Vauxhall, the Oval and Kennington

The Optical Telegraph, West Square

This handsome house in West Square, Kennington, was the first station in the optical telegraph that linked the Admiralty in London to Chatham and Deal. The next was at Telegraph Hill, Nunhead/New Cross.

Other routes ran from the Admiralty via the Royal Hospital, Chelsea and Putney Heath (presumably on Telegraph Road) to Portsmouth and Plymouth; and via Telegraph Hill, Hampstead Heath to Great Yarmouth.

The early lines passed messages by setting various combinations of 6 shutters, each of which could be opened and closed, thus giving 63 non-zero combinations. The above map shows the route of the early shutter telegraph.

Later lines used Popham’s semaphore technology, passing messages by setting various combinations of two semaphore arms mounted on a tall mast. 48 combinations were available. The semaphore telegraph took a slightly different route from the shutter telegraph, for instance via Chatley Heath, Surrey, rather than Netley Heath.

The line through West Square (using shutters) was opened in 1796 and closed in 1814. It was reopened to Chatham (using semaphores) in 1816 and closed in 1822. The site of the telegraph is accordingly shown on the 1802 Fairburn map of London (see the old maps part of this website), but not on later maps.

You can look round the semaphore station at Chatley Heath, Surrey which is now a National Trust property. It is a great day out of London, whether you walk from a nearby station or drive to its car park near the junction of the A3 and M25.

A separate webpage describes Nine Elms, Vauxhall's role in the Admiralty's development and testing of the electric telegraph.