On this day … 10 February 1883

Post Office Telegraph Room, Fishergate, Preston 1890
Post Office Telegraph Room, Fishergate, Preston 1890. Source: Preston Digital Archive

The Preston Guardian carried a report of the opening of a branch telegraph office at Mr Patterson’s, 49, Ribbleton Lane. The new branch was a part of the expansion of the telegraph network following its nationalisation and take over by the GPO in 1870, which was proving expensive to implement and already the Post Office was facing competition from the newfangled telephone.

Following on from yesterday’s post about early experiments with telephones in the town, here’s an account of the rival system, courtesy of Hewitson’s History of Preston.

In 1854 there were two private telegraph offices operating in Preston. Both were at the railway station: the Electric Telegraph Company at the North Union Railway Station, and the English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company on the East Lancashire Railway Company’s platform. Of the latter, Hewitson writes ‘… the clerk in charge there, at that time, was Mr. John Oldham, now chief engineer and superintendent of the River Plate Telegraph Company, at Monte Video.’

In 1855, the English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company opened an office in Fishergate, at the corner of Mainsprit Weind, with John Oldham in charge. In the same year, the British Telegraph Company opened an office at 10, Fishergate. The two companies merged in 1857, to form the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, which operated all telegraph business in the town until nationalisation in 1870 when the new Post Office, in Fishergate, took over.

Hewitson, writing in 1883, noted, ‘The minimum charge for a telegram is now 1s.: this has been the lowest charge since the telegraphs were transferred to the Government. It is intended, during the present year, to reduce the minimum to 6d.

John Oldham went out to South America in 1864 to oversee the laying of the cable between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and in February 1866 became the first superintendent of the River Plate Telegraph Company in Uruguay. His work in South America was recognised when he was later decorated with the insignia of the Chevalier of the Order of the Rose by Dom Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil.

Hewitson’s Preston History: https://prestonhistory.com/…/hewitsons-history-of-preston/

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