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.

Tower of London ravens 1953

FEW DETAILS can be found about the two brief recordings which have been edited here into a single sound file. They were both made in Tower Green in the Tower of London in 1953 but I can find no more precise date than that.

First we hear a Yeoman Warder run through what is obviously a well-practiced speech about the Tower’s ravens for the benefit of visitors. There is a cheerful bluntness to his delivery which might not be so easily found today: the ravens don’t live as long in captivity because their wings are clipped and, in past times, they might have supplemented their food allowance thanks to bodies dangling on the Tower’s gallows.

The recording in the second part was made in a different and more reverberant-sounding spot. The loud cawing of the ravens can be heard, and the brief catalogue entry names two of the birds as Corax and Cronk, the latter being an English dialect word for the noise of a crow or raven. The indistinct voice of another Yeoman Warder on visitor duty is also present.

It is a commonplace observation that at least some British traditions and legends thought to be of great antiquity were created as recently as the 19th century, and this seems to extend to the ravens of the Tower of London, who may not have been there before the 1850s, and quite possibly later than that.

The photograph below of an impressive-looking specimen was taken at the Tower of London by Jeff Hitchcock and is reproduced here from his Flickr account under a Creative Commons licence.

Raven at the Tower of London

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.

Tower of London ravens 1:21