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Historical references to London's sounds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.

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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: 1852

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Bleak House

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1852

Page/volume number: Chapter XXXII

Bells and silence in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House

Mr. Guppy casts up his eyes at the portrait of Lady Dedlock over the mantelshelf and replies, "Tony, you are asked to leave that to the honour of your friend. Besides its being calculated to serve that friend in those chords of the human mind which—which need not be called into agonizing vibration on the present occasion—your friend is no fool. What's that?"

"It's eleven o'clock striking by the bell of Saint Paul's. Listen and you'll hear all the bells in the city jangling."

Both sit silent, listening to the metal voices, near and distant, resounding from towers of various heights, in tones more various than their situations. When these at length cease, all seems more mysterious and quiet than before. One disagreeable result of whispering is that it seems to evoke an atmosphere of silence, haunted by the ghosts of sound—strange cracks and tickings, the rustling of garments that have no substance in them, and the tread of dreadful feet that would leave no mark on the sea-sand or the winter snow. So sensitive the two friends happen to be that the air is full of these phantoms, and the two look over their shoulders by one consent to see that the door is shut.

Period referred to: 1322

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Calendar of City Coroners' Rolls

Type of publication: Administrative record

Author: Unknown

Year of publication: 1321-22

Page/volume number: Roll B, 14

A medieval home owner attacks drunken revellers

Tuesday after the Purification B.V. Mary [2 Feb.] the year aforesaid [1321-22], it happened that certain Reginald de Freestone, settere, lay dead of a death other than his rightful death in the street called Bradstrete, near the fate of the tenement held by Juliana de Bromforde of Jordan de Langeleye in the parish of St. Peter de Bradstrete. On hearing this, the said Coroner and Sheriffs proceeded thither and having summoned good men of Bradstrete Ward and of the three nearest Wards, viz. Bisshopesgate, Cornhulle and Colmanstrete, they diligently enquired how it happened. The jurors say that on the preceding Tuesday at midnight the said Reginald de Freestone, John Bocche, Waler le Skynnere, and eleven others whose names are unknown were passing the door of the shop tenanted by William de Grymysby under Roger, son of Robert Osekyn, in the parish of St. Benedict Fynk in the Ward of Bradstrete, singing and shouting, as they often did at night, [when] the said William de Grymysby who was in the shop, besought the said Reginald and his companions to allow him and his neighbours to sleep and rest in peace. Whereupon, the said Reginald de Freestone, John Bocche, Walter le Skynnere and the rest of their companions, unknown, invited the said William de Grymysby to come out of his shop if he dared. At length, the said William de Grymysby seizing a staff called 'Balstaf', left his shop, and running after the said Reginald, Walter and his other companions smote the said Reginald with the staff on the left side of the head and smashed the whole of his head therewith, so that he fell to the ground at the entrance of the tenement of Jordan de Langelagh aforesaid and there lingered without speaking until break of day on the aforesaid Tuesday when he died of the blow and no other felony. Being asked who were present when this happened the jurors say the said William, Reginald, John, Walter and their eleven companions, unknown, and no one else; and the said William de Grymysby forthwith fled, but whither he went and who harboured him they know not, nor do they suspect any one else of the death. Alice de Breynford first discovered the said Reginald, dead, and she raised the cry so that the country came.

Period referred to: 1896

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: A Child of the Jago

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Arthur Morrison

Year of publication: 1896

Page/volume number: Chapter IV

Nocturnal fighting in A Child of the Jago

That night fighting was sporadic and desultory in the Jago. Bob the Bender was reported to have a smashed nose, and Sam Cash had his head bandaged at the hospital. At the Bag of Nails in Edge Lane, Snob Spicer was knocked out of knowledge with a quart pot, and Cocko Harnwell's missis had a piece bitten off of one ear. As the night wore on, taunts and defiances were bandied from window to door, and from door to window, between those who intended to begin fighting to-morrow; and shouts from divers corners gave notice of isolated scuffles. Once a succession of piercing screams seemed to betoken that Sally Green had begun. There was a note in the screams of Sally Green's opposites which the Jago had learned to recognise. Sally Green, though of the weaker faction, was the female champion of the Old Jago: an eminence won and kept by fighting tactics peculiar to herself. For it was her way, reserving teeth and nails, to wrestle closely with her antagonist, throw her by a dexterous twist on her face, and fall on her, instantly seizing the victim's nape in her teeth, gnawing and worrying. The sufferer's screams were audible afar, and beyond their invariable eccentricity of quality—a quality a vaguely suggestive of dire surprise—they had mechanical persistence, a pump-like regularity, that distinguished them, in the accustomed ear, from other screams.

Josh Perrott had not been home all the evening: probably the Bishop's watch was in course of transmutation into beer. Dicky, stiff and domestically inclined, nursed Looey and listened to the noises without till he fell asleep, in hopeful anticipation of the morrow.

