Eighteenth Century London: Street Cries of London

Eighteenth Century London: Street Cries of London

The Street Cries of London


Printed Collection of Street Cries

Groups of itinerants

The Watchman and the Bellman

The Old Clothes Man

The Orange-woman and the Strawberry-woman

The Simpler

Old Chairs to Mend





Hark! how the cries in every street
Make lanes and allies ring:
With their goods and ware, both nice and rare,
All in a pleasant lofty strain;
Come buy my gudgeons fine and new.
Old cloaths to change for earthen ware,
Come taste and try before you buy,
Here's dainty poplin pears.
Diddle, diddle, diddle dumplins, ho!
With walnuts nice and brown.
Let none despise the merry, merry cries
Of famous London town. 1


Street Cries are phrases, which were called out in the streets of large cities by itinerant sellers of food and other commodities or by people who have offered their trades since the 16th century. The criers were mainly poor and had to make their living by selling their goods or service. They used their cries to advertise their products such as strawberries, milk, fish, muffins, brooms or their services such as chimney sweeping. Their cries were heard all over the city and were often considered as loud and annoying. A very vivid picture of the characteristic noises of the streets of London is provided by Ben Johnson’s comedy "the Silent Woman". It helps us "to attain a lively conception of the particular sounds that once went to make up this great discord"2. The given extract below is a dialog between True-Wit and Clerimont who talk about the main character Mr. Morose, who has an obsessive hatred of noise.3 In this specific passage some of the very loudest London Street Cries can be found: these include the fishwives, the orange-women, the chimney-sweepers, the broom-men and the costard-mongers.

True: I met that stiff piece of formality, Master Morose, his uncle, yesterday, with a huge turban of night-caps on his head, buckled over his ears.

Cler: O! that's his custom when he walks abroad. He can endure no noise, man.

True: So I have heard. But is the disease so ridiculous in him as it is made? They say he has been upon divers treaties with the fish-wives and orange-women; and articles propounded between them: marry, the chimney-sweepes will not be drawn in.

Cler. No, nor the broom-men: they stand out stiffly. He cannot endure a costard- monger; he swoons if he hear one.

True: Methinks a smith should be ominous.

Cler: Or any hammer-man, A brasier is not suffer'd to dwell in the parish, nor an armourer. He would have hang'd a pewterer's 'prentice once upon a Shrove- Tuesday's riot, for being of that trade, when the rest were quit.

True: A trumpet should fright him terribly, or the hautboys.

Cler: Out of his senses. The waits of the City have a pension of him not to come near that ward. This youth practised on him one night like the bellman, and never left till he had brought him down to the door with a long sword; and (here left him flourishing with the air.4

In the play, it is said that Mr. Morose chose a very tiny street to live in. It was so narrow that neither carts nor vendors could pass. One can imagine that "the enraged musician", shown in Hogarth’s painting, would have wanted to have made the same choice when this extraordinary gathering took place in front of his window. Beneath the window from left to right we can see a ballad monger with her screaming baby, a girl with a rattle, a tinkling boy, an oboist, a milkmaid, a boy beating a drum, a paver pounding the street, a dustman ringing his bell, a knife-grinder, a sow-gelder blowing a horn, and a fishmonger. Furthermore, on top of the facing building, a chimney-sweeper is depicted.5

(Appendix I)

In an essay published in The Spectator in December 1711, Joseph Addison explains: "There is nothing which more astonishes a foreigner, and frightens a country squire, than the cries of London. My good friend Sir Roger often declares that he cannot get them out of his head, or go to sleep for them, the first week that he is in town."6

Printed Collections of Street Cries

Printed collection of these cries appeared in England in the 17th century. They consisted of engravings of the various street sellers with their cries printed above the picture and a little poem below. They often consisted of cheap woodcuts and were especially popular for children’s books. In The cries of London: as they are daily exhibited in the street we find an example of the "gingerbread-man" who cried out: "hot spice gingerbread, all hot"7 . The poem below gives a short description of where and when to find "this honest baker":8

In winter evening you should stroll
around the church of good St. Paul,
this honest baker you will find,
a small tin oven stuck behind.
His gingerbread he thus keeps hot,
Which grateful is to ev’ry palate;
And boys who are by virtue led,
shall never want no ginger bread.9

Sometimes the poems even gave a warning to the reader as in the example of the tinker who despite of repairing a pot might make it worse:

Thus does the tinker round the city call
And vows he’ll Stopp your leaking vessels all;
But ah! Beware, his words may not be true
And for one hole perhaps he’ll make you two.10

These engravings help us today to picture what the street venders must have looked like, how they dressed and what kinds of goods they sold or what services they offered. However, the engravings not always present an authentic image of the street vendors. The "Old Clothes Man", for example (a detailed description of his personage will be provided later) is often represented with three or four hats superposed one above the other. Charles Hindley confirms that he had never seen the "Old Clothes Man" with more than one: "Now, although we have seen him with many hats in his hands or elsewhere, we never yet saw him with more than one hat on his head."11

Groups of itinerants

In general, we can categorize the different kinds of itinerants into six groups according to the commodities they sold or services they offered.

