Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

13 June 2022

Recording of the week: More than a headteacher

This week's selection comes from Sandra Agard, Learning Facilitator. 

'More than a headteacher' is how cousins Michelle Campbell-Davies and Rachel Clarke describe Betty Campbell, or Nan, as they knew her, in their chat recorded for The Listening Project to mark Black History Month in October 2021.

Bronze statue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, CardiffStatue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, Cardiff. Photo by 14GTR via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 4.0.

As the two cousins recall their family history and 'Nan’s legacy,' they painfully remember that as a child their Nan wanted to be a teacher – the response from her headteacher was 'it was never going to happen!' She went on to prove that teacher wrong!

Betty Campbell not only went on to be a teacher, she became the first Black headteacher in Wales. She was a trailblazer in Education and Community in Butetown, Cardiff.

This recording offers an insight into her remarkable life, legacy and all that she accomplished for her school, her community and for multi-culturalism.

According to Michelle and Rachel, their Nan had a 'clear vision on what equality looks like.' This entailed the importance of representation in the positions of power. One has to have a seat at the table to make decisions. Betty Campbell made sure she was at the head of table. As they put it, 'Nan was the boss!'

The cousins emphasise that their Nan was a pioneer for Black History Month. She made it her mission to promote the experiences of Black people and their contributions to British society through education. She also got involved in local politics by becoming an Independent Councillor. Originally, she planned on being a candidate for the Labour party in the local elections, but she was not selected. Undeterred, she decided to run as an Independent and, of course, she won! The words 'no' or 'can’t' were certainly not in her vocabulary.

Michelle and Rachel discuss their Nan's legacy [BL REF C1500/21254]

This then is the public face of Betty Campbell - head teacher, pioneer, councillor, trailblazer - but there are also the intimate memories of family moments.

Betty Campbell was not a very good cook. She also took terrible photographs, never waiting for anyone to be ready. No posing for her!

She loved singing in the choir.

She loved to travel and she made friends everywhere. Her granddaughter Michelle laughs at the memory of them all going to Canada to stay with people her grandmother had recently met in Butetown. For the cousins she was 'young at heart,' despite her advancing age.

As the cousins reminisce, they constantly say that they could not have progressed in their respective careers if it had not been for their Nan.

'I wouldn’t be the person I was if it was not for Nan,' says Michelle.

Nan gave them the confidence to pursue their dreams and destinies and the strength to navigate the constant challenges that they encountered in their daily lives.

Indeed, one of Betty Campbell’s mantras was, 'if you want something you have to go out and get it,' and she definitely did!

Betty’s achievements have earned her a spot among the 100 Great Black Britons; her place certainly deserved.

Betty Campbell left a lasting legacy for her family and the community.

---

Sandra A. Agard is storyteller, writer, playwright, poet, cultural historian, and author of children’s books including, ‘Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman’ and ‘Amazing Women in Black History’. Sandra is a member of the British Library staff CRED Network and Learning Facilitator.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over a thousand of the recordings in full through British Library Sounds. You can also learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website.

The British Library is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Celebrating Beryl Gilroy which explores highlights from the archive of Beryl Agatha Gilroy, one of London's first Black headteachers. You can explore the free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at our St Pancras site until 26 June 2022.

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

07 June 2022

Chance patrons: Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and the pioneering age of British architectural history

'An Oral History of British Architectural Historians', is a new oral history project, recently deposited at the British Library Sound Archive. The collection was recorded by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) and documents the work of historians of British architecture from the mid twentieth century to the present day. In this blog Jake Bransgrove uses the oral history interviews with John Harris (British Library catalogue reference: C1804/03) and John Newman (British Library catalogue reference: C1804/04) to look at the life of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) and 'The Buildings of' series of architectural guide books.

Portrait photo of the nave of King's College Chapel, CambridgeThe nave of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. The late Perpendicular Gothic flourishes were much admired by Nikolaus Pevsener. Copyright: Chris Boland

Between 1951 and 1974 Sir Nikolaus Pevsner published 'The Buildings of England', a forty-six volume series of architectural guide books. This was followed by successor series on Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Pevsner’s guides compiled historic buildings with unique or representative architectural value, bringing together formal analysis with wry observations. The books remain essential resources for those curious about their built heritage. For architectural historians in Britain, they are a landmark in the development of the discipline.

