Telegraph Works

From London's Ghost Acres

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“The 1.2 acre stretch of land was first built on in the Tudor period when it served as Queen Elizabeth I’s gunpowder store, keeping the English fleet well-stocked for when they met the Spanish Armada in 1588. After a brief flirtation with manufacturing whaling boats, it re-opened as a submarine cable manufacturers in 1857 and became known as the Telegraph Works. The workers there laid the first transatlantic cable under the Atlantic Ocean, which carried the first formal message between Queen Victoria and US President James Buchanan the following year – it took around 17 hours to transmit.”

“The Greenwich facility has been used for the manufacturing of submarine communication cables since the mid 1850’s when the site was acquired by Glass Elliot and Co . The Greenwich facility was at the forefront of the emerging submarine telecommunications industry then and retains that pioneering role up to the present day. In 1864 Glass Elliot and Co and a partner company amalgamated to form the Telegraph Construction and maintenance company which was known as Telecon. It is estimated that between 1865 and 1945, 70% of all the submarine telegraph in the world was manufactured and laid from the Greenwich facility. This is where the first transatlantic communication cables were manufactured and shipped out. Britain and America were ‘connected’ for the first time from this site.

Successive companies have owned the site until Alcatel took over in 1994 and merged with Lucent in 2006. All of these companies have been involved principally with submarine telecommunications. Alcatel-Lucent has continued to manufacture high reliability products for submarine cable networks at the Greenwich facility, ensuring that Alcatel-Lucent retains its position as the world leader for the supply of Submarine Networks.”

“Part of the 1851 cross Channel cable was armoured by Kuper and Company, wire rope manufacturers. Shortly after this the company was sold to Richard Glass who was joined by George Elliot and together they formed Glass, Elliot, and Company. When they took over Kupers they also took over a number of cable contracts. To carry these out they set up a cable manufacturing business in one of Kuper's factories at Morden Wharf. Needing larger premises they shared a factory at Enderby Wharf, Greenwich, with W.T. Henley, who also manufactured cables. This created problems for both companies until Henley decided to move to North Woolwich.”

“In 1857 submarine cable manufacturers Glass, Elliot & Co and W.T.Henley took over the site; Henleys subsequently moved to North Woolwich. As well as jointly making the short-lived first transatlantic telegraph cable, Glass, Elliot supplied many early telegraph cables including Corsica–Sardinia, Lowestoft–Zandvoort, Malta–Alexandria and Sicily–Algeria. In the 1860s Glass, Elliot was absorbed into the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon), which manufactured a second transatlantic telegraph cable at Enderby's Wharf. This was successfully laid by the SS Great Eastern. The company went on to manufacture many more transatlantic cables, and others to Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong etc.

In 1935 the site came into the ownership of the newly formed Submarine Cables Ltd. Some of the cross-channel, D-Day Pluto pipeline was made at the wharf in World War 2. After ownership by BICC and AEI, in 1970 it passed to STC. Manufacture of submarine cable at the site ended in 1975 (transferring to Southampton), and work concentrated on manufacture of optical repeaters and amplifiers. It subsequently passed to Northern Telecom and then to Alcatel in 1994. In 2006 Alcatel merged with US company Lucent to create Alcatel-Lucent. Since then Alcatel-Lucent has sold off a large part of its site to Barratt Developments for a housing estate, which will be called Enderby Wharf. Enderby House, the original office building, is on the Barratt site but no commercial use has yet been identified. The Enderby Group was set up by a number of people from the area, including some with telecommunications connections and others with industrial archaeological experience, in September 2014 to work for a long-term viable use for Enderby House”




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Submarine cable


From To Owner
1857 1864 Glass, Elliot and Co
1864 1935 Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company


From To Industry
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