Rapidly changing communication technologies are challenging our understanding of relationships in a modern information society. The thesis sets out to examine a comparable period of great change.
Since the advent of digital networks there has been good research on the US telegraph although this is the first study in a UK context. Kieve consolidated our knowledge but this thesis identifies a major gap in the historiography of the UK electric telegraph for 1840-70 and challenges some of the myths. It places the telegraph within a continuum of more than one hundred years of compressed journey times, where growth of personal travel in turn necessitated ever greater volumes of communication messages.
The thesis investigates how the telegraph was developed by Cooke into a railway control device, and then illegally purchased by a secret group centred on Robert Stephenson to exploit illusory opportunities in the 1845 railway mania bubble. In the tradition of the US research of Pred and Schwarzlose it shows the changing spatial relationship between Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester, with London during the mid-nineteenth century. The first half of the thesis is concerned with transport developments and their relationship with the telegraph.
When the 1837 patents expired, the telegraph was socially reconstructed in a Cowan-type ‘consumption junction’ first by Liverpool cotton merchants requiring more effective business communications and again, in the early 1860s, for suburban Glasgow and London. The second half of the thesis examines, from the point of view of producer and consumer, how the telegraph developed within the context of urban and social history. The thesis concludes that, in order to be successful, the electric telegraph was shaped by the needs of society.
The foundation of the research is previously unexplored archives of British Telecom and some railway companies, transcripts of Parliamentary Committees, contemporary newspapers and observers, and private papers.