Skip to content

Charles Spurgeon’s Londoners

March 1, 2022
by the gentle author

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my crowd-fund to launch a COMMUNITY TOURISM PROJECT in Spitalfields as a BETTER ALTERNATIVE to the serial killer tours that monetise misogyny. We have raised three-quarters of our target already, so please keep spreading the word.




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


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 – they became responsible for the creation of one of the earliest series of documentary portraits of Londoners.


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

Henry Mayhew’s Street Traders

11 Responses leave one →
  1. March 1, 2022

    I love the cat hanging around the fishmongers, that is one smart kitty.

  2. Andy permalink
    March 1, 2022

    Very evocative photographs with a tinge of sadness imagining these people had a precarious life in all weathers.
    However, focally they were people to look forward and see.

  3. March 1, 2022

    Fascinating – I especially liked the class distinction between milkmen!

  4. Anne Spencer permalink
    March 1, 2022

    Great photos.
    I love that there were different classes of Milkman!

  5. Chips Barrett permalink
    March 1, 2022

    That first picture reminds me of Goddard’s pie shop in Greenwich. Used to travel down from Hackney on a Sunday for some lunch and a trawl through the market. Some will disagree, but I thought they did the best pie & mash in London.

  6. March 1, 2022

    It is very interesting to see what mostly manual work was done in the streets of London. Many children had to “do it”. But at least there was also a toy seller.

    The Blind Fiddler seemed to know that he was quite well placed next to the advertising poster of “Crowder’s Music Hall”.

    Love & Peace

  7. Mary permalink
    March 1, 2022

    These images are fascinating. I had no idea there were “classes” of milkmen and I wonder if their wares were also classed. No school for the poor little chap that was out at 7.30 selling newspapers, then presumably sweeping the roads at the crossings for the rest of the day. The Kentish herb seller could be ‘Liza Doolittle and the Muffin Man reminded me of the old nursery rhyme “Have you seen the Muffin Man?”
    Although 65 years ago I used to sing that as a child as part of my large nursery rhymes repertoire, I was never really sure what a Muffin Man was, and if I sang it to my grandchildren now they would wonder “What is a nursery rhyme?”

  8. Marnie Sweet permalink
    March 1, 2022

    What difficult lives those individuals lived. Despite their sometimes tattered clothing, they all managed to convey a sense of dignity and purpose. Quite a contrast to today’s smarties whose clothing is not cheap but they all manage to appear unkempt and disrespectful.

    I could smell the pile of shrimp from my chair–gave me the shivers. No cat winding its way around the legs of those fellows.

    The photographs of old London and the brief bios of the photographers are very much appreciated, GA. For just a flash, we are transported back to the lives and environment of some of our forbears.

  9. shannon permalink
    March 2, 2022

    So amazing to see these people who lived out their lives in uncomfortable shoes and all weathers, many carrying their wares and tools on their bodies. Some of these jobs were unknown to me, such as the hokey-pokey boy…what is that? And I didn’t know there were children whose job was to sweep crossings. Always a treat to see the archival photos you find.

  10. Bill permalink
    March 2, 2022

    These people are known to us only as we see them here, in a sense frozen in time for posterity, for as long as these images survive. Each captured moment is momentous for us, an audience, yet to each of these individuals the moment it took for the light to affix an image onto glass was as nothing. Each, after posing, continued into a life we can never enter into. That old woman turned from the heat of the day into the coolness of a drab hallway, a tang of odor hitting her nostrils, into the existence of her daily life, each aspect of which was known to her as to no other, even her nearest and dearest, each aspect now long done with, joining those countless, innumerable moments of life, once all full, now expired. And one day all the moments of our living lives will be equals with hers.

  11. Laura permalink
    March 12, 2022

    The cat hanging around the fish seller brought a smile to my face! Fantastic photos.

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS