Historical references to London's sounds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: 1930s

Sound category: Economic - Street entertainers

Title of work: On Brick Lane

Type of publication:

Author: Rachel Lichtenstein

Year of publication: 2007

Page/volume number: Chapter 20

A scrapdealer remembers pre-war Brick Lane

'Oh yes,' said Charlie, 'the Luna Boys would come down here, men dressed up as women, and dance round an old piano. Prince Monolulu was always here, he was an eccentric racing tipster who dressed up like an African chief in wild outfits with an ostrich-feather headdress and he would dance around, banging drums. He'd lark about with banter like a market trader. There was always a big crowd around him and he'd shout out, "I've gotta horse, I'm gonna make you rich, I've gotta horse that's running today!" and he'd sell the tips, a few pence at a time. After they finished telling all their lies they were great people here, a lot of personalities.'

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Economic > Street entertainers

Title of work: Down and Out in Paris and London

Type of publication: Autobiography/Social investigation

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1933

Page/volume number: Chapter XXXI

Shorty the organ-grinder describes his trade to Orwell

Organ-grinders, like acrobats, are considered artists rather than beggars. An organ-grinder named Shorty, a friend of Bozo's, told me all about his trade. He and his mate 'worked' the coffee-shops and public-houses round Whitechapel and the Commercial Road. It is a mistake to think that organ-grinders earn their living in the street; nine-tenths of their money is taken in coffee-shops and pubs – only the cheap pubs, for they are not allowed into the good-class ones. Shorty's procedure was to stop outside a pub and play one tune, after which his mate, who had a wooden leg and could excite compassion, went in and passed round the hat. It was a point of honour with Shorty always to play another tune after receiving the 'drop' - an encore, as it were; the idea being that he was a genuine entertainer and not merely paid to go away. He and his mate took two or three pounds a week between them, but, as they had to pay fifteen shillings a week for the hire of the organ, they only averaged a pound a week each. They were on the streets from eight in the morning till ten at night, and later on Saturdays.