Telegraph Poles as Navigation Aids

Well, I’ve been banging on about this for years. Fact or fiction, that telegraph poles are aligned to have their insulators face towards London. There was evening a major film with Stoddart E. Schmelhausen in the title role of The Pole Liner you may recall. But really, always, without some real documentary evidence.

Until NOW that is. Thanks to the magic that is telegraph pole enthusiast Rick Howell. He tells us he was reading The Light Car Manual – published in 1914 when he came upon the nugget you see below.
We have feebly covered the topic on here before <here> and <here> and also within the weighty, sage tome Telegraph Pole Appreciation for Beginners which we absolutely insist you buy <here> because it is only £5.99 after all, and if you root around on this website you’ll find a further 10% discount code called IAMSKINT to use at the checkout. Thanks Rick for this epic find.

The Famous Leaning Poles of Gleneely

July, as is usual for the time year, and The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society closes its extensive office complex and our entire HQ staff buggers off on holiday.  For this trip we chose Ireland again and whilst there took the opportunity to visit the famous Leaning Poles of Gleneely.   That Ireland has had a troubled political history is a well established fact.  That the Irish choose their political leaders according to which way a run of telegraph poles leans is less well known.

These simple telephone poles first started their movements some time around the proclamation of Irish independence in 1916 but their association with political bias remained largely unnoticed until around the time of the first constitution in 1937.  Their movement back and forth was assumed to be due to prevailing winds and the weak structure of the soil locally.

The leaning poles of Gleneely swing to the west
The poles forecasting the rise of Bertie Ahern in 1992

The poles can be found on the R238 between Gleneely and Culdaff in Co. Donegal. They were planted perfectly perpendicular but by the mid 1930s they were most definitely leaning in a westerly direction – coinciding with the election of Éamon de Valera of the Fianna Fáil party to the position of Taoiseach*1.  The poles leaned this way until over the course of five nights in 1948 they changed direction and swung over to lean eastwards once more.  This was just prior to the election of John Costello of FIne Gael where both he and the poles remained for the next three years.

These six poles have swung east and west ever since and the switch is always complete at least a whole week before the elections take place.  There was a seventh poll-predicting pole but one reverted to its original upright position following the resignation of Charles Haughey in 1992 has not moved an inch since.

With Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael) incumbent in office, the poles, for now, lean towards the east.  All Irish eyes are watching for even the tiniest change in direction.

*1 literally translates as “Man*2 with biggest desk”
*2 Mrs TPAS says this should say Person otherwise I’m a sexist.

The Great North Road

BBC online have been doing a bit of a feature, of late, about the A1(M) which runs from London, north and into Scotland. Well this paragon of tarmac tedium was preceded by an altogether more romantic route called the Great North Road. Littered with coaching Inns, quaint villages, hand-pumped petrol stations and myriad telegraph poles this road took rather more of a meander to get to the same place.  Until, that is, the demands of the motorist widened it and took all the bends out.

Secretary of Norwich and East District TPAS, John Cranston (#0620), alerted us to the existence of the delightful film you see below. Shot in 16mm by Colonel Lionel Paten in 1939 who was expecting the imminent war to make a bit of a mess of the old place so set out to capture it as it was.  “…The poles just get more scrumptious as the cameraman gets further from London”, said John, “Watch as he eventually decides to set up his camera in front of his parked car and not behind the bloody thing every time.  A few minutes of silent heaven.”  And this it truly is.  I promise you will gasp, your spectacles will turn a rosy hue and your eyes will mist… or you’ll reach for the off switch.

This youTube representation also holds the world record for the quickest descent into racist bigotry within its comments section.  From the very first, those emboldened by recent political upheavals were at it like rabid bull terriers with their trolling hatred, xenophobia and bile.  As a species we deserve everything we get.  Mr Cranston was rather less sanguine about the levels of vile acerbity and I’m still wiping his metaphorical spittle from my lug-holes!

(Twiddle all you like, you’ll get no sound out of this video)



The Fabled Lost Pole of Bala Leisure Centre

We’ve had a fabled lost tape-measure in this house for many years now – last seen when putting some shelves up under the stairs. Apparently, it’s right where I left it according to Mrs TPAS.

Anyway another futile hunt for same earlier put me in mind of a conversation I once had with Ged McCarthy the old pole prospector from them thar Mersey hills. We were sat around his camp fire in a layby on the B5105 late one night, eating beans from a tin and retelling tales about poles of yore, stay wires, double grooves and all that when he started to scratch out a map in the dirt on the back of his van and proceeded to mark an X.

