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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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.

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.

Lewisham 1891

The Great Eastern Railway Company have fixed screens under the bridges at Stepney Station, Blount Street, and Brenton Street, to prevent drippings therefrom. Screens have also been fixed under the platforms in York Road. With the view of lessening the noise caused by passing trains, the Company have fixed felt under the sleepers of the bridge crossing Salmon Lane.

Lewisham 1893


A letter was received from the London County Council stating that it had been decided to endeavour to get clauses inserted in all Bills promoted by Railway Companies with a view to requiring the Companies among other matters to make all their bridges watertight, and to make provision for deadening as far as possible the noise of passing trains. The Council asked the Board to do all they could to second the Council’s efforts, and the Board replied that they would be pleased to Co-operate for the purpose referred to.

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.

Deptford 1922

The Infant Welfare Centres are held in halls let to us by different religions organisations. There are two exceptions, viz., the Goldsmiths’ Centre, held in a classroom at the Goldsmiths’ College, London University, Lewisham High Road, and at the Princess Louise Centre, Hales Street. Until 1922, the last-named Centre employed its own medical officer, but during that year the Medical Officer of Health was appointed to carry out the Thursday afternoon consultations. The Borough Council, which also supplies two Health Visitors on Thursday afternoons, gave a grant of £20 to the Deptford Fund to help this Centre. Except for the staff as described, this Centre is the only voluntary one in the Borough. In the six Infant Welfare Centres there are voluntary workers whose admirable work is prized by the Council and officials. There are consulting rooms for the doctor at each Centre (except at Erlam Road, where a portion of the room is curtained off). At this Centre, consultation work is not easy owing to the noise. Further consideration of this point is necessary.

Deptford 1927

Various kinds of different sewing machines are used for different sets of bags required. In different industries in Deptford and elsewhere I have been struck with the veritable inferno created by the noise of machinery. One’s admiration goes out to the brains which conceived all such machinery, but it would be a fine thing if the nerveracking, deafening noise could be eliminated somehow. The sewing machines used in this factory are worked by electric power, the women skilfully direct the edges to be sewn from end to end. We were struck by the concentration shown by those manipulating the machines and material; how greedily the machines “eat up” the goods! The rooms on the different floors are large and spacious. The wooden floors are dry but the nature of the work tends towards dust collection. The ventilation is good, being effected by windows and doors. Steam pipes and radiators are in use. General cleanliness is good, though dust collection had to be mentioned to the manager.

[. . .]

Spinning Company. The stranded hemp arrives in bales on the canal from India and China. The bales are opened and the hemp is passed through separating machines dividing the hemp into strands. The strands are then passed through mixing machines, thus mixing the strands according to the quality or description of the cord required. The stranded hemp is then passed through a cord-making machine, coming out as the finished article, wound upon reels or into bundles or coils as required. The noise created by the machinery is very great. The floors are of cement with wood for the employees to stand upon.