Skip to content

London Melodies

September 12, 2011
by the gentle author

I saw a raggedy man with crazy eyes disappear down Catherine Wheel Alley, so I followed to see what he was up to. When I entered the putrid alley, he disappeared around the corner, yet I heard him cry, “Rabbit, Rabbit. Nice Fat Rabbit!” So I hurried to catch up, and found myself lost in the maze of passages and back streets that fill the space between Bishopsgate and Middlesex St. Arriving at a cross-ways where several paths met, I could not see him anywhere. Uncertain which way to turn, I spotted a large woman swathed in layers of old clothes and wielding a heavy basket, trudging off down another alley with evident fatigue. Once she turned the corner, I followed her at a discreet distance and I could hear her shrill cry, “Lilies of the Valley, Sweet Lilies of the Valley,” echoing between the high walls. But again, when I turned the corner, she had vanished. Then, I heard another behind me, crying, “Hot Mutton Dumplings – Nice Dumplings, All Hot!” and so I retraced my steps.

Let me explain, I had just spent the morning in the Bishopsgate Institute poring over a small book of prints entitled, “London Melodies; or Cries of the Seasons.” Published anonymously and bound in non-descript brown boards, and printed on cheap paper with several torn pages – even so, the appreciative owner had inscribed it with his name and the date 1823 in a careful italic script.

This book entranced me with the vivid quality of its beautiful wood engravings of street hawkers. Commonly in the popular prints illustrating Cries of London, the peddlers are sentimentalised, portrayed with cheerful faces and rosy cheeks, ever jaunty as they ply their honest trades. These lively wood engravings could not be more different. These people 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. These Cries of London are never going to be illustrated on a tea caddy or tin of  Yardley Talcum Powder and they don’t give a toss. 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 and how to turn a shilling as easily as a groat. With unrivalled spirit, savage humour, profane vocabulary and a rapacious appetite, they are the most human of all the Cries of London I have come across. And they call to me across the centuries, crying, “Sweet and Pretty Beau-Pots – One a-Penny” and “Buy my Live Scate.”

I do not know who was responsible for these superlative wood engravings, which capture the vigorous life of these loud characters with such art. From a contemporary perspective these are portraits that sit naturally alongside the work of Ronald Searle, Ralph Steadman, Ian Pollock, Quentin Blake and Martin Honeysett. This artist glories in the grotesque features and unrestrained personalities of street people, while also permitting them a humanity which we can recognise and respect. How I wish I could catch up with them all and record their stories for you.

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.

Images copyright © 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

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Joan permalink
    September 12, 2011

    Every time you post one of these pieces on cries of London I find myself with an immediate soundtrack in my head of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ and, in a much more sanitised version, the street scenes in the film adaptation of Lionel Bart’s Oliver.

    That’s a good thing by the way. I can never have too much Sondheim in my head and while my enjoyment of Bart was dented by watching a production of ‘Blitz’ in Solihull my respect for his wider body of work remains!

    Best wishes,


  2. john daltrey permalink
    September 13, 2011

    I love what you are doing here. I was born in durant st. bethnal green. 1944 went to school in columbia rd. opposite my grandparents fish and chip shop, dad had a cobblers shop in 148 columbia rd opp. the Royal Oak. I still love it . Please keep doing what you are doing
    very best wishes

  3. Rae Fether permalink
    January 24, 2012

    Hi John Daltrey of comment above, I love these engravings too.

    But am so excited to hear from a Daltrey and about the fish and chip shop in Columbia Road. My husband, Ben Fether was also born in Durant Street in 1935, his mother was Florrie Daltrey, daughter of Arthur and Elizabeth Daltrey (your great grandparents) of the fish and chip shop. At the start of the blitz the Fethers together with the Daltrey siblings, May, Ivy and Bert all moved to the country leaving their brother Arthur at the fish shop. I have recently been working on the Daltrey family tree, trying to prove a Huguenot connection….
    The history of how fish and chip shops started is interesting and some say that by the 1840’s
    street sellers were selling fried fish, probably fishmonger’s left overs, in obscure alleys around the Inns of Court, the fringes of the East End in the Bishopsgate area and the Borough district. It is said that one Joseph Malin in Soho hit on the idea of combining fried fish with fried potatoes in the 1850’s.

    In the unlikely event you pick this up and would like to make contact (which would be great) please could you leave a message via my daughter’s website:


  4. Patricia foster permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Reply to Rae fether re daltrey family tree.

    My great grandmother was a Daltrey, I have also been doing my family tree, and am very interested in the hugenots connection, would be interested to hear more, Have already found out that the other side of the family, the Godfrey line, married an Agombar, which was a Hugenots connection. All lived in Bethnal Green.

    Regards Trish

  5. Rae Fether permalink
    June 21, 2012

    Hi Patricia

    I have done a Daltrey family tree back to provably James Daltrey, fanstick maker, a member of the Worshipful Company of Fanmakers. He was baptised at St Botolps Bishopsgate in 1714 and died in 1814 at Colebroke Row Hoxton leaving a complicated will. It seems fairly certain that he was descended from Huguenots, earlier Daltrey research from a Mrs H.M.Martin of Guernsey:
    “William Dotry/Datry/Dolltrey/Daltrey/Dealtrey was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1686 as a silk dyer but the family’s place of origin in France is not yet known. They lived in Spitalfields, Shoreditch and various parishes in the City of London”. French derivatives were D’Altroy and Daulterie.
    Please post your email address if you would like me to send my tree and Daltrey info.



  6. Keith Spiller permalink
    June 22, 2012

    RE Daltrey family tree – my mother was a Daltrey – i have the James who died in 1814 as being born in 1747 – married Teresha Ann Seymore Grainger with a further James as his father who married Lydia King in 1742 (1st marriage probably Mary Lewis in 1740 – she died in 1741). I cant get beyond him and havent found the 1714 baptism referred to – where is this from – can you share ? Who are his parents ?
    Thanks for any help !!!

  7. Lou permalink
    July 23, 2012

    I’ve just stumbled onto this page after searching Google for any trace of the Daltrey-Huguenot connection. I’ve been searching for years but haven’t yet found anything further back than James in around 1700. I’m so pleased to find others are also searching!

    I would really love to hear from any of you and my email address is

    Happy to share info and maybe we can find the next Daltrey back between us 🙂

  8. Patty permalink
    August 22, 2012

    Love this one. Creates the sounds and images of the lives of my ancestors who walked these streets.

  9. Nick Darton permalink
    September 30, 2013

    The engraver is known by the initial ‘W’ in just a few of his illustrations in other books – unfortunately none of them in ‘London Melodies’. I am trying to find out more about him.

    So far I have around a hundred examples of his work in about six titles published for the first time between 1810 and 1813. If anyone recognises his distinctive style elsewhere I’d be very interested to hear about it.



  10. Hazel Mary permalink
    February 4, 2024

    Absolutely wonderful. Thank you for publishing. Hazel Mary.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS