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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 EVERY-DAY BOOK AND TABLE BOOK

The following are extracts from Volume III of William Hone’s The Every-Day Book and Table Book, published in 1827.

YOUNG LAMBS TO SELL.

Young lambs to sell

Young lambs to sell! young lambs to sell
If I’d as much money as I could tell,
I’d not come here with lambs to sell!
Dolly and Molly, Richard and Nell,
Buy my young lambs, and I’ll use you well!

This is a “London cry” at the present time: the engraving represents the crier, William Liston, from a drawing for which he purposely stood.

This “public character” was born in the Gallowgate in the city of Glasgow. He became a soldier in the waggon-train, commanded by colonel Hamilton, and served under the duke of York in Holland, where, on the 6th of October, 1799, he lost his right arm and left leg, and his place in the army. His misfortunes thrust distinction upon him. From having been a private in the ranks, where he would have remained a single undistinguishable cipher 0, amongst a row of ciphers 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 he now makes a figure in the world; and is perhaps better known throughout England than any other individual of his order in society, for he has visited almost every town with “young lambs to sell.” He has a wife and four children; the latter are constantly employed in making the “young lambs,” with white cotton wool for fleeces, spangled with Dutch gilt, the head of flour paste, red paint on the cheeks, two jet black spots for eyes, horns of twisted shining tin, legs to correspond, and pink tape tied round the neck for a graceful collar. A full basket of these, and his song-like cry, attract the attention of the juvenile population, and he contrives to pick up a living, notwithstanding the “badness of the times.” The day after last Christmas-day, his cry in Covent-garden allured the stage-manager to purchase four dozen of “young lambs,” and at night they were “brought out” at that theatre, in the basket of a performer who personated their old proprietor, and cried so as to deceive the younger part of the audience into a belief that he was their real favourite of the streets.

I remember the first crier of “young lambs to sell!” He was a maimed sailor; and with him originated the manufacture. If I am not mistaken, this man, many years after I had ceased to be a purchaser of his ware, was guilty of some delinquency, for which he forfeited his life: his cry was

Young lambs to sell! young lambs to sell!
Two for a penny young lambs to sell!
Two for a penny young lambs to sell—
Two for a penny young lambs to sell!
 If I’d as much money as I could tell,
 I wouldn’t cry young lambs to sell!
Young lambs to sell—young lambs to sell—
Two for a penny young lambs to sell!
 Young lambs to se—e—ll,
 Young la—a—mbs to sell!

Though it is five and thirty years ago since I heard the sailor’s musical “cry,” it still sings in my memory; it was a tenor of modulated harmonious tune, till, in the last line but one, it became a thorough bass, and rolled off at the close with a loud swell that filled urchin listeners with awe and admiration. During this chant his head was elevated, and he gave his full voice, and apparently his looks, to the winds; but the moment he concluded, and when attention was yet rivetted, his address became particular: his persuasive eye and jocular address flashed round the circle of “my little masters and mistresses,” and his hand presented a couple of his snow white “fleecy charge,” dabbled in gold, “two for a penny!” nor did he resume his song till ones and twos were in the possession of probably every child who had a halfpenny or penny at command.

The old sailor’s “young lambs” were only half the cost of the poor soldier’s. It may be doubted whether the materials of their composition have doubled in price, but the demand for “young lambs” has certainly lessened, while the present manufacturer has quite as many wants as the old one, and luckily possessing a monopoly of the manufacture, he therefore raises the price of his articles to the necessity of his circumstances. It is not convenient to refer to the precise chapter in the “Wealth of Nations,” or to verified tables of the increased value of money, in order to show that the new lamb-seller has not exceeded “an equitable adjustment” in the arrangement of his present prices; but it is fair to state in his behalf, that he declares, notwithstanding all the noise he makes, the carrying on of the lamb business is scarcely better than pig-shaving; “Sir,” says he, “it’s great cry, and little wool.” From a poor fellow, at his time of life, with only half his limbs to support a large family this is no joke. Not having been at his native place for two and twenty years, the desire to see it once more is strong within him, and he purposes next Easter to turn his face northwards, with his family, and “cry” all the way from London to Glasgow. Let the little ones, therefore, in the towns of his route, keep a penny or two by them to lay out in “young lambs,” and so help the poor fellow along the road, in this stage of his struggle through life.

