A hub of global communications for over 100 years, Porthcurno telegraph station was where 14 undersea telegraph cables converged, connecting Britain with the world for over 140 years. The remarkable story of Cornwall’s ‘Victorian internet’ has captured the imagination of the media, featuring on BBC’s ‘Coast’ and ‘What the Victorians Did for Us’ and has recently attracted over £1.5 million in funding for an ambitious capital development project.
International organisation SubOptic is the most recent to support the £2.68 million heritage project. ‘Developing for the Future’ is a campaign that will see Porthcurno Telegraph Museum develop its historic site; improving visitor facilities and building a dynamic new learning centre. Representing the international telecommunications community, Sub Optic is working with the museum to develop an international education programme that will benefit communities around the world.
The first undersea telegraph cable to be laid at Porthcurno in 1870 connected Britain to India. Porthcurno went on to become the largest and busiest telegraph cable station in the world. Libby Buckley, Museum Director, commented:
“The telegraph companies created the first worldwide communications network; the internet of its day. It’s extremely exciting that SubOptic, which represents so many of our global high-tech telecommunications companies, is giving us their support. The award will help us to preserve our communications heritage, but also to tell this important story to a much wider audience than can possibly visit us here in Cornwall. When we think about the power of cable-based communications technology and how it has shaped our world, we realise that it is a story that touches every one of us and has never been more relevant than it is today.”
The education programme, which will benefit communities from spring 2013, will raise awareness and understanding amongst young people around the world of the technology behind cable-based telecommunications. Rachel Webster, Museum Communications Officer, explains the relevance of the project;
“Many of our visitors are surprised to discover that over 95% of our international communication today transmits via undersea cables, not by satellite as some imagine. The original cables have been replaced by high-tech fibre optics, and rather than carrying telegraph messages in Morse code they’re carrying our emails, mobile phone calls, and our internet downloads. Our world would be very different without cables.”
Through thousands of miles of undersea cables, the telegraph created physical links between communities and cultures around the world. The SubOptic award will enable the museum to create innovative online learning resources and also to develop relationships with community groups in India, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, Australia, continental Europe and the UK. The resources will include video clips, animations and games that allow users to explore the science of global telecommunications, as well as its impacts on local identity, democracy and culture. Digitised archive footage will also allow users to explore the history of global cable-based communications.
“These new learning resources will be an extension of what we deliver here at the Museum, and will enable us to reach a much wider audience. The resources will be designed to be accessible to learners of all ages and abilities. We’ll also be developing materials that work across language barriers providing a truly international resource. This will provide a platform on which to develop international relationships and create more exciting collaborative projects in the future.” – Larissa Paver, Museum Learning and Interpretation Manager
Commenting about the sponsorship, John Horne from SubOptic said:
“We are very excited about sponsoring this activity. It is exactly in line with the commitment of our organisation to stimulate debate and educate the community about the importance of the global undersea submarine cable network to the world. We hope this resource will form an important element for our next conference, SubOptic 2013, scheduled to be held in Paris, from the 22-25th April 2013.”
Writing in support of their development in October 2011, Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE praised the museum;
“The [Porthcurno Telegraph] Museum tells once of the most fascinating and important chapters in the history of world science.”
You can support the museum and follow the progress of its development online at www.porthcurno.org.uk
Learn more about Sub Optic at www.suboptic.org