Historical references to London's sounds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: 1920s

Sound category: Economic > Beggars, hustlers and scavengers

Title of work: The Water Gipsies

Type of publication: Novel

Author: A. P. Herbert

Year of publication: 1930

Page/volume number: Chapter 7

Beggars at Epsom Races in A. P. Herbert’s The Water Gipsies

A gipsy woman with a baby sidled up to him and whimpered fluently, 'Something for the lucky baby, kind gentleman. Hold up, Lucky Mary, and show the gentleman your face. She'll bring you luck, sir; you'll never regret it. King George gave her a sixpence, sir, the day he won the Two Thousand Guineas. You've got a lucky face, sir; you'll have good fortune, sir – it's in your face. You'll have beautiful children, gentleman, and travel abroad. The lady's a lucky face too, sir. You'll be very happy. God bless you, sir. Say "Thank you," Lucky Mary.'

Mr Bell beamed happily when he heard that he had a lucky face, and gave Lucky Mary sixpence. His pockets were nearly empty, but his heart overflowed with the benevolence of a millionaire.

Photographers, tipsters, fortune-tellers, and ice-cream merchants clamoured for their custom. There was no time for photographs or fortunes. But when a man in a purple bowler hat came up to Mr Bell and said simply, 'Will you give me a shilling, sir?' without offering any services in return, Mr Bell could not refuse him. The man took off his hat and presented Mrs Higgins with a picture-postcard of the Duchess of York, and everyone was happy.

Period referred to: 1930a

Sound category: Economic > Hustlers, beggars and scavengers

Title of work: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1936

Page/volume number: Chapter 5

A beggar appears in Orwell’s Keeping the Aspidistra Flying

Outside Modigliani's they had paid off the taxi and were moving for the door when a big, lank wreck of a man seemed to spring up from the paving-stones in front of them. He stood across their path like some fawning beast, with dreadful eagerness and yet timorously, as though afraid that Ravelston would strike him. His face came close up to Ravelston's – a dreadful face, fish-white and scrubby-bearded to the eyes. The words 'A cup of tea, guv'nor!' were breathed through carious teeth. Ravelston shrank from him in disgust.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Economic > Beggars and hustlers

Title of work: Down and Out in Paris and London

Type of publication: Aubiography/Social investigation

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1933

Page/volume number: Chapter XXXI

A pavement artist describes the street photographers’ scam to Orwell

The most prosperous beggars are street acrobats and street photographers. On a good pitch – a theatre queue, for instance – a street acrobat will often earn five pounds a week. Street photographers can earn about the same, but they are dependent on fine weather. They have a cunning dodge to stimulate trade. When they see a likely victim approaching one of them runs behind the camera and pretends to take a photograph. Then as the victim reaches them, they exclaim: 'There y'are, sir, took yer photo lovely. That'll be a bob.'

'But I never asked you to take it,' protests the victim.

'What, you didn't want it took? Why, we thought you signalled with your 'and. Well, there's a plate wasted! That's cost us sixpence, that 'as.'

At this the victim usually takes pity and says he will have the photo after all. The photographers examine the plate and say that it is spoiled, and that they will take a fresh one free of charge. Of course, they have not really taken the first photo; and so, if the victim refuses, they waste nothing.