting among the narrow streets.

Before the Phone Book
To illustrate the nature and extent of private telegraphy the following is a selection of the subscribers to the Universal Private Telegraph Company at its hand-over to the Post Office in October 1870. The vast majority of its clients were merchants and traders who relied on communication for their livelihood, whose names have long been forgotten. The list demonstrates the variety and economic bias of users; how printers and heavy engineers found the Universal telegraph of utility, as well as the press, the police and other organisations with a branch structure. Those marked with an asterisk * had been subscribers in the previous year.

LONDON District - including Birmingham, Bristol and Coventry, with 570 Universal instruments
Bank of London*
Birmingham Gas Company
Birmingham Police (3 circuits)
Henry Brett (publican) (3 circuits)
Bristol Police
Bryant & May (match-makers)
Joseph Causton (printers)
Chaplin & Horne (carriers) (2 circuits)
Chartered Gas Company
Chubb & Company (lock-makers)
City of London Union (local government)
Coal Factors Society (Coal Exchange to Victoria Dock)
William Cory (coal-factors) (4 circuits)
Cross & Blackwell (pickle-makers)
Daily News newspaper
Daily Telegraph newspaper
De La Rue & Company (printers)
The Echo newspaper
Eyre & Spottiswoode (printers)
Great Eastern Railway
Hay's Wharf (wharfingers)
India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works
Johnson & Matthey (precious metal refiners)*
Kennard & Hankey (bankers)*
Land Securities Company (mortgage bank)
Licensed Victuallers Tea Association
Lord Londesbury
London Joint Stock Bank (3 circuits)
London & St Katherine Dock Company (10 circuits)
London & South-Western Bank
London & Westminster Bank (7 circuits)
London Joint Stock Bank*
London, Windsor & Greenwich Hotel Company
James McHenry (financier)* 
Morell Mackenzie MD, (The Throat Hospital) (3 circuits)
Mappin & Webb (jewellers)
Marylebone Vestry (local government)
Metropolitan Police (24 circuits)
Midland Railway
Millwall Dock Company
Samuel Montagu & Company (bankers)*
Morning Post newspaper
National Bank (7 circuits)
Negretti & Zambra (instrument-makers) (3 circuits)
Pall Mall Gazette newspaper
Peek Frean & Company (biscuit-makers)
Pickford & Company (carriers) (4 circuits)
Price's Patent Candle Company*
Ravenhill & Salkeld (engineers)
Regent's Canal Company (2 circuits)
Reid Brothers for the City Police (9 circuits)
Reid Brothers (telegraph contractors)*
J & G Rennie & Company (engineers)
Reuter's Telegram Company*
Salvage Association (ship-salvors)
Shaw, Savill & Company (ship-owners)
S W Silver & Company
South Kensington Museum (The V&A)*
Sovereign Life Assurance Company
Spottiswoode & Company (printers) (3 circuits)
The Standard newspaper
Surrey Commercial Dock Company
The Times newspaper
Trinity House (lighthouses)
Union Bank of London*
Victoria Dock Company*
Waterlow & Sons (printers)
Westminster Palace Hotel Company
Zoological Society of London (The Zoo)

MANCHESTER District - including Barnsley, Blackburn, Bradford, Hull, Kendal, Oldham, Leeds, Liverpool, Salford, Sheffield and Wigan with 287 Universal instruments
Liverpool Gas Company (4 circuits)
Liverpool, New York & Philadelphia Steam Ship Company (Inman Line)
Liverpool Police (22 circuits)
David McIver & Company (Cunard Line) (5 circuits)
Manchester & County Bank*
Manchester Police (10 circuits)
Manchester Steel Company*
Mersey Docks & Harbour Board (10 circuits)
National Steam Navigation Company
Oldham Corporation Gas Works
Salford Corporation (local government)
Salford Gas Company
Salford Police
West India & Pacific Steam Ship Company
Wigan Coal & Iron Company (5 circuits)

NEWCASTLE District - including Sunderland, with 160 instruments
W G Armstrong & Company (engineers) (2 circuits)
Backworth Coal Company (2 circuits)
Bedlington Coal Company (2 circuits)
Birtley Iron Company
Black Boy Coal Company
Burnhope Coal Company
Cramlington Coal Company
Earl of Durham (coal-owner)
Cowpen & North Seaton Coal Company (4 circuits)
Hetton Coal Company (2 circuits)
W Hunter (coal-owner) (4 circuits)
Jarrow Chemical Company
James Joicey & Company (coal-owners) (4 circuits)
C Mitchell & Company (shipbuilders)*
Newcastle City Police (5 circuits)
Newcastle & Gateshead Water Company
Newcastle Gas Company
North Hetton Coal Company
North Bitchburn Coal Company
Northumberland County Constabulary*
J M Ogden (coal-owner) (3 circuits)
Ryhope Coal Company
Seaton Delaval Coal Company (3 circuits)
South Hetton Coal Company (3 circuits)
Stella Coal Company
W Stephenson & Sons (coal-owners) (3 circuits)
Tharsis Sulphur & Copper Company (copper smelters)
Thompson & Boyd (engineers)*
Earl Vane † (coal-owner) (5 circuits)
Weardale Iron Company 

(† a system known as Lady Londonderry's Telegraph)

GLASGOW District – including Edinburgh and Dundee, with 254 Universal instruments
Barclay, Curle & Company (engineers)
Barony Parochial Board (local government)
Blochairn Iron Company
G & J Burns (ship-owners) (2 circuits)
Caird & Company (engineers)
Clyde Shipping Company
Clyde Trustees (local government)
Duke Street Prison Board
Dundee Police
Edinburgh Police (5 circuits)
John Elder & Company (engineers) (4 circuits)
Forth & Clyde Canal Company (6 circuits)
Garnkirk Canal Company
Glasgow Corporation (local government)
Glasgow District Telegraph Company*
Glasgow Gas Commissioners
Glasgow Corporation Gas Company (3 circuits)
Glasgow Daily Mail  newspaper
Glasgow Exchange Committee (stock market)
Glasgow Iron Company
Glasgow Jute Company (3 circuits)
Glasgow Police (12 circuits, including the Prison) > Glasgow Water Commissioners (3 circuits)
Glasgow & Greenock Shipping Company
Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossen Shipping Company
Gourock Rope Works Company
Greenock Foundry Company
Handyside & Henderson (Anchor Line)
London & Glasgow Engineering Company
Robert Napier & Sons (engineers) (3 circuits)
National Bank of Scotland*
North British Railway (3 circuits)
The Scotsman newspaper
J & G Thomson (engineers)
Tod & McGregor (engineers) (2 circuits)
J E Walker (coach proprietor) (3 circuits)
Wylie & Lochhead (furniture makers) (3 circuits)
Young's Paraffin Oil Company (3 circuits)

IRELAND – managed from London, including Dublin and Belfast, with 55 universal instruments
Alliance Gas Company, Dublin
Lagan Foundry
Guinness & Company (brewers) (2 circuits)
Melfort Spinning Company
Milewater Spinning Company
Ulster Spinning Company
White Abbey Spinning Company
White Abbey Bleaching Company
Irish Times newspaper

The universal telegraph was adopted in public service by several of the British-owned cable companies that operated overseas. It was used on the land circuit between the cable's coastal shore-end station with its specialised apparatus and the public offices in foreign city centres. In addition the Electric Telegraph Company acquired several for its own use and for use on the private circuits that it worked.

