“First” Wireless Telegraph School.
Frinton (Essex) can justly claim a world ‘first’ with its Wireless Telegraph School established there in 1901. Although ‘out-on-a-limb’ in some people’s eyes, Frinton was at the forefront of technological development and training at the beginning of the 20th. century.
Communication by wireless was pioneered by a young man called Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian living in the UK, in 1896. He dreamed of transmitting messages through space without the use of an intervening conductor. Progress was extremely rapid and the company which bears his name today was formed in 1897.
The application of electromagnetic principles under many different circumstances which had never been encountered before, created an art which had to be taught to the new recruits to the industry before they could be entrusted to any erection or installation work themselves.
It was realised that haphazard training in this whole new field would be unsatisfactory, particularly for those men manning the scattered coast stations which had been established and thos fitting and operating ships’ sets. The whole network was expanding so quickly that the availability of properly experienced men to jobs was too low and likely to deteriorate.
It became evident that centralised instruction in the technique of wireless telegraphy for new recruits had become a necessity. A residential school for training probationary engineers for Marconi’s International Marine Communication Co. was opened in 1901 in Frinton. Its aim was to train engineers for operating two-way compact wireless systems for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication. It was the first wireless telegraph training college in the world, and it established a precedent in industrial technical training institutions.
The school occupied one building; the adjacent house was the residence for the school’s students, with a 120 ft. sectioned wooden mast standing between the two. The majority of the students’ time at Frinton would have been concerned with the use, maintenance and repair of the transmitting and receiving equipment. It is thought that the station’s local test transmissions were usually to a small (possibly portable) station located somewhere in Pole Barn Lane, some 500 yards away.
However, the school’s large mast would have enabled the students to work easily with the main Marconi site in Hall Street, Chelmsford and with coastal stations at Dovercourt and North Foreland. Just why Marconi came to Frinton is unclear, although a brief look at any map of this stretch of coast shows it to be readily accessible, with clear sea paths to North Foreland and the Kent coast.
In 1900. marine operators as such did not exist and the Frinton School concentrated on the instruction of engineers. The students were all selected from the universities and technical colleges. They were placed under the charge of a senior engineer for technical instruction, but in common with students engaged at universities on postgraduate work, they were allowed all the freedom necessary for independent study and self-expression in experimental research. Several students of 1902 have since filled higher positions with the Marconi Company both at home and abroad, and the names of many are included in the Veterans’ Roll.
The School at Frinton was closed in 1904 and the work was transferred to the Hall Street Works in Chelmsford. The mast was dismantled the same year, but the large concrete base was not removed until the 1940′s and pieces of the extensive buried earth mat of stranded wires are still being found in the garden today.
The building has not changed much, apart from the loss of a chimney and some mock Tudor cladding. The addition of more houses both behind and in front has reduced the size of the original site somewhat, and the garage and television aerial are part of the new age. The Wireless School was surprisingly not situated on the sea front, but some half-a-mile inland on Upper Third Avenue, which remains to this day as a quiet private residence, aptly named, Marconia.
In 1988 an official plaque, provided by Tendring District Council, was unveiled by Sir Robert Telford, Life President of the Marconi Company, in the presence of the Chairman of the Council and Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Ward, the then occupants. The plaque was subsequently affixed to the house to commemorate its historical significance.