Street hardware revisited.

We’re side-stepping our remit a little here: tall, wooden, sticky-uppy, got wires coming out the top.  But here is a subject we’ve touched on before and seems to fascinate our listeners.  You will in no way remember these articles from 2012 on GPO Street furniture and More street furniture.

Well, Chris Payne, was digging around the internet, as you do, after he found this street marker set into a wall in Tring.  He found our pages, but also this one from the Secret Scotland blog. Now, he says this G.R. marker is on the B4635 roughly where the Western Road changes to Western Road.  But then Western road is already called Western road and I wonder did he mean to say it changes to something else.  But I’m too polite to write back and ask him and I certainly hate to correct someone.  It’s this anxiousness to please, to not offend, to be all things to all people that means I drink a bottle and a half of Gaviscon a day.  Anyway, so it’s on the B4635 in Tring.  And it’s got G.R. on it and I’d like one in my garden.  Thank you Chris.


An iron street marker post


Depthing Tubes

We have, of late, been in extended communication with Mr Martin Cummins –  an engineer in permanent magnets and a man of considerably piqued curiosity – amply demonstrated to us now that Mr Cummins has turned his inquisitive mind to the mysteries of the telegraph pole.


I bear only a query regarding the grey plastic extruded ducts often seen, placed 180 degrees apart, on telegraph pole bases. After years pondering on same, I finally came to the conclusion that they were either for adding preservative at intervals (Hence cap sometimes seen) or possibly, but unlikely, as an anti-rotation device for where a replacement pole was a close fit in an existing hole – even providing access for a below-ground wood rot check.

Upon request, Mr Cummins furnished us with example photos.  He went on to tell us that his approaches to “Outreach” proved less than fruitless and nobody there had the faintest idea what these “depthing tubes” were for. Though why he thought a mental health charity would be able to help, when coincidentally, right next to them in the phone book he would have found “Openreach” and perhaps a far more illuminating phone call.

 Another depthing tube

He continued…

I have been told that it is a neat device for ensuring correct burial depth, even if the “Birth-line” is incorrectly stamped.  Is this the whole story? and was it an invention of the G.P.O? What is the correct name for the duct, and is the depth rod a purpose made, graduated scale, with perhaps a cursor to rest on the top of the tube, or just a piece of convenient bar, which is chalk marked? Presumably the reason for the height from ground-level is to discourage small children from gravel-filling (Caps as well) or is there another reason? Two tubes, I suppose, in case one gets crushed flat during installation? I have yet to see an article on this system?

Mr Cummins is very thorough in his research and determination to attain complete and total understanding of his subject.

While endeavouring to locate information on these ducts, I came across a reference to a spigot or flat circular mark called a “belly-button” being found on posts, which was put on the straightest side of the post. Perhaps another, humorous term for a birth-mark, but why it is orientated this way is beyond me. Another site refers to the birth-mark as a Doby mark. A strange term-any idea of its meaning?”

Mr Cummins also turned up a whole load of interesing telegraph pole patents; two shed loads about fibre-glass telegraph poles in Dunstable; a fine example of a telegraph pole preservative administering system near Leighton Buzzard; and another unponderable suggestion that BT may well fly kites to raise telephones line over a tree branch.

A telegraph pole armoured ductAll of this though makes me think that Martin is looking just too hard – reminding me of the story of the millions of pounds that NASA spent developing a biro that could write in the micro-gravity of earth orbit – whereas the Russians just took a pencil… You see, I think the answer is much more mundane in that these tubes are just “kick stops”, cable protectors – and nothing more. Intended to save the hardship caused by fluourescently clad council grass-strimming staff from slicing through the cables that run vertically down the pole and into underground ducts. On the left is one I photographed near home showing a protruding wire.  Those as witnessed by Martin Cummins simply being devoid of cable.

I am, of course,  just guessing, and respectfully ask some of the many Openreach and assorted telegraph pole types who frequent these esteemed pages to espouse some of their profound wisdom and tell us, and particularly, Martin Cummins, what the hell these things are for?

More street furniture

Another iron marker post found in a street in PlymouthPrompted by the picture that Brian Russell sent in 5 posts ago, reader Ernie Stanton sent in the photo you see at left – one of three such cast iron marker posts he found in Plymouth.

He says :

A contact at Plymouth museum gave me your details following an enquiry I made to him. I have found three cast iron maker posts in Plymouth, similar to the one on your website.

