“Holme Moss is the wildest place I’ve ever worked” 

14 October 2020 tbs.pm/71268

 

Berwickshire News masthead

From the Berwickshire News for 23 October 1951

A builder’s nightmare is how 33-year-old Burnmouth man George Kerr describes the erection of the 750-feet high television mast at Holme Moss on a bleak moorland in the Pennines.

On Friday, B.B.C. engineer Charles Buckle flicked 42 switches and the world’s largest television transmission station came into life. Between Manchester and Huddersfield, the new station brings 11,000,000 more people into T.V. range.

The new mast at Holme Moss stands on the gale-swept moor 1,700 feet [518m] above the sea level, and the mast is four times higher than the Nelson Monument.

George Kerr, foreman on the job, says: “Holme Moss is the wildest place I’ve ever been in. It has to be seen to be believed. It blows regularly here in gusts between 70 and 90 m.p.h.” [112 to 145kph]

The building area for the huge mast, which makes the Skylon look like a street lamp post, is a soggy 15 ft. deep [4.5m] crust of peat moss, resting on shingle.

Stones had to be thawed

In this spot, throughout last winter, 60 men battled with the elements. So bitter was the cold at times that every stone had to lie thawed out at a brazier before it could be laid.

So strong were the winds that the spider-men putting up the mast were flattened, unable to move, against the girders, or were whirled in their cradles yards out into the air.

In mid-winter months Holme Moss becomes an ice-cap, isolated and inaccessible. So there is accommodation for the 24 men who will man the new station, with a store containing emergency rations.

Stands on 2-inch ball

A colourful map of the UK showing the 5 Band-I channels the BBC used

The BBC’s network of VHF Band-I transmitters by the early 1960s

The great mast rocks gently on a two-inch [5cm] steel ball, while the cables that support it are strained to take 60 tons [61,000kg] so that the maximum movement at the top is about seven feet [2.1m]. Wind gusts up to 125 miles an hour [200kph] can be withstood without danger, and the mast will support a solid half-inch [13mm] coating of ice.

The men on the job have paid tribute to Kerr and to Roy Horner, the engineer in charge, also to Tom Keefey, the leading hand “upstairs.”

Lives hung on his orders

They pay tribute to George Kerr on whose commands their lives depended when they were swinging in a bosun’s cradle.

Kerr had to keep in touch with Keefey by shouts, whistles and signals, and the teamwork had to be perfect.

There are no studios at Holme Moss, of course. It transmits the programmes from Alexandra Palace and Sutton Coldfield.

Holme Moss is a perfect site in one respect for T.V. — it is high.

The height of the moor, coupled with that of the mast, makes the aerial 2,500 feet [762m] high, and height is all-important in T.V. transmission.

Did not like farm work

George Kerr was bom at Greystones Farm, Burnmouth, and from there went to Lamberton, where his people still live at No. 15 Holding.

“I never really cared for farm life,” he says, “so I drifted around from one job to another until I started work on the R.A.F. station at Dronehill. From there I drifted around the country from one place to another on the erection of wireless and radar masts.”

He joined the Merchant Navy in 1941 and served five years. After the war he lived with his parents-in-law at East Street, Berwick, when he worked as a driver with a local taxi firm.

In May, 1949, he went back to wireless masts. He was a foreman on a grid line for eleven months in Inverness-shire on the new-hydro electric schemes. From there he went to Manchester then on to the 725-foot [220m] at Daventry. He went to Holme Moss from Daventry, and as he has already said: “It’s the wildest place I’ve ever worked.”

 


 

❛❛Russ J Graham writes: What a lovely little story. The engineers and labourers who built our system of transmitters in this country deserve more credit – it really was not an easy job.

 

 

Many of the same men who built Holme Moss would be back in 5 years to build its Lancashire neighbour, Winter Hill. This was also another nightmare build: Holme Moss’s ice and cold was supplemented with heavy snow and a driving wind that made the engineers miserable for the entire construction process.

 

 

The Holme Moss site still exists, although the mast itself has been replaced. It no longer carries television signals – it’s not in a suitable place for UHF’s comparative short range – but it now acts as a VHF/FM transmitter, bring BBC national radio and Classic FM to much of the north of England. Somewhat startlingly, it also has spot-beams to send BBC Radio Leeds, BBC Radio Sheffield and BBC Radio Manchester FM signals in the appropriate directions.

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