Outside of London and other cities, the country houses of the political, mercantile and commercial classes were put in circuit with their nearest telegraph office. Lord Kinnaird had the Universal company install a private circuit from Rossie Castle in Forfarshire to the nearest city, Dundee, a distance of twelve miles, in 1860.

A minor court case in Manchester in April 1869 illustrated the trusting nature of the Company's working practices. James Warburton, age 34, was employed as assistant to F E Evans, the local secretary, to collect the £2,000 in annual rentals in the city. These he collected in cash every quarter, but was found to have embezzled the payments due in March from Isaac Storey & Company, £16, the Bridgewater Trustees, £20, and Coulshaw, Nicholl & Company, £16. He pleaded guilty. His wages were stated as being £1 a week.

The Universal company was a successful venture, continually expanding its mileage and rentals in the relatively small field of private telegraphy– eventually paying 8% dividends in 1868. In 1866 it had 6,340 shares on which £105,026 was paid-up; the largest shareholder was Charles Wheatstone with 566 shares, £13,080 paid. It should not have been acquired by the state in 1868 as, with odd exceptions, it did not offer a public service. However it was pointed out that, as the odd exceptions proved, unless it was taken into state ownership nothing could prevent it opening other public lines.

The following tables show the gradual but continual expansion of the Universal Private Telegraph Company during its mature phase as compiled by its engineer Colin Brodie in 1871 for the administrators of its liquidation; they differ slightly from those produced earlier by Nathaniel Holmes. The figures are divided between the Company's districts, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow; these effectively covered the whole of Great Britain and Ireland.

Miles of Wire Rented
1863…….227…………..110………………..100 ……………..245

Rental Income from Wire

Expended on Lines

The dividends were 1863 - 5%; 1864 - 6%; 1865 - 6%; 1866 - 0%; 1867 - 4%; and 1868 - 8%.  The costs of the Cantyre public circuit and the repairs needed after the Great Storm affected profits during 1866.

Income from its public circuits in Glasgow and Newcastle was about £600 a year. It also had a small revenue stream from "re-transmitting" messages onto the Electric Telegraph Company's national circuits.

The Universal Private Telegraph Company eventually had agreements with fourteen railway or canal companies or railway proprietors: the Caledonian (as owners of the Forth & Clyde Canal); Lord Egerton; Great Western; Lancashire & Yorkshire; London, Chatham & Dover; London & North Western; Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire; North British; North Eastern; North London; Regent's Canal; South Eastern; Stockton & Darlington; and West London Extension, mostly for short wayleaves and crossings. The costs in these varied wildly; £1 1s as an annual wayleave for crossing a railway, 10s per mile per wire per annum wayleave on the South Eastern (always a difficult negotiator), 1s per annum rent for each iron bracket mounted on the property of the Chatham and North Eastern lines, 5s 6d rent for the same on the North Western in Liverpool, and 2s per annum rent for each pole on the North Eastern.

In 1868 the Universal Private Telegraph Company had a total paid-up capital of £121,463 in ordinary shares, out of £190,000 authorised by Parliament. It had no fixed interest preference shares, nor any debt. The Company then employed 18 clerks and 6 messengers. Its public circuits in Scotland and North East England worked 27,542 inland messages.

The Post Office took over 1,196 miles of private wire and 400 miles of public wire (139 miles of public line), and 1,466 Universal instruments that the Company had provided to its subscribers; these figures are significantly lower than those recorded in the firm's books or returned to the Board of Trade in previous years.

The Government acquired the patent for the Universal telegraph along with the other assets of the Company; it immediately renamed it the "ABC telegraph" to ensure that its true purpose was concealed. In contrast with the Universal Private Telegraph Company's annual rental rate of £4 per mile, the Post Office private wire rental rate in 1871 was £8 a mile in London and £7 a mile outside of London. The cost of an instrument from the Company was £25 with £1 1s per annum for maintenance; from the government the first cost was identical, but a single-needle galvanic telegraph was also available at £7 10s and £2 10s annual maintenance. The government charged £5 5s a year on top of message costs for transcription to the public circuits, which service was provided without cost by the Company. It also added an extra 3d to each transcription message off private wires for delivery.

The Post Office, unlike the Company, required long, fixed term contracts of between three and five years for private wires, and demanded rental be paid annually in advance, whereas rent was paid quarterly to the Company, as in normal business practice. 

Wheatstone's Magnetic Exploder 1867
Wound-up with the removeable key and "fired" by the adjacent lever
As provided to the British Army and to mining companies

In 1870, with the capital obtained from the government appropriation, Wheatstone established the British Telegraph Manufactory to make his telegraph instruments, clocks and exploders. For this he acquired the former premises of Cornelius Ward in Great Portland Street, London; a man who, like himself, had been a patentee and maker of musical instruments.

The West Highland Telegraph
The Universal company, with the permission of the Electric Telegraph Company, entered public telegraphy in 1865, with a series of wires from Glasgow to North-West Scotland which it called its "Cantyre Line", trading as the West Highland Telegraph. The area was a stronghold of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company and of railway-operated telegraphs worked in concert with the Magnetic. It inherited the rights of the abortive Glasgow, Cantyre & General Telegraph Company of 1864, established to connect several lighthouses on the Clyde river with Glasgow port through a local land network and eight submarine cables.

It was initially promoted at a public meeting at the Underwriters' Room at the Royal Exchange in Glasgow on February 16, 1864. Nathaniel Holmes, the company's engineer and leading organiser, proposed to the assembled shipping interests a private wire for their sole use from the Point of Cantyre and a parallel public wire connecting the towns on the north of the Clyde river with Glasgow.

The private wire was intended as a marine telegraph reporting shipping movements, especially arrivals, for the underwriters, tug-boat owners and ship-owners, similar to those the Company worked on the Thames, on the Tyne and at Cork in Ireland.  Such a wire, it was claimed, could save on average £20 in costs on each vessel docking in Glasgow. Both circuits would be built and maintained by the Universal company; in return he expected an annual subscription of between £1,000 and £1,500 for a minimum period of three years from the shipping interest to guarantee its viability. No capital would need to be provided.

