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Single Needle Instruments on the GN

British signalling of the past (UK, excepting Northern Ireland)

Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Pete2320 » Wed Jan 11, 2017 12:14 pm

John Hinson wrote:
StevieG wrote:Over the years one or two late BR era 'GE' men have mentioned to me that, on that former company's lines, they believe that though once in their boxes, they understood that they tended to last in use a lot longer in booking offices, but couldn't say until when, or to what purpose (messages for Station Masters perhaps?).

Likewise on the LNW it seems, although the only one I knew of was in the station at Windermere up to the early sixties.

I would suspect much use was for local freight advice when only local telephone circuits existed.

John

Certainly a fair amount of telegraph traffic was in connection with freight traffic and of no relevance to signalmen. As mentioned upthread, at Letchworth we still passed on telegrams for the goods/parcels yard although this was all done on the telephone in my days there, c1975. Given that until about then, when it became a fringe box to Hitchin PSB, Letchworth was often switched out I presume the yard had once had its' own instrument but for some reason had not been connected to the relevant telephone circuit. It does seem likely then that in some areas telegraph was still used by stations when it had gone from signalboxes. (I wonder if telegragh instruments counted as "equipment value" for grading signalboxes?) I am also concious that there might be a red herring lurking here. Certainly in Hull (for example and many other places) there was a Telegraph Office. I'm pretty certain it did not have any single needle equipment although it may well have had teleprinters.
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby StevieG » Fri Jan 13, 2017 1:13 am

Pete2320 wrote: " .... (I wonder if telegragh instruments counted as "equipment value" for grading signalboxes?) .... "
Where they were used for necessary box - box messages regarding train running, particularly if assisting regulating, it would seem logical that they would have had value under the Marks System, though perhaps per message sent or read rather than just the presence of the instruments; but I really don't know whether there was any Marks value in reality for such instruments or messages.

Pete2320 wrote: " .... I am also concious that there might be a red herring lurking here. Certainly in Hull (for example and many other places) there was a Telegraph Office. I'm pretty certain it did not have any single needle equipment although it may well have had teleprinters. "
It would seem perhaps Pete, that such as Hull possibly gained their title from having once functioned, even if only in part at least, by means of the single needle (or earlier?) form of telegraph, and their name remained unaltered when S/N was superseded by more modern communication means.
However, sometimes the office title was retained when the more modern equivalent establishment had moved to a new location.
Certainly on the WCML, the 'Britain's New Railway'-era 'Telegraph Offices' located within the 1960s PSB buildings at Rugby (which amongst other work, put passing times of Up passenger trains there onto the Area Controller's desk teleprinters in boxes further south) and Euston, almost certainly never saw working S/N, instead largely or entirely using the LMR's then pre-NTN teleprinter network, then known as STRAD (sorry, I don't recall what that stood for).
BZOH

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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Mackay » Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:56 pm

The pioneer NER "Marks" system of 1898 included "Receipt of a train message on speaking instrument" equivalent to 1 lever movement, and despatch of the same equivalent to 2 movements. By 1922 the national marks system included 3 marks for "Telegraph or telephone message received". The LYR Signalling School folks at the NRM (ably led by Phil Graham) are hoping to arrange some electric telegraph demonstrations this year. Should be well worth seeing (and hearing...).
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Poldark Mine » Sat Aug 19, 2017 4:34 am

We have two GNR single needle telegraphs from Kings Cross in our museum. These came from the BT former GPO museum. They were purchased at a sale in Kings Cross stables for ten shillings each and given to the museum by the buyer. To see one of these, do look at our facebook pages.
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby John Hinson » Sat Aug 19, 2017 8:19 am

A link to your facebook pages might be useful!

There were three (from memory) conventional SN instruments in the box at Kings Cross but I believe the Telegraph Office at the piano-key type. I would be interested to know which type yours are.

If they were bought in old money I am puzzled, as both locations were still using them at decimalisation time.

