The Sounds Of A Family Christmas, 108 Years Later

One of the oldest known recordings of a family at Christmas time has been digitally transferred by specialists at the Museum of London. Senior Curator Alex Werner tells us more about these sounds of the season — some of which are a century old this year.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, let's take a listen to one of the oldest known recordings of a family at Christmastime.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here we are again. Another Christmas, 1904.

SIEGEL: 1904. That's one of many recordings made by Cromwell Wall, who began capturing his family on wax cylinder in the early days of the 20th century.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Three cheers for grandpa and grandma (unintelligible). Hip, hip, hooray. Hip, hip, hooray. Hip, hip, hooray.

ALEX WERNER: They are great fun.

SIEGEL: That's according to Alex Werner.

WERNER: I'm one of the senior curators at the Museum of London. The recordings came to the Museum of London in 2008.

SIEGEL: Twenty-six wax cylinders that had been tucked away in the home of one of Cromwell Wall's descendents.

WERNER: My first feeling on hearing them was like there was this sort of direct link to over one hundred years ago. It was almost as if you were standing in the room.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly god fellow which nobody can deny.

WERNER: They give you an amazing sense of what life was like around often at sort of Christmas or New Year's family gathering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Christmas 1912. Dear grandma and grandpa, we are very pleased to be here this Christmas and we have looked forward to this Christmas as much as ever.

WERNER: Obviously, we can read books. We can get all sorts of, you know, photographs images, but to hear the sound of people's voices having fun, singing, reciting poems, you really get a sense of what life was like before, you know, the television and the telephone. That really made an impact on society.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) (unintelligible).

SIEGEL: Some sounds of Christmas with the Wall family a hundred years ago. We were hearing from Alex Werner, senior curator at the Museum of London. He told us that he hopes some of you might have holiday recordings that are even older hidden away in your attics.

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