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Marconi Company Archives

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Introduction

 

These are the principal official sources of surviving material, following the failed attempt to keep them in Chelmsford where they rightly belong. The sequence of events as to their final destination is convoluted and the following entries are an attempt to clarify the timeline and significant events.

 

From MarconiCalling - an online archive created in 2001

The material on view in MarconiCalling represents the best of the Marconi Collection; however, it is only part of the overall archive, which resides in Chelmsford and includes many thousands of documents and over 250 artifacts.

The future of the Marconi Collection has been secured with plans by Marconi plc to transfer ownership and management of its unique collection to a trust whose functions will include consideration of requests for the loan of artifacts and other material for exhibitions.

The Marconi Collection is to remain in Chelmsford, the county town of Essex and home to the first radio factory in the world, opened by Marconi's Company in 1899. In August 2000, Marconi plc announced that it was to contribute £300,000 to Chelmsford Borough Council's ambitious project for a new museum dedicated to Guglielmo Marconi. The major part of the collection of artifacts is likely to be displayed in the new museum.

It is intended that the documents and photographs will be passed, on permanent loan, to the new state-of-the-art Essex Record Office also located in Chelmsford.

In his August, 2000 press release, Sir Roger Hurn, Marconi's Chairman, said 'We are delighted that Chelmsford's Marconi Museum project is taking shape and that we can play a role in the fulfillment of this worthy ambition to honour one of Chelmsford's most famous figures.'

Martin Easteal, Chief Executive of Chelmsford Borough Council, added: 'Marconi was one of the most important figures of the century and his discoveries have played a key role in creating our modern world. In the same way, Marconi's association with Chelmsford was a major factor in transforming it from an historic county town to a modern, prosperous, and progressive borough. There is enormous support for the creation of a fitting museum in Chelmsford to house this unique collection. We are very grateful to Marconi plc for doing so much to help make this dream a reality.'

 

Marconi Archives - the only useful result of the ill-fated attempt to retain these in Chelmsford

 

MarconiCalling - an official on-line source commissioned by Marconi plc in 1999.

 

A report in the press - dated 2004 detailing the controversy over the donation to Oxford.

 

Marconi Collection saved -Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter 2005

And another piece of very good news has been drawn to Fellows’ attention by Jim Bennett, FSA, Director of the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford. Jim writes to say that the historic Marconi Collection, whose future has been precarious since it was nearly auctioned off in 1997 but withdrawn from the arrangement with Christie’s after widespread protests, has been given to the University of Oxford.[Editors note -a contemporary petition to save them can be seen here.] Dating from 1895, the Marconi Collection consists of artefacts, apparatus and printed material formerly owned by the Marconi Corporation plc, much of which relates to the history of early wireless communication. This includes apparatus used in the first transatlantic wireless transmission of 1901; a wealth of historical documents, including telegrams sent during the Titanic disaster of 1912, whose subsequent Board of Enquiry endorsed the recommendations of Guglielmo Marconi, fundamentally improving safety at sea and saving countless lives; and items relating to the birth of broadcasting, such as the microphone used by the Australian diva, Dame Nellie Melba, to broadcast the world's first live recital in 1920.

 

The Museum of the History of Science will display some of the 250-plus artefacts from the Collection, while the Bodleian Library will house the thousands of papers, letters and other printed material going back to 1895. Through the generosity of the Wireless Preservation Society a full-time archivist will be appointed to catalogue the Collection over the next three years. The BAFTA award-winning website , based on the Marconi Collection, is also to be transferred to the University.

 

Oxford is already planning a major exhibition of items from the collection in spring 2006. The University will also work together with the Essex Record Office and the Museums Service in Chelmsford to display a representative set of historic items from the Collection in the town, the original home of the Marconi Company from 1898 and the acknowledged ‘Birthplace of Radio’.

 

News item on Douglas Byrne here

 

News item from The Guardian

 

Bodleian Library Friends’ Newsletter -  Summer 2008 and Winter 2008/2009

LAUNCH OF THE MARCONI CATALOGUE

A detailed catalogue of the Marconi Archive in the Bodleian Library was launched at a special reception on 7 November 2008. Now available online, the catalogue helps to unlock the collection for wider use by researchers in a number of fields.

 

The Marconi Collection was donated to the University of Oxford by Marconi plc in December 2004 and is housed in the Bodleian Library and the Museum of the History of Science. A three-year project funded by the late Douglas Byrne [Editors note - the money was raised from the sale of his mansion] under the auspices of the Wireless Preservation Society  enabled the sorting, arrangement and cataloguing of the vast archive. A further grant was presented at the catalogue’s launch by Gordon Bussey, wireless historian and sometime historical consultant to the General Electric Company. This grant is to fund the endowment of the Byrne Marconi Visiting Fellowship, intended to support study in the Marconi and related archives in the Bodleian and the Marconi objects in the Museum of the History of Science. In gratitude for all his efforts in bringing this pre-eminent collection to Oxford, Gordon Bussey was presented with Honorary Life Membership of the Friends of the Bodleian.