March 19, 1827

LONDON CRIES.

Buy a fine singing-bird!

The criers of singing birds are extinct: we have only the bird-sellers. This engraving, therefore, represents a by-gone character: it is from a series of etchings called the “Cries of London,” by Marcellus Lauron, a native of the Hague, where he was born in 1653. He came to England with his father, by whom he was instructed in painting. He drew correctly, studied nature diligently, copied it closely, and so surpassed his contemporaries in drapery, that Sir Godfrey Kneller employed him to clothe his portraits. He likewise excelled in imitating the different styles of eminent masters, executed conversation pieces of considerable merit, and died at London in 1705. His “London Cries” render his name familiar, on account of the popularity which these performances still possess, and there being among them likenesses of several “remarkable people” of the times. “Lauron’s Cries” are well known to collectors, with whom the portrait of a pedlar, if a “mentioned print,” is quite as covetable as a peer’s.

Mr. Fenn of East Dereham, Norfolk, writing to the Rev. Mr. Granger, who was the Linnæus of “engraved British portraits,” sends him a private etching or two of a “Mr. Orde’s doing,” and says, “He is a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and is exceedingly lucky in taking off any peculiarity of person. Mr. Orde is a gentleman of family and fortune, and in these etchings makes his genius a conveyance of his charity, as he gives the profits arising from the local sale of the impressions in the University, to the originals from whom he draws his likenesses.— Randal, the orangeman, got enough by the sale of himself to equip himself from head to food: he always calls his oranges, &c. by some name corresponding to the time he sells them; as, at the commencement, Commencement oranges; at a musical entertainment, Oratorio oranges. By this humour he is known throughout the University, where he is generally called Dr. Randal. His likeness, manner, and gait, are exactly taken off.— The Clare-hall fruit-woman too is very striking, as indeed are all the etchings.”

Mr. Malcolm tells of a negro-man abroad, who cried “balloon lemons, quality oranges, quality lemons, holiday limes, with a certain peculiarity, and whimsicality, that recommended him to a great deal of custom. He adventured in a lottery, obtained a prize of five thousand dollars, became raving mad, through excess of joy, and died in a few days.”

Lauron’s “London Cries” will be further noticed: in the mean time it may suffice to say, that this is the season wherein a few kidnappers of the feathered tribe walk about with their little prisoners, and tempt young fanciers to “buy a fine singing bird.”

April 9, 1827.

OLD LONDON CRIES.

Fine writing ink

These engravings pretty well describe the occupations of the figures they represent. The cry of “Fine writing-ink” has ceased long ago; and the demand for such a fork as the woman carries is discontinued. They are copied from a set of etchings formerly mentioned — the “Cries of London,” by Lauron. The following of that series are worth describing, because they convey some notion of cries which we hear no longer in the streets of the metropolis.

Buy a new Almanack?

A woman bears book-almanacks before her, displayed in a round basket.

London’s Gazette here.

A woman holds one in her hand, and seems to have others in her lapped-up apron.

Buy any Wax or Wafers?

A woman carries these requisites for correspondence in a small hand-basket, or frail, with papers open in the other hand.

My Name, and your Name, your Father’s Name, and Mother’s Name.

A man bears before him a square box, slung from his shoulders, containing type-founders’ letters, in small cases, each on a stick; he holds one in his hand. I well remember to have heard this very cry when a boy. The type-seller composed my own name for me, which I was thereby enabled to imprint on paper with common writing ink. I think it has become wholly extinct within the last ten years.

Old Shoes for some Brooms.

A man with birch-brooms suspended behind him on a stick. His cry intimates, that he is willing to exchange them for old shoes; for which a wallet at his back, depending from his waist, seems a receptacle.

Remember the poor Prisoners!

A man, with a capacious covered basket suspended at his back by leather handles, through which his arms pass; he holds in his right hand a small, round, deep box with a slit in the top, through which money may be put: in his left hand is a short walking-staff for his support. In former times the prisoners in different gaols, without allowance, deputed persons to walk the streets and solicit alms for their support, of passengers and at dwelling-houses. The basket was for broken-victuals.

Fritters, piping hot Fritters.

A woman seated, frying the fritters on an iron with four legs, over an open fire lighted on bricks; a pan of batter by her side: two urchins, with a small piece of money between them, evidently desire to fritter it.

Buy my Dutch Biskets?

