Marconi and the first radio messages across open sea
Following overland tests at
Salisbury Plainduring March 1897, on May 13, 1897, the Italian born and recently British based inventor, best known for his development of a radiotelegraph system, Guglielmo Marconi, assisted by George Kemp (who was a Cardiffbased Post Officeengineer) transmitted and received the first wirelesssignals over open sea between Lavernock Point and Flat Holmisland.
The very first message transmitted in
morse codewas "ARE YOU READY". This was immediately followed by "CAN YOU HEAR ME" to which the reply was "YES LOUD AND CLEAR". The morse recording slip for the first message is on display in the National Museum of Wales.
Following the initial opening exchange there followed detailed technical messages in both directions indicating each end's equipment settings and receiving sound levels. Marconi indicated that he was using a convert|20|in|mm|sing=on spark on his equipment.
The successful test followed several days of trials and failure while adjustments were made to
aeriallength. Extensive trials were carried out over the remainder of the week in various weather conditions and with different settings on the equipment at each end. Marconi benefitted from the active encouragement of then Mr. William Preece (later Sir William Preece) who was Engineer-in-Chief of the Post Office and had himself transmitted radio telegraph morse signals across Coniston Watereight years earlier. Preece had been previously acted as a consultant to the Bristol Corporation's Electricity Department between 1883 and 1893. The Post Office engineers, including George Kemp who kept a detailed diary of these events, had been experimenting for some months at Lavernock Point. Kemp recorded the following in his diary of the experiments:
:"Mr Marconi’s apparatus was set up on the cliff at Lavernock Point, which is about twenty yards above sea-level. Here we erected a pole, convert|30|yd high, on the top of which was a cylindrical cap of zinc, convert|2|yd long and convert|1|yd|sing=on diameter."
:"Connected with this cap was an insulated copper wire leading to one side of the detector, the other side of which was connected to a wire led down the cliff and dipping into the sea. At Flat Holm Mr Preece’s apparatus was arranged, the Ruhmkorff coil also giving convert|20|in|mm|sing=on sparks from an eight-cell battery."
:"On the 10th May experiments on Mr Preece's electro-magnetic transmission method were repeated, and with perfect success."
:"The next few days were eventful ones in the history of Mr Marconi. On the 11th and 12th his experiments were unsatisfactory — worse still, they were failures — and the fate of his new system trembled in the balance."
:"An inspiration saved it. On the 13th May the apparatus was carried down to the beach at the foot of the cliff, and connected by another convert|20|yd of wire to the pole above, thus making an aerial height of convert|50|yd in all. Result, The instruments which for two days failed to record anything intelligible, now rang out the signals clear and unmistakable, and all by the addition of a few yards of wire!"
Marconi's new equipment was therefore used in conjunction with that already adopted by the Post Office. The initial tests were so successful over the three and a third mile (6 kilometres) stretch of water that it was quickly decided to relocate the telegraph equipment from Flat Holm to
Brean Down Fort, near Weston Super Mareincreasing the distance to nearly ten miles (16 kilometres) from the Lavernock Point transmitter.
Following these successful trials, Marconi subsequently vested his new patent rights in his 'Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company', which unfortunately prevented any further co-operation with the Post Office engineers. However George Kemp immediately resigned from his Post Office position and joined Marconi's new company as head of engineering development.
In 1948, to mark the 50th anniversary of the experiments, a bronze plaque was unveiled by the Cardiff Rotary Club inside the courtyard of the recently closed church of St.Lawrence, Lavernock, commemorating the historic radio transmissions over nine miles (14 km) of open sea. The small stone hut that Marconi used to contain his experimental radio telegraph equipment still stands on the cliff edge at the end of the lane near Lower Cosmeston farmhouse.