Period referred to: 1891

Sound category: Ambient > General sound of street and town

Title of work: MacMillan's

Type of publication: Magazine

Author: Arthur Morrison

Year of publication: 1891

Page/volume number: October 1891

Arthur Morrison describes the sounds of an East End street

Every morning at half-past five there is a curious demonstration. The street resounds with thunderous knockings, repeated upon door after door, and acknowledged ever by a muffled shout from within. These signals are the work of the night-watchman or the early policeman, or both, and they summon the sleepers to go forth to the docks, the gasworks, and the ship-yards. To be awakened in this wise costs fourpence a week, and for this fourpence a fierce rivalry rages between night-watchmen and policemen. The night-watchman—a sort of by-blow of the ancient 'Charley,' and himself a fast vanishing quantity—is the real professional performer; but he goes to the wall, because a large connection must be worked if the pursuit is to pay at fourpence a knocker. Now, it is not easy to bang at two knockers three-quarters of a mile apart, and a hundred others lying between, all punctually at half-past five. Wherefore the policeman, to whom the fourpence is but a perquisite, and who is content with a smaller round, is rapidly supplanting the night-watchman, whose cry of "Past nine o'clock," as he collects orders in the evening, is now seldom heard.

The knocking and the shouting pass, and there comes the noise of opening and shutting of doors, and a clattering away to the docks, the gasworks and the ship-yards. Later more door-shutting is heard, and then the trotting of sorrow-laden little feet along the grim street to the grim Board School three grim streets off. Then silence, save for a subdued sound of scrubbing here and there, and the puny squall of croupy infants. After this, a new trotting of little feet to docks, gasworks, and ship-yards with father's dinner in a basin and a red handkerchief, and so to the Board School again. More muffled scrubbing and more squalling, and perhaps a feeble attempt or two at decorating the blankness of a square hole here and there by pouring water into a grimy flower-pot full of dirt. Then comes the trot of little feet toward the oblong holes, heralding the slower tread of sooty artisans; a smell of bloater up and down; nightfall; the fighting of boys in the street, perhaps of men at the corner near the beer-shop; sleep. And this is the record of a day in this street; and every day is hopelessly the same.

Period referred to: 1859

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Welcome Guest

Type of publication: Magazine

Author: George Augustus Sala

Year of publication: 1859

Page/volume number: Unknown

George Augustus Sala describes the New Cut, Waterloo

I wish that I had a more savoury locality to take you than the New Cut. I acknowledge frankly that I don't like it.

[. . .]

The broad pavement presents a mixture of Vanity Fair and Rag Fair. It is the paradise of the lowest of costermongers, and often the saturnalia of the most emerited thieves. Women appear there in their most unlovely aspect: brazen, slovenly, dishevelled, brawling, muddled with beer or fractious with gin. The howling of beaten children and kicked dogs, the yells of ballad-singers, 'death and fire-hunters', and reciters of sham murders and elopements; the bawling recitations of professional denunciators of the Queen, the Royal family and the ministry; the monotonous jodels of the itinerant hucksters; the fumes of the vilest tobacco, of stale corduroy suits, of oilskin caps, of mildewed umbrellas, of decaying vegetables, of escaping (and frequently surreptitiously tapped) gas, of deceased cats, of ancient fish, of cagmag meat, of dubious mutton pies, and of unwashed, soddened, unkempt humanity: all these make the night hideous and the heart weak.

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: 1890s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Great God Pan

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Arthur Machen

Year of publication: 1894

Page/volume number: Chapter VI

London at night described by Arthur Machen

I had the streets pretty much to myself. It's a curious thing, Austin, to be alone in London at night, the gas-lamps stretching away in perspective, and the dead silence, and then perhaps the rush and clatter of a hansom on the stones, and the fire starting up under the horse's hoofs. I walked along pretty briskly, for I was feeling a little tired of being out in the night, and as the clocks were striking two I turned down Ashley Street, which, you know, is on my way. It was quieter than ever there, and the lamps were fewer; altogether, it looked as dark and gloomy as a forest in winter. I had done about half the length of the street when I heard a door closed very softly, and naturally I looked up to see who was abroad at such an hour.

Period referred to: 1992

Sound category: Ambient > Everyday sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Book of Dave

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Will Self

Year of publication: 2006

Page/volume number: Chapter 8

The City of London after the 1992 financial crash

While he slid into the back, Dave listened to the City itself. Could he hear the aftermath of the awful carnage of the day before? The final gargle as the dregs of fifteen billion pounds were sucked out of its dealing rooms? The sweat and moan of shirt-sleeved, plastic piano players pounding out the blues of ruin? No, there was only the hum of everyday urban vacuity.

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: 1870

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Middlesex Chronicle

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Unnamed journalist

Year of publication: 1870

Page/volume number: 2 April 1870, page 2

Sights and sounds of the Thames Subway at Tower Hill

The mysterious-looking thoroughfare admits of a very brief description. It is a well-constructed tubular iron bridge, about a quarter of a mile long, and seven feet in diameter, sunk bodily into the bed of the Thames, so as to be snugly embedded in the London clay through its entire distance. Nowhere is the Subway nearer than 22 feet to the water, and in places is as much as 50 feet distant - an important fact to bear in mind in comparing the Subway with the old Thames Tunnel, over the archcrown of which there were here and there but four feet to the water. The Subway, in point of fact dips at the rate of one in thirty.

At present, the Tower-hill station at the one end, and the Tooley-street Station at the other, are more useful than ornamental, especially when the cage by which passengers are taken down is at the bottom. We use the word "cage" because of the resemblance to that familiar object of the mining districts, but it is in reality rather a nicely padded little compartment, semi-circular in shape, and with cushioned seat for four or six. Into this the passenger enters, and the doors are shut. There is a rumble, a rattle, a consciousness of steady downward motion, and an intention perhaps to remark to your neighbour that it is all very pleasant, but any such reflection is nipped in the bud by the termination of the journey, which has occupied about the time it would take to [illegible]. The distance is only fifty feet.

