"London Cries": the merchants' patter of 19th Century London

One genre of 19th Cen illustrated pamphlet was the "Cries of London" (previously), which celebrated the market traders' characteristic sales patter, which were catalogued as a kind of urban birdsong.

Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries (1852) is a lovely example of the genre, both for its lively illustrations and the wonderful pitches it records (and also for the reminder of all the professions that have been so thoroughly superannuated that even their existence is long forgotten).

As Spitalfield Life's "Gentle Author" points out, London's market hawkers are still on the scene, and still calling out: the birdsongs have changed, but the singing never stopped.

The Lavender Girl walked into London carrying the lavender she picked that morning in the fields. The Band Box Man is selling the hat boxes that are product of his cottage industry, manufactured at home and sold on the streets, while. The Vegetable Seller is a Costermonger, buying his fruit at the wholesale market and hawking it around the street, as many did at Covent Garden and Spitalfields Markets. We are reminded that the Knife Grinder provides a public service in the home and workplace, while the Mackerel Girl has no choice but to carry her basket of fish around the city from Billingsgate, which she herself may not get to eat. The mishap of the Image Seller, in comic form, even illustrates the vulnerability of the street seller who relies upon trading to earn a crust and the responsibility of the customer to permit them a living.

For hundreds of years, popular prints and pamphlets of the Cries of London presented images of the outcast and the poor, yet permitted them dignity in performing their existence as traders. The Cries of London celebrate how thousands sought a living through street-selling and, by turning it into performance, gained esteem and moral ownership of the territory – transcending their economic status and creating the vigorous culture of street markets that persists to this day.

Aunt Busy Bee’s New London Cries [Gentle Author/Spitalfields Life]