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
1       4 1 1   2
          1 2    
      2 2   1 2  
          1 1   6
      1 1 3      
      1   1 1 1 1
    1 2 1   2 4 6
  1 1   2 1     2
  1   1 4 2   2  
1   1   1 1   3 2
    1   8 3 2 1  
          2     5
2 2 1 2 1     1 3
  1   1          
1850s 1860s 1870s 1880s 1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s

Poplar 1920


(1) (a) Tuberculosis Dispensary.— Alexandra House, 135, Bow Road, E. Premises unsuitable, owing to noise, being situated on the main road —  which is paved with granite setts and ever which the traffic is heavy. At the back the noise is even more troublesome — owing to the recent extension of a neighbouring engineering works — in such a way as to practically surround the dispensary at close quarters. The Council are negotiating for other premises in Wellington Road. This is a comparatively quiet site, and far better suited for the purposes of a dispensary.

Bethnal Green 1927

While it does not admit of statistical measurement, there can be little doubt that the Council’s provision of milk for necessitous mothers and children has been an important contributing factor to the improved standard of child life in the borough. The milk provides much needed increased resistance to the debilitating effects of over-crowding, noise and dirt, deficiency of sunlight and air, and the other concomitants of poverty in a congested urban area. Its value in better health far outweighs its modest cost in cash.

Bethnal Green 1929


The commonsense fact remains that in the vast majority of cases the gift of milk to a necessitous mother or child is of obvious benefit in building up under-nourished or unsuitably-nourished bodies and in strengthening the capacity to resist the evil effects of overcrowding, shortage of sunshine and fresh air, presence of noise, dirt, etc. Until such time as every family is in a position to provide for itself, the expenditure on milk grants can be regarded as a sound public health investment.

Bethnal Green 1929

NOISE. During the past few years the question of noise as a factor in ill - health has received well needed attention. In 1928 the British Medical Association prepared a Memorandum on Preventable Noises which was submitted to the Minister of Health. The subject has more recently been under consideration by the Metropolitan Boroughs’ Standing Joint Committee. Among the preventable noises may be mentioned :—

(i) insufficiently silenced motor vehicles ;

(ii) unnecessarily raucous warning instruments carried by motor vehicles;

(iii) barking dogs and crowing cocks, especially in congested areas;

(iv) cries and bells of street vendors;

(v) careless handling of milk churns;

(vi) noise from shunting, etc., on railways;

(vii) public wireless loud speakers;

(viii) industrial machinery constructed or operated without regard to the noise produced thereby.

The fact that noise produces no immediate or obvious ailment and that the adaptable human body gets used to it as to other bad conditions is no argument for accepting it as a disagreeable but necessary evil. As was pointed out by the distinguished doctors who took part in the deputation to the Minister of Health, noise has an insidious but very definite prejudicial effect upon health, and it contributes to a great deal of nervous disease as well as complicating or retarding recovery from other ailments.

The time has come when public health authorities should insist that active steps be taken to reduce the amount of noise from which the public suffers, much of it preventable by the exercise of a little intelligence. It is to be hoped that engineers and transport administrators will devote some of their skill to devising machinery and vehicles which will operate with the minimum of nervous injury to the public at large.