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Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries

February 22, 2019
by the gentle author

In Spitalfields, an area of London defined by markets, I am constantly aware of the traders and the ever-changing drama of street life in which they are the star performers that draw the crowds. Interviewing market traders taught me that although they are here to make a living, it is an endeavour which may be described as culture as much as it is commerce. In fact, the markets prove so engaging to some as a location of social exchange that they carry on coming for the sake of it, even if they are not making any money.

This fascination with the culture and performance of market places led me to delight in the diverse sets of the Cries Of London for the pictures they give of street traders down through the ages. Even though they are frequently sentimentalised, these portraits also reveal the affection with which Londoners held the traders, celebrating the ingenuity of the identities created by vendors and casting them as the celebrities of the thoroughfare – collectively expressive of the personality of the city itself, when the streets were full of people with wares of every description to sell.

With the Cries of London, there is always a story behind each of the portraits and Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries from the nineteenth century, hand-tinted and produced in a pamphlet with a blue paper wrapper for sixpence, engages the readers with rhymes that complement the pictures and invite respect for the hawkers. The well-to-do woman in the frontispiece leading her daughter down the street shows deference to a Lavender Girl in a dress stained with mud around the hem, and this pamphlet can be read as an interpretation of the lives of the traders for the mother to read to her child.

The Lavender Girl walked into London carrying the lavender she picked that morning in the fields. The Band Box Man is selling the hat boxes that are product of his cottage industry, manufactured at home and sold on the streets, while. The Vegetable Seller is a Costermonger, buying his fruit at the wholesale market and hawking it around the street, as many did at Covent Garden and Spitalfields Markets. We are reminded that the Knife Grinder provides a public service in the home and workplace, while the Mackerel Girl has no choice but to carry her basket of fish around the city from Billingsgate, which she herself may not get to eat. The mishap of the Image Seller, in comic form, even illustrates the vulnerability of the street seller who relies upon trading to earn a crust and the responsibility of the customer to permit them a living.

For hundreds of years, popular prints and pamphlets of the Cries of London presented images of the outcast and the poor, yet permitted them dignity in performing their existence as traders. The Cries of London celebrate how thousands sought a living through street-selling and, by turning it into performance, gained esteem and moral ownership of the territory – transcending their economic status and creating the vigorous culture of street markets that persists to this day.

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to take a look at

Marcellus Laroon’s Cries of London

John Player’s Cries of London

More John Player’s Cries of London

William Nicholson’s London Types

John Leighton’s London Cries

Francis Wheatley’s Cries of London

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana of 1817

Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

More of Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

Adam Dant’s  New Cries of Spittlefields


Anthony Cairn’s Lost East End Pubs

February 21, 2019
by the gentle author

When I discovered Antony Cairns‘ series of pub pictures, I realised I had found a kindred spirit. His soulful photographs manage to record the death and evoke the life of these lost hostelries simultaneously.

An East Ender who studied photography at the London College of Printing in the nineties, Antony printed these intriguing pictures using the Van Dyke Brown process which was commonly used at the end of the nineteenth century when these pubs were in their prime.


The Albion, Bow Common - (1881-2005)

The Railway Arms, Sutton St - (1881-2001)

The Conqueror, Austin St/Boundary St - (1899-2001)

The Rose, Woolwich

The Flying Scud, Hackney Rd – (1874-1994)

The Crown & Cushion, Market Hill, Woolwich - (1840-2008)

The Victoria, Woolwich Rd, Charlton - (1881-?)

The Tidal Basin, Canning Town – (1862-1997)

The Marquis of Lansdowne - (1838- 2000 & now being restored)

Photographs copyright © Antony Cairns

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Alex Pink’s East End Pubs, Then & Now

More East End Pubs, Then & Now

The Pubs of Old London

Schrodinger Pleases Himself

February 20, 2019
by the gentle author


When Shoreditch Church Cat, Schrodinger, came to live with me in Spitalfields last year, I put him down on the old armchair where my previous cat Mr Pussy always slept. Yet Schrodinger is significantly larger than his predecessor and, although he sometimes dozes curled up in the armchair, he prefers to be able to stretch out at full length on the sofa when he is sleeping.

