The museum is now closed for the winter except by appointment. Reopening on 1st April.
Neil Wilson, 5 Anchor Street, Watchet, TA23 0AZ
Mobile: 07544 620 621
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Website maintained by Geoff Newland
We are in the centre of Watchet on the West Somerset coast. There is a car park opposite.
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Visit Watchet: https://www.visit-watchet.co.uk
The entrance Home ↑
Transmitter unit from BBC Moorside Edge Home ↑
Early 1920s Home ↑
Late 1920s - Early 1930s Home ↑
Early 1930s Home ↑
Mid 1930s Home ↑
Late 1930s Home ↑
Early 1940s Home ↑
Late 1940s - Early 1950s Home ↑
BBC Midget disc recorders 1944 Home ↑
1950s Home ↑
1960s Home ↑
BBC 'Longden' Outside Broadcast desk and a selection of portable tape machines - Uher 4000 Report Monitor, Ficord 1A and EMI RD4-1 Home ↑
BBC DRT/2 Transportable Disc Player Home ↑
BBC Local Radio MkIII desk from BBC Radio Brighton (the turntables were originally on the left) Home ↑
BBC LSU/4A Loudspeaker c.1939 Home ↑
BBC Microphones Home ↑
BBC OBA/8 Outside Broadcast Equipment 1938 Home ↑
BBC OBA/9 Outside Broadcast Equipment 1952 Home ↑
BBC Type A studio desk 1945 Home ↑
BBC Type C Mobile Disc Recorder, BBC LSU-7 Monitor Loudspeaker and BBC-Marconi AXBT microphone Home ↑
BBC Type D Continuity Desk 1970s Home ↑
EMI BTR/2 Tape Recorder Home ↑
WWII Forces Equipment Home ↑
In this video, Paul Kerensa of The British Broadcasting Century Podcast chats to Neil and sees everything from early BBC microphones to vintage TVs, via transmitters and radio sets from every decade of the last 100 years. The first Radio Times rubs shoulders with WW2-era mobile recording devices. Plus literature, early BBC gramophone records, and the archive of announcer Stuart Hibberd.
7 Feb 2013 BBC's Antiques Roadtrip visited Washford Radio Museum at Tropiquaria Somerset.
Designed to serve most of the South West of England and South Wales, the West Regional Transmitting Station at Washford Cross, was the fourth built as part of the BBC's 'Regional Scheme' and was opened in May 1933.
The BBC's first Chief Engineer, Capt. P. P. Eckersley originally proposed the Regional Scheme around 1924, the intention being to replace the existing low-power transmitters serving major towns and cities with high-power stations that would cover whole regions of the British Isles. The limited number of wavelengths available made coverage of the entire country impossible with low-powered stations as synchronisation of transmitter wavelengths to the required degree of accuracy was not possible at the time.
The Scheme started with the opening, in 1929, of a twin transmitter station at Brookmans Park to serve London and the South East of England. This was followed by similar stations for the North Region in 1931, the Scottish Region in 1932 and the West Region in 1933.
The West Regional station housed two 50 kilowatt transmitters designed for the Regional Scheme by BBC engineers and manufactured by Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co. at Chelmsford. They fed aerials attached to two 152m (500ft) high masts, one radiating the 'National Programme' and the other, the new 'West Regional Programme'. By the time the National transmitter became operational, the synchronisation of transmitter wavelengths to the accuracy required to avoid reception problems in regions of service area overlap, had become possible. The National transmitters of Washford and Brookmans Park became the first high-power transmitters to share a wavelength.
By 1937, with the National Programme being easily available from the Droitwich transmitter, this service was discontinued from Washford and a new 'Welsh Regional Programme' was begun. However, coverage of the West Regional Programme was not as good throughout the South West of England as had been hoped and new stations at Clevedon near Bristol and Start Point on the south coast took over the West Regional service in 1939.
At the outbreak of World War Two, Washford, along with other BBC transmitters broadcast only the 'Home Service', but later the 'Forces Programme' was broadcast at various times also. With a return to peacetime programming, Washford broadcast the Welsh Home Service from July 1945.
In 1949, the building was modified and extended to accommodate a new Standard Telephones and Cables CM10 transmitter. This unit consisted of two 100kW transmitters capable of being operated in parallel and replaced one of the original Marconi 'Regional' transmitters. One half of the CM10 took over broadcasting the Welsh Home Service in March 1950.
On 30th September 1967, the BBC launched its 'Popular Music Programme', Radio 1 and this was broadcast from the other half of the CM10 transmitter. On the same day the Welsh Home Service was renamed Radio 4 Wales the name changing again to Radio Wales in November 1978.
Towards the end of the 1970's the whole station was re-engineered for unattended operation and virtually all the original equipment was scrapped. Three new air-cooled Marconi transmitters were installed in the former Machine Room for Radio Wales on 882kHz (100kW), Radio 1 on 1089kHz (50kW) and Radio 3 on 1215kHz (50kW).
