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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

John Thomson
Scottish, 1837–1921

Covent Garden Labourers

Woodburytype, 1877–78
Purchased with funds given by an anonymous donor, 1987.221

John Thomson’s groundbreaking series of photographs of London’s underclass, published as Street Life in London, included text by radical journalist Adolphe Smith. The images were issued in sets monthly from February 1877.

Thomson and Smith explain in the preface, “we have visited, armed with note-book and camera, those back streets and courts where the struggle for life is none the less bitter and intense, because less observed.” About this photo of workers at Covent Garden, the big London flower and produce market, Smith wrote, “there are five hundred flower stalls at the wholesale flower market, and, at a rough computation, two thousand men are engaged to bring and grow stock for these stalls; while another two thousand men find employment in distributing the flowers to their various purchasers. Only a small proportion of these latter are seen at Covent Garden during the daytime; it is in the early morning that they congregate on this spot, and they are soon scattered again to all parts of the metropolis, laden with plants of every description.”