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The Gentle Author At The Society Of Genealogists

February 28, 2018
by the gentle author

I am giving an illustrated lecture on the CRIES OF LONDON at the Society of Genealogists in Clerkenwell on Thursday 15th March at 2pm, showing images of itinerant traders over the last four hundred years and talking about the reality of the lives of those who once eked an ingenious living on the streets we walk today.

If you have never visited the Society in Charterhouse before, this is the ideal introduction.

Click here for tickets

Of all the CRIES OF LONDON I have come across, this anonymously-published set believed to be by Luke Clennell is my favourite. The hawkers in his woodcuts look filthy, with bad skin and teeth, dressed in ragged clothes, either skinny as cadavers or fat as thieves, and with hands as scrawny as rats’ claws.You can almost smell their bad breath and sweaty unwashed bodies, pushing themselves up against you in the crowd to make a hard sell.

Luke Clennell was apprenticed as an engraver to Thomas Bewick and then moved to London in 1804 as a young man, seeking a career as a painter and winning a major commission in 1816 from the Earl of Bridgewater to do portraits of more than four hundred guests at dinner in the Guildhall. The impossibility of getting all these subjects to sit for him drove Clennell to a nervous breakdown and he was committed to Salisbury Asylum. Although he recovered sufficiently to continue his career, he was afflicted with mental illness for the rest of his life and died in Newcastle Asylum in 1840.

The distinctive quality of Clennell’s Cries, first published as ‘London Melodies & Cries of the Seasons’ in 1812, stands out among the hundreds of anonymous woodcuts published in chapbooks in the early nineteenth century by virtue of their lively texture and unapologetic, unsentimental portraiture.

Clennell’s hawkers are never going to be framed on the parlour wall and they do not give a toss. They own their defiant uncouth spirit. They are a rough bunch with ready fists that you would not wish to encounter in a narrow byway on a dark night. Yet they are survivors who know the lore of the streets, how to scratch a living out of little more than resourcefulness, and how to turn a shilling as easily as a groat.

With unrivalled spirit, savage humour, profane vocabulary and a rapacious appetite, Luke Clennell’s woodcuts are the most street-wise of all the Cries. He gloried in the grotesque features and unrestrained personalities of hawkers, while also permitting them an unbridled humanity that we can only regard with esteem. They call to me across the centuries, crying, “Sweet and Pretty Beau-Pots – One a-Penny” and “Buy my Live Scate.”

Rabbit, Rabbit – Nice fat Rabbit

All Round & Sound, Full Weight, Threepence a Pound, my Ripe Kentish Cherries.

Buy my Fresh Herrings, Fresh Herrings, O! Three a Groat, Herrings, O!

Buy a Nice Wax Doll – Rosy and Fresh.

The King’s Speech, The King’s Speech to both Houses of Parliament.

Here’s all a Blowing, Alive and Growing – Choice Shrubs and Plants, Alive and Growing.

Hot Spice Gingerbread, Hot – Come buy my Spice Gingerbread, Smoaking Hot – Hot Spice Gingerbread, All Hot.

Any Earthen Ware, Plates, Dishes, or Jugs, today – any Clothes to Exchange, Madam?

Hot Mutton Dumplings – Nice Dumplings, All Hot.

Buy a Hat Box, Cap Box, or Bonnet Box.

Buy my Baskets, a Work, Fruit, or a Bread Basket.

Chickens, a Nice Fat Chicken – Chicken, or a Young Fowl.

Sweet and Pretty Beau-Pots, One a-Penny – Chickweed and Groundsel for your Birds.

Buy my Wooden Ware – a Bowl, Dish, Spoon or Platter.

Six Bunches a-Penny, Sweet Lavender – Six Bunches a-Penny, Sweet Blooming Lavender.

Here’s One a-Penny – Here’s Two a-Penny, Hot Cross Buns.

Lilies of the Valley, Sweet Lilies of the Valley.

Cats Meat, Dogs Meat – Any Cat’s or Dog’s Meat Today?

Buy my Live Scate, Live Scate – Buy my Dainty Fresh Salmon.

Mackerel, O!  Four for shilling, Mackerel, O!

Hastings Green and Young Hastings. Here’s Young Peas, Tenpence a Peck,  Marrow-fat Peas.

Self-portrait by Luke Clennell (1781–1840)

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to take a look at

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

Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

More of Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

Adam Dant’s  New Cries of Spittlefields


6 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Phillips permalink
    February 28, 2018

    Fantastic, I just sit in awe as to how these dear people eked out a living in those terrible times.

  2. February 28, 2018

    Trying to find the words…….and yet “vivid” doesn’t even begin to describe the intensity.
    Not that this artist needs to be compared to ANY one……but I was reminded of the most tortured images by Goya. Each head seems like a death mask, each hunched shoulder looks ancient
    and ghostly. An incredible procession of gritty survivors.


  3. Paul Loften permalink
    February 28, 2018

    Dont forget the Jewish street sellers . My dad once told me there was a hot beigel seller who called around all the streets of Whitechapel with a barrow just after the first world war his call in Yiddish bellowed at the top of his voice was “heisse beigel!” (hot bagels!”) and the strret would fill up. There was also a street seller that came around selling old pith helmets from the Boer War and the kids that tried them on all caught scabies and ended up in the London hospital there was a row of them in the same ward. My dad was one of them

  4. James W permalink
    February 28, 2018

    These woodcuts are absolutely remarkable. Also quite poignant to me in a way, as I very recently discovered my step grandfather, originally a Dutch cigar maker who lived in Aldgate, ended up a hawker, of what I unfortunately don’t know. I also found out he died in City of London lunatic asylum. Poor people, hard times.

  5. Franinoz permalink
    February 28, 2018

    Would you believe that in my childhood (I’m 71) there were still street sellers walking the streets of Sydney and calling their wares? There was the clothes prop man..”cloooothes PROPS!” and the rabbitoh. (Props are long pieces of wood used to keep the outside clothes lines high off the ground).

  6. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 1, 2018

    That Earl of Bridgewater had a lot to answer for, but what Clennell managed to produce between spells of insanity is truly amazing.

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