The Early Wireless Scene on Three Islands off the Coast of Wales

Part 1

In our opening feature here in Wavescan today, we present Part 1 in our investigation of the early wireless scene on three separate islands, all tourist related islands, that are located off the northwest coast of the country of Wales in islandic Europe. These three islands are identified as Holy, South Stack, and Anglesey, and we begin with the Marconi wireless scene at Holyhead on Holy Island back in the year 1901.

Anglesey location map. Image: Google

Holy Island is a small island measuring just 8 miles by 4 miles and it lies off the west coast of the larger Anglesey Island, though it does have quite a large resident population of some 14,000 people. Large numbers of tourists visit Holy Island each year, some for a vacation on the island itself but most in transit through the port of Holyhead to Dublin in Ireland, some 67 miles due west across the Irish Sea. The very irregular, and in some places very narrow, Cymyran Strait, separates Holy Island from Anglesey.

During the month of May 1901, the Marconi trained wireless operator David S. Davies installed English Marconi made equipment in a separate building at 66 Queen’s Park, Holyhead on Holy Island, together with a tall 400 ft mast. This wireless station was installed to enable communication with shipping that was entering or leaving the nearby Port of Liverpool.

Holyhead Wireless Station c1901 66 Queen’s Park

MW0JHC operated from Holyhead Maritime Museum (representing the location of the original Marconi Radio post at 66 Queen’s Park) for International Marconi Day in 2017 and posted these photos to the “International Marconi Day – GB4IMD” Facebook page.

On May 21 of that same year 1901, the one year old cargo/passenger liner SS Lake Champlain with its new wireless equipment attempted Morse Code communication with the equally new Marconi wireless station at Rosslare at the southeast corner, shall we say, of the island of Ireland. The SS Lake Champlain was operating with the Beaver Line Service, transporting European migrants from continental Europe to North America, and it was the first ocean liner to receive a permanent set of wireless equipment. Quite by chance, the wireless signal from that ship was received initially at the equally new wireless station at Holyhead in Wales rather than at Rosslare in Ireland, and that Morse Code communication is claimed as the first wireless signal received on land from a transatlantic ship at sea.

After a brief span of just two years at Holyhead, the Marconi wireless station was closed (on July 13, 1903), and it gave way to a new station with new equipment, not on a Welsh island, but rather near Liverpool itself, on the English mainland.

Exactly 95 years later in July 1998, the famous daughter of the famous Italian radio inventor made a pilgrimage to Holyhead as part of a series of radio events honoring the significant Marconi backgrounds in the area. Princess Elettra Marconi stated that she was very pleased to visit the location of the Holyhead station that had played an interesting and important part in early wireless history.

Now, before we investigate the launching of the new wireless station near Liverpool, we visit instead two other islands with similar names on the outer (northwestern) edge of Holy Island. These two islands are identified on the map as South Stack Island and North Stack Island and they are just one and a quarter miles apart.

South Stack Lighthouse. Photo: website

South Stack Island, with just seven acres, is nowadays a tourist destination with a modern and safe walkway bridge connected to Holy Island. The island lighthouse was erected back in 1809, and nearly one hundred years later, the American radio entrepreneur Dr. Lee De Forest installed a temporary experimental wireless station at this location.

In November 1903, Lee De Forest conducted a series of wireless experiments between his two experimental stations, one at the South Stack Lighthouse and the other across the intervening waterway at Howth in Ireland. De Forest declared that the experiments were successful, and he also stated that there was no mutual interference with the Marconi station at five mile distant Holyhead. And we might add, that was not likely either, due to the fact that the Marconi station had been closed four months earlier.

North Stack Island is little more than an unvisited huge broken up rock jutting up out of the Irish Sea, about half an acre in size. There is no record of any wireless station on North Stack, though in earlier years there was a huge fog horn on the top of the rock which was operated under the high pressure of compressed air. In a subsequent tragic event, an American B24 bomber returning from a raid over continental Europe crashed into the ocean against the island cliffs on December 22, 1944, when it ran out of fuel during a night time rain storm while making a go-round landing attempt on nearby Holy Island. Six of the eight crew members died when they parachuted into the frigid ocean waters.

