Who hasn’t eaten an ice-cream or at least a muffin in their life ?
Even in movies you see children run behind an ice-cream van, shouting ecstatically for them to stop. While the sound of their bells will always remind us of more pleasant moments in our youth. But the muffin man wasn’t armed with a much different weapon to sell his wares.
The muffin man, who traditionally bore his ware on his head, and the signal of his approach – the ringing of a handbell – was on of the most joyous sounds in a Victorian childhood, continued in business until the Second World War.
Ice-cream was something of a latecomer to the streets. Although it was available by the time of the great Exhibition, it became common only in the eighties, when portable freezing equipment was invented by Agnes Bertha Marshall, the principle of a London cookery school. It was she who invented the cone in the late eighties. Prior to that, ice-cream had often been frozen onto metal rods that had to be returned after it had been licked off!
The street sellers of muffins and crumpets were calculated for Henry Mayhew at approximately 500 during the winter months, somewhere between the years 1858 and 1861.
The street sellers bought their items thirteen to the dozen from a baker who knew them, but Mayhew had not heard of any vendor who made his own wares.
´Peoples likes them warm, sir.´ an old man told him, ´To satisfy them they´re fresh, and they almost always are fresh; but it can’t matter so much about their being warm, as they have to be toasted again. I only wish good butter was a sight cheaper, and that would make them go. Butter’s half the battle.’
Good sized muffins from the street sellers cost a halfpenny each, crumpets sold four a penny. Some are sold cheaper, but these were generally smaller or made of inferior quality flour. Well-off ladies and gents bought them from streets seller, speculating or not but I believe that even the lower classes would indulge themselves to such a delightful treat if their money allowed it.
Last but not least, in my opinion it were the Victorians who made our childhood a little more jolly.
Henry Mayhew’s London labour and the London poor
Life in Victorian Britain by Michael Paterson
This guest post was written by writer J. Elizabeth Valentine, thank you so much for contributing!