Birth of Radio

MARC1

The Marconi Monument at the Needles, on the Isle of Wight. Left: The side seen when looking towards the viewpoint. Right: As seen on the approach from the pleasure park.

The Marconi monument at the Needles, on the Isle of Wight, is a granite plinth bearing another smaller block with large rectangular bronze plaques on all four sides, carrying detailed inscriptions. The side facing the viewpoint reads:

THIS STONE / MARKS THE SITE OF THE / NEEDLES WIRELESS TELEGRAPH STATION / WHERE / GUGLIELMO MARCONI / AND HIS BRITISH COLLABORATORS / CARRIED OUT FROM / 6TH DECEMBER 1897 / TO 26TH MAY 1900 / A SERIES OF EXPERIMENTS / WHICH CONSTITUTED SOME OF / THE MORE IMPORTANT PHASES / OF THEIR EARLIER PIONEER / WORK IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF / WIRELESS COMMUNICATION / OF ALL KINDS.

The side seen on the approach from the park reads:

THE / NEEDLES / WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY STATION / EXCHANGED RADIO MESSAGES / FIRST WITH A TUG IN ALUM BAY / THEN WITH BOURNEMOUTH 14 / MILES DISTANT, NEXT WITH POOLE / 18 MILES AWAY, LATER WITH SHIPS / 40 MILES SEAWARDS. / THESE WONDERS ATTRACTED WORLD / WIDE ATTENTION AND FAMOUS / SCIENTISTS FROM MANY COUNTRIES / CAME (1898 – 1900) TO SEE THE / NEW WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY IN / EXPERIMENTAL OPERATION.

On the other two sides, the plaques celebrate several other famous “firsts”: the erection of “the first permanent wireless station” (as Marconi himself described it) which was completed on 5 December 1897 and remained in place until it was dismantled on June 1900; the sending of the first radio telegram which was paid for, transmitted from here by the scientist Lord Kelvin on 3 June 1898; and the production of the first newspaper ever produced at sea, on 15 November 1899, when the news was transmitted from here to the American liner, St Paul, which was then 36 miles out at sea. The names of Marconi’s assistant, George Kemp, and other pioneering radio technicians of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, are also inscribed here. These technicians were W. Paget, A. Gray, C. E. Rickard, W. Densham, F. S. Stacey, P.G. Woodward and C. H. Taylor.

MARC2

The monument stands on the headland just above the coast at Alum Bay, where the variegated colours of the cliffs have always attracted attention. There are said to be twenty-one different shades in all, and a traditional part of any visit to the beach is to take an ornamental glass container and collect strata of differently coloured sand. The tourist brochures for the area say that Queen Victoria herself did this. The view from the headland to the Needles, a group of jagged chalk stacks at the end of the bay, is distinctive and features on practically all Isle of Wight tourist literature. Whether or not she actually collected samples of sand, the Queen certainly enjoyed the view. It is close to the royal residence of Osborne House, and she often visited, especially when Prince Albert was alive. On a later steam-boat trip, on 10 August 1887, she wrote: “We steamed quite up to the Needles, where I had not been for many years. The evening was beautiful & calm & the Needles & Alum Bay were beautifully lit up” (presumably by the setting sun).