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William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders

February 16, 2012
by the gentle author

The latest wonder in my ongoing exploration into the innumerable prints of the “Cries of London” published over the centuries is William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume with Notices of Remarkable Places given in the Background from 1804. A portrait artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1788 and 1827, Craig was appointed painter in watercolours to the queen. This set of prints was discovered yesterday at the Bishopsgate Institute, bound into the back of a larger volume of “Modern London” published in 1805, and the vibrancy of their pristine colours suggests they have never been exposed to daylight in two centuries.

Hair brooms, hearth brooms, brushes, sieves, bowls, clothes horses and lines and and almost every article of turnery, are cried in the streets. Some of these walking turners travel with a cart, by which they can extend their trade and their profit, but the greater number carry the shop on their shoulders, and find customers sufficient to afford them a decent subsistence, the profit on turnery being considerable and the consumption certain. (Shoreditch Church, standing at the northern extremity of Holywell St, commonly called Shoreditch, is a church of peculiar beauty. It has a portico in front, elevated upon a flight of steps and enclosed with an iron railing, which is disgraced by a plantation of poplar trees.)

Baking & boiling apples are cried in the streets of the metropolis from their earliest appearance in sumer throughout the whole winter. Prodigious quantities of apples are brought to the London markets, where they are sold by the hundred to the criers, who retail them about the streets in pennyworths, or at so much per dozen according to their quality. In winter, the barrow woman usually stations herself at the corner of a street, and is supplied with a pan of lighted charcoal, over which, on a plate of tin, she roasts a part of her stock, and disposes of her hot apples to the labouring men and shivering boys who pass her barrow. (At Stratford Place, on the north side of Oxford St.)

Band boxes. Generally made of pasteboard, and neatly covered with coloured papers, are of all sizes, and sold at every intermediate price between sixpence and three shillings. Some made of slight deal, covered like the others, but in addition to their greater strength having a lock and key, sell according to their size, from three shillings and sixpence to six shillings each. The crier of band boxes or his family manufacture them, and these cheap articles of convenience are only to be bought of the persons who cry them through the streets. (Bibliotheque d’Education or Tabart’s Juvenile Library is in New Bond St.)

Baskets. Market, fruit, bread, bird, work and many other kinds of baskets, the inferior rush, the better sort of osier, and some of them neatly coloured and adorned, are to be bought cheaply of the criers of baskets. (Whitfield’s Tabernacle, north of Finsbury Sq, is a large octagon building, the place of worship belonging to the Calvinistic methodists.)

Bellows to mend. The bellows mender carries his tools and apparatus buckled in a leather bag to his back, and, like the chair mender, exercises his occupation in any convenient corner of the street. The bellows mender sometimes professes the trade of the tinker. (Smithfield where the great cattle market of London is held, on which days it is disagreeable, if not dangerous to pass in the early part of the day on account of the oxen passing from the market, on whom the drovers sometimes exercise great cruelty.)

Brick Dust is carried about the metropolis in small sacks on the backs of asses, and is sold at one penny a quart. As brick dust is scarcely used in London for any other purpose than that of knife cleaning, the criers are not numerous, but they are remarkable for their fondness and their training of bull dogs. This prediliction they have in common with the lamp lighters of the metropolis. (Portman Sq stands in Marylebone. In the middle is an oval enclosure which is ornamented with clumps of trees, flowering shrubs and evergreens.)

Buy a bill of the play. The doors of the London theatres are surrounded each night, as soon as they open, with the criers of playbills. These are mostly women, who also carry baskets of fruit. The titles of the play and entertainment, and the name and character of every performer for the night, are found in the bills, which are printed at the expense of the theatre, and are sold by the hundred to the criers, who retail them at one penny a bill, unless fruit is bought, when with the sale of half a dozen oranges, they will present their customer a bill of the play gratis. (Drury Lane Theatre, part of the colonnade fronting to Russell St, Covent Garden.)

Cats’ & dogs’ meat, consisting of horse flesh, bullocks’ livers and tripe cuttings is carried to every part of the town. The two former are sold by weight at twopence per pound and the latter tied up in bunches of one penny each. Although this is the most disagreeable and offensive commodity cried for sale in London, the occupation seems to be engrossed by women. It frequently happens in the streets frequented by carriages that, as soon as one of these purveyors for cats and dogs arrives, she is surrounded by a crowd of animals, and were she not as severe as vigilant, could scarcely avoid the depredations of her hungry followers. (Bethlem Hospital stands on the south side of Moorfields. On each side of the iron gate is a figure, one of melancholy and the other of raging madness.)

Chairs to mend. The business of mending chairs is generally conducted by a family or a partnership. One carries the bundle of rush and collects old chairs, while the workman seating himself in some convenient corner on the pavement, exercises his trade. For small repairs they charge from fourpence to one shilling, and for newly covering a chair from eighteen pence to half a crown, according to the fineness of the rush required and the neatness of the workmanship. It is necessary to bargain for price prior to the delivery of the chairs, or the chair mender will not fail to demand an exorbitant compensation for his time and labour. (Soho Sq, a square enclosure with shrubbery at the centre, begun in the time of Charles II.)

