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

Westminster 1857

Works in progress in this Department [Metropolis Roads Commissioners]

The repaying of the carriage-way and footways in Strutton Ground, from Great Peter Street to Pear Street, the materials for the carriage-way being taken from the Broad Sanctuary. The macadamizing of Grey Coat Place, from Great Peter Street to Rochester Row. The newly paving the footpaths, and macadamizing the roadway, of Johnson Street, from the Horseferry Road to Holywell Street. The macadamizing the roadway of Kensington Place; and The macadamizing a portion of the Broad Sanctuary, near the Westminster Hospital and the Sessions House; this work having been long much needed, on account of the serious inconvenience experienced by the Patients in the Hospital from the noise of the paved carriage-way.

Clerkenwell 1858

[In the context of a discussion over two-and-a-half miles of what had been formerly turnpike roads, partly paved and partly macadamized]

We advertised, and we had only one response to the advertisement. We tried a second time, and we only had the same offer again, and we were compelled to come to the terms of the party who offered. With respect to the value of property on the line of road, we think that the property, instead of rising in value, is now depreciating. The noise and and turmoil are so great on these 2½ miles of highway, that the houses which three or four years ago let for about £28 a year are now let for £20. They came to us to reduce the rates. Evidence was produced to us of the depreciation, and we had to reduce the rates in consequence of the value of these premises going down. Is that owing to the increased traffic?

—Yes. The traffic is so great that foot passengers will not go along it unless they are actually compelled. Ladies or that class of passengers will not go shopping. (Mr. Eustace.) For instance, a relative of mine, who is a retired tradesman, has actually left the road from the noise and dust, and gone to reside elsewhere. We are compelled to be at great expense in watering our roads twice a day to keep down the dust to make the place at all habitable, otherwise we should suffer very severely in our rating. This is through traffic, and not traffic from which we benefit, but traffic coming from other parts and going to other parts of London.

St James's 1879

To the Chairman and Members of the Vestry of St. James’s, Westminster. Vestry Hall, Piccadilly, March , 1880.

Reverend Sir and Gentlemen. The lists of the more important Works undertaken and executed by the Vestry of St. James’s, Westminster, during the twelve months ending March 25th, 1880, require no additional explanation as such Works have been previously decided upon by the Vestry or their Works Committee, with the exception of some unlooked-for matter that must of necessity arise from time to time in the maintenance of so important a Parish.

In these lists nothing very new, or special will be found, although there is a great deal in abeyance.

The Work at present entrusted to the Local Authorities, that attracts the most attention on the part of the General Public, are the Paving Works, for the simple reason that everybody can see all that is done. As a fact a large Paving matter becomes almost a source of Public amusement, and challenges much criticism, but this view is taken only by those who have no interest whatever in the result, or think they have no interest. The whole community have the most deep interest in results, although they have perhaps little voice in the actual methods employed to ensure their safety and comfort, — safety by adopting such materials and way of applying them as shall be the most secure from accident to man or beast, and even property — and comfort to obviate as much as possible the discomforts arising from those inseparable companions of busy traffic, Dust, Mud, and Noise, and the not to be forgotten element of smell.

Fulham 1884

In a report on the subject I find the cost of scavenging on creosoted wood with a bitumenous concrete foundation is stated to be 2.7d. per yard per annum, while for scavenging Mac Adam roads it is said to cost 8d. per yard per annum. This would seem to shew that it costs about three times as much to cleanse a Mac Adam road as it does a wood paved road. If these figures are worth anything the wood paving is the more economical. There is yet another consideration which affects nearly all ratepayers, some more than others, viz.: the comparatively less wear and tear in horse flesh and carriages of various kinds, thus giving advantage to those who are so fortunate as to be able to keep horses and vehicles, and the still greater advantage to those residing along the line of route where wood is laid, who, without having the expense of keeping horses, &c., have the unalloyed advantages of great diminution in the noise and vibration, and dust from the traffic, as well as freedom from the annoyance of the annual picking up, coating and rolling a Mac Adam road. Taking all these things into consideration I have arrived at the conclusion that a very large number of individuals derive special benefit from wood paving, whilst the remaining portion of the ratepayers who have not these special benefits are not placed at any disadvantage whatever, but after a time become absolute gainers thereby.

Bethnal Green 1887

The Vestry proposed to Pave the Carriageway of Wilmot Street with 3 by 7 stone pitchings. The School Board for London urged strongly that if such paving were laid down serious inconvenience from noise would be caused to the Board School in the street, and asked that wood paving should be laid instead of stone. The Vestry agreed not to lay down the stone paving, and decided the street should be maintained as a macadam road. The Septennial Perambulation of the Parish Boundaries was made in May.

Westminster 1889

Bridge Street.—Complaint having been made of the excessive noise caused by vehicles passing over the granite setts at the foot of Westminster Bridge, wood blocks were substituted in place of the setts. The cost amounted to £150.

Paddington 1891

6. — No person shall lay or cause to be laid in any street any litter or other matter in case of sickness to prevent noise without the permission of the Sanitary Authority, and having obtained such permission, shall lay the same so that it may be evenly distributed over the surface of the part of the street intended to be covered, and shall, when the occasion ceases, within 24 hours, or upon notice from the Sanitary Authority, remove or cause to be removed from such street the litter or other matter so laid in such street.

Mile End 1892

Sir, Settles street school. The Sub-Committee on Repairs have had under consideration a report from Her Majesty’s Inspector stating that the lessons are greatly hindered on one side of the building by the traffic, and that a wood or asphalte pavement would be a great relief to the teachers. I shall be glad to hear, for the information of the Sub-Committee, that your Vestry will take steps to provide a pavement of the kind suggested by the Inspector, in order that the lessons may not be interfered with by the noise outside.

