Image Source: THE LONDON COSTERMONGER. “Here Pertaters! Kearots and Turnups! Fine Brockello-o-o!” [From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

In 1851 Henry Mayhew’s famous account of the lives of London street workers, London Labour and the London Poor was published. It included interviews with real men and women working on the London streets, predominately those selling goods. One “smart costermonger” explained that many London mechanics or labourers were turning to street selling:

“They are driven to it as a last resource, when they can’t get work at their trade. They don’t do well, at least four out of five, or three out of four don’t. They’re not up to the dodges of the business. They go to market with fear, and don’t know how to venture a bargain if one offers. They’re inferior salesmen too…Some of these poor fellows lose every penny. They’re mostly middle-aged when they begin costering…We pity them. We say, ‘Poor fellows! they’ll find it out by-and-bye.’ It’s awful to see some poor women, too, trying to pick up a living in the streets by selling nuts or oranges. It’s awful to see them, for they can’t set about it right; besides that, there’s too many before they start. They don’t find a living, it’s only another way of starving.”