In a change to our planned blog-post, Matthew Tyler-Jones reports on one of the things that goes on behind the scenes while a place is preparing to renew the way it presents itself to the public.

I was part of a tiny,  priviledged audience at Batemans on Friday 19th October. Jon Boden, of Bellowhead fame and BBC2 folk singer of the year, visited  the Sussex home to record two of Rudyard Kipling’s poems, set to music.

Jon Boden (with the fiddle) sings while Duncan Miller watches for faults in the wax

Doing without the acoustic baffling and digital technology of a modern recording studio, Jon recorded The Way Through the Woods and a few verses of The Smuggler’s Song by shouting down a horn. At the other end of the horn a tiny needle scratched a groove into a rotating cylinder of wax. Though as Duncan Miller, the wax cylinder record expert and ‘producer’ of the tracks explained, the wax of the cylinder is in fact a sort of soap.

One of the challenges of making a wax record in a historic house in the autumn is temperature. For conservation reasons, the interior temprature of the showrooms at Batemans is kept close to the outside temperature. On that clear, crisp autumnal day the temperature inside meant that the wax was in danger of being too hard. Luckily the small audience of local residents, volunteers and staff soon warmed the room up to operating temperature.

The recording is part of Batemans’ Voices project, started after the team there discovered an old VHS tape containing a clip of Kipling speaking at to the Canadian Writers association. Visitors can now see that clip on an iPad in Kipling’s study, but we also wanted a more appropriate, atmospheric way to let visitors hear Kipling’s work. We know that Rudyard’s son Jack was given some cylinder records, so we can assume that there might have been a cylinder record player in the house. Edison Phonographs are more robust than modern electronics, so we were able to buy a suitable early 1900’s model quite cheaply. Duncan Miller had some original contemporary cylinder recordings of two Kipling poems turned into song: Danny Deever and the Road to Mandelay, so he made replica cylinders for us.

The two poems that Jon sang were published in Puck of Pooks Hill and Rewards and Fairies, two books written when Kipling lived at Batemans and set in the sounding countryside, and so they are particularly relevant to the place.

After a few of attempts to make a flawless recording without wax gumming up the needle Duncan took two versions of each song away. He will chose which is the best version to take a mould from and produce a hard wearing plastic version of each for us to to play to visitors.

Next week Crispin Scott, our Nature Conservation Adviser will be talking about what goes on in the natural world during the winter months.

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