Pevsner was central to the project and personal reflections on his character, life and method help us to understand the guides’ significance. Evocative examples come from those with whom Pevsner worked. These include individuals like John Harris and John Newman who helped him at early stages to execute his daunting task. Their involvement with the guides also lead to later careers as researchers, writers and teachers in their own right. Both Harris and Newman have been interviewed for 'An Oral History of British Architectural Historians'.

Harris’s relationship with the 'Buildings of England' began with a period researching the first edition of the Lincolnshire volume (1964). Having previously worked as an upholstery apprentice and an antiques dealer, he was an unlikely choice for the position. Yet, energised by the thrill of the open road, Harris spent a contented period researching for Pevsner. Harris traced Lincolnshire’s sprawl of byways on his Lambretta motorcycle with his future wife Eileen on the back. He also snooped amongst grand if run-down houses – an experience he chronicled in a later memoir, 'No Voice From the Hall' (1998). In the following excerpt, Harris reflects on the reasons for his involvement in the project. At the same time he discusses the limits of his employer’s method:

John Harris on Pevsner's method (C1804/03/01 [00:39:41 - 00:41:11])

Download John Harris on Pevsner's method Transcript

In Harris' view, Pevsner had a less-than-intrepid approach to research, and did not fully consult topography, English social mores and archival material. On all these points, many others have since agreed.

Yet Pevsner had taken a chance in employing Harris, who had received no formal training in architectural history at this point. The path Harris subsequently took led him to the role of Head Librarian and Curator for the Royal Institute of British Architects. In this he was assisted by interventions from the likes of James Lees-Milne, connoisseur and writer for 'Country Life', and the collector Geoffrey Houghton-Brown. However, it was Pevsner’s patronage that had stamped Harris as approved in matters of architectural history. When considering his life story in perspective, it presents a noticeable fork in the road. As a result, he found himself working with prominent scholars like Sir Howard Colin, Sir John Summerson, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Rupert Gunnis:

John Harris on working with prominent scholars (C1804/03/01 [01:31:07 - 01:35:57])

Download John Harris on working with prominent scholars Transcript

For John Newman, Pevsner’s editor for the two 'Buildings of England' volumes on Kent (1969) and long-time professor of post-medieval British architecture at The Courtauld Institute of Art, Harris’ story proved a kind of precursor. Newman had been a Classics teacher at Tonbridge School when he wrote to his future patron on a whim. He expressed an interest in the guides and asked for advice on how he might become involved in their preparation. This led to Newman meeting with Pevsner and then enrolling for an MA at The Courtauld on his recommendation. Whilst a student, Newman found himself working for Pevsner as a driver on research trips between terms. He would shuttle Pevsner from rural church to rural retreat, at the same time honing his own powers of formal analysis and interpretation. Newman eventually gained the opportunity to compile the volumes on Kent. Pevsner himself considered these books the best of the series.

The inspiration and influence of Pevsner was crucial in kickstarting Newman’s career as an architectural historian, as he recalls in the following clip:

John Newman on Pevsner's influence (C1804/04/01 [00:43:08 - 00:47:57])

Download John Newman on Pevsner's influence Transcript

Employment on such informal terms was, as Newman himself is quick to note, a feature of the period. It is notable that neither he nor Harris ever received (or expected to receive) a doctorate. In its pioneering days, architectural history built itself up as a profession through acts of patronage much more than is the case today. For Newman, encounters of the Pevsner sort continued to shape his career. This proved the case when he was approached at the end of his MA by the then Director of The Courtauld, Sir Anthony Blunt – infamous ever since for his public unmasking as a Soviet spy in 1979 – to join the staff after graduation.

Accepting Blunt’s offer, Newman went on to teach at The Courtauld until retirement. He guided a generation of British art and architectural historians and supervised around twenty-seven PhDs. Unlike Harris, he maintained a relationship with the 'Buildings of' series through work on the early Wales volumes and in his role as advisory editor from 1983. He also worked as editor for 'Architectural History', the journal of the SAHGB, between 1975 and 1985. Newman emerged as an influential scholar-facilitator: an editor, advisor and teacher who was, in many ways, cut from the same cloth as Pevsner. Both were aware of their position in a community of scholars and built upon the work of their predecessors. They were as concerned with their own contributions as with supporting those of the future. As Newman recalled of Pevsner’s views on later editions of his guides:

John Newman on later editions of the guides (C1804/04/04 [00:31:17 - 00:32:30])

Download John Newman on later editions of the guides Transcript

For all the stories they contain, Pevsner’s guides have a story of their own too. History, even that of buildings, is ultimately the product of people, and of their personalities. For Harris and Newman, and many like them, involvement with the 'Buildings of England' and its Welsh, Scottish and Irish companion series was a pivotal experience. In the early days of architectural history the field was even smaller than it still is. Leading figures took on the stature of giants, with their shadows casting right down to the present. Their influence was disproportionate, and could have career-defining consequences. Such is the case with pioneers.

