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One day free conference

Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival 2019

Telecommunications Heritage Conference

Saturday 22nd June 2019, Peel Building, University of Salford, M5 4WT

As part of the Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival 2019, which is held in conjunction with the Greater Manchester Archaeology Federation, we are pleased to offer this one day, free, Telecommunications Heritage Conference. Held in association with the University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology, Connected Earth and Cambridge Wireless, and supported by the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals, this conference will explore the history of telecommunications and its impact on society and the development of industrial cities such as Manchester.

Telecommunications has had a transformational impact on society and our environment whether that has been through the development of national and international communication networks, the evolution of the telephone into the mobile and onwards to the smartphone, or the Internet and its associated world wide web. Each technological advance has improved our ability to communicate over ever greater distances and speed thus leading to the creation of new services and businesses.

Manchester built its wealth on the global trade in finished cotton goods and its rapid growth and commercial strength ensured that it was – and continues to be - an early adopter of new communications technology. That in turn has helped shape the city’s urban landscape.

However, telecommunications is an incredibly fast moving field in which ‘vintage’ can today refer to something which is only a few years old; or in the case of the mobile phone, several months old. Coupled to this, telecommunications is normally hidden from view, and with very few exceptions, isn’t an industry populated by iconic structures which means that it tends to get overlooked and ignored. Infrastructure and buildings come and go, either by changing their appearance as form follows function or through change of use and even demolition. The net effect is that the archaeological heritage of telecommunications can easily become eroded and in many cases, lost forever. This creates huge challenges for industrial archaeology for when an object is recognised as being important from a heritage point of view, and hence, worthy of preservation, it has often already gone and been replaced by something more modern.

Our one-day conference aims to celebrate telecommunication’s rich heritage by exploring technological development, societal impact, and its influence on urban development with a particular, although not exclusive, focus on Manchester.

We are delighted that our programme comprises the following speakers and topics:

Stewart Ash will be talking about Sir John Pender, a Glaswegian who made his fortune as a cotton merchant in Manchester and who then masterminded a global network of under-sea electrical telegraph cables that wired the world and earned him the title, ‘Cable King’.

Geoff Varrall from Cambridge Wireless will revisit the early years of the satellite industry and the technical, commercial and regulatory evolution of satellites as broadcast and communication systems placed in the contemporary context of a ‘new space era’ in which high count low earth orbit satellite constellations funded by multibillion dollar investment from Google, Amazon and Facebook promise to transform global connectivity.

Dan Glover will discussing the development of the 1952 microwave relay network which was used to extend the BBC television service to Scotland. The talk will offer a particular focus on the sites within the Manchester area including the studios, transmitters and communications links but it will examine how the network was expanded and also chart its ultimate decline.

Steve Scanlon will examine an important piece of Cold War technology by explaining how the GPO/BT engineered solutions to enable the Home Office to discharge its responsibility firstly to warn, then recover from a possible nuclear attack on this country, with at least a skeleton network for essential users.

Andrew Hurley from The National Collection of Telephone Kiosks will be describing one of their most significant finds of recent times namely, the discovery of an original Norwich design kiosk, making it the oldest known surviving example of a British phonebox. He’ll be discussing work in progress to restore it and place it on permanent display at the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings.

David Hay from BT Archives will be discussing the BT partnership with Bletchley Park Museum in the restoration of the Teleprinter Hall at the museum which will house a new immersive cinematic experience, “D-Day: Interception, Intelligence, Invasion” exploring Bletchley Park’s secret D-Day role and the work of GPO engineers on the site. The new exhibition commemorates the 75th anniversary of D-day in June and will be open to the public from 11 April, with an official opening in May.

Alison Taubman is Principal Curator, Technology & Communications at National Museums Scotland. In its communications gallery, staff were keen to include a fundamental of human communication – speech. Alison will outline the thoughts behind a display of speech mediated by machines, from the first speaking clock to the now omnipresent synthetic voices of devices such as satnavs and smoke alarms. She will also explore how the Museum might approach collecting apps and devices to enhance communication for people with no voice and limited mobility.

Nigel Linge will be providing a small exhibition and poster display that explores Manchester’s telephone story, from the first telephone installed within the country under licence from the Post Office in 1878, through the expansion of the national network, to the imminent launch of the latest generation of mobile phone, 5G.

Making your own contribution

We are very grateful to all of our speakers who are making a contribution to this conference through the delivery of their presentations. However, in the community spirit of the Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival, we do welcome other forms of contribution on the day itself which could, for example, include bringing along old photographs, ephemera or relevant artefacts for people to see. If you are a former employee of a telecommunications company and worked within Greater Manchester, then we would be particularly interested in your recollections and memories of that time and the places where you worked.


All events in the Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival are available free-of-charge however, we do require participants at this conference to register in advance for a free place to enable us to manage venue capacity and catering requirements. Registration entitles you to attend all presentations, receive copies of any information handouts and partake of the refreshments which includes a light lunch in the Salford Museum and Art Gallery cafe. We regret however, that registration does not cover the cost of car parking.

Whether you are a technical specialist, an enthusiast, a former or current employee of the telecommunications industry, a museum or heritage professional, an academic or someone who has a general interest in history and industrial archaeology then you are all most welcome and we would be delighted to see you. When registration opens, please book your place by using the button located towards the bottom of this page.


The Conference programme is now confirmed and itemised below.

Saturday 22nd June 2019
Time Activity Speaker Topic
10:00 to 10:30 Arrival Registration and welcome coffee
10:30 to 10:40 Welcome Nigel Linge Official welcome to the conference and outline of the day’s agenda.
10:40 to 12:40 Presentations
10:40 to 11:10 (P1) Stewart Ash John Pender, “Cable King”, and his Manchester connection
11:10 to 11:40 (P2) Geoff Varrall Seventy Years of Jodrell Bank, Sixty Years of Satellites
11:40 to 12:10 (P3) Dan Glover Delivering television to Scotland - the Manchester to Kirk O'Shotts microwave relay network
12:10 to 12:40 (P4) Steve Scanlon When the Ticking Stops: Cold War Landline Communications for Nuclear Warning and Survival
12:45 to 13:45 Lunch A complementary light lunch is provided within the Salford Museum and Art Gallery cafe.
13:50 to 15:20 Presentations
13:50 to 14:20 (P5) Andrew Hurley Discovering and preserving a Norwich, Britain’s oldest surviving phonebox
14:20 to 14:50 (P6) David Hay Restoration of the Teleprinter Hall at Bletchley Park Museum for a new exhibit commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-day
14:50 to 15:20 (P7) Alison Taubman TIM, PAT and ISAAC: artificial and synthetic speech on display at the National Museum of Scotland
15:20 to 15:50 Discussion Contemporary Collecting: How can the heritage movement keep pace with rapidly changing fields such as telecommunications?
15:50 to 16:00 Close Nigel Linge Formal close and departure.

In addition to this conference we are also offering a second event as part of the Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival and that is a guided walk of Manchester’s Transport and Telecommunications Heritage; details on our GMAF 2019 page.