Through a small waiting-room you enter a long low carriage, with seats for seven each side. The signal is given, the drum begins to revolve, and the wire rope twines swiftly round it, the pretty omnibus answers to the strain, and in about 60 seconds the subterranean passage of the Thames has been accomplished. Safety is secured in the shafts by an unusually powerful clip; in the Subway by the single line of tramway upon which collision is impossible. We (correspondent of Daily News, from which we are quoting) walked through the narrow, dark, road on Tuesday, absolutely dryshod, and without any inconvenience from defective ventilation. At times, a listener in the centre of the Subway can hear strange noises, said to be reverberations of paddles beating the river overhead, and the sounds of hammering and thumping on board vessel.

Period referred to: 1867

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: South London Press

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Unnamed journalist

Year of publication: 1867

Page/volume number: 3 August 1867, page 10

Rowdy soldiers of the 19th Surrey Rifles upset a Kennington resident

On Saturday evening last, the 19th Surrey Rifles was officially inspected in Kennington Park by Col. Wright, the deputy-inspector-general. The regiment was in six companies, and the whole of the officers were present. Col. Labrow commanded, and with him was Major James. The companies were commanded by Captains Prewett, Hill, Driver, Brady, Harding, and Alsop. The movements were well executed, and Col. Wright, at the conclusion, expressed his satisfaction with all he had seen. He congratulated the corps on having so large a muster, especially of officers. The regiment then marched off the ground to the drill-shed in New-street, Doddington Grove, where the men were entertained by their officers.

A correspondent writes as follows in reference to the foregoing: "Up to nearly midnight the quiet of New-street and Doddington Grove was greatly disturbed. Some of the members, in knots of three and four, rolled (that's the proper expression, I think) along the streets, shouting and singing at the top of their voices, brandishing their rifles and causing no small amount of commotion. This was a frequent scene for some time. I do not condemn the whole body - far from it - but the only misfortune is that those who so far misconducted themselves, owing to the darkness, could not from the windows of the houses be recognized. As usual, none of the police were in the way."

Period referred to: 1865

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Shoreditch Observer

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Unnamed correspondent

Year of publication: 1865

Page/volume number: 9 December 1865, page 3

A letter-writer complains about church bells and other noises in Shoreditch

SIR, - People lament the good old times of our ancestors, but we need not go so far back for a lamentation. Time was when our beloved parish had not become like a battle field, - sounds of furious rushings, painful shrieks, dreadful tumblings! Smoke, steam, and din, are now the order of the day, and a good part of the four and twenty their day is too, while that bell, that dreadful bell, with the remorseless tongue, that clamours to be heard in Leonard-street, seems to exult in the general disturbance. Are people made more religious by that restless engine? I have been told that people who live literally under the sound, have been heard to be exceedingly warm in their sentiments in the matter, and indeed, the sound must be a great consolation to those who have illness of any sort in the house. I presume the bell (which surely is of the feminine gender), was engaged on the express condition that it should be "afraid to flinch," whatever discomfort it might cause. The music of the bells across the fields is a pleasant sound in the country, but the music of the bells across the streets is quite another matter.
Yours &c.,
SHOREDITCH

[The church referred to is most likely St Mark's.]

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: 1874

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Wilds of London

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: James Greenwood

Year of publication: 1874

Page/volume number: Chapter 3: Sunday Evening with the 'Fancy'

Victorian cage-bird fanciers in Brick Lane

But, before all, Hare Street is strongest in singing birds. Not so much for sale seemingly, as brought out for an airing. There they were, not here and there one, but by dozens and hundreds – goldfinches and chaffinches chiefly, the cages that contain them tied in handkerchiefs, silk and cotton, and carried swinging in the hand, and jostling amongst the rude mob, as though they were of no more account than parcels of most ordinary merchandise. But the most amazing part of the business was, that not only did the imprisoned and much-hustled finches continue to exist under such circumstances, but they retained perches and equanimity in the most perfect manner, and sang as they were carried.

[. . .]

There were a good many performers before the bar, and before every man had re-plighted his torth and put himself in condition to discuss ordinary topics, my measure of Brick Lane beer was considerably reduced. But alas! even when they began to talk I was almost as much in the dark as ever. The conversation was strictly birdy. One person was bragging of him 'slamming' goldfinch, and there was a dispute as to how many 'slams' it could execute within a given time. Another individual button-holed a friend, and told him all about his 'greypates,' while a third was learned on the subject of linnets, and recited that able bird's sixty-four distinct notes, but of which the only sentence I could make out was 'Tollic, tollic, tollic, chew-chew-tew-wit-joey,' and as the man had a very gruff voice and gave the recitation with a strong nasal twang, I am afraid that my ideas of the linnet's song were not exalted by the lesson. There was presently some talk about chaffinches and 'chaffinch matches,' and then I began to glean a little real information. I learned that in the very house we were then in the 'muffin man' had sung his bird against another songster the property of a gentleman whom the company spoke of as 'More-Antique,' on the previous Thursday, for £3 a side, and that More-Antique had lost by three chalks. The terms of the said match appeared to be that each man hung up his bird against the wall, in the position he best fancied, and that the finch that uttered the greatest number of perfect notes within the space of fifteen minutes – an impartial person sitting at a table, and chalking down the notes as they were delivered – should be the winner. A 'perfect note,' as described by the gentleman who was so great in linnets, was 'toll-loll-loll chuck weedo,' and if in its utterance the bird abated a single syllable of the note it didn't count in the scoring.

