WEIRD SUFFOLK: The singing mice of Suffolk: “It will not touch any cheese but is very fond…of ale”
- Credit: Pamela Bidwell
The strange case of the singing mice of Suffolk who sang like canaries in return for biscuits, ale and the warmth of a fire.
If you discover there is a mouse in your house, it's generally not a cause for celebration - but what about if the rodent in question had a lovely singing voice?
Suffolk is a veritable concert hall for performing mice who have been discovered in North Cove between Lowestoft and Beccles and in Bungay. The Borderline Science Investigation Group, a Sufolk-based organisation which researched unexplained phenomenon in East Anglia and published a quarterly journal called Lantern, first mentioned Suffolk's singing mice in the summer of 1978. Quoting from an article in the Lowestoft Journal of June 1892 - "A valuable singing mouse" - it recounted the curious story of a tuneful rodent. It reads: "At Cover (North Cove) 'Horse Shoes' there is a great natural curiosity to be seen and heard. The Landlady of the house has been in delicate health, and whilst nursing herself she was entertained for some time by the singing of a supposed mysterious canary, or other feathered songster, whose whereabouts she sought in vain to discover. At last one day she saw a mouse peeping out of a hole; and, to her great surprise, found that the warbling which had so entertained her during her hours of pain emanated from it, and not from a feathered chorister. She threw a shawl she was wearing about her shoulders over the mouse and succeeded in capturing it. A small cage was constructed for it, and it sings away as merrily as a bird in a wood. It is described as being the size and colour of an ordinary mouse, the tail, however, appearing to be larger. It will not touch any cheese but is very fond of hollow biscuits and ale." The mouse's voice was, apparently often like "the liquid notes of a nightingale and at others those of the canary and other birds"
In the next edition of Lantern, in the winter of the same year, there was more to report after BSIG discovered further information in Unnatural Natural History Notes, a privately-published document from 1884. The first mouse was owned by a Lowestoft watch-maker called Naylor and the author recalled his first meeting with man and mouse: "...he produced a small box, which he set down before the fire...As soon as the little animal began to feel the warmth, he became musical and chanted forth a sweet little song, like the subdued notes of a canary. On looking into the box, sure enough its only occupant was a mouse..." This creature only piped up when he felt the warmth of the fire. The other mouse lived in the wainscoting of Oulton Manor House and had perplexed the owners for years, who had thought a bird was living in the walls.
John Farr, in Zoologist: A Monthly Journal of Natural History, writing in 1857, told the tale of when he went to Earsham Hall in Bungay to meet Captain Mead's singing mouse. He wrote: "…upon being stirred up and driven from its nest of wool, it commenced a low, warbling, chirping kind of noise, quite loud enough to be heard across the room; it reminded me much of the note one sometimes hears of the hedge sparrow when singing or commencing to sing in early spring, buried in the ivy of an old fence. The butler informed me that, as the day was cold, the mouse would not sing half so loud as he did sometimes. I must confess I was agreeably surprised; the mouse certainly did what I never heard a mouse do before. " Shortly afterwards, Farr noted that another singing mouse had been found at Earsham, this time larger than a 'common' mouse with a larger, thicker tail and a nose "less pointed, more snoutish or pig-fashioned".
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Weird Suffolk is delighted to report that singing mice do exist, but for humans to be able to hear their song is rare - the expression "as quiet as a mouse" may have to be reconsidered when dealing with Suffolk's more operatic rodents.
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