Historical references to London's sounds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: 1900s

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

Title of work: Nights in London

Type of publication: Social investigation

Author: Thomas Burke

Year of publication: 1915

Page/volume number: A Worker's Night

Sales patter at a night-time market on the Isle of Dogs

As the stalls clear out the stock so grows the vociferousness of their proprietors, and soon the ear becomes deadened by the striving rush of sound. Every stall and shop has its wide-mouthed laureate, singing its present glories and adding lustre to its latest triumphs.

"I'll take any price yeh like, price yeh like! Comerlong, comerlong, Ma! This is the shop that does the biz. Buy-buy-buy-uy!"

"Walk up, ladies, don't be shy. Look at these legs. Look at 'em. Don't keep looking at 'em, though. Buy 'em. Buy 'em. Sooner you buy 'em sooner I can get 'ome and 'ave my little bath. Come along, ladies; it's a dirty night, but thank God I got good lodgings, and I hope you got the same. Buy-buy-buy!"

"'Ere's yer lovely bernanas. Fourer penny. Pick 'em out where yeh like!"

In one ear a butcher yells a madrigal concerning his little shoulders. In the other a fruit merchant demands to know whether, in all your nacheral, you ever see anything like his melons. Then a yard or so behind you an organ and cornet take up their stand and add "Tipperary" to the swelling symphony. But human ears can receive so much, and only so much, sound; and clapping your hands over your ears, you seek the chaste seclusion, for a few minutes, of the saloon of "The Black Boy," or one of the many fried-fish bars of the Lane.

Still later in the evening the noise increases, for then the stalls are anxious to clear out their stock at any old price. The wise wife—and Johnnie's missus is one—waits until this hour before making her large purchases. For now excellent joints and rabbits and other trifles are put up for auction. The laureates are wonderful fellows, many of them, I imagine, decayed music-hall men. A good man in this line makes a very decent thing out of it. The usual remuneration is about eight or ten shillings for the night and whatever beer they want. And if you are shouting for nearly six hours in the heavy-laden air of Salmon Lane, you want plenty of beer and you earn all you get. They have a spontaneous wit about them that only the Cockney possesses. Try to take a rise out of one of them, and you will be sadly plucked. Theirs is Falstaffian humour—large and clustering: no fine strokes, but huge, rich-coloured sweeps. It is useless to attempt subtleties in the roar of a Saturday night. What you have to aim at is the obvious—but with a twist; something that will go home at once; something that can be yelled or, if the spirit moves you, sung. It is, in a word, the humour of the Crowd.

At about eleven o'clock, the laureate, duly refreshed, will mount on the outside counter, where he can easily reach the rows of joints. Around him gathers the crowd of housewives, ready for the auction. He takes the first—a hefty leg of mutton.

"Nah then!" he cries challengingly, "nah then! Just stop shooting yer marth at the OOlans for a bit, and look at this 'ere bit o' meat. Meat was what I said," with a withering glance at the rival establishment across the Lane, where another laureate is addressing another crowd. "Meat, mother, meat. If yer don't want Meat, then it ain't no use comin' 'ere. If yer wants a cut orf an animal what come from Orstralia or Noo Zealand, then it ain't no use comin' 'ere. Over the road's where they got them. They got joints over there what come from the Anty-Podeys, and they ain't paid their boat-passage yet. No, my gels, this what I got 'ere is Meat. None of your carvings orf a cow what looks like a fiddlecase on trestles. You—sir—just cast yer eye over that. Carry that 'ome to the missus, and she'll let yer stay out till a quarter to ten, and yeh'll never find a button orf yer weskit long as yeh live. That's the sort o' meat to turn the kiddies into sojers and sailors. Nah then—what say to six-and-a-arf?"

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Economic > Costermongers and street traders

Title of work: Coming up for air

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1939

Page/volume number: Chapter 4

A newspaper boy shouts the evening editions

Outside the door a newsboy yelled 'Starnoosstannerd!' I saw the poster flapping against his knees: LEGS. FRESH DISCOVERIES. [. . .] Outside the newsboy shoved the Standard into my face and yelled, 'Legs! 'Orrible revelations! All the winners! Legs! Legs!'