Period referred to: 1951

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Times

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: The Times

Year of publication: 1951

Page/volume number: 16 November 1951

An escaped elephant in New Cross

A five-year old elephant escaped from the New Cross Empire in south-east London yesterday. It was recaptured by circus hands in New Cross post office. An assistant at the post office said: ‘We had quite a queue of old-age pensioners. There was a loud trumpeting, and through the swing doors appeared an elephant. Our queue disappeared like magic into telephone boxes and on, to and over the counter. We didn’t lose even a stamp'.

Note: This reference was originally spotted on the Transpontine blog.

Period referred to: 1857

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Little Dorrit

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1857

Page/volume number: Chapter 14

Little Dorrit travels across London at night

They had shrunk past homeless people, lying coiled up in nooks. They had run from drunkards. They had started from slinking men, whistling and signing to one another at bye corners, or running away at full speed. Though everywhere the leader and the guide, Little Dorrit, happy for once in her youthful appearance, feigned to cling to and rely upon Maggy. And more than once some voice, from among a knot of brawling or prowling figures in their path, had called out to the rest to 'let the woman and the child go by!'

So, the woman and the child had gone by, and gone on, and five had sounded from the steeples.

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.

Period referred to: 1951

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Royal Festival Hall: The Official Record

Type of publication: Official publication

Author: Max Parrish

Year of publication: 1951

Page/volume number: Unknown

1950s London: ‘the whistles of locomotives, the sounding of steamer sirens’

London, like all large cities, has an unceasing backgound of noise, the low, even rumble of its immense and widespread traffic, against which intermittent sharper sounds from far and near are audible – the whistles of locomotives, the sounding of steamer sirens and motor horns, the rattling and clanking of trains and trams, the sounds of hammering, drilling and riveting, the backfiring of engines and the sounds of nearby shouts and barks.

Many thanks to Matt Dixon for this reference.

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: 1940s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Rosie Hogarth

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Alexander Baron

Year of publication: 1951

Page/volume number: Not known

‘A constant din of altercation and neighbourly intercourse’: Angel Islington in the 1940s

The roads that meet at the Angel are as ugly as any in the ugly sprawl of London. But a hundred yards away, in the back streets, there is a quietness and serenity that keeps the traffic's roar at bay and even holds sway over the crying of babies and the shrill chatter of women that ascends from basement windows. [. . .] It is only in the little side turnings that connect these larger thoroughfares that dirt, noise, overcrowding and the sense of haste come into their own; in each of these little streets a constant din of altercation and neighbourly intercourse echoes across the narrow pavements.

Period referred to: 1945

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: London's Natural History

Type of publication: Wildlife guide

Author: R. S. R. Fitter

Year of publication: 1945

Page/volume number: Unknown

The sounds of waterfowl at Barn Elms

Barn Elms has become one of the loci classici of British bird-watching. The author, in a comparatively few visits, has seen such remarkable sights as a grey phalarope, buoyant as a cork, bobbing on the diminutive waves of the reservoir; a loon uttering its weird haunting wail before launching its cigar-shaped form into the air; a vast pack of nearly two thousand pochard and tufted duck huddled together in the cold spell of 1938-39; and the incomparable sight of mute swans, the Catalinas of the bird world, taking off with laboured strokes of their great wings across half the reservoir, flying with ponderous grace and that matchless avian sound ‘hompa, hompa, hompa, hompa’, over Ranelagh and Barnes, to descend again on the far side of the water with a loud swishing sound as their breasts create a sizeable bow-wave.

Period referred to: 1959

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: To Sir, With Love

Type of publication: Novel

Author: E. R. Braithwaite

Year of publication: 1959

Page/volume number: Chapter 1

Charwomen’s banter on board a 1950s London bus

The crowded red double-decker bus inched its way through the snarl of traffic in Aldgate. It was almost as if it was reluctant to get rid of the overload of noisy, earthy charwomen it had collected on its run through the city [. . .]

They joshed and chivvied each other and the conductor in an endless stream of lewdly suggestive remarks and retorts, quite careless of being overheard by me – a Negro, and the only other male on the bus. The conductor, a lively, quick-witted fellow, seemed to know them all well enough to address them on very personal terms, and kept them in noisy good humour with a stream of quips and pleasantries to which they made reply in kind. Sex seemed little more than a joke to them, a conversation piece which alternated with their comments on the weather, and their vividly detailed discussions on their actual or imagined ailments.

I sat sandwiched between a window and a very larhe woman whose great dimpled arms hugged her shopping bag in her lap. She kept up a ribald duet with a crony sitting immediately in front of her.

"What've you got for the Old Man's dinner, Gert?"

Gert's square body remained ponderously immobile, but she turned her head around as far as her massive neck would permit and rejoined:

"He'll be lucky to get bread and dripping today, he will."

"He can't do you much good on bread and dripping, Gert."

"Feeding him on steak and chikcen won't make no difference neither, Rose. Never mind, he keeps me back warm."

All this was said in a tone intentionally loud enough to entertain everyone, and the women showed their appreciation by cackling loudly, rocking their bodies as much as the crowding permitted.

