An 18th century Jamaican journey with the remarkable Mr Sloane – a guest blog by volunteer Angela Kirk

Hello, my name is Angela and I am studying for an MSc in Information Science at Northumbria University. I also volunteer at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library with its fabulous collection of books on natural history, local history, ancient history and so much more. It has been a great joy to have the opportunity to read some of these great and unique pieces of literature. Here I wish to share with you my experience of Hans Sloane’s ‘A History of Jamaica’ Volume I (1707) & Volume II (1725).


Hans Sloane (1660-1753) went to Jamaica in 1687-1689 as doctor to the island’s governor, the Duke of Albemarle.  The Duke may have unfortunately died during Sloane’s time there but the resulting History of Jamaica is a triumph. The two volumes are majestic books filled with vibrant narrative on life in late 17th century Jamaica alongside stunning illustrations of the fauna and flora of the island.

Sir Hans Sloane

Sir Hans Sloane

Volume I gives the reader, as the title suggests, a history of Jamaica from Christopher Columbus onwards followed by a detailed description of the island as Sloane finds it.  We learn that the population of Jamaica is diverse – English, Spanish, both rich and poor, and African and Native American slaves. Sloane neither condones nor condemns the practice of slavery, detailing it as something that simply exists. This attitude extends to the detailed and distressing descriptions of the horrific punishments meted out to slaves.  To the 21st century reader this attitude can seem callous, but Sloane is only being a man of his time.

What is perceptible is Sloane’s genuine respect for different cultures. He believes the African and Native American way of life is much healthier than that of Europeans and far better suited to the Jamaican climate. Examples given are the use of hammocks for resting, night time camp fires and daily herbal baths.  He also praises the lack of avarice in these communities, feeling the English would benefit greatly from adopting this attitude.  Sloane’s interest in the culture even extends to transcribing songs into sheet music.

The rest of Volume I includes a section on local diseases and cures, not surprising, considering Sloane’s medical background. A segment on local recipes describes the modern day Jamaican favourite Jerk Chicken. In Sloane’s time, we learn, this was prepared to take on hunting expeditions.  The final, and largest, part of the book is devoted to descriptions and illustrations of Jamaican plants and mammals in fantastic detail. The pictures are beautiful.

Cacao plant

Cacao plant

Volume II arrives 18 years after Volume I. The introduction is an entertaining read seeing Sloane tackle his literary critics. He dismisses complaints about mistakes in Volume I saying it was the effect of the climate. With regard to the length of time that elapsed between the volumes, Sloane declares that he has been far too busy practicing medicine and dealing with his affairs.  In response to the notion that he was critical of Jamaica, Sloane firmly declares that in Jamaica he is very much ‘at home’.

In term of content, the second volume concentrates on geology, insects, fish, birds and trees. Convivially written, there is much to learn. The Coconut Tree has a ‘good and wholesome nut’ sustaining a great many Jamaicans. Sloane unwittingly advocates the vegan diet, believing coconut milk is as good as ‘ordinary milk’ and a key ingredient for a marvellous cheesecake.

Chocolate drink label

Chocolate drink label

Sloane is credited with inventing hot chocolate.  He is certainly fond of the chocolate drink he encounters in Jamaica though it takes him a year to be able to stomach it. We learn how chocolate is used among the different communities on the island.  Africans use chocolate to wean their babies. The Native Americans prefer their chocolate with pepper. The Spanish meanwhile add chilli and have become addicts consuming between five to six cups a day.  Sloane warns us that ‘those accustomed to it (chocolate) cannot be without it’.

The book concludes with an amusing description of Sloane’s voyage home to England and his attempt to bring back specimens from Jamaica. Things do not go to plan. His crocodile dies while his pet snake is shot dead in a panic by one of the crew. Sloane however did manage to arrive home with his non-living artefacts and as a result we have the British Museum after he bequeathed his collection to the nation on his death.

Hans Sloane snake

A History of Jamaica gives the reader an entertaining insight into a very different world. Sloane must have put a great deal of time, love and effort into creating these works. Delving into these massive volumes does not disappoint and it feels a great privilege.


The Great North Museum Hancock Library can be found on the second floor of the Great North Museum.  It is home to the collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle University’s Cowen Library. For more information please visit https://greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/collections/library-and-archives

Women in pictures – Part IV: The Second World War by Janette Bell

Welcome to the final part of my blog in which I’ve been celebrating North East women by sharing some photos from TWAM’s collection.  To end with, I’ve chosen some images from the Second World War, showing a few of the experiences women had during this dramatic period.

