Hawkers, Regulations, and Police in Brussels in the 19th Century

Urban Sociabilities and Social Control
By Anneke Geyzen

In 1875, the city council of Brussels wrote a report on the hostile public opinion towards itinerant trading, when drafting a set of regulations concerning this type of commerce. The authorities concluded that many other European cities, when confronted with the danger of a supposedly disordered public space, had imposed a repressive social policy towards hawkers who wandered the city streets. This article aims to analyse policies concerning the itinerant trade in Brussels during the nineteenth century by studying their regulations, intentions as well as their effects on the commercial activities of the hawkers. Based on an investigation of police archives and administrative documents (especially the Bulletin Communal de la Ville de Bruxelles), this article seeks to question several aspects of these policies: What measures did the Brussels city council take in terms of restraining itinerant trading? What were its motives? Was the social policy efficient? Did it change over time and if so, how? Finally, this article seeks to discover whether or not the ideal of a clean and well-ordered public space played a significant role in the decision-making process.

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