Unhealthy noise

Urban noise nuisances and related matters between 1856 and 1939, as described in Medical Office of Health reports compiled by the Wellcome Library for their London's Pulse project.

  • Among the many subjects which have occupied the Board’s attention, although, perhaps, more of a local than a general character, may be mentioned the Bridges carrying Railways over Roads in the District, particularly two in Lewisham. The noise occasioned by passing trains has, upon several occasions, alarmed horses, and accidents have occurred in consequence. ‑ Lewisham 1881
  • The mother was soliciting money from passers-by. The father was playing a combination slum orchestra which included a violin, Pan’s pipes, drum, a triangle, and cymbals. Lowest in the scale are fathers who “work pitches” outside public houses for a living, organ grinders, and those who “go busking” or singing to theatre queues. ‑ Finsbury 1914
  • The open spaces devoted to railway purposes are bare of vegetation and from them proceed the smoke of railway engines, the clanking of shunting trucks, the rumbling of trains, the explosions of fog signals, shrill whistlings, and other disturbances of matter immensely conducive to the activities of the nation, but not to the health of the people immediately surrounding. ‑ St Pancras 1904
  • No person shall, in connection with any show, roundabout, exhibition, or performance held or placed on any vacant ground adjoining or near to a street, make or cause or permit or suffer to be made, any loud or continuous noise by means of any organ or other similar instrument to the annoyance or disturbance of residents. ‑ Hammersmith 1905
  • A problem which is becoming more acute is that of noise. By this is not meant the inevitable increase in the “background of noise”, but the more specific causes of noise in so far as they affect health. Of particular concern to Southall is the noise from aeroplanes, especially at night time. Southall has two aerodromes, Hanworth and Heston, within a short distance. ‑ Southall 1934
  • I refer to the number of petty annoyances that keep us perpetually on the alert night and day, such as street calls and shouting, whether during the day or at the closing of the public houses, loud, vulgar, insane choruses by half drunken men in vans and brakes, vulgar horse play by lads at or near the station at night, perpetual barking of dogs often all night. ‑ Wembley 1902
  • The district of St. Marylebone possesses streets in which a large proportion of the houses are fitted up as nursing establishments. There is one disadvantage, that is, some of the sufferers require the muffling of the street noises as far as possible, hence these nursing streets are almost constantly littered with straw. ‑ Marylebone 1898
  • Ranelagh-street, No. 8. The complaint here was of stone masons’ hammering during the day. At Mr. Croft’s, Pork Butcher, Knightsbridge-terrace, that of a nuisance caused by the noise of a sausage-making machine, erected at the rear of complainant’s yard. At Cumberland-street, No. 73, annoyance caused by the playing of an organ next door. ‑ Hanover Square 1861
  • That the Clerk be authorised to write in reply, stating that in the opinion of the Vestry it is advisable that a By-law should be framed prohibiting the throwing of orange peel on the footways, and also that a By-law should be framed to obviate as much as possible noises in the streets after 12 o’clock at night. ‑ Rotherhithe 1894
  • There is no more offensive and disgusting sight or smell than that of a piggery, to say nothing of the nondescript character of the sties in which the animals are usually kept, or the hideous noises with which they invade even the silence of the night. ‑ Wandsworth 1877
  • The factory is small and the space is still further encroached upon by the bales of rags ready for tearing up. The engine is a good deal worn and is very noisy in its working. The machines do not appear to be fixed on very substantial foundations, and vibrate a good deal. ‑ Bethnal Green 1888
  • Cock-crowing at 1 a.m, the barking of dogs, the cooing of pigeons near your chamber window, or any other nuisance arising from noise, by which the sleep of nervous people is disturbed, is a serious annoyance, and probably ought, as in the manner of the street music, to be under control, or to be put down by law; but I cannot treat them as Sanitary nuisances. ‑ Paddington 1870
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1850s 1860s 1870s 1880s 1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s

Ealing 1936

During the year 10 complaints of noise nuisances were received. In 6 instances the complaints were found to be justified. Appropriate action was taken and the noises were reduced to a reasonable amount having regard to the trade or business involved. No action was taken with reference to the other four cases as investigation failed to substantiate the complaint of nuisance.

Wembley 1937

Complaints of noise are increasing. During 1937, 83 observations were made.

“In noise we are faced with an environmental problem which has markedly increased in significance in recent years with the development of mechanised civilisation.

