Historical references to London's sounds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: 1880s

Sound category: Ambient > Communal life and confinement

Title of work: Thackeray's London

Type of publication: London literary guide

Author: William Rideing

Year of publication: 1885

Page/volume number: Chatper III

Life at the Merchant Taylors’ School in Smithfield

They [the walls] are sepawhen I was there in the Easter vacation these open spaces were vacant, and the brisk twittering of the sparrows was the only sound that came from them. The quiet seemed all the greater, inasmuch as all around the walls is a busy neighbourhood, full of traffic and voices.

[. . .]

The dining-hall of the poor brethren has wainscoting from twelve to twenty feet high [. . . ] Here almost side by side, these boys with life untried before them and the old men well-nigh at their journey's end, ate the bread provided for them by their common benefactor, and joined voices in thanksgiving; here still the old pensioners assemble, and in trembling voices murmur grace over the provision made for them.

Period referred to: 1870s

Sound category: Ambient > Communal living and confinement

Title of work: Low-Life Deeps

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: James Greenwood

Year of publication: 1875

Page/volume number: Chapter 12

The regime of silence in a women’s prison

Personally I can vouch for one, where a wretched human waif, too young to know the use of his feet, or indeed to have a single tooth in its head, had the audacity to set at open defiance, and on his own premises, the governor of one of the largest prisons in the kingdom – defied him, cried him down, and mocked his pride and vaunting to the level of the dust. It was at the time when the silent system as applied to criminals was regarded as a radical cure for every shade of iniquity brought under its influence. I walked over his model establishment with the worthy governor, and when we came to that part where the women – over two hundred of them – were bestowed, he beckoned me to tread softly, and come and stand by him on a mat. He was a big man, but he appeared several inches bigger, as, swelling with the pride of power, he whispered,

"Here, sir, I am happy to introduce you to the very perfection of our grand system. Within fifty yards all about you are more than two hundred prisoners, all women – mark that, if you please, – and not a sound!"

And he straightened the crooked finger with which he had been emphasising his remarks, and held it above his head as a signal for me to listen. Barely had he done so, however, when a lusty shout, a yell, a "yah!" burst from a neighbouring cell, and made the vaulted roof ring again. I never saw a man so visibly collapse in all my life. The lofty finger was ignominiously lowered, and he coughed and turned about that I might not see his troubled countenance,

"Ahem! that's one of the babies born here, sir; we can't, of course, be responsible for their noise."