THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

17 posts categorized "Humanities"

24 May 2019

Bicentenary of Queen Victoria – is this her voice?

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Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoQueen Victoria in 1882 by Alexander Bassano

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Queen Victoria was born two hundred years ago on 24th May 1819.  The most famous and, until recently, the most long reigning of British monarchs, Victoria represented a whole century of development and achievement where Britons were at the forefront of science, engineering and the arts.

It is known that she was persuaded to record a cylinder of greeting on 8th August 1898 to send to Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia but insisted that it be destroyed after he had heard it.  In return, the Emperor and his Queen recorded greetings to Victoria in 1899 and these have survived (BL shelfmark M 1865; digital access via BL reading rooms). 

There are references in letters and first-hand accounts of hearing a recording made by Queen Victoria reported in the book by Paul Tritton The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria (1991 Academy Books).  With the circumstantial evidence it would appear that the recording is probably Queen Victoria, but the unfortunate fact is that the few sentences she speaks are barely decipherable.  There are various interpretations of the spoken text, but she seems to say:

Britons restless for their Queen to speak,

let me answer,

if can be,

XX,

that I have never forgotten.

The fourth line is unintelligible and has been variously interpreted as ‘we all had a wonderful festival’ and ‘towards the end of a wonderful gift to me’, referring to her Golden Jubilee.  It sounds like neither to my ear, but we have subjected the National Sound Archive’s original 1991 transfer by Peter Copland of the Bell-Tainter Graphophone cylinder owned by the Science Museum to the latest restoration technology.  The wax coated cardboard cylinder is believed to have been recorded by Sidney Morse at Balmoral in 1888.

Queen Victoria

While the sound of that recording is poor, we can hear the Queen’s cousin and contemporary Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) in better quality, recorded by Edison’s agent Colonel Gouraud on 22nd December 1888.  His message to Thomas Edison, the inventor of sound recording, is as follows:

I congratulate you on the marvelous success of this invention which I think will produce singular results in the future.

The recording comes from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Duke of Cambridge

George_-_Duke_of_CambridgeCollodion of Prince George by Roger Fenton 1855

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

16 May 2019

Mother Carey's Chickens

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

In 19th century coastal folklore, the harsh and unforgiving nature of the sea was often personified by the cruel sea witch Mother Carey.

Carey was said to wreak havoc on the ocean waves, conjuring up devastating storms that would destroy any vessel unlucky enough to be caught in her sights. The ship’s crew would be sent to their deaths so that Carey and her partner, Davy Jones, could feast upon their rotting bodies.

She’s the mother o’ the wrecks, ‘n’ the mother
Of all big winds as blows;
She’s up to some deviltry or other
When it storms, or sleets or snows;
The noise of the wind’s her screamin’
‘I’m arter a plump, young, fine,
Brass-buttoned, beefy-ribbed yound seam’n
So as me ‘n’ my mate kin dine.’

(Extract from John Masefield's poem 'Mother Carey (as told me by the bo'sun)' published in 1902)

Mother Carey didn’t travel the open ocean alone though. Like any villain worth their salt, Carey was accompanied by her very own entourage, which, in this case, happened to be a flock of Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus). Dubbed Mother Carey's Chickens, these little seabirds were thought to signal the imminent arrival of the dreaded sea witch. 

Mother_Carey_and_her_chickens_by_J_G_Keulemans_1877_(frame_removed)Mother Carey and her chickens by J. G. Keulemans, 1877 (Biodiversity Heritage Library via Wikipedia)

As far as accuracy goes, Storm Petrels are a pretty good choice. Not because there's anything sinister about them, but because they're most at home on the open sea and can easily cope with the severest of weather conditions. While many other birds would be caught short in the middle of a tempest, Storm Petrels just take it all in their stride.

What you wouldn’t hear was their voice. For Storm Petrels are generally silent at sea (not a great trait for heralds of doom, but there you go). The complete opposite can be found at their breeding colonies however. Here individuals engage in sustained vocal activity, producing far-carrying purring calls from their burrows. The following extract, taken from a longer recording made by Alan Burbidge on Skokholm Island in 1998, is a great example of this.