The public wire was anticipated as serving the several resort towns along both shores of the Clyde, with message revenues mainly occurring in the summer months. Only a combination of public messages and a private subscription, Holmes claimed, could make the Cantyre line viable.   

Wayleaves for access were seen as straightforward as the line would largely be built on land owned by a single noble individual – the Duke of Argyll.

The proposed dual private-public main line was to run from Glasgow through Dumbarton, Helensburgh, Gairlochhead, Kilmun, Dunoon, Innellen and Toward, crossing to Bute, passing hence to the Mull of Cantyre and running south to Campbeltown and the Light on the Point. A public branch was to run north to Tarbert and Ardrishaig, a second public branch was to cross to Arran to connect Lamlash and the light at Pladda in the Firth of Clyde, a third small public branch was to be made to Rothesay.

Holmes also tempted the audience with the prospect of a new underwater cable from Cantyre twelve miles to the coast of Ulster, and a wire hence to Belfast, Glasgow's principal companion in trade. Messages would be 2s 0d for twenty words, far cheaper than the current rate. He was reported in the press as saying the cable would be supported by and worked in concert with the United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company, the only national company that lacked access to Ireland. Given the Universal company's connection with the dominant Electric Telegraph Company, who were also proposing a new Northern Irish cable at the time, this seems somewhat unlikely.

The audience asked after an eighteen mile cable from the coast at Ardrossan to Lamlash on the isle of Arran instead to the planned branch. The suggestion got short shrift from Holmes, who said that it would cost more than all the proposed land lines put together. In the event Arran was not to be connected all. There was then, in proper Scottish style, a general debate about the high cost of the subscription and how it might be equitably levied.

However the meeting gave its "hearty approval of the scheme", all the necessary consents were obtained and construction was announced on June 20, 1864.

The West Highland Telegraph eventually worked ten public circuits, all constructed by Reid Brothers of London for a total of £6,244, from its office at St Vincent Place, Glasgow, to:-

1 Campbeltown
2 Oban
3 Rothesay
4 Dunoon
5 Roseneath
6 Greenock
7 Partick
8 Hillhead
9 Govan
10 Bridge Street Station

The circuits were almost entirely "open wire", in the Company's terminology, consisting of iron wires on overhead poles; but they also included four short submarine cables across the lochs at Roseneath, Blairmore, West Craighead and Ardbeg. In length the circuits totalled 130 miles of line, of which 5 miles were underwater and a short length underground through Helensburgh. Its Cantyre lines ran from the centre of Glasgow along the north bank of the Clyde river to Helensburgh, Row, Roseneath, Cove, Blairmore, Cot House and East Craighead to West Craighead; West Craighead north along the road around Loch Awe to Inverary and Oban; West Craighead south down the Cantyre peninsular to Ardrishaig, Campbeltown and the Cantyre Light on the tip of the Mull; and from Cot House south past Holy Loch along the west bank of the Clyde to Dunoon, Toward, Ardrie Point, Ardbeg and Rothesay. To these dedicated lines it also applied wires in its private circuits to Barrhead and Greenock to public use.

The 130 mile long line from Glasgow to Campbeltown and the private wire on to the light house on the Mull marking the start of the shipping route into the Clyde was opened on September 4, 1865 in the presence of the Duke of Argyll and the Provost of Campbeltown on Cantyre and the Company's chairman in Glasgow. It had six intermediate stations, Dunoon, Rothesay, Toward, Inverary, Lochgilphead and Tarbert, other stations were promised in a few days.

A separate public line, using a circuit in its private wires, from Glasgow to Hillhead was opened on November 15, 1865. It ran from Mr Stenhouse's Shop, 9 Hamilton Place, Hillhead to the Company's hub office at 11 St Vincent Place, Glasgow. Twenty words could be sent for 6d, including delivery within a half mile.

There were four submarine cables:

•Kyle of Bute, 2,640 yards, 3 cores
•Loch Fine, 2,640 yards, 3 cores
•Loch Long, 3,520 yards, 6 cores
•Gare Loch, 1,320 yards, 6 cores

The cables were not particularly reliable as at least one of the cores in each had failed by 1868.

In the books of the company the Universal instruments were lent to the Cantyre line, and Wheatstone took no royalty on their manufacture. Its open wires were all to a very heavy No 4 gauge due to the exposed situation of its Highland circuits.

The marketing of the public service was limited and a little confused; it was advertised in Glasgow from 1865 until 1868 as the "West Coast Telegraph", although it was occasionally called the "West Coast & Highland Telegraph". The urban public lines were also publicised as the "Glasgow District Telegraph Company". In editorial articles in newspapers it was more often called the "West Highland Telegraph", by which title it was commonly known. In the Company's books it was always the "Cantyre Line". The title of the Universal Private Telegraph Company did not feature in any of these advertisements, although it opened a public office at its hub station at 11 St Vincent Place in Glasgow, open from 9am to 8pm daily. Robert Orr was clerk-in-charge there, and received a salary of £107 a year.

The network of the West Highland Telegraph was a rural, even rustic, "self-help" operation, relying on the goodwill of the local inhabitants in providing access and services on a voluntary basis. There were twenty-six public offices, all run by Agents of the Universal company from their shops or homes, without charging rent or other expenses. Those with greater responsibility received a salary. Outside of the larger villages, their friends and children delivered messages. Its circuits were worked with the Universal telegraph by ordinary people with minimal training; they sent their takings weekly to Glasgow.

The location of the stations and their working Agents, with their salaries, in 1868 were: Ardrishaig – Mr McCulloch (£11 11s); Barrhead – Mr Watson, Post Office; Blairmore – Mr McLeish, grocer; Bowling – Mr Jeffrey (£9 13s); Campbeltown – Alex McEwing, stationer; Carradale – Mr Steel, forester (£15); Cove or Craigrownie – Mr Harris, Post Office; Dumbarton – Mr Blair, Post Office (£7 10s); Dunoon – Mr McLeod, Parochial Poor Inspector; Glasgow, 11 St Vincent Place; Glasgow, Bridge Street Station, newspaper stall; Glasgow, Charing Cross - Mr Littlejohn, wine merchant; Govan – Mr Harl, druggist; Greenock – Mr Kinloch, stationer; Helensburgh – Mr Bartrum, bookseller; Hillhead – Mr Stenhouse, Post Office; Innellen – Mr Sheare, Innellen Hotel; Inverary – Mr Rose, Post Office (£12 2s); Lochgilphead – Miss Miller, Post Office; Minard – Miss Smith (£15); Oban – John Hunter, apothecary (£25); Partick – Mr Kennedy, bookseller (£16 7s 5d); Roseneath – Robert Morrison, grocer; Rothesay – Mr McKinlay, Post Office; Tarbert – Mr McCalman, banker; and Toward – Mr Wright, carpenter.

