The Cries of London

Description

This chapbook features a number of the Cries of London in a series of charming hand-coloured illustrations, and sold for the high price of one shilling and sixpence.

The frontispiece shows John Harris's shop on the north east corner of Ludgate Hill, next to St Paul's Cathedral. A well-dressed lady and a small boy by the shop-window are distracted by a passing salesman - probably selling something delicious like hot pies, gingerbread, or Banbury cakes from his basket. The caption names the shop as 'Harris's Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction'. Medicines were often a secondary sales-line for printer-publishers and for private lending libraries (known then as 'circulating libraries'), just as chapbooks were for apothecaries and grocers, and here you can see that they are advertised on the glass fanlight over the door. The shop windows show how John Harris displayed his wares on that very well-placed corner. This is a rare image - we have very few such views of chapbook printers' premises. 

The chapbook's contents show the enormous variety of street cries which were part of the daily experience of walking through London in the Georgian era, including people calling their crafts - like 'chairs to mend', or rubbish collectors - Dust-o'- or people selling fresh fish, eels, lobsters and seafood, live geese or chickens, rabbits, potatoes, toys, nosegays of flowers, mats, brooms, watercresses, old clothes, news, Banbury cakes, or hot gingerbread.

The printing was done in this case only on one side of the folded pages, probably so that the printing ink and paints from the hand-colouring did not permeate through the paper and ruin another image printed in the reverse. This chapbook has a card cover, and shows in an advert at the back that 25 other chapbooks were available, and their prices. (Another copy of the same chapbook in the British Library shows 52 items, so Mr Harris's success in this line of goods is clear). 

This particular copy also has inscriptions at the front which give it added importance. The first shows that very soon after it was published, this chapbook was given by his 'Aunt Anne' to a boy called Henry Thring, and that in the course of time his younger brother John inherited it. One of them was evidently very attached to it. His inscription reads, in the shapely child's lettering of the day:

nobody

is

to touch

this book

on pain of

death.

Present-day members of the Thring family have been traced. They were delighted to visit the British Library to see this chapbook.

Text contributed by Ruth Richardson, independent scholar

Full title:
Sam Syntax's Description of the Cries of London
Published:
1821, London
Format:
Book
Creator:
Sam Syntax [pseudonym]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
12811.a.55.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Chapbooks

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

Chapbooks were small, affordable forms of literature for children and adults that were sold on the streets, and covered a range of subjects from fairy tales and ghost stories to news of politics, crime or disaster. Dr Ruth Richardson explains what this literature looked like, its subject matter and the ways in which it was produced.

The Cries of London

Article by:
The Gentle Author
Themes:
Poverty and the working classes, Reading and print culture, London

The Gentle Author explores William Marshall Craig’s Cries of London prints, which portray the realities of life for street traders in the early 19th century.

Prints and drawings at the British Museum and British Library

Article by:
Felicity Myrone
Themes:
Transforming topography, Antiquarianism

Felicity Myrone explores how prints and drawings are generally encountered in museum and library collections, and how this affects their meaning and status.

Related collection items