Victorian Street Life In Photos: 1873-1877

Scottish photographer John Thomson toured London during this four-year period. He was taking photos to illustrate a book, ‘Street Life In London’, which he published in 1877. That left us with many fascinating photos of everyday life during that period, and I found some online today.

(The larger photos can be further enlarged for detail by clicking on them.)

Men selling plants at Covent Garden Market.

A Hansom Cab plying for trade.

A chimney sweep and his boy assistant. The child would have been expected to crawl up chimneys to dislodge blockages.

An ‘Infection Control’ team, dealing with an outbreak of Smallpox.

A child street musician, playing his harp. The older man with him had to carry it around for him.

A man selling cheap fancy ornaments to working-class customers who wanted to brighten up their homes.

A street trader selling shellfish. He would have sold Oysters, Cockles, and Mussels.

A photographer working on Clapham Common, South London. People could not afford cameras, so would pay him to take their photograph.

Clapham Common again, a man offering rides on his donkey for a small charge.

Pub customers enjoying good weather by sitting outside the pub.

A rag shop in Lambeth, South London. Rags were stripped, and turned back into material to be sold cheaply.

This old lady is a street babysitter. A working mother would pay her to look after her baby in the street while she was at work.

This is part of a parade celebrating Guy Fawke’s Night, or Firework Night. A traditional event in England, celebrated every year on the 5th of November.

A woman and her son selling cherries. You can see the scales on her donkey cart, used to weigh the fruit. She would likely have sung the 16th century song ‘Cherry Ripe’ to advertise her wares.
“Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy”.

A street-seller of matches, and other items. He also trades as a shoe-shine man, ensuring some custom during his day on the streets.

45 thoughts on “Victorian Street Life In Photos: 1873-1877

  1. I’ve seen some of these before. The young man with the dark curly hair in the shoe shine one being one of them. He intrigues me. He has a Greek look to him with his thick hair and dark complexion. He looks cheerful too. I wonder what his name was, where he lived, what his occupation was, and how long he lived for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many of the photos I post are well-known, and widely shared on Pinterest.
      I agree that some people in old photos do get us thinking about their lives at the time. It was a shame that most photogrpahers of that era did not think to take some notes, and add details about the subjects they photographed.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. (1) “First time I’ve had a basket fall on my head. Can you get me out from under it?”
    (2) “Hurry up and get in! The horses are nervous and the meter’s running!”
    (3) Santa Claus: “Back down, son! You’re crowdin’ me!”
    (4) Superpox comment: “We’re gonna need a bigger cart!”
    (5) Harpiness is playing a musical instrument in the street.
    (6) “Get your cheap fancy ornaments here! Buy one, get another one for double the price!”
    (7) Overheard:
    Vendor: “I got yer oyshters, cocklesh, and mushels! Whaddya have, shir?””
    Customer: “I’ll buy everything! The whole lot!”
    Vendor: “Everything? You’re a shell fish man!’
    (8) “Don’t worry if it doesn’t come out perfect, folks. I can fix anything with Photoshop.”
    (9) Thracian riders: “We get a big charge out of horses; a small charge out of donkeys.”
    (10) Overheard:
    Pub customer #1: “Best weather we’ve had since 1845!”
    Pub customer #2: “You’re mistaken, sir! That was 1842!”
    (11) Raggamuffin: “No fair, mum! You promised the Royal Exchange!”
    (12) Overheard:
    Babysitter: “Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte…”
    Baby: “Waaaaaah!”
    (13) England: Guy Fawkes. France: Le Mec Baise.
    (14) Madame: “We’re an honest business, sweetheart. I don’t want to ever hear you sing ‘Cherry ripe’ in this brothel.”
    (15) “Yes, m’boy, those are indeed Lucifer’s matches. He don’t need ’em anymore!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are amazing photographs and so interesting. For one thing the people look so different, facially. If I didn’t know they were English I would have placed them somewhere else. The clothing particularly interests me. I try to imagine what modern people would look like in those clothes. Hats have really evolved. Great Pete, Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most Victorians were much slimmer than people are today. I doubt their fashions or everyday wear would suit most people in the 21st century, especially the hats. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.


    1. It was indeed. Even as late as 1938, my mum left school at the age of 14 to work full-time. Children had always been expected to earn money to help the family. They were also employed in Victorian factories from as young as the age of 4 or 5, unbelievably. This is from an article about that.

      ‘Children at Work
      For hundreds of year’s children had worked. But with the increased demand for work during the Victorian era and industrial revolution came more and more demanding roles for children to fulfill. Many were used as cheap labour. Working long hours, children were often treated badly. Children started work as young as
      four or five years old. A young child could not earn much, but even a few pence would be enough to buy food.’

      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Life was hard for ordinary people. No bathrooms, good soap a luxury, and they wore the same clothes most days of the week. Their Sunday Best clothes, and overcoats if they had them, were usually pawned from week to week too.
      Thanks, Terry. Glad you liked these photos.
      Best wishes, Pete.


All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.