Period referred to: 1974

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Soft City

Type of publication: Popular sociology

Author: Jonathan Raban

Year of publication: 1974

Page/volume number: Chapter 8

Sounds of transience in 1970s Earls Court

I moved from Islington to Earl's Court, where motion and migration are the area's most constant, most evident features. It is under the flight-path to Heathrow and the pneumatic whoosh of low-flying jets punctuates the day at five-minute intervals. Container trucks speed north and south on either side of the square where I live, and the reverberations of a tube line somewhere nearby deep in the earth makes the top storey shudder on still evenings.

Period referred to: 1900s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Inside Out: An Essay in the Psychology and Aesthetic Appeal of Space

Type of publication: Essay

Author: Adrian Stokes

Year of publication: 1947

Page/volume number:

‘The seat of the greatest potential noise’ in Kensington Gardens

The best epitome of massive, meticulous incoherence provided by the Park, was the Magazine at the end of the Serpentine Bridge. Explosive powder stood stored in this building of grey brick. A sentry always marched outside, and for all I know, does so to this day. Potential murder and death were guarded with careful pageantry. Except for the sentry’s footfall there was a silence about the place, the seat of the greatest potential noise.

Period referred to: 1900s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Inside Out: An Essay in the Psychology and Aesthetic Appeal of Space

Type of publication: Essay

Author: Adrian Stokes

Year of publication: 1947

Page/volume number:

Park sounds by the Serpentine in Edwardian London

The walk home was marked by the passage underneath the Serpentine bridge. The dirty echoing tunnel with its lingering airs was cold at all times of the year. It was as if the passage lay beneath the dark water, here at its deepest according to a notice of warning. A dog would be barking like Cereberus. In view of the thunderous echoes, additional heads would have been in keeping.

Period referred to: 1900s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Inside Out: An Essay in the Psychology and Aesthetic Appeal of Space

Type of publication: Essay

Author: Adrian Stokes

Year of publication: 1947

Page/volume number:

Noises from the engine house powering the Kensington Gardens fountains

The machine house of the fountains, for instance, had an ominous air. A scour of mysterious steam hung over a sunken tank at the back of the engine house and was apprehended at the same time as the smell of oil and the clanking of the lethal cylinders. The cold and grinding mechanism was housed in Portland stone of a late Victorian style, both white and darkened.

Period referred to: 1974

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Soft City

Type of publication: Popular sociology

Author: Jonathan Raban

Year of publication: 1972

Page/volume number: Chapter 1

Earl’s Court at night in Jonathan Raban’s Soft City

I am woken in the small hours by the sound of a girl achieving her climax; a deep shriek of pleasure that has nothing to do with me. I can hear her man sigh as close as if he and I were under the same sheet. On another night, a TV blares through an open window with a late-late show. On another, a woman is crying, a miserable train of broken hiccups. A man – I can hear his feet crackling on the bare boards – says: 'Shut up. Why don't you bloody well shut up?' Then there are nights of joke-hashing: someone mutters like a priest going quickly through a private office, followed by burst of yelling adenoidal laughter. The routine is repeated, and repeated; I fall asleep, alone, with Australians in my ears.

Period referred to: 1920s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Midnight Bell

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Patrick Hamilton

Year of publication: 1929

Page/volume number: Chapter XLII

A prostitute’s lodgings in 1920s Fitzrovia

At this point they reached Bolsover Street. This starts off with tall and newly erected buildings, but soon dwindles down into the drab and decayed slum which actually it is. She took him to a door not far down. The house was of four stories, and seemed to be untenanted. [. . .] She let herself in with a large key, and they found themselves in a dark passage which chilled Bob's soul, but which had no such effect upon Prunella, whose dainty high heels went clock-clocking up the bar wooden stairs. He followed. On each landing three different doors led into three different rooms containing three different families. All the doors were closed, but the awful belligerence of the poor was to be heard and sensed. On the first floor a man was reviling a woman, and a child, in another room, screaming. It did this not as though it was being beaten (which it possibly was) but as though it was being put to death. On the second floor someone was playing a harmonica, but in the front room an old woman groaned. You could not imagine what at, unless it was the harmonica. On the third floor two other children were being put to death.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Water Gypsies

Type of publication: Novel

Author: A. P. Herbert

Year of publication: 1930

Page/volume number: Chapter X

‘This horrid little smelly box of silence’: calling from a 1930s phonebox

But she had only once used the telephone before, and she read the directions very quickly twice. She took off the receiver and listened, trembling; her heart beat more wildly far than it had beaten for Ernest's speech.

A cool voice said startlingly, 'Number, please?' and, stammering, she gave the number. Nothing happened. The lady who had telephoned before her opened the door and said, 'Sorry, I left my bag.' A voice said wearily, 'Two pennies, please.' She put one penny in the slot, dropped another, and at last, breathless with agitation, heard a voice say, 'Hullo!' [. . .]

There was a sort of click, and then silence. This was the end of her expectations, the sudden grave of Love's Bliss, this horrid smelly little box of silence.

