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Historical references to London's sounds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.

 SUB-CATEGORY 1st to
10th
11th to
15th
16th to
17th
18th Early
19th
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19th
Early
20th
Late
20th
 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: 1890s

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

Title of work: The Great God Pan

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Arthur Machen

Year of publication: 1894

Page/volume number: Chapter VI

The cries of newsboys in Piccadilly

"So you might; that never occurred to me. We might send it now. Hark! what are those boys calling?"

While the two men had been talking together a confused noise of shouting had been gradually growing louder. The noise rose from the eastward and swelled down Piccadilly, drawing nearer and nearer, a very torrent of sound; surging up streets usually quiet, and making every window a frame for a face, curious or excited. The cries and voices came echoing up the silent street where Villiers lived, growing more distinct as they advanced, and, as Villiers spoke, an answer rang up from the pavement:

"The West End Horrors; Another Awful Suicide; Full Details!"

Austin rushed down the stairs and bought a paper and read out the paragraph to Villiers as the uproar in the street rose and fell. The window was open and the air seemed full of noise and terror.

Period referred to: 1888

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

Title of work: The Lodger

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Marie Belloc Lowndes

Year of publication: 1913

Page/volume number: Chapter XII

Newspaper-sellers’ cries at the time of Jack the Ripper

And then the strangest smile came over Mrs. Bunting's face. There had fallen on her ear the still distant, but unmistakable, shouts which betokened that something had happened last night – something which made it worth while for the newspaper-sellers to come crying down the Marylebone Road.

"Well?" she said a little breathlessly. "Well, Joe? I suppose you've brought us news? I suppose there's been another?"

He looked at her, surprised. "No, that there hasn't, Mrs. Bunting – not as far as I know, that is. Oh, you're thinking of those newspaper chaps? They've got to cry out something," he grinned. "You wouldn't 'a thought folk was so bloodthirsty. They're just shouting out that there's been an arrest; but we don't take no stock of that. It's a Scotchman what gave himself up last night at Dorking. He'd been drinking, and was a-pitying of himself. Why, since this business began, there's been about twenty arrests, but they've all come to nothing."

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

Title of work: The Secret Agent

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Joseph Conrad

Year of publication: 1907

Page/volume number: Chapter 9

Newsboys’ cries in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent

The newsboys never invaded Brett Street. It was not a street for their business. And the echo of their cries drifting along the populous thoroughfares, expired between the dirty brick walls without reaching the threshold of the shop.

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

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

A watercress girl

'I go about the streets with water-creases, crying, "Four bunches a penny, water-creases." I am just eight years old – that's all, and I've a big sister, and a brother, and a sister younger than I am.'

Period referred to: 1850s

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

Title of work: London Labour and the London Poor

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: Henry Mayhew

Year of publication: 1851

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

Henry Mayhew: The London street markets on a Saturday night

Little boys, holding three or four onions in their hand, creep between people, wriggling their way through every interstice, and asking for custom in whining tones, as if seeking charity. Then the tumult of the thousand differerent cries of the eager dealers, all shouting at the top of their voices, at one and the same time, is almost bewildering. 'So-old again,' roars one. 'Chestnuts all 'ot, a penny a score,' bawls another. 'An 'aypenny a skin, blacking,' squeaks a boy. 'Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy – bu-u-uy!' cries the butcher. 'Half-a-quire of paper for a penny,' bellows the street stationer. 'An 'aypenny a lot ing-uns.' 'Twopence a pound grapes.' 'Three a penny Yarmouth bloaters.' 'Who'll buy a bonnet for fourpence?' 'Pick 'em out cheap here! three pair for a halfpenny, bootlaces.' 'Now's your time! beautiful whelks, a penny a lot.' 'Here's ha'p'orths,' shouts the perambulating confectioner. 'Come and look at 'em! here's toasters!' bellows one with a Yarmouth bloater stuck on a toasting-fork. 'Penny a lot, fine russets,' calls the apple woman: and so the Babel goes on.