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Historical references to London's sounds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
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15th
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17th
18th Early
19th
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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: 1870s

Sound category: Economic > Workplace cries and signals

Title of work: Low-Life Deeps

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: James Greenwood

Year of publication: 1875

Page/volume number: Chapter 6

Bells and cries at Billingsgate fish market

Strange, amphibious-looking individuals are, without much apparent aim, dodging about in the open unoccupied space of the market; but soon we find them doff their coats, and having seized on a coign of vantage, proceed to erect a rampart of baskets round the position they have taken up.

Suddenly a discordant bell rings out with a harsh "cling, clang," the market is opened, and everybody starts into activity, and becomes preternaturally wide awake. Porters rush about frantically with huge loads on their heads, and now you bless your stars that your chimney-pot hat is safe at home. You are hustled on one side by a Colossus with a salmon-box on his head, who imagines that the magic words "By your leave!" give him full license to butt you out of his path. Getting out of his way rather precipitately, you are brought up by an attack of fish-baskets on the stomach; an urchin with a wicker stack on his head is running a muck, and you are the victim.

In much discomfiture you take refuge in a comparatively quiet corner by one of the pillars, and are congratulating your self that you are out of harm's way when a sudden slam on the sloppy pavement about an inch in front of you of a ponderous box, accompanied with the warning shout of "Toes," rudely dispels this belief, and sends you backward with an impetus which probably procures you a volley of oaths both loud and deep from the lips of some unfortunate you have cannoned against. The auctioneers are by this time in their rostrums, selling away with desperate rapidity and wonderful power of lung. "Turbot! turbot! turbot!" is shouted in stentorian tones from one pulpit; loud roars of "Salmon! salmon! salmon!" emanate from the opposite one; the shouts of the auctioneer mingle with the responsive yells of the buyers; the din becomes tremendous, and you feel you would give anything for peace. The leathern-throated auctioneers bellow louder, their men vie with them in the din, the buyers get excited and "bid out" vociferously; the rush of porters gets more bewildering, the general turmoil and burly-burly more wildly confusing.

Period referred to: 1890s

Sound category: Economic > Workplace cries and signals

Title of work: New Grub Street

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Gissing

Year of publication: 1891

Page/volume number: Chapter XXVII

The postman’s knock in New Grub Street

The hours of postal delivery found him waiting in an anguish of suspense. At eight o'clock each morning he stood by his window, listening for the postman's knock in the street. As it approached he went out to the head of the stairs, and if the knock sounded at the door of his house, he leaned over the banisters, trembling in expectation. But the letter was never for him.