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Geoffrey Fletcher’s Pavement Pounders

June 6, 2012
by the gentle author

The work of Geoffrey Fletcher (1923–2004) is an inspiration to me, and today I am publishing his drawings of London’s street people in the nineteen sixties from  Geoffrey Fletcher’s Pavement Pounders of 1967. For an introduction to Geoffrey Fletcher’s writing, I recommend The London Nobody Knows which has been reprinted with a new introduction by Dan Cruickshank.

Charlie Sylvester -”I’m Charlie Sylvester, Charlie of Whitechapel. I’ve been on the markets over forty years. I can’t keep still too long, as I have to serve the customers. Then I must take me pram and go fer some more stock. Stock’s been getting low. I go all over with me pram, getting stock, I sell anythin’ – like them gardening tools, them baking tins and plastic mugs. All kinds of junk. Them gramophone records is classic, Ma, real classic stuff. Course they ain’t long playing? Wot do you expect? Pick where you like out of them baking tins. Well, I’ll be seeing you next you’re in Whitechapel. Don’t forget. Sylvester’s the name.”

Peanuts, Tower Hill - “We’ve only been doin’ this for a few months, me peanut pram and I. I only comes twice a week, Saturdays and Sundays. Sundays is best. It’s a hot day. Hope it will stay. I’m counting on it. How many bags do I sell in a day? I’ve never counted ‘em. All I want is for to sell ‘em out.”

Doing the Spoons, Leicester Sq -”I’ve been in London since 1932, doin’ the spoons, mostly. I does it when I’m not with the group – if they’re away or don’t show up. I’m about the only spoon man left. No, the police don’t bother us much – they know we’re old timers. We’re playing the Square tonight, later when the crowds will come.”

The Man with the X-Ray Eyes – “It’s the facial characteristics. I can usually guess within a year. It’s the emanations – that’s why they call me the man with the X-ray eyes.  I’ve been doing it thirty-two years. Thirty -two years is a long time. I’m off-form today. Sometimes I am off-form and then I won’t take their money. I’m in show business. You see me on TV before the cameras. My show took London, Paris and New York by storm.”

Selections from ‘The Merry Widow,’ Oxford St - “You need a good breath for one o’ these. It’s called a euphonium. Write it down, same as when a man makes a euphemism at dinner. If I smoked or got dissipated, I couldn’t play. I can’t play the cornet, as it is, but that’s because I only have one tooth, as I’ll show you – central eating, as you say, Guv. I come from Oldham. When I was a boy of ten, I worked in Yates’ Wine Lodge, but I broke the glasses. I’m seventy-three now, too old for a job. But I don’t want a job, I have this – the euphonium. Life is an adventure, but things is bad today. People will do you down and not be ashamed of it. They’ll glory in it. Well, that’s it. My mother-in-law is staying with us so we have plenty to eat. She gives me the cold shoulder. I’m going for a cuppa tea. Have a nice summer and lots of luck.”

Lucky White Heather - “I’ve been selling on the London streets all my life, dearie. Selling various things – gypsy things – clothes pegs – it used to be clothes pegs. The men used to make them, but they won’t now – they’re onto other things. There wasn’t much profit in them, either. You sold them at three ha’pence a dozen. That was in the old days, dearie. Now I could be earning a pound while you’re drawing me. We comes every day from Kent. People like the lucky heather. But I’ll give you the white elephant – they’re very lucky. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be selling them on the streets of London now, would we, dearie?”

Pavement Artist at Work, Trafalgar Sq - “I’ve been away two years, I haven’t been well, but I’m back again now. I’ve worked in other parts, but nearly always in London. Used to be outside the National Gallery, where I did Constable. I used to do copies of Constable. I do horses, dogs and other animals. The children like animals best, and give me money. I’m only playing about today, you might say. I haven’t prepared the stone. It gives it a smooth surface, makes the chalks sparkle. Makes them bright and clear, y’know. These pastels are too hard. I like soft ones, but everything’s gone up and I can’t afford them. Oh yes, I always clean off the stones. I won the prize for the best pavement artist in London.”

