Buying Fish and Shopping at Billingsgate Fish Market in Georgian and Victorian Times

It’s time to post another modern translation from John Trusler’s The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and Coming to Reside There published in 1786. In my last post from this book, we learned how to acquire poultry and meat in Georgian. Today, we will buy fish and visit Billingsgate Fish Market.  Once again, I am using information from both Trusler’s book and London Labour and the London Poor: a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work, by Henry Mayhew, published in 1851.

Billingsgate Fish Market in Trusler’s time was an open air market lined with booths and sheds.  An enclosed building had been erected approximately the same time that London Labour and the London Poor was printed. In 1877, the market again restricted and expanded. In this post, I’ll be using images from Trusler’s time and the new construction.

From Francis Wheatley's Cries of London. "New Mackerel. New Mackerel"

Let’s get started with Trusler

FISH is generally dearest and best, when in season.

1. Fish-mongers charge a price for fish according to their customers; to deal with one man regularly, and pay him once or twice a year, is as bad as dealing with butchers in the same way. A fish-monger near the squares will charge 2s. 6d. for a mackerel, which may be bought for half the money at Charing-cross; and for one third of the money from those who cry them about.

2. To such as live convenient, Billingsgate is the place to buy sea fish at, whether you want little or much. —— Market-days there are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; days; but market days are the dearest days. You may often buy them fresh, and forty per cent, cheaper, on the intermediate days. By purchasing at Billingsgate, you may buy at one-third of the price which fish-mongers charge; and if you lay out a few shillings, it will pay for a person to carry them home, or it may be sent by the Parcel-post. Fish-mongers, at this market, purchase at break of day; and, when the market is not glutted, they will, at those times, buy up all the largest fish, but there is always sufficient left to serve private families. There is an act of parliament to oblige fish-mongers to sell brill, bret, or small turbot, not exceeding 16 inches from eye to tail, for 6d. a pound, under a penalty of 20s. to the informer; for asking more or refusing to weigh or measure it, any person may seize the fishmonger and deliver him to a constable, to carry him before a justice, who will not only fine him, but make him return the money. But when turbot is in season, as in May and June, one of 6lb. weight may be bought at Billingsgate for 3s. 6d. or 4s. other fish in proportion.

3. Mackerel, in June and July, are in great plenty, and may be bought at Billingsgate by the quarter of a hundred, for 2d. or 3d. apiece. Mackerel and herrings, if fresh, will look bright, their gills red, and their eyes clear. Mackerel are reckoned cheap at 4.d. or 5d. each. If fish are not firm, not of a greenish hue, not flabby or slimy, the gills ruddy or bleeding, and the eyes bright, you may depend on it, it is fresh ; but if otherwise, not so. Salmon, when cut, should look red and bleeding fresh. But, put your nose to the gills, and you will soon find if it is stale. Thames salmon is always double the price of other salmon; not that it is better tasted, but being later out of the water, it can be crimped, which gives it firmness. The price of sea-salmon is from 9d. to 3s. a pound.

Billingsgate as an open market from Microcosm of London; or, London in miniature

Lobsters and crabs should always be bought a!ive.—Those of a middling size are always the best. No overgrown animal food is delicious; and the heaviest are fullest  of meat. A cock-lobster’s claw is larger than those of a hen. A hen-lobster’s-tail is broader in the middle than that of a cock. Hen-lobsters are reckoned best, on account of the spawn.

The average price of foals is about 1s. a pound, though they are not fold by the pound, but the pair. Herrings are bought for about one shilling a dozen; whitings 2s. a dozen; haddock according to their size, for about 6d. a pound. Large cod at the dearest time, may be purchased for about 1s., or 1s.3d. a pound; at the cheapest for one third of the money. Skate at about 6d. a pound, and barrel cod, in Lent, for about 6d. a pound. If a family could dispense with a quantity of salt-fish, dried cod may be bought at the dry fishmongers, in Thames-street, in winter, for about 5s. for 28lb. and barrel cod, or pickled salmon by the kit, at a very reasonable price. The price of a barrel of the best oysters, Colchester or Milton, is 3s. 6d. Dutch eels 4a. or 6d. a pound. Smelts from 2s. a hundred to 5s. Prawns from is. 6d. to 3s. a hundred.

Fresh-water fish is in price as follows:. Eels, jack, carp and perch, 1s. a pound; trout and tench is. 6d. gudgeons 6d. or 9d. a dozen; flounders from 3d. a piece, according to the size. Fresh-water fish are kept by fish-mongers, in cisterns, and should be bought alive.

Small turbots are easily distinguished from Dutch plaice; for plaice have many small yellow spots on their back, turbots have none.

Haddock may be known from small cod, by two black spots, one on each shoulder. Small cod is a bad fish, but the haddock is a good one.

Half a kit of pickled salmon, neat weight about 161b. may be purchased at the dry fish-mongers, in Thame-street, in summer time, May, June, July, &c. for 9s. and in September, &cwhen it is equally good, for 5 s. In winter-time it will keep a long while.

Billingsgate 1837

From London Labour and the London Poor: a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work.

Billingsgate. To see this market in its busiest costermonger time, the visitor should be there about Seven o’clock on a Friday morning. The market opens at four, but for the first two or three hours, it is attended solely by the regular fishmongers and ” bumniarees” who have the pick of the best there. As soon as these are gone, the costers’ sale begins.

