London Street Noises: A Ground-Breaking Field Recording Campaign from 1928

Drever, John L.; Cobianchi, Mattia and Yildirim, Aysegul. 2021. London Street Noises: A Ground-Breaking Field Recording Campaign from 1928. Acoustics, 3(1), pp. 118-136. ISSN 2624-599X [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In a leading article by Sir Percival Philips in the UK popular newspaper, the Daily Mail, July 16, 1928, came the following headlines: “Millions Lost by Noise – Cities' Worst Plague – Menace to Nerves and Health – What is Being Done to Stop it”. The article was supported by research from Prof Henry J. Spooner, who had been researching and campaigning on the ill-effects of noise and its economic impact. The article sparked subsequent discussion and follow-up articles in the Daily Mail and its international partners. In an era of rapid technological change, that was on the cusp of implementing sound pressure measurements, the Daily Mail, in collaboration with the Columbia Gramaphone Company Ltd, experimented with sound recording technology and commentary in the field to help communicate perceived loudness and identify the sources of “unnecessary noise”. This resulted in the making of series of environmental sound recordings from five locations across central London during September 1928, the findings of which were documented and discussed in the Daily Mail at the time, and two recordings commercially released by Columbia on shellac gramophone disc. This was probably the first concerted anti-noise campaign of this type and scale, requiring huge technological efforts. The regulatory bodies and politicians of the time reviewed and improved the policies around urban noise shortly after the presentation of the recordings, which were also broadcast from the BBC both nationally and internationally, and many members of the public congratulated and thanked the Daily Mail for such an initiative. Despite its unprecedented scale and impact, and the recent scholarly attention on the history of anti-noise campaigning, this paper charts and contextualises the Daily Mail’s London Street Noise campaign for the first time. As well as historical research, this data has also been used to start a longitudinal comparative study still underway, returning to make field recordings on the site on the 80th and 90th anniversaries and during the COVID-19 lockdown, and shared on the website

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


field recording; noise abatement; soundscape; anti-noise campaigns

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Unit for Sound Practice Research


16 December 2020Submitted
7 February 2021Accepted
18 February 2021Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Feb 2021 16:17

Last Modified:

25 May 2021 13:20

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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