Occasionally, in those early months, Schrodinger would sit at one end of the sofa if I sat at the other end, but mostly he required a monopoly of any piece of furniture and would leap up in a fit of pique if I sat down beside him. When the winter arrived, the luxurious novelty of stretching out on the turkish carpet in front of the fire proved irresistible, especially after the long winters he passed in Shoreditch Church with its bare stone floors. But as soon as I went to bed, he would always leap up onto the sofa and fill the warm space I had vacated, snoring the night away.

There were a couple of instances when I walked into kitchen to make a late night cup of tea and returned to discover Schrodinger had already settled down for the night in my place, stretching out to fill the whole sofa. As I entered the room, there would be an uneasy moment of mutual recognition before he skulked away in disappointment to wait beside the hearth, until I went to bed and he could reclaim his spot. Schrodinger only stirred himself from his ease on the sofa when it became apparent that if he did not shift I would sit on top of him.

Once – to spare Schrodinger the inconvenience of moving – I lay down upon the rug in front of the fire to rest upon the carpet and fell asleep. When I awoke with a shiver after the fire had died, I looked up to see Schrodinger peering down at me from his superior position on the sofa and realised our places had been reversed. I was disappointed at my weary acquiescence, submitting so readily to his over-inflated feline ego.

As Schrodinger became accustomed to our long winter nights together in front of the fire, sometimes I sat beside him on the rug to share the languorous warmth. I found that if I supported my back against the sofa and extended my legs at angles, Schrodinger was comfortable to occupy the ‘v’ shaped space in between. If I fell asleep, stretched out on the sofa, I awoke to find him sleeping, extended to his full length beside me. Thus it was that equality of the species was achieved in our household.

Around this time, Schrodinger acquired the habit of leaping up into the space between me and the back of the chair whenever I sat at my desk. Sometimes, he climbed around to sit upon my knees. By then, he was comfortable to sit beside me on the sofa and no longer always got up when I sat down.

So it was that the momentous yet inevitable day arrived. I was sitting upon the sofa in front of the fire when Schrodinger entered the room, came over and jumped unto my lap for the first time. He settled down, making himself comfortable before falling asleep, but I sat in surprise and wonder at this milestone in our relationship. Foolishly, I was overcome with flattery at this honour that Schrodinger had bestowed upon me. For months he had been assessing my nature and concluded that I am worthy of his attention, especially when it is cold and he wants somewhere warm to sleep.

The dichotomy of Schrodinger on the rug and me on the sofa is no more. Naturally, he still likes to stretch out in front of the fire but – if it pleases him – he can also choose to sit upon my lap on the sofa. From this position, it is only a small adjustment for Schrodinger to move to occupy the entire sofa when I retreat to my bedroom, leaving him to slumber at ease in the residual warmth.


You may also like to read about

Schrodinger’s First Winter in Spitalfields

Schrodinger Takes Charge

The Loneliness of Schrodinger

A New Home for Schrodinger

Schrodinger, Shoreditch Church Cat





The Pellicci Museum

February 19, 2019
by the gentle author

This is Lucinda Rogers‘ drawing of E.Pellicci in the Bethnal Green Rd, London’s most celebrated family-run cafe, into the third generation now and in business for over a century – and continuing to welcome East Enders who have been coming for generations to sit in the cosy marquetry-lined interior and enjoy the honest, keenly-priced meals prepared every day from fresh ingredients.

E.Pellicci is a marvel. It is so beautiful it is listed, the food is always exemplary and I every time I come here I leave heartened to have met someone new.

I found Lucinda Rogers’ drawing on the wall in one of the small upper rooms that now serves as an informal museum of the history of the cafe, curated by Maria Pellicci’s nephew – Toni, a bright-eyed Neapolitan, who has been working here since he left school in Lucca in Tuscany and came to London in 1970. He led me up the narrow staircase, opened the door of the low-ceilinged room and with a single shy gesture of his arm indicated the family museum. Toni has lined the walls with press cuttings, photographs and all kinds of memorabilia, which tell the story of the ascendancy of Pellicci’s, attended by a few statues of saints to give the pleasing aura of a shrine to this cherished collection.

