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Street cries of the world

Street cries were once a popular subject of songs and literature in Britain, continental Europe and elsewhere. Each month from 2018 onwards I'll be scanning and transcribing publications to build this collection.

THE CRIES OF LONDON, DRAWN FROM LIFE

The eight plates and accompanying verses and notes reproduced here comprise a fragment surviving from a book of at least 21 plates. The full title is ‘The Cries of London: Drawn from Life; with Descriptive Letter-Press, in Prose and Verse’.

DEFORMED BEGGAR.

THIS poor unhappy man I’ve seen,
Of shapeless and distorted mien;
But yet his heart more kind may be,
Than one whose form is symmetry;
And when at him you scoff and smile,
’Tis God alone whom you revile.

This unfortunate, deformed character is well known in the metropolis: by the gifts of the humane he is supported. He considers his deformity a sure excitement to charity, and is perfectly contented with his fate. As the law of England does not sanction begging, he generally vends pens, and perhaps there is not a dealer in the city that can command the price he occasionally gets.

TINKER.

THE tinker is a useful man,
He’ll solder kettle, jug, or can;
And through the cauldron at his side,
With daily bread he is supplied.
Cornwall much metal does produce,
And oft is found of greatest use.

Jemmy Lovell is the name of this eccentric man; he has lived in St. Giles’s a number of years. His family is exceedingly numerous; he has above twenty children, and as his wife is as much tarnished as himself, it is not surprising that the children should be complete gipsies. Jemmy is remarkably fond of his business, and has the reputation of being very expert in mending a kettle: we wish we could say so much in his favour as regards his habits.

APPLE-BOY.

ONE penny give him, if you please,
And eight he promises of these;
For twopence he will you supply
With fruit enough to make a pie.
’Twas through an apple’s direful spell
That Eve transgress’d and Adam fell.

The principal part of the apples sold to the deals to supply London are at Covent-Garden and the Borough markets. On market-days, at five in the morning in summer, and between six and seven in the winter, an interesting, and no doubt a novel scene to many, may be found at Covent-Garden, caused by the confusion between buyers, sellers, porters, and basket-women. The latter are chiefly Irish, and attend for the purpose of carrying the purchases of green-grocers to their habitations.

POULTRY-MAN.

LIVE fowls and ducks he has to sell,
Come, buy of him, he’ll use you well;
And a great comfort ’tis, I say,
A new-laid egg to have each day.
The hen’s attention to her young
By poets has been often sung.

The chief object of this class of dealers is to undersell the shopkeepers; and as quality with many people is not so much the consideration as quantity, they have their share of purchases. Men of this calling, like most of the street-dealers, are remarkably apt to pledge their word and honour to the truth of their remarks on the quality of their goods. A few weeks in London would convince any person of the necessity of buying from his own experience, and not the recommendation of the hawker.

FISH-WOMAN.

THIS woman you may often meet
With fish, she’ll warrant sound and sweet.
Each morn to Billingsgate she’ll hie,
Whilst we on couches snugly lie:
She’s happy in her humble state,
And envies not the rich or great.

The fish-market at Billingsgate is well worth the trouble of visiting; the hurry, bustle, and confusion caused by the venders and purchasers of fish, are particularly interesting. The habits of this class of people are extremely laborious: many do not walk less than twenty miles a day. It has long been regretted, that in an island like Great Britain, where the sea appears the natural element of the inhabitants, the fisheries are so much neglected, and that a considerable portion of the fish which supplies the metropolis should be bought from Dutch fishermen.

MAT-MAN.

“A MAT I think you’ll surely buy,
’Twill keep your house both clean and dry;
And for two shillings I’ll ensure
No greater comfort you’ll procure:
If that’s too dear, I’ve got some more,
Which will as well keep clean your door.”

The best mats are made from a strong fibre that adheres to the shell of the cocoa-nut, which are scarce and expensive, and are seldom sold by men of this description. The Spanish frail mats are next in estimation. Good serviceable mats are made from the bark of the lime-tree (from Russia), rope from ship-junks, the plain from Dutch rush, and the common mat from English rushes.

BROOM-MAN.

“BUY a brush, ma’am, or a hair-broom,
To make a rod or sweep a room;
The very best you’ll find I’ve here,
And none of them I’m sure are dear.
’Tis worth much more, but I am willing
To sell this large one for a shilling.”

“Buy a brush, or a hair-broom; brooms for your rooms, or a carpet-broom:” this well-known cry must often arrest the attention of masters or mistresses, whose servants have mislayed, broken, lost or worn down the old one. Dealers in brooms in the metropolis, although they are very noisy, are not numerous; as the persons who adopt it generally take their rounds in the environs of London, where the inhabitants find it inconvenient to purchase of the shopkeepers.

MILK-GIRL.

EARLY before the dawn of day
The rosy milk-maid goes her way,
And carries in each shining pail
The milk we know she bears for sale;
When stooping to each area low,
She sweetly cries, “Milk, milk, below!”

The women employed to carry milk are almost universally Welsh or Irish girls, strong and healthy by nature, and invigorated by exercise and early rising. This invaluable beverage they purchase from cow-keepers at 2s. 3d. the barn gallon, which is eight quarts. Some milk-walks are very lucrative: many of the principals have numerous carriers; their wages are nine shillings per week and breakfast.