Acoustic Curiosity Trail of Great Britain
Are you interested in acoustics? Does this branch of physics that studies matters around sound intrigue you? If so, you may want to spend time exploring some of the UK’s varied and interesting acoustic haunts. Experts at manufacturing noise at work measurement instruments Pulsar Instruments Plc
, have mapped out an exciting and diverse Acoustic Curiosity Trail
of the UK.
The Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge
The first stop of the Acoustic Curiosity Trail
is the Whipple Museum in Cambridge, which houses an international collection of scientific instruments and models, dating from the Middle Ages to the present.
The Whipple Museum was founded by Robert Whipple in 1944 when he presented a collection of scientific instruments to the University of Cambridge.
The museum has a comprehensive and diverse collection of acoustical apparatus. Much of the collection is centred on the work of major contributors in the field of acoustics
such as, for example, Karl Rudolph Koenig, a scientific instrument builder and Charles Wheatstone, a 19th century physicist and inventor. Wheatstone had a lifelong fascination with acoustics
and invented the symphonium, the precursor to the physicist’s better known creation, the English concertina. Wheatstone’s symphonium, along with Koening’s noise spectrum analyzer and a number of pioneering 19th century acoustical items, can be seen at the Whipple Museum. Always check opening hours before visiting.
Acoustic Mirrors, Denge, Kent
From the town of Cambridge, acoustic
enthusiasts could then travel to the coast to Denge near Dungeness in Kent to explore the spectacular Acoustic
These huge concrete objects were built on England’s south and northeast coasts between 1916 and the 1930 or thereabout. Considered the forerunner of radar, these ‘listening ears’ were intended to provide an early warning to enemy aircraft approaching Britain from over the English Channel.
Whilst the Acoustic Mirrors did work, increasing ambient noise made them more difficult to use successfully, as did the development of faster aircraft.
As public access to the Denge sound Mirrors is prohibited, the only way to visit them is to go on a guided walk run by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project
Acoustic Mirrors in the North of England
The North of England also counts some fine examples of acoustic
mirrors. The acoustic mirror in Kilnsea, East Yorkshire was one of several sound mirrors built on the northeast coast during World War One. This concrete dish is approximately 15 feet in diameter in the side that faces the sea. Like the Denge Sound Mirrors, the Kilnsea device was intended to provide an early warning of incoming enemies.
Other sound mirrors were built in the north of England at Hartlepool, Redcar, Boulby, Sunderland and Seaham.
The Boulby Sound Mirror
is a Grade II-listed building. It was built during the First World War in approximately 1916. It is built on top of a hill looking out towards the sea. With the sides of the structure facing inwards, the sound mirror’s design is slightly different to the one at Kilnsea.
Whispering Gallery, St Pauls Cathedral, London
From the Yorkshire caost to London, to the magical ‘Whispering Gallery’ in St Paul’s Cathedral. Visitors can reach the Whispering Gallery by climbing 259 steps up the Cathedral’s Dome. The Whispering Gallery runs around the interior of the Dome. Being a circular wall enables whispers to be clearly heard in other parts of the gallery. The sound is carried by waves, which travel round the circumference of the gallery and cling to the walls.
When you clap in the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral, the effect of the unique sound waves is exemplified, as the clap produces four echoes.
The effect of this type of wave travelling round a concave surface is known as whispering-gallery waves. These sound waves were first discovered by John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh in 1878.
John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh was an English physicist who is widely known as the Father of Acoustics for predicting the existence of sound waves, known today as Rayleigh Waves.
Acoustic spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall
Being in London, you could head to the Royal Albert Hall to experience the home of the BBC Proms.
Sitting on the northern edge of South Kensington, this outstanding domed building was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871 and has become one of the UK’s most distinct and cherished buildings. However, the Royal Albert Hall has not been without its problems.
Following its opening ceremony in 1871, the Hall’s acoustic glitches were immediately apparent. Engineers attempted to solve the strong echo created in the building by placing a canvas awning below the dome. The awning did little to overcome the acoustic dilemma and the Hall became known as:
“The only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice.”
In 1969, the acoustics were finally improved in the Hall when 135 disc-shaped ‘mushrooms’ filled with glass fibre wool were hung from the ceiling.
If you are determined to discover the most compelling of Great Britain’s acoustics, then you should head north to the Isle of Staffa in Scotland. Located in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland is the Isle of Staffa where the legendary Fingal’s Cave can be found.
The sea cave is part of the ancient lava flow that created the Causeway, which has inspired artists and writers for centuries. The cave is also renowned for its strange acoustics, so bizarre in fact that Sir Walter Scott said the cave “baffled all description”. After hearing the peculiar echoes produced by the water sloshing around the cave composer Felix Mendelssohn was so inspired he composed his famous Hebrides Overture.
And there you have it, a brief but truly fascinating and unique trail of Great Britain’s finest acoustic landmarks and treasures. Please note this is a selection of places that the author has visited and anybody wishing to share their own experiences on similar venues, should contact Pulsar Instruments