Sea transport

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Theme Convener: C. Hamilton Ellis

The great story of British shipbuilding is the subject of the “Sea and Ships” Pavilion; British discovery at sea occupies a whole section of the Dome. But there is yet another aspect of our maritime heritage which must be added if the development of our theme is to be a true one – the operating of ships.

Without the enterprise of our ship owners and their associates in the vast business of operating shipping lines, the growth of the British Commonwealth would have followed very different trends. Without a mercantile marine such as we have now, we people of Britain and our industries would starve.

This section of the “Transport” Pavilion exists for the display of the things we produce to make safe and sure the operation of ships. It is just, however, that they should be shown against a background which epitomises the rise and preeminence of our mercantile marine. Most of its great strides forward have been made well within the last hundred years.

Of all the recent developments in the business of ship operating, the coming of wireless was probably the most revolutionary. Nowadays, after his charts and compasses, the captain looks to his wireless as his prime source of necessary intelligence. News, weather, orders, distress, arrangements at the port of destination – all these go through the wireless officer.

But still the brain of the ship at sea is her bridge. Here are her compasses and the gyropilot, to steer her automatically on a selected course when she is clear of navigational hazards. Here the helmsman is at the wheel. Revolution and rudder indicators tell the bridge of the ships performance, and order telegraphs carry instructions from there to the engine-room. Examples of all such vital equipment are gathered in the bridge area of this Sea Transport section.

Below the bridge area, and hung out from the side of the Pavilion, is a modern ship’s lifeboat, built of all-welded steel and capable of carrying eighty people. Around it are grouped appliances designed to maintain safety at sea and to preserve lives. Britain has taken a leading part in framing the rules that ensure safety in the ships of all nations.

But safety at sea depends most on the charting and marking of the navigable waterways. For us this is, in short, the achievement of our hydrographers, and of Trinity House, which maintains the lighthouses, lightships and buoys, and licenses the pilots of our home waters. Essential, too, are the dredgers that keep the channels clear, and the pilot boats and the tugs that see the great ships safely to their berths.

One of our islands great natural advantages is a coastline with many natural harbours. But our industry would long since have outgrown them if the skill of our engineers had not kept pace with the growth of the ships and the enterprise of those who operate them. Lowestoft is one example of a small port where engineering works have kept the vagaries of the coastline at bay and improved our heritage.

“Sea Transport” and “Sea and Ships” together show how we live on the sea and by it. Sea routes are the lifelines of this nation, and we have no more vital spots than the docks and harbours where they terminate. Here our essential foodstuffs and raw materials are brought ashore, here the products of our commerce and industry are poured out to the world. Here, too, are the gateways of Britain for the travellers by sea. The most recent of our docks and harbours to be completed is Southampton. This we display to illustrate the complexities and the achievements of a modern meeting place of land and sea.


Theme Convener: Geoffrey W. Hart

Yet another means of communication is the spoken and written word. Books and printing are given due attention as a separate exhibition in South Kensington. Here, in the fifth section of the “Transport” Pavilion, we are concerned with the transmission of thought and information by postal and electric means. They fit intimately into the narrative of the whole Pavilion, because telephone, telegraph, radio and radar together form an essential service for all modern transport. Closely related with these services in technique are sound and television broadcasting. These, too, are displayed here.


In the establishment of modern postal systems we were the pioneers and, since then, we have developed them to their present state in which all forms of transport are employed. The Post Office Underground Railway, demonstrated in the Railway section, stands as an example of lessons learned from passenger transport being applied to the carriage of mails.

Adhesive postage stamps were invented in England by Rowland Hill in 1840. One example here of modem stamp designing and printing is provided by the special series produced to commemorate the Festival of Britain.


The British discoveries which led to the electric telegraph are shown in the Dome. Here, the displays begin with their early applications through the inventions of such men as Cooke and Wheatstone in 1837, and culminate in working examples of the most advanced teleprinting machines now being used. Pictures are also sent by telegraphy. Here you can see some of them being received over Cable and Wireless circuits from the other side of the world.

Telegraphy and telephony depend just as much on the wires that carry the current as on the terminal equipment. The most difficult problems arose when it came to laying them under water. Perhaps the greatest landmark in past development was the completion of the first successful Atlantic cable in 1866. Of recent advances the most remarkable is the production of the submarine repeater – an amplifier which runs for years without attention on the bed of the sea.

The present-day British cable system is a net around the world, physically linking the countries of the Commonwealth, and many others besides.

Early developments in the telephone were chiefly due to Alexander Graham Bell, a Scotsman who lived and worked in America. Admittedly, the British were slow in following them up, but our modern telephone service has a number of achievements to its credit. One of these is the unattended automatic telephone exchange used in the more remote country districts.

Radio Communication

20160315 71In discovering the principles of radio and in their application this country has played an outstanding part. The basic discoveries are shown in the Dome, in this section we are more concerned with the development of radio to the indispensable position it now holds, as a service for all manner of activities. It is still a peculiarly live subject, in which important advances occur almost yearly. The display in this section shows some of the newest techniques used. They vary from the passing of large numbers of messages on point-to-point services, to police work, where radio is now established as a primary aid.

Radio, as the principal means by which ships and aircraft now maintain contact with their bases, is displayed on the first floor of this section together with other radio aids to navigation. It is, of course, the chief method used nowadays for operating ships and aircraft, for passing weather and distress information, and for telling them their exact position at sea or in the air.

Radio Aids to Navigation

Drake’s Spanish adversaries believed that he had a magic mirror in which he could see the dispositions of their fleet. It has taken us nearly four hundred years since then to make such a device, but now we have it. It is radar – a method of seeing by means of radio waves.

British scientists developed radar in the first instance to meet a military need, but now it is being freely applied for civil purposes. This section shows how it is used for supervising aircraft from the ground, or vessels from the shore, and how it aids the navigation of aircraft and ships whether in daylight, darkness or fog.

To illustrate the use of harbour radar, a modern equipment is working in the Pavilion. It covers the Thames in the neighbourhood of the Exhibition, showing the visitor the passage of craft which he cannot see directly with his eyes.

Sound Broadcasting and Recording

The importance of sound broadcasting as a world-wide medium of communication is illustrated in the “Land” section of the Dome of Discovery. Here, on the top floor of the “Transport” Pavilion, the displays relate more particularly to modern receiving equipment, both for specialist purposes and for general listening. It is shown, too, what is being done in this country to overcome the great problem of modern broadcasting – the difficulty of fitting the large number of programmes demanded into the relatively narrow band of frequencies that is available.

The demonstrations here also illustrate the high quality of sound reproduction of which modern equipment is now capable.


The science of sending moving pictures by radio is largely an international one, but, like many other electrical developments of the last fifty years, it stems from the original discoveries of Sir J. J. Thomson.

Britain was the first country to institute a public high-definition television service. It started in 1936, and the standards laid down at that time are still in successful use to-day. The British system is still the best compromise between cost and performance for black and white television. Nevertheless, British manufacturers are making television equipment suitable for any of the systems used by other countries.

Television as a medium of entertainment is displayed in its own Pavilion on the other side of Hungerford Bridge. Here, in the “Transport” Pavilion, the displays are concerned more with modern technical developments and problems of a young and rapidly growing means of communication for which many new applications are already apparent. Here are examples of really up-to-date technical and scientific endeavour in a subject of which we all have some personal experience.