Barrow wars: competing for territory in the world of fruit and veg

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The difference between a fixed trader – generally but not always a shopkeeper – and a costermonger became the key distinction in a case heard before Mr Woolrych at Westminster Police court in early December 1870.

William Haynes, a fruiter and potato dealer with premises on  Churton Street and Tachbrook Street in Pimlico, was summoned to explain why he had obstructed the carriageway. He was prosecuted under the ‘new Street Act’ for ‘allowing two barrows to rest longer than necessary for loading or unloading’. The court heard he had left them there for five hours.

His defense lawyer (Mr Doveton Smyth) accepted the facts of the case but tried to argue that since his client sold apples from these barrows he might be classed as a costermonger, and therefore be allowed to do so.

Mr Woolrych might have admired the creativity of the brief but he rejected his reasoning. The word ‘costermonger’ might have derived from “costard,” a large apple’, as the lawyer suggested but ‘that term had become obsolete’.

There was ‘no doubt the present acceptation of the word costermonger was an itinerant trader who hawked perishable articles, such as fruit, vegetables , and fish, etc., and in the course of that vocation went from place to place’.

The magistrate pointed out that Mr Haynes owned two shops and didn’t move them around. Mr Woolrych left the fruiterer off the fine but insisted he pay the costs of the summons. The lawyer said he would take the question of ‘whether a tradesman cannot be a costermonger if he please’ to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a higher authority to determine.

Two weeks later Haynes was back in court and again defended by Mr Doveton Smyth. Again the charge was the same, as was the defense. This time the defendant was fined.

Two years later, in April 1872 William Haynes was one of three Pimlico greengrocers brought before the Westminster magistrate for obstructing the pavements.

The court heard that they occupied premises ‘where costermongers are allowed to assemble in accordance with the  provisions of the Metropolitan Street Act’ and that the area was a ‘a regular market on a Saturday night’. Once again Mr Smythe presented the argument that his clients had as much right to trade from stalls outside their shops as the costermongers did to sell from barrows nearby, so long as ‘did not infringe the police regulations’.

But it seems they did infringe the law.

Inspector Turpin from B Division said that Haynes’ stall was fully 50 feet long while Joseph Haynes (possibly his son or brother), had one that was 35 feet long. Both stalls forced pedestrians to walk out into the road to get past.

The defendants pleaded guilty, promised to ‘make better arrangements’ in the future, and were fined between 10 and 40s each, plus costs. They paid up but with some protest.

This was not something that was going to go away however. The greengrocers could afford to keep paying fines and may well have thought it a necessary expense to be able to compete for trade with the costermongers.

Ultimately, as we know, the grocer in his shop would win the battle for the streets with the coster and his barrow. The latter were eventually restricted from selling wherever they liked and confined to fixed markets; the grocers developed a network of independent shops that ultimately grew into small and then larger chains, displacing very many of the independent traders that they competed with.

Today we have a high street  with very few independent grocers and greengrocers; most of that business has been captured by the supermarkets.

[from Morning Post, Wednesday 7 December 1870; Morning Post, Friday 19 April 1872]

 

‘The only way we have of earning bread for our families is by selling fruit in the streets’: a costermonger’s lament

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This week, just ahead of the next round of marking that will fall due in mid July, I’ve managed to return to my current research project. Nether World is a study of late Victorian London through the lens of the Police Magistrate courts. Commissioned by Reaktion Books it will explore the rich culture of everyday life in the metropolis in the period c.1840-1900.

Today I have mostly been looking into the lives of costermongers, the people that sold fruit and veg and other ‘perishables’ from barrows. Increasingly their tradition of wheeling and then stationing their barrow on the street, so their customers could easily come and buy from them, came into conflict with property owners and local authorities who wanted to keep the thoroughfares of the city free and open to a growing commercial and private transport network.

From 1829 onwards the capital had a new weapon to use against this form of itinerant trading: the men of Peel’s Metropolitan Police. Given that the ‘New’ Police were tasked with patrolling the streets during the day (when the old watch had only done so at night) it was inevitable that they would quickly clash with these traditional street vendors.

