Monday, August 02, 2010

ABC Wednesday

This week's letter is C

C is for costermonger

Oscar Rejlander

From Wikipedia -  Costermonger, or simply Coster, is a street seller of fruit (apples, etc.) and vegetables, in London and other British towns. They were ubiquitous in mid-Victorian England, and some are still found in markets. As usual with street-sellers, they would use a loud sing-song cry or chant to attract attention. Their cart might be stationary at a market stall, or mobile (horse-drawn or wheelbarrow).

Louise Moillon - The Fruit and Vegetable Costermonger

Here is an excerpt from Dick Sullivan's Web Site

"Victoria's reign was the costermonger's heyday even though the word had been coined in the early sixteenth century (coster is a corruption of costard, a kind of apple).  Mayhew gave us a detailed snapshot of their lives, habits and beliefs in a series of twice weekly articles for the Morning Chronicle in the late 1840s. Later they were published as London Labour and the London Poor. Costermongers qualified because they were far from rich. Mayhew thought there were between thirty and forty thousand of them, quite a large number in a city of under two and a half million. There was no mystery about what did; they bought fruit and vegetables wholesale and sold them retail. Technically they were hawkers since only a minority had fixed stalls or standings. The rest cried out their wares as they walked the streets with barrows, donkey carts, or shallows (trays carried on the head).In the 1840s they accounted for ten percent of the cheaper produce sold in Covent Garden's wholesale market, and a good third of Billingsgate Fish. Earnings ranged from an average ten shillings a week to thirty at a time when a collier's wages was around twenty."  more

This site is an excellent source of knowledge about a colourful period in London's history, and an eye opener about the social conditions of the times and the lives of the costermongers.

There are still costermongers on London's streets, but I doubt that their living is as tenuous as that of their forebearers.

In 1875 Henry Croft, who grew up in an orphanage and graduated to being a municipal road sweeper and rat catcher got in with a group of Costermongers.  'They wore highly decorated clothes to distinguish themselves from the other market traders and to make themselves look a bit flashier. This involved decorating their trousers and waistcoats with a row of pearl buttons down the seams. The costers looked out for one another and if another coster was in need, they would have a 'whip round' for him to get him some money.

Henry was influenced by the caring attitude of the costers, and decided he wanted to raise money to help the poor and the orphaned. He thought that the best way to raise money would be to draw attention to himself. So taking the idea from the costers, he went a bit further and covered a suit entirely with pearl buttons.
He became an instant attraction and was approached by many hospitals and churches to help raise money for the poor, deaf, dumb and blind. Henry worked hard for these charities but he wanted to raise more money, so he asked the costermongers for help.

Eventually there was pearly family for every London borough and the Pearly monarchy began.
Henry Croft's family still carries on the tradition, his great-granddaughter is Pearly Queen of Somer's Town."

On the first Sunday in October the Pearly Kings and Queens gather for a Harvest Festival at the London Guild Hall, from where they parade to St. Mary-le-Bow, the London church whose bells determine who is a true Cockney (you must be born within sound of these bells).

For more interesting C words click here to go to ABC Wednesday, with thanks to Denise Nesbitt and all who work at maintaining this popular meme.


Gramma Ann said...

What a great choice for "C". I never heard of a Costermonger in my life. That was a very informative post today, I for one, enjoyed learning about the Costermongers.

Leslie: said...

This is a fascinating post as I have a strong interest in the history of Britain and read a lot of historical novels set there. I really loved reading this. Thanks for sharing such an interesting bit of history! :D

Sylvia K said...

A fascinating post indeed! I love it! And I always love learning something new, which I just did!! Such interesting history and now I can add Costermonger to my list of new words! Thanks for such interesting history! And your photos are terrific! Enjoy your week!


photowannabe said...

Utterly fascinating. I certainly have learned a new word and much about history that I never knew before.
Those Cockney costumes are really detailed.

Leo said...

oh.. this was a very fabulous and informative post! :) thank u very much for sharing..!

Roger Owen Green said...


Interesting history. The farmers' market is the closest thing to the costermonger here.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Carver said...

What a unique, fun and interesting take on the letter C. I enjoyed this so much.

Beverley Baird said...

What a very informative post! I learned a lot! Loved the piece on the cockneys, with their special outfits!

Reader Wil said...

In the musical "Oliver Twist" many costermongers appear when Oliver is in the house of the old gentleman, who wants to look after Oliver. It sounds very beautiful.
The story about Henry Croft and the Pearly monarchy is very interesting. It's an interesting and informative post! Thank you!

Annelie said...

I must say, I had NO IDÈA what a Costermonger was, until now! Thank´s a lot!

Annelie E, ABC Wednesday Team

Amy said...

Thank you for writing such an informative post, plus the images fit perfectly - I especially like the first one (of the boy).

Thanks too for visiting and commenting on my "c" post!

Cheryl said...

What an amazingly informative post about these folks in general and Henry Croft and descendants. Great deeds done by the few always inspire me.

Mara said...

Love your C. I had heard/read it before, but of course had forgotten all about it again. Thanks for the reminder.

Wanda said...

Thanks for a new word and meaning...and for an interesting read...and smiles for the cute pictues!

Julie said...

Hildred, that very first image reminds me of the young men and women who used to sell ice-creams at the cinema when I was younger. They are not very often seen nowadays - maybe the last time I saw one was at the tennis.
Can you remember them, too?

VioletSky said...

Well, I never. heard of costermonger that is!
thanks for the enlightenment.

magiceye said...

we still have them around in mumbai!

Ann said...

This is a new word to be. I had wanted to visit your blog, because mu older daughter uses the same daybyday as you. Please thank your Charlie for visiting me. I will enjoy visiting both your sites.

jabblog said...

What a lovely post! I didn't know that the Pearly Kings and Queens arose among the costermongers though I did know they raise a lot of money for charity. They always look so wonderful, especially the Queens in their broad-brimmed hats.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

This is such an interesting post. I have heard of costermongers but had no idea of the history behind the name or term. Thank you so much. A x

Joy said...

The figures of 3-40,000 for London are amazing. Love the pictures you chose.
We still have the market stalls here who travel around the small towns but the characters who used to shout about their fruit and veg seem to have disappeared.

Tumblewords: said...

I don't think I've heard that word before and have to admit that I can hardly wait to use it! Great C.

Anna said...

Thank you for this fascinating history of the Costermongers! I have never heard of them, but I am not surprised that they would originate in London.
Well-wrtten, right mix of detail and general information; biograpgy and history. Inspirational!
Really enjoyed it"!
Best wishes,

Anna's Cats

Grace and Bradley said...

What an interesting and informative post. Thank you!

Autumn Belle @ KDP said...

Thank you for teaching me about Costermonger. Very interesting indeed!

Jay said...

What a great post! Love to read about this period of our history, so I'm going to pop over to the site you link to in a minute!

That's a great photo, too, that last one!