Newsletter 2011

Creating a history of the Marconi Radar companies

Alan Hartley-Smith

The name Marconi has been associated with the concept of detection of objects by reflection of radio waves since the earliest experiments of Guglielmo Marconi himself; he speculated in a lecture in 1922 that by the design of suitable equipment the presence of ships could be revealed in fog or thick weather.

The trigger for the creation of the history was the publication in the MOGS on-line forum of a list of locations of Marconi establishments around Chelmsford. MOGS stands for Marconi Old Geezers Society, a group of former staff members who meet to natter and post messages about themselves and their experiences, so the posting of the list caused several to relate their particular memories of various sites; this revealed that with regard to the age of most of the members and the span of the activities much interesting material would be lost if not recorded. It was mutually decided to find a way to record recollections of the ways in which successive Marconi Companies translated the early ideas into one of the world’s most successful ranges of equipment for providing the service of RADAR, which played a vital role in WWII, and postwar enabled on both land, sea and air continuing military security and the safe and expeditious air traffic control system for the burgeoning civil airline business.

Radar – Radio Aid to Detection and Ranging – was developed in the UK under the cover name RDF – Radio Direction Finding – during the late 1930s in preparation for defence against anticipated German aggression. From the start Marconi provided key elements for the transmission arrays of the metric CH system and later in developing and producing the new magnetron valve for centimetric systems at its Great Baddow laboratories and then a new Valve Works; in manufacturing in New Street.  Re-engineering systems for different applications was also done. Postwar the company started in 1946 to design maritime radars and to refurbish service equipment. In 1948 a major company reorganisation resulted in the formation of a division to enter the market to design and manufacture complete radar systems. Subsequent research has revealed that in a list of all known British ground radars out of the 250+ types listed 25% are attributed to Marconi, making it by far the largest single producer.

Although many MOGS members still live in the Chelmsford area others are scattered round the UK, Europe and the USA so to enable them all to contribute we set up a wiki. This web-based method allows input of original text and digital pictures, scanned material from paper-based words and graphics, also the incorporation of audio and video segments, and especially the use of hyperlinks to include existing on-line sources, all under the control of an editorial group we call Marconi Radar Systems Archive Team who merge all contributions into a coherent and logical structure, raise queries and persuade members to raid their memories and tell us of any archives they know about. Thus we shall have a lasting repository of the life and times of our once-great company.

Currently the Marconi Radar History is hosted by Yahoo Groups and access is restricted to MOGS group members, but it is intended that the restriction be lifted in the near future. Everyone can see the MOGS home page at but access to the group’s messages and other pages, including the Radar History, requires membership of the group which is initiated by clicking the ‘Join This Group’ button and following a routine procedure during which membership is approved by one of the group moderators. Those not already Yahoo members will need to register with Yahoo during the process with a User Name and Password. Membership approval for MOGS is contingent upon potential members having been employed by Marconi in one of its forms, and details of department, place of work and approximate period of employment are required. (Photo – type S654 radar antenna)