Many of the costers that usually deal in vegetables, buy a little fish on the Friday. It is the fast day of the Irish, and the mechanics’ wives run short of money at the end of the week, and so make up their dinners with fish; for this reason the attendance of costers’ barrows at Billingsgate on a Friday morning is always very great. As soon as you reach the Monument you see a line of them, with one or two tall fishmonger’s carts breaking the uniformity, and the din of the cries and commotion of the distant market, begins to break on the ear like the buzzing of a hornet’s nest. The whole neighbourhood is covered with the hand-barrows, some laden with baskets, others with sacks. Yet as you walk along, a fresh line of costers’ barrows are creeping in or being backed into almost impossible openings; until at every turning nothing but donkeys and rails are to be seen. The morning air is filled with a kind of seaweedy odour, reminding one of the sea-shore ; and on entering the market, the smell of fish, of whelks, red herrings, sprats, and a hundred others, is almost overpowering.

Billingsgate 1876

The wooden barn-looking square where the fish is sold, is soon after six o’clock crowded with shiny cord jackets and greasy caps. Everybody comes to Billingsgate in his worst clothes, and no one knows the length of time a coat can be worn until they have been to a fish sale. Through the bright opening at the end arc seen the tangled rigging of the oysler-boats and the red worsted caps of the sailors. Over the hum of voices is heard the shouts of the salesmen, who, with their white aprons, peering above the heads of the mob, stand on their tables, roaring out their prices.

All are bawling together—salesmen and hucksters of provisions, capes, hardware, and newspapers—till the place is a perfect Babel of competition. “Ha-a-ansome cod! best in the market! All alive! alive! alive O!” “Ye-o-o! Ye-o-o! here’s your fine Yarmouth bloaters! Who’s the buyer?” “Here you are, governor, splendid whiting! some of the right sort!” “Turbot! turbot! all alive! turbot!” “Glass of nice peppermint! this cold morning a ha’penny a glass!” “Here you are at your own price!  Fine soles, O!” “Oy! oy! oy! Now’s your time! fine grizzling sprats! all large and no small!” “Hullo! hullo here beautiful lobsters! good and cheap! fine cock crabs all alive O!” “five brill and one turbot—have that lot for a pound! Come and look at ’em, governor; you wont see a better sample in the market.” “Here, this way! this way for splendid skate! skate O! skate O!” “Had– had —had—had—haddick! all fresh and good!” “Currant and meat puddings ! a ha’penny each!” “Now, you mussel – buyers, come along! come along! come along! now’s your time for fine fat mussels!” “Here’s food for the belly, and clothes for the back, but I sell food for the mind” (shouts the newsvender). “Here’s smelt O!” “Here ye are, fine Finney haddick!” “Hot soup! nice peas-soup! a-all hot! hot!” “Ahoy! ahoy here! live plaice! all alive O!” “Now or never! whelk! whelk! whelk!” “Who’ll buy brill O! brill O!” “Capes! water-proof capes! sure to keep the wet out! a shilling a piece!” “Eels O! eels O! Alive! alive O!” “Fine flounders, a shilling a lot! Who’ll have this prime lot of flounders?” “Shrimps! shrimps! fine shrimps!” “Wink! wink! wink!” “Hi! hi-i! here you are, just eight eels left, only eight!” “O ho I O ho! this way—this way—this way! Fish alive! alive! alive O!”

Billingsgate 1876

In the darkness of the shed, the white bellies of the turbots, strung up bow-fashion, shine like mother-of-pearl, while, the lobsters, lying upon them, look intensely scarlet, from the contrast. Brown baskets piled up on one another, and with the herring-scales glittering like spangles all over them, block up the narrow paths. Men in coarse canvas jackets, and bending under huge hampers, push past, shouting “Move on! more on, there!” and women, with the long limp tails of cod-fish dangling from their aprons, elbow their way through the crowd. Round the auction-tables stand groups of men turning over the piles of soles, and throwing them down till they slide about in their slime; some are smelling them, while others are counting the lots. “There, that lot of soles are worth your money,” cries the salesman to one of the crowd as he moves on leisurely; “none better in the market. You shall have ’em for a pound and half-a crown.” “Oh!” shouts another salesman, “it’s no use to bother him—he’s no go.”

Billingsgate 1876

Presently a tall porter, with a black oyster-bag, staggers past, trembling under the weight of his load, his bade uid shoulders wet with the drippings from the sack. “Shove on one side !” he mutters from between his clenched teeth, as he forces his way through the mob. Here is a tray of reddish-brown shrimps piled up high, and the owner busy sifting his little fish into another stand, while a doubtful customer stands in front, tasting the flavour of the stock and consulting with his companion in speculation. Little girls carrying matting-bags, that they have brought from Spitalfields, come up, and ask you in a begging voice to buy their baskets; and women with bundles of twigs for stringing herrings, cry out, ” Half-penny a bunch !” from all sides. Then there are blue-black piles of small live lobsters, moving about their bound-up claws and long “feelers,” one of them occasionally being taken up by a looker-on, and dashed down again, like a stone. Everywhere every one is asking, “What’s the price, master?” while shouts of laughter from round the stalls of the salesmen, bantering each other, burst out, occasionally, over the murmuring noise of the crowd. The transparent smelts on the marble-slabs, and the bright herrings, with the lump of transparent ice magnifying their eyes like a lens, are seldom looked at until the market is over, though the hampers and piles of huge maids, dropping slime from the counter, are eagerly examined and bartered for.


