Historical references to London's sounds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: 1896

Sound category: Social > Local celebrations

Title of work: Illustrated Police News

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: Illustrated Police News

Year of publication: 1896

Page/volume number: 11 July 1896

The noise of a donkey parade in Herne Hill

The uninitiated who were in the neighbourhood of the athletic grounds at Herne Hill last week might well be excused for imagining that they had unwittingly wandered into the vicinity of a large and flourishing menagerie. Even at the railway station could be heard the faint rumble of unearthly sound, and as one came near the grounds this rumble changed to a higher key, and, blended but not harmonised, rose a most appalling series of shrieks and groans, punctuated at intervals by what sounds like fiendish laughter. On passing the gates, however, the mystery was dispelled. In the centre of the railed-off ground, round which the bicycle track runs, were donkeys, not one or two, but a score or more, and as their proud owners led them round they jumped and plunged, and then, finding all attempts to get away were useless, they tried to imitate the language that their masters use occasionally, and this was the cause of all the disturbance. The costers, as they led their charges round, talked to them gently, and when they found that this unaccustomed method of treatment was no good, they did not hit them, but reserved their energies for suitable repartee to their friends who, from outside the barriers, kept up a flow of scathing remarks, which were of a more or less personal nature.

Period referred to: 1950s

Sound category: Social > Local celebrations

Title of work: Manchester Guardian

Type of publication: Newspaper

Author: George Gale

Year of publication: 1952

Page/volume number: 6 July 1952

The last tram from Woolwich to New Cross, 1952

The journey from Woolwich to New Cross of the last tram was incomparable.

Imagine a crowd along a prescribed route to see a king or queen pass by. Let it keep its squealing children about its knees and hoist up its infants with flags in their hands. Give it torn paper hats, flamboyant holiday-camp hats and ribbons, football rattles, tin trumpets, dustbin drums and scrubbing-board drums, real and tin tray cymbals, piano-accordions, and a welter of whistles. Let in line up not in daylight but late at night, after all the public-houses from the Old Kent Road to the free ferry at Woolwich and beyond to Abbey Wood have sent away their tens of thousands of customers filled with beer, their arms and pockets filled with bottles, and their throats in full voice. Take away most of the policemen a stately procession would command and then, at midnight, with the moon almost full and the night air hot, send out, to run this crazy gauntlet, a tram.

Off it moved, filled with a noisy babble of passengers, and escorted by policemen on motor-cycles, hundreds of cyclists, scores of motor-cyclists, and dozens of cars. There was a great cheer, flares were lit, horns and whistles blown. A woman leaped on to the rear of the tram and clung there, her frock, underclothes, and blasphemies streaming out behind her. She fell off soon, but others clambered on the sides. By the end of the journey there were twenty youths sitting on the roof and dozens strung along the sides. There was singing all the way, and the tunes came easily to mind. 'Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner', 'Any Old Iron', and so on to 'Auld Lang Syne'.