Emley Moor: On top of the world!
As anyone driving on the M1 back to West Yorkshire from Down South will tell you, you know you're nearly home when Emley Moor's famous tower appears on the horizon! But, besides being a landmark for homesick drivers, what does it actually DO?
Emley Moor: A towering achievement!
Putting it simply, if you've ever watched BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV 1, Channel Four or Channel Five, or if you've ever listened to local commercial radio, then Emley Moor tower's been doing its job correctly – transmitting TV and radio programmes to millions of people in the North – from Darlington to Lincoln and from Skipton to the east coast. It's a big job and, as anyone who's ever stood at the bottom of it will tell you, it takes a big tower to do it. In fact, Emley Moor transmitter is 1084 feet (330.5 metres) tall to be precise – the tallest free-standing structure in the whole of the UK. It's higher than either Blackpool Tower or the Post Office Tower, in fact!
The current tower started transmitting on January 21st 1971, but its history goes back to 1956 when the first Emley Moor transmitter was built. However, the second transmitter to be built on that high, bleak spot is the one which really hit the headlines when it collapsed in March 1969. It's thought that ice and strong winds caused the mast to fall, leading the Duty Engineer at the time to write in the Emley Moor logbook (emphasised with a big asterisk!): "1265' Mast: Fell down across Jagger Lane (corner of Common Lane) at 17.01.45. Police, I.T.A. H.Q., R.O. etc all notified." Thankfully no-one was injured, but it marked the somewhat dramatic end of the second Emley Moor tower.
Within two years the structure we know, and perhaps even love, was built - a concrete and steel edifice making sure our TV screens and radios are kept alive. What was being shown on TV in the days after it began transmitting in early 1971? Well, delving into the archives it looks like there was drama on ITV's Coronation Street as Valerie Barlow met a tragic end thanks to a faulty hairdryer and a fatal house fire; meanwhile over on the BBC, Doctor Who was causing children everywhere to hide behind the sofa as The Terror of the Autons hit the screens featuring, errr, terrifying killer plastic daffodils! Of course, in 2008 both these programmes are still going strong - just like the Emley Moor Mast!
After the fall: Emley Moor, 1969
So, what's it actually like inside the mast? In 1997, BBC Look North's Mike McCarthy ventured inside to investigate. He discovered that there's not actually very much to see in most of the tower - just a lot of empty space and a lift which takes seven whole minutes to get from ground level to the really interesting bit at the top! Once he reached the top, though, he found the control room. Full of electronic equipment, buttons and wires, this room also enjoys what is probably one of the most dramatic views in West Yorkshire - if not the whole country.
Accompanied by then Engineering Manager for Emley Moor, Alf Parker, Mike found out that being perched up high on the top of Emley Moor tower is not always the best place to be. Alf explained that the control room sways side-to-side by up to ten inches in strong winds! But, he said, it's also a fascinating place: "It can be amazing. You can see the clouds roaring towards you and bursting around the turret and then shredding away into the distance. Lightning lights this whole building up and there's a tremendous bang at the same time!"
The amazing view from Emley Moor!
In 2002, Emley Moor tower became a Grade II listed building, which means that it is one of the UK's 'buildings of special interest, which warrant every effort being made to preserve them'. In other words, Emley Moor mast is something a bit special. Yes, it has a job to do but it has also clearly become much more than that. Newcastle may have The Angel of the North to remind Geordies they're nearly home - and very beautiful it is, too - but, some might ask, what other purpose does it serve? Meanwhile, we in West Yorkshire have the Emley Moor tower which not only tells us that home's not far away but also happens to be soaringly elegant AND it serves a real purpose. Surely it's only in Yorkshire that you'd find something that good-looking which also earns its keep too!
Want to find out more about Emley Moor? Listen to BBC Radio Leeds' Steve Bailey on the afternoon of Friday 27th June 2008. He'll be broadcasting his Big Drive Home from Emley Moor tower and discovering more about its history and its secrets. Listen out on 92.4 FM or 774 MW between 4pm and 6pm - it's not to be missed!
last updated: 24/06/2008 at 14:33
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