OF THE EXPERIENCE OF A FRIED FISHSELLER, AND OF THE CLASS OF CUSTOMERS. The man who gave me the following information was well-looking, and might be about 45 or 50. He was poorly dressed, but his old brown surtout fitted him close and well, was jauntily buttoned up to his black satin stock, worn, but of good quality; and, altogether, he had what is understood among a class as “a betterly appearance about him.” His statement, as well as those of the other vendors of provisions, is curious in its details of public-house vagaries.

“I’ve been in the trade,” he said, ” seventeen years. Before that, I was a gentleman’s servant, and I married a servant-maid, and we had a family, and, on that account, couldn’t, either of us, get a situation, though we’d good characters. I was out of employ for seven or eight months, and things was beginning to go to the pawn for a living; but at last, when I gave up any hope of getting into a gentleman’s service, I raised 10s., and determined to try something else, I was persuaded, by a friend who kept a beer-shop, to sell oysters at his door. I took his advice, and went to Billingsgate for the first time in my life, and bought a peck of oysters for 2s.  6d. I was dressed respectable then—nothing like the mess and dirt I’m in now” (I may observe, that there was no dirt about him) ; “and so the salesman laid it on, but I gave him all he asked. I know a deal better now. I’d never been used to open oysters, and I couldn’t do it I cut my fingers with the knife slipping all over them, and had to hire a man to open for me, or the blood from my cut fingers would have run upon the oysters. For all that, I cleared 2s. 8d. on that peck, and I soon got up to the trade, and did well; till, in two or three months, the season got over, and I was advised, by the same friend, to try fried fish. That suited me. I’ve lived in good families, where there was first-rate men-cooks, and I know what good cooking means, I bought a dozen plaice; I forget what I gave for them, but they were dearer then than now. For all that, I took between 11s. and 12s. the first night—it was Saturday—that I started; and I stuck to it, and took from 7s. to 10s. every night, with more, of course, on Saturday, and it was half of it profit then. I cleared a good mechanic’s earnings at that time —30s. a week and more. Soon after, I was told that, if agreeable, my wife could have a stall with fried fish, opposite a wine-vaults just opened, and she made nearly half as much as I did on my rounds.

London: A Pilgrimage published in 1872

I served the public-houses, and soon got known. With some landlords I had the privilege of the parlour, and tap-room, and bar, when other tradesmen have been kept out. The landlords will say to me still: ‘You can go in, Fishy.’ Somehow, I got the name of ‘Fishy’ then, and I’ve kept it ever since. There was hospitality in those days. I’ve gone into a room in a public-house, used by mechanics, and one of them has said: ‘I’ll stand fish round, gentlemen;’ and I’ve supplied fifteen penn’orths. Perhaps he was a stranger, such a sort of customer, that wanted to be agreeable. Now, it’s more likely I hear: ‘Jack, lend us a penny to buy a bit of fried;’ and then Jack says: ‘You be d—d! here, lass, let’s have another pint.’ The insults and difficulties I’ve had in the public-house trade is dreadful. I once sold 16d.worth to three rough-looking fellows I’d never seen before, and they seemed hearty, and asked me to drink with them, so I took a pull; but they wouldn’t pay me when I asked, and I waited a goodish bit before I did ask. I thought, at first, it was their fun, but I waited from four to seven, and I found it was no fun. I felt upset, and ran out and told the policeman, but he said it was only a debt, and he couldn’t interfere. So I ran to the station, but the head man there said the same, and told me I should hand over the fish with one hand, and hold out the other hand for my money. So I went back to the public-house, and asked for my money—and there was some mechanics that knew me there, then—but I got nothing but ‘—– you’s!’ and one of ’em used most dreadful language. At last, one of the mechanics said: ‘Muzzle him, Fishy, if he won’t pay.’ He was far bigger than me, him that was one in debt; but my spirit was up, and I let go at him and gave him a bloody nose, and the next hit I knocked him backwards, I’m sure I don’t know how, on to a table; but I fell on him, and he clutched me by the coatcollar—I was respectable dressed then—and half smothered me. He tore the back of my coat, too, and I went home like Jim Crow. The potman and the others parted us, and they made the man give me 1s., and the “waiter paid me the other 4d., and said he’d take his chance to get it— but he never got it. Another time I went into a bar, and there was a ball in the house, and one of the ball gents came down and gave my basket a kick without ever a word, and started the fish ; and in a souffle—he was a little fellow, but my master—I had this finger put out of joint—you can see that, sir, still—and was in the hospital a week from an injury to my leg; the tiblin bone was hurt, the doctors said” [the tibia.] “I’ve had my tray kicked over for a lark in a public-house, and a scramble for my fish, and all gone, and no help and no money for me. The landlords always prevent such things, when they can, and interfere for a poor man; but then it’s done sudden, and over in an instant. That sort of thing wasn’ t the worst. I once had some powdery stuff flung sudden over me at a parlour door. My fish fell off, for I jumped, because I felt blinded, and what became of them I don’t know; but I aimed at once for home— it was very late—and had to feel my way almost like a blind man. I can’t tell what I suffered. I found it was something black, for I kept rubbing my face with my apron, and could just tell it came away black. I let myself in with my latch, and my wife was in bed, and I told her to get up and look at my face and get some water, and she thought I was joking, as she was half asleep; but when she got up and got a light, and a glass, she screamed, and said I looked such a shiny image; and so I did, as well as I could see, for it was black lead—such as they use for grates—that was flung on me. I washed it off, but it wasn’t easy, and my face was sore days after. I had a respectable coat on then, too, which was greatly spoiled, and no remedy at all, I don’t know who did it to me. I heard some one say: ‘You’re served out beautiful’ Its men that calls themselves gentlemen that does such things. I know the style of them then— it was eight or ten years ago; they’d heard of Lord , and his goings on. That way it’s better now, but worse, far, in the way of getting a living. I dare say, if I had dressed in rough corderoys, I shouldn’t have been larked at so much, because they might have thought I was a regular coster, and a fighter; but I don’t like that sort of thing—I like to be decent and respectable, if I can.

