News & Projects

Devizes Wireless Station 1920s

February 2024


Dave Sabin (Archaeological Surveys Director) has recently posted 3 new articles (see further below) relating to early wireless sites in Wiltshire - or at least two of the sites were constructed but Marconi never proceeded with work at Avebury.

"Having a life long interest in archaeology and geophysics, plus a background in radio communication systems, it was natural for me to delve into some early wireless sites in Wiltshire. What I didn't realise though, was the part the county played in the early development of radio, from the Three Mile Hill tests on Salisbury Plain from 1896 to the origins of the internationally renown Portishead Radio which began in 1920 on Morgan's Hill near Devizes, a site that in 1913 had been constructed as the very first receiver of the Imperial Wireless Chain. Although the outbreak of WWI curtailed the IWC before it had got on air, the site became the home of wireless military intelligence until 1919. With assistance from Wroughton History Group, we now know the exact location of the Wroughton Wireless Receiving Station that along with Rugby Radio provide the world's first transatlantic telephone service in 1927.

I hope the articles are of interest and maybe inspire further research into these sites and others. When I started in archaeology Roman remains and prehistoric sites were considered rare, but having spent so much time working in geophysics mapping these ancient layers I feel that we are missing out on the stories that provide the backdrop to where we are now - that is the archaeology of modern technology.

There is an assumption that sites are known and well recorded but, if nothing else, researching 20th century remains highlights our loss of knowledge over barely a single human lifetime and understanding this helps us to become more open-minded when assessing much earlier sites and features we discover through geophysical survey. For me this really became apparent carrying out commercial surveying near Whaddon and visiting Bletchley Park. At Whaddon we located the remains of antenna arrays related to the secret communication facility based at Whaddon Hall, and at that time there were other upstanding buildings relating to the site - we could find virtually no written references or information on precisely what we had found.

Military/conflict archaeology appears to attract a healthy level of interest but many other 20th century sites relating to technological development seem to fall through the gaps, often there will be practical reasons why it is not possible to carry out geophysical survey or intrusive works, early wireless sites are to some degree and exception often due to their remoteness but we hope to provide a record of more sites in the future either through commercial surveying or personal research."

Cheers, Dave Sabin

18 articles 
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Wroughton Wireless Receiving Station
Wroughton Wireless Station was the receiving station for the first transatlantic wireless telephone service which began operation in 1927. The site was located at Rectory Farm which was demolished to make way for the construction of RAF Wroughton. The significant role of the station within the development of wireless communication is generally poorly known although it is briefly mentioned in archives relating to Rugby Radio Station, the transmitter for the telephone service, and images are present in the BT Archive.
Posted on 20 February 2024
Avebury, Marconi & the wireless station that never was
In 1923 the Marconi Company were interested in purchasing several thousand acres of land at Avebury for the construction of a wireless station. Concerns were raised regarding the impact on the archaeology of the area and Alexander Keiller famously purchased Windmill Hill to protect it from the construction of masts. The 1920s were are period of rapid technological development in wireless communication and it is unclear what the company intended to build at the site; references to 800 feet high masts may infer a long wave station that was actually constructed by the GPO at Rugby. However, at this time Marconi experimentation with short waves led to the development of the Marconi Beam Wireless system that had many advantages over long waves for long distance communication. Radio press releases at the time may infer that the company intended to construct a number of beam stations at Avebury, and possibly a sister station to Rugby Radio. Although there was opposition to Marconi's intentions at Avebury by the archaeological community, the Wiltshire Archaeological Society did not raise any objections; however, some members felt that the committee had been schmoozed by Marconi and disagreed. The wireless station was never built although this may have been as much to do with politics and technological factors along with the archaeological concerns.
Posted on 11 December 2023
Devizes Wireless Station 1913 - 1929
Devizes Wireless Station was a short-lived site but played a remarkable part in wireless development in the early 20th century from just pre-WWI to the late 1920s. Initially the first receiving station constructed by Marconi as part of the Imperial Wireless Chain, then used by the military in WWI for direction finding and intelligence (MI1e) and finally maritime communications in the post-war period with demolition in 1929.
Posted on 13 October 2023
Roman Iron Working, Seend, Wiltshire
Magnetic susceptibility measurement of iron ore samples from Seend.
Posted on 14 December 2022
With high temperatures becoming more frequent in British summers, Archaeological Surveys Ltd consider the risks of overheating and heat exhaustion when carrying out geophysical survey.
Posted on 11 August 2020
18 articles 
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