Storm Petrel purring calls from burrow (BL ref 145176)

Harbingers of death should, at least in my mind, be loud. Very loud. Terrifying too. But our Storm Petrels are anything but that. Rather selfishly, they save their spine-chilling voices for when they're off duty. So if I was Mother Carey, I'd feel a little short-changed.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

29 April 2019

Recording of the week: George Ewart Evans and The Barley Mow

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This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archivist.

The Barley Mow is a classic end of the night folk song; funny enough to leave you in a good mood, adaptable enough to please the crowd, and it’s about drinking so normally has the pub on your side. It’s also tricky enough to show off the singer’s chops and frankly I’m always impressed that someone can remember every measure to congratulate, from the gallon right down to the gill.

We hold many recordings of the song in the World and Traditional Music collection and I’m particularly fond of a rather chaotic version at the Butchers Arms in Carhampton (side note: Carhampton is notable as the home of wassailing (second side note: I once went to a very good pub quiz at the Butchers Arms)). However, the recording I want to highlight today comes from our oral history collections and the interviews of George Ewart Evans.

SG18_Matthew Mary George Ewart Evans Susan and Jane in graden at Blaxhall School adjustedGeorge Ewart Evans with his children in the school garden, Blaxhall, Suffolk

George Ewart Evans is one of the godfathers of oral history and, after moving from Wales to Suffolk in 1947, Evans spent the 1950s through the 1970s recording the voices of local workers and neighbours. He’s probably best known for his books including Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, but the great thing is that we hold his original interviews at the British Library and you can listen to them online. One of these interviews is with a Mr W. Boulton and, amongst his descriptions of seasonal work in Burton-on-Trent and Suffolk step dancing, Boulton regales us with his own rendition of the Barley Mow. Keep listening and, after some prodding from Boulton, you’ll hear Evans join in too.

George Ewart Evans and the Barley Mow (T1416)

According to Robert Bell, “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” and I’d have to agree with him. If you want a look at how this might have been in the 1950s then do check out this amazing footage from the Ship Inn, Blaxall at the East Anglia Film Archive (side note: Blaxhall is where Evans lived in Suffolk (second side note: thanks to my family for humouring my detour to the Ship earlier this year)). As for 2019 you’ve just got to hope that you come across a performance yourself, and in that I say good luck to you all – and of course as well to the company, the brewer, the landlord…

More information on the George Ewart Evans collection can be found in our collection guide to Major national oral history projects and surveys

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

15 April 2019

Recording of the week: opening the Tyne Bridge

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This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

This week's Recording of the week - composed of two recordings in fact, an A-side and a B-side - is drawn from the disc issued by the Columbia Gramophone Company to commemorate the opening of the Tyne Bridge.

Side A features the speech given by King George V at the opening ceremony at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead-on-Tyne, 10 October 1928. Side B features an address of welcome to the King, given by W. Swinburne Esq., Town Clerk, County Borough of Gateshead. 

Listen to King George V (1CL0044447 side A)

Listen to W Swinburne (1CL0044447 side B)

Of particular (visual) interest is the etching which occupies a large part of side A, showing the coats of arms of Newcastle and Gateshead and a line illustration of the bridge itself.

Tyne-Bridge-disc-detail

On the 23 August 2018 the bridge's importance as a structure of 'more than special interest' was recognized in its Grade II* listing by Historic England.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

11 December 2018

The Christmas robin

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

There’s no mistaking it; the festive season is well and truly upon us. Christmas trees, laden with baubles and twinkling lights, can be seen popping up in windows all over the country and it won’t be long before we start coming home to find Christmas cards lying on the doormat. Chances are that at least one of these messages from loved ones will have a robin gracing the front cover.

One of the strongest associations between robins and Christmas cards can be traced back to the days of the Victorian postie. For a time,  Royal Mail postmen wore bright red uniforms which soon earned them the nickname 'robins'. As the exchange of Christmas cards grew in popularity, depictions of robins holding cards in their beaks began to appear. A trend was born and, over a century later, robins are still one of the most favoured images on the market.

