Hawk this Way

London used to ring with the cries of street sellers. Changes for the city brought changes to their way of life.

The Shrimp Girl, by William Hogarth, c.1745.
The Shrimp Girl, by William Hogarth, c.1745 © Bridgeman Images.

One Saturday morning in July 1897, John Hurley opened his fruit stall on the side of Essex Road, a busy artery a mile north of London’s old centre. A couple of children walked up and asked for some ‘specks’, prompting Hurley to slide out a box of greengages and pears from under the counter. Specks were fruit that were damaged but sound. Little did Hurley know, the neighbourhood health inspector, Mr Fortune, was lurking. The official approached the stall and confiscated the fruit, claiming it was ‘rotten and unfit for food’. The following week, Hurley was summoned to the nearest police court and found guilty. For giving his customers what they wanted, he was fined more than most street sellers earned in a month.

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