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Charles Spurgeon’s Street Traders

March 20, 2017
by the gentle author

Charles Spurgeon the Younger, son of the Evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon, took over the South St Baptist Chapel in Greenwich in the eighteen-eighties and commissioned an unknown photographer to make lantern slides of the street traders of Greenwich that he could use in his preaching. We shall never know exactly how Spurgeon showed these pictures, taken between 1884 and 1887, but – perhaps inadvertently – he was responsible for the creation of one of the earliest series of documentary portraits of Londoners.

Champion Pie Man – W.Thompson, Pie Maker of fifty years, outside his shop in the alley behind Greenwich Church

Hokey-Pokey Boy – August Bank Holiday, Stockwell St, Greenwich

Knife Grinder – posed cutting out a kettle bottom from a tin sheet

Rabbit Seller

Toy Seller – King William St outside Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Ginger Cakes Seller – King St, near Greenwich Park


Shrimp Sellers – outside Greenwich Park

Crossing Sweeper (& News Boy) – Clarence St, Greenwich

Sherbert Seller – outside Greenwich Park

Third Class Milkman – carrying two four-gallon cans on a yoke, King William’s Walk, Greenwich

Second Class Milkman – with a hand cart and seventeen-gallon churn

Master Milkman – in his uniform, outside Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Chairmender – Corner of Prince Orange Lane, Greenwich

Kentish Herb Woman – Greenwich High Rd

Muffin Man


Try Your Weight – outside Greenwich Park


News Boy (& Crossing Sweeper) – delivering The Daily News at 7:30am near Greenwich Pier

Old Clo’ Man – it was a crime to dispose of infected clothing during the Smallpox epidemics of  the eighteen-eighties and the Old Clo’ Man plied a risky trade.

Blind Fiddler – outside Crowders’ Music Hall Greenwich

You may also like to take a look at

John Thomson’s Street Life in London

Henry Mayhew’s Street Traders

15 Responses leave one →
  1. March 20, 2017

    What amazing images. A fabulous look at street life back in those days.

  2. Jim McDermott permalink
    March 20, 2017

    Really fascinating, and salutary to see glimpses of extreme poverty and its health implications at the heart of what was then the world’s richest country.

    I really do wonder whether Queen Victoria was about to mug that ginger-cakes seller.

  3. Ann permalink
    March 20, 2017

    These pictures brought back a few memories: of my mum who always said there was no ice cream like hokey pokey, 1d a lump!
    And me singing Do you know the muffin man? at Brownies many moons ago.

  4. March 20, 2017

    Extraordinary photos – thank you!

  5. Jenny Sparidge permalink
    March 20, 2017

    What wonderful portraits! What a glimpse into another age. Children wearing shoes fours sizes bigger than their feet … some children wearing no shoes at all. No one wearing new clothes, let alone fancy and fashionable ones. And not a scrap of street rubbish or letter to be seen … well, maybe two bits but I think the young lad was on to it. This certainly was from another time.

  6. March 20, 2017

    A brilliant set of images.
    Can anyone tell me what a Hokey-Pokey Boy was?

  7. March 20, 2017

    There are so many reasons to love this series… The historic significance and documentation. The signage and architectural details in the backgrounds. The arcane professions, and the sense of daily diligence. The clothing details. And most of all — the remarkable faces. Alas, what a lively street scene it must have been. Close your eyes, and imagine the sounds!

    Hats off to YOUR amazing history.

  8. March 20, 2017

    Wonderful. A real treasure trove but I, like you GA, am puzzled as to what these images were actually used for, obviously we shall never know, but I can’t detect a theme apart from the occupations of what would appear to be mostly very poor and crippled people. I noticed the built up boot for instance. There is much food for thought here without a doubt.

  9. March 20, 2017

    Fantastic! Wonderful complement to the tradepersons illustrations you’ve shown.

  10. March 20, 2017

    I don’t think theses photos were actually used in Spurgeon’s preaching. In the British Newpaper Archive, the Shields Daily Gazette of 12 March 1887 has an ad saying that Spurgeon will be preaching in the Tabernacle on Monday 14th and in Westoe Lane Baptist Chapel on the afternoon of Tuesday 14th. Below this is another ad saying, ‘On Tuesday evening, Mr Spurgeon will give his Popular DISSOLVING VIEW LECTURE on “Street Characters & Cries,” illustrated by 60 Views, taken from life, and shown by a powerful Oxahydrogen [sic] Lime Light.’ Seats were 1s. (best) and 6d. (other). He also seems to have travelled with a lecture entitled ‘Hoarding Information, or Lessons from Advertisements’.

  11. Nick permalink
    March 20, 2017

    Good work Bob. Reveals the true purpose of these gems.

  12. March 21, 2017

    Great pictures.

  13. Ruth Hodges permalink
    April 2, 2017

    In one of the comments here (by Bob Davenport), it states that Mr. Spurgeon’s lectures had 60 photos as a part of it. Are the other photographs still available to be viewed? I would love to see more.

  14. Julia permalink
    April 14, 2017

    In reply to Andy Altmann, hokey-pokey men/boys were ice-cream sellers, often Italian immigrants. There’s some interesting info here – regarding the possible derivations of the name.

    Wonderful photos.

  15. John Creed permalink
    July 21, 2020

    Research into the Spurgeon photo of a Guard starting a train (not shown above) has shown it was taken in 1884 at Maze Hill station. Search the TNA records at Kew (online) under ref COPY 1/369/256 for the registration for copyright of this photo, and a batch of 50-odd other street traders under nearby reference numbers. Photographer is given as R L Sirus of 26 King Street, Greenwich (now King William Walk SE10, as in pic of 3rd class milkman above), not far from Spurgeon’s own home, 32 Devonshire Road (now D Drive). Not that that proves Sirus took all of them, 1884-7, of course. This batch was registered in September 1884.

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