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.

London Street Life, 1877: More Photos From John Thomson

I found some more photos taken in Victorian London by John Thomson. They were commissioned for the book, ‘Street Life In London’, shown below.

A signwriter in his studio.

A ‘Sandwich-Board Man’ advertising as he walked around.

Cheap lodgings and food available for the down and outs.

Bill Posters pasting advertising posters onto walls.

A ‘Caney’. He would repair cane and wicker chairs.

Army Recruiting Sergeants outside a pub in Westminster.

Women flower-sellers in Covent Garden.

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.

London Life In Photos: 1959-1967

Another random selection of old photos to take me down Memory Lane.

Fish Porters outside the Old Billingsgate Fish Market in 1959. This was not far from The Tower of London, and traded in fish from the 16th Century until 1982, when it was relocated. The porters wore special hats called ‘Bobbin Hats’, and they could carry many boxes of fish on their heads.

Street musician, 1965. It was not unusual to see such accordion players wandering around playing for the public in the hope of receiving a few pennies. If they found a lucrative spot, they might stay there all day.

A road repair gang posing in front of their lorry, 1964.

This studious small boy was an orphan, photographed in ‘halfway house’ accommodation in the mid-1960s.

A street trader in fruit and vegetables. He operated in Barking, East London during the 1960s. he would have had a regular ’round’ and customers would know when he would show up.

This immigrant family had been targeted by neo-Nazi racists of the National Front, in 1967. The house had been fire-bombed, and the sign ‘WOGS’ put on their door. That was a racist insult derived from the toy dolls called Golliwogs.

An East London pub owner who famously adopted a rescue donkey. The donkey would stay in the bar during opening hours, and liked to drink beer.

Gypsy families living on Beckton Marshes, 1966. That area later became a huge new housing development.

This well-known East London street trader was photographed in 1967. He looks like it could have been 100 years earlier.

East London In The 1960s: Tony Hall.

This is the East End in the afternoon, as photographed by newspaper artist Tony Hall in the 1960s while wandering with his camera in the quiet hours between shifts on The Evening News newspaper in Fleet St.

Photographs copyright © Libby Hall

Old men sleeping on a bench in Roman Road.

Two old men discussing something serious.

A grand old house awaiting demolition.

Children playing by a derelict house, and happy to pose for the camera.

Children building a bonfire on wasteland, probably for Guy Fawkes’ Night.

Market Stall lit up in fading light.

A young housewife posing on her doorstep.

A much older housewife also on her doorstep.

A small boy wrapped up for the cold weather.

An elderly woman outside some tenement flats.

Scrap dealers still using a horse and cart.

Children playing in an abandoned wrecked car.

Modern London in Black And White: Alan Shaller

All photos © Alan Schaller

After many nostalgic photo posts about London, I was pleased to find these modern images by Alan Shaller. All taken with a Leica camera, they give a snapshot of london today that will be interesting to see again in 70 years.

A young woman on an underground train. The lighting makes her stand out from the other passengers.

A smart elderly gentleman on an underground train. The reflection is captured nicely.

A ‘Pigeon Lady’ feeding pigeons in a small park. London is full of ladies like her.

A mature couple dancing. The lady doesn’t look very happy. Or does she?

A man staring out of the window in a pub.

This lady enjoyed being photographed, and spoke to Alan after he took it.

A man shopping in a street market.

Someone on a smoke break from his job.

A sharp-suited slim man in the latest style.

Runners lining up for a fun run or marathon. It is usual for many of them to wear crazy outfits.

Street Life: The Complete Story

Another reblog of a complete story that was originally a serial. This one is from four years ago, and is reblogged for anyone who might have never read it previously.


I recently published a sixteen-part serial. This is all those parts, in one complete story, for those who suggested it, or others who might prefer to read it in one sitting. If you haven’t read any of it before, I hope you enjoy it.
It contains 18,500 words, so is a very long read.

He watched her walking in his direction. Made him smile every time. Peroxide hair sticking up all over, leather waistcoat over a fishnet vest, and a skirt so short passing traffic almost always had a near miss, as the drivers ogled her legs. She sat down in the doorway next to him, noisily chewing the gum in her mouth. Jack nodded, but she didn’t look at him, or say anything. He let her be, allowed her to take her time. Candy was that sort of girl.
“Good day so far?” He knew what she meant, as…

View original post 18,349 more words

Street Life: The Alternative Endings

Following the relatively ‘happy’ ending of my recent serial, ‘Street Life’. I thought regular readers might like to know the two alternative endings I had in mind. If it wasn’t for so many of you pleading for a nice outcome, this is what you may well have read instead.

**If you haven’t read the serial, then this will be meaningless, so skip it.**

Ending One.

Tash decided to let them take the bus without getting on it. She would get one not that far behind, which was going in the same direction. She watched them get on, and both go upstairs. A minute later, another number twenty three arrived, and she paid the fare using the stolen Oyster Card. Their bus wasn’t that far ahead, stuck in the traffic, so she would be able to see if they got off. Once off the crowded bus and out in the street, she would have a much better chance of grabbing the bag that seemed to be so important to Candy.

Jack liked having her head on his shoulder, the spiky hair tickling the side of his jaw felt good. It felt right too, as if it had been a long time coming. Candy was staring vacantly at the centre aisle, her head rocking as the bus did the usual stop-start in London traffic. She wondered if she had spoken too soon, jumped at the chance to be with Jack so she didn’t have to travel alone. Give it a few days in Bristol, see how it worked out. She had enough cash to move on somewhere else, if it didn’t suit her.

