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HISTORICAL LONDON SOUNDSRADIO ACTUALITYOLD LONDON MAPS

A collection of descriptions and references to sounds drawn mainly from primary sources such as autobiographies, diaries and statutes, as well as novels written around the times they depict.

 Sub-category 1st to
10th
11th to
15th
16th to
17th
18th Early
19th
Late
19th
Early
20th
Late
20th
 General sounds of street and town     9 1 3 16 12 6
 Open-air markets     1   2 2    
 Road traffic       1 1 2    
 Communal living and confinement     1 1   2 3  
 River traffic and related sounds     5     2 3  
 Plague, war and disaster   1 6 2   2 4  
 Sound qualities of buildings     1          
 Sounds of crowds   1       1    

Period referred to: 1606

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Seven Deadly Sins of London

Type of publication: Satire/tract

Author: Thomas Dekker

Year of publication: 1606

Page/volume number: Introduction

The clamour of London in 1606

In every street, carts and Coaches make such a thundring as if the world ranne upon wheeles: at everie corner, men, women, and children meete in such shoales, that postes are sette up of purpose to strengthen the houses, least with justling one another they should shoulder them downe. Besides, hammers are beating in one place, Tubs hooping in another, Pots clincking in a third, water-tankards running at tilt in a fourth: heere are Porters sweating under burdens, there Marchants-men bearing bags of money, Chapmen (as if they were at Leape frog) skippe out of one shop into another: Tradesmen (as if they were dauncing Galliards) are lusty at legges and never stand still: all are as busie as countrie Atturneyes at an Assises.

Period referred to: 1552

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Beware the Cat

Type of publication: Novel

Author: William Baldwin

Year of publication: 1552

Page/volume number: Page 56

A magical sense of hearing in William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat

[. . .] and to hear the better I took off my pillows, which stopped my ears, and then listened and viewed as attentively as I could ; but I warrant you the pellicils or filmy vein that lieth within the bottom of mine ear hole, from whence like veins carry the sound to the senses, was with this medicine in my pillows so purged and parched, or at least dried, that the least moving of the air, whether struck with breath or with living creatures, which we call voyces, or with the moving of dead, as winds, waters, trees, carts, falling of stones, &c. which are named noises, sounded so shrill in my head, by reverbrations of my final filmes, that the sound of them altogether was so disordered and monstrous that I could discern no one from other, save only the harmony of the moving of the spheres which noise excelled all other as much both in pleasance and shril bigness of sound as the zodiac itself surmounteth all other creatures in altitude of place, for in comparison of the basest of this noise, which is the moving of Saturn by means of this huge compass, the highest whistling of the wind, or any other organ pipes (whose sounds I heard issued together,) appeared but a low base, and yet was those an high treble to the voice of beasts which as a mean the running of rivers was a tenor, and the boyling of the sea, and the catracts or gulf therof a goodly base, and the rushing, rising, and falling of the clouds a deep diapson. While I harkend to this broil, labouring to discern both voices and noises a sundre, I had such a mixture as I think was never in Chaucer's “House of Fame,” for there was nothing within an hundred mile of me down on my side (for from so far but so faither the air may come because of obliquacion,) but I heard it as well as if I had been by it, and discern all voices, but by means of noises understood none. Lord, what a doo women made in their beds; some scolding, some laughing, some singing to their sucking children, which made a woeful noise with their continual crying, and one shrewd wife, a great way off (I think at St. Albans), called her husband cuckold a loud and shrilly that I heard that plain, and would fain have heard the rest, but could not by no means for barking of dogs, grunting of hogs, wailing of cats, rumbling of rats, gagling of geez, humming of bees, rousing of bucks, gagling of ducks, singing of swains, ringing of panns, crowing of cocks, sowing of sockes, cackling of hens, scrapling of pens, heeping of mice, trulling of dice, curling of frogs and todes in the bogs, churking of crickets, shutting of wickets, scritching of owls, fluttering of fowls, routing of knaves, snorting of slaves, farting of churls, fisling of girls, with many things els; as ringing of bells, counting of coins, mounting of groins, whispering of lovers, springling of plovers, groning and spinning, baking and brewing, scratching and rubbing, watching and shrugging, with such a sort of commixed noises as could adaf any body to have heard, much more me, seeing that the peanieles of my ears were with my medicine made so fine and stiff, and that by the temperate heat of the things therin, that like a tabbar dried before the fire, or els a lute string by heat shrunk, never they were incomparably amended in receiving and yeilding the shrilness of any touching sounds. While I was earnestly harkening (as I said) to hear the women, minding nothing els, the greatest bell in St. Botolph steeple, which is hard by, was tolled for some rich lady that then lay in passing, the sound therof came with such a rumble into mine ear, that I thought all the devils in hell had broken loose, and where come about me, and was so afraid therwith that when I felt the foxtail under my feet (which through fear I had forgot) I deemed it had been the devil indeed ; and therfore I cried as loud as ever I could, “The devil, the devil!”

