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From John Thomson and Adolphe Smith, ‘Street Life in London’, 1877. Source: LSE Library Flickr

I’m researching a PhD in history at Birkbeck, University of London, looking at the capital’s street food sellers between 1600 and 1800.

When London was racing to the top rank of European capitals, when the city’s rulers were grappling with plague, fire and disorder, the fast-growing population needed to eat. Beyond the official markets, wandering women and men hawked everything from oranges to oysters, capons to cabbages. We know their cries filled the chorus of London’s chaotic streets and we know they were often in trouble. But we don’t have a picture of who they were, what they bought and sold, how many they numbered, and where they stood in society. The story of street food sellers will tell us how Londoners picked up their daily bread, passed through the city’s space, and treated an illegal underclass which kept them fed.

Economists, geographers and sociologists tell us much about street food sellers in Bangkok, Cairo or Delhi. In modern-day London, the options for eating high-class grub on the hoof are overwhelming. And yet, we know little of the humble folk, selling their wares to make a few pennies, in the city’s not-so-distant past.

I’m keeping a scrapbook of blogs, articles, pictures and curiosities at www.moveablefeasts.tumblr.com and will link below to any published work.

If you’re interested in the history of cities, food, space and work, or early modern society, culture and economy – please, say hi.

 

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