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Weird Suffolk: The Worlingham Hum

PUBLISHED: 16:00 10 August 2018




It was Norfolk and Suffolk’s unexplained humming noise which fed suspicions of an alien invasion or UFO activity and which could only be heard…by women.

While it may sound like the set-up to a joke about boring husbands, a bizarre drone plagued the women of Waveney in the early 1980s and drove some to the brink of madness.

In the Eastern Daily Press on September 15 1982, the curious story of the Waveney Hum was revealed, along with the Hum’s preference for the fairer sex.

“It is really disturbing. It is there 24 hours a day and hits your eardrums all the time. It is more of a vibration,” said Betty Mallett, of Highland Drive in Worlingham.

The noise, which was described as “a faint and faraway fog horn” could only be heard inside houses and troubled women in several parts of the village.

WEIRD SUFFOLK: Highland Drive in Worlingham.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNWEIRD SUFFOLK: Highland Drive in Worlingham. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mrs Mallett started to hear the noise in October 1981 and was so concerned that for three weeks she kept a chart on the weather conditions and the loudness of the noise. “There was no pattern. It is worse at night and from Friday night through to Sunday morning. It is most extraordinary,” she added.

Peggy Wilson, who also lived at Highland Drive, said: “As soon as you realise you can hear it, it takes over. It even got through to me in my sleep and when I was on night duty and sleep in the afternoon.”

Des O’Neill, chief environmental health officer for Waveney District Council, said the council had fully investigated the issue.

“We have looked into it for some months and we have tried all the options,” he said, “the people who suffer from it are female and only hear it indoors.”

The department had contacted the electricity and gas boards, local factories and businesses, workers on the bypass being built nearby and shops but had been left without any answers.

“We are concerned. These people are all sensible types and there must be something in it,” said Mr O’Neill.

Joyce Hancock, of Broadland Close, said: “I have heard this noise over a long period, over last Christmas and particularly over the dark nights. It varies in pitch and intensity. It is a nuisance and it is very strange how you cannot hear it outside.”

News of the Waveney Hum spread across the UK and the women of the village soon heard from others in Tyne and Wear, Lancashire, London, the South coast and the West country who were similarly plagued by the insistent noise.

Next to report the drone was Pauline Smith of Upper Grange Crescent in Caister, who said she had suffered a “very real” fog-horn noise for the 17 years she had lived there, although she knew of nobody else who heard it. She also experienced a low-pitched dynamo-like sound for several years which had been heard by others living nearby.

By October 1982, Waveney District Council had brought in super-sensitive measuring instruments and by the end of the month more complainants had come forward along with Pete Johnson of Sheringham who had been compiling notes on similar Hums across the country since 1960.

The EDP of October 25 1982 noted that: “…a ‘nation-wide inquiry’ conducted by a national newspaper in September 1960 reported that a Hum (two-tone, like the Worlingham Hum, and estimated to be between 14 and 20 kilocycles, which is just below the threshold of normal hearing) had been heard at dozens of sites from Inverness to Penzance. Yarmouth and Cromer were two Norfolk areas said to be affected.”

In 2008, the so-called Sudbury Hum was heard by dozens of people and although it was never conclusively explained, it was at least a hum which believed in equal opportunities and was heard by both women and men.

According to scientific research, women are more sensitive to high-pitched sounds than men and good hearing tends to last longer than men’s in the long term – in other words, women lose the ability to distinguish sounds of different frequencies more slowly than men.

Women also have lower thresholds in terms of sound intensity and can hear softer sounds than men – researchers at Indianapolis University of Medicine have gone one step further and claim men listen with one side of their brains while women use both.

Various explanations for the Hum have been put forward, including gas pipes, power lines, household appliances, traffic noise, tinnitus, engine idling, fish, wasps and currents in the sea which cause the Earth to subtly vibrate as they shift across the surface, creating a ‘ring’. One thing is for certain: whatever is causing the Hum is definitely keeping Mum.

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