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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Shoreditch 1881

Regent’s Canal Railway. The most important Private Bill introduced this Session affecting this Parish is the Regent’s Canal City and Docks Railway Bill. The object of this Bill is to obtain power to construct a railway for the most part by the side of the present Regent’s Canal, to extend from Paddington and a junction with the Great Western Railway, to the Albert Docks, near North Woolwich, with a City terminus in Barbican, and junctions with the Midland and Great Northern Railways.

[. . .]

Only one bridge leading to or from the Parish is to be stopped or obstructed at one time, and in all cases a temporary foot bridge is to be provided during the reconstruction. There are other clauses for securing the execution of the works affecting roads and sewers, under the superintendence of the Vestry’s Surveyor, and the making good all damage for the protection of the public against danger, as far as possible, from the noise and smoke of passing trains, and for the making good of local rates, dining construction, upon property to be taken.

Lewisham 1881


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. The Board have brought the matter before the Railway Company by letter, and specially by deputation, and have also been in communication with the Board of Trade thereon, but they have not yet succeeded in obtaining any improvement.

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.

Lewisham 1884

The Board, after careful consideration and after receiving Memorials from Ratepayers upon the subject, determined to oppose the Bill of the South Eastern Railway Company, unless the Company would agree to increase the width of the proposed new bridges in the District, and also would, in constructing the proposed widenings, so reconstruct the bridges in Loampit Vale and High Street, Lewisham, as to deaden the noise caused by trains passing over them, which noise had in the past caused frequent accidents; and would also agree to erect a station on their main line at or near High Street, Lewisham. Station accommodation on the Main Line had long been demanded by the public, and the Board were strongly urged by public meetings and otherwise to insist upon this being provided.

The Company refused to entertain any proposal with regard to these improvements, and the Board had, consequently, to petition against the Bill and oppose the same before a Committee of the House of Commons, when, after a lengthened struggle, clauses were inserted in the Bill compelling the Company to considerably widen the bridges before referred to, in some cases to double them; also compelling them, in all new bridges, to make them water-tight and noiseless, as far as possible, and in addition, a Parliamentary undertaking was given by the Counsel for the Railway Company that a station should be erected on their main line so soon as the widenings should be opened, somewhere between the High Street, Lewisham, and the fork of the Railway near Hither Green Lane.

Hackney 1885

Tents, vans, sheds, or similar structures used for human habitation, which are in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health, or which are overcrowded so as to be injurious to the health of the inmates, are now considered to be nuisances, if within the Metropolis, under the Nuisances Removal Acts. This alteration in the law was made by the Housing of the “Working Classes Act, which was passed in August, 1885. Under section 9, subsection 3, the Sanitary authority or the Sanitary Committee can authorise one of its officers to demand admission to these places between sis in the morning and nine at night, and any person obstructing him is liable to a penalty of forty shillings. He is entitled to demand admission whenever he has reasonable ground for supposing that there is a contravention of the provisions of the Act in any of these structures, or as regards cleanliness, overcrowding, &c., or that there is in any of these vans, tents, &c., any person suffering from a dangerous infectious disorder. If the occupier of any van, &c., should neglect to comply with notices served on him to abate the nuisances, he can be summoned for neglect in the same manner as any one else who neglects or refuses to comply with an ordinary notice under the Nuisances Removal or Sanitary Acts. The Act does not apply to the state of the ground or to noises arising out of the manner in which the business of the owners of the vans, &c., is carried on, and therefore will not assist in preventing annoyances arising therefrom.

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.

St George (Southwark) 1888

With reference to the danger and nuisance to the public cause by the noise from the Borough Road Bridge of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company’s line, although numerous letters have been sent to the Company requesting them to adopt some means prevent the noise, nothing further has been done by them than the removal of the corrugated iron ceiling from under the bridge, and the decking and corking of the surface of the bridge, this has the effect of preventing the percolation of water on to the road and footways, but the noise still continues. I have suggested among other methods the adoption of longitudinal sleepers in place of the cross ones, but the Company’s Engineer is of opinion this plan will not be of much service. Other railway bridges of equal span are comparatively noiseless. I would suggest that unless the Company adopt some effectual method without delay to prevent the noise, the Vestry proceed against the Company by indictment, as accidents are of daily occurrence.

Bethnal Green 1888


Numerous letters have been received from persons complaining of offensive smells, dust and noise proceeding from a recently started Flock Mill, situated at the corner of Satchwell’s Rents and Satchwell Street, two narrow streets of densely populated cottages. The Mill forms the angle of the two streets; houses run close up to it on two sides, and there is no yard space. The building is in the occupation of Mr. Sanderson, of 146, Shoreditch, who has carried on the business of flock making therein since January, 1888. The premises were formerly used as a saw mill, and the engine, together with its boiler and chimney shaft, was constructed for the purpose of driving the woodworking machinery. I inspected the premises and reported that, as then conducted, the business was a dangerous nuisance. By direction of the Vestry a notice was served by Inspector Weston, to the effect that unless the manufacture was at once stopped an indictment would be presented. On receipt of this notice the factory was closed, and remained so for six weeks. Mr. Sanderson then gave notice that he had made certain alterations and improvements and that he intended to resume work, which he did on the 11th of August. I re-inspected the premises and found that very little alteration had been made, and that the nuisance was not abated; moreover, numerous fresh complaints were received from the neighbours. The following is a description of the factory and the process of manufacture:— The building comprises a ground floor and a first floor. The whole of the machinery is on the ground floor. The flocks are manufactured from woollen rags; these are brought from the various marine stores in the district, and consist chiefly of filthy worn-out woollen clothing, much of it saturated with the exhalations of human beings, and alive with vermin. The process of manufacture is as follows:—

The rags, taken out of the bales just as they are brought in, are fed by hand into a machine called a “Devil,” where a wooden cylinder, covered with small spikes and revolving at great speed, rapidly tears up the material into its component fibres; as fast as it is broken up it is transferred by means of an endless band to the interior of another cylinder, also in rapid revolution, through which a current of air is drawn by means of a powerful fan. After being well winnowed and tossed about in this cylinder the flocks are discharged through an opening at the side, and are ready for use. They are sold to the manufacturers of cheap furniture and bedding.

[. . .] The exhaust steam from the engine is admitted to this chamber, and this wets the dust and causes a large portion of it to fall to the bottom, where it forms a pulpy, evil-smelling mass. The remainder of the blast, together with the uncondensed steam, passes out through a sheet-iron tube to the open-air. The dust chambers are periodically cleaned out, and the refuse is sold for manure. 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. Quantities of dust and fluffs escape from the machines whilst they are at work, and much of this is deposited on the walls and woodwork of the factory; but more passes through the open windows and is distributed over the neighbourhood. It is evident that if the rags contain any infectious matter (and it is certain that some, at least, of them must do so) it will be in the form of spores and bacteria, and these would constitute a portion of the fine dust spoken of. I look upon this as a constant source of danger to the neighbourhood, and I am of opinion that all rags before their conversion into flocks should be thoroughly disinfected in a Washington Lyon Apparatus. The Sanitary Committee visited the factory with me on several occasions, and at a meeting held on the 19th of September it was determined to view some other flock factories in various parts of London.

St James's 1889

[On the building of a power station]

That the telegraphic and telephonic service of the Metropolis will be seriously interfered with. This difficulty ought to be easily met by proper regulations and proper clauses in the order. On the other hand, the system of the London Company possesses the undoubted advantages over any others, which arise from the location of the generating station on the riverside, and the consequent removal from the crowded parts of the Metropolis of all inconvenience from noise, vibration, smoke, and heavy traffic.

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.