Esoteric London

No. 499: Great Sutton Street, EC1

Posted in Amusements by esotericlondon on January 26, 2012

Marsden Woo Gallery, Great Sutton Street, London, EC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

The Morning Chronicle: Labour and the Poor – Henry Mayhew, 1849-50; 

To see a man bend backwards, and pick up pins from the ground with his eyes – to behold another balance the heaviest and lightest substances on his chin – now a donkey and then the ashes of a burnt paper bag – to witness another swallow swords and live snakes, and all for the sake of a few pence — is wonderful enough; but surely it is more wonderful still to think what could have originally induced these people to give up the ordinary means of subsistence, and adopt a mode of life which appears to require a longer apprenticeship than the common handicrafts, and after all to yield a far more precarious support…

…The habits and character of the street performers of feats and strength and dexterity present some curious moral and social phenomena, and they are the more curious as the posturers, balancers, conjurors, jugglers, and others who may be considered as the “skilled labourers” of the streets, represent their calling as “dying out.” I have met with few old men among street performers, and the class generally seem to look on fifty as a great age. “The original Billy Barlow” (a kind of street clown or fool), said one man to me, “died quite an old man in St. Giles’s workhouse – I dare say he was fifty.”

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