Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Market cheapjacks 1935

THE MAKERS OF Dinner is Served, the 1935 BBC radio series about the production and distribution of food in Britain, seem to have been lured off topic by the desire to include lively-sounding street recordings.

The three recordings reproduced here from BBC catalogue number 869623 have nothing to do with food. The term ‘cheapjack’ was used to describe a street trader who used a persuasive line of patter to sell non-perishable goods. It appears in Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor from the mid-19th century and in it he describes cheapjacks as a kind of market aristocracy who were sometimes disdainful towards other, less articulate traders.

The first cheapjack sells watches and sealed envelopes which may or may not contain cash prizes. ‘No cheapjacking here, no funny business’ he says to reassure his potential customers. The second deals in handbags. When a woman offers two shillings, he hands one over and says ‘you’re not buying ‘em, you’re pinching ‘em’. The last sells ‘odd lots’ of glassware, including a cheesedish: ‘if you buy a glass cheesedish you can see what the cheese is doing’.

The location of the market isn’t given but, given the tendency of BBC recordists to re-visit favourable locations, it may be Petticoat Lane. One curiosity of the transcription disc is that it plays outwards from the centre. This is an occasional feature of pre-war radio recordings.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Watch and prize envelope cheapjack 1:46
Handbag cheapjack 1:48
Odd lots cheapjack 0:44