Blog by Jake Bransgrove, Project Assistant for the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain’s project ‘An Oral History of British Architectural Historians’. The collection can be found by searching C1804 at sami.bl.uk. For similar collections please see the collection guide on Oral histories of architecture and landscape design.

Further Reading:
Harries, Susie. 2011. Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life. London: Chatto & Windus. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YC.2012.a.5930]
Harris, John. 1998. No Voice From the Hall: Early Memories of a Country House Snooper. Oxford: John Murray. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection LT.2013.x.3394]
Newman, John. 1969. The Buildings of England: West Kent and Weald. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection W.P.429/38]
Newman, John. 1969. The Buildings of England: North East and East Kent. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YC.2003.a.2775]
Pevsner, Nikolaus, and John Harris. 1964. The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection W.P.429/27]

06 June 2022

Recording of the week: One stormy night

This week’s selection comes from Jonathan Benaim, Audio Cataloguing Coordinator.

Recordings of weather can give us a palpable sense of a time and place. When sounds from the surrounding environment are captured in a weather recording, we are able to imagine the scene, the totality conveying a cohesive sonic picture.

A cloudy skyA cloudy sky. Photo credit: Jonathan Benaim.

This thunderstorm recording has a nocturnal feel and evokes the natural world both great and small. It opens with the staccato sound of raindrops and the chirping of field crickets. It then surprises with a sudden, loud rumble of thunder. As the storm rolls on, the raindrops mass, their sound becoming louder and denser.

Second storm of the night France 2009 [BL REF 160301]

The recording is rich in texture and each detail helps us to build an image in our mind. The distant calls of sheep suggest a countryside location and also give a spatial depth. The pastoral sounds offer a soft counterpoint to the arresting claps of thunder.

The recording was made by Kyle Turner in Lacave, Lot, in France, on 25 May 2009. It is described in the British Library’s catalogue as the arrival of the second storm of the night. Kyle Turner recorded three storms that night in the same location. You can listen to the first storm of the night and the third storm of the night on British Library Sounds.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

31 May 2022

Covid-19 Testimony Project Database launch

Today, the British Library publishes a database of testimony collections that were created over the last two years, which document the UK's experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In this blog Lucy Pinkney, Covid-19 Testimony Project Researcher, writes about her work on the database.

CDC model of CoronavirusThis illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS.

I think we can all say that Covid-19 turned our world upside down. Nearly two years of social distancing, wearing masks and living in ‘bubbles’ has changed how we see the world and other people. For oral history, the pandemic completely threw face-to-face interviews out of the window, and so we have had to adapt.

This database was created as a way to document Covid-19 testimony projects around the UK and to enable people to do their own research into these projects to find out more about peoples lives during the pandemic. Without the ease of face-to-face interviews, we have had to get creative. Many of the projects included in the database relied on online submissions of personal diaries, artwork and photography (amongst other things) to reflect on how our lives changed during the pandemic. It includes a range of areas across the UK, such as London boroughs like Hackney, cities like Birmingham and Bristol, and also groups of people such as the d/Deaf community and the LGBTQ+ community. By collating these projects, it gives a voice to the lives of these people during the pandemic.

During my temporary job as Covid-19 Testimony Project Researcher, I  communicated with over 150 projects that fit the criteria of being a Covid-19 testimony project. Many of the projects were collated during the first and second wave of lockdowns in the UK, but I also did some research myself to find if there were any more recent projects. I had many positive responses to my emails, and I have slowly been able to update the database so that it can be made publicly available. Some of the information that is in the database includes how the testimonies were made, such as written or audio diaries, interviews or photographs, and other information like the archive that material is kept in and who to contact to find out more.