“Ooh aar!”, he said, “Arr!”, he insisted, “Arr! here be found the remains of the fabulously fabled five-armed pole of Bala Leisure Centre.” {further oohs and arrs omitted for brevity} “Lost for many a year in the undergrowth it be, and nobody that has set eyes upon it has ever lived longer than a lifespan.” he warned. My spine chilled – Ged’s mate Deggsie had spilled Special Brew all down my back.

So magnificent is this pole that back in the 1920s they used to run bus trips to see it. People came from as far away as Norwich to gaze upon its tall wooden sticky-uppy grandeur. Slowly, though, fashions changed, fibre broadband arrived and BT Openreach came along and stuck a ‘D’ plate on it and its fabledness became lost to mankind.

Not any longer, because now you can light up the walls in your office/lounge/kitchen/bedroom/massage parlour with our reproduction of the original art-deco unoriginal fabled tour poster of the day. These come in A2 size (420 x 594 mm), unframed, satin finish all posted in a lovely refreshing cardboard tube. Just what your Christmas pressie idea head-scratching was looking for and only £8.99 plus p&p. And while you’re doing your Crimbo shopping you really ought to stock up on our diamond-encrusted*1 Telegraph Pole Appreciation for Beginners book. Key Stages 1-4 will delight, amuse, educate and something else your appreciative gift recipient – and they might just buy you something much nicer in return.
And if you enter the code IAMSKINT during checkout you’ll get 10% off everything – yes, everything: posters, memberships, mugs, books, everything. So just buy everything. What are you waiting for?The fabled lost pole of bala leisure centre
*1 We use only the finest homeopathic diamonds to encrust our books.

Rooftop poles

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Jeremy Boot has a keen eye and an interest in vintage townscapes. He wrote to us of the largely forgotten practice of putting telegraph poles at rooftop levels in large cities. At some point this ceased, he told us, presumably as more and more cables were laid underground. Here's a couple of examples he pointed us to. Credits to Nottingham Archaelogy twitter feed for the first and to for the Picadilly Circus photo. You have to squint to see the pole in either pic.

A European City of Cultured poles

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Hull, the city, not the underneath part of a boat – is unique in telephone lore insomuch as it has its own independent telephone network.  This came about largely due to endless patent and rights squabbling and the attempted breakup of the NTC (National Telephone Company) monopoly.  I would only be summarising someone else’s history work were I to publish it here – and I’d also have to work that bit harder too – so I’ll just give you the link <here>

Anyway, Hullovian Aaron Bailey sent us in these photos of this 30ft Medium telegraph pole he has acquired (as you do) and answers his own question in identifying the HTC lettering as Hull City Telephone.  He also asks about the insulators and what they’re made of.   So off I went on a little surf.  HTC took me to Hull City Transport and the many complaints about them – what’s public transport for if it’s not for complaining about. Whereas Hull City took me to a fascinating page about becoming a mascot for the forthcoming Hull vs Stoke City game – sounds fantastic and my application is in the post.
An extended week-long surf later I think I have the answer.  I think it is a proprietary resin called “Telenduron” which sounds like something that would stop eggs sticking to your frying pan – little known or remembered it fell out of favour with telegraph pole types as it became degraded and pitted.

Aaron worked on the power lines for 7 years and managed to collect a few pole signs over this time and the last photo shows us his rather nifty display pole.  I can’t help but feel that to be truly authentic though he should have left room for a missing cat poster.



A telegraph pole in a street in Merrick Street, HullAaron wrote back to tell us that all the more recent poles in Hull now have KC or KCL (Kingston Communications) cut into them instead of HCT.  He says he tried to sell the pole on eBay hoping for some interest in the insulators – someone sent him a message asking if the pole was the one removed from a street in Hull.  Sure enough, Aaron searched on Google maps and there it was.  I think it is this fact – that someone recognised this very pole – that has impressed me more than anything anywhere in the world so far this year.

An Atmospheric Photo

posted in: History | 0

Special thanks to (#0620) John Cranston for this wonderfully atmospheric shot.  With a backdrop of 152 searchlights, it was taken 80 years ago this month and the light is coming from a live gig at the Nuremberg Stadium featuring the top act of 1936, Hitler and the Nazis.  

The ghoulish may wish to see more at

Telegraph Poles at Nuremberg


Origins of Telegraph Pole Appreciation

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A telegraph pole in Ireland

Reader Willi Montgomery Stack, brother-in-law to Doreen Bracegirdle, (she of the Norwich TPAS sect) has submitted a small essay on the subject of telegraph pole appreciation.  Mr Stack began preparing said essay some years ago whilst chair of the East Dorset TPAS – an unhappy time he says, given the police enquiry and all those wasteful and inconclusive proesecutions.  Nontheless said essay aims to examine the origins of appreciating, some of the leading figures in the field, its growing importance in both scientific and artistic terms and its gradual evolution right up to the formation of TPAS itself. 

