Tony Hawkins & The Cries Of London
I worked through last night to send my CRIES OF LONDON book to the printer today and I am proud to announce it will be published on 26th November. Here I present a film by Contributing Filmmaker Sebastian Sharples on the subject of the Cries, alongside my interview with Tony Hawkins – the retired pedlar who inspired me to study the history and politics of street trading.
Tony Hawkins testified to me that he sold peanuts and roasted chestnuts in the West End streets for ten years but – after getting arrested and roughed up by the police eighty-seven times – his health failed and he retired.
Whereas Tony used to visit Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen in Commercial Street, Spitalfields, regularly to buy thousands of bags for his thriving business, after retirement he came simply to pass the time of day with his old friend Paul Gardner. And it was Paul who effected my introduction to Tony, a man with a defiant strength of character, frail physically yet energised by moral courage. Brandishing the dog-eared stack of paperwork from his eighty-seven court cases, he was immensely proud that he won every one and it was proven he never broke the law once.
Tony’s pitiful catalogue of his wrangles with Westminster Council – who went to extreme lengths just to prevent him peddling nuts in Piccadilly – reveal that the age-old ambivalence and prejudice against those who seek to make a modest living by trading in the street persists to the present day.
“I was unemployed as a labourer in Manchester, so I started off as a pedlar. I sold socks, balloons – anything really. A pedlar trades as he travels, and the will to support myself and the bright lights brought me to London. I was peddling around the West End selling peanuts mostly but also chestnuts. I sold flags at football matches too, Chelsea and Arsenal.
“In the nineteen-eighties, a sergeant took me to Bow Street Magistrates Court for selling peanuts in Piccadilly. So I went along, it was no big deal. I admitted I was trading and I was a licenced pedlar.
“In Court, they were amazed because thay hadn’t seen many pedlars, there were only half a dozen in the West End. I won the case and I went to shake the sergeant’s hand afterwards, but he pushed me away and said it wasn’t the end of it. He told me he’d do everything in his power to make sure I never worked again and he hounded me after that. He said, “If you’re going to do it again, we will arrest you again,” and I’ve been arrested more than eighty times and spent nights in cells. I’ve been roughed up so many times by policemen and council enforcement officers that I had to get a hidden camera because I feared for my safety.
“They confiscated my stock and equipment from me every time I was charged with the offence of street trading without a licence, when I had a Pedlar’s Licence issued in accordance with the Pedlar’s Act of 1871. The original Act was passed in the eighteenth century so that veteran soldiers could trade in fish, fruit, vegetables and victuals, and be distinguished from vagabonds. Anyone over the age of seventeen can get a pedlar’s licence as long as you have no criminal record. According to the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta, every person in this country has the right to trade.
“I went to the High Court once when they found against me and the judge overturned it in my favour. But then in 2000 they brought in the Westminster Act because of people like myself. Westminster Council juggled the words so that it states that pedlars are only allowed to go door-to-door.
“Prior to that Act, we were allowed to peddle lawfully anywhere in the United Kingdom but now the Act is also being used to stop pedlars in Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington and Balham. Yet Acts and Statutes are not laws, they are rules for the governance, accepted only by consent of the populace.
“Once, I went to get my stuff back from Westminster Council and I met the Manager of Licencing & Street Enforcement. I asked him, “Why do you continue to waste the money of the council tax payers with so many cases against me when you haven’t won a single one?”
“Your lawyer, Mr Barca, I’m sick of him,” he said, “He only represents the lower end of the market like you, and pimps and prostitutes.” Later, he denied it and said he had a witness too, but I had recorded him and he had to pay four thousand pounds in damages to Mr Barca.
“After being hounded by the council and the police so many times, I’ve become narked and with good reason. Over the years, it has cost me a fortune to pay the legal costs. I had to work to earn all the money to pay for it. I regard myself as downtrodden because I was never allowed to benefit from my hard work, but if I had been allowed to continue trading, I could have owned a house by now and have some money in the bank.”
People say to me,“Why have you done it?” I have done it because I believe in the right to trade freely as a human right.”
Tony is now retired, living comfortably in sheltered housing, and has become a self-taught yet highly articulate expert in the law regarding pedlars and street trading, and he is involved with the Pedlars Information & Resource Centre.
Despite losing his health and his livelihood, Tony has acquired moral stature, passionate to support others suffering similar harassment because they exercise their right to sell in the street. With exceptional perseverance, acting out of a love of liberty and a refusal to be intimidated by authority, Tony Hawkins is an unacknowledged hero of the London streets.