Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Sewer workers 1947

THE TRANSCRIPTION DISC in the BBC Archives listed under catalogue number 822688 contains four recordings from the largely hidden and hence intriguing world of London’s sewers.

They were recorded beneath New Kent Road in July 1947 for an instructive-sounding Overseas Service programme titled ‘Window on Britain – Tap and Drain’. Three of the four tracks are reproduced here and the one that isn’t just consists of the sound of storm water running along a sewer.

The first track features the voices of sewer cleaners or ‘flushers’ singing as they go about their work. The catalogue description notes that the song is a ‘parody on the theme song of three characters in the radio show Rappid row’. The acoustics of the sewer tunnel lend themselves well to song as an expression of camaraderie among the men. The letters ‘LCC’ in the song stand for London County Council, the sewer workers’ employer.

The other two tracks focus on safety issues as the workers first descend down a ladder, and then go through the routine of issuing and responding to a rain warning, at which the flushers climb back up to the surface.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Sewer flushers singing 1:38
Sewer flushers down manhole 0:46
Rain warning 1:04