in Cheap Street
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Introduction In 1851 the social explorer Henry Mayhew counted thirty-seven street markets in London. These periodic gatherings of costermongers and street sellers sold fruit, vegetables, fish and a great range of other commodities from barrows and stalls in the open air, especially on Saturday nights: The sights, as you elbow your way through the crowd, are … multifarious. Here is a stall glittering with new tin saucepans; there another, bright with its blue and yellow crockery, and sparkling with white glass. Now you come to a row of old shoes arranged along the pavement … This stall is green and white with bunches of turnips – that red with apples, the next yellow with onions, and another purple with pickling cabbages … Go to whatever corner of the metropolis you please … and there is the same shouting and the same struggling to get the penny profit out of the poor man’s Sunday dinner.1 Just over forty years later, in 1893, a London County Council report listed 112 street markets, a threefold increase during a period when London’s population had roughly doubled (see map 1). The thirteen largest markets each had over a hundred stalls, and sold a wide range of products that included food, household goods and clothing. ‘Nearly everything required for personal consumption or home use can be obtained here’, was the report’s verdict on Chrisp Street, typical of the larger markets, and it noted that the street markets ‘undoubtedly fulfill a most useful purpose … Costermongers are keenly...

Cheap Street

London’s street markets and the cultures of informality, c. 1850–1939



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