Eating in Georgian London: How to Buy Meat and Poultry, Sample Menus and Much Much More

It’s time for another exciting installment from The London Adviser and Guide!  Today we will learn how to purchase meat and poultry in Georgian London. To break up the text, I’m inserting images of course settings from various cookbooks from the early 1800s.  

If you click on the pictures of menus, they will link you to the books where you can find the recipes !!!  

I’m also excerpting from A complete system of cookery, on a plan entirely new, consisting of every thing that is requisite for cooks to know in the kitchen business: containing bills of fare for every day in the year, and directions to dress each dish; being one year’s work at the Marquis of Buckingham’s from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, 1805, by John Simpson. Note to the lazy historical writer/researcher: this book really includes a dinner menu for every day of the year!

Let’s begin with our favorite: The London adviser and guide: containing every instruction and information useful and necessary to persons living in London and coming to reside there … Together with an abstract of all those laws which regard their protection against the frauds, impositions, insults, and accidents to which they are there liable, by John Trusler and published in 1790.


1. It  is by no means advisable to deal with one butcher, unless you can agree to have all your meat, viz. beef, mutton, veal, lamb, and pork, weighed in, at one and the same price, all the year round; which some butchers will do at 5d. a pound, and occasionally give you, at the same price, a quarter of house-lamb. If you enter into such an agreement, take care to have a bill of the weight always sent home with the meat, order it to be weighed by your own people, and agree not to pay for odd quarters of a pound.

If you make no such agreement, and deal regularly with one butcher, you will frequently be charged for a joint you never had; and for half a pound, or a quarter of a pound more than the joint weighs: and you will always pay a halfpenny, or a farthing more per pound, than were you to go to market and cheapen it yourself. In buying a joint at market, of seven pounds and a half,  you may often deduct the half pound, but when sent home by the butcher who credits you, never. This conduct in a family will occasion a great saving at the years end. If you pay your butcher but once a quarter, be sure to have a bill of the weight and price sent in with  your meat, and a regular bill of the week’s meat, every Monday morning. In this case you will see what you are about, and not be liable to be imposed upon.

2. Good meat should not be lean, dry, or shriveled the fleshy part should be of a bright red, and the fat of a clear white. When the flesh looks pale, and the fat yellow, the meat is not good. Cow-beef is worth a penny a pound less than ox-beef, except it be the meat of a maiden-heiser. In a buttock you may know it by the udder.

3. The average price of beef is from 4d. a pound to 5d. The prime boiling parts are the rump, buttock, edge-bone, briskit, thick and thin flank , roasting pieces, the sirloin and ribs.

Butchers make a difference in price between pieces of beef to roast and boil; if you take a piece of each, they will sell prime beef for 4d. halfpenny; if a boiling piece 4d. and often 3d. if roasting alone 5d.

If you want rump-steaks in any quantity, it is cheaper to give 7d. a pound without bone than 4d. halfpenny for the whole rump. A buttock is the cheapest joint, as it is free from bone; for if you wish it, the butcher will sell it you without the marrow-bone, which is worth it’s weight for the marrow.

In buying a buttock of beef, be careful you do not buy the mouse-buttock for the prime one. The difference is easily known; the prime buttock is first cut off the leg, and is the thickest; the mouse-buttock is thinner, and cut off the legs, between the buttock and the legbone, is coarse meat, and not so worth so much by one penny a pound.

A bullock’s tongue will sell from 2s. to 4s. 6d. according to its size and goodness. A good tongue should look plump, clear and bright, not of a blackish hue.

4. The flesh of mutton should be of a bright red, and its fat of a clear white; and unless it is very fat, it is worth little. Ewe-mutton is not worth so much as weather, by a penny in the pound; mutton five years old, if it can be got, is the most delicious; its natural gravy is brown. After it is dressed, if the meat flies from the bone, the sheep was not sound. A leg of ewe-mutton may be known by the udder on its skirt. The udder of a maiden-ewe is little more than a kernel. The skirt of a leg of wether mutton has a lump of hard fat on it, on the inside of the thigh. The shoulder of a wether maybe known by the skin or shank-bone being more covered with flesh, fat and stouter than that of a ewe. The average price of prime wether-mutton is 4d. halfpenny a pound, though it will sell often for 5d. halfpenny.

Sheeps’ tongues for salting or pickling, may be bought in any quantity, in Field-lane, near Fleet-market, from 1sw. 3d. to 2s. a dozen, according to their size.

5. The average price of veal is 6d. though it will often sell for 8d. particularly the fillet. A leg of veal may, in summer, be bought for 4d. the lb. by which means the fillet: will cost 5d. the knuckle 3d. Large veal is seldom good. Veal should be fat and very white, like rabbit or chicken, not red or look as if it was much blown up. Cow calves generally yield the best veal, and the leg and fillet of cow calves may be known by the udder.

6. The average price of grass-lamb is 6d. a pound, that of pig-pork the same, though pork chops will often sell for 7d. or 8d. Butchers seldom sell pork. There are pork-shops in all parts of the town; Sausages are 8d. a pound.