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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Mike Hodgson » Sat Aug 19, 2017 11:55 am

Poldark Mine wrote:We have two GNR single needle telegraphs from Kings Cross in our museum. These came from the BT former GPO museum. They were purchased at a sale in Kings Cross stables for ten shillings each and given to the museum by the buyer. To see one of these, do look at our facebook pages.


Why would GNR signalling telegraphs be appropriate to a BT/GPO museum - surely they were supplied/maintained by the railway company? Would we be talking about instruments used for non-signalling purposes, allowing the station offices to communicate externally on commercial matters?
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby StevieG » Sun Aug 20, 2017 11:10 pm

Mike Hodgson wrote:
Poldark Mine wrote:We have two GNR single needle telegraphs from Kings Cross in our museum. These came from the BT former GPO museum. They were purchased at a sale in Kings Cross stables for ten shillings each and given to the museum by the buyer. To see one of these, do look at our facebook pages.


Why would GNR signalling telegraphs be appropriate to a BT/GPO museum - surely they were supplied/maintained by the railway company? Would we be talking about instruments used for non-signalling purposes, allowing the station offices to communicate externally on commercial matters?
If the instruments were GNR 'signalling' items, and/or were otherwise not appropriate to former GPO use, I wonder if the BT museum could not obtain any of their historically correct former instrumentation, and that these were the best that they could get by which to at least display evidence of (/demonstrate?) the basics of a means of communication which the GPO once provided ?
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby JRB » Mon Aug 21, 2017 11:17 pm

Remember that the GPO were once responsible for much railway telegraphy. The practice survived in Ireland after it finished here. The 'GPO' (now the P&T) even maintained the block instruments.
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby John Hinson » Tue Aug 22, 2017 1:43 am

Mike Hodgson wrote:Why would GNR signalling telegraphs be appropriate to a BT/GPO museum - surely they were supplied/maintained by the railway company?

I have seen similar in another telephone museum - I think in relative terms ex-railway telegraph instruments are easy to obtain to represent early telegraph communication. That being said, the "expert" at said museum looked at me as if I was a dinosaur when I told him I used to operate them!

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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Poldark Mine » Tue Aug 22, 2017 5:28 am

Not sure about the date of the purchase at Kings X as we were advised about this by the person who bought them and donated them to the BT Museum, we were told it was 10 shillings - decimal day was Feb 15 1971. Many continued to consider 50p as ten shillings ..... even today we sometimes do here when giving change to older folk who remember!! One of the pair has the original BR code card with for various locations on the former GNR system a quick search will go to our facebook page but here is a link. https://www.facebook.com/Poldark-Mine-357106725300/ using the search facility on our facebook page will locate all of the postings, or scroll down. The BT museum is long closed, we have the items here in our Poldark Mine Museum "Techno Tin & Copper" section as they are part of telecoms history which would not have been possible without the use of tin and copper being our theme.
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Poldark Mine » Tue Aug 22, 2017 6:00 am

JRB wrote:Remember that the GPO were once responsible for much railway telegraphy. The practice survived in Ireland after it finished here. The 'GPO' (now the P&T) even maintained the block instruments.
- The Irish P&T maintained the railway telegraphy from a non rail building in Dublin which was in Exchequer Street and once owned by the National Telephone Company until 1912, I visited the building during the mid 1960s and saw a workshop with many railway instruments. All trunk routes were open wire aerial lines which were, with few exceptions, notably the Dublin-Belfast route, run alongside the railways since the Post Office had free wayleave rights under the various agreements with the Irish Railway Companies, they also maintained the telegraph equipment.
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Andrew Emmerson » Mon Nov 13, 2017 3:19 pm

Sorry, only just seen this discussion

In case it's of interest, here's a run-down of SN telegraphs on the railways of Britain since WW2. I quote:

The war which followed tended to stimulate the development of new telephone facilities, and after nationalisation of the railways in 1948 the authorities were faced with the problems of rationalising the complex telephone and telegraph facilities inherited from the former companies. During the 1950s many single needle circuits were abolished, and in 1960 another circuit-switching teleprinter exchange opened at York to serve principal stations on the North Eastern Region and Edinburgh. (It handed over to the Eastern Region automatic network at Doncaster.)

