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

St Pancras 1856


In many houses the over-crowding is very great, each room being occupied by a family. It is usually found too that families with children congregate in the same house, because the parties who occupy houses where there are not any children object to having them introduced, on account of the noise they make and the trouble which they give. The consequence is that some houses have as many as 50 or 60 inmates. There is a clause under the Nuisances Removal Act, sec. 29, by which the Vestry is called on to take proceedings before a Magistrate to abate over-crowding, if it is certified to be such as to endanger health. No prosecutions have been taken under this clause, but it is probable that in future years they may be considered advisable.

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.

Hanover Square 1859

In the Belgrave Sub-district, several complaints were brought against Marine store dealers, whose premises require constant supervision. Slaughter-houses and butchers’ premises, owing to the state of the weather, and the rapidity with which decomposition took place in meat, contributed so much to annoy several persons, as to cause more inspections than usual. One of the former required frequent visits, in consequence of its being a public slaughter-house. Besides the owner, who killed a great number of pigs, four or five butchers also destroyed sheep; and another pork butcher, from the in-wards, killed 40 or 50 pigs weekly. Besides the evils, in a sanitary point of view, from this excess of business, the noise occasioned by the animals was something terrific. Hitherto it has been usual for the magistrates to grant licenses unconditionally, but in consequence of the preceding case, Dr. Aldis brought the subject before the magistrates, Mr. Thrupp and Colonel Bagot, at the recent Petty Sessions, when the former told two of the butchers that their licenses were to be used only for private slaughtering.