House lamb at Christmas is dear, and if fine and fat well sell for 7s. 6d. a quarter, the leg 5s. At other times it may be bought so low as 3s. 6d. a quarter.

7. If your butcher sends you any tainted meat, he may be fined, bv complaining to a magistrate; but the readiest and least troublesome method of redress, is to put up with a trifling loss, and deal with such a butcher no more.

8. The best markets in town are St. James’s, Newport, Clare-market, Honey-lane, and  Leadenhall, for meat; for vegetables, Covent-garden, and Leadenhall; for fresh butter, Leadenhall, particularly for Epping butter and cream cheese.


1. POULTRY of all sorts may be purchased cheaper  of the higlers at the several markets, than at the Poulterers shops; but of the higler you must take care what you buy: fowls and chickens should be fat, plump and look white, and be particularly white-legged. Chicken may be known by their size, and fowls are young, if they have no spurs, and the side-bones, near the rump, will give way to the fingers; tho’ artful sellers will sometimes break these by way of deception.

By the same marks you may judge of turkies. A large cock-turkey at Christmas cannot be bought for less than 6s. or 7s. at other times 5s.; a hen-turkey from 4s. to 5s. 6d. Fat, crammed chickens, about ten weeks old, om or about Lady-day, are worth about 3s. 6d. each, and a fine fowl at Midsummer is worth 3s. 6d. at other times chickens may be bought of higlers for 3s. 6d. or 4s. a.couple, and fowls at the same price.

Ducks and geese should look white, very plump, and broad over the breast. If the bill will bend back, the duck or goose is young. A fat goose, weight about 10lb. on Michaelmas-day, is worth 5s. at other times about 3s. 6d. giblets included. A green goose in May is worth 4s. The price of ducks is from 3s. a couple, to 5s. Wild-ducks, in frosty weather, may be bought in Fleetmarket for 2s. 6d. a couple; at other times they are worth 2s. each. If they smell fishy, they are of little value; to know this, take one of the pen-feathers from the wing, and put it down the throat; if it smells fishy in drawing it out, the bird will taste so. Dove-house pidgeons, in May or June, may be bought for 3s. 6d. or 4s. a dozen. In winter-time, poulterers will ask 1s. 6d. a piece. Larks, in hard weather, may be had for is. 6d. a dozen. They are best, soon after harvest. Guinea-fowls are best in Spring, when they get fat without feeding. At this time they are worth from 7s. to 10s. each; at other times they are worth little : these last can be bought only of the Poulterers, of whom quails also may be had after harvest, at 2s. 6d. each. Woodcocks are from 2s. to 4s. each, according to the plenty or scarcity.

2. Game may sometimes be procured of the bookkeepers at inns, by those who are known to them. A hare for 4s. 6d. or 5s.; a pheasant for 5s. or 6s. and a brace of partridges, for 3s. 6d. or 4s.

3. Eggs are from 3 a-groat to 8, according to the time of the year; they are dearest in winter: but such as wish for new-laid eggs may frequently get them at the livery stables, for one penny or three half-pence each.

The following is excerpted from, A complete system of cookery, on a plan entirely new, consisting of everything that is requisite for cooks to know in the kitchen business: containing bills of fare for every day in the year, and directions to dress each dish; being one year’s work at the Marquis of Buckingham’s from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, 1805, by John Simpson, published in 1806. The author describes how to preserve meat once it is brought into the household.

In the summer time, cooks should be very exact with the butchers; and make them bring their meat in not later than six o’clock in the morning, for when the sun gets warm, the flies do much mischief; and it is next to an impossibility to prevent them blowing the meat. The pieces of beef that are kept for roasting should be closely examined (the sirloins particularly) to see if the flies have been about them; if they have, cut the piece out, and sprinkle them with salt. The flies are very apt to get under the fat of the right side of the sirloin. There is a pipe that runs along the chine bone, which the flies are sure to get in: this pipe should be taken out without fail, at all times.

It should be made a general rule, to sprinkle salt on all the meat that is hung up either for roasting or boiling—beef, mutton, veal or lamb. The first part that spoils of a leg of veal is where the udder is skewered back; that skewer should be taken out, the under part of the udder wiped very dry, and then rub a little salt on it, and on the udder; by so doing, a leg of veal will keep very good four days, let the weather be ever so sultry. Do by a loin of veal as is directed for a sirloin of beef. The skirt should be taken off the breast of veal, and the inside of the breast wiped and scraped, and sprinkled well with salt. There is a pipe that runs along the chine bone of a neck of veal, which should be taken off, and the chine bone and ribs rubbed with salt. As for a shoulder, that is a joint that is seldom or ever kept above a day or two; nevertheless, sprinkle it with salt When a sheep is brought in and cut up, take the kidney fat from the saddle, and the pipe that runs up the back bone, and then sprinkle the inside of the saddle with salt. A chine of mutton frequently spoils first at the tail, where there is a kernel: to prevent its spoiling, rub that part well with salt, and it will keep five or six days in the heat of summer. A leg of mutton frequently will spoil in two days, and where it spoils first is at the fat that is on the upper part of the leg: there is a kernel in that part which ought to be taken out by the butcher in dressing the sheep. The chine bone of the neck should be rubbed dry with a cloth, the ribs the same, and the inside of the scrag trimmed. Sprinkle the inside of the neck of mutton with salt.

