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Historical references to London's sounds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: 1846

Sound category: Economic > Shops and shop staff

Title of work: An Antiquarian Ramble in the Streets of London

Type of publication: City guide or survey

Author: J. T. Smith

Year of publication: 1846

Page/volume number: pp. 124–4

Victorian ‘she-barkers’ try to drag middle-class women into clothes shops

Those who are ignorant of the town may be amused to learn that at every shop door in this alley, while it existed, a young woman of decent appearance was stationed all day long, on the watch for customers, whom it was her business to entice or to drag into the shop, and force to purchase, whether they would do or no. These young women were known by the name of "She Barkers" to distinguish them from the "He Barkers", who were stationed at the second-hand clothes-shops, and who acted the same annoying part towards the men. Woe used to betide the woman of the middle classes who passed through Cranbourn Alley with an unfashionable bonnet. It was immediately seen from one end of the place to the other, and twenty barkers beset her, each in turn, as she walked forward, arresting her course by invitations to inspect the ware that was for sale within. Many a one has had her cloak or shawl torn from her back by these rival sisters of trade, during their struggles to draw her within their den, each pulling a different way.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Economic > Shops and shop staff

Title of work: Coming up for air

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1939

Page/volume number: Chapter 4

‘Somewhere at the back a radio was playing, plonk-tiddle-tiddle-plonk, a kind of tinny sound ‘

Behind the bright red counter a girl in a tall white cap was fiddling with an ice-box, and somewhere at the back a radio was playing, plonk-tiddle-tiddle-plonk, a kind of tinny sound [. . .] A sort of propaganda floating round, mixed up with the noise of the radio, to the effect that food doesn't matter, comfort doesn't matter, nothing matters except slickness and shininess and streamlining.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Economic: Shops and shop staff

Title of work: Coming up for air

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1939

Page/volume number: Chapter 2

A lad in a grocers’ shop described in George Orwell’s Coming up for air

I thought of the lad that sometimes serves me at the chain-store grocery we deal at. A great hefty lump of twenty, with cheeks like roses and enormous forearms, ought to be working in a blacksmith's shop. And there he is in his white jacket, bent double across the counter, rubbing his hands together with his 'Yes, sir! Very true, sir! Pleasant weather for the time of the year, sir! What can I have the pleasure of getting you today, sir?' practically asking you to kick his bum. Orders, of course. The customer is always right.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Economic > Shops and shop staff

Title of work: Coming up for air

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1939

Page/volume number: Chapter 2

A shop girl is harangued by her floor manager

I was just passing the Sixpenny Bazaar when I remembered the mental note I'd made that morning to buy a packet of razor-blades. When I got to the soap counter the floor-manager, or whatever his proper title is, was cursing the girl in charge there. [. . .] The floor-manager was an ugly little devil, under-sized, with very square shoulders and a spiky grey moustache. He'd just pounced on her about something, some mistake in the change evidently, and was going for her with a voice like a circular saw.

'Ho, no! Course you couldn't count it! Course you couldn't. Too much trouble, that'd be. Ho, no!'

Before I could stop myself I'd caught the girl's eye. It wasn't so nice for her to have a fat middle-aged bloke with a red face looking on while she took her cursing. I turned away as quickly as I could and pretended to be interested in some stuff at the next counter, curtain rings or something. He was on to her again. He was one of those people who turn away and then suddenly dart back at you, like a dragon-fly.

'Course you couldn't count it! Doesn't matter to you if we're two bob out. Doesn't matter at all. What's two bob to you? Couldn't ask you to go to the trouble of counting it properly. Ho, no! Nothing matters 'ere 'cept your convenience. You don't think about others, do you?'

This went on for about five minutes in a voice you could hear half across the shop.