Costermongers were fiercely independent, rebellious in their dress and outlook, and had little time for ‘middle class moralizing’ and attempts to suppress or restrict their way of life. As a result the police engaged in a long running battle to force them to conform to set pitches and markets rather than be allowed to trade where they liked. Using the wide-ranging powers given by the highways acts costers were constantly being asked to move along and were arrested or summoned to court if they refused.

This caused considerable resentment within the costermonger community and  it is hardly surprising that one trader admitted to Henry Mayhew (the celebrated journalist and social investigator) that it was considered legitimate to punch a policeman.

‘To serve out a policeman is the bravest act by which a coster-monger can distinguish himself. Some […] have been imprisoned upwards of a dozen times for this offense […]’, one explained.

Henry Mayhew, London Labour And The London Poor, (London, 1851),

In November 1858 Lloyd’s Newspaper reported the sitting magistrate at Clerkenwell was ‘engaged for some considerable time’ in processing the costermongers that the police had arrested on the preceding Saturday evening. No less than 17 costermongers had been brought before Mr Corrie. They had been locked up and their barrows and stock removed to the Green Yard.

One defendant had been locked up for 36 hours before being bailed at 11 in the morning. When he went to collect his barrow he was at first refused it and then later, when he returned, he found all his stock of apples had been carelessly thrown into a sack so that they were now bruised and unsalable. Another man, that sold fish, got out of lock-up to find is stock left in the yard without any care and so, similarly, spoiled and valueless.

‘Some of the defendants’, the paper reported, ‘remarked that the only way they had of earning bread for their families was by selling fruit in the streets’.

They were given little or no notice by the police to move along, and most times their barrows were ‘causing no obstruction’ and yet they were ‘treated and pushed about like felons’.  Despite having some sympathy for their situation the magistrate still found for the police and although he waived the fines for those locked up for hours, imposed a shilling fine on everyone else.

No wonder them that the costermongers of London viewed the capital’s police with contempt. In their eyes they were only trying to earn a living, which was being thwarted by the police who they must have seen as the friends of their rivals, the lower middle class grocers that had fixed places to sell their wares.

Nowadays of course we are used to the idea that most trade takes place in shops and while markets exist, these are mostly periodic not daily concerns. The modern retailer’s grumbles about the unrestricted and low-cost competition offered online might find an echo in the grumbles of costers forced off the streets by Victorian shopkeepers and their ‘friends’, the police.

[from Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper, Sunday 7 November 1858]

‘A very serious thing’ means a birching for one young boy

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When Louis Perry sent his errand boy off to deliver some work for him he gave him strict instructions. Lipman Forkell was to take some boots to his customer on a barrow and then drop the barrow off at the hire place. The lad was told not to forget to collect the 10change due from his deposit of a shilling.

However young Lipman – a 12 year-old boy who lived in Eastman Court, Whitechapel in London’s East End – carried out the task but failed to return Mr Perry’s money. This was a second chance for Lipman; he’d been accused of stealing money before but had been let off with a warning. He wasn’t to get a third chance and the boot maker was determined to teach him a lesson.

On Thursday 7 August 1879 the boy was brought before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court and formally charged with stealing 10in silver coins. The magistrate warned Mr Perry that he was also liable to be prosecuted, ‘for employing  a lad under age’. On this occasion he got off with a warning.

Lipman was not so fortunate. The magistrate told him that to have taken to stealing at such a young age was very serious and he would be punished for it. On top of sending him to prison for three days Mr Bushby ordered that the boy be given ‘twelve strokes of the birch rod’. These would be administered by a local policeman, which helps explain why the ‘old bill’ were far from popular in the district.

[from The Standard, Friday, August 08, 1879]

NB this post first appeared in August 2018

‘Let them starve’. Little sympathy as parochial officialdom is set in the dock

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‘Joseph Carney, a street vendor or “costermonger”, sells fresh herring from a barrow in a street market near Seven Dials’.1

The summary courts of the capital could sometimes side with the ‘little man’ against authority, especially when that ‘authority’ was seen to be officious and heavy handed. This was certainly the case in October 1888 when a costermonger known only as Nathan, brought a summons against a servant of the vestry.

The magistrate – Montagu Williams – listened as Nathan outlined his complaint. He sold goods from a barrow and on Sunday morning he had left it briefly unattended while went to settle a debt to a local publican. On his return the barrow had gone and he soon learned that it had been impounded by John Dowling, a street keeper working for Bethnal Green parish.

