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Old 29th May 2020, 7:16 pm   #1
Sparks
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Default BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Are these and similar towers across the UK still being used for their original microwave relay purpose ? The reason I ask is that the one at Tinshill, not far from home, is apparently bare of all visible antennae. Over the decades I've seen it crammed with microwave dishes and horn antennae and extended upwards. Then the horns were gradually removed and replaced with more dishes. Finally, the dishes began to disappear to the point there doesn't appear to be a single one left. I drove past the site yesterday and it looked like it had been left derelict. I hope this isn't the case - the skyline wouldn't be the same without the Tinshill Tower.

I wonder if it, and its Chiltern chums, are now listed buildings?
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Old 29th May 2020, 7:29 pm   #2
paulsherwin
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

I don't know if they are all abandoned, but the microwave network they supported is no longer in use, which is why they no longer have visible horns or dishes. This is also true of the PO/BT/Telecom Tower in London.

They were built in the early 60s, essentially for the Backbone military comms project which transferred air defence radar plots from around the country to UK and Nato command bunkers. Backbone was also used to communicate with various military and government bunkers, who could join the network by emerging from their holes in the ground and inserting a temporary antenna into the microwave beam. Their basic structure was designed to survive a near miss from a nuclear warhead, though obviously they wouldn't be functional without repairs.

(I think this is all declassified now )

Civilian users did use Backbone as there was normally massive excess capacity. The Post Office used it for telephone circuits, and the BBC/ITA used it to distribute TV services.
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Old 29th May 2020, 7:37 pm   #3
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Not that it answers the question but there's quite some information here:
http://dgsys.co.uk/btmicrowave/
about the whole backbone network. Pye Green is near me, but it's only recently I've realised that some structures in places I've visited are related.

EDIT: apparently Pye Green is being used for FM and DAB.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:10 pm   #4
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Thankyou Paul and Duncan. I've always been fascinated by these towers. It's only in the last ten years or so I've learned that the Tinshill, Pye Green and other towers were all the same design, albeit different heights. The Tinshill one is the shortest on account of its site being some 700 feet amsl. I'd love to visit but I'm afraid it may be beyond its glory days. I don't even know if BT still own or manage the facility.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:19 pm   #5
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Would that be the same for the Stokenchurch BT Tower?
That was built for microwave transmissions as i recall?
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:20 pm   #6
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Stokenchurch is indeed another Chiltern tower.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:20 pm   #7
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

I've always been fascinated by the"Chilton" a mile away from here at Heaton Park, although apparently it was not part of the backbone network.
I took this picture in about 1965 with my Kodak Brownie 127

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I do have a companion image I tool from the same viewpoint somewhere of what it looks like now, but in its absence you can see its rise and decline to s shadow of its former self here.
https://mapio.net/pic/p-7866319/

When asked about it my BT friend always gives the same answer, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Microwave links are secure partly because of their small beam-width,

but in the other hand...
https://mapio.net/pic/p-7866319/
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:21 pm   #8
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Not all the Backbone towers were these fortress like concrete structures. Some were just steel lattice towers.

I don't think they can be listed structures. There was considerable opposition to their construction, because they are large blast resistant buildings built in highly visible locations. I'd imagine it would be a fair old job to demolish them though.

Robert Harris's recent novel The Second Sleep is partly set in an unnamed Backbone tower and its associated bunker, 800 years into the future.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:26 pm   #9
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

rambo, it will be the same story for all these microwave towers. Obsolete but still standing. I wonder if the structures would support conversion to posh apartments ?
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:26 pm   #10
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

I went up to Ozleworth Tower on Sunday (20 miles north of Bath) for a spot of FM DXing. This is one of the few concrete microwave towers and is visible from ten miles away appearing as a lighthouse. Not much left there now, looking decidingly bare, just a cold war monument.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:30 pm   #11
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

I think if there were ever plans to demolish them there would be significant opposition. They have all been around for several decades, the original detractors are most likely dead and the younger generations have grown up alongside them. They're not pretty but then neither is the Trellick Tower and that has Grade 2 status.

They're probably riddled with asbestos too, an awful lot of it.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:32 pm   #12
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Quote:
Originally Posted by paulsherwin View Post
Not all the Backbone towers were these fortress like concrete structures. Some were just steel lattice towers.
Yes absolutely. One above a campsite we stayed at looked like a TV repeater but I couldn't get a decent signal, so looked it up and found out why (Pale Heights). Another, close to where I used to live is such an odd design I wondered what it was for (Twycross).
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:34 pm   #13
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Quote:
Originally Posted by rambo1152 View Post
I've always been fascinated by the"Chilton" a mile away from here at Heaton Park, although apparently it was not part of the backbone network.
It is (or was).
http://www.dgsys.co.uk/btmicrowave/sites/115.php

EDIT:
And interestingly the next in the chain to Pale Heights I mentioned a minute ago.

