Historical references to London's sounds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
 Beggars, hustlers and scavengers   1 1 1   2 3 1
 Street entertainers             2  
 Costermongers and street traders   1   2 1 5 2  
 Transport for hire   1 1          
 Quack doctors       1        
 Recruitment of workers     1     1    
 Work songs and music             1  
 Workplace cries and audible signals       1 1 2 3  
 Shops and shop staff         1   3  

Period referred to: 1820s

Sound category: Economic > Beggars, scavengers and hustlers

Title of work: Lavengro

Type of publication: Novel/memoir

Author: George Borrow

Year of publication: 1851

Page/volume number: Chapter XXIX

A conman tries a feeble scam in George Borrow’s Lavengro

"One-and-Ninepence, sir, or the things which you have brought with you will be taken away from you!"

Such were the first words which greeted my ears, one damp misty morning in March, as I dismounted from the top of a coach in the yard of a London inn.

I turned round, for I felt that the words were addressed to myself. Plenty of people were in the yard – porters, passengers, coachmen, ostlers, and others, who appeared to be intent on anything but myself, with the exception of one individual, whose business appeared to lie with me, and who now confronted me at the distance of about two yards.

I looked hard at the man – and a queer kind of individual he was to look at – a rakish figure, about thirty, and of the middle size, dressed in a coat smartly cut, but threadbare, very tight pantaloons of blue stuff, tied at the ankles, dirty white stockings and thin shoes, like those of a dancing-master; his features were not ugly, but rather haggard, and he appeared to owe his complexion less to nature than carmine; in fact, in every respect, a very queer figure.

"One-and-ninepence, sir, or your things will be taken away from you!" he said, in a kind of lisping tone, coming yet nearer to me.

I still remained staring fixedly at him, but never a word answered. Our eyes met; whereupon he suddenly lost the easy impudent air which he before wore. He glanced, for a moment, at my fist, which I had by this time clenched, and his features became yet more haggard; he faltered; a fresh "one-and-ninepence," which he was about to utter, died on his lips; he shrank back, disappeared behind a coach, and I saw no more of him.

"One-and-ninepence, or my things will be taken away from me!" said I to myself, musingly, as I followed the porter to whom I had delivered my scanty baggage; "am I to expect many of these greetings in the big world? Well, never mind! I think I know the counter-sign!" And I clenched my fist yet harder than before.

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Economic > Beggars, hustlers and scavengers

Title of work: London Labour and the London Poor

Type of publication: Social study

Author: Henry Mayhew

Year of publication: 1851

Page/volume number: Volume 1

Henry Mayhew describes the lot of the Thames mud-larks

The mud-larks themselves, however, know only those who reside near them, and whom they are accustomed to meet in their daily pursuits; indeed, with but few exceptions, these people are dull, and apparently stupid; this is observable particularly among the boys and girls, who, when engaged in searching the mud, hold but little converse one with another. The men and women may be passed and repassed, but they notice no one; they never speak, but with a stolid look of wretchedness they plash their way through the mire [. . .]