Tag Archives: London

Letting the violin sing: the acoustics of auditoriums

Possibly one of the best known and most widely distributed musical instruments, the violin is honoured on National Violin Day held on 13 December each year. Recognised early for its singing tone, it developed in the Renaissance from earlier bowed instruments, including the medieval fiddle, the lira da braccio and the rebec.

Students at a study day at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1994

Students at a study day at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1994 [MS1/Phot/19/299]

Creating the perfect acoustics for concert halls or auditoriums, that allow the violin to sing, depends on factors such as reverberation or the avoidance of echo. The stimulus of reverberation had been recognised as far back as ancient Rome, with Horace writing of poets who recited their poems at the Roman baths: “How sweetly the enclosed space responds to the voice”. It was the American physicist Wallace Clement Sabine (1868-1919) who developed Sabine’s law, which stated that the product of the reverberation time multiplied by the total absorptivity of the room is proportional to the volume of the room. He thus created a formula that architects and engineers could use when designing a concert hall to achieve the best reverberation time for their particular venue.

Construction of Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/3[

Construction of Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/4/1]

The Turner Sims Concert Hall at the University is much valued for recording due to its fine acoustics. In 1967, Miss Margaret Grassam Sims had left the University a bequest which enabled the building of a concert hall to be named Turner Sims in honour of her father. The Concert Hall that opened in 1974, after many revisions to the project, was, according to Professor Peter Evans of Music, “a most effective and attractive auditorium for music”. The acoustics of this hall were the work of the Institute of Sound and Vibration at the University with Professor Philip Ellis Doak acting as a consultant.

The Special Collections holds a small collection of material for Professor Doak (MS373) that relates to his work as consultant on the Turner Sims Concert Hall, including questionnaires relating to tests for the reverberation times of the hall.

Questionnaire from reverberation test on Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/3]

Questionnaire from reverberation test at Turner Sims Concert Hall, c.1974 [MS373 A3048/3]

The Special Collections holds further archive collections relating to acoustics: (MS337) Dr Raymond Stephens and British Acoustical Society; (MS339) Peter Parkin who had a long career in an advisory role at the British Research Establishment; (MS340) the architectural theorist and acoustician (Philip) Hope Edward Bagenal (1888–1979), amongst whose important acoustic projects was the Royal Festival Hall, London; (MS341) Hugh Creighton, who acted as consultant on a range of acoustic projects in the UK, including for the Barbican Centre, London; and (MS342) Keith Rose, who was a consultant for the BBC.

So the next time that you attend a concert or a lecture in an auditorium, spare a thought to those hardworking individuals who have contributed to the perfection of the acoustics.

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“Dear Diary…”

Tomorrow, 22 September, is #DearDiaryDay.  Do you keep a daily diary?  Have you ever tried?  Apparently, it can be great for your mental health!  Studies have shown that expressing our thoughts in a written form on a daily basis reduces anxiety and stress.

Photograph of S.M.Rich "in sports coat" taken in 1902 or 1903 [MS 168 AJ217/1 p. 34 (Friday 3 February)]

Photograph of S.M.Rich “in sports coat” taken in 1902 or 1903 [MS 168 AJ217/1 p. 34 (Friday 3 February)]

The Special Collections holds a variety of diaries and journals, some providing exhilarating accounts by Arctic explorers and of expeditions to the Nile.  However, a more everyday – but incredibly charming – record comes from Samuel Morris Rich.  We have in our strongroom an impressive 45 of his diaries dating from 1904 until his death in 1945: we like to think of him as our own twentieth-century Samuel Peyps (without the scandalous bits!).  Samuel was born in 1877 and for 40 years worked as a teacher at the Jews’ Free School in London; he was also heavily involved in the South London Liberal Jewish Synagogue.  He was married to Amy (nee Samuel) and they had two children, Connie and Sidney.

Photograph of Samuel's wife Amy. [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Photograph of Samuel’s wife Amy [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Samuel includes a photograph of  Amy at the beginning of his first volume (1905) and notes:

This portrait of Amy taken in the summer of 1898 makes a fitting frontispiece to the whole series of diaries. The dress & hat she wore on the first occasion I “took her out” – to the Crystal Palace – we met at Kennington Gate.

People have different objectives when starting a daily journal: they can be useful in resolving issues and achieving goals.  One of Samuel’s aims, it seems, was to improve his reading habits.  On New Year’s Eve 1904 he wrote this preface to his diary for the coming year:

I started a journal on Nov 26th of this year which I hope to continue until that day on which I join the great majority. The practice is useful for many reasons chief among which is the check it puts upon the method of spending one’s days.

The next day, 1 January, he expanded on his intentions:

On the last day of every month I will make a list of all books, essays or pamphlets read during the month: this will serve as an excellent check on my reading and I will be able to examine whether I have neglected to ready any good book whatever during the month.

