125th birthday of the inventor of television John Logie Baird

HASTINGS may be best known for its links to the Norman invasion and the untimely demise of King Harold, but the town wasn’t just the birthplace of modern Britain.

As anyone who has drive past the Welcome to Hastings sign along the seafront road will know, this corner of 1066 Country is also credited with being the home of television.

John Logie Baird invented the television – transmitting the first true image, a painted wooden head, from his workshop in Soho, London.

However, it was his early work in Hastings which made the discovery possible, allowing the town to lay claim to the man voted the 44th greatest Briton of all time in a nationwide poll.

Earlier this month marked the 125th anniversary of his birth and, although the occasion past almost with recognition locally, Baird remains one of the most influential people ever to have made his home in Hastings.

Born in Dunbartonshire, Scotland on August 14 1888, Baird was educated at the University of Glasgow but never graduated after his degree was interrupted by the First World War.

Undeterred, he would go on to enjoy a fruitful career as an engineer and inventor, with the advent of colour television his greatest achievement.

The general consensus among academics puts his arrival in Hastings as either 1922 or 1923, following an unsuccessful attempt at making jam in the Caribbean and a soup selling business in London which was kiboshed by poor health.

He was told to leave London and came to the Sussex coast to join up with an old classmate, Guy Robertson, who was living at 21 Linton Crescent.

He had already considered the idea of television during his earlier studies but, after finding inspiration on an afternoon stroll across the cliff tops at Fairlight Glen, he decided to roll up his sleeves and being his work in earnest.

By 1923 he was confident enough in his work to take out an advert in the national press.

It read: “Seeing by wireless. Inventor of apparatus wishes to hear from someone who will assist, not financially, in making working model.”

He was not disappointed and later that year he filed his first patent, for transmitting scenes ‘by telegraphy or wireless telegraphy’.

A year later saw a reporter from the Hastings Observer visit his Linton Crescent home to witness the transmission of a Maltese Cross – the first public demonstration of his equipment.

Baird had earlier rented a workshop elsewhere in town but, after his dad read a report of the demonstration in the national press and sent him £50, the inventor moved his operation to 8 Queen’s Avenue.

And, the chances are, that were it not for an accident, it could have been there in Queen’s Avenue where he fine-tuned his invention.

Sadly for Hastings, Baird was injured after a short circuit and asked to leave the premises by his landlord.

In fact, the Observer carried a report on the incident. The July 26 edition said: “Mr J L Baird, who claims to be the inventor of television (seeing by wireless) met with an accident whilst carrying out experiments at his workshop in Queen’s Avenue.

“A loud explosion was heard and Mr Baird was found lying helpless on the floor. He had apparently been at work upon the machine when a short circuit occurred.

“He was hurled across the room by the force of the shock and was dazed. The voltage carried by the wires was 1,200. Mr Baird’s hands were badly burnt and he was much shaken. The apparatus was damaged.”

He therefore returned to London the next month and within two years he had finalised his television, successfully demonstrating a system which could broadcast live, moving images. Baird’s creativity and ingenuity was not always so successful.

Early attempts to create diamonds by heating graphite succeeded only in pitching Glasgow into darkness with a massive short circuit, while a glass razor pitched as never rusting did indeed never rust – instead shattering whenever it was used.

He returned to the south coast in 1944, setting up home in nearby Bexhill. He lived there until his death two years later after suffering a stroke. That Station Road home was demolished in 2007 and the site now houses a development of apartments, named Baird Court.

John Logie Baird may not have been from Hastings. He may only have spent a relatively short time here.

But his work in Linton Crescent and elsewhere in the town left an indelible mark, not just on Hastings but on the entire world.