 

The catalogue of the Marconi Archive permits the extent and scope of the collection to be fully appreciated for the first time. In all, it extends to 4480 boxes, volumes and items, occupying some 400 linear metres of shelving and ranking it among the largest archival collections acquired by the Bodleian. The catalogue has been completed by Michael Hughes from the Department of Western Manuscripts. During the cataloguing process, a number of fascinating items were uncovered, including records relating to Marconi’s experimental work in the development of wireless telegraphy, from his earliest demonstration in Britain carried out on the roof of the General Post Office in London in 1896, to the achievement of transatlantic wireless communication in 1901 and thence to worldwide radio communication.

 

Of especial interest are records relating to the Titanic disaster in 1912. The role played by wireless telegraphy in saving lives during this tragic event is well documented in the archive, which features the logs of ships’ radio operators recording the first and last distress signals from the Titanic as well as thousands of other messages exchanged before, during and after the emergency.

 

Notable material in other parts of the Archive includes: records relating to the Moscow trial of Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company engineers on charges of wrecking activities and spying in power stations in the Soviet Union in 1933; papers of the British Thomson-Houston Company relating to its role in the construction and testing of Frank Whittle’s first experimental jet engine from 1935 onwards; photographs of the English Electric Company’s aircraft works in Preston, showing the production of Halifax bombers during World War II – one of several fine series of images of products and premises in the collection.

 

Besides documents relating to Guglielmo Marconi and his Wireless Telegraph Company, there are records of numerous other electronic and electrical engineering companies, all of which were ultimately absorbed into the General Electric Company (GEC), which in 1999 changed its own name to Marconi.

 

The Marconi Collection at the University of Oxford features in three main online resources: the Museum of the History of Science’s online catalogue of its Marconi material; the BAFTA award-winning MarconiCalling website transferred to the University of Oxford together with the collection; and the Marconi Archives online catalogue, newly-launched by the Bodleian Library.

 

Michael Hughes, Department of Western Manuscripts

 

Catalogue of the Marconi Archives stored in the Bodleian Library, Oxford

 

Catalogue of the Marconi Collection stored in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

 

Some typical examples of artifacts 

 

Obituary - Gordon Bussey - British Vintage Wireless Society Bulletin - Summer 2011 edition

Gordon Bussey, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, died peacefully of cancer on the 20th January 2011 at the age of 75. He will be remembered as one of the country’s foremost historians of the development of radio and its manufacturing in the United Kingdom. In the early 1970’s early wireless was in the air, both as a subject for historical research and as a fruitful field for collectors. It was in this period in 1976 that his first book, Vintage Crystal Sets -1922 to 1927 was published by Wireless World Publications. It was the first wireless book written with the collector in mind, and emerged out of research into the manufacturers of crystal sets and the associated ephemera and advertising. It was also in 1976 that the BVWS was founded and in 1977 it held its first official meeting in the famous Marconi Writtle Hut at Chemlsford where its first Committee was agreed by the membership present. Gordon was not a member at that time but joined BVWS in the following year. He was by then already known to Society’s members and my first meeting with him took place when he visited me at home in order to examine a rare Viennese Crystal set, which with characteristic energy he proceeded to acquire by means of an exchange. He told me that he was a collector of decorative china and had come across a Grafton China figure of a gentleman in a top hat in which a coil was wound on the hat and the crystal and cat’s whisker took the place of a button on the waistcoat. He didn’t at first know what it could be and set about finding out. That research led to the question of who made crystal sets and what they looked like. His discovery of the Grafton china figure marked the start of an unceasing endeavour that through sheer hard work and meticulous attention to detail was to lead to a string of books of which the best known are Marconi’s Atlantic Leap authored by Gordon and published by Marconi PLC in 2000, and The Setmakers, authored by Keith Geddes in collaboration with Gordon and published by BREMA in 1991.


Gordon was employed for the greater part of his career in Philips, as Spares and Supplies Manager in Central Electronic Services Ltd. where in 1979 he wrote his first illustrated company history, “The story of Pye Wireless”. When restructuring closed the department of Philips’ business in which he worked, he became Historical Adviser to both Philips Electronics (UK) and GEC-Marconi.


A complete list of publications for which he was author, collaborator or producer is given in the concluding appendix. Some of these were facsimile reprints of early catalogues and prepared specifically for the BVWS and issued to members as supplements to the Bulletin. It was in one particular role, however, that he played a role that was decisive in ensuring the continuing success of the Society.


At the 1994 Annual General Meeting, a secretly organised and dishonest attempt was made from the floor to throw out the Commitee and Constitution. Its Chairman was shouted off the platform and resigned in disgust. The meeting was aborted and in a scene of chaos, Gordon, also from the floor, rescued the situation. With great skill he devised and brought about a solution comprising an emergency committee, new elections, a new Journal for which he prepared the first edition, and appointed a new printing company.

