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Historical references to London's sounds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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17th
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: 1700

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Amusements Serious and Comical

Type of publication: Satire

Author: Thomas Brown

Year of publication: 1700

Page/volume number: Amusement III

‘Make Room there, says another Fellow driving a Wheel-Barrow of Nuts’

Some carry, others are carried. 'Make way there,' says a gouty-legged chairman, that is carrying a punk of quality to a morning's exercise; or a Bartholomew baby-beau, newly launched out of a chocolate-house, with his pockets as empty as his brains. 'Make room there,' says another fellow, driving a wheelbarrow of nuts, that spoil the lungs of the city 'pentices and make them wheeze over their mistresses as bad as the phlegmatic cuc[k]olds, their masters, do when called to family duty. One draws, another drives. 'Stand up there, you blind dog,' says a carman, 'will you have the cart squeeze your guts out?' One tinker knocks, another bawls. 'Have you brass-pot, iron-pot, kettle, skillet or a frying-pan to mend?' Another son of a whore yelps louder than Homer's stentor. 'Two a groat, and four for sixpence, mackerel.' One draws his mouth up to his ears and howls out, 'Buy my flounders,' and is followed by an old burly drab that screams out the sale of her 'maids' and her 'soul' at the same instant.

Here a sooty chimney-sweeper takes the wall of a grave aldernman, and a broom-man jostles the parson of the parish. There a fat greasy porter runs a trunk full-butt upon you, while another salutes your antlers with a basket of eggs and butter. 'Turn out there, you country purr,' says a bully with a sword two yards long jarring at his heels, and throws him into the kennel. By and by comes a christening, with the reader screwing up his mouth to deliver the service a la mode de Paris, and afterwards talks immoderately nice and dull with the gossips, the midwife strutting in the front with young original sin as fine as fippence; followed with the vocal music of 'Kitchen-stuff ha' you maids,' and a damned trumpeter calling in the rabble to see a calf with six legs and a top-knot.

Period referred to: 1716

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Trivia

Type of publication: Poem

Author: John Gay

Year of publication: 1716

Page/volume number: n/a

London in 1716: excerpts from John Gay’s Trivia

When the Black Youth at chosen Stands rejoice,
And clean your Shoes resounds from ev’ry Voice;
When late their miry Sides Stage-Coaches show,
And their stiff Horses through the Town move slow;
When all the Mall in leafy Ruin lies,
And Damsels first renew their Oyster Cries

[. . .]

When Sleep is first disturb’d by Morning Cries;
From sure Prognosticks learn to know the Skies,
Lest you of Rheums and Coughs at Night complain;
Surpriz’d in dreary Fogs or driving Rain.

[. . .]

But when the swinging Signs your Ears offend
With creaking Noise, then rainy Floods impend;
Soon shall the Kennels swell with rapid Streams,
And rush in muddy Torrents to the Thames.

[. . .]

Good Huswives all the Winter’s Rage despise,
Defended by the Riding-hood’s Disguise:
Or underneath th’ Umbrella’s oily Shed,
Safe thro’ the Wet, on clinking Pattens tread.

[. . .]

Here Rows of Drummers stand in martial File,
And with their Vellom-Thunder shake the Pile,
To greet the new-made Bride. Are Sounds like these
The proper Prelude to a State of Peace?
Now Industry awakes her busy Sons,
Full charg’d with News the breathless Hawker runs:
Shops open, Coaches roll, Carts shake the Ground,
And all the Streets with passing Cries resound.

[. . .]

Now dawns the Morn, the sturdy Lad awakes,
Leaps from his Stall, his tangled Hair he shakes,
Then leaning o’er the Rails, he musing stood,
And view’d below the black Canal of Mud,
Where common Sewers a lulling murmur keep,
Whose Torrents rush from Holborn’s fatal Steep

[. . .]

The Youth strait chose his Post; the Labour ply’d
Where branching Streets from Charing-cross divide;
His treble Voice resounds along the Meuse,
And White-hall echoes—Clean your Honour’s Shoes.

[. . .]

Here laden Carts with thundring Waggons meet,
Wheels clash with Wheels, and bar the narrow Street;
The lashing Whip resounds, the Horses strain,
And Blood in anguish bursts the swelling Vein.

[. . .]

Booths sudden hide the Thames, long Streets appear,
And num’rous Games proclaim the crouded Fair.
So when a Gen’ral bids the martial Train
Spread their Encampment o’er the spatious Plain;
Thick-rising Tents a Canvas City build,
And the loud Dice resound thro’ all the Field.

[. . .]

When Rosemary, and Bays, the Poet’s Crown,
Are bawl’d, in frequent Cries, through all the Town,
Then judge the Festival of Christmas near,
Christmas, the joyous Period of the Year.

[. . .]

Now all the Pavement sounds with trampling Feet,
And the mixt Hurry barricades the Street.
Entangled here, the Waggon’s lengthen’d Team
Cracks the tough Harness; Here a pond’rous Beam
Lies over-turn’d athwart; For Slaughter fed,
Here lowing Bullocks raise their horned Head.
Now Oaths grow loud, with Coaches Coaches jar,
And the smart Blow provokes the sturdy War;
From the high Box they whirl the Thong around,
And with the twining Lash their Shins resound:
Their Rage ferments, more dang’rous Wounds they try,
And the Blood gushes down their painful Eye.

[. . .]

Here dives the skulking Thief with practis’d Slight,
And unfelt Fingers make thy Pocket light.
Where’s now thy Watch, with all its Trinkets, flown?
And thy late Snuff-Box is no more thy own.
But lo! his bolder Theft some Tradesman spies,
Swift from his Prey the scudding Lurcher flies;
Dext’rous he scapes the Coach with nimble Bounds,
Whilst ev’ry honest Tongue Stop Thief resounds.

[. . .]

Let not the Ballad-Singer’s shrilling Strain
Amid the Swarm thy list’ning Ear detain:
Guard well thy Pocket; for these Syrens stand,
To aid the Labours of the diving Hand

[. . .]

Where Lincoln’s-Inn, wide Space, is rail’d around,
Cross not with vent’rous Step; there oft’ is found
The lurking Thief, who while the Day-light shone,
Made the Walls echo with his begging Tone:
That Crutch which late compassion mov’d, shall wound
Thy bleeding Head, and fell thee to the Ground.
Though thou art tempted by the Link-Man’s Call,
Yet trust him not along the lonely Wall;
In the Mid-way he’ll quench the flaming Brand,
And share the Booty with the pilf’ring Band.

[. . .]

But hark! Distress with screaming Voice draws nigh’r,
And wakes the slumb’ring Street with Cries of Fire.
At first a glowing Red enwraps the Skies,
And born by Winds the scatt’ring Sparks arise;
From Beam to Beam, the fierce Contagion spreads;
The spiry Flames now lift aloft their Heads,
Through the burst Sash a blazing Deluge pours,
And splitting Tiles descend in rattling Show’rs.