Defunct fog warning station on North Stack. Photo: Monsyn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link, Link

The new Marconi equipped wireless station near Liverpool was installed on Seaforth Sands, an outer suburban area north of Liverpool city itself in 1903. A new building to house the wireless equipment was erected, together with a tall three-section stayed mast.

Six years later (1909), the Marconi wireless station at Seaforth Sands was taken over by the GPO (General Post Office) in England; and two years later again (1911), the station was moved to Sandy Road, half a mile inland. During the following half a century, the station was modernized, rebuilt and upgraded a few times, and then transferred back to Wales, on Anglesey Island.

More about this important Marconi wireless station here in Wavescan, next week.

Part 2

In our program last week, we presented three segments of early wireless information: The story of the early Marconi wireless station at Holyhead on the Welsh island of Holy, the Lee de Forest wireless station on the nearby island called South Stack, and the transfer of the Marconi station from Holyhead to Seaforth, north of Liverpool in England itself.

The main purpose for that early wireless station at its several locations (Holyhead, Seaforth and Anglesey) has been for communication with shipping entering and leaving the Port of Liverpool. This week, we pick up the story of this historic
wireless station again while it was located at Seaforth Sands where it operated under the internationally recognized callsign GLV, indicating Liverpool.

Jack Binns, Marconi Operator.
Image: Jack Binns Facebook page

We might add that two famous Wireless Operators received their training in Marconi equipment and operating procedures at station GLV near Liverpool. One of these well known men was Jack Binns who was the Wireless Operator on board the RMS Republic (MKC) at the 1909 collision with the SS Florida, and he sent out what is considered to be the first CQD distress call in Morse Code. The other well known man was Jack Phillips, the senior Wireless Operator aboard the Titanic (MGY) at the time of its sinking in 1912. Phillips sent out both distress calls in Morse Code, CQD and SOS, though tragically, he died in the frigid waters of the Atlantic shortly afterwards.

OK, now we go back to the year 1862, which was when Hawley Harvey Crippen was born in Coldwater Michigan USA. In his formative years he studied Homeopathic Medicine. His first wife Charlotte died in 1892 when their son was just two years old.

Two years later (1894), Dr. Crippen married an American would-be music hall performer whose professional name was Belle Elmore. Three years later again (1897), they moved to London in England where they both took whatever employment they could find.

They held a party at their home on January 30, 1910, and that was the last time that the wife was seen alive. Suspicion began to fasten on the doctor after another girl, Ethel Neave, moved into his home, and so they fled to Brussels in Belgium where they obtained tickets to travel back across the Atlantic, to Canada in fact, on the passenger liner SS Montrose.

However Captain Henry G. Kendall aboard the SS Montrose (MLJ) grew suspicious about these two passengers who were traveling falsely as father and son, and so he sent a wireless message to the company headquarters in Liverpool via the Maritime Wireless Station GLV at Seaforth Sands. Law enforcement in Scotland Yard reacted quickly, and they sent a Police Inspector on another passenger ship, a faster ship, across the Atlantic and he arrested the couple on the SS Montrose just before disembarkation in Quebec. Dr. Crippen faced trial in London, and he was executed for murder, though his girl friend was acquitted of any serious crime.

The English maritime station GLV near Liverpool processed the Morse Code messages from the SS Montrose regarding the nefarious Dr. Crippen, and this story presents the first occasion when wireless was used for the apprehension of a criminal.

May 14, 1960, was the official date for Maritime Radio Station GLV to transfer from Sandy Road at Seaforth, north of Liverpool to a new location and a new station on the island called Anglesey, back again in Wales. The Anglesey station was located in an isolated area of the island, and it was in use for a total of 26 years, until its closure on December 19, 1986. The maritime communication service was then transferred from GLV to the cliff-top station GPK at Portpatrick in Scotland, and the building was sold off to become a privately owned family dwelling.

As a postlude, a historic marker was recently placed on the site of the old Marconi wireless station GLV at Seaforth Sands on what had been the location for the original transmitter building. The entire complex was adjacent to what subsequently became the Seaforth Container Terminal.

Today nothing remains of the Seaforth Sands installation, however this plaque marks the location.
Photo: The Radio Officers’ Assocation website.

These features were written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program during September 2021

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