Period referred to: 1820s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Lavengro

Type of publication: Novel/memoir

Author: George Borrow

Year of publication: 1851

Page/volume number: Chapter XXIX

Early nineteenth century street sounds in George Borrow’s Lavengro

And there I continued in thought before the fire, until my eyes closed, and I fell asleep; which was not to be wondered at, after the fatigue and cold which I had lately undergone on the coach-top; and, in my sleep, I imagined myself still there, amidst darkness and rain, hurrying now over wild heaths, and now along roads overhung with thick and umbrageous trees, and sometimes methought I heard the horn of the guard, and sometimes the voice of the coachman, now chiding, now encouraging his horses, as they toiled through the deep and miry ways. At length a tremendous crack of a whip saluted the tympanum of my ear, and I started up broad awake, nearly oversetting the chair on which I reclined—and, lo! I was in the dingy room before the fire, which was by this time half extinguished. In my dream I had confounded the noise of the street with those of my night-journey; the crack which had aroused me I soon found proceeded from the whip of a carter, who, with many oaths, was flogging his team below the window.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Hangover Square

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Patrick Hamilton

Year of publication: 1939

Page/volume number: The First Part, Chapter 5

Liverpool Street station in Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square

The wheels and track clicked out the familiar and unmistakable rhythm – the sly, gentle suggestive rhythm, unlike any of its others, of a train entering a major London terminus, and he was filled with unease and foreboding as he always was by this sound. Thought and warmth must give place to action in cold streets – reality, buses, tubes, booking-offices, life again, electric-lit London, endless terrors.

Oh dear! – here we were – here was the platform under the huge roof – hollow, hellish echoing noises as in a swimming bath, and the porters lined up for the attack – no getting out of it now!

Period referred to: 1900s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Nighrts in London

Type of publication: Journalism/social investigation

Author: Thomas Burke

Year of publication: 1915

Page/volume number: A Lonely Night

Night-time sounds of Kingsland Road

My first night was the same as every other. My window looked out on a church tower which still further preyed on the wan light of the street, and, as I lay in bed, its swart height, pierced by the lit clock face, gloated stiffly over me. From back of beyond a furry voice came dolefully—
Goo bay to sum-mer, goo bay, goo baaaaay!

That song has thrilled and chilled me ever since. Next door an Easy Payments piano was being tortured by wicked fingers that sought after the wild grace of Weber's "Invitation to the Valse." From the street the usual London night sounds floated up until well after midnight. There was the dull, pessimistic tramp of the constable, and the long rumble of the Southwark-bound omnibus. Sometimes a stray motor-car would hoot and jangle in the distance, swelling to a clatter as it passed, and falling away in a pathetic diminuendo. A traction-engine grumbled its way along, shaking foundations and setting bed and ornaments a-trembling. Then came the blustering excitement of chucking-out at the "Galloping Horses." Half a dozen wanted to fight; half a dozen others wanted to kiss; everybody wanted to live in amity and be jollyolpal. A woman's voice cried for her husband, and abused a certain Long Charlie; and Long Charlie demanded with piteous reiteration: "Why don't I wanter fight? Eh? Tell me that. Why don't I wanter fight? Did you 'ear what he called me? Did you 'ear? He called me a—a—what was it he called me?"

Then came police, disbandment, and dark peace, as the strayed revellers melted into the night. Sometimes there would sound the faint tinkle of a belated hansom, chiming solitarily, as though weary of frivolity. And then a final stillness of which the constable's step seemed but a part.

Period referred to: 1900s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Nights in London

Type of publication: Journalism/social investigation

Author: Thomas Burke

Year of publication: 1915

Page/volume number: A Chinese Night

Thomas Burke explores Limehouse

But we were out for amusement, so, after the table hospitality, Sam took us into the Causeway. Out of the coloured darkness of Pennyfields came the muffled wail of reed instruments, the heart-cry of the Orient; noise of traffic; bits of honeyed talk. On every side were following feet: the firm, clear step of the sailor; the loud, bullying boots of the tough; the joyful steps that trickle from "The Green Man"; and, through all this chorus, most insistently, the stealthy, stuttering steps of the satyr. [. . .]

Every window, as always, was closely shuttered, but between the joints shot jets of slim light, and sometimes you could catch the chanting of a little sweet song last sung in Rangoon or Swatow. One of these songs was once translated for me. I should take great delight in printing it here, but, alas! this, too, comes from a land where purity crusades are unknown. I dare not conjecture what Bayswater would do to me if I reproduced it.

We passed through Pennyfields, through clusters of gladly coloured men. Vaguely we remembered leaving Henrietta Street, London, and dining in Old Compton Street, Paris, a few hours ago. And now—was this Paris or London or Tuan-tsen or Taiping? Pin-points of light pricked the mist in every direction. A tom-tom moaned somewhere in the far-away.

Period referred to: Early 1900s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: People of the Abyss

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: Jack London

Year of publication: 1903

Page/volume number: Chapter 5

Jack London hears East End women fighting

As I write this, and for an hour past, the air has been made hideous by a free-for-all, rough-and-tumble fight going on in the yard that is back to back with my yard. When the first sounds reached me I took it for the barking and snarling of dogs, and some minutes were required to convince me that human beings, and women at that, could produce such a fearful clamour.

Drunken women fighting! It is not nice to think of; it is far worse to listen to. Something like this it runs –

Incoherent babble, shrieked at the top of the lungs of several women; a lull, in which is heard a child crying and a young girl’s voice pleading tearfully; a woman’s voice rises, harsh and grating, “You ’it me! Jest you ’it me!” then, swat! challenge accepted and fight rages afresh.

