Archives, Audio archives, England, Great Britain, Historical documents, Oral history, recording technology, women's history

Early Spoken word recordings

brown and black gramophone
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Have you ever wondered how Christabel Pankhurst sounded when rousing women to fight for the right to vote? Or Aga Khan III speaking to Muslim people? Or the Queen mom as a young woman exhorting the women of England to be brave during war? How about Robert Baden Powell, speaking to young boyscouts in the early 20th century?

We can easily find material to read about these people and what they stood for. But it is rare to actually hear their voices and hear their passion and personality come through in speech.

The British Library Sound archive holds recordings of various public figures including these and many more, most of them recorded before the advent of long-playing records and tapes.

They are recordings of speeches and messages addressed to the British parliament or the public at various events.

The library warns users to be aware that the recordings are historical documents and that language, tone and content could be offensive to  present-day listeners

Archives, Audio archives, England, Great Britain, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Music, Oral history, Research, Scotland

Children’s games and songs

Another interesting collection within the British library’s sound archive are recordings of childrens’ games and songs made by Iona Opie and her husband Peter between 1969 and 1983, the Opie collection.

The Opie’s dedicated their working lives to the documentation of children’s play, folklore, language and literature.

They also published several influential works, most notably The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959).

Recordings are searchable by British county using an alphabetical drop-down menu, or by the name of the interviewer or interviewee.

 

 

Archives, Audio archives, Cornwall, England, Great Britain, Historical novel, Historical research, Oral history, Research, Scotland, Sound effects, Writers, Yorkshire

A snapshot of words and phrases

More from the British Library Sound Archives that I wrote about in last week’s blog post.

Under the BBC Voices project, you can listen to speakers from all the counties of Britain to hear how they pronounce words in the early 21st century – and what words are in their current lexicon.

I took a quick listen to the people from Cornwall – because I’ve heard that people from that region have a strong accent that is difficult for outsiders to understand (though I didn’t find that from what I listened to – local accents are becoming less distinct with the movement of people from different regions). I also listened to speakers from West Yorkshire because that’s where the protagonist of my historical novel comes from. 

 

four women chatting while sitting on bench
Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

Two of the recordings from the West Yorkshire area (Leeds) feature speakers from the Jamaican and Punjabi communities there which adds another flavour to the evolution of the English language

Between 2004 and 2005 group conversations were recorded in 303 locations involving a total of 1,293 people across the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The vast majority of conversations were conducted in English, but the collection also includes 31 interviews in Scots, 9 in Welsh, 5 in Scots Gaelic, 3 in Irish, 3 in Ulster Scots, and 1 each in Manx and Guernsey French. The selection available here represents the entire set of conversations conducted in English and Scots.

There are further recordings of accents and dialects on Sounds Familiar, which is an interactive, educational website with 78 extracts from recordings of speakers from across the UK and over 600 audio clips that illustrate changes and variations in contemporary British English. 

 

More about the audio libary holdings next time.

 

Archives, Audio archives, England, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Music, Oral history, Paintings, Research, Sound effects, Street sounds, Theatre, Visual Art, Writers

British library sound archive

brown and black gramophone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

While researching the specifics of early audio recordings for a short story I wrote a few months ago, I came across the Vernadsky library’s collection of sound archives in Kiev and it made me think of this different format of documents that – to a music lover and aurally-focused person such as myself – opens up a whole new world of fascinating historical materials. 

So I started digging around for other similar archival repositories of sound and found  the British Library sound archive in London.

It’s got one of the biggest collections of recorded sound in the world and includes music, spoken word, and ambient recordings as far back as 1905, mostly on metal cylinders. 

A digitizing project began in the 1990s, allowing much of the collection to now be electronically accessible.

The British Library sound archive’s collection of six million recordings come from BBC radio broadcasts and privately made recordings . They include first hand accounts of Holocaust survivors and of WW I vets held in German prisoner-of-war camps, soundscapes of street scenes including open markets from the Victorian era, the sound of a sail being hoisted on its mast on an early sailing ship, recordings of early folk and opera singing, writers – including an interview with Leo Tolstoy and other noteworthy writers – bird calls and wildlife recordings from many parts of the world, and UK dialects. 

In a nutshell – here are the classifications of different recordings available. I’ll delve into these more in the weeks to come. 

Classical music

Drama and literature 

Oral history

Popular music and jazz 

Radio recordings 

Spoken language and dialects 

Wildlife and other nature sounds 

World and traditional music

It makes me think of all the amazing ways these recordings could be used – in art and theatre projects to help set a scene. In academic investigations comparing the predominant sounds of yesteryear to those we hear today. And to hear – perhaps for the first time for contemporary audiences – the sound of birds and animals that have become extinct. 

Many of these archival clips and recordings are available online to the public and some can be imbedded into various kinds of documents, but there are others that are restricted to use by students and faculty of British universities that have subscribed to its collection. However – if you are in London – and go into the reading room, you can listen to almost anything in the collection. 

More in the coming weeks on use of this collection, restrictions, and a selection of recordings.

 

Androssan, England, Historical research, Navy, Research, Scotland, Strathcona, Vancouver history

A real-life connection to the past

sunset ship boat sea
Sail was still the predominant means of propulsion until the late 1800s with the advent of steam engines and early Vancouver harbour scenes are resplendent with sailboats

 

It was a thrilling discovery for me to find an article a couple of days ago, about a real man who had the same thing happen to him as my novel’s character Ron – namely being pressed  (forced) into the service of the navy.

