Those who obtain their living in the streets of the metropolis are a very large and varied class;
indeed, the means resorted to in order "to pick up a crust," as the people call it, in the
public thoroughfares (and such in many instances it literally is,) are so multifarious that the mind
is long baffled in its attempts to reduce them to scientific order or classification.
London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1, Henry Mayhew.
This memorable character, a flag seller, with his colourful array of flags would have been among one of the many thousand of London "street-folk" selling their wares in the country's capital during the reign of Queen Victoria. Victorian Christmas greeting card, published by W Hagelberg, circa 1880.
Q What was the intended use of these flags?
A It seems these flags were used for sticking in the Christmas pudding, to replace the inevitable sprig of holly.
Opposite, is a recent purchase from the Ephemera Society's December Fair, a home made Christmas card, drawn by "J.E.P." in 1897, perhaps Mrs Phillips herself, with the flag boy saying Hite[half] a pinny[penny], flags, guv'nor! all tidy ter stick in the Pudd'n! It is a superb example of the value of the observant collector to social history.
The flags are also used to decorate the Christmas tree as shown in this detail from the cover illustration of the Illustrated London News Christmas Number 1876 entitled "Raising the Union Jack".