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In the summer of 1939, conflict became increasingly inevitable.  For many families, one of the earliest impacts was a painful farewell as children were evacuated.  The authorities feared that war would lead to immediate bombing raids, and so on 1 September, two days before war was declared, the first planned evacuation of children began in the largest movement of people ever seen in Britain.  Clutching their small possessions, children were marshalled onto trains to unknown destinations and uncertain futures.  When the first months of war remained quiet on the home front many were brought back home, but further evacuation drives would take place in the summer and autumn of 1940, following the German invasion of France in May-June and the beginning of the Blitz in September.

Female evacuees snapped at Barrington Street, South Shields by a Northern Press photographer

Female evacuees snapped at Barrington Street, South Shields by a Northern Press photographer

As in the First World War, women’s labour was going to be essential to the national effort.  In the Great War, uniformed services for women had remained voluntary.  This time, it soon became obvious that volunteers alone would not be sufficient to meet the country’s needs and in December 1941 women found themselves subject to conscription for the first time.  This affected childless widows and single women, at first aged 20 to 30, but later extended to 19 to 43.  They were offered a choice of the armed forces, industry or Land Army.

Most women opting for the forces went into the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), the largest women’s force.  This meant taking on a non-fighting role in a military unit. Women in the ATS might carry out administrative work, thus releasing men to fight, or they might operate anti-aircraft guns, be a driver or mechanic, or work in an early RADAR station.

ATS girls preparing to work with AA Guns, 1941 [LD & NH Regimental History collection]

ATS girls preparing to work with AA Guns, 1941 [LD & NH Regimental History collection]

Life in the ATS was an experience they would never forget, and often forged lifelong friendships.  Rita Holmes, a Fencehouses girl conscripted into the ATS in 1942, described her experiences to TWAM in 2009 – being posted to different bases around the country, learning to march, PE before breakfast and terrible food, dances where girls were very much in demand as there were always more men on base than women, and being constantly in uniform, even off duty.  “It was a bit of a shock”, Rita recalls, “but looking back it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed”.

"Sergeant Sally", Quin's bedding factory, January 1945

“Sergeant Sally”, Quin’s bedding factory, January 1945

If you opted to work in industry, you could find yourself working in a factory that had been turned over to war work.  The photo left shows a young woman in military gear making a spring at Quin’s factory, Benfield Road, Newcastle.  Quin’s was a bedding factory taken over by the Ministry of Supply to make springs for guns and tanks instead of for mattresses.

 

 

 

Women shipyard workers pictured at a wartime launch

Women shipyard workers pictured at a wartime launch

Married women with families were not conscripted, but all women between 18 and 60 had to register for war work.  They might work in industry at a site close to home, or they might opt for civil defence.  The ARP and Fire Services recruited both male and female volunteers, while the Women’s Voluntary Service for Civil Defence carried out welfare tasks such as running rest centres and mobile canteen services, providing temporary accommodation for bombed out families, doing salvage work and encouraging efforts to save and re-use resources.

Newcastle Civil Defence volunteers preparing a meal in a camp kitchen

Newcastle Civil Defence volunteers preparing a meal in a camp kitchen

 

WRVS volunteers, South Shields 1945

WRVS volunteers, South Shields 1945

Everything was in short supply, including material for clothes.  Fashion reflected this, with short, straight skirts for women and single-breasted suits and no turn-ups for men. Women doing practical jobs often wore trousers.  It was a point of honour for women to look their best despite the difficulties and bright red lipstick, well styled hair and legs coloured with gravy browning (to mimic scarce tights) were the order of the day.  In the last months of the war a large ‘Victory Roll’ curl at the front of the hair became the style of the moment.

Vogue knitting pattern book, 1945

Vogue knitting pattern book, 1945

Everyone was knitting, either for the services or for themselves – wool was also rationed, so often women recycled the yarn from an old garment to make something new.   This Vogue knitting pattern book from 1945 shows the straight skirts and military-style shoulders popular at the time and promises “over 40 coupon-value designs” inside.