A breast of mutton spoils first in the brisket part: if you wish to keep them, sprinkle both sides with salt Observe the same rules with lamb as have been directed for mutton. The rumps of beef are generally kept for steaks, or daubing, &c. &c. in hot weather, the fat that the butcher usually leaves in should be taken out, and the beef sprinkled well with salt; and the brisket that is hung up for stewing must be salted, if wanted to be kept for a few days. In the summer-time, the boiling pieces require equal attention,. Salt alone will not preserve them from turning. When the beef is cut up in the number of pieces that is wanted, then see that the butcher takes out the kernels from neck pieces, where the shoulder clod is taken off; two from the rounds, one in the middle, which is commonly called the Pope’s eye, the other from the fat lap; and there is another in the thick flank, in the middle of the fat. If these are not taken out, in the summer particularly, salt them ever so much, they will not keep. There is one between the rump and edge bone, which ought to be taken out; when all this is done (which the cook should actually see to himself, and trust to no butcher) then stand by, and see that the butcher salts the meat properly, on a table or board for that purpose. The salt should be rubbed in well with the heel of the hand. When all this is done, then it should be packed up tight in the salt bin; the prime pieces all at the bottom, as they will keep better, and require more time to take the salt.

The roasting pieces of pork at all times should be sprinkled with salt, before used, for the salt makes the meat eat pleasanter to the palate.

Another rule that cooks should strictly attend to, is this, all beasts that are to be slaughtered should fast twenty-four hours in winter, and forty-eight in summer. There is a. great quantity of meat spoiled by killing it with a full stomach. Haunches of venison, when brought into the kitchen, should be wiped very dry, and examined very closely, to see if the flies have been about them. The keepers in general use ground ginger to preserve their venison from the fly, but I am well convinced, from experience; that pepper and salt is far superior, and that nothing else will preserve meat of any kind in the summer; for which reason I rub the inside of the haunch with it, and salt the ribs and chine of the side: they should be looked at every day. There is a kernel in the same part of a haunch of venison, as in a leg of mutton, which ought to be taken out. I strongly recommend these rules to all cooks, whether men or women; and, if they strictly adhere to them, they will seldom, or ever, have any bad meat in the hottest part of summer. A thunder storm, or lightning, will change meat sometimes; against which there is no precaution.

One more rule I wish to enforce, which is, not to have the larders overstocked with fresh meat, in the summer; one days meat beforehand is quite sufficient. It is my firm opinion that a cook ought to pay as much attention to the management of his larder, as any one branch of his business, which will gain him credit with his employer, and give satisfaction to all other parts of the family.

Here is a last minute addition to the post that I didn’t have time to clean up. So, I’m just posting the page images. It’s from A modern system of domestic cookery, or, The housekeeper’s guide: arranged on the most economical plan for private families … a complete family physician, and instructions to female servants in every situation, showing the best methods of performing their various duties … to which are added, as an appendix, some valuable instructions on the management of the kitchen and fruit gardens, by M. Radcliffe and published in 1823.

That’s all I have for now. The next blog post from London’s Adviser and Guide will be on fish.  I just need to find some interesting images of Billingsgate and fishsellers. 

Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London

"Milk Below Maid" by Francis Wheatley from 1790s

“The cry of ‘Milk’ or the rattle of the milk-pail, will never cease to be heard in our streets. There can be no reservoirs of milk, no pipes through which it flows into the houses. The more extensive the great capital becomes, the more active must be the individual exertion to carry about this article of food. The old cry was ‘Any milk here !’ and it was sometimes mingled with the sound of ‘Fresh cheese and cream;’ and it then passed into ‘Milk, maids below;’ and it was then shortened into ‘Milk below;’ and was finally corrupted into ‘Mio’ which some wag interpreted into mieau—demi-eau—half water. But it must still be cried, whatever be the cry. The supply of milk to the metropolis is perhaps one of the most beautiful combinations of industry we have. The days are long since passed when Finsbury had its pleasant groves, and Clerkenwell was a village, and there were green pastures in Holborn, and St. Pancras boasted only a little church standing in meadows, and St. Martin’s was literally in the fields. Slowly but surely does the baked clay of Mr. Stucco, ‘the speculative builder’ stride over the clover and the buttercup; and yet every family in London may be supplied with milk by eight o’clock every morning at their own doors. Where do the cows abide? They are congregated in wondrous masses in the suburbs; and though in spring-time they go out to pasture in the fields which lie under the Hampstead and Highgate hills, or in the vales of Dulwich and Sydenham, and there crop the tender blade,

‘When proud pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Has put a spirit of youth in everything.’

yet for the rest of the year the coarse grass is carted to their stalls, or they devour what the breweries and distilleries cannot extract from the grain harvest. Long before ‘the unfolding star wakes up the shepherd’ are the London cows milked; and the great wholesale vendors of the commodity who have it consigned to them daily from more distant parts to the various Metropolitan Railway Stations bear it in carts to every part of the town, and distribute to the hundreds of shopkeepers and itinerants, who are anxiously waiting to receive it for re-distribution amongst their own customers. It is evident that a perishable commodity which every one requires at a given hour must be so distributed. The distribution has lost its romance. Misson, in his ‘Travels’ published at the beginning of the last century, tells of Maygames of ‘the pretty young country girls that serve the town with milk.’ Alas! the May-games and pretty young country girls have both departed, and a milk-woman has become a very unpoetical personage. There are few indeed of milkwomen who remain.”  — from A History of the Cries of London, Ancient and Modern, by Charles Hindley

My blog has been silent for almost a week. I was a single mom while my husband was in Europe for over ten days. He came home last night to find his kids alive and healthy and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But he brought presents and chocolate, so we are all happy again.

