Telegraph poles

My mum has, in her capacity as a local historian, become interested in Witham’s telegraph poles (I only now realise I should probably call them telephone poles). Each one has certain markings and, so you can amaze your friends, here’s how to decipher them. There are three marks, one above the other, in this order:

Modern poles will have “BT”, and older ones “PO” or “GPO”.

The length (including the part of the pole below ground) is indicated in feet on older poles, in metres on newer ones. The length is decided according to the clearance required for the wires, the minimums (circa 1969!) being:

  • Roads in rural districts: 20 feet
  • Streets in towns: 22 feet
  • Railways: 22 feet
  • Trolley wires: 28 feet

Poles are of varying widths: Extra light, light, medium or stout. These are indicated either by letters (“XL”, “L”, “M”, “S”) or using crowns: 1 crown for light/extra light; 2 crowns for medium; 3 crowns for stout.

The date the pole was put up.

The markings appear 10 feet/3 metres from the bottom of the pole. On older poles the owner mark is underlined, indicating exactly 10 feet from the bottom. The markings therefore indicate how much of the pole is below ground.

I’ve seen poles in Witham that match this description and yesterday I popped out to have a look near me in Hackney, London… only to realise there aren’t any round here! If you have a chance to look at any near you, wherever that is in the country, do post a comment below.

Thanks to Geoff Fairbairn and Norman Wilson for letting me paraphrase and combine their knowledge here. I hope I haven’t hashed it up too much.


  • Barnard Hill, Muswell Hill, 21:00, 12 August: a pole feeding 30 households had no markings seemingly (though the light was fading) except a date plate - 1994.

  • What’s the spacing of the poles?

  • Some telegraph poles of what looks like small radio dishes on them

    They are used in rural locations to listen in on rural activities where illegal activities such as drug smuggling is suspected.