 

 

 

 

Photographer Amy Flagg of Westhoe Village

Photographer Amy Flagg of Westhoe Village

 

North East towns suffered considerably from air raids because of their vital industrial sites, and many families suffered through loss of life, injury, or loss of home.  An account of how one town suffered was created by photographer Amy Flagg (1893-1965), a local woman from Westoe Village.  Throughout the war, Flagg recorded local bomb damage and its aftermath in South Shields in a series of three booklets titled “Humanity and Courage, a Pictorial Record of Air Raid Damage in the County Borough of South Shields”.        

Finally in 1945 came peace.  As after the Great War, out came the bunting and the festivities began.  It would be a long time before life was truly back to normal (rationing, for instance, did not end completely until 1954), but after years of war things could begin to settle down once more.  Better things were on the horizon – 1948 would see the introduction of the National Health Service, and the 1950s and 1960s would bring new opportunities and freedoms.

I’m going to end on a photo from just after the war, perhaps heralding the shape of things to come.  Wright & Weire was a radio components firm which moved to South Shields in 1945.  This shot of the factory floor in 1947 is an early illustration of how many women would come to earn their living in the second half of the 20th century.  But that would be another story!

Factory floor, Wright & Weire, South Shields 1947

Factory floor, Wright & Weire, South Shields 1947

If you’d like to see more photos from our collection, many can be viewed online using TWAM’s collections search engine.  To find more pictures of people, try typing ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ into the Theme box and see what comes up!

 

 

Women in Pictures – Part III: Between the wars by Janette Bell

For some time now I’ve been a volunteer in TWAM’s Documentation Team at Discovery.  I’ve been working with the TWAM online photo collection, and along the way I’ve found some great images of women I wanted to share.  Earlier this year I posted blogs featuring women before and during the Great War.  This time, I’d like to explore the period between the wars and next week I’ll be posting some photos taken during the Second World War.

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Gloucester Road Victory Tea, 4 August 1919

Gloucester Road Victory Tea, 4 August 1919

Peace at last!  After years of terrible, attritional war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of young men, the Great War was over.  Out came the bunting, and up and down the country neighbours celebrated with Victory parties.  Women created food and fancy dress costumes out of whatever they could find, and looked forward to a return to normal life.

Women’s Suffrage organisations had been extremely active between 1900 and 1914, but during the war most of these groups had suspended their activity and supported the national effort.  Now they were able to take up their arguments again.  This, along with the visible contribution of women’s war work, helped to influence two important pieces of legislation in 1918.

Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen Wilkinson

Firstly, women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification gained the vote (it wasn’t until 1928 that all women over 21 would be able to vote).  Secondly, women also gained the right to be elected into Parliament for the first time.  This led to the north east seeing its first female MP step onto the stage: the Right Hon Ellen Wilkinson, who took Middlesbrough East for Labour in 1924.  A few years later she would become MP for Jarrow.  Remember that name, we’ll be coming back to her later.

 

 

 

 

For many ordinary women, war had brought great change – the Parliament website reports that in 1914, 24% of employed people were women but by 1918 this had risen to 37 per cent.  Many had worked in environments they would never have dreamed of.  This didn’t lead to an immediate overhaul of the workplace – the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act 1919 meant that most women workers in engineering firms had to give up their jobs again, for instance.  But a wider range of occupations started to become available to women.

Employees at the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s printing works in Pelaw. Circa 1920s.

Employees at the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s printing works in Pelaw. Circa 1920s.

Image 4 jpeg - TWCMS_1997_240

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s dress reflected greater confidence and also the lighter mood in the country.  Corsets went out, giving a more comfortable and relaxed look.  Shorter skirts and dropped waists came into fashion and beading became popular on evening dresses.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of a new entertainment medium – radio.  Public broadcasting began in 1922, and in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s radio ownership boomed.  People could now listen to live plays, music and comedy in their own homes.  Cinema was also on the up.  Purpose built ‘picture houses’ had begun to appear in 1910 and by 1914 most towns had one, but after the First World War a new wave of bigger and more luxurious cinemas started to appear, where for a few pennies people could escape for an afternoon or evening to a more glamorous world.  And of course there was still time to enjoy more traditional pastimes, such as a walk in the park or a day at the seaside.

