PO Radio Laboratory - Backwell - April 2017

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dead format

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Preface

Myself and my mentor/exploring partner Electric had been to the DP meetup.. We were staying overnight in a quirky little hotel. Staring a ceramic toad and a portrait of a cat in the eye, still half-dressed from the night before and feeling a little slowed down by prosecco and ale, I realised 4 years of no reports was unacceptable. I needed to dig the camera out and actually document what we do. Perhaps pre-empting this, I had already thrown the little used LowePro sack into the boot of the car. After a hearty breakfast – surreally taken on a single table with every other guest in the hotel sitting at it – Electric and I headed on to our first location of the Sunday.

The Venue

The site itself is very derelict by now. Sadly, it seems that some “guests” have moved in at some point. Domestic rubbish and a burnt-out caravan remained on site. And of course, sadly many elements of the site have been ripped apart. However, after a while, many parts of the original use as a PO/BT building came through - and I was surpised how well they had lasted.. In the following report I will try to give an overview of the site in its current state; some focus on the ‘interesting’ bits that remain as well as a little bit of processing (sorry in advance – just to get my mojo back with PhotoShop).
The site now has another Planning Dept. notice up next to it, and the outcome looks like houses will be going up pretty soon.

As for the history of the site, Electric has once again used his excellent sources, skills and archives to piece together a pretty fantastic history of the place. It was a lot more than I expected when we first approached the site:

Backwell PO Lab first came about around 1937. Some of its first work was related to developing cooling systems for telephone exchanges. It was a highly sensitive operation in its early years. Following a number of thefts, the 'White House' - the curved building - gained a night watchman. There was also an on site fire station which seems to have been later used as a vehicle maintanance area. It operated in conjunction with the Castleton station by 1945, and mid-war it was used to relay VHF Television signals- this was one of the first stations to be experimenting with this. By 1958 it was working in conjunction with a station in Slough, and they were working on Tropospheric tests (no idea). The final experiment was for 120MBPS Data links with Castleton again – after which it closed down in 1975. Ultimately this means that Backwell had a hell of a lot to do with early TV broadcast. There is even a reference to it being involved with the first overseas TV broadcast. Looking at some of the remaining equipment, I personally believe the site was still in use for some sort of British Telecom work in the early 1980’s – maybe for training or storage etc. It was sold in 1993.

The Explore

We used my car for the Bristol trip. This meant we had to arrive in a million-pound-plus neighbourhood, in a less than conspicuous car. Blending in ‘perfectly’, we smiled warmly and bellowed a hearty hello at the tweed and Barbour clad dog walker as we walked towards the entrance. At the main gate for the site, we found a fresh padlock and chain wrapped around the high gate, so had to take the long way around. Just as we were getting swamped by springs finest foliage, I started to hear voices. Of course, noises travel further in the countryside. But after the third voice we knew there were people about. The next ten minutes was spent sitting down in a bramble bush. After a bit of time passed, we finally got comfy and considered taking lunch in the bush. But with the voices having died off, we plodded on – slightly aware we may meet people inside - and aimed for the far end of the site. Somehow, I managed to miss the cut through and we ended up at an outbuilding. So without further ado, I’ll walk you through out version of events at PO Backwell in 2017…

The first building – furthest from the entrance – was empty inside, less a few telephone junction boxes. It was nicely decayed, although someone had tried to burn the door down. All the electric metal oil heaters were rotted together and stacked up in the adjoining shed.

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The courtyard is littered with traveller detritus. That said, it was so peaceful here with amazing views over the hills. The buildings are all without glass, and the front of the upper floor extension on the workshop building has all but collapsed.

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The rooms were by and large the same. A few fixtures remaining. Light switches gone in many but no sign of serious metal thieves. The plant room was fairly intact. The rest of it was mainly peely paint and smashed porcelain.


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This next bit is one of the remaining insights to the site. It’s one of the main telecom rooms for the site – the wooden cabinet is quite well preserved and was used for patching the internal phone lines and PA system together. The Test Units have labels on from the early 1980’s suggesting the site was still maintained for a while.

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The fire station/motor workshop - complete with vehicle pit and metal racking.

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And finally - just because

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So that's it. A very peaceful explore overall (once the voices had dissapeared). I expected a trashed site, so went in with the mindset of focusing on the history and trying to spot signs of its previous use. I hope we have brought you a slightly different insight to what seems to be a forgotten part of the history of broadcast! Any criticism or input warmly recieved however!

You'll be hearing more from me soon - sooner than 4 years :p

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krela

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You definitely need to post more reports. :) Thanks for posting this, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Oh and Backwell is most definitely not a million pound plus kinda area. It's actually quite poor!
 

dead format

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You definitely need to post more reports. :) Thanks for posting this, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Oh and Backwell is most definitely not a million pound plus kinda area. It's actually quite poor!

Thanks Krela :D. Ah - I never thought to check the value really. I was clearly bought in by envy of the chap we saws outfit!
 

Gromr

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A very well written report I must say, very much enjoyed that! I echo Krela, post more reports!

It was good to meet you at the DP meet :D
 

Brewtal

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Oh that peel in the 3rd last pic, love it! Great report and some quality pics. Really enjoyed your write up too. Glad you are back out there, look forward to seeing more from you!
 

prettyvacant71

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I feel like I know the place after that report and walk through, very nice indeed, thank you:)

"traveller detritus"...I've never heard the mess put so politely lol
 

fluffy5518

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Top notch reporting !! Think i'll have to try this place out !!
PS Great to meet you and Electric at the doooo !!
 

Electric

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It was really enjoyable, lovely weather, great views and not a needle in sight. Well done to Somerset for keeping their crud clean!

Right then. I'm off to pull my finger out and upload some then and now pictures from doing the research.


PS Great to meet you and Electric at the doooo !!
Thanks fluffy, great to meet you and everyone else too. I for one really enjoyed it.
 

oldscrote

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My dad worked for the GPO as a telephone engineer and the earlier vans had racking in the back and the bottom section looked like the racks you photographed.You can just about make them out in this photo.

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jsp77

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Great report Dead Format, nice write up and commentary with the photos. Looking forward to the next one.
 
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