The Project Gutenberg eBook of London Labour and the London Poor, Vol. 2

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Title: London Labour and the London Poor, Vol. 2

Author: Henry Mayhew

Release date: October 6, 2019 [eBook #60440]

Language: English

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A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings





First edition1851
(Volume One only and parts of Volumes Two and Three)
Enlarged edition (Four volumes)1861-62
New impression1865



Street-Sellers of Second-hand Articles5
Street-Sellers of Live Animals47
Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities81
The Street-Buyers103
The Street-Jews115
Street-Finders or Collectors136
The Streets of London181
Crossing Sweepers465


A View in Petticoat-Lane36
A View in Rosemary-Lane39
The Street Dog-seller54
The Crippled Street Bird-seller66
Street-Seller of Birds’-Nests72
The Jew Old-clothes Man118
The Bone-Grubber138
The Mud-Lark155
The London Dustman172
View of a Dust-yard208
The London Scavenger226
Street Orderlies253
The Able-Bodied Pauper Street-Sweeper262
The Rubbish-Carter289
The London Sweep346
One of the few remaining Climbing-Sweeps354
The Milkmaid’s Garland370
The Sweep’s Home378
The Sewer-Hunter388
Mode of Cleansing Cesspools406
Flushing the Sewers424
The Rat-Catchers of the Sewers431
London Nightmen433
The Bearded Crossing-Sweeper at the Exchange471
The Crossing-Sweeper that has been a Maid-Servant479
The Irish Crossing-Sweeper481
The One-legged Crossing-Sweeper at Chancery-Lane488
The Boy Crossing-Sweepers494





In commencing a new volume I would devote a few pages to the consideration of the import of the facts already collected concerning the London Street-Folk, not only as regards the street-people themselves, but also in connection with the general society of which they form so large a proportion.

The precise extent of the proportion which the Street-Traders bear to the rest of the Metropolitan Population is the first point to be evolved; for the want, the ignorance, and the vice of a street-life being in a direct ratio to the numbers, it becomes of capital importance that we should know how many are seeking to pick up a livelihood in the public thoroughfares. This is the more essential because the Government returns never have given us, and probably never will give us, any correct information respecting it. The Census of 1841 set down the “Hawkers, Hucksters, and Pedlars” of the Metropolis as numbering 2045; and from the inquiries I have made among the street-sellers as to the means taken to obtain a full account of their numbers for the next population return, the Census of 1851 appears likely to be about as correct in its statements concerning the Street Traders and Performers as the one which preceded it.

According to the accounts which have been collected during the progress of this work, the number of the London Street-People, so far as the inquiry has gone, is upwards of 40,000. This sum is made up of 30,000 Costermongers; 2000 Street-Sellers of “Green-Stuff,” as Watercresses, Chickweed, and Groundsell, Turf, &c.; 4000 Street Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables; 1000 selling Stationery, Books, Papers, and Engravings in the streets; and 4000 other street-sellers vending manufactured articles, either of metal, crockery, textile, chemical, or miscellaneous substances, making altogether 41,000, or in round numbers say 40,000 individuals. The 30,000 costermongers may be said to include 12,000 men, 6000 women, and 12,000 children.

The above numbers comprise the main body of people selling in the London streets; hence if we assert that, with the vendors of second-hand articles, as old metal, glass, linen, clothes, &c., and mineral productions, such as coke, salt, and sand, there are about 45,000 street-traders in the Metropolis, we shall not, I am satisfied, be very far from the truth.

The value of the Capital, or Stock in Trade, of these people, though individually trifling, amounts, collectively, to a considerable sum of money—indeed, to very nearly 40,000l., or at the rate of about 1l. per head. Under the term Capital are included the donkeys, barrows, baskets, stalls, trays, boards, and goods belonging to the several street-traders; and though the stock of the water-cress, the small-ware, the lucifer, the flower, or the chickweed and groundsell seller may not exceed in value 1s., and the basket or tray upon which it is carried barely half that sum, that of the more prosperous costermonger, possessed of his barrow and donkey; or of the Cheap John, with his cart filled with hardware; or the Packman, with his bale of soft wares at his back, may be worth almost as many pounds as the others are pence.

The gross amount of trade done by the London Street-Sellers in the course of the year is so large that the mind is at first unable to comprehend how, without reckless extravagance, want can be in any way associated with the class. After the most cautious calculation, the results having been checked and re-checked in a variety of ways, so that the conclusion arrived at might be somewhat near and certainly not beyond the truth, it appears that the “takings” of the London Street-Sellers cannot be said to be less than 2,500,000l. per annum. But vast as this sum may seem, and especially when considered as only a portion of the annual expenditure of the Metropolitan Poor, still, when we come to spread the gross yearly receipts over 40,000 people, we find that the individual takings are but 62l. per annum, which (allowing the rate of profit to be in all cases even 50 per cent., though I am convinced it is often much less) gives to each street-trader an annual income of 20l. 13s. 4d., or within a fraction of 8s. a week, all the year round. And when we come to deduct from this the loss by perishable articles, the keep of donkeys, the wear and tear, or hire, of barrows—the cost of stalls and baskets, together with the interest on stock-money (generally at the rate of 4s. a week—and often 1s. a day—for 1l., or 1040l. per cent. per annum), we may with safety assert that the average gain or clear income of the Metropolitan Street-Sellers is rather under than over 7s. 6d. a week. Some of the more expert street-traders may clear 10s. or even 15s. weekly throughout the year, while the[2] weekly profit of the less expert, the old people, and the children, may be said to be 3s. 6d. These incomes, however, are the average of the gross yearly profits rather than the regular weekly gains; the consequence is, that though they might be sufficient to keep the majority of the street-sellers in comparative comfort, were they constant and capable of being relied upon, from week to week—but being variable and uncertain, and rising sometimes from nothing in the winter to 1l. a week in the summer, when street commodities are plentiful and cheap, and the poorer classes have money wherewith to purchase them—and fluctuating moreover, even at the best of times, according as the weather is wet or fine, and the traffic of the streets consequently diminished or augmented—it is but natural that the people subject to such alternations should lack the prudence and temperance of those whose incomes are more regular and uniform.

To place the above facts clearly before the reader the following table has been prepared. The first column states the titles of the several classes of street-sellers; the second, the number of individuals belonging to each of these classes; the third, the value of their respective capitals or stock in trade; the fourth, the gross amount of trade done by them respectively every year; the fifth, the average yearly takings of each class; and the sixth, their average weekly gains. This gives us, as it were, a bird’s-eye view of the earnings and pecuniary condition of the various kinds of street-sellers already treated of. It is here cited, as indeed all the statistics in this work are, as an approximation to the truth rather than a definite and accurate result.

DESCRIPTION OF CLASS.Number of Persons in each Class.Gross amount of capital, or stock in trade belonging to each class.Gross amount of trade annually done by each class.Average yearly receipts per head.Average weekly gains.
Street-Sellers of Wet Fish1,177,200
      „         „         Dry fish127,000
      „         „         Shell Fish156,600
      „         „         Green Fruit332,400
      „         „         Dry Fruit1,000
      „         „         Vegetables292,200
   „       „       Game, Poultry, Rabbits, &c.80,000
      „         „         Flowers, Roots &c.14,800
Street-Sellers of Green Stuff
Watercresses[3]1,0008713,900133s. 6d.
Chickweed, Groundsell, and Plantain[4]1,0004214,000145s.
Turf-Cutters and Sellers4020570145s. 6d.
Street-Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables4,0009,000203,1005010s.
Street-Sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts1,00040033,400308s.
Street-Sellers of Manufactured Articles of Metal, Crockery and Glass, Textile, Chemical, or Miscellaneous Substances4,0002,800188,2004710s.


Now, according to the above estimate, it would appear that the gross annual receipts of the entire body of street-sellers (for there are many besides those above specified—as for instance, the vendors of second-hand articles, &c.) may be estimated in round numbers at 3,000,000l. sterling, and their clear income at about 1,000,000l. per annum. Hence, we are enabled to perceive the importance of the apparently insignificant traffic of the streets; for were the street-traders to be prohibited from pursuing their calling, and so forced to apply for relief at the several metropolitan unions, the poor-rates would be at the least doubled. The total sum expended in the relief of the London poor, during 1848, was 725,000l., but this we see is hardly three-fourths of the income of the street-traders. Those, therefore, who would put an end to the commerce of our streets, should reflect whether they would like to do so at the cost of doubling the present poor-rates and of reducing one-fortieth part of the entire metropolitan population from a state of comparative independence to absolute pauperism.

However unsatisfactory it may be to the aristocratic pride of the wealthy commercial classes, it cannot be denied that a very important element of the trade of this vast capital—this marvellous centre of the commerce of the world—I cite the stereotype phrases of civic eloquence, for they are at least truths—it is still undeniable, I say, that a large proportion of the commerce of the capital of Great Britain is in the hands of the Street-Folk. This simple enunciation might appear a mere platitude were it not that the street-sellers are a proscribed class. They are driven from stations to which long possession might have been thought to give them a quasi legal right; driven from them at the capricious desire of the shopkeepers, some of whom have had bitter reason, by the diminution of their own business, to repent their interference. They are bandied about at the will of a police-officer. They must “move on” and not obstruct a thoroughfare which may be crammed and blocked with the carriages of the wealthy until to cross the road on foot is a danger. They are, in fine, a body numbering thousands, who are allowed to live in the prosecution of the most ancient of all trades, sale or barter in the open air, by sufferance alone. They are classed as unauthorized or illegal and intrusive traders, though they “turn over” millions in a year.

The authorities, it is true, do not sanction any general arbitrary enforcement of the legal proscription of the Street-Folk, but they have no option if a section of shopkeepers choose to say to them, “Drive away from our doors these street-people.” It appears to be sufficient for an inferior class of tradesmen—for such the meddlers with the street-folk generally seem to be—merely to desire such a removal in order to accomplish it. It is not necessary for them to say in excuse, “We pay heavy rents, and rates, and taxes, and are forced to let our lodgings accordingly; we pay for licences, and some of us as well pay fines for giving short weight to poor people, and that, too, when it is hardly safe to give short weight to our richer patrons; but what rates, taxes, or licences do these street-traders pay? Their lodgings may be dear enough, but their rates are nominally nothing” (being charged in the rent of their rooms). “From taxes they are blessedly exempt. They are called upon to pay no imposts on their property or income; they defray merely the trifling duties on their tobacco, beer, tea, sugar, coffee” (though these by the way—the chief articles in the excise and customs returns—make up one-half of the revenue of the country). “They ought to be put down. We can supply all that is wanting. What may become of them is simply their own concern.”

The Act 50 Geo. III., c. 41, requires that every person “carrying to sell or exposing to sale any goods, wares, or merchandize,” shall pay a yearly duty. But according to s. 23, “nothing in this Act shall extend to prohibit any person or persons from selling (by hawking in the streets) any printed papers licensed by authority; or any fish, fruit, or victuals.” Among the privileged articles are also included barm or yeast, and coals. The same Act, moreover, contains nothing to prohibit the maker of any home-manufacture from exposing his goods to sale in any town-market or fair, nor any tinker, cooper, glazier, or other artizan, from going about and carrying the materials of his business. The unlicensed itinerant vendors of such things however as lucifer-matches, boot-laces, braces, fuzees, or any wares indeed, not of their own manufacture, are violators of the law, and subject to a penalty of 10l., or three months’ imprisonment for each offence. It is in practice, however, only in the hawking of such articles as those on which the duty is heavy and of considerable value to the revenue (such as tea, tobacco, or cigars), that there is any actual check in the London streets.

Nevertheless, a large proportion of the street-trading without a licence is contrary to law, and the people seeking to obtain a living by such means are strictly liable to fine or imprisonment, while even those street-traders whom the Act specially exempts—as for instance the street-sellers of fish, fruit, and vegetables, and of eatables and drinkables, as well as the street artizans, and who are said to have the right of “exposing their goods to sale in any market or fair in every city, borough, town-corporate, and market-town”—even these, I say, are liable to be punished for obstructing the highway whenever they attempt to do so.

Now these are surely anomalies which it is high time, in these free-trade days, should cease. The endeavour to obtain an honest and independent livelihood should subject no man to fine or imprisonment; nor should the poor hawker—the neediest perhaps of all tradesmen—be required to pay 4l. a year for the liberty to carry on his business when the wealthy shopkeeper can do so “scot-free.” Moreover, it is a glaring iniquity that the rich tradesman should have it in his power, by complaining to the police, to deprive his poorer rival of the right to dispose of his goods in the streets. It is often said, in justification, that as the shopkeepers pay the principal portion of the rates and taxes, they must be protected in the exercise of their business. But this, in the[4] first place, is far from the truth. As regards the taxes, the poorer classes pay nearly half of the national imposts: they pay the chief portion of the malt duty, and that is in round numbers 5,000,000l. a year; the greater part of the spirit duty, which is 4,350,000l.; the tobacco duty, 4,250,000l.; the sugar duty, 4,500,000l.; and the duty on tea, 5,330,000l.; making altogether 23,430,000l., out of about 50,000,000l. Concerning the rates, however, it is not so easy to estimate what proportion the poor people contribute towards the local burdens of the country; but if they are householders, they have to pay quota of the parish and county expenses directly, and, if lodgers, indirectly in the rent of their apartments. Hence it is evident, that to consider the street-sellers unworthy of being protected in the exercise of their calling because they pay neither rates nor taxes, is to commit a gross injustice, not only to the street-sellers themselves by forcing them to contribute in their tea and sugar, their beer, gin, and tobacco, towards the expenses of a Government which exerts itself rather to injure than benefit them, but likewise to the ratepayers of the parish; for it is a necessary consequence, if the shopkeepers have the power to deprive the street-dealers of their living whenever the out-of-door tradesmen are thought to interfere with the business of those indoors (perhaps by underselling them), that the street-dealers, being unable to live by their own labour, must betake themselves to the union and live upon the labour of the parishioners, and thus the shopkeepers may be said to enrich themselves at the expense, not only of the poor street-people, but likewise of their brother ratepayers.

Nor can it be said that the Street-Sellers are interlopers upon these occasions, for if ancient custom be referred to, it will be found that the Shopkeepers are the real intruders, they having succeeded the Hawkers, who were, in truth, the original distributors of the produce of the country.

But though no body of Shopkeepers, nor, indeed, any other class of people individually, should possess the power to deprive the Hawkers of what is often the last shift of struggling independence—the sale of a few goods in the street—still it is evident that the general convenience of the public must be consulted, and that, were the Street-Traders to be allowed the right of pitching in any thoroughfare they pleased, many of our principal streets would be blocked up with costers’ barrows, and the kerb of Regent-street possibly crowded like that of the New Cut, with the hawkers and hucksters that would be sure to resort thither; while those thoroughfares which, like Fleet-street and Cheapside, are now almost impassable at certain times of the day, from the increased traffic of the City, would be rendered still more impervious by the throngs of street-sellers that the crowd alone would be sure to attract to the spot.

Under the circumstances, therefore, it becomes necessary that we should provide for the vast body of Street-Sellers some authorized place of resort, where they might be both entitled and permitted to obtain an honest living according to Act of Parliament. To think for a moment of “putting down” street-trading is to be at once ignorant of the numbers and character of the people pursuing it. To pass an Act declaring 50,000 individuals rogues and vagabonds, would be to fill our prisons or our workhouses with men who would willingly earn their own living. Besides, the poor will buy of the poor. Subject the petty trader to fine and imprisonment as you please, still the very sympathy and patronage of the petty purchaser will in this country always call into existence a large body of purveyors to the poorer classes. I would suggest, therefore, and I do so after much consideration, and an earnest desire to meet all the difficulties of the case, that a number of “poor men’s markets” be established throughout London, by the purchase or rental of plots of ground in the neighbourhood of the present street-markets; that a small toll be paid by each of the Street-Sellers attending such markets, for the right to vend their goods there—that the keeper or beadle of each market be likewise an Inspector of Weights and Measures, and that any hawker found using “slangs” of any kind, or resorting to any imposition whatever, be prohibited entering the market for the future—that the conduct and regulation of the markets be under the direction of a committee consisting of an equal number of shareholders, sellers, and working men—the latter as representatives of the buyers—and that the surplus funds (if any, after paying all expenses, together with a fair interest to the shareholders of the market) should be devoted to the education of the children of the hawkers before and after the hours of sale. There might also be a penny savings’-bank in connection with each of the markets, and a person stationed at the gates on the conclusion of the day’s business, to collect all he could from the hawkers as they left.

There are already a sufficient number of poor-markets established at the East end of the town—though of a different character, such as the Old Clothes Exchange—to prove the practicability of the proposed plan among even the pettiest traders. And I am convinced, after long deliberation, that such institutions could not but tend to produce a rapid and marked improvement in the character of the London Hawkers.

This is the only way evident to me of meeting the evil of our present street-life—an evil which is increasing every day, and which threatens, ere long, almost to overwhelm us with its abominations. To revile the street-people is stark folly. Their ignorance is no demerit to them, even as it is no merit to us to know the little that we do. If we really wish the people better, let us, I say again, do for them what others have done for us, and without which (humiliating as it may be to our pride) we should most assuredly have been as they are. It is the continued forgetfulness of this truth—a truth which our wretched self-conceit is constantly driving from our minds—that prevents our stirring to improve the condition of these poor people; though, if we[5] knew but the whole of the facts concerning them, and their sufferings and feelings, our very fears alone for the safety of the state would be sufficient to make us do something in their behalf. I am quite satisfied, from all I have seen, that there are thousands in this great metropolis ready to rush forth, on the least evidence of a rising of the people, to commit the most savage and revolting excesses—men who have no knowledge of the government of the country but as an armed despotism, preventing their earning their living, and who hate all law, because it is made to appear to them merely as an organised tyranny—men, too, who have neither religious nor moral principles to restrain the exercise of their grossest passions when once roused, and men who, from our very neglect of them, are necessarily and essentially the dangerous classes, whose existence we either rail at or deplore.

The rate of increase among the street-traders it is almost impossible to arrive at. The population returns afford us no data for the calculation, and the street-people themselves are unable to supply the least information on the subject; all they can tell us is, that about 20 years ago they took a guinea for every shilling that they get now. This heavy reduction of their receipts they attribute to the cheapness of commodities, and the necessity to carry and sell a greater quantity of goods in order to get the same profit, as well as to the increase in the number of street-traders; but when questioned as to the extent of such increase, their answers are of the vaguest possible kind. Arranging the street-people, however, as we have done, into three distinct classes, according to the causes which have led to their induction into a street-life, viz., those who are born and bred to the streets—those who take to the streets—and those who are driven to the streets, it is evident that the main elements of any extraordinary increase of the street-folk must be sought for among the two latter classes. Among the first the increase will, at the utmost, be at the same rate as the ordinary increase of the population—viz., 1½ per cent. per annum; for the English costermongers and street-traders in general appear to be remarkable rather for the small than the large number of their children, so that, even supposing all the boys and girls of the street-sellers to be brought up to the same mode of life as their father, we could not thus account for any enormous increase among the street-folk. With those, however, who take to the streets from the love of a “roving life,” or the desire to “shake a free leg”—to quote the phrases of the men themselves—or are driven to the streets from an inability to obtain employment at the pursuit to which they have been accustomed, the case is far different.

That there is every day a greater difficulty for working men to live by their labour—either from the paucity of work, or from the scanty remuneration given for it—surely no one will be disposed to question when every one is crying out that the country is over-populated. Such being the case, it is evident that the number of mechanics in the streets must be daily augmenting, for, as I have before said, street-trading is the last shift of an unemployed artizan to keep himself and his family from the “Union.” The workman out of work, sooner than starve or go to the parish for relief, takes to making up and vending on his own account the articles of his craft, whilst the underpaid workman, sooner than continue toiling from morning till midnight for a bare subsistence, resorts to the easier trade of buying and selling. Again, even among the less industrious of the working classes, the general decline in wages has tended, and is continually tending, to make their labour more and more irksome to them. There is a cant abroad at the present day, that there is a special pleasure in industry, and hence we are taught to regard all those who object to work as appertaining to the class of natural vagabonds; but where is the man among us that loves labour? for work or labour is merely that which is irksome to perform, and which every man requires a certain amount of remuneration to induce him to perform. If men really loved work they would pay to be allowed to do it rather than require to be paid for doing it. That occupation which is agreeable to us we call amusement, and that and that only which is disagreeable we term labour, or drudgery, according to the intensity of its irksomeness. Hence as the amount of remuneration given by way of inducement to a man to go through a certain amount of work becomes reduced, so does the stimulus to work become weakened, and this, through the decline of wages, is what is daily taking place among us. Our operatives are continually ceasing to be producers, and passing from the creators of wealth into the exchangers or distributors of it; becoming mere tradesmen, subsisting on the labour of other people rather than their own, and so adding to the very non-producers, the great number of whom is the main cause of the poverty of those who make all our riches. To teach a people the difficulty of living by labour is to inculcate the most dangerous of all lessons, and this is what we are daily doing. Our trading classes are increasing at a most enormous rate, and so giving rise to that exceeding competition, and consequently, to that continual reduction of prices—all of which must ultimately fall upon the working man. This appears to me to be the main cause of the increase of the London street people, and one for which I candidly confess I see no remedy.


I have already treated of the street-commerce in such things as are presented to the public in the form in which they are to be cooked, eaten, drank, or used. They have comprised the necessaries, delicacies, or luxuries of the street; they have been either the raw food or preparations ready cooked or mixed for[6] immediate consumption, as in the case of the street eatables and drinkables; or else they were the proceeds of taste (or its substitute) in art or literature, or of usefulness or ingenuity in manufacture.

All these many objects of street-commerce may be classified in one well-known word: they are bought and sold first-hand. I have next to deal with the second-hand sellers of our streets; and in this division perhaps will be found more that is novel, curious, and interesting, than in that just completed.

Mr. Babbage, in his “Economy of Machinery and Manufactures,” says, concerning the employment of materials of little value: “The worn-out saucepan and tin-ware of our kitchens, when beyond the reach of the tinker’s art, are not utterly worthless. We sometimes meet carts loaded with old tin kettles and worn-out iron coal-skuttles traversing our streets. These have not yet completed their useful course; the less corroded parts are cut into strips, punched with small holes, and varnished with a coarse black varnish for the use of the trunk-maker, who protects the edges and angles of his boxes with them; the remainder are conveyed to the manufacturing chemists in the outskirts, who employ them in combination with pyroligneous acid, in making a black dye for the use of calico-printers.”

Mr. Babbage has here indicated one portion of the nature of the street-trade in second-hand articles—the application of worn-out materials to a new purpose. But this second-hand commerce of the streets—for a street-commerce it mainly is, both in selling and buying—has a far greater extent than that above indicated, and many ramifications. Under the present head I shall treat only of street sellers, unless when a street purchase may be so intimately connected with a street sale that for the better understanding of the subject it may be necessary to sketch both. Of the Street-Buyers and the Street-Finders, or Collectors, both connected with the second-hand trade, I shall treat separately.

In London, where many, in order to live, struggle to extract a meal from the possession of an article which seems utterly worthless, nothing must be wasted. Many a thing which in a country town is kicked by the penniless out of their path even, or examined and left as meet only for the scavenger’s cart, will in London be snatched up as a prize; it is money’s worth. A crushed and torn bonnet, for instance, or, better still, an old hat, napless, shapeless, crownless, and brimless, will be picked up in the street, and carefully placed in a bag with similar things by one class of street-folk—the Street-Finders. And to tempt the well-to-do to sell their second-hand goods, the street-trader offers the barter of shapely china or shining glass vessels; or blooming fuchsias or fragrant geraniums for “the rubbish,” or else, in the spirit of the hero of the fairy tale, he exchanges, “new lamps for old.”

Of the street sale of second-hand articles, with all the collateral or incidental matter bearing immediately on the subject, I shall treat under the following heads, or under such heads as really constitute the staple of the business, dismissing such as may be trifling or exceptional. Of these traffickers, then, there are five classes, the mere enumeration of the objects of their traffic being curious enough:—

1. The Street-Sellers of Old Metal Articles, such as knives, forks, and butchers’ steels; saws, hammers, pincers, files, screw-drivers, planes, chisels, and other tools (more frequently those of the workers in wood than of other artisans); old scissors and shears; locks, keys, and hinges; shovels, fire-irons, trivets, chimney-cranes, fenders, and fire-guards; warming-pans (but rarely now); flat and Italian irons, curling-tongs; rings, horse-shoes, and nails; coffee and tea-pots, urns, trays, and canisters; pewter measures; scales and weights; bed-screws and keys; candlesticks and snuffers; niggards, generally called niggers (i. e., false bottoms for grates); tobacco and snuff-boxes and spittoons; door-plates, numbers, knockers, and escutcheons; dog-collars and dog-chains (and other chains); gridirons; razors; coffee-mills; lamps; swords and daggers; gun and pistol-barrels and locks (and occasionally the entire weapon); bronze and cast metal figures; table, chair, and sofa castors; bell-pulls and bells; the larger buckles and other metal (most frequently brass) articles of harness furniture; compositors’ sticks (the depositories of the type in the first instance); the multifarious kinds of tin-wares; stamps; cork-screws; barrel-taps; ink-stands; a multiplicity of culinary vessels and of old metal lids; footmen, broken machinery, and parts of machinery, as odd wheels, and screws of all sizes, &c., &c.

2. The Street-Sellers of Old Linen, Cotton, and Woollen Articles, such as old sheeting for towels; old curtains of dimity, muslin, cotton, or moreen; carpeting; blanketing for house-scouring cloths; ticking for beds and pillows; sacking for different purposes, according to its substance and quality; fringes; and stocking-legs for the supply of “jobbing worsted,” and for re-footing.

I may here observe that in the street-trade, second-hand linen or cotton is often made to pay a double debt. The shirt-collars sold, sometimes to a considerable extent and very cheap, in the street-markets, are made out of linen which has previously been used in some other form; so is it with white waistcoats and other habiliments. Of the street-folk who vend such wares I shall speak chiefly in the fourth division of this subject, viz. the second-hand street-sellers of miscellaneous articles.

3. The Street-Sellers of Old Glass and Crockery, including the variety of bottles, odd, or in sets, or in broken sets; pans, pitchers, wash-hand basins, and other crockery utensils; china ornaments; pier, convex, and toilet glasses (often without the frames); pocket ink-bottles; wine, beer, and liqueur glasses; decanters; glass fish-bowls (occasionally); salt-cellars; sugar-basins; and lamp and gas glasses.

4. The Street-Sellers of Miscellaneous Articles. These are such as cannot properly be classed under any of the three preceding heads, and include a mass of miscellaneous commodities: Accordions and other musical instruments; brushes of all[7] descriptions; shaving-boxes and razor-strops; baskets of many kinds; stuffed birds, with and without frames; pictures, with and without frames; desks, work-boxes, tea-caddies, and many articles of old furniture; boot-jacks and hooks; shoe-horns; cartouche-boxes; pocket and opera glasses; rules, and measures in frames; backgammon, and chess or draught boards and men, and dice; boxes of dominoes; cribbage-boards and boxes, sometimes with old packs of cards; pope-boards (boards used in playing the game of “Pope,” or “Pope Joan,” though rarely seen now); “fish,” or card counters of bone, ivory, or mother of pearl (an equal rarity); microscopes (occasionally); an extensive variety of broken or faded things, new or long kept, such as magic-lanterns, dissected maps or histories, &c., from the toy warehouses and shops; Dutch clocks; barometers; wooden trays; shells; music and books (the latter being often odd volumes of old novels); tee-totums, and similar playthings; ladies’ head-combs; umbrellas and parasols; fishing-rods and nets; reins, and other parts of cart, gig, and “two-horse” harness; boxes full of “odds and ends” of old leather, such as water-pipes; and a mass of imperfect metal things, which had “better be described,” said an old dealer, “as from a needle to an anchor.”

5. The Street-Sellers of Old Apparel, including the body habiliments, constituting alike men’s, women’s, boys’, girls’, and infants’ attire: as well as hats, caps, gloves, belts, and stockings; shirts and shirt-fronts (“dickeys”); handkerchiefs, stocks, and neck-ties; furs, such as victorines, boas, tippets, and edgings; beavers and bonnets; and the other several, and sometimes not easily describable, articles which constitute female fashionable or ordinary wear.

I may here observe, that of the wares which once formed a portion of the stock of the street-sellers of the fourth and fifth divisions, but which are now no longer objects of street sale, were, till within the last few years, fans; back and shoulder boards (to make girls grow straight!); several things at one time thought indispensable to every well-nurtured child, such as a coral and bells; belts, sashes, scabbards, epaulettes, feathers or plumes, hard leather stocks, and other indications of the volunteer, militia, and general military spirit of the early part of the present century.

Before proceeding immediately with my subject, I may say a few words concerning what is, in the estimation of some, a second-hand matter. I allude to the many uses to which that which is regarded, and indeed termed, “offal,” or “refuse,” or “waste,” is put in a populous city. This may be evidenced in the multiform uses to which the “offal” of the animals which are slaughtered for our use are put. It is still more curiously shown in the uses of the offal of the animals which are killed, not for our use, but for that of our dogs and cats; and to this part of the subject I shall more especially confine the remarks I have to make. My observations on the uses of other waste articles will be found in another place.

What in the butcher’s trade is considered the offal of a bullock, was explained by Mr. Deputy Hicks, before the last Select Committee of the House of Commons on Smithfield Market: “The carcass,” he said, “as it hangs clear of everything else, is the carcass, and all else constitutes the offal.”

The carcass may be briefly termed the four quarters, whereas the offal then comprises the hide, which in the average-sized bullock that is slaughtered in London is worth 12s.; but with the hide are sold the horns, which are worth about 10d. to the comb-makers, who use them to make their “tortoise-shell” articles, and for similar purposes. The hoofs are worth 2d. to the glue-makers, or prussiate of potash manufacturers. What “comes out of a bullock,” to use the trade term, is the liver, the lights (or lungs), the stomach, the intestinal canal (sometimes 36 yards when extended), and the gall duct. These portions, with the legs (called “feet” in the trade), form what is styled the tripe-man’s portion, and are disposed of to him by the butcher for 5s. 6d. Separately, the value of the liver is 8d., of the lights, 6d. (both for dogs’-meat), and of the legs which are worked into tooth-brush handles, dominoes, &c., 1s. The remaining 3s. 4d. is the worth of the other portion. The heart averages rather more than 1s.; the kidneys the same; the head, 1s. 9d.; the blood (which is “let down the drain” in all but the larger slaughtering houses) 1½d. (being 3d. for 9 gallons); the tallow (7 stone) 14s.; and the tail, I was told, “from nothing to 2s.,” averaging about 6d.; the tongue, 2s. 6d. Thus the offal sells, altogether, first hand, for 1l. 18s. 6d.

I will now show the uses to which what is far more decidedly pronounced “offal,” and what is much more “second-hand” in popular estimation, viz., a dead horse, is put, and even a dead horse’s offal, and I will then show the difference in this curious trade between the Parisian and London horse offal.

The greatest horse-slaughtering establishments in France are at Montfaucon, a short distance from the capital. When the animal has been killed, it is “cut up,” and the choicer portions of the flesh are eaten by the work-people of the establishment, and by the hangers-on and jobbers who haunt the locality of such places, and are often men of a desperate character. The rest of the carcass is sold for the feeding of dogs, cats, pigs, and poultry, a portion being also devoted to purposes of manure. The flesh on a horse of average size and fatness is 350 lbs., which sells for 1l. 12s. 6d. But this is only one of the uses of the dead animal.

The skin is sold to a tanner for 10s. 6d. The hoofs to a manufacturer of sal ammonia, or similar preparations, or of Prussian blue, or to a comb or toy-maker, for 1s. 4d. The old shoes and the shoe-nails are worth 2½d. The hair of the mane and tail realizes 1½d. The tendons are disposed of, either fresh or dried, to glue-makers for 3d.—a pound of dried tendons (separated from the muscles) being about the average per horse. The[8] bones are bought by the turners, cutlers, fan-makers, and the makers of ivory black and sal ammoniac, 90 lbs. being an average weight of the animal’s bones, and realizing 2s. The intestines wrought into the different preparations required of the gut-makers, or for manure, are worth 2d.

The blood is used by the sugar-refiners, and by the fatteners of poultry, pigeons, and turkeys (which devour it greedily), or else for manure. When required for manure it is dried—20 lbs. of dried blood, which is the average weight, being worth 1s. 9d. The fat is removed from the carcass and melted down. It is in demand for the making of gas, of soap, and (when very fine) of—bear’s grease; also for the dubbing or grease applied to harness and to shoe-leather. This fat when consumed in lamps communicates a greater portion of heat than does oil, and is therefore preferred by the makers of glass toys, and by enamellers and polishers. A horse at Montfaucon has been known to yield 60 lbs. of fat, but this is an extreme case; a yield of 12 lbs. is the produce of a horse in fair condition, but at these slaughterhouses there are so many lean and sorry jades that 8 lbs. may be taken as an average of fat, and at a value of 6d. per lb. Nor does the list end here; the dead and putrid flesh is made to teem with life, and to produce food for other living creatures. A pile of pieces of flesh, six inches in height, layer on layer, is slightly covered with hay or straw; the flies soon deposit their eggs in the attractive matter, and thus maggots are bred, the most of which are used as food for pheasants, and in a smaller degree of domestic fowls, and as baits for fish. These maggots give, or are supposed to give, a “game flavour” to poultry, and a very “high” flavour to pheasants. One horse’s flesh thus produces maggots worth 1s. 5d. The total amount, then, realized on the dead horse, which may cost 10s. 6d., is as follows:—

The flesh1126
The skin0106
The hoofs014
The shoes and nails00
The mane and tail00
The tendons003
The bones020
The intestines002
The blood019
The fat040
The maggots015

The carcass of a French horse is also made available in another way, and which relates to a subject I have lately treated of—the destruction of rats; but this is not a regularly-accruing emolument. Montfaucon swarms with rats, and to kill them the carcass of a horse is placed in a room, into which the rats gain access through openings in the floor contrived for the purpose. At night the rats are lured by their keenness of scent to the room, and lured in numbers; the openings are then closed, and they are prisoners. In one room 16,000 were killed in four weeks. The Paris furriers gave from three to four francs for 100 skins, so that, taking the average at 3s. of our money, 16,000 rat-skins would return 24l.

In London the uses of the dead horse’s flesh, bones, blood, &c., are different.

Horse-flesh is not—as yet—a portion of human food in this country. In a recent parliamentary inquiry, witnesses were examined as to whether horse-flesh was used by the sausage-makers. There was some presumption that such might be the case, but no direct evidence. I found, however, among butchers who had the best means of knowing, a strong conviction that such was the case. One highly-respectable tradesman told me he was as certain of it as that it was the month of June, though, if called upon to produce legal evidence proving either that such was the sausage-makers’ practice, or that this was the month of June, he might fail in both instances.

I found among street-people who dealt in provisions a strong, or, at any rate, a strongly-expressed, opinion that the tongues, kidneys, and hearts of horses were sold as those of oxen. One man told me, somewhat triumphantly, as a result of his ingenuity in deduction, that he had thoughts at one time of trying to establish himself in a cats’-meat walk, and made inquiries into the nature of the calling: “I’m satisfied the ’osses’ ’arts,” he said, “is sold for beastesses’; ’cause you see, sir, there’s nothing as ’ud be better liked for favourite cats and pet dogs, than a nice piece of ’art, but ven do you see the ’osses’ ’arts on a barrow? If they don’t go to the cats, vere does they go to? Vy, to the Christians.”

I am assured, however, by tradesmen whose interest (to say nothing of other considerations) would probably make them glad to expose such practices, that this substitution of the equine for the bovine heart is not attempted, and is hardly possible. The bullock’s heart, kidneys, and tongue, are so different in shape (the heart, more especially), and in the colour of the fat, while the rough tip of the ox’s tongue is not found in that of the horse, that this second-hand, or offal kind of animal food could not be palmed off upon any one who had ever purchased the heart, kidneys, or tongue of an ox. “If the horse’s tongue be used as a substitute for that of any other,” said one butcher to me, “it is for the dried reindeer’s—a savoury dish for the breakfast table!” Since writing the above, I have had convincing proof given me that the horses’ tongues are cured and sold as “neats.” The heart and kidneys are also palmed, I find, for those of oxen!! Thus, in one respect, there is a material difference between the usages, in respect of this food, between Paris and London.

One tradesman, in a large way of business—with many injunctions that I should make no allusion that might lead to his being known, as he said it might be his ruin, even though he never slaughtered the meat he sold, but was, in fact, a dead salesman or a vendor of meat consigned to him—one tradesman, I say, told me that he fancied there was an unreasonable objection to the eating of horse-flesh among us. The horse was[9] quite as dainty in his food as the ox, he was quite as graminivorous, and shrunk more, from a nicer sense of smell, from anything pertaining to a contact with animal food than did the ox. The principal objection lies in the number of diseased horses sold at the knackers. My informant reasoned only from analogy, as he had never tasted horse-flesh; but a great-uncle of his, he told me, had relished it highly in the peninsular war.

The uses to which a horse’s carcass are put in London are these:—The skin, for tanning, sells for 6s. as a low average; the hoofs, for glue, are worth 2d.; the shoes and nails, 1½d.; the mane and tail, 1½d.; the bones, which in London (as it was described to me) are “cracked up” for manure, bring 1s. 6d.; the fat is melted down and used for cart-grease and common harness oil; one person acquainted with the trade thought that the average yield of fat was 10 lbs. per horse (“taking it low”), another that it was 12 lbs. (“taking it square”), so that if 11 lbs. be accepted as an average, the fat, at 2d. per lb., would realize 1s. 10d. Of the tendons no use is made; of the blood none; and no maggots are reared upon putrid horse-flesh, but a butcher, who had been twenty years a farmer also, told me that he knew from experience that there was nothing so good as maggots for the fattening of poultry, and he thought, from what I told him of maggot-breeding in Montfaucon, that we were behind the French in this respect.

Thus the English dead horse—the vendor receiving on an average 1l. from the knacker,—realizes the following amount, without including the knacker’s profit in disposing of the flesh to the cats’-meat man; but computing it merely at 2l. we have the subjoined receipts:—

The flesh (averaging 2 cwt., sold at 2½d. per lb.)200
The skin060
The hoofs002
The shoes and nails00
The bones016
The fat0110
The tendons000
The tongue, &c. —— ?
The blood000
The intestines000

The French dead horse, then, is made a source of nearly 5s. higher receipt than the English. On my inquiring the reason of this difference, and why the blood, &c., were not made available, I was told that the demand by the Prussian blue manufacturers and the sugar refiners was so fully supplied, and over-supplied, from the great cattle slaughter-houses, that the private butchers, for the trifling sum to be gained, let the blood be wasted. One bullock slaughterer in Fox and Knot-yard, who kills 180 cattle in a week, receives only 1l. for the blood of the whole number, which is received in a well in the slaughter-house. The amount paid for blood a few years back was more than double its present rate. Under these circumstances, I was told, it would be useless trying to turn the wasted offal of a horse to any profitable purpose. There is, I am told, on an average, 1000 horses slaughtered every week in London, and this, at 2l. 10s. each animal, would make the value of the dead horses of the metropolis amount to 130,000l. per annum.

Were it not that I might be dwelling too long on the subject, I might point out how the offal of the skins was made to subserve other purposes from the Bermondsey tan-yards; and how the parings and scrapings went to the makers of glue and size, and the hair to the builders to mix with lime, &c., &c.

I may instance another thing in which the worth of what in many places is valueless refuse is exemplified, in the matter of “waste,” as waste paper is always called in the trade. Paper in all its glossiest freshness is but a reproduction of what had become in some measure “waste,” viz. the rags of the cotton or linen fabric after serving their original purpose. There is a body of men in London who occupy themselves entirely in collecting waste paper. It is no matter of what kind; a small prayer-book, a once perfumed and welcome love-note, lawyers’ or tailors’ bills, acts of parliament, and double sheets of the Times, form portions of the waste dealer’s stock. Tons upon tons are thus consumed yearly. Books of every description are ingredients of this waste, and in every language; modern poems or pamphlets and old romances (perfect or imperfect), Shakespeare, Molière, Bibles, music, histories, stories, magazines, tracts to convert the heathen or to prove how easily and how immensely our national and individual wealth might be enhanced, the prospectuses of a thousand companies, each certain to prove a mine of wealth, schemes to pay off the national debt, or recommendations to wipe it off, auctioneers’ catalogues and long-kept letters, children’s copy-books and last century ledgers, printed effusions which have progressed no further than the unfolded sheets, uncut works and books mouldy from age—all these things are found in the insatiate bag of the waste collector, who of late has been worried because he could not supply enough! “I don’t know how it is, sir,” said one waste collector, with whom I had some conversation on the subject of street-sold books, with which business he was also connected, “I can’t make it out, but paper gets scarcer or else I’m out of luck. Just at this time my family and me really couldn’t live on my waste if we had to depend entirely upon it.”

I am assured that in no place in the world is this traffic carried on to anything approaching the extent that it is in London. When I treat of the street-buyers I shall have some curious information to publish on the subject. I do but allude to it here as one strongly illustrative of “second-hand” appliances.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Metal Articles.

I have in the preceding remarks specified the wares sold by the vendors of the second-hand articles of metal manufacture, or (as they are[10] called in the streets) the “old metal” men. The several articles I have specified may never be all found at one time upon one stall, but they are all found on the respective stalls. “Aye, sir,” said one old man whom I conversed with, “and there’s more things every now and then comes to the stalls, and there used to be still more when I were young, but I can’t call them all to mind, for times is worse with me, and so my memory fails. But there used to be a good many bayonets, and iron tinder-boxes, and steels for striking lights; I can remember them.”

Some of the sellers have strong heavy barrows, which they wheel from street to street. As this requires a considerable exertion of strength, such part of the trade is carried on by strong men, generally of the costermongering class. The weight to be propelled is about 300 lbs. Of this class there are now a few, rarely more than half-a-dozen, who sell on commission in the way I have described concerning the swag-barrowmen.

These are the “old metal swags” of street classification, but their remuneration is less fixed than that of the other swag-barrowmen. It is sometimes a quarter, sometimes a third, and sometimes even a half of the amount taken. The men carrying on this traffic are the servants of the marine-store dealers, or vendors of old metal articles, who keep shops. If one of these people be “lumbered up,” that is, if he find his stock increase too rapidly, he furnishes a barrow, and sends a man into the streets with it, to sell what the shopkeeper may find to be excessive. Sometimes if the tradesman can gain only the merest trifle more than he could gain from the people who buy for the melting-pot, he is satisfied.

There is, or perhaps was, an opinion prevalent that the street “old metals” in this way of business got rid of stolen goods in such a manner as the readiest mode of sale, some of which were purposely rusted, and sold at almost any price, so that they brought but a profit to the “fence,” whose payment to the thief was little more than the price of old metal at the foundry. I understand, however, that this course is not now pursued, nor is it likely that it ever was pursued to any extent. The street-seller is directly under the eye of the police, and when there is a search for stolen goods, it is not very likely that they would be paraded, however battered or rusted for the purpose, before men who possessed descriptions of all goods stolen. Until the establishment of the present system of police, this might have been an occasional practice. One street-seller had even heard, and he “had it from the man what did it,” that a last-maker’s shop was some years back broken into in the expectation that money would be met with, but none was found; and as the thieves could not bring away such heavy lumbering things as lasts, they cursed their ill-luck, and brought away such tools as they could stow about their persons, and cover with their loose great coats. These were the large knives, fixed to swivels, and resembling a small scythe, used by the artizan to rough hew the block of beech-wood; and a variety of excellent rasps and files (for they must be of the best), necessary for the completion of the last. These very tools were, in ten days after the robbery, sold from a street-barrow.

The second-hand metal goods are sold from stalls as well as from barrows, and these stalls are often tended by women whose husbands may be in some other branch of street-commerce. One of these stalls I saw in the care of a stout elderly Jewess, who was fast asleep, nodding over her locks and keys. She was awakened by the passing policeman, lest her stock should be pilfered by the boys: “Come, wake up, mother, and shake yourself,” he said, “I shall catch a weazel asleep next.”

Some of these barrows and stalls are heaped with the goods, and some are very scantily supplied, but the barrows are by far the best stocked. Many of them (especially the swag) look like collections of the different stages of rust, from its incipient spots to its full possession of the entire metal. But amongst these seemingly useless things there is a gleam of brass or plated ware. On one barrow I saw an old brass door-plate, on which was engraven the name of a late learned judge, Baron B——; another had formerly announced the residence of a dignitary of the church, the Rev. Mr. ——.

The second-hand metal-sellers are to be seen in all the street-markets, especially on the Saturday nights; also in Poplar, Limehouse, and the Commercial-road, in Golden-lane, and in Old-street and Old-street-road, St. Luke’s, in Hoxton and Shoreditch, in the Westminster Broadway, and the Whitechapel-road, in Rosemary-lane, and in the district where perhaps every street calling is pursued, but where some special street-trades seem peculiar to the genius of the place, in Petticoat-lane. A person unacquainted with the last-named locality may have formed an opinion that Petticoat-lane is merely a lane or street. But Petticoat-lane gives its name to a little district. It embraces Sandys-row, Artillery-passage, Artillery-lane, Frying-pan-alley, Catherine Wheel-alley, Tripe-yard, Fisher’s-alley, Wentworth-street, Harper’s-alley, Marlborough-court, Broad-place, Providence-place, Ellison-street, Swan-court, Little Love-court, Hutchinson-street, Little Middlesex-street, Hebrew-place, Boar’s-head-yard, Black-horse-yard, Middlesex-street, Stoney-lane, Meeting-house-yard, Gravel-lane, White-street, Cutler-street, and Borer’s-lane, until the wayfarer emerges into what appears the repose and spaciousness of Devonshire-square, Bishopsgate-street, up Borer’s-lane, or into what in the contrast really looks like the aristocratic thoroughfare of the Aldgate High-street, down Middlesex-street; or into Houndsditch through the halls of the Old Clothes Exchange.

All these narrow streets, lanes, rows, passages, alleys, yards, courts, and places, are the sites of the street-trade carried on in this quarter. The whole neighbourhood rings with street cries, many uttered in those strange east-end Jewish tones which do not sound like English. Mixed with the incessant invitations to buy Hebrew[11] dainties, or the “sheepest pargains,” is occasionally heard the guttural utterance of the Erse tongue, for the “native Irish,” as they are sometimes called, are in possession of some portion of the street-traffic of Petticoat-lane, the original Rag Fair. The savour of the place is moreover peculiar. There is fresh fish, and dried fish, and fish being fried in a style peculiar to the Jews; there is the fustiness of old clothes; there is the odour from the pans on which (still in the Jewish fashion) frizzle and hiss pieces of meat and onions; puddings are boiling and enveloped in steam; cakes with strange names are hot from the oven; tubs of big pickled cucumbers or of onions give a sort of acidity to the atmosphere; lemons and oranges abound; and altogether the scene is not only such as can only be seen in London, but only such as can be seen in this one part of the metropolis.

When I treat of the street-Jews, I shall have information highly curious to communicate, and when I come to the fifth division of my present subject, I shall more particularly describe Petticoat-lane, as the head-quarters of the second-hand clothes business.

I have here alluded to the character of this quarter as being one much resorted to formerly, and still largely used by the sellers of second-hand metal goods. Here I was informed that a strong-built man, known as Jack, or (appropriately enough) as Iron Jack, had, until his death six or seven years ago, one of the best-stocked barrows in London. This, in spite of remonstrances, and by a powerful exercise of his strength, the man lifted, as it were, on to the narrow foot-path, and every passer-by had his attention directed almost perforce to the contents of the barrow, for he must make a “detour” to advance on his way. One of this man’s favourite pitches was close to the lofty walls of what, before the change in their charter, was one of the East India Company’s vast warehouses. The contrast to any one who indulged a thought on the subject—and there is great food for thought in Petticoat-lane—was striking enough. Here towered the store-house of costly teas, and silks, and spices, and indigo; while at its foot was carried on the most minute, and apparently worthless of all street-trades, rusty screws and nails, such as only few would care to pick up in the street, being objects of earnest bargaining!

An experienced man in the business, who thought he was “turned 50, or somewhere about that,” gave me the following account of his trade, his customers, &c.

“I’ve been in most street-trades,” he said, “and was born to it, like, for my mother was a rag-gatherer—not a bad business once—and I helped her. I never saw my father, but he was a soldier, and it’s supposed lost his life in foreign parts. No, I don’t remember ever having heard what foreign parts, and it don’t matter. Well, perhaps, this is about as tidy a trade for a bit of bread as any that’s going now. Perhaps selling fish may be better, but that’s to a man what knows fish well. I can’t say I ever did. I’m more a dab at cooking it (with a laugh). I like a bloater best on what’s an Irish gridiron. Do you know what that is, sir? I know, though I’m not Irish, but I married an Irish wife, and as good a woman as ever was a wife. It’s done on the tongs, sir, laid across the fire, and the bloater’s laid across the tongs. Some says it’s best turned and turned very quick on the coals themselves, but the tongs is best, for you can raise or lower.” [My informant seemed interested in his account of this and other modes of cookery, which I need not detail.] “This is really a very trying trade. O, I mean it tries a man’s patience so. Why, it was in Easter week a man dressed like a gentleman—but I don’t think he was a real gentleman—looked out some bolts, and a hammer head, and other things, odds and ends, and they came to 10½d. He said he’d give 6d. ‘Sixpence!’ says I; ‘why d’ you think I stole ’em?’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘if I didn’t think you’d stole ’em, I shouldn’t have come to you.’ I don’t think he was joking. Well, sir, we got to high words, and I said, ‘Then I’m d—d if you have them for less than 1s.’ And a bit of a crowd began to gather, they was most boys, but the p’liceman came up, as slow as you please, and so my friend flings down 1s., and puts the things in his pocket and marches off, with a few boys to keep him company. That’s the way one’s temper’s tried. Well, it’s hard to say what sells best. A latch-lock and keys goes off quick. I’ve had them from 2d. to 6d.; but it’s only the lower-priced things as sells now in any trade. Bolts is a fairish stock, and so is all sorts of tools. Well, not saws so much as such things as screwdrivers, or hammers, or choppers, or tools that if they’re rusty people can clean up theirselves. Saws ain’t so easy to manage; bed-keys is good. No, I don’t clean the metal up unless it’s very bad; I think things don’t sell so well that way. People’s jealous that they’re just done up on purpose to deceive, though they may cost only 1d. or 2d. There’s that cheese-cutter now, it’s getting rustier and there’ll be very likely a better chance to sell it. This is how it is, sir, I know. You see if a man’s going to buy old metal, and he sees it all rough and rusty, he says to himself, ‘Well, there’s no gammon about it; I can just see what it is.’ Then folks like to clean up a thing theirselves, and it’s as if it was something made from their own cleverness. That was just my feeling, sir, when I bought old metals for my own use, before I was in the trade, and I goes by that. O, working people’s by far my best customers. Many of ’em’s very fond of jobbing about their rooms or their houses, and they come to such as me. Then a many has fancies for pigeons, or rabbits, or poultry, or dogs, and they mostly make up the places for them theirselves, and as money’s an object, why them sort of fancy people buys hinges, and locks, and screws, and hammers, and what they want of me. A clever mechanic can turn his hand to most things that he wants for his own use. I know a shoemaker that makes beautiful rabbit-hutches and sells them along with his prize cattle, as I calls his great big long-eared rabbits. Perhaps I take 2s. 6d. or 3s. a day, and it’s about half profit.[12] Yes, this time of the year I make good 10s. 6d. a week, but in winter not 1s. a day. That would be very poor pickings for two people to live on, and I can’t do without my drop of beer, but my wife has constant work with a first-rate laundress at Mile End, and so we rub on, for we’ve no family living.”

This informant told me further of the way in which the old metal stocks sold in the streets were provided; but that branch of the subject relates to street-buying. Some of the street-sellers, however, buy their stocks of the shopkeepers.

I find a difficulty in estimating the number of the second-hand metal-ware street-sellers. Many of the stalls or barrows are the property of the marine-store shopkeepers, or old metal dealers (marine stores being about the only things the marine-store men do not sell), and these are generally placed near the shop, being indeed a portion of its contents out of doors. Some of the marine-store men (a class of traders, by the by, not superior to street-sellers, making no “odious” comparison as to the honesty of the two), when they have purchased largely—the refuse iron for instance after a house has been pulled down—establish two or three pitches in the street, confiding the stalls or barrows to their wives and children. I was told by several in the trade that there were 200 old metal sellers in the streets, but from the best information at my command not more than 50 appear to be strictly street-sellers, unconnected with shop-keeping. Estimating a weekly receipt, per individual, of 15s. (half being profit), the yearly street outlay among this body alone amounts to 1950l.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Metal Trays, &c.

There are still some few portions of the old metal trade in the streets which require specific mention.

Among these is the sale of second-hand trays, occasionally with such things as bread-baskets. Instead of these wares, however, being matters of daily traffic, they are offered in the streets only at intervals, and generally on the Saturday and Monday evenings, while a few are hawked to public-houses. An Irishman, a rather melancholy looking man, but possessed of some humour, gave me the following account. His dress was a worn suit, such as masons work in; but I have seldom seen so coarse, and never on an Irishman of his class, except on a Sunday, so clean a shirt, and he made as free a display of it as if it were the choicest cambric. He washed it, he told me, with his own hands, as he had neither wife, nor mother, nor sister. “I was a cow-keeper’s man, your honour,” he said, “and he sent milk to Dublin. I thought I might do betthur, and I got to Liverpool, and walked here. Have I done betthur, is it? Sorry a betthur. Would I like to returren to Dublin? Well, perhaps, plaze God, I’ll do betthur here yit. I’ve sould a power of different things in the sthreets, but I’m off for counthry work now. I have a few therrays left if your honour wants such a thing. I first sould a few for a man I lodged along wid in Kent-street, when he was sick, and so I got to know the therrade. He tould me to say, and it’s the therruth, if anybody said, ‘They’re only second-hand,’ that they was all the betthur for that, for if they hadn’t been real good therrays at first, they would niver have lived to be second-hand ones. I calls the bigghur therrays butlers, and the smhaller, waithers. It’s a poor therrade. One woman’ll say, ‘Pooh! ould-fashioned things.’ ‘Will, thin, ma’am,’ I’ll say, ‘a good thing like this is niver ould-fashioned, no more than the bhutiful mate and berrid, and the bhutiful new praties a coming in, that you’ll be atin off of it, and thratin’ your husband to, God save him. No lady iver goes to supper widout her therray.’ Yes, indeed, thin, and it is a poor therrade. It’s the bhutiful therrays I’ve sould for 6d. I buys them of a shop which dales in sich things. The perrofit! Sorry a perrofit is there in it at all at all; but I thries to make 4d. out of 1s. If I makes 6d. of a night it’s good worruk.”

These trays are usually carried under the arm, and are sometimes piled on a stool or small stand, in a street market. The prices are from 2d. to 10d., sometimes 1s. The stronger descriptions are sold to street-sellers to display their goods upon, as much as to any other class. Women and children occasionally sell them, but it is one of the callings which seems to be disappearing from the streets. From two men, who were familiar with this and other second-hand trades, I heard the following reasons assigned for the decadence. One man thought it was owing to “swag-trays” being got up so common and so cheap, but to look “stunning well,” at least as long as the shininess lasted. The other contended that poor working people had enough to do now-a-days to get something to eat, without thinking of a tray to put it on.

If 20 persons, and that I am told is about the number of sellers, take in the one or two nights’ sale 4s. a week each, on second-hand trays (33 per cent. being the rate of profit), the street expenditure is 208l. in a year.

In other second-hand metal articles there is now and then a separate trade. Two or three sets of small fire-irons may be offered in a street-market on a Saturday night; or a small stock of flat and Italian irons for the laundresses, who work cheap and must buy second-hand; or a collection of tools in the same way; but these are accidental sales, and are but ramifications from the general “old metal” trade that I have described. Perhaps, in the sale of these second-hand articles, 20 people may be regularly employed, and 300l. yearly may be taken.

In Petticoat-lane, Rosemary-lane, Whitecross-street, Ratcliff-highway, and in the street-markets generally, are to be seen men, women, and children selling dinner knives and forks, razors, pocket-knives, and scissors. The pocket-knives and scissors are kept well oiled, so that the weather does not rust them. These goods have been mostly repaired, ground, and polished for street-commerce. The women and children selling these[13] articles are the wives and families of the men who repair, grind, and polish them, and who belong, correctly speaking, to the class of street-artizans, under which head they will be more particularly treated of. It is the same also with the street-vendors of second-hand tin saucepans and other vessels (a trade, by the way, which is rapidly decreasing), for these are generally made of the old drums of machines retinned, or are old saucepans and pots mended for use by the vendors, who are mostly working tinmen, and appertain to the artizan class.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Linen, &c.

I now come to the second variety of the several kinds of street-sellers of second-hand articles. The accounts of the street-trade in second-hand linens, however, need be but brief; for none of the callings I have now to notice supply a mode of subsistence to the street-sellers independently of other pursuits. They are resorted to whenever an opportunity or a prospect of remuneration presents itself by the class of general street-sellers, women as well as men—the women being the most numerous. The sale of these articles is on the Saturday and Monday nights, in the street-markets, and daily in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes.

One of the most saleable of all the second-hand textile commodities of the streets, is an article the demand for which is certainly creditable to the poorer and the working-classes of London—towels. The principal supply of this street-towelling is obtained from the several barracks in and near London. They are a portion of what were the sheets (of strong linen) of the soldiers’ beds, which are periodically renewed, and the old sheeting is then sold to a contractor, of whom the street-folk buy it, and wash and prepare it for market. It is sold to the street-traders at 4d. per pound, 1 lb. making eight penny towels; some (inferior) is as low as 2d. The principal demand is by the working-classes.

“Why, for one time, sir,” said a street-seller to me, “there wasn’t much towelling in the streets, and I got a tidy lot, just when I knew it would go off, like a thief round a corner. I pitched in Whitecross-street, and not far from a woman that was making a great noise, and had a good lot of people about her, for cheap mackarel weren’t so very plenty then as they are now. ‘Here’s your cheap mack’rel,’ shouts she, ‘cheap, cheap, cheap mac-mac-mac-mack’rel. Then I begins: ‘Here’s your cheap towelling; cheap, cheap, cheap, tow-tow-tow-tow-ellings. Here’s towels a penny a piece, and two for twopence, or a double family towel for twopence.’ I soon had a greater crowd than she had. O, yes! I gives ’em a good history of what I has to sell; patters, as you call it; a man that can’t isn’t fit for the streets. ‘Here’s what every wife should buy for her husband, and every husband for his wife,’ I goes on. ‘Domestic happiness is then secured. If a husband licks his wife, or a wife licks her husband, a towel is the handiest and most innocent thing it can be done with, and if it’s wet it gives you a strong clipper on the cheek, as every respectable married person knows as well as I do. A clipper that way always does me good, and I’m satisfied it does more good to a gentleman than a lady.’ Always patter for the women, sir, if you wants to sell. Yes, towels is good sale in London, but I prefer country business. I’m three times as much in the country as in town, and I’m just off to Ascot to sell cards, and do a little singing, and then I’ll perhaps take a round to Bath and Bristol, but Bath’s not what it was once.”

Another street-seller told me that, as far as his experience went, Monday night was a better time for the sale of second-hand sheetings, &c., than Saturday, as on Monday the wives of the working-classes who sought to buy cheaply what was needed for household use, usually went out to make their purchases. The Saturday-night’s mart is more one for immediate necessities, either for the Sunday’s dinner or the Sunday’s wear. It appears to me that in all these little distinctions—of which street-folk tell you, quite unconscious that they tell anything new—there is something of the history of the character of a people.

“Wrappers,” or “bale-stuff,” as it is sometimes styled, are also sold in the streets as second-hand goods. These are what have formed the covers of the packages of manufactures, and are bought (most frequently by the Jews) at the wholesale warehouses or the larger retail shops, and re-sold to the street-people, usually at 1½d. and 2d. per pound. These goods are sometimes sold entire, but are far more often cut into suitable sizes for towels, strong aprons, &c. They soon get “bleached,” I was told, by washing and wear.

“Burnt” linen or calico is also sold in the streets as a second-hand article. On the occasion of a fire at any tradesman’s, whose stock of drapery had been injured, the damaged wares are bought by the Jewish or other keepers of the haberdashery swag-shops. Some of these are sold by the second-hand street dealers, but the traffic for such articles is greater among the hawkers. Of this I have already given an account. The street-sale of these burnt (and sometimes designedly burnt) wares is in pieces, generally from 6d. to 1s. 6d. each, or in yards, frequently at 6d. per yard, but of course the price varies with the quality.

I believe that no second-hand sheets are sold in the streets as sheets, for when tolerably good they are received at the pawn-shops, and if indifferent, at the dolly-shops, or illegal pawn-shops. Street folk have told me of sheets being sold in the street-markets, but so rarely as merely to supply an exception. In Petticoat-lane, indeed, they are sold, but it is mostly by the Jew shopkeepers, who also expose their goods in the streets, and they are sold by them very often to street-traders, who convert them into other purposes.

The statistics of this trade present great difficulties. The second-hand linen, &c., is not a regular street traffic. It may be offered to the public 20 days or nights in a month, or not one. If a “job-lot” have been secured, the second-hand street-seller may confine himself to that especial[14] stock. If his means compel him to offer only a paucity of second-hand goods, he may sell but one kind. Generally, however, the same man or woman trades in two, three, or more of the second-hand textile productions which I have specified, and it is hardly one street-seller out of 20, who if he have cleared his 10s. in a given time, by vending different articles, can tell the relative amount he cleared on each. The trade is, therefore, irregular, and is but a consequence, or—as one street-seller very well expressed it—a “tail” of other trades. For instance, if there has been a great auction of any corn-merchant’s effects, there will be more sacking than usual in the street-markets; if there have been sales, beyond the average extent, of old household furniture, there will be a more ample street stock of curtains, carpeting, fringes, &c. Of the articles I have enumerated the sale of second-hand linen, more especially that from the barrack-stores, is the largest of any.

The most intelligent man whom I met with in this trade calculated that there were 80 of these second-hand street-folk plying their trade two nights in the week; that they took 8s. each weekly, about half of it being profit; thus the street expenditure would be 1664l. per annum.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Curtains.

Second-Hand Curtains, but only good ones, I was assured, can now be sold in the streets, “because common new ones can be had so cheap.” The “good second-hands,” however, sell readily. The most saleable of all second-hand curtains are those of chintz, especially old-fashioned chintz, now a scarce article; the next in demand are what were described to me as “good check,” or the blue and white cotton curtains. White dimity curtains, though now rarely seen in a street-market, are not bought to be re-used as curtains—“there’s too much washing about them for London”—but for petticoats, the covering of large pincushions, dressing-table covers, &c., and for the last-mentioned purpose they are bought by the householders of a small tenement who let a “well-furnished” bed-room or two.

The uses to which the second-hand chintz or check curtains are put, are often for “Waterloo” or “tent” beds. It is common for a single woman, struggling to “get a decent roof over her head,” or for a young couple wishing to improve their comforts in furniture, to do so piece-meal. An old bedstead of a better sort may first be purchased, and so on to the concluding “decency,” or, in the estimation of some poor persons, “dignity” of curtains. These persons are customers of the street-sellers—the second-hand curtains costing them from 8d. to 1s. 6d.

Moreen curtains have also a good sale. They are bought by working people (and by some of the dealers in second-hand furniture) for the re-covering of sofas, which had become ragged, the deficiency of stuffing being supplied with hay (which is likewise the “stuffing” of the new sofas sold by the “linen-drapers,” or “slaughter-houses”). Moreen curtains, too, are sometimes cut into pieces, for the re-covering of old horse-hair chairs, for which purpose they are sold at 3d. each piece.

Second-hand curtains are moreover cut into portions and sold for the hanging of the testers of bedsteads, but almost entirely for what the street-sellers call “half-teesters.” These are required for the Waterloo bedsteads, “and if it’s a nice thing, sir,” said one woman, “and perticler if it’s a chintz, and to be had for 6d., the women’ll fight for it.”

The second-hand curtains, when sold entire, are from 6d. to 2s. 6d. One man had lately sold a pair of “good moreens, only faded, but dyeing’s cheap,” for 3s. 6d.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Carpeting, Flannels, Stocking-legs, &c., &c.

I class these second-hand wares together, as they are all of woollen materials.

Carpeting has a fair sale, and in the streets is vended not as an entire floor or stair-carpet, but in pieces. The floor-carpet pieces are from 2d. to 1s. each; the stair-carpet pieces are from 1d. to 4d. a yard. Hearth-rugs are very rarely offered to street-customers, but when offered are sold from 4d. to 1s. Drugget is also sold in the same way as the floor-carpeting, and sometimes for house-scouring cloths.

“I’ve sold carpet, sir,” said a woman street-seller, who called all descriptions—rugs and drugget too—by that title; “and I would like to sell it regular, but my old man—he buys everything—says it can’t be had regular. I’ve sold many things in the streets, but I’d rather sell good second-hand in carpet or curtains, or fur in winter, than anything else. They’re nicer people as buys them. It would be a good business if it was regular. Ah! indeed, in my time, and before I was married, I have sold different things in a different way; but I’d rather not talk about that, and I make no complaints, for seeing what I see. I’m not so badly off. Them as buys carpet are very particular—I’ve known them take a tape out of their pockets and measure—but they’re honourable customers. If they’re satisfied they buy, most of them does, at once; without any of your ‘is that the lowest?’ as ladies asks in shops, and that when they don’t think of buying, either. Carpet is bought by working people, and they use it for hearth-rugs, and for bed-sides, and such like. I know it by what I’ve heard them say when I’ve been selling. One Monday evening, five or six years back, I took 10s. 9d. in carpet; there had been some great sales at old houses, and a good quantity of carpet and curtains was sold in the streets. Perhaps I cleared 3s. 6d. on that 10s. 9d. But to take 4s. or 5s. is good work now, and often not more than 3d. in the 1s. profit. Still, it’s a pretty good business, when you can get a stock of second-hands of different kinds to keep you going constantly.”

What in the street-trade is known as “Flannels,” is for the most part second-hand blankets, which having been worn as bed furniture, and then very probably, or at the same time, used for ironing cloths, are found in the street-markets, where[15] they are purchased for flannel petticoats for the children of the poor, or when not good enough for such use, for house cloths, at 1d. each.

The trade in stocking legs is considerable. In these legs the feet have been cut off, further darning being impossible, and the fragment of the stocking which is worth preserving is sold to the careful housewives who attach to it a new foot. Sometimes for winter wear a new cheap sock is attached to the footless hose. These legs sell from ½d. to 3d. the pair, but very rarely 3d., and only when of the best quality, though the legs would not be saleable in the streets at all, had they not been of a good manufacture originally. Men’s hose are sold in this way more largely than women’s.

The trade in second-hand stockings is very considerable, but they form a part of the second-hand apparel of street-commerce, and I shall notice them under that head.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Bed-ticking, Sacking, Fringe, &c.

For bed-ticking there is generally a ready sale, but I was told “not near so ready as it was a dozen year or more back.” One reason which I heard assigned for this was, that new ticking was made so cheap (being a thin common cotton, for the lining of common carpet-bags, portmanteaus, &c.), that poor persons scrupled to give any equivalent price for good sound second-hand linen bed-ticking, “though,” said a dealer, “it’ll still wear out half a dozen of their new slop rigs. I should like a few of them there slop-masters, that’s making fortins out of foolish or greedy folks, to have to live a few weeks in the streets by this sort of second-hand trade; they’d hear what was thought of them then by all sensible people, which aren’t so many as they should be by a precious long sight.”

The ticking sold in the street is bought for the patching of beds and for the making of pillows and bolsters, and for these purposes is sold in pieces at from 2d. to 4d. as the most frequent price. One woman who used to sell bed-ticking, but not lately, told me that she knew poor women who cared nothing for such convenience themselves, buy ticking to make pillows for their children.

Second-hand Sacking is sold without much difficulty in the street-markets, and usually in pieces at from 2d. to 6d. This sacking has been part of a corn sack, or of the strong package in which some kinds of goods are dispatched by sea or railway. It is bought for the mending of bedstead sacking, and for the making of porters’ knots, &c.

Second-hand Fringe is still in fair demand, but though cheaper than ever, does not, I am assured, “sell so well as when it was dearer.” Many of my readers will have remarked, when they have been passing the apartments occupied by the working class, that the valance fixed from the top of the window has its adornment of fringe; a blind is sometimes adorned in a similar manner, and so is the valance from the tester of a bedstead. For such uses the second-hand fringe is bought in the street-markets in pieces, sometimes called “quantities,” of from 1d. to 1s.

Second-hand Table-cloths used to be an article of street-traffic to some extent. If offered at all now—and one man, though he was a regular street-seller, thought he had not seen one offered in a market this year—they are worn things such as will not be taken by the pawnbrokers, while the dolly-shop people would advance no more than the table-cloth might be worth for the rag-bag. The glazed table-covers, now in such general use, are not as yet sold second-hand in the streets.

I was told by a street-seller that he had heard an old man (since dead), who was a buyer of second-hand goods, say that in the old times, after a great sale by auction—as at Wanstead-house (Mr. Wellesley Pole’s), about 30 years ago—the open-air trade was very brisk, as the street-sellers, like the shop-traders, proclaimed all their second-hand wares as having been bought at “the great sale.” For some years no such “ruse” has been practised by street-folk.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Glass and Crockery.

These sellers are another class who are fast disappearing from the streets of London. Before glass and crockery, but more especially glass, became so low-priced when new, the second-hand glass-man was one of the most prosperous of the open-air traders; he is now so much the reverse that he must generally mix up some other calling with his original business. One man, whose address was given to me as an experienced glass-man, I found selling mackarel and “pound crabs,” and complaining bitterly that mackarel were high, and that he could make nothing out of them that week at 2d. each, for poor persons, he told me, would not give more. “Yes, sir,” he said, “I’ve been in most trades, besides having been a pot-boy, both boy and man, and I don’t like this fish-trade at all. I could get a pot-boy’s place again, but I’m not so strong as I were, and it’s slavish work in the place I could get; and a man that’s not so young as he was once is chaffed so by the young lads and fellows in the tap-room and the skittle-ground. For this last three year or more I had to do something in addition to my glass for a crust. Before I dropped it as a bad consarn, I sold old shoes as well as old glass, and made both ends meet that way, a leather end and a glass end. I sold off my glass to a rag and bottle shop for 9s., far less than it were worth, and I swopped my shoes for my fish-stall, and water-tub, and 3s. in money. I’ll be out of this trade before long. The glass was good once; I’ve made my 15s. and 20s. a week at it: I don’t know how long that is ago, but it’s a good long time. Latterly I could do no business at all in it, or hardly any. The old shoes was middling, because they’re a free-selling thing, but somehow it seems awkward mixing up any other trade with your glass.”

The stall or barrow of a “second-hand glass-man” presented, and still, in a smaller degree,[16] presents, a variety of articles, and a variety of colours, but over the whole prevails that haziness which seems to be considered proper to this trade. Even in the largest rag and bottle shops, the second-hand bottles always look dingy. “It wouldn’t pay to wash them all,” said one shopkeeper to me, “so we washes none; indeed, I b’lieve people would rather buy them as they is, and clean them themselves.”

The street-assortment of second-hand glass may be described as one of “odds and ends”—odd goblets, odd wine-glasses, odd decanters, odd cruet-bottles, salt-cellars, and mustard-pots; together with a variety of “tops” to fit mustard-pots or butter-glasses, and of “stoppers” to fit any sized bottle, the latter articles being generally the most profitable. Occasionally may still be seen a blue spirit-decanter, one of a set of three, with “brandy,” in faded gold letters, upon it, or a brass or plated label, as dingy as the bottle, hung by a fine wire-chain round the neck. Blue finger-glasses sold very well for use as sugar-basins to the wives of the better-off working-people or small tradesmen. One man, apparently about 40, who had been in this trade in his youth, and whom I questioned as to what was the quality of his stock, told me of the demand for “blue sugars,” and pointed out to me one which happened to be on a stand by the door of a rag and bottle shop. When I mentioned its original use, he asked further about it, and after my answers seemed sceptical on the subject. “People that’s quality,” he said, “that’s my notion on it, that hasn’t neither to yarn their dinner, nor to cook it, but just open their mouths and eat it, can’t dirty their hands so at dinner as to have glasses to wash ’em in arterards. But there’s queer ways everywhere.”

At one time what were called “doctors’ bottles” formed a portion of the second-hand stock I am describing. These were phials bought by the poorer people, in which to obtain some physician’s gratuitous prescription from the chemist’s shop, or the time-honoured nostrum of some wonderful old woman. For a very long period, it must be borne in mind, all kinds of glass wares were dear. Small glass frames, to cover flower-roots, were also sold at these stalls, as were fragments of looking-glass. Beneath his stall or barrow, the “old glass-man” often had a few old wine or beer-bottles for sale.

At the period before cast-glass was so common, and, indeed, subsequently, until glass became cheap, it was not unusual to see at the second-hand stalls, rich cut-glass vessels which had been broken and cemented, for sale at a low figure, the glass-man being often a mender. It was the same with China punch-bowls, and the costlier kind of dishes, but this part of the trade is now unknown.

There is one curious sort of ornament still to be met with at these stalls—wide-mouthed bottles, embellished with coloured patterns of flowers, birds, &c., generally cut from “furniture prints,” and kept close against the sides of the interior by the salt with which the bottles are filled. A few second-hand pitchers, teapots, &c., are still sold at from 1d. to 6d.

There are now not above six men (of the ordinary street-selling class) who carry on this trade regularly. Sometimes twelve stalls or barrows may be seen; sometimes one, and sometimes none. Calculating that each of the six dealers takes 12s. weekly, with a profit of 6s. or 7s., we find 187l. 4s. expended in this department of street-commerce. The principal place for the trade is in High-street, Whitechapel.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Miscellaneous Articles.

I have in a former page specified some of the goods which make up the sum of the second-hand miscellaneous commerce of the streets of London.

I may premise that the trader of this class is a sort of street broker; and it is no more possible minutely to detail his especial traffic in the several articles of his stock, than it would be to give a specific account of each and several of the “sundries” to be found in the closets or corners of an old-furniture broker’s or marine-store seller’s premises, in describing his general business.

The members of this trade (as will be shown in the subsequent statements) are also “miscellaneous” in their character. A few have known liberal educations, and have been established in liberal professions; others have been artisans or shopkeepers, but the mass are of the general class of street-sellers.

I will first treat of the Second-Hand Street-Sellers of Articles for Amusement, giving a wide interpretation to the word “amusement.”

The backgammon, chess, draught, and cribbage-boards of the second-hand trade have originally been of good quality—some indeed of a very superior manufacture; otherwise the “cheap Germans” (as I heard the low-priced foreign goods from the swag-shops called) would by their superior cheapness have rendered the business a nullity. The backgammon-boards are bought of brokers, when they are often in a worn, unhinged, and what may be called ragged condition. The street-seller “trims them up,” but in this there is nothing of artisanship, although it requires some little taste and some dexterity of finger. A new hinge or two, or old hinges re-screwed, and a little pasting of leather and sometimes the application of strips of bookbinder’s gold, is all that is required. The backgammon-boards are sometimes offered in the streets by an itinerant; sometimes (and more frequently than otherwise in a deplorable state, the points of the table being hardly distinguishable) they are part of the furniture of a second-hand stall. I have seen one at an old book-stall, but most usually they are vended by being hawked to the better sort of public-houses, and there they are more frequently disposed of by raffle than by sale. It is not once in a thousand times, I am informed, that second-hand “men” are sold with the board. Before the board has gone through its series of hands to the street-seller, the men have been lost or scattered. New men are sometimes sold or raffled with the backgammon-boards (as with the draught) at from 6d. to 2s. 6d. the set, the best being of box-wood.

Chess-boards and men—for without the men of[17] course a draught, or the top of a backgammon-board suffices for chess—are a commodity now rarely at the disposal of the street-sellers; and, as these means of a leisurely and abstruse amusement are not of a ready sale, the second-hand dealers do not “look out” for them, but merely speculate in them when the article “falls in their way” and seems a palpable bargain. Occasionally, a second-hand chess apparatus is still sold by the street-folk. One man—upon whose veracity I have every reason to rely—told me that he once sold a beautiful set of ivory men and a handsome “leather board” (second-hand) to a gentleman who accosted him as he saw him carry them along the street for sale, inviting him to step in doors, when the gentleman’s residence was reached. The chess-men were then arranged and examined, and the seller asked 3l. 3s. for them, at once closing with the offer of 3l.; “for I found, sir,” he said, “I had a gentleman to do with, for he told me he thought they were really cheap at 3l., and he would give me that.” Another dealer in second-hand articles, when I asked him if he had ever sold chess-boards and men, replied, “Only twice, sir, and then at 4s. and 5s. the set; they was poor. I’ve seen chess played, and I should say it’s a rum game; but I know nothing about it. I once had a old gent for a customer, and he was as nice and quiet a old gent as could be, and I always called on him when I thought I had a curus old tea-caddy, or knife-box, or anything that way. He didn’t buy once in twenty calls, but he always gave me something for my trouble. He used to play at chess with another old gent, and if, after his servant had told him I’d come, I waited ’til I could wait no longer, and then knocked at his room door, he swore like a trooper.”

Draught-boards are sold at from 3d. to 1s. second-hand. Cribbage-boards, also second-hand, and sometimes with cards, are only sold, I am informed, when they are very bad, at from 1d. to 3d., or very good, at from 2s. 6d. to 5s. One street-seller told me that he once sold a “Chinee” cribbage-board for 18s., which cost him 10s. “It was a most beautiful thing,” he stated, “and was very high-worked, and was inlaid with ivory, and with green ivory too.”

The Dice required for the playing of backgammon, or for any purpose, are bought of the waiters at the club-houses, generally at 2l. the dozen sets. They are retailed at about 25 per cent. profit. Dice in this way are readily disposed of by the street-people, as they are looked upon as “true,” and are only about a sixth of the price they could be obtained for new ones in the duly-stamped covers. A few dice are sold at 6d. to 1s. the set, but they are old and battered.

