Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flat Holm Radio: GB5FI

Flat Holm island has been inhabited since at least the Bronze age (900 BCE.)  Without delving into it's pre-history lets just agree it has a long and rich history. In 1897 it was the site of the first radio transmission, But today the 86-acre island and is just a nature preserve. The farmhouse where it occurred was probably first built by monks from St Augustine's Abbey sometime after 1150 ACE.

Flat Holm is a limestone island in the Bristol Channel about 4 miles off the coast of Lavernock Point. It is part of the most southerly point of Wales. Property records from 1542 show that King Henry VIII granted Edmund Tournor a lease to farm on the island. His family remains on the island into the 1600s. [Let's skip past the vikings and ahead to the 1800s so we can get to the bit about radio.] In 1835, clergyman John Ashley from Clevedon, England voluntarily ministered to the population of the island. He founded the Bristol Channel Mission. It was later renamed the Mission to Seafarers. A sanatorium was built on the island in 1896 for cholera patients. The new population of plague vectors did not dissuade Marconi.

On 13 May 1897, a now famous Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi, transmitted some of the world's first wireless signals from Flat Holm to Lavernock Point. Marconi was assisted by a Cardiff Post Office engineer named George Kemp and a Welshman named William Preece. They erected a 112 foot tall tower at Flat Holm and a 98 foot tower at Lavernock . The first attempts on May 11th and 12th failed, but on May 13th they added some height to the receiving tower at Lavernock increasing it's stature to 160 feet. The rest is radio history.

Now as a nature preserve the island has little in the way of radio. Just  GB5FI, which is operated by the Barry Amateur Radio Society on Flat Holm. It's set up annually on May 13th as a Special Event call sign to commemorate Marconi's broadcast there 118 years ago.