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Street Music In The Metropolis

Volume 172: debated on Friday 17 July 1863

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said, he rose to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to Street Music in the Metropolis, and to move, "That it is expedient to reconsider the Law on this matter at the earliest opportunity." The inconvenience and noises of the nuisance of which he complained were known to everybody in the House, and out of it too, to all who dwelt in the metropolis. Street music had become so intolerable that it was absolutely necessary that some measure should be adopted for its regulation. The law on the subject was not well defined, and it should be made more precise and better known. From early morning until late at night—that was from 7.30 a.m. until 11 p.m.—the streets and squares of the metropolis were occupied by bands of wandering musicians, whose music rendered the town a perfect garden of discord. Bands were incessantly playing north, south, east, and west. The other morning he had occasion to call on his neighbour, Sir Richard Mayne, and found a band at his door step. Crossing to the south side of Baton Square he found a second band; then, going to the north side, he found a third band; and, finally, in Baton Place, he came upon a fourth band, playing in front of the House of the Home Secretary. He assured the House he could bear all the four bands at the same moment; and if any person with the slightest musical taste could tolerate a street band at all, it was perfectly clear they could not tolerate four bands at once, shrieking, blasting, counter-blasting, and creating the most horrible discord. It seemed to him absolutely preposterous to contend that the description of music prevalent in the streets of the metropolis could be of any advantage to any one whatever. On the contrary, it was a great hindrance to the serious business of life. Men engaged in severe mental occupations, like Mr. Babbage and others, were actually unable during the greater part of the day to continue their studies. Mr. Babbage had told him that one-fourth of his time was consumed by the hindrances occasioned by street bands, and that in the course of a few days he was interrupted 182 times. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but it was really the case, that many persons had declared to him that they had been driven from London solely by the torments inflicted by these bands. The persons who played in the streets did not retain the money that was given away by the public; for a number of persons, who did not appear in the matter, obtained their livelihood out of the unfortunate foreigners who were blowing their wind away. It was stated that any person who was annoyed had by law the power of putting a stop to street music; but, in reality, that was not so, in consequence of the law not being clearly defined. Sir R. Mayne, on the previous morning, told him that Lord Canning, just before he went to India, made a complaint that on a particular occasion, when he was writing a despatch of the greatest importance, a serious error crept in entirely owing to the annoyance occasioned by a street band under his window. He was quite confident that no Member of that House could say that street bunds were not a nuisance. He was fortunately not so late in retiring on the preceding night as many hon. Members, but he was roused from his first sleep by the horrid noise of a street band, and three or four times during the day he was interrupted in his correspondence, and had to beat a retreat; moving from the front to the rear, and from the rear to the front; and finding it absolutely impossible to get on. He might be told that people enjoyed the music, or it would not be paid for. But it was no proof because it was paid for that it was enjoyed. In this great town money could always be found for any nuisance, and the truth was that the bands were paid to be got rid of. He could not suppose that any persons supported the bauds either on account of the excellence of their music or because they assisted in teaching good music, and he could only therefore conclude, and he believed, that they were destined for the delectation of nursemaids and children. He was informed by the Home Secretary that the law was doubtful—that some magistrates decided one way and some another. They could not agree as to what was "reasonable cause" of complaint. That being so, he thought he had shown sufficient grounds for the Motion which he had brought forward.

said, he had to inform the hon. Gentleman that he could not actually move the Resolution, because the House, by deciding that the word "now" should stand part of the Question before them, had already resolved to go into Committee.

said, that although he could not go to a division, he might elicit the opinion of hon. Members on the subject.

said, that he was not one of those who agreed with the sentiments of the hon. Member on this subject. The law was already sufficiently stringent on this subject, and had been put into force a vast number of times by the hon. Gentleman's friend Mr. Babbage, who had punished, very unjustly as he thought, many poor musicians. His hon. Friend disliked music. [Mr. BASS: No, no!] Well, his hon. Friend disliked bands, at all events; but he was glad to hear that there was so much musical taste in Belgravia, because they might depend upon it that the band would not play there unless they were supported. The fact was that those band players were professional musicians, and played for the public, and the public remunerated them. The people enjoyed the bands even in aristocratic Belgravia, and that there was such a number there when the hon. Member visited that quarter showed that the people there desired to hear the music. He was sorry that the hon. Gentleman was woke up so early in the morning by bands, but that was no reason why the whole of his neighbourhood should be deprived of the pleasure of hearing them. For illness or any other reasonable cause the bands might be required to cease playing, but he believed there never had been an instance proved of their being a nuisance, notwithstanding all Mr. Babbage's complaints. If street bands were put down, many other things must follow. Huge drays full of beer barrels, even though the name of "Bass" might be inscribed on them, were a serious annoyance and inconvenience, and some people might say they ought not to be allowed to pass through the streets in the day-time. The fact was, however, that the streets must be free for all legitimate occupations. He thought that street music was a very legitimate occupation, and afforded a great deal of innocent amusement. If attention were given to the provision of music in public places, the nursemaids and children would go there, and there would be less music in the streets. In England no provision was made for music and recreation, and street music was the consequence. He suggested that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Home Department should take the subject into consideration during the recess and prepare a Bill which would provide recreation and music in proper places, the result of which would be an abatement of what the hon. Member for Derby now considered a nuisance.