There are but two men who support themselves wholly by the street-sale and the hawking of the different boards, &c., I have described. There are two, three, or sometimes four occasional participants in the trade. Of these one held a commission in Her Majesty’s service, but was ruined by gaming, and when unable to live by any other means, he sells the implements with which he had been but too familiar. “He lost everything in Jermyn-street,” a man who was sometimes his comrade in the sale of these articles said to me, “but he is a very gentlemanly and respectable man.”

The profits in this trade are very uncertain. A man who was engaged in it told me that one week he had cleared 2l., and the next, with greater pains-taking, did not sell a single thing.

The other articles which are a portion of the second-hand miscellaneous trade of this nature are sold as often, or more often, at stalls than elsewhere. Dominoes, for instance, may be seen in the winter, and they are offered only in the winter, on perhaps 20 stalls. They are sold at from 4d. a set, and I heard of one superior set which were described to me as “brass-pinned,” being sold in a handsome box for 5s., the shop price having been 15s. The great sale of dominoes is at Christmas.

Pope-Joan boards, which, I was told, were fifteen years ago sold readily in the streets, and were examined closely by the purchasers (who were mostly the wives of tradesmen), to see that the print or paint announcing the partitions for “intrigue,” “matrimony,” “friendship,” “Pope,” &c., were perfect, are now never, or rarely, seen. Formerly the price was 1s. to 1s. 9d. In the present year I could hear of but one man who had even offered a Pope-board for sale in the street, and he sold it, though almost new, for 3d.

“Fish,” or the bone, ivory, or mother-o’-pearl card counters in the shape of fish, or sometimes in a circular form, used to be sold second-hand as freely as the Pope-boards, and are now as rarely to be seen.

Until about 20 years ago, as well as I can fix upon a term from the information I received, the apparatus for a game known as the “Devil among the tailors” was a portion of the miscellaneous second-hand trade or hawking of the streets. In it a top was set spinning on a long board, and the result depended upon the number of men, or “tailors,” knocked down by the “devil” (top) of each player, these tailors being stationed, numbered, and scored (when knocked down) in the same way as when the balls are propelled into the numbered sockets in a bagatelle-board. I am moreover told that in the same second-hand calling were boards known as “solitaire-boards.” These were round boards, with a certain number of holes, in each of which was a peg. One peg was removed at the selection of the player, and the game consisted in taking each remaining peg, by advancing another over its head into any vacant hole, and if at the end of the game only one peg remained in the board, the player won; if winning it could be called when the game could only be played by one person, and was for “solitary” amusement. Chinese puzzles, sometimes on a large scale, were then also a part of the second-hand traffic of the streets. These are a series of thin woods in geometrical shapes, which may be fitted into certain forms or patterns contained in a book, or on a sheet. These puzzles are sold in the streets[18] still, but in smaller quantity and diminished size. Different games played with the teetotum were also a part of second-hand street-sale, but none of these bygone pastimes were vended to any extent.

From the best data I have been able to obtain it appears that the amount received by the street-sellers or street-hawkers in the sale of these second-hand articles of amusement is 10l. weekly, about half being profit, divided in the proportions I have intimated, as respects the number of street-sellers and the periods of sale; or 520l. expended yearly.

I should have stated that the principal customers of this branch of second-hand traders are found in the public-houses and at the cigar-shops, where the goods are carried by street-sellers, who hawk from place to place.

These dealers also attend the neighbouring, and, frequently in the summer, the more distant races, where for dice and the better quality of their “boards,” &c., they generally find a prompt market. The sale at the fairs consists only of the lowest-priced goods, and in a very scant proportion compared to the races.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Musical Instruments.

Of this trade there are two branches; the sale of instruments which are really second-hand, and the sale of those which are pretendedly so; in other words, an honest and a dishonest business. As in street estimation the whole is a second-hand calling, I shall so deal with it.

At this season of the year, when fairs are frequent and the river steamers with their bands of music run oft and regularly, and out-door music may be played until late, the calling of the street-musician is “at its best.” In the winter he is not unfrequently starving, especially if he be what is called “a chance hand,” and have not the privilege of playing in public-houses when the weather renders it impossible to collect a street audience. Such persons are often compelled to part with their instruments, which they offer in the streets or the public-houses, for the pawnbrokers have been so often “stuck” (taken in) with inferior instruments, that it is difficult to pledge even a really good violin. With some of these musical men it goes hard to part with their instruments, as they have their full share of the pride of art. Some, however, sell them recklessly and at almost any price, to obtain the means of prolonging a drunken carouse.

From a man who is now a dealer in second-hand musical instruments, and is also a musician, I had the following account of his start in the second-hand trade, and of his feelings when he first had to part with his fiddle.

“I was a gentleman’s footboy,” he said, “when I was young, but I was always very fond of music, and so was my father before me. He was a tailor in a village in Suffolk and used to play the bass-fiddle at church. I hardly know how or when I learned to play, but I seemed to grow up to it. There was two neighbours used to call at my father’s and practise, and one or other was always showing me something, and so I learned to play very well. Everybody said so. Before I was twelve, I’ve played nearly all night at a dance in a farm-house. I never played on anything but the violin. You must stick to one instrument, or you’re not up to the mark on any if you keep changing. When I got a place as footboy it was in a gentleman’s family in the country, and I never was so happy as when master and mistress was out dining, and I could play to the servants in the kitchen or the servants’ hall. Sometimes they got up a bit of a dance to my violin. If there was a dance at Christmas at any of the tenants’, they often got leave for me to go and play. It was very little money I got given, but too much drink. At last master said, he hired me to be his servant and not for a parish fiddler, so I must drop it. I left him not long after—he got so cross and snappish. In my next place—no, the next but one—I was on board wages, in London, a goodish bit, as the family were travelling, and I had time on my hands, and used to go and play at public-houses of a night, just for the amusement of the company at first, but I soon got to know other musicians and made a little money. Yes, indeed, I could have saved money easily then, but I didn’t; I got too fond of a public-house life for that, and was never easy at home.”

I need not very closely pursue this man’s course to the streets, but merely intimate it. He had several places, remaining in some a year or more, in others two, three, or six months, but always unsettled. On leaving his last place he married a fellow-servant, older than himself, who had saved “a goodish bit of money,” and they took a beer-shop in Bermondsey. A “free and easy” (concert), both vocal and instrumental, was held in the house, the man playing regularly, and the business went on, not unprosperously, until the wife died in child-bed, the child surviving. After this everything went wrong, and at last the man was “sold up,” and was penniless. For three or four years he lived precariously on what he could earn as a musician, until about six or seven years ago, when one bitter winter’s night he was without a farthing, and had laboured all day in the vain endeavour to earn a meal. His son, a boy then of five, had been sent home to him, and an old woman with whom he had placed the lad was incessantly dunning for 12s. due for the child’s maintenance. The landlord clamoured for 15s. arrear of rent for a furnished room, and the hapless musician did not possess one thing which he could convert into money except his fiddle. He must leave his room next day. He had held no intercourse with his friends in the country since he heard of his father’s death some years before, and was, indeed, resourceless. After dwelling on the many excellences of his violin, which he had purchased, “a dead bargain,” for 3l. 15s., he said: “Well, sir, I sat down by the last bit of coal in the place, and sat a long time thinking, and didn’t know what to do. There was nothing to hinder me going out in the morning, and working the streets with a mate, as I’d done before, but then there was little James that[19] was sleeping there in his bed. He was very delicate then, and to drag him about and let him sleep in lodging-houses would have killed him, I knew. But then I couldn’t think of parting with my violin. I felt I should never again have such another. I felt as if to part with it was parting with my last prop, for what was I to do? I sat a long time thinking, with my instrument on my knees, ’til—I’m sure I don’t know how to describe it—I felt as if I was drunk, though I hadn’t even tasted beer. So I went out boldly, just as if I was drunk, and with a deal of trouble persuaded a landlord I knew to lend me 1l. on my instrument, and keep it by him for three months, ’til I could redeem it. I have it now, sir. Next day I satisfied my two creditors by paying each half, and a week’s rent in advance, and I walked off to a shop in Soho, where I bought a dirty old instrument, broken in parts, for 2s. 3d. I was great part of the day in doing it up, and in the evening earned 7d. by playing solos by Watchorn’s door, and the Crown and Cushion, and the Lord Rodney, which are all in the Westminster-road. I lodged in Stangate-street. There was a young man—he looked like a respectable mechanic—gave me 1d., and said: ‘I wonder how you can use your fingers at all such a freezing night. It seems a good fiddle.’ I assure you, sir, I was surprised myself to find what I could do with my instrument. ‘There’s a beer-shop over the way,’ says the young man, ‘step in, and I’ll pay for a pint, and try my hand at it.’ And so it was done, and I sold him my fiddle for 7s. 6d. No, sir, there was no take in; it was worth the money. I’d have sold it now that I’ve got a connection for half a guinea. Next day I bought such another instrument at the same shop for 3s., and sold it after a while for 6s., having done it up, in course. This it was that first put it into my head to start selling second-hand instruments, and so I began. Now I’m known as a man to be depended on, and with my second-hand business, and engagements every now and then as a musician, I do middling.”

In this manner is the honest second-hand street-business in musical instruments carried on. It is usually done by hawking. A few, however, are sold at miscellaneous stalls, but they are generally such as require repair, and are often without the bow, &c. The persons carrying on the trade have all, as far as I could ascertain, been musicians.

Of the street-sale of musical instruments by drunken members of the “profession” I need say little, as it is exceptional, though it is certainly a branch of the trade, for so numerous is the body of street-musicians, and of so many classes is it composed, that this description of second-hand business is being constantly transacted, and often to the profit of the more wary dealers in these goods. The statistics I shall show at the close of my remarks on this subject.

Of the Music “Duffers.”

Second-Hand Guitars are vended by the street-sellers. The price varies from 7s. 6d. to 15s. Harps form no portion of the second-hand business of the streets. A drum is occasionally, and only occasionally, sold to a showman, but the chief second-hand traffic is in violins. Accordions, both new and old, used to sell readily in the streets, either from stalls or in hawking, “but,” said a man who had formerly sold them, “they have been regularly ‘duffed’ out of the streets, so much cheap rubbish is made to sell. There’s next to nothing done in them now. If one’s offered to a man that’s no judge of it, he’ll be sure you want to cheat him, and perhaps abuse you; if he be a judge, of course it’s no go, unless with a really good article.”

Among the purchasers of second-hand musical instruments are those of the working-classes who wish to “practise,” and the great number of street-musicians, street-showmen, and the indifferently paid members of the orchestras of minor (and not always of minor) theatres. Few of this class ever buy new instruments. There are sometimes, I am informed, as many as 50 persons, one-fourth being women, engaged in this second-hand sale. Sometimes, as at present, there are not above half the number. A broker who was engaged in the traffic estimated—and an intelligent street-seller agreed in the computation—that, take the year through, at least 25 individuals were regularly, but few of them fully, occupied with this traffic, and that their weekly takings averaged 30s. each, or an aggregate yearly amount of 190l. The weekly profits run from 10s. to 15s., and sometimes the well-known dealers clear 40s. or 50s. a week, while others do not take 5s. Of this amount about two-thirds is expended on violins, and one-tenth of the whole, or nearly a tenth, on “duffing” instruments sold as second-hand, in which department of the business the amount “turned over” used to be twice, and even thrice as much. The sellers have nearly all been musicians in some capacity, the women being the wives or connections of the men.

What I have called the “dishonest trade” is known among the street-folk as “music-duffing.” Among the swag-shopkeepers, at one place in Houndsditch more especially, are dealers in “duffing fiddles.” These are German-made instruments, and are sold to the street-folk at 2s. 6d. or 3s. each, bow and all. When purchased by the music-duffers, they are discoloured so as to be made to look old. A music-duffer, assuming the way of a man half-drunk, will enter a public-house or accost any party in the street, saying: “Here, I must have money, for I won’t go home ’til morning, ’til morning, ’til morning, I won’t go home ’til morning, ’til daylight does appear. And so I may as well sell my old fiddle myself as take it to a rogue of a broker. Try it anybody, it’s a fine old tone, equal to any Cremonar. It cost me two guineas and another fiddle, and a good ’un too, in exchange, but I may as well be my own broker, for I must have money any how, and I’ll sell it for 10s.

Possibly a bargain is struck for 5s.; for the duffing violin is perhaps purposely damaged in some slight way, so as to appear easily reparable,[20] and any deficiency in tone may be attributed to that defect, which was of course occasioned by the drunkenness of the possessor. Or possibly the tone of the instrument may not be bad, but it may be made of such unsound materials, and in such a slop-way, though looking well to a little-practised eye, that it will soon fall to pieces. One man told me that he had often done the music-duffing, and had sold trash violins for 10s., 15s., and even 20s., “according,” he said, “to the thickness of the buyer’s head,” but that was ten or twelve years ago.

It appears that when an impetus was given to the musical taste of the country by the establishment of cheap singing schools, or of music classes, (called at one time “singing for the million”), or by the prevalence of cheap concerts, where good music was heard, this duffing trade flourished, but now, I am assured, it is not more than a quarter of what it was. “There’ll always be something done in it,” said the informant I have before quoted, “as long as you can find young men that’s conceited about their musical talents, fond of taking their medicine (drinking). If I’ve gone into a public-house room where I’ve seen a young gent that’s bought a duffing fiddle of me, it don’t happen once in twenty times that he complains and blows up about it, and only then, perhaps, if he happens to be drunkish, when people don’t much mind what’s said, and so it does me no harm. People’s too proud to confess that they’re ever ‘done’ at any time or in anything. Why, such gents has pretended, when I’ve sold ’em a duffer, and seen them afterwards, that they’ve done me!

Nor is it to violins that this duffing or sham second-hand trade is confined. At the swag-shops duffing cornopeans, French horns, and clarionets are vended to the street-folk. One of these cornopeans may be bought for 14s.; a French horn for 10s.; and a clarionet for 7s. 6d.; or as a general rule at one-fourth of the price of a properly-made instrument sold as reasonably as possible. These things are also made to look old, and are disposed of in the same manner as the duffing violins. The sale, however, is and was always limited, for “if there be one working man,” I was told, “or a man of any sort not professional in music, that tries his wind and his fingers on a clarionet, there’s a dozen trying their touch and execution on a violin.”

Another way in which the duffing music trade at one time was made available as a second-hand business was this:—A band would play before a pawnbroker’s door, and the duffing German brass instruments might be well-toned enough, the inferiority consisting chiefly in the materials, but which were so polished up as to appear of the best. Some member of the band would then offer his brass instrument in pledge, and often obtain an advance of more than he had paid for it.

One man who had been himself engaged in what he called this “artful” business, told me that when two pawnbrokers, whom he knew, found that they had been tricked into advancing 15s. on cornopeans, which they could buy new in Houndsditch for 14s., they got him to drop the tickets of the pledge, which they drew out for the purpose, in the streets. These were picked up by some passer-by—and as there is a very common feeling that there is no harm, or indeed rather a merit, in cheating a pawnbroker or a tax-gatherer—the instruments were soon redeemed by the fortunate finder, or the person to whom he had disposed of his prize. Nor did the roguery end here. The same man told me that he had, in collusion with a pawnbroker, dropped tickets of (sham) second-hand musical instruments, which he had bought new at a swag-shop for the very purpose, the amount on the duplicate being double the cost, and as it is known that the pawnbrokers do not advance the value of any article, the finders were gulled into redeeming the pledge, as an advantageous bargain. “But I’ve left off all that dodging now, sir,” said the man with a sort of a grunt, which seemed half a sigh and half a laugh; “I’ve left it off entirely, for I found I was getting into trouble.”

The derivation of the term “duffing” I am unable to discover. The Rev. Mr. Dixon says, in his “Dovecote and Aviary,” that the term “Duffer,” applied to pigeons, is a corruption of Dovehouse,—but query? In the slang dictionaries a “Duffer” is explained as “a man who hawks things;” hence it would be equivalent to Pedlar, which means strictly beggar—being from the Dutch Bedclaar, and the German Bettler.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Weapons.

The sale of second-hand pistols, for to that weapon the street-sellers’ or hawkers’ trade in arms seems confined, is larger than might be cursorily imagined.

There must be something seductive about the possession of a pistol, for I am assured by persons familiar with the trade, that they have sold them to men who were ignorant, when first invited to purchase, how the weapon was loaded or discharged, and seemed half afraid to handle it. Perhaps the possession imparts a sense of security.

The pistols which are sometimes seen on the street-stalls are almost always old, rusted, or battered, and are useless to any one except to those who can repair and clean them for sale.

There are three men now selling new or second-hand pistols, I am told, who have been gunmakers.

This trade is carried on almost entirely by hawking to public-houses. I heard of no one who depended solely upon it, “but this is the way,” one intelligent man stated to me, “if I am buying second-hand things at a broker’s, or in Petticoat-lane, or anywhere, and there’s a pistol that seems cheap, I’ll buy it as readily as anything I know, and I’ll soon sell it at a public-house, or I’ll get it raffled for. Second-hand pistols sell better than new by such as me. If I was to offer a new one I should be told it was some Brummagem slop rubbish. If there’s a little silver-plate let into the wood of the pistol, and a crest or initials engraved on it—I’ve got it done sometimes—there’s a better chance of sale, for[21] people think it’s been made for somebody of consequence that wouldn’t be fobbed off with an inferior thing. I don’t think I’ve often sold pistols to working-men, but I’ve known them join in raffles for them, and the winner has often wanted to sell it back to me, and has sold it to somebody. It’s tradesmen that buy, or gentlefolks, if you can get at them. A pistol’s a sort of a plaything with them.”

On my talking with a street-dealer concerning the street-trade in second-hand pistols, he produced a handsome pistol from his pocket. I inquired if it was customary for men in his way of life to carry pistols, and he expressed his conviction that it was, but only when travelling in the country, and in possession of money or valuable stock. “I gave only 7s. 6d. for this pistol,” he said, “and have refused 10s. 6d. for it, for I shall get a better price, as it’s an excellent article, on some of my rounds in town. I bought it to take to Ascot races with me, and have it with me now, but it’s not loaded, for I’m going to Moulsey Hurst, where Hampton races are held. You’re not safe if you travel after a great muster at a race by yourself without a pistol. Many a poor fellow like me has been robbed, and the public hear nothing about it, or say it’s all gammon. At Ascot, sir, I trusted my money to a booth-keeper I knew, as a few men slept in his booth, and he put my bit of tin with his own under his head where he slept, for safe keeping. There’s a little doing in second-hand pistols to such as me, but we generally sell them again.”

Of second-hand guns, or other offensive weapons, there is no street sale. A few “life-preservers,” some of gutta percha, are hawked, but they are generally new. Bullets and powder are not sold by the pistol-hawkers, but a mould for the casting of bullets is frequently sold along with the weapon.

Of these second-hand pistol-sellers there are now, I am told, more than there were last year. “I really believe,” said one man, laughing, but I heard a similar account from others, “people were afraid the foreigners coming to the Great Exhibition had some mischief in their noddles, and so a pistol was wanted for protection. In my opinion, a pistol’s just one of the things that people don’t think of buying, ’til it’s shown to them, and then they’re tempted to have it.”

The principal street-sale, independently of the hawking to public-houses, is in such places as Ratcliffe-highway, where the mates and petty officers of ships are accosted and invited to buy a good second-hand pistol. The wares thus vended are generally of a well-made sort.

In this traffic, which is known as a “straggling” trade, pursued by men who are at the same time pursuing other street-callings, it may be estimated, I am assured, that there are 20 men engaged, each taking as an average 1l. a week. In some weeks a man may take 5l.; in the next month he may sell no weapons at all. From 30 to 50 per cent. is the usual rate of profit, and the yearly street outlay on these second-hand offensive or defensive weapons is 1040l.

One man who “did a little in pistols” told me, “that 25 or 30 years ago, when he was a boy, his father sometimes cleared 2l. a week in the street-sale and hawking of second-hand boxing-gloves, and that he himself had sometimes carried the ‘gloves’ in his hand, and pistols in his pocket for sale, but that now boxing-gloves were in no demand whatever among street-buyers, and were ‘a complete drug.’ He used to sell them at 3s. the set, which is four gloves.”

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Curiosities.

Several of the things known in the street-trade as “curiosities” can hardly be styled second-hand with any propriety, but they are so styled in the streets, and are usually vended by street-merchants who trade in second-hand wares.

Curiosities are displayed, I cannot say temptingly (except perhaps to a sanguine antiquarian), for there is a great dinginess in the display, on stalls. One man whom I met wheeling his barrow in High-street, Camden-town, gave me an account of his trade. He was dirtily rather than meanly clad, and had a very self-satisfied expression of face. The principal things on his barrow were coins, shells, and old buckles, with a pair of the very high and wooden-heeled shoes, worn in the earlier part of the last century.

The coins were all of copper, and certainly did not lack variety. Among them were tokens, but none very old. There was the head of “Charles Marquis Cornwallis” looking fierce in a cocked hat, while on the reverse was Fame with her trumpet and a wreath, and banners at her feet, with the superscription: “His fame resounds from east to west.” There was a head of Wellington with the date 1811, and the legend of “Vincit amor patriæ.” Also “The R. Hon. W. Pitt, Lord Warden Cinque Ports,” looking courtly in a bag wig, with his hair brushed from his brow into what the curiosity-seller called a “topping.” This was announced as a “Cinque Ports token payable at Dover,” and was dated 1794. “Wellingtons,” said the man, “is cheap; that one’s only a halfpenny, but here’s one here, sir, as you seem to understand coins, as I hope to get 2d. for, and will take no less. It’s ‘J. Lackington, 1794,’ you see, and on the back there’s a Fame, and round her is written—and it’s a good speciment of a coin—‘Halfpenny of Lackington, Allen & Co., cheapest booksellers in the world.’ That’s scarcer and more vallyballer than Wellingtons or Nelsons either.” Of the current coin of the realm, I saw none older than Charles II., and but one of his reign, and little legible. Indeed the reverse had been ground quite smooth, and some one had engraved upon it “Charles Dryland Tunbridg.” A small “e” over the “g” of Tunbridg perfected the orthography. This, the street-seller said, was a “love-token” as well as an old coin, and “them love-tokens was getting scarce.” Of foreign and colonial coins there were perhaps 60. The oldest I saw was one of Louis XV. of France and Navarre, 1774. There was one also of the “Republique Francaise” when Napoleon was First Consul. The colonial coins were more numerous[22] than the foreign. There was the “One Penny token” of Lower Canada; the “one quarter anna” of the East India Company; the “half stiver of the colonies of Essequibo and Demarara;” the “halfpenny token of the province of Nova Scotia,” &c. &c. There were also counterfeit halfcrowns and bank tokens worn from their simulated silver to rank copper. The principle on which this man “priced” his coins, as he called it, was simple enough. What was the size of a halfpenny he asked a penny for; the size of a penny coin was 2d. “It’s a difficult trade is mine, sir,” he said, “to carry on properly, for you may be so easily taken in, if you’re not a judge of coins and other curiosities.”

The shells of this man’s stock in trade he called “conks” and “king conks.” He had no “clamps” then, he told me, but they sold pretty well; he described them as “two shells together, one fitting inside the other.” He also had sold what he called “African cowries,” which were as “big as a pint pot,” and the smaller cowries, which were “money in India, for his father was a soldier and had been there and saw it.” The shells are sold from 1d. to 2s. 6d.

The old buckles were such as used to be worn on shoes, but the plate was all worn off, and “such like curiosities,” the man told me, “got scarcer and scarcer.”

Many of the stalls which are seen in the streets are the property of adjacent shop or store-keepers, and there are not now, I am informed, more than six men who carry on this trade apart from other commerce. Their average takings are 15s. weekly each man, about two-thirds being profit, or 234l. in a year. Some of the stands are in Great Wyld-street, but they are chiefly the property of the second-hand furniture brokers.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Telescopes and Pocket Glasses.

In the sale of second-hand telescopes only one man is now engaged in any extensive way, except on mere chance occasions. Fourteen or fifteen years ago, I was informed, there was a considerable street sale in small telescopes at 1s. each. They were made at Birmingham, my informant believed, but were sold as second-hand goods in London. Of this trade there is now no remains.

The principal seller of second-hand telescopes takes a stand on Tower Hill or by the Coal Exchange, and his customers, as he sells excellent “glasses,” are mostly sea-faring men. He has sold, and still sells, telescopes from 2l. 10s. to 5l. each, the purchasers generally “trying” them, with strict examination, from Tower Hill, or on the Custom-House Quay. There are, in addition to this street-seller, six and sometimes eight others, who offer telescopes to persons about the docks or wharfs, who may be going some voyage. These are as often new as second-hand, but the second-hand articles are preferred. This, however, is a Jewish trade which will be treated of under another head.

An old opera-glass, or the smaller articles best known as “pocket-glasses,” are occasionally hawked to public-houses and offered in the streets, but so little is done in them that I can obtain no statistics. A spectacle seller told me that he had once tried to sell two second-hand opera-glasses at 2s. 6d. each, in the street, and then in the public-houses, but was laughed at by the people who were usually his customers. “Opera-glasses!” they said, “why, what did they want with opera-glasses? wait until they had opera-boxes.” He sold the glasses at last to a shopkeeper.

Of the Street-Sellers of other Miscellaneous Second-Hand Articles.

The other second-hand articles sold in the streets I will give under one head, specifying the different characteristics of the trade, when any striking peculiarities exist. To give a detail of the whole trade, or rather of the several kinds of articles in the whole trade, is impossible. I shall therefore select only such as are sold the more extensively, or present any novel or curious features of second-hand street-commerce.

Writing-desks, tea-caddies, dressing-cases, and knife-boxes used to be a ready sale, I was informed, when “good second-hand;” but they are “got up” now so cheaply by the poor fancy cabinet-makers who work for the “slaughterers,” or furniture warehouses, and for some of the general-dealing swag-shops, that the sale of anything second-hand is greatly diminished. In fact I was told that as regards second-hand writing-desks and dressing-cases, it might be said there was “no trade at all now.” A few, however, are still to be seen at miscellaneous stalls, and are occasionally, but very rarely, offered at a public-house “used” by artisans who may be considered “judges” of work. The tea-caddies are the things which are in best demand. “Working people buy them,” I was informed, and “working people’s wives. When women are the customers they look closely at the lock and key, as they keep ‘my uncle’s cards’ there” (pawnbroker’s duplicates).

One man had lately sold second-hand tea-caddies at 9d., 1s., and 1s. 3d. each, and cleared 2s. in a day when he had stock and devoted his time to this sale. He could not persevere in it if he wished, he told me, as he might lose a day in looking out for the caddies; he might go to fifty brokers and not find one caddy cheap enough for his purpose.

Brushes are sold second-hand in considerable quantities in the streets, and are usually vended at stalls. Shoe-brushes are in the best demand, and are generally sold, when in good condition, at 1s. the set, the cost to the street-seller being 8d. They are bought, I was told, by the people who clean their own shoes, or have to clean other people’s. Clothes’ brushes are not sold to any extent, as the “hard brush” of the shoe set is used by working people for a clothes’ brush. Of late, I am told, second-hand brushes have sold more freely than ever. They were hardly to be had just when wanted, in a sufficient quantity, for the demand by persons going to Epsom and Ascot races, who carry a brush of little value with them,[23] to brush the dust gathered on the road from their coats. The coster-girls buy very hard brushes, indeed mere stumps, with which they brush radishes; these brushes are vended at the street-stalls at 1d. each.

In Stuffed Birds for the embellishment of the walls of a room, there is still a small second-hand street sale, but none now in images or chimney-piece ornaments. “Why,” said one dealer, “I can now buy new figures for 9d., such as not many years ago cost 7s., so what chance of a second-hand sale is there?” The stuffed birds which sell the best are starlings. They are all sold as second-hand, but are often “made up” for street-traffic; an old bird or two, I was told, in a new case, or a new bird in an old case. Last Saturday evening one man told me he had sold two “long cases” of starlings and small birds for 2s. 6d. each. There are no stuffed parrots or foreign birds in this sale, and no pheasants or other game, except sometimes wretched old things which are sold because they happen to be in a case.

The street-trade in second-hand Lasts is confined principally to Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, where they are bought by the “garret-masters” in the shoemaking trade who supply the large wholesale warehouses; that is to say, by small masters who find their own materials and sell the boots and shoes by the dozen pairs. The lasts are bought also by mechanics, street-sellers, and other poor persons who cobble their own shoes. A shoemaker told me that he occasionally bought a last at a street stall, or rather from street hampers in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, and it seemed to him that second-hand stores of street lasts got neither bigger nor smaller: “I suppose it’s this way,” he reasoned; “the garret-master buys lasts to do the slop-snobbing cheap, mostly women’s lasts, and he dies or is done up and goes to the “great house,” and his lasts find their way back to the streets. You notice, sir, the first time you’re in Rosemary-lane, how little a great many of the lasts have been used, and that shows what a terrible necessity there was to part with them. In some there’s hardly any peg-marks at all.” The lasts are sold from 1d. to 3d. each, or twice that amount in pairs, “rights and lefts,” according to the size and the condition. There are about 20 street last-sellers in the second-hand trade of London—“at least 20,” one man said, after he seemed to have been making a mental calculation on the subject.

Second-hand harness is sold largely, and when good is sold very readily. There is, I am told, far less slop-work in harness-making than in shoemaking or in the other trades, such as tailoring, and “many a lady’s pony harness,” it was said to me by a second-hand dealer, “goes next to a tradesman, and next to a costermonger’s donkey, and if it’s been good leather to begin with—as it will if it was made for a lady—why the traces’ll stand clouting, and patching, and piecing, and mending for a long time, and they’ll do to cobble old boots last of all, for old leather’ll wear just in treading, when it might snap at a pull. Give me a good quality to begin with, sir, and it’s serviceable to the end.” In my inquiries among the costermongers I ascertained that if one of that body started his donkey, or rose from that to his pony, he never bought new harness, unless it were a new collar if he had a regard for the comfort of his beast, but bought old harness, and “did it up” himself, often using iron rivets, or clenched nails, to reunite the broken parts, where, of course, a harness-maker would apply a patch. Nor is it the costermongers alone who buy all their harness second-hand. The sweep, whose stock of soot is large enough to require the help of an ass and a cart in its transport; the collector of bones and offal from the butchers’ slaughter-houses or shops; and the many who may be considered as co-traders with the costermonger class—the greengrocer, the street coal-seller by retail, the salt-sellers, the gravel and sand dealer (a few have small carts)—all, indeed, of that class of traders, buy their harness second-hand, and generally in the streets. The chief sale of second-hand harness is on the Friday afternoons, in Smithfield. The more especial street-sale is in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, and in the many off-streets and alleys which may be called the tributaries to those great second-hand marts. There is no sale of these wares in the Saturday night markets, for in the crush and bustle generally prevailing there at such times, no room could be found for things requiring so much space as sets of second-hand harness, and no time sufficiently to examine them. “There’s so much to look at, you understand, sir,” said one second-hand street-trader, who did a little in harness as well as in barrows, “if you wants a decent set, and don’t grudge a shilling or two—and I never grudges them myself when I has ’em—so that it takes a little time. You must see that the buckles has good tongues—and it’s a sort of joke in the trade that a bad tongue’s a d——d bad thing—and that the pannel of the pad ain’t as hard as a board (flocks is the best stuffing, sir), and that the bit, if it’s rusty, can be polished up, for a animal no more likes a rusty bit in his mouth than we likes a musty bit of bread in our’n. O, a man as treats his ass as a ass ought to be treated—and it’s just the same if he has a pony—can’t be too perticler. If I had my way I’d ’act a law making people perticler about ’osses’ and asses’ shoes. If your boot pinches you, sir, you can sing out to your bootmaker, but a ass can’t blow up a farrier.” It seems to me that in these homely remarks of my informant, there is, so to speak, a sound practical kindliness. There can be little doubt that a fellow who maltreats his ass or his dog, maltreats his wife and children when he dares.

Clocks are sold second-hand, but only by three or four foreigners, Dutchmen or Germans, who hawk them and sell them at 2s. 6d. or 3s. each, Dutch clocks only being disposed of in this way. These traders, therefore, come under the head of Street-Foreigners. “Ay,” one street-seller remarked to me, “it’s only Dutch now as is second-handed in the streets, but it’ll soon be Americans. The swags is some of them hung up[24] with Slick’s;” [so he called the American clocks, meaning the “Sam Slicks,” in reference to Mr. Justice Hallyburton’s work of that title;] “they’re hung up with ’em, sir, and no relation whatsomever (pawnbroker) ’ll give a printed character of ’em (a duplicate), and so they must come to the streets, and jolly cheap they’ll be.” The foreigners who sell the second-hand Dutch clocks sell also new clocks of the same manufacture, and often on tally, 1s. a week being the usual payment.

Cartouche-boxes are sold at the miscellaneous stalls, but only after there has been what I heard called a “Tower sale” (sale of military stores). When bought of the street-sellers, the use of these boxes is far more peaceful than that for which they were manufactured. Instead of the receptacles of cartridges, the divisions are converted into nail boxes, each with its different assortment, or contain the smaller kinds of tools, such as awl-blades. These boxes are sold in the streets at ½d. or 1d. each, and are bought by jobbing shoemakers more than by any other class.

Of the other second-hand commodities of the streets, I may observe that in Trinkets the trade is altogether Jewish; in Maps, with frames, it is now a nonentity, and so it is with Fishing-rods, Cricket-bats, &c.

In Umbrellas and Parasols the second-hand traffic is large, but those vended in the streets are nearly all “done up” for street-sale by the class known as “Mush,” or more properly “Mushroom Fakers,” that is to say, the makers or fakers (facere—the slang fakement being simply a corruption of the Latin facimentum) of those articles which are similar in shape to mushrooms. I shall treat of this class and the goods they sell under the head of Street-Artisans. The collectors of Old Umbrellas and Parasols are the same persons as collect the second-hand habiliments of male and female attire.

The men and women engaged in the street-commerce carried on in second-hand articles are, in all respects, a more mixed class than the generality of street-sellers. Some hawk in the streets goods which they also display in their shops, or in the windowless apartments known as their shops. Some are not in possession of shops, but often buy their wares of those who are. Some collect or purchase the articles they vend; others collect them by barter. The itinerant crock-man, the root-seller, the glazed table-cover seller, the hawker of spars and worked stone, and even the costermonger of the morning, is the dealer in second-hand articles of the afternoon and evening. The costermonger is, moreover, often the buyer and seller of second-hand harness in Smithfield. I may point out again, also, what a multifariousness of wares passes in the course of a month through the hands of a general street-seller; at one time new goods, at another second-hand; sometimes he is stationary at a pitch vending “lots,” or “swag toys;” at others itinerant, selling braces, belts, and hose.

I found no miscellaneous dealer who could tell me of the proportionate receipts from the various articles he dealt in even for the last month. He “did well” in this, and badly in the other trade, but beyond such vague statements there is no precise information to be had. It should be recollected that the street-sellers do not keep accounts, or those documents would supply references. “It’s all headwork with us,” a street-seller said, somewhat boastingly, to me, as if the ignorance of book-keeping was rather commendable.

Of Second-hand Store Shops.

Perhaps it may add to the completeness of the information here given concerning the trading in old refuse articles, and especially those of a miscellaneous character, the manner in which, and the parties by whom the business is carried on, if I conclude this branch of the subject by an account of the shops of the second-hand dealers. The distance between the class of these shopkeepers and of the stall and barrow-keepers I have described is not great. It may be said to be merely from the street to within doors. Marine-store dealers have often in their start in life been street-sellers, not unfrequently costermongers, and street-sellers they again become if their ventures be unsuccessful. Some of them, however, make a good deal of money in what may be best understood as a “hugger-mugger way.”

On this subject I cannot do better than quote Mr. Dickens, one of the most minute and truthful of observers:—

“The reader must often have perceived in some by-street, in a poor neighbourhood, a small dirty shop, exposing for sale the most extraordinary and confused jumble of old, worn-out, wretched articles, that can well be imagined. Our wonder at their ever having been bought, is only to be equalled by our astonishment at the idea of their ever being sold again. On a board, at the side of the door, are placed about twenty books—all odd volumes; and as many wine-glasses—all different patterns; several locks, an old earthenware pan, full of rusty keys; two or three gaudy chimney ornaments—cracked, of course; the remains of a lustre, without any drops; a round frame like a capital O, which has once held a mirror; a flute, complete with the exception of the middle joint; a pair of curling-irons; and a tinder-box. In front of the shop-window, are ranged some half-dozen high-backed chairs, with spinal complaints and wasted legs; a corner cupboard; two or three very dark mahogany tables with flaps like mathematical problems; some pickle-bottles, some surgeons’ ditto, with gilt labels and without stoppers; an unframed portrait of some lady who flourished about the beginning of the thirteenth century, by an artist who never flourished at all; an incalculable host of miscellanies of every description, including armour and cabinets, rags and bones, fenders and street-door knockers, fire-irons, wearing-apparel and bedding, a hall-lamp, and a room-door. Imagine, in addition to this incongruous mass, a black doll in a white frock, with two faces—one looking up the street, and the other looking down, swinging over the door; a[25] board with the squeezed-up inscription ‘Dealer in marine stores,’ in lanky white letters, whose height is strangely out of proportion to their width; and you have before you precisely the kind of shop to which we wish to direct your attention.

“Although the same heterogeneous mixture of things will be found at all these places, it is curious to observe how truly and accurately some of the minor articles which are exposed for sale—articles of wearing-apparel, for instance—mark the character of the neighbourhood. Take Drury-lane and Covent-garden for example.

“This is essentially a theatrical neighbourhood. There is not a potboy in the vicinity who is not, to a greater or less extent, a dramatic character. The errand-boys and chandlers’-shop-keepers’ sons, are all stage-struck: they ‘get up’ plays in back kitchens hired for the purpose, and will stand before a shop-window for hours, contemplating a great staring portrait of Mr. somebody or other, of the Royal Coburg Theatre, ‘as he appeared in the character of Tongo the Denounced.’ The consequence is, that there is not a marine-store shop in the neighbourhood, which does not exhibit for sale some faded articles of dramatic finery, such as three or four pairs of soiled buff boots with turn-over red tops, heretofore worn by a ‘fourth robber,’ or ‘fifth mob;’ a pair of rusty broad-swords, a few gauntlets, and certain resplendent ornaments, which, if they were yellow instead of white, might be taken for insurance plates of the Sun Fire-office. There are several of these shops in the narrow streets and dirty courts, of which there are so many near the national theatres, and they all have tempting goods of this description, with the addition, perhaps, of a lady’s pink dress covered with spangles; white wreaths, stage shoes, and a tiara like a tin lamp reflector. They have been purchased of some wretched supernumeraries, or sixth-rate actors, and are now offered for the benefit of the rising generation, who, on condition of making certain weekly payments, amounting in the whole to about ten times their value, may avail themselves of such desirable bargains.

“Let us take a very different quarter, and apply it to the same test. Look at a marine-store dealer’s, in that reservoir of dirt, drunkenness, and drabs: thieves, oysters, baked potatoes, and pickled salmon—Ratcliff-highway. Here, the wearing-apparel is all nautical. Rough blue jackets, with mother-of-pearl buttons, oil-skin hats, coarse checked shirts, and large canvass trousers that look as if they were made for a pair of bodies instead of a pair of legs, are the staple commodities. Then, there are large bunches of cotton pocket-handkerchiefs, in colour and pattern unlike any one ever saw before, with the exception of those on the backs of the three young ladies without bonnets who passed just now. The furniture is much the same as elsewhere, with the addition of one or two models of ships, and some old prints of naval engagements in still older frames. In the window are a few compasses, a small tray containing silver watches in clumsy thick cases; and tobacco-boxes, the lid of each ornamented with a ship, or an anchor, or some such trophy. A sailor generally pawns or sells all he has before he has been long ashore, and if he does not, some favoured companion kindly saves him the trouble. In either case, it is an even chance that he afterwards unconsciously repurchases the same things at a higher price than he gave for them at first.

“Again: pay a visit, with a similar object, to a part of London, as unlike both of these as they are to each other. Cross over to the Surry side, and look at such shops of this description as are to be found near the King’s Bench prison, and in ‘the Rules.’ How different, and how strikingly illustrative of the decay of some of the unfortunate residents in this part of the metropolis! Imprisonment and neglect have done their work. There is contamination in the profligate denizens of a debtors’ prison; old friends have fallen off; the recollection of former prosperity has passed away; and with it all thoughts for the past, all care for the future. First, watches and rings, then cloaks, coats, and all the more expensive articles of dress, have found their way to the pawnbroker’s. That miserable resource has failed at last, and the sale of some trifling article at one of these shops, has been the only mode left of raising a shilling or two, to meet the urgent demands of the moment. Dressing-cases and writing-desks, too old to pawn but too good to keep; guns, fishing-rods, musical instruments, all in the same condition; have first been sold, and the sacrifice has been but slightly felt. But hunger must be allayed, and what has already become a habit, is easily resorted to, when an emergency arises. Light articles of clothing, first of the ruined man, then of his wife, at last of their children, even of the youngest, have been parted with, piecemeal. There they are, thrown carelessly together until a purchaser presents himself, old, and patched and repaired, it is true; but the make and materials tell of better days: and the older they are, the greater the misery and destitution of those whom they once adorned.”

Of the Street-sellers of Second-hand Apparel.

The multifariousness of the articles of this trade is limited only by what the uncertainty of the climate, the caprices of fashion, or the established styles of apparel in the kingdom, have caused to be worn, flung aside, and reworn as a revival of an obsolete style. It is to be remarked, however, that of the old-fashioned styles none that are costly have been revived. Laced coats, and embroidered and lappeted waistcoats, have long disappeared from second-hand traffic—the last stage of fashions—and indeed from all places but court or fancy balls and the theatre.

The great mart for second-hand apparel was, in the last century, in Monmouth-street; now, by one of those arbitrary, and almost always inappropriate, changes in the nomenclature of streets, termed Dudley-street, Seven Dials. “Monmouth-street finery” was a common term to express tawdriness and pretence. Now Monmouth-[26]street, for its new name is hardly legitimated, has no finery. Its second-hand wares are almost wholly confined to old boots and shoes, which are vamped up with a good deal of trickery; so much so that a shoemaker, himself in the poorer practice of the “gentle craft,” told me that blacking and brown paper were the materials of Monmouth-street cobbling. Almost every master in Monmouth-street now is, I am told, an Irishman; and the great majority of the workmen are Irishmen also. There were a few Jews and a few cockneys in this well-known street a year or two back, but now this branch of the second-hand trade is really in the hands of what may be called a clan. A little business is carried on in second-hand apparel, as well as boots and shoes, but it is insignificant.

The head-quarters of this second-hand trade are now in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, especially in Petticoat-lane, and the traffic there carried on may be called enormous. As in other departments of commerce, both in our own capital, in many of our older cities, and in the cities of the Continent, the locality appropriated to this traffic is one of narrow streets, dark alleys, and most oppressive crowding. The traders seem to judge of a Rag-fair garment, whether a cotton frock or a ducal coachman’s great-coat, by the touch, more reliably than by the sight; they inspect, so to speak, with their fingers more than their eyes. But the business in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes is mostly of a retail character. The wholesale mart—for the trade in old clothes has both a wholesale and retail form—is in a place of especial curiosity, and one of which, as being little known, I shall first speak.

Of the Old Clothes Exchange.

The trade in second-hand apparel is one of the most ancient of callings, and is known in almost every country, but anything like the Old Clothes Exchange of the Jewish quarter of London, in the extent and order of its business, is unequalled in the world. There is indeed no other such place, and it is rather remarkable that a business occupying so many persons, and requiring such facilities for examination and arrangement, should not until the year 1843 have had its regulated proceedings. The Old Clothes Exchange is the latest of the central marts, established in the metropolis.

Smithfield, or the Cattle Exchange, is the oldest of all the markets; it is mentioned as a place for the sale of horses in the time of Henry II. Billingsgate, or the Fish Exchange, is of ancient, but uncertain era. Covent Garden—the largest Fruit, Vegetable, and Flower Exchange—first became established as the centre of such commerce in the reign of Charles II.; the establishment of the Borough and Spitalfields markets, as other marts for the sale of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, being nearly as ancient. The Royal Exchange dates from the days of Queen Elizabeth, and the Bank of England and the Stock-Exchange from those of William III., while the present premises for the Corn and Coal Exchanges are modern.

Were it possible to obtain the statistics of the last quarter of a century, it would, perhaps, be found that in none of the important interests I have mentioned has there been a greater increase of business than in the trade in old clothes. Whether this purports a high degree of national prosperity or not, it is not my business at present to inquire, and be it as it may, it is certain that, until the last few years, the trade in old clothes used to be carried on entirely in the open air, and this in the localities which I have pointed out in my account of the trade in old metal (p. 10, vol. ii.) as comprising the Petticoat-lane district. The old clothes trade was also pursued in Rosemary-lane, but then—and so indeed it is now—this was but a branch of the more centralized commerce of Petticoat-lane. The head-quarters of the traffic at that time were confined to a space not more than ten square yards, adjoining Cutler-street. The chief traffic elsewhere was originally in Cutler-street, White-street, Carter-street, and in Harrow-alley—the districts of the celebrated Rag-fair.

The confusion and clamour before the institution of the present arrangements were extreme. Great as was the extent of the business transacted, people wondered how it could be accomplished, for it always appeared to a stranger, that there could be no order whatever in all the disorder. The wrangling was incessant, nor were the trade-contests always confined to wrangling alone. The passions of the Irish often drove them to resort to cuffs, kicks, and blows, which the Jews, although with a better command over their tempers, were not slack in returning. The East India Company, some of whose warehouses adjoined the market, frequently complained to the city authorities of the nuisance. Complaints from other quarters were also frequent, and sometimes as many as 200 constables were necessary to restore or enforce order. The nuisance, however, like many a public nuisance, was left to remedy itself, or rather it was left to be remedied by individual enterprise. Mr. L. Isaac, the present proprietor, purchased the houses which then filled up the back of Phil’s-buildings, and formed the present Old Clothes Exchange. This was eight years ago; now there are no more policemen in the locality than in other equally populous parts.

Of Old Clothes Exchanges there are now two, both adjacent, the one first opened by Mr. Isaac being the most important. This is 100 feet by 70, and is the mart to which the collectors of the cast-off apparel of the metropolis bring their goods for sale. The goods are sold wholesale and retail, for an old clothes merchant will buy either a single hat, or an entire wardrobe, or a sackful of shoes,—I need not say pairs, for odd shoes are not rejected. In one department of “Isaac’s Exchange,” however, the goods are not sold to parties who buy for their own wearing, but to the old clothes merchant, who buys to sell again. In this portion of the mart are 90 stalls, averaging about six square feet each.

In another department, which communicates with the first, and is two-thirds of the size, are assembled such traders as buy the old garments to[27] dispose of them, either after a process of cleaning, or when they have been repaired and renovated. These buyers are generally shopkeepers, residing in the old clothes districts of Marylebone-lane, Holywell-street, Monmouth-street, Union-street (Borough), Saffron-hill (Field-lane), Drury-lane, Shoreditch, the Waterloo-road, and other places of which I shall have to speak hereafter.

The difference between the first and second class of buyers above mentioned, is really that of the merchant and the retail shopkeeper. The one buys literally anything presented to him which is vendible, and in any quantity, for the supply of the wholesale dealers from distant parts, or for exportation, or for the general trade of London. The other purchases what suits his individual trade, and is likely to suit regular or promiscuous customers.

In another part of the same market is carried on the retail old clothes trade to any one—shopkeeper, artisan, clerk, costermonger, or gentlemen. This indeed, is partially the case in the other parts. “Yesh, inteet,” said a Hebrew trader, whom I conversed with on the subject, “I shall be clad to shell you one coat, sir. Dish von is shust your shize; it is verra sheep, and vosh made by one tip-top shnip.” Indeed, the keenness and anxiety to trade—whenever trade seems possible—causes many of the frequenters of these marts to infringe the arrangements as to the manner of the traffic, though the proprietors endeavour to cause the regulations to be strictly adhered to.

The second Exchange, which is a few yards apart from the other is known as Simmons and Levy’s Clothes Exchange, and is unemployed, for its more especial business purposes, except in the mornings. The commerce is then wholesale, for here are sold collections of unredeemed pledges in wearing apparel, consigned there by the pawnbrokers, or the buyers at the auctions of unredeemed goods; as well as draughts from the stocks of the wardrobe dealers; a quantity of military or naval stores, and such like articles. In the afternoon the stalls are occupied by retail dealers. The ground is about as large as the first-mentioned exchange, but is longer and narrower.

In neither of these places is there even an attempt at architectural elegance, or even neatness. The stalls and partitions are of unpainted wood, the walls are bare, the only care that seems to be manifested is that the places should be dry. In the first instance the plainness was no doubt a necessity from motives of prudence, as the establishments were merely speculations, and now everything but business seems to be disregarded. The Old Clothes Exchanges have assuredly one recommendation as they are now seen—their appropriateness. They have a threadbare, patched, and second-hand look. The dresses worn by the dealers, and the dresses they deal in, are all in accordance with the genius of the place. But the eagerness, crowding, and energy, are the grand features of the scene; and of all the many curious sights in London there is none so picturesque (from the various costumes of the buyers and sellers), none so novel, and none so animated as that of the Old Clothes Exchange.

Business is carried on in the wholesale department of the Old Clothes Exchanges every day during the week; and in the retail on each day except the Hebrew Sabbath (Saturday). The Jews in the old clothes trade observe strictly the command that on their Sabbath day they shall do no manner of work, for on a visit I paid to the Exchange last Saturday, not a single Jew could I see engaged in any business. But though the Hebrew Sabbath is observed by the Jews and disregarded by the Christians, the Christian Sabbath, on the other hand, is disregarded by Jew and Christian alike, some few of the Irish excepted, who may occasionally go to early mass, and attend at the Exchange afterwards. Sunday, therefore, in “Rag-fair,” is like the other days of the week (Saturday excepted); business closes on the Sunday, however, at 2 instead of 6.

On the Saturday the keen Jew-traders in the neighbourhood of the Exchanges may be seen standing at their doors—after the synagogue hours—or looking out of their windows, dressed in their best. The dress of the men is for the most part not distinguishable from that of the English on the Sunday, except that there may be a greater glitter of rings and watch-guards. The dress of the women is of every kind; becoming, handsome, rich, tawdry, but seldom neat.

Of the Wholesale Business at the Old Clothes Exchange.

A considerable quantity of the old clothes disposed of at the Exchange are bought by merchants from Ireland. They are then packed in bales by porters, regularly employed for the purpose, and who literally build them up square and compact. These bales are each worth from 50l. to 300l., though seldom 300l., and it is curious to reflect from how many classes the pile of old garments has been collected—how many privations have been endured before some of these habiliments found their way into the possession of the old clothesman—what besotted debauchery put others in his possession—with what cool calculation others were disposed of—how many were procured for money, and how many by the tempting offers of flowers, glass, crockery, spars, table-covers, lace, or millinery—what was the clothing which could first be spared when rent was to be defrayed or bread to be bought, and what was treasured until the last—in what scenes of gaiety or gravity, in the opera-house or the senate, had the perhaps departed wearers of some of that heap of old clothes figured—through how many possessors, and again through what new scenes of middle-class or artizan comfort had these dresses passed, or through what accidents of “genteel” privation and destitution—and lastly through what necessities of squalid wretchedness and low debauchery.

Every kind of old attire, from the highest to the very lowest, I was emphatically told, was sent to Ireland.

Some of the bales are composed of garments[28] originally made for the labouring classes. These are made up of every description of colour and material—cloth, corduroy, woollen cords, fustian, moleskin, flannel, velveteen, plaids, and the several varieties of those substances. In them are to be seen coats, great-coats, jackets, trousers, and breeches, but no other habiliments, such as boots, shirts, or stockings. I was told by a gentleman, who between 40 and 50 years ago was familiar with the liberty and poorer parts of Dublin, that the most coveted and the most saleable of all second-hand apparel was that of leather breeches, worn commonly in some of the country parts of England half a century back, and sent in considerable quantities at that time from London to Ireland. These nether habiliments were coveted because, as the Dublin sellers would say, they “would wear for ever, and look illigant after that.” Buck-skin breeches are now never worn except by grooms in their liveries, and gentlemen when hunting, so that the trade in them in the Old Clothes Exchange, and their exportation to Ireland, are at an end. The next most saleable thing—I may mention, incidentally—vended cheap and second-hand in Dublin, to the poor Irishmen of the period I speak of, was a wig! And happy was the man who could wear two, one over the other.

Some of the Irish buyers who are regular frequenters of the London Old Clothes Exchange, take a small apartment, often a garret or a cellar, in Petticoat-lane or its vicinity, and to this room they convey their purchases until a sufficient stock has been collected. Among these old clothes the Irish possessors cook, or at any rate eat, their meals, and upon them they sleep. I did not hear that such dealers were more than ordinarily unhealthy; though it may, perhaps, be assumed that such habits are fatal to health. What may be the average duration of life among old clothes sellers who live in the midst of their wares, I do not know, and believe that no facts have been collected on the subject; but I certainly saw among them some very old men.

Other wholesale buyers from Ireland occupy decent lodgings in the neighbourhood—decent considering the locality. In Phil’s-buildings, a kind of wide alley which forms one of the approaches to the Exchange, are eight respectable apartments, almost always let to the Irish old clothes merchants.

Tradesmen of the same class come also from the large towns of England and Scotland to buy for their customers some of the left-off clothes of London.

Nor is this the extent of the wholesale trade. Bales of old clothes are exported to Belgium and Holland, but principally to Holland. Of the quantity of goods thus exported to the Continent not above one-half, perhaps, can be called old clothes, while among these the old livery suits are in the best demand. The other goods of this foreign trade are old serges, duffles, carpeting, drugget, and heavy woollen goods generally, of all the descriptions which I have before enumerated as parcel of the second-hand trade of the streets. Old merino curtains, and any second-hand decorations of fringes, woollen lace, &c., are in demand for Holland.

Twelve bales, averaging somewhere about 100l. each in value, but not fully 100l., are sent direct every week of the year from the Old Clothes Exchange to distant places, and this is not the whole of the traffic, apart from what is done retail. I am informed on the best authority, that the average trade may be stated at 1500l. a week all the year round. When I come to the conclusion of the subject, however, I shall be able to present statistics of the amount turned over in the respective branches of the old clothes trade, as well as of the number of the traffickers, only one-fourth of whom are now Jews.

The conversation which goes on in the Old Clothes Exchange during business hours, apart from the “larking” of the young sweet-stuff and orange or cake-sellers, is all concerning business, but there is, even while business is being transacted, a frequent interchange of jokes, and even of practical jokes. The business talk—I was told by an old clothes collector, and I heard similar remarks—is often to the following effect:—

“How much is this here?” says the man who comes to buy. “One pound five,” replies the Jew seller. “I won’t give you above half the money.” “Half de money,” cries the salesman, “I can’t take dat. Vat above the 16s. dat you offer now vill you give for it? Vill you give me eighteen? Vell, come, give ush your money, I’ve got ma rent to pay.” But the man says, “I only bid you 12s. 6d., and I shan’t give no more.” And then, if the seller finds he can get him to “spring” or advance no further, he says, “I shupposh I musht take your money even if I loosh by it. You’ll be a better cushtomer anoder time.” [This is still a common “deal,” I am assured by one who began the business at 13 years old, and is now upwards of 60 years of age. The Petticoat-laner will always ask at least twice as much as he means to take.]

For a more detailed account of the mode of business as conducted at the Old Clothes Exchange I refer the reader to p. 368, vol. i. Subsequent visits have shown me nothing to alter in that description, although written (in one of my letters in the Morning Chronicle), nearly two years ago. I have merely to add that I have there mentioned the receipt of a halfpenny toll; but this, I find, is not levied on Saturdays and Sundays.

I ought not to omit stating that pilfering one from another by the poor persons who have collected the second-hand garments, and have carried them to the Old Clothes Exchange to dispose of, is of very rare occurrence. This is the more commendable, for many of the wares could not be identified by their owner, as he had procured them only that morning. If, as happens often enough, a man carried a dozen pairs of old shoes to the Exchange, and one pair were stolen, he might have some difficulty in swearing to the[29] identity of the pair purloined. It is true that the Jews, and crock-men, and others, who collect, by sale or barter, masses of old clothes, note all their defects very minutely, and might have no moral doubt as to identity, nevertheless the magistrate would probably conclude that the legal evidence—were it only circumstantial—was insufficient. The young thieves, however, who flock from the low lodging-houses in the neighbourhood, are an especial trouble in Petticoat-lane, where the people robbed are generally too busy, and the article stolen of too little value, to induce a prosecution—a knowledge which the juvenile pilferer is not slow in acquiring. Sometimes when these boys are caught pilfering, they are severely beaten, especially by the women, who are aided by the men, if the thief offers any formidable resistance, or struggles to return the blows.

Of the Uses of Second-hand Garments.

I have now to describe the uses to which the several kinds of garments which constitute the commerce of the Old Clothes Exchange are devoted, whether it be merely in the re-sale of the apparel, to be worn in its original form or in a repaired or renovated form; or whether it be “worked up” into other habiliments, or be useful for the making of other descriptions of woollen fabrics; or else whether it be fit merely for its last stages—the rag-bag for the paper-maker, or the manure heap for the hop-grower.

Each “left-off” garment has its peculiar after uses, according to its material and condition. The practised eye of the old clothes man at once embraces every capability of the apparel, and the amount which these capabilities will realize; whether they be woollen, linen, cotton, leathern, or silken goods; or whether they be articles which cannot be classed under any of those designations, such as macintoshes and furs.

A surtout coat is the most serviceable of any second-hand clothing, originally good. It can be re-cuffed, re-collared, or the skirts re-lined with new or old silk, or with a substitute for silk. It can be “restored” if the seams be white and the general appearance what is best understood by the expressive word “seedy.” This restoration is a sort of re-dyeing, or rather re-colouring, by the application of gall and logwood with a small portion of copperas. If the under sleeve be worn, as it often is by those whose avocations are sedentary, it is renewed, and frequently with a second-hand piece of cloth “to match,” so that there is no perceptible difference between the renewal and the other parts. Many an honest artisan in this way becomes possessed of his Sunday frock-coat, as does many a smarter clerk or shopman, impressed with a regard to his personal appearance.

In the last century, I may here observe, and perhaps in the early part of the present, when woollen cloth was much dearer, much more substantial, and therefore much more durable, it was common for economists to have a good coat “turned.” It was taken to pieces by the tailor and re-made, the inner part becoming the outer. This mode prevailed alike in France and England; for Molière makes his miser, Harpagon, magnanimously resolve to incur the cost of his many-years’-old coat being “turned,” for the celebration of his expected marriage with a young and wealthy bride. This way of dealing with a second-hand garment is not so general now as it was formerly in London, nor is it in the country.

If the surtout be incapable of restoration to the appearance of a “respectable” garment, the skirts are sold for the making of cloth caps; or for the material of boys’ or “youths’” waistcoats; or for “poor country curates’ gaiters; but not so much now as they once were. The poor journeymen parsons,” I was told, “now goes for the new slops; they’re often green, and is had by ’vertisements, and bills, and them books about fashions which is all over both country and town. Do you know, sir, why them there books is always made so small? The leaves is about four inches square. That’s to prevent their being any use as waste paper. I’ll back a coat such as is sometimes sold by a gentleman’s servant to wear out two new slops.”

Cloaks are things of as ready sale as any kind of old garments. If good, or even reparable, they are in demand both for the home and foreign trades, as cloaks; if too far gone, which is but rarely the case, they are especially available for the same purposes as the surtout. The same may be said of the great-coat.

Dress-coats are far less useful, as if cleaned up and repaired they are not in demand among the working classes, and the clerks and shopmen on small salaries are often tempted by the price, I was told, to buy some wretched new slop thing rather than a superior coat second-hand. The dress-coats, however, are used for caps. Sometimes a coat, for which the collector may have given 9d., is cut up for the repairs of better garments.

Trousers are re-seated and repaired where the material is strong enough; and they are, I am informed, now about the only habiliment which is ever “turned,” and that but exceptionally. The repairs to trousers are more readily effected than those to coats, and trousers are freely bought by the collectors, and as freely re-bought by the public.

Waistcoats—I still speak of woollen fabrics—are sometimes used in cap-making, and were used in gaiter-making. But generally, at the present time, the worn edges are cut away, the buttons renewed or replaced by a new set, sometimes of glittering glass, the button-holes repaired or their jaggedness gummed down, and so the waistcoat is reproduced as a waistcoat, a size smaller. Sometimes a “vest,” as waistcoats are occasionally called, is used by the cheap boot-makers for the “legs” of a woman’s cloth boots, either laced or buttoned, but not a quarter as much as they would be, I was told, if the buttons and button-holes of the waistcoat would “do again” in the boot.

Nor is the woollen garment, if too thin, too worn, or too rotten to be devoted to any of the uses I have specified, flung away as worthless. To[30] the traders in second-hand apparel, or in the remains of second-hand apparel, a dust-hole is an unknown receptacle. The woollen rag, for so it is then considered, when unravelled can be made available for the manufacture of cheap yarns, being mixed with new wool. It is more probable, however, that the piece of woollen fabric which has been rejected by those who make or mend, and who must make or mend so cheaply that the veriest vagrant may be their customer, is formed not only into a new material, but into a material which sometimes is made into a new garment. These garments are inferior to those woven of new wool, both in look and wear; but in some articles the re-manufacture is beautiful. The fabric thus snatched, as it were, from the ruins of cloth, is known as shoddy, the chief seat of manufacture being in Dewsbury, a small town in Yorkshire. The old material, when duly prepared, is torn into wool again by means of fine machinery, but the recovered wool is shorter in its fibre and more brittle in its nature; it is, indeed, more a woollen pulp than a wool.

Touching this peculiar branch of manufacture, I will here cite from the Morning Chronicle a brief description of a Shoddy Mill, so that the reader may have as comprehensive a knowledge as possible of the several uses to which his left-off clothes may be put.

“The small town of Dewsbury holds, in the woollen district, very much the same position which Oldham does in the cotton country—the spinning and preparing of waste and refuse materials. To this stuff the name of “shoddy” is given, but the real and orthodox “shoddy” is a production of the woollen districts, and consists of the second-hand wool manufactured by the tearing up, or rather the grinding, of woollen rags by means of coarse willows, called devils; the operation of which sends forth choking clouds of dry pungent dirt and floating fibres—the real and original “devil’s dust.” Having been, by the agency of the machinery in question, reduced to something like the original raw material, fresh wool is added to the pulp in different proportions, according to the quality of the stuff to be manufactured, and the mingled material is at length reworked in the usual way into a little serviceable cloth.

“There are some shoddy mills in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, but the mean little town of Dewsbury may be taken as the metropolis of the manufacture. Some mills are devoted solely to the sorting, preparing, and grinding of rags, which are worked up in the neighbouring factories. Here great bales, choke full of filthy tatters, lie scattered about the yard, while the continual arrival of loaded waggons keeps adding to the heap. A glance at the exterior of these mills shows their character. The walls and part of the roof are covered with the thick clinging dust and fibre, which ascends in choky volumes from the open doors and glassless windows of the ground floor, and which also pours forth from a chimney, constructed for the purpose, exactly like smoke. The mill is covered as with a mildewy fungus, and upon the gray slates of the roof the frowzy deposit is often not less than two inches in depth.

“In the upper story of these mills the rags are stored. A great ware-room is piled in many places from the floor to the ceiling with bales of woollen rags, torn strips and tatters of every colour peeping out from the bursting depositories. There is hardly a country in Europe which does not contribute its quota of material to the shoddy manufacturer. Rags are brought from France, Germany, and in great quantities from Belgium. Denmark, I understand, is favourably looked upon by the tatter merchants, being fertile in morsels of clothing, of fair quality. Of domestic rags, the Scotch bear off the palm; and possibly no one will be surprised to hear, that of all rags Irish rags are the most worn, the filthiest, and generally the most unprofitable. The gradations of value in the world of rags are indeed remarkable. I was shown rags worth 50l. per ton, and rags worth only 30s. The best class is formed of the remains of fine cloth, the produce of which, eked out with a few bundles of fresh wool, is destined to go forth to the world again as broad cloth, or at all events as pilot cloth. Fragments of damask and skirts of merino dresses form the staple of middle-class rags; and even the very worst bales—they appear unmitigated mashes of frowzy filth—afford here and there some fragments of calico, which are wrought up into brown paper. The refuse of all, mixed with the stuff which even the shoddy-making devil rejects, is packed off to the agricultural districts for use as manure, to fertilize the hop-gardens of Kent.

“Under the rag ware-room is the sorting and picking room. Here the bales are opened, and their contents piled in close, poverty-smelling masses, upon the floor. The operatives are entirely women. They sit upon low stools, or half sunk and half enthroned amid heaps of the filthy goods, busily employed in arranging them according to the colour and the quality of the morsels, and from the more pretending quality of rags carefully ripping out every particle of cotton which they can detect. Piles of rags of different sorts, dozens of feet high, are the obvious fruits of their labour. All these women are over eighteen years of age, and the wages which they are paid for ten hours’ work are 6s. per week. They look squalid and dirty enough; but all of them chatter and several sing over their noisome labour. The atmosphere of the room is close and oppressive; and although no particularly offensive smell is perceptible, there is a choky, mildewy sort of odour—a hot, moist exhalation—arising from the sodden smouldering piles, as the workwomen toss armfuls of rags from one heap to another. This species of work is the lowest and foulest which any phase of the factory system can show.

“The devils are upon the ground floor. The choking dust bursts out from door and window, and it is not until a minute or so that the visitor can see the workmen moving amid the clouds, catching up armfuls of the sorted rags and tossing them into the machine to be torn into fibry frag[31]ments by the whirling revolutions of its teeth. The place in which this is done is a large bare room—the uncovered beams above, the rough stone walls, and the woodwork of the unglazed windows being as it were furred over with clinging woolly matter. On the floor, the dust and coarse filaments lie as if ‘it had been snowing snuff.’ The workmen are coated with the flying powder. They wear bandages over their mouths, so as to prevent as much as possible the inhalation of the dust, and seem loath to remove the protection for a moment. The rag grinders, with their squalid, dust-strewn garments, powdered to a dull grayish hue, and with their bandages tied over the greater part of their faces, move about like reanimated mummies in their swathings, looking most ghastly. The wages of these poor creatures do not exceed 7s. or 8s. a week. The men are much better paid, none of them making less than 18s. a week, and many earning as much as 22s. Not one of them, however, will admit that he found the trade injurious. The dust tickles them a little, they say, that is all. They feel it most of a Monday morning, after being all Sunday in the fresh air. When they first take to the work it hurts their throats a little, but they drink mint tea, and that soon cures them. They are all more or less subject to ‘shoddy fever,’ they confess, especially after tenting the grinding of the very dusty sorts of stuff—worsted stockings, for example. The shoddy fever is a sort of stuffing of the head and nose, with sore throat, and it sometimes forces them to give over work for two or three days, or at most a week; but the disorder, the workmen say, is not fatal, and leaves no particularly bad effects.

“In spite of all this, however, it is manifestly impossible for human lungs to breathe under such circumstances without suffering. The visitor exposed to the atmosphere for ten minutes experiences an unpleasant choky sensation in the throat, which lasts all the remainder of the day. The rag grinders, moreover, according to the best accounts, are very subject to asthmatic complaints, particularly when the air is dull and warm. The shoddy fever is said to be like a bad cold, with constant acrid running from the nose, and a great deal of expectoration. It is when there is a particularly dirty lot of rags to be ground that the people are usually attacked in this way, but the fever seldom keeps them more than two or three days from their work.

“In other mills the rags are not only ground, but the shoddy is worked up into coarse bad cloth, a great proportion of which is sent to America for slave clothing (and much now sold to the slop-shops).

“After the rags have been devilled into shoddy, the remaining processes are much the same, although conducted in a coarser way, as those performed in the manufacture of woollen cloth. The weaving is, for the most part, carried on at the homes of the workpeople. The domestic arrangements consist, in every case, of two tolerably large rooms, one above the other, with a cellar beneath—a plan of construction called in Yorkshire a “house and a chamber.” The chamber has generally a bed amid the looms. The weavers complain of irregular work and diminished wages. Their average pay, one week with another, with their wives to wind for them—i. e., to place the thread upon the bobbin which goes into the shuttle—is hardly so much as 10s. a week. They work long hours, often fourteen per day. Sometimes the weaver is a small capitalist with perhaps half a dozen looms, and a hand-jenny for spinning thread, the workpeople being within his own family as regular apprentices and journeymen.”

Dr. Hemingway, a gentleman who has a large practice in the shoddy district, has given the following information touching the “shoddy fever”:—

“The disease popularly known as ‘shoddy fever,’ and which is of frequent occurrence, is a species of bronchitis, caused by the irritating effect of the floating particles of dust upon the mucous membrane of the trachea and its ramifications. In general, the attack is easily cured—particularly if the patient has not been for any length of time exposed to the exciting cause—by effervescing saline draughts to allay the symptomatic febrile action, followed by expectorants to relieve the mucous membrane of the irritating dust; but a long continuance of employment in the contaminated atmosphere, bringing on as it does repeated attacks of the disease, is too apt, in the end, to undermine the constitution, and produce a train of pectoral diseases, often closing with pulmonary consumption. Ophthalmic attacks are by no means uncommon among the shoddy-grinders, some of whom, however, wear wire-gauze spectacles to protect the eyes. As regards the effect of the occupation upon health, it may shorten life by about five years on a rough average, taking, of course, as the point of comparison, the average longevity of the district in which the manufacture is carried on.”

“Shoddy fever” is, in fact, a modification of the very fatal disease induced by what is called “dry grinding” at Sheffield; but of course the particles of woollen filament are less fatal in their influence than the floating steel dust produced by the operation in question.

At one time shoddy cloth was not good and firm enough to be used for other purposes than such as padding by tailors, and in the inner linings of carriages, by coach-builders. It was not used for purposes which would expose it to stress, but only to a moderate wear or friction. Now shoddy, which modern improvements have made susceptible of receiving a fine dye (it always looked a dead colour at one period), is made into cloth for soldiers’ and sailors’ uniforms and for pilot-coats; into blanketing, drugget, stair and other carpeting, and into those beautiful table-covers, with their rich woollen look, on which elegantly drawn and elaborately coloured designs are printed through the application of aquafortis. Thus the rags which the beggar could no longer hang about him to cover his nakedness, may be a component of the soldier’s or sailor’s uniform, the carpet of a palace, or the library table-cover of a prime-minister.

There is yet another use for old woollen clothes.[32] What is not good for shoddy is good for manure, and more especially for the manure prepared by the agriculturists in Kent, Sussex, and Herefordshire, for the culture of a difficult plant—hops. It is good also for corn land (judiciously used), so that we again have the remains of the old garment in our beer or our bread.

I have hitherto spoken of woollen fabrics. The garments of other materials are seldom diverted from their original use, for as long as they will hold together they can be sold for exportation to Ireland, though of course for very trifling amounts.

The black Velvet and Satin Waistcoats—the latter now so commonly worn—are almost always resold as waistcoats, and oft enough, when rebound and rebuttoned, make a very respectable looking garment. Nothing sells better to the working-classes than a good second-hand vest of the two materials of satin or velvet. If the satin, however, be so worn and frayed that mending is impossible, the back, if not in the same plight, is removed for rebacking of any waistcoat, and the satin thrown away, one of the few things which in its last stage is utterly valueless. It is the same with silk waistcoats, and for the most part with velvet, but a velvet waistcoat may be thrown in the refuse heap with the woollen rags for manure. The coloured waistcoats of silk or velvet are dealt with in the same way. At one time, when under-waistcoats were worn, the edges being just discernible, quantities were made out of the full waistcoats where a sufficiency of the stuff was unworn. This fashion is now becoming less and less followed, and is principally in vogue in the matter of white under-waistcoats. For the jean and other vests—even if a mixture of materials—there is the same use as what I have described of the black satin, and failing that, they are generally transferable to the rag-bag.

Hats have become in greater demand than ever among the street-buyers since the introduction into the London trade, and to so great an extent, of the silk, velvet, French, or Parisian hats. The construction of these hats is the same, and the easy way in which the hat-bodies are made, has caused a number of poor persons, with no previous knowledge of hat-making, to enter into the trade. “There’s hundreds starving at it,” said a hat-manufacturer to me, “in Bermondsey, Lock’s-fields, and the Borough; ay, hundreds.” This facility in the making of the bodies of the new silk hats is quite as available in the restoration of the bodies of the old hats, as I shall show from the information of a highly-intelligent artisan, who told me that of all people he disliked rich slop-sellers; but there was another class which he disliked more, and that was rich slop-buyers.

The bodies of the stuff or beaver hats of the best quality are made of a firm felt, wrought up of fine wool, rabbits’ hair, &c., and at once elastic, firm, and light. Over this is placed the nap, prepared from the hair of the beaver. The bodies of the silk hats are made of calico, which is blocked (as indeed is the felt) and stiffened and pasted up until “only a hat-maker can tell,” as it was expressed to me, “good sound bodies from bad; and the slop-masters go for the cheap and bad.” The covering is not a nap of any hair, but is of silk or velvet (the words are used indifferently in the trade) manufactured for the purpose. Thus if an old hat be broken, or rather crushed out of all shape, the body can be glazed and sized up again so as to suit the slop hatter, if sold to him as a body, and that whether it be of felt or calico. If, however, the silk cover of the hat be not worn utterly away, the body, without stripping off the cover, can be re-blocked and re-set, and the silk-velvet trimmed up and “set,” or re-dyed, and a decent hat is sometimes produced by these means. More frequently, however, a steeping shower of rain destroys the whole fabric.

Second-hand Caps are rarely brought into this trade.

Such things as drawers, flannel waistcoats, and what is sometimes called “inner wear,” sell very well when washed up, patched—for patches do not matter in a garment hidden from the eye when worn—or mended in any manner. Flannel waistcoats and drawers are often in demand by the street-sellers and the street-labourers, as they are considered “good against the rheumatics.” These habiliments are often sold unrepaired, having been merely washed, as the poor men’s wives may be competent to execute an easy bit of tailoring; or perhaps the men themselves, if they have been reared as mechanics; and they believe (perhaps erroneously) that so they obtain a better bargain. Shirts are repaired and sold as shirts, or for old linen; the trade is not large.

Men’s Stockings are darned up, but only when there is little to be done in darning, as they are retailed at 2d. the pair. The sale is not very great, for the supply is not. “Lots might be sold,” I was informed, “if they was to be had, for them flash coves never cares what they wears under their Wellingtons.”

The Women’s Apparel is sold to be re-worn in its original form quite as frequently, or more frequently, than it is mended up by the sellers; the purchasers often preferring to make the alterations themselves. A gown of stuff, cotton, or any material, if full-sized, is frequently bought and altered to fit a smaller person or a child, and so the worn parts may be cut away. It is very rarely also that the apparel of the middle-classes is made into any other article, with the sole exception, perhaps, of silk gowns. If a silk gown be not too much frayed, it is easily cleaned and polished up, so as to present a new gloss, and is sold readily enough; but if it be too far gone for this process, the old clothes renovator is often puzzled as to what uses to put it. A portion of a black silk dress may be serviceable to re-line the cuffs of the better kind of coats. There is seldom enough, I was told, to re-line the two skirts of a surtout, and it is difficult to match old silk; a man used to buying a good second-hand surtout, I was assured, would soon detect a difference in the shade of the silk, if the skirts were re-lined from the remains of different gowns, and say, “I’ll not give any such money for that piebald thing.”[33] Skirts may be sometimes re-lined this way on the getting up of frock coats, but very rarely. There is the same difficulty in using a coloured silk gown for the re-covering of a parasol. The quantity may not be enough for the gores, and cannot be matched to satisfy the eye, for the buyer of a silk parasol even in Rosemary-lane may be expected to be critical. When there is enough of good silk for the purposes I have mentioned, then, it must be borne in mind, the gown may be more valuable, because saleable to be re-worn as a gown. It is the same with satin dresses, but only a few of them, in comparison with the silk, are to be seen at the Old Clothes’ Exchange.

Among the purposes to which portions of worn silk gowns are put are the making of spencers for little girls (usually by the purchasers, or by the dress-maker, who goes out to work for 1s. a day), of children’s bonnets, for the lining of women’s bonnets, the re-lining of muffs and fur-tippets, the patching of quilts (once a rather fashionable thing), the inner lining or curtains to a book-case, and other household appliances of a like kind. This kind of silk, too, no matter in how minute pieces, is bought by the fancy cabinet-makers (the small masters) for the lining of their dressing-cases and work-boxes supplied to the warehouses, but these poor artisans have neither means nor leisure to buy such articles of those connected with the traffic of the Old Clothes’ Exchange, but must purchase it, of course at an enhanced price, of a broker who has bought it at the Exchange, or in some establishment connected with it. The second-hand silk is bought also for the dressing of dolls for the toy-shops, and for the lining of some toys. The hat-manufacturers of the cheaper sort, at one time, used second-hand silk for the padded lining of hats, but such is rarely the practice now. It was once used in the same manner by the bookbinders for lining the inner part of the back of a book. If there be any part of silk in a dress not suitable for any of these purposes it is wasted, or what is accounted wasted, although it may have been in wear for years. It is somewhat remarkable, that while woollen and even cotton goods can be “shoddied”—and if they are too rotten for that, they are made available for manure, or in the manufacture of paper—no use is made of the refuse of silk. Though one of the most beautiful and costly of textile fabrics, its “remains” are thrown aside, when a beggar’s rags are preserved and made profitable. There can be little doubt that silk, like cotton, could be shoddied, but whether such a speculation would be remunerative or not is no part of my present inquiry.

There is not, as I shall subsequently show, so great an exportation of female attire as might be expected in comparison with male apparel; the poorer classes of the metropolis being too anxious to get any decent gown when within their slender means.

Stays, unless of superior make and in good condition, are little bought by the classes who are the chief customers of the old-clothes’ men in London. I did not hear any reason for this from any of the old-clothes’ people. One man thought, if there was a family of daughters, the stays which had became too small for the elder girl were altered for the younger, and that poor women liked to mend their old stays as long as they would stick together. Perhaps, there may be some repugnance—especially among the class of servant-maids who have not had “to rough it”—to wear street-collected stays; a repugnance not, perhaps, felt in the wearing of a gown which probably can be washed, and is not worn so near the person. The stays that are collected are for the most part exported, a great portion being sent to Ireland. If they are “worn to rags,” the bones are taken out; but in the slop-made stays, it is not whalebone, but wood that is used to give, or preserve the due shape of the corset, and then the stays are valueless.