There had been at least one other office, at the Post Office in Pollokshaws, between 1865 and 1867 on the line to Barrhead. The Bridge Street Station office was on the platform of the Glasgow & South-Western Railway's original terminus on the city's Southside. The small tradesmen in Glasgow and the suburbs added 'Agent to the Universal Private Telegraph Company' to their listings in the street directory, along with the agencies of joint-stock banks, insurance companies and the post office that they had previously acquired.

The degree of self-help was such that a guarantee of £40 per annum was offered from April 1866 by John Pender (of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company) who had his country-house close-by at Minard Castle to support the office at Minard. 

The revenues from the Cantyre lines grew gradually from around £75 a quarter year in the autumn of 1865 to £150 a quarter for the same period in 1867. 

In the year previous to the opening of the West Highland Telegraph circuits in the Universal Private Telegraph Company's private lines from Blyth, Chester-le-Street and Sunderland to Newcastle in North-East England had also been opened for public use. As with its Cantyre Line these were worked by third-party Agents, not by Company employees, who remitted telegraph money to the District office in Newcastle.

As with the national telegraph companies the Universal company's agents sold Telegraph Stamps, in two denominations, 6d and 1s 0d, to encourage its public business in Scotland and the north of England. It seems that in Scotland the Company charged 6d for a twenty word message, and 6d for each subsequent ten words or less. In England in 1865 the cost was 6d for twenty-five words.

Siemens Magneto Dial Telegraph 1859
The only real competition to Wheatstone's Universal telegraph
Distributed by the London District Telegraph Company

The London District Telegraph Company
Private Wires and Private Networks
There was only one serious competitor to the Universal Private Telegraph Company’s business. It was on January 1, 1859 that the London District Telegraph Company was projected “to provide (along with public telegraphy) private wires for government, police and fire brigade stations, carriers, proprietors of factories, wholesale warehouses, dock, canal, banking and other companies, hotelkeepers, &c., for direct communication with their branch establishments or to the nearest station of the Company”. It eventually contracted to connect with private circuits the premises of War Office, the General Post Office and the London Fire Engine Establishment. Its largest customer was to be the Metropolitan Board of Works, who, as well as supervising public building and highways, managed the Fire Brigade after 1865, with a total of fifty private wires.

The London District Telegraph Company was promoted to construct a public network in the metropolis to serve 100 closely-located message stations with a very cheap tariff. It anticipated delivering its public messages with a half-hour of their receipt. Its private wires and later private networks were subsidiary to this public business.

Uniquely, rather than having closed circuits between subscribers’ premises the District, at first, connected its private wire customers to its central office to access or exchange to other circuits, local and national.

In its early months the Company tried several magneto-dial telegraph instruments before offering a private telegraph service, including those of Charles Wheatstone, Polidor Lippens, W T Henley and William Siemens. It initially offered customers Henley’s apparatus, but that was quickly abandoned and to work its private circuits for the War Office, the London Fire Engine Establishment, the Metropolitan Board of Works, and others, it adopted Siemens magneto-dial telegraph. However, several of its clients, including the Post Office, insisted on having Wheatstone’s Universal telegraph on their wires. The costly Siemens and Universal instruments were all hired by the Company from the  manufacturers, not purchased outright.

Very little is recorded about the District’s private wire business. It had considerable problems in making and maintaining its complex overhead-wire public circuits in London, as well in generating sufficient finance, and was only ever active in the capital. The District initially offered individual private wires that connected users with its head office where messages were transcribed for forwarding by the national and international public networks; the first “exchange” system. However, by the late 1860s it had effectively abandoned this model and concentrated on constructing large closed networks for the clients noted above and point-to-point private circuits similar to those of the Universal company.

The first “private telegraphs” it installed were noted at the August 1860 shareholders’ meeting. The printing firm of De la Rue of Bunhill Fields, City, and Samuel Plimsoll, of the Great Northern Railway Coal Depot at King’s Cross, had wires to the Company’s central station. Later in the year, “several new private telegraphs” had been installed.

In the following July, the Board reported that revenue from private wires for the half-year to December 1860 was £84, whilst to the half-year ending June 1861 it was £180. Eight new private telegraphs had been rented in the previous six months. Based on this performance an income of £600 a year was thought achievable.  

The District company reported at its shareholders’ meeting of January 31, 1862 that it had nineteen private telegraphs in operation, anticipating £1,000 in rentals per annum. This level of income seems to have been maintained over the years. These lines were worked on term contracts, using spare capacity in its existing network, short overhead branch circuits being made to connect to unused wires in its public network. There had been such a demand for private wires that the Board felt that it needed to invest in dedicated private circuits, a sum of £3,000 was recommended.

In December 1862 the Company mentioned that it dealt with the gentlemen’s clubs in St James’s as well as large business houses,  “at a very slight cost per mile”, connecting them to their central station in Cannon Street. “From hence all messages will be at once repeated over the wires of the London system, or further yet, along the numerous English and continental lines.” It further claimed that “numerous special contracts had been entered into by leading London firms”, especially those with interests in Europe, enabling them to telegraph orders from their own counting house to their correspondents overseas. More importantly, in 1862, it had commenced connecting the stations of the London Fire Engine Establishment as a trial. This was to be its first large-scale private network, and was completed by December 1863.

Fire Station Chandos Street 1861

The Chandos Street Fire Engine station
Near Cavendish Square, connected by private wire to the chief station
of the London Fire Engine Establishment in Watling Street in 1863

During 1863 Captain Eyre Massey Shaw in charge of the London Fire Engine Establishment, the body that managed the insurance companies’ fire service in London, described how its seventeen stations were connected by electric telegraph. The stations were spread across the metropolis at 107 Broad Street, Ratcliff; Wellclose Square, Ratcliff; 23 Bishopsgate Street Without; 64 Whitecross Street, Finsbury; 66-69 Watling Street, Cheapside; 27½ Farringdon Street, Blackfriars; 254 High Holborn; 44 Chandos Street, St Martin’s Lane; George Yard, Crown Street, St Giles’s; 76 Wells Street, Oxford Street; 33 King Street, Baker Street; 39 King Street, Golden Square; Horseferry Road, Westminster; 84 Waterloo Bridge Road; 2 Southwark Bridge Road; 165 Tooley Street, London Bridge; and the floating station at Lucas Street, Rotherhithe. Their engines responded to all calls by the public not just those for insured property. The London District Telegraph Company contracted to install and maintain the circuits; Siemens, Halske & Company provided their magneto-dial instruments. The chief fire engine station in Watling Street in the City of London was initially put in circuit with each of the so-called foreman’s stations, with two or more appliances. Subsequently the remaining district stations with single engines were connected to the foreman’s stations, with switching so arranged at the latter that Watling Street could communicate directly to every station, “even the most remote” at Ratcliff, Baker Street, Westminster and Rotherhithe. The system was “of the simplest possible kind, each line complete in itself with a dial instrument at each end”. The fire telegraph was regarded as better than the American system of remote street alarms in avoiding abuse and errors in response. The cost benefits were stated to be excellent, replacing messengers on foot, allowing a concentrated response to large fires, reducing the number of engines called-out to minor incidents and to false alarms, as well as reducing the fees charged to the insurance companies and individuals.

