Directorate of Telecommunications
HISTORY; POLICE ON MF
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Marley Hill began service in 1942 with a staff of around seventeen under Regional Wireless Engineer, Mr A.T. Martin. (From 1945 to 1972 the Regional Wireless Engineer at Marley Hill was a gentleman who has featured in virtually every phase of the story so far, Mr Oswald B. Kellett. Both Mr Kellett and Mr H.B. Old were later awarded the MBE for their services to communications).
Durham County Constabulary was the largest of the twelve police forces in Marley Hill's service area and it immediately adopted the MF Regional Scheme as a direct replacement for the one-way telegraphy service provided by Newcastle City Police.The County's six patrol cars were sent to the GEC factory in Bradford, Yorkshire to be fitted with suitable mobile receivers, and fixed receivers were installed at the forces Durham City headquarters and in each of the divisional police stations. Arrangements were also made with the GPO to extend Durham's already extensive private-wire telephone network to the wireless station by means of an additional link from the switchboard at Consett Divisional Station to Marley Hill.
The system worked well - messages for the cars were passed verbally to Marley Hill and within seconds were repeated over the air by the civilian operators - "RL to Andrew 3, proceed to... ".
The fact that the scheme employed telephony rather than telegraphy meant it could be used by any officer and not just those trained in morse, but there were problems caused by interference from North Sea fishing fleets which used the same wave band. This had also affected the telegraphy service but was more noticeable with the new telephony system. The biggest drawback, of course, was that the system was strictly one-way; the officers manning the mobile units had no means of replying other than by using the public telephone system.
Two-way telegraphy systems had been working successfully in some city areas for many years and there would be obvious advantages if this could be provided with the telephony system too. Experiments with two-way telephony communications on MF were carried out at the Cheveley Regional Wireless Station in 1942 but the results were far from satisfactory and it became clear that MF was completely unsuitable for the purpose.
The callsigns allocated to the later police VHF schemes were almost always derived from that of the MF Wireless Station which had previously served the area - they just omitted the "R" from the callsign and added a letter to the end. So, for schemes in the area served by Marley Hill callsign M2RL) they used the range M2LA- M2LZ. Thus there was, for example, M2LB for 'Northumberland Constabulary, M2LG for Gateshead, M2LL for South Shields, M2LK for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, M2LN for Sunderland and M2LQ for Tynemouth. Similarly there were the M2Vs, M2Ks, M2Hs, M2X's, M2Y's, M2Q's and M2N's derived from the callsigns of Cheveley, Cranbrook, Hannington, Kippax, Romsley, Shapwick and Stanton respectively. Billinge (M2RB) was slightly different, it gave birth to both M2B's and M2C's because there were far too many police forces in its area for the M2BA-M2BZ series. So we had M2BL for Barrow-in-Furress Borough Police, M2BU for. Carlisle, M2CL for Oldham and M2CK for Manchester, and then there was perhaps the best known police callsign in the world, that of Lancashire Constabulary, M2BD, remember Z-Cars, "BD to Z-Victor 1 ". Later fire-service schemes generally followed the same pattern and indeed it is still the general rule to this day. Of course there are many exceptions including the "Met", which used M2MP among others, and some fire services which opted for callsigns in the range M2FA-M2FZ. Schemes in the Isle of Mann, Wales and Scotland used the M2Ms, M2Ws and M2Z's respectively.
In the days of the early telephony MF and VHF radio schemes the phonetic alphabet in civilian use was that of the GPO. Its use within the police schemes varied enormously. Some Schemes used it for mobile callsigns only "RL to Benjamin 5' (Northumberland on MF 1946-1951), others used it for both base and mobiles "Lucy Lucy to Lucy 2' (South Shields' scheme from 1951), while a few did 'not use it at all "LK to K6 '(Newcastle's scheme from 1942). From 1956 the NATO alphabet was used instead - Alpha, Bravo, Charlie¬ ...... Zulu.
In fact, oven before the first of the Regional Wireless Stations opened in 1939, it had become clear that future of police communications lay not with MF, but rather with VHF systems. Experiments at Manchester's Heaton Park station in 1937 had demonstrated that, despite popular belief, VHF could indeed be used for base-mobile communication, even in cities. After further work by the Metropolitan and Birmingham City forces, the Home Office Communications Branch conducted tests in several areas of the country, and in 1940 they asked GEC to design and produce suitable fixed and mobile VHF telephony equipment.