 

That the Society thrives today reflects the quality of the work put in by Gordon, the emergency committee, and its successors. Following many years of work in connection with the Marconi Archives, Gordon Bussey was directly involved with the company’s Wireless Centenary Celebrations in the late 1990s which coincided with a period when the company’s share value was at its peak. In spite of this, in 1997 the extraordinary decision was taken by the company to auction the archive and associated artifacts at Christie’s. The intended disposal was described in a bizarre explanation as being part of the celebrations, but opinion both at public and government levels prevented this from taking place. The Archive seemed safe but another threat soon arose. Mounting debt problems and a prolonged downturn in the telecoms equipment market destroyed Marconi’s market value and on Friday, 16th May, 2003 it was declared bankrupt. It was the biggest bankruptcy in British company history and a suitable home for its prestigious archives had to be found. Gordon Bussey conceived the idea of gifting the Archives and associated hardware to the Bodleian Library and the Museum of The History of Science next door. Funds [Editors note - provided by Douglas Byrne] from the Wireless Preservation Society, in a scheme created by Rod Burman and Gordon Bussey, paid for the immense sorting and cataloguing project over three years, without which Oxford might not have been able to accept the gift. In November 2008 after a period of the most skillful diplomacy and detailed organization, the transfer was celebrated by a reception in the great hall of the Bodleian at which Gordon was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the Friends of the Bodleian Library. My photograph shows Gordon with his partner Claire Blackman at the celebration. The preservation of the invaluable archive of the world’s first global communications company will remain his greatest achievement.

 

Gordon was an intensely private individual whose personality was enigmatic. Those who worked with him found that he could be impatient to see progress. He had been elected from ordinary to honorary member of the British Vintage Wireless Society in recognition of his contributions as a historian, but although he attended many meetings of the Society he never stopped to socialise. Neither did he seek to disguise how he felt about sloppy thinking or lack of effort in others, and this could make him seem autocratic or even rude. Yet all this was misleading. His brusque manner was a mask that hid an innate shyness and kindness. Behind his protective disguise, his first priority was always to be helpful, and those who got to know him found in him a constant friend whose help was unstinting and available immediately rather than tomorrow or next week. His death leaves a hole that cannot be filled.

 

Appendix

List of publications for which Gordon Bussey was author, collaborator, producer, or facilitator:

1976 Vintage Crystal Sets 1922 -1927. Wireless World Publication. Author.

1977 Philips Supplement to V&A Exhibition “The Wireless Show”. Philips Industries 1977.

1978 BVWS reprint “The Marconiphone Catalogue” organised by G.B.

1979 BVWS reprint “True Music (TMC) Radio sets Catalogue” organised by G.B.

1979 Television: the first fifty years. Bradford National Museum of Photography, Film & TV. Keith Geddes and G.B.

1979 The story of PYE Wireless. Pye Ltd 1979. Author.

1980 Supplement to the Science Museum Exhibition “The Great Optical Illusion”. Philips Ltd.

1987 The History of Roberts Radio. Roberts Radio Ltd 1987 by Keith Geddes and GB

1988 BVWS reprint “Brown Brothers Ltd Catalogue 1925/6 produced by G.B.

1990 Wireless: The Crucial Decade 1924-34 Peter Peregrinus Ltd. Autumn 1990. Author

1991 The Setmakers, BREMA 1991. Keith Geddes and G.B.

1993 Hacker Radio. GDN publications 1993. Geoffrey Dixon-Nuttall and G.B.

1995 BVWS Christmas Card. GEC-Marconi Ltd. Arranged by G.B.

1996 BVWS Christmas Card. GEC-Marconi Ltd. Arranged by G.B.

2000 Marconi’s Atlantic Leap. Marconi PLC. 2000. Author

2002 Radio Man: The Remarkable Rise and Fall of C.O.Stanley. IEE History of Technology. Mark Frankland, G.B. as consultant

 

Intervention by Gordon Bussey

Expanded detail in an audio file extracted from the occasion of the first Byrne lecture in 2011.

 

 

The Douglas Byrne Marconi Fellowship

The Bodleian Library and The Museum of the History of Science

The purpose of this annual Fellowship award is to advance knowledge of the history of wireless communication, using the Marconi archives at the Bodleian Library and collections at the Museum of the History of Science. The award will provide the recipient with the opportunity for a period of uninterrupted research using the Marconi archive in the Bodleian Library and/or the Marconi artefacts housed in the Museum of the History of Science. At the end of their tenancy, the recipient of the Fellowship will deliver the results of their research at a public lecture, to be known as the ‘Douglas Byrne Marconi Lecture’ which will be advertised nationally and held in the University of Oxford.


Obituary

 

Sandford Mill Industrial Museum

There is still a remnent of the company heritage remaining in Chelmsford. In the Museum Service main site in Oaklands Park there is a general industrial display featuring the three principal companies, namely Cromptons, Hoffmans and Marconi; however the old waterworks site at Sandford Mill houses an extensive collection of Marconi documentation and artefacts, including the original 2LO wireless hut from Writtle and television cameras and other studio equipment restored to working order and regularly demonstrated. These sites are due to get extensive revision and upgrading following a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. 

 

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