A Memory of Violets: A Novel of Londons Flower Sellers by Hazel GaynorIn 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.
Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.
F is for Flower Seller
When we think of flower sellers, we often think of Eliza Doolittle, the flower seller in Covent Garden who went from rags to riches thanks to the attentions of Professor Higgins. Hers was of course just a story, but her trade was common, although her rise out of poverty was hardly in any way the norm. Flower sellers were common on the streets of London and are one of the occupations about which contemporary writers have left us a great deal of information — we are able to visit their homes, know some of their names, see the hardships they faced, know their banter, and get a chance to look behind the common thought that many were prostitutes. That this was the case is beyond doubt — there are many recorded cases, but in this post I want to focus on the women working to support their families and the hardships they faced. Black writes that the family lived in a basement flat of 3 rooms, one of which they sublet, but the rooms were dark and damp — added to the fact that the husband was an obvious danger to his family two children already having died of consumption — the other three of convulsions Black lamented the state in which this woman and her children found themselves. Their eldest daughter, a girl of 14 would watch the younger children during the week, but on Saturdays went out with her mother flower selling.
Sunday is the best day for flowerselling, and one experienced man computed, that in the height and pride of the summer four hundred children were selling flowers on Sundays in the streets. The trade is almost entirely in the hands of children, the girls outnumbering the boys by more than eight to one. The ages of the girls vary from six to twenty, few of the boys are older than twelve, and most of them are under ten. Of flowergirls there are two classes. Some girls, and they are certainly the smaller class of the two, avail themselves of the sale of flowers in the streets for immoral purposes, or rather, they seek to eke out the small gains of their trade by such practices.
Proclaiming feelings in public was considered socially taboo, so the Victorians expressed intimacy through flowers. Coded into gifts of blooms, plants, and floral arrangements were specific messages for the recipient, expressing feelings that were improper to say in Victorian society. Housing exotic and rare plants, conservatories enjoyed a golden age during the Victorian era, while floral designs dominated interior decoration. Plants sensitive to touch represented chastity, whereas the deep red rose symbolized the potency of romantic love. Made from brass, copper, gold-gilt metal, silver, porcelain, glass, enamel, pearl, ivory, bone and straw, the holders often had intricate engravings and patterning. The film versions of Oliver! So high was the demand for flowers that it created many opportunities for street traders and the exploitation of child labour.
Forgot password? This is not to say the congestion stopped it from being a successful market. It supplied all manner of fruits and vegetables, most of it homegrown but with an increasing amount arriving from overseas. The spring especially saw an abundance of goods, ranging from broccoli, cucumbers, French beans, onions, new potatoes, asparagus, sea kale, grapes, apples, strawberries, and spring flowers. The abundance of products and vendors, all with differing points of view, made the methods of buying and selling needlessly complicated; a sieve equaled one bushel and a half-sieve was one peck. A pottle , on the other hand, changed meanings often enough that nobody could be quite sure what it measured, and the quantities people were sure of varied by the manner in which the products were filled or heaped.