L.S.D. the Only Criterion, Tavistock Sq – “I’ve been here thirty years. I became a combined tipster and pavement artist because I had the talent, and because I believe in independence. Some people buy my drawings. I don’t go to the races now. I used to – Epsom, Ascot and all that. I have my regulars who come to see me and leave me money in my cap. That’s what it’s for. The rank and file are no good. It’s quiet Saturdays except when there’s a football match – Scoltand, say – and they stay round here. Weather’s been terrible – no-one about. Trafalgar Sq is where the money is, but they fights. I’ve sen the po-leece intervene when they’ve been fighting among themselves, and they say, ‘ere, move on, you?’ It’s money what’s at the bottom of it. Money an’ greed. Like I’ve got written here.”

The Best Friend You Have is Jesus – “Forty years I’ve been selling plants in London, and for over thirty years the Lord’s work has been done. In 1935, I was backing a dog – funnily enough it was called ‘Real Work’ – at New Cross. All at once, a small voice, the voice of the Lord, spoke to me and said ‘Abel (My name is Abel), I’ve got some real work for you to do.’ I gave up drink and dogs and got the posters on the barrow – the messages. I’ve been thousands of miles all over London doing the work of the Lord. London is wicked, and it’s getting worse. But God is merciful, and always gives a warning. It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord says ‘Repent’ before His wrath comes. He could destroy London with an earthquake. Remember Noah? – how God wanted them to go in the Ark? But they wouldn’t. They said, ‘We’re going to have a good time…’ The Lord could destroy London with His elements. It dosen’t worry me as I’m doing the Lord’s work. Let these iris stand in water when you get ‘em home.”

One Minute Photos, Westminster Bridge - “‘Happy Len,’ they call me, but my real name’s Anthony. Fifty years on the  bridge. 1920 I came, and my camera was made in 1903. It’s the only one left. I have to keep patching it up. The man who made it was called ‘Moore,’ and he came from Dr Barnardo’s. They sent him to Canada, and he and a Canadian got together, a bit sharp like, and they brought out this camera. Died a millionaire. I’m seventy-three, and I’ve seen some rum ‘uns on the bridge. There was a woman who came up and took all her clothes off, and the bobby arrested her for indecent behaviour. Disgraceful. The nude, I mean. She was spoiling my pitch.”

Music in the Strand - “I had to make some money to live, and so I came to play in the streets. I’ve never played professionally, I play the piano as well but I never had much training. I’m usually here in the Strand but sometimes I play in Knightsbridge, sometimes in Victoria St. There’s not so many lady musicians about now. I only play classical pieces.”

Horrible Spiders – “Christmas time is the best for us, Guv, if the weather ain’t wet or cold. Then the crowds are good humoured. I like my picture and I’m going to pick out an extra horrible spider for you in return. I’ll tell you a secret – some of the spiders ain’t made of real fur. They’re nylon. But yours is real fur, and it’s very squeaky.”

Salty Bob - “Come round behind the stall and have a bottle of ale. It’s a sort of club, a private club. It’s a grand life sitting here drinking, watching the world go by. I’ve been selling salt and vinegar for fifty years and I’m seventy now. I’ve seen some changes. Take Camden Passage, it’s all antiques, like Chelsea, none of the originals left hardly. Let me pour you another drink. Here we are snug and happy in the sun. I’ve just picked up nine pounds on a horse, and I’ve got another good one for the four-thirty. Next time you’re passing, join me for another drop of ale. No, you can’t pay for it. You’ll be my guest, same as now, at our private club behind the bottles of non-brewed, an’ the bleach.”

Don’t Squeeze Me Till I’m Yours - “That’s a German accordion – they’re the best. Bought it cheap up in the Charing Cross Rd. I do the mouth organ too, this is an English one – fourteen shillings from Harrods. I began with a tin whistle and worked me way up. I’ve a room in Mornington Crescent. My wife died, luvly woman, thrombosis. I could see here everywhere, lying in bed and what not, so I cleared out. I got to livin’ in hostels. But I couldn’t stand the class of men. I work here Mondays, Fridays sometimes. I also work Knightsbridge and ‘ere. I work Aldgate Sundays. I do well there. I gets a fair livin.’ So long as I’ve got me rent, two pounds ten, and baccy money, I don’t want nothing else.”

