G.P.O Mobile Telegraph Office (aka Poppy)
It was in a field in Cambridgeshire that a lost piece of iconic communication history was discovered by a gentleman passing by. It was the memorable number plate SLO24 that was to be its salvation.
In April 1956, the GPO commissioned the building of a Mobile Telegraph Office to provide onsite cable and wireless services for the transmission of overseas press reports of mainly sporting events. Built by Harrington’s of Hove in East Sussex, it had an aluminium body with a two-stroke Commer diesel engine. A Commer chassis rather than a Bensford chassis ensured that ‘The Mobile’ (as it was known to the engineers) was narrow enough to fit through the gates at Lords to report on the cricket.
The Mobile travelled around the UK. There would be eight people operating the equipment inside the vehicle and two engineers (one would be the driver also). Depending on the event, they would work out what equipment they needed, and the two engineers would collect it from the GPO Wembley Depot before driving The Mobile to the event.
The Mobile had venetian blinds fitted to the windows, as it needed to be parked wherever there was a power supply. This could mean being in full sun and it would therefore get rather hot for those operating the equipment inside. When the tour had finished, The Mobile was returned to the Wembley Depot where it had its own parking space and cover.
One of the engineers, Edwin Goodwin, recalls following the international rugby tours. “Driving from Murrayfield in Scotland to Porthcawl in South Wales overnight is a journey I particularly remember”.
The Mobile also assisted in the marketing campaign to publicise Telex, which was a rapidly expanding service during the late 1950s and 1960s. The Mobile was equipped with some advertising material and boards were provided to cover up the ‘Post Office Cable & Wireless Service’ legend with ‘Post Office Telex Demonstration’. These demonstrations were carried out extensively across the UK.
GPO used The Mobile between 1956 and 1972. The vehicle was then used by a seed merchant before ending up in the field where it became someone’s home for five years. The gentleman that discovered The Mobile persuaded the owners to sell the vehicle to him and it was taken back to his home in Yorkshire. Here he set about restoring the exterior. In 1998, he, unfortunately, lost his storage space and regretfully had to sell it. The Mobile was bought by Iris and Tony Leah who continued the restoration. It was not until 2005 that Poppy (as she was now affectionately known) was finally ready. From then on, Iris and Tony were to take her out to various vintage rallies and steam shows across the UK.
It was in 2021 that Iris and Tony, wishing to find a suitable home for Poppy, were put in touch with the museum at PK Porthcurno through their mutual friend, Geoff Boudreau. Delighted at the opportunity to care for and display such a wonderful vehicle, the museum happily accepted the offered donation.
Poppy will soon be arriving at her new home in Cornwall and we cannot wait to share her with you all. She will become a key part of our outreach engagement and activities, allowing us to take the museum outside the Porthcurno Valley to provide a visible presence at local events and schools. Poppy will be appearing at PK Porthcurno and at local events this summer, so please look out for announcements on our website and social media pages and come and meet the newest member of the PK family.
Photograph courtesy of Iris and Tony Leah
Poppy is funded by Cornwall Council’s Culture and Creative Investment Programme.