Sounds of the past

Following on from the post yesterday on touch, I’m going to try the sense of hearing. I thought this might be a tricky one, how do you hear the past?

Well there’s audio history, memories of people who were in a certain place at a certain time. These are really valuable to historians and the interested amatuer alike. A voice from the past, giving you the reality of what it was like first hand. No matter how valuable these are they only take you back so far, to the advent of recording equipment. There’s one HERE from 1928 recorded in Leicester Square. I just love the introduction and can picture the announcer with his clipped tones and received pronunciation dressed in full DJ.

I then got to thinking about music. These are good audio references. If you’ve ever listened to Gregorian chants, you’d be hearing the same thing as people would have around the 4th Century. It was during my thoughts on music and the church that I came up with an example of something you can hear that would link in with a snapshot of London’s audio history.

The area of Smithfield stands in the most westerly ward of the City of London and is famous for its meat market which has been in existence since the 1200s. The area also has links to medieval jousting tournaments and also as a place of execution. One event that was perpetual over the course of 722 years was Bartholomew’s Fair which took place every 24th August and dates to 1133. The fair was suppressed in 1855 by the City of London authorities for encouraging debauchery and public disorder, and was denounced as a “school of vice which has initiated more youth into the habits of villainy than Newgate (prison) itself.”

Bartholomew’s Fair around 1800
St Bartholomew The Great

There are two churches that stand in the area, St Bartholomew The Great and St Bartholomew The Less, of the two St Bartholomew the Great is the older, and I believe is the oldest remaining church within the City of London. Work commenced on it’s construction in 1123 with the set of bells that are rung regularly cast and installed in 1510. So if you find yourself in the area of Smithfield when the bells are being rung, you’ll definitely be hearing the same sounds as the revellers who attended the fair over 500 years ago. The debauchery and public disorder you’ll have to supply yourself.

The bells of St Bartholomew The Great

Published by endean0

Hi, I'm Steve, a London tour guide and owner of A London Miscellany Tours, a guided walking tour company who specialise in small number tours of the greatest city in the world!

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