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Tony Hawkins & The Cries Of London

October 28, 2015
by the gentle author

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.

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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.

Click here to find out more about the CRIES OF LONDON season I have devised for BISHOPSGATE INSTITUTE

10 Responses leave one →
  1. October 28, 2015

    What a sad story. I know police don’t always have an easy life, but why was it necessary to hound Tony? I am sure there are enough people around who needed their attention more. Good luck to Tony! Valerie

  2. October 28, 2015

    What a brilliant article and film – and a moving account by Tony Hawkins of his struggle to earn a completely legal living. Can’t wait to see the book!

  3. Vicky permalink
    October 28, 2015

    Huge admiration for Tony – people can be amazing!

  4. Robert Green permalink
    October 28, 2015

    Quiet often you hear some representative of “PLOD” complaining in the media about their lack of public support ? ? ? ? as an “ordinary” ? ? Person like Tony, you work hard use your initiative and try to support yourself by making the most of whatever skills you have and you end up living in a care home with NOTHING, on the other hand, if you come from the opposite end of society and you’re a MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT and you get caught FIDDLING YOUR EXPENSES and effectively STEALING PUBLIC MONEY you’re more likely to end up sitting in the HOUSE OF LORDS, in ENGLAND the class system is DEAD ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? .

  5. Joan Bailey permalink
    October 28, 2015

    Reading this I am reminder of Bernard Mills, a well-known street pedlar and former newspaper seller, a celebrated figure in my local town. Severely disabled but deeply entrepreneurial, his strangled cry of ‘Bolton Evening News’, or ‘Bolton Evening Nudes’ as we kids used to mimic, was a very familiar one in the town centre in the 60s and 70s.

  6. Pete permalink
    October 28, 2015

    Absolute disgrace that the ‘powers that be’ and their minions use so much resource and energy persecuting decent ordinary folk like Tony for just trying to make a modest living and harming no-one.
    …and yet ( as alluded to before ) a blind eye is turned to all manner of corruption , and allegedly much worse, perpetrated by those whose position allows them to abuse it..sickening.

  7. Neville Turner permalink
    October 28, 2015

    A life well lived against the odds,well done Tony for maintaining your purpose and your
    Individuality with true grit and vigour.Good luck for the future Tony Hawkins.

  8. December 11, 2018

    This is still going on on fri the trading standards confiscated my goods and on sunday the police closed me down with intimidation and unlawful procedure . I was humiliated in public. I will never give in to these people. I am an honest and honourable man and I will not be bullied.

  9. Penny permalink
    June 19, 2023

    I had the wonderful experience of meeting Tony and hearing his story. Despite all the obstacles, he’s a fascinating person with resilience and a passion for rights. I am ordering The Gentle Readers book to dig deeper into this. I’ve been ignited with wonder since meeting Tony.

  10. Mark thompson permalink
    January 31, 2024

    I am an old friend of Tony’s my name is mark from newcastle and used to go down to see tony lost my phone with Tony’s number on so lost contact spoke about 6 year ago to him great friend of mine and geordie steve he was last known to live in care home in Brixton when I last spoke to him he had 2 pit bull dogs when we stayed with him when he lived in bromley by now dog was called floyd cant remember other dog mitzy I think is tony still with us anyone know drop me email thanks mark

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