This little book, published in 1820, is filled with sketches of personalities from London's streets. It shows an honest image of the jobs and wares that were essential to life in 19th Century Britain.
The book is made up almost entirely of illustrations, with very few words. As few people could read and write in 19th century Britain picture books like this were very popular.
These two pages show a fireman with a horse and a female ballad singer. You can flick through the rest of the book and see the rest of the images on the British Library's website.
Things to think about
- Are these the kind of people you would have expected to see on 19th century London's streets?
- Why do you think most people couldn't read?
You can learn more about Victorian street literature with this article from the British Library.
- Published in 1820, Rowlandson's Characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders contains 54 hand-coloured plates showing lively, raucous scenes of London street life – many of which have now disappeared. Caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson captures people hawking their wares, flirting, shouting – even fast asleep, snoring. The advertisement at the front of the book describes Rowlandson’s work as containing ‘great variety of countenance, expression, and situation, evinc[ing] an active and lively feeling’. Rowlandson reveals the jobs and wares that were essential to running 19th-century Britain - such as coal - and contemporary fads and fashions like rhubarb powder, thought to ward off minor illnesses. Other figures include the ‘poor sweep’ and ballad singers, who sang out the day’s news. The plates were originally published with Leigh's New Picture of London. Rowlandson's work came was bound after Leigh's more serious, straight guide to London.
- This little book, published in 1820, is filled with sketches of personalities from London's streets. It shows an honest image of the jobs and wares that were essential to life in 19th Century Britain.