Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Pieman

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2016

Many are familiar with the nursery rhyme about a young man named Simon who meets a pieman going to the fair.

Simple Simon met a pieman
Going to the fair;
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Let me taste your ware.”

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,
“Show me first your penny.”
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Indeed I have not any.”

Clearly, a pieman is simply that: Someone who makes  or sells pies.  But have piemen existed for as long as pies have, and do piemen still exist in today’s world?

According to the October 25, 2015 edition of the Mirror newspaper in the UK, piemen still exist and are worthy of news articles from time to time.  In an article published in the paper that day, it was reported that the boss of Morrison’s pie-making factory in Bradford had reached a milestone of sorts.  The article was titled, “Pieman‘s Appetite Is Off The Charts.”

A month earlier, however, the Canberra Times in Australia reported on September 24, 2015 that the southside Canberra was reeling from the passing of their last pieman, Leicester Donoghoe.  The funeral processions was lead by a 1936 Chevrolet van that had served as the pieman‘s original pie cart.

His was a colorful life, apprenticed as a baker and pastry cook at Duncan’s in Queanbeyan before buying the pie cart from Tom Wilkinson from the Top Hat Café in Manuka.  The article marked the man’s passing with the headline, “Leicester Donoghoe, Last Pieman Of Canberra’s South, Leaves With Tragic Wish.”

In Volume 25 (on page 57) of the “Materials Engineering” magazine published in 1947, an interesting line was inserted into an editorial titled, “Simple Simon Met A Pieman.”  Obviously an OpEd piece, it addressed a social injustice the author wanted known.  The piece began with this set-up.

Once upon a time there was a pieman named Getmore in fact there was a whole family of Getmores up to their necks in the pie business but not making a great deal of dough at that.

Perhaps it’s because the nursery rhyme lends itself so easily to being rewritten that a different version was published in “The Common Cause” on page 25 in 1912.  This version was titled, “Simple Simon On Capital” and was written by W.M. Ramsay.  It was actually part of a larger publication titled, “Great Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist, Anti-communist Movements.”

Everybody knows that I met the Pieman, but they don’t know as I got a pie from him. This is how it same about.

“Let’s have a pie, Pieman,” says I.

“All right, says he, “let’s see your brass.”

“I ain’t got no brass now,” says I, “but I’ll soon get the brass at the fair.”

The focus of the story was to sell both sides of the concept.  At first, the story claimed that capitalism was “stealing from the poor, grinding down the workers and taking their profits, letting ’em starve and making bloated millinaires [sic]” as voiced by Thomas.

But Simon rebutted the definition by saying that capitalism wasn’t that at all.  Simon said:  “Capital keeps the sheep alive till the grass grows.  It puts something in your inside and sets you a-going at your job, and it grubs the men a-making the railroad and their wives and their little-uns, and buys ’em clothes and pays the lodging till the trains are running and the profits come in.”

It sounds to Idiomation like the Pieman from W.M. Ramsay’s story taught Simon quite a bit about capitalism.

Volume 4 of “Vick’s Monthly Magazine” published in 1881 had an article titled, “Notes And Reminiscences” that talked about the hopes the writer had for the Valley of the Murray in Australia.  Mentioning an article in an earlier edition, the writer — known only by his initials S.W.V. and the fact that he lived in Sandhurst — stated:

One character, “the pieman,” I offer a few additional remarks about, which may be of interest.  The pieman not only sold, but was open to the speculations; the pie was supposed to be of a standard commercial value, one penny, and his proposal for business was “‘Ot pie, toss o’ by” (Hot pie, toss or buy) and the adventurer would “spin a copper,” the pieman crying, “head or tail,” as the case might be.  If the pieman cried wrong he had to shell out the “‘ot pie” for a half penny; au contraire, if he called right the spectator lost his half penny.  It is, perhaps unnecessary to say that in any case the pieman was the winner, even if he always had to sell the pie at half penny, seeing that said pie was but a small bit of puff paste, and as to the meat or fruit it contained, it required a magnifying glass of high power to find it at all.

A generation earlier, in the 1851 edition of “London Labor and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Can Not Work, and Those That Will Not Work: Volume I” by English social researcher, journalist, playwright, and social reform advocate, Henry Mayhew (25 November 1812 – 25 July 1887), a similar situation is described.

The London piemen, who may number about forty in winter, and twice that number in summer, are seldom stationary.  They go along with their pie-cans on their arms, crying, “Pies all ‘ot!  eel, beef, or mutton pies!  Penny pies, all ‘ot — all ‘ot!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Henry Mayhew was co-founder, along with Mark Lemon,(30 November 1809 – 23 May 1870) of the satirical and humorous magazine Punch first published in 1841. 

In “The Boston Weekly Magazine” published in 1802, it too mentioned of a pieman in a short insert titled, “Sagacity of a Dog.”  It was an amazing story that included this passage.

The next time he heard the pieman‘s bell, the Dog ran to him with impetuosity, seized him by the coat, and would not suffer him to pass. The pieman, who understood what the animal wanted, showed him a penny, and pointed to his master, who stood in the street door, and saw what was going on.

The concept of a pie being something where meat or fish are enclosed in pastry dates back to the 1350s.  Undoubtedly there have been piemen selling their wares since then, but somewhere between the 1350s and 1802, the term wasn’t published in books, pamphlets, or newspapers.  Or if it was, it has escaped Idiomation’s eyes.

One Response to “Pieman”

  1. Philip Hudson said

    The etymology of pie may interest the reader. Pie is short for magpie. Magpies clutter their nest with all sorts of things. Pies might have any thing in them. Witness another nursery rhyme: “four and twenty black birds baked into a pie.” Also the printing industry word “pi” is not the mathematical pi but is a box of assorted type bars.

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