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Historical references to London's sounds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
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18th Early
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 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: 1930s

Sound category: Social > Pub life, music and song

Title of work: Hangover Square

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Patrick Hamilton

Year of publication: 1941

Page/volume number: Fourth Part, Chapter One

An Earl’s Court pub in the 1930s

Half-way down this they came to a small pub into which George led him. They got beer at the counter, and then sat at a table covered with green linoleum near the door.

The long, warm, bright days still persisted, and the door of the pub was flung and fastened back. It was cool, dark, and restful inside and pleasant with the peaceful beginnings of the little house's evening trade – two men talking quietly, another reading a newspaper, the flutter of a canary in a cage, the barmaid vanishing into other bars and returning, the occasional oily jab of the beer-engine and the soft spurt of beer.

Period referred to: 1920s

Sound category: Social > Public life, music and song

Title of work: The Midnight Bell

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Patrick Hamilton

Year of publication: 1929

Page/volume number: Chapter XI

An automatic piano plays in a 1920s London pub

By this time they were half way down Wardour Street. She led him into a little alleyway leading therefrom, and into a little public house situated therein. They went up into a little room on the first floor, where there was a bar, tables, chairs and sofas, some with people on them, and an automatic piano sort of instrument, which was susceptible to pennies, but brief in its susceptibility, and dumb at the time of their arrival.

He obserbed in passing, quite uncritically, that whereas she had invited him to, he was paying for, the drinks, and when he came back to her she had already bribed, with a penny, the piano, which responded with a brisk rendering of 'So Blue' – which clamoured uproariously in the ears of all present, many of whom (including himself) would have eagerly given it a penny (or even sixpence) to have done nothing of the sort.

Period referred to: 1920s

Sound category: Social > Pub life, music and song

Title of work: The Midnight Bell

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Patrick Hamilton

Year of publication: 1929

Page/volume number: Chapter 2

A 1920s pub in Patrick Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell

In here and in the Saloon Bar 'The Midnight Bell' did most of its business – the two other bars (the Public and the Private) being dreary, seatless, bareboarded structures wherein drunkenness was dispensed in coarser tumblers and at a cheaper rate to a mostly collarless and frankly downtrodden stratum of society. The Public Bar could nevertheless be glimpsed by a customer in the Saloon Bar, and as the evening wore on it provided the latter with an acoustic background of deep mumbling and excited talk without which its whole atmosphere would have been lost – without which, indeed, the nightly drama of the Saloon Bar would have been rather like a cinematograph drama without music . . .

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Pub life, music and song

Title of work: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Type of publication: Novel

Author: George Orwell

Year of publication: 1936

Page/volume number: Chapter 4

The sounds of London pubs in Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying

In Camden Town the pubs were full and noisy, though this was only Thursday. Three women, red-armed, squat as the beer mugs in their hands, stood outside a pub door, talking. From within came hoarse voices, fag-smoke, the fume of beer. Gordon thought of the Crichton Arms. Flaxman might be there. Why not risk it? A half of bitter, threepence halfpenny. He had fourpence halfpenny counting the Joey. After all, a Joey is legal tender.

He felt dreadfully thirsty already. It had been a mistake to let himself think of beer. As he approached the Crichton, he heard voices singing. The great garish pub seemed to be more brightly lighted than usual. There was a concert of something going on inside. Twenty ripe male voices were chanting in unison:


'Fo–or ree's a jorrigoo' fellow,
For ree's a jorrigoo' fellow,
For ree's a jorrigoo' fe–ellow
And toori oori us!'

At least, that was what it sounded like. Gordon drew nearer, pierced by a ravishing thirst. The voices were so soggy, so infinitely beery. When you heard them you saw the scarlet faces of prosperous plumbers.

Period referred to: 1930s

Sound category: Social > Pub life, music and song

Title of work: London Belongs to Me

Type of publication: Novel

Author: Norman Collins

Year of publication: 1945

Page/volume number: Chapter XVI

Norman Collins conjures up the noise inside a 1930s London pub

Inside, the Duke of Marlborough was pretty high-class [. . .] The lounge was full to-night because it was Sunday. And it was hot. Almost as hot as in the cinema. And noisy. Between sixty and seventy people were crushed in there, all talking at the tops of their voices. Above the noise they made was the constant chink of glasses, the rattle of the cash-register madly recording the shillings and pennies, and the tinkle of a small bell, like a fire alarm in a doll's house, as someone scored a lucky shot in one of the pin tables.