NOISE consultants have said that the acoustic reach of the bells
of St Mary-le-Bow, in the City of London, which traditionally
defined the area where cockneys were born, has shrunk from several
square miles to a few hundred square yards.
A new survey, by 24 Acoustics, has shown that the sound of
21st-century London has drowned out the sound of the bells to all
but the closest listeners. It compared the reach of the bells with
estimated levels in 1851, when they could be heard four miles away
at Leyton, in the east, and two miles away at Bloomsbury, in the
west. They even crossed the Thames into Southwark.
Today, however, the sound barely reaches Shoreditch, and the
likelihood of any "true" cockneys' being born is reduced
The experts calculated that, in the mid-19th century, ambient
noise levels in the evening in London would have been similar to
those in the countryside - between 20 and 25 decibels. In 2012, the
levels in London are generally above 55 decibels, mainly owing to
traffic, aeroplanes, and air-conditioning.
"Now, it's just a little bit more than my churchyard - not much
more, even at full pelt," the Rector of St Mary's, the Revd George
Bush, says. He supports a suggestion for a downloadable
MP3-recording of the bells, to ensure the widest possible reach of
"People would be able to play it at the moment of birth," he
said. "It could be fitted at every possible maternity hospital in
the vicinity. A number of people thought the tape idea was rather
corny, but I think it reflects a modern reality. There is enormous
interest in the idea that a church is the centre of a loyal
community of people from the same background."
Only about eight or ten people live in the parish, he says.