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

Holborn 1930


Section 66 of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1937, provides that a noise nuisance may be dealt with summarily under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. In securing attention to this provision the temporary streets nuisance inspector rendered valuable assistance, and also co-operated with the police in regard to complaints relating to street musicians, noisy hawkers, etc. During the year, five complaints were received relating to nuisance from wireless loudspeakers, gramophones and similar instruments. In each instance abatement of the nuisance was secured without the service of formal notice. Early in the year complaints were received of noise and disturbance caused by the violent slamming of doors of motor vehicles. The attention of taxicab and car drivers was drawn to the matter by the display of the following poster at cab ranks and garages:—

BOROUGH OF ST. MARYLEBONE. NOISE. Nuisance From Motor Vehicles.

The Borough Council receive many complaints of the noise and disturbance caused by the violent slamming of doors of motor vehicles, and have been urged to take action with a view of preventing the nuisance. Drivers and users of motor-cars and taxicabs are particularly requested to show consideration for others by reducing the occasions for closing car doors and to avoid slamming as far as possible.

Town Hall, CHARLES PORTER, St. Marylebone, W.1. Medical Officer of Health.

Publicity was also given to the matter in the Press and as a result of this and the co-operation of garage proprietors and others concerned with cars it may be hoped that some mitigation of the door-slamming nuisance has been secured. The Council continue to subscribe to the funds of the Anti-Noise League.

St Pancras 1937

Noise Nuisances.

The following byelaw in regard to street cries and noises was made by the Borough Council in 1907 and only applies to Sundays: —

Under section 66 it is provided that a noise nuisance shall be a nuisance which may bo dealt with summarily under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. A noise nuisance is deemed to exist where any person makes or continues or causes to be made or continued any excessive or unreasonable or unnecessary noise which is injurious or dangerous to health. The section does not apply to a noise occasioned by the exercise of the functions under any Act of the county council or the sanitary authorities or any statutory undertakers; or affect the power of the county council or any borough council to make byelaws for good rule and government and suppression of nuisances under section 38 of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1934. It is further provided by section 66 of the new statute that no complaint to a petty sessional court under paragraph 20 of the fifth schedule to the Act of 1936 in respect of a noise nuisance shall be of any effect unless it is made by not less than three persons, being either householders or occupiers of premises within hearing of the noise nuisance which is the subject of the complaint. In any proceedings occasioned in the course of any trade, business or occupation it will be a good defence for the person charged to show that he has used the best practicable means of preventing or mitigating the nuisance having regard to the cost and to other relevant circumstances. [Extract from Report of Town Clerk.]

In connection with this matter the following byelaw recently made by the Borough Council as to nuisances caused by wireless loudspeakers, gramophones, etc., came into operation on the 1st August, 1937.

“No person shall (a) in any street or public place or in or in connection with any shop, business premises or other place which adjoins any street or public place and to which the public are admitted, or (6) upon any other premises by operating or causing or suffering to be operated any wireless loudspeaker, gramophone, amplifier or similar instrument make or cause or suffer to be made any noise which shall be so loud and so continuous or repeated as to cause a nuisance to occupants or inmates of any premises in the neighbourhood.

Provided that no proceedings shall be taken against any person for any offence against this byelaw in respect of premises referred to in paragraph (b) thereof, unless the nuisance be continued after the expiration of a fortnight from the date of the service on such person of a notice alleging a nuisance, signed by not less than three householders residing within the hearing of the instrument as aforesaid.

Any person offending against this byelaw shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds.”