I thought I would make a short excerpt from the sections on bread and milk in John Trusler’s The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and Coming to Reside There. The technicalities of buying bread and milk in London called into my mind The Cries of London, (or London Cries) a book that featured the songs and calls of the urban street vendors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an online version of the book, but I found many other resources and got a little carried away, as you can see. So, for this post, I’m excerpting information on bread and milk sellers from sources published in mid 1700s to late 1800s , including many images of milk maids (Surprisingly, there isn’t a great deal of art featuring bakers.)

Let’s dive into The London Adviser and Guide, published in 1786:

Continue reading “Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London”

Getting Taxed to Death in Georgian London, Finding a Good Water Company and Emptying Your Privy

I’m sorry the blog has been silent for the last several days. I’ve been  partying in Phoenix with my writer friend Tina Whittle to celebrate the release of her new book from Poisoned Pen Press titled Darker Than Any Shadow. It’s a fabulous read!

Anyhoo, tonight is another installment in my ongoing project to translate into readable English John Trusler’s masterpiece, The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and  Coming to Reside there.

However, I must apologize in advance for a little historical whiplash on this post. I found this wonderful book from 1827 titled Metropolitan improvements; or, London in the nineteenth century: displayed in a series of engravings of the new buildings, improvement, etc, by James Elmes and had to use the images.  So, all the graphics on this post were created several decades after the publishing of The London Adviser in 1786  If you are an historian of London, you know that the Prince Regent made many architectural enhancements, as well as built new streets, parks and squares. Trusler’s London was a bit different than the images here.  But the pictures were so cool that I couldn’t help myself. And it’s my blog, so I do what I want.

From The London Adviser and Guide: 

20. The taxes of a house in London are nearly half the rent, and are as follow:

1. Land-tax, a tax on the ground, paid by the tenant, half yearly, but generally allowed by the landlord in the rent, if no agreement to the contrary.

This is generally four shillings in the pound, but in some parishes less than others.

Theatre Royal

2. There is also a small sewer tax, for cleansing the sewers, a few shillings a year, generally paid by the landlord.

3. A house-tax paid to government, by the tenant, of six-pence, nine-pence or one shilling in the pound according to the rent. The rent in this tax is rated to the full.

St. James Street


4. The poor’s-rate is another tax, but a parochial one, paid by the tenant to the overseers of the parish, for the maintenance of the poor. This is collected every half year, and the assessment is from one to six shillings in the pound, or more, according to the number of poor in the parish. This assessment is made by the parish-officers, and ratified by a bench of justices. The book, with this ratification, and the sums each house-keeper is to pay, is brought round to every house, when the money is collected, and each inhabitant may see how much others pay, then or at any other time, an paying six-pence or a shilling. The rent of each house is generally estimated in the parish-book at two-thirds of the real rent paid; and if any person finds that he pays more in proportion than the rest of the parish, he may obtain redress, by an application to the quarter-sessions, at a very little expence.

Any person occupying any house, &c. out of which any other person assessed has removed, or which, at the making the rate was empty, every person so removing and the person so coming into and occupying the same, shall pay to such rate in proportion to the time he occupied the same. In case of dispute, the proportion to be ascertained by two justices.

St. Andrew’s Place

5. Another tax is the window-tax, paid by the tenant to Government, and collected half-yearly.

This is assessed in the following manner:

 Windows of out-houses are to be reckoned into the number.

Windows lighting two rooms to be reckoned as two.

Two or more windows, not twelve inches apart from each other, are reckoned but as one.

No window deemed stopped, unless with stones, brick, or plaster.

Opening a window, without notice to the assessor, forfeits twenty shillings.

Glass-doors, and lights over doors, do not pay according to this act.

Bridge Over Serpentine — Hyde Park

6. But, in addition to the above, windows pay a second duty, in lieu of the duty on tea taken off; this is as follows:

Persons are to pay only for two houses, and those containing the greatest number of windows.

Glass doors and lights over doors are here considered as windows, and the assessors have the peculiar privilege of examining them, by looking round the outsides of the house.


7. The next tax is the church-wardens rate, for repairing the church. The county-rate is generally collected with it. This is only collected occasionally, and may be from three-pence in the pound or two or three shillings, according to the exigencies required.

8. Another rate or assessment is the paving-tax, for repairing, cleaning, and lighting the streets. This is one shilling and six-pence in the pound, of two-thirds of the rent or value.

Park Lane

9. Another is for watching them, but this is a trifle. Private lamps, at private doors, are put up at the expence of those who contract to light them, and painted annually, and if broke are replaced also at their expence. Price for lamp lighting, 7s. per quarter, each.

London Orphan Asylum

10. There is a further call on every householder for Easter offerings, for the rector or vicar of the, parish; this is four-pence a-head for every one in each family capable of receiving the sacrament, paid once a year, at Easter. But this seldom is collected; it is generally left to each family to give what they please; but it is always expected that they give something; perhaps a few shillings.

Pall Mall

11. Once or twice a year the church-wardens generally bring round a book, to make a collection for the lecturer or afternoon preacher. At this time a housekeeper generally gives a few shillings; but this is optional.

12. In some parishes, twenty or thirty shillings a year, more or less, are paid by house-keepers, in proportion to their rent, in lieu of the tithes.

Charing Cross

13. A further expence to the inhabitants is the river water, with which each house is served, from about twenty-four to thirty shillings a year, according to the time of serving, whether every day or three times a week.


