Suspicion in the streets

When you walk through the city how do people perceive you? How were pedlars perceived and is the same for every walking trader.

A city built on baskets 1
Walter Geikie, The Fruit Seller, 1824, Oil on panel, National Galleries of Scotland, NG 2335, Image creative commons.

One theme that seemed to emerge from the record was suspicion. The pedlars in these records visited a variety of spaces in Scotland, from small villages to towns such as Glasgow. In all places, they appear to have been constantly observed. Part of this is the nature of the beast, court records by their nature relate to crime and accusations are part of it. But some of it is explicit. A shop owner is warned not to accept a hawker's coin, fearing that it is bad. Perhaps not surprising, passing from one town to another would make the perfect cover for crime. This suspicion is reflected elsewhere in the British newspaper archive, one of the other archives I turned to for answers. Warnings pop up regarding the danger these men and women were seen to pose. Frequently these warnings are against mixed groups or men. But at least one warns of a woman accused of faking fits to elicit charity from onlookers. The fact that so many hawkers were Irish seems only to have added to their likelihood of surveillance, with anti-Irish sentiment strong in the time. What is clear is that when these women passed through these urban spaces, they were surveilled, classed as a potential danger in the space.

Yet it became clear as I examined the newspapers and the court records I was only seeing part of the picture. The court cases I reviewed focused on travelling pedlars and not any of the other travelling sellers that occupied city streets; its fruit sellers and fish wives. How might these women occupy space and be part of people's daily routine? It seemed less likely they would receive a watchful eye. I am excited for a future archive trip, where I hope to visit some more records and address this gap. While these records haven't told me about these women's relationship to the streetscape in the way I first imagined. However, they have offered an insight into the lives of these women that I have not seen elsewhere, putting names and life stories to the role of the pedlar.