Historical references to London's sounds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: 1974

Sound category: Social > Dinners and feasts

Title of work: Soft City

Type of publication: Popular sociology

Author: Jonathan Raban

Year of publication: 1974

Page/volume number: Chapter 2

Conversation as performance in a 1970s Kensington restaurant

It is surely in recognition of this intrinsic theatricality of city life that public places in the city so often resemble lit stages awaiting a scenario. [. . .] In any restaurant, one can find people taking to self-expression with histrionic fervour, giving themselves over to monologues and dramatic scenes which, to judge by their volume, seem to be intended not for their immediate companions at all, but for the city at large – that uncountable audience of strangers.

I have in mind an expensive mock-up of an Italian trattoria in South Kensington: low-slung lighting, strings of empty Chianti bottles, bread-sticks in tumblers, and conically folded napkins of unearthly whiteness and rigidity. [. . .] Everyone is visible and within earshot of everybody else. To enter, one has to be checked in by a florid waiter at the desk, one's way barred by a sumptuously scrolled hatstand. Thus newcomers are subjected to a ritual which calls everyone's attention to the arrival of these new characters in the drama; and the cross-talk of the waiters – delivered in a style of gamey operatic recitatif – makes the waiting group an embarrassed centre of disturbance.

At one table, I am sitting with a girl; in the cubicle across the narrow aisle, a middle-aged couple are with a younger woman; they're in their trim early fifties, scented, polished and silvery grey, she is in her thirties, tangled, nervous, chain-smoking. At my side glance, her voice pauses, then intensifies in volume and expression.

'My thing was self-absorption. Eric couldn't take it.'

Period referred to: 1760s

Sound category: Social > Toasts, dinners and feasts

Title of work: Memoirs

Type of publication: Diary/Private correspondence

Author: William Hickey

Year of publication: 1768

Page/volume number: Not known

William Hickey is unimpressed by the Lord Mayor’s banquet

The Lord Mayor's table, at which I was [. . .] was less [hot] than other parts of the hall, from being considerably elevated above the rest. The wines were excellent, and the dinner the same, served, too, with as much regularity and decorum as if we had been in a private house; but far different was the scene in the body of the hall [. . .] the roaring and noise was deafening and hideous, which increased as the liquor operated, bottles and glasses flying across from side to side without intermission.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Social > Toasts, dinners and feasts

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1663

Page/volume number: 29 October 1663

Samuel Pepys criticises the music at a Guildhall dinner

I expected musique, but there was none but only trumpets and drums, which displeased me. The dinner, it seems, is made by the Mayor and two Sheriffs for the time being, the Lord Mayor paying one half, and they the other. And the whole, Proby says, is reckoned to come to about 7 or L800 at most.

Period referred to: 1660s

Sound category: Social > Toasts, dinners and feasts

Title of work: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Type of publication: Diary

Author: Samuel Pepys

Year of publication: 1660

Page/volume number: June/July 1660

‘A brave hall, good company, and very good music’

I took leave and carried my wife and Mrs. Pierce to Clothworkers'-Hall, to dinner, where Mr. Pierce, the Purser, met us. We were invited by Mr. Chaplin, the Victualler, where Nich. Osborne was. Our entertainment very good, a brave hall, good company, and very good music. Where among other things I was pleased that I could find out a man by his voice, whom I had never seen before, to be one that sang behind the curtaine formerly at Sir W. Davenant's opera.