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Newmarket Local History Society

The Admiralty Shutter Telegraph

Long before the electric telegraph came on the scene a method of communication existed that relied on line of sight, using relay stations set up at points visible to the next one. This was no new idea as some similar system was used by the Romans to communicate from hilltop to hilltop.

Such was the system set up by the Admiralty in the early 19th century in order to communicate quickly between their London headquarters and various naval ports. One of these was the East Anglian port of Yarmouth for which a relay station was sited on Long Hill Newmarket at a spot known as 'The King's Seat', as it was a favourite spot of Charles II when out walking; this being on the north side of Moulton Road close to where Warren Towers now stands. From this high point (elevation 260 ft) there would have been uninterrupted views to the next relay stations SW to Gog & Magog Hills Cambridge and NE to Icklingham Suffolk (Telegraph Plantation).
The 6 circular shutter discs were controlled by ropes from within the hut, where men were continuously on watch using spy-glasses (telescopes). By pivoting individual shutters a large variety of different combinations could be obtained, depending on which shutters exposed their face. The operators would not need to know the message but merely to relay the signal which was decoded at the receiving end. The system obviously depended on clear weather and days of fog would have rendered it useless. It was probably assumed that such weather conditions would make it less important for messages to be sent.

A telegraph station of c 1812

This was the time of the Napoleonic Wars and Yarmouth being the most easterly naval station was important for the defence of the North Sea and the Baltic. The first official message was sent via the new Telegraph in 1808 when the Admiral based in Yarmouth reported to the Admiralty in Lodon "Calypso ready for sea"

History of the NewmarketTelephone Exchange
History of the Newmarket Telephone Exchange page 2
History of the Newmarket Telephone Exchange page 3
History of the Newmarket Telephone Exchange page 4
Jack Hoxley's story

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