Nathan went to the parish greenyard, where all impounded vehicles and animals were taken, but he was told he would have to wait until the next morning to retrieve it. The next day he went but since Dowling was not there he was now instructed to come back on Thursday.

This meant he would be unable to trade for three days.

‘My children will starve’, he complained.

‘Well let them starve’, was the reply from one of the men that worked there.

On Thursday he saw Dowling who now refused to release the barrow until a 5fee had been paid. Nathan didn’t have 5so he offered 3 and a half. He was told to go away and find the balance. Meanwhile he couldn’t work.

The vestry was represented at Worship Street by Mr Voss, the clerk. He defended Dowling and the right of the vestry to impound barrows after 11am on a Sunday (when they were no longer allowed to trade). He had little or no sympathy for Nathan and his family nor for another complainant who appeared to support the costermonger. Mary Donovan said she had also had her barrow impounded by Dowling and was unable to pay the fee to get it back. As a consequence she’d fallen behind with the rent and her landlord had sent in the bailiffs to get her ‘bits o’ things’.

‘What do you have to say to that?’ Mr Williams demanded of Voss.

The clerk stuck to his script.

‘This man, Sir, was acting under his orders. The vestry makes certain regulations’.

The justice felt that these were extremely bad regulations and, what is more, they were being applied without care or understanding for the lives of the people they affected. Nathan told him he had threated to go to law but the street keeper had dismissed this saying he ‘did not care for the magistrate, for he had bigger people behind him’ who would support his actions.

Mr Williams now demonstrated exactly who had authority in the district by admonishing the clerk and the street cleaner, and demanding that the barrows be returned ‘instantly’, and without further costs to either party. The war between the costers and the vestry would, no doubt, rumble on and on, just as tensions between these sorts of street traders and the police did. But on this occasion at least, we can raise a glass to the victory of the little man (and woman).

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 23, 1888]

  1. from: https://mickhartley.typepad.com/blog/2012/03/little-mic-mac-gosling.html

The milk man, the general, and his trousers.

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General Robert Onesiphorus Bright (above) was an unlikely occupant of a Police Court dock but that is where he found himself in June 1888. General Bright had enjoyed an illustrious military career since he’d joined the 19 Regiment of Foot in 1843. He had seen service in Bulgaria in 1854 before taking command of the 2nd Brigade of the Light Division in the Crimea. According to the regimental record Bright was one of the very few officers who remain in service throughout, never succumbing to the disease that ravaged the forces fighting and Russians.

After the Crimean War Bright went on to see service on India’s northwest frontier and was cited in despatches. When he left the 19thFoot in 1871 he was given a commemorative silver cup engraved with a scene from the battle of Granicus, one of Alexander’s victories over the Persians. Bright fought in the 2nd Afghan War of 1878-80 and again was mentioned in despatches. He became colonel of the Green Howards/19th Foot in 1886 and then was raised to the knighthood by Victoria in 1894.

So how did a man with his pedigree end up in front of Mr De Rutzen at Marlborough Street? Well, perhaps not that surprisingly the general was there for losing his temper.

He was summoned to court by Charles Heffer who had been pushing ‘a milk perambulator’ in Oxford Street and he made his way towards Hyde Park. He was waiting to cross Duke Street and the general was waiting in front of him. As a carriage came close by the general stepped back to avoid it and collided with Heffer’s barrow. The wheel scraped against Bright’s leg, soiling his trousers with the mud from the road.

It was an unfortunate accident but the military man’s instincts took over and he swiveled in the street, raised his walking cane and ‘dealt [Heffer] a severe blow across the face’. Whether he had apologized at the time or not is unknown but clearly Heffer had been hurt enough to demand satisfaction from a magistrate.

In court the general was apologetic and admitted the fault was his. Mr De Rutzen said he would take into account the fact that the assault was committed in ‘the heat of the moment’ but regardless of the general’s status he had to treat this case as he would any other. He fined General Bright £4 and awarded costs to Heffer of £1. Having faced the Russians and the Afghans I doubt this was the worst moment of Robert Bright’s life, he paid and left with his head held high.

