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Historical references to London's sounds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.

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 Hue-and-cry     1 4 2      
 Laws, curfews and control of crowds   2 1 2        
 Sentries and nightwatchmen   1 2       1  
 Public executions     2 2 1      
 Courts of law       2        
 Prison regimes       1 1      
 Other legal proceedings           1    
 Sounds of crime     1          

Period referred to: 1830s

Sound category: Authority > Hue and cry

Title of work: Weekly Despatch

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Weekly Despatch

Year of publication: 1831

Page/volume number: 11 December 1831

An associate of the Resurrection Men flees Covent Garden

Shields, the porter to the gang, had been watchman and grave-digger at the Roman Catholic Chapel in Moorfields, so that he was most useful to the other Resurrectionists in giving information, and in granting facilities for the removal of bodies. No evidence was offered against him in connection with the murder of the Italian boy. Soon after the trial he attempted to get work as a porter in Covent Garden Market, but on his being recognized by those working there, a shout of “Burker!” was raised, and Shields narrowly escaped with his life, and took refuge in the Police Office.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Authority > Hue and cry

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1667

Page/volume number: 10 June 1667

Pepys witnesses a ‘riding’ at Greenwich

Here I eat a bit, and then in the afternoon took boat and down to Greenwich, where I find the stairs full of people, there being a great riding there to-day for a man, the constable of the town, whose wife beat him.

[Lord Baybrooke's note from 1893 edition of the Diary sheds interesting light on what the 'riding' might have been:

"It was an ancient custom in Berkshire, when a man had beaten his wife, for the neighbours to parade in front of his house, for the purpose of serenading him with kettles, and horns and hand-bells, and every species of "rough music," by which name the ceremony was designated. Perhaps the riding mentioned by Pepys was a punishment somewhat similar. Malcolm ("Manners of London") quotes from the "Protestant Mercury," that a porter's lady, who resided near Strand Lane, beat her husband with so much violence and perseverance, that the poor man was compelled to leap out of the window to escape her fury. Exasperated at this virago, the neighbours made a "riding," i.e. a pedestrian procession, headed by a drum, and accompanied by a chemise, displayed for a banner. The manual musician sounded the tune of "You round-headed cuckolds, come dig, come dig!" and nearly seventy coalheavers, carmen, and porters, adorned with large horns fastened to their heads, followed. The public seemed highly pleased with the nature of the punishment, and gave liberally to the vindicators of injured manhood."]

Period referred to: 1720s

Sound category: Authority > Hue and cry

Title of work: The Fortunes and Misfortunes pf the Famous Moll Flanders

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Daniel Defoe

Year of publication: 1722

Page/volume number: n/a

A crowd hunts down a pickpocket in Moll Flanders

The next thing of moment was an attempt at a gentlewoman's good watch. It happened in a crowd, at a meeting-house, where I was in very great danger of being taken. I had full hold of her watch, but giving a great jostle, as if somebody had thrust me against her, and in the juncture giving the watch a fair pull, I found it would not come, so I let it go that moment, and cried out as if I had been killed, that somebody had trod upon my foot, and that there were certainly pickpockets there, for somebody or other had given a pull at my watch; for you are to observe that on these adventures we always went very well dressed, and I had very good clothes on, and a gold watch by my side, as like a lady as other fold.

I had no sooner said so, but the other gentlewoman cried out 'A pickpocket' too, for somebody, she said, had tried to pull her watch away.

When I touched her watch I was close to her, but when I cried out I stopped as it were short, and the crowd bearing her forward a little, she made a noise too, but it was at some distance from me, so that she did not in the least suspect me; but when she cried out 'A pickpocket,' somebody cried, 'Ay, and here has been another! this gentlewoman has been attempted too.'

At that very instance, a little farther in the crowd, and very luckily too, they cried out 'A pickpocket,' again, and really seized a young fellow in the very act.

Period referred to: 1720s

Sound category: Authority > Hue and cry

Title of work: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Daniel Defoe

Year of publication: 1722

Page/volume number: n/a

Moll Flanders is stopped by a hue-and-cry in Covent Garden

It happened that while I was going along the street in Covent Garden, there was a great cry of 'Stop thief! Stop thief!' some artists had, it seems, put a trick upon a shopkeeper, and being pursued, some of them fled one way, and some another; and one of them was, they said, dressed up in widow's weeds, upon which the mob gathered about me, and some said I was the person, others said no.

Period referred to: 1720s

Sound category: Authority > Hue and cry

Title of work: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Daniel Defoe

Year of publication: 1722

Page/volume number: n/a

A thief is chased in Defoe’s Moll Flanders

I was going through Lombard Street in the dusk of the evening, just by the end of Three King court, when on a sudden comes a fellow running by me as swift as lightning, and throws a bundle that was in his hand, just behind me, as I stood up against the corner of the house at the turning into the alley. Just as he threw it in he said, 'God bless you, mistress, let it lie there a little,' and away he runs swift as the wind. After him comes two more, and immediately a young fellow without his hat, crying 'Stop thief!' and after him two or three more.

Period referred to: 1720s

Sound category: Authority > Hue and cry

Title of work: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Daniel Defoe

Year of publication: 1722

Page/volume number: n/a

A Hue-and-cry described in Defoe’s Moll Flanders

We resolved to be going the next day, but about six o'clock at night we were alarmed with a great uproar in the street, and people riding as if they had been out of their wits; and what was it but a hue-and-cry after three highwaymen that had robbed two coaches and some other travellers near Dunstable Hill, and notice had, it seems, been given that they had been seen at Brickhill at such a house, meaning the house where those gentlemen had been.

Period referred to: 1830s

Sound category: Authority and public order > Hue-and-cry

Title of work: Oliver Twist

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Charles Dickens

Year of publication: 1838

Page/volume number: Chapter X

‘ “Stop thief! Stop thief!” The cry is taken up by a hundred voices’

'Stop thief! Stop thief!' There is a magic in the sound. The tradesman leaves his counter, and the car-man his waggon; the butcher throws down his tray; the baker his basket; the milkman his pail; the errand-boy his parcels; the school-boy his marbles; the paviour his pickaxe; the child his battledore. Away they run, pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash: tearing, yelling, screaming, knocking down the passengers as they turn the corners, rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls: and streets, squares, and courts, re-echo with the sound.

'Stop thief! Stop thief!' The cry is taken up by a hundred voices, and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing through the mud, and rattling along the pavements: up go the windows, out run the people, onward bear the mob, a whole audience desert Punch in the very thickest of the plot, and, joining the rushing throng, swell the shout, and lend fresh vigour to the cry, 'Stop thief! Stop thief!'