These advertisements from the middle of the 18th century highlight the popularity of ready-to-eat street food (as seen by the advertisement for TiddyDoll the famous ‘Gingerbread Merchant’). Hawkers of cheap eats such as gingerbread, fruit, nuts, fried fish and pastries were a permanent feature of the city scene; food was always available to those who could spare a few pennies. Alternatively, ordinaries were cheap cook-houses dotted among shops and markets that offered various dishes to suit every budget. Typically, these served simple dishes of cooked meat with bread and a few vegetables. Chop-houses offered more formal, private dining and a varied menu. This was often accompanied by a hot and hot service, such as that offered at London’s famous Dolly Chop-House near St Paul’s Cathedral, where food was served straight from the pan to the table.

John Osgood’s Muffins and Tea-Cakes newspaper advertisement, from the 1740s, reveals the somewhat strained relationship that existed between a growing army of shopkeepers and the multitude of hawkers that threatened their prosperity. Here John Osgood complains of hawkers pretending to sell his muffins and teacakes about the streets of London; he is at pains to state that his products are not sold ‘to any that carry them about to dispose of again’.

Maintaining one’s reputation as a Georgian retailer could be a costly and draining business, especially when attempting to appeal to the ever-changing tastes for luxury and high fashion. Shop fronts, displays and furnishings could require considerable out-lay by shopkeepers, and profits were often slim. Set against this background any extra competition from street-sellers was naturally unwelcome. Some measures were imposed to remove hawkers from fashionable retail districts entirely. During the mid 1700s, for example, the City of London began to license hawking. Periodic clampdowns resulted in the arrest of humble street-sellers and the confiscation of their wares.