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

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.

Clerkenwell 1893

Railway Bridges.

Early in the year the Vestry received a letter from the County Council, stating that their attention has several times been called by local authorities and others to the condition of many of the railway bridges over thoroughfares in London. Some of the bridges are so wide that the thoroughfare under them is darkened for a considerable distance, and many of them are by no means watertight; and the Council were of opinion that considerable improvement might be effected if the railway companies were required by law to make all their bridges watertight, to provide openings between old and new portions of widened bridges, to face the walls underneath the bridges with white glazed bricks or tiles, and to make provisions for deadening, as far as possible, the noise of passing trains; and the Council stated that they had resolved to endeavour to get clauses for these purposes inserted in all bills promoted by railway companies, and would be glad if the various local authorities would do all they could to second the Council’s efforts. The Vestry replied that they approved of the action of the Council, and would be willing to assist in the matter as far as possible.

Clerkenwell 1893

Owen’s Row.

This street has been paved with asphalte during the year, and advantage has been taken of the alteration to remove posts at the eastern end which prevented vehicular traffic passing through. Objection was taken by the Girls’ School authorities that the noise of passing traffic would be a serious hindrance to their school work, and the Vestry therefore fixed a moveable bar, which could take the place of the posts if the fears of noise were realised. Up to the present time, however, no complaints have been made to the Vestry.

Clerkenwell 1896

Street Noises, &c.

The Vestry have had before them letters from the County Council asking the opinion of the Vestry as to the desirability of the Council making bye-laws to suppress nuisances from noise arising from shouting to sell goods, shooting galleries, roundabouts and steam organs, and also as to requiring vehicles to carry lights after sunset; and from the Paddington Vestry, expressing the opinion that, having regard to the varying conditions and requirements of different parts of the Metropolis, the Vestries and District Boards should have the power, subject to the approval of the Local Government Board, of making such bye-laws. On the question of street shouting the Council has received a letter from the Home Secretary expressing the opinion that a bye-law which is in force in Liverpool and many other places in the kingdom, in the following form, would be a valid one if adopted by the Council:—

“No person shall, for the purpose of hawking, selling or distributing any newspaper or other article, shout, or use any bell, gong, or noisy instrument in such a manner as to cause nuisance or annoyance to the residents or passengers,” and such bye law, if made, would be enforced by the police. The Home Secretary points out that the requirement that public annoyance must be proved is an important safeguard against the oppressive application of the prohibition, and that it is not likely that Parliament would accept a more stringent provision. The Vestry passed the following resolutions:—

(1) That the Council be informed that the Vestry is in favour of such a bye-law being made and applied in the County of London.

(2) That the Council be informed that in the opinion of the Vestry it is desirable that powers should be obtained for Vestries and District Boards to make bye-laws to control the nuisance arising from shooting galleries, roundabouts and steam organs.

(3) That the Council be informed that in the opinion of the Vestry it is desirable that all vehicles should be required to carry lights after sunset, such requirement being enforced by the Council.

(4) That the Council be informed that in the opinion of the Vestry it is desirable that powers should be obtained for Vestries and District Boards to make bye-laws to regulate the keeping of noisy animals. [. . .] Gambling in the Streets—The Vestry have had their attention called to the prevalence of gambling in the streets of Clerkenwell, especially among youths, and they have written to the Superintendent of Police for the Division asking his assistance to stop the nuisance. [. . .]

Fire Alarm. — At the suggestion of the Vestry the County Council have fixed a fire alarm in St. John’s Square.

Clerkenwell 1898

Band Performances by County Council.

The Vestry asked the County Council to arrange for band performances to be given within the Parish of Clerkenwell, and suggested that Spa Green would be a suitable place for the purpose, but the Council, in view of the heavy traffic in Rosebery Avenue next the open spaces referred to, and the noise occasioned by same, were not prepared to allow band performances in the places suggested, and therefore asked the Vestry to indicate some more suitable place, to which the objections referred to would not apply As, however, Spa Green is the only suitable place for the purpose the matter was dropped.

Finsbury 1907

Trade nuisances.

[. . .] In the fourth case, the exhaust outlet of a large gas engine was affixed to a factory wall in the rear of dwelling houses. The extension of the exhaust pipe obviated the nuisance caused by the noise and fumes.

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.

Finsbury 1937

Noise (London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1937.

By Section 66 of this Act a noise nuisance shall be a nuisance which may be dealt with summarily under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. It should be noted that no complaint to a court shall be effective unless it is made by not less than three persons, either householders or occupiers of premises within hearing of the noise nuisance which is the subject of the complaint. Further, in any proceedings, it is a good defence to show that the best practical means have been used to prevent or mitigate the nuisance, due regard being paid to the cost and other relevant circumstances. Six complaints of noise were received last year, but no action under the Act was taken.

Islington 1938

Noise Nuisances which are Injurious to Health.

A noise nuisance as defined under this Act may be dealt with summarily under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. The noise must be excessive or unreasonable or unnecessary, be injurious or dangerous to health, and it shall be a good defence for the person charged in relation to any trade business or occupation that he has used the best practical means of preventing or mitigating the nuisance having regard to the cost and other relevant circumstances. Complaint to be of any effect must be 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. During the year 20 complaints were investigated, and numerous inspections were made in respect of the use of a site in Seven Sisters Road as a fair ground, and inspections were still continuing at the end of the year. Special investigations were made with regard to a number of complaints received of alleged excessive noise in factories.