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

Croydon 1910

FACTORIES. For the most part, the law relating to Factories is administered by the Home Office. 125 visits were, however, made to Factories, 62 being in reference to sanitary accommodation, 44 in reference to cleanliness of earth closets, eight in reference to new occupation, three in reference to ventilated space in glass works, four in reference to smoke, three in reference to want of screens to w.c.‘s at a steam laundry, and one in reference to complaint of noise from a steam laundry. All the defects noted were remedied during the year.

Wandsworth 1911

On the 25th August one of the Sanitary Inspectors reported that a band of Hungarian gypsies had encamped on land in Garratt Lane, and on inspecting the premises he found that there were about 120 men, women and children occupying 17 tents which had been erected on the land.

[. . .]

The Sanitary Inspector visited the premises three or four times a week, and I personally inspected the premises on six different occasions, as several complaints had been received from the occupiers of the houses adjoining. The complaints made were mainly of the noise produced by hammering, the work carried on by these gypsies being the repairing of copper utensils. Eventually, after a considerable amount of difficulty, the tribe were persuaded to leave, and the premises were vacated on the 23rd December.

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.

Wimbledon 1913

Van Dwellings.

At irregular intervals throughout the year inspections were made of the vans occupied as dwellings; there have also been special visits made as the result of complaints received from time to time respecting the vans in certain yards. There are in all 37 vans on 12 separate premises, the most in one yard being seven. The internal measurements of all these vans have been taken for the purpose of calculating their cubic capacity. With one or two exceptions these dwellings have been found clean and well-kept, and the provisions of bye-laws relating to Tents, Vans and Sheds complied with. In the few instances mentioned, a verbal warning was sufficient to obtain compliance. The complaints received referred principally to noise, or were the outcome of a sentimental objection to plots of land adjoining the dwelling-houses of the complainants being so used, but not with respect to any breach of the byelaws. The occupiers of the vans appear to be a very healthy set of people, only one case of infectious disease (Scarlet Fever) having occurred amongst them during the whole of the year.

Camberwell 1914

[Regarding the Camberwell dustheaps]

To sum up, therefore, we can unhesitatingly say that from investigation of the siding itself, of Constance Road Infirmary, and of the houses in the neighbourhood we are entirely unconvinced of any nuisance to the Infirmary beyond a purely æsthetic one. One can well imagine that the shunting of the trucks at night, the noise of the men carrying out the work, and the disturbance of the privacy of the grounds may well constitute an obstacle to the amenities of their use and an annoyance to the Infirmary staff, but beyond this we emphatically refuse to go.

Finsbury 1914

[Description of Finsbury slums]

Many of the mothers did not know where their husbands worked or what their earnings were. Other mothers wished to conceal the occupations of their husbands. One such had stated that her husband was a carman. Later, they and their baby, 13 months old, were seen in a London square. 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. Those who are attached to public house “pitches” act as messengers, porters, cartminders, or hold horses’ heads. They earn from 1s. to 2s. a day, but are often remunerated by having ale given to them instead of money. The takings of organ grinders are said to have materially lessened during the last 5 years. It would appear that 10s. to 15s. is now a fair average weekly amount.

[. . .]

Some of the homes were in dark, dilapidated and domestically dirty basements or attics. It is noteworthy that families with numerous children are compelled by house owners in many instances to occupy the basements. Such families are precluded from living in upper rooms because when they occupy the higher storeys the children at play make much noise and interfere with the peaceable enjoyment of their holdings by those who occupy the rooms underneath. One mother observed, “If you have children, you are always pushed to the bottom of the house if you live with respectable people. My children have always been ill since we have had to live in these underground places.” Many of the tenements were verminous, many were crowded, a few were overcrowded.

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.

Lambeth 1917

Effluvium Nuisances.

[. . .] (2) Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society’s Bakery, Brixton Hill, a factory used for baking on a wholesale scale for civilians (the premises being in occupation for that purpose from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.), and for military authorities (the premises being in occupation for that purpose from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.), and causing chiefly a nuisance from noise and vibration of machinery. [but] no legal action was taken in connection with No. (2), the nuisance from noise and vibration not being one with which the Council could deal, and the premises being also found to be an exempted building (in the occupation of the military).

Acton 1919

But apart from the offensive smells, a deeper sense of injury is felt by some, at any rate, of the inhabitants of Agnes Road, and this arises from the establishment of a factory where heavy machinery is used, within a few yards of the house. Where night work is done, the noise of the heavy machinery does disturb the rest of the occupiers of the neighbouring houses. I have received numerous complaints from occupiers of the neighbouring houses that it is impossible to obtain sleep at night, owing to the noise of the heavy machinery.

Hackney 1919

[Regarding TB consulting rooms in Hackney and Bethnal Green]

Each consulting room is provided with two dressing-rooms, and a dark room for throat examinations, and has proved entirely satisfactory for the rather special requirements of a dispensary. The patients are seen in the waiting room outside by the nurse, who weighs them and takes their temperatures, and they come singly into the consulting-room. The patients are therefore encouraged to mention to the tuberculosis officer any private or domestic details, and the tuberculosis officer is not disturbed during his examination by noise made by patients who are waiting to see him.