Uk’s oldest telegraph pole donated to Orkney museum

The telegraph pole previously sat in Stromness, Orkney. Picture: TSPL
The telegraph pole previously sat in Stromness, Orkney. Picture: TSPL
Share this article
Have your say

A 119-year-old tree trunk in Orkney – believed to be the UK’s oldest telegraph pole – has been donated to the island’s museum.

The pole, whose date stamp reads 1894, was decommissioned in late 2012 and is to be displayed in the museum later this year – once staff decide how best to put the lofty exhibit on show.

The ancient tree trunk has been an integral part in Orkney’s telecommunications system for well over a century.

Now ‘retired’, it has been offered to the Orkney museum by BT’s engineering arm Openreach, which maintains the local network on behalf of all UK service providers.

It was erected in Stromness during Queen Victoria’s reign, when William Gladstone was Prime Minister and three years before the Boer war – a year in which the first battery-operated telephone switchboard was installed in Lexington, Massachusetts.

However, the pole pre-dates the telephone in Orkney as the Kirkwall telephone exchange only opened on the 20 September 1923 with the Stromness exchange opening in October later that year.

At the time, the Kirkwall exchange had 80 subscribers and a total capacity of 120 telephone users, so the pole would originally have been used for sending telegraphs.

Orkney Museum curator Sheila Garson said: “Obviously we would love to put it on display, but given its size, of almost 13 feet in length with the date stamp four feet up from the base, it will not be an easy object to display in a gallery setting.”

She added that: “To my knowledge, no other Openreach area has put forward an older telegraph pole, so it does look as if this is the oldest known surviving telegraph pole in the country.”

David Hay, Head of Heritage at BT, said: “We are proud of our remarkable history as the world’s oldest communications company.

“So we are delighted to have donated such a significant object to Orkney Museum, where it will be protected for future generations of local people to enjoy – and to help them discover more about the history of communications in Orkney.”

Openreach Plant Safety Risk Manager Bob Reader said: “The pole is still in fairly good shape generally.

“The only reason we had to take it down was because some of the markings we use to check poles are standing safely had weathered away.

“It’s amazing to think it was planted before the Boer War started, has been through two world wars, and outlived five British monarchs.”

Only a few years before the pole was erected, the serial killer Jack the Ripper was terrorising residents in London’s East End - and it had already been standing for 18 years when the Titanic sank.

The Orkney Museum is currently closed in order to complete essential renovation work on the building and will reopen later this year.