Selling a Broadside.

Broadside printers were, by-and-large, in the wholesale market. The retail side was handled by the pedlars that they supplied. The pedlars bought ballads in the Saltmarket to sing in the Trongate and Gallowgate, or to carry to markets and fairs in the other towns of Scotland. To sell a ballad one first had to create an audience, and so successful pedlars were also adept at street theatre. They were orators and comedians, selling themselves as much as their products. As a London patterer explained it to the social investigator Henry Mayhew, "People don’t pay us for what we gives ‘em, but only to hear us talk". Thus street-singers and pedlars might sometimes become well-known characters in their own right.

Of all the nineteenth-century Glasgow pedlars the most famous was William Cameron, better known by the nickname ‘Hawkie’. He was born near Saint Ninians, Stirlingshire, in about 1790. Lame through a childhood accident, he was first apprenticed to the tailor’s trade, but he gave this up to become an evangelical field preacher. It was on his return journey from a preaching trip to Newcastle miners in 1815 that Cameron, while passing through Ecclefechan, first begged for a living, and thus started his career as a ‘gangrel’.

Cameron began to sell ‘speeches’ and other cheap print after his arrival in Glasgow in 1818. He was inspired by the success of another well-known street character ‘Jamie Blue’ McIndoe (a broadside elegy for Jamie Blue is preserved in the Murray Collection, Mu1-x.11/43). Hawkie either bought ready-made stock at one of the Saltmarket printers, or wrote his own pieces. It was from one of the latter, a satirical response to the prophecy of the destruction of Glasgow made by a tailor called Ross, that he earned his nickname. It was written in the character of "Hawkie, a twa-year-auld quey [cow] frae Aberdour" who prophesied the destruction of the Briggate area of Glasgow under a tide of whisky. The name ‘Hawkie’ stuck to the author ever after.

Hawkie specialised in chapbooks rather than broadside ballads, but like many street-vendors he would take up whatever might excite an audience. He travelled to sell his wares in other towns of Scotland such as Paisley and Edinburgh, but his home patch (after an agreement with Jamie Blue, who worked the Saltmarket and Gallowgate) was Glasgow High Street and the Trongate. He clearly made a success of this trade, largely through his talents as a showman. An example of Hawkie’s street ‘patter’ was recorded by the poet William Finlay and can be found in the appendix below. In the 1840s he spent increasing amounts of time in prison or hospital, both no doubt occasioned by his chronic alcoholism. He died in Glasgow City Poorhouse in September 1851.

Hawkie was a notorious character in nineteenth-century Glasgow, even to the extent of having a statue created in his honour by the self-taught Eaglesham sculptor William Gemmell (1814-1891), which can still be seen at Pillar House in Eaglesham ( Examples of his wit feature in many memoirs of the city, including Peter Mackenzie’s Glasgow Characters (1875), John Urie’s Reminiscences of Eighty Years (1908), and Robert Ford’s Thistledown (1895). But the most valuable insight into Hawkie’s life is supplied by his own autobiography, written during his frequent periods of hospitalisation in the 1840s at the behest of his patron, the Glasgow publisher David Robertson. Although Hawkie wrote it for publication, the text only made it into print in 1888, in a version edited by John Strathesk.

Since the 1960s, with the development of ‘history from below’ and the successes of the oral history and History Workshop movements, historians have become much more familiar with the voices of working-class authors. But although nineteenth-century working-class autobiographies are not unknown, they were often written by the ‘success stories’ such as Joseph Arch, the ploughboy turned Liberal MP. The voices of the denizens of the street - the criminals, prostitutes and beggars - are rarer (although one can read The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy by James Dawson Burn. As a publican on the Trongate in the 1840s Burn almost certainly knew Hawkie). Hawkie’s Autobiography of a Gangrel is, therefore, not only a useful source of information on the production and selling of street literature (the subject of chapters 12-14 below), it is a guide to a world of poverty seldom explored.


David Hopkin
Valentina Bold
David Morrison



Fontaine, Laurence. History of Pedlars in Europe. Cambridge, 1996.

Ford, Robert. Thistledown: A Book of Scotch Humour , Character, Folklore, Story, and Anecdote. Paisley, 1895.

Harris, Michael. ‘A Few Shillings for Small Books: The Experiences of a Flying Stationer in the 18th Century’, in Robin Myers and Michael Harris (eds.) Spreading the Word: The Distribution Networks of Print, 1550-1850. Winchester, 1990.

Mackenzie, Peter. Old Reminiscences and Remarkable Characters of Glasgow during the Last Half Century. Glasgow, 1875.

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. 4 Vols. London, 1861.

Urie, John. Reminiscences of Eighty Years. Paisley, 1908.

Vincent, David. The Autobiography of the Working Class. Brighton, 1984.

Burn, James Dawson. The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy ed. David Vincent. London, 1978.


Link to "HAWKIE" The Autobiography of a Gangrel.