Old Stockings are of great sale both for home wear and foreign trade. In the trade of women’s stockings there has been in the last 20 or 25 years a considerable change. Before that period black stockings were worn by servant girls, and the families of working people and small tradesmen; they “saved washing.” Now, even in Petticoat-lane, women’s stockings are white, or “mottled,” or some light-coloured, very rarely black. I have heard this change attributed to what is rather vaguely called “pride.” May it not be owing to a more cultivated sense of cleanliness? The women’s stockings are sold darned and undarned, and at (retail) prices from 1d. to 4d.; 1d. or 2d. being the most frequent prices.

The petticoats and other under clothing are not much bought second-hand by the poor women of London, and are exported.

Women’s caps used to be sold second-hand, I was told, both in the streets and the shops, but long ago, and before muslin and needlework were so cheap.

I heard of one article which formerly supplied considerable “stuff” (the word used) for second-hand purposes, and was a part, but never a considerable part, of the trade at Rag-fair. These were the “pillions,” or large, firm, solid cushions which were attached to a saddle, so that a horse “carried double.” Fifty years ago the farmer and his wife, of the more prosperous order, went regularly to church and market on one horse, a pillion sustaining the good dame. To the best sort of these pillions was appended what was called the “pillion cloth,” often of a fine, but thin quality, which being really a sort of housing to the horse, cut straight and with few if any seams, was an excellent material for what I am informed was formerly called “making and mending.” The colour was almost exclusively drab or blue. The pillion on which the squire’s lady rode—and Sheridan makes his Lady Teazle deny “the pillion and the coach-horse,” the butler being her cavalier—was a perfect piece of upholstery, set off with lace and fringes, which again were excellent for second-hand sale. Such a means of conveyance may still linger in some secluded country parts, but it is generally speaking obsolete.

Boots and Shoes are not to be had, I am told, in sufficient quantity for the demand from the[34] slop-shops, the “translators,” and the second-hand dealers. Great quantities of second-hand boots and shoes are sent to Ireland to be “translated” there. Of all the wares in this traffic, the clothing for the feet is what is most easily prepared to cheat the eye of the inexperienced, the imposition having the aids of heel-ball, &c., to fill up crevices, and of blacking to hide defects. Even when the boots or shoes are so worn out that no one will put a pair on his feet, though purchaseable for about 1d., the insoles are ripped out; the soles, if there be a sufficiency of leather, are shaped into insoles for children’s shoes, and these insoles are sold in bundles of two dozen pairs at 2d. the bundle. So long as the boot or shoe be not in many holes, it can be cobblered up in Monmouth-street or elsewhere. Of the “translating” business transacted in those localities I had the following interesting account from a man who was lately engaged in it.

“Translation, as I understand it (said my informant), is this—to take a worn, old pair of shoes or boots, and by repairing them make them appear as if left off with hardly any wear—as if they were only soiled. I’ll tell you the way they manage in Monmouth-street. There are in the trade ‘horses’ heads’—a ‘horse’s head’ is the foot of a boot with sole and heel, and part of a front—the back and the remainder of the front having been used for refooting boots. There are also ‘stand-bottoms’ and ‘lick-ups.’ A ‘stand-bottom’ is where the shoe appears to be only soiled, and a ‘lick-up’ is a boot or shoe re-lasted to take the wrinkles out, the edges of the soles having been rasped and squared, and then blacked up to hide blemishes, and the bottom covered with a ‘smother,’ which I will describe. There is another article called a ‘flyer,’ that is, a shoe soled without having been welted. In Monmouth-street a ‘horse’s head’ is generally retailed at 2s. 6d., but some fetch 4s. 6d.—that’s the extreme price. They cost the translator from 1s. a dozen pair to 8s., but those at 8s. are good, and are used for the making up of Wellington boots. Some ‘horses’ heads’—such as are cut off that the boots may be re-footed on account of old fashion, or a misfit, when hardly worn—fetch 2s. 6d. a pair, and they are made up as new-footed boots, and sell from 10s. to 15s. The average price of feet (that is, for the ‘horse’s head,’ as we call it) is 4d., and a pair of backs say 2d.; the back is attached loosely by chair stitching, as it is called, to the heel, instead of being stitched to the in-sole, as in a new boot. The wages for all this is 1s. 4d. in Monmouth-street (in Union-street, Borough, 1s. 6d.); but I was told by a master that he had got the work done in Gray’s-inn-lane at 9d. Put it, however, at 1s. 4d. wages—then, with 4d. and 2d. for the feet and back, we have 1s. 10d. outlay (the workman finds his own grindery), and 8d. profit on each pair sold at a rate of 2s. 6d. Some masters will sell from 70 to 80 pairs per week: that’s under the mark; and that’s in ‘horses’ heads’ alone. One man employs, or did lately employ, seven men on ‘horses’ heads’ solely. The profit generally, in fair shops, in ‘stand-bottoms,’ is from 1s. 6d. to 2s. per pair, as they sell generally at 3s. 6d. One man takes, or did take, 100l. in a day (it was calculated as an average) over the counter, and all for the sort of shoes I have described. The profit of a ‘lick-up’ is the same as that of a ‘stand-bottom.’ To show the villanous way the ‘stand-bottoms’ are got up, I will tell you this. You have seen a broken upper-leather; well, we place a piece of leather, waxed, underneath the broken part, on which we set a few stitches through and through. When dry and finished, we take what is called a ‘soft-heel-ball’ and ‘smother’ it over, so that it sometimes would deceive a currier, as it appears like the upper leather. With regard to the bottoms, the worn part of the sole is opened from the edge, a piece of leather is made to fit exactly into the hole or worn part, and it is then nailed and filed until level. Paste is then applied, and ‘smother’ put over the part, and that imitates the dust of the road. This ‘smother’ is obtained from the dust of the room. It is placed in a silk stocking, tied at both ends, and then shook through, just like a powder-puff, only we shake at both ends. It is powdered out into our leather apron, and mixed with a certain preparation which I will describe to you (he did so), but I would rather not have it published, as it would lead others to practise similar deceptions. I believe there are about 2000 translators, so you may judge of the extent of the trade; and translators are more constantly employed than any other branch of the business. Many make a great deal of money. A journeyman translator can earn from 3s. to 4s. a day. You can give the average at 20s. a week, as the wages are good. It must be good, for we have 2s. for soling, heeling, and welting a pair of boots; and some men don’t get more for making them. Monmouth-street is nothing like what it was; as to curious old garments, that’s all gone. There’s not one English master in the translating business in Monmouth-street—they are all Irish; and there is now hardly an English workman there—perhaps not one. I believe that all the tradesmen in Monmouth-street make their workmen lodge with them. I was lodging with one before I married a little while ago, and I know the system to be the same now as it was then, unless, indeed, it be altered for the worse. To show how disgusting these lodgings must be, I will state this:—I knew a Roman Catholic, who was attentive to his religious duties, but when pronounced on the point of death, and believing firmly that he was dying, he would not have his priest administer extreme unction, for the room was in such a filthy and revolting state he would not allow him to see it. Five men worked and slept in that room, and they were working and sleeping there in the man’s illness—all the time that his life was despaired of. He was ill nine weeks. Unless the working shoemaker lodged there he would not be employed. Each man pays 2s. a week. I was there once, but I couldn’t sleep in such a den; and five nights out of the seven I slept at my mother’s, but my lodging had to be paid all the same. These men (myself excepted) were all Irish, and all tee[35]totallers, as was the master. How often was the room cleaned out, do you say? Never, sir, never. The refuse of the men’s labour was generally burnt, smudged away in the grate, smelling terribly. It would stifle you, though it didn’t me, because I got used to it. I lodged in Union-street once. My employer had a room known as the ‘barracks;’ every lodger paid him 2s. 6d. a week. Five men worked and slept there, and three were sitters—that is, men who paid 1s. a week to sit there and work, lodging elsewhere. A little before that there were six sitters. The furniture was one table, one chair, and two beds. There was no place for purposes of decency: it fell to bits from decay, and was never repaired. This barrack man always stopped the 2s. 6d. for lodging, if he gave you only that amount of work in the week. The beds were decent enough; but as to Monmouth-street! you don’t see a clean sheet there for nine weeks; and, recollect, such snobs are dirty fellows. There was no chair in the Monmouth-street room that I have spoken of, the men having only their seats used at work; but when the beds were let down for the night, the seats had to be placed in the fire-place because there was no space for them in the room. In many houses in Monmouth-street there is a system of sub-letting among the journeymen. In one room lodged a man and his wife (a laundress worked there), four children, and two single young men. The wife was actually delivered in this room whilst the men kept at their work—they never lost an hour’s work; nor is this an unusual case—it’s not an isolated case at all. I could instance ten or twelve cases of two or three married people living in one room in that street. The rats have scampered over the beds that lay huddled together in the kitchen. The husband of the wife confined as I have described paid 4s. a week, and the two single men paid 2s. a week each, so the master was rent free; and he received from each man 1s. 6d. a week for tea (without sugar), and no bread and butter, and 2d. a day for potatoes—that’s the regular charge.”

In connection with the translation of old boots and shoes, I have obtained the following statistics. There are—

In Drury-lane and streets adjacent,about50shops.
Hanway-court, Oxford-streetdo.4do.
Petticoat-lane (shops, stands, &c.)do.200do.
Field-lane, Saffron-hilldo.40do.
Bethnal-green, Spitalfieldsdo.100do.
Rosemary-lane, &

employing upwards of 2000 men in making-up and repairing old boots and shoes; besides hundreds of poor men and women who strive for a crust by buying and selling the old material, previously to translating it, and by mending up what will mend. They or their children stand in the street and try to sell them.

Monmouth-street, now the great old shoe district, has been “sketched” by Mr. Dickens, not as regards its connection with the subject of street-sale or of any particular trade, but as to its general character and appearance. I first cite Mr. Dickens’ description of the Seven Dials, of which Monmouth-street is a seventh:—

“The stranger who finds himself in ‘The Dials’ for the first time, and stands, Belzoni-like, at the entrance of seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity and attention awake for no inconsiderable time. From the irregular square into which he has plunged, the streets and courts dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops, and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined; and, lounging at every corner, as if they came there to take a few gasps of such fresh air as has found its way so far, but is too much exhausted already, to be enabled to force itself into the narrow alleys around, are groups of people, whose appearance and dwellings would fill any mind but a regular Londoner’s with astonishment.

“In addition to the numerous groups who are idling about the gin-shops and squabbling in the centre of the road, every post in the open space has its occupant, who leans against it for hours, with listless perseverance. It is odd enough that one class of men in London appear to have no enjoyment beyond leaning against posts. We never saw a regular bricklayer’s labourer take any other recreation, fighting excepted. Pass through St. Giles’s in the evening of a week-day, there they are in their fustian dresses, spotted with brick-dust and whitewash, leaning against posts. Walk through Seven Dials on Sunday morning: there they are again, drab or light corduroy trowsers, Blucher boots, blue coats, and great yellow waistcoats, leaning against posts. The idea of a man dressing himself in his best clothes, to lean against a post all day!

“The peculiar character of these streets, and the close resemblance each one bears to its neighbour, by no means tends to decrease the bewilderment in which the unexperienced wayfarer through ‘the Dials’ finds himself involved. He traverses streets of dirty, straggling houses, with now and then an unexpected court, composed of buildings as ill-proportioned and deformed as the half-naked children that wallow in the kennels. Here and there, a little dark chandler’s shop, with a cracked bell hung up behind the door to announce the entrance of a customer, or betray the presence of some young gentleman in whom a passion for shop tills has developed itself at an early age; others, as if for support, against some handsome lofty building, which usurps the place of a low dingy public-house; long rows of broken and patched windows expose plants that may have flourished when ‘The Dials’ were built, in vessels as dirty as ‘The Dials’ themselves; and shops for the purchase of rags, bones, old iron, and kitchen-stuff, vie in cleanliness with the bird-fanciers and rabbit-dealers, which one might fancy so many[36] arks, but for the irresistible conviction that no bird in its proper senses, who was permitted to leave one of them would ever come back again. Brokers’ shops, which would seem to have been established by humane individuals, as refuges for destitute bugs, interspersed with announcements of day-schools, penny theatres, petition-writers, mangles, and music for balls or routs, complete the ‘still-life’ of the subject; and dirty men, filthy women, squalid children, fluttering shuttlecocks, noisy battledores, reeking pipes, bad fruit, more than doubtful oysters, attenuated cats, depressed dogs, and anatomical fowls, are its cheerful accompaniments.

“If the external appearance of the houses, or a glance at their inhabitants, present but few attractions, a closer acquaintance with either is little calculated to alter one’s first impression. Every room has its separate tenant, and every tenant is, by the same mysterious dispensation which causes a country curate to ‘increase and multiply’ most marvellously, generally the head of a numerous family.

“The man in the shop, perhaps, is in the baked ‘jemmy’ line, or the fire-wood and hearth-stone line, or any other line which requires a floating capital of eighteen pence or thereabouts: and he and his family live in the shop, and the small back parlour behind it. Then there is an Irish labourer and his family in the back kitchen, and a jobbing-man—carpet-beater and so forth—with his family, in the front one. In the front one pair there’s another man with another wife and family, and in the back one-pair there’s ‘a young ’oman as takes in tambour-work, and dresses quite genteel,’ who talks a good deal about ‘my friend,’ and can’t ‘abear anything low.’ The second floor front, and the rest of the lodgers, are just a second edition of the people below, except a shabby-genteel man in the back attic, who has his half-pint of coffee every morning from the coffee-shop next door but one, which boasts a little front den called a coffee-room, with a fire-place, over which is an inscription, politely requesting that, ‘to prevent mistakes,’ customers will ‘please to pay on delivery.’ The shabby-genteel man is an object of some mystery, but as he leads a life of seclusion, and never was known to buy anything beyond an occasional pen, except half-pints of coffee, penny loaves, and ha’porths of ink, his fellow-lodgers very naturally suppose him to be an author; and rumours are current in the Dials, that he writes poems for Mr. Warren.

“Now any body who passed through the Dials on a hot summer’s evening, and saw the different women of the house gossiping on the steps, would be apt to think that all was harmony among them, and that a more primitive set of people than the native Diallers could not be imagined. Alas! the man in the shop illtreats his family; the carpet-beater extends his professional pursuits to his wife; the one-pair front has an undying feud with the two-pair front, in consequence of the two-pair front persisting in dancing over his (the one-pair front’s) head, when he and his family have retired for the night; the two-pair back will interfere with the front kitchen’s children; the Irishman comes home drunk every other night, and attacks every body; and the one-pair back screams at everything. Animosities spring up between floor and floor; the very cellar asserts his equality. Mrs. A. ‘smacks’ Mrs. B.’s child for ‘making faces.’ Mrs. B. forthwith throws cold water over Mrs. A.’s child for ‘calling names.’ The husbands are embroiled—the quarrel becomes general—an assault is the consequence, and a police-officer the result.”

Of Monmouth-street the same author says:—

“We have always entertained a particular attachment towards Monmouth-street, as the only true and real emporium for second-hand wearing apparel. Monmouth-street is venerable from its antiquity, and respectable from its usefulness. Holywell-street we despise; the red-headed and red-whiskered Jews who forcibly haul you into their squalid houses, and thrust you into a suit of clothes whether you will or not, we detest.

“The inhabitants of Monmouth-street are a distinct class; a peaceable and retiring race, who immure themselves for the most part in deep cellars, or small back parlours, and who seldom come forth into the world, except in the dusk and coolness of evening, when they may be seen seated, in chairs on the pavement, smoking their pipes, or watching the gambols of their engaging children as they revel in the gutter, a happy troop of infantine scavengers. Their countenances bear a thoughtful and a dirty cast, certain indications of their love of traffic; and their habitations are distinguished by that disregard of outward appearance, and neglect of personal comfort, so common among people who are constantly immersed in profound speculations, and deeply engaged in sedentary pursuits.

“Through every alteration and every change Monmouth-street has still remained the burial-place of the fashions; and such, to judge from all present appearances, it will remain until there are no more fashions to bury.”

Of the Street-Sellers of Petticoat and Rosemary-Lanes.

Immediately connected with the trade of the central mart for old clothes are the adjoining streets of Petticoat-lane, and those of the not very distant Rosemary-lane. In these localities is a second-hand garment-seller at almost every step, but the whole stock of these traders, decent, frowsy, half-rotten, or smart and good habiliments, has first passed through the channel of the Exchange. The men who sell these goods have all bought them at the Exchange—the exceptions being insignificant—so that this street-sale is but an extension of the trade of the central mart, with the addition that the wares have been made ready for use.


A cursory observation might lead an inexperienced person to the conclusion, that these old clothes traders who are standing by the bundles of gowns, or lines of coats, hanging from their door-posts, or in the place from which the window has been removed, or at the sides of their houses, or[37] piled in the street before them, are drowsy people, for they seem to sit among their property, lost in thought, or caring only for the fumes of a pipe. But let any one indicate, even by an approving glance, the likelihood of his becoming a customer, and see if there be any lack of diligence in business. Some, indeed, pertinaciously invite attention to their wares; some (and often well-dressed women) leave their premises a few yards to accost a stranger pointing to a “good dress-coat” or “an excellent frock” (coat). I am told that this practice is less pursued than it was, and it seems that the solicitations are now addressed chiefly to strangers. These strangers, persons happening to be passing, or visitors from curiosity, are at once recognised; for as in all not very extended localities, where the inhabitants pursue a similar calling, they are, as regards their knowledge of one another, as the members of one family. Thus a stranger is as easily recognised as he would be in a little rustic hamlet where a strange face is not seen once a quarter. Indeed so narrow are some of the streets and alleys in this quarter, and so little is there of privacy, owing to the removal, in warm weather, even of the casements, that the room is commanded in all its domestic details; and as among these details there is generally a further display of goods similar to the articles outside, the jammed-up places really look like a great family house with merely a sort of channel, dignified by the name of a street, between the right and left suites of apartments.

In one off-street, where on a Sunday there is a considerable demand for Jewish sweet-meats by Christian boys, and a little sly, and perhaps not very successful gambling on the part of the ingenuous youth to possess themselves of these confectionaries at the easiest rate, there are some mounds of builders’ rubbish upon which, if an inquisitive person ascended, he could command the details of the upper rooms, probably the bed chambers—if in their crowded apartments these traders can find spaces for beds.

It must not be supposed that old clothes are more than the great staple of the traffic of this district. Wherever persons are assembled there are certain to be purveyors of provisions and of cool or hot drinks for warm or cold weather. The interior of the Old Clothes Exchange has its oyster-stall, its fountain of ginger-beer, its coffee-house, and ale-house, and a troop of peripatetic traders, boys principally, carrying trays. Outside the walls of the Exchange this trade is still thicker. A Jew boy thrusts a tin of highly-glazed cakes and pastry under the people’s noses here; and on the other side a basket of oranges regales the same sense by its proximity. At the next step the thoroughfare is interrupted by a gaudy-looking ginger-beer, lemonade, raspberryade, and nectar fountain; “a halfpenny a glass, a halfpenny a glass, sparkling lemonade!” shouts the vendor as you pass. The fountain and the glasses glitter in the sun, the varnish of the wood-work shines, the lemonade really does sparkle, and all looks clean—except the owner. Close by is a brawny young Irishman, his red beard unshorn for perhaps ten days, and his neck, where it had been exposed to the weather, a far deeper red than his beard, and he is carrying a small basket of nuts, and selling them as gravely as if they were articles suited to his strength. A little lower is the cry, in a woman’s voice, “Fish, fried fish! Ha’penny; fish, fried fish!” and so monotonously and mechanically is it ejaculated that one might think the seller’s life was passed in uttering these few words, even as a rook’s is in crying “Caw, caw.” Here I saw a poor Irishwoman who had a child on her back buy a piece of this fish (which may be had “hot” or “cold”), and tear out a piece with her teeth, and this with all the eagerness and relish of appetite or hunger; first eating the brown outside and then sucking the bone. I never saw fish look firmer or whiter. That fried fish is to be procured is manifest to more senses than one, for you can hear the sound of its being fried, and smell the fumes from the oil. In an open window opposite frizzle on an old tray, small pieces of thinly-cut meat, with a mixture of onions, kept hot by being placed over an old pan containing charcoal. In another room a mess of batter is smoking over a grate. “Penny a lot, oysters,” resounds from different parts. Some of the sellers command two streets by establishing their stalls or tubs at a corner. Lads pass, carrying sweet-stuff on trays. I observed one very dark-eyed Hebrew boy chewing the hard-bake he vended—if it were not a substitute—with an expression of great enjoyment. Heaped-up trays of fresh-looking sponge-cakes are carried in tempting pyramids. Youths have stocks of large hard-looking biscuits, and walk about crying, “Ha’penny biscuits, ha’penny; three a penny, biscuits;” these, with a morsel of cheese, often supply a dinner or a luncheon. Dates and figs, as dry as they are cheap, constitute the stock in trade of other street-sellers. “Coker-nuts” are sold in pieces and entire; the Jew boy, when he invites to the purchase of an entire nut, shaking it at the ear of the customer. I was told by a costermonger that these juveniles had a way of drumming with their fingers on the shell so as to satisfy a “green” customer that the nut offered was a sound one.

Such are the summer eatables and drinkables which I have lately seen vended in the Petticoat-lane district. In winter there are, as long as daylight lasts—and in no other locality perhaps does it last so short a time—other street provisions, and, if possible, greater zeal in selling them, the hours of business being circumscribed. There is then the potato-can and the hot elder-wine apparatus, and smoking pies and puddings, and roasted apples and chestnuts, and walnuts, and the several fruits which ripen in the autumn—apples, pears, &c.

Hitherto I have spoken only of such eatables and drinkables as are ready for consumption, but to these the trade in the Petticoat-lane district is by no means confined. There is fresh fish, generally of the cheaper kinds, and smoked or dried fish (smoked salmon, moreover, is sold ready[38] cooked), and costermongers’ barrows, with their loads of green vegetables, looking almost out of place amidst the surrounding dinginess. The cries of “Fine cauliflowers,” “Large penny cabbages,” “Eight a shilling, mackarel,” “Eels, live eels,” mix strangely with the hubbub of the busier street.

Other street-sellers also abound. You meet one man who says mysteriously, and rather bluntly, “Buy a good knife, governor.” His tone is remarkable, and if it attract attention, he may hint that he has smuggled goods which he must sell anyhow. Such men, I am told, look out mostly for seamen, who often resort to Petticoat-lane; for idle men like sailors on shore, and idle uncultivated men often love to lounge where there is bustle. Pocket and pen knives and scissors, “Penny a piece, penny a pair,” rubbed over with oil, both to hide and prevent rust, are carried on trays, and spread on stalls, some stalls consisting of merely a tea-chest lid on a stool. Another man, carrying perhaps a sponge in his hand, and well-dressed, asks you, in a subdued voice, if you want a good razor, as if he almost suspected that you meditated suicide, and were looking out for the means! This is another ruse to introduce smuggled (or “duffer’s”) goods. Account-books are hawked. “Penny-a-quire,” shouts the itinerant street stationer (who, if questioned, always declares he said “Penny half quire”). “Stockings, stockings, two pence a pair.” “Here’s your chewl-ry; penny, a penny; pick ’em and choose ’em.” [I may remark that outside the window of one shop, or rather parlour, if there be any such distinction here, I saw the handsomest, as far as I am able to judge, and the best cheap jewellery I ever saw in the streets.] “Pencils, sir, pencils; steel-pens, steel-pens; ha’penny, penny; pencils, steel-pens; sealing-wax, wax, wax, wax!” shouts one, “Green peas, ha’penny a pint!” cries another.

These things, however, are but the accompaniments of the main traffic. But as such things accompany all traffic, not on a small scale, and may be found in almost every metropolitan thoroughfare, where the police are not required, by the householders, to interfere, I will point out, to show the distinctive character of the street-trade in this part, what is not sold and not encouraged. I saw no old books. There were no flowers; no music, which indeed could not be heard except at the outskirts of the din; and no beggars plying their vocation among the trading class.

Another peculiarity pertaining alike to this shop and street locality is, that everything is at the veriest minimum of price; though it may not be asked, it will assuredly be taken. The bottle of lemonade which is elsewhere a penny is here a halfpenny. The tarts, which among the street-sellers about the Royal Exchange are a halfpenny each, are here a farthing. When lemons are two a-penny in St. George’s-market, Oxford-street, as the long line of street stalls towards the western extremity is called—they are three and four a-penny in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes. Certainly there is a difference in size between the dearer and the cheaper tarts and lemons, and perhaps there is a difference in quality also, but the rule of a minimized cheapness has no exceptions in this cheap-trading quarter.

But Petticoat-lane is essentially the old clothes district. Embracing the streets and alleys adjacent to Petticoat-lane, and including the rows of old boots and shoes on the ground, there is perhaps between two and three miles of old clothes. Petticoat-lane proper is long and narrow, and to look down it is to look down a vista of many coloured garments, alike on the sides and on the ground. The effect sometimes is very striking, from the variety of hues, and the constant flitting, or gathering, of the crowd into little groups of bargainers. Gowns of every shade and every pattern are hanging up, but none, perhaps, look either bright or white; it is a vista of dinginess, but many coloured dinginess, as regards female attire. Dress coats, frock coats, great coats, livery and game-keepers’ coats, paletots, tunics, trowsers, knee-breeches, waistcoats, capes, pilot coats, working jackets, plaids, hats, dressing gowns, shirts, Guernsey frocks, are all displayed. The predominant colours are black and blue, but there is every colour; the light drab of some aristocratic livery; the dull brown-green of velveteen; the deep blue of a pilot jacket; the variegated figures of the shawl dressing-gown; the glossy black of the restored garments; the shine of newly turpentined black satin waistcoats; the scarlet and green of some flaming tartan; these things—mixed with the hues of the women’s garments, spotted and striped—certainly present a scene which cannot be beheld in any other part of the greatest city of the world, nor in any other portion of the world itself.

The ground has also its array of colours. It is covered with lines of boots and shoes, their shining black relieved here and there by the admixture of females’ boots, with drab, green, plum or lavender-coloured “legs,” as the upper part of the boot is always called in the trade. There is, too, an admixture of men’s “button-boots” with drab cloth legs; and of a few red, yellow, and russet coloured slippers; and of children’s coloured morocco boots and shoes. Handkerchiefs, sometimes of a gaudy orange pattern, are heaped on a chair. Lace and muslins occupy small stands or are spread on the ground. Black and drab and straw hats are hung up, or piled one upon another and kept from falling by means of strings; while, incessantly threading their way through all this intricacy, is a mass of people, some of whose dresses speak of a recent purchase in the lane.

I have said little of the shopkeepers of Petticoat-lane, nor is it requisite for the full elucidation of my present subject (which relates more especially to street-sale), that I should treat of them otherwise than as being in a great degree connected with street-trade. They stand in the street (in front of their premises), they trade in the street, they smoke and read the papers in the street; and indeed the greater part of their lives seems passed in the street, for, as I have elsewhere remarked, the Saturday’s or Sabbath’s recreation to some of them, after synagogue hours, seems to be to stand by their doors looking about them.


In the earlier periods of the day—the Jewish Sabbath excepted, when there is no market at all in Petticoat-lane, not even among the Irish and other old clothes people, or a mere nothing of a market—the goods of these shops seem consigned to the care of the wives and female members of the families of the proprietors. The Old Clothes Exchange, like other places known by the name—the Royal Exchange, for example—has its daily season of “high change.” This is, in summer, from about half-past two to five, in winter, from two to four o’clock. At those hours the crockman, and the bartering costermonger, and the Jew collector, have sought the Exchange with their respective bargains; and business there, and in the whole district, is at its fullest tide. Before this hour the master of the shop or store (the latter may be the more appropriate word) is absent buying, collecting, or transacting any business which requires him to leave home. It is curious to observe how, during this absence, the women, but with most wary eyes to the business, sit in the street carrying on their domestic occupations. Some, with their young children about them, are shelling peas; some are trimming vegetables; some plying their needles; some of the smaller traders’ wives, as well as the street-sellers with a “pitch,” are eating dinners out of basins (laid aside when a customer approaches), and occasionally some may be engaged in what Mrs. Trollope has called (in noticing a similar procedure in the boxes of an American theatre) “the most maternal of all offices.” The females I saw thus occupied were principally Jewesses, for though those resorting to the Old Clothes Exchange and its concomitant branches may be but one-fourth Jews, more than half of the remainder being Irish people, the householders or shopkeepers of the locality, when capital is needed, are generally Israelites.

It must be borne in mind that, in describing Petticoat-lane, I have described it as seen on a fine summer’s day, when the business is at its height. Until an hour or two after midday the district is quiet, and on very rainy days its aspect is sufficiently lamentable, for then it appears actually deserted. Perhaps on a winter’s Saturday night—as the Jewish Sabbath terminates at sunset—the scene may be the most striking of all. The flaring lights from uncovered gas, from fat-fed lamps, from the paper-shaded candles, and the many ways in which the poorer street-folk throw some illumination over their goods, produce a multiplicity of lights and shadows, which, thrown and blended over the old clothes hanging up along the line of street, cause them to assume mysterious forms, and if the wind be high make them, as they are blown to and fro, look more mysterious still.

On one of my visits to Petticoat-lane I saw two foreign Jews—from Smyrna I was informed. An old street-seller told me he believed it was their first visit to the district. But, new as the scene might be to them, they looked on impassively at all they saw. They wore the handsome and peculiar dresses of their country. A glance was cast after them by the Petticoat-lane people, but that was all. In the Strand they would have attracted considerable attention; not a few heads would have been turned back to gaze after them; but it seems that only to those who may possibly be customers is any notice paid in Petticoat-lane.


Rosemary-lane, which has in vain been re-christened Royal Mint-street, is from half to three-quarters of a mile long—that is, if we include only the portion which runs from the junction of Leman and Dock streets (near the London Docks) to Sparrow-corner, where it abuts on the Minories. Beyond the Leman-street termination of Rosemary-lane, and stretching on into Shadwell, are many streets of a similar character as regards the street and shop supply of articles to the poor; but as the old clothes trade is only occasionally carried on there, I shall here deal with Rosemary-lane proper.


This lane partakes of some of the characteristics of Petticoat-lane, but without its so strongly marked peculiarities. Rosemary-lane is wider and airier, the houses on each side are loftier (in several parts), and there is an approach to a gin palace, a thing unknown in Petticoat-lane: there is no room for such a structure there.

Rosemary-lane, like the quarter I have last described, has its off-streets, into which the traffic stretches. Some of these off-streets are narrower, dirtier, poorer in all respects than Rosemary-lane itself, which indeed can hardly be stigmatized as very dirty. These are Glasshouse-street, Russell-court, Hairbrine-court, Parson’s-court, Blue Anchor-yard (one of the poorest places and with a half-built look), Darby-street, Cartwright-street, Peter’s-court, Princes-street, Queen-street, and beyond these and in the direction of the Minories, Rosemary-lane becomes Sharp’s-buildings and Sparrow-corner. There are other small non-thoroughfare courts, sometimes called blind alleys, to which no name is attached, but which are very well known to the neighbourhood as Union-court, &c.; but as these are not scenes of street-traffic, although they may be the abodes of street-traffickers, they require no especial notice.

The dwellers in the neighbourhood or the off-streets of Rosemary-lane, differ from those of Petticoat-lane by the proximity of the former place to the Thames. The lodgings here are occupied by dredgers, ballast-heavers, coal-whippers, watermen, lumpers, and others whose trade is connected with the river, as well as the slop-workers and sweaters working for the Minories. The poverty of these workers compels them to lodge wherever the rent of the rooms is the lowest. As a few of the wives of the ballast-heavers, &c., are street-sellers in or about Rosemary-lane, the locality is often sought by them. About Petticoat-lane the off-streets are mostly occupied by the old clothes merchants.

In Rosemary-lane is a greater street-trade, as regards things placed on the ground for retail sale, &c., than in Petticoat-lane; for though the traffic in the last-mentioned lane is by far the greatest, it is more connected with the shops, and fewer[40] traders whose dealings are strictly those of the street alone resort to it. Rosemary-lane, too, is more Irish. There are some cheap lodging-houses in the courts, &c., to which the poor Irish flock; and as they are very frequently street-sellers, on busy days the quarter abounds with them. At every step you hear the Erse tongue, and meet with the Irish physiognomy; Jews and Jewesses are also seen in the street, and they abound in the shops. The street-traffic does not begin until about one o’clock, except as regards the vegetable, fish, and oyster-stalls, &c.; but the chief business of this lane, which is as inappropriately as that of Petticoat is suitably named, is in the vending of the articles which have often been thrown aside as refuse, but from which numbers in London wring an existence.

One side of the lane is covered with old boots and shoes; old clothes, both men’s, women’s, and children’s; new lace for edgings, and a variety of cheap prints and muslins (also new); hats and bonnets; pots, and often of the commonest kinds; tins; old knives and forks, old scissors, and old metal articles generally; here and there is a stall of cheap bread or American cheese, or what is announced as American; old glass; different descriptions of second-hand furniture of the smaller size, such as children’s chairs, bellows, &c. Mixed with these, but only very scantily, are a few bright-looking swag-barrows, with china ornaments, toys, &c. Some of the wares are spread on the ground on wrappers, or pieces of matting or carpet; and some, as the pots, are occasionally placed on straw. The cotton prints are often heaped on the ground; where are also ranges or heaps of boots and shoes, and piles of old clothes, or hats, or umbrellas. Other traders place their goods on stalls or barrows, or over an old chair or clothes-horse. And amidst all this motley display the buyers and sellers smoke, and shout, and doze, and bargain, and wrangle, and eat and drink tea and coffee, and sometimes beer. Altogether Rosemary-lane is more of a street market than is Petticoat-lane.

This district, like the one I have first described, is infested with young thieves and vagrants from the neighbouring lodging-houses, who may be seen running about, often bare-footed, bare-necked, and shirtless, but “larking” one with another, and what may be best understood as “full of fun.” In what way these lads dispose of their plunder, and how their plunder is in any way connected with the trade of these parts, I shall show in my account of the Thieves. One pickpocket told me that there was no person whom he delighted so much to steal from as any Petticoat-laner with whom he had professional dealings!

In Rosemary-lane there is a busy Sunday morning trade; there is a street-trade, also, on the Saturday afternoons, but the greater part of the shops are then closed, and the Jews do not participate in the commerce until after sunset.

The two marts I have thus fully described differ from all other street-markets, for in these two second-hand garments, and second-hand merchandize generally (although but in a small proportion), are the grand staple of the traffic. At the other street-markets, the second-hand commerce is the exception.

Of the Street-Sellers of Men’s Second-hand Clothes.

In the following accounts of street-selling, I shall not mix up any account of the retailers’ modes of buying, collecting, repairing, or “restoring” the second-hand garments, otherwise than incidentally. I have already sketched the systems pursued, and more will have to be said concerning them under the head of Street-Buyers. Neither have I thought it necessary, in the further accounts I have collected, to confine myself to the trade carried on in the Petticoat and Rosemary-lane districts. The greater portion relates to those places, but my aim, of course, is to give an account which will show the character of the second-hand trade of the metropolis generally.

“People should remember,” said an intelligent shoemaker (not a street-seller) with whom I had some conversation about cobbling for the streets, “that such places as Rosemary-lane have their uses this way. But for them a very poor industrious widow, say, with only 2d. or 3d. to spare, couldn’t get a pair of shoes for her child; whereas now, for 2d. or 3d., she can get them there, of some sort or other. There’s a sort of decency, too, in wearing shoes. And what’s more, sir—for I’ve bought old coats and other clothes in Rosemary-lane, both for my own wear and my family’s, and know something about it—how is a poor creature to get such a decency as a petticoat for a poor little girl, if she’d only a penny, unless there were such places?”

In the present state of the very poor, it may be that such places as those described have, on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread, their benefits. But whether the state of things in which an industrious widow, or a host of industrious persons, can spare but 1d. for a child’s clothing (and nothing, perhaps, for their own), is one to be lauded in a Christian country, is another question, fraught with grave political and social considerations.

The man from whom I received the following account of the sale of men’s wearing apparel was apparently between 30 and 40 years of age. His face presented something of the Jewish physiognomy, but he was a Christian, he said, though he never had time to go to church or chapel, and Sunday was often a busy day; besides, a man must live as others in his way lived. He had been connected with the sale of old clothes all his life, as were his parents, so that his existence had been monotonous enough, for he had never been more than five miles, he thought, from Whitechapel, the neighbourhood where he was born. In winter he liked a concert, and was fond of a hand at cribbage, but he didn’t care for the play. His goods he sometimes spread on the ground—at other times he had a stall or a “horse” (clothes-horse).

“My customers,” he said, “are nearly all working people, some of them very poor, and with large families. For anything I know, some[41] of them works with their heads, though, as well, and not their hands, for I’ve noticed that their hands is smallish and seems smoothish, and suits a tight sleeve very well. I don’t know what they are. How should I? I asks no questions, and they’ll tell me no fibs. To such as them I sell coats mostly; indeed, very little else. They’re often very perticler about the fit, and often asks, ‘Does it look as if it was made for me?’ Sometimes they is seedy, very seedy, and comes to such as me, most likely, ’cause we’re cheaper than the shops. They don’t like to try things on in the street, and I can always take a decent customer, or one as looks sich, in there, to try on (pointing to a coffee-shop). Bob-tailed coats (dress-coats) is far the cheapest. I’ve sold them as low as 1s., but not often; at 2s. and 3s. often enough; and sometimes as high as 5s. Perhaps a 3s. or 3s. 6d. coat goes off as well as any, but bob-tailed coats is little asked for. Now, I’ve never had a frock (surtout or frock coat), as well as I can remember, under 2s. 6d., except one that stuck by me a long time, and I sold it at last for 20d., which was 2d. less than what it cost. It was only a poor thing, in course, but it had such a rum-coloured velvet collar, that was faded, and had had a bit let in, and was all sorts of shades, and that hindered its selling, I fancy. Velvet collars isn’t worn now, and I’m glad of it. Old coats goes better with their own collars (collars of the same cloth as the body of the coat). For frocks, I’ve got as much as 7s. 6d., and cheap at it too, sir. Well, perhaps (laughing) at an odd time they wasn’t so very cheap, but that’s all in the way of trade. About 4s. 6d. or 5s. is perhaps the ticket that a frock goes off best at. It’s working people that buys frocks most, and often working people’s wives or mothers—that is as far as I knows. They’re capital judges as to what’ll fit their men; and if they satisfy me it’s all right, I’m always ready to undertake to change it for another if it don’t fit. O, no, I never agree to give back the money if it don’t fit; in course not; that wouldn’t be business.

“No, sir, we’re very little troubled with people larking. I have had young fellows come, half drunk, even though it might be Sunday morning, and say, ‘Guv’ner, what’ll you give me to wear that coat for you, and show off your cut?’ We don’t stand much of their nonsense. I don’t know what such coves are. Perhaps ’torneys’ journeymen, or pot-boys out for a Sunday morning’s spree.” [This was said with a bitterness that surprised me in so quiet-speaking a man.] “In greatcoats and cloaks I don’t do much, but it’s a very good sale when you can offer them well worth the money. I’ve got 10s. often for a greatcoat, and higher and lower, oftener lower in course; but 10s. is about the card for a good thing. It’s the like with cloaks. Paletots don’t sell well. They’re mostly thinner and poorer cloth to begin with at the tailors—them new-fashioned named things often is so—and so they show when hard worn. Why no, sir, they can be done up, certainly; anything can be touched up; but they get thin, you see, and there’s nothing to work upon as there is in a good cloth greatcoat. You’ll excuse me, sir, but I saw you a little bit since take one of them there square books that a man gives away to people coming this way, as if to knock up the second-hand business, but he won’t, though; I’ll tell you how them slops, if they come more into wear, is sure to injure us. If people gets to wear them low-figured things, more and more, as they possibly may, why where’s the second-hand things to come from? I’m not a tailor, but I understands about clothes, and I believe that no person ever saw anything green in my eye. And if you find a slop thing marked a guinea, I don’t care what it is, but I’ll undertake that you shall get one that’ll wear longer, and look better to the very last, second-hand, at less than half the money, plenty less. It was good stuff and good make at first, and hasn’t been abused, and that’s the reason why it always bangs a slop, because it was good to begin with.

“Trousers sells pretty well. I sell them, cloth ones, from 6d. up to 4s. They’re cheaper if they’re not cloth, but very seldom less or so low as 6d. Yes, the cloth ones at that is poor worn things, and little things too. They’re not men’s, they’re youth’s or boy’s size. Good strong cords goes off very well at 1s. and 1s. 6d., or higher. Irish bricklayers buys them, and paviours, and such like. It’s easy to fit a man with a pair of second-hand trousers. I can tell by his build what’ll fit him directly. Tweeds and summer trousers is middling, but washing things sells worse and worse. It’s an expense, and expenses don’t suit my customers—not a bit of it.

“Waistcoats isn’t in no great call. They’re often worn very hard under any sort of a tidy coat, for a tidy coat can be buttoned over anything that’s ‘dicky,’ and so, you see, many of ’em’s half-way to the rag-shop before they comes to us. Well, I’m sure I can hardly say what sort of people goes most for weskets” [so he pronounced it]. “If they’re light, or there’s anything ‘fancy’ about them, I thinks it’s mothers as makes them up for their sons. What with the strings at the back and such like, it aint hard to make a wesket fit. They’re poor people as buys certainly, but genteel people buys such things as fancy weskets, or how do you suppose they’d all be got through? O, there’s ladies comes here for a bargain, I can tell you, and gentlemen, too; and many on ’em would go through fire for one. Second-hand satins (waistcoats) is good still, but they don’t fetch the tin they did. I’ve sold weskets from 1½d. to 4s. Well, it’s hard to say what the three-ha’pennies is made of; all sorts of things; we calls them ‘serge.’ Three-pence is a common price for a little wesket. There’s no under-weskets wanted now, and there’s no rolling collars. It was better for us when there was, as there was more stuff to work on. The double-breasted gets scarcer, too. Fashions grows to be cheap things now-a-days.

“I can’t tell you anything about knee-breeches; they don’t come into my trade, and they’re never asked for. Gaiters is no go either. Liveries isn’t[42] a street-trade. I fancy all those sort of things is sent abroad. I don’t know where. Perhaps where people doesn’t know they was liveries. I wouldn’t wear an old livery coat, if it was the Queen’s, for five bob. I don’t think wearing one would hinder trade. You may have seen a black man in a fine livery giving away bills of a slop in Holborn. If we was to have such a thing we’d be pulled up (apprehended) for obstructing.

“I sells a few children’s (children’s clothes), but only a few, and I can’t say so much about them. They sells pretty freely though, and to very decent people. If they’re good, then they’re ready for use. If they ain’t anything very prime, they can be mended—that is, if they was good to begin with. But children’s woollen togs is mostly hardworn and fit only for the ‘devil’ (the machine which tears them up for shoddy). I’ve sold suits, which was tunics and trousers, but no weskets, for 3s. 6d. when they was tidy. That’s a common price.

“Well, really, I hardly know how much I make every week; far too little, I know that. I could no more tell you how many coats I sell in a year, or how many weskets, than I could tell you how many days was fine, and how many wasn’t. I can carry all in my head, and so I keeps no accounts. I know exactly what every single thing I sell has cost me. In course I must know that. I dare say I may clear about 12s. bad weeks, and 18s. good weeks, more and less both ways, and there’s more bad weeks than good. I have cleared 50s. in a good week; and when it’s been nothing but fog and wet, I haven’t cleared 3s. 6d. But mine’s a better business than common, perhaps. I can’t say what others clears; more and less than I does.”

The profit in this trade, from the best information I could obtain, runs about 50 per cent.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Boots and Shoes.

The man who gave me the following account of this trade had been familiar with it a good many years, fifteen he believed, but was by no means certain. I saw at his lodgings a man who was finishing his day’s work there, in cobbling and “translating.” He was not in the employ of my informant, who had two rooms, or rather a floor; he slept in one and let the other to the “translator” who was a relation, he told me, and they went on very well together, as he (the street-seller) liked to sit and smoke his pipe of a night in the translator’s room, which was much larger than his own; and sometimes, when times were “pretty bobbish,” they clubbed together for a good supper of tripe, or had a “prime hot Jemmy a-piece,” with a drop of good beer. A “Jemmy” is a baked sheep’s head. The room was tidy enough, but had the strong odour of shoemaker’s wax proper to the craft.

“I’ve been in a good many street-trades, and others too,” said my informant, “since you want to know, and for a good purpose as well as I can understand it. I was a ’prentice to a shoemaker in Northampton, with a lot more; why, it was more like a factory than anything else, was my master’s, and the place we worked in was so confined and hot, and we couldn’t open the window, that it was worse than the East Ingees. O, I know what they is. I’ve been there. I was so badly treated I ran away from my master, for I had only a father, and he cared nothing about me, and so I broke my indentures. After a good bit of knocking about and living as I could, and starving when I couldn’t, but I never thought of going back to Northampton, I ’listed and was a good bit in the Ingees. Well, never mind, sir, how long, or what happened me when I was soldier. I did nothing wrong, and that ain’t what you was asking about, and I’d rather say no more about it.”

I have met with other street-folk, who had been soldiers, and who were fond of talking of their “service,” often enough to grumble about it, so that I am almost tempted to think my informant had deserted, but I questioned him no further on the subject.

“I had my ups and downs again, sir,” he continued, “when I got back to England. God bless us all; I’m very fond of children, but I never married, and when I’ve been at the worst, I’ve been really glad that I hadn’t no one depending on me. It’s bad enough for oneself, but when there’s others as you must love, what must it be then? I’ve smoked a pipe when I was troubled in mind, and couldn’t get a meal, but could only get a pipe, and baccy’s shamefully dear here; but if I’d had a young daughter now, what good would it have been my smoking a pipe to comfort her? I’ve seen that in people that’s akin to me, and has been badly off, and with families. I had a friend or two in London, and I applied to them when I couldn’t hold out no longer, and they gave me a bit of a rise, so I began as a costermonger. I was living among them as was in that line. Well, now, it’s a pleasant life in fine weather. Why it was only this morning Joe (the translator) was reading the paper at breakfast time;—he gets it from the public-house, and if it’s two, three, or four days old, it’s just as good for us;—and there was 10,000 pines had been received from the West Ingees. There’s a chance for the costermongers, says I, if they don’t go off too dear. Then cherries is in; and I was beginning to wish I was a costermonger myself still, but my present trade is surer. My boots and shoes’ll keep. They don’t spoil in hot weather. Cherries and strawberries does, and if it comes thunder and wet, you can’t sell. I worked a barrow, and sometimes had only a bit of a pitch, for a matter of two year, perhaps, and then I got into this trade, as I understood it. I sells all sorts, but not so much women’s or children’s.

“Why, as to prices, there’s two sorts of prices. You may sell as you buy, or you may sell new soled and heeled. They’re never new welted for the streets. It wouldn’t pay a bit. Not long since I had a pair of very good Oxonians that had been new welted, and the very first day I had them on sale—it was a dull drizzly day—a lad tried to prig them. I just caught him in time.[43] Did I give him in charge? I hope I’ve more sense. I’ve been robbed before, and I’ve caught young rips in the act. If it’s boots or shoes they’ve tried to prig, I gives them a stirruping with whichever it is, and a kick, and lets them go.

“Men’s shoes, the regular sort, isn’t a very good sale. I get from 10d. to 4s. 6d. a pair; but the high priced ’uns is either soled and heeled, and mudded well, or they’ve been real well-made things, and not much worn. I’ve had gentlemen’s shooting-shoes sometimes, that’s flung aside for the least thing. The plain shoes don’t go off at all. I think people likes something to cover their stocking-feet more. For cloth button-boots I get from 1s.—that’s the lowest I ever sold at—to 2s. 6d. The price is according to what condition the things is in, and what’s been done to them, but there’s no regular price. They’re not such good sale as they would be, because they soon show worn. The black ‘legs’ gets to look very seamy, and it’s a sort of boot that won’t stand much knocking about, if it ain’t right well made at first. I’ve been selling Oxonian button-overs (‘Oxonian’ shoes, which cover the instep, and are closed by being buttoned instead of being stringed through four or five holes) at 3s. 6d. and 4s. but they was really good, and soled and heeled; others I sell at 1s. 6d. to 2s. 3d. or 2s. 6d. Bluchers is from 1s. to 3s. 6d. Wellingtons from 1s.—yes, indeed, I’ve had them as low as 1s., and perhaps they weren’t very cheap at that, them very low-priced things never is, neither new nor old—from 1s. to 5s.; but Wellingtons is more for the shops than the street. I do a little in children’s boots and shoes. I sell them from 3d. to 15d. Yes, you can buy lower than 3d., but I’m not in that way. They sell quite as quick, or quicker, than anything. I’ve sold children’s boots to poor women that wanted shoeing far worse than the child; aye, many a time, sir. Top boots (they’re called ‘Jockeys’ in the trade) isn’t sold in the streets. I’ve never had any, and I don’t see them with others in my line. O no, there’s no such thing as Hessians or back-straps (a top-boot without the light-coloured top) in my trade now. Yes, I always have a seat handy where anybody can try on anything in the street; no, sir, no boot-hooks nor shoe-horn; shoe-horns is rather going out, I think. If what we sell in the streets won’t go on without them they won’t be sold at all. A good many will buy if the thing’s only big enough—they can’t bear pinching, and don’t much care for a fine fit.

“Well, I suppose I take from 30s. to 40s. a week, 14s. is about my profit—that’s as to the year through.

“I sell little for women’s wear, though I do sell their boots and shoes sometimes.”

Of the Street-Sellers of Old Hats.

The two street-sellers of old coats, waistcoats, and trousers, and of boots and shoes, whose statements precede this account, confined their trade, generally, to the second-hand merchandize I have mentioned as more especially constituting their stock. But this arrangement does not wholly prevail. There are many street-traders “in second-hand,” perhaps two-thirds of the whole number, who sell indiscriminately anything which they can buy, or what they hope to turn out an advantage; but even they prefer to deal more in one particular kind of merchandize than another, and this is most of all the case as concerns the street-sale of old boots and shoes. Hats, however, are among the second-hand wares which the street-seller rarely vends unconnected with other stock. I was told that this might be owing to the hats sold in the streets being usually suitable only for one class, grown men; while clothes and boots and shoes are for boys as well as men. Caps may supersede the use of hats, but nothing can supersede the use of boots or shoes, which form the steadiest second-hand street-trade of any.

There are, however, occasions, when a street-seller exerts himself to become possessed of a cheap stock of hats, by the well-known process of “taking a quantity,” and sells them without, or with but a small admixture of other goods. One man who had been lately so occupied, gave me the following account. He was of Irish parentage, but there was little distinctive in his accent:—

“Hats,” he said, “are about the awkwardest things of any for the streets. Do as you will, they require a deal of room, so that what you’ll mostly see isn’t hats quite ready to put on your head and walk away in, but to be made ready. I’ve sold hats that way though, I mean ready to wear, and my father before me has sold hundreds—yes, I’ve been in the trade all my life—and it’s the best way for a profit. You get, perhaps, the old hat in, or you buy it at 1d. or 2d. as may be, and so you kill two birds. But there’s very little of that trade except on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings. People wants a decent tile for Sundays and don’t care for work-days. I never hawks hats, but I sells to those as do. My customers for hats are mechanics, with an odd clerk or two. Yes, indeed, I sell hats now and then to my own countrymen to go decent to mass in. I go to mass myself as often as I can; sometimes I go to vespers. No, the Irish in this trade ain’t so good in going to chapel as they ought, but it takes such a time; not just while you’re there, but in shaving, and washing, and getting ready. My wife helps me in selling second-hand things; she’s a better hand than I am. I have two boys; they’re young yet, and I don’t know what we shall bring them up to; perhaps to our own business; and children seems to fall naturally into it, I think, when their fathers and mothers is in it. They’re at school now.

“I have sold hats from 6d. to 3s. 6d., but very seldom 3s. 6d. The 3s. 6d. ones would wear out two new gossamers, I know. It’s seldom you see beaver hats in the street-trade now, they’re nearly all silk. They say the beavers have got scarce in foreign parts where they’re caught. I haven’t an idea how many hats I sell in a year, for I don’t stick to hats, you see, sir, but I like doing in them as well or better than in anything else. Sometimes I’ve sold nothing but hats for weeks together, wholesale and retail that is. It’s[44] only the regular-shaped hats I can sell. If you offer swells’ hats, people’ll say: ‘I may as well buy a new “wide-awake” at once.’ I have made 20s. in a week on hats alone. But if I confined my trade to them now, I don’t suppose I could clear 5s. one week with another the year through. It’s only the hawkers that can sell them in wet weather. I wish we could sell under cover in all the places where there’s what you call ‘street-markets.’ It would save poor people that lives by the street many a twopence by their things not being spoiled, and by people not heeding the rain to go and examine them.”

Of the Street-Sellers of Women’s Second-hand Apparel.

This trade, as regards the sale to retail customers in the streets, is almost entirely in the hands of women, seven-eighths of whom are the wives, relatives, or connections of the men who deal in second-hand male apparel. But gowns, cloaks, bonnets, &c., are collected more largely by men than by women, and the wholesale old clothes’ merchants of course deal in every sort of habiliment. Petticoat and Rosemary-lanes are the grand marts for this street-sale, but in Whitecross-street, Leather-lane, Old-street (St. Luke’s), and some similar Saturday-night markets in poor neighbourhoods, women’s second-hand apparel is sometimes offered. “It is often of little use offering it in the latter places,” I was told by a lace-seller who had sometimes tried to do business in second-hand shawls and cloaks, “because you are sure to hear, ‘Oh, we can get them far cheaper in Petticoat-lane, when we like to go as far.’”

The different portions of female dress are shown and sold in the street, as I have described in my account of Rosemary-lane, and of the trading of the men selling second-hand male apparel. There is not so much attention paid to “set off” gowns that there is to set off coats. “If the gown be a washing gown,” I was informed, “it is sure to have to be washed before it can be worn, and so it is no use bothering with it, and paying for soap and labour beforehand. If it be woollen, or some stuff that wont wash, it has almost always to be altered before it is worn, and so it is no use doing it up perhaps to be altered again.” Silk goods, however, are carefully enough re-glossed and repaired. Most of the others “just take their chance.”

A good-looking Irishwoman gave me the following account. She had come to London and had been a few years in service, where she saved a little money, when she married a cousin, but in what degree of cousinship she did not know. She then took part in his avocation as a crockman, and subsequently as a street-seller of second-hand clothes.

“Why, yis, thin and indeed, sir,” she said, “I did feel rather quare in my new trade, going about from house to house, the Commercial-road and Stepney way, but I soon got not to mind, and indeed thin it don’t matter much what way one gets one’s living, so long as it’s honest. O, yis, I know there’s goings on in old clothes that isn’t always honest, but my husband’s a fair dealing man. I felt quarer, too, whin I had to sell in the strate, but I soon got used to that, too; and it’s not such slavish work as the ‘crocks.’ But we sometimes ‘crocks’ in the mornings a little still, and sells in the evenings. No, not what we’ve collected—for that goes to Mr. Isaac’s market almost always—but stock that’s ready for wear.

“For Cotton Gowns I’ve got from 9d. to 2s. 3d. O, yis, and indeed thin, there’s gowns chaper, 4d. and 6d., but there’s nothing to be got out of them, and we don’t sell them. From 9d. to 18d. is the commonest price. It’s poor people as buys: O, yis, and indeed thin it is, thim as has families, and must look about thim. Many’s the poor woman that’s said to me, ‘Well, and indeed, marm, it isn’t my inclination to chapen anybody as I thinks is fair, and I was brought up quite different to buying old gowns, I assure you’—yis, that’s often said; no, sir, it isn’t my countrywomen that says it (laughing), it’s yours. ‘I wouldn’t think,’ says she, ‘of offering you 1d. less than 1s., marm, for that frock for my daughter, marm, but it’s such a hard fight to live.’ Och, thin, and it is indeed; but to hear some of them talk you’d think they was born ladies. Stuff-gowns is from 2d. to 8d. higher than cotton, but they don’t sell near so well. I hardly know why. Cotton washes, and if a dacent woman gets a chape second-hand cotton, she washes and does it up, and it seems to come to her fresh and new. That can’t be done with stuff. Silk is very little in my way, but silk gowns sell from 3s. 6d. to 4s. Of satin and velvet gowns I can tell you nothing; they’re never in the streets.

Second-hand Bonnets is a very poor sale—very. The milliners, poor craitchers, as makes them up and sells them in the strate, has the greatest sale, but they makes very little by it. Their bonnets looks new, you see, sir, and close and nice for poor women. I’ve sold bonnets from 6d. to 3s. 6d., and some of them cost 3l. But whin they git faded and out of fashion, they’re of no vally at all at all. Shawls is a very little sale; very little. I’ve got from 6d. to 2s. 6d. for them. Plaid shawls is as good as any, at about 1s. 6d.; but they’re a winter trade. Cloaks (they are what in the dress-making trade are called mantles) isn’t much of a call. I’ve had them from 1s. 6d. as high as 7s.—but only once 7s., and it was good silk. They’re not a sort of wear that suits poor people. Will and indeed thin, I hardly know who buys them second-hand. Perhaps bad women buys a few, or they get men to buy them for them. I think your misses don’t buy much second-hand thin in gineral; the less the better, the likes of them; yis, indeed, sir. Stays I don’t sell, but you can buy them from 3d. to 15d.; it’s a small trade. And I don’t sell Under Clothing, or only now and thin, except Children’s. Dear me, I can hardly tell the prices I get for the poor little things’ dress—I’ve a little girl myself—the prices vary so, just as the frocks and other things is made for big children or little, and what they’re made of. I’ve sold frocks—they sell best on Saturday and[45] Monday nights—from 2d. to 1s. 6d. Little petticoats is 1d. to 3d.; shifts is 1d. and 2d., and so is little shirts. If they wasn’t so low there would be more rags than there is, and sure there’s plinty.

“Will, thin and indeed, I don’t know what we make in a week, and if I did, why should I tell? O, yes, sir, I know from the gentleman that sent you to me that you’re asking for a good purpose: yis, indeed, thin; but I ralely can’t say. We do pritty well, God’s name be praised! Perhaps a good second-hand gown trade and such like is worth from 10s. to 15s. a week, and nearer 15s. than 10s. ivery week; but that’s a good second-hand trade you understand, sir. A poor trade’s about half that, perhaps. But thin my husband sells men’s wear as well. Yis, indeed, and I find time to go to mass, and I soon got my husband to go after we was married, for he’d got to neglect it, God be praised; and what’s all you can get here compared to making your sowl” [saving your soul—making your soul is not an uncommon phrase among some of the Irish people]. “Och, and indeed thin, sir, if you’ve met Father ——, you’ve met a good gintleman.”

Of the street-selling of women and children’s second-hand boots and shoes, I need say but little, as they form part of the stock of the men’s ware, and are sold by the same men, not unfrequently assisted by their wives. The best sale is for black cloth boots, whether laced or buttoned, but the prices run only from 5d. to 1s. 9d. If the “legs” of a second-hand pair be good, they are worth 5d., no matter what the leather portion, including the soles, may be. Coloured boots sell very indifferently. Children’s boots and shoes are sold from 2d. to 15d.

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Furs.

Of furs the street-sale is prompt enough, or used to be prompt; but not so much so, I am told, last season, as formerly. A fur tippet is readily bought for the sake of warmth by women who thrive pretty well in the keeping of coffee-stalls, or any calling which requires attendance during the night, or in the chilliness of early morning, even in summer, by those who go out at early hours to their work. By such persons a big tippet is readily bought when the money is not an impediment, and to many it is a strong recommendation, that when new, the tippet, most likely, was worn by a real lady. So I was assured by a person familiar with the trade.

One female street-seller had three stalls or stands in the New Cut (when it was a great street market), about two years back, and all for the sale of second-hand furs. She has now a small shop in second-hand wearing apparel (women’s) generally, furs being of course included. The business carried on in the street (almost always “the Cut”) by the fur-seller in question, who was both industrious and respectable, was very considerable. On a Monday she has not unfrequently taken 3l., one-half of which, indeed more than half, was profit, for the street-seller bought in the summer, when furs “were no money at all,” and sold in the winter, when they “were really tin, and no mistake.” Before the season began, she sometimes had a small room nearly full of furs.

This trade is less confined to Petticoat-lane and the old clothes district, as regards the supply to retail customers, than is anything else connected with dress. But the fur trade is now small. The money, prudence, and forethought necessary to enable a fur-seller to buy in the summer, for ample profit in the winter, as regards street-trade, is not in accordance with the habits of the general run of street-sellers, who think but of the present, or hardly think even of that.

The old furs, like all the other old articles of wearing apparel, whether garbs of what may be accounted primary necessaries, as shoes, or mere comforts or adornments, as boas or muffs, are bought in the first instance at the Old Clothes Exchange, and so find their way to the street-sellers. The exceptions as to this first transaction in the trade I now speak of, are very trifling, and, perhaps, more trifling than in other articles, for one great supply of furs, I am informed, is from their being swopped in the spring and summer for flowers with the “root-sellers,” who carry them to the Exchange.

Last winter there were sometimes as many as ten persons—three-fourths of the number of second-hand fur sellers, which fluctuates, being women—with fur-stands. They frequent the street-markets on the Saturday and Monday nights, not confining themselves to any one market in particular. The best sale is for Fur Tippets, and chiefly of the darker colours. These are bought, one of the dealers informed me, frequently by maid-servants, who could run of errands in them in the dark, or wear them in wet weather. They are sold from 1s. 6d. to 4s. 6d., about 2s. or 2s. 6d. being a common charge. Children’s tippets “go off well,” from 6d. to 1s. 3d. Boas are not vended to half the extent of tippets, although they are lower-priced, one of tolerably good gray squirrel being 1s. 6d. The reason of the difference in the demand is that boas are as much an ornament as a garment, while the tippet answers the purpose of a shawl. Muffs are not at all vendible in the streets, the few that are disposed of being principally for children. As muffs are not generally used by maid-servants, or by the families of the working classes, the absence of demand in the second-hand traffic is easily accounted for. They are bought sometimes to cut up for other purposes. Victorines are disposed of readily enough at from 1s. to 2s. 6d., as are Cuffs, from 4d. to 8d.

One man, who told me that a few years since he and his wife used to sell second-hand furs in the street, was of opinion that his best customers were women of the town, who were tolerably well-dressed, and who required some further protection from the night air. He could readily sell any “tidy” article, tippet, boa, or muff, to those females, if they had from 2s. 6d. to 5s. at command. He had so sold them in Clare-market, in Tottenham-court-road, and the Brill.


Of the Second-Hand Sellers of Smithfield-market.

No small part of the second-hand trade of London is carried on in the market-place of Smithfield, on the Friday afternoons. Here is a mart for almost everything which is required for the harnessing of beasts of draught, or is required for any means of propulsion or locomotion, either as a whole vehicle, or in its several parts, needed by street-traders: also of the machines, vessels, scales, weights, measures, baskets, stands, and all other appliances of street-trade.

The scene is animated and peculiar. Apart from the horse, ass, and goat trade (of which I shall give an account hereafter), it is a grand Second-hand Costermongers’ Exchange. The trade is not confined to that large body, though they are the principal merchants, but includes greengrocers (often the costermonger in a shop), carmen, and others. It is, moreover, a favourite resort of the purveyors of street-provisions and beverages, of street dainties and luxuries. Of this class some of the most prosperous are those who are “well known in Smithfield.”

The space devoted to this second-hand commerce and its accompaniments, runs from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital towards Long-lane, but isolated peripatetic traders are found in all parts of the space not devoted to the exhibition of cattle or of horses. The crowd on the day of my visit was considerable, but from several I heard the not-always-very-veracious remarks of “Nothing doing” and “There’s nobody at all here to-day.” The weather was sultry, and at every few yards arose the cry from men and boys, “Ginger-beer, ha’penny a glass! Ha’penny a glass,” or “Iced lemonade here! Iced raspberriade, as cold as ice, ha’penny a glass, only a ha’penny!” A boy was elevated on a board at the end of a splendid affair of this kind. It was a square built vehicle, the top being about 7 feet by 4, and flat and surmounted by the lemonade fountain; long, narrow, champagne glasses, holding a raspberry coloured liquid, frothed up exceedingly, were ranged round, and the beverage dispensed by a woman, the mother or employer of the boy who was bawling. The sides of the machine, which stood on wheels, were a bright, shiny blue, and on them sprawled the lion and unicorn in gorgeous heraldry, yellow and gold, the artist being, according to a prominent announcement, a “herald painter.” The apparatus was handsome, but with that exaggeration of handsomeness which attracts the high and low vulgar, who cannot distinguish between gaudiness and beauty. The sale was brisk. The ginger-beer sold in the market was generally dispensed from carts, and here I noticed, what occurs yearly in street-commerce, an innovation on the established system of the trade. Several sellers disposed of their ginger-beer in clear glass bottles, somewhat larger and fuller-necked than those introduced by M. Soyer for the sale of his “nectar,” and the liquid was drank out of the bottle the moment the cork was undrawn, and so the necessity of a glass was obviated.

Near the herald-painter’s work, of which I have just spoken, stood a very humble stall on which were loaves of bread, and round the loaves were pieces of fried fish and slices of bread on plates, all remarkably clean. “Oysters! Penny-a lot! Penny-a-lot, oysters!” was the cry, the most frequently heard after that of ginger-beer, &c. “Cherries! Twopence a-pound! Penny-a pound, cherries!” “Fruit-pies! Try my fruit-pies!” The most famous dealer in all kinds of penny pies is, however, not a pedestrian, but an equestrian hawker. He drives a very smart, handsome pie-cart, sitting behind after the manner of the Hansom cabmen, the lifting up of a lid below his knees displaying his large stock of pies. His “drag” is whisked along rapidly by a brisk chestnut poney, well-harnessed. The “whole set out,” I was informed, poney included, cost 50l. when new. The proprietor is a keen Chartist and teetotaller, and loses no opportunity to inculcate to his customers the excellence of teetotalism, as well as of his pies. “Milk! ha’penny a pint! ha’penny a pint, good milk!” is another cry. “Raspberry cream! Iced raspberry-cream, ha’penny a glass!” This street-seller had a capital trade. Street-ices, or rather ice-creams, were somewhat of a failure last year, more especially in Greenwich-park, but this year they seem likely to succeed. The Smithfield man sold them in very small glasses, which he merely dipped into a vessel at his feet, and so filled them with the cream. The consumers had to use their fingers instead of a spoon, and no few seemed puzzled how to eat their ice, and were grievously troubled by its getting among their teeth. I heard one drover mutter that he felt “as if it had snowed in his belly!” Perhaps at Smithfield-market on the Friday afternoons every street-trade in eatables and drinkables has its representative, with the exception of such things as sweet-stuff, curds and whey, &c., which are bought chiefly by women and children. There were plum-dough, plum-cake, pastry, pea-soup, whelks, periwinkles, ham-sandwiches, hot-eels, oranges, &c., &c., &c.

These things are the usual accompaniment of street-markets, and I now come to the subject matter of the work, the sale of second-hand articles.

In this trade, since the introduction of a new arrangement two months ago, there has been a great change. The vendors are not allowed to vend barrows in the market, unless indeed with a poney or donkey harnessed to them, or unless they are wheeled about by the owner, and they are not allowed to spread their wares on the ground. When it is considered of what those wares are composed, the awkwardness of the arrangement, to the sales-people, may be understood. They consist of second-hand collars, pads, saddles, bridles, bits, traces, every description of worn harness, whole or in parts; the wheels, springs, axles, &c., of barrows and carts; the beams, chains, and bodies of scales;—these, perhaps, are the chief things which are sold separately, as parts of a whole. The traders have now no other option but to carry them as they best[47] can, and offer them for sale. You saw men who really appear clad in harness. Portions were fastened round their bodies, collars slung on their arms, pads or small cart-saddles, with their shaft-gear, were planted on their shoulders. Some carried merely a collar, or a harness bridle, or even a bit or a pair of spurs. It was the same with the springs, &c., of the barrows and small carts. They were carried under men’s arms, or poised on their shoulders. The wheels and other things which are too heavy for such modes of transport had to be placed in some sort of vehicle, and in the vehicles might be seen trestles, &c.

The complaints on the part of the second-hand sellers were neither few nor mild: “If it had been a fat ox that had to be accommodated,” said one, “before he was roasted for an alderman, they’d have found some way to do it. But it don’t matter for poor men; though why we shouldn’t be suited with a market as well as richer people is not the ticket, that’s the fact.”

These arrangements are already beginning to be infringed, and will be more and more infringed, for such is always the case. The reason why they were adopted was that the ground was so littered, that there was not room for the donkey traffic and other requirements of the market. The donkeys, when “shown,” under the old arrangement, often trod on boards of old metal, &c., spread on the ground, and tripped, sometimes to their injury, in consequence. Prior to the change, about twenty persons used to come from Petticoat-lane, &c., and spread their old metal or other stores on the ground.

Of these there are now none. These Petticoat-laners, I was told by a Smithfield frequenter, were men “who knew the price of old rags,”—a new phrase expressive of their knowingness and keenness in trade.

The statistics of this trade will be found under that head; the prices are often much higher and much lower. I speak of the regular trades. I have not included the sale of the superior butchers’ carts, &c., as that is a traffic not in the hands of the regular second-hand street-sellers. I have not thought it requisite to speak of the hawking of whips, sticks, wash-leathers, brushes, curry-combs, &c., &c., of which I have already treated distinctively.

The accounts of the Capital and Income of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles I am obliged to defer till a future occasion.


The live animals sold in the streets include beasts, birds, fish, and reptiles, all sold in the streets of London.

The class of men carrying on this business—for they are nearly all men—is mixed; but the majority are of a half-sporting and half-vagrant kind. One informant told me that the bird-catchers, for instance, when young, as more than three-fourths of them are, were those who “liked to be after a loose end,” first catching their birds, as a sort of sporting business, and then sometimes selling them in the streets, but far more frequently disposing of them in the bird-shops. “Some of these boys,” a bird-seller in a large way of business said to me, “used to become rat-catchers or dog-sellers, but there’s not such great openings in the rat and dog line now. As far as I know, they’re the same lads, or just the same sort of lads, anyhow, as you may see ‘helping,’ holding horses, or things like that, at concerns like them small races at Peckham or Chalk Farm, or helping any way at the foot-races at Camberwell.” There is in this bird-catching a strong manifestation of the vagrant spirit. To rise long before daybreak; to walk some miles before daybreak; from the earliest dawn to wait in some field, or common, or wood, watching the capture of the birds; then a long trudge to town to dispose of the fluttering captives; all this is done cheerfully, because there are about it the irresistible charms, to this class, of excitement, variety, and free and open-air life. Nor do these charms appear one whit weakened when, as happens often enough, all this early morn business is carried on fasting.

The old men in the bird-catching business are not to be ranked as to their enjoyment of it with the juveniles, for these old men are sometimes infirm, and can but, as one of them said to me some time ago, “hobble about it.” But they have the same spirit, or the sparks of it. And in this part of the trade is one of the curious characteristics of a street-life, or rather of an open-air pursuit for the requirements of a street-trade. A man, worn out for other purposes, incapable of anything but a passive, or sort of lazy labour—such as lying in a field and watching the action of his trap-cages—will yet in a summer’s morning, decrepid as he may be, possess himself of a dozen or even a score of the very freest and most aspiring of all our English small birds, a creature of the air beyond other birds of his “order”—to use an ornithological term—of sky-larks.

The dog-sellers are of a sporting, trading, idling class. Their sport is now the rat-hunt, or the ferret-match, or the dog-fight; as it was with the predecessors of their stamp, the cock-fight; the bull, bear, and badger bait; the shrove-tide cock-shy, or the duck hunt. Their trading spirit is akin to that of the higher-class sporting fraternity, the trading members of the turf. They love to sell and to bargain, always with a quiet exultation at the time—a matter of loud tavern boast afterwards, perhaps, as respects the street-folk—how they “do” a customer, or “do” one another. “It’s not cheating,” was the remark and apology of a very famous jockey of the old times, touching such measures; “it’s not cheating, it’s outwitting.” Perhaps this expresses the code of honesty[48] of such traders; not to cheat, but to outwit or over-reach. Mixed with such traders, however, are found a few quiet, plodding, fair-dealing men, whom it is difficult to classify, otherwise than that they are “in the line, just because they likes it.” The idling of these street-sellers is a part of their business. To walk by the hour up and down a street, and with no manual labour except to clean their dogs’ kennels, and to carry them in their arms, is but an idleness, although, as some of these men will tell you, “they work hard at it.”

Under the respective heads of dog and bird-sellers, I shall give more detailed characteristics of the class, as well as of the varying qualities and inducements of the buyers.

The street-sellers of foreign birds, such as parrots, parroquets, and cockatoos; of gold and silver fish; of goats, tortoises, rabbits, leverets, hedgehogs; and the collectors of snails, worms, frogs, and toads, are also a mixed body. Foreigners, Jews, seamen, countrymen, costermongers, and boys form a part, and of them I shall give a description under the several heads. The prominently-characterized street-sellers are the traders in dogs and birds.

Of the former Street-Sellers, “Finders,” Stealers, and Restorers of Dogs.

Before I describe the present condition of the street-trade in dogs, which is principally in spaniels, or in the description well known as lap-dogs, I will give an account of the former condition of the trade, if trade it can properly be called, for the “finders” and “stealers” of dogs were the more especial subjects of a parliamentary inquiry, from which I derive the official information on the matter. The Report of the Committee was ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, July 26, 1844.

In their Report the Committee observe, concerning the value of pet dogs:—“From the evidence of various witnesses it appears, that in one case a spaniel was sold for 105l., and in another, under a sheriff’s execution, for 95l. at the hammer; and 50l. or 60l. are not unfrequently given for fancy dogs of first-rate breed and beauty.” The hundred guineas’ dog above alluded to was a “black and tan King Charles’s spaniel;”—indeed, Mr. Dowling, the editor of Bell’s Life in London, said, in his evidence before the Committee, “I have known as much as 150l. given for a dog.” He said afterwards: “There are certain marks about the eyes and otherwise, which are considered ‘properties;’ and it depends entirely upon the property which a dog possesses as to its value.”

I need not dwell on the general fondness of the English for dogs, otherwise than as regards what were the grand objects of the dog-finders’ search—ladies’ small spaniels and lap-dogs, or, as they are sometimes called, “carriage-dogs,” by their being the companions of ladies inside their carriages. These animals first became fashionable by the fondness of Charles II. for them. That monarch allowed them undisturbed possession of the gilded chairs in his palace of Whitehall, and seldom took his accustomed walk in the park without a tribe of them at his heels. So “fashionable” were spaniels at that time and afterwards, that in 1712 Pope made the chief of all his sylphs and sylphides the guard of a lady’s lapdog. The fashion has long continued, and still continues; and it was on this fashionable fondness for a toy, and on the regard of many others for the noble and affectionate qualities of the dog, that a traffic was established in London, which became so extensive and so lucrative, that the legislature interfered, in 1844, for the purpose of checking it.

I cannot better show the extent and lucrativeness of this trade, than by citing a list which one of the witnesses before Parliament, Mr. W. Bishop, a gunmaker, delivered in to the Committee, of “cases in which money had recently been extorted from the owners of dogs by dog-stealers and their confederates.” There is no explanation of the space of time included under the vague term “recently;” but the return shows that 151 ladies and gentlemen had been the victims of the dog-stealers or dog-finders, for in this business the words were, and still are to a degree, synonymes, and of these 62 had been so victimized in 1843 and in the six months of 1844, from January to July. The total amount shown by Mr. Bishop to have been paid for the restoration of stolen dogs was 977l. 4s. 6d., or an average of 6l. 10s. per individual practised upon. This large sum, it is stated on the authority of the Committee, was only that which came within Mr. Bishop’s knowledge, and formed, perhaps, “but a tenth part in amount” of the whole extortion. Mr. Bishop was himself in the habit of doing business “in obtaining the restitution of dogs,” and had once known 18l.—the dog-stealers asked 25l.—given for the restitution of a spaniel. The full amount realized by this dog-stealing was, according to the above proportion, 9772l. 5s. In 1843, 227l. 3s. 6d. was so realized, and 97l. 14s. 6d. in the six months of 1844, within Mr. Bishop’s personal knowledge; and if this be likewise a tenth of the whole of the commerce in this line, a year’s business, it appears, averaged 2166l. to the stealers or finders of dogs. I select a few names from the list of those robbed of dogs, either from the amount paid, or because the names are well known. The first payment cited is from a public board, who owned a dog in their corporate capacity:

Board of Green Cloth800
Hon. W. Ashley (v. t.[5])1500
Sir F. Burdett660
Colonel Udney (v. t.)1200
Duke of Cambridge3000
Count Kielmansegge900
Mr. Orby Hunter (v. t.)1500
Mrs. Holmes (v. t.)5000
Sir Richard Phillips (v. t.)2000
The French Ambassador1116
Sir R. Peel200
[49]Edw. Morris, Esq.1700
Mrs. Ram (v. t.)1500
Duchess of Sutherland500
Wyndham Bruce, Esq. (v. t.)2500
Capt. Alexander (v. t.)2200
Sir De Lacy Evans300
Judge Littledale200
Leonino Ippolito, Esq. (v. t.)1000
Mr. Commissioner Rae500
Lord Cholmondeley (v. t.)1200
Earl Stanhope800
Countess of Charlemont (v. t. in 1843)1200
Lord Alfred Paget1000
Count Leodoffe (v. t.)700
Mr. Thorne (whipmaker)12120
Mr. White (v. t.)1500
Col. Barnard (v. t.)14140
Mr. T. Holmes1500
Earl of Winchelsea600
Lord Wharncliffe (v. t.)1200
Hon. Mrs. Dyce Sombre220
M. Ude (v. t.)10100
Count Batthyany1400
Bishop of Ely4100
Count D’Orsay1000

Thus these 36 ladies and gentlemen paid 438l. 5s. 6d. to rescue their dogs from professional dog-stealers, or an average, per individual, of upwards of 12l.

