In November 1868 Good Words magazine published a picture of an East End street market at night (see figure 1). I used this image at the outset, to accompany Henry Mayhew’s description of a Saturday night street market, and it seems fitting to return to it to conclude, because it contains many of the themes that run through the history of the London street markets from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The requisite cast of characters is here: the street sellers are represented by a costermonger selling fish, loudly crying his wares from a barrow, and a butcher – prosperous, sturdy and more than slightly menacing with his two sharp knives – who stands beside his counter. Customers are predominantly female, and suggest the market as the chief site of working-class consumption, a place where family budgets were deployed, perhaps recklessly, more often with care, and where some pleasure was to be found in the social interactions that took place around the act of shopping. It is a male figure who suggests sociability and pleasure most strongly, a working man who is cheerful in his enjoyment of the sensory stimulation and entertainment provided by the Saturday-night market. His stance (hands in pockets and pipe jutting) shows him to be at ease in experiencing the market as a space not just of exchange but also of leisure. A family of beggars occupies the foreground of the picture; we can’t hide from the fact that the street market was a place where plenty and poverty collided, a mingling point of excess and abjection. This theme is reinforced by the aloof figure of an upper-class observer (perhaps a journalist like George Augustus Sala or James Greenwood), who has resorted to the street market for a thrilling, voyeuristic glimpse of working-class life that is both picturesque and degraded. As in so many depictions of the street markets, a police constable observes from the periphery, indicating that this is a place on the margins of legality, requiring surveillance....
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