This fascinating museum, replete with nostalgic relics from the golden age of telegraph communications, is tucked away in a remote corner of Cornwall, but is well worth the trip. Between 1870, when it first opened, and 1970, when it closed literally overnight, the Porthcurno telegraph station played an integral role in linking the far-flung corners of the British Empire, using submarine cable networks. Through the cable house on the nearby beach, Porthcurno sent and received messages from India, the USA and even Australia via the vast undersea cable network – a marvel of Victorian engineering.
In 1868 Sir John Pender created the laboriously named Falmouth- Gibraltar-Malta Telegraph Company, intending to link Britain with India via submarine cables. As the name suggests, the cable was meant to come ashore at Falmouth. However it was decided that the port was too busy and that the cable might be broken by ships. Accordingly, a quieter beach was found at Porthcurno and the first message was transmitted on 23 June 1870. Showing good sense, Pender later renamed his business the Eastern Telegraph Company.
Such was the importance of clear channels of communication, and of Porthcurno as a relay station, that when war broke out in 1939 the decision was made to move operations underground so as to protect the site from enemy attack. Today’s atmospheric museum is housed in these tunnels, behind substantial blast-proof doors, and offers ample diversion for war and engineering history buffs alike.
Don’t miss: the entertaining talk given by one of the museum’s communications experts.
Porthcurno Telegraph Museum
Eastern House, Porthcurno, Cornwall
01736 810 966
Open 5 Apr–2 Nov daily 10am–5pm; 3 Nov–30 Mar Sun & Mon 10am–5pm.
Adults £5.50, senior citizens £4.90, students £3.90, children £3.10
Cornwall tourist information: www.visitcornwall.com