Insulator Collecting UK — Teleramics

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What's it all about

An Insulator Collector is Made..

One winters day in 1999, I found a broken standard post office pattern insulator, impressed BR(W), (British Railways Western Region), and dated 1955 with the Bullers hand holding insulator logo. Now anything railway found on a disused and emptied trackbed is of interest, especially something I had never had previously considered as interesting.

My immediate thought was one of surprise, an insulator with a railway stamp, hmmm, how many more are still about? Well, as it turned out that day, one more, also broken.

A slow car trip home with my eyes diverted skywards looking at every pole I passed convinced me of the variety of design, materials and colours of insulators in use.

Over the following months a small collection grew with an understanding of how they where used and where I was most likely to find other fallen examples. All that I needed to complete the hobby was a informative book on the subject, after all what was this strange symbol stamped into most insulators, (Bullers Logo) and who where 'Bullers, Made in England'?

Enter 'W K Neale', with his 'Searching for Railway Telegraph Insulators', a lucky find in a secondhand bookshop for 5.00. I quickly paid the money and left. I felt like had just found a priceless 1st edition at a bargain price, not at the time realising how hard to find this little book is nor appreciating its unique subject matter within the UK book market.

The internet was frustrating place for a UK porcelain insulator collector, snippets of information tucked away here and there, the odd pictures of UK insulators amongst the sea of American glass. The answer, create my own pot of information and who knows, maybe I will find other people within the UK are collecting the same thing.

Surely I am not the only one ?.....

Gary Johnson 17th July 2005

What follows..

is a brief outline of the reasoning behind the use of insulators and their place within the telegraph / railway enviroment.

The telegraph was the predecessor to the modern day telephone, offering high speed message communication over vast distances at incredible speeds.

In 1839, the world's first commercial telegraph line using the Cooke and Wheatstone five-needle system was commissioned by the Great Western Railway and built between Paddington and West Drayton, a distance of 13 miles. It was working to Hanwell by the 6 April and was completed to West Drayton on 9 April. The public could pay one shilling (5p) to view the telegraph and could send their own telegrams. The undertaking marked the first commercial use of electricity. The line was later extended to Slough, but when it was proposed to carry it to Bristol, the Directors of the railway company objected and the agreement with Cooke and Wheatstone was repudiated. Eventually, it was agreed that Cooke was allowed to retain the wires in position on condition that he worked the system at his own expense and sent the railway signals free of charge

Workmen erecting pole

Its intial use for the railway was to regulate the working of trains and the London North Western Railway were among the first to be involved in its development. The London and Birmingham railway were involved in trials in 1837 between London Euston and Camden using the Cooke and Wheatstone Electric Telegraph 5 needle system.

Future railway development allowed signal staff and station staff to know in advance of an approaching train its current position and status. Decisions could be made upon knowing this information allowing co-ordination of signals and preceding / following trains to avoid delays etc. Station staff could be made aware of a trains requirements ie an unscheduled stop, passengers / goods requiring specific handling etc.

Boys posing on Telegraph Pole - Courtesy BT

Other information could also be handled on the network, covering such things as a station's requirements in terms of staffing and provisioning to enabling head office to know of a fault in the infrastructure and arrangements to be made for its rectification.

To protect this information, ie the electrical signal being sent along the bare copper wires, from degradation, insulators were required at any point where the conduit needed to be supported or connected to a 'ground based object'.

Even with this precaution, over long distances the signal strength may still have to be re-inforced using signal repeaters.

Over a 100 mile long route, approximately 2,700 points of contact with 'ground based objects', predominately telegraph poles, were made. It is evident that leakage at each support must be kept to a minimum. Therefore most insulators were porcelain finished with a leadless glaze, giving a very high insulation resistance. Wet surfaces give a comparatively low resistance and therefore insulators tended to incorporate large surface areas which were kept dry by design.

As with any engineering requirement, various designs and fixings were used throughout the life of the railway telegraph network and a detailed breakdown is given here of each type used, along with any relevant information as to their use / location etc.