Sunday, June 12, 2022

A real stone tape? The Prince of Wales Inn, Kenfig

I have a memory of hearing an item on the radio about recordings made from the walls of a pub that revealed ghostly music. I date the memory to the 1970s and a BBC Radio news magazine programme, most likely the Today programme on Radio Four.

The recording featured music from something like a harmonium and was made, I thought, in the cellar of a pub in Sheffield.

Having tweeted about that memory this evening, I am pretty sure I did not imagine it.

Two people - Andy Lewis and Duncan Hill - immediately put me on to a doctoral dissertation by Melvyn J. Willin: Paramusicology: An Investigation of Music and Paranormal Phenomena.

Turn to section 5.4.6. and you will find this:

The final example of music allegedly being heard paranormally in a public house concerns the Prince of Wales, Kenfig in Mid-Glamorgan. In 1982 an electrical engineer, John Marke, and an industrial chemist, Allan Jenkins, undertook an experiment to investigate: ''the landlord's claim to have heard ghostly voices and organ music in the pub." (Bord, 1992, p. 191). 

They connected electrodes to a stone wall in the public house, hoping to obtain a recording of anomalous music and having fed twenty thousand volts through it, they placed tape recorders in the locked room for four hours overnight. They claimed that various sounds were recorded including organ music. 

This apparently amazing discovery was not brought to public attention until the organ music was played on the television programme Out of this World and the experiment was repeated with the involvement of various BBC sound experts. 

The alleged organ sounds bore very little resemblance indeed to any organ of my knowledge, but rather sounded like some form of electronic distortion. The BBC Workshop engineer, John Hunt, was suspicious of the various sounds he heard and referred to the organ music as sounding like feedback. 

Other factors for consideration were mentioned. There was an organ in an adjacent room to the public house and that room was used as a club room for a group who met regularly and played practical jokes on each other. Another public house in the neighbourhood also started claiming that spoken voices could be heard, but it was pointed out by the BBC engineer that these were almost certainly radio broadcasts that had been tampered with. 

The two original researchers were joined by another BBC engineer to conduct an experiment, but all they recorded were a few 'bangings' - as if someone was banging on the wall, floor or ceiling. There were no trained psychic researchers present to ensure tight controls. 

This must be the case I can remember, though it comes from Kenfig near Bridgend rather than Sheffield.

And I still think I heard it on Today, though it must have been in 1982 rather than the 1970s. As Duncan Hill said, this is just the sort of item that Today would run in those days but is much less likely to run today.

I headed this post "A real stone tape?" because the idea that buildings could make recordings was popularised by Nigel Kneale's television play The Stone Tape, broadcast on Christmas Day 1972.

Sadly, the theory does not survive scrutiny, but I am pleased to see the Prince of Wales Inn, Kenfig, is still going strong.


Anonymous said...

Vernon Kay has just played (10:12 Oct 18,2023) on his BBC Radio 2 show the recording of the original 1982 BBC archive.

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you - I've just listened to it.