Shopping on the move: the street traders of Georgian London

Pictures of London’s street traders provide a colourful and characterful insight into how Georgian Londoners shopped, and the range of goods that were made available to them from the city’s streets. In today’s blog post, Archivist Jo Buddle explores a selection of images from the collections City of Westminster, capturing the energy and vigour of Georgian street traders at work.

Traders, hawkers and pedlars were an important part of London street life in the Georgian era. They could be found on street corners, at major landmarks, and perhaps even under your window, selling a wide variety of goods including food. Men, women and children were involved in the various trades, and many different nationalities were represented.

From fat geese to hat boxes, almost anything could be bought from pedlars on London's streets

From fat geese to hat boxes, almost anything could be bought from pedlars on London’s streets

The street traders brought colour, variety and vibrancy to the streets of London, and many became famous characters, instantly recognisable by their distinctive cries. “Fair Lemons and Oranges!”, “Twelve Pence a Peck, Oysters!”, “Four for Sixpence, Mackerel!”, “”Sixpence a Pound, Fair Cherries!” echoed throughout the city.

"Fair lemons and oranges" was a familiar street cry in Georgian London

“Fair lemons and oranges” was a familiar street cry in Georgian London

This street trader sold rabbits round and about Portland Place

Rabbits sold at Portland Place

One trader near Portland Place sold rabbits for eighteen or nineteen pence each, a much cheaper rate than was available in the shops. A man known simply as ‘The Turk’ sold rhubarb in and around Russell Square for many years. The criers also acted as early equivalents of fast food: baked apples could be prepared and sold to busy pedestrians using a lighted pan of charcoal and a tin plate.One man operating near the Pantheon on Oxford Street sold gingerbread cakes for one halfpenny each as a winter-warmer treat. During the summer, he sold Banbury and other cakes.

This man cried "Hot Spiced Gingerbread" as he sold sweet treats to passersby in Oxford Street

This man cried “Hot Spiced Gingerbread” as he sold seasonal treats to passersby in Oxford Street

Though resented by some shopkeepers as unfair competition, the traders and their street cries were a source of much fascination to the local population. Illustrated books depicting the criers were extremely popular. Although in the later 19th century street traders would become – unfairly – associated with the criminal poor in London, well into the Regency period they were appreciated and celebrated as an integral part of city life and the capital’s flourishing economy.