A Barrel Organ Carolling Across a Golden Street - They received their maximum appreciation in the East End, in the days when the area was a world apart from the rest of London, and the appearance of a barrel organ in Casey Court, among patrons almost as hard pressed as the organist, meant an interval for music and dancing, while the poor little monkey, often a prey to influenza, performed his sad little capers on the organ lid.

Sandwich Man – Consult Madame Sandra - “It’s a poor life, you only get twelve shillings and sixpence a day and you can’t do much on that now, can you, sir? It was drink that got me, the drink. When I come off the farms, I became a porter at Clapham Junction, sir. I worked on the railways, but I couldn’t hold my job. So I dropped down, and this is what I do now. All you can say is you’re in the open air. Sometimes I sleep in a hostel, sometimes I stay out. Just now I’m sleeping out. It was the drink that done it, sir.”

Matchseller - “I was a labourer – a builder’s labourer – an’ I come frae Glasgow. I’ve not been down here in London verra long – eight years. Do i like it here? Weel, the peepull, the peepull are sociable, but they not gie you much, so you only exist. Just exist. I don’t sleep in no hostel, I sleep rough. I haven’t slept in a bed in four weeks. I sleep anywhere. I like a bench in the park or on the embankment. I like the freedom. Anywhere I hang my hat, it’s home sweet home to me.”

A Romany - Apart from the Romany women who sell heather and lucky charms in such places as Villiers St and Oxford St, the gypsies are rapidly disaapearing from Central London. Only occasionally do you see them at their traditional trade of selling. lace paper flowers of cowslips.  Modern living vans are invariably smart turn-outs that have little in common with the carved and painted caravans of fifty years ago. They are with-it-gypises-O! Small colonies can still be found on East End bombsites, which the Romanies favour for winter quarters.

‘A Tiny Seed of Love,’ Piccadilly - “Oh yes, Guvnor, they’re good to me if the weather’s fine. Depends on the weather. I can’t play well enough, as you might say. I used to travel all over, four or five of us, saxo, drums, like that. Sometimes there was as many as eight of us. Then it got dodgy. I’m an old hand now. I’ve settled down. I got two rooms at thirty-two bob a week, Islington way. Where could you get two rooms for sixteen shillings each in London? I can easily get along at the price I pay. What’s more, I’ve married the woman who owns the house, too. She’s eight years older than I am, but we get along amicable.”

You may also like to read

Down Among the Meths Men with Geoffrey Fletcher

and take a look at

John Thomson’s Street Life in London

Henry Mayhew’s Street Traders

6 Responses leave one →
  1. June 6, 2012

    I used to love ‘The London nobody knows’. I would go off to discover some of the places Geoffrey Fletcher talked about when I lived there. But I remember some of these characters too: the sandwich board men, the women selling heather, the pavement artists.

  2. Sarah Lily permalink
    June 6, 2012

    Beautiful!!

  3. June 6, 2012

    Thank you, G.A…. These are lovely and so refreshing to see after all his architectural drawings. Humane, considered, respectful portrait studies. Very inspiring.

  4. June 6, 2012

    I always enjoy your wonderful posts that remind me of my years in London in the early 70′s. I’m usually pressedf or time and so skim over the text and view the photos, but this one had me spellbound. It certainly carried with it the flavor of London’s street vendors. oh-bla-dee, oh-bla-da!

  5. StephenH permalink
    June 6, 2012

    I can see why Geoffrey Fletcher’s work would be an inspiration to you, GA. He certainly had an ear for capturing the essence of people’s stories – each of those captions is a beautiful little novel in itself. And thanks to you, GA, for your well-written blog so full of genuine humanity.

  6. gabrielle permalink
    March 2, 2016

    Nice to have the text to accompany the pictures…really brings the people to life. I was born in Islington and there are more people sleeping rough and begging now than in the 1950s. Gap between rich and poor wider than ever and the chap who rented a room in Islington for less than £1 a week, well, he’d pay £400 average now! Wouldn’t be so bad if wages had kept up. Nothing seems to change.

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