Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

St Paul's and Westminster victory peals 1942

BOTH NAZI GERMANY and Communist Russia were keen to supplant the ringing of church bells with more up-to-date methods of encouraging their own beliefs through the radio and cinema. Bell production virtually ceased under Communist rule and the number of Russian Orthodox churches fell from nearly 30,000 in 1927 to just 500 by 1940.

Later, during the Second World War, the Nazis seized an estimated 175,000 bells from across Europe with the intention of melting them down. It remains a moot point whether bells would have played any role in the worship of Teutonic tree-gods or whatever religion the Nazis hoped eventually to replace Christianity with.

Bell-ringing was stopped in Britain between 1940 and 1942 whilst threats of invasion were at their greatest. The hiatus came to an end in November 1942 when church bells were rung following Allied victories in North Africa. The two recordings presented here come from a single 12” transcription disc (BBC library number 5550) and feature victory peals from Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. Both are dated 15 November 1942.

The presence of street noises, more noticeable during a pause at St Paul’s Cathedral, suggests both recordings were made outdoors. Label notes state the ringers were from the Ancient Society of College Youths and that the celebrations were part of an event called Civil Defence Sunday. This appears to have been staged only during the war and in some areas at least was combined with Civic Sunday. Some photographs of Civil Defence Sunday parades in Brixton can be found on the Lambeth Archives website.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

St Pauls Cathedral victory peal 3:59
Westminster Abbey victory peal 2:39