The back windows of the houses commanding the scene are lined with enthusiastic spectators, and the sound of blows, and of oaths that make one’s blood run cold, are borne to my ears. Happily, I cannot see the combatants.

A lull; “You let that child alone!” child, evidently of few years, screaming in downright terror. “Awright,” repeated insistently and at top pitch twenty times straight running; “you’ll git this rock on the ’ead!” and then rock evidently on the head from the shriek that goes up.

A lull; apparently one combatant temporarily disabled and being resuscitated; child’s voice audible again, but now sunk to a lower note of terror and growing exhaustion.

Voices begin to go up the scale, something like this:-

“Yes?”

“Yes!”

“Yes?”

“Yes!”

“Yes?”

“Yes!”

“Yes?”

“Yes!”

Sufficient affirmation on both sides, conflict again precipitated. One combatant gets overwhelming advantage, and follows it up from the way the other combatant screams bloody murder. Bloody murder gurgles and dies out, undoubtedly throttled by a strangle hold.

Entrance of new voices; a flank attack; strangle hold suddenly broken from the way bloody murder goes up half an octave higher than before; general hullaballoo, everybody fighting.

Lull; new voice, young girl’s, “I’m goin’ ter tyke my mother’s part;” dialogue, repeated about five times, “I’ll do as I like, blankety, blank, blank!” “I’d like ter see yer, blankety, blank, blank!” renewed conflict, mothers, daughters, everybody, during which my landlady calls her young daughter in from the back steps, while I wonder what will be the effect of all that she has heard upon her moral fibre.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Secret Agent

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Joseph Conrad

Year of publication: 1907

Page/volume number: Chapter 4

Joseph Conrad depicts an Islington street in the 1880s

However, he ventured another question. “Did you walk down here?”

“No; omnibus,” the little man answered readily enough. He lived far away in Islington, in a small house down a shabby street, littered with straw and dirty paper, where out of school hours a troop of assorted children ran and squabbled with a shrill, joyless, rowdy clamour.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Secret Agent

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Joseph Conrad

Year of publication: 1907

Page/volume number: Chapter 2

A walk through Belgravia in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent

Before reaching Knightsbridge, Mr Verloc took a turn to the left out of the busy main thoroughfare, uproarious with the traffic of swaying omnibuses and trotting vans, in the almost silent, swift flow of hansoms [. . .] And Mr Verloc, steady like a rock – a soft kind of rock – marched now along a street which could with every propriety be described as private. In its breadth, emptiness, and extent it had the majesty of inorganic nature, of matter that never dies. The only reminder of mortality was a doctor’s brougham arrested in august solitude close to the curbstone. The polished knockers of the doors gleamed as far as the eye could reach, the clean windows shone with a dark opaque lustre. And all was still. But a milk cart rattled noisily across the distant perspective; a butcher boy, driving with the noble recklessness of a charioteer at Olympic Games, dashed round the corner sitting high above a pair of red wheels.

Period referred to: 1980s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Brick Lane

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Monica Ali

Year of publication: 2003

Page/volume number: Chapter One

Nazneen listens to her neighbours in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane

What she missed most was people. Not any people in particular (apart, of course, from Hasina) but people. If she put her ear to the wall she could hear sounds. The television was on. Coughing. Sometimes the lavatory flushing. Someone upstairs scraping a chair. A shouting match below. Everyone in their boxes, counting their possessions. In all her eighteen years, she could scarcely remember a moment that she had spent alone. Until she married. And came to London to sit day after day in this large box with the furniture to dust, and the muffled sound of private lives sealed away above, below and around her.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Nether World

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Gissing

Year of publication: 1889

Page/volume number: Chapter XXX

The clamour of life in the Farringdon Road Buildings

What terrible barracks, those Farringdon Road Buildings! . . . The yells of children at play in the courtyard tortured her nerves; the regular sounds on the staircase, day after day repeated at the same hours, incidents of the life of poverty, irritated her sick brain and filled her with despair to think that as long as she lived she could never hope to rise again above this world to which she was born.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Nether World

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Gissing

Year of publication: 1889

Page/volume number: Chapter XXX

George Gissing describes the sounds of Waterloo Station

Waterloo Station is a convenient rendezvous; its irregular form provides many corners of retirement, out-of-the-way recesses where talk can be carried on in something like privacy. To one of these secluded spots Scawthorne drew aside with the veiled woman who met him at the entrance from Waterloo Road. So closely was her face shrouded, that he had at first a difficulty in catching the words she addressed to him. The noise of an engine getting up steam, the rattle of cabs and porters' barrows, the tread and voices of a multitude of people made fitting accompaniment to a dialogue which in every word presupposed the corruptions and miseries of a centre of modern life.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Nether World

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Gissing

Year of publication: 1889

Page/volume number: Chapter XI

The quiet of a summer morning in London

Occasionally her eyes wandered, and once they rested upon her grandfather's face for several minutes. But for the cry of a milkman or a paper-boy in the street, no sound broke the quietness of the summer morning. The blessed sunshine, so rarely shed from a London sky—sunshine, the source of all solace to mind and body—reigned gloriously in heaven and on earth.

