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Portland Bill


THE MARCONI STATION AT PORTLAND BILL

It has often been suggested that Marconi had an experimental Wireless Station on the Isle of Portland. However in the past, little if any hard evidence has been offered to support the rumour. During 2004/5 Robert Hodges, G0RYL with his XYL Carol, 2E1RBH and Rob Micklewright, G3MYM started to research the subject in an attempt to find any recorded evidence that might still exist. This article shows the result of their investigation and it's conclusions.

RECORDS

The Southern Times Newspaper for the 1st April 1905 reports that the 'Marconi Station' at the Bill was moved from near Coastguards to the Higher Lighthouse. The same newspaper also reports on the 16th March 1907 that the Station was in continual communication with Gibraltar for a week.

The Portland Year Book for 1904/5 says that the 'Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station' was removed from near the Coastguard Station to the High Lighthouse in April 1904 (not 1905). However the 'US Wireless Telegraph Shore Stations of the world - corrected to October 1 1906' list clearly states that although the system was Marconi the owner was the British Admiralty. In 1910 the British Admiralty station on Portland is listed as having the call sign TWQ.

In his book, 'Portland - An Illustrated History' Stuart Morris also describes the station as a 'Marconi' one.

A MARCONI STATION

The description 'Marconi Station' or 'Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station' might be slightly misleading. When the Navy originally started using Wireless equipment there were two types of equipment in use. Captain H.B. Jackson, R.N., developed one and the other of course was Marconi's. These were known respectively as 'Jackson' and 'Marconi' Sets. The station at Portland is listed in the Annual Report of the Torpedo School for 1901, Wireless Telegraphy Appendix. It is shown as having a Marconi set and was part of the Portland Shore Station of the Royal Navy. Gibraltar is also shown on the same list as having a Marconi set. A total of 32 'Marconi sets' were delivered to the Navy between September and the end of November 1900. HM Treasury records show the cost of each installation amounted to £196. 14. 4 plus a £100 per annum royalty.

That a Wireless Station was called a 'Marconi Station' therefore did not necessarily mean that the station was owned and/or was operated by Marconi or the Marconi Company. The name is used rather as we might say 'Biro' when we mean Ballpoint Pen or 'Hoover' when we mean vacuum cleaner! The often-used phrase 'Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station' was simply used to describe a 'Telegraph Station' that did not use cables wires!

RANGE

Direct Wireless contact with Gibraltar in 1904/7 using the Navy stations would however have been very unusual as the equipment was intended primarily for ship to shore communication. In 1907 the British Admiralty 'Lower Station' at Gibraltar, (call sign GB1) operated on 100, 220 and 340 Metres and was claimed to have a Range of 55-90 nautical miles. However the site at Portland Bill was ideally suited for LF and HF communication and no doubt under good propagation conditions longer-range contacts were possible.

CONCLUSION

There is no doubt that there was a Wireless Station located at Portland Bill on the Isle of Portland. It dates back to when the British Admiralty took delivery of 32 Marconi Sets in 1900. It seems that it was originally located at or near the present Coastguard Cottages but later moved up the hill to a site adjacent to the Higher Lighthouse. There was a Royal Navy aerial system and station buildings on the site below the Higher Lighthouse until a few years ago when the Navy moved from the Island. From the records it also seems likely that the Portland Bill station did make direct contact with Gibraltar in the early 1900's although whether this was a common occurrence is not known. By 1907 the equipment would have been improved as the original untuned spark-gap radio systems would have been replaced with tuned apparatus. However in 1910 the range of the British Admiralty station located at Windmill Hill on Gibraltar (call sign SMP) is still only quoted as 90 nautical miles.

There seems little doubt that the original equipment at Portland was supplied by, and quite probably installed by Marconi. However nothing found to date supports the claim that Marconi or the Marconi Company had an 'Experimental Station' at Portland Bill and it seems most likely that the only Wireless Station was the one owned by the British Admiralty.

Geoff Watts, G0EVW - 03/03/05

GB1HPG SPECIAL EVENT STATION GB 1 Hundred Portland Gibraltar, to commemorate the wireless Contact between Portland Bill and Gibraltar in March 1907.

GB1HPG was active from approximately 1000 UTC on Saturday the 3rd and Sunday the 4th of March 2007 from the Gate House at the entry to the Southwell Business Park. The building was originally one of the old MOD Development Sites and only a short distance from the location of the 1907 Marconi equipped Station.

The Society has produced a detailed booklet all about the contact made in 1907 between Portland Bill and Gibraltar read/download from the link below.
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Geoffrey Watts,
3 Feb 2010, 13:59
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