Street sellers


  • Intro

    These photographs taken in London by John Thompson  in the mid 1870s show an ice cream seller and a street locksmith. During the late 1800s there were probably about 30,000 street sellers (known as costermongers) in London, each selling his or her particular wares from a barrow or donkey-cart. The journalist Henry Mayhew recorded the array of goods for sale: oysters, hot-eels, pea soup, fried fish, pies and puddings, sheep’s trotters, pickled whelks, gingerbread, baked potatoes, crumpets, cough-drops, street-ices, ginger beer, cocoa and peppermint water as well as clothes, second-hand musical instruments, books, live birds and even birds nests. Some specialised in buying waste products such as broken metal, bottles, bones and ‘kitchen stuff’ such as dripping, broken candles and silver spoons.  Most middle class and working class households depended on these street sellers, who had regular predictable beats, and made a fair living. The audio is an extract from Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, 1851. 


    Shelfmark: RB23b.6198

  • Video

  • Audio

    Can't play the file above? Listen to the audio clip here

  • Transcript

    Audio transcript

    OF THE CRIES, ROUNDS, AND DAYS OF COSTERMONGERS from London Labour and the London Poor, by Henry Mayhew, 1851


    I shall now proceed to treat of the London costermongers' mode of doing business.


    In the first place all the goods they sell are cried or "hawked," and the cries of the coster-mongers in the present day are as varied as the articles they sell. The principal ones, uttered in a sort of cadence, are now, "Ni-ew mackerel, 6 a shilling." ("I've got a good jacketing manya Sunday morning," said one dealer, "for waking people up with crying mackerel, but I've said, `I must live while you sleep."') "Buy a pair of live soles, 3 pair for 6d." -- or, with a barrow, "Soles, 1d.a pair, 1d.a pair;" "Plaice alive, alive, cheap;" "Buy a pound crab, cheap;" "Pine-apples, ½d. a slice;" "Mussels a penny a quart;" "Oysters, a penny a lot;" "Salmon alive, 6d. a pound;" "Cod alive, 2d. a pound;" "Real Yarmouth bloaters, 2 a penny;" "New herrings alive, 16 a groat" (this is the loudest cry of any); "Penny a bunch turnips" (the same with greens, cabbages, etc.); "All new nuts, 1d. half-pint;" "Oranges, 2 a penny;" "All large and alive-O, new sprats, O, 1d. a plate;" "Wi-ild Hampshire rabbits, 2 a shilling;" "Cherry ripe, 2d. a pound;" "Fine ripe plums, 1d. a pint;" "Ing-uns, a penny a quart;" "Eels, 3lbs. a shilling -- large live eels 3lbs. a shilling."


    The continual calling in the streets is very distressing to the voice. One man told me that it had broken his, and that very often while out he lost his voice altogether. "They seem to have no breath," the men say, "after calling for a little while." The repeated shouting brings on a hoarseness, which is one of the peculiar characteristics of hawkers in general. The costers mostly go out with a boy to cry their goods for them. If they have two or three hallooing together, it makes more noise than one, and the boys can shout better and louder than the men. The more noise they can make in a place the better they find their trade. Street-selling has been so bad lately that many have been obliged to have a drum for their bloaters, "to drum the fish off," as they call it.

Find out more about the Street sellers Here

Explore more timeline content: