The Friends of Hilbre Newsletter 
Volume 1, Issue 17, January 2006 - Online version


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Open Days.
Plan Your Visit.
How to Join.
MIU Events.
Volunteers' Work.

Inside this issue:

Advance Notice of AGM.
Update on Funding.
Practical Task Days.
Calling all Craftsmen and  women.
Mobile Information Unit (MIU)
Lookout, Seal Watch and  Open Days.
The Electric Telegraph Codes which may have been used by Hilbre Telegraph Station from about 1859.
Safety Notice.
Latest Newsletter.

AGM 2006

Wednesday 24th May, 7.30pm
at West Kirby Concourse
Members, visitors and public welcome.


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Update on Funding

In the last 12 months, the Friends of Hilbre committee have been working with Mike Garbutt of Wirral Borough Council to apply for high level funding. There is a lot of hard work ahead. Smaller local funds have allowed us to buy reference books which are now available for use by organised study parties, from schools and colleges. For booking these group visits, (at present with no shelter on offer), please check with the Rangers:

Wirral Country Park: 0151 648 4371 and Dave Cavanagh, Hilbre Island: 0151 632 4455

© Val Burnett
It is hoped, in the future, to develop the former Buoy Master's complex of Victorian
buildings into a community study centre - the Hilbre Island Centre.

Hilbre’s development project must be suitable for the natural history and buildings on the island. The 2 storey Victorian house and its annexes are earmarked as a community study facility, the Hilbre island Centre, without spoiling its old features. Plans are afoot to build 2 compost toilets, and to lay on limited supplies of water. Users will need to practise strict conservation of water and butane gas. The slip way is still in a poor state, but we are continuing to try for funding. It is an essential part of Hilbre’s landscape.

The Hilbre Lifeboat Station was built about 1839 and used until 1939

  Stormy conditions of the past few years have
 caused severe damage to the lifeboat slipway
  Sandstone blocks from the lifeboat slipway have
been scattered around the northern shore of Hilbre
  Temporary repair work was carried out in December 2004
 to help counteract further erosion of the stub end of the
lifeboat slipway. Major reconstruction work is still needed
  Workmen spraying a concrete capping on the
stub end of the lifeboat slipway
  All photographs above © Val Burnett
Other large donations received by the Friends from the Hilbre Court public house, Wirral Footpaths and Open Spaces Preservation Society, Wirral Borough Council and anonymous local people are all contributing. We now have new benches, reference books, and soon a telescope, for use by the Hilbre Island Centre, even before it opens its doors. We hope that the buildings will eventually give shelter to organised study visits during the daytime.

Right: Two new benches have been provided by the Friends of Hilbre with funds donated by the Wirral Footpaths and Open Spaces Preservation Society.
© Val Burnett

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Practical Task Days 

The Friends of Hilbre carry out a variety of practical and conservation tasks on the island including bracken pulling, litter picking, repairing and building erosion walls, cleaning buildings, painting internal and external walls, fencing and litter picking. No experience is necessary to join in. All tools and equipment will be provided but make sure that you bring suitable footwear and clothing.

Right: Exploring Shell Beach on a Family Walk to Hilbre, © Val Burnett

This year there will be 8 events, 4 on Saturdays and 4 on Sundays. In addition, in September we will have a family evening for members’ families out on the island. As we stay over High Tide each time, do remember to bring a packed lunch and water.

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Calling all Craftsmen and Women

We have started cleaning and repairing the Buoy Master’s House, ready to make it available for community courses and visits. Professional plasterers, plumbers and joiners will probably be employed by the Council to do the final jobs, but we and other voluntary groups can do a lot to save costs, and to speed up the time scale, by doing some of the work ourselves, under the supervision of the Rangers. Would any qualified crafts people who are members of the Friends be willing to give some of their time to help us? All our volunteers are covered by insurance, which we arrange through the BCTV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers). Your help will be very welcome, and in a good cause.

Right: Volunteers re-pointing small erosion walls on Hilbre Island, © Val Burnett.

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  Mobile Information Unit (MIU)

Friends of Hilbre members staff the Wirral Ranger Service mobile information unit (MIU) on selected dates between March and October at Dee Lane slipway, West Kirby. Bookings for other events/venues will be arranged throughout the year. New volunteers are always welcome to join the team. If you feel unable to help perhaps you would like to visit us at the MIU?

Right: Members staff the rangers' mobile information unit at Dee Lane, West Kirby once a month between March and October, © Val Burnett.

Volunteers need:
• An awareness of the work The Friends of Hilbre are involved in for the benefit of Hilbre Island.
• An ability to communicate with members of the public with diplomacy.
• A curiosity about other people’s memories of the Hilbre Islands.
• Knowledge about the different aspects of the Hilbre Islands and the Dee Estuary is useful but not essential, it can be fun learning!

