London Street Jobs: 1920-1927

After WW1, not that much had changed in London in almost 100 years. Photographers were still keen to document life on the streets, and the jobs of ordinary working people.

A Concertina Man. This elderly man is trying to make a living as a street entertainer, playing his Concertina. His female companion carries the box for the Concertina, and a smaller one for collecting any money people give him.

The Pet Meat Man. These traders would sell meat considered to be unfit for human consumption, and people would buy the cheap cuts to feed their pets.

The Telescope Man. Sitting at the corner of Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament, this man would charge a nominal amount to look through his telescope at the surrounding views. He also sold leaflets about the history of Queen Boadicea, who is on the statue behind him, and of Big Ben, the famous bell in the tower oposite.

Gas fitters installing ‘modern’ street lighting.

The window cleaner. This man carried his ladders around on a cart, and would wash the windows of better-off Londoners. They usually had a regular ’round’ of customers. We have a version of those in Beetley, in 2022. They use vans instead of carts, but little else has changed.

The Telegram Messenger. Telegrams were run by the Post Office, and were a popular way to get a message across a long distance to impart urgent information to the recipient.

A 1920s Chimney Sweep. Sweeps were still essential, as everyone had coal fires. But they were no longer allowed by law to employ small boys as assistants.

A Gramophone Man. Pushing a wind-up gramophone in his old pram, this man would wander around the streets playing popular songs of the day. He hoped that people would give him a few pennies for the ‘entertainment’.

A female ‘knocker-upper’. Before the widespread use of alarm clocks, workers who had to start work very early in the morning would employ someone to wake them up by tapping a long pole against their bedroom window. This lady has made life easier for herself by using a pea-shooter to fire hard peas against the windows.

The Escapologist.

At one time, these street entertainers were very common on the streets of London. They would stage miraculous ‘escapes’ after being bound in heavy chains or tight ropes. They could be seen outside major tourist sights like the Tower of London, or entertaining cinema queues before the film show started. They always had an assistant who secured them first, then collected money by passing a hat around the crowd.

Telephone Cable Erector.

As home telephones became more common, these men would do the dangerous job of stringing telephone cables across street to be attached to poles. They had no safety equipment then.

45 thoughts on “London Street Jobs: 1920-1927

  1. (1) Every time the collection lady is denied money while the concertina man plays a melody, she bellows.
    (2) “Here, kitty kitty! I have some dog meat for you!”
    (3) Queen Boadicea would charge a nominal amount to throw donuts on her spear (the royal version of ring toss). The prize for succeeding with all twelve donuts was a free upskirt view using the handy telescope below.
    (4) Taco Bell employees wear gas fitters in order to keep customers from pinching their nose in disgust.
    (5) There are chimney sweeps and window cleaners. They both use a ladder, but I only need the service of the latter.
    (6) Abraham Lincoln sent nearly a thousand messages via telegram. Most of them read: “Do you know a good fortune teller? I could use one!”
    (7) Elves make great chimney sweeps. Just ask Santa!
    (8) That’s not a Gramophone. It’s a Pramophone!
    (9) A young prankster was known to collect all the peas that bounced off the windows and slip them under the mattress of female factory workers, thereby keeping them awake all night long due to the discomfort they caused. This nearly put the pea-shooter lady out of business!
    (10) Escapology? Houdini done it.
    (11) The most talented telephone cable erectors eventually got a job at the circus as tightrope walkers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 2 stand out. The telegram delivery was still in up till the 80s. They played a huge role in the war sadly. I remember one as a kid and she would put a black arm band on if delivering a death notice. Those telegrams were edged in black too. They always stayed & supported you for that bad news.
    The pea shooter – na Pete, she was attracting boy friends.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I remember seeing an escapologist in London in the 50’s. Feeling restrained in any way makes me go wobbly which is why the memory stuck, I guess. It’s wonderful to have photographic evidence of life back then.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pippa. I believe they were very proud of their trades. (And relieved to have survived WW1.) Even in the late 1960s, one of my friends was incredibly proud to qualify as a carpenter and joiner. He still works at that trade to this day.
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  4. It’s interesting to note how most every tradesman were “dressed for success.” Ties, etc. Even if they had aprons or work overclothes. The other thing – pipe fitting tools haven’t changed much. And a stat on how many cable runners bought it doing their job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pipe tools certainly haven’t changed, Phil. Most men wore ties when doing manual or trade jobs. Even when I was young, road-diggers still wore ties when standing in trenches using shovels. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

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