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William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders (Part Two)

February 22, 2012
by the gentle author

After publishing a first selection last week, it is my pleasure to reveal the rest of William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume with Notices of Remarkable Places given in the Background from 1804. As fresh as the day they were coloured, these were recently discovered at the Bishopsgate Institute, bound into the back of a larger volume of “Modern London” published in 1805. In contrast to their attractive aesthetic, these fascinating prints are often unexpectedly revealing of the reality of the lives of the dispossessed and outcast poor who sought a living upon the streets as hawkers at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

A Showman – This amusing personage generally draws a crowd about him in whatever street he fixes his moveable pantomime, as the children who cannot afford the penny or halfpenny insight into the show box are yet greatly entertained with his descriptive harangues and the perpetual climbing of the squirrels in the round wire cage above the box, by whose incessant motion the row of bells on the top are constantly rung. The show consists of a series of coloured pictures which the spectator views through a magnifying glass while the exhibitor rehearses the history and shifts the scenes by the aid of strings. (Hyde Park Corner, this entrance to London is worthy of the grandeur and extent of the metropolis. On one side of the spacious street of Piccadilly are lofty and elegant houses and on the other is a fine view of Green Park and Westminster Abbey.)

Mackerel – More plentiful than any other fish in London, they are brought from the western coast and afford a livelihood to numbers of men and women who cry them through the streets every day in the week, not excepting Sunday. Mackerel boats being allowed by act of Parliament to dispose of their perishable cargo on Sunday morning, prior to the commencement of divine service. No other fish partake that privilege. (Billingsgate Market commences at three o’clock in the morning in summer and four in winter. Salesmen receive the cargo from the boats and announce by a crier of what kinds they consist. These salesmen have a great commission and generally make fortunes.)

Rhubarb! – The Turk, whose portrait is accurately given in this plate, has sold Rhubarb in the streets of the metropolis during many years. He constantly appears in his turban, trousers and mustachios and deals in no other article. As his drug has been found to be of the most genuine quality, the sale affords him a comfortable livelihood. (Russell Sq is one of the largest in London, broad streets intersect at its corners and in the middle, which add to its beauty and remove the general objection to squares by ventilating the air.)

Milk below! – Every day of the year, both morning and afternoon, milk is carried through each square, each street and alley of the metropolis in tin pails, suspended from a yoke placed on the shoulders of the crier. Milk is sold at fourpence per quart or fivepence for the better sort, yet the advance of price does not ensure its purity for it is generally mixed in a great proportion with water by the retailers before they leave the milk houses. The adulteration of the milk added to the wholesale cost leaves an average profit of cent per cent to the vendors of this useful article. Few retail traders are exercised with equal gain. (Cavendish Sq is in Marylebone. In the centre of the enclosure, erected on a lofty pedestal is a bronze statue of William Duke of Cumberland, all very richly gilded and burnished. In the background are two very elegant houses built by Mr Tufnell.)

Matches – The criers are very numerous and among the poorest inhabitants, subsisting more on the waste meats they receive from the kitchens where they sell their matches at six bunches per penny, than on the profits arising from their sale. Old women, crippled men, or a mother followed by three or four ragged children, and offering their matches for sale are often relieved when the importunity of the mere beggar is rejected. The elder child of a poor family, like the boy seen in the plate, are frequent traders in matches and generally sing a kind of song, and sell and beg alternately. (The Mansion House is a stone building of considerable magnitude standing at the west end of Cornhill, the residence of the Lord Mayor of London. Lord Burlington sent down an original design worthy of Palladio, but this was rejected and the plan of a freeman of the City adopted in its place. The man was originally a shipwright and the front of his Mansion House has all the resemblance possible to a deep-laden Indiaman.)

Strawberries – Brought fresh gathered to the markets in the height of their season, both morning and afternoon, they are sold in pottles containing something less than a quart each. The crier adds one penny to the price of the strawberries for the pottle which if returned by her customer, she abates. Great numbers of men and women are employed in crying strawberries during their season through the streets of London at sixpence per pottle. ( Covent Garden Market is entirely appropriated to fruit & vegetables. In the south side is a range of shops which contain the choicest produce and the most expensive productions of the hot house. The centre of the market, as shown in the plate, although less pleasing to the eye is more inviting to the general class of buyers.)

A Poor Sweep Sir! – In all the thoroughfares of the metropolis, boys and women employ themselves in dirty weather in sweeping crossings. The foot passenger is constantly importuned and frequently rewards the poor sweep with a halfpenny, which indeed he sometimes deserves for in the winter after fall of snow if a thaw should come before the scavengers have had time to remove it, many streets cannot be crossed without being up to the middle of the leg in dirt. Many of these sweepers who choose their station with judgement reap a plentiful harvest from their labours. (Blackfriars Bridge crosses the river from Bridge St to Surrey St where this view is taken. The width and loftiness of the arches and the whole light construction of this bridge is uncommonly pleasing to the eye and St Paul’s cathedral displays much of the grandeur of its extensive outline when viewed from Blackfriars Bridge.)

Knives to grind! – The apparatus of a knife grinder is accurately delineated in this plate. The same wheel turns his grinding and his whetting stone. On a smaller wheel, projecting beyond the other he trundles his commodious shop from street to street. He charges for grinding and setting scissors one penny or twopence per pair, for penknives one penny each and table knives one shilling and sixpence per dozen, according to the polish that is required. (Whitehall – this beautiful structure stands in Parliament St, begun in 1619 from a design by Inigo Jones in his purest manner and cost £17,000.  The northern end of the palace, to the left of the plate, is that through which King Charles stepped onto the scaffold.)

