GEOLOGY: Ice, river, sea and storm.

NISG field experiments in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and in Hull and Holderness in particular, have lifted the lid on the role of water as a stimulus and primary engine of sonic eruption in this area.[1]

The plain of Holderness and the Humberhead levels both owe their present geological form to the Quaternary ice ages, when ice fields formed on the higher land and immense glaciers crawled inexorably down the main valleys, scouring material from the valley sides and depositing it as the climate warmed and the ice melted some 14,500 years ago.

The landscape around the Queens Gardens sounding space is dominated by deposits of till, boulder clays and glacial lake clays. Peat filled depressions (known locally as meres) mark the presence of long-lost, ancient lake beds in the area.

At the southern limit of the ice was an extensive lake, Glacial Lake Humber, which later filled with clay sediments up to 20 metres thick. These were slowly overlain by peat deposits, in which can be found the remains of a huge buried forest.
The geology of the area runs in bands, with a chalk layer at Flamborough in the North, Boulder clay or till (laid down in the last ice age) to the south and river deposits in the Humber Estuary.
Because the clay is a weak mass of particles and boulders it erodes more rapidly than the more resistant rock of chalk in the north. Rain and rivers also wash and reform the land in a constant cycle, releasing historic sound and creating a sonic porosity that is unrivalled in the UK.
The sea is also the sonic geologists friend in this area, its tidal rhythms setting up repeating sonic wavelengths in the substrata that can stimulate sonic eruptions many miles inland.
Holderness is the number one place in Europe for coastal erosion, and in a stormy year waves from the North sea can remove between 7 and 10m of coastline, making it one of the fastest-eroding coastlines in EuropeThe coastline starts with blowholes, stacks and stumps at Flamborough, and culminates with Spurn Head, a very large spit that runs across part of Humber Estuary.
The rich fertile land of the inland area around Hull has also been extensively drained and irrigated, with numerous large agricultural watercourses dug into its rich clay soils. As the sea devours the land it releases sonic phenomena that travel along these watercourses, allowing us to listen in on the ghostly echoes of as many as 30 lost towns along the coast.
These include the submerged farm village of Wilsthorpe, mentioned in the Domesday Book, the drowned hamlet of Hartburn at the mouth of the great Earls Dyke watercourse, the ridge and furrow agricultural system of Monkwell, and the church settlement of Sisterkirk, where, on the night of the 16th February, 1816, after a storm of unusual violence, the church was washed down the cliffs, and coffins and bodies were strewn upon the shore below.


The Sounding Space lies on the porous Boulder Clays of the Humber Estuary, and until 1930 Queens Gardens was filled with the waters of Queens Dock. As the dock was not completely filled in when it fell from commercial use, the gardens are largely below the level of the surrounding streets and buildings.

This means we are listening below general ground level, closer to the source of the sonic phenomena, a fact that greatly enhances the already impressive powers of our Ear Trumpet technology.

The subterranean nature of the site also creates a sonic funnel that collects local proto-historic phenomena, amplifies them and makes for some fascinating listening, although one should always be careful of potential surge conditions that might lead to embarrassing ossicular responses.

The location of the busy wharf on this site explains sonic phenomena such as industrial noise, melodic echo-type phenomena associated with work and drinking songs and some conversational activity. Queens Dock was surrounded corn mills and seed and fish processing plants, and the area was an important centre for the whaling industry.

Sonic eruption in this area may therefore be explained by the extensive disruption to the ground that has taken place in this area over the years. Queens Gardens themselves are an excellent example of landscape re-design by the prominent architect Sir Frederick Gibberd, and Hull was heavily bombed in WW2 when The Hull Blitz of 1941 killed around 1200 people and destroyed much of the town.

Large ground interventions have therefore defined the place, from defensive structures such as the town wall and moat, to the creation of the dock and expanding trade, to marine technology and practices rendering the dock redundant, the creation of the public gardens, and post war regeneration in a modernist landscape style by a celebrated architect.

The NISG team believe that the extraordinarily large amount of recent building work in the environs of this park and the repaving of the entire city-centre has stimulated conversational, melodic, ambient and proto-historic sonic phenomena through its disturbance of the underground strata. This fortunate occurrence offers NISG an opportunity to record and analyse a significant eruption event.

Most of the buildings around the sounding space are post-war, apart from the south east corner where there survives a block of Georgian and Victorian buildings fronting Lowgate, a Georgian Bond Warehouse fronting Guildhall Road and the offices on the corner of Quay Street, all grade 2 listed buildings. The original old town walls lie to the south edge of the site.

Kingston-Upon-Hull was a key territory in the early part of the English Civil War due to the large arsenal in the city. The 1642 Siege of Hull was the first major action of the English Civil War, and saw the town and surrounding area flooded when attacking Royalist forces smashed sluice gates and river defences on The River Humber. Faint echoes of battle are often detected in the sonic profile of the area.

NOTE: Subterranean sonic phenomena have been detected in this area by NISG members, which might offer a rational scientific explanation for longstanding local folkloric reports of music from below ground, the sounds of swords, minstrelsy and incantation.

The sounding space is very near to the statue of William Wilberforce, the slave trade abolitionist. Wilberforce was born and educated in Hull, and elected as MP for the town in 1780, before becoming MP for the County of York in 1784. His profound Christian faith motivated his political life and led to him becoming the leading opponent of slavery in parliament. His campaign work contributed to the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 and of slavery as an institution in 1833.

[1] (See: Lathenby, B (2016) Getting Wet for Sonic Geology – Sub Aqua Investigations at Spurn Head Spit, Journal of Aural Investigation, 6:2, pp135-212)