These dog appropriators, as they found that they could levy contributions not only on royalty, foreign ambassadors, peers, courtiers, and ladies of rank, but on public bodies, and on the dignitaries of the state, the law, the army, and the church, became bolder and more expert in their avocations—a boldness which was encouraged by the existing law. Prior to the parliamentary inquiry, dog-stealing was not an indictable offence. To show this, Mr. Commissioner Mayne quoted Blackstone to the Committee: “As to those animals which do not serve for food, and which therefore the law holds to have no intrinsic value, as dogs of all sorts, and other creatures kept for whim and pleasure—though a man may have a base property therein, and maintain a civil action for the loss of them, yet they are not of such estimation as that the crime of stealing them amounts to larceny.” The only mode of punishment for dog-stealing was by summary conviction, the penalty being fine or imprisonment; but Mr. Commissioner Mayne did not know of any instance of a dog-stealer being sent to prison in default of payment. Although the law recognised no property in a dog, the animal was taxed; and it was complained at the time that an unhappy lady might have to pay tax for the full term upon her dog, perhaps a year and a half after he had been stolen from her. One old offender, who stole the Duke of Beaufort’s dog, was transported, not for stealing the dog, but his collar.

The difficulty of proving the positive theft of a dog was extreme. In most cases, where the man was not seen actually to seize a dog which could be identified, he escaped when carried before a magistrate. “The dog-stealers,” said Inspector Shackell, “generally go two together; they have a piece of liver; they say it is merely bullock’s liver, which will entice or tame the wildest or savagest dog which there can be in any yard; they give it him, and take him from his chain. At other times,” continues Mr. Shackell, “they will go in the street with a little dog, rubbed over with some sort of stuff, and will entice valuable dogs away.... If there is a dog lost or stolen, it is generally known within five or six hours where that dog is, and they know almost exactly what they can get for it, so that it is a regular system of plunder.” Mr. G. White, “dealer in live stock, dogs, and other animals,” and at one time a “dealer in lions, and tigers, and all sorts of things,” said of the dog-stealers: “In turning the corners of streets there are two or three of them together; one will snatch up a dog and put into his apron, and the others will stop the lady and say, ‘What is the matter?’ and direct the party who has lost the dog in a contrary direction to that taken.”

In this business were engaged from 50 to 60 men, half of them actual stealers of the animals. The others were the receivers, and the go-betweens or “restorers.” The thief kept the dog perhaps for a day or two at some public-house, and he then took it to a dog-dealer with whom he was connected in the way of business. These dealers carried on a trade in “honest dogs,” as one of the witnesses styled them (meaning dogs honestly acquired), but some of them dealt principally with the dog-stealers. Their depots could not be entered by the police, being private premises, without a search-warrant—and direct evidence was necessary to obtain a search-warrant—and of course a stranger in quest of a stolen dog would not be admitted. Some of the dog-dealers would not purchase or receive dogs known to have been stolen, but others bought and speculated in them. If an advertisement appeared offering a reward for the dog, a negotiation was entered into. If no reward was offered, the owner of the dog, who was always either known or made out, was waited upon by a restorer, who undertook “to restore the dog if terms could be come to.” A dog belonging to Colonel Fox was once kept six weeks before the thieves would consent to the Colonel’s terms. One of the most successful restorers was a shoemaker, and mixed little with the actual stealers; the dog-dealers, however, acted as restorers frequently enough. If the person robbed paid a good round sum for the restoration of a dog, and paid it speedily, the animal was almost certain to be stolen a second time, and a higher sum was then demanded. Sometimes the thieves threatened that if they were any longer trifled with they would inflict torture on the dog, or cut its throat. One lady, Miss Brown of Bolton-street, was so worried by these threats, and by having twice to redeem her dog, “that she has left England,” said Mr. Bishop, “and I really do believe for the sake of keeping the dog.” It does not appear, as far as the evidence shows, that these threats of torture or death were ever carried into execution;[50] some of the witnesses had merely heard of such things.

The shoemaker alluded to was named Taylor, and Inspector Shackell thus describes this person’s way of transacting business in the dog “restoring” line: “There is a man named Taylor, who is one of the greatest restorers in London of stolen dogs, through Mr. Bishop.” [Mr. Bishop was a gunmaker in Bond-street.] “It is a disgrace to London that any person should encourage a man like that to go to extort money from ladies and gentlemen, especially a respectable man. A gentleman applied to me to get a valuable dog that was stolen, with a chain on his neck, and the name on the collar; and I heard Mr. Bishop himself say that it cost 6l.; that it could not be got for less. Capt. Vansittart (the owner of the dog) came out; I asked him particularly, ‘Will you give me a description of the dog on a piece of paper,’ and that is his writing (producing a paper). I went and made inquiry; and the captain himself, who lives in Belgrave-square, said he had no objection to give 4l. for the recovery of the dog, but would not give the 6l. I went and took a good deal of trouble about it. I found out that Taylor went first to ascertain what the owner of the dog would give for it, and then went and offered 1l. for the dog, then 2l., and at last purchased it for 3l.; and went and told Capt. Vansittart that he had given 4l. for the dog; and the dog went back through the hands of Mr. Bishop.”

The “restorers” had, it appears, the lion’s share in the profits of this business. One witness had known of as much as ten guineas being given for the recovery of a favourite spaniel, or, as the witness styled it, for “working a dog back,” and only two of these guineas being received by “the party.” The wronged individual, thus delicately intimated as the “party,” was the thief. The same witness, Mr. Hobdell, knew 14l. given for the restoration of a little red Scotch terrier, which he, as a dog-dealer, valued at four shillings!

One of the coolest instances of the organization and boldness of the dog-stealers was in the case of Mr. Fitzroy Kelly’s “favourite Scotch terrier.” The “parties,” possessing it through theft, asked 12l. for it, and urged that it was a reasonable offer, considering the trouble they were obliged to take. “The dog-stealers were obliged to watch every night,” they contended, through Mr. Bishop, “and very diligently; Mr. Kelly kept them out very late from their homes, before they could get the dog; he used to go out to dinner or down to the Temple, and take the dog with him; they had a deal of trouble before they could get it.” So Mr. Kelly was expected not only to pay more than the value of his dog, but an extra amount on account of the care he had taken of his terrier, and for the trouble his vigilance had given to the thieves! The matter was settled at 6l. Mr. Kelly’s case was but one instance.

Among the most successful of the practitioners in this street-finding business were Messrs. “Ginger” and “Carrots,” but a parliamentary witness was inclined to believe that Ginger and Carrots were nicknames for the same individual, one Barrett; although he had been in custody several times, he was considered “a very superior dog-stealer.”

If the stolen dog were of little value, it was safest for the stealers to turn him loose; if he were of value, and unowned and unsought for, there was a ready market abroad. The stewards, stokers, or seamen of the Ostend, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburgh, and all the French steamers, readily bought stolen fancy dogs; sometimes twenty to thirty were taken at a voyage. A steward, indeed, has given 12l. for a stolen spaniel as a private speculation. Dealers, too, came occasionally from Paris, and bought numbers of these animals, and at what the dog foragers considered fair prices. One of the witnesses (Mr. Baker, a game dealer in Leadenhall-market) said:—“I have seen perhaps twenty or thirty dogs tied up in a little room, and I should suppose every one of them was stolen; a reward not sufficiently high being offered for their restoration, the parties get more money by taking them on board the different steam-ships and selling them to persons on board, or to people coming to this country to buy dogs and take them abroad.”

The following statement, derived from Mr. Mayne’s evidence, shows the extent of the dog-stealing business, but only as far as came under the cognizance of the police. It shows the number of dogs “lost” or “stolen,” and of persons “charged” with the offence, and “convicted” or “discharged.” Nearly all the dogs returned as lost, I may observe, were stolen, but there was no evidence to show the positive theft:—

Dogs Stolen. Dogs Lost. Persons Charged. Convicted. Discharged.
1841 43 521 51 19 32
1842 54 561 45 17 28
1843 60 606 38 18 20

In what proportion the police-known thefts stood to the whole number, there was no evidence given; nor, I suppose, could it be given.

The dog-stealers were not considered to be connected with housebreakers, though they might frequent the same public-houses. Mr. Mayne pronounced these dog-stealers a genus, a peculiar class, “what they call dog-fanciers and dog-stealers; a sort of half-sporting, betting characters.”

The law on the subject of dog-stealing (8 and 9 Vict., c. 47) now is, that “If any person shall steal any dog, every such offender shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, being convicted thereof before any two or more justices of the peace, shall, for the first offence, at the discretion of the said justices, either be committed to the common gaol or house of correction, there to be imprisoned only, or be imprisoned and kept to hard labour, for any term not exceeding six calendar months, or shall forfeit and pay over and above the value of the said dog such sum of money, not exceeding 20l., as to the said justices shall seem meet. And if any person so convicted shall[51] afterwards be guilty of the same offence, every such offender shall be guilty of an indictable misdemeanor, and, being convicted thereof, shall be liable to suffer such punishment, by fine or imprisonment, with or without hard labour, or by both, as the court in its discretion shall award, provided such imprisonment do not exceed eighteen months.”

Of a Dog-“Finder”.—A “Lurker’s” Career.

Concerning a dog-finder, I received the following account from one who had received the education of a gentleman, but whom circumstances had driven to an association with the vagrant class, and who has written the dog-finder’s biography from personal knowledge—a biography which shows the variety that often characterizes the career of the “lurker,” or street-adventurer.

“If your readers,” writes my informant, “have passed the Rubicon of ‘forty years in the wilderness,’ memory must bring back the time when the feet of their childish pilgrimage have trodden a beautiful grass-plot—now converted into Belgrave-square; when Pimlico was a ‘village out of town,’ and the ‘five fields’ of Chelsea were fields indeed. To write the biography of a living character is always delicate, as to embrace all its particulars is difficult; but of the truthfulness of my account there is no question.

“Probably about the year of the great frost (1814), a French Protestant refugee, named La Roche, sought asylum in this country, not from persecution, but from difficulties of a commercial character. He built for himself, in Chelsea, a cottage of wood, nondescript in shape, but pleasant in locality, and with ample accommodations for himself and his son. Wife he had none. This little bazaar of mud and sticks was surrounded with a bench of rude construction, on which the Sunday visitors to Ranelagh used to sit and sip their curds and whey, while from the entrance—far removed in those days from competition—

‘There stood uprear’d, as ensign of the place,
Of blue and red and white, a checquer’d mace,
On which the paper lantern hung to tell
How cheap its owner shaved you, and how well.’

Things went on smoothly for a dozen years, when the old Frenchman departed this life.

“His boy carried on the business for a few months, when frequent complaints of ‘Sunday gambling’ on the premises, and loud whispers of suspicion relative to the concealment of stolen goods, induced ‘Chelsea George’—the name the youth had acquired—to sell the good-will of the house, fixtures, and all, and at the eastern extremity of London to embark in business as a ‘mush or mushroom-faker.’ Independently of his appropriation of umbrellas, proper to the mush-faker’s calling, Chelsea George was by no means scrupulous concerning other little matters within his reach, and if the proprietors of the ‘swell cribs’ within his ‘beat’ had no ‘umbrellas to mend,’ or ‘old ’uns to sell,’ he would ease the pegs in the passage of the incumbrance of a greatcoat, and telegraph the same out of sight (by a colleague), while the servant went in to make the desired inquiries. At last he was ‘bowl’d out’ in the very act of ‘nailing a yack’ (stealing a watch). He ‘expiated,’ as it is called, this offence by three months’ exercise on the ‘cockchafer’ (tread-mill). Unaccustomed as yet to the novelty of the exercise, he fell through the wheel and broke one of his legs. He was, of course, permitted to finish his time in the infirmary of the prison, and on his liberation was presented with five pounds out of ‘the Sheriffs’ Fund.’

“Although, as I have before stated, he had never been out of England since his childhood, he had some little hereditary knowledge of the French language, and by the kind and voluntary recommendation of one of the police-magistrates of the metropolis, he was engaged by an Irish gentleman proceeding to the Continent as a sort of supernumerary servant, to ‘make himself generally useful.’ As the gentleman was unmarried, and mostly stayed at hotels, George was to have permanent wages and ‘find himself,’ a condition he invariably fulfilled, if anything was left in his way. Frequent intemperance, neglect of duty, and unaccountable departures of property from the portmanteau of his master, led to his dismissal, and Chelsea George was left, without friends or character, to those resources which have supported him for some thirty years.

“During his ‘umbrella’ enterprise he had lived in lodging-houses of the lowest kind, and of course mingled with the most depraved society, especially with the vast army of trading sturdy mendicants, male and female, young and old, who assume every guise of poverty, misfortune, and disease, which craft and ingenuity can devise or well-tutored hypocrisy can imitate. Thus initiated, Chelsea George could ‘go upon any lurk,’ could be in the last stage of consumption—actually in his dying hour—but now and then convalescent for years and years together. He could take fits and counterfeit blindness, be a respectable broken-down tradesman, or a soldier maimed in the service, and dismissed without a pension.

“Thus qualified, no vicissitudes could be either very new or very perplexing, and he commenced operations without delay, and pursued them long without desertion. The ‘first move’ in his mendicant career was taking them on the fly; which means meeting the gentry on their walks, and beseeching or at times menacing them till something is given; something in general was given to get rid of the annoyance, and, till the ‘game got stale,’ an hour’s work, morning and evening, produced a harvest of success, and ministered to an occasion of debauchery.

“His less popular, but more upright father, had once been a dog-fancier, and George, after many years vicissitude, at length took a ‘fancy’ to the same profession, but not on any principles recognised by commercial laws. With what success he has practised, the ladies and gentlemen about the West-end have known, to their loss and disappointment, for more than fifteen years past.

“Although the police have been and still are on the alert, George has, in every instance, hitherto[52] escaped punishment, while numerous detections connected with escape have enabled the offender to hold these officials at defiance. The ‘modus operandi’ upon which George proceeds is to varnish his hands with a sort of gelatine, composed of the coarsest pieces of liver, fried, pulverised, and mixed up with tincture of myrrh.” [This is the composition of which Inspector Shackell spoke before the Select Committee, but he did not seem to know of what the lure was concocted. My correspondent continues]: “Chelsea George caresses every animal who seems ‘a likely spec,’ and when his fingers have been rubbed over the dogs’ noses they become easy and perhaps willing captives. A bag carried for the purpose, receives the victim, and away goes George, bag and all, to his printer’s in Seven Dials. Two bills and no less—two and no more, for such is George’s style of work—are issued to describe the animal that has thus been found, and which will be ‘restored to its owner on payment of expenses.’ One of these George puts in his pocket, the other he pastes up at a public-house whose landlord is ‘fly’ to its meaning, and poor ‘bow-wow’ is sold to a ‘dealer in dogs,’ not very far from Sharp’s alley. In course of time the dog is discovered; the possessor refers to the ‘establishment’ where he bought it; the ‘dealer makes himself square,’ by giving the address of ‘the chap he bought ’un of,’ and Chelsea George shows a copy of the advertisement, calls in the publican as a witness, and leaves the place ‘without the slightest imputation on his character.’ Of this man’s earnings I cannot speak with precision: it is probable that in a ‘good year’ his clear income is 200l.; in a bad year but 100l., but, as he is very adroit, I am inclined to believe that the ‘good’ years somewhat predominate, and that the average income may therefore exceed 150l. yearly.”

Of the Present Street-Sellers of Dogs.

It will have been noticed that in the accounts I have given of the former street-transactions in dogs, there is no mention of the sellers. The information I have adduced is a condensation of the evidence given before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, and the inquiry related only to the stealing, finding, and restoring of dogs, the selling being but an incidental part of the evidence. Then, however, as now, the street-sellers were not implicated in the thefts or restitution of dogs, “just except,” one man told me, “as there was a black sheep or two in every flock.” The black sheep, however, of this street-calling more frequently meddled with restoring, than with “finding.”

Another street dog-seller, an intelligent man,—who, however did not know so much as my first informant of the state of the trade in the olden time,—expressed a positive opinion, that no dog-stealer was now a street-hawker (“hawker” was the word I found these men use). His reasons for this opinion, in addition to his own judgment from personal knowledge, are cogent enough: “It isn’t possible, sir,” he said, “and this is the reason why. We are not a large body of men. We stick pretty closely, when we are out, to the same places. We are as well-known to the police, as any men whom they most know, by sight at any rate, from meeting them every day. Now, if a lady or gentleman has lost a dog, or it’s been stolen or strayed—and the most petted will sometimes stray unaccountably and follow some stranger or other—why where does she, and he, and all the family, and all the servants, first look for the lost animal? Why, where, but at the dogs we are hawking? No, sir, it can’t be done now, and it isn’t done in my knowledge, and it oughtn’t to be done. I’d rather make 5s. on an honest dog than 5l. on one that wasn’t, if there was no risk about it either.” Other information convinces me that this statement is correct.

Of these street-sellers or hawkers there are now about twenty-five. There may be, however, but twenty, if so many, on any given day in the streets, as there are always some detained at home by other avocations connected with their line of life. The places they chiefly frequent are the Quadrant and Regent-street generally, but the Quadrant far the most. Indeed before the removal of the colonnade, one-half at least of all the dog-sellers of London would resort there on a very wet day, as they had the advantage of shelter, and generally of finding a crowd assembled, either lounging to pass the time, or waiting “for a fair fit,” and so with leisure to look at dogs. The other places are the West-end squares, the banks of the Serpentine, Charing-cross, the Royal Exchange, and the Bank of England, and the Parks generally. They visit, too, any public place to which there may be a temporary attraction of the classes likely to be purchasers—a mere crowd of people, I was told, was no good to the dog-hawkers, it must be a crowd of people that had money—such as the assemblage of ladies and gentlemen who crowd the windows of Whitehall and Parliament-street, when the Queen opens or prorogues the houses. These spectators fill the street and the Horse-guards’ portion of the park as soon as the street mass has dispersed, and they often afford the means of a good day’s work to the dog people.

Two dogs, carefully cleaned and combed, or brushed, are carried in a man’s arms for street-vending. A fine chain is generally attached to a neat collar, so that the dog can be relieved from the cramped feel he will experience if kept off his feet too long. In carrying these little animals for sale—for it is the smaller dogs which are carried—the men certainly display them to the best advantage. Their longer silken ears, their prominent dark eyes and black noses, and the delicacy of their fore-paws, are made as prominent as possible, and present what the masses very well call “quite a pictur.” I have alluded to the display of the Spaniels, as they constitute considerably more than half of the street trade in dogs, the “King Charleses” and the “Blenheims” being disposed of in nearly equal quantities. They are sold for lap-dogs, pets, carriage companions or companions in a walk, and are often intelligent and affectionate. Their colours are black, black and tan, white and liver-colour, chestnut, black and white, and entirely[53] white, with many shades of these hues, and inter-blendings of them, one with another, and with gray.

The small Terriers are, however, coming more into fashion, or, as the hawkers call it, into “vogue.” They are usually black, with tanned muzzles and feet, and with a keen look, their hair being short and smooth. Some, however, are preferred with long and somewhat wiry hair, and the colour is often strongly mixed with gray. A small Isle of Skye terrier—but few, I was informed know a “real Skye”—is sometimes carried in the streets, as well as the little rough dogs known as Scotch terriers. When a street-seller has a litter of terrier pups, he invariably selects the handsomest for the streets, for it happens—my informant did not know why, but he and others were positive that so it was—that the handsomest is the worst; “the worst,” it must be understood as regards the possession of choice sporting qualities, more especially of pluck. The terrier’s education, as regards his prowess in a rat-pit, is accordingly neglected; and if a gentleman ask, “Will he kill rats?” the answer is in the negative; but this is no disparagement to the sale, because the dog is sold, perhaps, for a lady’s pet, and is not wanted to kill rats, or to “fight any dog of his weight.”

The Pugs, for which, 40 to 50 years ago, and, in a diminished degree, 30 years back, there was, in the phrase of the day, “quite a rage,” provided only the pug was hideous, are now never offered in the streets, or so rarely, that a well-known dealer assured me he had only sold one in the streets for two years. A Leadenhall tradesman, fond of dogs, but in no way connected with the trade, told me that it came to be looked upon, that a pug was a fit companion for only snappish old maids, and “so the women wouldn’t have them any longer, least of all the old maids.”

French Poodles are also of rare street-sale. One man had a white poodle two or three years ago, so fat and so round, that a lady, who priced it, was told by a gentleman with her, that if the head and the short legs were removed, and the inside scooped out, the animal would make a capital muff; yet even that poodle was difficult of sale at 50s.

Occasionally also an Italian Greyhound, seeming cold and shivery on the warmest days, is borne in a hawker’s arms, or if following on foot, trembling and looking sad, as if mentally murmuring at the climate.

In such places as the banks of the Serpentine, or in the Regent’s-park, the hawker does not carry his dogs in his arms, so much as let them trot along with him in a body, and they are sure to attract attention; or he sits down, and they play or sleep about him. One dealer told me that children often took such a fancy for a pretty spaniel, that it was difficult for either mother, governess, or nurse, to drag them away until the man was requested to call in the evening, bringing with him the dog, which was very often bought, or the hawker recompensed for his loss of time. But sometimes the dog-dealers, I heard from several, meet with great shabbiness among rich people, who recklessly give them no small trouble, and sometimes put them to expense without the slightest return, or even an acknowledgment or a word of apology. “There’s one advantage in my trade,” said a dealer in live animals, “we always has to do with principals. There’s never a lady would let her most favouritest maid choose her dog for her. So no parkisits.”

The species which I have enumerated are all that are now sold in the streets, with the exception of an odd “plum-pudding,” or coach-dog (the white dog with dark spots which runs after carriages), or an odd bull-dog, or bull-terrier, or indeed with the exception of “odd dogs” of every kind. The hawkers are, however, connected with the trade in sporting dogs, and often through the medium of their street traffic, as I shall show under the next head of my subject.

There is one peculiarity in the hawking of fancy dogs, which distinguishes it from all other branches of street-commerce. The purchasers are all of the wealthier class. This has had its influence on the manners of the dog-sellers. They will be found, in the majority of cases, quiet and deferential men, but without servility, and with little of the quality of speech; and I speak only of speech which among English people is known as “gammon,” and among Irish people as “blarney.” This manner is common to many; to the established trainer of race-horses for instance, who is in constant communication with persons in a very superior position in life to his own, and to whom he is exceedingly deferential. But the trainer feels that in all points connected with his not very easy business, as well, perhaps, as in general turf knowingness, his royal highness (as was the case once), or his grace, or my lord, or Sir John, was inferior to himself; and so with all his deference there mingles a strain of quiet contempt, or rather, perhaps, of conscious superiority, which is one ingredient in the formation of the manners I have hastily sketched.

The customers of the street-hawkers of dogs are ladies and gentlemen, who buy what may have attracted their admiration. The kept mistresses of the wealthier classes are often excellent customers. “Many of ’em, I know,” was said to me, “dotes on a nice spaniel. Yes, and I’ve known gentlemen buy dogs for their misses; I couldn’t be mistaken when I might be sent on with them, which was part of the bargain. If it was a two-guinea dog or so, I was told never to give a hint of the price to the servant, or to anybody. I know why. It’s easy for a gentleman that wants to please a lady, and not to lay out any great matter of tin, to say that what had really cost him two guineas, cost him twenty.” If one of the working classes, or a small tradesman, buy a dog in the streets, it is generally because he is “of a fancy turn,” and breeds a few dogs, and traffics in them in hopes of profit.

The homes of the dog-hawkers, as far as I had means of ascertaining—and all I saw were of the same character—are comfortable and very cleanly. The small spaniels, terriers, &c.,—I do not now[54] allude to sporting dogs—are generally kept in kennels, or in small wooden houses erected for the purpose in a back garden or yard. These abodes are generally in some open court, or little square or “grove,” where there is a free access of air. An old man who was sitting at his door in the summer evening, when I called upon a dog-seller, and had to wait a short time, told me that so quiet were his next-door neighbour’s (the street-hawker’s) dogs, that for some weeks, he did not know his newly-come neighbour was a dog-man; although he was an old nervous man himself, and couldn’t bear any unpleasant noise or smell. The scrupulous observance of cleanliness is necessary in the rearing or keeping of small fancy dogs, for without such observance the dog would have a disagreeable odour about it, enough to repel any lady-buyer. It is a not uncommon declaration among dog-sellers that the animals are “as sweet as nuts.” Let it be remembered that I have been describing the class of regular dog-sellers, making, by an open and established trade, a tolerable livelihood.

The spaniels, terriers, &c., the stock of these hawkers, are either bred by them—and they all breed a few or a good many dogs—or they are purchased of dog-dealers (not street-sellers), or of people who having a good fancy breed of “King Charleses,” or “Blenheims,” rear dogs, and sell them by the litter to the hawkers. The hawkers also buy dogs brought to them, “in the way of business,” but they are wary how they buy any animal suspected to be stolen, or they may get into “trouble.” One man, a carver and gilder, I was informed, some ten years back, made a good deal of money by his “black-patched” spaniels. These dogs had a remarkable black patch over their eyes, and so fond was the dog-fancier, or breeder of them, that when he disposed of them to street-sellers or others, he usually gave a portrait of the animals, of his own rude painting, into the bargain. These paintings he also sold, slightly framed, and I have seen them—but not so much lately—offered in the streets, and hung up in poor persons’ rooms. This man lived in York-square, behind the Colosseum, then a not very reputable quarter. It is now Munster-square, and of a reformed character, but the seller of dogs and the donor of their portraits has for some time been lost sight of.

The prices at which fancy-dogs are sold in the streets are about the same for all kinds. They run from 10s. to 5l. 5s., but are very rarely so low as 10s., as “it’s only a very scrubby thing for that.” Two and three guineas are frequent street prices for a spaniel or small terrier. Of the dogs sold, as I have before stated, more than one-half are spaniels. Of the remainder, more than one-half are terriers; and the surplusage, after this reckoning, is composed in about equal numbers of the other dogs I have mentioned. The exportation of dogs is not above a twentieth of what it was before the appointment of the Select Committee, but a French or Belgium dealer sometimes comes to London to buy dogs.

It is not easy to fix upon any per-centage as to the profit of the street dog-sellers. There is the keep and the rearing of the animal to consider; and there is the same uncertainty in the traffic as in all traffics which depend, not upon a demand for use, but on the caprices of fashion, or—to use the more appropriate word, when writing on such a subject—of “fancy.” A hawker may sell three dogs in one day, without any extraordinary effort, or, in the same manner of trading, and frequenting the very same places, may sell only one in three days. In the winter, the dogs are sometimes offered in public houses, but seldom as regards the higher-priced animals.

From the best data I can command, it appears that each hawker sells “three dogs and a half, if you take it that way, splitting a dog like, every week the year through; that is, sir, four or five one week in the summer, when trade’s brisk and days are long, and only two or three the next week, when trade may be flat, and in winter when there isn’t the same chance.” Calculating, then, that seven dogs are sold by each hawker in a fortnight, at an average price of 50s. each, which is not a high average, and supposing that but twenty men are trading in this line the year through, we find that no less a sum than 9100l. is yearly expended in this street-trade. The weekly profit of the hawker is from 25s. to 40s. More than seven-eighths of these dogs are bred in this country, Italian greyhounds included.

A hawker of dogs gave me a statement of his life, but it presented so little of incident or of change, that I need not report it. He had assisted and then succeeded his father in the business; was a pains-taking, temperate, and industrious man, seldom taking even a glass of ale, so that the tenour of his way had been even, and he was prosperous enough.

I will next give an account of the connection of the hawkers of dogs with the “sporting” or “fancy” part of the business; and of the present state of dog “finding,” to show the change since the parliamentary investigation.

I may observe that in this traffic the word “fancy” has two significations. A dog recommended by its beauty, or any peculiarity, so that it be suitable for a pet-dog, is a “fancy” animal; so is he if he be a fighter, or a killer of rats, however ugly or common-looking; but the term “sporting dog” seems to become more and more used in this case: nor is the first-mentioned use of the word “fancy,” at all strained or very original, for it is lexicographically defined as “an opinion bred rather by the imagination than the reason, inclination, liking, caprice, humour, whim, frolick, idle scheme, vagary.”


Of the Street-Sellers of Sporting Dogs.

The use, if use it may be styled, of sporting, or fighting dogs, is now a mere nothing to what it once was. There are many sports—an appellation of many a brute cruelty—which have become extinct, some of them long extinct. Herds of bears, for instance, were once maintained in this country, merely to be baited by dogs. It was even a part of royal merry-making. It was a sport altogether[55] congenial to the spirit of Henry VIII.; and when his daughter, then Queen Mary, visited her sister Elizabeth at Hatfield House, now the residence of the Marquess of Salisbury, there was a bear-baiting for their delectation—after mass. Queen Elizabeth, on her accession to the throne, seems to have been very partial to the baiting of bears and of bulls; for she not unfrequently welcomed a foreign ambassador with such exhibitions. The historians of the day intimate—they dared do no more—that Elizabeth affected these rough sports the most in the decline of life, when she wished to seem still sprightly, active, and healthful, in the eyes of her courtiers and her subjects. Laneham, whose veracity has not been impeached—though Sir Walter Scott has pronounced him to be as thorough a coxcomb as ever blotted paper—thus describes a bear-bait in presence of the Queen, and after quoting his description I gladly leave the subject. I make the citation in order to show and contrast the former with the present use of sporting dogs.

“It was a sport very pleasant to see the bear, with his pink eyes leering after his enemies, approach; the nimbleness and wait of the dog to take his advantage; and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid his assaults: if he were bitten in one place, how he would pinch in another to get free; that if he were taken once, then by what shift with biting, with clawing, with roaring with tossing and tumbling, he would work and wind himself from them; and, when he was loose, to shake his ears twice or thrice, with the blood and the slaver hanging about his physiognomy.”

The suffering which constituted the great delight of the sport was even worse than this, in bull-baiting, for the bull gored or tossed the dogs to death more frequently than the bear worried or crushed them.

The principal place for the carrying on of these barbarities was at Paris Garden, not far from St. Saviour’s Church, Southwark. The clamour, and wrangling, and reviling, with and without blows, at these places, gave a proverbial expression to the language. “The place was like a bear-garden,” for “gardens” they were called. These pastimes beguiled the Sunday afternoons more than any other time, and were among the chief delights of the people, “until,” writes Dr. Henry, collating the opinions of the historians of the day, “until the refined amusements of the drama, possessing themselves by degrees of the public taste, if they did not mend the morals of the age, at least forced brutal barbarity to quit the stage.”

Of this sport in Queen Anne’s days, Strutt’s industry has collected advertisements telling of bear and bull-baiting at Hockley-in-the-Hole, and “Tuttle”-fields, Westminster, and of dog-fights at the same places. Marylebone was another locality famous for these pastimes, and for its breed of mastiffs, which dogs were most used for baiting the bears, whilst bull-dogs were the antagonists of the bull. Gay, who was a sufficiently close observer, and a close observer of street-life too, as is well shown in his “Trivia,” specifies these localities in one of his fables:—

“Both Hockley-hole and Mary-bone
The combats of my dog have known.”

Hockley-hole was not far from Smithfield-market.

In the same localities the practice of these sports lingered, becoming less and less every year, until about the middle of the last century. In the country, bull-baiting was practised twenty times more commonly than bear-baiting; for bulls were plentiful, and bears were not. There are, perhaps, none of our older country towns without the relic of its bull-ring—a strong iron ring inserted into a large stone in the pavement, to which the baited bull was tied; or a knowledge of the site where the bull-ring was. The deeds of the baiting-dogs were long talked of by the vulgar. These sports, and the dog-fights, maintained the great demand for sporting dogs in former times.

The only sporting dogs now in request—apart, of course, from hunting and shooting (remnants of the old barbarous delight in torture or slaughter), for I am treating only of the street-trade, to which fox-hounds, harriers, pointers, setters, cockers, &c., &c., are unknown—are terriers and bull-terriers. Bull-dogs cannot now be classed as sporting, but only as fancy dogs, for they are not good fighters, I was informed, one with another, their mouths being too small.

The way in which the sale of sporting dogs is connected with street-traffic is in this wise: Occasionally a sporting-dog is offered for sale in the streets, and then, of course, the trade is direct. At other times, gentlemen buying or pricing the smaller dogs, ask the cost of a bull-dog, or a bull-terrier or rat-terrier, and the street-seller at once offers to supply them, and either conducts them to a dog-dealer’s, with whom he may be commercially connected, and where they can purchase those dogs, or he waits upon them at their residences with some “likely animals.” A dog-dealer told me that he hardly knew what made many gentlemen so fond of bull-dogs, and they were “the fonder on ’em the more blackguarder and varmint-looking the creatures was,” although now they were useless for sport, and the great praise of a bull-dog, “never flew but at head in his life,” was no longer to be given to him, as there were no bulls at whose heads he could now fly.

Another dog-dealer informed me—with what truth as to the judgment concerning horses I do not know, but no doubt with accuracy as to the purchase of the dogs—that Ibrahim Pacha, when in London, thought little of the horses which he saw, but was delighted with the bull-dogs, “and he weren’t so werry unlike one in the face hisself,” was said at the time by some of the fancy. Ibrahim, it seems, bought two of the finest and largest bull-dogs in London, of Bill George, giving no less than 70l. for the twain. The bull-dogs now sold by the street-folk, or through their agency in the way I have described, are from 5l. to 25l. each. The bull-terriers, of the best blood, are about the same price, or perhaps 10 to 15 per cent. lower, and rarely attaining the tip-top price.


The bull-terriers, as I have stated, are now the chief fighting-dogs, but the patrons of those combats—of those small imitations of the savage tastes of the Roman Colosseum, may deplore the decay of the amusement. From the beginning, until well on to the termination of the last century, it was not uncommon to see announcements of “twenty dogs to fight for a collar,” though such advertisements were far more common at the commencement than towards the close of the century. Until within these twelve years, indeed, dog-matches were not unfrequent in London, and the favourite time for the regalement was on Sunday mornings. There were dog-pits in Westminster, and elsewhere, to which the admission was not very easy, for only known persons were allowed to enter. The expense was considerable, the risk of punishment was not a trifle, and it is evident that this Sunday game was not supported by the poor or working classes. Now dog-fights are rare. “There’s not any public dog-fights,” I was told, “and very seldom any in a pit at a public-house, but there’s a good deal of it, I know, at the private houses of the nobs.” I may observe that “the nobs” is a common designation for the rich among these sporting people.

There are, however, occasionally dog-fights in a sporting-house, and the order of the combat is thus described to me: “We’ll say now that it’s a scratch fight; two dogs have each their corner of a pit, and they’re set to fight. They’ll fight on till they go down together, and then if one leave hold, he’s sponged. Then they fight again. If a dog has the worst of it he mustn’t be picked up, but if he gets into his corner, then he can stay for as long as may be agreed upon, minute or half-minute time, or more than a minute. If a dog won’t go to the scratch out of his corner, he loses the fight. If they fight on, why to settle it, one must be killed—though that very seldom happens, for if a dog’s very much punished, he creeps to his corner and don’t come out to time, and so the fight’s settled. Sometimes it’s agreed beforehand, that the master of a dog may give in for him; sometimes that isn’t to be allowed; but there’s next to nothing of this now, unless it’s in private among the nobs.”

It has been said that a sportsman—perhaps in the relations of life a benevolent man—when he has failed to kill a grouse or pheasant outright, and proceeds to grasp the fluttering and agonised bird and smash its skull against the barrel of his gun, reconciles himself to the sufferings he inflicts by the pride of art, the consciousness of skill—he has brought down his bird at a long shot; that, too, when he cares nothing for the possession of the bird. The same feeling hardens him against the most piteous, woman-like cry of the hare, so shot that it cannot run. Be this as it may, it cannot be urged that in matching a favourite dog there can be any such feeling to destroy the sympathy. The men who thus amuse themselves are then utterly insensible to any pang at the infliction of pain upon animals, witnessing the infliction of it merely for a passing excitement: and in this insensibility the whole race who cater to such recreations of the wealthy, as well as the wealthy themselves, participate. There is another feeling too at work, and one proper to the sporting character—every man of this class considers the glories of his horse or his dog his own, a feeling very dear to selfishness.

The main sport now, however, in which dogs are the agents is rat-hunting. It is called hunting, but as the rats are all confined in a pit it is more like mere killing. Of this sport I have given some account under the head of rat-catching. The dogs used are all terriers, and are often the property of the street-sellers. The most accomplished of this terrier race was the famous dog Billy, the eclipse of the rat pit. He is now enshrined—for a stuffed carcase is all that remains of Billy—in a case in the possession of Charley Heslop of the Seven Bells behind St. Giles’s Church, with whom Billy lived and died. His great feat was that he killed 100 rats in five minutes. I understand, however, that it is still a moot point in the sporting world, whether Billy did or did not exceed the five minutes by a very few seconds. A merely average terrier will easily kill fifty rats in a pit in eight minutes, but many far exceed such a number. One dealer told me that he would back a terrier bitch which did not weigh 12 lbs. to kill 100 rats in six minutes. The price of these dogs ranges with that of the bull-terriers.

The passion for rat-hunting is evidently on the increase, and seems to have attained the popularity once vouchsafed to cock-fighting. There are now about seventy regular pits in London, besides a few that are run up for temporary purposes. The landlord of a house in the Borough, familiar with these sports, told me that they would soon have to breed rats for a sufficient supply!

But it is not for the encounter with dogs alone, the issue being that so many rats shall be killed in a given time, that these vermin are becoming a trade commodity. Another use for them is announced in the following card:—


A Rare Evening’s Sport for the Fancy will take place at the
“—— ——,”
On Tuesday Evening next, May 27.

Mr. —— ——
has backed his Ferret against Mr. W. B——’s Ferret to kill 6 Rats each, for 10s. a-side.

He is still open to match his Ferret for £1 to £5 to kill against any other Ferret in London.

Two other Matches with Terriers will come off the same Evening.

Matches take place every —— Evening. Rats always on hand for the accommodation of Gentlemen to try their dogs.

Under the Management of ——

As a rat-killer, a ferret is not to be compared to a dog; but his use is to kill rats in holes,[57] inaccessible to dogs, or to drive the vermin out of their holes into some open space, where they can be destroyed. Ferrets are worth from 1l. to 4l. They are not animals of street-sale.

The management of these sports is principally in the hands of the street dog-sellers, as indeed is the dog-trade generally. They are the breeders, dealers, and sellers. They are compelled, as it were, to exhibit their dogs in the streets, that they may attract the attention of the rich, who would not seek them in their homes in the suburbs. The evening business in rat-hunting, &c., for such it is principally, perhaps doubles the incomes I have specified as earned merely by street-sale. The amount “turned over” in the trade in sporting-dogs yearly in London, was computed for me by one of the traders at from 12,000l. to 15,000l. He could not, however, lay down any very precise statistics, as some bull-dogs, bull-terriers, &c., were bred by butchers, tanners, publicans, horse-dealers, and others, and disposed of privately.

In my account of the former condition of the dog-trade, I had to dwell principally on the stealing and restoring of dogs. This is now the least part of the subject. The alteration in the law, consequent upon the parliamentary inquiry, soon wrought a great change, especially the enactment of the 6th Sect. in the Act 8 and 9 Vict. c. 47. “Any person who shall corruptly take any money or reward, directly or indirectly, under pretence or upon account of aiding any person to recover any dog which shall have been stolen, or which shall be in the possession of any person not being the owner thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and punishable accordingly.”

There may now, I am informed, be half a dozen fellows who make a precarious living by dog-stealing. These men generally keep out of the way of the street dog-sellers, who would not scruple, they assure me, to denounce their practices, as the more security a purchaser feels in the property and possession of a dog, the better it is for the regular business. One of these dog-stealers, dressed like a lime-burner—they generally appear as mechanics—was lately seen to attempt the enticing away of a dog. Any idle good-for-nothing fellow, slinking about the streets, would also, I was informed, seize any stray dog within his reach, and sell it for any trifle he could obtain. One dealer told me that there might still be a little doing in the “restoring” way, and with that way of life were still mixed up names which figured in the parliamentary inquiry, but it was a mere nothing to what it was formerly.

From a man acquainted with the dog business I had the following account. My informant was not at present connected with the dog and rat business, but he seemed to have what is called a “hankering after it.” He had been a pot-boy in his youth, and had assisted at the bar of public-houses, and so had acquired a taste for sporting, as some “fancy coves” were among the frequenters of the tap-room and skittle-ground. He had speculated a little in dogs, which a friend reared, and he sold to the public-house customers. “At last I went slap into the dog-trade,” he said, “but I did no good at all. There’s a way to do it, I dare say, or perhaps you must wait to get known, but then you may starve as you wait. I tried Smithfield first—it’s a good bit since, but I can’t say how long—and I had a couple of tidy little terriers that we’d bred; I thought I’d begin cheap to turn over money quick, so I asked 12s. a-piece for them. O, in course they weren’t a werry pure sort. But I couldn’t sell at all. If a grazier, or a butcher, or anybody looked at them, and asked their figure, they’d say, ‘Twelve shillings! a dog what ain’t worth more nor 12s. ain’t worth a d—n!’ I asked one gent a sovereign, but there was a lad near that sung out, ‘Why, you only axed 12s. a bit since; ain’t you a-coming it?’ After that, I was glad to get away. I had five dogs when I started, and about 1l. 8s. 6d. in money, and some middling clothes; but my money soon went, for I could do no business, and there was the rent, and then the dogs must be properly fed, or they’d soon show it. At last, when things grew uncommon taper, I almost grudged the poor things their meat and their sop, for they were filling their bellies, and I was an ’ung’ring. I got so seedy, too, that it was no use trying the streets, for any one would think I’d stole the dogs. So I sold them one by one. I think I got about 5s. apiece for them, for people took their advantage on me. After that I fasted oft enough. I helped about the pits, and looked out for jobs of any kind, cleaning knives and spittoons at a public-house, and such-like, for a bite and sup. And I sometimes got leave to sit up all night in a stable or any out-house with a live rat trap that I could always borrow, and catch rats to sell to the dealers. If I could get three lively rats in a night, it was good work, for it was as good as 1s. to me. I sometimes won a pint, or a tanner, when I could cover it, by betting on a rat-hunt with helpers like myself—but it was only a few places we were let into, just where I was known—’cause I’m a good judge of a dog, you see, and if I had it to try over again, I think I could knock a tidy living out of dog-selling. Yes, I’d like to try well enough, but it’s no use trying if you haven’t a fairish bit of money. I’d only myself to keep all this time, but that was one too many. I got leave to sleep in hay-lofts, or stables, or anywhere, and I have slept in the park. I don’t know how many months I was living this way. I got not to mind it much at last. Then I got to carry out the day and night beers for a potman what had hurt his foot and couldn’t walk quick and long enough for supplying his beer, as there was five rounds every day. He lent me an apron and a jacket to be decent. After that I got a potman’s situation. No, I’m not much in the dog and rat line now, and don’t see much of it, for I’ve very little opportunity. But I’ve a very nice Scotch terrier to sell if you should be wanting such a thing, or hear of any of your friends wanting one. It’s dirt cheap at 30s., just about a year old. Yes, I generally has a dog, and swops and sells. Most masters allows that in a quiet respectable way.”


Of the Street Sellers of Live Birds.

The bird-sellers in the streets are also the bird-catchers in the fields, plains, heaths, and woods, which still surround the metropolis; and in compliance with established precedent it may be proper that I should give an account of the catching, before I proceed to any further statement of the procedures subsequent thereunto. The bird-catchers are precisely what I have described them in my introductory remarks. An intelligent man, versed in every part of the bird business, and well acquainted with the character of all engaged in it, said they might be represented as of “the fancy,” in a small way, and always glad to run after, and full of admiration of, fighting men. The bird-catcher’s life is one essentially vagrant; a few gipsies pursue it, and they mix little in street-trades, except as regards tinkering; and the mass, not gipsies, who become bird-catchers, rarely leave it for any other avocation. They “catch” unto old age. During last winter two men died in the parish of Clerkenwell, both turned seventy, and both bird-catchers—a profession they had followed from the age of six.

The mode of catching I will briefly describe. It is principally effected by means of nets. A bird-net is about twelve yards square; it is spread flat upon the ground, to which it is secured by four “stars.” These are iron pins, which are inserted in the field, and hold the net, but so that the two “wings,” or “flaps,” which are indeed the sides of the nets, are not confined by the stars. In the middle of the net is a cage with a fine wire roof, widely worked, containing the “call-bird.” This bird is trained to sing loudly and cheerily, great care being bestowed upon its tuition, and its song attracts the wild birds. Sometimes a few stuffed birds are spread about the cage as if a flock were already assembling there. The bird-catcher lies flat and motionless on the ground, 20 or 30 yards distant from the edge of the net. As soon as he considers that a sufficiency of birds have congregated around his decoy, he rapidly draws towards him a line, called the “pull-line,” of which he has kept hold. This is so looped and run within the edges of the net, that on being smartly pulled, the two wings of the net collapse and fly together, the stars still keeping their hold, and the net encircles the cage of the call-bird, and incloses in its folds all the wild birds allured round it. In fact it then resembles a great cage of net-work. The captives are secured in cages—the call-bird continuing to sing as if in mockery of their struggles—or in hampers proper for the purpose, which are carried on the man’s back to London.

The use of the call-bird as a means of decoy is very ancient. Sometimes—and more especially in the dark, as in the taking of nightingales—the bird-catcher imitates the notes of the birds to be captured. A small instrument has also been used for the purpose, and to this Chaucer, although figuratively, alludes: “So, the birde is begyled with the merry voice of the foulers’ whistel, when it is closed in your nette.”

Sometimes, in the pride of the season, a bird-catcher engages a costermonger’s poney or donkey cart, and perhaps his boy, the better to convey the birds to town. The net and its apparatus cost 1l. The call-bird, if he have a good wild note—goldfinches and linnets being principally so used—is worth 10s. at the least.

The bird-catcher’s life has many, and to the constitution of some minds, irresistible charms. There is the excitement of “sport”—not the headlong excitement of the chase, where the blood is stirred by motion and exercise—but still sport surpassing that of the angler, who plies his finest art to capture one fish at a time, while the bird-catcher despises an individual capture, but seeks to ensnare a flock at one twitch of a line. There is, moreover, the attraction of idleness, at least for intervals, and sometimes long intervals—perhaps the great charm of fishing—and basking in the lazy sunshine, to watch the progress of the snares. Birds, however, and more especially linnets, are caught in the winter, when it is not quite such holiday work. A bird-dealer (not a street-seller) told me that the greatest number of birds he had ever heard of as having been caught at one pull was nearly 200. My informant happened to be present on the occasion. “Pulls” of 50, 100, and 150 are not very unfrequent when the young broods are all on the wing.

Of the bird-catchers, including all who reside in Woolwich, Greenwich, Hounslow, Isleworth, Barnet, Uxbridge, and places of similar distance, all working for the London market, there are about 200. The localities where these men “catch,” are the neighbourhoods of the places I have mentioned as their residences, and at Holloway, Hampstead, Highgate, Finchley, Battersea, Blackheath, Putney, Mortlake, Chiswick, Richmond, Hampton, Kingston, Eltham, Carshalton, Streatham, the Tootings, Woodford, Epping, Snaresbrook, Walthamstow, Tottenham, Edmonton—wherever, in fine, are open fields, plains, or commons around the metropolis.

I will first enumerate the several birds sold in the streets, as well as the supply to the shops by the bird-catchers. I have had recourse to the best sources of information. Of the number of birds which I shall specify as “supplied,” or “caught,” it must be remembered that a not-very-small proportion die before they can be trained to song, or inured to a cage life. I shall also give the street prices. All the birds are caught by the nets with call-birds, excepting such as I shall notice. I take the singing birds first.

The Linnet is the cheapest and among the most numerous of what may be called the London-caught birds, for it is caught in the nearer suburbs, such as Holloway. The linnet, however,—the brown linnet being the species—is not easily reared, and for some time ill brooks confinement. About one-half of those birds die after having been caged a few days. The other evening a bird-catcher supplied 26 fine linnets to a shopkeeper in Pentonville, and next morning ten were dead. But in some of those bird shops, and bird chambers connected with the shops, the heat at the time[59] the new broods are caught and caged, is excessive; and the atmosphere, from the crowded and compulsory fellowship of pigeons, and all descriptions of small birds, with white rats, hedgehogs, guinea-pigs, and other creatures, is often very foul; so that the wonder is, not that so many die, but that so many survive.

Some bird-connoisseurs prefer the note of the linnet to that of the canary, but this is far from a general preference. The young birds are sold in the streets at 3d. and 4d. each; the older birds, which are accustomed to sing in their cages, from 1s. to 2s. 6d. The “catch” of linnets—none being imported—may be estimated, for London alone, at 70,000 yearly. The mortality I have mentioned is confined chiefly to that year’s brood. One-tenth of the catch is sold in the streets. Of the quality of the street-sold birds I shall speak hereafter.

The Bullfinch, which is bold, familiar, docile, and easily attached, is a favourite cage-bird among the Londoners; I speak of course as regards the body of the people. It is as readily sold in the streets as any other singing bird. Piping bullfinches are also a part of street-trade, but only to a small extent, and with bird-sellers who can carry them from their street pitches, or call on their rounds, at places where they are known, to exhibit the powers of the bird. The piping is taught to these finches when very young, and they must be brought up by their tutor, and be familiar with him. When little more than two months old, they begin to whistle, and then their training as pipers must commence. This tuition, among professional bullfinch-trainers, is systematic. They have schools of birds, and teach in bird-classes of from four to seven members in each, six being a frequent number. These classes, when their education commences, are kept unfed for a longer time than they have been accustomed to, and they are placed in a darkened room. The bird is wakeful and attentive from the want of his food, and the tune he is to learn is played several times on an instrument made for the purpose, and known as a bird-organ, its notes resembling those of the bullfinch. For an hour or two the young pupils mope silently, but they gradually begin to imitate the notes of the music played to them. When one commences—and he is looked upon as the most likely to make a good piper—the others soon follow his example. The light is then admitted and a portion of food, but not a full meal, is given to the birds. Thus, by degrees, by the playing on the bird-organ (a flute is sometimes used), by the admission of light, which is always agreeable to the finch, and by the reward of more and more, and sometimes more relishable food, the pupil “practises” the notes he hears continuously. The birds are then given into the care of boys, who attend to them without intermission in a similar way, their original teacher still overlooking, praising, or rating his scholars, till they acquire a tune which they pipe as long as they live. It is said, however, that only five per cent. of the number taught pipe in perfect harmony. The bullfinch is often pettish in his piping, and will in many instances not pipe at all, unless in the presence of some one who feeds it, or to whom it has become attached.

The system of training I have described is that practised by the Germans, who have for many years supplied this country with the best piping bullfinches. Some of the dealers will undertake to procure English-taught bullfinches which will pipe as well as the foreigners, but I am told that this is a prejudice, if not a trick, of trade. The mode of teaching in this country, by barbers, weavers, and bird-fanciers generally, who seek for a profit from their pains-taking, is somewhat similar to that which I have detailed, but with far less elaborateness. The price of a piping bullfinch is about three guineas. These pipers are also reared and taught in Leicestershire and Norfolk, and sent to London, as are the singing bullfinches which do not “pipe.”

The bullfinches netted near London are caught more numerously about Hounslow than elsewhere. In hard winters they are abundant in the outskirts of the metropolis. The yearly supply, including those sent from Norfolk, &c., is about 30,000. The bullfinch is “hearty compared to the linnet,” I was told, but of the amount which are the objects of trade, not more than two-thirds live many weeks. The price of a good young bullfinch is 2s. 6d. and 3s. They are often sold in the streets for 1s. The hawking or street trade comprises about a tenth of the whole.

The sale of piping bullfinches is, of course, small, as only the rich can afford to buy them. A dealer estimated it at about 400 yearly.

The Goldfinch is also in demand by street customers, and is a favourite from its liveliness, beauty, and sometimes sagacity. It is, moreover, the longest lived of our caged small birds, and will frequently live to the age of fifteen or sixteen years. A goldfinch has been known to exist twenty-three years in a cage. Small birds, generally, rarely live more than nine years. This finch is also in demand because it most readily of any bird pairs with the canary, the produce being known as a “mule,” which, from its prettiness and powers of song, is often highly valued.

Goldfinches are sold in the streets at from 6d. to 1s. each, and when there is an extra catch, and they are nearly all caught about London, and the shops are fully stocked, at 3d. and 4d. each. The yearly catch is about the same as that of the linnet, or 70,000, the mortality being perhaps 30 per cent. If any one casts his eye over the stock of hopping, chirping little creatures in the window of a bird-shop, or in the close array of small cages hung outside, or at the stock of a street-seller, he will be struck by the preponderating number of goldfinches. No doubt the dealer, like any other shopkeeper, dresses his window to the best advantage, putting forward his smartest and prettiest birds. The demand for the goldfinch, especially among women, is steady and regular. The street-sale is a tenth of the whole.

The Chaffinch is in less request than either of its congeners, the bullfinch or the goldfinch, but the catch is about half that of the bullfinch, and[60] with the same rate of mortality. The prices are also the same.

Greenfinches (called green birds, or sometimes green linnets, in the streets) are in still smaller request than are chaffinches, and that to about one-half. Even this smaller stock is little saleable, as the bird is regarded as “only a middling singer.” They are sold in the open air, at 2d. and 3d. each, but a good “green bird” is worth 2s. 6d.

Larks are of good sale and regular supply, being perhaps more readily caught than other birds, as in winter they congregate in large quantities. It may be thought, to witness the restless throwing up of the head of the caged sky-lark, as if he were longing for a soar in the air, that he was very impatient of restraint. This does not appear to be so much the fact, as the lark adapts himself to the poor confines of his prison—poor indeed for a bird who soars higher and longer than any of his class—more rapidly than other wild birds, like the linnet, &c. The mortality of larks, however, approaches one-third.

The yearly “take” of larks is 60,000. This includes sky-larks, wood-larks, tit-larks, and mud-larks. The sky-lark is in far better demand than any of the others for his “stoutness of song,” but some prefer the tit-lark, from the very absence of such stoutness. “Fresh-catched” larks are vended in the streets at 6d. and 8d., but a seasoned bird is worth 2s. 6d. One-tenth is the street-sale.

The larks for the supply of fashionable tables are never provided by the London bird-catchers, who catch only “singing larks,” for the shop and street-traffic. The edible larks used to be highly esteemed in pies, but they are now generally roasted for consumption. They are principally the produce of Cambridgeshire, with some from Bedfordshire, and are sent direct (killed) to Leadenhall-market, where about 215,000 are sold yearly, being nearly two-thirds of the gross London consumption.

It is only within these twelve or fifteen years that the London dealers have cared to trade to any extent in Nightingales, but they are now a part of the stock of every bird-shop of the more flourishing class. Before that they were merely exceptional as cage-birds. As it is, the “domestication,” if the word be allowable with reference to the nightingale, is but partial. Like all migratory birds, when the season for migration approaches, the caged nightingale shows symptoms of great uneasiness, dashing himself against the wires of his cage or his aviary, and sometimes dying in a few days. Many of the nightingales, however, let the season pass away without showing any consciousness that it was, with the race of birds to which they belonged, one for a change of place. To induce the nightingale to sing in the daylight, a paper cover is often placed over the cage, which may be gradually and gradually withdrawn until it can be dispensed with. This is to induce the appearance of twilight or night. On the subject of this night-singing, however, I will cite a short passage.

“The Nightingale is usually supposed to withhold his notes till the sun has set, and then to be the only songster left. This is, however, not quite true, for he sings in the day, often as sweetly and as powerfully as at night; but amidst the general chorus of other singing birds, his efforts are little noticed. Neither is he by any means the only feathered musician of the night. The Wood-lark will, to a very late hour, pour forth its rich notes, flying in circles round the female, when sitting on her nest. The Sky-lark, too, may frequently be heard till near midnight high in the air, soaring as if in the brightness of a summer’s morning. Again we have listened with pleasure long after dark to the warblings of a Thrush, and been awakened at two in the morning by its sweet serenade.” It appears, however, that this night-singing, as regards England, is on fine summer nights when the darkness is never very dense. In far northern climates larks sing all night.

I am inclined to believe that the mortality among nightingales, before they are reconciled to their new life, is higher than that of any other bird, and much exceeding one-half. The dealers may be unwilling to admit this; but such mortality is, I have been assured on good authority, the case; besides that, the habits of the nightingale unfit him for a cage existence.

The capture of the nightingale is among the most difficult achievements of the profession. None are caught nearer than Epping, and the catchers travel considerable distances before they have a chance of success. These birds are caught at night, and more often by their captor’s imitation of the nightingale’s note, than with the aid of the call-bird. Perhaps 1000 nightingales are reared yearly in London, of which three-fourths may be, more or less, songsters. The inferior birds are sold at about 2s. each, the street-sale not reaching 100, but the birds, “caged and singing,” are worth 1l. each, when of the best; and 10s. 12s. and 15s. each when approaching the best. The mortality I have estimated.

Redbreasts are a portion of the street-sold birds, but the catch is not large, not exceeding 3000, with a mortality of about a third. Even this number, small as it is, when compared with the numbers of other singing birds sold, is got rid of with difficulty. There is a popular feeling repugnant to the imprisonment, or coercion in any way, of “a robin,” and this, no doubt has its influence in moderating the demand. The redbreast is sold, when young, both in the shops and streets for 1s., when caged and singing, sometimes for 1l. These birds are considered to sing best by candlelight. The street-sale is a fifth, or sometimes a quarter, all young birds, or with the rarest exceptions.

The Thrush, Throstle, or (in Scottish poetry) Mavis, is of good sale. It is reared by hand, for the London market, in many of the villages and small towns at no great distance, the nests being robbed of the young, wherever they can be found. The nestling food of the infant thrush is grubs, worms, and snails, with an occasional moth or butterfly. On this kind of diet the young thrushes are reared until they are old enough for sale to the shopkeeper, or to any private patron. Thrushes are also netted, but[61] those reared by hand are much the best, as such a rearing disposes the bird the more to enjoy his cage life, as he has never experienced the delights of the free hedges and thickets. This process the catchers call “rising” from the nest. A throstle thus “rose” soon becomes familiar with his owner—always supposing that he be properly fed and his cage duly cleaned, for all birds detest dirt—and among the working-men of England no bird is a greater favourite than the thrush; indeed few other birds are held in such liking by the artisan class. About a fourth of the thrushes supplied to the metropolitan traders have been thus “rose,” and as they must be sufficiently grown before they will be received by the dealers, the mortality among them, when once able to feed themselves, in their wicker-work cages, is but small. Perhaps somewhere about a fourth perish in this hand-rearing, and some men, the aristocrats of the trade, let a number go when they have ascertained that they are hens, as these men exert themselves to bring up thrushes to sing well, and then they command good prices. Often enough, however, the hens are sold cheap in the streets. Among the catch supplied by netting, there is a mortality of perhaps more than a third. The whole take is about 35,000. Of the sale the streets have a tenth proportion. The prices run from 2s. 6d. and 3s. for the “fresh-caught,” and 10s., 1l., and as much as 2l. for a seasoned throstle in high song. Indeed I may observe that for any singing bird, which is considered greatly to excel its mates, a high price is obtainable.

Blackbirds appear to be less prized in London than thrushes, for, though with a mellower note, the blackbird is not so free a singer in captivity. They are “rose” and netted in the same manner as the thrush, but the supply is less by one-fifth. The prices, mortality, street-sale, &c., are in the same ratio.

The street-sale of Canaries is not large; not so large, I am assured by men in the trade, as it was six or seven years ago, more especially as regarded the higher-priced birds of this open-air traffic. Canaries are now never brought from the group of islands, thirteen in number, situate in the North Atlantic and near the African coast, and from which they derive their name. To these islands and to these alone (as far as is known to ornithologists) are they indigenous. The canary is a slow flyer and soon wearied; this is one reason no doubt for its not migrating. This delightful songster was first brought into England in the reign of Elizabeth, at the era when so many foreign luxuries (as they were then considered, and stigmatised accordingly) were introduced; of these were potatoes, tobacco, turkeys, nectarines, and canaries. I have seen no account of what was the cost of a canary-bird when first imported, but there is no doubt that they were very dear, as they were found only in the abodes of the wealthy. This bird-trade seems, moreover, to have been so profitable to the Spaniards, then and now the possessors of the isles, that a government order for the killing or setting at liberty of all hen canaries, caught with the males, was issued in order that the breed might be confined to its native country; a decree not attended with successful results as regards the intention of the then ruling powers.

The foreign supply to this country is now principally from Holland and Germany, where canaries are reared in great numbers, with that care which the Dutch in especial bestow upon everything on which money-making depends, and whence they are sent or brought over in the spring of every year, when from nine to twelve months old. Thirty years ago, the Tyrolese were the principal breeders and purveyors of canaries for the London market. From about the era of the peace of 1814, on the first abdication of Napoleon, for ten or twelve years they brought over about 2000 birds yearly. They travelled the whole way on foot, carrying the birds in cages on their backs, until they reached whatever port in France or the Netherlands (as Belgium then was) they might be bound for. The price of a canary of an average quality was then from 5s. to 8s. 6d., and a fair proportion were street-sold. At that period, I was told, the principal open-air sale for canaries (and it is only of that I now write) was in Whitechapel and Bethnal-green. All who are familiar with those localities may smile to think that the birds chirping and singing in these especially urban places, were bred for such street-traffic in the valleys of the Rhætian Alps! I presume that it was the greater rapidity of communication, and the consequent diminished cost of carriage, between England, Holland, and Germany, that caused the Tyrolese to abandon the trade as one unremunerative—even to men who will live on bread, onions, and water.

I have, perhaps, dwelt somewhat at length on this portion of the subject, but it is the most curious portion of all, for the canary is the only one of all our singing-birds which is solely a household thing. Linnets, finches, larks, nightingales, thrushes, and blackbirds, are all free denizens of the open air, as well as prisoners in our rooms, but the canary with us is unknown in a wild state. “Though not very handy,” wrote, in 1848, a very observant naturalist, the late Dr. Stanley, Bishop of Norwich, “canaries might possibly be naturalized in our country, by putting their eggs in the nests of sparrows, chaffinches, or other similar birds. The experiment has been partially tried in Berkshire, where a person for years kept them in an exposed aviary out of doors, and where they seemed to suffer no inconvenience from the severest weather.”

The breeding of canaries in this country for the London supply has greatly increased. They are bred in Leicester and Norwich, weavers being generally fond of birds. In London itself, also, they are bred to a greater extent than used to be the case, barbers being among the most assiduous rearers of the canary. A dealer who trades in both foreign and home-bred birds thought that the supply from the country, and from the Continent, was about the same, 8000 to 9000 each, not including what were sold by the barbers, who are regarded as “fanciers,” not to say interlopers,[62] by the dealers. No species of birds are ever bred by the shop-dealers. The price of a brisk canary is 5s. or 6s.; but they are sold in the streets as low as 1s. each, a small cage worth 6d. being sometimes included. These, however, are hens. As in the life of a canary there is no transition from freedom to enthralment, for they are in a cage in the egg, and all their lives afterwards, they are subject to a far lower rate of mortality than other street-sold birds. A sixteenth of the number above stated as forming the gross supply are sold in the streets.

The foregoing enumeration includes all the singing-birds of street-traffic and street-folk’s supply. The trade I have thus sketched is certainly one highly curious. We find that there is round London a perfect belt of men, employed from the first blush of a summer’s dawn, through the heats of noon, in many instances during the night, and in the chills of winter; and all labouring to give to city-pent men of humble means one of the peculiar pleasures of the country—the song of the birds. It must not be supposed that I would intimate that the bird-catcher’s life, as regards his field and wood pursuits, is one of hardship. On the contrary, it seems to me to be the very one which, perhaps unsuspected by himself, is best suited to his tastes and inclinations. Nor can we think similar pursuits partake much of hardship when we find independent men follow them for mere sport, to be rid of lassitude.

But the detail of the birds captured for the Londoners by no means ends here. I have yet to describe those which are not songsters, and which are a staple of street-traffic to a greater degree than birds of song. Of these my notice may be brief.

The trade in Sparrows is almost exclusively a street-trade and, numerically considered, not an inconsiderable one. They are netted in quantities in every open place near London, and in many places in London. It is common enough for a bird-catcher to obtain leave to catch sparrows in a wood-yard, a brick-field, or places where is an open space certain to be frequented by these bold and familiar birds. The sparrows are sold in the streets generally at 1d. each, sometimes halfpenny, and sometimes 1½d., and for no purpose of enjoyment (as in the case of the cheap song birds), but merely as playthings for children; in other words, for creatures wilfully or ignorantly to be tortured. Strings are tied to their legs and so they have a certain degree of freedom, but when they offer to fly away they are checked, and kept fluttering in the air as a child will flutter a kite. One man told me that he had sometimes sold as many as 200 sparrows in the back streets about Smithfield on a fine Sunday. These birds are not kept in cages, and so they can only be bought for a plaything. They oft enough escape from their persecutors.

But it is not merely for the sport of children that sparrows are purveyed, but for that of grown men, or—as Charles Lamb, if I remember rightly, qualifies it, when he draws a Pentonville sportsman with a little shrubbery for his preserve—for grown cockneys. The birds for adult recreation are shot in sparrow-matches; the gentleman slaughtering the most being, of course, the hero of a sparrow “battue.” One dealer told me that he had frequently supplied dozens of sparrows for these matches, at 2s. the dozen, but they were required to be fine bold birds! One dealer thought that during the summer months there were as many sparrows caught close to and within London as there were goldfinches in the less urban districts. These birds are sold direct from the hands of the catcher, so that it is less easy to arrive at statistics than when there is the intervention of dealers who know the extent of the trade carried on. I was told by several, who had no desire to exaggerate, that to estimate this sparrow-sale at 10,000 yearly, sold to children and idlers in the streets, was too low, but at that estimate, the outlay, at 1d. a sparrow, would be 850l. The adult sportsmen may slaughter half that number yearly in addition. The sporting sparrows are derived from the shopkeepers, who, when they receive the order, instruct the catchers to go to work.

Starlings used to be sold in very great quantities in the streets, but the trade is now but the shadow of its former state. The starling, too, is far less numerous than it was, and has lost much of its popularity. It is now seldom seen in flocks of more than 40, and it is rare to see a flock at all, although these birds at one period mustered in congregations of hundreds and even thousands. Ruins, and the roofs of ancient houses and barns—for they love the old and decaying buildings—were once covered with them. The starling was moreover the poor man’s and the peasant’s parrot. He was taught to speak, and sometimes to swear. But now the starling, save as regards his own note, is mute. He is seldom tamed or domesticated and taught tricks. It is true starlings may be seen carried on sticks in the street as if the tamest of the tame, but they are “braced.” Tapes are passed round their bodies, and so managed that the bird cannot escape from the stick, while his fetters are concealed by his feathers, the street-seller of course objecting to allow his birds to be handled.

Starlings are caught chiefly Ilford way, I was told, and about Turnham-green. Some are “rose” from the nest. The price is from 9d. to 2s. each. About 3000 are sold annually, half in the streets. After having been braced, or ill-used, the starling, if kept as a solitary bird, will often mope and die.

Jackdaws and Magpies are in less demand than might be expected from their vivacity. Many of the other birds are supplied the year round, but daws and pies for only about two months, from the middle of June to the middle of August. The price is from 6d. to 1s. and about 1000 are thus disposed of, in equal quantities, one-half in the streets. These birds are for the most part reared from the nest, but little pains appear to be taken with them.


The Redpole is rather a favourite bird among street-buyers, especially where children are allowed to choose birds from a stock. I am told that they most frequently select a goldfinch or a redpole. These birds are supplied for about two months. About 800 or 1000 is the extent of the take. The mortality and prices are the same as with the goldfinch, but a goldfinch in high song is worth twice as much as the best redpole. About a third of the sale of the redpole is in the streets.

There are also 150 or 200 Black-caps sold annually in the open air, at from 3d. to 5d. each.

These are the chief birds, then, that constitute the trade of the streets, with the addition of an occasional yellow-hammer, wren, jay, or even cuckoo. They also, with the addition of pigeons, form the stock of the bird-shops.

I have shown the number of birds caught, the number which survive for sale, and the cost; and, as usual, under the head of “Statistics,” will be shown the whole annual expenditure. This, however, is but a portion of the London outlay on birds. There is, in addition, the cost of their cages and of their daily food. The commonest and smallest cage costs 6d., a frequent price being 1s. A thrush’s basket-cage cannot be bought, unless rubbish, under 2s. 6d. I have previously shown the amount paid for the green food of birds, and for their turfs, &c., for these are all branches of street-commerce. Of their other food, such as rape and canary-seed, German paste, chopped eggs, biscuit, &c., I need but intimate the extent by showing what birds will consume, as it is not a portion of street-trade.

A goldfinch, it has been proved by experimentalising ornithologists, will consume 90 grains, in weight, of canary-seed in 24 hours. A greenfinch, for whose use 80 grains of wheat were weighed out, ate 79 of them in 24 hours; and, on another occasion ate, in the same space of time, 100 grains of a paste of eggs and flour. Sixteen canaries consumed 100 grains’ weight of food, each bird, in 24 hours. The amount of provision thus eaten was about one-sixth of the full weight of the bird’s body, or an equivalent, were a man to swallow victuals in the same proportion, of 25 lbs. in 24 hours. I may remark, moreover, that the destruction of caterpillars, insects, worms, &c., by the small birds, is enormous, especially during the infancy of their nestlings. A pair of sparrows fed their brood 36 times an hour for 14 hours of a long spring day, and, it was calculated, administered to them in one week 3400 caterpillars. A pair of chaffinches, also, carried nearly as great a number of caterpillars for the maintenance of their young.

The singing-birds sold in the street are offered either singly in small cages, when the cage is sold with the bird, or they are displayed in a little flock in a long cage, the buyer selecting any he prefers. They always appear lively in the streets, or indeed a sale would be hopeless, for no one would buy a dull or sick bird. The captives are seen to hop and heard to chirp, but they are not often heard to sing when thus offered to the public, and it requires some little attention to judge what is but an impatient flutter, and what is the fruit of mere hilarity.

The places where the street-sellers more especially offer their birds are—Smithfield, Clerkenwell-green, Lisson-grove, the City and New roads, Shepherdess-walk, Old Street-road, Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Tower-hill, Ratcliffe-highway, Commercial-road East, Poplar, Billingsgate, Westminster Broadway, Covent-garden, Blackfriars-road, Bermondsey (mostly about Dock-head), and in the neighbourhood of the Borough Market. The street-sellers are also itinerant, carrying the birds in cages, holding them up to tempt the notice of people whom they see at the windows, or calling at the houses. The sale used to be very considerable in the “Cut” and Lambeth-walk. Sometimes the cages with their inmates are fastened to any contiguous rail; sometimes they are placed on a bench or stall; and occasionally in cages on the ground.

To say nothing, in this place, of the rogueries of the bird-trade, I will proceed to show how the street-sold birds are frequently inferior to those in the shops. The catcher, as I have stated, is also the street-seller. He may reach the Dials, or whatever quarter the dealer he supplies may reside in, with perhaps 30 linnets and as many goldfinches. The dealer selects 24 of each, refusing the remaining dozen, on account of their being hens, or hurt, or weakly birds. The man then resorts to the street to effect a sale of that dozen, and thus the streets have the refuse of the shops. On the other hand, however, when the season is at its height, and the take of birds is the largest, as at this time of year, the shops are “stocked.” The cages and recesses are full, and the dealer’s anxiety is to sell before he purchases more birds. The catchers proceed in their avocation; they must dispose of their stock; the shopkeeper will not buy “at any figure,” and so the streets are again resorted to, and in this way fine birds are often sold very cheap. Both these liabilities prevail the year through, but most in the summer, and keep up a sort of poise; but I apprehend that the majority, perhaps the great majority, of the street-sold birds, are of an inferior sort, but then the price is much lower. On occasions when the bird-trade is overdone, the catchers will sell a few squirrels, or gather snails for the shops.

The buyers of singing-birds are eminently the working people, along with the class of tradesmen whose means and disposition are of the same character as those of the artisan. Grooms and coachmen are frequently fond of birds; many are kept in the several mews, and often the larger singing-birds, such as blackbirds and thrushes. The fondness of a whole body of artificers for any particular bird, animal, or flower, is remarkable. No better instance need be cited than that of the Spitalfields weavers. In the days of their prosperity they were the cultivators of choice tulips, afterwards, though not in so full a degree, of dahlias, and their pigeons were the best “fliers” in England. These things were[64] accomplished with little cost, comparatively, for the weavers were engaged in tasks, grateful and natural to their tastes and habitudes; and what was expense in the garden or aviary of the rich, was an exercise of skill and industry on the part of the silk-weaver. The humanising and even refining influence of such pursuits is very great, and as regards these pure pleasures it is not seldom that the refinement which can appreciate them has proceeded not to but from the artisans. The operatives have often been in the van of those who have led the public taste from delighting in the cruelty and barbarity of bear and bull-baiting and of cock-fighting—among the worst of all possible schools, and very influential those schools were—to the delight in some of the most beautiful works of nature. It is easy to picture the difference of mood between a man going home from a dog-fight at night, or going home from a visit to his flowers, or from an examination to satisfy himself that his birds were “all right.” The families of the two men felt the difference. Many of the rich appear to remain mere savages in their tastes and sports. Battues, lion and hippopotamus hunting, &c.,—all are mere civilized barbarisms. When shall we learn, as Wordsworth says,

“Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.”

But the change in Spitalfields is great. Since the prevalence of low wages the weaver’s garden has disappeared, and his pigeon-cote, even if its timbers have not rotted away, is no longer stocked with carriers, dragoons, horsemen, jacobins, monks, poulters, turtles, tumblers, fantails, and the many varieties of what is in itself a variety—the fancy-pigeon. A thrush, or a linnet, may still sing to the clatter of the loom, but that is all. The culture of the tulip, the dahlia, and (sometimes) of the fuchsia, was attended, as I have said, with small cost, still it was cost, and the weaver, as wages grew lower, could not afford either the outlay or the loss of time. To cultivate flowers, or rear doves, so as to make them a means of subsistence, requires a man’s whole time, and to such things the Spitalfields man did not devote his time, but his leisure.

The readers who have perused this work from its first appearance will have noticed how frequently I have had to comment on the always realized indication of good conduct, and of a superior taste and generally a superior intelligence, when I have found the rooms of working people contain flowers and birds. I could adduce many instances. I have seen and heard birds in the rooms of tailors, shoemakers, coopers, cabinet-makers, hatters, dressmakers, curriers, and street-sellers,—all people of the best class. One of the most striking, indeed, was the room of a street-confectioner. His family attended to the sale of the sweets, and he was greatly occupied at home in their manufacture, and worked away at his peppermint-rock, in the very heart of one of the thickliest populated parts of London, surrounded by the song of thrushes, linnets, and goldfinches, all kept, not for profit, but because he “loved” to have them about him. I have seldom met a man who impressed me more favourably.

The flowers in the room are more attributable to the superintending taste of a wife or daughter, and are found in the apartments of the same class of people.

There is a marked difference between the buyers or keepers of birds and of dogs in the working classes, especially when the dog is of a sporting or “varmint” sort. Such a dog-keeper is often abroad and so his home becomes neglected; he is interested about rat-hunts, knows the odds on or against the dog’s chance to dispatch his rats in the time allotted, loses much time and customers, his employers grumbling that the work is so slowly executed, and so custom or work falls off. The bird-lover, on the other hand, is generally a more domestic, and, perhaps consequently, a more prosperous and contented man. It is curious to mark the refining qualities of particular trades. I do not remember seeing a bull-dog in the possession of any of the Spitalfields silk-weavers: with them all was flowers and birds. The same I observed with the tailors and other kindred occupations. With slaughterers, however, and drovers, and Billingsgatemen, and coachmen, and cabmen, whose callings naturally tend to blunt the sympathy with suffering, the gentler tastes are comparatively unknown. The dogs are almost all of the “varmint” kind, kept either for rat-killing, fighting, or else for their ugliness. For “pet” or “fancy” dogs they have no feeling, and in singing birds they find little or no delight.

Of the Bird-Catchers who are Street-Sellers.

The street-sellers of birds are called by themselves “hawkers,” and sometimes “bird hawkers.”

Among the bird-catchers I did not hear of any very prominent characters at present, three of the best known and most prominent having died within these ten months. I found among all I saw the vagrant characteristics I have mentioned, and often united with a quietness of speech and manner which might surprise those who do not know that any pursuit which entails frequent silence, watchfulness, and solitude, forms such manners. Perhaps the man most talked of by his fellow-labourers, was Old Gilham, who died lately. Gilham was his real name, for among the bird-catchers there is not that prevalence of nicknames which I found among the costermongers and patterers. One reason no doubt is, that these bird-folk do not meet regularly in the markets. It is rarely, however, that they know each other’s surnames, Old Gilham being an exception. It is Old Tom, or Young Mick, or Jack, or Dick, among them. I heard of no John or Richard.

For 60 years, almost without intermission, Old Gilham caught birds. I am assured that to state that his “catch” during this long period averaged 100 a week, hens included, is within the mark, for he was a most indefatigable man; even at that computation, however, he would have been the captor, in his lifetime, of three hundred and twelve[65] thousand birds! A bird-catcher who used sometimes to start in the morning with Old Gilham, and walk with him until their roads diverged, told me that of late years the old man’s talk was a good deal of where he had captured his birds in the old times: “‘Why, Ned,’ he would say to me, proceeded his companion, ‘I’ve catched goldfinches in lots at Chalk Farm, and all where there’s that railway smoke and noise just by the hill (Primrose Hill). I can’t think where they’ll drive all the birds to by and bye. I dare say the first time the birds saw a railway with its smoke, and noise to frighten them, and all the fire too, they just thought it was the devil was come.’ He wasn’t a fool, wasn’t old Gilham, sir. ‘Why,’ he’d go on for to say, ‘I’ve laid many a day at Ball’s Pond there, where it’s nothing but a lot of houses now, and catched hundreds of birds. And I’ve catched them where there’s all them grand squares Pimlico way, and in Britannia Fields, and at White Condic. What with all these buildings, and them barbers, I don’t know what the bird-trade’ll come to. It’s hard for a poor man to have to go to Finchley for birds that he could have catched at Holloway once, but people never thinks of that. When I were young I could make three times as much as I do now. I’ve got a pound for a good sound chaffinch as I brought up myself.’ Ah, poor old Gilham, sir; I wish you could have seen him, he’d have told you of some queer changes in his time.”

