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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Cable Station, Abermawr, Wales
by Bill Glover

ABERMAWR CABLE STATION

Abermawr, where the two cables came ashore

The first cable to land at Abermawr, Wales (anglicized to Abermaur), a bay on the coast of Pembrokeshire near Mathry, was laid in 1862. The core was manufactured by S.W. Silver & Co., with the armouring being added by Glass Elliot & Company, who were also responsible for the laying of the cable. 4 copper conductors No 14 BWG, 12 iron armouring wires, weight 6.5 tons per mile. Completed 28 March 1862. This was the first cable to use Bright and Clark's patent composition coating, intended to protect the iron from corrosion and decay. [Times 10 January 1862, 29 March 1862]

The landlines in Ireland, which connected Cork and Waterford and Wexford, were installed by Silver & Co., and included an unusual short submarine cable across a tidal arm at Queenstown. Details of this are in an 1862 article from Punch, reproduced below.

The 63 nm submarine cable, which ran from Abermawr to Wexford, Ireland, was laid by CS Berwick for the Electric & International Telegraph Company. It was taken over by the GPO in 1870 when the inland telegraph service was nationalised.

A second cable was laid in 1880 for the GPO, and ran from Blackwater, Ireland to Abermawr. In 1883 a further GPO cable was laid from Blackwater, but the terminus was a few miles north near Fishguard.


View Abermawr in a larger map

The marker shows the location of Abermawr
and its proximity to Wexford, Ireland.

In the corrugated iron cable hut at Abermawr were two rows of wooden benches along two sides, on which the telegraph instruments were placed. Messages received from Ireland were retransmitted over lines to the London office of the cable company (see illustration below), from where they would be sent on to their final destination. A three tier bunk at the rear of the hut provided the sleeping quarters for the telegraph clerks.

The cottage and hut at Abermawr

In the first World War, because of its importance in providing a link to North America, the station was guarded by a small unit of soldiers, who used the road outside as their parade ground. As well as the garden walls the two buildings were surrounded by a wall of sandbags, villagers from St Nicholas being employed in building it.

In 1922 or 23 a storm washed away the road above the beach at Abermawr and with it the shore ends of the two cables. Following this the station was abandoned and the hut and cottage were returned to the Tregwynt estate, on whose land it stood. From this it can be assumed that the hut and cottage were not built when the first cable was landed but were rented from the Tregwynt estate, and were most likely a cottage and storage for a tenant farmer. Following its abandonment it was used as a bathing hut, mainly by GPO employees and former employees.

Front and rear views of the cottage and hut

In 1951 Les and Nora Lane from London visited the area on holiday with their children and took a fancy to the hut, though at the time it was derelict. They approached Lt. Commander Harries Burrington, who at that time owned the estate, and were able to rent the hut at £15 a year. Subsequently they bought it and renovated it, turning it into a residential property and using it for holidays and family occasions. It is now let out as holiday accommodation.

More information on Abermawr may be found in an article at the Engineering Timelines website, where it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

ELECTRIC & INTERNATIONAL TELEGRAPH COMPANY

The new Telegraph Room in Bell Alley, Moorgate, London. All outgoing inland telegrams are despatched from this room. Foreign telegrams are dealt with in a separate room and incoming telegrams are received in the company’s original building. The two adjacent buildings are connected by pneumatic tubes for the transmission of messages between the two.

TALK ABOUT THE TELEGRAPH.
(Punch, April 12th 1862)

Proper people find it difficult to amuse themselves in Lent; and this is possibly the reason why we saw announced the other morning in the Standard that:—

“Mr. And Mrs. Blank have issued invitations for a conversazione on the subject of uniting America and England by the electric telegraph between Ireland and Newfoundland.”

The transatlantic telegraph, and the thousands that were sunk with it, afford a fitting topic to be talked about in Lent, which is for Christian minds the aptest time for penitential preaching. But though long faces were no doubt pulled at the soirée above mentioned, still persons who were interested in telegraphic matters might have found grounds for consolation in the following announcement, which had appeared a day or two before in the Observer:—

“A short time since we stated that a proposal had been made for very considerably reducing the time required for the transmission of telegraphic messages between this country and the south of Ireland. The outward and homeward American mails now touch at Queenstown, and receive or land their mails and despatches. Hitherto the news from America has been taken by steamer from ‘Roche’s Point’ at the mouth of the harbour, up to Queenstown, and thence, if intended for London, by telegraph, via Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Donaghadee, Port Patrick, Dumfries, Carlisle, and Liverpool. This roundabout mode of sending telegraphic messages, of course produces many delays, for rapid as is the electric spark when fairly on its way, it must obey the stern orders of its masters, stop at the appointed stations, and wait till the line is signalled to be ‘all clear’. Of this series of delay one has already been removed. The telegraphic despatches are now sent direct from Roche’s Point. The despatches are made up at New York or Boston, directed to this point, where they are opened and start directly on their journey, without having to make another stage upon the little panting, puffing steamer that runs to the Cove of Cork. A delay of an hour and a half is thus avoided, and the last American news was received in London in time for the second edition of our daily contemporaries, and the telegrams which were published in the Observer of Sunday last were given to the public nearly two hours sooner than they would have been but for the completion of this small section between Roche's Point and Queenstown.”

If we can’t bridge the Atlantic with a telegraphic wire at least we may abridge the time it takes to forward a message via Ireland ; and what further steps are being taken for this end, the following will show:—

“The other portions of the project, which include the construction of a telegraphic overland line between Cork and Waterford and Wexford, are being pushed forward very rapidly. From Wexford the telegraph becomes a submarine line, and will cross the Channel to St. David's Head, on the Welsh Coast, and be continued via Milford to London. When completed, the average saving in point of time will be equal to nearly four hours. About fifty miles of the overland wires have already been erected by Messrs Silver And Co., between Cork and Wexford, and the whole of this section will be completed in a few days. The wires are supported upon ebonite insulators, and the experience which has already been obtained proves that those insulators possess great superiority over those made of porcelain, glass, or other partially non-conducting substances. In one part of the new telegraph route it has been necessary to cross a small tidal arm running into the harbour of Queenstown. The cable which has been made for submerging at this point is of extraordinary dimensions. Its weight is upwards of seventeen tons to the mile, and is formed of eighteen thick protecting steel wires, enclosing eleven conductors, each of which is made up of seven strands of copper wire. These are insulated with India rubber, and it forms one of the most perfect and complete specimens of insulation which has yet been made for the purpose of submarine telegraphy.”

If Messieurs Silver be successful in their present undertaking, we trust that before long they may be so in a larger one; and that the “great superiority” of their ebonite insulator may enable us to hold discourse with distant countries more swiftly than at present we are competent to do. If they continue to improve our means of wiredrawn intercourse, we may be able before long to waft a sigh, by telegraph, from Indus to the Pole, and possibly transmit a kiss (in writing) from Calcutta to Cornhill. "Speech is Silver," say the moralists; and whatever tales we have to tell the submarines, no doubt the Messieurs Silver will enable us to tell them.

Last revised: 17 January, 2016

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