A cacophony or ‘sweet music’? Noise abatement in Hyde Park

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One of the annoyances (or pleasures) or modern life is other people’s music. Music from car radios; a party next door; a radio blaring from an open window; a ‘ghetto blaster’ in the street; a child practicing the violin; or even that most modern of annoyances – the tinny noise emanating from headphones on the tube. All these are part of everyday life in 21st century Britain.

In the nineteenth century they had fewer means to create noise but it was probably just as annoying when it occurred. And in one case from the Police Courts we can see just how contemporaries dealt with the issue of noise abatement.

Giuseppe Bragoli was an Italian organ grinder, and it seems the music he made (or perhaps his general persona) attracted a very positive reaction from one group of female residents near Hyde Park. They liked him so much that he and his younger assistant  kept returning to set up their instrument outside their house in Oxford Terrace.

However, not everyone appreciated Giuseppe’s ‘music’. In particular Dr Stephen Berry Niblett at no. 10 (next door) failed to see what the attraction was of the two noisy musicians who pitched up outside his property at 7 in the evening to play. He went out remonstrate with the organ grinder who claimed not to understand him. His younger colleague interpreted for him and the pair went away, only to return again shortly at the request of the young women at no. 8.

Again Dr Niblett protested. He was a surgeon and there was someone convalescing in his house who was being disturbed by the noise they were making. Giuseppe refused to move and so the doctor called a policeman who promptly arrested him.

At Marylebone court the Italian’s son (acting as translator) told the magistrate that Giuseppe had not understood the doctor’s English. He said the first thing he knew of it was being taken into custody by the copper.

The doctor’s lawyer countered by saying that the man ‘knew English well enough to understand what was being said to him’. He added (in reference to the young women that so enjoyed this music) that if they ‘wished to hear this noise and liked it, there was nothing to prevent them having the organ taken inside their house, and there have it played as long as they pleased’. This caused peals of laughter in the courtroom.

The magistrate sided with the surgeon and said that he had given a perfectly good reason (illness in his household) for asking the Italian to desist. This rendered S. Bragoli liable to a fine of 40s but he (charitably) imposed one of just 20s (or 7 days imprisonment) and suggested that since he had such (‘selfish people’) as fans in the street they might like to settle his fine for him.

[from Daily News, Saturday, August 14, 1886]

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