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dudler

Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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27 Nov 2020 9:38AM   Views : 321 Unique : 188

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Derek collects pictures of GPO marker posts. This is quite a niche area, and when he told me what a small cast iron post I’d photographed was, I offered to photograph several more that he said were along my road. And sure enough, they were…

Now, there are quite a few things that other people do that I admire a great deal, while not wanting to know as much as they do about a specific subject. Contrary to appearances in modern society, the world needs experts, and it needs experts on everything. We can see that this matters as we watch CSI, and Gil Grissom’s fascination with insects bears fruit in uncovering the truth about crimes: why shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to other specialisms?

Indeed, when I first thought of asking Derek for an email interview, one of my thoughts was that GPO marker posts might be the key to unlock a murder in a TV series, which leads to a later question. But let’s begin at the beginning. I asked Derek what exactly these little plates are for.

They mark the spot where underground telecomms cables are joined. Some of them, at least, identify end-on joints between lengths of telegraph cable, which at one stage were only 150 yards long. There’s a string of these outside Towcester racecourse. But I believe they may also mark joints where routes split off to serve specific end-users; and some relate to telephone, rather than telegraph, cables. But this is part of the mystery, yet to be resolved.

How long ago did they come into use, and are they still used now we have fibre optic cables under our streets?

Telegraphy came into use in the mid-19th century, but these markers were used specifically by the General Post Office (the “nationalised” telecomms carrier of the day), from around 1897. By the mid-1930s the design was replaced by a cheaper concrete version, of which many thousands remain today. Those posts marking telegraph cables no longer serve a purpose, because telegraph cables are arranged very differently to later telecomms cables. However phone trunk routes often follow the original telegraph routes, and you’ll very often find footway box covers (“manhole” covers) directly in front of the marker posts. I have collected anecdotes from Post Office engineers working in the 60s and 70s that the markers were sometimes used to confirm they were opening the right cover.

Roughly how many posts are there in the UK today – and does BT do anything to maintain them?

Again, I wish I knew! There are enthusiast groups for fire hydrants, and benchmarks, and post boxes – and associated databases readily accessible. There seemed to be no such catalogue of telegraph marker posts, so I’ve made it my mission to compile one before they all disappear. As of now I’m up to around 240, but I think the rate of finding more will slow as internet searches for them are revealing few new results. From here on, it’s people telling me about them, and me using Google Streetview to locate them. They’re disappearing – not only as a result of road development, but each time pavements are resurfaced, they often sink a little lower. Some are any more, though originally there would have been over 2’ showing. OpenReach – the organisation that looks after BT’s infrastructure – will remove the posts if they get in the way of development, but otherwise don’t maintain them.

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Are there any markers in places where they have become part of the country’s industrial heritage?

There are several posts that have been repositioned in “heritage” settings; for example, one at Rye Heritage Centre, one outside Alresford station, on the Mid-Hants Railway; and one outside Gloucester Museum – though that might be in its original position. There are also several in local and national museums. I see these as more a part of our cultural heritage, really; they reflect the growth of the first rapid-communication network, predating the telephone and internet. As such they mark out key towns, and also very often the original routes of main roads connecting them (though the cables sometimes went off-piste, cutting across hills and up side streets if that was a more direct route). They also show how pavement levels have risen!

Why did you start to collect images of marker posts – and are you aware of other enthusiasts?

The images are just a part of the overall record (though they are often the source for the full details). I’d already started a photographic record of local metal street furniture – fire hydrants, water valve covers and so on. Sadly I’m no photographer, but John’s picture above really moved me. The post has stood in this spot for probably 120 years. It’s one of a small proportion that have lost their “faceplate” – the bolted-on part with the royal insignia and distance information. To me, that plate is like a face, giving a unique individuality to each post. This one is therefore somehow anonymous, standing for generations, un-seeing; yet in my anthropomorphising it can hear the sounds around it, and wonder what the changes are from the un-metalled road with passing horse-and-carts, to the constant roar of traffic on the busy road. Leaning slightly forward and on a gloomy, damp day it seems world-weary, yet remains “on duty” overseeing its manhole cover. I don’t know if anyone else is an “enthusiast”, but I often find pictures on the ‘net posted by people wondering what they are. I think lockdown has given people time, and space, to look more closely at the world on their doorstep and to take the time to wonder about what they see.

What one additional fact do you want to give us? (In other words, what question should I have asked you?)

“How did you get started in all this?” I’d always thought of myself as quite observant, but during lockdown I was taking walks locally from home and one day spotted a pair of these things. I tried researching them, assuming at first they were early fire hydrant markers. The Fire Service museum said “no”. I thought they might be telecomms related, but the Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society (yes, really!) said “no”. I thought they were benchmarks, but the Benchmarking Group said, rather firmly, “no”. I contacted the Post Office Museum, but they referred me to BT Archives, who were closed due to Covid-19. It took a couple of months to confirm they were GPO cable joint markers. Having started, it quickly became something of an obsession; to be honest, I was quite cross with myself for having passed them by hundreds of times without even seeing them. I felt I owed them something to make up for my ignorance. I was finding more and more, and also realised other people were seeing them for the first time, too.

And the question I have to ask… Has your website ever been of use to the police in solving a crime?


The website’s only been online a couple of months, so I doubt it! As for the posts themselves? Not as far as I know – however as one part of the telegraph network, they’ve certainly played their part in apprehending quite a few villains!

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Comments


dudler Plus
17 1.5k 1778 England
27 Nov 2020 9:41AM
If you've seen one of these posts, you can tell Derek about it through his website, at gpo-markers.derektp.co.uk. He really appreciates contributions, and you can also find out where he's already tracked down posts. (For some reason, I can't embed the link - perhaps because it's not a secure website?)

It pays to ask questions: this is all part of Britain's industrial heritage...
27 Nov 2020 10:10AM
chase Plus
15 2.0k 520 England
27 Nov 2020 10:18AM
History is always interesting, the why's the waht's and the reasoning.
jacomes Plus
5 26 32 Portugal
27 Nov 2020 3:06PM
I couldn't help thinking of Rimmer in Red Dwarf and his collection of electricity pylon slidesWink Sorry
But a fascinating bit of history.
James

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