One of the things I enjoy about undertaking research with a foundation in the local area is that it’s comparatively easy for me to pop along to any physical sites that I think have a historical significance and that I’d like to see for myself.
The reality that a number of these sites are places that I’ve been past countless times during my life in Norfolk, sometimes paying attention to them but often not. Inevitably if you read about the history of something often enough you begin to view it in a different way, and that’s definitely the case when it come to some of these locations. The transmitter site at Tacolneston is a case in point.
The process of its construction throughout 1954 was a visual signifier that television was finally going to be available for the majority of the people of Norfolk (and East Anglia), and its initial activation (and period of test broadcasting) in February 1955 really signified the culmination of a campaign to bring television to the region that took place in both Parliament and the local press, as well as within the BBC.
Of course no historical site ever remains untouched by either time nor human progress, and Tacolneston is no exception to the rule. The site, currently owned by Arqiva, has been subject to considerable redevelopment over the years as technology has advanced; understandably it now looks a little different. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to compare a photo taken during its construction (published in the EDP on 13/12/1954) and a photo of the largest mast that I took during a site visit on 23/03/2014 – things have definitely changed over nearly 60 years, but I think that merely makes you appreciate what an achievement the original transmitter mastwas (and how health and safety rules have changed)!
The BBC’s original transmission mast at Alexandra Palace is perhaps the most famous example of a transmission mast, its silhouette becoming an iconic shorthand for the achievements and ambitions of broadcasting as it reached into the London skyline, but I like to think that Tacolneston has its own charms too, and despite its lack of fame we shouldn’t ignore its importance to the history of television in Norfolk.
In particular, and as shown in the photo below, I love the fact that from a distance the towers look like they have erupted from the earth, growing out of the woodland; creating a juxtaposition between steel and wood, between the natural and the synthetic – it seems to me that it could be an interesting visual metaphor for how a technology can become physically embedded in our natural geography.
The question is, did television become embedded into the lives of Norfolk people in a similar way?
You can learn more about how you can help me explore that question by clicking here and I’d love to hear from anyone who has any other early photos of Tacolneston transmission mast!
- Thanks to Tony Currie for pointing me in the right direction on my usage of terminology, the tower should be called a transmitter mast not a transmitter.
- Thanks to @TAC_TX for pointing out I should actually use the term ‘transmission mast’.