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One day conference

Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival 2019

Telecommunications Heritage Conference

Saturday 22nd June 2019, Gilbert Rooms, University of Salford, M5 4WT

This conference formed part of the Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival 2019, which is held each year in conjunction with the Greater Manchester Archaeology Federation. The conference was organised as a partnership between the University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology, Connected Earth and Cambridge Wireless, and was supported by the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals. It explored the history of telecommunications and its impact on society and the development of industrial cities such as Manchester.

Telecommunications has had a transformational impact on society and our environment whether that has been through the development of national and international communication networks, the evolution of the telephone into the mobile and onwards to the smartphone, or the Internet and its associated world wide web. Each technological advance has improved our ability to communicate over ever greater distances and speed thus leading to the creation of new services and businesses.

Manchester built its wealth on the global trade in finished cotton goods and its rapid growth and commercial strength ensured that it was – and continues to be - an early adopter of new communications technology. That in turn has helped shape the city’s urban landscape.

However, telecommunications is an incredibly fast moving field in which ‘vintage’ can today refer to something which is only a few years old; or in the case of the mobile phone, several months old. Coupled to this, telecommunications is normally hidden from view, and with very few exceptions, isn’t an industry populated by iconic structures which means that it tends to get overlooked and ignored. Infrastructure and buildings come and go, either by changing their appearance as form follows function or through change of use and even demolition. The net effect is that the archaeological heritage of telecommunications can easily become eroded and in many cases, lost forever. This creates huge challenges for industrial archaeology for when an object is recognised as being important from a heritage point of view, and hence, worthy of preservation, it has often already gone and been replaced by something more modern.

This one-day conference celebrated telecommunication’s rich heritage by exploring technological development, societal impact, and its influence on urban development with a particular, although not exclusive, focus on Manchester. It was held within the Gilbert Rooms at the University of Salford that in themselves are historically important for the building in which they are located was originally constructed in the early 1960s to house the University’s first computer, a KDF9.

The programme comprised the following speakers and topics:

Stewart Ash talked about Sir John Pender, a Glaswegian who made his fortune as a cotton merchant in Manchester and who then masterminded a global network of under-sea electrical telegraph cables that wired the world and earned him the title, ‘Cable King’.

Geoff Varrall from Cambridge Wireless revisited the early years of the satellite industry and the technical, commercial and regulatory evolution of satellites as broadcast and communication systems placed in the contemporary context of a ‘new space era’ in which high count low earth orbit satellite constellations funded by multibillion dollar investment from Google, Amazon and Facebook promise to transform global connectivity.

Dan Glover discussed the development of the 1952 microwave relay network which was used to extend the BBC television service to Scotland. The talk offered a particular focus on the sites within the Manchester area including the studios, transmitters and communications links but also examined how the network was expanded and also charted its ultimate decline.

Steve Scanlon examined an important piece of Cold War technology by explaining how the GPO/BT engineered solutions to enable the Home Office to discharge its responsibility firstly to warn, then recover from a possible nuclear attack on this country, with at least a skeleton network for essential users.

Andrew Hurley from The National Collection of Telephone Kiosks described one of their most significant finds of recent times namely, the discovery of an original Norwich design kiosk, making it the oldest known surviving example of a British phonebox. He discussed work in progress to restore it and place it on permanent display at the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings.

David Hay from BT Archives discussed the BT partnership with Bletchley Park Museum in the restoration of the Teleprinter Hall at the museum which houses a new immersive cinematic experience, “D-Day: Interception, Intelligence, Invasion” exploring Bletchley Park’s secret D-Day role and the work of GPO engineers on the site. The exhibition commemorates the 75th anniversary of D-day in June 2019 and was officially opened in May.

Alison Taubman is Principal Curator, Technology & Communications at National Museums Scotland. In its communications gallery, staff were keen to include a fundamental of human communication – speech. Alison outlined the thoughts behind a display of speech mediated by machines, from the first speaking clock to the now omnipresent synthetic voices of devices such as satnavs and smoke alarms. She also explored how the Museum is approaching the collection of apps and devices to enhance communication for people with no voice and limited mobility.

Nigel Linge provided a small exhibition and poster display that explored Manchester’s telephone story, from the first telephone installed within the country under licence from the Post Office in 1878, through the expansion of the national network, to the launch of the latest generation of mobile phone, 5G.


You can access a copy of the conference presentations online, where these have been made available, by clicking the title of the presentation that is of interest to you.

Saturday 22nd June 2019
Time Activity Speaker Title
10:00 to 10:30 Arrival
10:30 to 10:40 Welcome Nigel Linge
10:40 to 12:40 Presentations
10:40 to 11:10 (P1) Stewart Ash John Pender, “Cable King”, and his Manchester connection
11:10 to 11:40 (P2) Geoff Varrall Sixty Years of Satellites
11:40 to 12:10 (P3) Dan Glover Delivering television to Scotland - the Manchester to Kirk O'Shotts microwave relay network
12:10 to 12:40 (P4) Steve Scanlon When the Ticking Stops: Cold War Landline Communications for Nuclear Warning and Survival
12:45 to 13:45 Lunch
13:50 to 15:20 Presentations
13:50 to 14:20 (P5) Andrew Hurley Discovering and preserving a Norwich, Britain’s oldest surviving phonebox
14:20 to 14:50 (P6) David Hay Restoration of the Teleprinter Hall at Bletchley Park Museum for a new exhibit commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-day
14:50 to 15:20 (P7) Alison Taubman TIM, PAT and ISAAC: artificial and synthetic speech on display at the National Museum of Scotland
15:20 to 15:50 Discussion Contemporary Collecting: How can the heritage movement keep pace with rapidly changing fields such as telecommunications?
15:50 to 16:00 Close Nigel Linge