TWO MORE REFERENCES to London sounds from around the middle of the twentieth century. First, the diarist James Lee-Milne’s record of the VE day celebrations in Piccadilly:
At midnight I insisted on our joining the revels. It was a very warm night [. . .] We walked down Bond Street passing small groups singing, not boisterously. Piccadilly however was full of swarming people and littered with paper.
We walked arm in arm into the middle of Piccadilly Circus which was brilliantly illuminated with arc lamps. Here the crowds were yelling, singing and laughing. They were orderly and good-humoured. All the English virtues were on the surface. We watched individuals climb the lamp posts, and plant flags on the top amidst tumultuous applause from bystanders. We walked down Piccadilly towards the Ritz. In the Green Park there was a huge bonfire under the trees [ . . .] One extraordinary figure, a bearded, naval titan, organised an absurd nonsense game, by calling out the Navy and making them tear around the bonfire carrying the Union Jack; then the RAF; then the Army; then the Land Army, represented by three girls only; then the Americans; then the civilians.
It’d be interesting to find more eyewitness accounts and see how they compare. The second reference is a great piece of descriptive journalism from George Gale about the last run of the Woolwich to New Cross tram in 1952:
The journey from Woolwich to New Cross of the last tram was incomparable.
Imagine a crowd along a prescribed route to see a king or queen pass by. Let it keep its squealing children about its knees and hoist up its infants with flags in their hands. Give it torn paper hats, flamboyant holiday-camp hats and ribbons, football rattles, tin trumpets, dustbin drums and scrubbing-board drums, real and tin tray cymbals, piano-accordions, and a welter of whistles. Let in line up not in daylight but late at night, after all the public-houses from the Old Kent Road to the free ferry at Woolwich and beyond to Abbey Wood have sent away their tens of thousands of customers filled with beer, their arms and pockets filled with bottles, and their throats in full voice. Take away most of the policemen a stately procession would command and then, at midnight, with the moon almost full and the night air hot, send out, to run this crazy gauntlet, a tram.
Off it moved, filled with a noisy babble of passengers, and escorted by policemen on motor-cycles, hundreds of cyclists, scores of motor-cyclists, and dozens of cars. There was a great cheer, flares were lit, horns and whistles blown. A woman leaped on to the rear of the tram and clung there, her frock, underclothes, and blasphemies streaming out behind her. She fell off soon, but others clambered on the sides. By the end of the journey there were twenty youths sitting on the roof and dozens strung along the sides. There was singing all the way, and the tunes came easily to mind. ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner’, ‘Any Old Iron’, and so on to ‘Auld Lang Syne’.