The first includes vendors who sold objects and products of daily use. There was almost nothing which wasn’t sold on the streets, either new or used, such as door mats, old clothes, flint glass, mouse or rat traps, jack- or clothes-lines, kitchen supplies, small coals, firestones, marking-stones, hare skins, singing birds, etc. The second includes vendors of vegetables, fruits and nuts. They usually came in the morning from the country and sold their goods in the various markets of London or walked through the streets. Depending on the season they sold windsor beans, carrots, cabbage and savory, cucumbers, potatoes, gooseberries, peaches, oranges and lemon, apple, cherries, strawberries, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.

The third group simply consists of herb collecters named Simplers who also sold their herbs very early in the morning in the London markets such as water cresses, ground ivy, primroses, rosemary, thyme, marygold, etc.

The fourth group combines the vendors of milk, meat and fish. Due to the nearby countryside, forest, lakes and sea there was a vast offering of chicken, fowls, rabbits, liver or lights, wild ducks and wild fowls, crabs, lobsters, sprats, mackrels, oysters, flounders, eels, etc.

The fifth group includes vendors of bakery and home-made food like hot dumplings, hot cross buns, hot spice gingerbread, hot loaf or white loaf, hot baked pippins, hot rice milk, pig and plum sauce etc.

Finally, the sixth group unites all the itinerants who day by day walked around the streets of London offering their services such as "knives to grind", "bellows to mend", "old chairs to mend", "black your shoes", the tinker, the cooper, the chimney sweeper, etc. (quoted in "Street Cries of London"). In the following different examples of some of the most famous Street Cries of London are given.

The Watchman and The Bellman

Although neither the watchmen nor the bellmen are itinierants but the cry of the watchman is classified as one of the earliest "Cries" of the Cries of London. When others had finished their day, the business of the watchman was to walk around the streets and to crying out the time every half an hour to remind the neighbourhood to put out their lights. His cry might have sounded as followed:

A light here, maids, hang out your light,
And see your horns be clear and bright,
That so your candle clear may shine,
Continuing from six till nine;
That honest men that walk along,
May see to pass safe without wrong.12

During spring and summer time, the watchman usually began his rounds at ten and finished them at five in the morning. In winter time, his hours were from midnight till seven.13 He was often depicted with a staff and a lantern, a "frieze gabardine", a leathern-girdle and a "servicable hat to guard against the weather" 14. In one particular picture, exhibited in a set of 12 woodcuts in the British Museum, Hindley gives an additional description of the watchman: "The worthy here depicted has a most venerable face and beard, showing how ancient was the habit of parish officers was to select the poor and feeble for the office of watchman, in order to keep them — out of the poor-house."15 That their services were often not valued is shown by Addisson’s example who complained in his essay about the noise at night time. He writes: "The watchman's thump at midnight startles us in our beds, as much as the breaking in of a thief"16.

There were not only watchmen walking along the streets at each ward at night time but also bellmen. According to Strypes surveys in "A survey of the city of London and Westminster" they were going through the streets and lanes ringing a bell; "and when his Bell ceaseth, he salutes his Masters and Mistresses with some Rhimes, suitable to the Festivals and Seasons of the Year"17. The Bellman was often depicted with a halbthorn and a bell crying out:

Maids in your smocks, look to your locks,
Your fire and candle-light;
For well 'tis known much mischief's done
By both in dead of night;
Your locks and fire do not neglect,
And so you may good rest expect."18

The Old Clothes Man

(Appendix II)

Dealers of old clothes were usually Jews who walked around the streets asking for "Old Clothes to sell". They bought clothing that was no longer wanted or worn out, which they sold then to others who could use it, for example, for industrial or recycling purposes. The cries of London: as they are daily exhibited in the street gives us an interesting description of the "Old Clothes Man":

This dirty son of Israel’s race
While wealthy folks are sleeping,
You up and down the town may trace,
in ev’ry area peeping.
But ah! beware, ye man and maids,
his bargains you’ll repent;
Remember well the Varlet trace
At least for cent per cent.19