By special arrangement the British Museum was connected by the District company to the London Fire Engine Establishment’s station at Holborn.

At the end of  its last year of working before being taken over by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1865, the London Fire Engine Establishment had 17 stations and 131 black-clad firemen, with two floating steam pumps, two large horse- drawn steam pumps, six small horse- drawn steam pumps and thirty-three small horse- drawn manual pumps. The budget for renting the private telegraphs was £500 per annum.

In addition, it should be said, there were the 85 fire escape stations, each with a wheeled ladder and a “conductor”, operated by the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, a charitable institution, which the state was also to absorb.

The contract with the Fire Engine Establishment was continued when it was taken into state control in 1865. By January 1, 1869 the new Metropolitan Fire Brigade had 49 stations, with 47 private telegraph circuits consisting of 71 miles of wire, and 90 fire escape stations. In that year the Company billed the brigade through the Metropolitan Board of Works for £1,052 in line and instrument rental.

On losing their fire engines to the state, the fire insurance companies formed on December 22, 1865 the London Salvage Corps, tasked with rescuing insured goods and protecting them from damage by water, rather than fighting fire, duties that the ‘old order’ had also undertaken but which the state refused to take on. Becoming operational in March 1866 under William Swanton, formerly chief officer of the Western Division of the Fire Engine Establishment and its acting deputy superintendent, it took premises for its vehicles and 64 men, mostly former fire-fighters at 31 Watling Street in the City of London, close to the Fire Brigade headquarters, and at four other stations on the Commercial Road, Hackney; Southwark Bridge Road, Southwark; Shaftesbury Avenue, in the West End; and Upper Street, Islington. During the spring of 1866 these were connected by private telegraph wires by the District company.

Although they co-operated closely there was some competition between the Fire Brigade and the Salvage Corps. The Corps proved somewhat quicker in responding to telegraphed alarms and used its old skills to extinguish small fires before the Brigade turned up.

The District released very little information about its private wires subsequently. However, as can be seen, its early model was clearly quite different from that of the Universal company; routing circuits through its central office. As has been said, it later, successfully, dwelt on making large private telegraph networks.

At the shareholder’s meeting of August 1865 it was said that the £3,000 invested in private telegraphs was “almost a fixed source of revenue”. The contracts were far less subject to fluctuation than public messaging. A new tender had been submitted for making a private network for the General Post Office, linking its headquarters in St Martin’s-le-Grand with the new District Post Offices that undertook letter-sorting in London. This tender was accepted, but required additional capital, which strained the District’s limited resources.

The Post Office network covered their premises at St Martin’s-le-Grand (the General Post Office and East Central or EC District), 126 High Holborn (West Central or WC District), Packington Street, Islington (Northern or N District), Nassau Place, Commercial Road (Eastern or E District), 9 Blackman Street, Borough (South Eastern or SE District), 8 Buckingham Gate (South Western or SW District), 3 Vere Street, Oxford Street (Western or W District) and 28 Eversholt Street, Oakley Square (North Western or NW District).

The District announced that by June 1866 it had completed construction of new private telegraph networks for the Metropolitan Board of Works, the London Salvage Corps and the General Post Office. This went only a small way to counter-balance the destruction of its overhead public circuits in the Great Storm earlier in that year. It was still “paying for the hire of instruments when no rental was being received” from damaged private circuits yet to be repaired. A new, higher, tariff for private telegraphs was proposed; despite this several new contracts were said to be pending.

Even in the year that the government appropriated the business, the London District Telegraph Company was able to increase its private telegraph business. The Fire Brigade required further circuits, and the War Office at the Horse Guards in Whitehall was connected to the eight army barracks of London; for the foot guards and infantry at the Wellington in Bird Cage Walk, Portman in Portman Street, St George’s in Trafalgar Square, Kensington in Kensington Church Street, and the Tower of London, for the artillery at St John’s Wood, for the cavalry at Knightsbridge and Regent’s Park, during 1868, giving an increase in revenue of £800.

The District company also provided a private wire with Siemens dial telegraphs for the Speaker of the House of Commons, connecting his rooms in Palace Yard with the stables in adjacent Millbank Street.

The Siemens magneto-dial telegraph that it commonly used was patented in Britain in 1859. It was a relatively large apparatus with a brass sending dial and a receiving dial with a rotating pointer. The Siemens transmitter “had a dial of 26 characters; the handle is connected, by helical spur gearing in the ratio of 13 : 1, with a shuttle armature revolving between the poles of six horseshoe permanent magnets. The current was sent to the receiver every time the handle was moved through the space between two symbols. The pointer hand of the receiver is on the same axis as a small ratchet wheel which vibrates between the poles of an electro-magnet; two fixed pawls cause its rotation one tooth for every current.”

The following sixteen individuals and organisations are the known private wire clients of the London District Telegraph Company between 1860 and 1868. There were obviously many more, mostly foreign merchants, shop-owners and small firms, connected to the central station in Cannon Street, perhaps as many as twenty at any one time for short periods. It is known that some later became public offices.

British Museum (1 circuit)
City of London Club (1 circuit)
De la Rue & Company, printers (1 circuit)
General Post Office (10 circuits)
Great Central Gas Consumers Company (1 circuit)
Junior Carlton Club (1 circuit)
London Fire Engine Establishment (18 circuits, 1864)
London Fire Brigade (47 circuits, 1868)
London Salvage Corps (5 circuits)
Metropolitan Board of Works (5 circuits plus those of the Fire Brigade)
Samuel Plimsoll, coal dealer (1 circuit)
Speaker of the House of Commons (1 circuit)
Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company (1 circuit)
George Walker & Co., wine merchants (2 circuits)
War Office, connecting barracks in London (8 circuits)

William Wright, sporting publisher (1 circuit)

In 1870 the District company was renting 118 Siemens magneto-dial telegraphs and 24 Universal telegraph instruments, which would make 71 individual private circuits in all. The Universal instrument was then used on the wires that the District provided for the Junior Carlton Club, the Great Central Gas Consumers Company, the General Post Office and some of those for the Metropolitan Board of Works. There was also at  least one Universal instrument at its Cannon Street offices.

