Bournemouth University professor reveals historic links between Marconi - the father of modern communications - and Haven Hotel
Hugh Chignell, Professor of Media History at Bournemouth University, has produced a short paper outlining the close and historic connection between the Haven Hotel and Marconi's earliest radio communications.
The Haven Hotel was home to Guglielmo Marconi and his family for eight years from 1898. His company was based there 1898-1926. He erected a 120ft wooden mast in the hotel's grounds (see photo) for experiments.
There were Marconi operators on the Titanic when it went down in April 1912. The Captain failed to act on telegraph messages telling him of icebergs ahead. However, by sending out SOS messages, Marconi operators helped in the rescue by alerting nearby shipping.
Giglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) was responsible for the development of radio technology at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Although many people were involved in the invention of what became the mass medium of radio, Marconi’s early experiments with telegraphy, and especially sending telegraph messages over longer and longer distances, combined with his commercial acumen and contribution to the launch of the BBC in 2022, make him widely recognised as the ‘father of radio’.
He was born in Italy and had an Italian father and Irish mother as a result of which he was fluent in English and had Irish relatives. In 1896, after early successful experiments at home combining telegraph signals with Morse code, Marconi moved to England with his mother and brother where it was felt his inventions might be better received.
He was fortunate to meet the Chief Electrical Officer of the General Post Office, William Preece and conducted experiments and public demonstrations of Morse code letters being sent over short distances.
Marconi always believed that his inventions were mainly of value to the shipping industry by making it possible to communicate over water to ships at sea. As a result he was keen to see if this was possible by sending signals across bodies of water around the English coast. After trials across the Bristol Channel Marconi he settled at the Royal Needles hotel on the Isle of Wight in 1897 with a small team and this was the first wireless transmission station in the world. Initially, Marconi had another base at Madeira House in Bournemouth which served as a research laboratory and second wireless station. This proved too small and in September 1898, Marconi, his mother, his brother and his engineers moved to the remote but spacious, Haven hotel, one of very few buildings on the Sandbanks peninsular. The hotel was run by a French couple, M. and Mme. Poulain
Three masts of up to 110 feet in height were erected on the shore next to the hotel and one of the large downstairs rooms was converted into a laboratory.
From 1898 to 1923 the Haven hotel was the field headquarters of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company and Marconi himself lived there for 8 years.
Marconi chose the Haven Hotel as his operational HQ for a variety of reasons. It was an isolated and quiet hotel which catered mainly for local customers, typically harbour pilots or ship captains. It had started life in 1838 as the North Haven Inn but this was demolished in 1887 and replaced by the Haven Hotel so that when Marconi arrived it was a relatively new building. In 1913 the hotel was expanded and it became the home of Belgian refugees during the first world war. In 1926 the Haven Hotel was partly rebuilt and it eventually part of the FJB hotel chain in 1976.
Life at the hotel for Marconi and his family and workers was comfortable in the early ears of the twentieth century. The Poulains who ran the hotel served very good food and wine and in the evenings Marconi’s brother, Alfonso would play the violin accompanied by Maroni on the piano. He also befriended the van Raalte family who lived in great luxury on Brownsea Island.
The hotel was for of a quarter of a century one of the most important centres of scientific and technological innovation in the UK. Not only that but it was also in effect Marconi’s home for many years and where he lived with his mother and brother. On what was a very remote and under-populated part of Dorset, experiments were taking place that would lead to the development of radio as we know it today.
While Marconi was living at the Haven hotel, Marconi wireless operators were being employed to work on ships and provide Morse code communications from ship to ship and ship to shore. There were Marconi operators on the Titanic which went down in April 1912. The captain of the Titanic failed to act on telegraph messages telling him there were ice bergs ahead but by sending out an SOS message, the Marconi operator helped in the rescue operation by alerting nearby shipping.
Marconi was the father of radio and one of the most important and influential figures of the last century. His work revolutionised mass communications and had an impact on the whole world. That his early working life and the experiments which created radio took place in a small hotel in Dorset is remarkable and makes the Haven Hotel an iconic building of immense historical and cultural significance.
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