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Historical references to London's sounds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
10th
11th to
15th
16th to
17th
18th Early
19th
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19th
Early
20th
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20th
 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: 1840

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Old Curiosity Shop

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1840

Page/volume number: Chapter 1

London footsteps in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop

That constant pacing to and fro, that never-ending restlessness, that incessant tread of feet wearing the rough stones smooth and glossy – is it not a wonder how the dwellers in narrows ways can bear to hear it! Think of a sick man in such a place as Saint Martin's Court, listening to the footsteps, and in the midst of pain and weariness obliged, despite himself (as though it were a task he must perform) to detect the child's step from the man's, the slipshod beggar from the booted exquisite, the lounging from the busy, the dull heel of the sauntering outcast from the quick tread of an expectant pleasure-seeker – think of the hum and noise always being present to his sense, and of the stream of life that will not stop, pouring on, on, on, through all his restless dreams, as if he were condemned to lie, dead but conscious, in a noisy churchyard, and had no hope of rest for centuries to come.

Period referred to: 1840s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Dombey and Son

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1846-48

Page/volume number: Chapter 9

A secondhand shop described in Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son

A set of window curtains with no windows belonging to them, would be seen gracefully draping a barricade of chests of drawers, loaded with little jars from chemists' shops; while a homeless hearthrug severed from its natural companion the fireside, braved the shrewd east wind in its adversity, and trembled in melancholy accord with the shrill complainings of a cabinet piano, wasting away, a string a day, and faintly resounding to the noises of the street in its jangling and distracted brain.

Period referred to: 1820s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Letter to Alexander Carlyle

Type of publication: Private correspondence

Author: Thomas Carlyle

Year of publication: 1824

Page/volume number: 14 December 1824

Thomas Carlyle describes London life in 1824

You are packed into paltry shells of brick-houses (calculated to endure for forty years, and then fall); every door that slams to in the street is audible in your most secret chamber [. . .] and when you issue from your door, you are assailed by vast shoals of quacks, and showmen, and street sweepers, and pick-pockets, and mendicants of every degree and shape, all plying in noise or silent craft their several vocations, all in their hearts like ‘lions ravening for their prey.’