A woman carries them open in a large, round, shallow arm-basket on her right arm; a smaller and deeper one, covered with a cloth, is on her left.

Who’s for a Mutton Pie, or a Christmas Pie?

A woman carries them in a basket hanging on her left arm, under her cloak; she rings a bell with her right hand.

Lilly white Vinegar, Threepence a Quart.

The vinegar is in two barrels, slung across the back of a donkey; pewter measures are on the saddle in the space between them. The proprietor walks behind—he is a jaunty youth, and wears flowers on the left side of his hat, and a lily white apron; he cracks a whip with his left hand; and his right fingers play with his apron strings.

Old Satin, old Taffety, or Velvet.

A smart, pretty-looking lass, in a high-peaked crowned-hat, a black hood carelessly tied under her chin, handsomely stomachered and ruffled, trips along in high-heeled shoes, with bows of ribbons on the insteps; a light basket is on her right arm, and her hands are crossed with a quality air.

Scotch or Russia Cloth.

A comfortably clothed, stout, substantial-looking, middle-aged man, in a cocked hat, (the fashion of those days,) supporting with his left hand a pack as large as his body, slung at his back; his right hand holds his yard measure, and is tucked into the open bosom of his buttoned coat; a specimen of his cloth hangs across his arm. Irish and Holland linen have superseded Scotch and Russia.

Four pair for a Shilling, Holland Socks.

A woman cries them, with a shilling’s-worth in her hand; the bulk of her ware is in an open box before her. Our ancestors took great precautions against wet from without—they took much within. They were soakers and sockers.

Long Thread Laces, long and strong.

A miserably tattered-clothed girl and boy carry long sticks with laces depending from the ends, like cats-o’-nine tails. This cry was extinct in London for a few years, while the females dressed naturally—now, when some are resuming the old fashion of stiff stays and tight-lacing, and pinching their bowels to inversion, looking unmotherly and bodiless, the cry has been partially revived.

Pretty Maids, pretty Pins, pretty Women.

A man, with a square box sideways under his left arm, holds in his right hand a paper of pins opened. He retails ha’p’orths and penn’orths, which he cuts off from his paper. I remember when pins were disposed of in this manner in the streets by women—their cry was a musical distich—

Three-rows-a-penny, pins,
Short whites, and mid-dl-ings!

Fine Tie, or a fine Bob, sir!

A wig-seller stands with one on his hand, combing it, and talks to a customer at his door, which is denoted by an inscription to be in “Middle-row, Holbourn.” Wigs on blocks stand on a bracketed board outside his window. This was when every body, old and young, wore wigs—when the price for a common one was a guinea, and a journeyman had a new one every year—when it was an article in every apprentice’s indenture that his master should find him in “one good and sufficient wig, yearly, and every year, for, and during, and unto the expiration, of the full end, and term, of his apprenticeship.”

Buy my fine Singing Glasses!

They were trumpet-formed glass tubes, of various lengths. The crier blows one of half his own height. He holds others in his left hand, and has a little box, and two or three baskets, slung about his waist.

Japan your Shoes, your honour!

A shoeblack. A boy, with a small basket beside him, brushes a shoe on a stone, and addresses himself to a wigged beau, who carries his cocked-hat under his left arm, with a crooked-headed walking-stick in his left hand, as was the fashion among the dandies of old times. I recollect shoeblacks formerly at the corner of almost every street, especially in great thoroughfares. There were several every morning on the steps of St. Andrew’s church Holborn, till late in the forenoon. But the greatest exhibition of these artists was on the site of Finsbury-square, when it was an open field, and a depository for the stones used in paving and street-masonry. There, a whole army of shoeblacks intercepted the citizens and their clerks, on their way from Islington and Hoxton to the counting houses and shops in the city, with “Shoeblack, your honour!” “Black your shoes, sir!”