Robin-postA Christmas card from 1934 (National Museums Liverpool, accession number 1976.561)

As well as adorning our mantelpieces, the robin is also responsible for the snatches of birdsong that can be heard in our parks and gardens at this time of year. Unlike most other songbirds who fall silent after the breeding season has come to an end, the robin continues to make himself heard. His song does change depending on the season; the winter song definitely has a frostier feel than the sweeter tune we hear in the spring. This may have something to do with the changing function of the song. In the spring months, the male robin has love on his mind. He is looking for a mate and, though he still needs to defend his territory against potential rivals, his song has a smoother quality. When winter strikes however, romance goes out of the window. It's all about survival, which leaves no room for any sweet talk.

The following recording is an example of the robin's winter song, recorded in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire by Nigel Tucker. Don't be fooled by the charming melody though - if you were a robin he would try to take you down in a second.

Robin winter song

Follow @CherylTipp for all the latest wildlife news.

20 August 2018

Recording of the week: working 9 while 5

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The Oxford English Dictionary categorises the use of while [= ‘until’] as northern dialect and, as this contributor to the Evolving English WordBank explains enthusiastically, such subtle distinctions in the way dialects assign prepositions can cause both confusion and amusement.

WHILE (C1442, uncatalogued)

We say nine while five and when I go to other places no one ever really knows what this means and what it means is nine until five o'clock. I remember I worked in a multinational company once and I left on my, well, it was a voicemail that said this, "office hours are nine while five", and I got so many complaints because nobody knew what the hell was going, what was meant to be said. "Nine while five, what does this mean?" I've no idea where it comes from, but when I say it where I come from in Yorkshire people understand it, but when I go out of the area people never really seem to understand it and I think it's quite funny."

I was a student in Leeds in the 1980s and frequently grateful that corner shops stayed open eight while late and delighted when, in 1985, the Leeds band The Sisters of Mercy released Nine While Nine, a song that includes the line nine while nine I’m waiting for the train.

9 WHILE 5

My favourite encounter with the Yorkshire meaning of while, however, was the road sign (presumably still there) on the Otley Road in Headingley which advised drivers of the correct procedure at a filter lane for turning right: the sign read 'Do not turn whilst light is red' – presumably while would send completely the wrong message locally.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

06 August 2018

Recording of the week: Lancashire pride

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This week's selection comes from Rowan Campbell, former PhD placement student who worked on the VoiceBank collection.

Cataloguers shouldn't have favourites... but it's hard when one person sums up so beautifully what a collection is about! That's how I feel about this woman from Oldham, who contributed the following words at the Evolving English exhibition in 2011:

Lancashire dialect (C1442/6017)

As well as preserving some of her father's dialect words for future generations, she draws a link between modern English and that used 600 years ago in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - words such as 'layke' are still used in Northern dialects today.

SirGawainandthecottonmsneroax2f129v
Image from Four Anonymous Poems in Middle English: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (BL Shelfmark Cotton Nero MS A X) 

I also love how proud she is of her accent and identity, and that she refused to change this despite being told that she had to in order to be a teacher in the South of England:

Lancashire accent (C1442/6017)

Unfortunately, this type of accentism is still alive and well in the 21st century, but this collection shows how important and valid all accents and dialects are.

This recording comes from the Evolving English Wordbank, an extensive collection of recordings that capture English dialect and slang from around the world. The collection was created between November 2010 and April 2011 by visitors to the British Library exhibition, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices and includes local, regional and vernacular forms and idiolectal expressions used within families or friendship groups.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

30 July 2018

Recording of the week: painting people blue in Hull

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Husband and wife, Kārlis and Shirley, talk about the magical experience of being part of photographer Spencer Tunick's 'Sea of Hull' installation in which 3,200 people volunteered to take off their clothes, paint themselves blue and stand in front of Tunick’s camera in Hull city centre in the early hours of the morning one day in 2016. In this extract they describe how being part of this collaborative artwork changed the way that people interacted with each other in public space, how they dealt with the cold, the amazing sight of 3,000 neat little piles of clothes and the difficulty of showering off the blue paint in the changing rooms of Hull ice rink. Later in the conversation they discuss how Hull was the place where Kārlis first arrived in the UK as a child refugee from Latvia and that this made their ‘Sea of Hull’ experience particularly poignant.

The Listening Project_painting people blue in Hull (excerpt)

 

Karlis and Shirley

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Kārlis and Shirley can be found here.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.