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Cornwall’s Global Communication Heritage

Cornwall's Global Communication Heritage

Dr Richard Noakes, Professor Alan Booth, Dr Wendy Gagen and Porthcurno Telegraph Museum (PK Porthcurno Museum of Global Communications)

Key points

  • Focus placed on the ordinary men who operated the submarine cable network
  • A bottom-up approach to research that differed from other museum displays, television documentaries and popular histories that concentrate on the ‘heroic’ inventors
  • 59,783 people visited the museum whilst the exhibition ran and the online presence of the museum was increased


From February 2009 to July 2012, Dr Richard Noakes led the ‘Connecting Cornwall’ project with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, now PK Porthcurno. The project sought to look at the oftenoverlooked stories of the everyday worker who worked on the Victorian and Edwardian Britishsubmarine cable network. The Eastern Telegraph Company built the world's largest cable station and training school at Porthcurno, Cornwall, which was also near the site where the first trial of transatlantic radio signalling was staged in the early 1900s; Cornwall is renowned for its importance in telecommunications history.

This project used a plethora of materials which included largely unseen employment records, as well as photographs and diaries to work on the ‘bottom-up’ approach. The project yielded many new insights into the cultural and social history of telegraphic work. For example, during the FirstWorld War, many male employees of the Eastern Telegraph Company retained their positions working cables far from the major theatres of conflict but accordingly suffered significant anxieties because they were not ‘fighting the good fight’ in the same heroic way as countless others in the armed services. The project also found that the foremost commercial operator of submarine cables, the Eastern Telegraph Company, engaged in significantly more technical research than previously assumed.

Alongside the physical exhibition, there was a major website display that showed the results of the research in different ways for different users. For academic visitors to the site, there was a searchable database of the cultural, economic, social and technological aspects of work and training at Porthcurno. Tourists could access virtual tours of other Cornish communications sites as well as downloadable podcasts and schools were able to access educational resources that had benefits for the curricula of history, science and geography.

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