A shopkeeper informed me that a bird-catcher had talked to him of even “queerer” changes. This man died eight or ten years ago at an advanced age, but beyond the fact of his offering birds occasionally at my informant’s shop, where he was known merely as “the old man,” he could tell me nothing of the ancient bird-catcher, except that he was very fond of a talk, and used to tell how he had catched birds between fifty and sixty years, and had often, when a lad, catched them where many a dock in London now stands. “Where there’s many a big ship now in deep water, I’ve catched flocks of birds. I never catched birds to be sure at them docks,” he would add, “as was dug out of the houses. Why, master, you’ll remember their pulling down St. Katherine’s Church, and all them rummy streets the t’other side of the Tower, for a dock.” As I find that the first dock constructed on the north side of the Thames, the West India dock, was not commenced until the year 1800, there seems no reason to discredit the bird-catcher’s statement. Among other classes of street-sellers I have had to remark the little observation they extended to the changes all around, such as the extension of street-traffic to miles and miles of suburbs, unknown till recently. Two thousand miles of houses have been built in London within the last 20 years. But with the bird-catchers this want of observance is not so marked. Of necessity they must notice the changes which have added to the fatigues and difficulties of their calling, by compelling them, literally, to “go further a-field.”

A young man, rather tall, and evidently active, but very thin, gave me the following account. His manners were quiet and his voice low. His dress could not so well be called mean as hard worn, with the unmistakable look of much of the attire of his class, that it was not made for the wearer; his surtout, for instance, which was fastened in front by two buttons, reached down to his ancles, and could have inclosed a bigger man. He resided in St. Luke’s, in which parish there are more bird-catchers living than in any other. The furniture of his room was very simple. A heavy old sofa, in the well of which was a bed, a table, two chairs, a fender, a small closet containing a few pots and tins, and some twenty empty bird-cages of different sizes hung against the walls. In a sort of wooden loft, which had originally been constructed, he believed, for the breeding of fancy-pigeons, and which was erected on the roof, were about a dozen or two of cages, some old and broken, and in them a few live goldfinches, which hopped about very merrily. They were all this year’s birds, and my informant, who had “a little connection of his own,” was rearing them in hopes they would turn out good specs, quite “birds beyond the run of the streets.” The place and the cages, each bird having its own little cage, were very clean, but at the time of my visit the loft was exceedingly hot, as the day was one of the sultriest. Lest this heat should prove too great for the finches, the timbers on all sides were well wetted and re-wetted at intervals, for about an hour at noon, at which time only was the sun full on the loft.

“I shall soon have more birds, sir,” he said, “but you see I only put aside here such as are the very best of the take; all cocks, of course. O, I’ve been in the trade all my life; I’ve had a turn at other things, certainly, but this life suits me best, I think, because I have my health best in it. My father—he’s been dead a goodish bit—was a bird-catcher as well, and he used to take me out with him as soon as I was strong enough; when I was about ten, I suppose. I don’t remember my mother. Father was brought up to brick-making. I believe that most of the bird-catchers that have been trades, and that’s not half a quarter perhaps, were brick-makers, or something that way. Well, I don’t know the reason. The brick-making was, in my father’s young days, carried on more in the country, and the bird-catchers used to fall in with the brick-makers, and so perhaps that led to it. I’ve heard my father tell of an old soldier that had been discharged with a pension being the luckiest bird-catcher he knowed. The soldier was a catcher before he first listed, and he listed drunk. I once—yes, sir, I dare say that’s fifteen year back, for I was quite a lad—walked with my father and captain” (the pensioner’s sobriquet) “till they parted for work, and I remember very well I heard him tell how, when on march in Portingal—I think that’s what he called it, but it’s in foreign parts—he saw flocks of birds; he wished he could be after catching them, for he was well tired of sogering. I was sent to school twice or thrice, and can read a little and write a little; and I should like reading better if I could manage it better. I read a penny number,[66] or the ‘police’ in a newspaper, now and then, but very seldom. But on a fine day I hated being at school. I wanted to be at work, to make something at bird-catching. If a boy can make money, why shouldn’t he? And if I’d had a net, or cage, and a mule of my own, then, I thought, I could make money.” [I may observe that the mule longed for by my informant was a “cross” between two birds, and was wanted for the decoy. Some bird-catchers contend that a mule makes the best call-bird of any; others that the natural note of a linnet, for instance, was more alluring than the song of a mule between a linnet and a goldfinch. One birdman told me that the excellence of a mule was, that it had been bred and taught by its master, had never been at large, and was “better to manage;” it was bolder, too, in a cage, and its notes were often loud and ringing, and might be heard to a considerable distance.]

“I couldn’t stick to school, sir,” my informant continued, “and I don’t know why, lest it be that one man’s best suited for one business, and another for another. That may be seen every day. I was sent on trial to a shoemaker, and after that to a ropemaker, for father didn’t seem to like my growing up and being a bird-catcher, like he was. But I never felt well, and knew I should never be any great hand at them trades, and so when my poor father went off rather sudden, I took to the catching at once and had all his traps. Perhaps, but I can’t say to a niceness, that was eleven year back. Do I like the business, do you say, sir? Well, I’m forced to like it, for I’ve no other to live by.” [The reader will have remarked how this man attributed the course he pursued, evidently from natural inclination, to its being the best and most healthful means of subsistence in his power.] “Last Monday, for my dealers like birds on a Monday or Tuesday best, and then they’ve the week before them,—I went to catch in the fields this side of Barnet, and started before two in the morning, when it was neither light nor dark. You must get to your place before daylight to be ready for the first flight, and have time to lay your net properly. When I’d done that, I lay down and smoked. No, smoke don’t scare the birds; I think they’re rather drawn to notice anything new, if all’s quite quiet. Well, the first pull I had about 90 birds, nearly all linnets. There was, as well as I can remember, three hedge-sparrows among them, and two larks, and one or two other birds. Yes, there’s always a terrible flutter and row when you make a catch, and often regular fights in the net. I then sorted my birds, and let the hens go, for I didn’t want to be bothered with them. I might let such a thing as 35 hens go out of rather more than an 80 take, for I’ve always found, in catching young broods, that I’ve drawn more cocks than hens. How do I know the difference when the birds are so young? As easy as light from dark. You must lift up the wing, quite tender, and you’ll find that a cock linnet has black, or nearly black, feathers on his shoulder, where the hens are a deal lighter. Then the cock has a broader and whiter stripe on the wing than the hen has. It’s quite easy to distinguish, quite. A cock goldfinch is straighter and more larger in general than a hen, and has a broader white on his wing, as the cock linnet has; he’s black round the beak and the eye too, and a hen’s greenish thereabouts. There’s some gray-pates (young birds) would deceive any one until he opens their wings. Well, I went on, sir, until about one o’clock, or a little after, as well as I could tell from the sun, and then came away with about 100 singing birds. I sold them in the lump to three shopkeepers at 2s. 2d. and 2s. 6d. the dozen. That was a good day, sir; a very lucky day. I got about 17s., the best I ever did but once, when I made 19s. in a day.

“Yes, it’s hard work is mine, because there’s such a long walking home when you’ve done catching. O, when you’re at work it’s not work but almost a pleasure. I’ve laid for hours though, without a catch. I smoke to pass the time when I’m watching; sometimes I read a bit if I’ve had anything to take with me to read; then at other times I thinks. If you don’t get a catch for hours, it’s only like an angler without a nibble. O, I don’t know what I think about; about nothing, perhaps. Yes, I’ve had a friend or two go out catching with me just for the amusement. They must lie about and wait as I do. We have a little talk of course: well, perhaps about sporting; no, not horse-racing, I care nothing for that, but it’s hardly business taking any one with you. I supply the dealers and hawk as well. Perhaps I make 12s. a week the year through. Some weeks I’ve made between 3l. and 4l., and in winter, when there’s rain every day, perhaps I haven’t cleared a penny in a fortnight. That’s the worst of it. But I make more than others because I have a connection and raise good birds.

“Sometimes I’m stopped by the farmers when I’m at work, but not often, though there is some of ’em very obstinate. It’s no use, for if a catcher’s net has to be taken from one part of a farm, after he’s had the trouble of laying it, why it must be laid in another part. Some country people likes to have their birds catched.”

My informant supplied shopkeepers and hawked his birds in the streets and to the houses. He had a connection, he said, and could generally get through them, but he had sometimes put a bird or two in a fancy house. These are the public-houses resorted to by “the fancy,” in some of which may be seen two or three dozen singing-birds for sale on commission, through the agency of the landlord or the waiter. They are the property of hawkers or dealers, and must be good birds, or they will not be admitted.

The number of birds caught, and the proportion sold in the streets, I have already stated. The number of bird-catchers, I may repeat, is about the same as that of street bird-sellers, 200.

Of the Crippled Street Bird-Seller.

From the bird-seller whose portrait will be given in the next number of this work I have received the following account. The statement previously[67] given was that of a catcher and street-seller, as are the great majority in the trade; the following narrative is that of one who, from his infirmities, is merely a street-seller.


[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

The poor man’s deformity may be best understood by describing it in his own words: “I have no ancle.” His right leg is emaciated, the bone is smaller than that of his other leg (which is not deformed), and there is no ancle joint. The joints of the wrists and shoulders are also defective, though not utterly wanting, as in the ancle. In walking this poor cripple seems to advance by means of a series of jerks. He uses his deformed leg, but must tread, or rather support his body, on the ball of the misformed foot, while he advances his sound leg; then, with a twist of his body, after he has advanced and stands upon his undeformed leg and foot, he throws forward the crippled part of his frame by the jerk I have spoken of. His arms are usually pressed against his ribs as he walks, and convey to a spectator the notion that he is unable to raise them from that position. This, however, is not the case; he can raise them, not as a sound man does, but with an effort and a contortion of his body to humour the effort. His speech is also defective, his words being brought out, as it were, by jerks; he has to prepare himself, and to throw up his chin, in order to converse, and then he speaks with difficulty. His face is sun-burnt and healthy-looking. His dress was a fustian coat with full skirts, cloth trowsers somewhat patched, and a clean coarse shirt. His right shoe was suited to his deformity, and was strapped with a sort of leather belt round the lower part of the leg.

A considerable number of book-stall keepers, as well as costermongers, swag-barrowmen, ginger-beer and lemonade sellers, orange-women, sweet-stuff vendors, root-sellers, and others, have established their pitches—some of them having stalls with a cover, like a roof—from Whitechapel workhouse to the Mile End turnpike-gate; near the gate they are congregated most thickly, and there they are mixed with persons seated on the forms belonging to adjacent innkeepers, which are placed there to allow any one to have his beer and tobacco in the open air. Among these street-sellers and beer-drinkers is seated the crippled bird-seller, generally motionless.

His home is near the Jews’ burial-ground, and in one of the many “places” which by a misnomer, occasioned by the change in the character and appearance of what were the outskirts, are still called “Pleasant.” On seeking him here, I had some little difficulty in finding the house, and asking a string of men, who were chopping fire-wood in an adjoining court, for the man I wanted, mentioning his name, no one knew anything about him; though when I spoke of his calling, “O,” they said, “you want Old Billy.” I then found Billy at his accustomed pitch, with a very small stock of birds in two large cages on the ground beside him, and he accompanied me to his residence. The room in which we sat had a pile of fire-wood opposite the door; the iron of the upper part of the door-latch being wanting was replaced by a piece of wood—and on the pile sat a tame jackdaw, with the inquisitive and askant look peculiar to the bird. Above the pile was a large cage, containing a jay—a bird seldom sold in the streets now—and a thrush, in different compartments. A table, three chairs, and a hamper or two used in the wood-cutting, completed the furniture. Outside the house were cages containing larks, goldfinches, and a very fine starling, of whose promising abilities the bird-seller’s sister had so favourable an opinion that she intended to try and teach it to talk, although that was very seldom done now.

The following is the statement I obtained from the poor fellow. The man’s sister was present at his desire, as he was afraid I could not understand him, owing to the indistinctness of his speech; but that was easy enough, after awhile, with a little patience and attention.

“I was born a cripple, sir,” he said, “and I shall die one. I was born at Lewisham, but I don’t remember living in any place but London. I remember being at Stroud though, where my father had taken me, and bathed me often in the sea himself, thinking it might do me good. I’ve heard him say, too, that when I was very young he took me to almost every hospital in London, but it was of no use. My father and mother were as kind to me and as good parents as could be. He’s been dead nineteen years, and my mother died before him. Father was very poor, almost as poor as I am. He worked in a brick-field, but work weren’t regular. I couldn’t walk at all until I was six years old, and I was between nine and ten before I could get up and down stairs by myself. I used to slide down before, as well as I could, and had to be carried up. When I could get about and went among other boys, I was in great distress, I was teased so. Life was a burthen to me, as I’ve read something about. They used to taunt me by offering to jump me” (invite him to a jumping match), “and to say, I’ll run you a race on one leg. They were bad to me then, and they are now. I’ve sometimes sat down and cried, but not often. No, sir, I can’t say that I ever wished I was dead. I hardly know why I cried. I suppose because I was miserable. I learned to read at a Sunday school, where I went a long time. I like reading. I read the Bible and tracts, nothing else; never a newspaper. It don’t come in my way, and if it did I shouldn’t look at it, for I can’t read over well and it’s nothing to me who’s king or who’s queen. It can never have anything to do with me. It don’t take my attention. There’ll be no change for me in this world. When I was thirteen my father put me into the bird trade. He knew a good many catchers. I’ve been bird-selling in the streets for six-and-twenty years and more, for I was 39 the 24th of last January. Father didn’t know what better he could put me to, as I hadn’t the right use of my hands or feet, and at first I did very well. I liked the birds and do still. I used to think at first that they was like me; they was prisoners, and I was a cripple. At first I sold birds in Poplar, and[68] Limehouse, and Blackwall, and was a help to my parents, for I cleared 9s. or 10s. every week. But now, oh dear, I don’t know where all the money’s gone to. I think there’s very little left in the country. I’ve sold larks, linnets, and goldfinches, to captains of ships to take to the West Indies. I’ve sold them, too, to go to Port Philip. O, and almost all those foreign parts. They bring foreign birds here, and take back London birds. I don’t know anything about foreign birds. I know there’s men dressed as sailors going about selling them; they’re duffers—I mean the men. There’s a neighbour of mine, that’s very likely never been 20 miles out of London, and when he hawks birds he always dresses like a countryman, and duffs that way.

“When my father died,” continued the man, “I was completely upset; everything in the world was upset. I was forced to go into the workhouse, and I was there between four and five months. O, I hated it. I’d rather live on a penny loaf a day than be in it again. I’ve never been near the parish since, though I’ve often had nothing to eat many a day. I’d rather be lamer than I am, and be oftener called silly Billy—and that sometimes makes me dreadful wild—than be in the workhouse. It was starvation, but then I know I’m a hearty eater, very hearty. Just now I know I could eat a shilling plate of meat, but for all that I very seldom taste meat. I live on bread and butter and tea, sometimes bread without butter. When I have it I eat a quartern loaf at three meals. It depends upon how I’m off. My health’s good. I never feel in any pain now; I did when I first got to walk, in great pain. Beer I often don’t taste once in two or three months, and this very hot weather one can’t help longing for a drop, when you see people drinking it all sides of you, but they have the use of their limbs.” [Here two little girls and a boy rushed into the room, for they had but to open the door from the outside, and, evidently to tease the poor fellow, loudly demanded “a ha’penny bird.” When the sister had driven them away, my informant continued.] “I’m still greatly teased, sir, with children; yes, and with men too, both when they’re drunk and sober. I think grown persons are the worst. They swear and use bad language to me. I’m sure I don’t know why. I know no name they call me by in particular when I’m teased, if it isn’t ‘Old Hypocrite.’ I can’t say why they call me ‘hypocrite.’ I suppose because they know no better. Yes, I think I’m religious, rather. I would be more so, if I had clothes. I get to chapel sometimes.” [A resident near the bird-seller’s pitch, with whom I had some conversation, told me of “Billy” being sometimes teased in the way described. Some years ago, he believed it was at Limehouse, my informant heard a gentlemanly-looking man, tipsy, d—n the street bird-seller for Mr. Hobbler, and bid him go to the Mansion House, or to h—l. I asked the cripple about this, but he had no recollection of it; and, as he evidently did not understand the allusion to Mr. Hobbler, I was not surprised at his forgetfulness.]

“I like to sit out in the sunshine selling my birds,” he said. “If it’s rainy, and I can’t go out, because it would be of no use, I’m moped to death. I stay at home and read a little; or I chop a little fire-wood, but you may be very sure, sir, its little I can do that way. I never associate with the neighbours. I never had any pleasure, such as going to a fair, or like that. I don’t remember having ever spent a penny in a place of amusement in my life. Yes, I’ve often sat all day in the sun, and of course a deal of thoughts goes through my head. I think, shall I be able to afford myself plenty of bread when I get home? And I think of the next world sometimes, and feel quite sure, quite, that I shan’t be a cripple there. Yes, that’s a comfort, for this world will never be any good to me. I feel that I shall be a poor starving cripple, till I end, perhaps, in the workhouse. Other poor men can get married, but not such as me. But I never was in love in my life, never.” [Among the vagrants and beggars, I may observe, there are men more terribly deformed than the bird-seller, who are married, or living in concubinage.] “Yes, sir,” he proceeded, “I’m quite reconciled to my lameness, quite; and have been for years. O, no, I never fret about that now; but about starving, perhaps, and the workhouse.

“Before father died, the parish allowed us 1s. 6d. and a quartern loaf a week; but after he was buried, they’d allow me nothing; they’d only admit me into the house. I hadn’t a penny allowed to me when I discharged myself and came out. I hardly know how ever I did manage to get a start again with the birds. I knew a good many catchers, and they trusted me. Yes, they was all poor men. I did pretty tidy by bits, but only when it was fine weather, until these five years or so, when things got terrible bad. Particularly just the two last years with me. Do you think times are likely to mend, sir, with poor people? If working-men had only money, they’d buy innocent things like birds to amuse them at home; but if they can’t get the money, as I’ve heard them say when they’ve been pricing my stock, why in course they can’t spend it.”

“Yes, indeed,” said the sister, “trade’s very bad. Where my husband and I once earned 18s. at the fire-wood, and then 15s., we can’t now earn 12s. the two of us, slave as hard as we will. I always dread the winter a-coming. Though there may be more fire-wood wanted, there’s greater expenses, and it’s a terrible time for such as us.”

“I dream sometimes, sir,” the cripple resumed in answer to my question, “but not often. I often have more than once dreamed I was starving and dying of hunger. I remember that, for I woke in a tremble. But most dreams is soon forgot. I’ve never seemed to myself to be a cripple in my dreams. Well, I can’t explain how, but I feel as if my limbs was all free like—so beautiful. I dream most about starving I think, than about anything else. Perhaps that’s when I have to go to sleep hungry. I sleep very well, though, take it altogether. If I had only plenty to live upon there would be[69] nobody happier. I’m happy enough when times is middling with me, only one feels it won’t last. I like a joke as well as anybody when times is good; but that’s been very seldom lately.

“It’s all small birds I sell in the street now, except at a very odd time. That jackdaw there, sir, he’s a very fine bird. I’ve tamed him myself, and he’s as tame as a dog. My sister’s a very good hand among birds, and helps me. She once taught a linnet to say ‘Joey’ as plain as you can speak it yourself, sir. I buy birds of different catchers, but haven’t money to buy the better kinds, as I have to sell at 3d., and 4d., and 6d. mostly. If I had a pound to lay out in a few nice cages and good birds, I think I could do middling, this fine weather particler, for I’m a very good judge of birds, and know how to manage them as well as anybody. Then birds is rather dearer to buy than they was when I was first in the trade. The catchers have to go further, and I’m afeared the birds is getting scarcer, and so there’s more time taken up. I buy of several catchers. The last whole day that I was at my pitch I sold nine birds, and took about 3s. If I could buy birds ever so cheap, there’s always such losses by their dying. I’ve had three parts of my young linnets die, do what I might, but not often so many. Then if they die all the food they’ve had is lost. There goes all for nothing the rape and flax-seed for your linnets, canary and flax for your goldfinches, chopped eggs for your nightingales, and German paste for your sky-larks. I’ve made my own German paste when I’ve wanted a sufficient quantity. It’s made of pea-meal, treacle, hog’s-lard, and moss-seed. I sell more goldfinches than anything else. I used to sell a good many sparrows for shooting, but I haven’t done anything that way these eight or nine years. It’s a fash’nable sport still, I hear. I’ve reared nightingales that sung beautiful, and have sold them at 4s. a piece, which was very cheap. They often die when the time for their departure comes. A shopkeeper as supplied such as I’ve sold would have charged 1l. a piece for them. One of my favouritest birds is redpoles, but they’re only sold in the season. I think it’s one of the most knowingest little birds that is; more knowing than the goldfinch, in my opinion.

“My customers are all working people, all of them. I sell to nobody else; I make 4s. or 5s.; I call 5s. a good week at this time of year, when the weather suits. I lodge with a married sister; her husband’s a wood-chopper, and I pay 1s. 6d. a week, which is cheap, for I’ve no sticks of my own. If I earn 4s. there’s only 2s. 6d. left to live on the week through. In winter, when I can make next to nothing, and must keep my birds, it is terrible—oh yes, sir, if you believe me, terrible!”

Of the Tricks of the Bird-Duffers.

The tricks practised by the bird-sellers are frequent and systematic. The other day a man connected with the bird-trade had to visit Holloway, the City, and Bermondsey. In Holloway he saw six men, some of whom he recognised as regular bird-catchers and street-sellers, offering sham birds; in the City he found twelve; and in Bermondsey six, as well as he could depend upon his memory. These, he thought, did not constitute more than a half of the number now at work as bird-“duffers,” not including the sellers of foreign birds. In the summer, indeed, the duffers are most numerous, for birds are cheapest then, and these tricksters, to economise time, I presume, buy of other catchers any cheap hens suited to their purpose. Some of them, I am told, never catch their birds at all, but purchase them.

The greenfinch is the bird on which these men’s art is most commonly practised, its light-coloured plumage suiting it to their purposes. I have heard these people styled “bird-swindlers,” but by street-traders I heard them called “bird-duffers,” yet there appears to be no very distinctive name for them. They are nearly all men, as is the case in the bird trade generally, although the wives may occasionally assist in the street-sale. The means of deception, as regards the greenfinch especially, are from paint. One aim of these artists is to make their finch resemble some curious foreign bird, “not often to be sold so cheap, or to be sold at all in this country.” They study the birds in the window of the naturalists’ shops for this purpose. Sometimes they declare these painted birds are young Java sparrows (at one time “a fashionable bird”), or St. Helena birds, or French or Italian finches. They sometimes get 5s. for such a “duffing bird;” one man has been known to boast that he once got a sovereign. I am told, however, by a bird-catcher who had himself supplied birds to these men for duffing, that they complained of the trade growing worse and worse.

It is usually a hen which is painted, for the hen is by far the cheapest purchase, and while the poor thing is being offered for sale by the duffers, she has an unlimited supply of hemp-seed, without other food, and hemp-seed beyond a proper quantity, is a very strong stimulus. This makes the hen look brisk and bold, but if newly caught, as is usually the case, she will perhaps be found dead next morning. The duffer will object to his bird being handled on account of its timidity; “but it is timid only with strangers!” “When you’ve had him a week, ma’am,” such a bird-seller will say, “you’ll find him as lovesome and tame as can be.” One jealous lady, when asked 5s. for a “very fine Italian finch, an excellent singer,” refused to buy, but offered a deposit of 2s. 6d., if the man would leave his bird and cage, for the trial of the bird’s song, for two or three days. The duffer agreed; and was bold enough to call on the third day to hear the result. The bird was dead, and after murmuring a little at the lady’s mismanagement, and at the loss he had been subjected to, the man brought away his cage. He boasted of this to a dealer’s assistant who mentioned it to me, and expressed his conviction that it was true enough. The paints used for the transformation of native birds into foreign are bought at the colour-shops, and applied with camel-hair brushes in the usual way.

When canaries are “a bad colour,” or have[70] grown a paler yellow from age, they are re-dyed, by the application of a colour sold at the colour-shops, and known as “the Queen’s yellow.” Blackbirds are dyed a deeper black, the “grit” off a frying-pan being used for the purpose. The same thing is done to heighten the gloss and blackness of a jackdaw, I was told, by a man who acknowledged he had duffed a little; “people liked a gay bright colour.” In the same way the tints of the goldfinch are heightened by the application of paint. It is common enough, moreover, for a man to paint the beaks and legs of the birds. It is chiefly the smaller birds which are thus made the means of cheating.

Almost all the “duffing birds” are hawked. If a young hen be passed off for a good singing bird, without being painted, as a cock in his second singing year, she is “brisked up” with hemp-seed, is half tipsy in fact, and so passed off deceitfully. As it is very rarely that even the male birds will sing in the streets, this is often a successful ruse, the bird appearing so lively.

A dealer calculated for me, from his own knowledge, that 2000 small birds were “duffed” yearly, at an average of from 2s. 6d. to 3s. each.

As yet I have only spoken of the “duffing” of English birds, but similar tricks are practised with the foreign birds.

In parrot-selling there is a good deal of “duffing.” The birds are “painted up,” as I have described in the case of the greenfinches, &c. Varnish is also used to render the colours brighter; the legs and beak are frequently varnished. Sometimes a spot of red is introduced, for as one of these duffers observed to a dealer in English birds, “the more outlandish you make them look, the better’s the chance to sell.” Sometimes there is little injury done by this paint and varnish, which disappear gradually when the parrot is in the cage of a purchaser; but in some instances when the bird picks himself where he has been painted, he dies from the deleterious compound. Of this mortality, however, there is nothing approaching that among the duffed small birds.

Occasionally the duffers carry really fine cockatoos, &c., and if they can obtain admittance into a lady’s house, to display the beauty of the bird, they will pretend to be in possession of smuggled silk, &c., made of course for duffing purposes. The bird-duffers are usually dressed as seamen, and sometimes pretend they must sell the bird before the ship sails, for a parting spree, or to get the poor thing a good home. This trade, however, has from all that I can learn, and in the words of an informant, “seen its best days.” There are now sometimes six men thus engaged; sometimes none: and when one of these men is “hard up,” he finds it difficult to start again in a business for which a capital of about 1l. is necessary, as a cage is wanted generally. The duffers buy the very lowest priced birds, and have been known to get 2l. 10s. for what cost but 8s., but that is a very rare occurrence, and the men are very poor, and perhaps more dissipated than the generality of street-sellers. Parrot duffing, moreover, is seldom carried on regularly by any one, for he will often duff cigars and other things in preference, or perhaps vend really smuggled and good cigars or tobacco. Perhaps 150 parrots, paroquets, or cockatoos, are sold in this way annually, at from 15s. to 1l. 10s. each, but hardly averaging 1l., as the duffer will sell, or raffle, the bird for a small sum if he cannot dispose of it otherwise.

Of the Street-Sellers of Foreign Birds.

This trade is curious, but far from extensive as regards street-sale. There is, moreover, contrary to what might be expected, a good deal of “duffing” about it. The “duffer” in English birds disguises them so that they shall look like foreigners; the duffer in what are unquestionably foreign birds disguises them that they may look more foreign—more Indian than in the Indies.

The word “Duffer,” I may mention, appears to be connected with the German Durffen, to want, to be needy, and so to mean literally a needy or indigent man, even as the word Pedlar has the same origin—being derived from the German Bettler, and the Dutch Bedelaar—a beggar. The verb Durffen, means also to dare, to be so bold as to do; hence, to Durff, or Duff, would signify to resort to any impudent trick.

The supply of parrots, paroquets, cockatoos, Java sparrows, or St. Helena birds, is not in the regular way of consignment from a merchant abroad to one in London. The commanders and mates of merchant vessels bring over large quantities; and often enough the seamen are allowed to bring parrots or cockatoos in the homeward-bound ship from the Indies or the African coast, or from other tropical countries, either to beguile the tedium of the voyage, for presents to their friends, or, as in some cases, for sale on their reaching an English port. More, I am assured, although statistics are hardly possible on such a subject, are brought to London, and perhaps by one-third, than to all the other ports of Great Britain collectively. Even on board the vessels of the royal navy, the importation of parrots used to be allowed as a sort of boon to the seamen. I was told by an old naval officer that once, after a long detention on the west coast of Africa, his ship was ordered home, and, as an acknowledgment of the good behaviour of his men, he permitted them to bring parrots, cockatoos, or any foreign birds, home with them, not limiting the number, but of course under the inspection of the petty officers, that there might be no violation of the cleanliness which always distinguishes a vessel of war. Along the African coast, to the southward of Sierra Leone, the men were not allowed to land, both on account of the unhealthiness of the shores, and of the surf, which rendered landing highly dangerous, a danger, however, which the seamen would not have scrupled to brave, and recklessly enough, for any impulse of the minute. As if by instinct, however, the natives seemed to know what was wanted, for they came off from the shores in their light canoes, which danced like feathers on the surf, and brought boat-loads of birds; these the seamen bought of them, or possessed themselves of in the way of barter.


Before the ship took her final departure, however, she was reported as utterly uninhabitable below, from the incessant din and clamour: “We might as well have a pack of women aboard, sir,” was the ungallant remark of one of the petty officers to his commander. Orders were then given that the parrots, &c., should be “thinned,” so that there might not be such an unceasing noise. This was accordingly done. How many were set at liberty and made for the shore—for the seamen in this instance did not kill them for their skins, as is not unfrequently the case—the commander did not know. He could but conjecture; and he conjectured that something like a thousand were released; and even after that, and after the mortality which takes place among these birds in the course of a long voyage, a very great number were brought to Plymouth. Of these, again, a great number were sent or conveyed under the care of the sailors to London, when the ship was paid off. The same officer endeavoured on this voyage to bring home some very large pine-apples, which flavoured, and most deliciously, parts of the ship when she had been a long time at sea; but every one of them rotted, and had to be thrown overboard. He fell into the error, Captain —— said, of having the finest fruit selected for the experiment; an error which the Bahama merchants had avoided, and consequently they succeeded where he failed. How the sailors fed the parrots, my informant could hardly guess, but they brought a number of very fine birds to England, some of them with well-cultivated powers of speech.

This, as I shall show, is one of the ways by which the London supply of parrots, &c., is obtained; but the permission, as to the importation of these brightly-feathered birds, is, I understand, rarely allowed at present to the seamen in the royal navy. The far greater supply, indeed more than 90 per cent. of the whole of the birds imported, is from the merchant-service. I have already stated, on the very best authority, the motives which induce merchant-seamen to bring over parrots and cockatoos. That to bring them over is an inducement to some to engage in an African voyage is shown by the following statement, which was made to me, in the course of a long inquiry, published in my letters in the Morning Chronicle, concerning the condition of the merchant-seamen.

“I would never go to that African coast again, only I make a pound or two in birds. We buy parrots, gray parrots chiefly, of the natives, who come aboard in their canoes. We sometimes pay 6s. or 7s., in Africa, for a fine bird. I have known 200 parrots on board; they make a precious noise; but half the birds die before they get to England. Some captains won’t allow parrots.”

When the seamen have settled themselves after landing in England, they perhaps find that there is no room in their boarding-houses for their parrots; these birds are not admitted into the Sailors’ Home; the seamen’s friends are stocked with the birds, and look upon another parrot as but another intruder, an unwelcome pensioner. There remains but one course—to sell the birds, and they are generally sold to a highly respectable man, Mr. M. Samuel, of Upper East Smithfield; and it is from him, though not always directly, that the shopkeepers and street-sellers derive their stock-in-trade. There is also a further motive for the disposal of parrots, paroquets, and cockatoos to a merchant. The seafaring owner of those really magnificent birds, perhaps, squanders his money, perhaps he gets “skinned” (stripped of his clothes and money from being hocussed, or tempted to helpless drunkenness), or he chooses to sell them, and he or his boarding-house keeper takes the birds to Mr. Samuel, and sells them for what he can get; but I heard from three very intelligent seamen whom I met with in the course of my inquiry, and by mere chance, that Mr. Samuel’s price was fair and his money sure, considering everything, for there is usually a qualification to every praise. It is certainly surprising, under these circumstances, that such numbers of these birds should thus be disposed of.

Parrots are as gladly, or more gladly, got rid of, in any manner, in different regions in the continents of Asia and America, than with us are even rats from a granary. Dr. Stanley, after speaking of the beauty of a flight of parrots, says:—“The husbandman who sees them hastening through the air, with loud and impatient screams, looks upon them with dismay and detestation, knowing that the produce of his labour and industry is in jeopardy, when visited by such a voracious multitude of pilferers, who, like the locusts of Egypt, desolate whole tracts of country by their unsparing ravages.” A contrast with their harmlessness, in a gilded cage in the houses of the wealthy, with us! The destructiveness of these birds, is then, one reason why seamen can obtain them so readily and cheaply, for the natives take pleasure in catching them; while as to plentifulness, the tropical regions teem with bird, as with insect and reptile, life.

Of parrots, paroquets, and cockatoos, there are 3000 imported to London in the way I have described, and in about equal proportions. They are sold, wholesale, from 5s. to 30s. each.

There are now only three men selling these brilliant birds regularly in the streets, and in the fair way of trade; but there are sometimes as many as 18 so engaged. The price given by a hawker for a cockatoo, &c., is 8s. or 10s., and they are retailed at from 15s. to 30s., or more, “if it can be got.” The purchasers are the wealthier classes who can afford to indulge their tastes. Of late years, however, I am told, a parrot or a cockatoo seems to be considered indispensable to an inn (not a gin-palace), and the innkeepers have been among the best customers of the street parrot-sellers. In the neighbourhood of the docks, and indeed along the whole river side below London-bridge, it is almost impossible for a street-seller to dispose of a parrot to an innkeeper, or indeed to any one, as they are supplied by the seamen. A parrot which has been taught to talk is worth from 4l. to 10l., according to its proficiency in speech. About 500 of these birds are sold yearly by the[72] street-hawkers, at an outlay to the public of from 500l. to 600l.

Java sparrows, from the East Indies, and from the Islands of the Archipelago, are brought to London, but considerable quantities die during the voyage and in this country; for, though hardy enough, not more than one in three survives being “taken off the paddy seed.” About 10,000, however, are sold annually, in London, at 1s. 6d. each, but a very small proportion by street-hawking, as the Java sparrows are chiefly in demand for the aviaries of the rich in town and country. In some years not above 100 may be sold in the streets; in others, as many as 500.

In St. Helena birds, known also as wax-bills and red-backs, there is a trade to the same extent, both as regards number and price; but the street-sale is perhaps 10 per cent. lower.

Of the Street-Sellers of Birds’-Nests.

The young gypsy-looking lad, who gave me the following account of the sale of birds’-nests in the streets, was peculiarly picturesque in his appearance. He wore a dirty-looking smock-frock with large pockets at the side; he had no shirt; and his long black hair hung in curls about him, contrasting strongly with his bare white neck and chest. The broad-brimmed brown Italian-looking hat, broken in and ragged at the top, threw a dark half-mask-like shadow over the upper part of his face. His feet were bare and black with mud: he carried in one hand his basket of nests, dotted with their many-coloured eggs; in the other he held a live snake, that writhed and twisted as its metallic-looking skin glistened in the sun; now over, and now round, the thick knotty bough of a tree that he used for a stick. The portrait of the youth is here given. I have never seen so picturesque a specimen of the English nomads. He said, in answer to my inquiries:—

“I am a seller of birds’-nesties, snakes, slow-worms, adders, ‘effets’—lizards is their common name—hedgehogs (for killing black beetles); frogs (for the French—they eats ’em); snails (for birds); that’s all I sell in the summer-time. In the winter I get all kinds of wild flowers and roots, primroses, ‘butter-cups’ and daisies, and snow-drops, and ‘backing’ off of trees; (‘backing’ it’s called, because it’s used to put at the back of nosegays, it’s got off the yew trees, and is the green yew fern). I gather bulrushes in the summer-time, besides what I told you; some buys bulrushes for stuffing; they’re the fairy rushes the small ones, and the big ones is bulrushes. The small ones is used for ‘stuffing,’ that is, for showing off the birds as is stuffed, and make ’em seem as if they was alive in their cases, and among the rushes; I sell them to the bird-stuffers at 1d. a dozen. The big rushes the boys buys to play with and beat one another—on a Sunday evening mostly. The birds’-nesties I get from 1d. to 3d. a-piece for. I never have young birds, I can never sell ’em; you see the young things generally dies of the cramp before you can get rid of them. I sell the birds’-nesties in the streets; the threepenny ones has six eggs, a half-penny a egg. The linnets has mostly four eggs, they’re 4d. the nest; they’re for putting under canaries, and being hatched by them. The thrushes has from four to five—five is the most; they’re 2d.; they’re merely for cur’osity—glass cases or anything like that. Moor-hens, wot build on the moors, has from eight to nine eggs, and is 1d. a-piece; they’re for hatching underneath a bantam-fowl, the same as partridges. Chaffinches has five eggs; they’re 3d., and is for cur’osity. Hedge-sparrows, five eggs; they’re the same price as the other, and is for cur’osity. The Bottletit—the nest and the bough are always put in glass cases; it’s a long hanging nest, like a bottle, with a hole about as big as a sixpence, and there’s mostly as many as eighteen eggs; they’ve been known to lay thirty-three. To the house-sparrow there is five eggs; they’re 1d. The yellow-hammers, with five eggs, is 2d. The water-wagtails, with four eggs, 2d. Blackbirds, with five eggs, 2d. The golden-crest wren, with ten eggs—it has a very handsome nest—is 6d. Bulfinches, four eggs, 1s.; they’re for hatching, and the bulfinch is a very dear bird. Crows, four eggs, 4d. Magpies, four eggs, 4d. Starlings, five eggs, 3d. The egg-chats, five eggs, 2d. Goldfinches, five eggs, 6d., for hatching. Martins, five eggs, 3d. The swallow, four eggs, 6d.; it’s so dear because the nest is such a cur’osity, they build up again the house. The butcher-birds—hedge-murderers some calls them, for the number of birds they kills—five eggs, 3d. The cuckoo—they never has a nest, but lays in the hedge-sparrow’s; there’s only one egg (it’s very rare you see the two, they has been got, but that’s seldom) that is 4d., the egg is such a cur’osity. The greenfinches has four or five eggs, and is 3d. The sparrer-hawk has four eggs, and they’re 6d. The reed-sparrow—they builds in the reeds close where the bulrushes grow; they has four eggs, and is 2d. The wood-pigeon has two eggs, and they’re 4d. The horned owl, four eggs; they’re 6d. The woodpecker—I never see no more nor two—they’re 6d. the two; they’re a great cur’osity, very seldom found. The kingfishers has four eggs, and is 6d. That’s all I know of.


“I gets the eggs mostly from Witham and Chelmsford, in Essex; Chelmsford is 20 mile from Whitechapel Church, and Witham, 8 mile further. I know more about them parts than anywhere else, being used to go after moss for Mr. Butler, of the herb-shop in Covent Garden. Sometimes I go to Shirley Common and Shirley Wood, that’s three miles from Croydon, and Croydon is ten from Westminster-bridge. When I’m out bird-nesting I take all the cross country roads across fields and into the woods. I begin bird-nesting in May and leave off about August, and then comes the bulrushing, and they last till Christmas; and after that comes the roots and wild flowers, which serves me up to May again. I go out bird-nesting three times a week. I go away at night, and come up on the morning of the day after. I’m away a day and two nights. I start between one and two in the morning and walk all night—for the coolness—you see the weather’s so hot you can’t[73] do it in the daytime. When I get down I go to sleep for a couple of hours. I ‘skipper it’—turn in under a hedge or anywhere. I get down about nine in the morning, at Chelmsford, and about one if I go to Witham. After I’ve had my sleep I start off to get my nests and things. I climb the trees, often I go up a dozen in the day, and many a time there’s nothing in the nest when I get up. I only fell once; I got on the end of the bough and slipped off. I p’isoned my foot once with the stagnant water going after the bulrushes,—there was horseleeches, and effets, and all kinds of things in the water, and they stung me, I think. I couldn’t use my foot hardly for six weeks afterwards, and was obliged to have a stick to walk with. I couldn’t get about at all for four days, and should have starved if it hadn’t been that a young man kept me. He was a printer by trade, and almost a stranger to me, only he seed me and took pity on me. When I fell off the bough I wasn’t much hurt, nothing to speak of. The house-sparrow is the worst nest of all to take; it’s no value either when it is got, and is the most difficult of all to get at. You has to get up a sparapet (a parapet) of a house, and either to get permission, or run the risk of going after it without. Partridges’ eggs (they has no nest) they gives you six months for, if they see you selling them, because it’s game, and I haven’t no licence; but while you’re hawking, that is showing ’em, they can’t touch you. The owl is a very difficult nest to get, they builds so high in the trees. The bottle-tit is a hard nest to find; you may go all the year round, and, perhaps, only get one. The nest I like best to get is the chaffinch, because they’re in the hedge, and is no bother. Oh, you hasn’t got the skylark down, sir; they builds on the ground, and has five eggs; I sell them for 4d. The robin-redbreast has five eggs, too, and is 3d. The ringdove has two eggs, and is 6d. The tit-lark—that’s five blue eggs, and very rare—I get 4d. for them. The jay has five eggs, and a flat nest, very wiry, indeed; it’s a ground bird; that’s 1s.—the egg is just like a partridge egg. When I first took a kingfisher’s nest, I didn’t know the name of it, and I kept wondering what it was. I daresay I asked three dozen people, and none of them could tell me. At last a bird-fancier, the lame man at the Mile-end gate, told me what it was. I likes to get the nesties to sell, but I havn’t no fancy for birds. Sometimes I get squirrels’ nesties with the young in ’em—about four of ’em there mostly is, and they’re the only young things I take—the young birds I leaves; they’re no good to me. The four squirrels brings me from 6s. to 8s. After I takes a bird’s nest, the old bird comes dancing over it, chirupping, and crying, and flying all about. When they lose their nest they wander about, and don’t know where to go. Oftentimes I wouldn’t take them if it wasn’t for the want of the victuals, it seems such a pity to disturb ’em after they’ve made their little bits of places. Bats I never take myself—I can’t get over ’em. If I has an order for ’em, I buys ’em of boys.

“I mostly start off into the country on Monday and come up on Wednesday. The most nesties as ever I took is twenty-two, and I generally get about twelve or thirteen. These, if I’ve an order, I sell directly, or else I may be two days, and sometimes longer, hawking them in the street. Directly I’ve sold them I go off again that night, if it’s fine; though I often go in the wet, and then I borrow a tarpaulin of a man in the street where I live. If I’ve a quick sale I get down and back three times in a week, but then I don’t go so far as Witham, sometimes only to Rumford; that is 12 miles from Whitechapel Church. I never got an order from a bird-fancier; they gets all the eggs they want of the countrymen who comes up to market.

“It’s gentlemen I gets my orders of, and then mostly they tells me to bring ’em one nest of every kind I can get hold of, and that will often last me three months in the summer. There’s one gentleman as I sells to is a wholesale dealer in window-glass—and he has a hobby for them. He puts ’em into glass cases, and makes presents of ’em to his friends. He has been one of my best customers. I’ve sold him a hundred nesties, I’m sure. There’s a doctor at Dalston I sell a great number to—he’s taking one of every kind of me now. The most of my customers is stray ones in the streets. They’re generally boys. I sells a nest now and then to a lady with a child; but the boys of twelve to fifteen years of age is my best friends. They buy ’em only for cur’osity. I sold three partridges’ eggs yesterday to a gentleman, and he said he would put them under a bantam he’d got, and hatch ’em.

“The snakes, and adders, and slow-worms I get from where there’s moss or a deal of grass. Sunny weather’s the best for them, they won’t come out when it’s cold; then I go to a dung-heap, and turn it over. Sometimes, I find five or six there, but never so large as the one I had to-day, that’s a yard and five inches long, and three-quarters of a pound weight. Snakes is 5s. a pound. I sell all I can get to Mr. Butler, of Covent-garden. He keeps ’em alive, for they’re no good dead. I think it’s for the skin they’re kept. Some buys ’em to dissect: a gentleman in Theobalds-road does so, and so he does hedgehogs. Some buys ’em for stuffing, and others for cur’osities. Adders is the same price as snakes, 5s. a pound after they first comes in, when they’re 10s. Adders is wanted dead; it’s only the fat and skin that’s of any value; the fat is used for curing p’isoned wounds, and the skin is used for any one as has cut their heads. Farmers buys the fat, and rubs it into the wound when they gets bitten or stung by anything p’isonous. I kill the adders with a stick, or, when I has shoes, I jumps on ’em. Some fine days I get four or five snakes at a time; but then they’re mostly small, and won’t weigh above half a pound. I don’t get many adders—they don’t weigh many ounces, adders don’t—and I mostly has 9d. a-piece for each I gets. I sells them to Mr. Butler as well.

“The hedgehogs is 1s. each; I gets them mostly in Essex. I’ve took one hedgehog with three[74] young ones, and sold the lot for 2s. 6d. People in the streets bought them of me—they’re wanted to kill the black-beetles; they’re fed on bread and milk, and they’ll suck a cow quite dry in their wild state. They eat adders, and can’t be p’isoned, at least it says so in a book I’ve got about ’em at home.

“The effets I gets orders for in the streets. Gentlemen gives me their cards, and tells me to bring them one; they’re 2d. apiece. I get them at Hampstead and Highgate, from the ponds. They’re wanted for cur’osity.

“The snails and frogs I sell to Frenchmen. I don’t know what part they eat of the frog, but I know they buy them, and the dandelion root. The frogs is 6d. and 1s. a dozen. They like the yellow-bellied ones, the others they’re afraid is toads. They always pick out the yellow-bellied first; I don’t know how to feed ’em, or else I might fatten them. Many people swallows young frogs, they’re reckoned very good things to clear the inside. The frogs I catch in ponds and ditches up at Hampstead and Highgate, but I only get them when I’ve a order. I’ve had a order for as many as six dozen, but that was for the French hotel in Leicester-square; but I have sold three dozen a week to one man, a Frenchman, as keeps a cigar shop in R—r’s-court.

“The snails I sell by the pailful—at 2s. 6d. the pail. There is some hundreds in a pail. The wet weather is the best times for catching ’em; the French people eats ’em. They boils ’em first to get ’em out of the shell and get rid of the green froth; then they boils them again, and after that in vinegar. They eats ’em hot, but some of the foreigners likes ’em cold. They say they’re better, if possible, than whelks. I used to sell a great many to a lady and gentleman in Soho-square, and to many of the French I sell 1s.’s worth, that’s about three or four quarts. Some persons buys snails for birds, and some to strengthen a sickly child’s back; they rub the back all over with the snails, and a very good thing they tell me it is. I used to take 2s.’s worth a week to one woman; it’s the green froth that does the greatest good. There are two more birds’-nest sellers besides myself, they don’t do as many as me the two of ’em. They’re very naked, their things is all to ribbins; they only go into the country once in a fortnight. They was never nothing, no trade—they never was in place—from what I’ve heard—either of them. I reckon I sell about 20 nesties a week take one week with another, and that I do for four months in the year. (This altogether makes 320 nests.) Yes, I should say, I do sell about 300 birds’-nests every year, and the other two, I’m sure, don’t sell half that. Indeed they don’t want to sell; they does better by what they gets give to them. I can’t say what they takes, they’re Irish, and I never was in conversation with them. I get about 4s. to 5s. for the 20 nests, that’s between 2d. and 3d. apiece. I sell about a couple of snakes every week, and for some of them I get 1s., and for the big ones 2s. 6d.; but them I seldom find. I’ve only had three hedgehogs this season, and I’ve done a little in snails and frogs, perhaps about 1s. The many foreigners in London this season hasn’t done me no good. I haven’t been to Leicester-square lately, or perhaps I might have got a large order or two for frogs.”

Life of a Bird’s-Nest Seller.

“I am 22 years of age. My father was a dyer, and I was brought up to the same trade. My father lived at Arundel, in Sussex, and kept a shop there. He had a good business as dyer, scourer, calico glazer, and furniture cleaner. I have heard mother say his business in Arundel brought him in 300l. a year at least. He had eight men in his employ, and none under 30s. a week. I had two brothers and one sister, but one of my brothers is since dead. Mother died five years ago in the Consumption Hospital, at Chelsea, just after it was built. I was very young indeed when father died; I can hardly remember him. He died in Middlesex Hospital: he had abscesses all over him; there were six-and-thirty at the time of his death. I’ve heard mother say many times that she thinked it was through exerting himself too much at his business that he fell ill. The ruin of father was owing to his house being burnt down; the fire broke out at two in the morning; he wasn’t insured: I don’t remember the fire; I’ve only heerd mother talk about it. It was the ruin of us all she used to tell me; father had so much work belonging to other people; a deal of moreen curtains, five or six hundred yards. It was of no use his trying to start again: he lost all his glazing machines and tubs, and his drugs and ‘punches.’ From what I’ve heerd from mother they was worth some hundreds. The Duke of Norfolk, after the fire, gave a good lot of money to the poor people whose things father had to clean, and father himself came up to London. I wasn’t two year old when that happened. We all come up with father, and he opened a shop in London and bought all new things. He had got a bit of money left, and mother’s uncle lent him 60l. We lived two doors from the stage door of the Queen’s Theatre, in Pitt-street, Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square; but father didn’t do much in London; he had a new connection to make, and when he died his things was sold for the rent of the house. There was only money enough to bury him. I don’t know how long ago that was, but I think it was about three years after our coming to London, for I’ve heerd mother say I was six years old when father died. After father’s death mother borrowed some more money of her uncle, who was well to do. He was perfumer to her Majesty: he’s dead now, and left the business to his foreman. The business was worth 2000l. His wife, my mother’s aunt, is alive still, and though she’s a woman of large property, she won’t so much as look at me. She keeps her carriage and two footmen; her address is, Mrs. Lewis, No. 10, Porchester-terrace, Bayswater. I have been in her drawing-room two or three times. I used to take letters to her from mother: she was very kind to me then, and give me several half-crowns. She[75] knows the state I am in now. A young man wrote a letter to her, saying I had no clothes to look after work in, and that I was near starving, but she sent no answer to it. The last time I called at her house she sent me down nothing, and bid the servant tell me not to come any more. Ever since I’ve wanted it I’ve never had nothing from her, but before that she used to give me something whenever I took a letter from mother to her. The last half-crown I got at her house was from the cook, who gave it me out of her own money because she’d known my mother.

“I’ve got a grandmother living in Woburn-place; she’s in service there, and been in the family for twenty years. The gentleman died lately and left her half his property. He was a foreigner and had no relations here. My grandmother used to be very good to me, and when I first got out of work she always gave me something when I called, and had me down in her room. She was housekeeper then. She never offered to get me a situation, but only gave me a meal of victuals and a shilling or eighteen-pence whenever I called. I was tidy in my dress then. At last a new footman came, and he told me as I wasn’t to call again; he said, the family didn’t allow no followers. I’ve never seen my grandmother since that time but once, and then I was passing with my basket of birds’ nests in my hand just as she was coming out of the door. I was dressed about the same then as you seed me yesterday. I was without a shirt to my back. I don’t think she saw me, and I was ashamed to let her see me as I was. She was kind enough to me, that is, she wouldn’t mind about giving me a shilling or so at a time, but she never would do nothing else for me, and yet she had got plenty of money in the bank, and a gold watch, and all, at her side.

“After father died, as I was saying, mother got some money from her uncle and set up on her own account; she took in glazing for the trade. Father had a few shops that he worked for, and they employed mother after his death. She kept on at this for eighteen months and then she got married again. Before this an uncle of mine, my father’s brother, who kept some lime-kilns down in Bury St. Edmunds, consented to take my brother and sister and provide for them, and four or five year ago he got them both into the Duke of Norfolk’s service, and there they are now. They’ve never seen me since I was a child but once, and that was a few year ago. I’ve never sent to them to say how badly I was off. They’re younger than I am, and can only just take care of theirselves. When mother married again, her husband came to live at the house; he was a dyer. He behaved very well to me. Mother wouldn’t send me down to uncle’s, she was too fond of me. I was sent to school for about eighteen months, and after that I used to assist in the glazing at home, and so I went on very comfortable for some time. Nine year ago I went to work at a French dyer’s, in Rathbone-place. My step-father got me there, and there I stopped six year. I lived in the house after the first eighteen months of my service. Five year ago mother fell ill; she had been ailing many years, and she got admitted into the Consumption Hospital, at Brompton. She was there just upon three months and was coming out the next day (her term was up), when she died on the over night. After that my step-father altered very much towards me. He didn’t want me at home at all. He told me so a fortnight after mother was in her grave. He took to drinking very hearty directly she was gone. He would do anything for me before that. He used to take me with him to every place of amusement what he went to, but when he took to drinking he quite changed; then he got to beat me, and at last he told me I needn’t come there any more.

“After that, I still kept working in Rathbone-place, and got a lodging of my own; I used to have 9s. a week where I was, and I paid 2s. a week for my bed, and washing, and mending. I had half a room with a man and his wife; I went on so for about two years, and then I was took bad with the scarlet fever and went to Gray’s-inn-lane hospital. After I was cured of the scarlet fever, I had the brain fever, and was near my death; I was altogether eight weeks in the hospital, and when I come out I could get no work where I had been before. The master’s nephew had come from Paris, and they had all French hands in the house. He wouldn’t employ an English hand at all. He give me a trifle of money, and told me he would pay my lodgings for a week or two while I looked for work. I sought all about and couldn’t find any; this was about three year ago. People wouldn’t have me because I didn’t know nothing about the English mode of business. I couldn’t even tell the names of the English drugs, having been brought up in a French house. At last, my master got tired of paying for my lodging, and I used to try and pick up a few pence in the streets by carrying boxes and holding horses, it was all as I could get to do; I tried all I could to find employment, and they was the only jobs I could get. But I couldn’t make enough for my lodging this way, and over and over again I’ve had to sleep out. Then I used to walk the streets most of the night, or lie about in the markets till morning came in the hopes of getting a job. I’m a very little eater, and perhaps that’s the luckiest thing for such as me; half a pound of bread and a few potatoes will do me for the day. If I could afford it, I used to get a ha’porth of coffee and a ha’porth of sugar, and make it do twice. Sometimes I used to have victuals give to me, sometimes I went without altogether; and sometimes I couldn’t eat. I can’t always.

“Six weeks after I had been knocking about in the streets in the manner I’ve told you, a man I met in Covent-Garden market told me he was going into the country to get some roots (it was in the winter time and cold indeed; I was dressed about the same as I am now, only I had a pair of boots); and he said if I chose to go with him, he’d give me half of whatever he earned. I went to Croydon and got some primroses; my share came to 9d., and that was quite a God-send to me, after getting nothing. Sometimes before that I’d been two days without tasting[76] anything; and when I got some victuals after that, I couldn’t touch them. All I felt was giddy; I wasn’t to say hungry, only weak and sicklified. I went with this man after the roots two or three times; he took me to oblige me, and show me the way how to get a bit of food for myself; after that, when I got to know all about it, I went to get roots on my own account. I never felt a wish to take nothing when I was very hard up. Sometimes when I got cold and was tired, walking about and weak from not having had nothing to eat, I used to think I’d break a window and take something out to get locked up; but I could never make my mind up to it; they never hurt me, I’d say to myself. I do fancy though, if anybody had refused me a bit of bread, I should have done something again them, but I couldn’t, do you see, in cold blood like.

“When the summer came round a gentleman whom I seed in the market asked me if I’d get him half a dozen nesties—he didn’t mind what they was, so long as they was small, and of different kinds—and as I’d come across a many in my trips after the flowers, I told him I would do so—and that first put it into my head; and I’ve been doing that every summer since then. It’s poor work, though, at the best. Often and often I have to walk 30 miles out without any victuals to take with me, or money to get any, and 30 miles again back, and bring with me about a dozen nesties; and, perhaps, if I’d no order for them, and was forced to sell them to the boys, I shouldn’t get more than a shilling for the lot after all. When the time comes round for it, I go Christmasing and getting holly, but that’s more dangerous work than bird-nesting; the farmers don’t mind your taking the nesties, as it prevents the young birds from growing up and eating their corn. The greater part of the holly used in London for trimming up the churches and sticking in the puddings, is stolen by such as me, at the risk of getting six months for it. The farmers brings a good lot to market, but we is obligated to steal it. Take one week with another, I’m sure I don’t make above 5s. You can tell that to look at me. I don’t drink, and I don’t gamble; so you can judge how much I get when I’ve had to pawn my shirt for a meal. All last week I only sold two nesties—they was a partridge’s and a yellow-hammer’s; for one I got 6d., and the other 3d., and I had been thirteen miles to get them. I got beside that a fourpenny piece for some chickweed which I’d been up to Highgate to gather for a man with a bad leg (it’s the best thing there is for a poultice to a wound), and then I earned another 4d. by some mash (marsh) mallow leaves (that there was to purify the blood of a poor woman): that, with 4d. that a gentleman give to me, was all I got last week; 1s. 9d. I think it is altogether. I had some victuals give to me in the street, or else I daresay I should have had to go without; but, as it was, I gave the money to the man and his wife I live with. You see they had nothing, and as they’re good to me when I want, why, I did what I could for them. I’ve tried to get out of my present life, but there seems to be an ill luck again me. Sometimes I gets a good turn. A gentleman gives me an order, and then I saves a shilling or eighteenpence, so as to buy something with that I can sell again in the streets; but a wet day is sure to come, and then I’m cracked up, obligated to eat it all away. Once I got to sell fish. A gentleman give me a crown-piece in the street, and I borrowed a barrow at 2d. a day, and did pretty well for a time. In three weeks I had saved 18s.; then I got an order for a sack of moss from one of the flower-sellers, and I went down to Chelmsford, and stopped for the night in Lower Nelson-street, at the sign of “The Three Queens.” I had my money safe in my fob the night before, and a good pair of boots to my feet then; when I woke in the morning my boots was gone, and on feeling in my fob my money was gone too. There was four beds in the rooms, feather and flock; the feather ones was 4d., and the flock 3d. for a single one, and 2½d. each person for a double one. There was six people in the room that night, and one of ’em was gone before I awoke—he was a cadger—and had took my money with him. I complained to the landlord—they call him George—but it was no good; all I could get was some victuals. So I’ve been obliged to keep to birds’-nesting ever since.

“I’ve never been in prison but once. I was took up for begging. I was merely leaning again the railings of Tavistock-square with my birds’-nesties in my hand, and the policemen took me off to Clerkenwell, but the magistrates, instead of sending me to prison, gave me 2s. out of the poors’-box. I feel it very much going about without shoes or without shirt, and exposed to all weathers, and often out all night. The doctor at the hospital in Gray’s-inn-lane gave me two flannels, and told me that whatever I did I was to keep myself wrapped up; but what’s the use of saying that to such as me who is obligated to pawn the shirt off our back for food the first wet day as comes? If you haven’t got money to pay for your bed at a lodging-house, you must take the shirt off your back and leave it with them, or else they’ll turn you out. I know many such. Sometimes I go to an artist. I had 5s. when I was drawed before the Queen. I wasn’t ’xactly drawed before her, but my portrait was shown to her, and I was told that if I’d be there I might receive a trifle. I was drawed as a gipsy fiddler. Mr. Oakley in Regent-street was the gentleman as did it. I was dressed in some things he got for me. I had an Italian’s hat, one with a broad brim and a peaked crown, a red plush waistcoat, and a yellow hankercher tied in a good many knots round my neck. I’d a black velveteen Newmarket-cut coat, with very large pearl buttons, and a pair of black knee-breeches tied with fine red strings. Then I’d blue stripe stockings and high-ancle boots with very thin soles. I’d a fiddle in one hand and a bow in the other. The gentleman said he drawed me for my head of hair. I’ve never been a gipsy, but he told me he didn’t mind that, for I should make as good a gipsy fiddler as the real thing. The artists[77] mostly give me 2s. I’ve only been three times. I only wish I could get away from my present life. Indeed I would do any work if I could get it. I’m sure I could have a good character from my masters in Rathbone-place, for I never done nothing wrong. But if I couldn’t get work I might very well, if I’d money enough, get a few flowers to sell. As it is it’s more than any one can do to save at bird-nesting, and I’m sure I’m as prudent as e’er a one in the streets. I never took the pledge, but still I never take no beer nor spirits—I never did. Mother told me never to touch ’em, and I haven’t tasted a drop. I’ve often been in a public-house selling my things, and people has offered me something to drink, but I never touch any. I can’t tell why I dislike doing so—but something seems to tell me not to taste such stuff. I don’t know whether it’s what my mother said to me. I know I was very fond of her, but I don’t say it’s that altogether as makes me do it. I don’t feel to want it. I smoke a good bit, and would sooner have a bit of baccy than a meal at any time. I could get a goodish rig-out in the lane for a few shillings. A pair of boots would cost me 2s., and a coat I could get for 2s. 6d. I go to a ragged school three times a week if I can, for I’m but a poor scholar still, and I should like to know how to read; it’s always handy you know, sir.”

This lad has been supplied with a suit of clothes and sufficient money to start him in some of the better kind of street-trades. It was thought advisable not to put him to any more settled occupation on account of the vagrant habits he has necessarily acquired during his bird-nesting career. Before doing this he was employed as errand-boy for a week, with the object of testing his trustworthiness, and was found both honest and attentive. He appears a prudent lad, but of course it is difficult, as yet, to speak positively as to his character. He has, however, been assured that if he shows a disposition to follow some more reputable calling he shall at least be put in the way of so doing.

Of the Street-Sellers of Squirrels.

The street squirrel-sellers are generally the same men as are engaged in the open-air traffic in cage-birds. There are, however, about six men who devote themselves more particularly to squirrel-selling, while as many more sometimes “take a turn at it.” The squirrel is usually carried in the vendor’s arms, or is held against the front of his coat, so that the animal’s long bushy tail is seen to advantage. There is usually a red leather collar round its neck, to which is attached some slender string, but so contrived that the squirrel shall not appear to be a prisoner, nor in general—although perhaps the hawker became possessed of his squirrel only that morning—does the animal show any symptoms of fear.

The chief places in which squirrels are offered for sale, are Regent-street and the Royal Exchange, but they are offered also in all the principal thoroughfares—especially at the West End. The purchasers are gentlefolk, tradespeople, and a few of the working classes who are fond of animals. The wealthier persons usually buy the squirrels for their children, and, even after the free life of the woods, the animal seems happy enough in the revolving cage, in which it “thinks it climbs.”

The prices charged are from 2s. to 5s., “or more if it can be got,” from a third to a half being profit. The sellers will oft enough state, if questioned, that they caught the squirrels in Epping Forest, or Caen Wood, or any place sufficiently near London, but such is hardly ever the case, for the squirrels are bought by them of the dealers in live animals. Countrymen will sometimes catch a few squirrels and bring them to London, and nine times out of ten they sell them to the shopkeepers. To sell three squirrels a day in the street is accounted good work.

I am assured by the best-informed parties that for five months of the year there are 20 men selling squirrels in the streets, at from 20 to 50 per cent. profit, and that they average a weekly sale of six each. The average price is from 2s. to 2s. 6d., although not very long ago one man sold a “wonderfully fine squirrel” in the street for three half-crowns, but they are sometimes parted with for 1s. 6d. or less, rather than be kept over-night. Thus 2400 squirrels are vended yearly in the streets, at a cost to the public of 240l.

Of the Street-Sellers of Leverets, Wild Rabbits, etc.

There are a few leverets, or young hares, sold in the streets, and they are vended for the most part in the suburbs, where the houses are somewhat detached, and where there are plenty of gardens. The softness and gentleness of the leveret’s look pleases children, more especially girls, I am informed, and it is usually through their importunity that the young hares are bought, in order that they may be fed from the garden, and run tame about an out-house. The leverets thus sold, however, as regards nine out of ten, soon die. They are rarely supplied with their natural food, and all their natural habits are interrupted. They are in constant fear and danger, moreover, from both dogs and cats. One shopkeeper who sold fancy rabbits in a street off the Westminster-road told me that he had once tried to tame and rear leverets in hutches, as he did rabbits, but to no purpose. He had no doubt it might be done, he said, but not in a shop or a small house. Three or four leverets are hawked by the street-people in one basket and are seen lying on hay, the basket having either a wide-worked lid, or a net thrown over it. The hawkers of live poultry sell the most leverets, but they are vended also by the singing-bird sellers. The animals are nearly all bought, for this traffic, at Leadenhall, and are retailed at 1s. to 2s. each, one-third to one-half being profit. Perhaps 300 are sold this way yearly, producing 22l. 10s.

About 400 young wild rabbits are sold in the street in a similar way, but at lower sums, from 3d. to 6d. each, 4d. being the most frequent rate.[78] The yearly outlay is thus 6l. 13s. They thrive, in confinement, no better than the leverets.

Of the Street-Sellers of Gold and Silver Fish.

Of these dealers, residents in London, there are about 70; but during my inquiry (at the beginning of July) there were not 20 in town. One of their body knew of ten who were at work live-fish selling, and there might be as many more, he thought, “working” the remoter suburbs of Blackheath, Croydon, Richmond, Twickenham, Isleworth, or wherever there are villa residences of the wealthy. This is the season when the gold and silver fish-sellers, who are altogether a distinct class from the bird-sellers of the streets, resort to the country, to vend their glass globes, with the glittering fish swimming ceaselessly round and round. The gold fish-hawkers are, for the most part, of the very best class of the street-sellers. One of the principal fish-sellers is in winter a street-vendor of cough drops, hore-hound candy, coltsfoot-sticks, and other medicinal confectionaries, which he himself manufactures. Another leading gold-fish seller is a costermonger now “on pine-apples.” A third, “with a good connection among the innkeepers,” is in the autumn and winter a hawker of game and poultry.

There are in London three wholesale dealers in gold and silver fish; two of whom—one in the Kingsland-road and the other close by Billingsgate—supply more especially the street-sellers, and the street-traffic is considerable. Gold fish is one of the things which people buy when brought to their doors, but which they seldom care to “order.” The importunity of children when a man unexpectedly tempts them with a display of such brilliant creatures as gold fish, is another great promotive of the street-trade; and the street-traders are the best customers of the wholesale purveyors, buying somewhere about three-fourths of their whole stock. The dealers keep their fish in tanks suited to the purpose, but goldfish are never bred in London. The English-reared gold fish are “raised” for the most part, as respects the London market, in several places in Essex. In some parts they are bred in warm ponds, the water being heated by the steam from adjacent machinery, and in some places they are found to thrive well. Some are imported from France, Holland, and Belgium; some are brought from the Indies, and are usually sold to the dealers to improve their breed, which every now and then, I was told, “required a foreign mixture, or they didn’t keep up their colour.” The Indian and foreign fish, however, are also sold in the streets; the dealers, or rather the Essex breeders, who are often in London, have “just the pick of them,” usually through the agency of their town customers. The English-reared gold fish are not much short of three-fourths of the whole supply, as the importation of these fishes is troublesome; and unless they are sent under the care of a competent person, or unless the master or steward of a vessel is made to incur a share in the venture, by being paid so much freight-money for as many gold and silver fishes as are landed in good health, and nothing for the dead or dying, it is very hazardous sending them on shipboard at all, as in case of neglect they may all die during the voyage.

The gold and silver fish are of the carp species, and are natives of China, but they were first introduced into this country from Portugal about 1690. Some are still brought from Portugal. They have been common in England for about 120 years.

These fish are known in the street-trade as “globe” and “pond” fish. The distinction is not one of species, nor even of the “variety” of a species, but merely a distinction of size. The larger fish are “pond;” the smaller, “globe.” But the difference on which the street-sellers principally dwell is that the pond fish are far more troublesome to keep by them in a “slack time,” as they must be fed and tended most sedulously. Their food is stale bread or biscuit. The “globe” fish are not fed at all by the street-dealer, as the animalcules and the minute insects in the water suffice for their food. Soft, rain, or sometimes Thames water, is used for the filling of the globe containing a street-seller’s gold fish, the water being changed twice a day, at a public-house or elsewhere, when the hawker is on a round. Spring-water is usually rejected, as the soft water contains “more feed.” One man, however, told me he had recourse to the street-pumps for a renewal of water, twice, or occasionally thrice a day, when the weather was sultry; but spring or well water “wouldn’t do at all.” He was quite unconscious that he was using it from the pump.

The wholesale price of these fish ranges from 5s. to 18s. per dozen, with a higher charge for “picked fish,” when high prices must be paid. The cost of “large silvers,” for instance, which are scarcer than “large golds,” so I heard them called, is sometimes 5s. apiece, even to a retailer, and rarely less than 3s. 6d. The most frequent price, retail from the hawker—for almost all the fish are hawked, but only there, I presume, for a temporary purpose—is 2s. the pair. The gold fish are now always hawked in glass globes, containing about a dozen occupants, within a diameter of twelve inches. These globes are sold by the hawker, or, if ordered, supplied by him on his next round that way, the price being about 2s. Glass globes, for the display of gold fish, are indeed manufactured at from 6d. to 1l. 10s. each, but 2s. or 2s. 6d. is the usual limit to the price of those vended in the street. The fish are lifted out of the water in the globe to consign to a purchaser, by being caught in a neat net, of fine and different-coloured cordage, always carried by the hawker, and manufactured for the trade at 2s. the dozen. Neat handles for these nets, of stained or plain wood, are 1s. the dozen. The dealers avoid touching the fish with their hands. Both gold fish and glass globes are much cheaper than they were ten years ago; the globes are cheaper, of course, since the alteration in the[79] tax on glass, and the street-sellers are, numerically, nearly double what they were.

From a well-looking and well-spoken youth of 21 or 22, I had the following account. He was the son, and grandson, of costermongers, but was—perhaps, in consequence of his gold-fish selling lying among a class not usually the costermongers’ customers—of more refined manners than the generality of the costers’ children.

“I’ve been in the streets, sir,” he said, “helping my father, until I was old enough to sell on my own account, since I was six years old. Yes, I like a street life, I’ll tell you the plain truth, for I was put by my father to a paperstainer, and found I couldn’t bear to stay in doors. It would have killed me. Gold fish are as good a thing to sell as anything else, perhaps, but I’ve been a costermonger as well, and have sold both fruit and good fish—salmon and fine soles. Gold fish are not good for eating. I tried one once, just out of curiosity, and it tasted very bitter indeed; I tasted it boiled. I’ve worked both town and country on gold fish. I’ve served both Brighton and Hastings. The fish were sent to me by rail, in vessels with air-holes, when I wanted more. I never stopped at lodging-houses, but at respectable public-houses, where I could be well suited in the care of my fish. It’s an expense, but there’s no help for it.” [A costermonger, when I questioned him on the subject, told me that he had sometimes sold gold fish in the country, and though he had often enough slept in common lodging-houses, he never could carry his fish there, for he felt satisfied, although he had never tested the fact, that in nine out of ten such places, the fish, in the summer season, would half of them die during the night from the foul air.] “Gold fish sell better in the country than town,” the street-dealer continued; “much better. They’re more thought of in the country. My father’s sold them all over the world, as the saying is. I’ve sold both foreign and English fish. I prefer English. They’re the hardiest; Essex fish. The foreign—I don’t just know what part—are bred in milk ponds; kept fresh and sweet, of course; and when they’re brought here, and come to be put in cold water, they soon die. In Essex they’re bred in cold water. They live about three years; that’s their lifetime if they’re properly seen to. I don’t know what kind of fish gold fish are. I’ve heard that they first came from China. No, I can’t read, and I’m very sorry for it. If I have time next winter I’ll get taught. Gentlemen sometimes ask me to sit down, and talk to me about fish, and their history (natural history), and I’m often at a loss, which I mightn’t be if I could read. If I have fish left after my day’s work, I never let them stay in the globe I’ve hawked them in, but put them into a large pan, a tub sometimes, three-parts full of water, where they have room. My customers are ladies and gentlemen, but I have sold to shopkeepers, such as buttermen, that often show gold fish and flowers in their shops. The fish don’t live long in the very small globes, but they’re put in them sometimes just to satisfy children. I’ve sold as many as two dozen at a time to stock a pond in a gentleman’s garden. It’s the best sale a little way out of town, in any direction. I sell six dozen a week, I think, one week with another; they’ll run as to price at 1s. apiece. That six dozen includes what I sell both in town and country. Perhaps I sell them nearly three-parts of the year. Some hawk all the year, but it’s a poor winter trade. Yes, I make a very fair living; 2s. 6d. or 3s. or so, a day, perhaps, on gold fish, when the weather suits.”

A man, to whom I was referred as an experienced gold fish-seller, had just returned, when I saw him, from the sale of a stock of new potatoes, peas, &c., which he “worked” in a donkey cart. He had not this season, he said, started in the gold-fish line, and did very little last year in it, as his costermongering trade kept steady, but his wife thought gold fish-selling was a better trade, and she always accompanied him in his street rounds; so he might take to it again. In his youth he was in the service of an old lady who had several pets, and among them were gold fish, of which she was very proud, always endeavouring to procure the finest, a street-seller being sure of her as a customer if he had fish larger or deeper or brighter-coloured than usual. She kept them both in stone cisterns, or small ponds, in her garden, and in glass globes in the house. Of these fish my informant had the care, and was often commended for his good management of them. After his mistress’s death he was very unlucky, he said, in his places. His last master having been implicated, he believed, in some gambling and bill-discounting transactions, left the kingdom suddenly, and my informant was without a character, for the master he served previously to the one who went off so abruptly was dead, and a character two years back was of no use, for people said, “But where have you been living since? Let me know all about that.” The man did not know what to do, for his money was soon exhausted: “I had nothing left,” he said, “which I could turn into money except a very good great coat, which had belonged to my last master, and which was given to me because he went off without paying me my wages. I thought of ’listing, for I was tired of a footman’s life, almost always in the house in such places as I had, but I was too old, I feared, and if I could have got over that I knew I should be rejected because I was getting bald. I was sitting thinking whatever could be done—I wasn’t married then—and had nobody to consult with; when I heard the very man as used to serve my old lady crying gold fish in the street. It struck me all of a heap, and I wonder I hadn’t thought of it before, when I recollected how well I’d managed the fish, that I’d sell gold fish too, and hawk it as he did, as it didn’t seem such a bad trade. So I asked the man all about it, and he told me, and I raised a sovereign on my great coat, and that was my start in the streets. I was nervous, and a little ’shamed at first, but I soon got over that, and in time turned my hand to fruit and other things. Gold fish saved my life, sir; I do believe that, for I might have pined into a consumption if I’d been[80] without something to do, and something to eat much longer.”

If we calculate, in order to allow for the cessation of the trade during the winter, and often in the summer when costermongering is at its best, that but half the above-mentioned number of gold-fish sellers hawk in the streets and that for but half a year, each selling six dozen weekly at 12s. the dozen, we find 65,520 fish sold, at an outlay of 3276l. As the country is also “worked” by the London street-sellers, and the supply is derived from London, the number and amount may be doubled to include this traffic, or 131,040 fish sold, and 6552l. expended.

Of the Street-Sellers of Tortoises.

The number of tortoises sold in the streets of London is far greater than might be imagined, for it is a creature of no utility, and one which is inanimate in this country for half its life.

Of live tortoises, there are 20,000 annually imported from the port of Mogadore in Morocco. They are not brought over, as are the parrots, &c., of which I have spoken, for amusement or as private ventures of the seamen, but are regularly consigned from Jewish houses in Mogadore, to Jewish merchants in London. They are a freight of which little care is taken, as they are brought over principally as ballast in the ship’s hold, where they remain torpid.

The street-sellers of tortoises are costermongers of the smarter class. Sometimes the vendors of shells and foreign birds “work” also a few tortoises, and occasionally a wholesale dealer (the consignee of the Jewish house in Africa) will send out his own servants to sell barrow-loads of tortoises in the street on his own account. They are regularly ranged on the barrows, and certainly present a curious appearance—half-alive creatures as they are (when the weather is not of the warmest), brought from another continent for sale by thousands in the streets of London, and retention in the gardens and grounds of our civic villas. Of the number imported, one-half, or 10,000, are yearly sold in the streets by the several open-air dealers I have mentioned. The wholesale price is from 4s. to 6s. the dozen; they are retailed from 6d. to 1s., a very fine well-grown tortoise being sometimes worth 2s. 6d. The mass, however, are sold at 6d. to 9d. each, but many fetch 1s. They are bought for children, and to keep in gardens as I have said, and when properly fed on lettuce leaves, spinach, and similar vegetables, or on white bread sopped in water, will live a long time. If the tortoise be neglected in a garden, and have no access to his favourite food, he will eat almost any green thing which comes in his way, and so may commit ravages. During the winter, and the later autumn and earlier spring, the tortoise is torpid, and may be kept in a drawer or any recess, until the approach of summer “thaws” him, as I heard it called.

Calculating the average price of tortoises in street-sale at 8d. each, we find upwards of 333l. thus expended yearly.

Of the Street-Sellers of Snails, Frogs, Worms, Snakes, Hedgehogs, etc.

I class together these several kinds of live creatures, as they are all “gathered” and sold by the same persons—principally by the men who supply bird-food, of whom I have given accounts in my statements concerning groundsel, chickweed, plaintain, and turf-selling.

The principal snail-sellers, however, are the turf-cutters, who are young and active men, while the groundsel-sellers are often old and infirm and incapable of working all night, as the necessities of the snail-trade often require. Of turf-cutters there were, at the time of my inquiry last winter, 42 in London, and of these full one-third are regular purveyors of snails, such being the daintier diet of the caged blackbirds and thrushes. These men obtain their supply of snails in the market-gardens, the proprietors willingly granting leave to any known or duly recommended person who will rid them of these depredators. Seven-eighths of the quantity gathered are sold to the bird-dealers, to whom the price is 2d. a quart. The other eighth is sold on a street round at from 3d. to 6d. the quart. A quart contains at least 80 snails, not heaped up, their shells being measured along with them. One man told me there were “100 snails to a fair quart.”

When it is moonlight at this season of the year, the snail gatherers sometimes work all night; at other times from an hour before sunset to the decline of daylight, the work being resumed at the dawn. To gather 12 quarts in a night, or a long evening and morning, is accounted a prosperous harvest. Half that quantity is “pretty tidy.” An experienced man said to me:—

“The best snail grounds, sir, you may take my word for it, is in Putney and Barnes. It’s the ‘greys’ we go for, the fellows with the shells on ’em; the black snails or slugs is no good to us. I think snails is the slowest got money of any. I don’t suppose they get’s scarcer, but there’s good seasons for snails and there’s bad. Warm and wet is best. We don’t take the little ’uns. They come next year. I may make 1l. a year, or a little more, in snails. In winter there’s hardly anything done in them, and the snails is on the ground; in summer they’re on the walls or leaves. They’ll keep six months without injury; they’ll keep the winter round indeed in a proper place.”

