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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Marylebone 1904

Nuisance from Garages and Motor Cars.

The Public Health Committee will shortly have to consider the important question of how to deal with the serious complaints of nuisance incidental to the Motor Car industry. There are several garages in the district in which cars are stored, charged with petrol, cleaned, repaired, and the engines started to see that each cylinder beats in proper time and that all is in order; during this operation, more especially if the crank chamber is full of oil, or if the engine is dirty, there is considerable smell, and more or less noise. In one case the occupiers of adjoining premises have laid a formal complaint by petition, and there is not the slightest doubt that there is nuisance — nuisance that is inseparable from the industry, and one difficult to deal with without seriously interfering with a growing and important trade.

It is the writer’s opinion that all garages of the kind should have a special shed or room in which to start the engines; any architect could design by means of double walls a practically noise-proof shed; there would also have to be a flue with good draught carrying the waste gases away to the height of the highest chimneys in the neighbourhood. This means a considerable expenditure of money, but when any person establishes a new, noisy, and intermittently offensive business in densely populous localities, he must either spend money in minimising any nuisance incidental to the business, or run the risk of having his business entirely prohibited.

Southwark 1905

Miscellaneous Nuisances abated, with Localities.

Effluvia and Noise from Motor Omnibuses — New Kent road.

Hammersmith 1906

Nuisances from Motor Vehicles.

The attention of the Borough Council having been directed to the serious nuisances occasioned to residents in the Borough, more particularly to those whose premises front the main thoroughfares, by the noise, smoke, smell and oil emitted from motor vehicles, the Council made urgent representations to the Commissioner of Police thereon; and was represented at a conference of Metropolitan Borough Councils, at which a series of resolutions was passed which were submitted to the Home Secretary, the President of the Local Government Board, and the Commissioner of Police, urging the desirability of early effect being given to such resolutions, by legislation or otherwise. It is understood that these Authorities are giving the matter careful consideration.

Wandsworth 1907

That this Council is of opinion that, owing to the increasing number of accidents caused by motor traffic in the County of London, the maximum speed of all motor vehicles should be reduced to, at most, 12 miles an hour ; and, owing to the serious annoyance and discomfort caused by excessive noise, vibration, etc., the police should be granted enlarged powers to control this class of traffic.

Poplar 1912


[. . .] Amending Order of Local Government Board re Noise of Exhaust Gases from any Motor Engine. The Local Government Board made an Order amending Article IV. of the Motor Cars (Use and Construction) Order, 1904, as amended by the Motor Cars (Use and Construction) Amendment Order, 1909. The effect of the Order, which came into operation on the 31st March is to prohibit the use of any cut-out or other device which will allow the exhaust gases from any motor engine to escape into the atmosphere without passing through a silencer or other contrivance for reducing the noise which would otherwise be caused by the escape of such gases.

Poplar 1914

Motor Traffic (Street Noises) Bill.

A Bill to amend the law in respect of Warning Instruments on Motor Vehicles. The object of this Bill is to give powers to make regulations prohibiting the use in special areas or during specified hours of certain warning instruments on motor vehicles. The regulations will be made under section six of the Locomotives on Highways Act, 1890, under which there is power to confine the application of any regulations to a particular area.

Holborn 1928

To the tired worker solitude in pastoral scenes on the moor or mountain side or by the sea brings the peace and repose that comes from quietude. This is an age of noise; we have grown up without noticing its gradual] increase. In industrial pursuits the harmful effects of excessive noise on the hearing and the part it plays in producing fatigue are well known: in so far as they are unavoidable, they represent one of the costs of industrial civilisation. Are the noises of the city highway, in any serious measure, harmful to health? Many street noises are unrhythmic, discordant, varied in quality, pitch and, intensity and, above all, unpredictable. The sudden unexpected screech of the hooter, the rattling of the heavy omnibus, of the laden lorry, the unexpected explosion of the exhaust of the motor vehicle overstimulate and call up unnecessarily the sense of hearing and exhaust the brain; the noisiness of London means an enormous drain of energy even from those who are not acutely conscious of the noise as a nuisance, but who, nevertheless, all the while are unconsciously putting up a resistance to it. These noises harm the passers-by whose brains are not concentrated on work; the office worker must perforce take steps to combat the insufferable nuisance. The windows must be kept closed, with all the consequent disadvantages of discomfort ensuing on inadequate ventilation. This precaution does not always suffice in the case of professional men grappling with vital and intricate problems; the disturbance of intensive concentration causes irritation and the consequence is fatigue. Thousands of people work late at night and right through the night hours, sleeping as best they can during the daytime when noises and sounds prevent the unbroken sleep which is needed to give the body perfect rest so that it can store up energy for the working hours.

For the sick and convalescent in hospitals and nursing homes, quiet is imperative at all times: for these sufferers zones of silence must be enforced. Legislation already exists to deal with certain objectionable noises; soon it will be extended to motor traffic. A responsible Conference has recommended the making of a regulation* under the Motor Car Acts to deal with extensive and avoidable noise from motor vehicles which are badly constructed, badly loaded or in faulty condition. The Conference agreed that the excessive use of horns and their nerve racking noise constituted a legitimate grievance. Other remedies worthy of consideration are the placing of white lines across the opening of side roads into main roads to obviate hooting, the limitation of weight and bulk of goods carried by road, the control of the speed and hours of work of lorries, the prohibition of the sale of motor cycles without effective silencers, the prohibition of the use of pneumatic drills at night in proximity to occupied dwelling houses. Much is to be said in favour of the total prohibition of such drills on the ground of the injury to health caused to the workmen using them. A comprehensive measure would be the inclusion of all excessive and avoidable noise, whatever its source, as a nuisance with which sanitary authorities were empowered to deal under new Public Health legislation.

*Regulations have now been made and come into force on Aug. 1st, 1929.

Holborn 1930


Section 66 of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1937, provides that a noise nuisance may be dealt with summarily under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. In securing attention to this provision the temporary streets nuisance inspector rendered valuable assistance, and also co-operated with the police in regard to complaints relating to street musicians, noisy hawkers, etc. During the year, five complaints were received relating to nuisance from wireless loudspeakers, gramophones and similar instruments. In each instance abatement of the nuisance was secured without the service of formal notice. Early in the year complaints were received of noise and disturbance caused by the violent slamming of doors of motor vehicles. The attention of taxicab and car drivers was drawn to the matter by the display of the following poster at cab ranks and garages:—

BOROUGH OF ST. MARYLEBONE. NOISE. Nuisance From Motor Vehicles.

The Borough Council receive many complaints of the noise and disturbance caused by the violent slamming of doors of motor vehicles, and have been urged to take action with a view of preventing the nuisance. Drivers and users of motor-cars and taxicabs are particularly requested to show consideration for others by reducing the occasions for closing car doors and to avoid slamming as far as possible.

Town Hall, CHARLES PORTER, St. Marylebone, W.1. Medical Officer of Health.

Publicity was also given to the matter in the Press and as a result of this and the co-operation of garage proprietors and others concerned with cars it may be hoped that some mitigation of the door-slamming nuisance has been secured. The Council continue to subscribe to the funds of the Anti-Noise League.