Volunteers can also:
• Arrange the display material that provides information about Hilbre Islands.
• Take monies for the sale of goods.
• Contribute ideas for suitable sale goods, fundraising activities/events.

Dates for the MIU in 2006 can be found on the Events page.

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Lookout, Seal Watch and Open Days

On some days about 500 Atlantic Grey Seals haul-out on
the West Hoyle Bank on the Dee Estuary,
Richard Smith

Staffing the Telegraph Office Information Centre and seal watch involves providing information to visitors to the island. We’ll be using our new telescope to help members of the public get a closer look at our local seal colony. No previous experience is necessary, as we’ll equip you with the information you need. 8 events are scheduled, all on Sundays, over low tide around mid-day. Dates

Dates for Lookout, Seal Watch and Open Days in 2006 can be found on the Open Days page.

Volunteers for all work must be over 18 years old and members of the Friends of Hilbre.
If you wish to become a member please contact us via our e-mail address:

The Electric Telegraph Codes which may have been used by
Hilbre Telegraph Station from about 1859

Hilbre Island Telegraph Station, © Val Burnett.

I had the pleasure to meet two of your volunteers around midday on 14th August last year at the Telegraph Station. Jokingly I expressed my dismay at not seeing any old Morse keys and this comment led to quite a pleasant, friendly and interesting discussion with the two ladies present. I can now pass on the following promised information:

In 1800 an Italian Physicist, Alessandro Volta invented the first ever battery; the Voltaic Pile. Up until then all experiments with the Electric Fluid (electricity) were carried out using Influence Machines, most of which were driven by hand (by servants of course) and were mostly rich people's playthings. With the arrival of the Voltaic pile, experimenters no longer needed to rely on their influence machines, as the Voltaic pile gave them a continuous supply of electricity for their experiments and in 1820 a Danish Physicist, Hans Christiaan Oersted, discovered that a flow of the electric fluid along a wire created a magnetic field around itself. This was followed up by other experimenters and soon electromagnets, of varying design, efficiency, and degrees of strength, were being constructed.

An American, Joseph Henry, improved on the basic electromagnet (he made one which could lift one ton of iron, powered by batteries! The mind boggles!) and demonstrated in about 1830 a telegraph system over a mile of copper wire. The messages were passed by strokes on a bell and a simple code was used for this. Following the success of this demonstration, several other methods of using the electric telegraph were invented, all around the World, some of them using up to 70 wires to accommodate all the required characters! Wheatstone's telegraph 1837 is probably the most well known of these; it used a set of compass needles pivoted appropriately to point at the desired letter on a diamond shaped board, when the electric current was sent through its various electromagnetic coils.

London and Paris were linked by the first submarine telegraph cable in 1854, and 1858 finally saw the successful laying of a cable across the Atlantic; then New York and San Francisco were linked in 1861. These were early days and the knowledge of the 'electric fluid' was far from complete. Many problems were encountered especially with the long submarine cables where the conducting wires were of necessity very close to each other and to the Earth. This led to the introduction of various codes where currents (of equal time) were driven in opposite directions for some of the transmitted characters. Most of these early systems appear to have used bells or relays at the receiving end. Following the invention of the Morse code there was an international agreement for the use of these bell codes and the new International Bell Code was developed to correspond with the Morse code. The word HILBRE for instance would be sent in IBC as:

ding, ding, ding, ding, pause, ding, ding, pause, ding, dong, ding, ding,
pause, dong, ding, ding, ding, pause, ding, dong, ding, pause, ding.

In Morse: di, di, di, dit, pause di, dit, pause di, dah di, dit, pause, dah, di, di, dit, pause, di, dah dit, pause, dit. (There is no difference between the di, and the dit; it simply makes the rhythm of each letter easier to recognise)

On land however the system worked slightly better, as the wires were supported away from the Earth and separated on the tops of poles. In 1837 another American, Samuel Morse, invented the Morse code which is still in use today. Using the Earth as a return conductor, only one wire was needed for the Morse code system of telegraphy, and although very skilled operators were required it quickly superseded all of the other different code systems.

Hilbre’s Telegraph was converted to an electric cable telegraph system in about 1859, the cable passing under the River Dee, and then eastward to Hoylake shore, marked by a post still visible near the Keeper’s Slip Way
© Frank Buxton

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Member’s articles are welcome. They may be edited to fit the available space. Please send your contributions by e-mail to:


Always check the tides before going out to Hilbre. Tides change each day. Use the safe route, it is dangerous to use any other route. For full details of when to cross safely and the safest route to Hilbre see our Planning your visit to Hilbre Island page.

PLEASE NOTE: All articles and photographs in this web site are ©  COPYRIGHT of Friends of Hilbre unless specifically otherwise stated.

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© Colin Jones