Historical references to London's sounds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: 1864

Sound category: Social > City-wide celebrations

Title of work: Diaries

Type of publication: Private diaries

Author: A. J. Munby

Year of publication: 1864

Page/volume number: 11 April 1864

Garibaldi’s reception in London in 1863

All the afternoon, the neighbourhood of Whitehall was in a bustle; bells ringing, music playing, everyone getting ready to witness the entry of Garibaldi into London.

[. . .]

Then at last the rest of the procession struggled up: more banners of Odd Fellows and the like, more carriages and cabs, filled with working men and foreigners, who looked all unused to the luxury of riding; more trades unions on foot, from all parts of London; a young lady on horseback (who was she?) riding calmly alone; a small bodyguard of Garibaldians; and the General himself, seated on the box of a barouche, in brown wideawake and what looked like a blue blouse. The excitement had been rapidly rising, and now, when this supreme moment came, it resulted in such a scene as can hardly be witnessed twice in a lifetime. That vast multitude rose as one man from their level attitude of expectation: they leapt into the air, they waved their arms and hats aloft, they surged and struggled round the carriage, they shouted with a mighty shout of enthusiasm that took one's breath to hear it: and above them on both sides thousands of white kerchiefs were waving from every window and housetop.

There was an ardour and a sort of deep pathetic force about this sound that distinguished it plainly from the shouts of simple welcome which I heard given last year to the Princess Alexandra.

Period referred to: 1880s

Sound category: Social > City-wide celebrations

Title of work: The Nether World

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Gissing

Year of publication: 1889

Page/volume number: Chapter XII

August bank holiday at Crystal Palace

Thus early in the day, the grounds were of course preferred to the interior of the glass house. [. . .] Here already was gathered much goodly company; above their heads hung a thick white wavering cloud of dust. Swing-boats and merry-go-rounds are from of old the chief features of these rural festivities; they soared and dipped and circled to the joyous music of organs which played the same tune automatically for any number of hours, whilst raucous voices invited all and sundry to take their turn.

[. . .]

So they made their way to the 'Shilling Tea-room.' Having paid at the entrance, they were admitted to feed freely on all that lay before them. With difficulty could a seat be found in the huge room; the uproar of voices was deafening. [. . .] Shrieks of female laughter testified to the success of the entertainment.

[. . .]

As the dusk descends there is a general setting of the throng towards the open air; all the pathways swarm with groups which have a tendency to disintegrate into couples; universal is the protecting arm. [ . . .] On the terraces dancing has commenced; the players of violins, concertinas, and penny-whistles do a brisk trade among the groups eager for a rough-and-tumble valse; so do the pickpockets. Vigorous and varied is the jollity that occupies the external galleries, filling now in expectation of the fireworks; indescribable the mingled tumult that roars heavenwards. Girls linked by the half-dozen arm-in-arm leap along with shrieks like grotesque maenads; a rougher horseplay finds favour among the youths, occasionally leading to fisticuffs. Thick voices bellow in fragmentary chorus; from every side comes the yell, the cat-call, the ear-rending whistle; and as the bass, the never-ceasing accompaniment, sounds myriad-footed tramp, tramp along the wooden flooring. A fight, a scene of bestial drunkenness, a tender whispering between two lovers, proceed concurrently in a space of five square yards.—Above them glimmers the dawn of starlight.

Period referred to: 1860s

Sound category: Social > City-wide celebrations

Title of work: The Penny Illustrated Paper

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Not known

Year of publication: 1861

Page/volume number: 9 November 1861

Firemen’s parade on Guy Fawkes Night

An extraordinary demonstration was made by the Fire Brigade. A procession started from the chief fire station in Watling-street [. . .] In front of the horse were some firemen wearing helmets, dressed in their usual uniform, and carrying branches of engines in their hands [. . .] By repeated blowing through the pipes, they made a noise such as that which in former times was made at Bartholomew fair.