How much do pavement artists earn?
As a pavement artist, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is “Do you make a living from this?”
The Beggars Petition! Arthur Orton 1871© Trustees of the British Museum
In 1911, it was reported that over 1000 pavement artists where making a “full-time” living on the streets of England’s capital city London. Barely 10 years before it was around 500. The art-form was clearly growing, and in certain quarters, screevers had become tourist attractions in their own right.
A popular newspaper of the day surveyed “children from the country” asking them on visiting London “What would be in your top ten” no surprises then when at number five came the reply “seeing those FUNNY MEN drawing on the pavement!”
Reg Maurice postcard 1914
Artists where earning a living, but how much? Collectively, we don’t know, as no records or tax returns where taken; it was assumed that many where simply eking-out a living on the margins of society, depending on the scraps falling from the big table. How much an individual earned, could depend much more on luck than artistic talent; being in the right place, at the right time, appealing to public sympathy and hoping that the weather didn’t take a turn for the worst.
As in any walk of life, there are always the hangers-on, the “cadger screevers,” the ones who give everybody a bad name. Artists who couldn’t draw, the ones who pretended they had drawn something when they hadn’t; the con-artists & the aggressive beggars; pavement art had more than its fair share of these types, this left a negative impression with members of the public, perceiving an art-form peopled by “beggars & scroungers” and tarring everybody with the same brush.
But this view was as shallow as the flagstone surface on which a pavement painting was drawn upon. There were many artists who choose to become screevers not through necessity of means, but by a choice of lifestyle and furtherance of their art. These where the most successful, and gained respect and admiration among their peers; many of these “true artists” became successful careerists, and worked the streets full-time for 30, 40, 50 and even 60 years all told. Some would sell prints or take private portrait commissions on the street, anything to supplement and see them through the winter months and rainy days.
The “cadger-screevers” generally earned pennies and were very opportunistic in their approach, whereas the professional pavement artist could earn a fairly decent living.
In 1945, it was reported that Newcastle pavement artist Jimmy Morrison (83 years old) had handed a brown-paper package to a neighbour before he died. When police opened the parcel they found Jimmy had a total of £2,000 in two bank accounts (£77,300 in today’s money) plus a further £282 (£10,900 today) in notes, silver and coppers. In wet or fine weather, Jimmy was always at his pitch, close to Newcastle’s Central Station; obviously, the pennies steadily clinked into his “greasy cap”
Alfred Horton 5 shillings an hour in winter!
In 1953, Cockney pavement artist, Alfred Horton won first prize of £5 (£126 today) in the National Handicraft & Hobbies Pavement Art Competition at Central Hall, London. At the time, he claimed to be earning as little as 5 shillings an hour in winter (£6.28 today) compared with 30 shillings (£37.66) an hour in summer!
In the 1960’s, it was claimed that London screever Bob Hanley, earned enough on a daily basis to have his children educated at a private school!
In 1921, the Daily Express newspaper reported that pavement artist Alfred Parrott, of James Street, Holloway, was earning in the region of £600 per year (£23,500 today) Parrott’s daughter said that when the weather was fine he earned between £1 and £2 per day. (£39-£78 per day) He also supplemented his income by painting portraits in oils & chalks.
In 1924, it was reported in the same newspaper that “A good pitch produces more than £1 per day!” (£53)
In 1901, the Sheffield Evening Telegraph claimed that a local pavement artist was earning 13 shillings a day at his pitch in Sheffield city centre. (£70 in today’s money)
Some pavement artists where earning so much money, that in the 1930’s, criminal gangs where using extortion; forcing pavement artists to pay “protection money” to stay on their pitch….either that or get beaten-up, robbed & have petrol poured over your art!
So, how much does a pavement artist earn…..well, how long is a piece of chalk?
Written and researched by Philip Battle
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