These are however slightly different, in that they carry the letters GR and have a line under the ft in. From the condition of the one shown on your website, it seems that this may have fallen off the one photographed by Brian.

The three in Plymouth are however identical to each other and have a recess under the ft in into which numerals can be fitted.The combination of an arrow underneath the horizontal line reminded me of OS bench marks, which are traditionally carved into the faces of walls etc., but these are not shown on the OS maps I have, dated 1892/4. If you ever discover what they are I would be interested.

Well Ernie, I consider myself a bit of a dab hand at internet researching, but I’m struggling to find much about these posts. The GR in this case standing for George Rex (ages it to between 1910 and 1936) whilst Brian’s being from V.R.Victoria Regina (1837 – 1901).  I will continue to search, but I’m going to  guess aged water mains rather than anything telegraphic.

Meanwhile however, my detective brain did spot the darkening stain at lower left, and which continues on to the pavement and surrounding wall – indicative, perhaps, that a disrespectful dog may well have passed this way shortly before Ernie took his photo. 


GPO Street Furniture

Iron GPO Marker post Post Office Telegraphs grid.

We recently received an interesting email and photographs from Brian Russell from WA7


Though nothing to do with telegraph poles, I wonder if, via your society, I might pose a question on a local item of GPO history.

The item is a small cast iron marker post against a building wall and the head of the post bears the letters ‘ V R ‘ with a crown in between below which are the letters ‘ Ft – Ins ‘ and a government property broad arrow.

I assume it does / did mark the route of a buried cable.

Could it be that one of your group have some knowledge of these posts in their search for matters telegraphic ?

Thanking you,

Brian Russell,

WA7 shire

Brian also kindly sent us a photo of the inspection cover that was nearby.  If you look carefully you see it must be from a different age – a time of morse code, telegrams and when you could get a Penny Arrow for under a pound.

The embossing also suggests that if we were to lift the lid we may find some Telegraphs belonging, of course, to the Post Office.  Or might it just be that underneath you will find a stash of conservative-leaning broadsheet newspapers.

The marker post is a particularly attractive item.  And if you can shed any light on it’s provenance then do please get in touch: or via the Contact page.

Purists should look away now

The mother of all telegraph poles, Moville, Donegal A close-up of the mother of all telegraph poles, Moville, Donegal



T his has to be the mother of all poles. Now, I am loathe to prefix it with the word “telegraph” for fear of upsetting the more conservative of our members. But it’s a wooden pole and it’s got wires coming off it so I’m interested (please see Disclaimer).

This was spotted on a quiet back lane a mile or so from the somnolescent Donegal town of Moville.

I spent a good ten minutes underneath it, gazing up at its science-fiction countenance with wonder.

Do the Irish cleverly place their transformer substations so high to be out of reach of rural copper thieves perhaps?

It’s even got a pair of central-heating radiators on it. And a clock, as well as all that space-age gubbins on top. So could it be a misplaced W.I. tea urn, or a bizarre inverse airing cupboard, or an outside heating system – a global warming device perhaps?

But when I spotted the drain tap at the bottom I realised that this was the work of an Irish power engineer moonlighting as a real-ale micro-brewer.

To think that a pint of Donegal’s equivalent of ‘Big Nevs‘ was probably just a stepladder away.

Ceramic Swag and a fabled pole

Telegraph pole swagBeing the important person that I am (in the world of telegraph poles), I occasionally get visits from passing royalty. Such was the case last Tuesday when the contractors (and their lorry) from Carillion dropped in for a cup of finest Welsh tea and a slice of my wife’s exquisite coffee and walnut cake.  Agent X* and Agent Y* were on a skiving mission before meandering their way back to their depot somewhere over the border in the badlands of England.  

Anyway, as well as the scrumptious bag of ceramic booty (see right) that they handed over as payment for said tea and cake, they also told me of the fabled lost pole of Bala Leisure Centre.  A pole so laden with cross-spars and so bristling with an enormous double-sided bounty of ceramic insulators it must surely rank as the Jason’s Golden Fleece of the telegraph pole enthusiasts world.

It is said that those (enthusiasts) who gaze upon its glory are smitten for all time and spend the remainder of their days wearing fur-edged outdoor coats whilst wandering the lanes trying to re-capture the moment of that first glance. I pressed my telegraphic friends for more information but they were more insterested in Everton football club and an ashtray for their fags. These men had seen this pole and yet were somehow emotionally unperturbed.

