The Streets of London

I am obsessed with all things London. My interest began with the Women Warrior Boudicea, she looms large in my imagination. She was responsible for forestalling Roman advance into Londinium and the British Isles in and around 64 a.d.

She burned it to the ground. Halting the Roman advance for some time. She was successful for nearly two decades. It didn’t end well for her and Roman added this to their empire for a few centuries.

In 1854 Henry Mayhew was obsessed with the streets of London and spent many years interviewing all the people making a living on the streets of London.

He interviewed costermongers (mongers of Iron, cheese, fish, fruit, coal, etc.) he interviewed beggars, whores, prostitutes, rat catchers, street sweepers and pick pockets. Henry interview the bird and finch seller and recorded prices for the birds and also recorded avian sound that were perfectly rendered phonetically by the bird catcher.

He recorded the tricks that a rat catcher could perform with their tame rats all of which was to attract the public to buy his rat catching service.

He interviewed Her Royalties rat catcher and his above average abilities.
He observed the MudLarks, these were mainly children and elder women that would scour the banks and tide waters of the Thames for coal and various treasures to resell.

Many of the children were shoeless and in rags even through the winter months, all living hand to mouth on the streets of London.

He observed the person and recorded the price that was paid for most all items sold on the street. A constable allowed him to go on beat with him and he recorded many unsavory alleyways and areas of the city where crime was the only way of life.

No profession was left unaddressed and the detail that he included creates a compendium of life on a London street in exactly 1854.

Here I am in London another one hundred and fifty years later.

Tonight in London, I recall the street performer I saw at Covent Garden. He garnered a big crowd of people and was considered successful. He made perhaps fifteen pounds?

It’s over and I stroll on toward Bedford Street my favorite dwelling place for the week.

On the way home I stop and sit at a pub, street side to observe and people watch, I see the same performer rummaging thru bags of garbage that are piled high on the curb across the street.

The garbage will be picked up in the next few hours by the London sanitation department.

He continues to sift through the bags of garbage until he finds the bag he is looking for, it contains his belongings.

He has stored them in plain sight, in a garbage bag, on the street.

He knows well the street life of London, he knows the London sanitation department pick up schedules, he knows how to survive in the city.

His garbage bag even includes a small two wheeled cart to carry off his belongings. He first finds the wash cloth to wash off his face paints and then he packs it all up and heads on down the street.

It is late night and he is headed homeward somewhere in the far distance.

I sit and people watch in the mid evening hours, the street crowd is thinning out and the people left on the streets are slowly de-evolving, I don’t exclude myself.

I scrutinize most everybody that happens past, the commoner, the rich, the flamboyant, the fair to middl’n.

My sidewalk venue is emptying out and most all the tables need cleaning.

Along comes another pedestrian and sits down at a dirty table.

I wonder why he didn’t take one of the last two clean tables?

It becomes obvious, as he glances around and finishes the last of the beer in the near empty glasses that have been left on the table.

He again looks around, and with some dignity , stands up and moves on down the street.

We all share and participate in the street life of London.


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