'Ripe Asparagus', 1916.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
'Asparagus has for centuries been sold in the streets of London accompanied by such odd cries as 'ripe speregas' and 'ripe sparrowgras'. One of the best known of the Roxburghe Ballards, now in the British Museum and dating probably from the 17th century, records the cry as 'here's collyflowers and asparagus'. Not only vegetables but such herbs as fatherfew, gilliflowers, rue, balm, hisop and scurvy-gras were sold in the streets. Number 14 in the 1916 series of 25 'Cries of London' cigarette cards isued by John Player & Sons. The images on these cards are based on a variety of 17th-18th century engravings that portrayed street traders hawking their wares. The most notable of these was the series 'The Cryes of London' drawn by Marcellus Laroon in 1687. However, many other series followed, such as the hand-coloured engravings produced in 1792-1796 by Francis Wheatley.