Clicking the read more button will take you to Mr Stack’s opening paragraphs.  He threatens more in the fullness of time, and by publication here we could be seen to be encouraging its production.  However, despite the occasional robust terminology, it does make an interesting read. 

That said, I normally like to punctuate my posts on here with a picture of a telegraph pole.  So the one on the right is a sister pole to our very own TPAS pole.  This one is from the midlands of Ireland somewhere,  possibly Co. Cavan.  We were running late and I had the words “What the hell are you doing stopping to take a picture of a bloody telegraph pole for we’ll miss our boat” ringing in my ears.

Read More

Archaeology vs Telegraphology

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Current Archaeology magazine, January 2015 issueWarm congratulations to the good readers of Current Archaeology magazine who recently unearthed us during an excavation of page 50 of their January issue #298.  Did you see what I did there?  It’s that kind of clever stuff that wins awards and stuff.  I think.  Anyway, now you’re all here…

It may be a surprise to some but there is something of a cross-over between those erudite readers of Current Archaeology and the perusers of our own sage pages.  We regularly feature people who dig stuff up.  Look at the Poulton & Fylde railway lot for example.  Or Claire Pendrous and her Openreach telegraph pole graveyard rummagings. 

Ours is an interest that has it’s feet firmly in the past anyway – the telegraph, as a means of communication blossomed out of Victoriana through the 20th century to slide over the dying edge of a bell-curve into the internet era.  We appreciators of telegraph pole aesthetics are surely closet harkers to a bygone age.  Does that not sound like an archaeologist anyway?  Ok, they do get to find the odd priceless treasure trove during their digs, whereas the most we might find is a cracked LNER Cordeaux worth precisely zero. But at least we don’t get cursed by Tutankhamun all that often.

Anyway, welcome to the whole lot of you.  But in particular to C.A. reader Vicky Norman.  She tells us that she was travelling on the “Rocky Mountaineer” from Jasper to Vancouver in 2012 and she noticed that the telegraph poles alongside the railway were in a great state of dilapidation which prompted her to write the following poem.   For this we are grateful.  Alas the photo accompaniment is somewhat out of focus but it does have a telegraph pole in it, and does set the scene nicely.

The poles that stand along the track remind us of the past.
Communication years ago relied on wire and glass.
The sentinels of yesteryear look sad as they collapse
with leaning bodies, broken arms and wires askew and snapped.
Overgrown with woodland green and snow in winter’s grip
They disappear from human gaze like ancient monoliths.
The poles being wood have had their day but as they fall and die
Return to earth which nurtured them as spruce and stalwart pine
Theres no room left for brave old posts which helped the country grow
and now the fibre optic wires are carried down below.

Vicky Norman

A train passes a telegraph pole on the Canadian Rocky Railway

Oppenheimer Poles

posted in: History | 0

An Oppenheimer pole at Cooktown, Australia, circa 1900 Australians are rightly very proud of their Overland Telegraph Line (OTL).  This was a 3,200 kilometre line that connected Darwin with Port Augusta in South Australia.  Completed in 1872 the OTL allowed fast communication between Australia and the rest of the world.

Initally, the line was supported by Cypress poles, but these swiftly succumbed to termites and bush fires. Oppenheimer poles, were galvanised iron structures, imported into the UK from Germany and from there shipped to the antipodes.  Therein they were placed with an 80 metre spacing and with a repeater station every 250 km.

Many of these Oppenheimer poles are still standing and are much cherished by the Aussie telegraph enthusiast community.  I know all this because I have been in communication with Mike Patterson (VK4MIK) of Tableland Radio Group who recently erected their own Oppenheimer pole at the Mareeba Heritage Centre, Queensland, top right hand corner of Australia.

I previously reported on a request by Norma Warren for any information on the 14 iron poles made by Buller Ltd UK which still stand locally to Esperance, Western Australia.  These, she tells us were the original poles used to link Adelaide to Albany via Ceduna, Eucla and Esperance.   Bullers Ltd were based at Joiners Square Works, Hanley, Stoke-on–Trent by the way. An Oppenheimer telegraph pole recently

The photos alongside were provided by Mike Patterson.  The first is taken at Cooktown in 1900 showing the Oppenheimer pole beside the Cooktown to Laura railway with the tree that Lt James Cook RN tied HMS Endeavour to whilst undergoing repairs after hitting a coral reef in 1770.  The second shows an ‘o” pole still sitting where it was erected in 1876 on the Palmerville to Maytown telegraph line – this photo taken only recently.

Finally, for those interested in reading further the fascinating history of Australia’s overland telegraph…

1. Celebrating 140 years of the Overland Telegraph Line
2. Wikipedia entry
3. The Overland Telegraph by Ron McMullen.  (Document disappeared from original web location – I saved it before it went)

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