Nunsmoor Park, Gateshead, c. 1920-1930

Nunsmoor Park, Gateshead, c. 1920-1930

A day at the beach, c. 1920-1930

A day at the beach, c. 1920-1930

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But for most people in our area, life between the wars was still not easy.  The Twenties had begun with a short post-war boom, but soon the economy was struggling and the decade drew to a close in bleak uncertainty following the 1929 Wall Street Crash.  The 1930s brought deep economic depression, with the industrial north one of the worst hit regions, suffering c. 70% unemployment.   Jarrow was hit particularly hard with local industry suffering blow after blow and by 1936 most of the town’s men were unemployed.  The community was campaigning for a new steelworks to create jobs, and Ellen Wilkinson (remember her?) was at the heart of this campaign.

Nicknamed ‘Red Ellen’ for both her red hair and her politics, Ellen Cicely Wilkinson (1891 – 1947) came to the North East as M.P. for Middlesbrough East in 1924, then in 1935 became M.P. for Jarrow.  In October 1936 she was a crucial figure in organising the Jarrow Crusade, a ‘hunger march’ of 200 local men who walked 300 miles from Jarrow to London to present a petition for assistance to Parliament.

Wilkinson in action at a rally

Wilkinson in action at a rally

The Jarrow Crusade was not the first, or even the largest, hunger march of the era, but was distinguished by its respectability and cross party appeal and gathered wide sympathy en route.  Although no immediate improvements were brought about by the Crusade, it became an enduring symbol of working class dignity and suffering.  Wilkinson’s book ‘The Town That Was Murdered’ (1939) is her account of the event.

In the late 1930s, continuing social hardship across Europe created an opening for far right organisations to take hold and prosper, a development that would eventually lead to the Second World War.  Next week, in the final part of this blog, I’ll be delving into some of TWAM’s photos showing women’s experiences during the 1939-45 war.

If you’d like to see more photos from our collection, many can be viewed online using TWAM’s collections search engine.  To find more pictures of people, try typing ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ into the Theme box and see what comes up!

Paul Nash, a Romantic Surrealist

Landscape from a Dream 1936-8 Paul Nash 1889-1946 Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London, 2016

Landscape from a Dream 1936-8 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London, 2016

This lovely picture, Landscape from a Dream, is a highlight of the surrealist-influenced pictures in the Paul Nash exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery, showing until 14 January. This painting is Nash’s attempt to capture the mystery and power of a dream. Its contradictory elements have aspects in common with surrealist paintings by artists such as Salvador Dali and René Magritte. The huge mirror facing us reveals an alternative reality featuring an extraordinary landscape with a huge globe in a red sky behind a line of small spheres with stalk-like shadows. Another sphere in front of the mirror creates a link between this strange land and the viewer’s space. Nash described the spheres as souls, and said that the hawk looking at its mirror image was part of the real world. (In actuality, the hawk was based on an Egyptian stone statuette that Nash owned.) Through the folding screen we see a view of the Dorset coast – Nash was fascinated by the strange forms of fossils and marine life in this area.

Nash’s emotional attachment to the English countryside was a feature of his art throughout his life. He described his feeling for landscape, saying, ‘There are places … whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.’ Nash was a significant figure in the Neo-Romantic movement of the 1930s and ’40s.

'Landscape at Iden' 1929 by Paul Nash, Tate, London Photo © Tate, London 2016

‘Landscape at Iden’ 1929 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Tate, London Photo © Tate, London 2016

One of Nash’s special places was Iden in Sussex, where he lived for several years. His painting Landscape at Iden shows the view from his studio window. The slanting perspective and out-of-scale objects in the composition reveal the influence of the Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico. The unreality of the scene is increased by the weird triangular shadow of the woodpile, as well as the screen propped up like a stage-flat on the right. Nash first saw de Chirico’s pictures in London in 1928, and said it was the beginning of ‘a new vision and a new style’ for him.

Nash was haunted by seeing the battlefield carnage of the First World War, and the leafless trees and cut logs in the scene may be references to the dead soldiers. Fallen trees were common metaphors for death at the time. Also, in Nash’s personal mythology, trees had the presence of people. Looking at the picture in this frame of mind, the logs sticking out of the left side of the woodpile start to look like gun barrels. Nash also included a snake wriggling along a fence post on the left, which adds a note of menace to the apparently calm scene.

Blue House on the Shore about 1930-1 Paul Nash 1889-1946 © Tate, London 2016

‘Blue House on the Shore’ about 1930-1 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London 2016

De Chirico’s influence comes through strongly in Blue House on the Shore, where a huge, toy-like building dominates a beach (probably a view from Nash’s visit to the south of France in 1930).

