George Sinton: a market gardener with a tragic family history


Explore – how food was produced and sold before there were supermarkets

Discuss – some of the risks for children in the 19th century

Discover – the importance of good medical services

Subject Areas

• History – Victorian Britain: childhood mortality, different diseases; Britain since 1930: the reduction in childhood mortality and the growth of the NHS

• Geography – London’s population growth and pressure on food supplies; what Hampstead was like

Possible Topics

• Find out about how people got fresh fruit and vegetables in the 19th century.

• Explore medical care in London before the National Health Service

Suggested Activities

• Can you imagine Haverstock Hill as it was in the late 19th century, laid out as nurseries and nurserymen sending vegetables, fruit and flowers to the markets in London? Draw a picture or write a story about what life might have been like at that time.

Sad story

George Sinton was an auctioneer and nurseryman who had a successful business on Haverstock Hill. Four of his family, aged 11 to 29, died of scarlet fever within a few days of each other in May 1842 and George himself died of scarlet fever a few years later. The family was torn apart by this experience, and eventually disappeared from Hampstead.

Scarlet fever was a disease that could be fatal in the 19th century but which is easily treatable today. It even became a sufficiently familiar tragedy to play its part in contemporary literature. It is thought that Beth March in Louisa May Alcott’s book ‘Little Women’ contracted scarlet fever when she visited a poor family whose children were sick and this weakened her heart.

Buying vegetables in 19th Century London

Victorian lean to green house

George had a nursery and we believe he grew flowers and vegetables. How did he sell them? In 19th century London there were no supermarkets where you could buy food. You might have bought your vegetables and other food from street markets or sellers. Perhaps the most famous vegetable and flower market in London was Covent Garden. You can still the Victorian market building today, although it is full of very different stalls now.

If you didn’t go to the market to buy your vegetables you might buy them from people who sold their vegetables from barrows in the street. They were known as costermongers. Costermongers would have bought their vegetable from markets. There is some information on markets and street-sellers here.

There is more about costermongers in the notes on Bert and Becky Matthews, because the pearly tradition started with costermongers.

Nurseries also made money from growing plants for people to put into their gardens, and pot plants for their houses or window boxes. Flower shows were very popular where people entered their favourite plants and hoped to win a prize.

What is Scarlet fever?

Common Scarlet Fever is a very infectious disease caused by Streptococcal bacteria that produce a poison in your body. This causes a high temperature, a painful, red rash on the skin (hence its name), a constant sore throat and speckled markings on the tongue. These symptoms could lead to chills, shivering, nausea, thirst, quick pulse and difficulty in swallowing. The rash often spread from the face, neck and back to cover the body, arms and legs. The condition could last for up to 8 days before disappearing.

It typically affected children between the ages of 2 and 10, and less commonly older children and adults. In the 18th and 19th centuries epidemics spread quickly and became very serious because of the lack of effective cures and limited understanding of the need to isolate infectious diseases. All that could be done was to treat the symptoms (sponging, bed rest, poultices for the throat, soft diet and cooling drinks). Although the majority of cases were resolved safely, it is estimated that 10% of cases developed into a more serious form (Scarletina Maligna) in which the patient was overcome by the intensity of the poisons and could die. It was only in the 1920s that the first treatments were discovered that effectively reduced the danger to individuals. Nowadays children are vaccinated against getting the infection and, if there is an outbreak, Scarlet Fever can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

Hospitals in Hampstead

What medical support did George have when first his wife and then his children fell ill? Not very much. At the beginning of the 19th century, medical services were still provided only for the richest, who could pay for them, or funded out of charity for ordinary people. Although George had a good business he wouldn’t have been rich. In Hampstead, the only hospital in the village in the mid 19th century was the original workhouse infirmary, and that was for the very poor. If you were rich you could go into London to consult a private doctor. But there was no National Health Service.


1 Victoria County History of Middlesex, Vol 9 (1989): Hampstead Economic History

2 Pigot’s London & Provincial Directory, 1834; Hampstead Directory 1854 (Shaw and Hughes)

3 Stanford’s Library Map of London & the Suburbs, 1862

4 Decennial census of England & Wales 1841 – 1911; GRO Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths

5 Hampstead and Highgate Directory 1885/6

6 The Dictionary of Victorian London; Conybeare’s Textbook of Medicine; Stedman’s Medical Dictionary

Further Resources

Henry Mayhew, “London Labour and London Poor (1851-62)” provides very detailed information about the Costermongers and their lives.

See local history notes on Hampstead Hospitals and on Public Health.

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This page was last updated on December 2nd, 2020.


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