The Coleorton Nightingale

Published in Community Voice September 2023

The song of the male nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) is considered by some to be the best in the world, famous for the sheer variety of chirping, tweeting and shrieking sounds in its repertoire. As the newspaper article below records, in the summer of 1931 this remarkable songster drew visitors from far and wide to Coleorton just to hear it sing or did it!

Birmingham Gazette 8th June 1931:
The Picturesque village of Coleorton, between Coalville and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, possesses a nightingale that never disappoints the crowds that assemble to listen enraptured to its song.
Elsewhere nightingales have been known to keep an exasperating silence when people assemble near their woodland haunts. But the Coleorton nightingale is not so unkind - for (let it be whispered) when nature fails art steps in!
The explanation (to those in the know) lies in the fact that Coleorton numbers amongst its hundred or so inhabitants a wireless enthusiast with a developed sense of humour. If the nightingale takes a rest any night this villager hies himself to the spot where the bird usually performs, and hiding himself in the undergrowth behind a big oak tree he deputises by placing on his gramophone a record of a nightingale’s song! He then amplifies the sweet notes by a special wireless apparatus.
So realistic is the mechanical performance that many of the visitors – some of whom come quite long distances by motor car- depart blissfully unconscious that they have been hoaxed.
This absolutely true story has only just leaked out, and all last week crowds assembled on the roadside to listen to the mechanical night bird's song.
When the genuine performer, the nightingale, actually sings, the wireless performer solemnly joins the wayside audience.
Only when the bird disappoints does he play the part of understudy!

Remarkably this story travelled all the way to America, where the Oakland Tribune of September, 2nd, 1931 reported:
Coleorton (Leicestershire), Eng. - A radio humorist duped scores of persons, who for days gathered to hear what they believed to the notes of a nightingale and learned they had been listening to a gramophone record.

But who was this ornithological joker? I can reveal it was in fact Tom Yates, my great uncle by marriage. Tom at that time would have been living in Fishpond House close to St John's Cemetery and the woods around Coleorton Fishpond where the hoax took place, so would have had ample opportunity to assemble his apparatus out of sight. But, was there really a nightingale as the Birmingham Gazette suggests on some evenings? I am afraid the answer I have been given is No!

Compiled by:Terry Ward, member of the Coleorton Heritage Group.

See photo of Uncle Tom Yates sitting on Fishpond Bridge >>