This sound walk is one of the shortlisted pieces in the Sound Walk September Awards 2023, and comes after earlier work by Sophie was shortlisted for the SWS Awards 2021. Here, Sophie discusses F for Farnham.
F for Farnham was originally commissioned in 2023 by film directors and producers Roz Mortimer and Simon Aeppli as a Knowledge Exchange between University for the Creative Arts and Farnham Town Council.
Both part-time lecturers at the time of the commission, their individual research and filmmaking explore haunting within contested pasts and landscapes. Mortimer led a symposium called Spectral Cinema and Contested Landscapes for filmmakers and academics at the university. As part of the symposium, Mortimer and Aeppli wanted to create something that explored the themes from the symposium in a less academic and more fun and accessible way.
Roz had come across 70’s Ghost hunter, Peter Underwood’s book Haunted Farnham in which he lists all the ghostly sightings and hauntings experienced in Farnham over the years.
It was agreed that this was the perfect material to inspire an audio ghost hunt.
Simon, a Farnham resident, shared the idea with Oliver Cluskey at Farnham Town Council who was thrilled at the thought of a ghost walk which could be added to the council’s new trail app and would offer locals and newcomers an alternative experience of this market town.
This is when I was brought onto the project to write and direct this sound walk. I’d previously co-written Lore of the Wild with Bernadette Russell, an audio story walk based in Lesnes Abbey Woods in which all the stories are voiced by more than human species inhabiting these ancient woods. Simon took a trip to the woods and experienced the walk and invited me to pitch for the Farnham Ghost walk.
I pitched F for Farnham to Simon and Roz with the idea of using Underwood’s accounts of hauntings as a starting point to investigate who the ghosts might have been and to write stories from the ghosts’ perspective to explore why they remain trapped forever in the bricks and mortar of Farnham Town.
Farnham is a small market town in Surrey, 36 miles southwest of London. This patch of land has been inhabited by humans since Neolithic times and as folk have come and gone they have left their mark on the buildings still standing. The rows of Victorian terraces, Alms houses, Regency townhouses and Edwardian villas stand alongside the Tudor halls now used for coffee drinking and the Seventeenth Century inns, still used for weary travellers today.
The town is looked down upon by the 900 year old ruined castle keep and restored Bishops Palace. History and ghosts abound in Farnham town.
As a Geologist’s daughter I always begin any story with my hands on the earth, considering the layers of decay which have built up the land on which the story stands. Farnham’s relationship with the land is impossible to avoid as so many of the bricks have been fired from Farnham clay and the paving stones have been hewn from local quarries. The older wooden lintels, doors and joists would have been cut from the acres of forest which used to grow on the land. I imagined the energy that has been absorbed by these natural materials over time and suddenly, I’m veering very close to the stone tape theory and begin to watch some bad 70’s sci fi! I switch off quite quickly, but I think I’ve found my narrator, the Fabric of Farnham herself, this spirit of place and time sets the scene for our listeners and invites them to touch the bricks, feel the stones and consider the energies trapped within.
Peter Underwood’s book deals with the hauntings experienced in Farnham; Mrs S saw such and such and got the shivers here, Mr M felt he was being followed here. He sometimes speculates on who the ghost might have been, in often quite a throw away fashion. But just enough for me to begin my research.
I spend long days in Farnham Museum’s reference library and, as I do, I listen out for the ghost who haunts the stairwell. Slowly I build up stories for the ghosts experienced along our chosen route. I find their names and learn about the circumstances that might have brought them to Farnham. As you would imagine, the events that lead to a ghost being trapped within the fabric of a place are never happy ones. These are not the well to do, with comfortable lives who died in old age. These are the voices of the dispossessed, the forgotten, the marginalised and the frightened. I felt the weight of telling their stories, to do them justice. I am proud that their lives will not be forgotten, that their voices will be heard again.
Once the stories were written we found local people to voice them. It felt right that many of the voices came from Farnham locals. And student sound designers from UCA created the soundscapes, overseen by composer, sound designer and technical tutor, James Wright.
The first ten stories went live in October 2022 and the next set of stories will be launched in December 2023. These stories are all based at Farnham Castle and, this year, we have been working with illustrator Melanie Smith to create a map which you can follow around the town to find the voices.
F for Farnham is unashamedly accessible, it does not try to take bold leaps in sound walking artistry. We wanted to appeal to locals out on a date night, or new students wanting to get to know the local area in an unusual way. F for Farnham is about story, time and place and what happens when the here and now clashes with the past through your headphones.
These immersive stories work best when experienced in situ. As Farnham locals unknowingly become characters in the stories you are listening to and as the buildings shelter you from the rain, these stories work with their setting and your imagination to bring the past to life.
Fancy a listen?
Start by listening to Track 1 – Do Not Walk Alone – you can listen to this story anywhere.
And then look at the map, choose the location and story which resonates with you most and press play on your smartphone.
Take a deep breath.
Let the voices from the past meet you in your present.
Here in Farnham, you do not walk alone.
Based on historical events and real experiences, these stories give voice to those who have died here, but who can still be heard whispering within the walls of Farnham’s buildings, characterful period townhouses and cobbled alleyways.
You can choose your own journey and visit locations within the town centre or hear from the ghosts still haunting Farnham Castle.
This latest series of stories will invite you to walk around the stone clad keep and hear from those trapped within the castle ruins. A Civil War soldier will share the reasons for his hanging in Farnham Market place, Hilda the Maiden will tell of the tragedy in the tower.
Sophy Sumner shares why she still haunts the Bishops Palace and hear from Bishop Morley himself under the murder hole as he offers his dire warning about what is to come.
Or if you’re listening before December 2023 why not walk into town and hear about an ancient ritual outside the Hop Blossom pub, let Farnham’s oldest actor send a shiver down your spine, or hear about the deathly creaking in one of the rooms at the Bush Hotel.
Do not walk alone.
F for Farnham explores the need for the living to be in contact with the dead. It is a riff on deep time and sense of place. It delves into local history, but is not constrained only by truth.
This walk considers the layers of a place, the physical geological layers of decay along with the psychological layers of meaning we gift to spaces. The main narrator is the Voice of Farnham, a cumulation of the energy drawn from the land who is able to be present within human and wild time and allow the two to meet.
F for Farnham is for locals and tourists who are seeking an unusual journey into the extra-ordinary history of this place. It’s an ideal walk to do in a small group or on your own at quieter times of the day or night to really get a sense of the architecture and the energy which shaped the people who died and the people still living here.
Here in Farnham, you do not walk alone.
The winners and honourable mentions of the SWS Awards 2023 will be announced in January 2024.