Victorian Street-Traders: Greenwich,1880

In the year 1880, a leading South London churchman commissioned a photographer to take photographs of street traders in the district of Greenwich. He used the photos for lectures on the condition of the poor working classes in London at that time.

Weighing scales. This boy is having his weight measured. For a penny or two, he would be able to be weighed. Nobody had the money to buy personal scales, so this was the only way to know your weight.

A rabbit-seller. The man would have either bred rabbits to sell as meat, or trapped and shot them in the countryside before bringing them into London to sell them.

This glazier has no vehicle of any kind. So he carries glass panes on his back and walks around hoping to be hired to fix broken windows.

Victorian milkmen were categorised in three classes. This man is a ‘Third Class’ milkman, as he carries the milk cans around the streets using a yoke.

A ‘Second Class’ milkman. He has a handcart, so can do more deliveries.

The ‘First Class’ milkman has a horse and cart, so can cover a bigger delivery area.

A Muffin Man. Muffins were a very popular snack, and even gave rise to a childrens’song, in 1820. (These are bread muffins, not the cakes called Muffins by Americans.)
Do you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man,
Who lives on Drury Lane?

Yes I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Yes, I know the muffin man,
Who lives on Drury Lane.

A family of ice-cream sellers. Ice cream had been brought to England by Italian immigrants, and soon became popular with Victorians.

Selling bricks from a cart. There were no DIY shops then of course, so if you needed to make repairs on your house, you had to buy from street traders.

A Kentish herb-seller. This lady would travel from her home in Kent by train, to sell home-grown herbs.

This lady is selling ‘Sherbet’ drinks. This was a sweet fizzy yellow powder that was added to water to make a refreshing drink. Every customer would use the same glasses!

A Pie-Man. The pies would be made in his shop, then he would also walk around selling them from his basket to increase trade.

Shrimp-Sellers. These men would buy shrimps from Billingsate Fish Market in London, then sell them cooked on the streets as a snack.

A child road-sweeper. Children were expected to work from as young as the age of 5 or 6. This boy is about 11 years old, and had a full-time job sweeping the streets of Greenwich.

This woman is selling toys from her cart. With few specialist toy-shops at the time, working people would buy toys from street traders.

A chair-mender. With people unable to afford to replace broken furniture, he would travel around hoping to find work repairing chairs.

This man is selling refurbished top hats that he has cleaned and repaired. He is carrying all his available stock.

Working Class London In Photos: 1890

Part of a collection of photos, all dated 1890. They were taken in East London during that year, but the photographer was unknown and not credited.
(Some of the photos can be further enlarged by clicking on them.)

Factory girls outside a cafe during their meal break. They wore thick white aprons to protect what were likely to be the only clothes they owned.

Barefoot boys photographed in midwinter.

Old women selling used clothing and material in Chrisp Street Market.

The girl on the right has lost one of her only pair of boots, so is walking around wearing just one. The soiled aprons under their coats suggest that they were both employed in a factory. Child labour was still common then.

A makeshift baby carriage with no wheels. It was just dragged around.

This boy was described as an ‘Incorrigible Beggar’.

Rag and bone collectors announcing their intention to buy those items by blowing a bugle. The children in the background were excited to be included in the photo.

Members of an East London Boy’s Brigade band. Being able to wear a smart uniform and be a part of such an organisation was a temporary relief from their hard lives.

Local people posing on Dorset Street, in Spitalfields. This was known as one of the most lawless streets in London, and was frequented by pimps and prostitutes. It was also one of the favourite haunts of Jack The Ripper. He murdered Mary Kelly in Millers Court, just off Dorset Street. And one of his other victims, Annie Chapman, lived in a cheap lodging house on Dorset Street before he killed her in nearby Hanbury Street.

Curious children crowding around the photographer. Despite their poverty and living conditions, they were mostly well-dressed.

A street sharpener. He would walk around hoping to be paid to sharpen knives and scissors. Even when I was a child in the 1950s, men like him were still seen everywhere. Working people could not afford to replace blunt knives or scissors, so it was economical to have them sharpened regularly.

This man is what passed for ‘Pest Control’, in 1890. He carried a placard announcing his services, and at a time when bedbugs, rats, cockroaches, and other pests were abundant, he would be in high demand.