Historical references to London's sounds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
 Pub life, music and song   1 3     1 5 3
 City-wide celebrations     3 2   3 3  
 Toasts, dinners and feasts     2 1       1
 Theatre and cinema audiences     2 1 1 1    
 Music and song in theatres     2 2   2    
 Public music and song outdoors     3   1 4    
 Education: Oratory and debate   1            
 Gambling and fairs     1 1 1 2 1  
 Sporting events   1 1 1 1      
 Families at leisure             1  
 Dancing             1  
 Local celebrations           1   1

Period referred to: 1698-1700

Sound category: Social > Music and song in public

Title of work: The London Spy

Type of publication: Social investigation/satire

Author: Ned Ward

Year of publication: 1698-1700

Page/volume number: Unknown

Ned Ward hears the street musicians known as ‘town waits’

We blundered on in pursuit of our night's felicity, but scarce had walked the length of a horse's tether, ere we heard a noise so dreadful and surprising that we thought the Devil was riding on hunting through the City, with a pack of deep-mouthed hell-hounds, to catch a brace of tallymen for breakfast. At last bolted out from the corner of a street, with an ignis fatuus dancing before them, a parcel of strange hobgoblins covered with long frieze rugs and blankets, hooped round with leather girdles from their cruppers to their shoulders, and their noddles buttoned up into caps of martial figure, like a knight errant at tilt and tournament with his wooden head locked in an iron helmet. One was armed, as I thought, with a lusty faggot-bat, and the rest with strange wooden weapons in their hands in the shape of clyster-pipes, but as long, almost, as speaking-trumpets. Of a sudden they clapped them to their mouths and made such a frightful yelling that I thought the world had been dissolving and the terrible sound of the last trumpet to be within an inch of my ears.

Under these amazing apprehensions I asked my friend what was the meaning of this infernal outcry. 'Prithee,' says he, 'what's the matter with thee? Thou look'st as if thou wert galleyed. Why these are the city waits, who play every winter's night through the streets to rouse each lazy drone to family duty.' 'Lord bless me!' said I. 'I am very glad it's no worse. I was never so scared since I popped out of the parsley-bed. Prithee, let us make haste out of the hearing of them, or I shall be forced to make a close-stool pan of my breeches.' At which my friend laughed at me. 'Why, what' says be, 'don't you love music? These are the topping tooters of the town, and have gowns, silver chains, and salaries, for playing "Lilliburlero" to my Lord Mayor's horse through the city.' 'Marry,' said I, 'if his horse liked their music no better than I do, he would soon fling his rider for hiring such bugbears to affront His Ambleship. For my part when you told me they were waits, I thought they had been the Polanders and was never so afraid but that their bears had been dancing behind them.'

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Social > Music and song by the public

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1664

Page/volume number: 5 October 1664

‘Thence to the Musique-meeting at the Postoffice’

Thence to the Musique-meeting at the Postoffice, where I was once before. And thither anon come all the Gresham College, and a great deal of noble company: and the new instrument was brought called the Arched Viall, where being tuned with lute-strings, and played on with kees like an organ, a piece of parchment is always kept moving; and the strings, which by the kees are pressed down upon it, are grated in imitation of a bow, by the parchment; and so it is intended to resemble several vyalls played on with one bow, but so basely and harshly, that it will never do.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Social > Public music and song outdoors

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1663

Page/volume number: 27 July 1663

Samuel Pepys encounters singers near Epsom

There was at a distance, under one of the trees on the common, a company got together that sung. I, at the distance, and so all the rest being a quarter of a mile off, took them for the Waytes, so I rode up to them, and found them only voices, some citizens met by chance, that sung four or five parts excellently. I have not been more pleased with a snapp of musique, considering the circumstances of the time and place, in all my life anything so pleasant.