Yours, &c., G. H. Croad, W.H.H. The Vestry Clerk, Clerk of the Board. Vestry Hall, Bancroft Road, Mile End, E.

Clerkenwell 1893

Owen’s Row.

This street has been paved with asphalte during the year, and advantage has been taken of the alteration to remove posts at the eastern end which prevented vehicular traffic passing through. Objection was taken by the Girls’ School authorities that the noise of passing traffic would be a serious hindrance to their school work, and the Vestry therefore fixed a moveable bar, which could take the place of the posts if the fears of noise were realised. Up to the present time, however, no complaints have been made to the Vestry.

St George (Southwark) 1896

Upper Grange Road.

Petitions have from time to time been presented to the Vestry, asking that, as the traffic from the Tower Bridge had largely increased and the noise thereby created had been considerably augmented, the roadway within the Parish might be paved with wood. The roadway needing considerable repair, an opportunity occurred for the Vestry to comply with these requests. The Vestry of Camberwell agreed, on this Vestry consenting to execute the work, to contribute £180 towards the cost. This arrangement was agreed to by the Vestry on the 9th March, 1897, and the work will shortly be proceeded with.

Rotherhithe 1896

On 5th May. 1896, the Vestry received a deputation headed by Rev. S.M. Bardsley, the Vicar of Christ Church, relative to the paving in front of Christ Church. It was pointed out by Mr. Bardsley that the annoyance and inconvenience occasioned to those officiating at and attending the Church by the continual noise of the traffic was very considerable, and he urged the Vestry to take into their favourable consideration the question of wood paving. The matter was referred to the General Purposes and Works Committee for consideration and report.

Clerkenwell 1898

Band Performances by County Council.

The Vestry asked the County Council to arrange for band performances to be given within the Parish of Clerkenwell, and suggested that Spa Green would be a suitable place for the purpose, but the Council, in view of the heavy traffic in Rosebery Avenue next the open spaces referred to, and the noise occasioned by same, were not prepared to allow band performances in the places suggested, and therefore asked the Vestry to indicate some more suitable place, to which the objections referred to would not apply As, however, Spa Green is the only suitable place for the purpose the matter was dropped.

Marylebone 1898


The district of St. Marylebone possesses streets in which a large proportion of the houses are fitted up as nursing establishments. Patients come from a distance, suffering from serious maladies, and are received in these nursing homes, within easy reach of the physician or specialist. In many of them surgical operations are performed. All, so far as the writer is aware, are conducted by skilled nurses, and are well managed establishments. Such places are a great advantage to the wealthier class of suffering humanity, and supply a distinct want. 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. The Public Health Act expressly exempts from penalty any person putting down straw or litter in cases of illness. There is no definition of the term “illness”; it is open for any malade imaginaire to litter the streets as often as he pleases. Until the litter gets rotten and stinks, the Local Authority cannot compel its removal. The Vestry agree with the writer that it is high time, so far as St. Marylebone is concerned, that there should be power to regulate the deposit of litter in the streets. No one wishes to prevent it altogether, but the Local Authority should certainly possess a veto in cases’ where it is either unnecessary or where other means could be adopted of muffling sounds. The Vestry have therefore suggested to the London County Council the propriety of inserting a clause in one of their Bills, enabling Local Authorities to frame regulations as to the laying down of straw or other litter.

Wandsworth 1905

Tramway improvements:

Practically the whole of the property required for the widening of thoroughfares for the electrical tramways from Wandsworth to Tooting via York Road, Garratt Lane and Defoe Road, has now been acquired by the London County Council, the Borough Council assisting in several cases by putting in force its compulsory powers under Michael Angelo Taylor’s Act.

[. . .]

At the instance of the Borough Council, the part of the road between the tramway rails has been paved with wood in front of churches and other public buildings in order to lessen the noise of the traffic.

Wandsworth 1907

Charlwood Road, Widening

The London County Council having acquired a site for Charlwood Road a school at the corner of Charlwood Road and Hotham Road, Putney, the Borough Council in October last asked the County Council, when arranging for building the school, to make provision for the widening of Charlwood Road to not less than 40 feet.

[. . .]

The Borough Council regrets that although the attention of the County Council was called to the matter so long ago as October last, arrangements were not made for the building to be so erected that the road could be widened to 40 feet, and that while the Borough Council was negotiating for the acquisition of the necessary land the County Council proceeded to erect the school in such a position as to prevent the negotiations being carried to a satisfactory conclusion and even to prevent the carrying into effect of the resolution passed by the County Council itself in May last agreeing to the Borough Council’s proposal. Moreover, from the point of view of convenience to teachers and scholars, it was undesirable that the buildings should be erected so near the public highway, as the noise of the traffic will considerably interfere with the education of the children. The question of the extent to which the road can be widened is still under consideration.

Ealing 1909

It is not out of place, I think, to refer to the work of laying slag-tar on some of the roads, notably in the neighbourhood of Haven Green and the Grove. This marks a great advance upon the ordinary road-making, and although it involves a slightly higher initial cost, in my opinion, as your Medical Officer, I am convinced that this is amply compensated for by more economical upkeep, a great diminution in the dust nuisance, more effective cleansing, and a lessening of noise.

Walthamstow 1925

REPORT OF THE WORK OF THE SCHOOL MEDICAL SERVICE. Arranged according to the Suggestions made by the Board of Education, November. 1925.

School Hygiene.—The cleanliness of the schools is well maintained, the surroundings being quite good, with one or two exceptions where the buildings are quite close to the main roads, making for noise and dust.