Wednesday, May 18, 2022

BBC from "Memories of Wychbold before the Motorway"

This article has been reproduced with permission from “Memories of Wychbold before the Motorway” by Robin Skerratt.

The land for building the B.B.C. transmitting station was purchased from Arthur Smith (30 acres) of Elm Court, and George Jackson (24 acres) of Wychbold Court. It was built in 1933 at a cost of £200,000. The first signal was “Droitwich Calling”, in April 1934. This was the most powerful transmitting station in the world. High tension supply of 20,000 volts (enough to light a town of 5,000 people) produced by four 750 H.P. diesel engines installed by Rugby Electric. These were relied on full-time before the coming of the national grid at Upton Warren where it used to draw 11,000 volt supplies, but the diesel engines were kept in reserve to supply back-up power in case of mains failure.

Hefty amplification equipment based around twenty five large thermionic high voltage valves weighing 200lbs and locked in steel safety cages were cooled by re-circulating water flowing through at a rate of 35 gallons per minute.

The valve cooling ponds

Valve Cooling Pond, 1963.

Pond capacity 300,000 gallons used for spraying over radiator tubes to cool valves. The pond contained several thousand goldfish to keep the water free from algae.

The water was piped into three rectangular cooling tanks situated outside the building. The tanks were surrounded by pathways and safety rails to enable staff and visitors alike to walk, relax, feed and admire well stocked tanks of multi-coloured fish as they swam around in the comfortably warm water. Feeding time was signalled by tapping a coin on the metal safety rail. This immediately produced an amazing spectacle of hundreds of huge fish thrashing about at the surface, all with bulging eyes and gaping mouths.
The aerial was suspended between the two 700 foot masts (100 tons each) which could sway up to 5 foot at the top in high wind. The ascent was by a 1,050 rung ladder or by a lift which took four minutes to reach the top. One steel erector who helped build the masts was Derek Pigeon, an Australian who had just finished work on the Sidney Bridge before this job. Cyril Mutlow and Tommy Payne installed the telephone and the lighting cables.

There was a dreadful accident here. Two maintenance engineers were working near the top of the masts wearing two/three layers of underclothes and top clothes to keep warm, and standing on top of the lift. Both men were experienced and released their safety harnesses because they found it too restrictive to work efficiently. However, without any good reason, the lift suddenly dropped a few feet before the automatic safety brakes came into operation. This sudden movement was sufficient to throw one man off balance, and his colleague heard him screaming as he plummeted to his death. He made a dent in the ground on impact and was totally unrecognisable. My father knew this man and undertook the dreadful task of retrieving personal effects from his pockets.

B.B.C. in Wartime – The Germans had taken an aerial photograph of the site prior to the outbreak of war. This site was considered a prime target, together with Hartlebury R.A.F. Station and a factory at Stoke Works (which happened to be the salt works). There were two searchlights and an anti aircraft gun was mounted on the roof.

I can well remember the powerful beams searching the sky. They were also directed up and down the masts and around the boundary fence to deter possible invasion by German paratroops. This was a very real threat at all times. The German High Military Personnel regarded the B.B.C. as too valuable an asset to destroy. The plan was for it to be captured intact with the intention of using it to transmit worldwide propaganda following their invasion of the country.

BBC 50 year celebrations

Front of the main building of B.B.C. decorated for the 50th Anniversary of the building. September 1954.

BBc masts

A section of one the two 700 foot masts.
Each mast is supported by 21 insulated stays and weighs 150 tons.

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