I am informed that the 14 snail gatherers on the average gather six dozen quarts each in a year, which supplies a total of 12,096 quarts, or individually, 1,189,440 snails. The labourers in the gardens, I am informed, may gather somewhat more than an equal quantity,—all being sold to the bird-shops; so that altogether the supply of snails for the caged thrushes and blackbirds of London is about two millions and a half. Computing them at 24,000 quarts, and only at 2d. a quart, the outlay is 200l. per annum.

The Frogs sold by street-people are, at the rate of about 36 dozen a year, disposed of in equal proportion to University and King’s Colleges. Only two men collect the frogs, one for each hos[81]pital. They are charged 1d. each:—“I’ve sometimes,” said one of the frog-purveyors, “come on a place where I could have got six or seven dozen in a day, but that’s mostly been when I didn’t want them. At other times I’ve gone days without collaring a single frog. I only want them four times a year, and four or five dozen at a time. The low part of Hampstead’s the best ground for them, I think. The doctors like big fellows. They keep them in water ’til they’re wanted to dissect.” One man thought that there might be 50 more frogs or upwards ordered yearly, through the bird-shops, for experiments under air-pumps, &c. This gives about 500 frogs sold yearly by the street-people. One year, however, I was told, the supply was larger, for a Camberwell gentleman ordered 40 frogs to stock a watery place at the foot of his garden, as he liked to hear and see them.

The Toad trade is almost a nonentity. One man, who was confident he had as good a trade in that line as any of his fellows, told me that last year he only supplied one toad; in one year, he forgot the precise time, he collected ten. He was confident that from 12 to 24 a year was now the extent of the toad trade, perhaps 20. There was no regular price, and the men only “work to order.” “It’s just what the shopkeeper, mostly a herbalist, likes to give.” I was told, from 1d. to 6d. according to size. “I don’t know what they’re wanted for, something about the doctors, I believe. But if you want any toads, sir, for anything, I know a place between Hampstead and Willesden, where there’s real stunners.”

Worms are collected in small quantities by the street-sellers, and very grudgingly, for they are to be supplied gratuitously to the shopkeepers who are the customers of the turf-cutters, and snail and worm collectors. “They expects it as a parquisite, like.” One man told me that they only gathered ground worms for the bird-fanciers.

Of the Snakes and Hedgehogs I have already spoken, when treating of the collection of birds’-nests. I am told that some few glow-worms are collected.


The class of which I have now to treat, including as it does the street-sellers of coal, coke, tan-turf, salt, and sand, seem to have been called into existence principally by the necessities of the poorer classes. As the earnings of thousands of men, in all the slop, “slaughter-house,” or “scamping” branches of tailoring, shoe-making, cabinet-making, joining, &c. have become lower and lower, they are compelled to purchase the indispensable articles of daily consumption in the smallest quantities, and at irregular times, just as the money is in their possession. This is more especially the case as regards chamber-masters and garret-masters (among the shoemakers) and cabinet-makers, who, as they are small masters, and working on their own account, have not even such a regularity of payment as the journeyman of the slop-tailor. Among these poor artizans, moreover, the wife must slave with the husband, and it is often an object with them to save the time lost in going out to the chandler’s-shop or the coal-shed, to have such things as coal, and coke brought to their very doors, and vended in the smallest quantities. It is the same with the women who work for the slop-shirt merchants, &c., or make cap-fronts, &c., on their own account, for the supply of the shopkeepers, or the wholesale swag-men, who sell low-priced millinery. The street-sellers of the class I have now to notice are, then, the principal purveyors of the very poor.

The men engaged in the street-sale of coal and coke—the chief articles of this branch of the street-sale—are of the costermonger class, as, indeed, is usually the case where an exercise of bodily strength is requisite. Costermongers, too, are better versed than any other street-folk in the management of barrows, carts, asses, ponies, or horses, so that when these vehicles and these animals are a necessary part of any open-air business, it will generally be found in the hands of the coster class.

Nor is this branch of the street-traffic confined solely to articles of necessity. Under my present enumeration will be found the street-sale of shells, an ornament of the mantel-piece above the fire-grate to which coal is a necessity.

The present division will complete the subject of Street Sale in the metropolis.

Of the Street-Sellers of Coals.

According to the returns of the coal market for the last few years, there has been imported into London, on an average, 3,500,000 tons of sea-borne coal annually. Besides this immense supply, the various railways have lately poured in a continuous stream of the same commodity from the inland districts, which has found a ready sale without sensibly affecting the accustomed vend of the north country coals, long established on the Coal Exchange.

To the very poor the importance of coal can be scarcely estimated. Physiological and medical writers tell us that carbonaceous food is that which produces heat in the body, and is therefore the fuel of the system. Experience tells us that this is true; for who that has had an opportunity of visiting the habitations of the poor—the dwellers in ill-furnished rooms and garrets—has not remarked the more than half-starved slop needle-woman, the wretched half-naked children of the casually employed labourer, as the dock-man, or those whose earnings are extorted from them by their employers, such as the ballast-man, sitting crouched around the smouldering embers in the place where the fire ought to be? The reason of this is, because the system of the sufferer by long[82] want of food has been deprived of the necessary internal heat, and so seeks instinctively to supply the deficiency by imbibing it from some outward source. It is on this account chiefly, I believe, that I have found the ill-paid and ill-fed workpeople prize warmth almost more than food. Among the poorest Irish, I have invariably found them crowding round the wretched fire when they had nothing to eat.

The census returns of the present year (according to the accounts published in the newspapers) estimate the number of the inhabitants of London at 2,363,141, and the number of inhabited houses as 307,722. Now if we take into consideration that in the immense suburbs of the metropolis, there are branching off from almost every street, labyrinths of courts and alleys, teeming with human beings, and that almost every room has its separate family—for it takes a multitude of poor to make one rich man—we may be able to arrive at the conclusion that by far the greater proportion of coals brought into London are consumed by the poorer classes. It is on this account of the highest importance, that honesty should be the characteristic of those engaged in the vend and distribution of an article so necessary not only to the comfort but to the very existence of the great masses of the population.

The modes in which the coals imported into London are distributed to the various classes of consumers are worthy of observation, as they unmistakably exhibit not only the wealth of the few, but the poverty of the many. The inhabitants of Belgravia, the wealthy shopkeepers, and many others periodically see at their doors the well-loaded waggon of the coal merchant, with two or three swarthy “coal-porters” bending beneath the black heavy sacks, in the act of laying in the 10 or 20 tons for yearly or half-yearly consumption. But this class is supplied from a very different quarter from that of the artizans, labourers, and many others, who, being unable to spare money sufficient to lay in at once a ton or two of coals, must have recourse to other means. To meet their limited resources, there may be found in every part, always in back streets, persons known as coal-shed men, who get the coals from the merchant in 7, 14, or 20 tons at a time, and retail them from ¼ cwt. upwards. The coal-shed men are a very numerous class, for there is not a low neighbourhood in any part of the city which contains not two or three of them in every street.

There is yet another class of purchasers of coals, however, which I have called the ‘very poor,’—the inhabitants of two pairs back—the dwellers in garrets, &c. It seems to have been for the purpose of meeting the wants of this class that the street-sellers of coals have sprung into existence. Those who know nothing of the decent pride which often lingers among the famishing poor, can scarcely be expected to comprehend the great boon that the street-sellers of coals, if they could only be made honest and conscientious dealers, are calculated to confer on these people. “I have seen,” says a correspondent, “the starveling child of misery, in the gloom of the evening, steal timidly into the shop of the coal-shed man, and in a tremulous voice ask, as if begging a great favour, for seven pound of coals. The coal-shed man has set down his pint of beer, taken the pipe from his mouth, blowing after it a cloud of smoke, and in a gruff voice, at which the little wretch has shrunk up (if it were possible) into a less space than famine had already reduced her to, and demanded—‘Who told you as how I sarves seven pound o’ coal?—Go to Bill C—— he may sarve you if he likes—I won’t, and that’s an end on ’t—I wonders what people wants with seven pound o’ coal.’ The coal-shed man, after delivering himself of this enlightened observation, has placidly resumed his pipe, while the poor child, gliding out into the drizzling sleet, disappeared in the darkness.”

The street-sellers vend any quantity at the very door of the purchaser, without rendering it necessary for them to expose their poverty to the prying eyes of the neighbourhood; and, as I have said were the street dealers only honest, they would be conferring a great boon upon the poorer portion of the people, but unhappily it is scarcely possible for them to be so, and realize a profit for themselves. The police reports of the last year show that many of the coal merchants, standing high in the estimation of the world, have been heavily fined for using false weights; and, did the present inquiry admit of it, there might be mentioned many other infamous practices by which the public are shamefully plundered in this commodity, and which go far to prove that the coal trade, in toto, is a gigantic fraud. May I ask how it is possible for the street-sellers, with such examples of barefaced dishonesty before their eyes, even to dream of acting honestly? If not actually certain, yet strongly suspecting, that they themselves are defrauded by the merchant, how can it be otherwise than that they should resort to every possible mode of defrauding their customers, and so add to the already almost unendurable burdens of the poorest of the poor, who by one means or other are made to bear all the burdens of the country?

The usual quantity of coals consumed in the poorest rooms, in which a family resides, is ½ cwt. per week in summer, and 1 cwt. do. in winter, or about 2 tons per annum.

The street sale of coals was carried on to a considerable extent during the earlier part of the last century, “small coalmen” being among the regular street-traders. The best known of these was Tom Britton, who died through fright occasioned by a practical joke. He was a great fosterer of a taste for music among the people; for, after hawking his coals during the day, he had a musical gathering in his humble abode in the evening, to which many distinguished persons resorted. This is alluded to in the lines, by Hughes, under Tom Britton’s portrait, and the allusion, according to the poetic fashion of the time being made by means of a strained classicality:—

“Cyllenius so, as fables tell, and Jove,
Came willing guests to poor Philemon’s grove.”


The trade seems to have disappeared gradually, but has recently been revived in another form.

Some few years ago an ingenious and enterprising costermonger, during a “slack” in his own business, conceived the idea of purchasing some of the refuse of the coals at the wharfs, conveying them round the poorer localities of his beat, in his ass- or pony-cart, and vending them to “room-keepers” and others, in small quantities and at a reduced rate, so as to undersell the coal-shed men, while making for himself a considerable profit. The example was not lost upon his fraternity, and no long time had elapsed before many others had started in the same line; this eventually took so much custom from the regular coal-shed men, that, as a matter of self-defence, those among them who had a horse and cart, found it necessary to compete with the originators of the system in their own way, and, being possessed of more ample means, they succeeded, in a great measure, in driving the costers out of the field. The success of the coal-shed men was for a time so well followed up, that they began by degrees to edge away from the lanes and alleys, extending their excursions into quarters somewhat more aristocratic, and even there establishing a trade amongst those who had previously taken their ton or half ton of coals from the “brass-plate merchant,” as he is called in the trade, being a person who merely procures orders for coals, gets some merchant who buys in the coal market to execute them in his name, and manages to make a living by the profits of these transactions. Some of this latter class consequently found themselves compelled to adopt a mode of doing their business somewhat similar, and for that purpose hired vans from the proprietors of those vehicles, loaded them with sacks of coals, drove round among their customers, prepared to furnish them with sacks or half sacks, as they felt disposed. Finally, many of the van proprietors themselves, finding that business might be done in this way, started in the line, and, being in general men of some means, established it as a regular trade. The van proprietors at the present time do the greater part of the business, but there may occasionally be seen, employed in this traffic, all sorts of conveyances, from the donkey-cart of the costermonger, or dock labourer, the latter of whom endeavours to make up for the miserable pittance he can earn at the rate of fourpence per hour, by the profits of this calling, to the aristocratic van, drawn along by two plump, well-fed horses, the property of a man worth 800l. or 900l.

The van of the street-seller of coals is easily distinguished from the waggon of the regular merchant. The merchant’s waggon is always loaded with sacks standing perpendicularly; it is drawn by four immense horses, and is driven along by a gaunt figure, begrimed with coal-dust, and “sporting” ancle boots, or shoes and gaiters, white, or what ought to be white, stockings, velvet knee-breeches, short tarry smock-frock, and a huge fantail hat slouching half-way down his back. The street-seller’s vehicle, on the contrary, has the coals shot into it without sacks; while, on a tailboard, extending behind, lie weights and scales. It is most frequently drawn by one horse, but sometimes by two, with bells above their collars jingling as they go, or else the driver at intervals rings a bell like a dustman’s, to announce his approach to the neighbourhood.

The street-sellers formerly purchased their coals from any of the merchants along the river-side; generally the refuse, or what remained after the best had been picked out by “skreening” or otherwise; but always taking a third or fourth quality as most suitable for their purpose. But since the erection of machinery for getting coals out of the ships in the Regent’s Canal basin, they have resorted to that place, as the coals are at once shot from the box in which they are raised from the hold of the ship, into the cart or van, saving all the trouble of being filled in sacks by coal porters, and carried on their backs from the ship, barge, or heap, preparatory to their being emptied into the van; thus getting them at a cheaper rate, and consequently being enabled to realize a greater profit.

Since the introduction of inland coals, also, by the railways, many of the street-sellers have either wholly, or in part, taken to sell them on account of the lower rate at which they can be purchased; sometimes they vend them unmixed, but more frequently they mix them up with “the small” of north country coals of better quality, and palm off the compound as “genuine Wallsend direct from the ship:” this (together with short weights) being, in fact, the principal source of their profit.

It occasionally happens that a merchant purchases in the market a cargo of coals which turns out to be damaged, very small, or of inferior quality. In such cases he usually refuses to take them, and it is difficult to dispose of them in any regular way of trade. Such cargoes, or parts of cargoes, are consequently at times bought up by some of the more wealthy van proprietors engaged in the coal line, who realize on them a great profit.

To commence business as a street-seller of coals requires little capital beyond the possession of a horse and cart. The merchants in all cases let street-sellers have any quantity of coals they may require till they are able to dispose of them; and the street-trade being a ready-money business, they can go on from day to day, or from week to week, according to their pre-arrangements, so that, as far as the commodity in which they deal is concerned, there is no outlay of capital whatever.

There are about 30 two-horse vans continually engaged in this trade, the price of each van being 70l. This gives£2100
100 horses at 20l. each1200
160 carts at 10l. each1600
160 horses at 10l. each1600
20 donkey or pony carts, value 1l. each20
20 donkeys or ponies at 1l. 10s. each30
Making a total of 210 vehicles continually employed, which, with the horses, &c., may be valued at6550
This sum, with the price of 210 sets of weights and scales, at 1l. 10s. per set315
Makes a total of£6865


This may be fairly set down as the gross amount of capital at present employed in the street-sale of coals.

It is somewhat difficult to ascertain correctly the amount of coals distributed in this way among the poorer classes. But I have found that they generally take two turns per day; that is they go to the wharfs in the morning, get their vans or carts loaded, and proceed on their various rounds. This first turn usually occupies them till dinner-time, after which they get another load, which is sufficient to keep them employed till night. Now if we allow each van to carry two and a half tons, it will make for all 150 tons per day, or 900 tons per week. In the same manner allowing the 160 carts to carry a ton each, it will give 320 tons per day, or 1920 tons per week, and the twenty pony carts half a ton each, 40 tons per day, or 240 tons per week, making a total of 3060 tons per week, or 159,120 tons per annum. This quantity purchased from the merchants at 14s. 6d. per ton amounts to 115,362l. annually, and sold at the rate of 1s. per cwt., or 1l. per ton, leaves 5s. 6d. per ton profit, or a total profit of 43,758l., and this profit divided according to the foregoing account gives the subjoined amounts, viz.:—

To each two-horse van regularly employed throughout the year, a profit of£4290
To each one-horse cart, ditto, ditto,17112
To each pony cart, ditto, ditto,12112

From which must, of course, be made the necessary deductions for the keep of the animals and the repair of vehicles, harness, &c.

The keep of a good horse is 10s. per week; a pony 6s. Three horses can be kept for the price of two, and so on; the more there are, the less cost for each.

The localities where the street-sellers of coals may most frequently be met with, are Blackwall, Poplar, Limehouse, Stepney, St. George’s East, Twig Folly, Bethnal Green, Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Kingsland, Haggerstone, and Islington. It is somewhat remarkable that they are almost unknown on the south side of the Thames, and are seldom or never to be encountered in the low streets and lanes in Westminster lying contiguous to the river, nor in the vicinity of Marylebone, nor in any place farther west than Shoreditch; this is on account of the distance from the Regent’s Canal basin precluding the possibility of their making more than one turn in the day, which would greatly diminish their profits, even though they might get a higher price for their commodity.

It may be observed that the foregoing statement in figures is rather under the mark than otherwise, as it is founded on the amount of coals purchased at a certain rate, and sold at a certain profit, without taking into account any of the “dodges” which almost all classes of coal dealers, from the highest to the lowest, are known to practise, so that the rate of profit arising from this business may be fairly supposed to amount to much more than the above account can show in figures.

I received the following statement from a person engaged in the street traffic:—

“I kept a coal-shed and greengrocer’s shop, and as I had a son grown up, I wanted to get something for him to do; so about six years ago, having a pony and cart, and seeing others selling coals through the street, I thought I’d make him try his hand at it. I went to Mr. B——’s, at Whiting’s wharf, and got the cart loaded, and sent my son round our own neighbourhood. I found that he soon disposed of them, and so he went on by degrees. People think we get a great deal of profit, but we don’t get near as much as they think. I paid 16s. a ton all the winter for coals and sold them for a shilling a hundred, and when I came to feed the horse I found that he’ll nearly eat it all up. A horse’s belly is not so easy to fill. I don’t think my son earns much more now, in summer, than feeds the horse. It’s different in winter; he does not sell more nor half a ton a day now the weather’s so warm. In winter he can always sell a ton at the least, and sometimes two, and on the Saturday he might sell three or four. My cart holds a ton; the vans hold from two to three tons. I can’t exactly tell how many people are engaged in selling coals in the street, but there are a great many, that’s certain. About eight o’clock what a number of carts and vans you’ll see about the Regent’s Canal! They like to get away before breakfast, because then they may have another turn after dinner. There’s a great many go to other places for coals. The people who have vans do much better than those with the carts, because they carry so much that they save time. There are no great secrets in our business; we haven’t the same chance of ‘doing the thing’ as the merchants have. They can mix the coals up as they like for their customers, and sell them for best; all we can do is to buy a low quality; then we may lose our customers if we play any tricks. To be sure, after that we can go to parts where we’re not known. I don’t use light weights, but I know it’s done by a good many, and they mix up small coals a good deal, and that of course helps their profits. My son generally goes four or five miles before he sells a ton of coals, and in summer weather a great deal farther. It’s hard-earned money that’s got at it, I can tell you. My cart is worth 12l.; I have a van worth 20l. I wouldn’t take 20l. for my horse. My van holds two tons of coals, and the horse draws it easily. I send the van out in the winter when there’s a good call, but in the summer I only send it out on the Saturday. I never calculated how much profit I made. I haven’t the least idea how much is got by it, but I’m sure there’s not near as much as you say. Why, if there was, I ought to have made a fortune by this time.” [It is right I should state that I received the foregoing account of the profits of the street trade in coals from one practically and eminently acquainted with it.] “Some in the trade have done very well, but they were well enough off before. I know very well I’ll never make a fortune at anything; I’ll be satisfied if I keep moving along, so as to keep out of the Union.”

As to the habits of the street-sellers of coals,[85] they are as various as their different circumstances will admit; but they closely resemble each other in one general characteristic—their provident and careful habits. Many of them have risen from struggling costermongers, to be men of substance, with carts, vans, and horses of their own. Some of the more wealthy of the class may be met with now and then in the parlours of respectable public houses, where they smoke their pipes, sip their brandy and water, and are remarkable for the shrewdness of their remarks. They mingle freely with the respectable tradesmen of their own localities, and may be seen, especially on the Sunday afternoons, with their wives and showily-dressed daughters in the gardens of the New Globe, or Green Dragon—the Cremorne and Vauxhall of the east. I visited the house of one of those who I was told had originally been a costermonger. The front portion of the shop was almost filled with coals, he having added to his occupation of street-seller the business of a coal-shed man; this his wife and a little boy managed in his absence; while, true to his early training, the window-ledge and a bench before it were heaped up with cabbages, onions, and other vegetables. In an open space opposite his door, I observed a one-horse cart and two or three trucks with his name painted thereon. At his invitation, I passed through what may be termed the shop, and entered the parlour, a neat room nicely carpeted, with a round table in the centre, chairs ranged primly round the walls, and a long looking-glass reflecting the china shepherds and shepherdesses on the mantel-piece, while, framed and glazed, all around were highly-coloured prints, among which, Dick Turpin, in flash red coat, gallantly clearing the toll-gate in his celebrated ride to York, and Jack Sheppard lowering himself down from the window of the lock-up house, were most conspicuous. In the window lay a few books, and one or two old copies of Bell’s Life. Among the well thumbed books, I picked out the Newgate Calendar, and the “Calendar of Orrers,” as he called it, of which he expressed a very high opinion. “Lor bless you,” he exclaimed, “them there stories is the vonderfullest in the vorld! I’d never ha believed it, if I adn’t seed it vith my own two hies, but there can’t be no mistake ven I read it hout o’ the book, can there, now? I jist asks yer that ere plain question.”

Of his career he gave me the following account:—“I vos at von time a coster, riglarly brought up to the business, the times vas good then; but lor, ve used to lush at sich a rate! About ten year ago, I ses to meself, I say Bill, I’m blowed if this here game ’ill do any longer. I had a good moke (donkey), and a tidyish box ov a cart; so vot does I do, but goes and sees von o’ my old pals that gits into the coal-line somehow. He and I goes to the Bell and Siven Mackerels in the Mile End Road, and then he tells me all he knowed, and takes me along vith hisself, and from that time I sticks to the coals.

“I niver cared much about the lush myself, and ven I got avay from the old uns, I didn’t mind it no how; but Jack my pal vos a awful lushy cove, he couldn’t do no good at nothink, votsomever; he died they say of lirium trumans” [not understanding what he meant, I inquired of what it was he died]; “why, of lirium trumans, vich I takes to be too much of Trueman and Hanbury’s heavy; so I takes varnin by poor Jack, and cuts the lush; but if you thinks as ve don’t enjoy ourselves sometimes, I tells you, you don’t know nothink about it. I’m gittin on like a riglar house a fire.”

Of the Street-Sellers of Coke.

Among the occupations that have sprung up of late years is that of the purchase and distribution of the refuse cinders or coke obtained from the different gas-works, which are supplied at a much cheaper rate than coal. Several of the larger gas companies burn as many as 100,000 tons of coals per annum, and some even more, and every ton thus burnt is stated to leave behind two chaldrons of coke, returning to such companies 50 per cent. of their outlay upon the coal. The distribution of coke is of the utmost importance to those whose poverty forces them to use it instead of coal.

It is supposed that the ten gas companies in and about the metropolis produce at least 1,400,000 chaldrons of coke, which are distributed to the poorer classes by vans, one-horse carts, donkey carts, trucks, and itinerant vendors who carry one, and in some cases two sacks lashed together on their backs, from house to house.

The van proprietors are those who, having capital, contract with the companies at a fixed rate per chaldron the year through, and supply the numerous retail shops at the current price, adding 3d. per chaldron for carriage; thus speculating upon the rise or fall of the article, and in most cases carrying on a very lucrative business. This class numbers about 100 persons, and are to be distinguished by the words “coke contractor,” painted on a showy ground on the exterior of their handsome well-made vehicles; they add to their ordinary business the occupation of conveying to their destination the coke that the companies sell from time to time. These men have generally a capital, or a reputation for capital, to the extent of 400l. or 500l., and in some cases more, and they usually enter into their contracts with the companies in the summer, when but small quantities of fuel are required, and the gas-works are incommoded for want of space to contain the quantity made. They are consequently able, by their command of means, to make advantageous bargains, and several instances are known of men starting with a wheelbarrow in this calling and who are now the owners of the dwellings in which they reside, and have goods, vans, and carts besides.

Another class, to whom may be applied much that has been said of the van proprietors, are the possessors of one-horse carts, who in many instances keep small shops for the sale of greens, coals, &c. These men are scattered over the whole metropolis, but as they do not exclusively obtain their[86] living by vending this article, they do not properly belong to this portion of the inquiry.

A very numerous portion of the distributors of coke are the donkey-cart men, who are to be seen in all the poorer localities with a quantity shot in the bottom of their cart, and two or three sacks on the top or fastened underneath—for it is of a light nature—ready to meet the demand, crying “Coke! coke! coke!” morning, noon, and night. This they sell as low as 2d. per bushel, coke having, in consequence of the cheapness of coals, been sold at the gas-works by the single sack as low as 7d., and although there is here a seeming contradiction—that of a man selling and living by the loss—such is not in reality the case. It should be remembered that a bushel of good coke will weigh 40 lbs., and that the bushels of these men rarely exceed 25 lbs.; so that it will be seen that by this unprincipled mode of dealing they can seemingly sell for less than they give, and yet realize a good profit. The two last classes are those who own a truck or wheelbarrow or are the fortunate possessors of an athletic frame and broad shoulders, who roam about near the vicinity of the gas-works, soliciting custom, obtaining ready cash if possible, but in most cases leaving one sack on credit, and obtaining a profit of from 2d., 3d., 4d., or more. These men are to be seen going from house to house cleverly regulating their arrival to such times as when the head of the family returns home with his weekly wage, and in possession of ready cash enough to make a bargain with the coke contractor. Another fact in connection with this class, many of whom are women, who employ boys to drag or carry their wares to their customers, is this: when they fail through any cause, they put their walk up for sale, and find no difficulty to obtain purchasers from 2l. to as high as 8l., 10l., and 12l. The street-sellers of coke number in all not less than 1500 persons, who may be thus divided: van proprietors, 100; single horse carts, 300; donkey-cart men, 500; trucks, wheelbarrows, and “physical force men,” 550; and women about 50, who penetrate to all the densely-crowded districts about town distributing this useful article; the major portion of those who are of anything like sober habits, live in comfort; and in spite of the opinion held by many, that the consumption of coke is injurious to health and sight, they carry on a large and increasing business.

At the present time coke may be purchased at the gas factories at 6s. per chaldron; but in winter it generally rises to 10s., so that, taking the average, 8s., it will be found, that the gas factories of the metropolis realize no less a sum than 560,000l. per annum, by the coke produced in the course of their operations. And 4s. per chaldron being considered a fair profit, it will be found, that the total profit arising from its sale by the various vendors is 280,000l.

It is impossible to arrive with any degree of certainty at the actual amount of business done by each of the above-named classes, and the profits consequent on that business: by dividing the above amount equally among all the coke sellers, it will be found to give 186l. per annum to each person. But it will be at once seen, that the same rule holds good in the coke trade that has already been explained in connection with coals: those possessing vans reaping the largest amount of profit; the one-horse cart men next; then the donkey carts, trucks, and wheelbarrows; and, least of all, the “backers,” as they are sometimes called.

Concerning the amount of capital invested in the street-sale of coals it may be estimated as follows:—

If we allow 70l. for each of the 100 vans, it will give£7,000
20l. for each of the horses2,000
300 carts at 10l. each3,000
300 horses at 10l. each3,000
500 donkey-carts at 1l. each500
500 donkeys at 1l. each500
200 trucks and barrows at 10s. each100
making a total of£16,000

To this must be added

4800 sacks for the 100 vans at 3s. 6d. each84000
3600 sacks for the 300 carts63000
3000    „    „    500 donkey carts52500
1652    „    „    550 trucks and backers288150
300    „    „    50 women52100
Which being added to the value of vans, carts, and horses employed in the street-sale of coals, viz.6,865
gives a capital of£252,015

employed in the street-sale of coal and coke.

The profits of both these trades added together, namely, that on coals43,758
and the profit on coke280,000
shows a total profit of£323,758

to be divided among 1710 persons, who compose the class of itinerant coal and coke vendors of the metropolis.

The following statement as to the street-sale of coke was given by a man in good circumstances, who had been engaged in the business for many years:—

“I am a native of the south of Ireland. More nor twenty years ago I came to London. I had friends here working in a gas factory, and afther a time they managed to get me into the work too. My business was to keep the coals to the stokers, and when they emptied the retorts to wheel the coke in barrows and empty it on the coke heap. I worked for four or five years, off and on, at this place. I was sometimes put out of work in the summer-time, because they don’t want as many hands then. There’s not near so much gas burned in summer, and then, of course, it takes less hands[87] to make it. Well, at last I got to be a stoker; I had betther wages thin, and a couple of pots of beer in the day. It was dhreadful hard work, and as hot, aye, as if you were in the inside of an oven. I don’t know how I ever stood it. Be me soul, I don’t know how anybody stands it; it’s the divil’s place of all you ever saw in your life, standing there before them retorts with a long heavy rake, pullin out the red-hot coke for the bare life, and then there’s the rake red-hot in your hands, and the hissin and the bubblin of the wather, and the smoke and the smell—it’s fit to melt a man like a rowl of fresh butther. I wasn’t a bit too fond of it, at any rate, for it ’ud kill a horse; so I ses to the wife, ‘I can’t stand this much longer, Peggy.’ Well, behold you, Peggy begins to cry and wring her hands, thinkin we’d starve; but I knew a grate dale betther nor that, for I was two or three times dhrinkin with some of thim that carry the coke out of the yard in sacks to sell to the poor people, and they had twice as much money to spind as me, that was working like a horse from mornin to night. I had a pound or two by me, for I was always savin, and by this time I knew a grate many people round about; so off I goes, and asks one and another to take a sack of coke from me, and bein knoun in the yard, and standin a dhrop o’ dhrink now and thin for the fillers, I alway got good measure, and so I used to make four sacks out of three, and often three out of two. Well, at last I got tired carryin sacks on me back all day, and now I know I was a fool for doin it at all, for it’s asier to dhrag a thruck with five or six sacks than to carry one; so I got a second-hand thruck for little or nothin, and thin I was able to do five times as much work in half the time. At last, I took a notion of puttin so much every Sathurday night in the savin bank, and faith, sir, that was the lucky notion for me, although Peggy wouldn’t hear of it at all at all. She swore the bank ’ud be broke, and said she could keep the goold safer in her own stockin; that thim gintlemin in banks were all a set of blickards, and only desaved the poor people into givin them their money to keep it thimselves. But in spite of Peggy I put the money in, and it was well for me that I did so, for in a short time I could count up 30 or 40 guineas in bank, and whin Peggy saw that the bank wasn’t broke she was quite satisfied; so one day I ses to myself, What the divil’s the use of me breakin my heart mornin, noon, and night, dhraggin a thruck behind me, whin ever so little a bit of a horse would dhrag ten time as much as I can? so off I set to Smithfield, and bought a stout stump of a horse for 12l. 10s., and thin wint to a sale and bought an ould cart for little or nothin, and in less nor a month I had every farthin back again in the bank. Well, afther this, I made more and more every day, and findin that I paid more for the coke in winther than in summer, I thought as I had money if I could only get a place to put a good lot in summer to sell in winther it would be a good thing; so I begun to look about, and found this house for sale, so I bought it out and out. It was an ould house to be sure; but it’s sthrong enough, and dune up well enough for a poor man—besides there’s the yard, and see in that yard there’s a hape o’ coke for the winther. I’m buyin it up now, an it ’ill turn a nice pinny whin the could weather comes again. To make a long story short, I needn’t call the king my cousin. I’m sure any one can do well, if he likes; but I don’t mane that they can do well brakin their heart workin; divil a one that sticks to work ’ill ever be a hapenny above a beggar; and I know if I’d stuck to it myself I’d be a grate dale worse off now than the first day, for I’m not so young nor near so sthrong as I was thin, and if I hadn’t lift it off in time I’d have nothin at all to look to in a few years more but to ind my days in the workhouse—bad luck to it.”

Of the Street-Sellers of Tan-Turf.

Tan-turf is oak bark made into turf after its virtues have been exhausted in the tan-pits. To make it into turf the manufacturers have a mill which is turned by horse-power, in which they grind the bark to a considerable degree of fineness, after which it is shaped by a mould into thin cakes about six inches square, put out to dry and harden, and when thoroughly hardened it is fit for sale and for all the uses for which it is intended.

There is only one place in London or its neighbourhood where there are tan-pits—in Bermondsey—and there only is the turf made. There are not more than a dozen persons in London engaged in the sale of this commodity in the streets, and they are all of the tribe of the costermongers. The usual capital necessary for starting in the line being a donkey and cart, with 9s. or 10s. to purchase a few hundreds of the turf.

There is a tradition extant, even at the present day, that during the prevalence of the plague in London the houses where the tan-turf was used in a great measure escaped that awful visitation; and to this moment many people purchase and burn it in their houses on account of the peculiar smell, and under the belief that it is efficacious in repelling infectious diseases from the localities in which it is used.

The other purposes for which it is used are for forming a sort of compost or manure for plants of the heath kind, which delight in a soil of this description, growing naturally among mosses and bogs where the peat fuel is obtained. It is used also by small bakers for heating their ovens, as preferable for their purposes, and more economical than any other description of fuel. Sometimes it is used for burning under coppers; and very often for keeping alight during the night, on account of the slowness of its decomposition by fire, for a single cake will continue burning for a whole night, will be found in the morning completely enveloped in a white ash, which, on being removed, discovers the live embers in the centre.

The rate at which the tan turf is sold to the dealers, at the tan-pits, is from 6d. to 9d. per hun[88]dred cakes. Those at 9d. per hundred are perfect and unbroken, while those at 6d. have been injured in some way or other. The quality of the article, however, remains the same, and by purchasing some of each sort the vendors are able to make somewhat more profit, which may be, on an average, about 4½d. per hundred, as they sell it at 1s.

While seeking information on this subject I obtained the address of a person in T—— mews, T—— square, engaged in the business. Running out of the square is a narrow street, which, about mid-way through, leads on the right-hand side to a narrow alley, at the bottom of which is the mews, consisting of merely an oblong court, surrounded by stables of the very smallest dimensions, not one of them being more than twelve feet square. Three or four men, in the long waistcoats and full breeches peculiar to persons engaged among horses, were lounging about, and, with the exception of the horses, appeared to be the only inhabitants of the place. On inquiring of one of the loungers, I was shown a stable in one corner of the court, the wide door of which stood open. On entering I found it occupied by a donkey-cart, containing a couple of hundred cakes of tan-turf; another old donkey-cart was turned up opposite, the tailboard resting on the ground, the shafts pointing to the ceiling, while a cock and two or three draggle-tailed hens were composing themselves to roost on the front portion of the cart between the shafts. Within the space thus inclosed by the two carts lay a donkey and two dogs, that seemed keeping him company, and were busily engaged in mumbling and crunching some old bones. On the wall hung “Jack’s harness.” In one corner of the ceiling was an opening giving access to the place above, which was reached by means of a long ladder. On ascending this I found myself in a very small attic, with a sloping ceiling on both sides. In the highest part, the middle of the room, it was not more than six feet high, but at the sides it was not more than three feet. In this confined apartment stood a stump bedstead, taking up the greater portion of the floor. In a corner alongside the fire-place I noticed what appeared to be a small turn-up bedstead. A little ricketty deal table, an old smoke dried Dutch clock, and a poor old woman, withered and worn, were the only other things to be seen in the place. The old woman had been better off, and, as is not uncommon under such circumstances, she endeavoured to make her circumstances appear better than they really were. She made the following statement:—

“My husband was 23 years selling the tan turf. There used to be a great deal more of it sold than there is now; people don’t seem to think so much of it now, as they once did, but there are some who still use it. There’s an old lady in Kentish-town, who must have it regularly; she burns it on account of the smell, and has burned it for many years: my husband used to serve her. There’s an old doctor at Hampstead—or rather he was there, for he died a few days ago—he always bought a deal of it, but I don’t know whether he burned it or not; he used to buy 500 or 600 at a time, he was a very good customer, and we miss him now. The gardeners buy some of it, for their plants, they say it makes good manure, though you wouldn’t think so to look at it, it’s so hard and dry. My husband is dead three years; we were better off when he was alive; he was a very sober and careful man, and never put anything to waste. My youngest son goes with the cart now; he don’t do as well as his father, poor little fellow! he’s only fourteen years of age, but he does very well for a boy of his age. He sometimes travels 30 miles of a day, and can’t sell a load—sometimes not half a load; and then he comes home of a night so footsore that you’d pity him. Sometimes he’s not able to stir out, for a day or two, but he must do something for a living; there’s nothing to be got by idleness. The cart will hold 1000 or 1200, and if he could sell that every day we’d do very well; it would leave us about 3s. 6d. profit, after keeping the donkey. It costs 9d. a day to keep our donkey; he’s young yet, but he promises to be a good strong animal, and I like to keep him well, even if I go short myself, for what could we do without him? I believe there are one or two persons selling tan-turf who use trucks, but they’re strong; besides they can’t do much with a truck, they can’t travel as far with a truck as a donkey can, and they can’t take as much out with them. My son goes of a morning to Bermondsey for a load, and is back by breakfast time; from this to Bermondsey is a long way—then he goes out and travels all round Kentish-town and Hampstead, and what with going up one street and down another, by the time he comes home at night, he don’t travel less than from 25 to 30 miles a day. I have another son, the eldest. He used to go with his father when he was alive; he was reared to the business, but after he died he thought it was useless for both to go out with the cart, so he left it to the little fellow, and now the eldest works among horses. He don’t do much, only gets an odd job now and then among the ostlers, and earns a shilling now and then. They’re both good lads, and would do well if they could; they do as well as they can, and I have a right to be thankful for it.”

The poor woman, notwithstanding the extraordinary place in which she lived, and the confined dimensions of her single apartment (I ascertained that the two sons slept in the stump bedstead, while she used the turn-up), was nevertheless cleanly in her person and apparel, and superior in many respects to persons of the same class, and I give her statement verbatim, as it corroborates, in almost every particular, the statement of the unfortunate seller of salt, who is afflicted with a drunken disorderly wife, and who is also a man superior to the people with whom he is compelled to associate, but who in evident bitterness of spirit made this assertion: “Bad as I’m off now, if I had only a careful partner, I wouldn’t want for anything.”


Concerning the dogs that I have spoken of as being with the donkey, there is a curious story. During his rounds the donkey frequently met the bitch, and an extraordinary friendship grew up between the two animals, so that the dog at last forsook its owner, and followed the donkey in all his travels. For some time back she has accompanied him home, together with her puppy, and they all sleep cozily together during the night, Jack taking especial care not to hurt the young one. In the morning, when about to go out for the day’s work, it is of no use to expect Jack to go without his friends, as he will not budge an inch, so he is humoured in his whim. The puppy, when tired, is put into the cart, and the mother forages for her living along the way; the poor woman not being able to feed them. The owner of the dogs came to see them on the day previous to my visit.

Of the Street-Sellers of Salt.

Until a few years after the repeal of the duty on the salt, there were no street-sellers of it. It was first taxed in the time of William III., and during the war with Napoleon the impost was 15s. the bushel, or nearly thirty times the cost of the article taxed. The duty was finally repealed in 1823. When the tax was at the highest, salt was smuggled most extensively, and retailed at 4d. and 4½d. the pound. A licence to sell it was also necessary. Street salt-selling is therefore a trade of some twenty years standing. Considering the vast consumption of salt, and the trifling amount of capital necessary to start in the business, it might be expected that the street-sellers would be a numerous class, but they do not number above 150 at the outside. The reason assigned by a well-informed man was, that in every part of London there are such vast numbers of shopkeepers who deal in salt.

About one-half of those employed in street salt-selling have donkeys and carts, and the rest use the two-wheeled barrow of the costermonger, to which class the street salt-sellers, generally, belong. The value of the donkey and cart may be about 2l. 5s. on an average, so that 75 of the number possessing donkeys and carts will have a capital among them equal to the sum of£168150
The barrows of the remainder are worth about 10s. each, which will amount to37100
To sell 3 cwt. of salt in a day is considered good work; and this, if purchased at 2s. per cwt., gives for stock-money the sum total of4500
Thus the amount of capital which may be reasonably assumed to be embarked in this business is£25150

The street-sellers pay at the rate of 2s. per cwt. for the salt, and retail it at 3 lbs. for 1d., which leaves 1s. 1d. profit on every cwt. One day with another, taking wet and dry, for from the nature of the article it cannot be hawked in wet weather, the street-sellers dispose of about 2½ cwt. per day, or 18 tons 15 cwt. per day for all hands, which, deducting Sundays, makes 5825 tons in the course of the year. The profit of 1s. 1d. per cwt. amounts to a yearly aggregate profit of 6310l. 8s. 4d., or about 42l. per annum for each person in the trade.

The salt dealers, generally, endeavour to increase their profits by the sale of mustard, and sometimes by the sale of rock-salt, which is used for horses; but in these things they do little, the most profit they can realize in a day averaging about 4d.

The salt men who merely use the barrow are much better off than the donkey-cart men; the former are young men, active and strong, well able to drive their truck or barrow about from one place to another, and they can thereby save the original price and subsequent keep of the donkey. The latter are in general old men, broken down and weak, or lads. The daily cost of keeping a donkey is from 6d. to 9d.; if we reckon 7½d. as the average, it will annually amount to 11l. 8s. 1d. the year, which will reduce the profit of 42l. to about 30l., and so leave a balance of 11l. 8s. 1d. in favour of the truck or barrow man.

There are nine or ten places where the street-sellers purchase the salt:—Moore’s, at Paddington, who get their salt by the canal, from Staffordshire; Welling’s, at Battle-bridge; Baillie, of Thames-street, &c. Great quantities are brought to London by the different railways. The street-sellers have all regular beats, and seldom intrude on each other, though it sometimes happens, especially when any quarrel occurs among them, that they oppose and undersell one another in order to secure the customers.

During my inquiries on this subject, I visited Church-lane, Bloomsbury, to see a street-seller, about seven in the evening. Since the alterations in St. Giles’s, Church-lane has become one of the most crowded places in London. The houses, none of which are high, are all old, time-blackened, and dilapidated, with shattered window-frames and broken panes. Stretching across the narrow street, from all the upper windows, might be seen lines crossing and recrossing each other, on which hung yellow-looking shirts, stockings, women’s caps, and handkerchiefs looking like soiled and torn paper, and throwing the whole lane into shade. Beneath this ragged canopy, the street literally swarmed with human beings—young and old, men and women, boys and girls, wandering about amidst all kinds of discordant sounds. The footpaths on both sides of the narrow street were occupied here and there by groups of men and boys, some sitting on the flags and others leaning against the wall, while their feet, in most instances bare, dabbled in the black channel alongside the kerb, which being disturbed sent up a sickening stench. Some of these groups were playing cards for money, which lay on the ground near them. Men and women at intervals lay stretched out in[90] sleep on the pathway; over these the passengers were obliged to jump; in some instances they stood on their backs as they stepped over them, and then the sleeper languidly raised his head, growled out a drowsy oath, and slept again. Three or four women, with bloated countenances, blood-shot eyes, and the veins of their necks swollen and distended till they resembled strong cords, staggered about violently quarrelling at the top of their drunken voices.

The street salt-seller—whom I had great difficulty in finding in such a place—was a man of about 50, rather sickly in his look. He wore an old cloth cap without a peak, a sort of dun-coloured waistcoat, patched and cobbled, a strong check shirt, not remarkable for its cleanliness, and what seemed to me to be an old pair of buckskin breeches, with fragments hanging loose about them like fringes. To the covering of his feet—I can hardly say shoes—there seemed to be neither soles nor uppers. How they kept on was a mystery.

In answer to my questions, he made the following statement, in language not to be anticipated from his dress, or the place in which he resided: “For many years I lived by the sale of toys, such as little chairs, tables, and a variety of other little things which I made myself and sold in the streets; and I used to make a good deal of money by them; I might have done well, but when a man hasn’t got a careful partner, it’s of no use what he does, he’ll never get on, he may as well give it up at once, for the money’ll go out ten times as fast as he can bring it in. I hadn’t the good fortune to have a careful woman, but one who, when I wouldn’t give her money to waste and destroy, took out my property and made money of it to drink; where a bad example like that is set, it’s sure to be followed; the good example is seldom taken, but there’s no fear of the bad one. You may want to find out where the evil lies, I tell you it lies in that pint pot, and in that quart pot, and if it wasn’t for so many pots and so many pints, there wouldn’t be half so much misery as there is. I know that from my own case. I used to sell toys, but since the foreign things were let come over, I couldn’t make anything of them, and was obliged to give them up. I was forced to do something for a living, for a half loaf is better than no bread at all, so seeing two or three selling salt, I took to it myself. I buy my salt at Moore’s wharf, Paddington; I consider it the purest; I could get salt 3d. or 2d. the cwt., or even cheaper, but I’d rather have the best. A man’s not ashamed when he knows his articles are good. Some buy the cheap salt, of course they make more profit. We never sell by measure, always by weight; some of the street weights, a good many of them, are slangs, but I believe they are as honest as many of the shopkeepers after all; every one does the best he can to cheat everybody else. I go two or three evenings in the week, or as often as I want it, to the wharf for a load. I’m going there to-night, three miles out and three miles in. I sell, considering everything, about 2 cwt. a day; I sold 1½ to-day, but to-morrow (Saturday) I’ll sell 3 or 4 cwt., and perhaps more. I pay 2s. the cwt. for it, and make about 1s. a cwt. profit on that. I sold sixpennyworth of mustard to-day; it might bring me in 2d. profit, every little makes something. If I wasn’t so weak and broke down, I wouldn’t trouble myself with a donkey, it’s so expensive; I’d easily manage to drive about all I’d sell, and then I’d save the expense. It costs me 7d. or 8d. a day to keep him, besides other things. I got him a set of shoes yesterday, I said I’d shoe him first and myself afterwards; so you see there’s other expenses. There’s my son, too, paid off the other day from the Prince of Wales, after a four years’ voyage, and he came home without a sixpence in his pocket. He might have done something for me, but I couldn’t expect anything else from him after the example that was set to him. Even now, bad as I am, I wouldn’t want for anything if I had a careful woman; but she’s a shocking drunkard, and I can do nothing with her.” This poor fellow’s mind was so full of his domestic troubles that he recurred to them again and again, and was more inclined to talk about what so nearly concerned himself than on any matter of business.

Of the Street-Sellers of Sand.

Two kinds of sand only are sold in the streets, scouring or floor sand, and bird sand for birds. In scouring sand the trade is inconsiderable to what it was, saw-dust having greatly superseded it in the gin-palace, the tap-room, and the butcher’s shop. Of the supply of sand, a man, who was working at the time on Hampstead-heath, gave the following account:—“I’ve been employed here for five-and-thirty years, under Sir Thomas Wilson. Times are greatly changed, sir; we used to have from 25 to 30 carts a day hawking sand, and taking six or seven men to fill them every morning; besides large quantities which went to brass-founders, and for cleaning dentists’ cutlery, for stone-sawing, lead and silver casting, and such like. This heath, sir, contains about every kind of sand, but Sir Thomas won’t allow us to dig it. The greatest number of carts filled now is eight or ten a day, which I fill myself. Sir Thomas has raised the price from 3s. 6d. to 4s. a load, of about 2½ tons. Bless you, sir, some years ago, one might go into St. Luke’s, and sell five or six cart-loads of house-sand a week; now, a man may roar himself hoarse, and not sell a load in a fortnight. Saw-dust is used in all the public-houses and gin-palaces. People’s sprung up who don’t use sand at all; and many of the old people are too poor to buy it. The men who get sand here now are old customers, who carry it all over the town, and round Holloway, Islington, and such parts. Twelve year ago I would have taken here 6l. or 7l. in a morning, to-day I have only taken 9s. Fine weather is greatly against the sale of house-sand; in wet, dirty weather, the sale is greater.”

One street sand-seller gave the following account of his calling:—

“I have been in the sand business, man and[91] boy, for 40 years. I was at it when I was 12 years old, and am now 52. I used to have two carts hawking sand, but it wouldn’t pay, so I have just that one you see there. Hawking sand is a poor job now. I send two men with that ’ere cart, and pay one of ’em 3s. 4d. and the other 3s. a day. Now, with beer-money, 2s. a week, to the man at the heath, and turnpike gates, I reckon every load of sand to cost me 5s. Add to that 6s. 4d. for the two men, the wear and tear, and horse’s keep (and, to do a horse justice, you cannot in these cheap times keep him at less than 10s. a week, in dear seasons, it will cost 15s.), and you will find each load of sand stands me in a good sum. So suppose we get a guinea a load, you see we have no great pull. Then there’s the licence, 8l. a year. Many years ago we resisted this, and got Mr. Humphreys to defend us before the magistrates at Clerkenwell; but we were ‘cast,’ several hawkers were fined 10l., and I was brought up before old Sir Richard Birnie, at Bow-street, and had to find bail that I would not sell another bushel of sand till I took out a licence. Soon after that Sir Thomas Wilson shut up the heath from us; he said he would not have it cut about any more, for that a poor animal could not pick up a crumb without being in danger of breaking its leg. This was just after we took out our licences, and, as we’d paid dearly for being allowed to sell the sand, some of us, and I was one, we waited upon Sir Thomas, and asked to be allowed to work out our licences, which was granted, and we have gone on ever since. My men work very hard for their money, sir; they are up at 3 o’clock of the morning, and are knocking about the streets, perhaps till 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening.”

The yellow house-sand is also found at Kingsland, and at the Kensington Gravel-pits; but at the latter place street-sellers are not supplied. The sand here is very fine, and mostly disposed of to plasterers. There is also some of this kind of sand at Wandsworth. In the street-selling of house-sand, there are now not above 30 men employed, and few of these trade on their own account. Reckoning the horses and carts employed in the trade at the same price as our Camden-town informant sets on his stock, we have 20 horses, at 10l. each, and 20 carts, at 3l. each, with 3 baskets to each, at 2s. apiece, making a total of 236l. of capital employed in the carrying machinery of the street-selling of sand. Allowing 3s. a day for each man, the wages would amount for 30 men to 27l. weekly; and the expenses for horses’ keep, at 10s. a head, would give, for 20 horses, 10l. weekly, making a total of 38l. weekly, or an annual expenditure for man and horse of 2496l. Calculating the sale at a load per day, for each horse and cart, at 21s. a load, we have 6573l. annually expended in the purchase of house or floor-sand.

Bird-sand, or the fine and dry sand required for the use of cage-birds, is now obtained altogether of a market gardener in Hackney. It is sold at 8d. the barrow-load; as much being shovelled on to a coster’s barrow “as it will carry.” A good-sized barrow holds 3½ bushels; a smaller size, 3 bushels, and the buyer is also the shoveller. Three-fourths of the quantity conveyed by the street-sellers from Hackney is sold to the bird-shop keepers at 6d. for 3 pecks. The remainder is disposed of to such customers as purchase it in the street, or is delivered at private houses, which receive a regular supply. The usual charge to the general public is a halfpenny or a penny for sand to fill any vessel brought to contain it. A penny a gallon is perhaps an average price in this retail trade.

A man, “in a good way of business,” disposes of a barrow-load once a week; the others once a fortnight. In wet or windy weather great care is necessary, and much trouble incurred in supplying this sand to the street-sellers, and again in their vending it in the streets. The street-vendors are the same men as supply the turf, &c., for cage-birds, of whom I have treated, p. 156, vol. i. They are 40 in number, and although they do not all supply sand, a matter beyond the strength of the old and infirm, a few costermongers convey a barrow-load of sand now and then to the bird-sellers, and this addition ensures the weekly supply of 40 barrow-loads. Calculating these at the wholesale, or bird-dealer’s price—2s. 3d. a barrow being an average—we find 234l. yearly expended in this sand. What is vended at 2s. 3d. costs but 8d. at the wholesale price; but the profit is hardly earned considering the labour of wheeling a heavy barrow of sand for miles, and the trouble of keeping over night what is unsold during the day.

Of the Street-Sellers of Shells.

The street-trade in shells presents the characteristics I have before had to notice as regards the trade in what are not necessaries, or an approach to necessaries, in contradistinction of what men must have to eat or wear. Shells, such as the green snail, ear shell, and others of that class, though extensively used for inlaying in a variety of ornamental works, are comparatively of little value; for no matter how useful, if shells are only well known, they are considered of but little importance; while those which are rarely seen, no matter how insignificant in appearance, command extraordinary prices. As an instance I may mention that on the 23rd of June there was purchased by Mr. Sowerby, shell-dealer, at a public sale in King-street, Covent-garden, a small shell not two inches long, broken and damaged, and withal what is called a “dead shell,” for the sum of 30 guineas. It was described as the Conus Glory Mary, and had it only been perfect would have fetched 100 guineas.

Shells, such as conches, cowries, green snails, and ear shells (the latter being so called from their resemblance to the human ear), are imported in large quantities, as parts of cargoes, and are sold to the large dealers by weight. Conch shells are sold at 8s. per cwt.; cowries and clams from 10s. to 12s. per cwt.; the green snail, used for inlaying, fetches from 1l. to 1l. 10s. per cwt.; and the ear shell, on account of its superior quality and richer variety of colours, as much as 3l. and 5l. per cwt.[92] The conches are found only among the West India Islands, and are used principally for garden ornaments and grotto-work. The others come principally from the Indian Ocean and the China seas, and are used as well for chimney ornaments, as for inlaying, for the tops of work-tables and other ornamental furniture.

The shells which are considered of the most value are almost invariably small, and of an endless variety of shape. They are called “cabinet” shells, and are brought from all parts of the world—land as well as sea—lakes, rivers, and oceans furnishing specimens to the collection. The Australian forests are continually ransacked to bring to light new varieties. I have been informed that there is not a river in England but contains valuable shells; that even in the Thames there are shells worth from 10s. to 1l. each. I have been shown a shell of the snail kind, found in the woods of New Holland, and purchased by a dealer for 2l., and on which he confidently reckoned to make a considerable profit.

Although “cabinet” shells are collected from all parts, yet by far the greater number come from the Indian Ocean. They are generally collected by the natives, who sell them to captains and mates of vessels trading to those parts, and very often to sailors, all of whom frequently speculate to a considerable extent in these things, and have no difficulty in disposing of them as soon as they arrive in this country, for there is not a shell dealer in London who has not a regular staff of persons stationed at Gravesend to board the homeward-bound ships at the Nore, and sometimes as far off as the Downs, for the purpose of purchasing shells. It usually happens that when three or four of these persons meet on board the same ship, an animated competition takes place, so that the shells on board are generally bought up long before the ship arrives at London. Many persons from this country go out to various parts of the world for the sole purpose of procuring shells, and they may be found from the western coast of Africa to the shores of New South Wales, along the Persian Gulf, in Ceylon, the Malaccas, China, and the Islands of the Pacific, where they employ the natives in dredging the bed of the ocean, and are by this means continually adding to the almost innumerable varieties which are already known.

To show the extraordinary request in which shells are held in almost every place, while I was in the shop of Mr. J. C. Jamrach, naturalist, and agent to the Zoological Society at Amsterdam—one of the largest dealers in London, and to whom I am indebted for much valuable information on this subject—a person, a native of High Germany, was present. He had arrived in London the day before, and had purchased on that day a collection of shells of a low quality for which he paid Mr. Jamrach 36l.; to this he added a few birds. Placing his purchase in a box furnished with a leather strap, he slung it over his shoulder, shook hands with Mr. Jamrach, and departed. Mr. Jamrach informed me that the next morning he was to start by steam for Rotterdam, then continue his journey up the Rhine to a certain point, from whence he was to travel on foot from one place to another, till he could dispose of his commodities; after which he would return to London, as the great mart for a fresh supply. He was only a very poor man, but there are a great many others far better off, continually coming backwards and forwards, who are able to purchase a larger stock of shells and birds, and who, in the course of their peregrinations, wander through the greater part of Germany, extending their excursions sometimes through Austria, the Tyrol, and the north of Italy. A visit to the premises of Mr. Jamrach, Ratcliff-highway, or Mr. Samuel, Upper East Smithfield, would well repay the curious observer. The front portion of Mr. Jamrach’s house is taken up with a wonderful variety of strange birds that keep up an everlasting screaming; in another portion of the house are collected confusedly together heaps of nondescript articles, which might appear to the uninitiated worth little or nothing, but on which the possessor places great value. In a yard behind the house, immured in iron cages, are some of the larger species of birds, and some beautiful varieties of foreign animals—while in large presses ranged round the other rooms, and furnished with numerous drawers, are placed his real valuables, the cabinet shells. The establishment of Mr. Samuel is equally curious.

In London, the dealers in shells, keeping shops for the sale of them, amount to no more than ten; they are all doing a large business, and are men of good capital, which may be proved by the following quotation from the day-books of one of the class for the present year, viz.:—

Shells sold in February£27500
Ditto, ditto, March47100
Ditto, ditto, April138900
Ditto, ditto, May47500
Profit on same, February£75120
Ditto, ditto, March14000
Ditto, ditto, April32300
Ditto, ditto, May12700

Besides these there are about 20 private dealers who do not keep shops, but who nevertheless do a considerable business in this line among persons at the West End of London. All shell dealers add to that occupation the sale of foreign birds and curiosities.

There is yet another class of persons who seem to be engaged in the sale of shells, but it is only seeming. They are dressed as sailors, and appear at all times to have just come ashore after a long voyage, as a man usually follows them with that sort of canvas bag in use among sailors, in which they stow away their clothes; the men themselves go on before carrying a parrot or some rare bird in one hand, and in the other a large shell. These men are the “duffers” of whom I have spoken[93] in my account of the sale of foreign birds. They make shells a more frequent medium for the introduction of their real avocation, as a shell is a far less troublesome thing either to hawk or keep by them than a parrot.

I now give a description of these men, as general duffers, and from good authority.

“They are known by the name of ‘duffers,’ and have an exceedingly cunning mode of transacting their business. They are all united in some secret bond; they have persons also bound to them, who are skilled in making shawls in imitation of those imported from China, and who, according to the terms of their agreement, must not work for any other persons. The duffers, from time to time, furnish these persons with designs for shawls, such as cannot be got in this country, which, when completed, they (the duffers) conceal about their persons, and start forward on their travels. They contrive to gain admission to respectable houses by means of shells and sometimes of birds, which they purchase from the regular dealers, but always those of a low quality; after which they contrive to introduce the shawls, their real business, for which they sometimes have realized prices varying from 5l. to 20l. In many instances, the cheat is soon discovered, when the duffers immediately decamp, to make place for a fresh batch, who have been long enough out of London to make their faces unknown to their former victims. These remain till they also find danger threaten them, when they again start away, and others immediately take their place. While away from London, they travel through all parts of the country, driving a good trade among the country gentlemen’s houses; and sometimes visiting the seaports, such as Liverpool, Portsmouth, and Plymouth.”

An instance of the skill with which the duffers sometimes do business, is the following. One of these persons some time ago came into the shop of a shell dealer, having with him a beautiful specimen of a three-coloured cockatoo, for which he asked 10l. The shell dealer declined the purchase at that price, saying, that he sold these birds at 4l. a piece, but offered to give 3l. 10s. for it, which was at once accepted; while pocketing the money, the man remarked that he had paid ten guineas for that bird. The shell dealer, surprised that so good a judge should be induced to give so much more than the value of the bird, was desirous of hearing further, when the duffer made this statement:—“I went the other day to a gentleman’s house, he was an old officer, where I saw this bird, and, in order to get introduced, I offered to purchase it. The gentleman said he knew it was a valuable bird, and couldn’t think of taking less than ten guineas. I then offered to barter for it, and produced a shawl, for which I asked twenty-five guineas, but offered to take fifteen guineas and the bird. This was at length agreed to, and now, having sold it for 3l. 10s., it makes 19l. 5s. I got for the shawl, and not a bad day’s work either.”

Of shells there are about a million of the commoner sorts bought by the London street-sellers at 3s. the gross. They are retailed at 1d. apiece, or 12s. the gross, when sold separately; a large proportion, as is the case with many articles of taste or curiosity rather than of usefulness, being sold by the London street-folk on country rounds; some of these rounds stretch half-way to Bristol or to Liverpool.

Of the River Beer-Sellers, or Purl-Men.

There is yet another class of itinerant dealers who, if not traders in the streets, are traders in what was once termed the silent highway—the river beer-sellers, or purl-men, as they are more commonly called. These should strictly have been included among the sellers of eatables and drinkables; they have, however, been kept distinct, being a peculiar class, and having little in common with the other out-door sellers.

I will begin my account of the river-sellers by enumerating the numerous classes of labourers, amounting to many thousands, who get their living by plying their respective avocations on the river, and who constitute the customers of these men. There are first the sailors on board the corn, coal, and timber ships; then the “lumpers,” or those engaged in discharging the timber ships; the “stevedores,” or those engaged in stowing craft; and the “riggers,” or those engaged in rigging them; ballast-heavers, ballast-getters, corn-porters, coal-whippers, watermen and lightermen, and coal-porters, who, although engaged in carrying sacks of coal from the barges or ships at the river’s side to the shore, where there are public-houses, nevertheless, when hard worked and pressed for time, frequently avail themselves of the presence of the purl-man to quench their thirst, and to stimulate them to further exertion.

It would be a remarkable circumstance if the fact of so many persons continually employed in severe labour, and who, of course, are at times in want of refreshment, had not called into existence a class to supply that which was evidently required; under one form or the other, therefore, river-dealers boast of an antiquity as old as the naval commerce of the country.

The prototype of the river beer-seller of the present day is the bumboat-man. Bumboats (or rather Baum-boats, that is to say, the boats of the harbour, from the German Baum, a haven or bar) are known in every port where ships are obliged to anchor at a distance from the shore. They are stored with a large assortment of articles, such as are likely to be required by people after a long voyage. Previously to the formation of the various docks on the Thames, they were very numerous on the river, and drove a good trade with the homeward-bound shipping. But since the docks came into requisition, and steam-tugs brought the ships from the mouth of the river to the dock entrance, their business died away, and they gradually disappeared; so that a bumboat on the Thames at the present day would be a sort of curiosity, a relic of times past.

In former times it was not in the power of any person who chose to follow the calling of a bumboat man on the Thames. The Trinity Com[94]pany had the power of granting licences for this purpose. Whether they were restrained by some special clause in their charter, or not, from giving licences indiscriminately, it is difficult to say. But it is certain that none got a licence but a sailor—one who had “served his country;” and it was quite common in those days to see an old fellow with a pair of wooden legs, perhaps blind of an eye, or wanting an arm, and with a face rugged as a rock, plying about among the shipping, accompanied by a boy whose duty it was to carry the articles to the purchasers on shipboard, and help in the management of the boat. In the first or second year of the reign of her present Majesty, however, when the original bumboat-men had long degenerated into the mere beer-sellers, and any one who wished traded in this line on the river (the Trinity Company having for many years paid no attention to the matter), an inquiry took place, which resulted in a regulation that all the beer-sellers or purl-men should thenceforward be regularly licensed for the river-sale of beer and spirits from the Waterman’s Hall, which regulation is in force to the present time.

It appears to have been the practice at some time or other in this country to infuse wormwood into beer or ale previous to drinking it, either to make it sufficiently bitter, or for some medicinal purpose. This mixture was called purl—why I know not, but Bailey, the philologist of the seventeenth century, so designates it. The drink originally sold on the river was purl, or this mixture, whence the title, purl-man. Now, however, the wormwood is unknown; and what is sold under the name of purl is beer warmed nearly to boiling heat, and flavoured with gin, sugar, and ginger. The river-sellers, however, still retain the name, of purl-men, though there is not one of them with whom I have conversed that has the remotest idea of the meaning of it.

To set up as a purl-man, some acquaintance with the river, and a certain degree of skill in the management of a boat, are absolutely necessary; as, from the frequently-crowded state of the pool, and the rapidity with which the steamers pass and repass, twisting and wriggling their way through craft of every description, the unskilful adventurer would run in continual danger of having his boat crushed like a nutshell. The purl-men, however, through long practice, are scarcely inferior to the watermen themselves in the management of their boats; and they may be seen at all times easily working their way through every obstruction, now shooting athwart the bows of a Dutch galliot or sailing-barge, then dropping astern to allow a steam-boat to pass till they at length reach the less troubled waters between the tiers of shipping.

The first thing required to become a purl-man is to procure a licence from the Waterman’s Hall, which costs 3s. 6d. per annum. The next requisite is the possession of a boat. The boats used are all in the form of skiffs, rather short, but of a good breadth, and therefore less liable to capsize through the swell of the steamers, or through any other cause. Thus equipped he then goes to some of the small breweries, where he gets two “pins,” or small casks of beer, each containing eighteen pots; after this he furnishes himself with a quart or two of gin from some publican, which he carries in a tin vessel with a long neck, like a bottle—an iron or tin vessel to hold the fire, with holes drilled all round to admit the air and keep the fuel burning, and a huge bell, by no means the least important portion of his fit out. Placing his two pins of beer on a frame in the stern of the boat, the spiles loosened and the brass cocks fitted in, and with his tin gin bottle close to his hand beneath the seat, two or three measures of various sizes, a black tin pot for heating the beer, and his fire pan secured on the bottom of the boat, and sending up a black smoke, he takes his seat early in the morning and pulls away from the shore, resting now and then on his oars, to ring the heavy bell that announces his approach. Those on board the vessels requiring refreshment, when they hear the bell, hail “Purl ahoy;” in an instant the oars are resumed, and the purl-man is quickly alongside the ship.

The bell of the purl-man not unfrequently performs another very important office. During the winter, when dense fogs settle down on the river, even the regular watermen sometimes lose themselves, and flounder about bewildered perhaps for hours. The direction once lost, their shouting is unheeded or unheard. The purl-man’s bell, however, reaches the ear through the surrounding gloom, and indicates his position; when near enough to hear the hail of his customers, he makes his way unerringly to the spot by now and then sounding his bell; this is immediately answered by another shout, so that in a short time the glare of his fire may be distinguished as he emerges from the darkness, and glides noiselessly alongside the ship where he is wanted.

The amount of capital necessary to start in the purl line may be as follows:—I have said that the boats are all of the skiff kind—generally old ones, which they patch up and repair at but little cost. They purchase these boats at from 3l. to 6l. each. If we take the average of these two sums, the items will be—

Pewter measures050
Fire stove050
Gallon can026
Two pins of beer080
Quart of gin026
Sugar and ginger010

Thus it requires, at the very least, a capital of 6l. to set up as a purl-man.

Since the Waterman’s Hall has had the granting of licences, there have been upwards of 140 issued; but out of the possessors of these many are dead, some have left for other business, and others are too old and feeble to follow the occupation[95] any longer, so that out of the whole number there remain only 35 purl-men on the river, and these are thus divided:—23 ply their trade in what is called “the pool,” that is, from Execution Dock to Ratcliff Cross, among the coal-laden ships, and do a tolerable business amongst the sailors and the hard-working and thirsty coal-whippers; 8 purl-men follow their calling from Execution Dock to London Bridge, and sell their commodity among the ships loaded with corn, potatoes, &c.; and 4 are known to frequent the various reaches below Limehouse Hole, where the colliers are obliged to lie at times in sections, waiting till they are sold on the Coal Exchange, and some even go down the river as far as the ballast-lighters of the Trinity Company, for the purpose of supplying the ballast-getters. The purl-men cannot sell much to the unfortunate ballast-heavers, for they are suffering under all the horrors of an abominable truck system, and are compelled to take from the publicans about Wapping and Shadwell, who are their employers, large quantities of filthy stuff compounded especially for their use, for which they are charged exorbitant prices, being thus and in a variety of other ways mercilessly robbed of their earnings, so that they and their families are left in a state of almost utter destitution. One of the purl-men, whose boat is No. 44, has hoops like those used by gipsies for pitching their tents; these he fastens to each side of the boat, over which he draws a tarred canvas covering, water-proof, and beneath this he sleeps the greater part of the year, seldom going ashore except for the purpose of getting a fresh supply of liquors for trade, or food for himself. He generally casts anchor in some unfrequented nook down the river, where he enjoys all the quiet of a Thames hermit, after the labour of the day. To obtain the necessary heat during the winter, he fits a funnel to his fire-stove to carry away the smoke, and thus warmed he sleeps away in defiance of the severest weather.

It appears from the facts above given that 210l. is the gross amount of capital employed in this business. On an average all the year round each purl-man sells two “pins” of beer weekly, independent of gin; but little gin is thus sold in the summer, but in the winter a considerable quantity of it is used in making the purl. The men purchase the beer at 4s. per pin, and sell it at 4d. per pot, which leaves them a profit of 4s. on the two pins, and, allowing them 6d. per day profit on the gin, it gives 1l. 7s. per week profit to each, or a total to all hands of 47l. 5s. per week, and a gross total of 2457l. profit made on the sale of 98,280 gallons of beer, beside gin sold on the Thames in the course of the year. From this amount must be deducted 318l. 10s., which is paid to boys, at the rate of 3s. 6d. per week; it being necessary for each purl-man to employ a lad to take care of the boat while he is on board the ships serving his customers, or traversing the tiers. This deduction being made leaves 61l. 2s. per annum to each purl-man as the profit on his year’s trading.

The present race of purl-men, unlike the weather-beaten tars who in former times alone were licensed, are generally young men, who have been in the habit of following some river employment, and who, either from some accident having befallen them in the course of their work, or from their preferring the easier task of sitting in their boat and rowing leisurely about to continuous labour, have started in the line, and ultimately superseded the old river dealers. This is easily explained. No man labouring on the river would purchase from a stranger when he knew that his own fellow-workman was afloat, and was prepared to serve him with as good an article; besides he might not have money, and a stranger could not be expected to give trust, but his old acquaintance would make little scruple in doing so. In this way the customers of the purl-men are secured; and many of these people do so much more than the average amount of business above stated, that it is no unusual thing to see some of them, after four or five years on the river, take a public-house, spring up into the rank of licensed victuallers, and finally become men of substance.

I conversed with one who had been a coal-whipper. He stated that he had met with an accident while at work which prevented him from following coal-whipping any longer. He had fallen from the ship’s side into a barge, and was for a long time in the hospital. When he came out he found he could not work, and had no other prospect before him but the union. “I thought I’d be by this time toes up in Stepney churchyard,” he said, “and grinning at the lid of an old coffin.” In this extremity a neighbour, a waterman, who had long known him, advised him to take to the purl business, and gave him not only the advice, but sufficient money to enable him to put it in practice. The man accordingly got a boat, and was soon afloat among his old workmates. In this line he now makes out a living for himself and his family, and reckons himself able to clear, one week with the other, from 18s. to 20s. “I should do much better,” he said, “if people would only pay what they owe; but there are some who never think of paying anything.” He has between 10l. and 20l. due to him, and never expects to get a farthing of it.

The following is the form of licence issued by the Watermen’s Company:—



Height 5 feet 8 inches, 30 years of age, dark hair, sallow complexion.
2nd & 3rd Vic. cap. 47, sec. 25.

I hereby certify that        of         , in the parish of        in the county of Middlesex, is this day registered in a book of the Company of the Master, Wardens, and Commonalty of Watermen and Lightermen of the river Thames, kept for that purpose, to use, work, or navigate a boat called a skiff, named       , number     , for the purpose of selling, disposing of, or exposing for sale to and amongst the seamen, or other per[96]sons employed in and about any of the ships or vessels upon the said river, any liquors, slops, or other articles whatsoever, between London Bridge and Limehouse Hole; but the said boat is not to be used on the said river for any other purpose than the aforesaid.

Waterman’s Hall,

Jas. Banyon, Clerk.

Beside the regular purl-men, or, as they may be called, bumboat-men, there are two or three others who, perhaps unable to purchase a boat, and take out the licence, have nevertheless for a number of years contrived to carry on a traffic in spirits among the ships in the Thames. Their practice is to carry a flat tin bottle concealed about their person, with which they go on board the first ship in a tier, where they are well known by those who may be there employed. If the seamen wish for any spirit the river-vendor immediately supplies it, entering the name of the customers served, as none of the vendors ever receive, at the time of sale, any money for what they dispose of; they keep an account till their customers receive their wages, when they always contrive to be present, and in general succeed in getting what is owing to them. What their profits are it is impossible to tell, perhaps they may equal those of the regular purl-man, for they go on board of almost every ship in the course of the day. When their tin bottle is empty they go on shore to replenish it, doing so time after time if necessary.

It is remarkable that although these people are perfectly well known to every purl-man on the river, who have seen them day by day, for many years going on board the various ships, and are thoroughly cognizant of the purpose of their visits, there has never been any information laid against them, nor have they been in any way interrupted in their business.

There is one of these river spirit-sellers who has pursued the avocation for the greater part of his life; he is a native of the south of Ireland, now very old, and a little shrivelled-up man. He may still be seen every day, going from ship to ship by scrambling over the quarters where they are lashed together in tiers—a feat sometimes attended with danger to the young and strong; yet he works his way with the agility of a man of 20, gets on board the ship he wants, and when there, were he not so well known, he might be thought to be some official sent to take an inventory of the contents of the ship, for he has at all times an ink-bottle hanging from one of his coat buttons, a pen stuck over his ear, spectacles on his nose, a book in his hand, and really has all the appearance of a man determined on doing business of some sort or other. He possesses a sort of ubiquity, for go where you will through any part of the pool you are sure to meet him. He seems to be expected everywhere; no one appears to be surprised at his presence. Captains and mates pass him by unnoticed and unquestioned. As suddenly as he comes does he disappear, to start up in some other place. His visits are so regular, that it would scarcely look like being on board ship if “old D——, the whiskey man,” as he is called, did not make his appearance some time during the day, for he seems to be in some strange way identified with the river, and with every ship that frequents it.


The hawkers of second-hand articles, live animals, mineral productions, and natural curiosities, form, as we have seen, large important classes of the street-sellers. According to the facts already given, there appear to be at present in the streets, 90 sellers of metal wares, including the sellers of second-hand trays and Italian-irons; 30 sellers of old linen, as wrappers and towelling; 80 vendors of second-hand (burnt) linen and calico; 30 sellers of curtains; 30 sellers of carpeting, &c.; 30 sellers of bed-ticking, &c.; 6 sellers of old crockery and glass; 25 sellers of old musical instruments; 6 vendors of second-hand weapons; 6 sellers of old curiosities; 6 vendors of telescopes and pocket glasses; 30 to 40 sellers of other miscellaneous second-hand articles; 100 sellers of men’s second-hand clothes; 30 sellers of old boots and shoes; 15 vendors of old hats; 50 sellers of women’s second-hand apparel; 30 vendors of second-hand bonnets, and 10 sellers of old furs; 116 sellers of second-hand articles at Smithfield-market;—making altogether 725 street-sellers of second-hand commodities.

But some of the above trades are of a temporary character only, as in the case of the vendors of old linen towelling or wrappers, carpets, bed-ticking, &c.—the same persons who sell the one often selling the others; the towels and wrappers, moreover, are offered for sale only on the Monday and Saturday nights. Assuming, then, that upwards of 100 or one-sixth of the above number sell two different second-hand articles, or are not continually employed at that department of street-traffic, we find the total number of street-sellers belonging to this class to be about 500.

Concerning the number selling live animals in the streets, there are 50 men vending fancy and sporting dogs; 200 sellers and “duffers” of English birds; 10 sellers of parrots and other foreign birds; 3 sellers of birds’-nests, &c.; 20 vendors of squirrels; 6 sellers of leverets and wild rabbits; 35 vendors of gold and silver fish; 20 vendors of tortoises; and 14 sellers of snails, frogs, worms, &c.; or, allowing for the temporary and mixed character of many of these trades, we may say that there are 200 constantly engaged in this branch of street-commerce.


Then of the street-sellers of mineral productions and natural curiosities, there are 216 vendors of coals; 1500 sellers of coke; 14 sellers of tan-turf; 150 vendors of salt; 70 sellers of sand; 26 sellers of shells; or 1969 in all. From this number the sellers of shells must be deducted, as the shell-trade is not a special branch of street-traffic. We may, therefore, assert that the number of people engaged in this latter class of street-business amounts to about 1900.

Now, adding all these sums together, we have the following table as to the numbers of individuals comprised in the first division of the London street-folk, viz. the street-sellers:—

1. Costermongers (including men, women, and children engaged in the sale of fish, fruit, vegetables, game, poultry, flowers, &c.)30,000
2. Street-sellers of “green stuff,” including water-cresses, chickweed and gru’n’sel, turf, &c.2,000
3. Street-sellers of eatables and drinkables4,000
4. Street-sellers of stationery, literature, and fine arts1,000
5. Street-sellers of manufactured articles of metal, crockery, glass, textile, chemical, and miscellaneous substances4,000
6. Street-sellers of second-hand articles, including the sellers of old metal articles, old glass, old linen, old clothes, old shoes, &c.500
7. Street-sellers of live animals, as dogs, birds, gold and silver fish, squirrels, leverets, tortoises, snails, &c.200
8. Street-sellers of mineral productions and natural curiosities, as coals, coke, tan-turf, salt, sand, shells, &c.1,900
Total Number of Street-Sellers43,640

These numbers, it should be remembered, are given rather as an approximation to the truth than as the absolute fact. It would therefore be safer to say, making all due allowance for the temporary and mixed character of many branches of street-commerce, that there are about 40,000 people engaged in selling articles in the streets of London. I am induced to believe that this is very near the real number of street-sellers, from the wholesale returns of the places where the street-sellers purchase their goods, and which I have always made a point of collecting from the best authorities connected with the various branches of street-traffic. The statistics of the fish and green markets, the swag-shops, the old clothes exchange, the bird-dealers, which I have caused to be collected for the first time in this country, all tend to corroborate this estimate.

The next fact to be evolved is the amount of capital invested in the street-sale of Second-hand Articles, of Live Animals, and of Mineral Productions. And, first, as to the money employed in the Second-hand Street-Trade.

The following tables will show the amount of capital invested in this branch of street-business.