Primo Pellici began working in the cafe in 1900 and it was here in these two rooms that his wife Elide brought up his seven children single-handedly, whilst running the cafe below to keep the family after her husband’s death in 1931. Elide is the E.Pellicci whose initial is still emblazoned in chrome upon the primrose-hued vitroglass fascia and her portrait remains, she and her husband counterbalance each other eternally on either side of the serving hatch in the cafe. In 1921, Nevio senior was born in the front room here. He ran the cafe until his death in 2008, superceded as head of the family business today by his wife Maria who possesses a natural authority and charisma that makes her a worthy successor to Elide.

As I sat alone in the quiet of the room, leafing through the albums, surrounded by the walls of press coverage, Maria came upstairs from the kitchen to join me. She pointed out the flat roof at the rear where her former husband Nevio played as a child. “He was very happy here,” she assured me with a tender smile, standing silently and casting her eyes between the two empty rooms – sensing the emotional presence of the crowded family life that once filled in this space that is now a modest store room and an office. Maria and Nevio brought up their children in a terraced house around the corner in Derbyshire St, and these days Toni goes round each morning early to pick her up from there, before they start work around six at the cafe she runs with her son Nevio and daughter Anna.

Pellicci’s collection tells a very particular history of the twentieth century and beyond – of immigration, of wars, of coronations and gangsters too. But, more than this, it is a history of wonderful meals, a history of very hard work, a history of great family pride, and a history of happiness and love.

Primo Pellicci still presides upon the cafe where he started work in 1900

Primo’s children, Nevio and Mary Pellicci, 1930

Pellicci’s wartime licence issued to Elide Pellicci in 1939 by the Ministry of Food

Pellicci’s paper bag issued to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth II  in 1953 – note the phone number, Bishopsgate 1542

Mary and Maria Pellicci, Trafalgar Sq, 1963

Nevio junior, aged seven, skylarking outside the house in Derbyshire St with pals Claudio and Alfie

Nevio senior and Toni, 1980

Pellicci’s customers in 1980

Nevio senior, 1980

Nevio and Toni

Christmas card from Charlie Kray, 1980

Nevio junior and Nevio senior

George Flay’s montage of the world of Pellicci’s

Nevio Senior, 2005

Salvatore Zaccaria, known as Toni, curator of the Pellicci Museum

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Maria Pellicci, Cook

Pellicci’s Celebrity Album

The Meatball Queen of Bethnal Green

Thomas Barnes, Photographer

February 18, 2019
by the gentle author

The most prolific nineteenth century East End photographer was Thomas Barnes, responsible for producing over one hundred thousand portraits taken between 1858 and 1885 at his studio at 422 Mile End Rd in Bow.

Although these cartes de visite are nameless, Barnes numbered most of his pictures – enabling us to create a sequence and establish an indication of their dates, as demonstrated by these fine examples selected  from Philip Mernick‘s collection gathered over the past twenty years.

Remembered today primarily for his widely-discredited before-and-after photos commissioned by Dr Barnardo, nevertheless Thomas Barnes’ studio portraits reveal a photographer of abundant talent and accomplishment. It is a poignant gallery of withheld emotion, bringing us face to face with anonymous long-dead East Enders who are now inhabitants of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Number 4178 - taken between 1858 & 1864


Number 21236 - 1867

Number 33999 - taken around 1870

Number 34101 - taken around 1870

Number 37432 - taken after 1873


Number 38774 - taken after 1873

Number 41536 - taken mid-1870s


Number 43979 - taken mid-1870s

Number 44425 - taken prior to 1877

Number 47385 - taken prior to 1877

Number 53458 - 1877

Number 56157 - 1877


Number 57248 - 1877

Number 65460 - taken between 1877 and 1880

Number 75384 - taken after 1880

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

Biographical details of Thomas Barnes supplied by David Webb

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Philip Mernick’s East London Shopfronts

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