EDITORIAL: A Letter From an Esteemed Gentleman Deriding the Excess of Advertising that Creates Great Havoc and Uncivilized Behavior In the London Marketplace

Dear ECE Advertiser Editors:

Despite promises of reform, the marketplace today continues to be a place of obscene horrors! Only this morning I attempted to march through the smelly, excrement-filled pathways of the Covent Garden market (1), and make my way towards the apple vendor. If I had only known how much more lay between me and that vendor than the trampled ground, I would have never attempted it. Naively, I had thought the markets were getting better.

Firstly, I could not even tell where the apple vendor was due to all the scattered noises [let alone see her through the pushing crowds (2)]. The minute I entered the marketplace the sounds of the city increased tenfold. On top of the usual rattling wheels of the carriages, loud creaking of the shop signs, and occasional street corner ballad singer and performer, my ears were plagued by town criers of every sort: "Have a flower, sir!" "Gingerbread, come and get your gingerbread!" "Get drunk for only…!" and a man belting out "the new Razor Strop, the glory of the nation" to a tune, not to mention the high-pitch yodels of the milkwomen (3). I did my best to identify the shouts of the apple woman amidst all this ruckus and to follow her voice blindly.

But suddenly on top of all the crying, the Church clock began to chime and I found myself going the wrong direction as crowds of people pushed against me, racing off to the puppet show (4). A stranger, sitting beside a pot of gruel, grabbed my hand to steady me. To my disgust (oh grossness!), I realized she had left a large smelly grease stain on my shirt sleeve. I headed towards the makeshift shops on the side that had flowers, in the hope that smelling them would, if not take away the constant, ever-present combination of fog, dirt, and coal hanging in the air (5), at least take away the grease smell for a moment. I had heard from many other men that this was their reason for coming to the market. However, I realized this was just a hidden excuse to partake in this filth, because I tried every flower stall I could find, but the scent of every flower I encountered was blotted out by the brandy on the flower sellers breath (6)! As a reminder to you, I will tell you that in 1748, while I was still a member of the neighboring Covent Garden area, I was one of the 62 proud signers of a petition regarding the "nusances of the Market" to the Duke. Remember that in this petition we set forth our concerns regarding the "stench and filth," chimney smoke, disorderliness, and the inhibition of alcohol (which was NOT originally intended to be part of this fruit, vegetable, flower, and herb market) surrounding the Covent Garden market. Obviously it was wise of me, after constantly having to petition the Duke as regards these and other matters, such as the presence of wild beasts at the market, to leave my rapidly decreasing reputable Covent Garden home (due to the presence of this market) for a nicer, more gentile home in St. James (7).

But back to my day-- by this time I had had enough of those low-bred, greasy, drunk people from the city and the country who were selling their goods! It was time for me to return to civilization. I cut through a mass of people who had gathered to see a man be whipped for stealing a razor strop from the singing doctor (8), and a man wearing a sandwich board advertising exotic oranges (9), and headed towards an advertised "Roman bath" on the outskirts of the market. However, I was in for quite a shock as I opened up the door and was suddenly surrounded by half-clad, obscene women, who were offering to sell their bodies to me. Ah, Men, beware! Disgusted and highly upset that the "Roman bath" was actually a brothel (10), I attempted to leave this obviously inadequately reformed market.

As if not enough had yet dismayed me from approving of the Covent Garden market, in my haste to leave I bumped into three poorly-dressed creatures on Tavistock Street, who were gazing in awe at a signboard. "This must be it," they were whispering, "the sign of the golden fleece." I must admit that, looking up at this massive sign hanging off the building on an iron post, I too was impressed. As I got up closer to the sign, more than likely made by the sign painters in Harp Alley near Fleet Street (11), a person exited the shop excitedly with a purchase from this mercer. He ran to the three creatures with a piece of paper flapping, shouting "Look! John Haskins, the owner, personally served me and even gave me his billboard with his name and a copy of the sign board on it! We need to come back here (12)!"

Then, before I knew it, the notorious London wind picked up, and I was lying on the ground beneath that great, fallen golden fleece signboard beside a small part of the makeshift building that had tumbled down along with it (13)!*

And so ends my tale. All I wanted was an apple. But the chaos of the excessive advertising in the marketplace was just too much, and it forced me to stray from my chosen path and destination. The advertising was like that sign. I swear it knew that I was wary of all I heard and saw, so it took out its revenge by finally crushing me. Watch out readers, lest advertising crush you!

I am, your well-wisher,

Esteemed Gentleman
Esteemed Gentleman

* While the location, owner, and signboard of this shop were truly in existence as of 1760 (24), the specific incident at this shop that our Esteemed Gentleman encountered was, as far as we know, purely fictional.

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Dear Esteemed Gentleman:

Due to slow postage, we only recently received your letter. Unfortunately, your run-in with the shop sign is not the only one to have ever occurred. In 1718 a sign on Bride Lane fell, bringing with it a portion of the building and consequently killing four persons (14). We are happy to report that since your incident, individuals such as yourself who complained about the signboards, fearing that London looks "too cheap" against cities such as Paris that do not have the clutter of these signs hanging every which way, as well as fears that they exist as safety hazards, were finally rewarded (15). Due to these reasons, and perhaps to the increase in literacy at this time [people no longer needing to rely on simply pictures as a means for communication (16)], the Westminster Act was passed in 1762; it forbids the use of shop signs unless they are laid flat against the buildings (17). We cannot, however, promise that shopkeepers, who view these signs as excellent means of advertising and expressions of their individuality, will readily abide by these rules (18).

In addition, we cannot report happily about reform in the other areas you mentioned. We must point out to you that London is the world capital of trade (19), and with the increase of goods coming in and going out, competition increases, and therefore advertising increases as a means to combat this competition (20); this does, of course, include the advertisement and consequent consumption of puppet shows, alcohol, and woman's bodies.

We must remember, that not everyone views the dirt, crime, prostitution, and excessive advertising in the marketplaces as evil, despite Dr. Johnson's (our esteemed bard of such beauties as London: A Poem…recall the lines "How when Competitors like these contend/ Can surly Virtue hope to fix a Friend?") eloquent statement to Parliament that the increasing so-called "filth" of the city, "cannot but in the eyes of foreigners disgrace our nation, and incline them to imagine us a people, not only without delicacy, but without government, a herd of barbarians, or a colony of Hottentots…." (21). In particular, we refer to those of the lower classes who cannot depend on more expensive versions of entertainment [including newspapers which a group, such as shoeblackers, must pool their funds for in order to afford a single paper (22)] and are limited to these very advertisements and their products in the marketplace as entertainment. However crude advertising may be, it is indeed a "show" free of monetary costs (23). Also, as the city of London continues to grow during this century, and shows no signs of slowing down, keep in mind that buildings will continue to be built in haste, and have the potential to collapse even without the danger of elaborate signboards pulling their fronts down.

Obviously, there are some times in one's life when one cannot avoid going to the market. Our parting advice to esteemed gentlemen such as yourself is to exercise extreme caution when going out to such places as the Covent Garden market.

We are, your well-wishers,

The Editors
The Editors