Under older legislation, the definition of a telegraph was a wire used for the purpose of telegraphic communication with any casing, coating, tube enclosing the same and any apparatus connected for the purpose of telegraphic communication. This included apparatus transmitting messages and other communications by electrical signals.  Accordingly, it includes telephone, wireless telegraphy, and broadcasting.

In 1837, Wheatstone and Cooke patented communications by electromagnetic impulses over wires.  Initial tests were undertaken between railway stations in London and by 1844 a number of railways had then used telegraphic communication.

The first telegraphs were private ventures.  The Telegraphs Act 1862 provided a general code for the regulation of the exercise of private telegraph companies.  The legislation regulated the exercise of powers that private telegraph companies obtained through private acts of parliament.

A successful method of insulating wires for underground cables was perfected by Siemens in 1847.  Cables were laid between Ireland and England in 1853 and England and France in 1851.  The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1866.

In 1869, Postmaster General was authorised to purchase private undertakings other than those transmitting telegrams to and from outside the United Kingdom.  The Postmaster General was given the exclusive privilege of transmitting telegrams with limited exceptions.

Powers for Infrastrucure

Telegraph companies without statutory powers have no special privilege to break open streets, lay wires etc.  In common with other statutory undertakers, statutory protection was required were necessary to immunise them from what would otherwise constitute a nuisance and other actionable torts arising from the necessary exercise of their powers.

The Telegraph Acts gives power to the Postmaster General to construct or maintain telegraph lines.  The Submarine Telegraph Act 1885 give effect to the international convention on the protection of submarine cables of 1884. The Telegraph Acts applied to Ireland and continue to apply separately to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Post Office may maintain telegraphs infrastructure under any streets or public road.  It may place and maintain telegraph lines along streets, or public roads.  It may place posts in any street or alter or remove them. For it purposes, it may break open streets and roads and alter the position of any pipe other than a main for the supply of water or gas.  It does not acquire any right other than that of use in the soil of the public road or streets.

Consents for Wayleave

Certain consents are required to the de facto wayleave.  Different notices must be given depending on whether the telegraphs are underground or above ground.  Conditions apply to the opening of the streets.

Before a telegraph wire can be placed over along the street or road or before a post can be placed in the street, the consent of the body having control of the street must be obtained.  Where the Postmaster General was placing the same, the withholding of such consent or attachment of terms and conditions was adjudicated under a statutory adjudication mechanism.

Where any person is liable to repair any street, which is dedicated to the public, its consent as well as is that the road authority must be obtained to placing of anything in or along or over the street.  Where the road passes through a park, bridge or viaduct,  the owner, lessee, and occupier of the same must consent.

WIres and Posts

In the case of above ground telegraphs wires and posts, notice must be published and left at the dwelling houses fronting on the streets affected.  The owners may object, and the works are to be stayed until the objection is settled.

Where a tree overhangs the street or public road and interferes with the intended telegraph line, the Postmaster General may give notice for it to be lopped.  If the owner does not lop the tree within a month, the Postmaster General may cause the tree to be lopped.  It must do as little damage as possible and make full compensation for damage sustained by reason of the exercise of the power.

The telegraph company may place a telegraph and posts and maintain them on any private land, subject to conditions. Works/things may not be placed in, under, over, along, or across any land or building or by the side of any land or building in such a way as to interfere with access, without the prior consent of the owner, lessee or occupier.

Above ground, telegraph posts may not be placed within ten yards of a dwelling house. An above-ground telegraph may not be placed across any avenue or approach without the consent of the owner, occupier, or lessee. If they fail or refuse is to give consent to the placing of the line etc. on their land, the difference may be settled by the court.

It may not give consent to the placing of line unless it is satisfied that a refusal is contrary to the public interest.  It may impose terms and conditions.


Where there are telegraph wires under a street, the provider may alter the position of a pipe not being a main for the supply of water or gas.  In making such an alteration, as little detriment or inconvenience as possible is to be caused, and prior notice is to be given to the undertaker.

They are to superintend the work and it is to be carried out to their satisfaction.  The cost of supervision is to fall on the telegraphic authority/provider.

Any company authorized to lay an electric line may of the approval of the Minister and consent of local authority agree with the Postmaster-General or his licensee for the placing of telegraphs in trenches, tubes, pipes, and apparatus used for the purpose of electric lines.  Legislation applicable to electric lines extends to the same.

Where any work has been constructed in, on, over or along land or buildings or any streets or public road adjoining or near any land, and any owner of such land or person who has an interest desires to build on or enclose the same or improve the land or use it for a different use, he may give notice of his intention requiring the removal or alteration of the work.  The alteration must be carried without within a reasonable time.

Where an occupier has consented to the placing of above-ground telegraph or post within 10 yards of his house, and his occupation is coming to an end, the lessee or owner in possession if he did not consent, has a right to require the removal subject to strategy adjustment in the case of a difference. If  works or abandoned or fall into decay, the body having control of the street or road may by notice require that they be removed



  • in relation to construction or retention of telegraphs and posts in, under or along public roads
  • in relation to giving consent within a prescribed period after being required by the Postmaster General or conditions attached during the consent.
  • relating to siting removal and alteration

may be adjudicated under a statutory mechanism. Differences were to be determined by the County Court with an appeal to the High Court. Where issues arise relating to giving consent required by the Postmaster-General, the authority may determine the difference. It may give a substituted consent or may vary conditions.


Every application for consent to construct a telegraphic line depends on circumstances.  The court will consider the character of the district, the locality, the volume of existing and prospective traffic.  Unsightliness is not a sufficient ground in itself, but may be so in places of natural beauty,.

The court will take into account comparative costs for erecting posts or underground plant. Generally, underground plant is more expensive, and the burden will place on the public is considered.

There is a provision for statutory compensation in relation to cases of damage and injury to property and interests caused by the statutory execution and maintenance of work.  The procedure for the assessment of compensation is not provided under the general compulsory acquisition legislation.

Where undertakers, bodies or persons destroy or damage a telegraph line, they must pay compensation to the Postmaster General.  They are liable to penalties if communications are carelessly or wilfully interrupted.


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