Tag Archives: Nottingham

Noise and Silence

Dr James Mansell from the University of Nottingham considers noise and silence, and introduces his work to inform a future exhibition looking at this phenomenon. 

We remember the tragedy of the First World War by observing a two minute silence. Today, we recognize this as a mark of reverence and respect. In the 1920s, however, enacting silence on Armistice Day was interpreted more literally as a sonic response to the noise of the war. The deafening and nerve-wracking sounds of mechanized warfare produced a new age of sonic sensitivity after 1918. It was feared that shell shock, or versions of it, might be replicated in ordinary people on noisy city streets. The rumble of industry and motor traffic was celebrated by some, but treated as a pathogen of the utmost severity by many more. Just as the battlefields of the war had been enveloped by noise, so too, it was feared, would towns and cities become cauldrons of auditory torture.

It was in this context that the Science Museum in South Kensington hosted a Noise Abatement Exhibition in 1935 promoted by the newly-formed Anti-Noise League. Among the exhibits were two replica homes, one built using standard fittings, the other kitted out with the latest ‘soundproofed’ designs. Visitors were encouraged to buy ‘soundproofed’ typewriters, for example. The exhibition’s main purpose, though, was to convince the public and lawmakers alike that noise was a danger to individual and social wellbeing (see, for example, the thermometer installation, measuring different severities of noise, in the image below). Even those who didn’t notice noise, it was claimed, were being subjected to its unceasing vibrations. Leading doctors claimed that hearing unrhythmical noise upset the natural rhythms of the body. Writer H. G. Wells opened the Exhibition, arguing that ‘Just as people were able to detach themselves from each other visually, so they ought to be able to achieve auditory isolation.’ And yet, as we know, silence is among the scarcest of resources in the modern world. The Anti-Noise League failed to hold back the tide of noise.

A large sign requesting 'Quiet for the Wounded' hangs outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, in September 1914. Heavy traffic has been diverted to minimise noise in the street.
A large sign requesting ‘Quiet for the Wounded’ hangs outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, in September 1914. Heavy traffic has been diverted to minimise noise in the street.

Eighty years on, the Science Museum is once again turning its attention to sound. This time the aim is not so much to confront the problem of noise (others are doing this), but rather to understand the historical and cultural connections between noise and other sonic categories, particularly silence and music, in industrialised societies. The AHRC-funded project ‘Music, Noise and Silence’ run jointly by the Science Museum, the University of Nottingham and the Royal College of Music, aims to collect ideas and narratives for a future Science Museum exhibition on sound. Three workshops are being convened in 2015 bringing together academic researchers, museum professionals, performers, acousticians and others, to sketch out ideas for this future exhibition through talks, performances and debates. The network’s first meeting, exploring connections between music and silence, took place 25-26 February 2015 at the Science Museum and the Royal College of Music. It included a trip to an anechoic chamber (a perfectly silent room) and performances of works by composers interested in silence as a creative medium as well as academic talks.

The second workshop took place at the University of Nottingham, 26-27 March 2015. Focussing on the relationship between noise and silence, the workshop had a number of events open to all. Sound art group Audialsense unveiled a specially-created sound installation in the tunnel between Portland and Trent buildings.

Image Credits:

No Needless Noise: Logotype of the Anti-Noise League, pressure group behind the 1935 exhibition. Credit: Science Museum. B990168|10317890.

‘Quiet for the wounded’ © IWM (Q 53311)

November 1913: The Archduke, Nottingham and a Near Miss

In this blog post from the Centre for Hidden Histories, Professor John Beckett explores how  Nottinghamshire, and the University College, Nottingham (as it then was) have a direct link to the origins of the First World War and to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s misadventures with firearms.

In November 1913 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, spent some time in England, and this included a visit to Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire. The owner of this former monastic property was the sixth Duke of Portland, who was lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, and also President of the University College Council. In the latter position he was spearheading efforts to have the College upgraded to full university status. These efforts had to be put on hold when the war broke out.

The Sixth Duke of Portland
The Sixth Duke of Portland

The archduke and his duchess travelled to Welbeck by train on 22 November 1913, alighting at Worksop to be driven by carriage to the Abbey. Fellow guests during their week-long stay included the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and Arthur Balfour, leader of the Conservative Party.

During the course of the week they spent at Welbeck the archduke enjoyed shooting parties at Clowne Hills, Clipstone and Gleadthorpe, and he and the duchess visited Sherwood Forest, Bolsover Castle and Hardwick Hall.

‘I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.’

The Archduke had an accident with a gun during the shooting. Portland later recalled that ‘One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself.’ Portland subsequently reflected: ‘I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.’

