Cockneys' bells struggle to be heard

29 June 2012


Loss of green belt: the green area depicts the acoustic reach of the Bow bells in 1851; the smaller blue area shows the  area in which they can be heard in 2012

Loss of green belt: the green area depicts the acoustic reach of the Bow bells in 1851; the smaller blue area shows the  area in which they can...

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 dramatically.

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 their peals.

"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. 2012-06/25/bow-bells-cockney

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