Electric Telegraph – Blantyre

The electric telegraph was a system that permitted communication via electrical signals. The first commercial systems using Morse code but later were able to transmit words. It meant quick transmittal back and forth of news as it happened, without having to wait for messengers to convey it by foot or vehicle.

In 1859, the telegraph in this region was described as “A line of railway between Glasgow and Carlisle. The “Clydesdale Junction” applies to that part of it between Glasgow and Motherwell. The Electric Telegraph is on the south side of the line. There are no Stations not in their Parish. It passes out of the Parish by a Viaduct over the Clyde.” This comment conflicts with maps of 1859, which mark the electric telelgraph to the north side of the line. It would appear the telegraph relied on proximity to the railway, perhaps making use of its land and equipment.

Use of the telegraph was particularly expensive, perhaps to validate the use of full time operators at each base. In 1872, it was 1 shilling for the first 20 words and 3 pence for each additional 5 words. Telegrams were therefore kept short and sweet.

There was no ability to telegraph out or into Blantyre in the 1850’s and 1860’s. This was to change in 1878, when the electric telegraph was branched off, into Blantyre, connecting the Post Office at High Blantyre to the National Telegraph system. The High Blantyre Post Office was located on that part of Main Street, which would later become the Masonic Hall. Mrs Grizel Penman was the postmistress. The post office later moved by 1898 across the road to a point what would later become the entrance to Kirkton Park. Then, finally in the 20th Century, it moved again to a tenement that stood on the corner of Main Street and Cemetery Road.

One of the first news items to be relayed out of the town was an accident in 1878, which happened at Dixon’s Pit, killing 6 men. In 1880, a train crash was “at once telegraphed” to the authorities at Hamilton.

The ability to communicate quickly must have been a wonder , not just for reporters and business people, but also for local families who wished to communicate something immediately. Telegrams were here to stay for many decades and were still being used far into the 20th Century.

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