From Magic Lanterns, the Kymograph and Gramophone Records to the Amstrad Portable

London Road, 1987

When I joined the School of Education at London Road in 1987 I was impressed by the resources. Nothing fancy—no interactive whiteboards, no internet access, but overhead projectors, carousel slide projectors, VHS and revolving green ‘blackboards’. There was a Technical Support Unit with a studio, and computers in the Old Red Building with the SPSS statistical package.

Ground-floor Seminar Room, L16, London Road, September 1987 (now the G4 office area)

In July 1988, Dr Bridie Raban (now Professor Raban) organised the distribution of an Amstrad PPC 640 . The 640 was a folding portable computer with two disc drives and a small monochrome screen. It was extremely heavy and came with a rucksack.

The (Magic) Lantern

To the original College staff, all the above would have been a real luxury. In the 1890s and early 1900s Reading College and University College Reading didn’t even have its own magic lantern. The following item appears in the Reading College accounts for the first time in 1898-9:

‘Hire of Hall and Lantern for Popular Lectures’ (£8 7s 6d)

Similar entries were repeated for the College and the University College until 1901-2. The cost varied from a high of £22 1s 0d (1899-1900) down to £1 0s 0d (1901-20).

Lanterns came in many forms. Over time, light sources had progressed from candles to incandescent light bulbs, but we have no way of knowing what kind was in use during the early days of the College. Even though electric sources were available by this time, oil lamps and gas bags for oxygen were still used in the 1880s, as this catalogue shows:

Adverts for (Magic) Lanterns from a Slide Catalogue (Manchester 1881)

The ‘Lime Light arrangements’ refers to applying an oxy-hydrogen flame to calcium oxide. It needed bags of both oxygen and hydrogen.

The slides were usually bought or hired and, for a small additional cost, could be accompanied by a text to be read aloud. Some of the themes make uncomfortable reading nowadays. Presumably academics composed their own text and maybe, in some cases, produced their own slides.

Flier for Lantern Slides, 1884

The only reference I have found to a named person using a lantern concerns Edith Morley. The University College Calendar for 1908-9 announced that she was to give the College Hall Thursday Evening Lecture on Nov 19, 1908:

‘“In Shakespeare’s England” (illustrated by lantern views)’

There is nothing remarkable about this; the use of lanterns in education has a long history. Nevertheless, Morley was certainly no slouch when it came to technology and was even something of a pioneer.

The Kymograph

To see why, we need to jump 20 years from University College Reading to the University of Reading. According to the Proceedings for 1928-9:

‘The Professor of English Language [Prof Morley] reports that a start is being made in the study of practical phonetics. Equipment needed for this work includes a kymograph and a linguaphone and records.’ (p.33)

I wasn’t familiar with kymographs so I contacted Jane Setter, Reading’s Professor of Phonetics, who sent me a link to ‘Jane talking phonetics on the Alan Titchmarsh Show’. The kymograph, a device for measuring air pressure, is explained after 1:55, but the whole 5:40 sequence is well worth watching.

In Professor Setter’s opinion:

‘it was probably more useful in research, but could be used to train specific features of speaking.’

Let us consider the research angle first. Even though Morley was Professor of English Language, her publications were predominantly in the area of literature and I can find nothing in her annual returns that would suggest practical phonetics as an area of original research. It can’t be ruled out, however. She was certainly engaged in the field of phonetics and phonology: as far back as 1905-6, when she was in sole charge of English, the Report of the Academic Board states that classroom resources for English included ‘A physiological atlas and model larynx help with the study of phonology.’ And phonetics figured in the examination syllabuses for English, largely in connection with the history of language and its application to literary texts. Advised reading included the familiar names of Daniel Jones (‘The Pronunciation of English’) and Henry Sweet (‘The Sounds of English’).

Professor Setter’s suggestion that the Kymograph might also have been used to train features of speaking is consistent with a feature of the English examination syllabuses that appeared in the University’s first Calendar in 1926:

‘All examinations in English will include a test in reading aloud.’ (p.172)

The following year the ‘will’ was softened to ‘may’, but otherwise this wording remained in the syllabus right up to the 1977-78 academic year.

Gramophone Records

The theme of the sounds of English and gramophone records is resumed in the Proceedings of 1934-5 in the Vice-Chancellor’s annual statement:

‘Professor Morley’s proposal to have gramophone records made to illustrate the earlier stages of spoken English has been endorsed by a large number of teachers in British Universities and adopted by the Linguaphone Institute. A beginning is to be made with records of Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer and Shakespeare.’ (p.36)

Two years later we learn of the outcome of the project:

‘Professor Morley reports that the gramophone records of English pronunciation (Anglo-Saxon, Middle English and Eighteenth Century English) to which reference was made two years ago, are now on the market. They are in use in the Department and are proving of great assistance.’ (p.34)

There seems little hope that Morley’s original discs are still around. There is no reference to them in the University Library, the Edith Morley Archive or elsewhere in the Special Collections. If they still do exist they are likely to be 78 rpm, 10 inch (25 cm) flat discs made of brittle shellac.

A Set of Linguaphone Records from the 1930s

The Linguaphone Group did not respond to my enquiries so I contacted Professor David Crystal to see if he had come across anything related to Edith Morley when he joined the newly formed Department of Linguistic Science in the 1960s. (A graphic account of one of his own phonetics lectures at Reading can be found in his memoir ‘Just a Phrase I’m Going through’! pp.113-5). Given his own work on Original Pronunciation, who better to ask? His reply was illuminating and gave me the relevant search terms for the British Library Sounds Archive:

‘I don’t recall any mention of her when we arrived in Reading in 65….Your Linguaphone ref points very clearly to DJ [Daniel Jones], as he was at the forefront of those recordings of Shakespeare etc. They’re in the British Library archive now. But there’s no mention of Edith in the DJ biography I have here, nor in the BL archive.’

As far as I can see, the recordings Morley mentioned belong to the collection, English Pronunciation Through the Centuries: Selected Extracts from Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Later English’ published in 1935. Two of the recordings of Shakespearean English can be heard at the  British Library Sounds website. Morley’s exact role in their production, however, remains a mystery.

Sources

British Library Sounds: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/

Chapman Family papers: photographic catalogues and advertisements.

Crystal, D. (2009). Just a phrase I’m going through: my life in language. London: Routledge.

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Linguaphone_English_Pronunciation_Throug.html?id=z0uMXwAACAAJ&redir_esc=y (accessed 18 October 2021).

Morley, E. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Reading College. Annual Reports, 1898-9 to 1900-01.

University College Reading. Accounts and Reports, 1901-2 & 1905-6.

University College Reading. Calendar, 1908-9.

University of Reading. Calendar, 1926-7 and 1927-8.

University of Reading. Proceedings, 1928-9, 1934-5, 1936-7.

Thanks

To Professor Jane Setter for her advice, and for the link to her appearance on the Alan Titchmarsh Show.

To Professor David Crystal for tracking down the recordings and giving me permission to quote from his emails.

To Adam Lines, Special Collections Academic Liaison Officer, for searching for references to the recordings.