As soon as I had waved them off and watched their telegraph pole truck disappear over the horizon I dashed into the house for my ordnance survey map of Bala and also for my trusted copy of the Gazetteers field guide to the telegraph poles of Great Britain and Ireland. Oh where is Anneka Rice when you need her? Watch this space….


*Not their real names

What do we want? Information…

Cynghordy viaduct on the Heart of Wales line Unusual telegraph pole near Cynghordy, Carmarthenshire

It would be nice if this were a website about railway architecture, but it isn’t. If it was I could wax lyrical about the amazing railway viaduct on the “Heart of Wales” railway line near Cynghordy, Carmarthenshire. This truly is a masterpiece of Victorian railway engineering. Or I could prattle on about the fantastic line itself which meanders through some of Wales’ finest scenery on it’s four hour journey from Shrewsbury to Swansea.  There’s another on the line at Knucklas near Knighton.

I was actually there on a dual hill-walk/house hunting mission when I saw this unusual arms-wood-less telegraph pole which I thought I would share with you dear listener.

It’s been a while since I updated the site and the postbox is full.  I’ll deal with the most recent first.  Philip wrote from with those questions we all want answers to :

1.  Did anyone ever answer the question about the lifespan of a telegraph pole?
2.  Is there a legal requirement to replace them after a certain number of years
3.  Are they required to be inspected / tested annually (or at another period)?
4.  Does anyone know the breakdown of the codes affixed to a pole? 

Technical Advisor Keith S**** yesterdayWe put these questions to our Honorary Technical Advisor Keith S**** at his secret lair somewhere in the UK.  And as always, despite his being Britain’s top telegraph pole spook, he went above and beyond the call of duty to answer a needy listener.

The life span of a properly creosoted pole is infinite, if it were kept in ideal conditions it would last forever, however, when ‘planted’ it is subject to the rigours of the environment. Rot (decay) is the only enemy of the pole apart from impact from heavy objects (like cars). Rot in timber requires three factors, oxygen, moisture and the spores of a fungus. These are, in poles, usually only found at the ground line and it is here a pole will decay.

There is not to my knowledge any statutory requirement to replace poles at a specified time. Poles are,or were in my time, tested on a regular basis by engineers dedicated to this task who would take a sample boring from the pole at a point remote from the ground line, (there was a scurrilous rumour at one time that they just whacked them with a heavy hammer) ie a pointless exercise. Occasionly one would come across a pole with decay at the tip caused by the pooling of water there.

As to the codes on poles, telephone poles that is, (not electricity poles ) typically there would be length in feet (early poles) or in metres after metrication and class of pole. eg:

30L (30ft light)
30M (30ft medium)
8L (8 metre light)
9M (9 metre medium)

Light and Medium (and stout of which there were very few) referred to the diameter of the pole. Heavier poles were needed to carry more wires. Also ‘cut in’ was the year of processing eg 79 would be 1979. Other marks (Cutting in) on the pole varied  at different times.

Not for nothing is Keith our (H.T.A.) (T.P.A.S.)

Telegraph Pole Hieroglyphics

 Okay, so what do all these engravings, plaques and embossed badges mean? 

Thanks to John Willis of Dagenham, who was a GPO telephone engineer back in 1964, we can now let our telegraph pole inner sanctum members know the truth…

* DP = Distribution Point DP numbers

* S = suspected of decay.

* red D = decayed.
* green C = not planted deep enough, shallow, climbable. 

* The punch hole sign is a testing cycle sign (post 1964)

* The cuts in the pole are measurements to do with depth in the ground, also they tell you the size of pole ie 32 m is 32 feet long medium size pole as there was light L or heavy H sizes, 60 H would have been 60 feet long Heavy, thick pole. All to do with loading.

* The numbers at the bottom are date of manufacture 86 = 1986. They use meters as measurement now.

And apologies to John for taking well over a year to putting this info on the site.

Thanks to Sean Kern for this next bit of information :

The doby mark or the 3 metre mark (details branded into the pole including pole owner BT, date of manufacture & pole size) is 3 metres from the bottom of the pole. A pole should be planted approx 1.8 metres in the ground which would then put the 3 metre mark at aheight of 1.2 metres from ground level.

New poles do not need “testing for the first 12 years and hence after require testing by a “pole tester” every 10 years.
If a pole is “out of test date” then you are not allowed to climb it and must use a platform elevating.

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