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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Fulham 1884

In a report on the subject I find the cost of scavenging on creosoted wood with a bitumenous concrete foundation is stated to be 2.7d. per yard per annum, while for scavenging Mac Adam roads it is said to cost 8d. per yard per annum. This would seem to shew that it costs about three times as much to cleanse a Mac Adam road as it does a wood paved road. If these figures are worth anything the wood paving is the more economical. There is yet another consideration which affects nearly all ratepayers, some more than others, viz.: the comparatively less wear and tear in horse flesh and carriages of various kinds, thus giving advantage to those who are so fortunate as to be able to keep horses and vehicles, and the still greater advantage to those residing along the line of route where wood is laid, who, without having the expense of keeping horses, &c., have the unalloyed advantages of great diminution in the noise and vibration, and dust from the traffic, as well as freedom from the annoyance of the annual picking up, coating and rolling a Mac Adam road. Taking all these things into consideration I have arrived at the conclusion that a very large number of individuals derive special benefit from wood paving, whilst the remaining portion of the ratepayers who have not these special benefits are not placed at any disadvantage whatever, but after a time become absolute gainers thereby.

Hammersmith 1893

During last year I brought before your Sanitary Committee complaints received by me in reference to the following alleged public nuisances [. . .] xi. Noise from steam-whistles from works of Messrs. Woodhouse and Rawson, and Epstein Company.

Hammersmith 1905

The Borough Council has also made the following by-laws under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, the Local Government Act, 1888, and the London Government Act, 1899:—

Noise from Organs connected with Shows, &c. 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, and any person offending against this by-law shall, on summary conviction, be liable for the first offence to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, and for every subsequent offence to a penalty not exceeding £5.

Noisy Hawking. No person shall, for the purpose of hawking, selling, or advertising any goods, call or shout in any street, so as to cause annoyance to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Any person who shall offend against the foregoing by-law shall be liable, for every such offence, to a fine not exceeding forty shillings.


By-Laws made by the London County Council in pursuance of the provisions of Section 23 of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and Section 16 of the Local Government Act, 1888. By-Laws made on 19th July, 1898.

Steam Organs, Shooting Galleries, Roundabouts, &c. No person shall in any street or on any land adjoining or near thereto, use or play, or cause to be used or played, any steam organ or other musical instrument worked by mechanical means to the annoyance or disturbance of residents or passengers. No person shall in any street or on any land adjoining or near thereto, keep or manage, or cause to be kept or managed, a shooting gallery, swing boat, roundabout, or any other construction of a like character, so as to cause obstruction or danger to the traffic of any such street.

Noisy Animals. No person shall keep within any house, building or premises, any noisy animal which shall be or cause a serious nuisance to residents in the neighbourhood. Provided that no proceedings shall be taken against any person for an offence against this by-law until 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 hearing of the animal.

Street Betting. No person shall frequent and use any street or other public place on behalf, either of himself or of any other person, for the purpose of bookmaking or betting, or wagering, or agreeing to bet or wager, with any person, or paying, or receiving, or settling bets.

Penalty. Any person who shall offend against any of the foregoing by-laws shall be liable for every such offence to a fine not exceeding forty shillings, except in the case of the by-law relating to street betting, the fine for the breach of which shall be an amount not exceeding £5.

Hammersmith 1906

TRAMWAY TERMINUS, UXBRIDGE ROAD. The Borough Council has had the question of regulating admission to the tramcars at this terminus under consideration, and a number of schemes to meet the difficulty were prepared by the Borough Surveyor, but it has not been found possible to carry out any of the schemes.

TRAMWAY TRACKS. In consequence of complaints of the bad state of the tramway tracks, they were inspected by the Borough Surveyor, who submitted a report upon the condition of the same, with a schedule of defective places in the wood paving, maintainable by the Tramway Company. It was found on inspection, that many of the joints of the rails were defective, apparently caused by the giving way of the fish plates, and consequently when the cars pass over these places, the ends of the rails deflect and cause the noise which is a source of complaint.

Hammersmith 1906

Nuisances from Motor Vehicles.

The attention of the Borough Council having been directed to the serious nuisances occasioned to residents in the Borough, more particularly to those whose premises front the main thoroughfares, by the noise, smoke, smell and oil emitted from motor vehicles, the Council made urgent representations to the Commissioner of Police thereon; and was represented at a conference of Metropolitan Borough Councils, at which a series of resolutions was passed which were submitted to the Home Secretary, the President of the Local Government Board, and the Commissioner of Police, urging the desirability of early effect being given to such resolutions, by legislation or otherwise. It is understood that these Authorities are giving the matter careful consideration.