When researching the projects, I did discover some of my favourites, and many of them were projects from smaller areas in the UK or specific groups of people. I found that reading about their lives during the pandemic made me really think about how each person was impacted differently. Many of the projects mentioned how the communities came together to support one another, and to see that in diary form or even photographs is really inspiring. I also found that each organisation who decided to do a testimony project all had the same motivation: that we are living in such a unique time that it should be documented for future generations. This resonated the most with me, as despite the fear and worry that has clouded the last two years of our lives, we are living through a unique time, and it brings me joy to see communities coming together and documenting their lives for future generations.

---

The database - collated by the Oral History team - can be found on the Covid-19 Collection Guide. The database can be downloaded as a spreadsheet and is an open resource for further research and re-use.

With thanks to Camille Johnston for managing the development of the database over the last two years and supervising Lucy Pinkney.

30 May 2022

Recording of the week: Oak Apple Day

This week's selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer (Digital Multimedia Collections).

Sunday 29 May is Oak Apple Day in England. You may also have heard this called Royal Oak Day, Show Oak Day or Shick Shack Day, depending where in the country you live.

Two people in a crowd, wearing sprigs of oak leaves in their hair29.5.17 Castleton Oak Apple Day 073 by Donald Judge via Flickr. Creative Commons attribution CC BY 2.0.

The day was once a public holiday and commemorated the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Charles II was said to have avoided capture by hiding in the Boscobel Oak in Shropshire, so in subsequent years people wore sprigs of oak leaves to celebrate.

The Royal Hospital in Chelsea, founded by Charles II, continues to celebrate Founder’s Day every year by decorating his statue in a wreath of oak leaves. All Chelsea Pensioners attend the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1692. Even when the building was bricked in to protect it from the Blitz in World War II, the outside was adorned with oak leaves.

Elsewhere around England, many houses would be decorated with boughs of oak, and the day was full of fun and festivities. This description from South Somerset was recorded in 1984, and features Bert Knapp reminiscing about Oak Apple Day in the small village of Huish Episcopi.

Bert Knapp recalls Oak Apple Day [BL REF C1033/169]

Download transcript

This clip comes from a large collection of recordings made by Jacqueline and Bob Patten from 1969-2001. They gathered a range of traditional songs, music, storytelling and customs, which were archived in the British Library in 2002. Jacqueline recalls the occasion they went to Huish Episcopi:

It was a very festive day, a celebration of Oak Apple Day and a reason for people of Huish Episcopi and Langport to come together. Town Bands were more prevalent then and the local band playing lifted everyone’s spirits. Children, teenagers, younger adults and older adults all shared in the fun together. The church bells were rung and oak branches festooned the village. The day celebrated an event in history that had an impact on the lives of people in the UK for generations to come, while the festivities on the day had become a local tradition, passed down from generation to generation, something inherent to the local community.

Demographics changed greatly during the second half of the twentieth century and the change has gathered pace in the twenty-first century, yet local traditions that have survived continue to play a significant role in a local community. They are a time for people who have moved into an area recently to join in, learn more about their new locality and to celebrate it; while people who have been born and bred in the area are woken out of any apathetic acceptance and appreciate it anew. It integrates people, and bridges any generation gap, the atmosphere is infectious, intangible.

As Jacqueline notes, several parts of the country still hold events, and the day has also been combined with various other celebrations and traditions over the years. This includes a charity fundraising procession with decorated oak sticks in Herefordshire, and a horseback rider wearing flower garlands in Derbyshire. Like Oak Apple Day itself, the origins of these customs can be traced back to several different sources.

Traditionally a day of laughter and games, in some areas, if people were found not be wearing their sprig of oak - or sometimes caught still wearing it after midday - they risked a cheeky punishment. This led to the day also being called ‘Pinch-Bum Day’ in Sussex and ‘Bumping Day’ in Essex. The following description from Miss Lilley (recorded in 1966) recalls the dangers of not being properly dressed with oak during her childhood in Huntingdonshire.

Miss Lilley describes Oak Apple Day 'punishments' [BL REF C433/33]

Download transcript

Pink waveform logo of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project

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

23 May 2022

Recording of the week: an intriguing description of a legendary media figure

This week’s selection comes from Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History and Director of National Life Stories.

