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London's PeopleLondon Street-Sellers
Posted on Aug 01, 2002 - 12:18 AM by Anthony Waldstock

In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew has left us a detailed picture of London street life in the mid nineteenth century. He opens the first volume with a general resume of the classes of people who make their living on the streets of the metropolis. He then goes on to describe the varieties of people in each class. This is how he defined and classified the street sellers.

Of The London Street-Folk
Those who obtain their living in the streets of the metropolis are a very large and varied class; indeed, the means resorted to in order "to pick up a crust," as the people call it, in the public thoroughfares (and such in many instances it literally is,) are so multifarious that the mind is long baffled in its attempts to reduce them to scientific order or classification. It would appear, however, that the street- people may be all arranged under six distinct genera or kinds. These are severally:

  1. Street-sellers
  2. Street-buyers
  3. Street-Finders
  4. Street-Performers, Artists, and Showmen
  5. Street-Artizans, or Working Pedlars
  6. Street-Labourers

The first of these divisions, the Street-Sellers, includes many varieties; viz.,

  1. The Street-sellers of Fish, etc., "wet," "dry,"and shell-fish, and poultry, game, and cheese.
  2. The Street-sellers of Vegetables, fruit (both) "green" and "dry"), flowers, trees, shrubs, seeds, and roots, and "green stuff" (as water-cresses, chickweed and grun'sel, and turf).
  3. The Street-sellers of Eatables and Drinkables,, including the vendors of fried fish, hot eels, pickled whelks, sheep's trotters, ham sandwiches, peas'-soup, hot green peas, penny pies, plum "duff," meat-puddings, baked potatoes, spice- cakes, muffins and crumpets, Chelsea buns, sweetmeats, brandy-balls, cough drops, and cat and dog's meat, such constituting the principal eatables sold in the street; while under the head of street-drinkables may be specified tea and coffee, ginger-beer, lemonade, hot wine, new milk from the cow, asses milk, curds and whey, and occasionally water.
  4. The Street-sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts, among whom are comprised the flying stationers, or standing and running patterers; the long-song-sellers; the wall-song- sellers (or "pinners-up," as they are technically termed); the ballad sellers; the vendors of play-bills, second editions of newspapers, back numbers of periodicals and old books, almanacks, pocket books, memorandum books, note paper, sealing-wax, pens, pencils, stenographic cards, valentines, engravings, manuscript music, images, and gelatine poetry cards.
  5. The Street-sellers of Manufactured Articles, which class comprises a large number of individuals, as, (a) the vendors of chemical articles of manufacture, viz., blacking, lucifers, corn- salves, grease-removing compositions, plating-balls, poison for rats, crackers, detonating-balls, and cigar-lights. (b) The vendors of metal articles of manufacture, razors and pen-knives, tea-trays, dog-collars, and key-rings, hardware, bird-cages, small coins, medals, jewellery, tin- ware, tools, card-counters, red-herring-toasters, trivets, gridirons, and Dutch ovens. (c) The vendors of china and stone articles of manufac- ture, as cups and saucers, jugs, vases, chimney ornaments, and stone fruit. (d) The vendors of linen, cotton, and silken articles of manufacture, as sheeting, table-covers, cotton, tapes and thread, boot and stay-laces, haberdashery, pre- tended smuggled goods, shirt-buttons, etc., etc.; and (e) the vendors of miscellaneous articles of manufacture, as cigars, pipes, and snuff-boxes, spectacles, combs, "lots," rhubarb, sponges, wash-leather, paper-hangings, dolls, Bristol toys, sawdust, and pin-cushions.
  6. The Street-sellers of Second-hand Articles, of whom there are again four separate classes; as (a) those who sell old metal articles, viz. old knives and forks, keys, tin-ware, tools, and marine stores generally; (b) those who sell old linen articles, as old sheeting for towels; (c) those who sell old glass and crockery, including bottles, old pans and pitchers, old looking glasses, etc.; and (d) those who sell old miscellaneous articles, as old shoes, old clothes, old saucepan lids, etc., etc.
  7. The Street-sellers of Live Animals, including the dealers in dogs, squirrels, birds, gold and silver fish, and tortoises.
  8. The Street-sellers of Mineral Productions and Curiosities, as red and white sand, silver sand, coals, coke, salt, spar ornaments, and shells.

These, so far as my experience goes, exhaust the whole class of street-sellers, and they appear to constitute nearly three-fourths of the entire number of individuals obtaining a subsistence in the streets of London.

Note: The complete text of London Labour and the London Poor can be found on-line as part of the Perseus Project


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