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Historical references to London's sounds

A database of several hundred historical descriptions and references to London's sounds. They're 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
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18th Early
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 General sounds of street and town   1 9 2 3 20 12 7
 Open-air markets     1   2 2    
 Road traffic         1 3    
 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: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > Plague, war and disaster

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1666

Page/volume number: 2 June 1666

English soldiers depart during the Second Anglo-Dutch War

Very pleasant with her half an hour, and so away and down to Blackewall, and there saw the soldiers (who were by this time gotten most of them drunk) shipped off. But, Lord! to see how the poor fellows kissed their wives and sweethearts in that simple manner at their going off, and shouted, and let off their guns, was strange sport.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > Plague, war and disaster

Title of work: The Diary of John Evelyn

Type of publication: Diary

Author: John Evelyn

Year of publication: 1666

Page/volume number: 3rd September 1666

‘The noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames’

God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above 10,000 houses all in one flame! The noise and cracking and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like a hideous storm.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > Plague, war and disaster

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1665

Page/volume number: 30 Julty 1665

‘It was a sad noise to hear our bell to toll and ring so often to-day’

It was a sad noise to hear our bell to toll and ring so often to-day, either for deaths or burials; I think five or six times.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > Plague, war and disaster

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1665

Page/volume number: 14th April 1665

Naval guns rumoured to be heard in Walthamstow

This morning I was saluted with newes that the fleetes, ours and the Dutch, were engaged, and that the guns were heard at Walthamstow to play all yesterday, and that Captain Teddiman's legs were shot off in the Royall Katherine.

[This rumour must have been false, since the first major naval battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War wasn't until nearly two months later. It is not implausible though that gunfire at sea could be heard as far away as Walthamstow. Pepys later records how naval guns at the Battle of Lowestoft were heard in London on 3 June 1665. During the First World War, the sound of massed artillery barrages on the Somme was reported by many in London – IMR]

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Ambient > Plague, war and disaster

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1666

Page/volume number: September 1666

‘And a horrid noise the flames made’

We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins.

Period referred to: Early 1600s

Sound category: Ambient > Plague, war and disaster

Title of work: The Wonderfulle Yeare

Type of publication: Pamphlet

Author: Thomas Dekker

Year of publication: 1603

Page/volume number: Unknown

The plague of 1603 in London

And even such a formidable shape did the diseased Citie appeare in: For he that durst (in the dead houre of gloomy midnight) have bene so valiant, as to have walkt through the still and melancholy streets, what thinke you should have bene his musicke? Surely the loude grones of raving sicke men; the strugling panges of soules departing: In every house griefe strinking up an Allarum: Servants crying out for maisters: wives for husbands, parents for children, children for their mothers: here he should have met some frantically running to knock vp Sextons; there, others fearfully sweating with Coffins, to steale forth dead bodies, least the fatall hand-writing of death should seale up their doores. And to make this dismall consort more full, round about him Bells heavily tolling in one place, and ringing out in another [. . .]