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John Player’s Cries Of London 1913

October 10, 2019
by the gentle author

In this set of John Player’s Cries of London from 1913 an appealing pantomime aesthetic prevails. These crudely printed cards portray an idealised old London in which the cats’ meat is as pink as the spots on a hat box and the hawkers are resolutely cheery as they go about the the streets plying their wares. Although the clouded skies that accompany each vendor will strike an unexpectedly familiar note of authenticity for any Londoner.

I cannot deny there is a little moralism in the text on the reverse of these cards, apparent when we are told that these itinerants, “were then a more respectable class than at present,” evidenced by the basket seller’s family who made “better kinds of baskets… some of them being neatly coloured and decorated.” Elsewhere we encounter “the cleanly housewife who strews sand plentifully over her floor,” and “the London housewives” who place Lavender in their linen cupboards.

Player’s Cries of London are a model of decorum except for the last two cards, the Dust Man (whose title still lingers in the vocabulary to describe Refuse Collectors) and the Chimney Sweep – who are missing their implicit companion, the Night Soil Man, as presumably too scatological. The Dust Man looks distracted while the Chimney Sweep is overly cheerful verging on the demonic. Even if these charismatic gaudy images have been more than a little sanitised, in the wicked grin of this bratty little urchin we are reminded of the witty libertarian spirit of the old Cries of London.

All Cries of London are fascinating to me – whether prints, cigarette cards, biscuit tins, plates or playing cards, because the changing nature of these images traces evolving perceptions of the urban poor. It is a genre that delights me by celebrating the infinite resourcefulness of those who created a living out of nothing on the streets of London.


You may like to take a look at

William Nicholson’s London Types

John Leighton’s London Cries

Francis Wheatley’s Cries of London

John Thomas Smith’s Vagabondiana of 1817

Adam Dant’s  New Cries of Spittlefields

2 Responses leave one →
  1. October 10, 2019

    Am I right in thinking that these cards differ from some other ‘Cries’ series in that they locate the people in sometimes recognisable locations? ‘Lavender’, ‘Sand’ and ‘Cat’s-Meat’, for example, all look vaguely familiar – though of course they many be generic?

  2. Chris Connor permalink
    October 11, 2019

    Very interesting article on the Cries of London. One of the undoubtedly many places that “Water cresses” (no.10) was grown locally is in my current home town of Chesham, Buckinghamshire. Grown in large quantity in the river Chess, it was moved down to London overnight for sale.

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