The Bays of Lavernock
From the late 1890s until 1968 Lavernock and the nearby bays of St Mary's Well and Swanbridge (with its low tide walk out to
Sully Island) were popular and busy holiday locations for regular day trippersfrom the South Wales Valleys, Newport, Cardiff, Penarthand Barryand the beaches were packed with visitors on most weekends and Bank Holidays throughout the summer. The hundreds and sometimes thousands of holidaymakers were served refreshments by an ice cream parlour, two busy cafes, the Golden Hind public houseand the three star Lavernock Bay Hotel. Very few visitors arrived by car until the 1960s with the majority travelling by the half-hourly steam trains that stopped at Lavernock and Swanbridge Halts on the busy Taff Vale RailwayLine en-route to Barry Island.
Lavernock started settling back to quiet seclusion in the early 1970s when the railway line had closed down under the
Beeching Axe. Some modern day trippers arrived by car, to the degree that the lanes and the Swanbridge car park were often jammed, but visitor numbers had dropped off to such a degree that falling profit margins meant all the food outlets, the Golden Hind pub and eventually even the Bay Hotel closed down and the decline was accelerated even further.
Lavernock Point is a headland on the
South Walescoast, overlooking the Bristol Channelwith views across to the Somerset Coast.
A line drawn between Lavernock Point and
Sand Point, Somersetmarks the lower limit of the Severn estuary and the start of the Bristol Channel. Because of the extreme tidal range there are very strong currents or rips close inshore to the point with speeds that exceed 7 knots (13 km/h) for several hours at each tide.
Various proposals have been put forward to construct a
Severn Barragefor tidal electricity production from Lavernock Point to Brean Downin Somersetand the provision remains under discussion by the various agencies.
On the point in the late 1860s Lavernock Fort gun battery was built by the Royal Commission and completed in 1870, with three 7" muzzle loading cannons to protect the channel approaches to Cardiff and Bristol shipyards during the short lived war between Britain and
Francethat followed the French Revolution. Sometime before 1895 the gun battery was reinforced with a fourth cannon only for all four guns to be replaced eight years later by two rapid fire six inch (152 mm) former naval guns in 1903.
A two unit searchlight battery was added during the
Second World War. The World War II gun emplacements formed part of the "Fixed Defences, Severn Scheme" and protected the Atlantic shipping convoy de-grouping zone between Cardiff, Barry and Flat Holm. [ [http://www.coflein.gov.uk/pls/portal/coflein.w_details?inumlink=6081138 Atlantic convoy regrouping area] Today the remaining main section of the gun battery has been listed as an Ancient Monument, which includes the gun emplacements, director-rangefinder observation position, crew and officers quarters. The structure is still commemorated through Lavernock Point's main access road being named 'Fort Road'.
Royal Observer Corps
A few yards away from the historic Marconi hut Penarth's only
World War II Royal Observer Corps(ROC) observation post stood on the cliff edge with its clear views over the Bristol Channeland the islands of Steep Holmand Flat Holm. The Observer Corps site was established by the Air Ministry on part of the original War Department land connected to the Lavernock Gun Battery. The volunteer ROC observers spotted many Nazi German Luftwafferaids approaching across the channel and activated the air raid warnings in the town.
In early 1962 a protected nuclear
fallout shelter(or bunker) was completed at Lavernock Point for the ROC "(OS Grid Ref: ST 1858 6903)", who by the 1960s had switched from above ground aircraft spotting to underground operations with instruments to detect nuclear explosions and warn the public of approaching radioactive fallout in the event of nuclear war. The post members were mobilised later that year and volunteers spent nearly ten days underground during the Cuban Missile Crisisas the government prepared the country for potential outbreak of war.
nuclear bunkerwas closed down and abandoned by the ROC in 1975 after repeated destructive break-ins by local vandals, but the concrete entrance hatch and ventilator tower can still be observed next to the cliff walk near Lower Cosmeston farmhouse. The Royal Observer Corps itself was disbanded in December 1995 after the end of the Cold Warand as a result of recommendations in the governments Options for Changereview of UK defence.
Lavernock Point is established as a particularly fine
nature reservewhere wildlife interest is combined with historical interests in a dramatic and picturesque coastal reserve. The unimproved limestone grasslandsupports varied and colourful plants such as Dyer's Greenweed, Devil's-bit Scabious, Common spotted orchidand Fleabane. Butterflies have been observed and recorded by the reserve’s warden for over twenty years and more than twenty five separate species have been identified. Lavernock and the nearby Cosmeston Lakes continue to be an important landing point for migrating birds. Many bird migration routes across the Bristol Channel cross the reserve, and Steep Holm and Flat Holm islands act as staging posts. Bird sightings vary through the year, with visiting summer migrants, seabirds off the coast and resident breeding birds. The reserve is managed by the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales who state that their aims are::”To create and maintain the ideal balance between grassland, scrublandand woodlandat Lavernock Point Reserve. Grassland is important for wild flowers, nectar-loving insects, and for species that need the warm microclimatethat is provided by shorter grass. Scrub provides shelter and berries for birds, and blossom nectar for invertebrates in Spring. Woodland provides shelter for birds, and ideal habitat for other invertebrates such as the Speckled Wood butterfly. Without our work, the grassland would succeed to scrub and there would probably only be half an acre or so of grassland at the south end where salt spray and wind would suppress the growth of scrub. Management work was always done by hand, but we are progressively using more machinery as the grassland area has grown. Ideally we would like to introduce grazing livestock to some areas as this creates the ideal conditions for most species”.
Lavernock railway station was sold off and now forms part of the current caravan park. Long sections of the old railway track bed are still open from the Fort Road bridge as far as Lower Penarth as a rural greenway and
cyclepath, however the track bed in the direction of Sully is either overgrown and impassible or has been sold into private ownership.
Lavernock, St Mary's Well Bay and Swanbridge (Sully Island) can still be reached along the clifftop path from Penarth.
The old cafe car park at Swanbridge was developed as part of the newly opened "Captain's Wife" public house in the mid 1970s.
The whole area continues to be redeveloped as several private caravan parks and holiday camps over recent years, the largest and longest established of which is the "Marconi Holiday Village" run by the Lavernock Point Holiday Park with chalets, fixed caravans and touring berths. The licenced "Marconi Club" at the holiday village is open to non-residents.
medieval parish churchof St. Lawrencehas recently been closed after many years of underuse and the lack of a permanent resident congregation.
External Links and Photos
* [http://www.geocities.com/cardiffrail/TVR-Cadoxton-to-Penarth.html Old rail route map and photos of current greenway to Penarth]
* [http://www.francisfrith.com/search/wales/south+glamorgan/lavernock/photos/lavernock_photos.htm Lavernock and St Mary's Well Bay photos from the 1950s and 1960s]
* [http://www.lavernockpoint.com/ Marconi Holiday Village and Lavernock Point Holiday Park]
* [http://kokorolibrary.net/photography/showpic.php?pic=385&search=sea Photograph of the Gun Battery's Eastern Observation Post]
* [http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=2755259 www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Lavernock and surrounding area]
Cosmeston Lakes Country Park— (water birds, information centre and ice cream kiosk, lakeside and arborial walks, plus the reconstructed 'living museum at Cosmeston Medieval Village)
*Lavernock Point Nature Reserve and Gun Battery Ancient Monument
*St. Mary's Well Bay
Coastaland clifftop walks with views of Flat Holmand Steep Holmislands
*Swanbridge and Sully Island — historic haunt of Romans, Vikings, Pirates and smugglers (foot access at low tide from Swanbridge "Captain's Wife" pub car park)
*Marconi Club — licenced bar and live entertainment at Marconi Holiday Village, Lavernock Point
*The Schooner Pub — and 'Harvester' restaurant, Lavernock Road, Lower Penarth
* Two miles west of Lavernock, is The Bendricks that has the only known upper
Triassic dinosaurfootprint, possibly by a Tetrasauropus, in Britain
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