The front half of the building was no longer required by the BBC but was saved from demolition when the whole station was given Grade 2 listing by English Heritage in 1984. Various schemes were put forward for use of the redundant Transmitter Hall, Control Rooms and offices including plans for a swimming pool and, in August 1986, a Trust House Forte restaurant in the grounds. However, the building remained empty until, in August 1987, planning permission was granted for conversion to a tourist attraction containing animals, tropical plants, children's' playground and café facilities.
Tropiquaria opened to the public in May 1989 with heating provided by waste air from the transmitter cooling system in the adjacent part of the building. The Radio Museum (Wireless in the West), designed to give visitors an idea of the building's history and purpose, opened in April 1993.
Early in 1993, the BBC gave up use of the 1215kHz frequency which was taken over by Virgin Radio in April. They replaced the Marconi transmitter with a more efficient Harris DX50 unit. The 1089kHz frequency was given up in July 1994 and taken over a few weeks later by Talkradio UK who also replaced their Marconi transmitter with a Harris DX50.
In March 1997, all the BBC's domestic transmitting stations were taken over by Castle Transmission International (later to become Crown Castle UK Ltd.)
In 2022 the 100kW Marconi transmitter was removed and replaced with a 10kW Nortel unit. The Marconi transmitter had been broadcasting Radio Wales on 882kHz since the station was re-engineered in 1978. It appeared that all medium wave Radio services were being run down.
The original Washford Radio Museum opened in May 1993 at Tropiquaria. My aim was to give some idea of the intriguing history of the Washford Transmitting Station and its masts, as well as its part in the development of radio broadcasting. The Washford Radio Museum told the story of the BBC's West Regional Station from its inauguration in 1933 to its present use by Arqiva to broadcast BBC Radio Wales, Absolute Radio and TalkSport to the South West of England and South Wales.
Once the museum had become established, its initial meagre collection of radio receivers was gradually augmented by donations as well as my personal acquisitions. One of the more important items in the museum was a major part of a BBC transmitter, identical to what would have been in use at the Washford Station.
By 2014, I decided to move the museum to its new home, the former Anchor Inn, which was purchased the following year. Inside the building I have created a time-line of radio and television history depicting its development through the exhibits. In addition, I have an extensive archive of literature, sound recordings and service data for old equipment. I often receive requests for help in researching BBC history, from the UK and other countries or in restoring vintage radios, and it is always gratifying that my acquisition of obsolete literature is able to help them!
Back in 2015, when considering purchasing the Anchor Inn as a museum for my collection of vintage radio equipment, I made an interesting discovery during an unofficial viewing of the property. In a shed behind the skittle alley was the former Whitbread pub sign which had once hung outside the Anchor.
When the purchase was completed in May 2015, I looked forward to displaying the old sign in a corner of the Radio Museum which I intended to devote to the history of the building. However, when I went in search of the sign I had seen only few weeks before, I was disappointed to find it had disappeared.
I had no idea where it had gone. Was it taken by Enterprise Inns when they removed all the pub signage (including the later hanging sign) and fittings shortly before the sale? Had somebody discovered its location and "liberated" it? Or had it been hidden there by a local person who had returned to collect it?
For a while afterwards, I searched Ebay in case it came up for sale but succeeded only in finding an example of a picture card depicting the Anchor sign:
For a few years I forgot about the sign, presuming it to be permanently lost, until I decided to search the internet again. This time, to my amazement, an image of the actual sign that I remembered seeing in the shed appeared on the screen.
Despite there being many pubs with similar names, I believe that every pub sign bears an image unique to that establishment, so I was in no doubt that this picture was of the sign that once hung outside the Anchor in Watchet
The sign can be dated to within a period of about forty years. I have a photograph from 1957 which shows no hanging sign except a small one inscribed simply The Anchor Hotel. In 1959, Whitbread started buying shares in the former owners of the Anchor, brewers Starkey, Knight & Ford, eventually taking over the company completely in December 1962 with 400 tied houses.
At this time, Starkey's had breweries in Tiverton and Bridgwater although the Northgate Brewery in Bridgwater was closed by Whitbreads shortly after the takeover. After 1962, bottled beers such as Tivyy Pale and Tivvy Brown continued to be brewed at Tiverton and sold under the Starkey, Knight & Ford name. Then the brand disappeared completely, when in 1970 the West Country division was renamed Whitbread Devon Ltd. An aerial photograph from 1966 shows some sort of hanging sign, but the fascia still bears the inscription "Starkey's Prize Medal Ales".
In 2001, Whitbread sold their breweries and brewing interests to Belgium-based Interbrew, then in the following year, all their pubs, including the Anchor, were sold to Enterprise Inns. It was presumably at around this time that the Whitbread sign was removed and replaced
Unfortunately, the image of the sign which I had found was on the website of an auctioneer situated in California, USA. The auction date was nearly two years earlier in October 2018 but, after signing up to the website, I was able to discover that the sign had not sold. This gave me renewed hope that it may still be for sale somewhere, but having emailed the auction house twice in the hope of getting further information, I have not received a reply. It seems that for now, at least, the trail has gone cold.
Later when recounting this story to a friend, she commented that it was unusual that the sign had made it all the way across the Atlantic when, most things that came out of the Anchor had difficulty making it across the street!
I would be very pleased to hear from anyone with pictures or information relating to the Anchor's history.