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Shutter Telegraph

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The Faversham area provided two links in a system by which military information reached the Admiralty by shutter telegraph - there was a station on the Admiralty’s roof in Whitehall.

The system had been installed in 1796, with lines from Deal, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Great Yarmouth. It depended not on electricity, but on line of sight. A series of towers were built, each visible from the other in daylight. On top of each tower was an array of six shutters, operated by rope from the station below. The shutters could be in a vertical or horizontal position. A total of 63 ‘changes’ (permutations) was possible. Twenty-six were used for letters of the alphabet, 10 for the numerals 0-9, and the other 27 for key words, such as ‘French’ and ‘fleet’. The stations were manned by Royal Navy personnel - a Lieutenant, Midshipman and two seamen.

Between the Admiralty and Deal, where the station was later converted into the familiar Time Ball Tower, were ten intermediate stations. If crews were alert and visibility was good, brief messages could be relayed quickly. Sites for stations were as high as possible, given the local terrain, and there were two near Faversham - one (known as the Shottenden station) in Perry Wood, where the a vantage-point known as the Pulpit now stands, and the other on the site of an Armada beacon at Beacon Hill, just west of the town. Its site is still known as Telegraph Bank. This was a specially busy station, because it was the junction for a branch line to Sheerness, from which it forwarded messages both to Deal and to London.

Apparently, in practice, the telegraph was used only for routine messages. So, news of the victory at Trafalgar was not conveyed to the Admiralty by shutter telegraph but by the slow way of personal messenger and post-chaise.  

For further information, see The Old Shutter Telegraphs, by Geoffrey Wilson (Phillimore, 1976).