Porthcurno may be a tiny place in the furthest reaches of Cornwall but it holds a very important place in history. It was the busiest relay station in the world in 1920. Porthcurno beach is also the place where 14 submarine telegraph cables came ashore at an 1870’s relay station. Did you know that now only 3% of data is fed around the world by satellite? The rest is sent in the blink of an eye by undersea cables.
Porthcurno is set at the end of a Cornish valley not far from Land’s End. After leaving the A30, a long winding narrow road takes around 15 minutes to get to the village. There is a small popular beach at Porthcurno too, which means that the main (bottom) car park fills up fairly early in the day so do use the smaller adjacent museum (top) car park (both pay & display).
The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum is based in the one of the former Submarine Communications Cable Station buildings and two WWII tunnels. The museum building is situated uphill from the car park, perched on the side of the valley. Keep an eye open for the Anderson Shelter on the way up. Downstairs is a small shop with unusual items themed to the museum, toilets and a cafe. Upstairs is the museum.
There are plenty of technical exhibits to get your heads around and the history of Morse code, telegraph, cables under the sea and communications.
There are interactive exhibits with magnetic fields, electro magnets and electrical circuits along side the chance to send and decode messages in Morse Code and more.
There is an illustrated talk 2-3 times a day along with a couple of looped films telling how telegraph came about along with the influence of Morse, Calvin, Faraday who all worked on cable submarine systems.
The tunnels are full of equipment that went way over my head that my sons loved. Excellent looped films show how the telegraph messages were automatically coded, sent, deciphered and printed using the Regen system. There is also a section in the tunnels on how war affected the locals living in the valley.
After leaving the tunnels, we took the path back down the hill past the car park. We took the flat stony track from the bottom carp ark for the 3-5 minute walk to the Cable Hut to see where the 14 cables originally came ashore.
You may be lucky to see the original armoured cables showing through if the beach has been disturbed during winter storms. Nowadays, there are five fibre optic cables that land at Porthcurno in a new hut. A further thirteen land on the north coast and a two more on the south Cornish coast.
We spent around 3 hours at the museum, and both my husband and 17 year old son loved it as they understood all the technical side much more than I ever will. I have to admit that this is a museum that is best for those of a technical mind! There is still plenty of things to see and absorb for children and those who don’t do technical stuff. It’s a well rounded display for everyone to enjoy.
The Telegraph museum and tunnels are open 10 – 5 pm. The Cable Hut is open 10 – 4 pm.
The main building is accessible to all and includes a lift in the main building. As the museum is up on the hillside, you may need a helper to help push up the steeper path sections.
For more information http://telegraphmuseum.org/