The Story of the Recordings: Commander Daniel’s campaign

The recordings were collected as evidence against noise issues as part of a campaign led by Daily Mail journalist Commander Daniel and his collaborators. As we learn from the newspaper articles of the time, traffic noise was becoming a pressing public health concern throughout the year 1928. Letters from members of the public who are subjected to the traffic din were pouring, and articles by experts on the menace of noise and how it is preventable as well as noise news around the world was being regularly published. The newspaper especially well documented the vulnerable: hospitalised patients were subjected to sounds of motor horns, cars and lorries 21 hours a day. The patients were even given earbuds to listen to music in order to block out the din.

In September 1928, the campaign culminated in a collaboration of Daily Mail and Columbia Gramophone to capture the unbearable street noise at five key locations, both (then) residential and central areas, in London: Leicester Square, St George’s Hospital (today Loughborough Hotel), Cromwell Road, Beauchamp (‘Beecham’) Place and Whitechapel. We hear Commander Daniel’s voice in each recording, opening by with an indication of time, day and the location as well as a description of each source of noise: motor cars, horse-drawn carriages, big lorries, honking, hooting, a violin player, etc. In contrast to what today’s mobile technology offers, the recording process of the time required equipment in the size of a large room. For more details of the recording devices please see the recording process

Gathering meaningful feedback on the historical as well as current soundscape is an important aspect of this project. It is not only an invitation to focus deeper on listening to the sounds around us, but the project can ultimately be seen as an important effort in promoting the democratisation of the decision-making process of soundscape in urban planning and policy-making.

The recordings were played to the Home Office Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks, the Minister of Transport Colonel Wilfrid Ashley and few other officials. They were also broadcast on the BBC to get people all around the world hear the ‘roar of London’ (Daily Mail, 8 October 1928). The investigation was successful, and the ministers who heard the recordings took action immediately: the police were granted more power to tackle with noise, especially the unnecessary hooting. The newspaper received many letters from the members of the public who suffer from traffic noise to congratulate their efforts.

It was not only the most vulnerable portions of the public that suffered from noise. During the playing of the recordings to the officials, it was revealed that Sir William Joynson-Hicks was also severely affected by the noise of Cromwell Road as he lives on that street. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, who heard the recordings later on, commented on the roar of a big lorry passing through Hyde Park Corner as ‘dreadful’ and said that was what she had to put up with at night. (Daily Mail, 10 October 1928). Noise continued to be a popular topic for some more time to come. The campaign remains an important step to be recognised and explored further with all the interesting stories behind it within the noise abatement history. It was followed by more sustained noise abatement actions such as Anti-Noise League in 1933 and the formation of the Noise Abatement Society in 1959 in the UK.