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Date created: 9/30/2020

Recorded sound

Among the more traditional paper, film and image archives found at LMA is a wealth of recorded sound, documenting over 100 years of London history. Held on formats like vinyl, open reel, cassette and CD-R, these recordings bring to life the voices, music and sounds of our capital.

Created largely by different educational and community-based projects our sound archives feature oral interviews with both the ordinary and extraordinary, music and storytelling performed by a diverse range of artists, and soundscapes that playback the everyday activity of 20th century metropolitan life.  

Oral history

The idea of sharing history through conversation or a story is a well-established tradition rooted in ancient culture. In a modern context, the term oral history is commonly used to describe a recording of people’s memories, experiences and opinions and can provide a voice to the ‘hidden history’ of a past event or local community.  

Whether a collection in their own right (or part of a wider series), the oral histories at LMA include a wide range of content covering well-documented histories such as memories of World War II, as well as underrepresented histories about women, LGBTQ+ and ethnic minorities. Highlights include:

  • the recollections of staff who worked for the Peabody Trust, documenting decades of London history across different inner-city housing estates
  • a series of interviews with Guyanese-born, Eric and Jessica Huntley, publishers and community rights activists who founded Bogle-L’Ouverture publications and played a significant role in establishing black-Caribbean literature within London and UK-based education during the late 20th century
  • recordings documenting the charity work of John Groom’s Association for Disabled People, including interviews about the issues facing disabled people during the early 1980s.
  • workshops among the archives of the rukus! Federation which spotlight the experience of black lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans artists during the 1990s
  • the community-based reminiscence project Memories of the Genuine Children of Limehouse which reflects on the childhood, family and local trade of Chinese migrants who moved to Limehouse during the early 20th century

Music, soundscapes and radio

Like oral history, music, radio and soundscapes play an important role in our understanding of London’s. For example, the lyrics of a music hall song traditionally evoke working class life, the influences of different world music - like reggae and ska - inform us of how immigration contributed to London’s cultural development, and the street cries of market traders document not only the types of products sold, but also the language and dialect used to sell them. Highlights include:

  • Recordings of bells cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, including examples from St Paul’s Cathedral, St Michael, Cornhill and St Mary-le-Bow
  • Radio broadcasts taken within the City of London, including live interviews with porters at Billingsgate Fish Market
  • A collection of field recordings from the London Sound Survey that capture the sounds of street performers, wildlife and traffic

Teaching and education

The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) was established in 1965 by the Greater London Council (GLC) to administer public schools within the City of London and 12 Inner London boroughs. To support its teaching staff, a number of learning resource packs were developed that included a mix of written text, visual imagery and (on occasion) audio content for subjects like English, Maths Science, Music and Language.

Audio resources were available either on open reel or cassette, and were aimed at different age groups, ability levels and cultural backgrounds. They include:

  • original songs composed by teaching staff and performed by both teachers and pupils
  • traditional folk stories, nursery rhymes and poetry
  • sounds created to support activities such as making music and learning language

To search our sound collections, visit our Collections Catalogue where you will find the added option to filter format and date. To access our sound collections, you can visit our Mediatheque for a selection of oral histories or contact our enquiry team