Thursday, 23 July 2009
This is a real heart-warming story taken from today's Guardian.
Nosy visitors can sometimes be a pain to the staff of Britain's stately homes – but Jim Pattison, a retired recording engineer and choral singing enthusiast, has turned out to be a glorious exception.
Thanks to his persistence, an extraordinary stash of original performances by the likes of Enrico Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba has been rediscovered.
On a visit to Brodsworth Hall, in Yorkshire, Pattison spotted a worn white label on an old 78rpm record.
The Doncaster mansion was displaying its old shellac records, along with books, commodes and thousands of knick-knacks, to portray its 30 rooms as they would have appeared before the first world war.
Now, crackly but clear, the sound of stars of late 19th century and early 20th century Europe flood the rooms of Brodsworth, where the records were first collected by a wealthy landowning family more than a century ago.
Torn for years by a legal dispute (which Charles Dickens used as the model for Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Bleak House), the Thellusson family relaxed between court hearings with their new-fangled records – each of which is now worth between £5,000 and £10,000.
Listen to an extract from a 1908 recording of music from La Bohème Link to this audio
Once played on an imposing Monarch gramophone that used to dominate Brodsworth's main hall, the records' importance had been overlooked when the house, along with an immense muddle of possessions, passed to English Heritage in 1989.
The records stayed as display items until Pattison and his wife, Joyce, arrived as paying customers on a tour of the house a year ago.
The 77-year-old, who has spent a lifetime in the recording industry, saw half the white label of a Monarch recording of songs from Puccini's La Bohème tucked into a magazine rack with 1960s LPs.
"I asked an attendant if I could climb over the rope and have a closer look," he said.
"Quite properly, she wouldn't let me – but after a lot of discussion, she had a look herself and confirmed what I suspected.
"We went home and I checked it out on the internet and then rang Brodsworth to tell them that, if they had more like that, then they had got something very special."
He was right. The 1908 recording of Goodbye to Sweet Awakenings, made by Caruso, Antonio Scotti, Geraldine Farrar and Gina Viafora, proved to be just one of a stack of rare originals.
Pattison was enlisted by English Heritage to help classify the collection.
He found a recording of John Philip Sousa conducting Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in 1905, just three years after its first performance, and nearly four minutes of the Ukrainian violinist Mischa Elman playing Wieniawski's Souvenir de Moscou in 1906.
Nearly 100 records were discovered in all, mostly ancient but also including tracks by Frank Sinatra and Sandie Shaw, who appealed to the hall's last owner, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, a descendant of the Thellussons, who fought a losing battle against leaking roofs and mining subsidence for 56 years.
"They tell the story of the very earliest days of the gramophone," said Pattison. "The Puccini was somehow recorded into a single acoustic horn in a studio in New Jersey.
"Other records have the trademark of the 'scribing angel', drawing lines in a circle like a record.
"That was partly a reference to a family called Angel which was involved in the business, but partly to the 'miraculous' way the sound was preserved."
Brodsworth's curator, Caroline Carr-Whitworth said: "This isn't the first time we've been helped by our visitors.
"Another enthusiast gave us details of a Doncaster taxidermist who turned out to be responsible for our many stuffed animals. We think we know about everything we've got here now, but the Thellussons amassed an awful lot."
A continuous loop of the music now plays in Brodsworth's main rooms and visitors can also make their own selection from a jukebox in the servants' quarters upstairs.
All English Heritage wants now is for someone to give a 1902 Monarch gramophone. Brodsworth's original gramophone stars in many photographs but was one of the very few things the Thellussons threw away.