The Telegraph had been a beer shop since 1856, and perhaps even earlier, but on March 30th 1861 an inn licence was applied for, stables were later built, and one James-Wigley became its first innkeeper.
The inn was of course named after the admiralty telegraph that stood nearby. It had been there since 1796 and was originally a shutter station – a large frame with six shutters. This was replaced in 1822 with a mast and two ’arms’. Perhaps the inn’s original name, The Telegraph Arms, was an intentional pun.
The Telegraph had been set up to convey messages between London and Portsmouth at a time when fears of a Napoleonic attack were rife. The chain of 10 telegraph stations started with the admiralty, then continued at Chelsea, Putney, Kingston Hill, Cooper Hill and so on down to Portsmouth. The last remaining link in the chain is the semaphore tower at Chatley Heath in Surrey which has been restored and is open to public.
The Telegraph survived until December 1847 by which time electronic systems, invented in 1838, were being used. The electronic telegraph of course did not have the same drawbacks to face as the shutter system – such as fog.
Sometimes, messages would be received at Putney from Portsmouth, but because of the London fog they could not be transmitted to Chelsea. On these occasions, one of the operators would have to run from Putney to Chelsea and deliver the message personally. For this he would be paid a shilling.
When the telegraph station finally closed on December 31st 1847 its last superintendent was Lieutenant Lardner Dennys – a veteran the battle of Trafalgar. He and his family were allowed to stay on at the telegraph station for a year until he found an alternative situation. It has been suggested that it may have been he who started the beer shop, but this has not been substantiated.
Today the name of the inn keeps alive the memory of the telegraph station and the pub itself is a popular attraction despite being tucked away in the middle of Putney Heath.
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