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Transatlantic Cable, Abermawr
Abermawr, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
Transatlantic Cable, Abermawr
associated engineer
Electric & International Telegraph Company
date  January - March 1862, 1880
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Telecommmunications  |  reference  SM882347
photo  © ceridwen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The Pembrokeshire coast in Wales includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Abermawr. Its beach was once the terminus of two telegraph cables laid beneath the Irish Sea, which formed part of a transatlantic communications network. Nothing remains of the shore ends of the cables, and the hut where messages were received and transmitted (pictured) is now a holiday cottage.
In July 1855, the Electric Telegraph Consolidation Act was passed. It led to the formation of Britainís Electric & International Telegraph Company, a merger of the Electric Telegraph Company (established 1846) and the International Telegraph Company (1852).
In the mid 19th century, the only way to transmit messages quickly was through telegraph cables. The cables eventually formed a network over land and under sea, including across the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea. As it is close to Ireland, Pembrokeshire in south west Wales was used as a landing site for cables between the two countries.
Abermawr on the Pembroke coast lies south east of County Wexford in southern Ireland, across a narrow stretch of the Irish Sea. It has a wide flat sandy beach, visible at low tide, backed by a pebbly shingle berm (deposited during a storm on 25th October 1859). The topography, and sparsely populated location, made it ideal for submarine cables.
In 1862, the Electric & International Telegraph Company was responsible for laying a cable from Abermawr to Greenore Point near Rosslare, Wexford. It was part of a telegraph network that stretched from London to Newfoundland in Canada. The cable consisted of four copper conducting wires insulated with rubber and surrounded by 12 iron armouring wires, total weight 6.6 tonnes per mile.
The cable was protected from corrosion and decay by a coating of patent composition, invented by telegraph engineer Sir Charles Tilston Bright (1832-88) and civil engineer (Josiah) Latimer Clark (1822-98). The compound included tarred hemp covered with heated asphalt and silica, which when rolled smooth and cooled formed a flexible waterproof sheath. It is claimed to be the first use of the Bright & Clark coating.
Cable laying was completed by 28th March 1862. In total, the cable was 101km long. It was laid at a depth of 106m by the cargo steam ship Berwick (built 1855).
At the Abermawr end, the submarine cable had connections to Milford Haven in south Wales and from there to London via the Great Western Railway telegraph lines. At the County Wexford end, it connected with overhead telegraph wires to County Cork and the west coast of Ireland. A cable under the Atlantic Ocean linked Ireland with Newfoundland.
Messages were sent along the cable and received in a 'cable hut' located, with its adjoining cottage (SM884348), at the back of Abermawr beach. Messages received were re-transmitted over the land lines to London for onward transmission as required.
The buildings and the land on which they stood were rented from the Tregwynt Estate. In use, the cable hut contained two rows of wooden benches for the telegraphic instruments. The telegraph operating clerks slept in three-tier bunks at the rear of the hut.
The cable route from Cork to London was completed and opened on 18th April 1862. By 1868, the Electric & International Telegraph Company was the largest private telegraph company in Britain.
In 1870, the inland telegraph service was nationalised under the Telegraph Acts. The Electric & International Telegraph Company and the Abermawr cable were taken over by the General Post Office. In 1880, a second Post Office cable was laid from Abermawr to Blackwater in County Wexford, Ireland.
In 1883, another cable was laid between Parc y Morfa (SM967374), north of Abermawr, and Blackwater in Wexford. It was some 103km long, laid by the steam ship Dacia.
The station at Abermawr was vital in providing a communications link to North America. During World War I (1914-18), the transmission buildings were surrounded by a wall of sandbags and guarded by a small unit of soldiers.
In 1922 or 1923, the road above Abermawr beach (part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path) and the shore ends of the station's two cables were swept away in a storm. The station was subsequently abandoned and the buildings returned to the Tregwynt Estate.
After a period of disuse, the buildings passed into private hands in 1951. Now known as Cable Cottage, the station has been renovated and is used for holiday accommodation.
In 1986, a four hectare area of Abermawr beach was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (No. 0948). The site lies within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and is recognised for "one of the most extensively exposed successions of surface deposits in northern Pembrokeshire", providing "vital information concerning changing environmental conditions during the Late Pleistocene".
Cable core: S.W. Silver & Co
Cable insulation: Gutta-Percha Company
Cable armouring and laying: Glass Elliot & Co
Research: ECPK
"Pembrokeshire Historical Gazetteer" by Basil H.J. Hughes, Community Texts, 2011

Transatlantic Cable, Abermawr