The London District Telegraph Company did not publish any list of its private wire clients, nor any details of its pricing structure. It is obvious that there was a relatively high turnover in its private telegraph customers until it began to engage in constructing private networks in 1864. Of about 71 private telegraphs that it managed in London in 1870, 67 were in closed networks for just three organisations.

Other Companies' Private Circuits
As well the Universal firm, private telegraphy between offices and individuals was offered by all of the other telegraph companies; to the extent of 1,329 miles of private wire with 307 instruments in 1868. In addition there were leased-lines provided for newspapers in Scotland and the north of England to transmit copy from London during the night, but these were worked between the telegraph companies' offices.

The Economic Telegraph Company was "prepared to construct and maintain private telegraph wires for merchants and others, between their mills, warehouses and private residences" in Manchester in August 1863 with the Breguet galvanic dial telegraph.Whilst the Universal company charged £4 per mile per year in line rental, the Economic asked for £2. Each of its Breguet instruments were rented at just £2 a year, versus the Universal magneto telegraphs rented individually at £6, but the latter did not need batteries and chemicals.

In the next four years the Economic company constructed a network of 127 miles of private wire in Manchester, Liverpool, Oldham, Stockport, Buxton and Bolton, with around 40 instruments. Its customers included Blood, Wolfe & Company, brewers, Liverpool; Chadwick & Sons, ropemakers, Liverpool; Thomas Milner & Son, Phœnix Safe Works, Manchester; and Hamilton's Windsor Ironworks of Garston.

The Economic company obtained an Act of Parliament in July 1866 to secure its existence. It was moderately successful in its geographic market and the business was bought by the government in 1868.

Breguet Dial Telegraph Apparatus 1867
A sender and a battery commutator on the table,
a receiver and two alarm bells on the shelf,along with
two galvanometersand two switches for the line circuits.
The table is arranged for two circuits 

The General Private Telegraph Company was formed as a contracting firm during mid-1866 to provide private wires in Manchester using the Breguet device. It was a trading title of Thomas Brown, a maker of lightning conductors, and offered to erect and work a single private wire at £9 a year for the first mile and £3 for every additional mile. The Breguet galvanic alphabetical telegraphs for private lines were sold by the firm for £10 10s each; it also provided Breguet's domestic electric bells, from its Depot at 4 Blue Boar Court, Manchester. By April 1867 the General company had leased telegraph circuits along the Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham Railway, and offered access for private wire clients to and from the city centre to Stretford (£12 per annum), Sale (£15), Timperley (£20), Altrincham (£24), Bowdon (£30) and Lymm (£40). It had ceased trading by the time of the government appropriation.

Robert Dodwell, late District Superintendent of the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, also had an office at 4 Blue Boar Court in April 1865 when practising as a consulting telegraph engineer and almost certainly had an interest in the General Private Telegraph Company; he may have created the firm.

The Liverpool District Telegraph Company of Islington, Liverpool, advertised briefly in November 1866 as a promotion of G & W Peet, ironmongers, and C F Clyatt, telegraph engineer, late manager of the Economic Telegraph Company. It had an "improved system" of private telegraphs and "Peet's Patent Bell Service". The bells were installed in an extensive system in Liverpool's new Town Hall at Dale Street during 1867. Its offer to connect Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton in July 1866, on the opposite side of the Mersey from Liverpool, for £30 per annum had been rejected as too expensive. The association of Peet and Clyatt ended in litigation during the summer of 1868. 

A curiosity of the private wire business in Manchester was the number of individuals and partnerships, rather than joint stock concerns, which entered telegraphy:

• William Bate, telegraph engineer, 9 Bexley Street, Salford (1863)
• Thomas Brown, telegraph engineer, 4 Blue Boar Court, Market Place (1863-68)
• Cyrus Dunderdale, telegraph engineer, Micker Brook Terrace, Rushford Park, Levenshulme (1863-65)
• Clyatt, Morgan & Company, telegraph engineers and contractors, 29 Corporation Street, Manchester (1860-1863)
• Robert Dodwell, consulting telegraph engineer, 95 Dale Street, Manchester, at the shop of Isaac Wolf, watchmaker  (1861-1863) and at 4 Blue Boar Court, Manchester (1865-1866)
• John Faulkner, manufacturer of private telegraphs, call bells and lightning conductors, 86 Percival Street, Collyhurst, then 13 Great Ducie Street, Strangeways, Manchester (1855-1950s)
• John Lavender, telegraph constructor, 17 Garnett Street, Waterloo Road (1859-1868)
• Robinson & Company, telegraph engineers, 37 Cross Street, Manchester (1862-66) (see below)
• Henry Wilde, manufacturer of lightning conductors and telegraph engineer, 2 St Ann's Churchyard, Manchester (1861-1868)

In 1862 the partnership of Lundy Brothers, of 8 Marlborough Terrace, Rusholme, Manchester, Charles William Lundy and Thomas Evans Lundy, were also to provide private wires in the city for a short period. C W Lundy joined the Magnetic Telegraph Company in Manchester, and was to have a long career working, then managing, American and India cables. T E Lundy moved to London as a telegraph engineer, opened a telegraph school and attempted to introduce electric sewing machines but was bankrupt in 1870.

Manchester was remarkable in freely allowing overhead and over-house wires to be erected along and across its thoroughfares by concerns working without Parliamentary powers.

In addition, outside of Manchester, in the north of England there were:

•Thomas Robinson & Son, timber merchants and sawmill engineers, Railway Works, Oldham Road, Rochdale, with an office at 84 Cannon Street, London EC, who constructed many miles of pole telegraphs for private, and some public, circuits in Manchester and Liverpool.
•George Frederic Smeeton, ironmonger (sic), Crown Street, Halifax, Yorkshire, sole agent for Crossley & Breguet's dial telegraph instrument.

In October 1864 E G Bartholomew, late of the Universal company, was to be found installing a private circuit for the great railway locomotive and marine engine builders, Robert & William Hawthorn. The apparatus used, after trying a dial instrument of his own design, was the Universal telegraph and connected the works of Hawthorn & Company, their Scottish subsidiary, at Great Junction Street, Leith, with the engineering shops of a railway company at Granton.

The creation of the Post Office Telegraph monopoly in 1868 ended independent telegraph enterprise in Manchester. Most of the individuals cited above turned to other work, reverting in many instances to their original trade of installing copper-rope lightning conductors on the hundreds of factory chimneys in Lancashire. One of the oldest of such firms, that of John Faulkner, who commenced business in 1855 and who advertised his Private Telegraph Manufacturing & Erecting Company, "telegraph wires fixed to church steeples and high chimneys without scaffolding" (using a kite to drop a rope on the top of the structure and using that to haul up a pulley and a "bosun's chair"), in 1863, survived as an electric bell manufacturer.

