Published in 1820, Rowlandson's Characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders contains 54 hand-coloured plates showing lively, raucous scenes of London street life – many of which have now disappeared. Caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson captures people hawking their wares, flirting, shouting – even fast asleep, snoring. The advertisement at the front of the book describes Rowlandson’s work as containing ‘great variety of countenance, expression, and situation, evinc[ing] an active and lively feeling’.
Rowlandson reveals the jobs and wares that were essential to running 19th-century Britain - such as coal - and contemporary fads and fashions like rhubarb powder, thought to ward off minor illnesses. Other figures include the ‘poor sweep’ and ballad singers, who sang out the day’s news.
The plates were originally published with Leigh's New Picture of London. Rowlandson's work came was bound after Leigh's more serious, straight guide to London.