Each of them had a large, old tin-kettle, containing his apparatus, viz. a capacious pipkin, or other large earthen-pot, containing the blacking, which was made of ivory black, the coarsest moist sugar, and pure water with a little vinegar—a knife—two or three brushes—and an old wig. The old wig was an indispensable requisite to a shoeblack; it whisked away the dust, or thoroughly wiped off the wet dirt, which his knife and brushes could not entirely detach; a rag tied to the end of a stick smeared his viscid blacking on the shoe, and if the blacking was “real japan,” it shone. The old experienced shoe-wearers preferred an oleaginous, lustreless blacking. A more liquid blacking, which took a polish from the brush, was of later use and invention. Nobody, at that time, wore boots, except on horseback; and every body wore breeches and stockings: pantaloons or trousers were unheard of. The old shoeblacks operated on the shoes while they were on the feet, and so dexterously as not to soil the fine white cotton stocking, which was at one time the extreme of fashion, or to smear the buckles, which were universally worn. Latterly, you were accommodated with an old pair of shoes to stand in, and the yesterday’s paper to read, while your shoes were cleaning and polishing, and your buckles were whitened and brushed. When shoestrings first came into vogue, the prince of Wales (now the king) appeared with them in his shoes, and a deputed body of the buckle-makers of Birmingham presented a petition to his royal highness to resume the wearing of buckles, which was good-naturedly complied with. Yet in a short time shoestrings entirely superseded buckles. The first incursion on the shoeblacks was by the makers of “patent cake-blacking,” on sticks formed with a handle, like a small battledoor; they suffered a more fearful invasion from the makers of liquid blacking in bottles. Soon afterwards, when “Day and Martin” manufactured the ne plus ultra of blacking, private shoeblacking became general, public shoeblacks rapidly disappeared, and now they are extinct. The last shoeblack that I remember in London, sat under the covered entrance of Red Lion-court, Fleet-street, within the last six years.


OLD LONDON CRIES, No. II.

Sixpence a pound

We have here a print of the cherry-woman of a hundred years ago, when cherries were so little grown, that the popular street cry was double the price of the present day. Readers of the Every-Day Book may remember the engraving of the “London barrow-woman,” with her cherry-cry—“round and sound”—the cherry-woman (that was) of our own times—the recollection of whose fine person, and melodious voice, must recur to every one who saw and heard her—a real picture to the mind’s eye, discoursing “most excellent music.”

The man blowing a trumpet, “Troop, every one!” was a street seller of hobby-horses—toys for the children of a hundred years ago. He carried them, as represented in the engraving, arranged in a partitioned frame on his shoulder, and to each horse’s head was a small flag with two bills attached. The crier and his ware are wholly extinct. Now-a-days we give a boy the first stick at hand to thrust between his legs as a Bucephalus—the shadow of a shade:—our forefathers were better natured, for they presented him with something of the semblance of the generous animal. Is a horse now less popular with boys than then? or did they, at that time, rather imitate the galloping of the real hobby-horse in the pageants and mummeries that passed along the streets, or pranced in the shows at fairs and on the stage? Be that as it may, this is a pretty plaything for “little master;” and toymakers would find account in reviving the manufacture for the rising generation. They have improved the little girl’s doll, and baby-house: are they ignorant that boys, as soon as they can walk, demand a whip and a horse?

THE OLD WATER CARRIER.

Any New-River water here

This is another of the criers of a hundred years ago, and, it seems, he cried “New-River water.” The cry is scarce, though scarcely extinct, in the environs of London.

I well remember the old prejudices of old-fashioned people in favour of water brought to the door, and their sympathy with the complaints of the water-bearer. “Fresh and fair new River-water! none of your pipe sludge!” vociferated the water-bearer. “Ah dear!” cried his customers, “Ah dear! Well, what’ll the world come to!—they won’t let poor people live at all by and by—here they’re breaking up the ground, and we shall be all under water some day or other with their goings on—I’ll stick to the carrier as long as he has a pail-full and I’ve a penny, and when we haven’t we must all go to the workhouse together.” This was the talk and the reasoning of many honest people within my recollection, who preferred taxing themselves to the daily payment of a penny and often twopence to the water-carrier, in preference to having “Company’s-water” at eighteen shillings per annum. Persons of this order of mind were neither political economists nor domestic economists: they were, for the most part, simple and kind-hearted souls, who illustrated the ancient saying, that “the destruction of the poor is their poverty”—they have perished for “lack of knowledge.”

The governing principle of Napoleon was, that “every thing must be done for the people, and nothing by them:” the ruling practice of the British people is to do every thing for themselves; and by the maintenance of this good old custom they have preserved individual freedom, and attained to national greatness. All our beneficial national works have originated with ourselves—our roads, our bridges, our canals, our water-companies, have all been constructed by our own enterprise, and in the order of our wants.