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Telegraph talent

14 June 2010 by stepheng

We would spread out in the huge cinema with acres of empty seats and settle down with six-penny packets of popcorn for the double feature.

It may have been the Regent or the Regal, the Carlton or the Curzon but I always thought the programmes were great value – two films, a newsreel, trailers and Pearl & Dean’s glossy adverts.

photo of an old ship's telegraph

Ship’s telegraph from the Maritime Museum. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

Often the support (or B) picture was a naval war film or period sea drama. Key scenes often resounded to the clanging of the ship’s telegraph – its bells heightening the drama.

The ship’s telegraph – usually housed in a brass pedestal on the bridge – transformed communications on vessels as they grew in size.

Chadburns of Liverpool pioneered the system of pulleys and levers after taking out a patent in 1870.

In the days of sail it was relatively easy for the captain to pass on commands to crew members. Sailing ships were relatively small and simple to operate, whether under canvas or entering and leaving port.

The arrival of steamships in the 1840s initially did not cause problems because these powered ships were also small. Many of these ships used a trip-gong in the engine room to transmit coded messages.

One gong meant Stop, two Slow Ahead, three Full Ahead and so on. However, this system was prone to human error. For example, if the engineer miscounted the gongs the ship could easily go in the wrong direction. Engine room staff also had to remember and verbally pass on the speed orders that had been issued.

The Chadburn pulley system telegraph enabled instructions from the bridge to the engine room to be relayed mechanically. There were also steering and docking telegraphs to control the rudder.

A ship’s telegraph in the Battle of the Atlantic gallery (pictured) was salvaged from the wreck of the American cargo steamer Steel Worker sunk by a German mine in Kola Bay North Russia in 1942.

As ships grew larger, telegraph systems grew more sophisticated. By the 1890s the successful brass pedestal telegraph had become well established.

The Titanic had three vital areas linked by telegraphs. The captain’s bridge was the navigation centre of the ship and focal point of the telegraph installation.

This was connected to the starting platform, housing the controls for the ship’s engines, and the after docking bridge.

Electric telegraphs were later introduced although the pulley system remained in use on merchant ships until the 1950s.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).
 

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