John Thomas Smith’s Cries of London
For centuries, the most popular prints produced in the capital were The Cries of London. From the Elizabethan era until the last century, these lively images of street-traders were treasured by Londoners, and exist now as almost the only visual record of the outcast poor in the metropolis.
Historically, those who had no job or shop or market stall could always make a living in London by selling wares in the street and turning their presence into a performance through song, winning the hearts of generations and incarnating the spirit of the city.
Two hundred years ago, John Thomas Smith was the first to draw individual portraits of street-traders in London and many of his subjects were East Enders. He preferred to do his drawings on the street but his work was not without hazard, as he discovered when he was chased through Whitechapel Market by an angry mob who mistook him for a police spy.
The Gentle Author’s Cries of London is published by Spitalfields Life Books at £20 and is available from spitalfieldslife.com
Images courtesy of The Gentle Author