Hastings Birthplace of Mechanical Television – by John Heys G3BDQ

I’m sorry I was not present at the recent Club meeting when G0EYE gave his talk on John Logie Baird.  Baird’s life has for long been very interesting’ to me, so I thought I would write something about his life during 1923-4.  Perhaps this article will fill a few gaps in the Baird story.

hastings-birthplace-of-mechanical-televisionBaird first came to Hastings in the early Spring of 1923 at the invitation of his old school friend Gavin (Guy) Fullarton Robertson. Baird always called him by his nickname ‘Mephy’ and this name was normally used when referring to Robertson. They both stayed at number 21 Linton Crescent, and together constructed a crude working model of Baird’s TV apparatus. The Linton Crescent house was owned by Mr. Charles S. Wheatley. Wheatley, his wife and three grown sons proved tolerant of Baird’s experiments. One of the sons,
Cyril, was something of an inventor himself which maybe why Baird and his friend was tolerated; the television apparatus being actually set up in one of the living rooms of number 21.

Eventually the apparatus grew so large that Baird had to rent a small workshop near Hastings Station. This property was about to be turned into a shop, so Baird in the late summer of 1923 packed up and went to Folkestone, lodging in West Terrace. His landlady soon could not put up with all the apparatus in his bedroom so he had to leave and for a short time rented space on the premises of T.C. Gilbert & Co., electrical contractors. After a few weeks he again ‘upped sticks’ and migrated to Tunbridge Wells. There he found bed and board in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Emily Grinyer. She lived at 40 Upper Grosvenor Road. It seems that his new landlady and her daughter Helena were sorry for the impoverished Baird, and many years later recalled him going around in his dressing gown, wearing socks but no slippers, Baird had been attracted to Tunbridge Wells because he knew of someone there who was experimenting with light cells; important parts of an ear1y television system.

Towards the end of 1923 Baird returned to 21 Linton Crescent in Hastings. By January 1924 he was confident enough to demonstrate his still imperfect equipment. He rented a room above the shopping arcade in central Hastings at a time co-incident with the inauguration of the Hastings, St. Leonard’s & District Radio Society. Fortunately for Baird several of the new club’s members befriended him and their considerable knowledge of valves, amplifiers and other wireless components. They offered considerable assistants to Baird. Amongst the Club characters was its President, the National celebrity, author, ex-spy etc, etc, Mr. William Le Queux, held the amateur callsign G2AZ and who had the rather dubious distinction of being the first British radio amateur to have a complete station that was professionally built. Some readers may recall my article in RADCOM a few years ago, which outlined the life story of Le Queux. A technical expert skilled in wireless matters, James Denton who had held the Experimental Licence DXV before WW1 was a supporter of Baird, as was the 22 year old Victor Mills (later to be a G6 ), Norman Blackburn (2AJB and later G2AX), N. Loxdale (a schoolboy )and club member Mr Claude Frowd. Victor Mills had a wireless shop in Hastings and he loaned Baird a powerful valve amplifier. Victor later became a teacher at the local Grammar School. Soon after WW2 I often met Norman Blackburne at his him in Turkey Road, Bexhill where his lodger was Howard Thomas G6QB, Hastings Council Organist, radio journalist and President of the post war Radio Club until its demise in 1964.

Whilst a tenant at tie Arcade premises, Baird somehow produced an explosion which had involved a 1,000 volt power supply. He suffered a nasty shock and burnt his bands badly. This explosion was the death knell of the Arcade workshop, for the infuriated landlord evicted the troublesome experimenter. After dismantling his apparatus Baird then moved everything (using Messrs. Pickfords) to two rooms in the attic of 22 Frith Street in Soho paying £2 a week rent.

In the near future I hope write a description of the events concerning Transatlantic Television transmissions in 1928.

John Heys G3BDQ from Vital Spark December 2010.

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