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The Atlantic Telegraph Cable: Communicating across the sea

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This year saw the 150th Anniversary of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable; from Newfoundland to Valentia, Ireland, enabling telegraph communications from New York to London.

One of the links in the chain could be found at the secluded Pembrokeshire beach of Abermawr which was the landing point for an underwater telegraph cable from Wexford, Ireland in 1862.

On 27 July 1866 Abermawr became part of a trans-Atlantic communications network when Brunel’s Great Eastern steamship completed the laying of the fifth, and ultimately successful, telegraph cable under the Atlantic between Valentia in Ireland and Trinity Bay in Newfoundland - the first four cables having failed. Messages could now be transmitted to New York and via the SWR and GWR’s telegraph wires from Abermawr to London. Copper refined in Llanelli and Swansea provided the conductive core of the cable through which messages would be transmitted. A second cable was laid in 1880 to Abermawr and used until 1922/3 when storm damage to the cables saw Abermawr abandoned as a telegraph relay station.

In 1866 the transmission speed of the transatlantic telegraph system was eight words per minute, by 1900 transmission rates of 120 words per minute were being sent reliably between continents. It was a system for business and governments, for example a ten word transatlantic message from the USA to Great Britain cost $100 or about £76 (today’s values about $2,600 or £1,980). Nevertheless 25 telegraph cables would be laid across the Atlantic by 1922 – the year that the Great Storm washed away the shore ends of the cable at Abermawr and the telegraph station closed.

By Stephen K. Jones

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