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Photos by David Neale Page last updated: 2019-09-03

Text updated February 2012

There are no broadcast services transmitted from Swains Lane in Highgate, North London but it is a site which has played several interesting and important roles over the years.

In TV terms it goes right back to the 1936 opening of Alexandra Palace. It was used as a 'receiving site' for outside broadcast transmissions (the pre-war radio link used 64 MHz, 1.5kW AM - fire-escape type aerial) and was linked to AP via a balanced coax post office cable.

Its role in the wartime Y-GERAT episode is documented in the Swains lane at war link below.

In 1945 the original wooden tower on this site was blown down in a gale which saw Southern England exposed to gusts of up to 100mph. Read the London Evening Standard's report of this event on the PDF link below (1945 tower collapse).

The current tower was built as a replacement and the site was a medium wave DF transmitter site for London, in the 1950s incarnation of Group H.

The BBC-owned microwave chain for the original 13-channel linear PCM radio distribution started at Swain's Lane. It fed Wrotham in one direction, and in the other it fed Whipsnade. From there via Thorpe Lodge and Meriden, to Sutton Coldfield and also via Sandy Heath and onwards to Peterborough and Tacolneston.

(At Sutton Coldfield the 70 MHz IF fed a further link to Holme Moss via relays at Tick Hill and Macclesfield Forest. The baseband fed the local PCM decoder bays and a PO tube down to Birmingham which carried the signal to Wenvoe.)

The SHF feed of PCM to Sutton Coldfield ceased being used in the mid 1990's when much of the PCM/NICAM distribution was then provided by Energis over fibre optic circuits. The feeds to Wrotham, Peterborough and Tacolneston were changed to BT provided MPLS circuits in 2016.

Swains Lane tower and buildings have been widely used by BBC London Comms for diverse Outside Broadcast applications such as Wimbledon, but in recent year OBs have now pulled out of the site as alternative OB links using satellite have become more popular and the site has fallen into disuse with the BBC and to some extent Arqiva .The future will probably be with mobile telecommunication services.

Swains Lane index

Whipsnade (link site) | Wrotham

1945 tower collapse
Group H transmitters
BBC RD: Loss in definition in Television OB link
BBC RD: Conditions of reception at Swains Lane (1938)
Swains Lane at war

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