Street-Sellers of Second-hand Metal Wares.
30 stalls, 5s. each; 20 barrows, 1l. each; stock-money for 50 vendors, at 10s. per head52100
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Metal Trays.
Stock-money for 20 sellers, at 5s.500
Street-Sellers of other Second-hand Metal Articles, as Italian and Flat Irons.
Stock-money for 20 vendors, at 5s. each; 20 stalls, at 3s. each800
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Linen, &c.
Stock-money for 30 vendors, at 5s. per head7100
Street-Sellers of Second-hand (burnt) Linen and Calico.
Stock-money for 80 vendors, at 10s. each4000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Curtains.
Stock-money for 30 sellers, at 5s. each7100
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Carpeting, Flannels, Stocking-legs, &c.
Stock-money for 30 sellers, at 6s. each900
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Bed-ticking, Sacking, Fringe, &c.
Stock-money for 30 sellers, at 4s. each600
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Glass and Crockery.
6 barrows, 15s. each; 6 baskets, 1s. 6d. each; stock-money for 6 vendors, at 5s. each690
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Miscellaneous Articles.
Stock-money for 5 vendors, at 15s. each3150
Street-Sellers and Duffers of Second-hand Music.
Stock-money for 25 sellers, at 1l. each2500
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Weapons.
Stock-money for 6 vendors, at 1l. each600
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Curiosities.
6 barrows, 15s. each; stock-money for 6 vendors, at 15s. per head900
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Telescopes and Pocket-Glasses.
Stock-money for 6 vendors, at 4l. each2400
Street-Sellers of other Miscellaneous Articles.
[98]30 stalls, 5s. each; stock-money for 30 sellers, at 15s. each3000
Street-Sellers of Men’s Second-hand Clothes.
100 linen bags, at 2s. each; stock-money for 100 sellers, at 15s. each8500
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Boots and Shoes.
10 stalls, at 3s. each; 30 baskets, at 2s. 6d. each; stock-money for 30 sellers, at 10s. each2050
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Hats.
30 irons, two to each man, at 2s. each; 60 blocks, at 1s. 6d. per block; stock-money for 15 vendors, at 10s. each1500
Street-Sellers of Women’s Second-hand Apparel.
Stock-money for 50 sellers, at 10s. each; 50 baskets, at 2s. 6d. each3150
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Bonnets.
10 umbrellas, at 3s. each; 30 baskets, at 2s. 6d. each; stock-money for 30 sellers, at 5s. each12150
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Furs.
Stock-money for 10 vendors, at 7s. 6d. each3150
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Articles in Smithfield-market.
30 sellers of harness sets and collars, at an average capital of 15s. each; 6 sellers of saddles and pads, at 15s. each; 10 sellers of bits, at 3s. each; 6 sellers of wheel-springs and trays, at 15s. each; 6 sellers of boards and trestles for stalls, at 10s. each; 20 sellers of barrows, small carts, and trucks, at 5l. each; 6 sellers of goat carriages, at 3l. each; 6 sellers of shooting galleries and guns for ditto, and drums for costers, at 15s. each; 10 sellers of measures, weights, and scales, at 25s. each; 5 sellers of potato cans and roasted-chestnut apparatus, at 5l. each; 3 sellers of ginger-beer trucks, at 5l. each; 6 sellers of pea-soup cans and pickled-eel kettles, 15s. each; 2 sellers of elder-wine vessels, at 15s. each. Thus we find that the average number of street-sellers frequenting Smithfield-market once a week is 116, and the average capital21700
Total amount of Capital belonging to Street-sellers of Second-hand Articles621140
Street-Sellers of Live Animals.
Street-Sellers of Dogs.
Stock-money for 20 sellers (including kennels and keep), at 5l. 15s. each seller11500
Street-Sellers and Duffers of Birds (English).
2400 small cages (reckoning 12 to each seller), at 6d. each; 1200 long cages (allowing 6 cages to each seller), at 2s. each; 1800 large cages (averaging 9 cages to each seller), at 2s. 6d. each. Stock-money for 200 sellers, at 20s. each60500
Street-Sellers of Parrots, &c.
20 cages, at 10s. each; stock-money for 10 sellers, at 30s. each2500
Street-Sellers of Birds’-Nests.
3 hamper baskets, at 6d. each16
Street-Sellers of Squirrels.
Stock-money for 20 vendors, at 10s. each1000
Street-Sellers of Leverets, Wild Rabbits, &c.
6 baskets, at 2s. each; stock-money for 6 vendors, at 5s. each220
Street-Sellers of Gold and Silver Fish.
35 glass globes, at 2s. each; 35 small nets, at 6d. each; stock-money for 35 vendors, at 15s. each30126
Street-Sellers of Tortoises.
Stock-money for 20 vendors, at 10s. each2500
Street-Sellers of Snails, Frogs, Worms, Snakes, Hedgehogs, &c.
14 baskets, at 1s. each140
Total amount of Capital belonging to Street-Sellers of Live Animals798100
Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities.
Street-Sellers of Coals.
30 two-horse vans, at 70l. each; 100 horses, at 20l. each; 100 carts, at 10l. each; 160 horses, at 10l. each; 20 donkey or pony carts, at 1l. each; 20 donkeys or ponies, at 1l. 10s. each; 210 sets of weights and scales, at 1l. 10s. each; stock-money for 210 vendors, at 2l. each7,48500
Street-Sellers of Coke.
100 vans, at 70l. each; 100 horses, at 20l. each; 300 carts, at 10l. each; 300 horses, at 10l. each; 500 donkey-carts, at 1l. each; 500 donkeys, at 1l. each; 200 trucks and barrows, at 10s. each; 4800 sacks for the 100 vans, at 3s. 6d. each; 3600 sacks for the 300 carts; 3000 sacks for the 500 donkey carts; 1652 sacks for the 550 trucks and barrows; 300 sacks for the 50 women; stock-money for 1500 vendors, at 1l. per head19,936120
Street-Sellers of Tan-Turf.
[99]12 donkeys and carts, at 2l. each; 2 trucks, at 15s. each; stock-money for 14 vendors, at 10s. each32100
Street-Sellers of Salt.
75 donkeys and carts, at 2l. 5s. each; 75 barrows, at 10s. each; stock-money for 150 vendors, at 6s. each25150
Street-Sellers of Sand.
20 horses, at 10l. each; 20 carts, at 3l. each; 60 baskets, at 2s. each; wages of 30 men, at 3s. per day for each; expenses for keep of 20 horses, at 10s. per head; estimated stock-money for 30 sellers, at 5s. each; 40 barrows, at 15s. each; stock-money for the barrow-men, at 1s. 6d. each32050
Street-Sellers of Shells.
Stock-money for 70 vendors, at 5s.
Total Capital belonging to Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions, etc.28,04320
River-Sellers of Purl.
35 boats, at 4l. 10s. each; 35 sets of measures, at 5s. the set; 35 warming pots, at 1s. 6d. each; 35 fire-stoves, at 5s. each; 35 gallon cans, at 2s. 6d. each; 70 “pins” of beer, at 4s. per “pin;” 35 quarts of gin, at 2s. 6d. the quart; 35 licences, at 3s. 6d.; stock-money for spice, &c., at 1s. each20850

Hence it would appear that the gross amount of property belonging to the street-sellers may be reckoned as follows:—

Value of stock-in-trade belonging to costermongers25,00000
Ditto street-sellers of green-stuff14900
Ditto street-sellers of eatables and drinkables9,00000
Ditto street-sellers of stationery, literature, and the fine arts40000
Ditto street-sellers of manufactured articles2,80000
Ditto street-sellers of second-hand articles621140
Ditto street-sellers of live animals798100
Ditto street-sellers of mineral productions, &c.28,04320
Ditto river-sellers of purl20850
Total Amount of Capital belonging to the London Street-Sellers67,023110

The gross value of the stock in trade of the London street-sellers may then be estimated at about 60,000l.

Income, or “Takings,” of the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Articles.

We have now to estimate the receipts of each of the above-mentioned classes.

Street-Sellers of Second-hand Metal Wares.
I was told by several in this trade that there were 200 old metal sellers in the streets, but, from the best information at my command, not more than 50 appear to be strictly street-sellers, unconnected with shopkeeping. Estimating a weekly receipt, per individual, of 15s. (half being profit), the yearly street outlay among this body amounts to1,95000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Metal-Trays, &c.
Calculating that 20 persons take in the one or two nights’ sale 4s. a week each, on second-hand trays (33 per cent. being the rate of profit), the street expenditure amounts yearly to20800
Street-Sellers of other Second-hand Metal Articles, as Italian and Flat Irons, &c.
There are, I am informed, 20 persons selling Italian and flat irons regularly throughout the year in the streets of London; each takes upon an average 6s. weekly, which gives an annual expenditure of upwards of31200
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Linen, &c.
There are at present 30 men and women who sell towelling and canvas wrappers in the streets on Saturday and Monday nights, each taking in the sale of those articles 9s. per week, thus giving an annual outlay of70200
Street-Sellers of Second-hand (burnt) Linen and Calico.
The most intelligent man whom I met with in this trade calculated that there were 80 of these second-hand street-folk plying their trade two nights in the week; and that they took 8s. each weekly, about half of it being profit; thus the annual street expenditure would be1,66400
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Curtains.
From the best data at my command there are 30 individuals who are engaged in the street-sale of second-hand curtains, and reckoning the weekly takings of each to be 5s., we find the yearly sum spent in the streets upon second-hand curtains amounts to39000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Carpeting, Flannels, Stocking-legs, &c.
I am informed that the same persons selling curtains sell also second-hand carpeting, &c.; their weekly average takings appear to be about 6s. each in the sale of the above articles, thus we have a yearly outlay of46800
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Bed-ticking, Sacking, Fringe, &c.
[100]The street-sellers of curtains, carpeting, &c., of whom there are 30, are also the street-sellers of bed-ticking, sacking, fringe, &c. Their weekly takings for the sale of these articles amount to 4s. each. Hence we find that the sum spent yearly in the streets upon the purchase of bed-ticking, &c., amounts to31200
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Glass and Crockery.
Calculating that each of the six dealers takes 12s. weekly, with a profit of 6s. or 7s., we find there is annually expended in this department of street-commerce18740
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Miscellaneous Articles.
From the best data I have been able to obtain, it appears that there are five street-sellers engaged in the sale of these second-hand articles of amusement, and the receipts of the whole are 10l. weekly, about half being profit, thus giving a yearly expenditure of52000
Street-Sellers and Duffers of Second-hand Music.
A broker who was engaged in this traffic estimated—and an intelligent street-seller agreed in the computation—that, take the year through, at least 25 individuals are regularly, but few of them fully, occupied with this traffic, and that their weekly takings average 30s. each, or an aggregate yearly amount of 1950l. The weekly profits run from 10s. to 15s., and sometimes the well-known dealers clear 40s. or 50s. a week, while others do not take 5s.1,95000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Weapons.
In this traffic it may be estimated, I am assured, that there are 20 men engaged, each taking, as an average, 1l. a week. In some weeks a man may take 5l.; in the next month he may sell no weapons at all. From 30 to 50 per cent. is the usual rate of profit, and the yearly street outlay on these second-hand offensive or defensive weapons is1,04000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Curiosities.
There are not now more than six men who carry on this trade apart from other commerce. Their average takings are 15s. weekly each man, about two-thirds being profit, or yearly23400
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Telescopes and Pocket-Glasses.
There are only six men at present engaged in the sale of telescopes and pocket-glasses, and their weekly average takings are 30s. each, giving a yearly expenditure in the streets of46800
Street-Sellers of other Second-hand Miscellaneous Articles.
If we reckon that there are 30 street-sellers carrying on a traffic in second-hand miscellaneous articles, and that each takes 10s. weekly, we find the annual outlay in the streets upon these articles amounts to78000
Street-Sellers of Men’s Second-hand Clothes.
The street-sale of men’s second-hand wearing apparel is carried on principally by the Irish and others. From the best information I can gather, there appear to be upwards of 1200 old clothes men buying left-off apparel in the metropolis, one-third of whom are Irish. There are, however, not more than 100 of these who sell in the streets the articles they collect; the average-takings of each of the sellers are about 20s. weekly, their trading being chiefly on the Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Their profits are from 50 to 60 per cent. Estimating the number of sellers at 100, and their weekly takings at 20s. each, we have an annual expenditure of5,20000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Boots and Shoes.
There are at present about 30 individuals engaged in the street-sale of second-hand boots and shoes of all kinds; some take as much as 30s. weekly, while others do not take more than half that amount; their profits being about 50 per cent. Reckoning that the weekly average takings are 20s. each, we have a yearly expenditure on second-hand boots and shoes of1,56000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Hats.
Throughout the year there are not more than 15 men constantly “working” this branch of street-traffic. The average weekly gains of each are about 10s., and in order to clear that sum they must take 20s. Hence the gross gains of the class will be 390l. per annum, while the sum yearly expended in the streets upon second-hand hats will amount altogether to78000
Street-Sellers of Women’s Second-hand Apparel.
[101]The number of persons engaged in the street-sale of women’s second-hand apparel is about 50, each of whom take, upon an average, 15s. per week; one-half of this is clear gain. Thus we find the annual outlay in the streets upon women’s second-hand apparel is no less than1,95000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Bonnets.
There are at present 30 persons (nearly one-half of whom are milliners, and the others street-sellers) who sell second-hand straw and other bonnets; some of these are placed in an umbrella turned upside down, while others are spread upon a wrapper on the stones. The average takings of this class of street-sellers are about 12s. each per week, and their clear gains not more than one-half, thus giving a yearly expenditure of93600
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Furs.
During five months of the year there are as many as 8 or 12 persons who sell furs in the street-markets on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, and Monday nights. The weekly average takings of each is about 12s., nearly three-fourths of which is clear profit. Reckoning that 10 individuals are engaged 20 weeks during the year, and that each of these takes weekly 12s., we find the sum annually expended in the streets on furs amounts to12000
Street-Sellers of Second-hand Articles in Smithfield-market.
I am informed, by those who are in a position to know, that there are sold on an average every year in Smithfield-market about 624 sets of harness, at 14s. per set; 1560 collars, at 2s. each; 686 pads, at 1s. each; 1560 saddles, at 5s. each; 936 bits, at 6d. each; 520 pair of wheels, at 10s. per pair; 624 pair of springs, at 8s. 4d. per pair; 832 pair of trestles, at 2s. 6d. per pair; 520 boards, at 4s. each; 1820 barrows, at 25s. each; 312 trucks, at 50s. each; 208 trays, at 1s. 3d. each; 1040 small carts, at 63s. each; 156 goat-carriages, at 20s. each; 520 shooting-galleries, at 14s. each; 312 guns for shooting-galleries, at 10s. each; 1040 drums for costers, at 3s. each; 2080 measures, at 3d. each; 2080 pair of large scales, at 5s. per pair; 2080 pair of hand-scales, at 5d. per pair; 30 roasted chestnut-apparatus, at 20s. each; 100 ginger-beer trucks, at 30s. each; 20 eel-kettles, at 5s. each; 100 potato-cans, at 17s. each; 10 pea-soup cans, at 5s. each; 40 elderwine vessels, at 8s. each; giving a yearly expenditure of10,24238
Total Sum of Money Annually taken by the Street-Sellers of Second-hand Articles33,46114
Street-Sellers of Live Animals.
Street-Sellers of Dogs (Fancy Pets).
From the best data it appears that each hawker sells “four or five occasionally in one week in the summer, when trade’s brisk and days are long, and only two or three the next week, when trade may be flat, and during each week in winter, when there isn’t the same chance.” Calculating, then, that seven dogs are sold by each hawker in a fortnight, at an average price of 50s. each (many fetch 3l., 4l., and 5l.), and supposing that but 20 men are trading in this line the year through, we find that no less a sum is yearly expended in this street-trade than9,10000
Street-Sellers of Sporting Dogs.
The amount “turned over” in the trade in sporting dogs yearly, in London, is computed by the best informed at about12,00000
Street-Sellers and Duffers of Live Birds. (English).
There are in the metropolis 200 street-sellers of English birds, who may be said to sell among them 7000 linnets, at 3d. each; 3000 bullfinches, at 2s. 6d. each; 400 piping bullfinches, at 63s. each; 7000 goldfinches, at 9d. each; 1500 chaffinches, at 2s. 6d. each; 700 greenfinches, at 3d. each; 6000 larks, at 1s. each; 200 nightingales, at 1s. each; 600 redbreasts, at 1s. each; 3500 thrushes and thrustles, at 2s. 6d. each; 1400 blackbirds, at 2s. 6d. each; 1000 canaries, at 1s. each; 10,000 sparrows, at 1d. each; 1500 starlings, at 1s. 6d. each; 500 magpies and jackdaws, at 9d. each; 300 redpoles, at 9d. each; 150 blackcaps, at 4d. each; 2000 “duffed” birds, at 2s. 6d. each. Thus making the sum annually expended in the purchase of birds in the streets, amount to3,624122
Street-Sellers of Parrots, &c.
[102]The number of individuals at present hawking parrots and other foreign birds in the streets is 10, who sell among them during the year about 500 birds. Reckoning each bird to sell at 1l., we find the annual outlay upon parrots bought in the streets to be 500l.; adding to this the sale of 110 Java sparrows and St. Helena birds, as Wax-bills and Red-beaks at 1s. 6d. each, we have for the sum yearly expended in the streets on the sale of foreign birds50850
Street-Sellers of Birds’-Nests.
There are at present only three persons hawking birds’-nests, &c., in the streets during the season, which lasts from May to August; these street-sellers sell among them 400 nests, at 2½d. each; 144 snakes, at 1s. 6d. each; 4 hedgehogs, at 1s. each; and about 2s.’s worth of snails. This makes the weekly income of each amount to about 8s. 6d. during a period of 12 weeks in the summer, and the sum annually expended on these articles to come to1560
Street-Sellers of Squirrels.
For five months of the year there are 20 men selling squirrels in the streets, at from 20 to 50 per cent. profit, and averaging a weekly sale of six each. The average price is from 2s. to 2s. 6d. Thus 2400 squirrels are vended yearly in the streets, at a cost to the public of24000
Street-Sellers of Leverets, Wild Rabbits, &c.
During the year there are about six individuals exposing for sale in the streets young hares and wild rabbits. These persons sell among them 300 leverets, at 1s. 6d. each; and 400 young wild-rabbits, at 4d. each, giving a yearly outlay of2934
Street-Sellers of Gold and Silver Fish.
If we calculate, in order to allow for the cessation of the trade during the winter, and often in the summer when costermongering is at its best, that but 35 gold-fish sellers hawk in the streets and that for but half a year, each selling six dozen weekly, at 12s. the dozen, we find 65,520 fish sold, at an outlay of3,27600
Street-Sellers of Tortoises.
Estimating the number of individuals selling tortoises to be 20, and the number of tortoises sold to be 10,000, at an average price of 8d. each, we find there is expended yearly upon these creatures upwards of33368
Street-Sellers of Snails, Frogs, &c.
There are 14 snail gatherers, and they, on an average, gather six dozen quarts each in a year, which supplies a total of 12,096 quarts of snails. The labourers in the gardens, I am informed, gather somewhat more than an equal quantity, the greater part being sold to the bird-shops; so that altogether the supply of snails for the caged thrushes and blackbirds of London is about two millions and a half. Computing them at 24,000 quarts, and at 2d. a quart, the annual outlay is 200l. Besides snails, there are collected annually 500 frogs and 18 toads, at 1d. each, giving a yearly expenditure of20232
Total, or Gross “Takings,” of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals23,868164
Income, or “Takings,” of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities.
Street-Sellers of Coals.
The number of individuals engaged in the street-sale of coals is 210; these distribute 2940 tons of coals weekly, giving an annual trade of 152,880 tons, at 1l. per ton, and consequently a yearly expenditure by the poor of152,88000
Street-Sellers of Coke.
The number of individuals engaged in the street-sale of coke is 1500; and the total quantity of coke sold annually in the streets is computed at about 1,400,000 chaldrons. These are purchased at the gas factories at an average price of 8s. per chaldron. Reckoning that this is sold at 4s. per chaldron for profit, we find that the total gains of the whole class amount to 280,000l. per annum, and their gross annual takings to840,00000
Street-Sellers of Tan-Turf.
The number of tan-turf sellers in the metropolis is estimated at 14; each of these dispose of, upon an average, 20,000 per week, during the year; selling them at 1s. per hundred, and realizing a profit of 4½d. for each hundred. This makes the annual outlay in the street-sale of the above article amount to7,28000
Street-Sellers of Salt.
[103]There are at present 150 individuals hawking salt in the several streets of London; each of these pay at the rate of 2s. per cwt. for the salt, and retail it at 3 lbs. for 1d., which leaves 1s. 1d. profit on every cwt. One day with another, wet and dry, each of the street-sellers disposes of about 2½ cwt., or 18 tons 15 cwt. per day for all hands, and this, deducting Sundays, makes 5868 tons 15 cwt. in the course of the year. The profit of 1s. 1d. per cwt. amounts to a yearly aggregate profit of 6357l. 16s. 3d., or about 42l. per annum for each person in the trade; while the sum annually expended upon this article in the streets amounts to18,09563
Street-Sellers of Sand.
Calculating the sale at a load of sand per day, for each horse and cart, at 21s. per load, we find the sum annually expended in house-sand to be 6573l.; adding to this the sum of 234l. spent yearly in bird-sand, the total street-expenditure is6,80700
Street-Sellers of Shells.
There are about 50 individuals disposing of shells at different periods of the year. These sell among them 1,000,000 at 1d. each, giving an annual expenditure of4,166134
Total, or Gross Takings, of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities£1,029,228197
River-Sellers of Purl.
There are at present 35 men following the trade of purl-selling on the river Thames to colliers. The weekly profits of this class amount to 117l. 5s.per week, and yearly to 6097l., while their annual takings is8,19000

Now, adding together the above and the other foregone results, we arrive at the following estimate as to the amount of money annually expended on the several articles purchased in the streets of the metropolis.

“Wet” fish£1,177,200£
Dry fish127,000
Shell fish156,600
Fish of all kinds£1,460,800
Green fruit332,200
Dry fruit1,000
Fruit and Vegetables625,600
Game, poultry, rabbits, &c.80,000
Flowers, roots, &c.14,800
Chickweed, gru’nsel, and turf for birds14,570
Eatables and drinkables203,100
Stationery, literature, and fine arts33,400
Manufactured articles188,200
Second-hand articles29,900
Live animals (including dogs, birds, and gold fish)29,300
Mineral productions (as coals, coke, salt, sand, &c.)1,022,700
Total Sum expended upon the various Articles vended by the Street-Sellers£3,716,270

Hence it appears that the street-sellers, of all ages, in the metropolis are about forty thousand in number—their stock-in-trade is worth about sixty thousand pounds—and their gross annual takings or receipts amount to no less than three millions and a half sterling.


The persons who traverse the streets, or call periodically at certain places to purchase articles which are usually sold at the door or within the house, are—according to the division I laid down in the first number of this work—Street-Buyers. The largest, and, in every respect, the most remarkable body of these traders, are the buyers of old clothes, and of them I shall speak separately, devoting at the same time some space to the Street-Jews. It will also be necessary to give a brief account of the Jews generally, for they are still a peculiar race, and street and shop-trading among them are in many respects closely blended.

The principal things bought by the itinerant purchasers consist of waste-paper, hare and rabbit skins, old umbrellas and parasols, bottles and glass, broken metal, rags, dripping, grease, bones, tea-leaves, and old clothes.

With the exception of the buyers of waste-paper, among whom are many active, energetic, and intelligent men, the street-buyers are of the lower sort, both as to means and intelligence. The only further exception, perhaps, which I need notice here is, that among some umbrella-buyers, there is considerable smartness, and sometimes, in the repair or renewal of the ribs, &c., a slight degree of skill. The other street-purchasers—such as the hare-skin and old metal and rag buyers, are often old and infirm people of both sexes, of whom—perhaps by reason of their infirmities—not a few have been in the trade from their childhood, and are as well known by sight in their respective rounds, as was the “long-remembered beggar” in former times.

It is usually the lot of a poor person who has been driven to the streets, or has adopted such a life when an adult, to sell trifling things—such as are light to carry and require a small outlay—in advanced age. Old men and women totter about offering lucifer-matches, boot and stay-laces, penny memorandum books, and such like. But the elder portion of the street-folk I have now to speak of do not sell, but buy. The street-seller commends his wares, their cheapness, and excellence. The same sort of man, when a buyer, depreciates everything offered to him, in order to ensure a cheaper bargain, while many of the things thus obtained find their way into street-sale, and are then as much commended for cheapness and goodness, as if they were the stock-in-trade of an acute slop advertisement-monger, and this is done sometimes by the very man who, when a buyer, condemned them as utterly valueless. But this is common to all trades.


Of the Street-Buyers of Rags, Broken Metal, Bottles, Glass, and Bones.

I class all these articles under one head, for, on inquiry, I find no individual supporting himself by the trading in any one of them. I shall, therefore, describe the buyers of rags, broken metal, bottles, glass, and bones, as a body of street-traders, but take the articles in which they traffic seriatim, pointing out in what degree they are, or have been, wholly or partially, the staple of several distinct callings.

The traders in these things are not unprosperous men. The poor creatures who may be seen picking up rags in the street are “street-finders,” and not buyers. It is the same with the poor old men who may be seen bending under an unsavoury sack of bones. The bones have been found, or have been given for charity, and are not purchased. One feeble old man whom I met with, his eyes fixed on the middle of the carriage-way in the Old St. Pancras-road, and with whom I had some conversation, told me that the best friend he had in the world was a gentleman who lived in a large house near the Regent’s-park, and gave him the bones which his dogs had done with! “If I can only see hisself, sir,” said the old man, “he’s sure to give me any coppers he has in his coat-pocket, and that’s a very great thing to a poor man like me. O, yes, I’ll buy bones, if I have any ha’pence, rather than go without them; but I pick them up, or have them given to me mostly.”

The street-buyers, who are only buyers, have barrows, sometimes even carts with donkeys, and, as they themselves describe it, they “buy everything.” These men are little seen in London, for they “work” the more secluded courts, streets, and alleys, when in town; but their most frequented rounds are the poorer parts of the populous suburbs. There are many in Croydon, Woolwich, Greenwich, and Deptford. “It’s no use,” a man who had been in the trade said to me, “such as us calling at fine houses to know if they’ve any old keys to sell! No, we trades with the poor.” Often, however, they deal with the servants of the wealthy; and their usual mode of business in such cases is to leave a bill at the house a few hours previous to their visit. This document has frequently the royal arms at the head of it, and asserts that the “firm” has been established since the year ——, which is seldom less than half a century. The hand-bill usually consists of a short preface as to the increased demand for rags on the part of the paper-makers, and this is followed by a liberal offer to give the very best prices for any old linen, or old metal, bottles, rope, stair-rods, locks, keys, dripping, carpeting, &c., “in fact, no rubbish or lumber, however worthless, will be refused;” and generally concludes with a request that this “bill” may be shown to the mistress of the house and preserved, as it will be called for in a couple of hours.

The papers are delivered by one of the “firm,” who marks on the door a sign indicative of the houses at which the bill has been taken in, and the probable reception there of the gentleman who is to follow him. The road taken is also pointed by marks before explained, see vol. i. pp. 218 and 247. These men are residents in all quarters within 20 miles of London, being most numerous in the places at no great distance from the Thames. They work their way from their suburban residences to London, which, of course, is the mart, or “exchange,” for their wares. The reason why the suburbs are preferred is that in those parts the possessors of such things as broken metal, &c., cannot so readily resort to a marine-store dealer’s as they can in town. I am informed, however, that the shops of the marine-store men are on the increase in the more densely-peopled suburbs; still the dwellings of the poor are often widely scattered in those parts, and few will go a mile to sell any old thing. They wait in preference, unless very needy, for the visit of the street-buyer.

A good many years ago—perhaps until 30 years back—rags, and especially white and good linen rags, were among the things most zealously inquired for by street-buyers, and then 3d. a pound was a price readily paid. Subsequently the paper-manufacturers brought to great and economical perfection the process of boiling rags in lye and bleaching them with chlorine, so that colour became less a desideratum. A few years after the peace of 1815, moreover, the foreign trade in rags increased rapidly. At the present time, about 1200 tons of woollen rags, and upwards of 10,000 tons of linen rags, are imported yearly. These 10,000 tons give us but a vague notion of the real amount. I may therefore mention that, when reduced to a more definite quantity, they show a total of no less than twenty-two millions four hundred thousand pounds. The woollen rags are imported the most largely from Hamburg and Bremen, the price being from 5l. to 17l. the ton. Linen rags, which average nearly 20l. the ton, are imported from the same places, and from several Italian ports, more especially those in Sicily. Among these ports are Palermo, Messina, Ancona, Leghorn, and Trieste (the Trieste rags being gathered in Hungary). The value of the rags annually brought to this country is no less than 200,000l. What the native rags may be worth, there are no facts on which to ground an estimate; but supposing each person of the 20,000,000 in Great Britain to produce one pound of rags annually, then the rags of this country may be valued at very nearly the same price as the foreign ones, so that the gross value of the rags of Great Britain imported and produced at home, would, in such a case, amount to 400,000l. From France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, and other continental kingdoms, the exportation of rags is prohibited, nor can so bulky and low-priced a commodity be smuggled to advantage.

Of this large sum of rags, which is independent of what is collected in the United Kingdom, the Americans are purchasers on an extensive scale. The wear of cotton is almost unknown in many parts of Italy, Germany, and Hungary; and although[105] the linen in use is coarse and, compared to the Irish, Scotch, or English, rudely manufactured, the foreign rags are generally linen, and therefore are preferred at the paper mills. The street-buyers in this country, however, make less distinction than ever, as regards price, between linen and cotton rags.

The linen rag-buying is still prosecuted extensively by itinerant “gatherers” in the country, and in the further neighbourhoods of London, but the collection is not to the extent it was formerly. The price is lower, and, owing to the foreign trade, the demand is less urgent; so common, too, is now the wear of cotton, and so much smaller that of linen, that many people will not sell linen rags, but reserve them for use in case of cuts and wounds, or for giving to their poor neighbours on any such emergency. This was done doubtlessly to as great, or to a greater extent, in the old times, but linen rags were more plentiful then, for cotton shirting was not woven to the perfection seen at present, and many good country housewives spun their own linen sheetings and shirtings.

A street-buyer of the class I have described, upon presenting himself at any house, offers to buy rags, broken metal, or glass, and for rags especially there is often a serious bargaining, and sometimes, I was told by an itinerant street-seller, who had been an ear-witness, a little joking not of the most delicate kind. For coloured rags these men give ½d. a pound, or 1d. for three pounds; for inferior white rags ½d. a pound, and up to 1½d.; for the best, 2d. the pound. It is common, however, and even more common, I am assured, among masters of the old rag and bottle shops, than among street-buyers, to announce 2d. or 3d., or even as much as 6d., for the best rags, but, somehow or other, the rags taken for sale to those buyers never are of the best. To offer 6d. a pound for rags is ridiculous, but such an offer may be seen at some rag-shops, the figure 6, perhaps, crowning a painting of a large plum-pudding, as a representation of what may be a Christmas result, merely from the thrifty preservation of rags, grease, and dripping. Some of the street-buyers, when working the suburbs or the country, attach a similar “illustration” to their barrows or carts. I saw the winter placard of one of these men, which he was reserving for a country excursion as far as Rochester, “when the plum-pudding time was a-coming.” In this pictorial advertisement a man and woman, very florid and full-faced, were on the point of enjoying a huge plum-pudding, the man flourishing a large knife, and looking very hospitable. On a scroll which issued from his mouth were the words: “From our rags! The best prices given by —— ——, of London.” The woman in like manner exclaimed: “From dripping and house fat! The best prices given by —— ——, of London.”

This man told me that at some times, both in town and country, he did not buy a pound of rags in a week. He had heard the old hands in the trade say, that 20 or 30 years back they could “gather” (the word generally used for buying) twice and three times as many rags as at present. My informant attributed this change to two causes, depending more upon what he had heard from experienced street-buyers than upon his own knowledge. At one time it was common for a mistress to allow her maid-servant to “keep a rag-bag,” in which all refuse linen, &c., was collected for sale for the servant’s behoof; a privilege now rarely accorded. The other cause was that working-people’s wives had less money at their command now than they had formerly, so that instead of gathering a good heap for the man who called on them periodically, they ran to a marine store-shop and sold them by one, two, and three pennyworths at a time. This related to all the things in the street-buyer’s trade, as well as to rags.

“I’ve known this trade ten years or so,” said my informant, “I was a costermonger before that, and I work coster-work now in the summer, and buy things in the winter. Before Christmas is the best time for second-hand trade. When I set out on a country round—and I’ve gone as far as Guildford and Maidstone, and St. Alban’s—I lays in as great a stock of glass and crocks as I can raise money for, or as my donkey or pony—I’ve had both, but I’m working a ass now—can drag without distressing him. I swops my crocks for anythink in the second-hand way, and when I’ve got through them I buys outright, and so works my way back to London. I bring back what I’ve bought in the crates and hampers I’ve had to pack the crocks in. The first year as I started I got hold of a few very tidy rags, coloured things mostly. The Jew I sold ’em to when I got home again gave me more than I expected. O, lord no, not more than I asked! He told me, too, that he’d buy any more I might have, as they was wanted at some town not very far off, where there was a call for them for patching quilts. I haven’t heard of a call for any that way since. I get less and less rags every year, I think. Well, I can’t say what I got last year; perhaps about two stone. No, none of them was woollen. They’re things as people’s seldom satisfied with the price for, is rags. I’ve bought muslin window curtains or frocks as was worn, and good for nothink but rags, but there always seems such a lot, and they weighs so light and comes to so little, that there’s sure to be grumbling. I’ve sometimes bought a lot of old clothes, by the lump, or I’ve swopped crocks for them, and among them there’s frequently been things as the Jew in Petticoat-lane, what I sells them to, has put o’ one side as rags. If I’d offered to give rag prices, them as I got ’em of would have been offended, and have thought I wanted to cheat. When you get a lot at one go, and ’specially if it’s for crocks, you must make the best of them. This for that, and t’other for t’other. I stay at the beer-shops and little inns in the country. Some of the landlords looks very shy at one, if you’re a stranger, acause, if the police detectives is after anythink, they go as hawkers, or barrowmen, or somethink that way.” [This statement as to the police is correct; but the man did not know how it came to his knowledge; he had “heard of it,” he believed.] “I’ve very seldom slept in a common lodging-house. I’d[106] rather sleep on my barrow.” [I have before had occasion to remark the aversion of the costermonger class to sleep in low lodging-houses. These men, almost always, and from the necessities of their calling, have rooms of their own in London; so that, I presume, they hate to sleep in public, as the accommodation for repose in many a lodging-house may very well be called. At any rate the costermongers, of all classes of street-sellers, when on their country excursions, resort the least to the lodging-houses.] “The last round I had in the country, as far as Reading and Pangbourne, I was away about five weeks, I think, and came back a better man by a pound; that was all. I mean I had 30 shillings’ worth of things to start with, and when I’d got back, and turned my rags, and old metal, and things into money, I had 50s. To be sure Jenny (the ass) and me lived well all the time, and I bought a pair of half-boots and a pair of stockings at Reading, so it weren’t so bad. Yes, sir, there’s nothing I likes better than a turn into the country. It does one’s health good, if it don’t turn out so well for profits as it might.”

My informant, the rag-dealer, belonged to the best order of costermongers; one proof of this was in the evident care which he had bestowed on Jenny, his donkey. There were no loose hairs on her hide, and her harness was clean and whole, and I observed after a pause to transact business on his round, that the animal held her head towards her master to be scratched, and was petted with a mouthful of green grass and clover, which the costermonger had in a corner of his vehicle.

Tailor’s cuttings, which consist of cloth, satin, lining materials, fustian, waistcoatings, silk, &c., are among the things which the street-buyers are the most anxious to become possessed of on a country round; for, as will be easily understood by those who have read the accounts before given of the Old Clothes Exchange, and of Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, they are available for many purposes in London.

Dressmaker’s cuttings are also a portion of the street-buyer’s country traffic, but to no great extent, and hardly ever, I am told, unless the street-buyer, which is not often the case, be accompanied on his round by his wife. In town, tailor’s cuttings are usually sold to the piece-brokers, who call or send men round to the shops or workshops for the purpose of buying them, and it is the same with the dressmaker’s cuttings.

Old metal, or broken metal, for I heard one appellation used as frequently as the other, is bought by the same description of traders. This trade, however, is prosecuted in town by the street-buyers more largely than in the country, and so differs from the rag business. The carriage of old iron bolts and bars is exceedingly cumbersome; nor can metal be packed or stowed away like old clothes or rags. This makes the street-buyer indifferent as to the collecting of what I heard one of them call “country iron.” By “metal” the street-folk often mean copper (most especially), brass, or pewter, in contradistinction to the cheaper substances of iron or lead. In the country they are most anxious to buy “metal;” whereas, in town, they as readily purchase “iron.” When the street-buyers give merely the worth of any metal by weight to be disposed of, in order to be re-melted, or re-wrought in some manner, by the manufacturers, the following are the average prices:—Copper, 6d. per lb.; pewter, 5d.; brass, 5d.; iron, 6 lbs. for 1d., and 8 lbs. for 2d. (a smaller quantity than 6 lbs. is seldom bought); and 1d. and 1¼d. per lb. for lead. Old zinc is not a metal which “comes in the way” of the street-buyer, nor—as one of them told me with a laugh—old silver. Tin is never bought by weight in the streets.

It must be understood that the prices I have mentioned are those given for old or broken metal, valueless unless for re-working. When an old metal article is still available, or may be easily made available, for the use for which it was designed, the street-purchase is by “the piece,” rather than the weight.

The broken pans, scuttles, kettles, &c., concerning one of the uses of which I have quoted Mr. Babbage, in page 6 of the present volume, as to the conversion of these worn-out vessels into the light and japanned edgings, or clasps, called “clamps,” or “clips,” by the trunk-makers, and used to protect or strengthen the corners of boxes and packing-cases, are purchased sometimes by the street-buyers, but fall more properly under the head of what constitutes a portion of the stock-in-trade of the street-finder. They are not bought by weight, but so much for the pan, perhaps so much along with other things; a halfpenny, a penny, or occasionally two-pence, and often only a farthing, or three pans for a penny. The uses for these things which the street-buyers have more especially in view, are not those mentioned by Mr. Babbage (the trunk clamps), but the conversion of them into the “iron shovels,” or strong dust-pans sold in the streets. One street artisan supports himself and his family by the making of dust-pans from such grimy old vessels.

As in the result of my inquiry among the street-sellers of old metal, I am of opinion that the street-buyers also are not generally mixed up with the receipt of stolen goods. That they may be so to some extent is probable enough; in the same proportion, perhaps, as highly respectable tradesmen have been known to buy the goods of fraudulent bankrupts, and others. The street-buyers are low itinerants, seen regularly by the police and easy to be traced, and therefore, for one reason, cautious. In one of my inquiries among the young thieves and pickpockets in the low lodging-houses, I heard frequent accounts of their selling the metal goods they stole, to “fences,” and in one particular instance, to the mistress of a lodging-house, who had conveniences for the melting of pewter pots (called “cats and kittens” by the young thieves, according to the size of the vessels), but I never heard them speak of any connection, or indeed any transactions, with street-folk.

Among the things purchased in great quantities by the street-buyers of old metal are keys. The[107] keys so bought are of every size, are generally very rusty, and present every form of manufacture, from the simplest to the most complex wards. On my inquiring how such a number of keys without locks came to be offered for street-sale, I was informed that there were often duplicate or triplicate keys to one lock, and that in sales of household furniture, for instance, there were often numbers of odd keys found about the premises and sold “in a lump;” that locks were often spoiled and unsaleable, wearing out long before the keys. Twopence a dozen is an usual price for a dozen “mixed keys,” to a street-buyer. Bolts are also freely bought by the street-people, as are holdfasts, bed-keys, and screws, “and everything,” I was told, “which some one or other among the poor is always a-wanting.”

A little old man, who had been many years a street-buyer, gave me an account of his purchases of bottles and glass. This man had been a soldier in his youth; had known, as he said, “many ups and downs;” and occasionally wheels a barrow, somewhat larger and shallower than those used by masons, from which he vends iron and tin wares, such as cheap gridirons, stands for hand-irons, dust-pans, dripping trays, &c. As he sold these wares, he offered to buy, or swop for, any second-hand commodities. “As to the bottle and glass buying, sir,” he said, “it’s dead and buried in the streets, and in the country too. I’ve known the day when I’ve cleared 2l. in a week by buying old things in a country round. How long was that ago, do you say, sir? Why perhaps twenty years; yes, more than twenty. Now, I’d hardly pick up odd glass in the street.” [He called imperfect glass wares “odd glass.”] “O, I don’t know what’s brought about such a change, but everything changes. I can’t say anything about the duty on glass. No, I never paid any duty on my glass; it ain’t likely. I buy glass still, certainly I do, but I think if I depended on it I should be wishing myself in the East Injes again, rather than such a poor consarn of a business—d——n me if I shouldn’t. The last glass bargain I made about two months back, down Limehouse-way, and about the Commercial-road, I cleared 7d. by; and then I had to wheel what I bought—it was chiefly bottles—about five mile. It’s a trade would starve a cat, the buying of old glass. I never bought glass by weight, but I’ve heard of some giving a halfpenny and a penny a pound. I always bought by the piece: from a halfpenny to a shilling (but that’s long since) for a bottle; and farthings and halfpennies, and higher and sometimes lower, for wine and other glasses as was chipped or cracked, or damaged, for they could be sold in them days. People’s got proud now, I fancy that’s one thing, and must have everything slap. O, I do middling: I live by one thing or other, and when I die there’ll just be enough to bury the old man.” [This is the first street-trader I have met with who made such a statement as to having provided for his interment, though I have heard these men occasionally express repugnance at the thoughts of being buried by the parish.] “I have a daughter, that’s all my family now; she does well as a laundress, and is a real good sort; I have my dinner with her every Sunday. She’s a widow without any young ones. I often go to church, both with my daughter and by myself, on Sunday evenings. It does one good. I’m fond of the music and singing too. The sermon I can very seldom make anything of, as I can’t hear well if any one’s a good way off me when he’s saying anythink. I buy a little old metal sometimes, but it’s coming to be all up with street glass-people; everybody seems to run with their things to the rag-and-bottle-shops.”

The same body of traders buy also old sacking, carpeting, and moreen bed-curtains and window-hangings; but the trade in them is sufficiently described in my account of the buying of rags, for it is carried on in the same way, so much per pound (1d. or 1½d. or 2d.), or so much for the lot.

Of Bones I have already spoken. They are bought by any street-collector with a cart, on his round in town, at a halfpenny a pound, or three pounds for a penny; but it is a trade, on account of the awkwardness of carriage, little cared for by the regular street-buyers. Men, connected with some bone-grinding-mill, go round with a horse and cart to the knackers and butchers to collect bones; but this is a portion, not of street, but of the mill-owner’s, business. These bones are ground for manure, which is extensively used by the agriculturists, having been first introduced in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire about 30 years ago. The importation of bones is now very great; more than three times as much as it was 20 years back. The value of the foreign bones imported is estimated at upwards of 300,000l. yearly. They are brought from South America (along with hides), from Germany, Holland, and Belgium.

The men who most care to collect bones in the streets of London are old and infirm, and they barter toys for them with poor children; for those children sometimes gather bones in the streets and put them on one side, or get them from dustholes, for the sake of exchanging them for a plaything; or, indeed, for selling them to any shopkeeper, and many of the rag-and-bottle-tradesmen buy bones. The toys most used for this barter are paper “wind-mills.” These toy-barterers, when they have a few pence, will buy bones of children or any others, if they cannot become possessed of them otherwise; but the carriage of the bones is a great obstacle to much being done in this business.

In the regular way of street-buying, such as I have described it, there are about 100 men in London and the suburbs. Some buy only during a portion of the year, and none perhaps (except in the way of barter) the year round. They are chiefly of the costermonger class, some of the street-buyers however, have been carmen’s servants, or connected with trades in which they had the care of a horse and cart, and so became habituated to a street-life.

There are still many other ways in which the commerce in refuse and the second-hand street-trade is supplied. As the windmill-seller for bones, so will the puppet-show man for old bottles or broken table-spoons, or almost any old trifle, allow children to regale their eyes on the beauties of his exhibition.


The trade expenditure of the street-buyers it is not easy to estimate. Their calling is so mixed with selling and bartering, that very probably not one among them can tell what he expends in buying, as a separate branch of his business. If 100 men expend 15s. each weekly, in the purchase of rags, old metal, &c., and if this trade be prosecuted for 30 weeks of the year, we find 2250l. so expended. The profits of the buyers range from 20 to 100 per cent.

Of the “Rag-and-Bottle,” and the “Marine-Store,” Shops.

The principal purchasers of any refuse or worn-out articles are the proprietors of the rag-and-bottle-shops. Some of these men make a good deal of money, and not unfrequently unite with the business the letting out of vans for the conveyance of furniture, or for pleasure excursions, to such places as Hampton Court. The stench in these shops is positively sickening. Here in a small apartment may be a pile of rags, a sack-full of bones, the many varieties of grease and “kitchen-stuff,” corrupting an atmosphere which, even without such accompaniments, would be too close. The windows are often crowded with bottles, which exclude the light; while the floor and shelves are thick with grease and dirt. The inmates seem unconscious of this foulness,—and one comparatively wealthy man, who showed me his horses, the stable being like a drawing-room compared to his shop, in speaking of the many deaths among his children, could not conjecture to what cause it could be owing. This indifference to dirt and stench is the more remarkable, as many of the shopkeepers have been gentlemen’s servants, and were therefore once accustomed to cleanliness and order. The door-posts and windows of the rag-and-bottle-shops are often closely placarded, and the front of the house is sometimes one glaring colour, blue or red; so that the place may be at once recognised, even by the illiterate, as the “red house,” or the “blue house.” If these men are not exactly street-buyers, they are street-billers, continually distributing hand-bills, but more especially before Christmas. The more aristocratic, however, now send round cards, and to the following purport:—

No. —               No. —

Where you can obtain Gold and Silver to any amount.


For all the undermentioned articles, viz:—
The utmost value given for all kinds of Wearing Apparel.

Furniture and Lumber of every description bought, and
full value given at his Miscellaneous Warehouse.

Articles sent for.

Some content themselves with sending hand-bills to the houses in their neighbourhood, which many of the cheap printers keep in type, so that an alteration in the name and address is all which is necessary for any customer.

I heard that suspicions were entertained that it was to some of these traders that the facilities with which servants could dispose of their pilferings might be attributed, and that a stray silver spoon might enhance the weight and price of kitchen-stuff. It is not pertaining to my present subject to enter into the consideration of such a matter; and I might not have alluded to it, had not I found the regular street-buyers fond of expressing an opinion of the indifferent honesty of this body of traders; but my readers may have remarked how readily the street-people have, on several occasions, justified (as they seem to think) their own delinquencies by quoting what they declared were as great and as frequent delinquencies on the part of shopkeepers: “I know very well,” said an intelligent street-seller on one occasion, “that two wrongs can never make a right; but tricks that shopkeepers practise to grow rich upon we must practise, just as they do, to live at all. As long as they give short weight and short measure, the streets can’t help doing the same.”

The rag-and-bottle and the marine-store shops are in many instances but different names for the same description of business. The chief distinction appears to be this: the marine-store shopkeepers (proper) do not meddle with what is a very principal object of traffic with the rag-and-bottle man, the purchase of dripping, as well as of every kind of refuse in the way of fat or grease. The marine-store man, too, is more miscellaneous in his wares than his contemporary of the rag-and-bottle-store, as the former will purchase any of the smaller articles of household furniture, old tea-caddies, knife-boxes, fire-irons, books, pictures, draughts and backgammon boards, bird-cages, Dutch clocks, cups and saucers, tools and brushes. The-rag-and-bottle tradesman will readily purchase any of these things to be disposed of as old metal or waste-paper, but his brother tradesman buys them to be re-sold and re-used for the purposes for which they were originally manufactured. When furniture, however, is the staple of one of these second-hand storehouses, the proprietor is a furniture-broker, and not a marine-store dealer. If, again, the dealer in these stores confine his business to the purchase of old metals, for instance, he is classed as an old metal dealer, collecting it or buying it of collectors, for sale to iron-founders, coppersmiths, brass-founders, and plumbers. In perhaps the majority of instances there is little or no distinction between the establishments I have spoken of. The dolly business is common to both, but most common to the marine-store dealer, and of it I shall speak afterwards.

These shops are exceedingly numerous. Perhaps in the poorer and smaller streets they are more numerous even than the chandlers’ or the beer-sellers’ places. At the corner of a small[109] street, both in town and the nearer suburbs, will frequently be found the chandler’s shop, for the sale of small quantities of cheese, bacon, groceries, &c., to the poor. Lower down may be seen the beer-seller’s; and in the same street there is certain to be one rag-and-bottle or marine-store shop, very often two, and not unfrequently another in some adjacent court.

I was referred to the owner of a marine-store shop, as to a respectable man, keeping a store of the best class. Here the counter, or table, or whatever it is to be called, for it was somewhat nondescript, by an ingenious contrivance could be pushed out into the street, so that in bad weather the goods which were at other times exposed in the street could be drawn inside without trouble. The glass frames of the window were removable, and were placed on one side in the shop, for in the summer an open casement seemed to be preferred. This is one of the remaining old trade customs still seen in London; for previously to the great fire in 1666, and the subsequent rebuilding of the city, shops with open casements, and protected from the weather by overhanging eaves, or by a sloping wooden roof, were general.

The house I visited was an old one, and abounded in closets and recesses. The fire-place, which apparently had been large, was removed, and the space was occupied with a mass of old iron of every kind; all this was destined for the furnace of the iron-founder, wrought iron being preferred for several of the requirements of that trade. A chest or range of very old drawers, with defaced or worn-out labels—once a grocer’s or a chemist’s—was stuffed, in every drawer, with old horse-shoe nails (valuable for steel manufacturers), and horse and donkey shoes; brass knobs; glass stoppers; small bottles (among them a number of the cheap cast “hartshorn bottles”); broken pieces of brass and copper; small tools (such as shoemakers’ and harness-makers’ awls), punches, gimlets, plane-irons, hammer heads, &c.; odd dominoes, dice, and backgammon-men; lock escutcheons, keys, and the smaller sort of locks, especially padlocks; in fine, any small thing which could be stowed away in such a place.

In one corner of the shop had been thrown, the evening before, a mass of old iron, then just bought. It consisted of a number of screws of different lengths and substance; of broken bars and rails; of the odds and ends of the cogged wheels of machinery, broken up or worn out; of odd-looking spikes, and rings, and links; all heaped together and scarcely distinguishable. These things had all to be assorted; some to be sold for re-use in their then form; the others to be sold that they might be melted and cast into other forms. The floor was intricate with hampers of bottles; heaps of old boots and shoes; old desks and work-boxes; pictures (all modern) with and without frames; waste-paper, the most of it of quarto, and some larger sized, soiled or torn, and strung closely together in weights of from 2 to 7 lbs.; and a fire-proof safe, stuffed with old fringes, tassels, and other upholstery goods, worn and discoloured. The miscellaneous wares were carried out into the street, and ranged by the door-posts as well as in front of the house. In some small out-houses in the yard were piles of old iron and tin pans, and of the broken or separate parts of harness.

From the proprietor of this establishment I had the following account:—

“I’ve been in the business more than a dozen years. Before that, I was an auctioneer’s, and then a furniture broker’s, porter. I wasn’t brought up to any regular trade, but just to jobbing about, and a bad trade it is, as all trades is that ain’t regular employ for a man. I had some money when my father died—he kept a chandler’s shop—and I bought a marine.” [An elliptical form of speech among these traders.] “I gave 10l. for the stock, and 5l. for entrance and good-will, and agreed to pay what rents and rates was due. It was a smallish stock then, for the business had been neglected, but I have no reason to be sorry for my bargain, though it might have been better. There’s lots taken in about good-wills, but perhaps not so many in my way of business, because we’re rather ‘fly to a dodge.’ It’s a confined sort of life, but there’s no help for that. Why, as to my way of trade, you’d be surprised, what different sorts of people come to my shop. I don’t mean the regular hands; but the chance comers. I’ve had men dressed like gentlemen—and no doubt they was respectable when they was sober—bring two or three books, or a nice cigar case, or anythink that don’t show in their pockets, and say, when as drunk as blazes, ‘Give me what you can for this; I want it sold for a particular purpose.’ That particular purpose was more drink, I should say; and I’ve known the same men come back in less than a week, and buy what they’d sold me at a little extra, and be glad if I had it by me still. O, we sees a deal of things in this way of life. Yes, poor people run to such as me. I’ve known them come with such things as teapots, and old hair mattresses, and flock beds, and then I’m sure they’re hard up—reduced for a meal. I don’t like buying big things like mattresses, though I do purchase ’em sometimes. Some of these sellers are as keen as Jews at a bargain; others seem only anxious to get rid of the things and have hold of some bit of money anyhow. Yes, sir, I’ve known their hands tremble to receive the money, and mostly the women’s. They haven’t been used to it, I know, when that’s the case. Perhaps they comes to sell to me what the pawns won’t take in, and what they wouldn’t like to be seen selling to any of the men that goes about buying things in the street.

“Why, I’ve bought everythink; at sales by auction there’s often ‘lots’ made up of different things, and they goes for very little. I buy of people, too, that come to me, and of the regular hands that supply such shops as mine. I sell retail, and I sell to hawkers. I sell to anybody, for gentlemen’ll come into my shop to buy anythink that’s took their fancy in passing. Yes, I’ve bought old oil paintings. I’ve heard of some being bought by people in my way as have turned out stunners, and was sold for a[110] hundred pounds or more, and cost, perhaps, half-a-crown or only a shilling. I never experienced such a thing myself. There’s a good deal of gammon about it. Well, it’s hardly possible to say anything about a scale of prices. I give 2d. for an old tin or metal teapot, or an old saucepan, and sometimes, two days after I’ve bought such a thing, I’ve sold it for 3d. to the man or woman I’ve bought it of. I’ll sell cheaper to them than to anybody else, because they come to me in two ways—both as sellers and buyers. For pictures I’ve given from 3d. to 1s. I fancy they’re among the last things some sorts of poor people, which is a bit fanciful, parts with. I’ve bought them of hawkers, but often I refuse them, as they’ve given more than I could get. Pictures requires a judge. Some brought to me was published by newspapers and them sort of people. Waste-paper I buy as it comes. I can’t read very much, and don’t understand about books. I take the backs off and weighs them, and gives 1d., and 1½d., and 2d. a pound, and there’s an end. I sell them at about ¼d. a pound profit, or sometimes less, to men as we calls ‘waste’ men. It’s a poor part of our business, but the books and paper takes up little room, and then it’s clean and can be stowed anywhere, and is a sure sale. Well, the people as sells ‘waste’ to me is not such as can read, I think; I don’t know what they is; perhaps they’re such as obtains possession of the books and what-not after the death of old folks, and gets them out of the way as quick as they can. I know nothink about what they are. Last week, a man in black—he didn’t seem rich—came into my shop and looked at some old books, and said ‘Have you any black lead?’ He didn’t speak plain, and I could hardly catch him. I said, ‘No, sir, I don’t sell black lead, but you’ll get it at No. 27,’ but he answered, ‘Not black lead, but black letter,’ speaking very pointed. I said, ‘No,’ and I haven’t a notion what he meant.

“Metal (copper) that I give 5d. or 5½d. for, I can sell to the merchants from 6½d. to 8d. the pound. It’s no great trade, for they’ll often throw things out of the lot and say they’re not metal. Sometimes, it would hardly be a farthing in a shilling, if it war’n’t for the draught in the scales. When we buys metal, we don’t notice the quarters of the pounds; all under a quarter goes for nothink. When we buys iron, all under half pounds counts nothink. So when we buys by the pound, and sells by the hundredweight, there’s a little help from this, which we calls the draught.

“Glass bottles of all qualities I buys at three for a halfpenny, and sometimes four, up to 2d. a-piece for ‘good stouts’ (bottled-porter vessels), but very seldom indeed 2d., unless it’s something very prime and big like the old quarts (quart bottles). I seldom meddles with decanters. It’s very few decanters as is offered to me, either little or big, and I’m shy of them when they are. There’s such a change in glass. Them as buys in the streets brings me next to nothing now to buy; they both brought and bought a lot ten year back and later. I never was in the street-trade in second-hand, but it’s not what it was. I sell in the streets, when I put things outside, and know all about the trade.

“It ain’t a fortnight back since a smart female servant, in slap-up black, sold me a basket-full of doctor’s bottles. I knew her master, and he hadn’t been buried a week before she come to me, and she said, ‘missus is glad to get rid of them, for they makes her cry.’ They often say their missusses sends things, and that they’re not on no account to take less than so much. That’s true at times, and at times it ain’t. I gives from 1½d. to 3d. a dozen for good new bottles. I’m sure I can’t say what I give for other odds and ends; just as they’re good, bad, or indifferent. It’s a queer trade. Well, I pay my way, but I don’t know what I clear a week—about 2l. I dare say, but then there’s rent, rates, and taxes to pay, and other expenses.”

The Dolly system is peculiar to the rag-and-bottle man, as well as to the marine-store dealer. The name is derived from the black wooden doll, in white apparel, which generally hangs dangling over the door of the marine-store shops, or of the “rag-and-bottles,” but more frequently the last-mentioned. This type of the business is sometimes swung above their doors by those who are not dolly-shop keepers. The dolly-shops are essentially pawn-shops, and pawn-shops for the very poorest. There are many articles which the regular pawnbrokers decline to accept as pledges. Among these things are blankets, rugs, clocks, flock-beds, common pictures, “translated” boots, mended trowsers, kettles, saucepans, trays, &c. Such things are usually styled “lumber.” A poor person driven to the necessity of raising a few pence, and unwilling to part finally with his lumber, goes to the dolly-man, and for the merest trifle advanced, deposits one or other of the articles I have mentioned, or something similar. For an advance of 2d. or 3d., a halfpenny a week is charged, but the charge is the same if the pledge be redeemed next day. If the interest be paid at the week’s end, another 1d. is occasionally advanced, and no extra charge exacted for interest. If the interest be not paid at the week or fortnight’s end, the article is forfeited, and is sold at a large profit by the dolly-shop man. For 4d. or 6d. advanced, the weekly interest is 1d.; for 9d. it is 1½d.; for 1s. it is 2d., and 2d. on each 1s. up to 5s., beyond which sum the “dolly” will rarely go; in fact, he will rarely advance as much. Two poor Irish flower girls, whom I saw in the course of my inquiry into that part of street-traffic, had in the winter very often to pledge the rug under which they slept at a dolly-shop in the morning for 6d., in order to provide themselves with stock-money to buy forced violets, and had to redeem it on their return in the evening, when they could, for 7d. Thus 6d. a week was sometimes paid for a daily advance of that sum. Some of these “illicit” pawnbrokers even give tickets.

This incidental mention of what is really an immense trade, as regards the number of pledges, is all that is necessary under the present head of inquiry, but I purpose entering into this branch of the subject fully and minutely when I come to treat of the class of “distributors.”


The iniquities to which the poor are subject are positively monstrous. A halfpenny a day interest on a loan of 2d. is at the rate of 7280 per cent. per annum!

Of the Buyers of Kitchen-Stuff, Grease, and Dripping.

This body of traders cannot be classed as street-buyers, so that only a brief account is here necessary. The buyers are not now chance people, itinerant on any round, as at one period they were to a great extent, but they are the proprietors of the rag and bottle and marine-store shops, or those they employ.

In this business there has been a considerable change. Until of late years women, often wearing suspiciously large cloaks and carrying baskets, ventured into perhaps every area in London, and asked for the cook at every house where they thought a cook might be kept, and this often at early morning. If the well-cloaked woman was known, business could be transacted without delay: if she were a stranger, she recommended herself by offering very liberal terms for “kitchen-stuff.” The cook’s, or kitchen-maid’s, or servant-of-all-work’s “perquisites,” were then generally disposed of to these collectors, some of whom were charwomen in the houses they resorted to for the purchase of the kitchen-stuff. They were often satisfied to purchase the dripping, &c., by the lump, estimating the weight and the value by the eye. In this traffic was frequently mixed up a good deal of pilfering, directly or indirectly. Silver spoons were thus disposed of. Candles, purposely broken and crushed, were often part of the grease; in the dripping, butter occasionally added to the weight; in the “stock” (the remains of meat boiled down for the making of soup) were sometimes portions of excellent meat fresh from the joints which had been carved at table; and among the broken bread, might be frequently seen small loaves, unbroken.

There is no doubt that this mode of traffic by itinerant charwomen, &c., is still carried on, but to a much smaller extent than formerly. The cook’s perquisites are in many cases sold under the inspection of the mistress, according to agreement; or taken to the shop by the cook or some fellow-servant; or else sent for by the shopkeeper. This is done to check the confidential, direct, and immediate trade-intercourse between merely two individuals, the buyer and seller, by making the transaction more open and regular. I did not hear of any persons who merely purchase the kitchen-stuff, as street-buyers, and sell it at once to the tallow-melter or the soap-boiler; it appears all to find its way to the shops I have described, even when bought by charwomen; while the shopkeepers send for it or receive it in the way I have stated, so that there is but little of street traffic in the matter.

One of these shopkeepers told me that in this trading, as far as his own opinion went, there was as much trickery as ever, and that many gentlefolk quietly made up their minds to submit to it, while others, he said, “kept the house in hot water” by resisting it. I found, however, the general opinion to be, that when servants could only dispose of these things to known people, the responsibility of the buyer as well as the seller was increased, and acted as a preventive check.

The price for kitchen-stuff is 1d. and 1½d. the pound; for dripping—used by the poor as a substitute for butter—3½d. to 5d.

Of the Street-Buyers of Hare and Rabbit Skins.

These buyers are for the most part poor, old, or infirm people, and I am informed that the majority have been in some street business, and often as buyers, all their lives. Besides having derived this information from well-informed persons, I may point out that this is but a reasonable view of the case. If a mechanic, a labourer, or a gentleman’s servant, resorts to the streets for his bread, or because he is of a vagrant “turn,” he does not become a buyer, but a seller. Street-selling is the easier process. It is easy for a man to ascertain that oysters, for example, are sold wholesale at Billingsgate, and if he buy a bushel (as in the present summer) for 5s., it is not difficult to find out how many he can afford for “a penny a lot.” But the street-buyer must not only know what to give, for hare-skins for instance, but what he can depend upon getting from the hat-manufacturers, or hat-furriers, and upon having a regular market. Thus a double street-trade knowledge is necessary, and a novice will not care to meddle with any form of open-air traffic but the simplest. Neither is street-buying (old clothes excepted) generally cared for by adults who have health and strength.

In the course of a former inquiry I received an account of hareskin-buying from a woman, upwards of fifty, who had been in the trade, she told me, from childhood, “as was her mother before her.” The husband, who was lame, and older than his wife, had been all his life a field-catcher of birds, and a street-seller of hearth-stones. They had been married 31 years, and resided in a garret of a house, in a street off Drury-lane—a small room, with a close smell about it. The room was not unfurnished—it was, in fact, crowded. There were bird-cages, with and without birds, over what was once a bed; for the bed, just prior to my visit, had been sold to pay the rent, and a month’s rent was again in arrear; and there were bird-cages on the wall by the door, and bird-cages over the mantelshelf. There was furniture, too, and crockery; and a vile oil painting of “still life;” but an eye used to the furniture in the rooms of the poor could at once perceive that there was not one article which could be sold to a broker or marine-store dealer, or pledged at a pawn-shop. I was told the man and woman both drank hard. The woman said:—

“I’ve sold hareskins all my life, sir, and was born in London; but when hareskins isn’t in, I sells flowers. I goes about now (in November) for my skins every day, wet or dry, and all day long—that is, till it’s dark. To-day I’ve not laid out a penny, but then it’s been such a day[112] for rain. I reckon that if I gets hold of eighteen hare and rabbit skins in a day, that is my greatest day’s work. I gives 2d. for good hares, what’s not riddled much, and sells them all for 2½d. I sells what I pick up, by the twelve or the twenty, if I can afford to keep them by me till that number’s gathered, to a Jew. I don’t know what is done with them. I can’t tell you just what use they’re for—something about hats.” [The Jew was no doubt a hat-furrier, or supplying a hat-furrier.] “Jews gives us better prices than Christians, and buys readier; so I find. Last week I sold all I bought for 3s. 6d. I take some weeks as much as 8s. for what I pick up, and if I could get that every week I should think myself a lady. The profit left me a clear half-crown. There’s no difference in any perticler year—only that things gets worse. The game laws, as far as I knows, hasn’t made no difference in my trade. Indeed, I can’t say I knows anything about game laws at all, or hears anything consarning ’em. I goes along the squares and streets. I buys most at gentlemen’s houses. We never calls at hotels. The servants, and the women that chars, and washes, and jobs, manages it there. Hareskins is in—leastways I c’lects them—from September to the end of March, when hares, they says, goes mad. I can’t say what I makes one week with another—perhaps 2s. 6d. may be cleared every week.”

These buyers go regular rounds, carrying the skins in their hands, and crying, “Any hareskins, cook? Hareskins.” It is for the most part a winter trade; but some collect the skins all the year round, as the hares are now vended the year through; but by far the most are gathered in the winter. Grouse may not be killed excepting from the 12th, and black-game from the 20th of August to the 10th of December; partridges from the 1st of September to the 1st of February; while the pheasant suffers a shorter season of slaughter, from the 1st of October to the 1st of February; but there is no time restriction as to the killing of hares or of rabbits, though custom causes a cessation for a few months.

A lame man, apparently between 50 and 60, with a knowing look, gave me the following account. When I saw him he was carrying a few tins, chiefly small dripping-pans, under his arm, which he offered for sale as he went his round collecting hare and rabbit skins, of which he carried but one. He had been in the streets all his life, as his mother—he never knew any father—was a rag-gatherer, and at the same time a street-seller of the old brimstone matches and papers of pins. My informant assisted his mother to make and then to sell the matches. On her last illness she was received into St. Giles’s workhouse, her son supporting himself out of it; she had been dead many years. He could not read, and had never been in a church or chapel in his life. “He had been married,” he said, “for about a dozen years, and had a very good wife,” who was also a street-trader until her death; but “we didn’t go to church or anywhere to be married,” he told me, in reply to my question, “for we really couldn’t afford to pay the parson, and so we took one another’s words. If it’s so good to go to church for being married, it oughtn’t to cost a poor man nothing; he shouldn’t be charged for being good. I doesn’t do any business in town, but has my regular rounds. This is my Kentish and Camden-town day. I buys most from the servants at the bettermost houses, and I’d rather buy of them than the missusses, for some missusses sells their own skins, and they often want a deal for ’em. Why, just arter last Christmas, a young lady in that there house (pointing to it), after ordering me round to the back-door, came to me with two hareskins. They certainly was fine skins—werry fine. I said I’d give 4½d. ‘Come now, my good man,’ says she,” and the man mimicked her voice, “‘let me have no nonsense. I can’t be deceived any longer, either by you or my servants; so give me 8d., and go about your business.’ Well, I went about my business; and a woman called to buy them, and offered 4d. for the two, and the lady was so wild, the servant told me arter; howsomever she only got 4d. at last. She’s a regular screw, but a fine-dressed one. I don’t know that there’s been any change in my business since hares was sold in the shops. If there’s more skins to sell, there’s more poor people to buy. I never tasted hares’ flesh in my life, though I’ve gathered so many of their skins. I’ve smelt it when they’ve been roasting them where I’ve called, but don’t think I could eat any. I live on bread and butter and tea, or milk sometimes in hot weather, and get a bite of fried fish or anything when I’m out, and a drop of beer and a smoke when I get home, if I can afford it. I don’t smoke in my own place, I uses a beer-shop. I pay 1s. 6d. a week for a small room; I want little but a bed in it, and have my own. I owe three weeks’ rent now; but I do best both with tins and hareskins in the cold weather. Monday’s my best day. O, as to rabbit-skins, I do werry little in them. Them as sells them gets the skins. Still there is a few to be picked up; such as them as has been sent as presents from the country. Good rabbit-skins is about the same price as hares, or perhaps a halfpenny lower, take them all through. I generally clears 6d. a dozen on my hare and rabbit-skins, and sometimes 8d. Yes, I should say that for about eight months I gathers four dozen every week, often five dozen. I suppose I make 5s. or 6s. a week all the year, with one thing or other, and a lame man can’t do wonders. I never begged in my life, but I’ve twice had help from the parish, and that only when I was very bad (ill). O, I suppose I shall end in the great house.”

There are, as closely as I can ascertain, at least 50 persons buying skins in the street; and calculating that each collects 50 skins weekly for 32 weeks of the year, we find 80,000 to be the total. This is a reasonable computation, for there are upwards of 102,000 hares consigned yearly to Newgate and Leadenhall markets; while the rabbits sold yearly in London amount to about[113] 1,000,000; but, as I have shown, very few of their skins are disposed of to street-buyers.

Of the Street-Buyers of Waste (Paper).

Beyond all others the street-purchase of waste paper is the most curious of any in the hands of the class I now treat of. Some may have formed the notion that waste paper is merely that which is soiled or torn, or old numbers of newspapers, or other periodical publications; but this is merely a portion of the trade, as the subsequent account will show.

The men engaged in this business have not unfrequently an apartment, or a large closet, or recess, for the reception of their purchases of paper. They collect their paper street by street, calling upon every publisher, coffee-shop keeper, printer, or publican (but rarely on a publican), who may be a seller of “waste.” I heard the refuse paper called nothing but “waste” after the general elliptical fashion. Attorneys’ offices are often visited by these buyers, as are the offices of public men, such as tax or rate collectors, generally.

One man told me that until about ten years ago, and while he was a youth, he was employed by a relation in the trade to carry out waste paper sold to, or ordered by cheesemongers, &c., but that he never “collected,” or bought paper himself. At last he thought he would start on his own account, and the first person he called upon, he said, was a rich landlady, not far from Hungerford-market, whom he saw sometimes at her bar, and who was always very civil. He took an opportunity to ask her if she “happened to have any waste in the house, or would have any in a week or so?” Seeing the landlady look surprised and not very well pleased at what certainly appeared an impertinent inquiry, he hastened to explain that he meant old newspapers, or anything that way, which he would be glad to buy at so much a pound. The landlady however took in but one daily and one weekly paper (both sent into the country when a day or so old), and having had no dealings with men of my informant’s avocation, could not understand his object in putting such questions.

Every kind of paper is purchased by the “waste-men.” One of these dealers said to me: “I’ve often in my time ‘cleared out’ a lawyer’s office. I’ve bought old briefs, and other law papers, and ‘forms’ that weren’t the regular forms then, and any d——d thing they had in my line. You’ll excuse me, sir, but I couldn’t help thinking what a lot of misery was caused, perhaps, by the cwts. of waste I’ve bought at such places. If my father hadn’t got mixed up with law he wouldn’t have been ruined, and his children wouldn’t have had such a hard fight of it; so I hate law. All that happened when I was a child, and I never understood the rights or the wrongs of it, and don’t like to think of people that’s so foolish. I gave 1½d. a pound for all I bought at the lawyers, and done pretty well with it, but very likely that’s the only good turn such paper ever did any one—unless it were the lawyers themselves.”

The waste-dealers do not confine their purchases to the tradesmen I have mentioned. They buy of any one, and sometimes act as middlemen or brokers. For instance, many small stationers and newsvendors, sometimes tobacconists in no extensive way of trade, sometimes chandlers, announce by a bill in their windows, “Waste Paper Bought and Sold in any Quantity,” while more frequently perhaps the trade is carried on, as an understood part of these small shopmen’s business, without any announcement. Thus the shop-buyers have much miscellaneous waste brought to them, and perhaps for only some particular kind have they a demand by their retail customers. The regular itinerant waste dealer then calls and “clears out everything” the “everything” being not an unmeaning word. One man, who “did largely in waste,” at my request endeavoured to enumerate all the kinds of paper he had purchased as waste, and the packages of paper he showed me, ready for delivery to his customers on the following day, confirmed all he said as he opened them and showed me of what they were composed. He had dealt, he said—and he took great pains and great interest in the inquiry, as one very curious, and was a respectable and intelligent man—in “books on every subject” [I give his own words] “on which a book can be written.” After a little consideration he added: “Well, perhaps every subject is a wide range; but if there are any exceptions, it’s on subjects not known to a busy man like me, who is occupied from morning till night every week day. The only worldly labour I do on a Sunday is to take my family’s dinner to the bake-house, bring it home after chapel, and read Lloyd’s Weekly. I’ve had Bibles—the backs are taken off in the waste trade, or it wouldn’t be fair weight—Testaments, Prayer-books, Companions to the Altar, and Sermons and religious works. Yes, I’ve had the Roman Catholic books, as is used in their public worship—at least so I suppose, for I never was in a Roman Catholic chapel. Well, it’s hard to say about proportions, but in my opinion, as far as it’s good for anything, I’ve not had them in anything like the proportion that I’ve had Prayer-books, and Watts’ and Wesley’s hymns. More shame; but you see, sir, perhaps a godly old man dies, and those that follow him care nothing for hymn-books, and so they come to such as me, for they’re so cheap now they’re not to be sold second-hand at all, I fancy. I’ve dealt in tragedies and comedies, old and new, cut and uncut—they’re best uncut, for you can make them into sheets then—and farces, and books of the opera. I’ve had scientific and medical works of every possible kind, and histories, and travels, and lives, and memoirs. I needn’t go through them—everything, from a needle to an anchor, as the saying is. Poetry, ay, many a hundred weight; Latin and Greek (sometimes), and French, and other foreign languages. Well now, sir, as you mention it, I think I never did have a Hebrew work; I think not, and I know the Hebrew letters when I see them. Black letter, not once in a couple of years; no, nor in three or four years, when I think of it. I have met with it, but I always take anything I’ve got that way to Mr. ——, the[114] bookseller, who uses a poor man well. Don’t you think, sir, I’m complaining of poverty; though I have been very poor, when I was recovering from cholera at the first break-out of it, and I’m anything but rich now. Pamphlets I’ve had by the ton, in my time; I think we should both be tired if I could go through all they were about. Very many were religious, more’s the pity. I’ve heard of a page round a quarter of cheese, though, touching a man’s heart.”

In corroboration of my informant’s statement, I may mention that in the course of my inquiry into the condition of the fancy cabinet-makers of the metropolis, one elderly and very intelligent man, a first-rate artisan in skill, told me he had been so reduced in the world by the underselling of slop-masters (called “butchers” or “slaughterers,” by the workmen in the trade), that though in his youth he could take in the News and Examiner papers (each he believed 9d. at that time, but was not certain), he could afford, and enjoyed, no reading when I saw him last autumn, beyond the book-leaves in which he received his quarter of cheese, his small piece of bacon or fresh meat, or his saveloys; and his wife schemed to go to the shops who “wrapped up their things from books,” in order that he might have something to read after his day’s work.

My informant went on with his specification: “Missionary papers of all kinds. Parliamentary papers, but not so often new ones, very largely. Railway prospectuses, with plans to some of them, nice engravings; and the same with other joint-stock companies. Children’s copy-books, and cyphering-books. Old account-books of every kind. A good many years ago, I had some that must have belonged to a West End perfumer, there was such French items for Lady this, or the Honourable Captain that. I remember there was an Hon. Capt. G., and almost at every second page was ‘100 tooth-picks, 3s. 6d.’ I think it was 3s. 6d.; in arranging this sort of waste one now and then gives a glance to it. Dictionaries of every sort, I’ve had, but not so commonly. Music books, lots of them. Manuscripts, but only if they’re rather old; well, 20 or 30 years or so: I call that old. Letters on every possible subject, but not, in my experience, any very modern ones. An old man dies, you see, and his papers are sold off, letters and all; that’s the way; get rid of all the old rubbish, as soon as the old boy’s pointing his toes to the sky. What’s old letters worth, when the writers are dead and buried? why, perhaps 1½d. a pound, and it’s a rattling big letter that will weigh half-an-ounce. O, it’s a queer trade, but there’s many worse.”

The letters which I saw in another waste-dealer’s possession were 45 in number, a small collection, I was told; for the most part they were very dull and common-place. Among them, however, was the following, in an elegant, and I presume a female hand, but not in the modern fashionable style of handwriting. The letter is evidently old, the address is of West-end gentility, but I leave out name and other particularities:—

“Mrs. —— [it is not easy to judge whether the flourished letters are ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss,’ but certainly more like ‘Mrs.’] Mrs. —— (Zoological Artist) presents her compliments to Mr. ——, and being commissioned to communicate with a gentleman of the name, recently arrived at Charing-cross, and presumed by description to be himself, in a matter of delicacy and confidence, indispensably verbal; begs to say, that if interested in the ecclaircissement and necessary to the same, she may be found in attendance, any afternoon of the current week, from 3 to 6 o’clock, and no other hours.

“—— street, —— square.

“Monday Morn. for the aftn., at home.”

Among the books destined to a butcher, I found three perfect numbers of a sixpenny periodical, published a few years back. Three, or rather two and a half, numbers of a shilling periodical, with “coloured engravings of the fashions.” Two (imperfect) volumes of French Plays, an excellent edition; among the plays were Athalie, Iphigénie, Phèdre, Les Frères Ennemis, Alexandre, Andromaque, Les Plaideurs, and Esther. A music sheet, headed “A lonely thing I would not be.” A few pages of what seems to have been a book of tales: “Album d’un Sourd-Muet” (36 pages in the pamphlet form, quite new). All these constituted about twopennyworth to the butcher. Notwithstanding the variety of sources from which the supply is derived, I heard from several quarters that “waste never was so scarce” as at present; it was hardly to be had at all.

The purchasers of the waste-paper from the collectors are cheesemongers, buttermen, butchers, fishmongers, poulterers, pork and sausage-sellers, sweet-stuff-sellers, tobacconists, chandlers—and indeed all who sell provisions or such luxuries as I have mentioned in retail. Some of the wholesale provision houses buy very largely and sell the waste again to their customers, who pay more for it by such a medium of purchase, but they have it thus on credit. Any retail trader in provisions at all “in a large way,” will readily buy six or seven cwt. at a time. The price given by them varies from 1¼d. to 3½d. the pound, but it is very rarely either so low or so high. The average price may be taken at 18s. the cwt., which is not quite 2d. a pound, and at this rate I learn from the best-informed parties there are twelve tons sold weekly, or 1624 tons yearly (1,397,760 lbs.), at the cost of 11,232l. One man in the trade was confident the value of the waste paper sold could not be less than 12,000l. in a year.

