LOOKING BACK: Secret past of Holywell’s seafront landmark

Link to the world ... the store in the Italian Gardens at Holywell
Link to the world ... the store in the Italian Gardens at Holywell

Of course, you could never get away with it today – a rusty old cable lying across a beach, writes Michael Ockenden.

But in the late 1940s and early 1950s, no one bothered over much about a wire that got exposed at low tide.

However, as a child I did worry I might get electrocuted. The beach was Number 1 at the end of the promenade and turned out to have been the remains of a telegraph cable terminating in a small building in the Italian Gardens at Holywell.

Originally a chalk pit known as The Gore, the gardens were laid out in 1922.

It is hard to think of Holywell in terms of the global telecommunications revolution, yet the cable that was landed here in 1861 was one of the first to reach our shores.

The London-Paris telegraph service via Dover and Cap Gris Nez had been established just nine years earlier. News of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarejevo in June 1914 reached London via the telegraph network and it is entirely possible this momentous dispatch was routed via Holywell.

Admiralty files reveal in May 1940 HMS Jaguar was involved in Operation Quixote when six telegraph cables between England and German islands were severed at sea.

However, the operation was abandoned before the south coast cables could be cut in deep water and they were dealt with on the beach. One of these was the Holywell-Dieppe Telegraph Cable.

The equipment was housed in what is now a store. The year 1922 is displayed on the pavilion at the far end and tallies with designation of the cable, 1861/1922. The first is when the cable landed at Holywell and the second notes when equipment was moved from a shed near the beach to its new home in the gardens.

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