A woman holding a microphone and wearing headphones interviewing three other people
Sandra Kazlauskaite interviewing a Youth Club group at Grantham Community Centre. © Emm Nunn
Sandra Kazlauskaite interviewing a Youth Club group at Grantham Community Centre. © Emm Nunn

Historic England Launches Immersive Sound Walks Capturing the Nation's High Streets

Commissioned by Historic England, contemporary artists and Sound UK have created ‘High Street Sound Walks’ - new audio experiences for six English high streets.  

Today, Historic England launches six new ‘High Street Sound Walks’ to help people discover the magic of six local high streets.

Commissioned by Historic England alongside the National Trust and Sound UK and supported by players of Peoples’ Postcode Lottery, the sound walks are part of Heritage Open Days which runs from 10-19 September 2021.

From Friday 10 September onwards, listeners will be able to stream the sound walks from Historic England's website and take a self-guided route supported by an illustrated map, at their own pace.

Created by nine contemporary, UK-based artists, the six new sound walks are centred on Redruth (Cornwall), Reading (Berkshire), Great Yarmouth (Norfolk), Grantham (Lincolnshire), Barrow (Cumbria) and Hull (Yorkshire).

The artists developed the sound walks through visiting and recording the high streets, creating unique audio records of the sites, their inhabitants and their histories.

Six New High Street Sound Walks  

Jez riley French (Hull): ‘Breet Velvit Ake’

Jez riley French’s soundwalk is named Breet Velvit Ake, which means ‘bright velvet wander’ in the Yorkshire dialect. It evokes the complex social, cultural and physical history of Whitefriargate, Hull. He uses a fascinating range of hidden, overlooked or usually inaudible sounds, including plants growing in a drainpipe drawing moisture through their roots; electronic signals from shop signs, security systems and mobile phones, and the earth spinning on its axis beneath the street.

riley French said: “We often give such narrow attention to our city streets, thinking of them only as rows of shops or other businesses, but they’re more than that. We need to own them again, to use them as social and cultural spaces, and actively listen to them.” 

Listen to the Hull Sound Walk

Sandra Kazlauskaite (Grantham): ‘Traces & Echoes: Resounding Grantham’s High Street’

Sandra Kazlauskaite’s sound walk ‘Traces and Echoes: Resounding Grantham’s High Street’ guides listeners through St Peter’s Hill and Westgate areas of Grantham, to unearth fascinating hidden histories and discover their transformation over time. The audio incorporates a collage of local residents’ memories across generations and found sound, to tell a story about the histories of the high street. It explores how Grantham’s high street - a space of socialising and cultural exchange - has transformed over time, and questions what has been forgotten during the process of change.

Kazlauskaite said: “Through conversations with local residents and historical research, the walk aims to amplify the hidden, buried, the wonderful and the imagined - the local historical heritage that has and continues to serve as a (silent) symphony accompanying the sounds of the present.”  

Listen to the Grantham Sound Walk

Oliver Payne (Great Yarmouth): ‘Knapped Flint Cracked Concrete’

Oliver Payne’s sound walk ‘Knapped Flint Cracked Concrete’ explores the contrast and diversity of Great Yarmouth’s high street. Take a journey amongst shops selling used electronics and Eastern European groceries next to pop-up spaces, medieval architecture and decades-old market traders. Listeners can discover the stories of local people who have witnessed the streets changing, alongside its remarkable heritage, becoming immersed in the evocative sounds that capture the street’s unique identity - from the gentle resonance of a medieval Row to the loud and vibrant music heard from outside a barbershop.

Payne said: “Great Yarmouth is a special place. It has an otherness about it, a bit unknown and on the edge but at the same time full of energy and activity... I really wanted to capture this sort of contrast with Knapped Flint Cracked Concrete; the pushes and pulls of the place, the consonance and dissonance, and through the rich and varied voices of its communities. It has been such a pleasure to meet so many excellent people through this work.”

Listen to the Great Yarmouth Sound Walk

Aundre Goddard and Richard Bentley (Reading): ‘A Reading of London Street’

Goddard and Bentley’s sound walk tells the story of the community at the heart of Reading’s London Street, taking in well-known local landmarks including the Central Club, Global Café and Great Expectations Pub. Local voices tell stories of the street’s community, food and vibrant night life while imagined characters from the times of Charles Dickens, Dr Addington, and Huntley & Palmer biscuit makers are brought to life. The vibrant musical heritage of London Street and echoes of the past are woven into the walk, with listeners immersed in the evocative sounds heard in the streets, its alleyways and buildings. The artists explored the materials of the buildings, experimenting to capture the ‘acoustic fingerprint’ of the street. The walk starts at Reading’s Black History Mural and ends up near Bakery House.

Goddard and Bentley said: "After speaking with local residents it really hits how much London Street means to everyone. This area was a hub rich in culture, history and good vibes. Giving residents the opportunity to carve themselves into Reading's history and contribute to British identity is such an honour.”

Listen to the Reading Sound Walk

Dan Fox (Barrow-in-Furness): ‘Barrovia’

Dan Fox’s sound walk creatively tells the stories of Barrow-in-Furness, whirling visitors through the ‘Jute-opolis’ of England, from the quiet of a library to the bustle of a carnival. ‘Barrovia’ embraces the diversity of people in Barrow, exploring the changes it has witnessed such as when Barrow’s high street had 14,000 ship workers descend on it after work. It includes personal stories such as the tale of a mother who survived the Luftwaffe’s bombing of her house, and subsequently walked up Duke Street in her nightclothes to a relative’s house with her pet budgie in a cage. Listeners will explore the landmarks of work and play on the high street including iconic shops, businesses and the clubs of Cornwallis Street, alongside and civic events like the carnival and the centenary of the town hall.

Dan Fox said “I had initially planned to use a lot of archive material for the sound walk, but as I started making recordings of local people sharing their stories about the Barrow, I was captivated by their living memories and this became the focus of the project. As different characters opened-up with their reflections, common themes emerged which I could weave into a conversation following the route through the Town.”

Listen to the Barrow-in-Furness Sound Walk

Annamaria Murphy, Sue Hill and Ciaran Clarke (Redruth): ‘Stret an Levow’ (Street of Voices)

In ‘Stret an Levow’ (Street of Voices), Murphy, Hill and Clarke explore the layers of time to unlock the fascinating strata of sound, voice and story within the high street. Their sound walk represents the broad spectrum of people and experience of Redruth. This includes the stories of various local people such as Emily Knuckey, who was delivered from Redruth to Bodmin’s court wrapped in a carpet, and Robin Knight and his revolutionary ‘duvet demonstration’.

The trio said “We’ve had the honour of being a small part of discovering the hidden stories of Redruth and putting our collective imaginations into interpreting fragments of the town’s history. Redruth’s Fore Street is full of riches and tales that are important to hear; delightful, poignant and entertaining.”

Historic England has also worked with writer and subtitling specialist Mark Kirkbride to produce creative writing pieces that interpret the sound walks for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. These are available on Historic England’s website, alongside the sound walks.

Listen to the Redruth Sound Walk

We hope these new High Street Sound Walks will enable people to slow down, pause and reflect, and to experience their familiar environment in a new way. The audio experiences aim to connect listeners with the hidden sounds of the high street, transforming the everyday into something enlightening and new.
Ellen Harrison, Head of Creative Programmes and Campaigns Historic England