The Word on the Street
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Broadside-seller 'Hawkie'
Broadside-seller 'Hawkie'

A ballad singer
A ballad singer
By courtesy of Edinburgh City Libraries and Edinburgh City Archives

The cost of a broadside

Most broadsides, which cost one penny (around 16 pence in today’s money), were just about within the means of most working people, whereas quality prints at an average of 2s 6d each were well beyond the means of the working class and even lower middle class artisans.

Some ballads cost as little as a halfpenny. Newspapers, which eventually were to take over from broadsides, were taxed until 1855. Because of this, they were too expensive for most folk.

Spreading the word

Many of the printers who produced broadsides would also have printed chapbooks, tracts, playbills and garlands (collection of love songs in pamphlet form).

Sometimes the printers distributed their own wares, but they relied to a great extent on pedlars, hawkers, street criers and chapmen, who played a very important role in the commercial life of the country 200 years ago.

The sellers

Hawkers would buy broadsides from the printers in urban centres like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Falkirk and Stirling They would sing and shout about the latest publication on the streets or carry them to markets and fairs throughout Scotland.

There were a number of prominent Scottish hawkers and chapmen whose lives have been recorded in print by their contemporaries.

Included among these were two Glasgow characters - Dougal Graham (1724-1779), a writer and seller of chapbooks, and William Cameron - better known as 'Hawkie' (c.1790-1851) - a street orator, hawker and beggar.

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National Library of Scotland 2004

National Library of Scotland