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Victoria Kelley

This chapter establishes the chronology of the street markets’ development, focusing on their growth and spread, and their legal position. The street markets were not entirely outside the law but not nor were they clearly within it, unlike London’s authorised markets (the wholesale markets such as Smithfield and Billingsgate). The chapter covers three phases: the period to 1867, when the markets expanded in the absence of clear legal frameworks; the 1860s when two initiatives (a law that threatened to eliminate street selling, and an attempt to rehouse it off the streets in the monumental Columbia Market) confirmed by their failure the status quo of the street markets’ informality; and the period to 1939 during which informality persisted under the supervision of the Metropolitan Police, and despite the introduction of licensing in 1927.

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Victoria Kelley

This chapter moves from legal to economic informality, analysing the things bought and sold in the London street markets, and examining their role in feeding and supplying the growing city from the middle of the nineteenth century until the outbreak of the Second World War. It investigates the mechanisms by which a substantial proportion of the food brought to the city found its way to consumers via the informal economy of street selling, and it examines how non-food goods sold in the London street markets were sourced within London’s producer economy. It argues that the informality of the street markets was closely aligned with London’s complex and dynamic networks of small-scale, workshop-based manufacture, characterised by economic historians as ‘flexible specialisation’. Price and quality are key themes that run through the chapter.

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Victoria Kelley

This chapter steps into the street markets to look at the impact of their legal and economic informality on their distinctive material culture and sensory affects. The chapter explores three themes in particular. First, the notion of urban rhythms and their operation in space and time is analysed using Henri Lefebvre’s idea of rhythmanalysis to understand the transitory temporalities of the informal economy. Secondly, the street markets’ distinctive lighting – by means of naphtha flares – is examined. The ‘flaring’ quality of the markets’ lights marked them as heterotopic urban spaces, in many ways ‘other’ to the respectable shopping streets of the West End. Finally, the chapter argues that the informal constitution and vivid sensory qualities of the street markets may be interpreted as a type of temporary, impermanent or ‘fragile’ architecture that further contrasted with the more solid and formal aspects of London’s retail infrastructures.

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Victoria Kelley

This chapter argues for the long-standing affinity between the market and the theatre, expressed in the frequent elision of festivity with commerce in markets, fairs and carnivals. The chapter utilises Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque, and Stallybrass and White’s application of it to cultural transgression. It argues that the street markets were performative places, and picks up earlier analysis of sensory affect in an investigation of the soundscape of the markets. Performance and sound lead into a final section that continues the cultural analysis of the markets and their people commenced in the previous chapter, describing how the costermongers populated the music hall stage, with a voice and look that was distilled (directly or indirectly) from street market origins. It concludes that the street markets existed on stage and in representation in a form that allowed them to be consumed nostalgically in popular culture well beyond the period of this study.

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Victoria Kelley

This chapter investigates the costermongers and street sellers who sold in London’s street markets, analysing their experiences and the mechanisms by which they made a living in buying and selling. The costermongers were identified by Henry Mayhew in 1851 as a distinct and alien ‘race’, and the chapter examines whether this sense of difference derived from or determined the informality of street trade, and how it was reflected in later accounts, including that of Charles Booth. Immigrants – especially the Irish and Jewish – were prominent among London’s street sellers, and the chapter explores the street markets’ potential for hybridity. It concludes with a cultural turn, examining how the distinctive identity of the street market people was represented, and engaging with the problematic figure of the pearly king. Was the nostalgic and mythic idea of the Londoner or cockney that arose in the late nineteenth century merely an invented tradition or did it have some link to the lives of the people of the street markets?

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Victoria Kelley

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Victoria Kelley

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Cheap Street

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

Victoria Kelley

Cheap Street tells the history of London’s street markets and of the people who bought and sold in them. From the 1850s anything that could be bought in a shop in London could also be bought in the street markets, which were the butcher, baker, greengrocer, provision merchant, haberdasher, tailor and furnisher of the working-class city. They sat uncomfortably on the edge of the law, barely tolerated by authorities that did not quite know whether to admire them for their efficient circulation of goods, or to despise them for their unregulated and ‘low’ character. They were the first recourse of immigrants looking to earn a living, and of privileged observers seeking a voyeuristic glimpse of street life. London’s street markets have frequently been overlooked, viewed as anomalous among the sophisticated consumer institutions of the modern city, the department stores and West End shops. Cheap Street shows how the street markets, as an emanation of the informal economy that flourishes in the interstices of urban life, adapted nimbly to urban growth and contributed to consumer modernity, and how in doing so, they propagated myths about what it meant to live in London and be a Londoner. The book analyses the street markets through their legal and economic informality, material culture, sensory affects and performative character, using varied documentary and visual evidence. It reshapes the interpretation of London’s urban geographies and consumer cultures, offering new insights into London’s history.

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The ‘ruthless years’

Burn-out and the paradigm of stress

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Jill Kirby

This chapter argues that the way that employers responded to the growing problem of stress revealed continuity in terms of the contingent approach to, and explanation of, employee stress as a problem of the individual, rather than an environmental or organisational one. Popular representations of the stressed and the development of ideas about ‘burn-out’ also highlighted continuities with previous attempts to identify and categorise those most susceptible to stress. It argues that the institutionalisation of stress within work and domestic life contributed to a growing conceptualisation of the individual as victim. While this liberated the sufferer from being the cause of their own suffering, it also reduced their agency and still implied a degree of inherent personal weakness, consistent with the conceptualisation of stress throughout the century.

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Neurotic tendencies

Workplace and suburban neurosis in the interwar period

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Jill Kirby

This chapter examines how experiences of stress became the subject of specific research interest in the very different contexts of work and home during the interwar period. It explores how workers’ nervous conditions were understood, by both employer and employee, and argues that the importance of work in the construction of personal identity and social and economic life contributed to the difficulty of admitting to stress and fostered a stoicism that meant people simply endured whatever mental suffering arose. Personal accounts illustrate contemporary attitudes towards work, duty and responsibility, while early Medical Research Council research reveals employer attitudes focused on productivity and identification of suboptimal workers. It is argued that concerns about domestic neuroticism, seen in Taylor’s suburban neurosis diagnosis and the work of the Pioneer Health Centre, brought to light not only specifically gendered explanations of stress, but also changing conceptions of the home that contributed towards domestic strain.