The Heritage Lottery Fund have earmarked £9,568,900 of funding for the sound archive at the British Library, which will enable them to digitise up to 500,000 recordings at most risk of being lost forever.
The library estimate that there are more than one million recordings which are at risk of being lost forever unless they are preserved within the next 15 years. These recordings range from ‘underwater recordings of killer whales made in the waters surrounding Shetland (held by the Centre for Wildlife Conservation, University of Cumbria), to a collection of sounds held in the Canterbury Cathedral archives spanning 50 years of services, choral and opera performances and other recordings, many of which are thought to be unique.’
Stuart Hobley of the Heritage Lottery Fund said: ‘Historic recordings have a unique quality of bringing into the present the events, sounds and voices from our past. From regional dialects to the call of long extinct birds, Heritage Lottery Fund support will ensure that the most up-to-date digital expertise will be used to rescue some of the UK’s most vulnerable and rare sound recordings that would otherwise be lost to silence.’
Some of the most precious recordings in the archive include writers Lord Alfred Tennyson, Sylvia Plath and James Joyce reading their own work, radio broadcasts from the 1930s and previously unheard musical performances and plays, including Laurence Olivier playing Coriolanus in 1959.