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

1861 England-France Cable
(Beachy Head-Dieppe)

After the success of the Submarine Telegraph Company’s 1851 cable from St. Margaret’s Bay, England to Sangatte, France (commonly referred to as the Dover to Calais cable), they laid nine further cables from England to mainland Europe between 1853 and 1870.

In 1854 the company had attempted to lay a line between Sardinia and Algiers, using a Gutta Percha Company core armoured by Glass, Elliot. Part of the cable was lost during the lay, and the attempt was abandoned. The remaining cable was put into storage and eventually laid across the English Channel from Beachy Head to Dieppe, opening for service in 1861. By that time, only four of the six conductors were in working order, and there was some doubt about the cable’s viability.

Some years ago, site visitor Simon Cheifetz, who has made a number of previous contributions here, purchased this cable sample case dated August 1874, and has now very kindly provided these photographs:


The case contains a length and a cross-section of a six-conductor shore-end cable with 12 armouring wires, identified by two engraved plaques:

Shore End
Dieppe & Beachy Hd.
August 1874
Manufacd. by
the I.R.G.P. & Telegh. Works Co.
Submarine Telegh. Co.
I. Bourdeaux Esqr. Enginr.

As there is no record of a cable being laid on this route in 1874, this was at first a mystery, but research revealed a Submarine Telegraph Company directors’ report published in the Journal of the Telegraph (New York) issue of 15 March 1875:

Many of the proprietors will, no doubt, recollect the circumstances under which the cable between Beachy Head and Dieppe was laid down in the year 1860, and that it was then considered probable that the improvement of its insulation might entail heavy expenses upon the company; but, contrary to this opinion, which was entertained by some engineers, the cable has been satisfactorily worked in its normal condition during the last fourteen years. Lately, however, some of the conducting wires have proved faulty, and the directors, under the advice of their engineer, Mr. Bourdeaux, have thought it expedient to insert twenty miles of entirely new cable, which has greatly improved its insulation and conductivity. The cost of the twenty miles of new cable has been paid for out of the money due to the company and recently received from the Post-office.

According to this, the Submarine Telegraph Company had successfully operated the cable until 1874, when parts of it had evidently deteriorated further. Oddly, instead of contracting with the original manufacturer to repair the cable, the company instead engaged the India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company of Silvertown to make new cable and perform the repairs. As part of this project the IRGP made the shore-end cable shown in the sample case.

The cable continued to be operated by the Submarine Telegraph Company until it was taken over by the GPO in 1890. More information on cables in the area of Eastbourne can be found on this page.

Last revised: 25 September, 2020

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