Whenever Jane Austen came to visit London, her ears would have been assaulted by the din of London street noise. This would include the distinctive cries in the evening from street vendors such as the pie men shouting, “Pies all ‘ot! eel, beef, or mutton pies! Penny pies, all ‘ot–all ‘ot!”
In 1851, Henry Mayhew published London Labor and the London Poor, Vol 1. This social history described the venerable but humble occupation of the ‘street pie men’ and ‘the street-sellers of pea-soup and hot eels.’ These pie men sold their hot food to poor working class families at an affordable price. At one time, over 600 pie men roamed London to sell meat, eel or fruit pies in streets, taverns, summer fairs and at the races. By the time of Henry Mayhew’s history, only about 50 remained, selling their pies from 6 (in the evening, I presume) and staying out all night. The best time for selling pies was between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Eel sellers, however, largely sold their wares from stalls. Around the mid-19th century, these two trades went into a decline when penny-pie shops were established. Some street pie men did not seal off their pies properly, whereas the new shops sold food that was generally safe. Instead of selling pre-made pies, they sold live eels or food with good nutritional value for families to take home and cook. Within a few years the street sellers had almost disappeared.
Read more about this topic in the following links, especially Henry Mayhew’s. He interviewed actual working pie men and wrote down their observations: