Fog Tropes: A social and cultural history of the foghorn

Fog Tropes: A social and cultural history of the foghorn

PhD Research Degree

Jennifer Lucy Allan

Completed 2019

This thesis considers the interconnectedness of sound (the foghorn), weather (fog) and place (the coast) through interrogating the foghorn’s role as a sonic marker along British coastlines, from the end of the 19th century to its decline a century later. Foghorns are the sonic equivalent to the lighthouse, a technology that used coal power to sound giant metal trumpets, to aid and make safe the sea-bound transport of goods and people. I analyse the reception of this industrial sound on the coast when it was first installed, with specific reference to the language used to describe the sound. I look at the loss of the foghorn from the coastal soundscape through its obsolescence, its demotion to a hazard marker, and its persistence in memory through conversion to a heritage sound and its appropriation in film and music.

My methodological writing strategy of plurality uses sources from oral history, archival methods, nature writing, theoretical analysis and cultural references to address the significance of the historical, geographical, social and meteorological contexts in which the foghorn sounds. Original archival material and first person writing derived from site visits is used to explore the way the soundscape relates to place and weather and to critically re-examine the definition of a soundmark – a term which is widely used but seldom questioned. The thesis also makes an original historical contribution to knowledge by excavating first-hand descriptions and memories of the foghorn from noise complaints, operational documents and personal accounts, sourced from archival material at Trinity House, the Clyde Lighthouses Trust and the Northern Lighthouse Board, including its oral history of lighthouse keeping. The foghorn represents a unique case study, which demands new imperatives for sound studies. I argue for plurality, dynamism, historicisation and deeper contextual considerations in our discussions and analyses of sound in the environment.


This thesis is available in the UAL Research Online repository.

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