Rowlandson's Characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders


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.

Full title:
Rowlandson's characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders, intended as a companion to the New Picture of London
1820, London
Book / Print / Image
Thomas Rowlandson
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Blake's two chimney sweepers

Article by:
Linda Freedman
Romanticism, London

Songs of Innocence and of Experience contains two poems about young chimney sweepers: one in 'Innocence' and one in 'Experience'. Dr Linda Freedman considers how this allows for a complex, subtle engagement with the figure of the sweep.

The impact of the Napoleonic Wars in Britain

Article by:
Ruth Mather
Power and politics

The start of the 19th century was a time of hostility between France and England, marked by a series of wars. Throughout this period, England feared a French invasion led by Napoleon. Ruth Mather explores the impact of this fear on literature and on everyday life.

Street literature

Article by:
Ruth Richardson
Popular culture, Reading and print culture

From public notes and broadsides to catchpennies and printed songs, Dr Ruth Richardson examines the variety of street literature which informed and entertained the public before newspapers were readily available.

Related collection items

Related works

Oliver Twist

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) second novel, originally published in serial parts 1837-39, and as a three ...