One of world’s oldest Christmas recording tapes discovered in St Neots attic

ONE of the world’s oldest Christmas audio recordings was discovered in an attic in St Neots.

A recording machine – known as a phonograph – was uncovered during a clear-out.

With it were wax cylinders that contain audio dating back to 1899, including a cylinder which features speeches and musical recordings made during a typical family Christmas in 1902.

The cylinders have been studied by experts who believe them to be the oldest Christmas recordings discovered.

David Brown, 71, uncovered the equipment in his former house in Crosshall Road about 12 years ago.

Unaware of its significance, the grandfather of four decided he had little use for the machine, which he had inherited from his mother, and donated it to St Neots Museum.

The museum discovered the recordings had been made in Southgate, north London, by the Wall family – Mr Brown’s grandparents and great-grandparents – and in 2008 were passed to the Museum of London.

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Scientists set about fixing the machine and finally managed to play the recordings about six months ago.

“It’s incredible how clear the recordings are,” Mr Brown of High Street, Hail Weston told The Hunts Post.

“We were given a CD of a recording from 1902 where you can hear the family enjoying Christmas and particularly my uncle Lesley singing the Minstrel Boy which became very popular during World War One.

“There was lots of chatting and singing at this particular Christmas party – everybody spoke very well!”

The phonograph had been invented only 15 years earlier by Thomas Edison and worked by capturing sounds through a huge horn. These were then pressed into a wax cylinder by a stylus.

“Once you had finished with one recording you could scrape the wax off and record again,” Mr Brown said. “But my grandfather never did, which meant there are lots of cylinders with recordings on each.”

The quality of the recordings was said to have astonished staff at the Museum of London – so much so that they believe they could be he oldest known recordings of a family Christmas in existence.

The recordings have also aroused the interest of the national BBC news, with the Brown family set to appear on a special feature with science correspondent Pallab Ghosh.

Mr Brown’s sister, Daphne Brown, said: “It’s absolutely fascinating – just like His Master’s Voice. In a way it makes me feel rather sad because my mother isn’t here to enjoy them.

“On the recordings they talk of Topplesford and The Oaks – houses where my grandparents lived in London. The recording machine was very heavy, and I remember my mother telling me that at the turn of the century members of the family wheeled it down to Christ Church, Southgate, and recorded the bells ringing.”

St Neots Museum curator Liz Davies said: “We’re really thrilled that it turned out to be such a fascinating and important discovery, and that we played a small part in taking it back to London.”

INFORMATION: The equipment is to go on display at the London Museum. The BBC interview is due to be shown tomorrow (Thursday) on the 6pm news.