Equivalents for the Megaliths 1935 Paul Nash 1889-1946 © Tate, London 2016

‘Equivalents for the Megaliths’ 1935 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London 2016

Equivalents for the Megaliths is Nash’s reinterpretation of the standing stones at Avebury, a massive New Stone Age (Neolithic) site around 30 miles north of Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Surrealist and abstract influences both make an appearance in this picture as Nash attempts to recreate the visual surprise and mysterious presence of the huge stones (megaliths) in the landscape. These have been transformed into geometric shapes, placed incongruously on the regular lines of a stubble field after the wheat harvest. As we would expect, Nash has played with the perspective, joining the blocks in a perplexing combination.

The two remaining stones at the Cove, Avebury henge, Wiltshire. Photo by JimChampion, 2008, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, GNU Free Documentation License.

The two large stones at the Cove, Avebury henge, Wiltshire. Photo by Jim Champion, 2008, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, GNU Free Documentation License.

Barbury Hill Iron Age Fort, Wiltshire. Photo by Geotrekker72 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Barbary Castle Iron Age Fort, Wiltshire. Photo by Geotrekker72 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The stepped mound in the distance of the composition is probably Barbary Castle, an Iron Age hill fort, about 7 miles from Avebury. (During his career, Nash also often painted the Iron Age hill fort at Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire, though the trees there obscure the shape of the fort.) Nash had a deep feeling for England’s ancient heritage. He wanted to reveal ‘unseen landscapes’, and make people see familiar countryside and objects with fresh eyes.

‘The nest of wild stones’,1936 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, TGA 7050PH/536, © Tate, London 2016. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

‘The nest of wild stones’ 1936 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London 2016, Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

During the 1930s, Nash also explored surrealist techniques of using found objects and collage, trying to free the creative impulse of his unconscious mind. In the exhibition, there’s a fascinating group of Nash’s photographs, such as this image of The nest of wild stones, together with found objects that inspired him. There are also surrealist pieces on show by Eileen Agar, with whom Nash was working at the time.

‘Monster Field’ 1938 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Photo © Tate, London 2016. reative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

‘Monster Field’ 1938 by Paul Nash 1889-1946 ,Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London 2016. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Nash’s imagination was also seized by ‘object personages’ that he discovered in the countryside. One of these, a fallen tree, inspired a series of photographs that he titled Monster Field.

Pillar and Moon 1932-42 Paul Nash 1889-1946 Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London 2016

‘Pillar and Moon’ 1932-42 by Paul Nash 1889-1946, Tate, London. Photo © Tate, London 2016. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Nash began his picture of Pillar and Moon during his main surrealist phase in the 1930s, and returned to it a few years before his death. Nash said that the stone ball on the pillar was a counterpart for the cold, lifeless ball of the moon, and he created a scene that has the uncanny quality of a dream. Nash had been fascinated by the mystery of night-time scenes since early in his career. In an essay on ‘Dreams’ (a typescript in the Tate Archive) he wrote, ‘The divisions we may hold between night and day – waking world and that of the dream, reality and the other thing, do not hold. They are penetrable, they are porous, translucent, transparent; in a word they are not there.’ Like many other of his surrealist compositions, Pillar and Moon brings together several strands in his art – mystery, dreams, and an emotional identification with English landscape.

The exhibition is organised by Tate Britain in association with the Laing Art Gallery and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. It is on show at the Laing Art Gallery until 14 January. The Paul Nash Exhibition Guidebook is available online and through the Gallery shop, £24.99.

Paul Nash and Landscape: Events at the Laing

Wednesday 1 November, 12.30-1.15pm: Paul Nash, Cultural Landscapes and Interwar Britain, with Ysanne Holt, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Northumbria University.
£4, students free.

Tuesday 14 November, 12.30-1.15pm: Paul Nash: Imagined Landscapeswith Emma Chambers, Curator Modern British Art, Tate, who curated the Paul Nash exhibition.
£5.

Thursday 23 November, 7-10pm: Laing by Night: Surrealism Set Loose
Experience the Laing like never before with this late event inspired by Surrealists like Paul Nash. Free your creativity with techniques the Surrealists used to access the subconscious.
£15 per person, exhibition entry included.

 

The Sound of the Singing Sands: Part 1

Inspired by a collection of ‘Singing Sand’ samples in the Great North Museum: Hancock rock collection and accounts of earlier research, I’ve been given the opportunity to dig a little deeper and visit some local beaches where the sand has been reported to sing.

