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

The First Atlantic Telegraph
by Stewart Ash

The First Atlantic Telegraph

To achieve this historic crossing, the Atlantic Telegraph company ordered 2,500 nautical miles (1nm = 6,086ft or 1.8553km) of insulated copper core from the Gutta Percha Company, which was located at 18 Wharf Road, City Road, Islington in London. The price in the contract for the core was £40/nm. The delicate core was armoured at two separate locations by two companies, R S Newall & Co of Birkenhead, on the river Mersey in Liverpool and Glass, Elliot & Co at Enderby Wharf, Christchurch Way, Greenwich, on the river Thames in London. Each company had a contract for 1,250nm of armouring at £62/nm.

Amazingly, the two companies adopted different approaches to applying the armouring, Glass Elliot using a left-hand lay and R S Newall a right-hand lay. This difference was not discovered until over 100nm of cable had been manufactured.

HMS Agamemnon at Enderby Wharf July 1857

Glass, Elliot & Co completed its armouring on the 6th July 1857 and shortly afterwards the British Royal Navy ship HMS Agamemnon moored off of the factory to commence loading the cable, a process that was completed by the third week in July. As part of the celebrations before the Agamemnon sailed, Sir Culling Eardley (1805-63), 3rd Baronet, who had a country seat at Belvedere House near Erith in Kent, down-river from Greenwich, held a fête champêtre (large garden party) for the factory workers, officers and men of the Agamemnon and senior members of Glass, Elliot & Co and the Atlantic Telegraph Co. This party was reported in some detail in The Times of 24th July 1857.

One of the Directors of the Atlantic Telegraph Company present at the party was John Watkins Brett (1805-63), the pioneer of the 1850 and 1851 Dover to Calais cables. He presented Sir Culling Eardley with two cross sections of the cable set in twisted silver as pendants for his two married daughters; Isabella Maria Freemantle and Frances Selena Hanbury.

1857 Cable Pendant

The Greenwich factory of Glass, Elliot & Company was established on the Morden Wharf site of W Küper and company, a steel rope maker, in 1854 when George Elliot (1814-93), the owner of W Küper, took his chief accountant, Richard Atwood Glass (1820-73) into partnership. In 1864, Glass, Elliot became part of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company and the world’s leading supplier of submarine telegraph cable for over 70 years. From 1935 until 1970, the site was part of Submarine Cables Ltd, when it was taken over by STC. Cable manufacture on the site ceased in 1976 and the last ship loaded there was the C.S. John W Mackay. In 1994, STC Submarine Systems was taken over by Alcatel. The waterfront part of the property was sold off for development in 2008, but the rest of the site remains Alcatel-Lucent’s repeater manufacturing facility to this day. It has been associated with the submarine cable industry for well over 100 years.

Article text copyright © 2016 Stewart Ash

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Last revised: 22 September, 2016

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