In his essay published in The Spectator, Addisson accuses the London Street cries of "cultivating the accomplishment of crying their wares so as not to be understood"20. Charles Hindley tells us of a similar incident between a man called Mr. Coleridge who happened to pass one of the "old clothes man". Mr. Coleridge tells his story as follows:

"I was what you would call floored by a Jew. He passed me several times crying out for old clothes, in the most nasal and extraordinary tone I ever heard. At last I was so provoked, that I said to him, 'Pray, why can't you say' old clothes' in a plain way, as I do ?' The Jew stopped, and looking very gravely at me, said in a clear and even accent, 'Sir, I can say' old cloihes' as well as you can; but if you had to say so ten times a minute, for an hour together, you would say "Ogh Clo" as I do now;' and so he marched off."21

Mr. Coleridge was so confounded with the justice of the "old clothes man’s" reply that he followed him and gave him a shilling – the only one he had.22

Orange-woman and the Strawberry-woman

(Appendix IV)

At the beginning of the 17th century oranges had become of general use in England. They were usually sold by pretty women "who carried the golden fruits upon their heads through every street and alley, with the musical cry of "Fair lemon and oranges, oranges and citron."23 A famous example for an orange-woman is Nell Gwynne, the favourite mistress of King Charles the Second, who as well used to walk around, crying out: "Fine Sevil oranges, fine lemmons, fine; Round, sound, and tender, inside and rine, One pin's prick their vertue show : They've liquor by their weight, you may know."24

Fruit selllers in particulare had to be very effective in their sales because the time of the seasons was short. Therefore, especially pretty young women were found during the summer months offering fruits like the strawberry-women who cried out "Ripe Strawberries, ripe".

In the poem beneath a woodcut she is described as followed:

Pride of the wood! though not elate
With their own merits, next we wait
Oh strawberries, whose odour nice
Arabian incense far outvies;
Whose glowing cheek by far outgoes
The blushes of the new-blown rose;
Whose stem no prickley thorn invade;
Whose modest face their foliage shade;
To whom the breath of British maids,
Tho’always sweet, with envy fades;
And who, with rural peace and love,
Thrive best beneath their native grove,
Your praise, whene’er the muse will bring
Sweet inspiration, I will sing.25

The Simpler

Simpler was the name of people who sold different kinds of herbs. They usually lived in the country and rose with the sun to pick up herbs from the ditches and swampy grounds. When they had filled their bags they walked about fifteen miles to the different markets of London, such as Covent Garden, Flee, and New Gate Markets. The simplers where always one of the first who offered their goods for sale. Their cries could have sounded as follows:

Here's fine rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Come buy my ground ivy.
Here's fatherfew, gilliflowers and rue.
Come buy my knotted marjorum, ho !
Come buy my mint, my fine green mint.
Here's fine lavender for your cloaths.
Here's parsley and winter-savory.
And heart's-ease which all do choose.
Here's balm and hissop, and cinquefoil,
All fine herbs, it is well known.
Here's pennyroyal and marygolds.
Come buy my nettle-tops.
Here's water-cresses and scurvy-grass.
Come buy my sage of virtue, ho !
Come buy my wormwood and mugwort.
Here's all fine herbs of every sort.
Here's southernwood, that's very good.
Dandelion and houseleek.
Here's dragon's-tongue and wood-sorrel.
With bear's-foot and horehound,

When the day ended, the Simplers usually walked all the way back to the country sleeping "in some barn until the next succeeding sun"27.

In contrary to many other itinerants, the reputation of the Simplers was quite good. John Thomas Smith, for example, calls them a "most useful set of people"28. It is due to the fact that herbs during that time were not only used for seasoning but also for relaxation and medicine, as the following poem beneath a woodcut of a Simpler shows:

O’er nerve-relaxing tea no longer waste
The morning hour, did you know the taste
Of home found Ivy, you would ne’er explore
For foreign shrubs a distant Indian shore:
And ye, with dire scorbutic Ills o’errun,
All wretched nostrums and their venders shun,
The cress will all cutaneous illness mock;
Then quot the aid of Flugger and of Rock.29

Old Chairs to Mend

(Appendix V)

A rather contrary example are the men who carried around a matted mass of dirty rushes thrown across his shoulders walking around the London Streets calling “Old chairs to mend”. They were usually seen from 8 o’clock in the morning but mostly without the oportunity of getting a chair to mend. They could hardly make a living by offering their services. Therefore "like many other itinerants, he goes his rounds and procures broken meat and subsistence".30

Their cries were frequently uttered with great clearness and occasionally with some degree of melody: Old chairs to mend! Old chairs to mend! If I had the money that I could spend, I never would cry Old chairs to mend!31 Addisson, for example, takes their cries in a certain manner: "nor can I forbear being inspired with a most agreeable melancholy, when I hear that sad and solemn air with which the public are very often asked, If they have any chairs to mend?"32:


These examples of street vendors of course do not claim completeness. One has to take in consideration that "every thing in early times was carried and cried"33. Therefore, we can assume that there were many more vendors filling the streets with their cries of goods and services to sell.