It must be recognised that individuals vary very much in their sensitiveness to noise, but there is a general consensus of opinion that the widespread use of recent inventions, particularly radio sets, by the public, the increase of motor traffic and modern methods of building and road construction, have led to an increase in noise which is intolerable to many. Such noise is calculated not only to handicap the performance of work but to destroy the amenities of home life, and by disturbing rest and sleep contribute to ill-health in the community. Various measures may be taken to ensure that standards of noise are not exceeded in flats or other premises. They require to take account of the noise made by traffic and industrial noises and that made in the building itself by neighbours. They comprise questions of technique building and internal planning, town planning, legislation and education.” (League of Nations, Bulletin of the Health Organisation, August, 1937).

City of Westminster 1937

Noise Nuisances.

Nuisances from noise may now be dealt with by the local authority under the Nuisance Sections of the Public Health (London) Act, 1936, a provision to this effect having been included in the London County Council (General Powers) Act, of 1937. Under this provision, a noise nuisance is deemed to exist where any person makes or continues or causes to be made, etc., any excessive or unreasonable or unnecessary noise, which is injurious or dangerous to health. Exemption is, however, provided in the case of noise occasioned by the carrying out of works under any Act of the County Council or Sanitary Authorities or by any public undertaking. In the case of proceedings taken in respect of noise from any trade, business or occupation, it is a good defence for the person summoned to show that he has taken the best practicable means for preventing or mitigating the nuisance having regard to cost and other relevant circumstances. Seventeen complaints were received during the year and these were adequately dealt with by informal action. These related to noise of machinery in business premises adjoining dwellings, building operations carried out at night, the use of electric drills in streets or in demolition of buildings, wireless sets, dogs, &c. One complaint was of noise caused by persons frequenting a club in the early hours of the morning. Admirable as these provisions are, they bring but little comfort to those who reside near busy streets where late motor traffic frequently interrupts the hours of sleep.

Finsbury 1937

Noise (London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1937.

By Section 66 of this Act a noise nuisance shall be a nuisance which may be dealt with summarily under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. It should be noted that no complaint to a court shall be effective unless it is made by not less than three persons, either householders or occupiers of premises within hearing of the noise nuisance which is the subject of the complaint. Further, in any proceedings, it is a good defence to show that the best practical means have been used to prevent or mitigate the nuisance, due regard being paid to the cost and other relevant circumstances. Six complaints of noise were received last year, but no action under the Act was taken.

Southall 1937

Noise Nuisance.

Section 56 of the Middlesex County Council Act, 1930, provides that a noise nuisance shall be liable to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions relating to nuisances in the Public Health Act, 1875, with the proviso that if the noise is occasioned in the course of any trade, business, or occupation it shall be a good defence to say that the best practical means of preventing or mitigating it having regard to the cost have been adopted. During the year three cases of noise nuisance have been dealt with and action taken in all three.

Ealing 1938

Nuisance from Noise.

Section 106 of the Middlesex County Council Act, 1938, provides that a noise nuisance shall be liable to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions relating to nuisances of the Public Health Act, 1936, with the proviso that if the noise is occasioned in the course of any trade, business or occupation it shall be a good defence that the best practicable means of preventing or mitigating it, having regard to the cost, have been adopted. Ten complaints of nuisances from noise were received during the year. Investigations were made and where possible appropriate action was taken and the noise abated or reduced to a minimum.

City of Westminster 1938

Noise Nuisances.

Complaints were made in respect of 23 noise nuisances during the year, and these were adequately dealt with by informal action. They related to the noise of machinery, wireless sets, electric drills in streets, &c. One complaint was of noise from a pin-table saloon and another from an all-night cafe. Fire alarm bells on two large adjoining buildings caused considerable annoyance to residents in the neighbourhood by ringing almost every day at about 2 a.m. The cause of this baffled investigation at first, until it transpired that the ringing of the bells coincided with the flushing of the street by the Highways Department. The operation of the hydrants had caused the bells to ring, the alarm systems being connected with “sprinkler” extinguishing systems. Certain minor adjustments in the sprinkler systems were all that was necessary to abate the nuisance.

Marylebone 1939


During the year 35 complaints of noise were received, fourteen relating to street hawking, seven to street musicians, seven to wireless loudspeakers, gramophones and similar instruments, two to children, two to dogs, two to building operations, and one to a motor vehicle. In securing attention to the several provisions relating to noise nuisances, the temporary streets nuisance inspector rendered valuable assistance, and also cooperated with the police in regard to a number of the complaints received. In two instances of nuisance caused by wireless loudspeakers the issue of a notice was necessary to obtain a remedy.