Further teleprinter development occurred in 1963 when the London Midland Region introduced its STRAD (Signal Transmission, Reception And Distribution) system of message switching. A central office at Crewe covered about 70 major locations on the LMR together with connections to the other Regions, and enabled remaining single needle circuits to be abolished.

By 1970 development was now proceeding on a National Telecommunications Plan (NTP) embracing telephones, telegraphs and data transmission with a view to providing a system more than adequate to meet all future requirements. A comprehensive trunk dialling telephone system was introduced as well as a new national circuit-switching network akin to telex. This has message switching facilities teleprinter available on demand as required and incorporates STRAD as far as possible. Switching centres are at Crewe, Bristol, Glasgow, London and York.

The year 1967 marked a milestone in the history of railway telegraphs, when the Post Office finally abolished the railway free pass facility. The railways clearly found the facility of considerable use. whereas to the Post Office the arrangement was a burden and an anomaly, since in their eyes one nationalised industry was carrying part of the costs of another. In the twenty years from 1945 to 1965 railway free pass traffic had increased 35 per cent from 601,000 to 809,000 messages while public telegram traffic was declining 85 per cent from 62 million to 9.6 million.

Clearly if the public telegraph (as opposed to telex) service was to be rationalised and run down, then the railway free pass traffic must be curtailed. For abolishing the facility the Post Office paid British Railways one million pounds in compensation. As a result, both the loss of the free pass facility and the compensation payment hastened and encouraged the development of new telephone and teleprinter installations as part of NTP, and one can reasonably assume that both parties benefited by the arrangement.

All these developments taken together with signalling modernisation schemes meant that the days of the single needle telegraph were now definitely numbered. Two circuits on the Western Region connecting Reading with Birmingham and Leicester had persisted in use until 1964, and the needle remained in use in parts of Scotland and the London Midland Region until the mid 1960s. For train description purposes on the ex-LCDR lines of the Southern Region it lingered until the signalling modernisation schemes of the early 1960s and two instruments remained until 1974 [note 1].

The largest group of circuits remaining, however, was on the former Great Northern lines where the telegraph was used on a large scale until the introduction of automatic telephone facilities in the early 1970s. Until the new power signal box was taken into use at Kings Cross in 1972 a curious situation arose where the booking lad in the old box took MT (train working) advices straight off the needle. wrote these onto a card and then placed it under the lens of a camera of the station's closed circuit television system.

This pleasant anachronism was not to last for long since the days of the single needle telegraph on British Rail were now numbered. The last two circuits to remain in daily use were for train reporting, between Newark and Grantham and Doncaster. When the new power signal box was commissioned at Doncaster the intermediate block post and gate cabins were abolished and with them the need for train reporting. The Grantham circuit was the first to go and on 18th October 1976 the last active single needle circuit in the country. from Newark South cabin to Doncaster Telegraph Office, was silenced.

Thus an era ended. Fortunately a number of instruments are safe in museums and collections, and perhaps one of Britain's preserved railways may see fit to put a single needle circuit in operation again. That is what I wrote in the first edition and I am delighted to say this has now come to pass. I quote verbatim from a letter written by Adrian Rodsett, Signal and Telegraph Dept., Keighley & Worth Valley Railway:

"I am just writing a quick note to let you know I have installed a single needle telegraph circuit between Oakworth and Haworth, with plans to extend it to Oxenhope.

"The circuit was actually installed last year, using two drop-handle type instruments. (A third instrument waiting to go in is a paddle type.) It was made possible when spare conductors became available between the two stations, due to the installation of a second omnibus telephone circuit using dropwire 10 (two pairs of conductors and three support wires).

"Of course the circuit is of purely cosmetic value but you might be interested to know that it was the only working circuit still functional after heavy snow brought down nearly 1.5 miles of wire in various places on the night of the 27th January 1990.

"It's just a pity we don't have any trained telegraph clerks to operate it
properly!"

This must be the only working single needle circuit in the world - that is unless you, the reader, know better!


