Reaching out to the world

For a small area, that in the past has been pretty hard to reach overland, Cornwall has a long history of being at the forefront of communicating with the world.

From 1688 until 1850, the Falmouth Packet ships made Falmouth the information hub of the Empire. These fast moving ships brought news to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts all around the world. Down on the Lizard in 1883, LLoyds of London took over the Signal Station at Bass Point, from here they could spot ships returning up the channel and signal via both semaphore and later telegraph to the ships owners in London that they had returned safely and would be in London within a few days.

At Porthcurno in the far west of Cornwall, telegraph cables hidden under the beach were stretched all the way to India in the late 1860s. On 23 June 1870, the first message was sent from Bombay (as it was then called) to London, via Cornwall, where a party attended by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, was taking place. Later on, these cables would reach around the world, all coming ashore at Porthcurno. Many of todays visitors to this popular beach might not even realise the cables were there if it wasn't for the Telegraph Museum that they pass on the way down through the village. The fascinating museum tells the story of not just the early days but also what happened during the two world wars when tunnels were driven deep into the hillside to keep everything safe.

The Telegraphs stopped in 1970, but in 1988 the first undersea optical fibre systems arrived in Cornwall. Cable operations resumed in the Porthcurno area with a new cable station built a few miles away, and new fibre optic cables were brought ashore at Porthcurno and nearby Sennen Cove, including one that provides Superfast Broadband to the Isles of Scilly.

If you are reading this on your smart phone, take the time to think about the fact that it was only 120 years ago, on the 12 December 1901, that Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent the first ever radio signal across the Atlantic from Poldhu Cove, near Mullion on the Lizard. It ended up in Newfoundland, Canada, a distance of about 2,200 miles and all it was, was a repetitive signal of three clicks, signifying the Morse code letter S. In the next few years Marconi developed things further, prooving that radio signals could be sent for hundreds of kilometres over the horizon, despite some scientists' belief that they were limited to line-of-sight distances.

On 11th January 1962 the first inter-continental live picture was transmitted from Goonhilly Earth Station, only a handful of miles from Mullion, across the Atlantic by way of the satellite Telstar. At one time the largest satellite earth station in the world, there were 30 communication antennas and dishes in use and played a key role in communications events such as the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and 1985's Live Aid concert. 

Satellite operations at Goonhilly were closed down in 2008, but in April 2018, Goonhilly became part of a collaborative partnership for commercial space missions which it is anticipated may use Newquay Airport.

And so Cornwall's connections with the world and beyond look set to continue...