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Preston and the communications revolution

Posted on - 20th February, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston Docks, Preston News
Preston Telephone Exchange 1918 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Telephone Exchange 1918 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Few know that the electrical communications revolution began in the 19th century. By the 1870s the wealthy could telegraph New York to book a hotel and then hop on a steam ship and be there in 14 days. Liverpool was the nearest origin port for steam services to New York.

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Preston had a telephone line to Manchester by 1882, in time for the Guild celebrations. The Victorian internet began with the first transatlantic cable, installed in the 1860s

Telegraph lines followed the railways and Preston was connected by 1844. Consequently, railway time became the national standard. Larger towns had up to six telegraph circuits.

Another form of communication was the newspaper. This reached its zenith in the 1880s. Preston had no less than 50 periodicals and newspapers, some very short lived. For example The Empire Journal lasted less than a year. Additionally, the end of taxes on printed material lead to an explosion of publications.

Preston’s newspapers

The Preston Chronicle 1812 – 1894 Pic: Newspapers.com
The Preston Chronicle 1812 – 1894 Pic: Newspapers.com

The Preston Journal was an early local newspaper. Later this merged with The Preston Chronicle, in 1812. The Chronicle was a liberal paper and had closed by 1894.

Perhaps the longest lasting newspaper was The Preston Guardian, started by reformer Joseph Livesey in 1844. It closed in 1964. Livesey was a teetotaller and anti corn law campaigner.

After the Tax on Knowledge ended in 1855 the Guardian went by-weekly. It was a liberal progressive paper and had become out of touch by the mid 1960s.

Preston Guardian 1900 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Guardian 1900 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The Guardian was aimed at a broad audience, mostly male. The paper covered fictional stories as well as history and politics. There were also periodicals aimed at women.

The latest fashions for 1895, Weldon's Ladies Journal Pic: Jstor
The latest fashions for 1895, Weldon’s Ladies Journal Pic: Jstor

Telegraph companies in Preston

Prior to 1870, two telegraph companies operated in Preston. The Electric Telegraph Company and The English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company. They both had offices in Preston, and were founded in the 1840s.

Receipts for telegraph messages Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Receipts for telegraph messages; the cost depended on the distance sent Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Prior to this period the railways were the exclusive users of the telegraph network. However, enterprising companies opened the system up to the public. The Electric Telegraph Company also laid undersea cables to the Isle Of Man. In 1870 the telegraph network was nationalised, under the Post Office and remained so until 1982, when inland telegrams ended.

Business uses for the telegraph Pic: Cambridge University Press
Business uses for the telegraph Pic: Cambridge University Press

The telegraph was primarily used by business. Other pioneering Preston based communications included one of the first roll on roll off ferry services to operate in Britain.

Passenger services from Preston Docks

MV Bardic Ferry Pic: Dover Ferry Photo Forum
MV Bardic Ferry Pic: Dover Ferry Photo Forum

Shortly after World War II, Preston Docks was booming. The grandly named Atlantic Steam Navigation Company began to operate passenger services from Preston in 1948. This was a roll on roll off car ferry service going to Northern Ireland. The early boats were based on World War II landing craft, originally used to land troops and vehicles.

By 1957 custom built car ferries were plying the Irish Sea. However the Preston ferry was tidally dependant and required tugs to berth at Preston. Consequently the service ended in 1972. The larger ferries could not dock at Preston and the cost of dredging was mounting.



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