Cherries appear in London markets early in June, and shortly afterwards become sufficiently abundant to be cried by the barrow women in the streets at sixpence, fourpence, and sometimes as low as threepence per pound. The May Duke and the White and Black Heart are succeeded by the Kentish Cherry which is more plentiful and cheaper than the former kinds and consequently most offered in the streets. Next follows the small black cherry called the Blackaroon, which is also a profitable commodity for the barrows. The barrow women undersell the shops by twopence or threepence per pound but their weights are generally to be questioned, and this is so notorious an objection that they universally add “full weight” to the cry of “cherries!” (Entrance to St James’ Palace, its external appearance does not convey any idea of its magnificence.)

Doormats, of all kinds, rush and rope, from sixpence to four shillings each, with table mats of various sorts are daily cried through the streets of London. (The equestrian statue in brass of Charles II in Whitehall, cast in 1635 by Grinling Gibbons, was erected upon its present pedestal in 1678)

Dust O! One of the most useful, among the numberless regulations that promote the cleanliness and comfort of the inhabitants of London, is that which relieves them from the encumbrance of their dust and ashes. Dust carts ply the streets through the morning in every part of the metropolis. Two men go with each cart, ringing a large bell and calling “Dust O!” Daily, they empty the dust bins of all the refuse that is thrown into them. The ashes are sold for manure, the cinders for fuel and the bones to the burning houses. (New Church in the Strand, contiguous to Somerset House and dividing the very street in two.)

Green Hastens! The earliest pea brought to the London market is distinguished by the name of “Hastens,” it belongs to the dwarf genus and is succeeded by the Hotspur. This early pea, the real Hastens, is raised in hotbeds and sold in the markets at the high price of a guinea  per quart. The name of Hastens is however indiscriminately used by all the vendors to all the peas, and the cry of “Green Hastens!” resounds through every street and alley of London to the very latest crop of the season. Peas become plentiful and cheap in June, and are retailed from carts in the streets at tenpence, eightpence, and sixpence per peck. (Newgate, on the north side of Ludgate Hill is built entirely of stone.)

Hot loaves, for the breakfast and tea table, are cried at the hours of eight and nine in the morning, and from four to six in the afternoon, during the summer months. These loaves are made of the whitest flour and sold at one and two a penny. In winter, the crier of hot loaves substitutes muffins and crumpets, carrying them in the same manner, and in both instances carrying a little bell as he passes through the streets. (St Martin in the Fields, the design of this portico was taken from an ancient temple at Nismes in France and is particularly grand and beautiful.)

Hot Spiced Gingerbread, sold in oblong flat cakes of one halfpenny each, very well made, well baked and kept extremely hot is a very pleasing regale to the pedestrians of London in cold and gloomy evenings. This cheap luxury is only to be obtained in winter, and when that dreary season is supplanted by the long light days of summer, the well-known retailer of Hot Spiced Gingerbread, portrayed in the plate, takes his stand near the portico of the Pantheon, with a basket of Banbury and other cakes. (The Pantheon stands on Oxford St, originally designed for concerts, it is only used for masquerades in the winter season.)

Images courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to take a look at these other sets of the Cries of London

London Melodies

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

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana II

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana III

Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

More of Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders

Adam Dant’s  New Cries of Spittlefields

5 Responses leave one →
  1. February 16, 2012

    The cries of London – some of them at any rate – seem to have gone on until quite recently. When I lived near Vauxhall in the 1950’s, a man with a pony and cart often came down our street calling for ‘Rag-boooooh’ ( rags and bones). He mainly seemed to have things like broken rusted and worn out metal goods, but I never actually saw any customers with things they were trying to get rid of.

  2. Ruby Kay permalink
    February 16, 2012

    My grandfather hawked shrimps & winkles on a cart around the East End streets on Sunday mornings. As a child, I also remember coal men with lorries delivering to households and shouting their arrival from the street…”Coal O, C-o -a- a-l all !”
    Steptoe & Son were the celebrated fictional rage n’bone men of Shepherds Bush, of course, and provided many a chuckle with their antics. Art imitating life!

  3. good-tree permalink
    February 16, 2012

    Just wonderful. The colours in these plates are magnificent.
    Life was indeed hard in those days, but it was also a simple, uncomplicated existence. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity…

  4. February 16, 2012

    What a wonderful find, the colours are wonderful and the subject matter is so fascinating. I would love to be able to go and buy some of those things today!

  5. andi hajar permalink
    January 26, 2015

    fascinating! I enjoy the drawings. I like the classic works though it was long time ago. thanks much to the author. cos of him I can get the clear picture and imagination about life in the past.

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