This week's letter is C
C is for costermonger
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.