Lavender – “Six bunches a penny, sweet lavender!” is the cry that invites in the street the purchasers of this cheap and pleasant perfume. A considerable quantity of the shrub is sold to the middling-classes of the inhabitants, who are fond of placing lavender among their linen  - the scent of which conquers that of the soap used in washing. (Temple Bar was erected to divide the strand from Fleet St in 1670 after the Great Fire. On the top of this gate were exhibited the heads of the unfortunate victims to the justice of their country for the crime of high treason. The last sad mementos of this kind were the rebels of 1746.)

Sweep Soot O! – The occupation of chimney sweep begins with break of day. A master sweep patrols the street for custom attended by two or three boys, the taller ones carrying the bag of soot, and directing the diminutive creature who, stripped perfectly naked, ascends and cleans the chimney. The greatest profit arises from the sake of soot which is used for manure. The hard condition of the sweep devolves upon the smallest and feeblest of the children apprenticed from the parish workhouse. (Foundling Hospital, a handsome and commodious building in Guildford St, stands at the upper end of a large piece of ground in which the children of the foundation are allowed to play in fine weather.)

Sand O! – Sand is an article of general use in London, principally for cleaning kitchen utensils. Its greatest consumption is in the outskirts of the metropolis where the cleanly housewife strews sand plentifully over the floor to guard her newly scoured boards from dirty footsteps, a carpet of small expense and easy to be renewed. Sand is sold by measure, red sand twopence halfpenny and white five farthings per peck. (St Giles’ Church at the west end of Broad St Giles is a very handsome structure. Over the gate, entering the church yard is fixed a curious bass-relief representing the Last Judgement and containing a very great number of figures, set up in the 1686)

New potatoes – About the latter end of June and July, they become sufficiently plentiful to be cried at a tolerable rate in the streets. They are sold wholesale in markets by the bushel and retail by the pound. Three halfpence or a penny per pound is the average price from a barrow. (Middlesex Hospital at the northern end of Berners St is the county hospital for diseased persons. It stands in a large court with trees, covered by a wall in front with two gates, one of which is represented in the plate.)

Water Cresses – The crier of water cresses frequently travels seven or eight miles before the hour of breakfast to gather them fresh. There is a good supply in the Covent Garden Market brought along with other vegetables where they are cultivated like other garden stuff, but they are inferior to those grown in the natural state in a running brook, wanting that pungency of taste which makes them very wholesome. (Hanover Sq is on the south side of Oxford St, there is a circular enclosure in the middle with a plain grass plot. In George St, leading into the square, is the curious and extensive anatomical museum of Mr Heaviside the surgeon, to the inspection of which respectable persons are admitted, on application to Mr Heaviside, once a week.)

Slippers – The Turk is a portrait, habited in the costume of his nation, he has sold Morocco Slippers in the Strand, Cheapside and Cornhill, a great number of years. To these principal streets, he generally confines his walks. There are other sellers of slippers, particularly about the Royal Exchange who are very importunate for custom while the venerable Turk uses no solicitation beyond showing his slippers. They are sold at one shilling and sixpence per pair and are of all colours. (Somerset House is a noble structure built by the government for the offices of public business. The plate shows the west side of the entrance which contains a gate for carriages and two foot ways. A visit will amply repay the trouble of a stranger.)

Rabbits – The crier of rabbits in the plate is a portrait well known by persons who frequent the streets at the west end of town. Wild and tame rabbits are sold from ninepence to eighteen pence each, which is cheaper than they can be bought in the poulterers’ shops. (Portland Place is an elegant street to the north of Marylebone. From the opening at the upper end is a fine view of Harrow and the Hampstead and Highgate Hills, making it one of the airiest situations in town. The houses being of perfect uniformity and no shops or meaner buildings interrupting the regularity of the design, it is one of the finest street in London.)

Images courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to take a look at the rest of

William Craig Marshall’s Itinerant Traders

and these other sets of the Cries of London

London Melodies

Henry Mayhew’s Street Traders

H.W.Petherick’s London Characters

John Thomson’s Street Life in London

Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries

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

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana II

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana III

Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

More of Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

Adam Dant’s  New Cries of Spittlefields

4 Responses leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012

    These are fascinating – thank you for bringing them to the surface! I especially like the Turkish rhubarb seller and the sand man…

  2. Teresa Stokes permalink
    February 22, 2012

    I too was intrigued by the rhubarb man, whose product does not look like the rhubarb we see on sale today, and why was it a “drug”? I did a bit of investigation, and apparently what the man has there are rhubarb roots, an ancient remedy for constipation!

  3. February 22, 2012

    Go to the market in Mirepoix, Ariège, France on a Monday morning and you’ll see a knife grinder plying his trade in pretty much the same way as illustrated here. He does plenty of business, mainly from those people who want their gardening tools or hunting knives sharpened.

    Great illustrations and commentary: thank you.

  4. February 26, 2012

    oh to bump into the venerable turk with his bundle of soft morrocan leather slippers , he seemingly just was there , did not cry out his wares ,just displayed them , turning up in his regular little area ….
    to think women sprinkled sand all over their floors ! ….but then I guess its a little like how butchers sprinkled sawdust on the floor and then could easily sweep all away at the end of the day….
    also I was very taken with the performing squirrels , I believe you have more than enough of the grey ones , anybody any ideas ?

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