London Street Cries 1867
Reproduced from the South Australian Advertiser of 24 December 1867.
Saturday is the day of all days to hear the different calls that are almost ever going on in every London street. I purpose giving a few instances, and I only wish I could convey the sounds with the words.
I have been listening to the people calling their different wares a long time now, but I still remain in ignorance of what a good many of them mean. I cannot understand why they should make what they have to say as unintelligible, instead of as plain as possible. I have often wondered why they should go so much against their own interest as it seems to me.
One of the first things you hear on Saturday morning is the cry of hearthstone. The boys or men who sell it either wheel it before them or carry bags full of it in small blocks on their backs, and they pronounce it as if it were spelled heartstoney. They sell a great deal, because they are supposed, no doubt wrongly, to give a larger quantity for the same price then the shops.
Then comes a shrill voice singing:–
“Do you want any blooming lavender?
Sixteen bunches a penny,
Sixteen bunches a penny, sweet lavender,
Sixteen bunches a penny.”
This has barely died away when “Any old chairs or baskets to mend” is hallooed at the top of a couple of voices, one coming up one side of the street, and another up the other.
Twice a day beer is called through the streets, and beer is pronounced something as if the man gave a hiccup between the be and the er. The hours he passes are at one and nine o’clock, I suppose to be in time for the servants’ dinner and supper. Once during the day you may see a man going from house to house, clanking tin cans together, gathering the cans that the beer has been left in the night before.
“Any ornaments for fire stoves,” and “Fly cages, only a penny each,” are always cried by women. They cry the ornaments for fire stoves in a very peculiar way, and very indistinctly, but the fly cages in their natural voices, and very distinctly. Why the difference I cannot imagine; but you could scarcely believe that the same person uttered both cries, so great is the change in the voice.
Who has not hear the cry of “Fine evergreens,” and again of “Flowers, all a growin’ and a blowin’; threepence a pot, four pots for a shilling.” These people who sell flowers will, I believe, receive in return old clothes, sometimes more willingly even than money; and I have also seen the poor women exchanging the paper ornaments for fireplaces for old clothes.
It is hardly worth while to mention “Clo’, clo’, any old clo’,” for I think it is a cry familiar to all who either reside or have ever been in London. But, besides the men who go about calling “clo’,” there are women carrying on the same business less openly. They call at the houses and send up their business cards, with a message to the effect that they have a very large and respectable connection, and that they will call in a few days for an answer. Many people sell to these women who would not call an old Jew in from the street, so nice are the shades of distinction with those who live only for appearances and who are satisfied with the husk of truth.
Asparagus is called “Asparygrass, fine tender asparygrass.” Sweeps generally pass through the street early in the morning, and they give a horrible, loud howl, which makes me fear that it will frighten all the children in the neighbourhood.
Groundsel is sold by miserable-looking poor creatures. Their clothes are one mass of tatters, and they seldom wear shoes. On a wet day, especially, they look most miserable, no doubt to excite pity. They sometimes stand in the middle of the street, singing their groundsel, but generally stop in front of a window, where they see a bird, and beg of the people inside to buy a little from them, if only to keep them from starving, and indeed I have seen some who looked, poor creatures, as if they were starving.
Then there are others who do not cry their wares, but run after people and try to tease them into buying or giving them something. This is generally a cloak for begging, for they often do not mention what they hold, but beg for pence. The things these people sell, when they do well, are combs, little bunches of flowers, common account-books, matches, writing paper, &c., and I have seen them follow and tease people who were glad to give a penny to get rid of them. Of course they take care to keep out of sight of the policemen, or if they follow until a policeman comes within sight, you may wonder at the sudden silence, and look over your shoulder to find them gone.
“Windows to mend” is another common cry, and wherever these poor fellows see a broken pane of glass, they ring and ask if they may repair it. If you bargian with them you may perhaps get the window mended more cheaply than by your own tradespeople; but if you happen to give them a job without mentioning the price, you will have to pay indeed. There is then no end to the exhorbitancy of their charge, and my experience is that things repaired at a shop where you are in the habit of dealing will be charged more moderately for, and the work better done than by the street workmen.
Besides the window menders there are men with little cart workshops, with a fire attached to the cart, who mend all kinds of things. Their cry is (and you must imagine t6his to be drawled out slowly and very loud), “Have you any knives, table-knives, carving-knives, pen-knives to grind? Any umbrellas, parasols, or opera glasses to mend? Have you got any saucepans, kettles, tin cans, or pots of any kind that want mending?” Sometimes they rinf each area bell and repeat this call to the servants.
On Sunday you hear newspapers cried, Lloyd’s Weekly Times most frequently, by the shrill voices of little boys. Besides papers, which only last during the early part of the day, the cry of all kinds of fruit, nuts, &c., is going on all day long. In poor, quiet streets, quite a brisk trade is doing on Sunday mornings. On going to church we sometimes pass through a street of this kind, because it is a short cut, and we often meet boys running off to the baker’s with a shoulder of mutton, or some other joint, placed upon a pile of potatoes, to be baked, I suppose. The greengrocers, butchers, tobacconists, and lollypop-shops are those that I have noticed open on Sundays. It is only in poor streets, which are still generally within a stone’s throw of the richest streets, that butchers and greengrocers’ shops are to be seen open, but almost every sweetmeat and tobacco shop is kept half open.
“As low as a penny or twopence each; here you are ladies, here you are; here is something you don’t see every day, something you don’t have the opportunity of buying every day, a sixpenny sponge, toilet sponge, a Turkish sponge, a bath sponge, honeycomb, and all kind of spongers, some of them as low as a penny or twopence each.”
“Chinaware cheap” is called by one old man in very dismal tones, as if he were crying almost, but most chinaware sellers knock a couple of basins together continually, by way of proclaiming what they have for sale. “Cat’s-meat” is another call that is unlike itself that a stranger would never understand it. Watercresses are generally sold by old women, boys, or girls. They call them “Wahter Creesees.” Milk passes through the street nearly every hour in the day, the milkman giving a kind of whoop, or noise in the throat.
There are, of course, plenty more street calls, but they do not occur to me at this moment.