A photograph of the outside of the Victorian neo-classical mansion, Cherkley Court.Cherkley Court, home of Lord Beaverbrook and the setting for his meeting with Bob Edwards described in this audio clip. Photo by Ian Capper via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the Library’s Breaking the News exhibition is in full swing, it seemed apt to feature a Recording of the Week from An Oral History of the British Press. Listen to this very amusing anecdote from Bob Edwards, as he recalls meeting the famous newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook. To me this extract humanises these two prominent people, giving us an insight that I don’t think you’d find anywhere but in an oral history interview!

Bob Edwards recalls his first meeting with Lord Beaverbrook [BL REF C638/10]

Download Transcript

Bob Edwards (1925-2012) was a seasoned and respected journalist who worked at an array of regional and national newspapers, including time as editor of the Glasgow Evening Citizen, the Daily Express, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror.

Canadian-British William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, (1879-1964) was a powerful newspaper proprietor, owning the Daily Express. Beaverbrook served in Churchill’s cabinet in World War Two. Can you spot the mention of Churchill in the audio clip?

Oral historian Louise Brodie recorded nearly nine hours with Bob Edwards over three sessions in 2007, to add his life story to An Oral History of the British Press. This National Life Stories project began in 1994 and was revived in 2006 thanks to support from the British Library as part of the Front Page exhibition, which was also based on the Library’s amazing news collections. Listen to this interview in full and others from the collection at British Library Sounds

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

16 May 2022

Recording of the week: On climbing mountains - a woman's view

This week’s selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Woman wearing a long sleeved black shirt, trousers, and a climbing harness with gear attached, climbing an outdoor rock facePhoto by Cade Prior via Unsplash

In this oral history interview, Jean Drummond looks back at the times when she used to rock climb as part of the Pinnacle Club, a UK based club of women climbers that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Jean Drummond describes changes to climbing [BL REF C1876/24]

Download transcript

I was quite intrigued to listen to a recount of a climbing experience from a woman’s point of view.

Jean describes climbing as a social practice as well as an exercise; climbing requires a partner, and she (almost annoyingly) tells how her body doesn’t allow her to be the leading companion anymore.

Jean describes the technical components of climbing these days, starting from the climbing gear, which became more practical and easy to buy as shops to buy equipment from multiplied.

She admires the scientific aspects of this change, although there is a nostalgic nuance in the admission that it is not the sport she used to love. Perhaps the adventure side has been lost with the proliferation of climbing walls, very much a different experience of being out there, in nature.

She describes climbing nowadays as something more similar to gymnastics, while recalling memories of when she saw mountains as her friend. This summarises in one simple image the core essence of the discipline: the challenge of reaching the top, a sense of accomplishment that accompanies the final step.

On a personal note, climbing could be a metaphorical wall, a way to push our limits; it helps with being centred in the present moment, and gives a sense of reward when reaching the top.

With self-motivation, mountains can be our friends, a genuine escape from our inner fears.

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

09 May 2022

Recording of the week: From potato market to sound archive

This week's selection comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer.

Fruit, vegetable and cut flower lorries are unloaded inside Covent Garden market in 1940s London. Traders seen here include W Bailey Ltd and F A Secrett Ltd of Walton-on-Thames. The empty lorry in the foreground was in use by potato merchants.

Life in Wartime, Covent Garden Market. Photo credit: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, via Wikimedia Commons.

Some interviews make you travel far away, but some shine a light on the history of the building where you are sitting. Tom Arblaster was born in 1930 in Walsall (West Midlands) and was interviewed as part of the Oral History of the Post Office project in 2002. After working as a butcher’s boy at 12, a carpenter’s apprentice and piano factory worker, he joined the Post Office in London. In this recording he describes his work as a young postman in the King’s Cross area in the mid-1950s. In the following extract, he paints a vivid picture of the activities around the potato market, which was located where the current British Library building now stands.

Tom Arblaster on the potato market [BL REF C1007/53]

Download transcript.

In this fascinating 5 hour and 36 minute long interview, preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, Tom Arblaster talks about his life before and after the Second World War. In particular, he describes the hostility and racism that he and his wife Ingeborg faced because she was German, and the love between them that helped them through financial hardship and social isolation. He recalls the joy of being given a modern, prefab council home, even if it came at a cost of working more than a thousand extra hours at the Post Office to afford the rent. At the time of the interview, he was still working part-time in the Almeida Street post office, a couple of miles away from the British Library.

Pink logo banner for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Follow @BL_OralHistory, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.