10 mile walk around Chelmsford visiting six key points that illustrate Guglielmo Marconi’s pioneering development of commercial wireless equipment manufacture and public broadcasting. Start point: Hylands Park - main car park off Writtle By-pass. Grid Reference TL681048/ Post code CM2 8FS/ what3words really.frock.transit
Map key. Purple line: morning walk; Blue line: afternoon walk; wise owl eyes indicate point of interest
Six Points of Interest on the Radio Heritage Walk
1. First stop is the site of the Marconi Hut in Writtle, the forerunner of the BBC.
The first ever public radio broadcasts had been made from Marconi’s New Street Works in Chelmsford. They achieved worldwide fame with a broadcast performance of the opera singer Dame Nellie Melba in 1920. However, after only a few months, the station was closed down by the Post Office claiming that the transmissions interfered with official communications.
Marconi then established a new radio station in a hut on this site in Writtle in 1922. Transmissions began in 1922 under the call sign 2MT (Two Emma Toc) to much popular acclaim. This paved the way for the BBC, which opened later that same year broadcasting from the Strand in London and independent radio stations like this one in Writtle were closed. The Marconi head of department, Captain Peter Eckersley, became the BBC’s first Chief Engineer, and other staff transferred to the new BBC.
2. Marconi’s Hall Street Works – the world’s first wireless factory.
The facility on Hall Street was originally a steam-powered silk mill, for many years operated by the Courtaulds. In 1899, the young Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi had it converted to become the world’s first wireless factory. For the next 13 years Marconi was to build the first generations of his wireless equipment and effectively launch the wireless age.
It was radio equipment manufactured here at Hall Street that was installed on the ill fated Titanic and is credited with saving 700 lives when it went down in 1912. The successful use of wireless for safety at sea created a vast market for Marconi’s equipment. That year Marconi moved his operations to a new purpose-built factory on New Street.
3. Marconi’s New Street Factory – the world’s first purpose-built radio factory (photo right)
Built on the former town cricket ground, next to the Great Eastern Railway, a siding ran across New Street into the factory yard. The railway brought materials in at one end of the works and took finished radio equipment out of the other. It employed up to 6000 people.
This factory was the first purpose-built radio factory in the world. It has played a unique role in the history of communications and in the lives of generations of Chelmsford people. It also made history as the site of the first official British sound broadcasts. At the south end of the building were two huge aerial masts – the 450 feet high “Marconi Poles” – a prominent Chelmsford landmark for many years.
4. The Marconi Statue (photo below)
This statue celebrates a man who transformed the world - and he did it largely from Chelmsford. This is Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor and ‘father of wireless’. The statue shows him standing on the world with a radio microphone in one hand and a lightning bolt in the other.
Marconi was born into the Italian nobility, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi and his Irish wife Annie Jameson (granddaughter of John Jameson, founder of whiskey distillers Jameson & Sons). Between the ages of two and six, Marconi and his elder brother lived with their mother in Bedford.
From youth, Marconi was fascinated by science in general and electricity in particular. In his teens he began working on the idea of "wireless telegraphy" - i.e., the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires as used by the electric telegraph. This was not a new idea; numerous investigators and inventors had been exploring wireless telegraph technologies and building systems but none had proven technically and commercially successful
Marconi found little interest or appreciation for his work in his native Italy. He travelled to Britain in 1896 when he was aged 22 in search of sponsorship and investment. When Marconi came to Britain in 1896 he had developed a radio system to send long distance messages and soon gained the interest and support of the British Post Office.
He is usually credited as the inventor of radio and he shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy".
Marconi was also an entrepreneur and businessman. He succeeded in making an engineering and commercial success of radio by innovating and building on the work of previous experimenters and physicists (including Heinrich Hertz from Germany, Serbian-American Nikola Tesla, and Ernest Rutherford of New Zealand).
5. Marconi Ponds Nature Reserve.
Talk to some Marconi veterans and they will probably tell you that what we now call the Marconi Ponds were what they knew as the Filter Beds or the Crompton Ponds. They were just part of a complex system of water supply by the ever self-sufficient Colonel Crompton for his Arc Works on the site. Ponds they remain and the area now occupied by the nature reserve has been known as the Marconi Ponds ever since Marconi Radar left the site in 1994, after Fairview Homes plc acquired it for development.
The site is now a rural retreat close to the centre of Chelmsford town. The area is perfect for wildlife including foxes, deer, small mammals and a variety of bird species.
6. Chelmsford Museum.
The museum includes exhibits and interactive displays on the development of radio and of the Marconi company.
It features a presentation of the RMS Titanic's Radio Room. As noted earlier, the original equipment on Titanic was made in Marconi's Hall Street factory. The rescue mission to save those on board was made possible by the equipment. Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, the Marconi wireless operators on Titanic, were able to send a distress signal to the Carpathia which helped rescue survivors. The disaster showed how important ship to ship radio communications could be.