Historical references to London's sounds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: 1870s

Sound category: Social > Gambling and fairgrounds

Title of work: Esther Waters

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Moore

Year of publication: 1894

Page/volume number: Chapter XXXIII

A Victorian fairground ride at the Epsom Derby

The crowd shouted. She looked where the others looked, but saw only the burning blue with the white stand marked upon it. It was crowded like the deck of a sinking vessel, and Esther wondered at the excitement, the cause of which was hidden from her. She wandered to the edge of the crowd until she came to a chalk road where horses and mules were tethered. A little higher up she entered the crowd again, and came suddenly upon a switchback railway. Full of laughing and screaming girls, it bumped over a middle hill, and then rose slowly till it reached the last summit. It was shot back again into the midst of its fictitious perils, and this mock voyaging was accomplished to the sound of music from a puppet orchestra. Bells and drums, a fife and a triangle, cymbals clashed mechanically, and a little soldier beat the time. Further on, under a striped awning, were the wooden horses. They were arranged so well that they rocked to and fro, imitating as nearly as possible the action of real horses.

[. . .]

Round and round they went, their steeds bobbing nobly up and down to the sound of fifes, drums and cymbals. They passed the winning-post many times; they had to pass it five times, and the horse that stopped nearest it won the prize. A long-drawn-out murmur, continuous as the sea, swelled up from the courseā€”a murmur which at last passed into words: "Here they come; blue wins, the favourite's beat." Esther paid little attention to these cries; she did not understand them; they reached her indistinctly and soon died away, absorbed in the strident music that accompanied the circling horses.

Period referred to: 1860s

Sound category: Social > Gambling

Title of work: Notes on England

Type of publication: Travelogue

Author: Hippolyte Taine

Year of publication: 1861

Page/volume number: 28 May 1861

A Frenchman visits the Epsom Derby

It is a carnival, in fact; they have come to amuse themselves in a noisy fashion. Everywhere are gypsies, comic singers and dancers disguised as negroes, shooting galleries where bows and arrows or guns are used, charlatans who by dint of eloquence palm off watch chains, games of skittles and sticks, musicians of all sorts [. . .]

[ . . .] after three false starts they are off; fifteen or twenty keep together, the others are in small groups [. . .] It turns; one perceives the first group approach. 'Hats off!' and all heads are uncovered, and everyone rises; a repressed 'hurrah' runs through the stands.