said, he could not admit that because these street bands were paid they ought to be tolerated. The argument of the noble Lord was altogether unsound, as it would equally sanction street music and mendicancy, because there were many persons who gave money to beggars. There was no town in Europe, not even Rome, with so many street beggars as London. Not being a man of taste, he had suffered a great deal from street bands. Fate had cast his lot in a thoroughfare having a large square at one end and a street at the other, and which was infested with bands, organs, wandering minstrels, negro melodists, and every species of musician. One hand sometimes played fifty yards to the right of his door, another played at an equal distance to the left, with wandering minstrels performing in between. If one man in a whole street liked this music or this noise, that was no reason why all the other inhabitants should be annoyed. If the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone were to engage a band of Garibaldi's followers to play in his house all day and disturb his neighbours, his neighbours could recover damages against him. Why, then, should a man be allowed to create a disturbance in the public street which would be a breach of the law if created in a private dwelling? He must also dissent from the view the noble Lord had taken of the law. The Act said that a householder might cause an itinerant musician to depart, and that if the musician refused, he might be fined a sum not exceeding 40s. But if the householder himself happened to be absent, a lodger or any other person in the house could not dismiss the street musician; and lodging-housekeepers often lost their lodgers through the nuisance. But even if the housekeeper were at home, a policeman had to be found—a matter of extreme difficulty, especially in the day-time. Again, when the musician was taken before a magistrate, it was necessary to prove that the housekeeper had a "reasonable cause" for ordering him away; and magistrates were not agreed among themselves as to what was a reasonable cause. The words of the Act Were, he believed, "the illness of an in- mate, or any other reasonable cause." Street music not only prevented people from obtaining rest and quiet, it disturbed them when making calculations, or even when studying their speeches. How disagreeable, for instance, it must be to the noble Viscount, when preparing the business of his office, to be disturbed by a street band playing "Awa' Whigs, awa'!" The Act should be amended by striking out the condition as to the illness of an inmate of the house and any "reasonable cause," and by enabling the inmates to order off street musicians at their own will whenever they experienced annoyance.

said, the House ought to feel very much obliged to the hon. Member for Derby for having brought the subject before them. [Laughter.] It was no laughing matter, and he thought that every man ought to be protected in the peaceful enjoyment of his own home. That, however, was more than he could obtain in the square or parallelogram in which he lived. He frequently had to endure a grinding organ on one side and a noisy band on the other. As to preparing speeches, he was not in the habit of troubling the House often; but he had work to do at his own home which involved a great deal of reading and study, and he declared that he had seriously entertained the notion of living away from London in consequences of these nuisances. He often told his servant to send away street musicians, but they only moved off a few yards, and it was of no use trying to stop them. He had no help for it but to wait till eleven at night came, when he might expect to have quiet; but even then he must confess that his neighbourhood was sometimes favoured with a round of the "Old Hundredth," beginning about eleven and ending at half past twelve. [A laugh.] That was no really laughing matter. He could not get on with his work unless he set about it very early in the morning, before the street musicians were up. The organ grinding was the worst nuisance of all, and the Under Secretary for the Home Department ought to do something to put it down.

said, he would endeavour to treat the matter seriously. The hon. Member for Derby had very vividly portrayed his sufferings from street music. He and other hon. Gentlemen had spoken of broken rest, an offended sense of hearing and shattered nerves, but no one had given them the slightest inkling of his opinion as to the proper remedy for the evil. There were only two remedies available which were not already enforced, one of which was to prohibit all street music under any circumstances. It was said that bands were not so bad as organs; but it was well known, that in many parts of London crowds of children gathered round the Italian organ-grinders. What might be unacceptable at the West End was very popular in other districts. It was all very well for those who disliked, or who possessed a very refined taste for, music to seek to do away with the bands in the streets; but with the great majority of the population there was no doubt they were popular. Indeed, he felt sure that if the hon. Member for Derby were to poll his own household, he would find the greater number of votes recorded in their favour, and be did not think it therefore desirable that it should be placed in the power of every churlish person, or every man who happened to be busy, to drive music out of the streets. There were, he admitted, drawbacks under the existing system; but it became those who complained of the annoyance occasioned by those bands to take care that the remedy which they sought to provide was not worse than the evil which it proposed to cure. It had been said that the words "reasonable grounds" were uncertain; but if, for instance, a Member of the House, returning from the discharge of his duties at three o'clock in the morning, were to represent to the policemen in the neighbourhood that he required to sleep to an hour long before which persons were in the streets, there could be hardly any doubt that that would be regarded as a "reasonable ground" for preventing these bands from playing so as to disturb him. So it was decided that interference with the labours of Mr. Babbage, a man of science, was a "reasonable ground" for regarding the bands in the light of an annoyance. That being so, he could not undertake on the part of the Government to say that they would be prepared to interfere with the law as it stood.

rejoiced to learn that the Government had arrived at the decision which his hon. Friend the Under Secretary had announced. The hon. Member for Derby, he contended, was entirely mistaken in supposing that the inhabitants of the metropolis were opposed to street music. In support of that view he might observe that he, as the treasurer of the Regent's and Victoria Parks bands, could state of his own knowledge, that those bands were now self-supporting, although there was in the first instance great difficulty in establishing them; and if any hon. Gentleman would visit either of these parks on Sundays, he would find there crowds of well-dressed persons listening to the music. They would have, indeed, a solemn metropolis if his hon. Friend's Motion were carried. There would be no life, no pleasure, no amusement. He should therefore be sorry to see any alteration made in the law.