Coster Dolls are called “Coster” after the music Hall artiste Gus Elen who was known as The Coster Comedian. A coster (short for 'costermonger') was a cockney trader. They sold fruit, vegetables, fish and other goods from barrows.
About Gus Elen 1863 - 1940
Gus Elen was the best known of the coster* comedians, who performed songs and sketches about being a Cockney. Elen dressed in the coster uniform of striped jersey with a peaked cap turned towards one ear and a short clay pipe in the side of his mouth. Gus came from a poor East End background and started performing as a busker on the streets of London, singing along to a barrel organ. He first performed in music hall blacked up in a minstrel troupe. Success came in 1891 when he performed cockney songs at the Middlesex Music Hall. His songs were bitter and realistic and rooted in the poverty and life of the East Enders who were his audience.
*A coster (short for 'costermonger') was a cockney trader. They sold fruit, vegetables, fish and other goods from barrows
His most famous song was ‘If it Wasn’t for the Houses in Between’ about the cramped housing conditions of the East End. Other songs included ‘It’s a Great Big Shame’ which was about a tiny girl dominating her beefy husband: ‘Naggin at a feller wot is six foot three, And ’er only four foot two’. Another song told of a couple who could never marry because as soon as one came out of jail, the other went in: ‘When I came out I found that Liza was in prison still. For when ordering of ’er wedding cake she’d simply pinched the till’.
Unlike most performers, Elen kept meticulous records of his songs with notes about the gestures and emotions, props required and stage settings. He also wrote comments about how his gags were received. That Elen lived to the relatively old age of 77 can probably be attributed to the fact that, apart from the occasional appearance on stage, he virtually retired in 1914 to devote himself to his passion – fishing.