When this became available, the Home Office approved its use in urban areas with populations exceeding 75,000 and offered generous grants as an incentive. Many city forces took up the offer and from 1942 the two types of system operated side by side, two-way systems in some cities and the MF Regional Scheme elsewhere. The spread of VHF schemes was only limited by the availability of the equipment, much of which was being diverted for use by the ARP (Civil Defence) services.
After the war the move from MF to VHF resumed and not just in the cities, the plan called for multi-station schemes covering county areas too.¬ Four Home Office test teams, recruited mostly from the National Fire Service, toured the country carrying out coverage tests, and one by one the VHF schemes were installed.
The first two, in 1946, were for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, previously served by the Cheveley Regional Wireless Station. Police forces were still joining the MF schemes; Northumberland Constabulary and South Shields Borough Police began using the Marley Hill Regional Wireless Station as late as 1946 and 1947 respectively - but it was a temporary measure and by 1950 virtually the whole country was served by police VHF schemes operating in the 95-100 MHz band.
Heddon Laws Police Wireless Station Northumberland's Technological Folly
In 1941 Northumberland Constabulary decided to opt for a VHF system for their relatively populous south-eastern areas and to use the MF Regional Scheme elsewhere in the County. All their initial energies were aimed at the VHF scheme, and after the usual bureaucratic delay they built a mast costing £3758 at Heddon Laws Farm - a County Council smallholding north-east of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. By mid- 1943 it was completed and only then did they find out that they were not to get any equipment whatsoever it was no longer available. They immediately authorised the expenditure at £750 on receivers for the MF scheme, but they were too late for MF apparatus too - all wireless Production was being aimed exclusively at the ARP and military.
In the event, Northumberland County had no radio service until 1946 when the Home Office loaned them some old MF equipment so they could belatedly join the MF Regional Scheme. When plans for multi-station VHF schemes in the area were being finalised in the late 1940's, Northumberland Constabulary suggested that their Heddon Laws mast could be incorporated into the scheme - but it was not to be. Home Office tests revealed that the site was not at all suitable - in fact it would have been difficult to find a worse location - apparently it was originally chosen simply because it was within the required service area and was already council owned! In March 1951 they reluctantly ordered the demolition of the mast - a mast that had stood for 8 years and never carried a single transmission or even a single aerial array!
The Regional Wireless Stations were redundant - but the sites were retained and redesignated Regional Wireless Depots. Their new function was to maintain the fixed and mobile equipment used by the various police, and later fire-service, schemes within their areas.
The MF masts were removed and replaced by slightly smaller structures carrying VHF arrays, but these were not used as part of any police schemes. Their role was simply to provide two-way communication with service vans based at the Depots.
All nine depots remain to this day, indeed a tenth at Harrow was opened in 1972, but, in keeping with government policy, they have now been privatised. A sad end for these pioneering establishments after more than 50 years of public service.
Acknowledgement: Brian Pears for the article and Kevin Carrig source.
Addendum From: Martin Swift dated 12/11/2004
Shapwick is gone - Stanton is in 'others' hands - Hannington is abandoned - Billinge is to be vacated and demolished very soon, a final photo shoot is planned.
Addendum From: David Rumens dated 13/11/2004
On most sites the 140 foot mast was used to transmit. On the receiver side there were two 75 foot wooden poles erected in front of the operations room which carried a dipole. The 140 masts were not all removed when MF ceased. They carried on being used to mount the aerials for the Depot and some CD frequencies. Though due to their construction the number of aerials they could carry was some what limited.
The Hannington mast was removed in 1969 when the BBC erected their own on site and the HO had the use of the first 175 feet.
Cranbrook's mast carried on until it became unsafe, rust!, and was taken down by the REME in 1972 and was replaced in 1973 with a 150 foot tower. The Kippax mast was removed early on due to ground subsidence.
The MF Transmitters were a Marconi Ship to Shore type and the receivers were made by Eddystone, the 700 series. We still had one of the MF receivers in stores at Cranbrook in the late 1960's.
As for the Depots Shapwick was levelled around the mid to late 1990's and is now a housing Estate. Hannington is closed and Cranbrook looks like it now has very little use.