Historical references to London's sounds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: 1900s

Sound category: Social > Citywide celebrations

Title of work: Nights in London

Type of publication: Journalism/social investigation

Author: Thomas Burke

Year of publication: 1915

Page/volume number: A Lonely Night

Thomas Burke wanders the streets on Christmas Day

That was a ghastly Christmas. Through the whole afternoon I tramped – from Hackney to Homerton, thence to Clapton, to Stoke Newington, to Tottenham, and back. Emptiness was everywhere: no people, little traffic. Roofs and roads were hard with a light frost, and in the sudden twilight the gleaming windows of a hundred houses shone out jeeringly. Sounds of festivity disturbed the brooding quiet of the town. Each side street was a corridor of warm blinds. Harmoniums, pianos, concertinas, mouth organs, gramophones, tin trumpets, and voices uncertainly controlled, poured forth their strains, mingling and clashing. The whole thing seemed got up expressly for my disturbance.

Period referred to: End of World War 2

Sound category: Social > Citywide celebrations

Title of work: Diaries, 1943–1954

Type of publication: Diary

Author: James Lee Milne

Year of publication: 1945

Page/volume number: 8 May 1945

VE Day remembered by diarist James Lee-Milne

At midnight I insisted on our joining the revels. It was a very warm night [. . .] We walked down Bond Street passing small groups singing, not boisterously. Piccadilly however was full of swarming people and littered with paper.

We walked arm in arm into the middle of Piccadilly Circus which was brilliantly illuminated with arc lamps. Here the crowds were yelling, singing and laughing. They were orderly and good-humoured. All the English virtues were on the surface. We watched individuals climb the lamp posts, and plant flags on the top amidst tumultuous applause from bystanders. We walked down Piccadilly towards the Ritz. In the Green Park there was a huge bonfire under the trees [ . . .] One extraordinary figure, a bearded, naval titan, organised an absurd nonsense game, by calling out the Navy and making them tear around the bonfire carrying the Union Jack; then the RAF; then the Army; then the Land Army, represented by three girls only; then the Americans; then the civilians.

Period referred to: Start of the 20th century

Sound category: Social > Citywide celebrations

Title of work: Daily Mail

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Daily Mail

Year of publication: 1900

Page/volume number: 18 May 1900

The night of the relief of Mafeking

Mafeking is free! . . . At 9.30 last night the announcement came that the Boers had abandoned the siege . . . London simply went wild with delight.

Fleet Street, which, on ordinary nights, contains only its usual number of pedestrians, was, as if by magic, transformed in a thoroughfare crowded and jammed with an excited throng of cheering, shouting, gesticulating, happy people. Whistles were blown, even the innocent shovel that is used to stoke the May-Day fireplace was utilised for demonstrative purposes.

[At the Mansion House] the Lord Mayor received the news, and the two footmen, in their wild desire to display 'BP' [a large picture of Baden-Powell] to the empty streets, nearly dropped it on the head of an unsuspecting passer-by. One of them shouted excitedly: 'Mafeking is relieved'.

Instantly the cry was taken up on the omnibuses and the people came clmabering down in hot haste to hear the news repeated over and over again. Most of them stopped still as if it were too good to be true. Others rushed off into the byways, carrying the tidings further and further away, and all the time the streets became thicker with people cheering, shouting and singing.

Within five minutes of the announcement so unconventionally made by the Mansion House footman to the policeman below, the historic home of the Lord Mayor was surrounded by a crowd of no fewer than 20,000 madmen, all yelling: 'Mafeking is relieved!' or singing 'God Save the Queen' in all the notes possible to music.