Much of what has been written on the subject of musical sands describes the sounds that occasionally emanate from sand dunes. An account of booming dunes in the Great Desert of Arabia published in 1947 describes them as having: ‘a deep musical booming sound’, which was often triggered by a group or individual walking across the dunes.

Image: Sahara Booming Sand. NEWHM : 2005.H1192

Image: Sahara Booming Sand. NEWHM : 2005.H1192

In contrast, the singing of beach sands has been likened to whistling or squeaking. The singing sands at Camas Sgiotaig near Cleadale on Eigg are well-known. Hugh Miller (stonemason, geologist, author and editor), is credited with their discovery during a visit in 1844. Miller observed that when striking the sand obliquely with his foot, the resulting sound was ‘a shrill, sonorous note’. A full account of his visit to Eigg is recorded in The Cruise of the Betsey, published posthumously in 1858.

Image: The Cruise of the Betsy. Great North Museum: Hancock Library

Image: The Cruise of the Betsy. Great North Museum: Hancock Library

In 1887 during the first lecture of the season ‘Grains of Sand’ to the Bournemouth Society for Natural Science, Cecil Carus-Wilson described the discovery of ‘musical’ sand on the beach at a spot between Studland Bay and Poole Harbour in Dorset, which ‘gives out a distinct note when walked upon or agitated by the hand or a stick.’ In his November 1888 lecture, he stated ‘This sample here is musical sand from Studland Bay. You will doubtless be disappointed to find that our local sounding sand cannot compete with the Eigg sand in point of musical attainments.’ At that time he was not aware of other singing sand deposits in Europe, but received a number of notifications regarding occurrences of musical sands (for example, at Arneil Bay in Ayrshire), following the publication of a letter in Nature (1888), entitled ‘Sonorous Sand in Dorsetshire’.

Image: Eigg beach sand. NEWHM : 2005.H1341

Image: Eigg beach sand. NEWHM : 2005.H1341

Closer to home Dr. J. Carrick Murray (in Tomlinson’s Guide to Northumberland 1888) writes:

‘Singing sands are to be found at Whitley, on the way to St. Mary’s Island. This sound is not musical, but rather a harsh whirring, or as Miller, in his Cruise of the Betsy, calls it, a ‘woo, woo, woo’. It is most marked when walking over, or rather through, the high dry oolitic sand beyond the slipping stones at the Briar Dene, just below where the volunteers encamp’.

Local research during the 1960s pinpointed several sites along the Northumberland coast where the sand has been reported to sing, including locations near Seaton Sluice and Blyth where it was observed that the sand ‘sang on the beach’. This project involved the acquisition of more than 150 sand samples, both local and worldwide, which are housed in the Natural History Society of Northumbria petrology collection.

Image: Blyth A ‘sang on beach’. NEWHM : 2005.H1336

Image: Blyth A ‘sang on beach’. NEWHM : 2005.H1336

In 1973, Ridgeway and Scotton found ‘whistling sand’ at 33 places in Britain, including Bamburgh and Cullercoats in Northumberland, as a result of personal investigation and letters received. They were reasonably confident that their list was complete, having taken the trouble to investigate beaches adjacent to any that they knew to ‘whistle’.

Image: Bamburgh, Northumberland

Image: Bamburgh, Northumberland

The next stage of the project involves visiting local beaches where the sand has previously been found to sing. Working with Tim Shaw of Newcastle University who has the expertise to record the sound of the singing sands, this will be an interesting opportunity to explore the possibility of experiencing this curious phenomenon.

To be continued…

Thank you to John Cresswell of Bournemouth Natural Science Society for information pertaining to the singing sand research of Cecil Carus-Wilson.

Selected References

  • Cruise of the Betsey.  H. Miller 1858
  • “Musical sand” C. Carus-Wilson.  Bournemouth Soc. Nat. Sci. 2 (1888): 1-20.
  • Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland.  W.W. Tomlinson 1888.
  • Mystery of Singing Sands.  E.R. Yarham.  Natural History Magazine 1947.
  • MUSICAL SAND Part 1   The Singing Sands of the Seashore.  A.E. Brown, W.A. Campbell, D.A. Robson and E.R. Thomas.  Proceedings of the University of Durham Philosophical Society. 1961.
  • Whistling Sand Beaches in the British Isles.  K. Ridgeway and J.B. Scotton.  Nature Vol. 238 1972.