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A letter from his grace the 14th Earl G4CEU.

G4CEU Lord Derek's page

The contribution of the Aristocracy to Amateur Radio

A letter from his grace the 14th Earl

There are many that feel there is no place for an aristocracy in the modern world and amateur radio is probably no exception. I doubt it will surprise anyone to learn that I strongly disagree with this view and I suspect that few reading this article will know the full history of our contribution to radio.

Perhaps our most significant influence was the choice of the original amateur frequencies starting with 160 metres from which the other bands 80, 40, 20 and 10 metres followed due to their harmonic relationship. The name "Top Band" is actually a corruption of it's original name "Toff Band" which probably explains why there is no bottom band. How it got this name and indeed, why 160 Metres ?, is a fascinating and little known piece of my family history.

It was in fact thanks to a simple coincidence and some pioneering work of my ancestor, Lord Percival, the 11th Earl, that our amateur bands are where they are today. The original family home built in 1123 AD is a traditional square Norman castle four chains wide with turrets two chains high at each of the four corners. It still stands in the grounds of my current estate and early in this century was used by great grandfather as a workshops and research facility. He was a prolific inventor and we all owe much to his original and innovative work on wireless telegraphy equipment in general and antenna design in particular.

You are probably asking yourself where all this is leading and the clue is in the dimensions of the castle. The Earl designed and built what was probably the worlds first 4 square antenna mounting each vertical element on the castle turrets. You will recall that the castle was 4 chains wide and since in those days there was no band plan one frequency was much the same as any other. So it was that he used these dimensions to test out his design for a half wave spaced '4 square' a quarter wavelength above ground. Those of you who are old enough will remember that a chain is 22 yards or 66 feet and hence 4 chains equates to 264 feet - a half wave on what we now call top band. This impressive station provided our first foot hold in the radio spectrum.

The rest is history and needs no elaboration, however, I would ask you to consider how many of our lower amateur bands would have been made available if my ancestor had lived in a 2 bedroom bungalow. His privileged environment ultimately benefited all of us, even the peasantry like most of you.

His other works include the inspiration for gold plated relay contacts and the diamond spatula. Relays of the day had a very short life and in a damp atmosphere would only last for a few weeks. This was an age when you had to make

Since gold was easy to work with and also very plentiful at my great grandfathers home it was a natural choice for his projects. It hardly needs saying that his relays never failed and once word got around they were the envy of his impoverished contemporaries. It seems obvious now but at that time the idea of using a small amount of gold just for the contacts was quite a technological leap and bought affordable, reliable relays and switch contacts to the masses. Using diamonds to clean oxidised contacts was born out of his practical gift for making do with whatever was lying around.

The invention of the silver mica capacitor is also attributed to this great man though family records shows it was originally called a "silver mitre" capacitor; the raw material having been misappropriated from the ceremonial hat of the 6th Earl who served as Bishop of London in the late 17th century.

Like most great men, he had his dark secrets and following an unfortunate and embarrassing incident with a junior footman the 11th Earl fell into disgrace and as was the custom of the day quickly became persona non grata. For this reason he never received the recognition he deserved for his pioneering and inspirational work. In this more enlightened age he would probably have been nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Possibly the greatest contribution the peerage can make these days is to bring a sense of decorum and respectability to our noble hobby. I have heard it said that many people only join in the 1933 net in order to brag to their friends that they regularly talk to an aristocrat - presumably me. If in the process some of my breeding rubs off then I consider that I am keeping up a great family tradition of promoting and improving amateur radio.

I hope you enjoy both the web site and the activities on 1933 where amateurs enjoy fun rather than formality. I am sure my ancestor Lord Percival ( 2LP ) would approve of the present day

Derek R.

14th Earl of Shoeburyness,



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Radio 1933 Last modified: 7 Jan, 2010