Historical references to London's sounds

A database of several hundred historical descriptions and references to London's sounds. They're drawn mainly from primary sources such as autobiographies, diaries and statutes, as well as novels written around the times they depict.

11th to
16th to
18th Early
 General sounds of street and town   1 9 2 3 20 13 7
 Open-air markets     1   2 2    
 Road traffic         1 3    
 Communal living and confinement     1 1   2 3  
 River traffic and related sounds     5     2 3  
 Plague, war and disaster   1 6 2   2 4  
 Sound qualities of buildings     1          
 Sounds of crowds   1       1    

Period referred to: 1870s

Sound category: Ambient > Open-air markets

Title of work: Low-Life Deeps

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: James Greenwood

Year of publication: 1875

Page/volume number: Chapter 5

Sunday morning at Rag Fair, Houndsditch

Considering the perpetual crushing of unprotected toes by hobnailed heels, and the bending of ribs under the crushing pressure of uncompromising elbows there is heard on all sides an astonishingly small amount of cursing and swearing; but the most marvellous part of the business is the various things the people contrive to do in the very heart and thick of the crush. There are shops for the sale of second-hand clothes on either side of all the narrow thoroughfares, but the bulk of the business is done by those dealers who bear their goods about with them, slung over their shoulders or hugged in their arms, and who push and drive through the mob with the rest, screeching out with all the strength of their lungs what it is they have got to dispose of, and what the price of it is. The vendors of second-hand hats cannot, under such circumstances, go about with theirs hugged in their arms, so they mount them sometimes on the dome of an expanded umbrella, and holding the latter aloft pass through the crowd, crying out, "A hat for a shillin'! A hat for a shilhin'!" until they are well nigh breathless and red in the face. "Here's a weskit! Who'll have a weskit for a tanner? Who's the buyer of coat? Here's a stunner for three-and-six – half-a-crown – two-bob – anything!" "Who wants a shirt? Who'll buy a pair of trousers? Who ses a pair of hard working trousers for nine-pence?" And while five hundred voices are blending to advertise these and a score of other amazing bargains, dealers in another line of business wriggle their ware through the close-jammed multitude with bright tin kettles balanced on their heads containing hot green peas, sheep's trotters and pickled cucumbers for sale.

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Ambient > Open-air markets

Title of work: London Labour and the London Poor

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: Henry Mayhew

Year of publication: 1861

Page/volume number: pp. 11-12, Volume 1

‘The boy’s sharp cry, the woman’s cracked voice’

A bootmaker, to 'ensure custom', has illuminated his shop-front with a line of gas, and in its full glare stands a blind beggar, his eyes turned up so as to show only 'the whites', and mumbling some begging rhymes, that are drowned in the shrill notes of the bamboo-flute-player next to to him. The boy's sharp cry, the woman's cracked voice, the gruff, hoarse shout of the man, are all mingled together. Sometimes an Irishman is heard with his 'fine ating apples', or else the jingling music of an unseen organ breaks out, as the trio of street singers rest between the verses.