NOTE
1. The last single needle circuit on the Southern Region had a long history. It was used for train description between Holborn Viaduct and Herne Hill until 15th February 1970, when track circuit block was introduced. Boxes in circuit were Holborn Viaduct, Blackfriars, Loughborough Junction, Herne Hill Sorting Sidings and Herne Hill Station Cabin: originally the circuit started at Farringdon Street. After this it was curtailed to Blackfriars and was finally abolished on 9th March 1974 when Holborn Viaduct cabin was closed.

ANOTHER NOTE
The SN telegraph on the K&WVR was taken out of use after a plague of thieving and vandalism.

Hope this helps.

Andy Emmerson.
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Mike Hodgson » Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:43 pm

Andy,would I be correct in assuming most of the telephone and teleprinter developments you mention were primarily for general office to office commercial message traffic rather than for train signalling information?
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby Andrew Emmerson » Tue Nov 14, 2017 9:16 am

In general, yes Mike.

It helps to consider the way that people on the railway communicated in the past and in the context they did this. My experience goes back only to 1968, when there was a clear hierarchy for sending messages.
Low priority correspondence was written on memo pads and went by the (then) highly organised railway post system, using the regional post codes such as WR14 or LM1. This might take one or two days to arrive.

Something more important would go by Urgent Train Message (UTM), which you would get a messenger to take down to the next passenger train heading towards the destination of the message (and give it to the guard). I never saw one of these UTMs used but I remember the forms. And I remember handing 'value parcels' to guards.

For messages more urgent than this you would send a railway telegram ("sent a wire"), either over railway circuits (mainly teleprinter by 1968) or (before 1967) as a GPO free pass telegram.

Of course you could use the telephone but all too often the reply was: "Yes, I agree to this but I cannot put it into action until I have something for my papers. So please send me a memo." Because ETD was still in its relative infancy (and non-existent on the Southern), most phone calls you made were to people on your own exchange or on exchanges for which there were dialling codes. Making a longer distance (railway trunk) call often meant going through manual operators and being told by your local switchboard that they would call you back when the circuit was free. In general you were discouraged from making railway trunk calls.

For phone calls regarding train signalling and regulation, it was different. These calls were by their nature urgent and usually to a nearby signal cabin or power box, or else to the traffic control office. Bus circuits were fine for box-to-box communication. To call control you probably had a dedicated Control phone or else a special button on the bus circuit phone.

Apologies if all this is speaking the obvious but sometimes people forget how people did things differently in the past!

Best regards,
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Re: Single Needle Instruments on the GN

Unread postby davidwoodcock » Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:59 pm

Andrew, I realise that your later role with BT means that you should know the history off by heart, but I am not sure that you are completely right in suggesting that the Railway free telegram service ceased completely in 1967. I only joined the railway (with SR Shipping & Continental) in January 1969 and we were certainly able to (and did) make use of free telegrams to get urgent messages to customers for whom we had no telephone number; I only worked briefly on a correspondence section so I am unaware of when the service became unavailable, it could easily have been the same year. We certainly made huge use of the GPO telex service, although the direct link to the continental railways telex network was through EASTDAY LONDON at Liverpool Street - I still remember having to send them the code ICU?, and waiting for their acknowledgement, before sending messages to the Utrecht routing centre.

The ex-LCDR suburban signal boxes (abolished in 1959) used their single needle telegraphs for all box-to-box communication, not just for train description. The boxes were on omnibus circuits but these were only used for communication with stations, etc. With full boat train programmes, there was a huge requirement for box-to-box communication as signalmen needed to know on an hour-to-hour basis what paths were being used, particularly in the up direction where the information only became available when boat trains were advised "ready to start" at Dover Marine or Folkestone Harbour.

Although the Southern Region was slow to adopt ETD, it had its own system of long distance direct dialling from about the mid-1960s which worked in much the same way as the continental railways BASA system - it was quite possible to literally dial your way round the whole region and get the phone on the next desk to ring! Unlike BASA, it didn't tell you how far the call routing had progressed.
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