Archduke Franz Ferdinand at a shooting party at Welbeck
Archduke Franz Ferdinand at a shooting party at Welbeck

Nine months later, and safely back home in Vienna, the  archduke and his wife set out on a journey to Sarajevo, the  capital of Bosnia Herzegovina to open a hospital. They were  aware that this might prove to be a dangerous trip. So it proved when they were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914.

The assassination made relations between the Austro-Hungarian government and Serbia even more strained than they already were. Under existing treaty obligations Russia sided with Serbia and Germany with Austria. When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on 3 August 1914, Britain was drawn into the conflict as a result of their alliances with other European states, and war was declared the following day.

Through the war years, the Duke and Duchess of Portland played a leading role locally encouraging enlistment among young men, and supportive activities among young women (such as knitting woollen clothes for soldiers in the trenches).

The Duke continued to chair the College Council, regular meetings which between 1914 and 1918 received reports of former students and serving staff who had died in the conflict. He remained President of the Council until his death in 1943. Nottingham received its charter as a full university in 1948.

Duchess Winifred (1863-1954) nursed injured veterans at Welbeck Abbey during the First World War and her experiences in supporting and also miners led to the creation of Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital in 1929 (closed 1995). She was also responsible for planning and opening a training college that could complete the work of rehabilitation for both veterans and miners – giving injured working men a new trade that would make them economically independent once more. This is still the role of Portland College, near Mansfield.


Images provided courtesy of Dr John Beckett with thanks.

Remembering the forgotten heroes of the First World War

Flanders Fields, muddy trenches, the poetry of Wilfred Owen, poppies, the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth…ask anyone to conjure an image of the First World War and it is likely to feature something along these lines.

Despite their now iconic status, they don’t offer us the complete picture of what became one of the deadliest conflicts in history.

Now, in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Great War, a new national research centre has been launched at The University of Nottingham that will help to explore some of the lesser known stories of the years 1914-19.

Century-long legacy
hiddenhistories1The Centre for Hidden Histories is aiming to pair local groups and societies keen to commemorate the role of their communities in the war with University academics who can offer guidance on how to make their vision a reality.

They are particularly keen to offer support to people in the Sikh, Muslim, West Indian and Caribbean, Eastern European and Jewish communities, which have been widely affected by the century-long legacy of the First World War but whose stories are often overlooked in the narrative perpetuated by the media.

Professor John Beckett, in the University’s Department of History, is leading the new centre. He said:

“Our project is particularly interested in the events and participants that fall outside of the traditional image of the Western Front. We intend to explore themes of migration and displacement, the experience of ‘others’ from countries and regions within Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and the impact and subsequent legacies of the war on diverse communities within Britain, remembrance and commemoration, and identity and faith. We are interested in hearing from community groups who are planning activities to commemorate the years 1914-19, especially those for whom the traditional Armistice Day celebrations may have strikingly different meanings.”

Getting involved
The Centre for Hidden Histories is one of five First World War engagement centres that have been established by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to investigate the war and support community groups in their efforts to research and commemorate the war.

Led by Nottingham, the centre is run by a consortium of universities made up of Derby, Nottingham Trent, Goldsmiths, UCL, Manchester Metropolitan and Oxford Brookes.

As well as academic and research support, the partner universities will also be able to provide some financial grants to the community groups through dedicated Community Challenge and Research Development funds.

Among the projects which the centre is already supporting are:

  • Assistance with arranging and recording anti-war songs in the West Indian tradition to commemorate the contribution made by the West Indies — the Caribbean colonies were represented by more than 18,000 officers and soldiers.
  • The creation of a tapestry that tells the story of the Sikh contribution to the First World War, using traditional Northern Indian craft.
  • The development of an exhibition of the Sikh contribution that could be taken out into the community to other faith groups to develop a deeper understanding of a shared history.

The centre is keen to hear from community groups who have ideas on how to commemorate the First World One and is holding a series of roadshows where people can learn more about the project and how to get involved. These are taking place at:

Wednesday 24th September 6pm-8pm
Lecture Room
Nottingham Mechanics
3 North Sherwood Street, Nottingham NG1 4EZ

Saturday 27th September 10am-12pm
Satta Hasham Room
Leicester Adult Education College 2
Wellington Street
Leicester LE1 6HL

Wednesday 1st October 6pm-8pm
The Green Room
Market Place, Cathedral Quarter
Derby DE1 3AS

Anyone interested in finding out more or booking a place can contact Community Liaison Officer Michael Noble on 0115 748 4942 or at by emailing hiddenhistories@nottingham.ac.uk