Monday, August 26, 2013
Cries of Old London
Cries of Old London
Today, we associate cities with the sounds of engines, radios, sirens, and the general hum of modern automation. Advertising blares at us with song and noise. It’s easy, therefore, to think that a hundred or two hundred years ago, cities were far more quiet places. In fact, they were still noisy.
London of the Regency era (early 1800’s) had almost as much congestion—but instead of automation’s hum, the sound of carriage wheels, harness, and horses gave the city its bustle. London residents also had the cries of merchants to disturb the day (and sometimes the night, too).
While we are far more accustomed to going to stores today, in the 1800’s it was common for goods to come to the customers. Vendors would ply their trade along well populated (and well off) streets, where their goods would more easily sell.
Joseph Addison, wrote in The Spectator, December 1711, "There is nothing which more astonishes a foreigner, and frights a country squire, than the Cries of London."
“Oranges, Sweet China Oranges” is a cry that dates back to 1793, while the cry of, “Strawberries, Scarlet Strawberries” dates to 1795. Also from the late 1700’s were the cries for “New Mackerel” (as if anyone would want old mackerel), “Turnips & Carrots Ho!” and, “Old chairs to mend.” But London’s cries dated back far before then, to the 1500’s and would linger into the 1900’s.
It was not just London that had its street vendors—any large city acquired hawkers who would sell, “Gingerbread, Hot Spice Gingerbread” as well as roasted nuts of all kinds, including chestnuts. Just about anything that could be provided in a service (mending pans or china, sharpening knives and scissors, repairing furniture, or sweeping chimneys) or carried (with portable foods such as bread, milk, butter, fruits, and vegetables) would be sold door-to-door. Even such perishable stuffs such as oysters might be carted around the streets to cooks and housekeepers, and the calls might well lure them into a quick purchase.
Over 150 cries have been recorded, and they’ve gone on to be used both in song, and used as the basis for prints, pottery, engravings, and paintings.
Francis Wheatley produced a series of illustrations in 1796, highlighting the various vendors in hand-colored prints, which were sold individually and later collected into print editions. Musically, Richard Dering composed Cries of London, which is still performed and can be purchased today, and other composers have also used the cries in various forms.
It is to be hoped that the cries of London were once as harmonious as modern singers can present them, but it is far more likely that the voices were rough and probably hoarse from use, and possibly shrill when women had to call out their wares. Vendors also would try to customize their calls, some would include prices, and some would include rhymes to make their calls all the more memorable.
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She has also published young adult horror stories, is the author of several computer games, and now lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at sd-writer.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter/sdwriter.