London Bridge

Supplying Water

1. The London-bridge water-works supply the city, and the greatest part of its liberties, with Thames water, at the rate of from twenty-four to thirty shillings (paid half-yearly) according to the distance from London. The pipes of this Company spread all over the City to Tower-hill, Snow-hill, Shore-ditch, and St. Dunstan’s-church, Fleet-street. Office at Londonbridge.

2. The York-building water-works, (office in Villiers-street, attendance from three in the afternoon till seven) supplies Westminster, and the west end of the town, as far as Holborn, with Thames-water, and will convey the water, if desired, to the upper stories of a house, the second or third story, according to their situation. The higher the house stands from the water side, the less height can they convey the water. The prices of the water is the same with the London-bridge waterworks; only, if the water is to be conveyed to the second or third story, more money is paid annually, from thirty shillings to five pounds. The Thames-water is reckoned softer than that of the New river. If a fire happens in the night, application for water from this Company, and that of London-bridge, must be made at the respective offices and it will be some time, half an hour or more, before they can get their engines to work.

Military House and Haymarket

3. The New-River Company (office in Dorset-street, Fleet-street) supplies all London on the north side of the Thames, from mile-end turnpike to Hyde-park-corner, with water brought twenty miles from London, to a reservoir at Islington. The terms of this Company are rather higher than those of other water companies, but the water is generally clearer and better. They serve families from twenty-four shillings a year to five pounds, according to the quantity of water they require, which is settled by the collector of the district, whose name may be known, by applying at the office, in Dorset-street. This collector also will furnish families with the names of the turn-cocks in his district, printed on paper, to whom application is to be made in case of fire; and in the collector’s receipts will be found the place to apply to, in want of water and other complaints. This company conveys the water to the upper stories of houses, without any additional expence than the lead pipes, which are the property of, and must be fixed by, the tenant; the nearer a house stands to the Thames side, that is, the lower it is from the reservoirs, the higher in the houses the water can be conveyed. In the New River Water-Works the water runs from an eminence; in the London-bridge and York company, it is forced up by fire; of course, the higher it is conveyed, the more money annually is required.

London House – Gray’s Inn Road

4. There are other water-works, those of Chelsea, Hampstead, Bayswater, Shadwell, Lambeth, &c. that supply other parts of the town, and the borough of Southwark, with soft water, and on nearly the terms. Thrale’s water-works, that supply part of Southwark, serve so low as 20s. a year.

5. The lead pipes from the main, that is, from the middle of the street, are considered as belonging to the house, and must be paid for, and kept in repair by the tenant; other repairs and expences are paid by the several companies.

Covent Garden Market

6. Attendance is always given at the respective offices from morning till night, and complaints immediately redressed. It is proper to send to these office immediately on a fire breaking out, especially those that supply the Thames water.

7. It is advisable for every house-keeper, on first coming to London, to apply to the offices for the names of the turn-cocks, and where they live; and also to fire offices, for the places where the fire engines are; also to the vestry-clerks of the different parishes, for the places where the ladders are kept, and from year to year, who are the constables and parish-officers, and to write these down and stick them up in the kitchen, or other part of the house, that the earliest application, in case of fire, may be made for every necessary assistance.

House of Lords — King’s Entrance

8. In frosty weather, to secure water to the house is the care and business of the tenant. For this purpose, fresh horse-dung should be laid over the pavement under which the lead-pipes pass, and some should be wound round the pipe as it crosses the area. Dung can be had at any of the stables for a trifle, and the expence of fetching it in a wheelbarrow is not much.

Bank of England

9. If your water fails, and you apprehend the defect is in the pipe under the pavement in the street, by applying at the office belonging to the company that serves you, they will send a pavior to open the .pavement.; if the defect is found in the lead-pipes between the main and the house, the expence must be paid by the tenant; if not, it will be repaired at the expence of the water company.

Fleet Street

10. If your drains are stopped, they must be opened and cleaned; it is the part of the tenant to clean the drains into the common sewer; but if the sewer is choked, application must be made to the officers common-sewers in your district. No person can make a new drain from the privy into the common-sewer, without the consent of the commissioners; but if such a drain has been once made, it may be kept up.

11. Emptying of privies is not only expensive, but very disagreeable. It is enacted by law, that none shall be emptied in London before 2 o’clock at night; the price is 5s. a ton for all they carry out, and the carts generally hold 3 tons, but are marked as to what they hold. Night-men, if not watched, will not fill their carts, of course, you are imposed on: a confidential person should attend them in this business, and keep an account of the quantity carted off. The men employed expect, in this business, plenty of bread and cheese, beer and gin.

Belgrave Square


18th Century London — Obtaining Fire Insurance for Your Home and Protecting Against Fire.

And now for another installment from John Trusler’s The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and Coming to Reside There, 1786.  

This post could possibly be the most boring post in the history of blogs, as Trusler explores the different insurance plans offered.  I would advise reading a few of the policies and then skip  down to the more interesting sections on preventing fire, as well as the city’s preventive measures and responses to fire.

I’ve tried to break up the tedium of the information with images from London: being an Accurate History and Description of the British metropolis and Its Neighbourhood : to Thirty Miles Extent, from an Actual Perambulation, 1809

Let’s dive in…


Insurance Offices from Fire

19. When your house is furnished, the next precaution to be taken is, to insure it from fire: this may be done at several public insurance-offices, and at a very small annual premium. The landlord generally insures the buildings,

Continue reading “18th Century London — Obtaining Fire Insurance for Your Home and Protecting Against Fire.”