The Barratt Public Art sculpture Lay Lines by artist Bobby Lloyd, stands in a location that has been associated with the manufacture of submarine cable systems since 1857. Back then the 14 acres (5.66 hectares) of the factory site stretched from Enderby Wharf to your left, across to Blackwall Lane (then Marsh Lane). The gantry and cable hauler on the wharf dates from the mid-1950s and were used to pull the cables out of the factory to load them on to ships, moored in the River Thames. In 2008, Alcatel Submarine Systems (ASN) sold the river frontage, allowing the current housing development. ASN is the world’s leading supplier of submarine cable systems and still manufactures elements of its systems on the remainder of the site, now accessed from Telecon Way.
On the wall in front of you are three panels, which show the greatly magnified detailed cross-sectional images of three different cable designs. These represent the three eras of submarine system transmission technology:
1850-1950 – The Telegraph Era
1950-1986 – The Telephone Era
1986-Today – The Optical Fibre Era
The sculpture is made up of three elements inspired by the cable designs. More information can be found on Bobby’s website (https://bobby-lloyd.format.com/lay-lines).
The Telegraph Era
The left-hand panel shows a cross section of the first submarine telegraph cable manufactured on the Enderby Wharf site, which was used in an unsuccessful attempt to lay a cable across the Atlantic in 1857. More cable of this design was made in 1858, and after another failure, a third attempt that year was finally (although only temporarily) successful. This cable design is the inspiration for the sculpture on the lower of three terraces, to your left.
For a detailed description of this cable and the history of telegraph cable manufactured at Enderby Wharf (Click Here)
The Telephone Era
The centre panel shows a cross section of the STC 1.47” coaxial cable, the most successful submarine telephone cable design of the Telephone Era. STC Submarine Systems owned the Enderby Wharf site from 1970 to 1996 and this cable was manufactured there between 1970 and 1975. This cable design is the inspiration for the sculpture on the middle terrace.
For a detailed description of this cable and the history of submarine telephone systems manufactured at Enderby Wharf (Click Here)
The Optical Fibre Era
To the right is a cross-section of the ASN fibre optic cable type OACL-4, the company’s current design of fibre optical cable for subsea telecommunication. The cable type shown is known as Lightweight (LW) cable and is deployed in water depths from 2,000m down to 8,000m.
Submarine cable systems carry terabits of data beneath the oceans. They are the arteries of the internet, enabling e-commerce and shaping social media, so submarine cables are arguably the most important technology in modern society. ASN manufactures this cable in its Calais factory. However, the repeaters that boost the optical signal, the power feeding equipment, and the optical transmission equipment are all made here in Greenwich. This ASN factory has been manufacturing submarine cable systems for longer than any other site in the world.
This cable design is the inspiration for the sculpture on the upper terrace, in the centre of which is a transparent panel under which is a coloured LED display, to give an impression of optical digital transmission in the cable’s fibres.
For a detailed description of this cable and the history of optical fibre submarine systems, manufactured at Enderby Wharf (Click Here)
Bobby Loyd’s web site give details of the work: https://bobby-lloyd.format.com/lay-lines