Today is Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday and, as I type this, the regimental colour of the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards is being ‘trooped’ on Horse Guards Parade in London.  The Grenadiers have a long history, being the first guards regiment to wear the bearskin following their actions at Waterloo when, under the command of Major General Peregrine Maitland, they repulsed the attack of Napoleon’s elite ‘Old Guard’. Wellington supposedly gave the command for the guard to stand and face the French, crying ‘Up Guards, and at them!’ although like so many moments in history the exact words are disputed.

Trooping the colour has been linked to monarch’s official birthday since 1748 (when George II was on the throne) but no one has done it as many times as the present queen, and I doubt anyone ever will. It wasn’t always held, partly because the British weather is so unreliable, and this caused Edward VII to move the day to June when (hopefully) the watching crowds might not get soaked.

Happy (official) birthday maam.

[from The Standard, Friday, June 08, 1888]

On June 15 Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here

‘A very serious thing’ means a birching for one young boy

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When Louis Perry sent his errand boy off to deliver some work for him he gave him strict instructions. Lipman Forkell was to take some boots to his customer on a barrow and then drop the barrow off at the hire place. The lad was told not to forget to collect the 10change due from his deposit of a shilling.

However young Lipman – a 12 year-old boy who lived in Eastman Court, Whitechapel in London’s East End – carried out the task but failed to return Mr Perry’s money. This was a second chance for Lipman; he’d been accused of stealing money before but had been let off with a warning. He wasn’t to get a third chance and the boot maker was determined to teach him a lesson.

On Thursday 7 August 1879 the boy was brought before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court and formally charged with stealing 10in silver coins. The magistrate warned Mr Perry that he was also liable to be prosecuted, ‘for employing  a lad under age’. On this occasion he got off with a warning.

Lipman was not so fortunate. The magistrate told him that to have taken to stealing at such a young age was very serious and he would be punished for it. On top of sending him to prison for three days Mr. Bushby ordered that the boy be given ‘twelve strokes of the birch rod’. These would be administered by a local policeman, which helps explain why the ‘old bill’ were far from popular in the district.

[from The Standard, Friday, August 08, 1879]

Two lads are charged ‘with getting an honest living’ as the press attack the police.

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The City of London’s Green Yard

Victorian newspapers did not use headlines as we know them today but quite often they deployed a sort of headline at the start of an article. I think we can see the development of the modern headline here, aimed at catching the attention of the reader and giving a sense of what the article was about.

On the 10 July 1858 one of the entries under the coverage of the Metropolitan Police Courts news declared:

HOW WE ENOURAGE INDUSTRY!

What followed was a direct criticism of a new police policy, which the writer clearly believed did exactly the opposite.

Michael Welsh and Morris Haven were two young entrepreneurs  (or at least that is how The Morning Chronicle’s reporter viewed them. They had bought a quantity of cherries and had been selling them from a barrow in the streets around the Guildhall in the old City of London.

They were not alone in this, several independent hawkers were operating throughout the area selling fresh fruit as it was now in season. They drew large crowds, particularly of young boys, who ‘swarmed round’ the barrows, ‘each eager to invest his halfpence in cherries’.

Buying from a coster’s barrow was popular, and some people who seldom visited fruiterers did stop and buy from a barrow. It was cheaper and more convenient and the City magistracy thought this a ‘good thing’. Sadly it seems the police did not.

New regulations had been put into force regarding street sellers and the City Police seems to have decided that anyone selling goods from a barrow constituted an obstruction that had to be removed. As a consequence the paper reported:

great numbers of fruit sellers have been brought up on the same frivolous pretext. Alderman Hale discharged several so charged during the last few days, and remarked that it was a pity the police did not show a little more indulgence to persons earning a reputable loving, particularly as the fruit season would not last long’.

Sitting in judgement on Welsh and Haven, Alderman Gabriel broadly agreed with his colleague’s actions earlier in the week but he wanted to uphold the law at the law time. After all he agreed, ‘the streets must be kept clear’. He told the young businessmen he would let them off on this occasion but they must refrain from breaking the regulations in future or he would punish them.

They didn’t get away scot-free however; their barrows had been impounded by the police and they had to pay 2s 6deach to liberate them from the Green Yard at Whitecross Street (where all stray animals and vehicles had been taken by the police and their predecessors for centuries).

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, July 10, 1858]