Historical references to London's sounds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
 Demonstrations     2 1 1   1  
 Elections and election campaigns     1          
 Meetings and indoor gatherings       1   2    
 Public political oratory   2       1 1  
 Strikes and trade union activities     1       1  
 Political, sectarian and ethnic conflict   1   1     1  

Period referred to: Mid-13th century

Sound category: Political > Public political oratory

Title of work: Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London

Type of publication: Administrative record

Author: Unknown

Year of publication: 1257

Page/volume number:

A crowd responds to political oratory at St Paul’s Cross

But the others declined to grant them any inquisition; and so, they being at the King's mercy, John Maunsel and the others who had been sent by his lordship the King, came to Saint Paul's Cross; and one of them, using bland words, and, as it were, preaching unto the populace, while promising them that all their rights and liberties should be preserved unimpaired by his lordship the King, further said, 'supposing that any bailiff or bailiffs of theirs should have treated them unjustly, and have inflicted many evils and hardships upon them and upon the City, supposing such a case, ought they, according to the law of the City, to defend themselves as against the King, upon his making suit, by the oaths of twelve men, and as against their fellow-citizens by the oaths of six, and so be acquitted of all the consequences of such an offence?'

To which enquiry (no conference being first held among the discreet men of the City, as is usually the practice), answer was made by some of the populace, sons of divers mothers, many of them born without the City, and many of servile condition, with loud shouts of 'Nay, nay, nay,' in contravention of the privilege of the franchises that had been granted unto the City of old, and by their predecessors, citizens of blessed memory, obtained, and, until that time, strictly observed.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Politics > Public political oratory

Title of work: Coming Up for Air

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1939

Page/volume number: Part 3, Chapter 1

‘But there are more ways than one of listening. I shut my eyes for a moment.’

At the beginning I wasn't exactly listening. The lecturer was rather a mean-looking little chap, but a good speaker. White face, very mobile mouth, and the rather grating voice that they get from constant speaking. Of course he was pitching into Hitler and the Nazis. I wasn't particularly keen to hear what he was saying – get the same stuff in the News Chronicle every morning – but his voice came across to me as a kind of burr-burr-burr, with now and again a phrase that struck out and caught my attention.

'Bestial atrocities. . . . Hideous outbursts of sadism. . . . Rubber truncheons. . . . Concentration camps. . . . Iniquitous persecution of the Jews. . . . Back to the Dark Ages. . . . European civilization. . . . Act before it is too late. . . . Indignation of all decent peoples. . . . Alliance of the democratic nations. . . . Firm stand. . . . Defence of democracy. . . . Democracy. . . . Fascism. . . . Democracy. . . . Fascism. . . . Democracy. . . .'

You know the line of talk. These chaps can churn it out by the hour. Just like a gramophone. Turn the handle, press the button, and it starts. Democracy, Fascism, Democracy.

[. . .]

I'd stopped listening to the actual words of the lecture. But there are more ways than one of listening. I shut my eyes for a moment. The effect of that was urious. I seemed to see the fellow much better when I could only hear his voice.

It was a voice that sounded as if it could go on for a fortnight without stopping. It's a ghastly thing, really, to have a sort of human barrel-organ shooting propaganda at you by the hour. The same thing over and over again. Hate, hate, hate. Let's all get together and have a good hate.

[. . .]

And yet it frightens me – I tell you it frightens me. I'd just started to wonder why when the lecturer stopped and sat down.

There was the usual hollow little sound of clapping that you get when there are only about fifteen people in the audience, and then old Witchett said his piece, and before you could say Jack Robinson the four Communists were on their feet together. They had a good dog-fight that went on for about ten minutes, full of a lot of stuff that nobody else understood, such as dialectical materialism and the destiny of the proletariat and what Lenin said in 1918. Then the lecturer, who'd had a drink of water, stood up and gave a summing-up that made the Trotskyist wriggle about on his chair but pleased the other three, and the dog-fight went on unofficially for a bit longer.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Political > Public political oratory

Title of work: The Nether World

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Gissing

Year of publication: 1889

Page/volume number: Chapter VI

Political oratory on Clerkenwell Green

In those days, our young friend found much satisfaction in spending his Sunday evenings on Clerkenwell Green, where fervent, if ungrammatical, oratory was to be heard, and participation in debate was open to all whom the spirit moved. One whom the spirit did very frequently move was Sidney's fellow-lodger; he had no gift of expression whatever, but his brief, stammering protests against this or that social wrong had such an honest, indeed such a pathetic sound, that Sidney took an opportunity of walking home with him and converting neighbourship into friendly acquaintance.

Period referred to: 1380s

Sound category: Political > Public political oratory

Title of work: The Chronicles of Froissart

Type of publication: Chronicle

Author: Jean Froissart

Year of publication: 1380s

Page/volume number: How the commons of England rebelled against the noblemen

John Ball’s preaching at the start of the Peasant’s Rebellion

These unhappy people of these said countries began to stir, because they said they were kept in great servage, and in the beginning of the world, they said, there were no bondmen, wherefore they maintained that none ought to be bond, without he did treason to his lord, as Lucifer did to God; but they said they were not of that nature, for they were neither angels nor spirits, but men formed to the similitude of their lords, saying why should they then be kept so under like beasts; the which they said they would no longer suffer, for they would be all one, and if they laboured or did anything for their lords, they would have wages therefor as well as other.

And of this imagination was a foolish priest in the country of Kent called John Ball, for the which foolish words he had been three times in the bishop of Canterbury's prison: for this priest used oftentimes on the Sundays after mass, when the people were going out of the minster, to go into the cloister and preach, and made the people to assemble about him, and would say thus:

'Ah, ye good people, the matters goeth not well to pass in England, nor shall not do till everything be common, and that there be no villains nor gentlemen, but that we may be all united together, and that the lords be no greater masters than we be. What have we deserved, or why should we be kept thus in servage? We be all come from one father and one mother, Adam and Eve: whereby can they say or shew that they be greater lords than we be, saving by that they cause us to win and labour for that they dispend? They are clothed in velvet and camlet furred with grise, and we be vestured with poor cloth: they have their wines, spices and good bread, and we have the drawing out of the chaff and drink water: they dwell in fair houses, and we have the pain and travail, rain and wind in the fields; and by that that cometh of our labours they keep and maintain their estates: we be called their bondmen, and without we do readily them service, we be beaten; and we have no sovereign to whom we may complain, nor that will hear us nor do us right. Let us go to the king, he is young, and shew him what servage we be in, and shew him how we will have it otherwise, or else we will provide us of some remedy; and if we go together, all manner of people that be now in any bondage will follow us to the intent to be made free; and when the king seeth us, we shall have some remedy, either by fairness or otherwise.'

Thus John Ball said on Sundays, when the people issued out of the churches in the villages; wherefore many of the mean people loved him, and such as intended to no goodness said how he said truth; and so they would murmur one with another in the fields and in the ways as they went together, affirming how John Ball said truth.