Second EDIT: reading the info although it was part of the microwave network, apparently not the backbone itself. Quite right. Sorry.

Last edited by duncanlowe; 29th May 2020 at 8:41 pm.
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Old 29th May 2020, 8:45 pm   #14
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

The government was always keen to play down the essentially military nature of the Backbone system, though I doubt if the Russians were fooled. The cover story was always that the network was needed to distribute 625 line (and, later, colour) TV signals.
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Old 29th May 2020, 9:36 pm   #15
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

What I assume is one of the lattice towers is still standing at Kelvedon Hatch, just off the A128 between Brentwood and Ongar, conveniently located near the Secret Nuclear Bunker. It does have a much larger base than you might expect for a structure of its height, no doubt to provide extreme stability to cope with a nuclear explosion.

I have a colour slide of a tower on a ridge somewhere along the A40 that I took from the coach on a school trip to Oxford in 1964, before it was fitted out with dishes. My college arranged us to visit the London Post Office Tower in November 1968. Unfortunately it was so misty we could only just see the ground from the top, so we didn't experience the spectacular view we had heard about. We did get a tour that included the rotating restaurant (viewing, not tasting), microwave dishes and the electronics, but commercial telecomms, TV and radio were the only traffic that was mentioned. In one room, one wall was occupied by a bank of TV monitors, and the adjacent wall had empty racks that we were told was for future expansion of the TV service. Those racks were covered with pictures of TV monitors, because, so they said, this looked better than empty racks in publicity photos.

Last edited by emeritus; 29th May 2020 at 10:01 pm. Reason: Typo
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Old 29th May 2020, 9:38 pm   #16
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Quote:
Originally Posted by duncanlowe View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by rambo1152 View Post
I've always been fascinated by the"Chilton" a mile away from here at Heaton Park, although apparently it was not part of the backbone network.
It is (or was).
http://www.dgsys.co.uk/btmicrowave/sites/115.php

EDIT:
And interestingly the next in the chain to Pale Heights I mentioned a minute ago.

Second EDIT: reading the info although it was part of the microwave network, apparently not the backbone itself. Quite right. Sorry.
I'm almost embarrassed to mention my Pale Heights anecdote, when I was 7/8 I was at a boarding school nearby, one day my classmates went for a ramble through Delamere Forest and ended up at a place called The Old Pale.
For some reason I didn't go, but when they returned they told me about this radio tower. I must have expressed interest and one of the girls insisted that some of them climbed the tower and a man at the top opened a trap door and let them in and look around. It was years before I realized she was teasing me.

The next time I saw mention of Pale Heights was when I visited the Network Control Room at Granada TV in the mid '80s and saw it on a map on the wall of communication routes.
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Old 29th May 2020, 9:50 pm   #17
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Quote:
Originally Posted by emeritus View Post
I have a colour slide of a tower on a ridge somewhere along the A40 that I took from the coach on a school trip to Oxford in 1964, before it was fitted out with dishes.
Probably Stokenchurch. It's very visible as you approach the 'grand canyon' on the M40 travelling from Oxford, though obviously none of that was there in 1964.
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Old 29th May 2020, 11:29 pm   #18
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Quote:
Originally Posted by newlite4 View Post
I went up to Ozleworth Tower on Sunday (20 miles north of Bath) for a spot of FM DXing. This is one of the few concrete microwave towers and is visible from ten miles away appearing as a lighthouse ...
Stokenchurch is visible, on a 'good' day (and haven't we had a lot of those recently !) from more than 20 miles away. My old eyes have seen it, while out on exercise walks, from the prehistoric 'Old Street' track between Farnborough (Berks) and West Ilsley, close to OS ref SU 448 822 in the last few weeks. You do have to know which dip on the Chilterns horizon to stare into, but if you do then it appears there as a short needle.

Cheers,

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Old 29th May 2020, 11:37 pm   #19
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

My Wife is originally from the Tinshill area. Her Grandmother always referred to the tower as the lighthouse.
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Old 29th May 2020, 11:47 pm   #20
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Default Re: BT 'Chiltern' telecom towers

Quote:
Originally Posted by paulsherwin View Post
The government was always keen to play down the essentially military nature of the Backbone system, though I doubt if the Russians were fooled. The cover story was always that the network was needed to distribute 625 line (and, later, colour) TV signals.
I never heard that one before! My understanding is that it had always been a phone and comms infrastructure, nothing secret, (yeah, maybe some military/government stuff in there too) and has simply been made redundant since the network was transferred to fibre.
I'm sure though that the fibre network has its military/gov component as well...

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