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Historical references to London's sounds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
Late
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: 1900s

Sound category: Economic > Workplace cries and audible signals

Title of work: Nights in London

Type of publication: Journalism/social investigation

Author: Thomas Burke

Year of publication: 1915

Page/volume number: An Entertainment Night

Backstage at a London music hall

But let us leave the front of the house and wander in back of a typical hall. Here is an overcharged atmosphere, feverish of railway-station. There is an entire lack of any system; everything apparently confused rush. Artists dashing out for a second house many miles away. Artists dashing in from their last hall, some fully dressed and made-up, others swearing at their dressers and dragging baskets upstairs, knowing that they have three minutes in which to dress and make-up before their call. As one rushes in with a cheery "Evening, George!" to the stage-door keeper, he is met by the "boy"—the "boy" being usually a middle-aged ex-Army man of 45 or 50.

"Mr. Merson's on, sir."

"Righto!"

He dashes into his dressing-room, which he shares with three others, and then it is Vesti la giubba.... The dressing-room is a long, narrow room, with a slab running the length of the wall, and four chairs. The slab is backed by a long, low mirror, and is littered with make-up tins and pots. His dresser hurls himself on the basket, as though he owed it a grudge. He tears off the lid. He dives head foremost into a foam of trousers, coats, and many-coloured shirts. He comes to the [Pg 41]surface breathless, having retrieved a shapeless mass of stuff. He tears pieces of this stuff apart, and flings them, with apparent malice, at his chief, and, somehow, they seem to stay where he flings them. The chief shouts from a cloud of orange wig and patchwork shirt for a soda-and-milk, and from some obscure place of succour there actually appears a soda-and-milk. A hand darts from the leg of a revolving pair of trousers, grabs the glass and takes a loud swig. The boy appears at the door.

"Mr. Merson coming off, sir!"

"Right-o! and blast you!"

"No good blasting me, sir!"

From far away, as from another world, he hears the murmur of a large body of people, the rolling of the drum, the throbbing of the double-bass, the wail of the fiddles, sometimes the thud of the wooden-shoe dancer, and sometimes a sudden silence as the music dims away to rubbish for the big stunt of the trapeze performer.

Period referred to: 1900s

Sound category: Economic > Workplace cries and audible signals

Title of work: Nights in London

Type of publication: Journalism./social investigation

Author: Thomas Burke

Year of publication: 1915

Page/volume number: An Entertainment Night

Thomas Burke describes the sounds of a limelight man’s work

The limes man is really the most important person in the show. Of course, the manager doesn't think so, and the stage-manager doesn't think so, and the carpenter doesn't think so, and the band doesn't think so. But he is. [ . . .] The limelight man never sees the show. In his little cupboard, he hears nothing but the hissing of his arcs and the tinkle of the stage-manager's prompting bell at the switchboard which controls every light in the theatre, before and behind. He has to watch every movement of the artist who is on, but what he or she is doing or saying, he does not know. He is, perhaps, the only man who has never laughed at Little Tich.

Period referred to: Early 1900s

Sound category: Economic > Workplace cries and other audible signals

Title of work: The Cab at the Door

Type of publication: Autobiography

Author: V. S. Pritchett

Year of publication: 1968

Page/volume number: n/a

V. S. Pritchett recalls the voices of station porters at London Bridge

There were no indicators on the platforms [at London Bridge station] in my day and the confusion had to be sorted out by stentorian porters who called out their long litanies of stations in a hoarse London bawl and with a style of their own. They stood on the crowded platform edge, detected the identifying lights on the incoming engine and then sang out. To myself, at that age, all places I did not know seemed romantic and the lists of names were, if not Miltonic, at any rate as evocative as those names with which the Georgian poets filled up their lines. I would stare admiringly, even enviously, at the porter who would have to chant the long line to Bexley Heath; or the man, who beginning with the blunt and challenging football names of Charlton and Woolwich would go on to comic Plumstead and then flow forward till his voice fell to the finality of Greenhythe, Northfleet, and Gravesend; or the softer tones of St Johns, Lewisham, and Blackheath.