I was researching the town of Androssan, in southwest Scotland where Ron came from to deepen my understanding of his early years, when I came across a news-article from 1899 about the town’s harbour.

The article was in a section of a local historical society website called, “This day in Androssan” that posts historical news-stories from Androssan for every day of the year.

And right below the article about the harbour was a short biographical piece from 1899 about the death of the city’s oldest resident, William Robertson who lived to be 97 years old.

But the part that really grabbed me was that at the age of 16, Mr Robertson was taken by a press-gang.

A press-gang was a gang of naval men who would hang around pubs in harbour towns in the 18th and 19th centuries, plying unsuspecting victims with liquor and shillings.

When the press-gangs had their victims good and drunk, they’d strong-arm them onto a ship waiting for the tide to change to work for the crown.

They Royal navy resorted to this method of recruitment because few went into the navy by choice. There weren’t many who were interested in a life-time of service onboard a naval ship, becoming involved in battles far from home, and earning low wages that life in the royal navy promised. Who would?

Many of those pressed into service never saw their homes and families again, though abandonment was common despite the penalty of execution or torture if the fugitive was caught.

Although press-gangs had largely been eliminated or outlawed by the time of my story’s setting, it was still in occasional use and I will plead artistic license to stretch the date so that I can work it into my story.

And seeing William Robertson’s obituary gave me evidence that this indeed happened in that region where my character lived, and at about that time.

But more than anything, it opened up a well of emotional feeling that will help me imagine Ron’s experience, an almost transcendent connection to a real-life person.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy finding out about my own local history so much. It gives me a direct link to people who really lived here where I do. To people who walked the same streets, went to the same parks, withstood the same weather, and marveled at the same beauty as I do, whether they were figures of notoriety, or rows of nameless children out of an 1892 Strathcona School class picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bradford, England, Historical documents, Historical research, Industrial revolution, Novel excerpt, Research, Women, women's history, Yorkshire

Getting a feel for Bradford

No matter how much you read or watch, there’s nothing like travel to get a deeper feel for a place whether you’re doing historical research or not.

There are things you just don’t think of asking or looking for while researching a place from afar. And things that other sources might not mention because they seem too mundane or obvious.

But by being in a place, you absorb so much, whether consciously or not, that adds depth to understanding your story’s or your ancestors’ settings.

I spent a few days in Bradford in West Yorkshire this week, a place that’s currently going through some tough economic times.

I felt a sadness there – a feeling that was much more palpible than all the research I’ve been doing about the place over the past year.

Is this a vestige of its history? Did the working poor of the 19th century have the same apparent feeling of defeat as I perceived in Bradford this week?

A few people made a lot of money in the textile industry of Bradford in the 19th century.

But the vast majority of its 200,000 inhabitants, including thousands of children – and my protagonist Annie – worked 12-hour days in appalling conditions, earning barely enough to keep body and soul together.

And they lived in dark, dingy, and overcrowded housing surrounded by 200-foot high smokestacks spewing sulphurous smoke from factories throughout the city.

A classic Dickensian scene of the industrial revolution.

Adding to the misery, then and now, Bradford is a very windy place. Relentlessly so. And last week it was really cold too despite the spring season.

It wore me down the way I imagine it wore Annie down as she walked, hunched over in the pre-dawn light on her way to the factory where she worked.

But there were times when the simple pleasure of hearing songbirds chirping made me smile as I walked down the street, or looked out onto the famous moors of the Bronte sisters, and I imagined it bringing some happiness to Annie too.

Along with the more linear research I’ve done so far, I am holding fast to these feelings and impressions of Bradford, adding fuel to the fire of my imagination as I conjure up Annie’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

And also to work them into her memories as she traveled miles from the only home and life she ever knew before arriving in the village of Granville (later Vancouver), in 1885, a tiny settlement with a lumber mill, surrounded by towering evergreens, and a dearth of white women.

Bradford, England, Historical research, Industrial revolution, Novel excerpt, Women, women's history, Yorkshire

Bradford – where Annie comes from

factorygirl
Annie

I’m going to visit the city of Bradford next week – now the curry capital of the UK, so I’ll definitely be trying out curry and banghan bharta.

But the main reason I’m going, is because the protagonist of the novel I’m working on comes from there.  Her name is Annie and she was one of thousands of girls and young women who moved to Bradford to get work in a woolen mill. Here is a picture of what I imagine her to look like.

Originally Bradford was a small market town, with a population of about 7000 people. Up until about 1800, women came from the surrounding villages to sell their spun wool and cloth. But as technology developed, the home-spun work these women did couldn’t compete with the hundreds of yards of fabric that could be produced every day in the mills of Bradford.

It ended the century’s-old spinning and weaving tradition in the countryside. As a result, thousands of girls and women migrated to Bradford from the surrounding towns to get work in the factories, swelling the population to nearly 200,000 by 1850.

By then the city had earned a reputation for being the wool capital of the world, but at a cost.  There were frequent outbreaks of typhus and cholera and mill workers in the city had a life expectancy 20 years.

More than 200 chimneys spewed out sulphurous smoke, polluted the waterways with dyes and other chemicals and had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in England.

Annie and her sister Mavis are only 10 when they get pawned off by their orphanage, and sent to work 12-14  hours a day in one of the textile factories in Bradford