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Directorate of Telecommunications
First London Depot?

Lawrie Atkinson

The first Directorate depot or outstation in Central London is thought to be two rooms (numbers 6 & 7) in a building off Whitehall in King Charles Street, London.  The building, which currently is the headquarters of The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, then housed four separate government departments: the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Colonial Office and the Home Office. . .

It is believed to date back to circa mid-1940s and was formed from ex-National Fire Service (NFS) personnel, who at the time had some dealings with the selection of various main sites in other counties prior to the setting up of rooms 6 and 7.

Workload for Room 6 in the late 60s/early 70s mainly comprised:

1) London Crime squads (STC AF101 & Pye FM Vanguard)

2) Certain Counter-Espionage Units (Ultra 6A5 and 4A4?) – known as secret squirrel!

3) Civil Defence Radio Systems in the LCC area

4) Regional Seat Government (RSGs) installations at Kelvedon Hatch & Tonbridge (?)

Workload for Room 7 in the late 60s/early 70s included support at Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons for early CCTV Systems and UHF Radio Schemes using Pye F450T Single Base Stations and PF1 Pocketfones.

At the time, there had been no Directorate requirement to maintain wide area radio schemes for London as the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police forces had their own technical support teams.  Likewise, the London Fire Brigade, which then comprised a number of individual ‘borough’ type schemes, were maintained by other bodies.  This was to later change when London Fire Brigade was created as a unified entity following the 1974 local government re-organisation and contracted the Directorate to maintain the singular radio communications infrastructure.

Staffing in Room 6 by early 1970 comprised:

  • Senior Wireless Technician (SWT); Jack Steel (ex-NFS)
  • Wireless Technician (WT); Lawrie Atkinson (in 1973 transferred to Nackington outstation and by 1976 as SWT at Sidcup Outstation), Mike Watson, Brian Greenaway, Arthur Clark, Freddie Mears (BEM, later transferred to Littlehampton outstation circa 1972) and Dave Passfield
  • Wireless Mechanic (WM); Alan Culpin (ex-NFS

Staffing in Room 7 by early 1970 comprised:

  • Senior Wireless Technician (SWT); Peter Ingram
  • Wireless Technician (WT); Bernard ?

At some point during the first half of the 1970s Andrew Petrie was the Chief Wireless Technician (CWT) and for a period of time was thought to be based at Directorate Headquarters in Kew.

The workshop was considered to be famous for its unusual customer access from the inner courtyard via a large open window fitted with wooden steps since both Room 6 and 7 were buried deep in the HO basement labyrinth. The customers wanted privacy although in those days it was believed that one could park in either Downing Street or King Charles Street!
Rumour at the time suggested the move to Rochester Row was because successive Home Secretaries and Senior Mandarins objected to Radio Telephony echoing around the inner courtyard, but thought more likely to have been influenced by the acquisition of the new London Fire Brigade (LFB) VHF Spaced Carrier main schemes in 1972.

Around 1975 the work carried out by rooms 6 & 7 was transferred to Rochester Row and became part of the newly formed London Region, which included Welwyn Garden City and Sidcup Outstations. At the same time a number of the original staff including Jack Steel and Alan Culpin retired and Dave Cahill, who master-minded the move to Rochester Row, took over as SWT and Peter Ingram was promoted to CWT based at Headquarters.

During its existence the Directorate was known to have moved its Headquarters to a number of locations.  With no firm information to hand, the following is based on solicited opinions:

  • <1960 – 1979  Rochester Row and for a one-year trial period around 1974-75, Kew
  • 1979 – 1992     Horseferry House
  • 1992 – 1994     Ruddington, Nottinghamshire

Webmaster Note:

This recollection has been compiled by Steven Cole from a couple of brief notes sent in by Lawrie Atkinson and telephone conversations with him, Mike Brain and John Leary.

The webmaster would be pleased to hear from anyone who could expand or correct the information contained in this article.

Forum Postings

A new topic has been created on the DTELS forum within the Depots and Outstations category entitled “First London Depot - Lawrie Atkinson”   Forum members wishing to expand or comment on this article are encouraged to log-in and  post their reply.

Acknowledgement: Laurie Atkinson

page updated: 22/07/19

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