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Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station
Pen Olver, Housel Bay, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, UK
associated engineer
Guglielmo Marconi
date  1900
era  Victorian  |  category  Telecommmunications  |  reference  SW711119
Situated on the cliffs of Pen Olver at the eastern end of Housel Bay are two single-storey simple timber buildings. They were constructed by a local builder in 1900 to provide a ship to shore radio service for passing vessels. This is the oldest purpose-built wireless communications station in the world still in existence.
Guglielmo Marconi came to England in February 1896, seeking support for his work on wireless telegraphy. He registered the Marconi International Marine Communication Company Ltd in 1900, while staying at Housel Bay Hotel, and leased a plot of land in the adjoining field where the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station was built. A more powerful station was being set up at Poldhu, some 10km away, for which the Lizard station would be used to test its transmissions.
The buildings are little more than wooden huts on the 2,500 sq m site. The smaller two-roomed hut is 6.5m long and 3.5m wide and housed the transmitter and receiving equipment. The larger four-roomed hut is 9.7m long and 3.5m wide and provided accommodation for the radio operators. Outside there was a wooden mast approximately 38m tall, topped by a 5m long gaff with an aerial wire suspended from each end. The mast was set centrally in a concrete base 1.1m square and 1.3m high.
The battery-powered transmitter used electric sparks to produce electromagnetic signals, and was connected to an aerial and the ground. The length of the burst of sparks could be long or short, depending upon how long the transmitting key was depressed, and no sparks were produced when the key was not pressed, and thus a Morse code message could be sent. The receiver used a coherer, which detected the sparks, connected to an aerial and the ground, and operated only when the transmitter was inactive. The receiver was linked to a printer that operated when a signal was found, and the messages were then decoded by telegraphists.
Marconi also developed and patented jiggers (Patent No. 7777 for "tuned or syntonic telegraphy", 1900) circuit components that enabled messages to be received from a selected station and to filter out interference from any other stations. They concentrated the signal's energy into a narrower band, improving the overall performance of both transmitter and receiver.
Although the Lizard station was operational by the end of 1900, a breakthrough occurred on 23rd January 1901. Until then it was thought that the operating range of wireless communication was restricted by the horizon, as is optical radiation. However, Marconi's apparatus successfully received a message at the Lizard from his station at St Catherine's, Isle of Wight, 299km away.
The Post Office took over operating responsibility for the station in 1908, and changed its call sign from LD to GLD. By 1909 the operating equipment had been updated and moved to the larger hut, and the smaller hut was used as a store. In April 1910, the first recorded distress call to a British coastal station was received from Minnehaha off the Isles of Scilly two years before Titanic sent allegedly the first SOS and tugs were sent from Falmouth to rescue her.
In 1909, Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, jointly with Karl Ferdinand Braun "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy".
The Lizard station closed in 1913 when a new station, called Land's End Radio, opened in St Just and adopted the GLD call sign. However, it reopened during the World War I (1914-18) under Admiralty control, and closed finally in 1920 when the mast and equipment were dismantled.
The huts were joined together and used as a holiday home (called Marconi), and also as an officers' mess for the RAF in World War II (1939-45). In 1953 the Marconi Company set a commemorative plaque in the Cornish hedge (stone wall) around the buildings.
The site is now owned by the National Trust, and in 2000 they restored the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station to its original 1901 condition, reopening it in 2001. The station has two transceivers a valve-operated Uniden 2000 and a Kenwood 850, both with 100W output. There is a W3DZZ aerial in the form of an inverted V with a mast on the original concrete base.
On 23 January 2001, a special event radio (call sign GB2GLD) operated to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first "over the horizon" transmission. An important guest Marconi's grandson, also named Guglielmo Marconi visited the station on 12th December 2001.
The station is open to the public between June and October for limited hours, weather permitting.
Research: ECPK
"Marconi at The Lizard The story of communication systems at Housel Bay"
by Courtney Rowe, Trevithick Society, 2000

Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station