The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum
Cornwall has an unbelievably rich history in communications, and as tempting as it might be to talk about early signal stations, Marconi’s wireless achievements on The Lizard, or even the first Trans-Atlantic television transmission to Goonhilly via Telstar, it’s Porthcurno’s importance as an international hub for cable communications that I’ll be talking about here.
Prior to the invention of the telegraph, communication over long distances was difficult to say the least: In Cornwall early communication signals would have been by beacon or semaphore, but the only real way of getting messages delivered over long distances was by writing a letter which could take weeks if the recipient was overseas.
The word ‘Telegraphy’ comes from the Greek words tele (at a distance) and graphein (to write) meaning ‘to write from a distance’. It was brought into modern usage with the invention of the telegraph in the mid-19th century, which in essence meant being able to send messages in the form of electrical pulses, making connections over long distances much quicker than was previously possible.
The first man to really make his mark in this field was the American, Samuel Morse, who made his first working telegraph instrument in 1837 using his Morse Code. Other people played their part in helping to make the telegraph system work, but Samuel Morse is the person who seems to take most of the credit.
In 1929 some amateur Porthcurno
drama enthusiasts put on a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
in a local field. It turned out to be a great success and a couple of years later they wanted to try again with The Tempest
Obviously, a field wasn’t the best venue for a drama company to perform, but one of the production team was a lady called Rowena Cade who lived in Minack House at Minack Point.
Minack is Cornish for ‘Rocky Place’, and this indomitable lady, along with her gardener Billy Rawlings, set about transforming the rocks below her garden into an open-air amphitheatre right on the edge of the cliffs.
During the winter of 1931/32 they moved granite boulders and earth to create a stage and terraces. What’s even more remarkable is that the steps, walkways, seats and pillars were all made out of concrete made with sand from the beach below. Why I say ‘remarkable’ is because anybody who has ever walked up or down the cliff from Minack to the beach will know how steep a climb it is – and yet this lady did this day in and day out carrying buckets of sand to create this quite unbelievable place – and in August 1932 The Tempest was performed at the Minack.
Porthcurno lies in a valley that reaches down to the sea on the south coast of the Penwith Peninsula.
For such a small village it attracts many visitors, some would say too many at times, but it’s understandable why people find Porthcurno such a magnet.
Lying about half way between Lamorna Cove and Land’s End, Porthcurno would be an obvious stopping off point for people walking along this section of the South-West Coast Path without its own attractions.
The white shell beach sits in a small bay that is sometimes called Porthcurno Bay. The colour of the sea depends on the weather, state of the tide and the time of the day, but when the sun’s shining the white sand is reflected by the sun to make the sea a perfect aquamarine colour.
The bay is protected to the east by a headland that is renowned for its ‘Logan Rock’ and to the west by Pedn-men-an-mere, or Wireless Point as it’s sometimes called.
It gets its name of Wireless Point from the receiving station that was set up here to eavesdrop on Marconi’s successful wireless telegraphy operation which was in direct competition with Porthcurno’s underground and submarine cable communications.