costermongers and street traders

How did your costermonger/street trader ancestor live and work?   Old practices reflected today.

street traders in Albania, November 2017


Saturday street market on the road to Byllis, Albania. © Adèle Emm

Albania is just emerging from nearly a half a century of seclusion under a strict communist regime and many of its inhabitants are still very poor.  Under the communist regime, there were textile factories but many of these were closed following the transition into democracy.  The only way the population could clothe themselves was from the second hand clothes market and a large proportion of this was shipped in from the rest of Europe.

On the road to the ancient city of Byllis, we stopped at a Saturday market at the side of the road where haggling was the main game and piles of shoes (not always pairs) and clothing was tossed in piles on the floor or prettily displayed on stalls or hangers.  For those small holders with too many oranges, pomegranates, heads of corn, eggs and the like, they could sell their overproduction to the passing trade.  This is the same principle under which our ancestors would have traded although I doubt, somehow, if these Albanians had hawkers’ licences without which our foolhardy and feckless Victorian ancestors found themselves taken to the magistrates court and fined.

Please see the blog dated 9.11.17

rogues vagabonds and thieves

The rogues of the High Street were itinerant traders, hawkers, hucksters and costermongers.

Village women travel to the city to sell their goods

Village women travel to  the city to sell their goods

Costermonger derives from the amalgamation of costard a type of apple, and monger thought to originate from mangere, ‘a dealer in slaves’ or manganeuein ‘to use trickery’ still used pejoratively in ‘warmonger’ and ‘scandalmonger.’  A costermonger, ‘a seller of apples’  was rock bottom in the social strata, slightly above beggars but not in the eyes of various Vagrancy Acts which penalised them as beggars.

                      street names and trades

City of London street names reflect the former trades operating there; Pudding Lane, Poultry, Milk Street, Fish Street although you can no longer  a herring in Fish Street or chicken in Poultry…

Trading for over 1,000 years, the 36 streets of Hanoi still ring with the sound of trade (albeit mainly tourist) redolent of London pre the Great Fire (1666).  Many streets start with the word Hàng meaning ‘merchandise/wares’ or ‘shop’.   Guilds, like those in Britain, governed training, prices and quality.

Hàng Tre was Bamboo Street, Hàng Bac produced silverware, Hàng Thiéc tin,  Hàng Mã votive offerings and Hàng Chiẽu mats.   Hàng Duong, once famous for sugar, now sells dried fruit – not so very different…

Just as in London, some products are now obsolete. We no longer write with a quill; that technology was replaced by a pen: handwriting by typewriters and typewriter manufacturers now produce keyboards, word processors and tablets…

With no welfare state, people must make a living as they can.

With no welfare state, people make a living as they can.

 trading to survive

Vietnam, with no welfare state, means that, if you have no income you have to survive anyhow.  Just like Dick Whittington (who, incidentally was not poor at all – only pantomimes and fairy-tales portray him as such) country folk flock to cities to make their fortune. Streets are thronged with village women riding a bike from home to the city to flog a handful of produce  from their garden.  Others walk from home bearing a yoke  on their shoulders.  Some squat on the pavement with a plastic bag of goods bought as much as they  could afford from the wholesale market.  Each area of the market sells the same product just as towns and villages did hundreds of years ago.

For more information on costermongers, street traders and shopkeepers, buy my book Tracing Your Trade and Craftsman Ancestors.      Click here     (Pen and Sword)  or  here  (Amazon)

For Researching for the Media; Television, Radio and Journalism  click here


Like medieval days, similar produce is sold in the same area of the market.

Like medieval days, similar produce is sold in the same area of the market.

Just as in medieval days, street traders sold anything and everything. Here, it's birds.

Just as in medieval days, street traders sold anything and everything. Here, it’s birds.