At the end of its existence the Electric Telegraph Company worked the following circuits on behalf of individuals and public bodies. These principally divide into Government work, the transmission of time, leased lines for the press and private contracts ante-dating the formation of the Universal company.

Admiralty (4 circuits)
Astronomer Royal (time signal)
Duke of Beaufort
J Bennett, London (time signal)
Blair, London (time signal)
Cammell & Company, Sheffield (steel-makers, 3 circuits)
Clay Cross Colliery Company (3 circuits)
House of Commons to Lothbury
Copper Miners Company
E Dent, London (time signal)
East India Docks Company
Falmouth, Gibraltar & Malta Telegraph Company
Glamorgan County Gaol
Glasgow Daily Mail newspaper
Glasgow Herald newspaper
Great Eastern Railway
Great Northern Railway
Hill & Price, Bristol (time signal)
A Johannsen, London (time signal)
London, Chatham & Dover Railway (time signal)
London & St Katherine's Dock Company (3 circuits, others with the Universal company)
Lord Chamberlain (2 circuits, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace)
Military Storekeeper to Woolwich Arsenal
J Pool, London (time signal)
Steer, Derby (time signal)
Lords of the Treasury (5 circuits, Balmoral Castle, Somerset House, Buckingham Palace, Foreign Office and Downing Street)
Prince of Wales, Sandringham
Vickers & Sons (engineers)
War Office to Woolwich Arsenal
Weichert, Cardiff (time signal)
Wigan Coal & Iron Company (7 circuits, and others with the Universal company)E A Williams, Cardiff (time signal)

The telegraph instruments that worked the Electric Telegraph Company's private government circuits at its Founders' Court and Charing Cross offices were fitted with locks to prevent unauthorised access. Those the Electric provided for the Admiralty between Portsmouth, Gosport, Devonport and St Ann's Head, Milford Haven; at Somerset House; for the War Department; and for the Houses of Parliament were American telegraphs printing the "European Code" of dots and dashes and not dial equipment.

Regarding the other national companies: the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company worked a very small number of private wires for the Admiralty, in the mining district of North-West England and in Dublin, Ireland. The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company also provided the Bridgwater Navigation and other canal companies with eighteen instruments for nine private circuits. These two concerns had only a small number of private wires on their books by 1868.

There were several “non-starters” in private telegraphy inspired by the success of the Universal telegraph, particularly in Manchester, the country’s immensely wealthy textile capital.

Henley Dial 1856

Henley Magneto Dial Telegraph 1861
promoted by W T Henley, the Magnetic Telegraph Company and
the London District Telegraph Company for private wires

W T Henley, the electrical engineer, manufacturer and contractor who had originated the magneto-needle apparatus in 1848, began advertising his own newly-patented “Magneto-Electric Alphabetical Dial Telegraph, the cheapest and simplest in construction”, in Manchester, Leeds and Bradford during 1861. Despite working in concert with the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company and R V Dodwell, its enthusiastic district manager in Manchester, as well as offering prices “half the cost of any other dial telegraph” and a five year warranty with every instrument, Henley was unsuccessful in the private wire market during the 1860s. Despite this he continued to offer it to collieries and private firms during the subsequent decade. It was tried on the private wires of the London District Telegraph Company, a subsidiary of the Magnetic company, in 1861, but quickly abandoned.

As part of its promotion Henley’s magneto-dial was shown at a Telegraphic Soirée in Manchester during the evening of September 7, 1861, connecting through the Magnetic’s circuits to Liverpool. The ladies present were able to send their own messages using the dial instrument and receive replies over the thirty-five miles between the two cities.

The Magnetic Telegraph Company offered its private wires to manufacturers, other businesses and local authorities for a flat rate of £50 a mile, including two of Henley’s magneto-dial telegraph instruments, plus £6 per annum for maintenance. This was computed as costing over the life of a circuit, including the cost of money, just £8 10s a year! The stations of the City of Dublin Fire Brigade were connected under this arrangement, one of few contracts the Magnetic obtained.

Henley’s magneto-electric dial telegraph was introduced into use by two subscribers in Kingston-upon-Hull during August 1862. For fire-fighting purposes the Hull central police station was connected with the waterworks at Stoneferry. Colonel Woodford, the inspector of police, recommended that the private wire be extended to the reservoirs at Springhead. In addition, Zachariah Charles Pearson, a shipowner and Mayor of Hull, had a private wire led from his residence to his counting house at the harbour, being run through pipes under the Hull Docks. Z C Pearson, in financial difficulties, engaged in speculative blockade running during the American War, and became bankrupt in September 1862. The only other known being that entered into by Edward Ripley & Son, of Bradford, Yorkshire, a large firm of dyers, in 1861.

Henley’s magneto-dial telegraph had been patented on March 23, 1861; it “had a dial plate with twenty-six symbols and the handle had on its axis a commutator of twenty-six bars so insulated and connected that each time the handle is turned through the space between two symbols a current was sent to the line reversed in direction to the previous one. The receiver contained an electro-magnet with semi-circular pole pieces, with which vibrated a magnetized needle which actuated the reversed escapement that moved the pointer. A projecting pin, at the side of the dial, stepped round the pointer to zero. It had an electrical bell which may be stopped by a switch at the front.” Henley claimed in 1861 that his magneto-dial was able to transmit fifteen to twenty words a minute working over distances from 2 to 50 miles. The Army found after thorough tests in 1863 that his magneto-dial instrument, though simple, was unreliable – it proved difficult to keep the handle of the sending dial and the pointer of the receiving dial synchronised.

Wylde's Globe Telegraph 1861

Wilde's Globe Telegraph 1861
Early version with a 'portable pedal motion' beneath the desk to drive
the magneto. The patented version had everything in a metal stand

The Globe Telegraph Company proved to be a short-lived threat to the Universal telegraph. In 1861 Wheatstone had demonstrated the Universal telegraph to Henry Wilde of Manchester, a maker of patent lightning conductors, and sent him several samples. Wilde sought a license to market it in Manchester but was discovered by Nathaniel Holmes, the Universal company’s engineer, selling his own ‘Globe telegraph’ later in that year. A law suit was commenced on December 19 1861.

The highlight of the patent suit was a demonstration of the Universal telegraph to the bench of the Court of Exchequer. Wheatstone’s barrister, William Robert Grove, QC, FRS, a scientific colleague of his at King’s College, and inventor of the Grove or nitric acid cell, as well as being a lawyer, worked the words “Find for the Plaintiff” on the instruments, “a message which caused a great deal of merriment”. Despite this interlude Wilde’s magneto-dial instrument was found sufficiently different to justify an original patent.