Every time the bus in front stopped, Tash craned her neck to see if she could see the distinctive blonde hair appear on the street outside. She had stayed on the lower floor, and picked a good almost opposite the driver, giving her a clear view through the large windscreen of the bus. As they got closer to Paddington Station, she was sure they hadn’t got off yet, and finally decided that they might be on their way to catch a train somewhere. Maybe the guy lived in the suburbs? When the bus in front stopped close to the station, she saw them exit, and rang the bell to indicate she wanted to get off too. They walked together into the busy station, and Tash kept her distance. Despite the crowds, it was so easy to spot Candy’s hair. In the ticket hall, she watched from the door as he bought tickets from a machine at the end, then put his arm round Candy and walked off hurriedly.

The traffic had been bad, and Jack said they would have to hurry, or miss the train. Candy wanted to use the toilet, but Jack was insistent. “No time, love, you will have to go on the train”. He checked the platform on the huge indicator board, and pulled Candy along after him, picking up the pace. “Only a couple of minutes, come on, hurry up”.

Tash wasn’t used to running, and the flip flops didn’t help. As she increased speed, she let them fly off, gaining ground in her bare feet. She knocked into some commuters, swerved to avoid others, but made it to the gate of the platform just as Jack was showing the man their tickets. She barged into Candy at speed, grabbing the bag as they both fell onto the floor. Jack and the ticket inspector stood open-mouthed, wondering what the hell had happened, but when he saw the scruffy girl struggle to her feet clutching Candy’s holdall, he rushed forward and grabbed her, wrapping his arms around the scrawny body. The girl screamed obscenities at him, then finally resorting to her old days as a clip artist, she suddenly yelled, “HELP, RAPE!” at the top of her voice. Candy walked forward, showing no recognition of the girl she of course knew was Natasha. She pulled the bag from her hand, and looked up at Jack, as Tash continued to yell and swear.

Two British Transport Police officers were making their way across the concourse. They had been attracted by the yelling, and their bright yellow jackets and noisy radios announced their imminent arrival. Jack nodded at the tickets, still in the inspector’s hand. “Take your ticket and go, Candy, I’ve got her”. The two cops were picking up the pace now, running as fast as their bulky uniforms and stab vests would allow. Candy caught Jack’s gaze, just for a moment, and he nodded.

She took the ticket off the man, and ran onto the platform, opening the first door she came to. It started to close, and as the train jolted, signifying it was departing, she could still hear Tash. “RAAAPE!”. Finding a seat, she kept the bag on her lap as the train picked up speed.

The End.

Ending Two. (From, Tash wasn’t used to running…)

Tash wasn’t used to running, and the flip flops didn’t help. As she increased speed, she let them fly off, gaining ground in her bare feet. She knocked into some commuters, swerved to avoid others, but made it to the gate of the platform just as Jack was showing the man their tickets. She barged into Candy at speed, grabbing the bag as they both fell onto the floor. Jack and the ticket inspector stood open-mouthed, wondering what the hell had happened, but when he saw the scruffy girl struggle to her feet clutching Candy’s holdall, he rushed forward and grabbed her. Tash flew at him like some demented harpy; punching, kicking, lashing out. But she had no chance against the big man, and he pushed her over easily. Candy turned to him, “Leave it Jack, she’s just a bag-snatcher, let’s go.”

As they turned to walk through the gate, Tash fumbled in the shoulder bag that had fallen onto the ground. She jumped up, emitting a fierce growl as she ran forward again. Jack turned to protect Candy, and the girl punched him as hard as she could, in the groin. He knew they had to catch the train, and so even though he hated to hit a woman, he punched her in the face, knocking her flying onto her back. Hustling past the concerned inspector and ignoring his protestations, they ran along the platform, managing to get onto the train just as the doors closed and it started to leave the station. Candy found a free seat where they could sit together, and ushered Jack into the window seat, before heading off to find the toilet. Jack extended his hand, “Leave that here, love. I will make sure it’s safe.” She smiled, and patted the bag. “Things inside I need. You know, lady’s things”. He smiled and nodded, a little embarrassed.

When she got back to the seat he was asleep, his head against the window. A man had sat opposite, across the table separating the seats. But he had his head buried in a newspaper, and paid her no attention. About an hour later, the express passed through Swindon, without stopping. Candy nudged Jack. “Ever been to Swindon, Jack? What’s it like there?” He didn’t reply, so she reached up and patted his cheek. It was cold and white. She had seen a couple of dead people before, drug overdoses mainly. But Jack didn’t look like them. He was just very pale, and very cold. She kept her cool, though she was trembling. The bloke opposite had finished his paper, and was asleep too, his head thrown back against the seat, mouth open.

Nobody had seen the long nail file in Tash’s hand. It had been the only thing resembling a weapon she had felt in her bag, so she had used it instinctively. Jack had thought he had just been punched. He hadn’t even bothered to look down, or notice the small hole in his trousers at the top of his thigh. There wasn’t much blood, as it had mostly just bled out inside his leg. He had felt sleepy, and put his head against the window. Candy got up from her seat with the bag, and walked the length of the train until she found the last toilet, near the front.

Forty-six minutes later, she walked off into the evening light of an unfamiliar city.

The End.

So, if you hadn’t wanted the happy ending you got, which one of these would you have preferred?