A glance through various volumes indicates that Samuel didn’t stick to this initial intention; despite this lapse, it is hard to be critical of such a diligent diarist.

Photograph of Samuel and Amy Rich, 1901 [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Photograph of Samuel and Amy Rich, 1901 [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Samuel’s diaries provide a fascinating record of everyday life in the first half of the nineteenth century.  The timespan covers several world changing events including two world wars. On 28 July 1914 – the official date for the outbreak of the First World War – he records that he and his wife caught the 160 bus to Reigate and had “a good steak”.  He does, however, include a newspaper clipping which records that war had been declared by Austria-Hungary: he includes several of these during this period. The end of the War, 100 years ago in November this year, is recorded with great relief and celebration.

It is interesting to consider who Samuel was writing for; was it solely for his own benefit? Perhaps he wished to leave a record of his life for his children and grandchildren? His diaries are now packaged in acid-free boxes and stored in our climate-controlled strongroon: what would he made of that?! Could he ever have imagined that his diaries  would one day be preserved indefinately as a public record?

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 30 (22 – 28 September 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

22 September 1855 The fall of Sebastopol
The Black Sea port of Sebastopol, on the south-west coast of the Crimea, was the main naval base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The capture or destruction of this stronghold became the main military object of the allied armies opposing Russia during the Crimean War. Sebastopol endured an 11-month siege before finally capitulating on 9 September 1855. The loss of Sebastopol was a factor in Russia ceding peace the following year.

“It appears that a month or three weeks ago the Emperor of Russia wrote to the King of Prussia that Nakchamoff [Vice Admiral Nakhimov] reported he would defend Sebastopol as long as the Czar chose. The account of its capture therefore came by surprize upon them… If we can keep a larger force in the Crimea during the winter than the Russians can and I think this must be so, the Russian army will retreat from fear of being cut off…”

MS 62 PP/GC/RU/492 Letter from Lord John Russell to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, 22 September 1855


22 September 1918 The Allied Balkan victory
In September 1918, the Allies (France, Montenegro, Russia and Serbia) succeeded in breaking through on the Macedonian front. Despite being stopped by the Bulgarian force at Dojran, Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria was forced to sue for peace. Bulgaria capitulated and Serbia was liberated.

“Isn’t the news wonderful from this front! I wonder how far our advance will have gone by the time this reaches you. I have it straight from the Staff that that main Turkish force in Palestine has been hopelessly cut up, and it is doubtful whether they will be able to make another stand!”

MS 116/8 AJ 14 Volume of typescript ‘excerpts’ from letters from H.D. Myer, 22 September 1918


23 September 1940  The King and Queen visit the East End
George VI and his wife had resolved to stay in London, despite German bombing raids and, on 13 September, they narrowly avoided death when two German bombs exploded in a courtyard at Buckingham Palace.  In defiance, the Queen famously declared: “I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face”. Throughout the war, the King and Queen provided morale-boosting visits throughout the United Kingdom including to bomb sites and munitions factories.

The following extract is from Miss Edith Ramsey’s autobiographical reflections on life in Stepney during the War.  Ramsey had lived in Stepney since 1920 and describes it as the “point of arrival” for Jews in England; prior to the war she worked as the Principal of an evening institute arranging classes for teenagers and adults.

“On 23 September, 1940, King George VI and the Queen, now the beloved Queen Mother, visited Stepney and talked to air raid victims in the wards of the London Hospital.  That day was the 200th anniversary of the meeting in a city tavern, when ‘seven gentlemen foregathered and subscribed 100 Guineas to be used for an intended new infirmary’ – the foundation of the London Hospital.”

MS 116/82 AJ 221 Typescript of “Life in Stepney during World War II, 1939-45” by Edith Ramsey


24 September 1939
Death of Sigmund Freud

“Sigmund Freud died just before midnight last night – one of the great men of all time! The Germans destroyed his works, & stole his property – immortal shame!”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 24 September 1939


27 September 1810 Battle of Busaco
As part of his plan for the defence of Portugal, Wellington ordered the construction of a series of impenetrable defensive positions in the region around Madrid, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. Work began in the autumn of 1809 with the first line completed one year later. Following the third French invasion of Portugal in 1810, Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army, occupying the heights at Busaco, were able to beat of the French forces on 27 September. Following the battle, Marshal André Masséna found a way round Wellington’s northern flank, forcing the Allied forces to fall back behind the lines. However, Wellington’s scorched earth policy meant that the French army would soon be brought to a standstill in a barren land. As indicated in the below passage, the real threat facing the invading French force would be starvation.

“We have been engaged with the enemy for the last three days, and I think we shall be attacked again to-morrow; as I understand they must carry our position, on which, however, they have as yet made no impression, or starve.”

WP1/312/310 Copy of a letter from Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, Convent of Busaco, to Charles Stuart, British envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Portugal, 27 September 1810