In conclusion it can be said that during the 18th century, the streets of London were filled with various itinerants who tried to make a living. Although the city of London experienced a large rise in economics due to the consumer revolution where "more men and women than ever before on human history enjoyed the experience of acquiring material possession"34, the "poor rustics who were bound to the soil, had little or no share in the fortunes of the City of London"35.


1 Hindley 113
2 Hindley 27
3 Morose, a wealthy old man with an obsessive hatred of noise has made planes to disinherit his nephew Dauphine by marrying Epicœn - a "silent woman". The couple is married but Morose soon regrets his wedding day, as his house is invaded by a large group of guests. Epicœn soon reveals herself as a loud and nagging woman. Morose is desperate for a divorce and consults two lawyers but they can’t find any ground for the divorce. Finally, Dauphine promises to reveal ground to end the marriage. In exchange Morose has to come to financial terms with him. In the end, Epicœn is revealed as a boy, Morose dismissed harshly, Dauphine gets his fortune and the other characters leave discomforted because they had – for example – claimed to have slept with Epicœn.
4 Knight 130
5 Knight 132 (Appendix I
6 The Spectator, Hindley 119f
7 "The Cries of London" 60
8 "The Cries of London" 61
9 "The Cries of London" 61 Appendix II
10 "The Cries of London" 13
11 Hindley 39
12 Smith 15
13 Tuer 35f
14 Hindley 56
15 Hindley 56
16 The Spectator, Hindley 119
17 Strype 393
18 Hindley 56
19 Hindley 17
20 Tuer 30
21 Hindley 61
22 Hindley 61
23 Knight 132
24 Hindley 57
25 "The Cries of London" 97
26 Hindley 114f
27 Smith 77
28 Smith 78
29 "The Cries of London" 13
30 Smith 54
31 Smith 53
32 The Spectator, Hindley 120
33 Hindley 63
34 McKendrick, Brewer and Plumb 1
35 Hindley 4


Hindley, Charles. A history of the cries of London, ancient and modern. London: C. Hindely, 1884.
Knight, Charles. London: Volume I. London: Charles Knight & Co, 1841.

McKendrick, Neil; Brewer, John; Plumb, J.H. The British of a Consumer Society. The Comercialization of Eighteen-Century England. London: Europa, 1982.

Smith, John Thomas. The cries of London: exhibiting several of the itinerant traders of antient and modern times : copied from rare engravings, or drawn from the life : with a memoir and portrait of the author. London: J.B. Nichols, 1839.

Tuer, Andrew White. Old London street cries and the cries of to-day: with heaps of quaint cuts including hand-coloured frontispiece. London: Field & Tuer: 1885.

Unknown Author. The cries of London : as they are daily exhibited in the streets, with an epigram in verse adapted to each, embellished with elegant characteristic engravings Philadelphia: 1805.

Internet Source:

Strype, John. A survey of the city of London and Westminster.Volume II. 1720. http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/strype/index.jsp (30.09.2010).


Appendix I:
The enraged musician, by William Hogarth 1741
The enraged musician, by William Hogarth 1741

Appendix II:
Cries of London / Hot spice gingerbread, by Francis Wheatley, 1796, AN186196001 © The Trustees of the British Museum
Cries of London / Hot spice gingerbread, by Francis Wheatley, 1796, AN186196001 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Appendix III:
The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life / Old Cloaks Suits or Coats, by Marcellus Laroon II, 1688, AN430233001 © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life / Old Cloaks Suits or Coats, by Marcellus Laroon II, 1688, AN430233001 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Appendix IV:
The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life / Ripe Strawberryes, by Marcellus Laroon II, 1688, AN566113001 © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life / Ripe Strawberryes, by Marcellus Laroon II, 1688, AN566113001 © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life / Fair Lemons & Oranges, by Marcellus Laroon II, 1688, AN428735001 © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life / Fair Lemons & Oranges, by Marcellus Laroon II, 1688, AN428735001 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Appendix V:
Cries of London / Old chairs to mend, by Francis Wheatley, 1795, AN342815001 © The Trustees of the British Museum
Cries of London / Old chairs to mend, by Francis Wheatley, 1795, AN342815001 © The Trustees of the British Museum