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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Street fare

With many living in lodging-houses without access to a stove or even a cooking fire, the late Georgian and early Victorian working classes often bought their food ready-made. Some ate in ale-houses, chop-houses and ‘penny pie shops’, but the journalist Henry Mayhew, writing around 1850, observed that ‘men and women, and most especially boys, purchase their meals day after day in the streets.’

1Thomas Archbold, Durham, 1826. 2Bun man, Plymouth. 3Sharp, orange man, Colchester, 1823. All by John Dempsey.

‘The coffee-stall supplies a warm breakfast; shell-fish of many kinds tempt to a luncheon; hot-eels or pea-soup, flanked by a potato “all hot”, serve for a dinner; and cakes and tarts, or nuts and oranges, with many varieties of pastry, confectionary and fruit, woo to indulgence in a dessert…’

1Portrait of John Rutherford. 2Selling watercress, Salisbury. Both by John Dempsey.

Dempsey depicts a number of street-food sellers, from a ragged hawker of watercress (sometimes known as ‘poor man’s bread’) to the prosperous Durham fishmonger Thomas Archbold; most prominent are the pastry-sellers, their pies, buns, muffins and oranges arrayed in covered trays and baskets.

1Old Bishop, pieman, Harwich. 2Muffin man. Both by John Dempsey.

Related information

Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey

Dempsey's people

A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844

Previous exhibition, 2017

Dempsey’s people: a folio of British street portraits 1824–1844 is the first exhibition to showcase the compelling watercolour images of English street people made by the itinerant English painter John Dempsey throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.