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: Late 29th century

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Year of publication: 1886

Page/volume number: Search for Mr Hyde

The quietness of night-time London in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

It was a fine dry night; frost in the air; the streets as clean as a ballroom floor; the lamps, unshaken, by any wind, drawing a regular pattern of light and shadow. By ten o'clock, when the shops were closed, the by-street was very solitary and, in spite of the low growl of London from all round, very silent. Small sounds carried far; domestic sounds out of the houses were clearly audible on either side of the roadway; and the rumour of the approach of any passenger preceded him by a long time. Mr. Utterson had been some minutes at his post, when he was aware of an odd, light footstep drawing near. In the course of his nightly patrols, he had long grown accustomed to the quaint effect with which the footfalls of a single person, while he is still a great way off, suddenly spring out distinct from the vast hum and clatter of the city.

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Bleak House

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1853

Page/volume number: Chapter XLVIII

A moonlit London night in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House

A very quiet night. When the moon shines very brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her that influence even crowded places full of life [. . .] even on this stranger's wilderness of London there is some rest. Its steeples and towers and its one great dome grow more ethereal; its smoky house-tops lose their grossness in the pale effulgence; the noises that arise from the streets are fewer and are softened, and the footsteps on the pavements pass more tranquilly away. In these fields of Mr. Tulkinghorn's inhabiting, where the shepherds play on Chancery pipes that have no stop, and keep their sheep in the fold by hook and by crook until they have shorn them exceeding close, every noise is merged, this moonlight night, into a distant ringing hum, as if the city were a vast glass, vibrating.

What's that? Who fired a gun or pistol? Where was it?

The few foot-passengers start, stop, and stare about them. Some windows and doors are opened, and people come out to look. It was a loud report and echoed and rattled heavily. It shook one house, or so a man says who was passing. It has aroused all the dogs in the neighbourhood, who bark vehemently. Terrified cats scamper across the road. While the dogs are yet barking and howling—there is one dog howling like a demon—the church-clocks, as if they were startled too, begin to strike. The hum from the streets, likewise, seems to swell into a shout. But it is soon over. Before the last clock begins to strike ten, there is a lull. When it has ceased, the fine night, the bright large moon, and multitudes of stars, are left at peace again.

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Bleak House

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1853

Page/volume number: Chapter X

Holborn traffic and a cock crowing in Bleak House

Peffer is never seen in Cook's Court now. He is not expected there, for he has been recumbent this quarter of a century in the churchyard of St. Andrews, Holborn, with the waggons and hackney-coaches roaring past him all the day and half the night like one great dragon. If he ever steal forth when the dragon is at rest to air himself again in Cook's Court until admonished to return by the crowing of the sanguine cock in the cellar at the little dairy in Cursitor Street, whose ideas of daylight it would be curious to ascertain [. . .]

Period referred to: 1960s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: The London Nobody Knows

Type of publication: City guide

Author: Geoffrey Fletcher

Year of publication: 1962

Page/volume number: Not known

Saturday morning in Deptford High Street, 1962

Saturday morning is the time to see the human element at its richest in Deptford, and in the crowded High Street are all sorts of buskers and street entertainers whose presence gives additional character to the street: an organ grinder, perhaps, whose instru­ment is more properly termed ‘a street piano’ (there is still one firm left hiring out the’ pianos’ in London, near Saffron Hill: look for the pictures of Edwardian beauties on the panels of the organ), one-man bands, sellers of Old Moore’s Almanack and so on. Today, a couple of stocky, red-faced men take their stand under the railway bridge - one plays an accordion and the other sings ‘The Mountains of Mourne’. Appropriately, too, for Irish ideas are not lacking in Deptford - witness the large pub charmingly named The Harp of Erin and here today at the Catholic Church a gaudy Irish wedding takes place. As the bride and groom assemble on the steps, they are joined by their families and friends, the women in pale blue and the men in navy-blue suits. All wear large pink carnations, and the men’s faces, each creased in a wide grin, are all red from the application of yellow soap. Small boys, also in blue suits and with even shinier faces, cross their legs uneasily, and the accordion plays ‘The Meeting of the Waters’ . . .

Period referred to: Early 1920s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Mrs Dalloway

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Virginia Woolf

Year of publication: 1925

Page/volume number: Not known

The sounds of Big Ben and Victoria Street in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’

For having lived in Westminster—how many years now? over twenty,— one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

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: 1870s

Sound category: Ambient > General sounds of street and town

Title of work: Travels in the Air

Type of publication: Travel/Autobiography

Author: James Glaisher

Year of publication: 1871

Page/volume number: Not known

London heard from a balloon

I have seen London by night. I have crossed it during the day at the height of four miles. I have often admired the splendour of sky scenery, but never have I seen anything which surpassed this spectacle. The roar of the town heard at this elevation [7,000 feet] was a deep, rich, continuous sound—the voice of labour. At four miles above London, all was hushed; no sound reached our ears.

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.’

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.

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Ambient > Voices in the street

Title of work: The Three Clerks

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Anthony Trollope

Year of publication: 1858

Page/volume number: Unknown

‘Shrill voices shrieked at him as he passed’

He went along the Strand, over the crossing under the statue of Charles on horseback, and up Pall Mall East till he came to the opening into the park under the Duke of York's column. The London night world was alive as he made his way. From the Opera Colonnade shrill voices shrieked at him as he passed, and drunken men coming down from the night supper-houses in the Haymarket saluted him with affectionate cordiality. The hoarse waterman from the cabstand, whose voice had perished in the night air, croaked out at him the offer of a vehicle [. . .]