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H. W. Petherick’s London Characters

August 24, 2011
by the gentle author

These London Characters were drawn by Horace William Petherick, a painter and illustrator who once contributed pictures regularly to the Illustrated London News. He also collaborated on some children’s books with Laura Valentine, who wrote under the pseudonym Aunt Louisa, and the prints you see here are the product of such a collaboration.

When I first came across these pictures in the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute, they caught my eye at once with the veracity of their observation. I am fascinated by all the prints that were made through the ages of the street people of London, and I have seen so many now that I have learnt to recognise when these images become generic. Yet, although in form and composition, H.W.Petherick’s London Characters draw upon the  traditional visual style of the Cries of London, there is clear evidence of observation from life in his vibrant designs.

The subtleties of posture and demeanour in each trade, and the fluent quality of vigorous movement, are true to those of working people. He captures the stance that reveals the relationship of each individual to the world, whether haughty like the Beadle, weary like the Dustman, playful like the Acrobat, deferential like the Cabman or resigned like the old wounded soldier working as a Commissionaire. In these images, they declare themselves as who they are, both the products and the exemplifiers of their occupations.

It was the Lamplighter that first drew my attention, gazing with such concentrated poise up to the light, which is cleverly placed outside the frame of the composition – indicated only by the cast of its glow. In the foggy street, the Lamplighter pauses for the briefest moment for the flame to catch, while a carriage rolls away to vanish into the mist. An instant later, he will move on to the next lamp, but the fleeting moment is caught. All these Characters are preoccupied with their business – walking with intent, pouring milk steadily, carrying a loaf carefully, cutting meat with practised skill, scrutinising an address on an envelope, pasting up a poster just so, or concentrating to keep three balls up in the air at once.

They inhabit a recognisable city and they take ownership of the streets by their presence – they are London Characters.

The Butcher Boy

The Milkman

The Baker

The Cat’s-Meat Man

The Waterman

The Street Boy

The Dustman

The Chimney Sweeper

The Cabman

The Orange Girl

The Turncock

The Navvy

The Lamplighter

The Telegraph Boy

The Beadle

The Muffin Man

The Basket Woman

The Postman

The Fireman

The Railway Porter

The Policeman

The Newspaper Boy

The Bill Sticker

The Costermonger

The Organ Grinder

The Commissionaire

The Acrobat

Images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to take a look at

Henry Mayhew’s Street Traders

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

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan E permalink*
    August 24, 2011

    Wonderful pictures! And now I know the muffin man whether he lived on Drury Lane or not.

  2. August 24, 2011

    I loved the pictures but didn’t realise how young some of them were, I often spoke about them in my reminiscence groups when I was younger, thank you for introducing me to this wonderful site
    sally flood

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