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1667

Page/volume number: 1 July 1667

‘Waked by a damned noise between a sow gelder and a cow and a dog’

Up betimes, about 9 o'clock, waked by a damned noise between a sow gelder and a cow and a dog, nobody after we were up being able to tell us what it was.

Period referred to: 1590s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Skialethia, or a Shadow of Truth

Type of publication: Satiric verse

Author: Edward Guilpin

Year of publication: 1598

Page/volume number: Not known

‘There squeaks a cart wheel, here a tumbrel rumbles’

There squeaks a cart wheel,
Here a tumbrel rumbles,
Here scolds an old bawd,
There a porter grumbles.

Period referred to: End of 17th century

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The London Spy

Type of publication: Journal/Social investigation

Author: Ned Ward

Year of publication: 1698-1700

Page/volume number: Chapter II

‘The music of sundry passing-bells, the rattling of coaches’

[. . .] for tho' we thought it ten o'clock when we left the blessings of dear Hymen's palace, yet it prov'd but the misers' bedtime, the modest hour of nine being just proclaim'd by Time's oracle from every steeple. The joyful alarm of Bow Bell call'd the weary apprentices from their work to unhitch their folded shutters and button up their shops till the next morning.

[. . .]

My ears were so serenaded on every side with the music of sundry passing-bells, the rattling of coaches, and the melancholy ditties of Hot Baked Wardens [pears] and Pippins! that had I as many eyes as Argus and as many ears as Fame, they would have been all confounded, for nothing could I see but light, and nothing hear but noise.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1660

Page/volume number: November 1660

‘I took much pleasure to have the neighbours
come forth into the yard to hear me’

So home to dinner, and so to the office all the afternoon, and at night to my viallin (the first time that I have played on it since I came to this house) in my dining room, and afterwards to my lute there, and I took much pleasure to have the neighbours come forth into the yard to hear me.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1660

Page/volume number: November 1660

Pepys and his wife are kept awake by a smoke-jack

The last night I should have mentioned how my wife and I were troubled all night with the sound of drums in our ears, which in the morning we found to be Mr. Davys's jack, but not knowing the cause of its going all night, I understand to-day that they have had a great feast to-day.

[A smoke-jack was a device lodged in a chimney flue, with a fan of blades like that of a jet turbine. Hot air rising up the chimney caused the fan to rotate, and this motion was transmitted downwards by gears to turn a meat-spit in the fireplace.]

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1660

Page/volume number: February 1660

‘A drum came by, beating of a strange manner of beat’

After supper home, and before going to bed I staid writing of this day its passages, while a drum came by, beating of a strange manner of beat, now and then a single stroke, which my wife and I wondered at, what the meaning of it should be.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > General street sounds

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1660

Page/volume number: January 1660

A dog’s barking keeps Samuel Pepys awake

Having been exceedingly disturbed in the night with the barking of a dog of one of our neighbours that I could not sleep for an hour or two, I slept late, and then in the morning took physic, and so staid within all day.