On 13 May 1897 radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi made history, transmitting a radio signal across open sea for the first time, from Lavernock Point, just south of Penarth, to Flat Holm island.
The previous year, Marconi had made Britain’s first wireless communication on land, and he was now keen to take the next step towards his goal of creating a system of long range wireless telecommunication. Marconi was assisted by George Kemp, who suggested the Vale’s coastline as the ideal location for the experiment. Following several days of testing, Marconi took up position in a field on Lavernock Point while his assistant George Kemp, a Cardiff-based Post Office engineer, was positioned three miles away on the island of Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel.
Transmitted in morse code, Marconi sent the first ever radio message over sea: ‘Are you ready?’, followed by ‘Can you hear me?’. Kemp replied in morse code, ‘Yes, loud and clear’.
After success between Lavernock and Flat Holm, Marconi transmitted messages to the other side of the Bristol Channel, almost ten miles away. These experiments proved that the technology was viable, and Marconi went on to set up his Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company. A few years later, in 1901, Marconi established the first radio link across the Atlantic Ocean between Britain and Canada. In 1909, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics with the German radio innovator Ferdinand Braun. He died in 1937, and on the day of his funeral all BBC stations were silent for two minutes in tribute to his contributions to the development of radio.
In the churchyard of St Lawrence, Lavernock, you’ll find a bronze plaque which commemorates the historic achievements of Marconi and Kemp. The small stone hut in which Marconi kept his equipment still stands near the cliff edge by Lower Cosmeston farmhouse.
A great way to explore Lavernock Point and enjoy magnificent views of Flat Holm island is to follow the Vale Trail 5: Coast & Pier Walk, which is also part of the Wales Coast Path. Along the way, you’ll come across another historic site – the remains of Lavernock Battery and Fort, built in 1870 to protect the approaches to Cardiff and Bristol shipyards, and upgraded with the advent of the Second World War. This 5 mile coastal route finishes in Penarth, with its elegant Esplanade and iconic pier.
A little further along the coast is a superb viewing point in Penarth Head Park, with information panels explaining what you can see in each direction. Continue down to Penarth Marina, formerly the site of Penarth Docks which opened in 1865 for the export of coal from the South Wales valleys. From here, the Cardiff Bay Barrage provides a pleasant walking route into the capital or there’s a water taxi service.
For more fascinating connections with historic events, check out the Vale’s other heritage sites.