Historical references to London's sounds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
 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: 1481

Sound category: Authority: Laws, curfews and control of crowds

Title of work: Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London

Type of publication: Administrative chronicle

Author: Unknown

Year of publication: 1481

Page/volume number: Folios 167n–168b

Medieval regulations controlling the noise of wiremongers

Ordinacio de Wyremongers.

The same day came the Wardens and Fellowship of the Mistery of Wyremongers and prayed that certain articles for the regulation of the Craft might be approved and enrolled, to the following effect (inter alia) :—

That no one of the Craft work anything pertaining to the same upon Saturday nor on the vigil of any double Feast after the last pele of evensong rung in the parish church, under penalty of forfeiting 2 pounds of wax or 8 pence for the pound.

[. . .]

Also that henceforth no person work in the Craft after 9 P. M., to the annoyance of his neighbours with knocking or filing, under penalty of paying one pound of wax to the Guildhall Chapel and one pound to the use of the Craft, or 8 pence for the pound.

Period referred to: 1763

Sound category: Authority > Curfews and control of crowds

Title of work: In London and Moscow: The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt

Type of publication: Autobiography

Author: Giacomo Casanova

Year of publication: n/a

Page/volume number: Chapter VII

Sunday music and gaming banned in 18th century London

When I left Soho Square I went to St. James's Park to see Lady Harrington for whom I bore a letter, as I have mentioned. This lady lived in the precincts of the Court, and received company every Sunday. It was allowable to play in her house, as the park is under the jurisdiction of the Crown. In any other place there is no playing cards or singing on Sundays. The town abounds in spies, and if they have reason to suppose that there is any gaming or music going on, they watch for their opportunity, slip into the house, and arrest all the bad Christians, who are diverting themselves in a manner which is thought innocent enough in any other country. But to make up for this severity the Englishman may go in perfect liberty to the tavern or the brothel, and sanctify the Sabbath as he pleases.

Period referred to: Late 13th century

Sound category: Authority > Curfews and control of crowds

Title of work: Letter Books of the City

Type of publication: Administrative record

Author: Unknown

Year of publication: 1297

Page/volume number:

Curfew ordinance from 1297

"On behalf of the King and his son, and their Council, the Warden and the Aldermen ordain, – That no person shall be so daring as to be found walking through the streets after curfew rung at St. Martin's le Grand; and that every one, under the penalty that is awarded thereto, shall come when he is summoned to the watch, as well at the City Gates as in the streets, armed and arrayed as he ought to be.

"And that every one shall keep clean the front of his tenement, that so the streets be delivered from all incumbrances before Friday next, at Vespers; and where incumbrances shall be found after the time aforesaid, let the owner be amerced in half a mark.

"And that the stands be removed forthwith, before Vespers.

"And that on Sunday every Alderman, in his own Ward, shall take such stands as shall be found in the streets, and do his will therewith; and if after that time any stand shall be found in the streets, the Warden shall do his will therewith.

"And that no taverner or brewster shall keep the door open after curfew rung, as aforesaid; and that whosoever shall be convicted thereof, shall be amerced in half a mark, which shall be expended in repairing the walls and the gates of the City.

"And that fullers' implements shall be forthwith removed, before Vespers.

"And that pentices which are too low shall be forthwith pulled down, that so persons may ride on great horses beneath.

"And also, that pig-sties that are in the streets shall be speedily removed; and that no swine shall be found in the streets, on pain of forfeiture thereof, in aid of making the walls and gates."

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Authority > Police and militia control of crowds

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1664

Page/volume number: 27 March 1664

‘The drums beating every where as if an enemy were upon them’

He tells me also, how, upon occasion of some 'prentices being put in the pillory to-day for beating of their masters, or some such like thing, in Cheapside, a company of 'prentices came and rescued them, and pulled down the pillory; and they being set up again, did the like again. So that the Lord Mayor and Major Generall Browne was fain to come and stay there, to keep the peace; and drums, all up and down the city, was beat to raise the trained bands, for to quiett the towne, [. . .] and in Cheapside, both coming and going, it was full of apprentices, who have been here all this day, and have done violence, I think, to the master of the boys that were put in the pillory yesterday. But, Lord! to see how the train-bands are raised upon this: the drums beating every where as if an enemy were upon them; so much is this city subject to be put into a disarray upon very small occasions.

Period referred to: Early 18th century

Sound category: Authority and public order > Police and militia commands to crowds

Title of work: An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters. [Riot Act]

Type of publication: Statute

Author: Parliament

Year of publication: 1714

Page/volume number: Anno primo GEORGE I, Statute 2, Caption 5. Pages 142-146

Reading the Riot Act: ‘With a loud voice command’

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the order and form of the proclamation that shall be made by the authority of this act, shall be as hereafter followeth (that is to say) the justice of the peace, or other person authorized by this act to make the said proclamation shall, among the said rioters, or as near to them as he can safely come, with a loud voice command, or cause to be commanded silence to be, while proclamation is making, and after that, shall openly and with loud voice make or cause to be made proclamation in these words, or like in effect:

Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.