Wilde’s magneto-dial telegraph used “a small magneto-electric machine, driven continuously by a treadle, and supplying a rectified current. The transmitter consisted of a vertical shaft rotated by a worm gear from a horizontal shaft driven by the treadle shaft; on this horizontal shaft was a commutator by which four reversed currents were transmitted to the line per revolution. Above the vertical shaft was a plate supporting the transmitting dial through which projected thirty spring-lifted keys. When a key was depressed it stopped an arm attached to the vertical shaft after the corresponding numbers of signals had been transmitted, the slipping of the driving cord permitting of the stoppage”. The receiver consisted of an index spindle on which was an escape-wheel driven by pallets formed on an arm that was swung by a small magnet fixed between two vertical electro-magnets through which the line current passed. The lower part of the receiver contained a clockwork alarm which, unless switched out, rang when currents were being transmitted; the alarm was wound up by a button that projected from the lower portion of the globular case.

In 1861 Henry Wilde went into partnership with George Cliff Lowe, a silversmith, jeweller, chronometer and watch maker, and electroplater, to form the firm of Henry Wilde & Company with works at 37 Mill Street, Ancoats, Manchester to manufacture his dial telegraph.

Beginning in April 1862 the Globe Telegraph Company, a private partnership, began to seek clients for its “system of selling-out telegrams”, a quaint way of describing private telegraphs, in Manchester. Although then without permission of Parliament to erect poles or lay cables it approached several local authorities for permission to erect wires over streets; Blackburn in May 1862, Bradford in June 1862, Derby in August 1863, Huddersfield in March 1864 and Liverpool in July 1864. Its Engineer, Cyrus Dunderdale, also made several proposals to municipal authorities; for the Derby Water Works Company a circuit was to be made from their office in Wardwick to their works at Long Eaton for the new fire brigade, at a cost of £180, considered on August 26, 1863. On March 2, 1864, a circuit was proposed to connect the police office in Huddersfield and the waterworks, also as a fire precaution, for £72. The Company tried to enter the property of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board in Liverpool with a circuit for the West Indies & Pacific Steamship Company. The Harbour Board, having already entered into contracts with the Universal and Magnetic companies, rejected its approach on July 21, 1864. However the Borough Council did give permission for its overhead wires in other parts of the city on August 3, 1864.

Overhead wires, across housetops, Henry Wilde noted, were objected to in every city and were impossible in the suburbs. He proposed to overcome objections to overhead wires in 1864 and patented a novel system of subterranean telegraphy; varnished iron wires were placed within iron pipes supported and separated by perforated earthenware cylinders. To prevent the pipes from being flooded they were to be laid on an incline and drained by siphons. Wilde contrasted the cost of conventional post and wire circuits of £80 a mile, which lasted ten years, with his costs of £26 a mile, the expense of keeping the insulators in order being nominal.

An expensive Act of Parliament was necessary to continue its works affecting public highways, and a capital of £100,000 was authorised in the summer of 1864. Wilde was to receive a modest £1,300 in shares as the price of the patents for the Globe telegraph, so similar to Wheatstone’s, and the subterranean conduit. 

Once the Globe Telegraph Company obtained its Act of Parliament on June 30, 1864 it was able, it is said, to contract with around forty firms, including George Crossland & Sons, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, wool cloth manufacturers; William Jessop & Sons, Sheffield, Yorkshire, steel makers; Platt Brothers, Oldham, Lancashire, manufacturers of spinning and weaving machinery; Hopkins, Gilkes & Co., iron and engine works, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire; John Rylands, Manchester, Lancashire, cotton spinner; and W G & J Strutt, Belper, Derbyshire, cotton spinners, to use Wilde’s instruments, tempted by a one-off charge of £80 per line for local construction and instruments. The firm, unable to raise more than £2,000 in capital, quickly failed in its competition with the Universal Private Telegraph Company and had ceased business by the end of 1865.

Henry Wilde appeared before the Telegraph Bill Committee of Parliament on July 21, 1869, after engaging in a letter-writing campaign for his patents and liabilities to be taken on by the Post Office, along with the other telegraph companies. Unlike the Post Office officials, who merely sought to establish a value for any telegraphic property offered, the Committee members cross-examined him and called engineering witnesses to disprove his evidence regarding his instruments and his subterranean circuits. The original patent was then nine years old, and Wilde had tried unsuccessfully for six years to sell his system. The opinion was that it was now worthless.

The telegraph companies collectively provided 1,773 instruments for private and government use in 1868. Other than the dial apparatus supplied by the Universal (which provided 80% of private equipment) and London District companies these were single-needle telegraphs, Cooke & Wheatstone’s or Highton’s, which required trained clerks for their working and batteries of acid-filled cells. No circuits working Henley or Wilde magneto-electric dial telegraphs were taken over by the Post Office in 1868, although a small number using the Breguet galvanic dial were permitted for a short period.

Galvanic Dial Telegraph 1868

Alice looks into the future...
A British-made galvanic dial telegraph copied from Breguet's model

Separately from the public companies, telegraph contractors also offered to erect private wires for internal circuits in large factories, collieries and metal mines during the 1860s. The commonest instrument used in these indoor lines was Louis Breguet’s galvanic dial telegraph of 1852, which, although large in size and requiring batteries, could be used by ordinary clerks as it indicated the common alphabet. It had the commercial advantage of not being patented in Britain.

An electrical alternative to internal private telegraphs was the use of a bell system. One of the earliest and most comprehensive was installed for the large works of Thomas De la Rue & Company, the printers of bank notes and stamps, in Bunhill Row, just north of the City, by Reid Brothers, telegraph engineers, to the plan of C V Walker, telegraph superintendent of the South Eastern Railway. When completed in June 1864 it comprised fifty-nine bells, thirty-eight ringing keys, several galvanometers and galvanic batteries. Based on Walker’s railway signalling bells the network was used to summon workers, to announce commencement of work, meal breaks and leaving-off work. An electric clock connected to the Greenwich Observatory was also installed for De la Rue. One can only wonder at the reaction of De la Rue’s workers to this regime...

Bailey Albion 1871

Bailey's Albion Alphabetical Telegraph 1871
A late-comer to the private telegraph market, made to the design of Robert Dodwell by John Bailey & Co., Albion Works, Salford, Manchester
A galvanic instrument with iron-cased dials, 7 inches in diameter
Used in the advertisement above by "Alice"

On a much lighter note, the Ferry Hotel on Windermere in Westmorland, North West England, had Siemens, Halske & Company install a 600 yard long underwater cable across the great lake to the Nab. A lever or switch on the Nab set off the bell of a clockwork “patent railway alarm” in the ferry house of the hotel opposite to summon the boat. This submarine bell telegraph was engineered by Louis Crossley of Halifax and opened on April 5, 1864. Crossley, of the famous family of carpet manufacturers, was also agent for Breguet’s dial telegraphs in Britain.

Universal Telegraph 1876

Albert, we have mail...

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