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Friday 15 October 2010

Will You Buy My...? Shopping, Street Vendors and Markets

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the building of the railways meant a much wider distribution of goods, greater quantities and things becoming a lot cheaper due to lesser shipping costs.

More goods began to come from abroad in the 1860s and by the end of the century shops had larger windows and fancier signage that took advantage of the latest technology – electricity – to entice customers inside. Once inside you could find almost everything you wanted under one roof.

‘The Shopkeeper’s Guide’ of 1853 lists a selection of typical items stocked by each type of shop:

The Ironmonger:
Smoke jacks,
kitchen fenders,
box irons,
crimping machines,
goffering machines,
pestles and mortars,
ice safes,
bell pulls,
coppers for washing,
taper boxes.
The Cutler Boot jacks,
champagne nippers,
Gentleman’s pocket companion,
ham knives,
large scissors,
oyster knives,
rotary knife cleaner,
pinching irons,
razor strops,
sugar nippers.

The Optician:
Opera glasses,
spectacles for railway travellers,
spectacles for charities and poor persons,

The Turner:
Beetle traps,
butter prints,
chocolate mills,
butler’s trays,
housemaid’s boxes,
linen presses,
portable water closets,
mouse traps,
washing crimps,
trays and tubs,
towel horse,
salting tubs.

The General Fancy Shop:
Crochet carriages,
powder puffs,
improved whisker curlers,
larding pins,
steel beads,
reticule mounts,
papier mache goods,
metallic pens,
sealing wax,
wafer & bottle seals,
card cases,
glove studs,
smelling salt bottles.

The Stationer:
Ornamental cards in packets,
black-bordered envelopes (for condolence correspondence),
sealing wax and wafers,
pens and quills,
curling papers (for curling hair),
music papers,

The Chandler and Oilman:
best mottled soap,
best vinegar,
curd in bars,
Albert lights,
Brown Windsor,
India Soy,
Poland starch,

The Perfumer and Fancy Soap Maker:
For the hair:
macassar oil,
Russia oil,
marrow oil,
fancy soaps:
Otto of Rose,
Court perfumes,
tooth powders,
milk of rose,
lip salve,
honey paste,
almond cream,
rose cream,
cold cream.
Fancy brushes and combs.

The Chemist and Druggist:
concentrated infusions,
tincture of lavender,
castor oil.

The Hosier, Shirt Maker and Outfitter:
Long cloth shirts,
calico drawers,
shirt collars,
brown and white cotton hose,
stiffeners for cravats,
dark merino or silk jackets,
monkey jackets,
pilot cloth trousers,
Glengarry caps,
boot hooks,
printed flannel dressing gowns,
folding chairs,
dress shoes,
overland trunks,
sea chests,

The Grocer:
Teas- Indian and China,
sugars- West India, demerara,
cocoa and chocolate,
best blue starch,
 bees wax,
 black lead,
putty powder,
lamp black,
canary seed,
bloater paste,
potted ham,

The Confectioner:
Candied citron,
lemon and orange,
pink, brown, white rose and lemon candies,
barley sugar,
acid,  pear, mint, barberry and ginger drops,
Pontefract cakes,
crystallized fruits,
dried fruits,
French confectionary:
apricot knots,
liquer almonds,
chocolate pralines,
Twelfth cake,
islinglass, (like gelatine),

Other dealers:
The Agricultural Implement Maker,
The Basket Maker,
The Bookseller,
The Boot and Shoemaker,
The Bed and Mattress Dealer,
The Butcher,
The Bottle Dealer,
The Cabinet Maker  (also a toymaker),
The Archery shopkeeper (fishing tackle and guns),
The Carpenter,
The Hatter,
The Milliner,
The Tobbacconist,
The Watchmaker,
The Harness Maker,
The Looking-Glass Maker,
The Haberdasher,
The Glover

Street Vendors
Other sellers, or vendors, earned their living selling on the streets, without a shop. Women and servants would spend virtually the whole day at home, rarely leaving the house, so selling door to door was the best and most profitable way for the following people to do business:

The Watercress Girl:

She was usually a very young girl who took fresh cresses to middle class homes at breakfast or tea-time. Over the years the Watercress Girl has become somewhat synonymous with the image of working youth in a similar way to young chimney-sweeps.

This portrait of a watercress girl (left) painted by Frederick Ifold, 1867

These meat-vendors sent their boys to customers’ homes early in the morning so that the cook could give them the day’s meat order. No refrigeration in the 19th century, so meat needed to be delivered on the day it was intended to be used. A few hours after breakfast the butcher’s boys could be seen walking the streets with trays of meat balanced on their shoulders.

Delivered bread or cakes every day

Milk Men / Women:
Also delivered daily, carrying their cans of milk on a yoke balanced over their shoulders.

Delivered something a little stronger to drink, mostly porter and stout, in two great metal jugs carried on a similar contraption to a yoke.

Markets were a large part of Victorian England. I have a brief summary of the main London markets and their specific produce, but would welcome information on Victorian markets all over the world, for a more comprehensive breakdown of London’s markets, click here to see the article "Know Your Markets" on the Cat’s Meat Shop, the blog of Victorian London doyenne, Lee Jackson

In London, the following markets were the most popular:

Metropolitan Cattle Market:
This was found between Islington and Camden town and was opened in 1855 by Prince Albert. As the name suggests, the market sold mainly cows and sheep.

Smithfield Market:
Smithfield Market
This was a huge market with an area covering five acres. As with the Metropolitan Cattle Market, Smithfield sold mostly cattle and sheep, but it also sold things such as hay and straw. The market was surrounded by catgut manufactories, knackers yards and bone-houses who did a great trade from any animals that died in the market. Pubs and taverns also surrounded the market.

Billingsgate Market:
Just below London Bridge was the fish market of London, made of red bricks with stone dressings.
It opened at 5a.m. at which time only fishmongers were allowed in. At 7a.m. the costers could turn up and buy what was left.
A third of all fish landed at Billingsgate was bought for resale by costers.

Covent Garden Market:
The great fruit, vegetable and herb market was built in 1830, with a new flower market covered with glass like the Crystal Palace being added in 1859.
At Covent Garden, itinerant vendors sold all sorts from teapots to rat poison, pineapple to frogs, and even sparrows were sold for 1d, string tied to their leg so children could play with them.

Newgate Market:
This was a meat market for butchers and could be found between
Newgate Street
and Paternoster Row.

Leadenhall Market:
Was located between
Gracechurch Street
and the East India House. At Leadenhall, there was a variety of goods sold, including fish, vegetables, leather, hides and bacon. However, it was most notable for its vast array of poultry.

Hungerford Market:
This was only a small market for butchers meat, poultry and fish for food, but it also sold fruit and flowers. It was demolished in 1862 to make way for Charing Cross train station.

Farringdon Market:
This was another small market and was the main vendor in London for watercress.

Some of these markets are still standing, and are well worth a visit. In conjunction with the last post regarding the Thames, a walk down the river on the north bank should include a stop at Leadenhall market which is still a wonderful sight.


  1. This is a fabulous resource! I have ancestors who ran a shop my mum has never been able to define but which I can see was probably a 'general fancy shop'. We could never understand how it made any money as most people could do without everything it sold!

  2. That's great, glad this post has been a help! where was your families 'General Fancy Shop'?

    it would be interesting to see what it is now

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