Samuel Pepys’ Cries Of London
What a man’s mind is, that is what he is
For a while now, I have been collecting sets of Cries of London down through the ages and I am fascinated by the diverse permutations of these cheaply-produced prints which, even at their most stylised or sentimental, always reveal something of the reality of those who earned their living by street trading.
Recently, I was curious to discover that more than three hundred years ago, Samuel Pepys (coincidentally, also a regular at The George in Commercial Rd) was equally in thrall to these popular images of street vendors and hawkers. Among more than ten thousand engravings and eighteen hundred printed ballads he amassed in his library was a folio entitled “Cryes consisting of Several Setts thereof, Antient & Moderne: with the differ Stiles us’d therein by the Cryers.” In this binder, Pepys kept three sets of the Cries of London, plus two Cries of Bologna, and single sets each of the Cries of Rome and Paris.
Published below are the anonymously produced Cries of the earliest set in Pepys’ collection which was already a century old when he acquired it – described thus “A very antient Sett thereof, in Wood, with the Words then used by the Cryers.” Printed in the late sixteenth century, this set of twenty-four illustrates the Cries that would have been familiar constituents of the street life of Shakespeare’s London.
The Cries genre itself originated with a woodcut produced in Paris around 1500, beginning a tradition that lasted into the twentieth century, spreading to major cities across the globe and spawning an infinite variety of portrayals of pedlars. By the time the series illustrated here was created, the Cries were already available throughout Europe, bringing images of the urban poor into common currency for the first time.
Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute
You may also like to take a look at these other sets of the Cries of London