Marconi and his experiments on board the Lymington ferries

Marconi and his experiments on board the Lymington-Yarmouth ferries

Pioneering telecommunications work between Lymington's paddle steamers and Alum Bay.

marconi Guglielimo Marconi (1874-1937) travelled to Great Britain in 1896 and undertook pioneering work which led to radio and all telecommunications as we know it today. He filed his final specification for the world's first patent for a system of telegraphy using waves, without wires and carried out demonstrations on Salisbury Plain and also across the Bristol Channel

In early December 1897 Marconi chartered two of the Lymington-Yarmouth paddle steamers, Mayflower (pictured right below) and Solent (pictured left below), belonging to the South Western Railway Company at Lymington, to develop his experiments in wireless communications over water.

A huge 168 feet high mast and revolutionary wireless equipment was set up at the Royal Needles Hotel at Alum Bay and Marconi investigated and experimented with transmission to the Mayflower and the Solent, the first vessels in the world to be fitted with a receiving apparatus. The ferries steamed around a triangular course to Bournemouth Pier, then on to Swanage Pier, then back to Alum Pier each day, noting the signal strength.

Lymington Paddle steamers Solent (left) and Mayflower (right)The experiments proved successful and represented the first major step in the development of shore to ship communication.

Solent paddle steamer Over the couple of years following, Marconi conducted ever more complex experiments with wireless transmissions. In 1898 messages were received from Marconi at Queen Victoria’s Osborne House and on the royal yacht.

Little now remains of Marconi’s experimental stations as the hotel and masts have long since gone. However, a monument to him stands on the cliff top within The Needles and information lecterns provide a detailed history of radio, Marconi and the role played by Alum Bay.

According to Jude James, it was Robert Hole who first drew attention to this episode in our local history in an article published in the Lymington Sea Scouts Magazine, Christmas 1937 (quoted by Jean Chitty in The River is within Us (1983) 62), ‘So history was made and I like to think that the modern wireless facilities with which great ships are now equipped, direction finders, wireless telephones, broadcasting, radiogram services and the like had their origin in the little PS Mayflower of the port of Lymington.’


*Lymington: A pictoral past - Brian J Down
Lymington in old picture postcards - Brian J Down
Lymington: A History and Celebration - Jude James
Lymington and District Historical Society

Find more Lymington and New Forest history features here

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