There are about 60 men in this trade, nearly 50 of whom live entirely, as it was described to me, “by their waste,” and bring up their families upon it. The others unite some other avocation with it. The earnings of the regular collectors vary from 15s. weekly to 35s. accordingly as they meet with a supply on favourable terms, or, as they call it, “a good pull in a lot of waste.” They usually reside in a private room with a recess, or a second room, in which they sort, pack, and keep their paper.

One of these traders told me that he was satisfied that stolen paper seldom found its way, directly, into the collectors’ hands, “particularly publisher’s paper,” he added. “Why, not long since there was a lot of sheets stolen from Alder[115]man Kelly’s warehouse, and the thief didn’t take them to a waste dealer; he knew better. He took them, sir, to a tradesman in a large respectable way over the water—a man that uses great lots of waste—and sold them at just what was handed to him: I suppose no questions asked. The thief was tried and convicted, but nothing was done to the buyer.”

It must not be supposed that the waste-paper used by the London tradesmen costs no more than 12,000l. in a year. A large quantity is bought direct by butchers and others from poor persons going to them with a small quantity of their own accumulating, or with such things as copy-books.

Of the Street-Buyers of Umbrellas and Parasols.

The street-traders in old umbrellas and parasols are numerous, but the buying is but one part, and the least skilled part, of the business. Men, some tolerably well-dressed, some swarthy-looking, like gipsies, and some with a vagabond aspect, may be seen in all quarters of the town and suburbs, carrying a few ragged-looking umbrellas, or the sticks or ribs of umbrellas, under their arms, and crying “Umbrellas to mend,” or “Any old umbrellas to sell?” The traffickers in umbrellas are also the crockmen, who are always glad to obtain them in barter, and who merely dispose of them at the Old Clothes Exchange, or in Petticoat-lane.

The umbrella-menders are known by an appellation of an appropriateness not uncommon in street language. They are mushroom-fakers. The form of the expanded umbrella resembles that of a mushroom, and it has the further characteristic of being rapidly or suddenly raised, the mushroom itself springing up and attaining its full size in a very brief space of time. The term, however, like all street or popular terms or phrases, has become very generally condensed among those who carry on the trade—they are now mush-fakers, a word which, to any one who has not heard the term in full, is as meaningless as any in the vocabulary of slang.

The mushroom-fakers will repair any umbrella on the owner’s premises, and their work is often done adroitly, I am informed, and as often bunglingly, or, in the trade term, “botched.” So far there is no traffic in the business, the mushroom-faker simply performing a piece of handicraft, and being paid for the job. But there is another class of street-folk who buy the old umbrellas in Petticoat-lane, or of the street buyer or collector, and “sometimes,” as one of these men said to me, “we are our own buyers on a round.” They mend the umbrellas—some of their wives, I am assured, being adepts as well as themselves—and offer them for sale on the approaches to the bridges, and at the corners of streets.

The street umbrella trade is really curious. Not so very many years back the use of an umbrella by a man was regarded as partaking of effeminacy, but now they are sold in thousands in the streets, and in the second-hand shops of Monmouth-street and such places. One of these street-traders told me that he had lately sold, but not to an extent which might encourage him to proceed, old silk umbrellas in the street for gentlemen to protect themselves from the rays of the sun.

The purchase of umbrellas is in a great degree mixed up with that of old clothes, of which I have soon to treat; but from what I have stated it is evident that the umbrella trade is most connected with street-artisanship, and under that head I shall describe it.


Although my present inquiry relates to London life in London streets, it is necessary that I should briefly treat of the Jews generally, as an integral, but distinct and peculiar part of street-life.

That this ancient people were engaged in what may be called street-traffic in the earlier ages of our history, as well as in the importation of spices, furs, fine leather, armour, drugs, and general merchandise, there can be no doubt; nevertheless concerning this part of the subject there are but the most meagre accounts.

Jews were settled in England as early as 730, and during the sway of the Saxon kings. They increased in number after the era of the Conquest; but it was not until the rapacity to which they were exposed in the reign of Stephen had in a great measure exhausted itself, and until the measures of Henry II. had given encouragement to commerce, and some degree of security to property in cities or congregated communities, that the Jews in England became numerous and wealthy. They then became active and enterprising attendants at fairs, where the greater portion of the internal trade of the kingdom was carried on, and especially the traffic in the more valuable commodities, such as plate, jewels, armour, cloths, wines, spices, horses, cattle, &c. The agents of the great prelates and barons, and even of the ruling princes, purchased what they required at these fairs. St. Giles’s fair, held at St. Giles’s hill, not far from Winchester, continued sixteen days. The fair was, as it were, a temporary city. There were streets of tents in every direction, in which the traders offered and displayed their wares. During the continuance of the fair, business was strictly prohibited in Winchester, Southampton, and in every place within seven miles of St. Giles’s hill. Among the tent-owners at such fairs were the Jews.

At this period the Jews may be considered as one of the bodies of “merchant-strangers,” as they were called, settled in England for purposes of commerce. Among the other bodies of these[116] “strangers” were the German “merchants of the steel-yard,” the Lombards, the Caursini of Rome, the “merchants of the staple,” and others. These were all corporations, and thriving corporations (when unmolested), and the Jews had also their Jewerie, or Judaisme, not for a “corporation” merely, but also for the requirements of their faith and worship, and for their living together. The London Jewerie was established in a place of which no vestige of its establishment now remains beyond the name—the Old Jewry. Here was erected the first synagogue of the Jews in England, which was defaced or demolished, Maitland states, by the citizens, after they had slain 700 Jews (other accounts represent that number as greatly exaggerated). This took place in 1263, during one of the many disturbances in the uneasy reign of Henry III.

All this time the Jews amassed wealth by trade and usury, in spite of their being plundered and maltreated by the princes and other potentates—every one has heard of King John’s having a Jew’s teeth drawn—and in spite of their being reviled by the priests and hated by the people. The sovereigns generally encouraged “merchant-strangers.” When the city of London, in 1289, petitioned Edward I. for “the expulsion of all merchant-strangers,” that monarch answered, with all a monarch’s peculiar regard for “great” men and “great” men only, “No! the merchant-strangers are useful and beneficial to the great men of the kingdom, and I will not expel them.” But though the King encouraged, the people detested, all foreign traders, though not with the same intensity as they detested and contemned the Jews, for in that detestation a strong religious feeling was an element. Of this dislike to the merchant-strangers, very many instances might be cited, but I need give only one. In 1379, nearly a century after the banishment of the Jews, a Genoese merchant, a man of great wealth, petitioned Richard II. for permission to deposit goods for safe keeping in Southampton Castle, promising to introduce so large a share of the commerce of the East into England, that pepper should be 4d. a pound. “Yet the Londoners,” writes Walsingham, but in the quaint monkish Latin of the day, “enemies to the prosperity of their country, hired assassins, who murdered the merchant in the street. After this, what stranger will trust his person among a people so faithless and so cruel? who will not dread our treachery, and abhor our name?”

In 1290, by a decree of Edward I., the Jews were banished out of England. The causes assigned for this summary act, were “their extortions, their debasing and diminishing the coin, and for other crimes.” I need not enter into the merits or demerits of the Jews of that age, but it is certain that any ridiculous charge, any which it was impossible could be true, was an excuse for the plundering of them at the hands of the rich, and the persecution of them at the hands of the people. At the period of this banishment, their number is represented by the contemporaneous historians to have been about 16,000, a number most probably exaggerated, as perhaps all statements of the numbers of a people are when no statistical knowledge has been acquired. During this period of their abode in England, the Jews were protected as the villeins or bondsmen of the king, a protection disregarded by the commonalty, and only giving to the executive government greater facilities of extortion and oppression.

In 1655 an Amsterdam Jew, Rabbi Manasseh Ben-Israel, whose name is still highly esteemed among his countrymen, addressed Cromwell on the behalf of the Jews that they should be re-admitted into England with the sanction, and under the protection, of the law. Despite the absence of such sanction, they had resided and of course traded in this country, but in small numbers, and trading often in indirect and sometimes in contraband ways. Chaucer, writing in the days of Richard II., three reigns after their expulsion, speaks of Jews as living in England. It is reputed that, in the reigns of Elizabeth and the first James, they supplied, at great profit, the materials required by the alchymists for their experiments in the transmutation of metals. In Elizabeth’s reign, too, Jewish physicians were highly esteemed in England. The Queen at one time confided the care of her health to Rodrigo Lopez, a Hebrew, who, however, was convicted of an attempt to poison his royal mistress. Francis I., of France, carried his opinion of Jewish medical skill to a great height; he refused on one occasion, during an illness, to be attended by the most eminent of the Israelitish physicians, because the learned man had just before been converted to Christianity. The most Christian king, therefore, applied to his ally, the Turkish sultan, Solyman II., who sent him “a true hardened Jew,” by whose directions Francis drank asses’ milk and recovered.

Cromwell’s response to the application of Manasseh Ben Israel was favourable; but the opposition of the Puritans, and more especially of Prynne, prevented any public declaration on the subject. In 1656, however, the Jews began to arrive and establish themselves in England, but not until after the restoration of Charles II., in 1660, could it be said that, as a body, they were settled in England. They arrived from time to time, and without any formal sanction being either granted or refused. One reason alleged at the time was, that the Jews were well known to be money-lenders, and Charles and his courtiers were as well known money-borrowers!

I now come to the character and establishment of the Jews in the capacity in which I have more especially to describe them—as street-traders. There appears no reason to doubt that they commenced their principal street traffic, the collecting of old clothes, soon after their settlement in London. At any rate the cry and calling of the Jew old clothesman were so established, 30 or 40 years after their return, or early in the last century, that one of them is delineated in Tempest’s “Cries of London,” published about that period. In this work the street Jew is represented as very different in his appearance to that which he presents in our[117] day. Instead of merely a dingy bag, hung empty over his arm, or carried, when partially or wholly filled, on his shoulder, he is depicted as wearing, or rather carrying, three cocked hats, one over the other, upon his head; a muff, with a scarf or large handkerchief over it, is attached to his right hand and arm, and two dress swords occupy his left hand. The apparel which he himself wears is of the full-skirted style of the day, and his long hair, or periwig, descends to his shoulders. This difference in appearance, however, between the street Jew of 1700 and of a century and a half later, is simply the effect of circumstances, and indicates no change in the character of the man. Were it now the fashion for gentlemen to wear muffs, swords, and cocked hats, the Jew would again have them in his possession.

During the eighteenth century the popular feeling ran very high against the Jews, although to the masses they were almost strangers, except as men employed in the not-very-formidable occupation of collecting and vending second-hand clothes. The old feeling against them seems to have lingered among the English people, and their own greed in many instances engendered other and lawful causes of dislike, by their resorting to unlawful and debasing pursuits. They were considered—and with that exaggeration of belief dear to any ignorant community—as an entire people of misers, usurers, extortioners, receivers of stolen goods, cheats, brothel-keepers, sheriff’s-officers, clippers and sweaters of the coin of the realm, gaming-house keepers; in fine, the charges, or rather the accusations, of carrying on every disreputable trade, and none else, were “bundled at their doors.” That there was too much foundation for many of these accusations, and still is, no reasonable Jew can now deny; that the wholesale prejudice against them was absurd, is equally indisputable.

So strong was this popular feeling against the Israelites, that it not only influenced, and not only controlled the legislature, but it coerced the Houses of Parliament to repeal, in 1754, an act which they had passed the previous session, and that act was merely to enable foreign Jews to be naturalized without being required to take the sacrament! It was at that time, and while the popular ferment was at its height, unsafe for a Hebrew old clothesman, however harmless a man, and however long and well known on his beat, to ply his street-calling openly; for he was often beaten and maltreated. Mobs, riots, pillagings, and attacks upon the houses of the Jews were frequent, and one of the favourite cries of the mob was certainly among the most preposterously stupid of any which ever tickled the ear and satisfied the mind of the ignorant:—

“No Jews!
No wooden shoes!!”

Some mob-leader, with a taste for rhyme, had in this distich cleverly blended the prejudice against the Jews with the easily excited but vague fears of a French invasion, which was in some strange way typified to the apprehensions of the vulgar as connected with slavery, popery, the compulsory wearing of wooden shoes (sabots), and the eating of frogs! And this sort of feeling was often revenged on the street-Jew, as a man mixed up with wooden shoes! Cumberland, in the comedy of “The Jew,” and some time afterwards Miss Edgeworth, in the tale of “Harrington and Ormond,” and both at the request of Jews, wrote to moderate this rabid prejudice.

In what estimation the street, and, incidentally, all classes of Jews are held at the present time, will be seen in the course of my remarks; and in the narratives to be given. I may here observe, however, that among some the dominant feeling against the Jews on account of their faith still flourishes, as is shown by the following statement:—A gentleman of my acquaintance was one evening, about twilight, walking down Brydges-street, Covent-garden, when an elderly Jew was preceding him, apparently on his return from a day’s work, as an old clothesman. His bag accidentally touched the bonnet of a dashing woman of the town, who was passing, and she turned round, abused the Jew, and spat at him, saying with an oath: “You old rags humbug! You can’t do that!”—an allusion to a vulgar notion that Jews have been unable to do more than slobber, since spitting on the Saviour.

The number of Jews now in England is computed at 35,000. This is the result at which the Chief Rabbi arrived a few years ago, after collecting all the statistical information at his command. Of these 35,000, more than one-half, or about 18,000, reside in London. I am informed that there may now be a small increase to this population, but only small, for many Jews have emigrated—some to California. A few years ago—a circumstance mentioned in my account of the Street-Sellers of Jewellery—there were a number of Jews known as “hawkers,” or “travellers,” who traverse every part of England selling watches, gold and silver pencil-cases, eye-glasses, and all the more portable descriptions of jewellery, as well as thermometers, barometers, telescopes, and microscopes. This trade is now little pursued, except by the stationary dealers; and the Jews who carried it on, and who were chiefly foreign Jews, have emigrated to America. The foreign Jews who, though a fluctuating body, are always numerous in London, are included in the computation of 18,000; of this population two-thirds reside in the city, or the streets adjacent to the eastern boundaries of the city.

Of the Trades and Localities of the Street-Jews.

The trades which the Jews most affect, I was told by one of themselves, are those in which, as they describe it, “there’s a chance;” that is, they prefer a trade in such commodity as is not subjected to a fixed price, so that there may be abundant scope for speculation, and something like a gambler’s chance for profit or loss. In this way, Sir Walter Scott has said, trade has “all the fascination of gambling, without the moral guilt;” but the absence of moral guilt in connection with such trading is certainly dubious.


The wholesale trades in foreign commodities which are now principally or solely in the hands of the Jews, often as importers and exporters, are, watches and jewels, sponges—fruits, especially green fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapes, walnuts, cocoa-nuts, &c., and dates among dried fruits—shells, tortoises, parrots and foreign birds, curiosities, ostrich feathers, snuffs, cigars, and pipes; but cigars far more extensively at one time.

The localities in which these wholesale and retail traders reside are mostly at the East-end—indeed the Jews of London, as a congregated body, have been, from the times when their numbers were sufficient to institute a “settlement” or “colony,” peculiar to themselves, always resident in the eastern quarter of the metropolis.

Of course a wealthy Jew millionaire—merchant, stock-jobber, or stock-broker—resides where he pleases—in a villa near the Marquis of Hertford’s in the Regent’s-park, a mansion near the Duke of Wellington’s in Piccadilly, a house and grounds at Clapham or Stamford-hill; but these are exceptions. The quarters of the Jews are not difficult to describe. The trading-class in the capacity of shopkeepers, warehousemen, or manufacturers, are the thickest in Houndsditch, Aldgate, and the Minories, more especially as regards the “swag-shops” and the manufacture and sale of wearing apparel. The wholesale dealers in fruit are in Duke’s-place and Pudding-lane (Thames-street), but the superior retail Jew fruiterers—some of whose shops are remarkable for the beauty of their fruit—are in Cheapside, Oxford-street, Piccadilly, and most of all in Covent-garden market. The inferior jewellers (some of whom deal with the first shops) are also at the East-end, about Whitechapel, Bevis-marks, and Houndsditch; the wealthier goldsmiths and watchmakers having, like other tradesmen of the class, their shops in the superior thoroughfares. The great congregation of working watchmakers is in Clerkenwell, but in that locality there are only a few Jews. The Hebrew dealers in second-hand garments, and second-hand wares generally, are located about Petticoat-lane, the peculiarities of which place I have lately described. The manufacturers of such things as cigars, pencils, and sealing-wax; the wholesale importers of sponge, bristles and toys, the dealers in quills and in “looking-glasses,” reside in large private-looking houses, when display is not needed for purposes of business, in such parts as Maunsell-street, Great Prescott-street, Great Ailie-street, Leman-street, and other parts of the eastern quarter known as Goodman’s-fields. The wholesale dealers in foreign birds and shells, and in the many foreign things known as “curiosities,” reside in East Smithfield, Ratcliffe-highway, High-street (Shadwell), or in some of the parts adjacent to the Thames. In the long range of river-side streets, stretching from the Tower to Poplar and Blackwall, are Jews, who fulfil the many capacities of slop-sellers, &c., called into exercise by the requirements of seafaring people on their return from or commencement of a voyage. A few Jews keep boarding-houses for sailors in Shadwell and Wapping. Of the localities and abodes of the poorest of the Jews I shall speak hereafter.

Concerning the street-trades pursued by the Jews, I believe there is not at present a single one of which they can be said to have a monopoly; nor in any one branch of the street-traffic are there so many of the Jew traders as there were a few years back.

This remarkable change is thus to be accounted for. Strange as the fact may appear, the Jew has been undersold in the streets, and he has been beaten on what might be called his own ground—the buying of old clothes. The Jew boys, and the feebler and elder Jews, had, until some twelve or fifteen years back, almost the monopoly of orange and lemon street-selling, or street-hawking. The costermonger class had possession of the theatre doors and the approaches to the theatres; they had, too, occasionally their barrows full of oranges; but the Jews were the daily, assiduous, and itinerant street-sellers of this most popular of foreign, and perhaps of all, fruits. In their hopes of sale they followed any one a mile if encouraged, even by a few approving glances. The great theatre of this traffic was in the stage-coach yards in such inns as the Bull and Mouth, (St. Martin’s-le-Grand), the Belle Sauvage (Ludgate-hill), the Saracen’s Head (Snow-hill), the Bull (Aldgate), the Swan-with-two-Necks (Lad-lane, City), the George and Blue Boar (Holborn), the White Horse (Fetter-lane), and other such places. They were seen too, “with all their eyes about them,” as one informant expressed it, outside the inns where the coaches stopped to take up passengers—at the White Horse Cellar in Piccadilly, for instance, and the Angel and the (now defunct) Peacock in Islington. A commercial traveller told me that he could never leave town by any “mail” or “stage,” without being besieged by a small army of Jew boys, who most pertinaciously offered him oranges, lemons, sponges, combs, pocket-books, pencils, sealing-wax, paper, many-bladed pen-knives, razors, pocket-mirrors, and shaving-boxes—as if a man could not possibly quit the metropolis without requiring a stock of such commodities. In the whole of these trades, unless in some degree in sponges and blacklead-pencils, the Jew is now out-numbered or displaced.

I have before alluded to the underselling of the Jew boy by the Irish boy in the street-orange trade; but the characteristics of the change are so peculiar, that a further notice is necessary. It is curious to observe that the most assiduous, and hitherto the most successful of street-traders, were supplanted, not by a more persevering or more skilful body of street-sellers, but simply by a more starving body.

Some few years since poor Irish people, and chiefly those connected with the culture of the land, “came over” to this country in great numbers, actuated either by vague hopes of “bettering themselves” by emigration, or working on the railways, or else influenced by the restlessness common to an impoverished people. These men, when unable to obtain em[119]ployment, without scruple became street-sellers. Not only did the adults resort to street-traffic, generally in its simplest forms, such as hawking fruit, but the children, by whom they were accompanied from Ireland, in great numbers, were put into the trade; and if two or three children earned 2d. a day each, and their parents 5d. or 6d. each, or even 4d., the subsistence of the family was better than they could obtain in the midst of the miseries of the southern and western part of the Sister Isle. An Irish boy of fourteen, having to support himself by street-trade, as was often the case, owing to the death of parents and to divers casualties, would undersell the Jew boys similarly circumstanced.

The Irish boy could live harder than the Jew—often in his own country he subsisted on a stolen turnip a day; he could lodge harder—lodge for 1d. a night in any noisome den, or sleep in the open air, which is seldom done by the Jew boy; he could dispense with the use of shoes and stockings—a dispensation at which his rival in trade revolted; he drank only water, or if he took tea or coffee, it was as a meal, and not merely as a beverage; to crown the whole, the city-bred Jew boy required some evening recreation, the penny or twopenny concert, or a game at draughts or dominoes; but this the Irish boy, country bred, never thought of, for his sole luxury was a deep sleep, and, being regardless or ignorant of all such recreations, he worked longer hours, and so sold more oranges, than his Hebrew competitor. Thus, as the Munster or Connaught lad could live on less than the young denizen of Petticoat-lane, he could sell at smaller profit, and did so sell, until gradually the Hebrew youths were displaced by the Irish in the street orange trade.

It is the same, or the same in a degree, with other street-trades, which were at one time all but monopolised by the Jew adults. Among these were the street-sale of spectacles and sponges. The prevalence of slop-work and slop-wages, and the frequent difficulty of obtaining properly-remunerated employment—the pinch of want, in short—have driven many mechanics to street-traffic; so that the numbers of street-traffickers have been augmented, while no small portion of the new comers have adopted the more knowing street avocations, formerly pursued only by the Jews.

Of the other class of street-traders who have interfered largely with the old-clothes trade, which, at one time, people seemed to consider a sort of birthright among the Jews, I have already spoken, when treating of the dealings of the crockmen in bartering glass and crockery-ware for second-hand apparel. These traders now obtain as many old clothes as the Jew clothes men themselves; for, with a great number of “ladies,” the offer of an ornament of glass or spar, or of a beautiful and fragrant plant, is more attractive than the offer of a small sum of money, for the purchase of the left-off garments of the family.

The crockmen are usually strong and in the prime of youth or manhood, and are capable of carrying heavy burdens of glass or china-wares, for which the Jews are either incompetent or disinclined.

Some of the Jews which have been thus displaced from the street-traffic have emigrated to America, with the assistance of their brethren.

The principal street-trades of the Jews are now in sponges, spectacles, combs, pencils, accordions, cakes, sweetmeats, drugs, and fruits of all kinds; but, in all these trades, unless perhaps in drugs, they are in a minority compared with the “Christian” street-sellers.

There is not among the Jew street-sellers generally anything of the concubinage or cohabitation common among the costermongers. Marriage is the rule.

Of the Jew Old-Clothes Men.

Fifty years ago the appearance of the street-Jews, engaged in the purchase of second-hand clothes, was different to what it is at the present time. The Jew then had far more of the distinctive garb and aspect of a foreigner. He not unfrequently wore the gabardine, which is never seen now in the streets, but some of the long loose frock coats worn by the Jew clothes’ buyers resemble it. At that period, too, the Jew’s long beard was far more distinctive than it is in this hirsute generation.

In other respects the street-Jew is unchanged. Now, as during the last century, he traverses every street, square, and road, with the monotonous cry, sometimes like a bleat, of “Clo’! Clo’!” On this head, however, I have previously remarked, when describing the street Jew of a hundred years ago.


Clo’, Clo’, Clo’.

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

In an inquiry into the condition of the old-clothes dealers a year and a half ago, a Jew gave me the following account. He told me, at the commencement of his statement, that he was of opinion that his people were far more speculative than the Gentiles, and therefore the English liked better to deal with them. “Our people,” he said, “will be out all day in the wet, and begrudge themselves a bit of anything to eat till they go home, and then, may be, they’ll gamble away their crown, just for the love of speculation.” My informant, who could write or speak several languages, and had been 50 years in the business, then said, “I am no bigot; indeed I do not care where I buy my meat, so long as I can get it. I often go into the Minories and buy some, without looking to how it has been killed, or whether it has a seal on it or not.”

He then gave me some account of the Jewish children, and the number of men in the trade, which I have embodied under the proper heads. The itinerant Jew clothes man, he told me, was generally the son of a former old-clothes man, but some were cigar-makers, or pencil-makers, taking to the clothes business when those trades were slack; but that nineteen out of twenty had been born to it. If the parents of the Jew boy are poor, and the boy a sharp lad, he generally commences business at ten years of age, by selling lemons, or some trifle in the streets, and so, as he[120] expressed it, the boy “gets a round,” or street-connection, by becoming known to the neighbourhoods he visits. If he sees a servant, he will, when selling his lemons, ask if she have any old shoes or old clothes, and offer to be a purchaser. If the clothes should come to more than the Jew boy has in his pocket, he leaves what silver he has as “an earnest upon them,” and then seeks some regular Jew clothes man, who will advance the purchase money. This the old Jew agrees to do upon the understanding that he is to have “half Rybeck,” that is, a moiety of the profit, and then he will accompany the boy to the house, to pass his judgment on the goods, and satisfy himself that the stripling has not made a blind bargain, an error into which he very rarely falls. After this he goes with the lad to Petticoat-lane, and there they share whatever money the clothes may bring over and above what has been paid for them. By such means the Jew boy gets his knowledge of the old-clothes business; and so quick are these lads generally, that in the course of two months they will acquire sufficient experience in connection with the trade to begin dealing on their own account. There are some, he told me, as sharp at 15 as men of 50.

“It is very seldom,” my informant stated, “very seldom indeed, that a Jew clothes man takes away any of the property of the house he may be called into. I expect there’s a good many of ’em,” he continued, for he sometimes spoke of his co-traders, as if they were not of his own class, “is fond of cheating—that is, they won’t mind giving only 2s. for a thing that’s worth 5s. They are fond of money, and will do almost anything to get it. Jews are perhaps the most money-loving people in all England. There are certainly some old-clothes men who will buy articles at such a price that they must know them to have been stolen. Their rule, however, is to ask no questions, and to get as cheap an article as possible. A Jew clothes man is seldom or never seen in liquor. They gamble for money, either at their own homes or at public-houses. The favourite games are tossing, dominoes, and cards. I was informed, by one of the people, that he had seen as much as 30l. in silver and gold lying upon the ground when two parties had been playing at throwing three halfpence in the air. On a Saturday, some gamble away the morning and the greater part of the afternoon.” [Saturday, I need hardly say, is the Hebrew Sabbath.] “They meet in some secret back place, about ten, and begin playing for ‘one a time’—that is, tossing up three halfpence, and staking 1s. on the result. Other Jews, and a few Christians, will gather round and bet. Sometimes the bets laid by the Jew bystanders are as high as 2l. each; and on more than one occasion the old-clothes men have wagered as much as 50l., but only after great gains at gambling. Some, if they can, will cheat, by means of a halfpenny with a head or a tail on both sides, called a ‘gray.’ The play lasts till the Sabbath is nearly over, and then they go to business or the theatre. They seldom or never say a word while they are losing, but merely stamp on the ground; it is dangerous, though, to interfere when luck runs against them. The rule is, when a man is losing to let him alone. I have known them play for three hours together, and nothing be said all that time but ‘head’ or ‘tail.’ They seldom go to synagogue, and on a Sunday evening have card parties at their own houses. They seldom eat anything on their rounds. The reason is, not because they object to eat meat killed by a Christian, but because they are afraid of losing a ‘deal,’ or the chance of buying a lot of old clothes by delay. They are generally too lazy to light their own fires before they start of a morning, and nineteen out of twenty obtain their breakfasts at the coffee-shops about Houndsditch.

“When they return from their day’s work they have mostly some stew ready, prepared by their parents or wife. If they are not family men they go to an eating-house. This is sometimes a Jewish house, but if no one is looking they creep into a Christian ‘cook-shop,’ not being particular about eating ‘tryfer’—that is, meat which has been killed by a Christian. Those that are single generally go to a neighbour and agree with him to be boarded on the Sabbath; and for this the charge is generally about 2s. 6d. On a Saturday there’s cold fish for breakfast and supper; indeed, a Jew would pawn the shirt off his back sooner than go without fish then; and in holiday-time he will have it, if he has to get it out of the stones. It is not reckoned a holiday unless there’s fish.”

“Forty years ago I have made as much as 5l. in a week by the purchase of old clothes in the streets,” said a Jew informant. “Upon an average then, I could earn weekly about 2l. But now things are different. People are more wide awake. Every one knows the value of an old coat now-a-days. The women know more than the men. The general average, I think, take the good weeks with the bad throughout the year, is about 1l. a week; some weeks we get 2l., and some scarcely nothing.”

I was told by a Jewish professional gentleman that the account of the spirit of gambling prevalent among his people was correct, but the amounts said to be staked, he thought, rare or exaggerated.

The Jew old-clothes men are generally far more cleanly in their habits than the poorer classes of English people. Their hands they always wash before their meals, and this is done whether the party be a strict Jew or “Meshumet,” a convert, or apostate from Judaism. Neither will the Israelite ever use the same knife to cut his meat that he previously used to spread his butter, and he will not even put his meat on a plate that has had butter on it; nor will he use for his soup the spoon that has had melted butter in it. This objection to mix butter with meat is carried so far, that, after partaking of the one, Jews will not eat of the other for the space of two hours. The Jews are generally, when married, most exemplary family men. There are few fonder fathers than they are, and they will starve themselves sooner than their wives and children should want. Whatever their faults may be, they are good[121] fathers, husbands, and sons. Their principal characteristic is their extreme love of money; and, though the strict Jew does not trade himself on the Sabbath, he may not object to employ either one of his tribe, or a Gentile, to do so for him.

The capital required for commencing in the old-clothes line is generally about 1l. This the Jew frequently borrows, especially after holiday-time, for then he has generally spent all his earnings, unless he be a provident man. When his stock-money is exhausted, he goes either to a neighbour or to a publican in the vicinity, and borrows 1l. on the Monday morning, “to strike a light with,” as he calls it, and agrees to return it on the Friday evening, with 1s. interest for the loan. This he always pays back. If he was to sell the coat off his back he would do this, I am told, because to fail in so doing would be to prevent his obtaining any stock-money for the future. With this capital he starts on his rounds about eight in the morning, and I am assured he will frequently begin his work without tasting food, rather than break into the borrowed stock-money. Each man has his particular walk, and never interferes with that of his neighbour; indeed, while upon another’s beat he will seldom cry for clothes. Sometimes they go half “Rybeck” together—that is, they will share the profits of the day’s business, and when they agree to do this the one will take one street, and the other another. The lower the neighbourhood the more old clothes are there for sale. At the east end of the town they like the neighbourhoods frequented by sailors, and there they purchase of the girls and the women the sailors’ jackets and trowsers. But they buy most of the Petticoat-lane, the Old-Clothes Exchange, and the marine-store dealers; for as the Jew clothes man never travels the streets by night-time, the parties who then have old clothes to dispose of usually sell them to the marine-store or second-hand dealers over-night, and the Jew buys them in the morning. The first thing that he does on his rounds is to seek out these shops, and see what he can pick up there. A very great amount of business is done by the Jew clothes man at the marine-store shops at the west as well as at the east end of London.

At the West-end the itinerant clothes men prefer the mews at the back of gentlemen’s houses to all other places, or else the streets where the little tradesmen and small genteel families reside. My informant assured me that he had once bought a Bishop’s hat of his lordship’s servant for 1s. 6d. on a Sunday morning.

These traders, as I have elsewhere stated, live at the East-end of the town. The greater number of them reside in Portsoken Ward, Houndsditch; and their favourite localities in this district are either Cobb’s-yard, Roper’s-building, or Wentworth-street. They mostly occupy small houses, about 4s. 6d. a week rent, and live with their families. They are generally sober men. It is seldom that a Jew leaves his house and owes his landlord money; and if his goods should be seized the rest of his tribe will go round and collect what is owing.

The rooms occupied by the old-clothes men are far from being so comfortable as those of the English artizans whose earnings are not superior to the gains of these clothes men. Those which I saw had all a littered look; the furniture was old and scant, and the apartment seemed neither shop, parlour, nor bed-room. For domestic and family men, as some of the Jew old-clothes men are, they seem very indifferent to the comforts of a home.

I have spoken of “Tryfer,” or meat killed in the Christian fashion. Now, the meat killed according to the Jewish law is known as “Coshar,” and a strict Jew will eat none other. In one of my letters in the Morning Chronicle on the meat markets of London, there appeared the following statement, respecting the Jew butchers in Whitechapel-market.

“To a portion of the meat here exposed for sale, may be seen attached the peculiar seal which shows that the animal was killed conformably to the Jewish rites. According to the injunctions of this religion the beast must die from its throat being cut, instead of being knocked on the head. The slaughterer of the cattle for Jewish consumption, moreover, must be a Jew. Two slaughterers are appointed by the Jewish authorities of the synagogue, and they can employ others, who must be likewise Jews, as assistants. The slaughterers I saw were quiet-looking and quiet-mannered men. When the animal is slaughtered and skinned, an examiner (also appointed by the synagogue) carefully inspects the ‘inside.’ ‘If the lights be grown to the ribs,’ said my informant, who had had many years’ experience in this branch of the meat trade, ‘or if the lungs have any disease, or if there be any disease anywhere, the meat is pronounced unfit for the food of the Jews, and is sent entire to a carcase butcher to be sold to the Christians. This, however, does not happen once in 20 times.’ To the parts exposed for sale, when the slaughtering has been according to the Jewish law, there is attached a leaden seal, stamped in Hebrew characters with the name of the examining party sealing. In this way, as I ascertained from the slaughterers, are killed weekly from 120 to 140 bullocks, from 400 to 500 sheep and lambs, and about 30 calves. All the parts of the animal thus slaughtered may be and are eaten by the Jews, but three-fourths of the purchase of this meat is confined, as regards the Jews, to the fore-quarters of the respective animals; the hind-quarters, being the choicer parts, are sent to Newgate or Leadenhall-markets for sale on commission.” The Hebrew butchers consider that the Christian mode of slaughter is a far less painful death to the ox than was the Jewish.

I am informed that of the Jew Old-Clothes Men there are now only from 500 to 600 in London; at one time there might have been 1000. Their average earnings may be something short of 20s. a week in second-hand clothes alone; but the gains are difficult to estimate.


Of a Jew Street-Seller.

An elderly man, who, at the time I saw him, was vending spectacles, or bartering them for old clothes, old books, or any second-hand articles, gave me an account of his street-life, but it presented little remarkable beyond the not unusual vicissitudes of the lives of those of his class.

He had been in every street-trade, and had on four occasions travelled all over England, selling quills, sealing-wax, pencils, sponges, braces, cheap or superior jewellery, thermometers, and pictures. He had sold barometers in the mountainous parts of Cumberland, sometimes walking for hours without seeing man or woman. “I liked it then,” he said, “for I was young and strong, and didn’t care to sleep twice in the same town. I was afterwards in the old-clothes line. I buy a few odd hats and light things still, but I’m not able to carry heavy weights, as my breath is getting rather short.” [I find that the Jews generally object to the more laborious kinds of street-traffic.] “Yes, I’ve been twice to Ireland, and sold a good many quills in Dublin, for I crossed over from Liverpool. Quills and wax were a great trade with us once; now it’s quite different. I’ve had as much as 60l. of my own, and that more than half-a-dozen times, but all of it went in speculations. Yes, some went in gambling. I had a share in a gaming-booth at the races, for three years. O, I dare say that’s more than 20 years back; but we did very little good. There was such fees to pay for the tent on a race-ground, and often such delays between the races in the different towns, and bribes to be given to the town-officers—such as town-sergeants and chief constables, and I hardly know who—and so many expenses altogether, that the profits were mostly swamped. Once at Newcastle races there was a fight among the pitmen, and our tent was in their way, and was demolished almost to bits. A deal of the money was lost or stolen. I don’t know how much, but not near so much as my partners wanted to make out. I wasn’t on the spot just at the time. I got married after that, and took a shop in the second-hand clothes line in Bristol, but my wife died in child-bed in less than a year, and the shop didn’t answer; so I got sick of it, and at last got rid of it. O, I work both the country and London still. I shall take a turn into Kent in a day or two. I suppose I clear between 10s. and 20s. a week in anything, and as I’ve only myself, I do middling, and am ready for another chance if any likely speculation offers. I lodge with a relation, and sometimes live with his family. No, I never touch any meat but ‘Coshar.’ I suppose my meat now costs me 6d. or 7d. a day, but it has cost me ten times that—and 2d. for beer in addition.”

I am informed that there are about 50 adult Jews (besides old-clothes men) in the streets selling fruit, cakes, pencils, spectacles, sponge, accordions, drugs, &c.

Of the Jew-Boy Street-Sellers.

I have ascertained, and from sources where no ignorance on the subject could prevail, that there are now in the streets of London, rather more than 100 Jew-boys engaged principally in fruit and cake-selling in the streets. Very few Jewesses are itinerant street-sellers. Most of the older Jews thus engaged have been street-sellers from their boyhood. The young Jews who ply in street-callings, however, are all men in matters of traffic, almost before they cease, in years, to be children. In addition to the Jew-boy street-sellers above enumerated, there are from 50 to 100, but usually about 50, who are occasional, or “casual” street-traders, vending for the most part cocoa-nuts and grapes, and confining their sales chiefly to the Sundays.

On the subject of the street-Jew boys, a Hebrew gentleman said to me: “When we speak of street-Jew boys, it should be understood, that the great majority of them are but little more conversant with or interested in the religion of their fathers, than are the costermonger boys of whom you have written. They are Jews by the accident of their birth, as others in the same way, with equal ignorance of the assumed faith, are Christians.”

I received from a Jew boy the following account of his trading pursuits and individual aspirations. There was somewhat of a thickness in his utterance, otherwise his speech was but little distinguishable from that of an English street-boy. His physiognomy was decidedly Jewish, but not of the handsomer type. His hair was light-coloured, but clean, and apparently well brushed, without being oiled, or, as I heard a street-boy style it, “greased”; it was long, and he said his aunt told him it “wanted cutting sadly;” but he “liked it that way;” indeed, he kept dashing his curls from his eyes, and back from his temples, as he was conversing, as if he were somewhat vain of doing so. He was dressed in a corduroy suit, old but not ragged, and wore a tolerably clean, very coarse, and altogether buttonless shirt, which he said “was made for one bigger than me, sir.” He had bought it for 9½d. in Petticoat-lane, and accounted it a bargain, as its wear would be durable. He was selling sponges when I saw him, and of the commonest kind, offering a large piece for 3d., which (he admitted) would be rubbed to bits in no time. This sponge, I should mention, is frequently “dressed” with sulphuric acid, and an eminent surgeon informed me that on his servant attempting to clean his black dress coat with a sponge that he had newly bought in the streets, the colour of the garment, to his horror, changed to a bright purple. The Jew boy said—

“I believe I’m twelve. I’ve been to school, but it’s long since, and my mother was very ill then, and I was forced to go out in the streets to have a chance. I never was kept to school. I can’t read; I’ve forgot all about it. I’d rather now that I could read, but very likely I could soon learn if I could only spare time, but if I stay long in the house I feel sick; it’s not healthy. O, no, sir, inside or out it would be all the same to me, just to make a living and keep my health. I can’t say how long it is since I began to sell, it’s a good long time; one must do some[123]thing. I could keep myself now, and do sometimes, but my father—I live with him (my mother’s dead) is often laid up. Would you like to see him, sir? He knows a deal. No, he can’t write, but he can read a little. Can I speak Hebrew? Well, I know what you mean. O, no, I can’t. I don’t go to synagogue; I haven’t time. My father goes, but only sometimes; so he says, and he tells me to look out, for we must both go by-and-by.” [I began to ask him what he knew of Joseph, and others recorded in the Old Testament, but he bristled up, and asked if I wanted to make a Meshumet (a convert) of him?] “I have sold all sorts of things,” he continued, “oranges, and lemons, and sponges, and nuts, and sweets. I should like to have a real good ginger-beer fountain of my own; but I must wait, and there’s many in the trade. I only go with boys of my own sort. I sell to all sorts of boys, but that’s nothing. Very likely they’re Christians, but that’s nothing to me. I don’t know what’s the difference between a Jew and Christian, and I don’t want to talk about it. The Meshumets are never any good. Anybody will tell you that. Yes, I like music and can sing a bit. I get to a penny and sometimes a two-penny concert. No, I haven’t been to Sussex Hall—I know where it is—I shouldn’t understand it. You get in for nothing, that’s one thing. I’ve heard of Baron Rothschild. He has more money than I could count in shillings in a year. I don’t know about his wanting to get into parliament, or what it means; but he’s sure to do it or anything else, with his money. He’s very charitable, I’ve heard. I don’t know whether he’s a German Jew, or a Portegee, or what. He’s a cut above me, a precious sight. I only wish he was my uncle. I can’t say what I should do if I had his money. Perhaps I should go a travelling, and see everything everywhere. I don’t know how long the Jews have been in England; always perhaps. Yes, I know there’s Jews in other countries. This sponge is Greek sponge, but I don’t know where it’s grown, only it’s in foreign parts. Jerusalem! Yes, I’ve heard of it. I’m of no tribe that I know of. I buy what I eat about Petticoat-lane. No, I don’t like fish, but the stews, and the onions with them is beautiful for two-pence; you may get a pennor’th. The pickles—cowcumbers is best—are stunning. But they’re plummiest with a bit of cheese or anything cold—that’s my opinion, but you may think different. Pork! Ah! No, I never touched it; I’d as soon eat a cat; so would my father. No, sir, I don’t think pork smells nice in a cook-shop, but some Jew boys, as I knows, thinks it does. I don’t know why it shouldn’t be eaten, only that it’s wrong to eat it. No, I never touched a ham-sandwich, but other Jew boys have, and laughed at it, I know.

“I don’t know what I make in a week. I think I make as much on one thing as on another. I’ve sold strawberries, and cherries, and gooseberries, and nuts and walnuts in the season. O, as to what I make, that’s nothing to nobody. Sometimes 6d. a day, sometimes 1s.; sometimes a little more, and sometimes nothing. No, I never sells inferior things if I can help it, but if one hasn’t stock-money one must do as one can, but it isn’t so easy to try it on. There was a boy beaten by a woman not long since for selling a big pottle of strawberries that was rubbish all under the toppers. It was all strawberry leaves, and crushed strawberries, and such like. She wanted to take back from him the two-pence she’d paid for it, and got hold of his pockets and there was a regular fight, but she didn’t get a farthing back though she tried her very hardest, ’cause he slipped from her and hooked it. So you see it’s dangerous to try it on.” [This last remark was made gravely enough, but the lad told of the feat with such manifest glee, that I’m inclined to believe that he himself was the culprit in question.] “Yes, it was a Jew boy it happened to, but other boys in the streets is just the same. Do I like the streets? I can’t say I do, there’s too little to be made in them. No, I wouldn’t like to go to school, nor to be in a shop, nor be anybody’s servant but my own. O, I don’t know what I shall be when I’m grown up. I shall take my chance like others.”

Of the Pursuits, Dwellings, Traffic, etc., of the Jew-Boy Street-Sellers.

To speak of the street Jew-boys as regards their traffic, manners, haunts, and associations, is to speak of the same class of boys who may not be employed regularly in street-sale, but are the comrades of those who are; a class, who, on any cessation of their employment in cigar manufactories, or indeed any capacity, will apply themselves temporarily to street-selling, for it seems to these poor and uneducated lads a sort of natural vocation.

These youths, uncontrolled or incontrollable by their parents (who are of the lowest class of the Jews, and who often, I am told, care little about the matter, so long as the child can earn his own maintenance), frequently in the evenings, after their day’s work, resort to coffee-shops, in preference even to a cheap concert-room. In these places they amuse themselves as men might do in a tavern where the landlord leaves his guests to their own caprices. Sometimes one of them reads aloud from some exciting or degrading book, the lads who are unable to read listening with all the intentness with which many of the uneducated attend to any one reading. The reading is, however, not unfrequently interrupted by rude comments from the listeners. If a newspaper be read, the “police,” or “crimes,” are mostly the parts preferred. But the most approved way of passing the evening, among the Jew boys, is to play at draughts, dominoes, or cribbage, and to bet on the play. Draughts and dominoes are unpractised among the costermonger boys, but some of the young Jews are adepts in those games.

A gentleman who took an interest in the Jew lads told me that he had often heard the sort of reading and comments I have described, when he had called to talk to and perhaps expostulate with, these youths in a coffee-shop, but he informed me that they seldom regarded any expostulation, and[124] seemed to be little restrained by the presence of a stranger, the lads all muttering and laughing in a box among themselves. I saw seven of them, a little after eight in the evening, in a coffee-shop in the London-road,—although it is not much of a Jewish locality,—and two of them were playing at draughts for coffee, while the others looked on, betting halfpennies or pennies with all the eagerness of gamblers, unrestrained in their expressions of delight or disappointment as they thought they were winning or losing, and commenting on the moves with all the assurance of connoisseurship; sometimes they squabbled angrily and then suddenly dropped their voices, as the master of the coffee-shop had once or twice cautioned them to be quiet.

The dwellings of boys such us these are among the worst in London, as regards ventilation, comfort, or cleanliness. They reside in the courts and recesses about Whitechapel and Petticoat-lane, and generally in a garret. If not orphans they usually dwell with their father. I am told that the care of a mother is almost indispensable to a poor Jew boy, and having that care he seldom becomes an outcast. The Jewesses and Jew girls are rarely itinerant street-sellers—not in the proportion of one to twelve, compared with the men and boys; in this respect therefore the street Jews differ widely from the English costermongers and the street Irish, nor are the Hebrew females even stall-keepers in the same proportion.

One Jew boy’s lodging which I visited was in a back garret, low and small. The boy lived with his father (a street-seller of fruit), and the room was very bare. A few sacks were thrown over an old palliass, a blanket seemed to be used for a quilt; there were no fire-irons nor fender; no cooking utensils. Beside the bed was an old chest, serving for a chair, while a board resting on a trestle did duty for a table (this was once, I presume, a small street-stall). The one not very large window was thick with dirt and patched all over. Altogether I have seldom seen a more wretched apartment. The man, I was told, was addicted to drinking.

The callings of which the Jew boys have the monopoly are not connected with the sale of any especial article, but rather with such things as present a variety from those ordinarily offered in the streets, such as cakes, sweetmeats, fried fish, and (in the winter) elder wine. The cakes known as “boolers”—a mixture of egg, flour, and candied orange or lemon peel, cut very thin, and with a slight colouring from saffron or something similar—are now sold principally, and used to be sold exclusively, by the Jew boys. Almond cakes (little round cakes of crushed almonds) are at present vended by the Jew boys, and their sponge biscuits are in demand. All these dainties are bought by the street-lads of the Jew pastry-cooks. The difference in these cakes, in their sweetmeats, and their elder wine, is that there is a dash of spice about them not ordinarily met with. It is the same with the fried fish, a little spice or pepper being blended with the oil. In the street-sale of pickles the Jews have also the monopoly; these, however, are seldom hawked, but generally sold from windows and door-steads. The pickles are cucumbers or gherkins, and onions—a large cucumber being 2d., and the smaller 1d. and ½d.

The faults of the Jew lad are an eagerness to make money by any means, so that he often grows up a cheat, a trickster, a receiver of stolen goods, though seldom a thief, for he leaves that to others. He is content to profit by the thief’s work, but seldom steals himself, however he may cheat. Some of these lads become rich men; others are vagabonds all their lives. None of the Jew lads confine themselves to the sale of any one article, nor do they seem to prefer one branch of street-traffic to another. Even those who cannot read are exceedingly quick.

I may here observe in connection with the receipt of stolen goods, that I shall deal with this subject in my account of the London Thieves. I shall also show the connection of Jewesses and Jews with the prostitution of the metropolis, in my forthcoming exposition of the London Prostitutes.

Of the Street Jewesses and Street Jew-Girls.

I have mentioned that the Jewesses and the young Jew girls, compared with the adult Jews and Jew boys, are not street-traders in anything like the proportion which the females were found to bear to the males among the Irish street-folk and the English costermongers. There are, however, a few Jewish females who are itinerant street-sellers as well as stall keepers, in the proportion, perhaps, of one female to seven or eight males. The majority of the street Jew-girls whom I saw on a round were accompanied by boys who were represented to be their brothers, and I have little doubt such was the facts, for these young Jewesses, although often pert and ignorant, are not unchaste. Of this I was assured by a medical gentleman who could speak with sufficient positiveness on the subject.

Fruit is generally sold by these boys and girls together, the lad driving the barrow, and the girl inviting custom and handing the purchases to the buyers. In tending a little stall or a basket at a regular pitch, with such things as cherries or strawberries, the little Jewess differs only from her street-selling sisters in being a brisker trader. The stalls, with a few old knives or scissors, or odds and ends of laces, that are tended by the Jew girls in the streets in the Jewish quarters (I am told there are not above a dozen of them) are generally near the shops and within sight of their parents or friends. One little Jewess, with whom I had some conversation, had not even heard the name of the Chief Rabbi, the Rev. Dr. Adler, and knew nothing of any distinction between German and Portuguese Jews; she had, I am inclined to believe, never heard of either. I am told that the whole, or nearly the whole, of these young female traders reside with parents or friends, and that there is among them far less than the average number of runaways. One Jew told me he thought that the young female members of his tribe did[125] not tramp with the juveniles of the other sex—no, not in the proportion of one to a hundred in comparison, he said with a laugh, with “young women of the Christian persuasion.” My informant had means of knowing this fact, as although still a young man, he had traversed the greater part of England hawking perfumery, which he had abandoned as a bad trade. A wire-worker, long familiar with tramping and going into the country—a man upon whose word I have every reason to rely—told me that he could not remember a single instance of his having seen a young Jewess “travelling” with a boy.

There are a few adult Jewesses who are itinerant traders, but very few. I met with one who carried on her arm a not very large basket, filled with glass wares; chiefly salt-cellars, cigar-ash plates, blue glass dessert plates, vinegar-cruets, and such like. The greater part of her wares appeared to be blue, and she carried nothing but glass. She was a good-looking and neatly-dressed woman. She peeped in at each shop-door, and up at the windows of every private house, in the street in which I met her, crying, “Clo’, old clo’!” She bartered her glass for old clothes, or bought the garments, dealing principally in female attire, and almost entirely with women. She declined to say anything about her family or her circumstances, except that she had nothing that way to complain about, but—when I had used some names I had authority to make mention of—she said she would, with pleasure, tell me all about her trade, which she carried on rather than do nothing. “When I hawk,” she said with an English accent, her face being unmistakeably Jewish, “I hawk only good glass, and it can hardly be called hawking, as I swop it for more than I sell it. I always ask for the mistress, and if she wants any of my glass we come to a bargain if we can. O, it’s ridiculous to see what things some ladies—I suppose they must be called ladies—offer for my glass. Children’s green or blue gauze veils, torn or faded, and not worth picking up, because no use whatever; old ribbons, not worth dyeing, and old frocks, not worth washing. People say, ‘as keen as a Jew,’ but ladies can’t think we’re very keen when they offer us such rubbish. I do most at the middle kind of houses, both shops and private. I sometimes give a little money for such a thing as a shawl, or a fur tippet, as well as my glass—but only when I can’t help it—to secure a bargain. Sometimes, but not often, I get the old thing and a trifle for my glass. Occasionally I buy outright. I don’t do much, there’s so many in the line, and I don’t go out regularly. I can’t say how many women are in my way—very few; O, I do middling. I told you I had no complaints to make. I don’t calculate my profits or what I sell. My family do that and I don’t trouble myself.”

Of the Synagogues and the Religion of the Street and other Jews.

The Jews in this country are classed as “Portuguese” and “German.” Among them are no distinctions of tribes, but there is of rites and ceremonies, as is set forth in the following extract (which shows also the mode of government) from a Jewish writer: “The Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of Jews, who are also called Sephardin (from the word Sepharad, which signifies Spain in Hebrew), are distinct from the German and Polish Jews in their ritual service. The prayers both daily and for the Sabbath materially differ from each other, and the festival prayers differ still more. Hence the Portuguese Jews have a distinct prayer-book, and the German Jews likewise.

“The fundamental laws are equally observed by both sects, but in the ceremonial worship there exists numerous differences. The Portuguese Jews eat some food during the Passover, which the German Jews are prohibited doing by some Rabbis, but their authority is not acknowledged by the Portuguese Rabbis. Nor are the present ecclesiastical authorities in London of the two sects the same. The Portuguese Jews have their own Rabbis, and the German have their own. The German Jews are much more numerous than the Portuguese; the chief Rabbi of the German Jews is the Rev. Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler, late Chief Rabbi of Hanover, who wears no beard, and dresses in the German costume. The presiding Rabbi of the Portuguese Jews is the Rev. David Meldola, a native of Leghorn; his father filled the same office in London. Each chief Rabbi is supported by three other Rabbis, called Dayamin, which signifies in Hebrew ‘Judges.’ Every Monday and Thursday the Chief Rabbi of the German Jews, Dr. Adler, supported by his three colleagues, sits for two hours in the Rabbinical College (Beth Hamedrash), Smith’s-buildings, Leadenhall-street, to attend to all applications from the German Jews, which may be brought before him, and which are decided according to the Jewish law. Many disputes between Jews in religious matters are settled in this manner; and if the Lord Mayor or any other magistrate is told that the matter has already been settled by the Jewish Rabbi he seldom interferes. This applies only to civil and not to criminal cases. The Portuguese Jews have their own hospital and their own schools. Both congregations have their representatives in the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which board is acknowledged by government, and is triennial. Sir Moses Montefiore, a Jew of great wealth, who distinguished himself by his mission to Damascus, during the persecution of the Jews in that place, and also by his mission to Russia, some years ago, is the President of the Board. All political matters, calling for communications with government, are within the province of that useful board.”

The Jews have eight synagogues in London, besides some smaller places which may perhaps, adopting the language of another church, be called synagogues of ease. The great synagogue in Duke’s-place (a locality of which I have often had to speak) is the largest, but the new synagogue, St. Helen’s, Bishopgate, is the one which most betokens the wealth of the worshippers. It is[126] rich with ornaments, marble, and painted glass; the pavement is of painted marble, and presents a perfect round, while the ceiling is a half dome. There are besides these the Hamburg Synagogue, in Fenchurch-street; the Portuguese Synagogue, in Bevis-marks; two smaller places, in Cutler-street and Gun-yard, Houndsditch, known as Polish Synagogues; the Maiden-lane (Covent-garden), Synagogue; the Western Synagogue, St. Alban’s-place, Pall-mall; and the West London Synagogue of British Jews, Margaret-street, Cavendish-square. The last-mentioned is the most aristocratic of the synagogues. The service there is curtailed, the ritual abbreviated, and the days of observance of the Jewish festival reduced from two to one. This alteration is strongly protested against by the other Jews, and the practices of this synagogue seem to show a yielding to the exactions or requirements of the wealthy. In the old days, and in almost every country in Europe, it was held to be sinful even for a king—reverenced and privileged as such a potentate then was—to prosecute any undertaking before he heard mass. In some states it was said in reproach of a noble or a sovereign, “he breakfasts before he hears mass,” and, to meet the impatience of the Great, “hunting masses,” as they were styled, or epitomes of the full service, were introduced. The Jews, some eight or nine years back in this country, seem to have followed this example; such was the case, at least, as regards London and the wealthier of the professors of this ancient faith.

The synagogues are not well attended, the congregations being smaller in proportion to the population than those of the Church of England. Neither, during the observance of the Jewish worship, is there any especial manifestation of the service being regarded as of a sacred and divinely-ordained character. There is a buzzing talk among the attendants during the ceremony, and an absence of seriousness and attention. Some of the Jews, however, show the greatest devotion, and the same may be said of the Jewesses, who sit apart in the synagogues, and are not required to attend so regularly as the men.

I should not have alluded to this absence of the solemnities of devotion, as regards the congregations of the Hebrews, had I not heard it regretted by Hebrews themselves. “It is shocking,” one said. Another remarked, “To attend the synagogue is looked upon too much as a matter of business; but perhaps there is the same spirit in some of the Christian churches.”

As to the street-Jews, religion is little known among them, or little cared for. They are indifferent to it—not to such a degree, indeed, as the costermongers, for they are not so ignorant a class—but yet contrasting strongly in their neglect with the religious intensity of the majority of the Roman Catholic Irish of the streets. In common justice I must give the remark of a Hebrew merchant with whom I had some conversation on the subject:—“I can’t say much about street-Jews, for my engagements lead me away from them, and I don’t know much about street-Christians. But if out of a hundred Jews you find that only ten of them care for their religion, how many out of a hundred Christians of any sort will care about theirs? Will ten of them care? If you answer, but they are only nominal Christians, my reply is, the Jews are only nominal Jews—Jews by birth, and not by faith.”

Among the Jews I conversed with—and of course only the more intelligent understood, or were at all interested in, the question—I heard the most contemptuous denunciation of all converts from Judaism. One learned informant, who was by no means blind to the short-comings of his own people, expressed his conviction that no Jew had ever been really converted. He had abandoned his faith from interested motives. On this subject I am not called upon to express any opinion, and merely mention it to show a prevalent feeling among the class I am describing.

The street-Jews, including the majority of the more prosperous and most numerous class among them, the old-clothes men, are far from being religious in feeling, or well versed in their faith, and are, perhaps, in that respect on a level with the mass of the members of the Church of England; I say of the Church of England, because of that church the many who do not profess religion are usually accounted members.

In the Rabbinical College, I may add, is the finest Jewish library in the world. It has been collected for several generations under the care of the Chief Rabbis. The public are admitted, having first obtained tickets, given gratuitously, at the Chief Rabbi’s residence in Crosby-square.

Of the Politics, Literature, and Amusements of the Jews.

Perhaps there is no people in the world, possessing the average amount of intelligence in busy communities, who care so little for politics as the general body of the Jews. The wealthy classes may take an interest in the matter, but I am assured, and by those who know their countrymen well, that even with them such a quality as patriotism is a mere word. This may be accounted for in a great measure, perhaps, from an hereditary feeling. The Jew could hardly be expected to love a land, or to strive for the promotion of its general welfare, where he felt he was but a sojourner, and where he was at the best but tolerated and often proscribed. But this feeling becomes highly reprehensible when it extends—as I am assured it does among many of the rich Jews—to their own people, for whom, apart from conventionalities, say my informants, they care nothing whatever; for so long as they are undisturbed in money-getting at home, their brethren may be persecuted all over the world, while the rich Jew merely shrugs his shoulders. An honourable exception, however, exists in Sir Moses Montefiore, who has honourably distinguished himself in the relief of his persecuted brethren on more than one occasion. The great of the earth no longer spit upon the gabardine of the Jewish millionaire, nor do they draw his teeth to get his money, but the great Jew capitalists, with powerful influence in[127] many a government, do not seek to direct that influence for the bettering of the lot of their poorer brethren, who, at the same time, brook the restrictions and indignities which they have to suffer with a perfect philosophy. In fact, the Jews have often been the props of the courts who have persecuted them; that is to say, two or three Jewish firms occasionally have not hesitated to lend millions to the governments by whom they and their people have been systematically degraded and oppressed.

I was told by a Hebrew gentleman (a professional man) that so little did the Jews themselves care for “Jewish emancipation,” that he questioned if one man in ten, actuated solely by his own feelings, would trouble himself to walk the length of the street in which he lived to secure Baron Rothschild’s admission into the House of Commons. This apathy, my informant urged with perfect truth, in nowise affected the merits of the question, though he was convinced it formed a great obstacle to Baron Rothschild’s success; “for governments,” he said, “won’t give boons to people who don’t care for them; and, though this is called a boon, I look upon it as only a right.”

When such is the feeling of the comparatively wealthier Jews, no one can wonder that I found among the Jewish street-sellers and old-clothes men with whom I talked on the subject—and their more influential brethren gave me every facility to prosecute my inquiry among them—a perfect indifference to, and nearly as perfect an ignorance of, politics. Perhaps no men buy so few newspapers, and read them so little, as the Jews generally. The street-traders, when I alluded to the subject, said they read little but the “Police Reports.”

Among the body of the Jews there is little love of Literature. They read far less (let it be remembered I have acquired all this information from Jews themselves, and from men who could not be mistaken in the matter), and are far less familiar with English authorship, either historical or literary, than are the poorer English artizans. Neither do the wealthiest classes of the Jews care to foster literature among their own people. One author, a short time ago, failing to interest the English Jews, to promote the publication of his work, went to the United States, and his book was issued in Philadelphia, the city of Quakers!

The Amusements of the Jews—and here I speak more especially of the street or open-air traders—are the theatres and concert-rooms. The City of London Theatre, the Standard Theatre, and other playhouses at the East-end of London, are greatly resorted to by the Jews, and more especially by the younger members of the body, who sometimes constitute a rather obstreperous gallery. The cheap concerts which they patronize are generally of a superior order, for the Jews are fond of music, and among them have been many eminent composers and performers, so that the trash and jingle which delights the costermonger class would not please the street Jew boys; hence their concerts are superior to the general run of cheap concerts, and are almost always “got up” by their own people.

Sussex-hall, in Leadenhall-street, is chiefly supported by Israelites; there the “Jews’ and General Literary and Scientific Institution” is established, with reading-rooms and a library; and there lectures, concerts, &c., are given as at similar institutions. Of late, on every Friday evening, Sussex-hall has been thrown open to the general public, without any charge for admission, and lectures have been delivered gratuitously, on literature, science, art, and general subjects, which have attracted crowded audiences. The lecturers are chiefly Jews, but the lectures are neither theological nor sectarian. The lecturers are Mr. M. H. Bresslau, the Rev. B. H. Ascher, Mr. J. L. Levison (of Brighton), and Mr. Clarke, a merchant in the City, a Christian, whose lectures are very popular among the Jews. The behaviour of the Jew attendants, and the others, the Jews being the majority, is decorous. They seem “to like to receive information,” I was told; and a gentleman connected with the hall argued that this attention showed a readiness for proper instruction, when given in an attractive form, which favoured the opinion that the young Jews, when not thrown in childhood into the vortex of money-making, were very easily teachable, while their natural quickness made them both ready and willing to be taught.

My old-clothes buying informant mentioned a Jewish eating-house. I visited one in the Jew quarter, but saw nothing to distinguish it from Christian resorts of the same character and cheapness (the “plate” of good hot meat costing 4d., and vegetables 1d.), except that it was fuller of Jews than of Christians, by three to two, perhaps, and that there was no “pork” in the waiter’s specification of the fare.

Of the Charities, Schools, and Education of the Jews.

The Jewish charities are highly honourable to the body, for they allow none of their people to live or die in a parish workhouse. It is true that among the Jews in London there are many individuals of immense wealth; but there are also many rich Christians who care not one jot for the need of their brethren. It must be borne in mind also, that not only do the Jews voluntarily support their own poor and institutions, but they contribute—compulsorily it is true—their quota to the support of the English poor and church; and, indeed, pay their due proportion of all the parliamentary or local imposts. This is the more honourable and the more remarkable among the Jews, when we recollect their indisputable greed of money.

If a Jew be worn out in his old age, and unable to maintain himself, he is either supported by the contributions of his friends, or out of some local or general fund, or provided for in some asylum, and all this seems to be done with a less than ordinary fuss and display, so that the[128] recipient of the charity feels himself more a pensioner than a pauper.

The Jews’ Hospital, in the Mile-end Road, is an extensive building, into which feeble old men and destitute children of both sexes are admitted. Here the boys are taught trades, and the girls qualified for respectable domestic service. The Widows’ Home, in Duke-street, Aldgate, is for poor Hebrew widows. The Orphan Asylum, built at the cost of Mr. A. L. Moses, and supported by subscription, now contains 14 girls and 8 boys; a school is attached to the asylum, which is in the Tenter Ground, Goodman’s-fields. The Hand-in-Hand Asylum, for decayed old people, men and women, is in Duke’s-place, Aldgate. There are likewise alms-houses for the Jews, erected also by Mr. A. L. Moses, at Mile-end, and other alms-houses, erected by Mr. Joel Emanuel, in Wellclose-square, near the Tower. There are, further, three institutions for granting marriage dowers to fatherless children; an institution in Bevis-marks, for the burial of the poor of the congregation; “Beth Holim;” a house for the reception of the sick poor, and of poor lying-in women belonging to the congregation of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews; “Magasim Zobim,” for lending money to aid apprenticeships among boys, to fit girls for good domestic service, and for helping poor children to proceed to foreign parts, when it is believed that the change will be advantageous to them; and “Noten Lebem Larcebim;” to distribute bread to the poor of the congregation on the day preceding the Sabbath.

I am assured that these institutions are well-managed, and that, if the charities are abused by being dispensed to undeserving objects, it is usually with the knowledge of the managers, who often let the abuse pass, as a smaller evil than driving a man to theft or subjecting him to the chance of starvation. One gentleman, familiar with most of these establishments, said to me with a laugh, “I believe, if you have had any conversation with the gentlemen who manage these matters, you will have concluded that they are not the people to be imposed upon very easily.”

There are seven Jewish schools in London, four in the city, and three at the West-end, all supported by voluntary contributions. The Jews’ Free School, in Bell-lane, Spitalfields, is the largest, and is adapted for the education of no fewer than 1200 boys and girls. The late Baroness de Rothschild provided clothing, yearly, for all the pupils in the school. In the Infant School, Houndsditch, are about 400 little scholars. There are also the Orphan Asylum School, previously mentioned; the Western Jewish schools, for girls, in Dean-street, and, for boys, in Greek-street, Soho, but considered as one establishment; and the West Metropolitan School, for girls, in Little Queen-street, and, for boys, in High Holborn, also considered as one establishment.

Notwithstanding these means of education, the body of the poorer, or what in other callings might be termed the working-classes, are not even tolerably well educated; they are indifferent to the matter. With many, the multiplication table seems to constitute what they think the acme of all knowledge needful to a man. The great majority of the Jew boys, in the street, cannot read. A smaller portion can read, but so imperfectly that their ability to read detracts nothing from their ignorance. So neglectful or so necessitous (but I heard the ignorance attributed to neglect far more frequently than necessity) are the poorer Jews, and so soon do they take their children away from school, “to learn and do something for themselves,” and so irregular is their attendance, on the plea that the time cannot be spared, and the boy must do something for himself, that many children leave the free-schools not only about as ignorant as when they entered them, but almost with an incentive to continued ignorance; for they knew nothing of reading, except that to acquire its rudiments is a pain, a labour, and a restraint. On some of the Jew boys the vagrant spirit is strong; they will be itinerants, if not wanderers,—though this is a spirit in no way confined to the Jew boys.

Although the wealthier Jews may be induced to give money towards the support of their poor, I heard strong strictures passed upon them concerning their indifference towards their brethren in all other respects. Even if they subscribed to a school, they never cared whether or not it was attended, and that, much as was done, far more was in the power of so wealthy and distinct a people. “This is all the more inexcusable,” was said to me by a Jew, “because there are so many rich Jews in London, and if they exerted and exercised a broader liberality, as they might in instituting Jewish colleges, for instance, to promote knowledge among the middle-classes, and if they cared more about employing their own people, their liberality would be far more fully felt than similar conduct in a Christian, because they have a smaller sphere to influence. As to employing their own people, there are numbers of the rich Jews who will employ any stranger in preference, if he work a penny a week cheaper. This sort of clan employment,” continued my Jew informant, “should never be exclusive, but there might, I think, be a judicious preference.”

I shall now proceed to set forth an account of the sums yearly subscribed for purposes of education and charity by the Jews.

The Jews’ Free School in Spitalfields is supported by voluntary contributions to the amount of about 1200l. yearly. To this sum a few Christians contribute, as to some other Hebrew institutions (which I shall specify), while Jews often are liberal supporters of Christian public charities—indeed, some of the wealthier Jews are looked upon by the members of their own faith as inclined to act more generously where Christian charities, with the prestige of high aristocratic and fashionable patronage, are in question, than towards their own institutions. To the Jews’ Free School the Court of Common Council of the Corporation of London lately granted 100l., through the exertions of Mr. Benjamin S. Phillips, of Newgate-street, a[129] member of the court. The Baroness Lionel de Rothschild (as I have formerly stated of the late Baroness) supplies clothing for the scholars. The school is adapted for the reception of 1200 boys and girls in equal proportion; about 900 is the average attendance.

The Jews’ Infant School in Houndsditch, with an average attendance approaching 400, is similarly supported at a cost of from 800l. to 1000l. yearly.

The Orphan Asylum School, in Goodman’s-fields, receives a somewhat larger support, but in the expenditure is the cost of an asylum (before mentioned, and containing 22 inmates). The funds are about 1500l. yearly. Christians subscribe to this institution also—Mr. Frederick Peel, M.P., taking great interest in it. The attendance of pupils is from 300 to 400.

It might be tedious to enumerate the other schools, after having described the principal; I will merely add, therefore, that the yearly contributions to each are from 700l. to 1000l., and the pupils taught in each from 200 to 400. Of these further schools there are four already specified.

The Jews’ Hospital, at Mile End, is maintained at a yearly cost of about 3000l., to which Christians contribute, but not to a twentieth of the amount collected. The persons benefited are worn-out old men, and destitute children, while the number of almspeople is from 150 to 200 yearly.

The other two asylums, &c., which I have specified, are maintained at a cost of about 800l. each, as a yearly average, and the Almshouses, three in number, at about half that sum. The persons relieved by these last-mentioned institutions number about 250, two-thirds, or thereabouts, being in the asylums.

The Loan Societies are three: the Jewish Ladies Visiting and Benevolent Loan Society; the Linusarian Loan Society (why called Linusarian a learned Hebrew scholar could not inform me, although he had asked the question of others); and the Magasim Zobim (the Good Deeds), a Portuguese Jews’ Loan Society.

The business of these three societies is conducted on the same principle. Money is lent on personal or any security approved by the managers, and no interest is charged to the borrower. The amount lent yearly is from 600l. to 700l. by each society, the whole being repaid and with sufficient punctuality; a few weeks’ “grace” is occasionally allowed in the event of illness or any unforeseen event. The Loan Societies have not yet found it necessary to proceed against any of their debtors; my informant thought this forbearance extended over six years.

There is not among the Jewish street-traders, as among the costermongers and others, a class forming part, or having once formed part of themselves, and living by usury and loan mongering, where they have amassed a few pounds. Whatever may be thought of the Jews’ usurious dealings as regards the general public, the poorer classes of their people are not subjected to the exactions of usury, with all its clogs to a struggling man’s well-doing. Sometimes the amount required by an old-clothes man, or other street-trader, is obtained by or for him at one of these loan societies. Sometimes it is advanced by the usual buyer of the second-hand garments collected by the street-Jew. No security in such cases is given beyond—strange as it may sound—the personal honour of an old-clothes man! An experienced man told me, that taking all the class of Jew street-sellers, who are a very fluctuating body, with the exception of the old-clothes men, the sum thus advanced as stock-money to them might be seldom less in any one year than 300l., and seldom more than 500l. There is a prevalent notion that the poorer Jews, when seeking charity, are supplied with goods for street-sale by their wealthy brethren, and never with money—this appears to be unfounded.

Now to sum up the above items we find that the yearly cost of the Jewish schools is about 7000l., supplying the means of instruction to 3000 children (out of a population of 18,000 of all ages, one-half of whom, perhaps, are under 20 years). The yearly outlay in the asylums, &c., is, it appears, 5800l. annually, benefiting or maintaining about 420 individuals (at a cost of nearly 14l. per head). If we add no more than 200l. yearly for the minor charities or institutions I have previously alluded to, we find 14,000l. expended annually in the public schools and charities of the Jews of London, independently of about 2000l., which is the amount of the loans to those requiring temporary aid.

We have before seen that the number of Jews in London is estimated by the best informed at about 18,000; hence it would appear that the charitable donations of the Jews of London amount on an average to a little less than 1l. per head. Let us compare this with the benevolence of the Christians. At the same ratio the sum devoted to the charities of England and Wales should be very nearly 16,000,000l., but, according to the most liberal estimates, it does not reach half that amount; the rent of the land and other fixed property, together with the interest of the money left for charitable purposes in England and Wales, is 1,200,000l. If, however, we add to the voluntary contributions the sum raised compulsorily by assessment in aid of the poor (about 7,000,000l. per annum), the ratio of the English Christian’s contributions to his needy brethren throughout the country will be very nearly the same as that of the Jew’s. Moreover, if we turn our attention to the benevolent bequests and donations of the Christians of London, we shall find that their munificence does not fall far short of that of the metropolitan Jews. The gross amounts of the charitable contributions of London are given below, together with the numbers of institutions; and it will thus be seen that the sum devoted to such purposes amounts to no less than 1,764,733l., or upwards of a million and three-quarters sterling for a population of about two millions!


Income derived from voluntary contributions.Income derived from property.
12 General medical hospitals£31,265£111,641
50 Medical charities for special purposes27,97468,690
35 General dispensaries11,4702,954
12 Preservation of life and public morals8,7302,773
18 Reclaiming the fallen and staying the progress of crime16,29913,737
14 Relief of general destitution and distress20,6463,234
12 Relief of specified distress19,47310,408
14 Aiding the resources of the industrious4,6772,569
11 For the blind, deaf, and dumb11,96522,797
103 Colleges, hospitals, and other asylums for the aged5,85777,190
16 Charitable pension societies15,7903,199
74 Charitable and provident, chiefly for specified classes19,90583,322
31 Asylums for orphans and other necessitous children55,46625,549
10 Educational foundations15,00078,112
4 Charitable modern ditto4,0009,300
40 School societies, religious books, church aiding, and Christian visitings, &c.159,853158,336
35 Bible and missionary494,49463,058
491 Total1,022,864741,869

In connection with the statistical part of this subject I may mention that the Chief Rabbis each receive 1200l. a year; the Readers of the Synagogues, of whom there are twelve in London, from 300l. to 400l. a year each; the Secretaries of the Synagogues, of whom there are also twelve, from 200l. to 300l. each; the twelve under Secretaries from 100l. to 150l.; and six Dayanim 100l. a year each. These last-mentioned officers are looked upon by many of the Jews, as the “poor curates” may be by the members of the Church of England—as being exceedingly under-paid. The functions of the Dayanim have been already mentioned, and, I may add, that they must have received expensive scholarly educations, as for about four hours daily they have to read the Talmud in the places of worship.

The yearly payment of these sacerdotal officials, then, independent of other outlay, amounts to about 11,700l.; this is raised from the profits of the seats in the synagogues and voluntary contributions, donations, subscriptions, bequests, &c., among the Jews.

I have before spoken of a Board of Deputies, in connection with the Jews, and now proceed to describe its constitution. It is not a parliament among the Jews, I am told nor a governing power, but what may be called a directing or regulating body. It is authorized by the body of Jews, and recognised by her Majesty’s Government, as an established corporation, with powers to treat and determine on matters of civil and political policy affecting the condition of the Hebrews in this country, and interferes in no way with religious matters. It is neither a metropolitan nor a local nor a detached board, but, as far as the Jews in England may be so described, a national board. This board is elected triennially. The electors are the “seat-holders” in the Jewish synagogues; that is to say, they belong to the class of Jews who promote the support of the synagogues by renting seats, and so paying towards the cost of those establishments.

There are in England, Ireland, and Scotland, about 1000 of these seat-holders exercising the franchise, or rather entitled to exercise it, but many of them are indifferent to the privilege, as is often testified by the apathy shown on the days of election. Perhaps three-fourths of the privileged number may vote. The services of the representatives are gratuitous, and no qualification is required, but the elected are usually the leading metropolitan Jews. The proportion of the electors voting is in the ratio of the deputies elected. London returns 12 deputies; Liverpool, 2; Manchester, 2; Birmingham, 2; Edinburgh, Dublin, (the only places in either Scotland or Ireland returning deputies), Dover, Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth, Canterbury, Norwich, Swansea, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and two other places (according to the number of seat-holders), each one deputy, thus making up the number to 30. On election days the attendance, as I have said, is often small, but fluctuating according to any cause of excitement, which, however, is but seldom.

The question which has of late been discussed by this Board, and which is now under consideration, and negotiation with the Education Commissioners of her Majesty’s Privy Council, is the obtaining a grant of money in the same proportion as it has been granted to other educational establishments. Nothing has as yet been given to the Jewish schools, and the matter is still undetermined.

With religious or sacerdotal questions the Board of Deputies does not, or is not required to meddle; it leaves all such matters to the bodies or tribunals I have mentioned. Indeed the deputies concern themselves only with what may be called the public interests of the Jews, both as a part of the community and as a distinct people. The Jewish institutions, however, are not an exception to the absence of unanimity among the professors of the same creeds, for the members of the Reform Synagogue in Margaret-street, Cavendish-square, are not recognised as entitled to vote, and do not vote, accordingly, in the election of the Jewish deputies. Indeed, the Reform members, whose synagogue was established eight years ago, were formally excommunicated by a declaration of the late Chief Rabbi, but this seems now to be regarded as a mere matter of form, for the members have lately partaken of all the rites to which orthodox Jews are entitled.


Of the Funeral Ceremonies, Fasts, and Customs of the Jews.

The funeral ceremonies of the Jews are among the things which tend to preserve the distinctness and peculiarity of this people. Sometimes, though now rarely, the nearest relatives of the deceased wear sackcloth (a coarse crape), and throw ashes and dust on their hair, for the term during which the corpse remains unburied, this term being the same as among Christians. When the corpse is carried to the Jews’ burial-ground for interment the coffin is frequently opened, and the corpse addressed, in a Hebrew formula, by any relative, friend, or acquaintance who may be present. The words are to the following purport: “If I have done anything that might be offensive—pardon, pardon, pardon.” After that the coffin is carried round the burial-ground in a circuit, children chanting the 90th Psalm in its original Hebrew, “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” The passages which the air causes to be most emphatic are these verses:—

“3. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

“4. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

“5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

“6. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

“10. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

The coffin is then carried into a tent, and the funeral prayers, in Hebrew, are read. When it has been lowered into the grave, the relatives, and indeed all the attendants at the interment, fill up the grave, shovelling in the earth. In the Jews’ burial-ground are no distinctions, no vaults or provisions for aristocratic sepulture. The very rich and the very poor, the outcast woman and the virtuous and prosperous gentlewoman, “grossly familiar, side by side consume.” A Jewish funeral is a matter of high solemnity.

The burial fees are 12s. for children, and from 2l. to 3l. for adults. These fees are not the property of the parties officiating, but form a portion of the synagogue funds for general purposes, payment of officers, &c. No fees are charged to the relatives of poor Jews.

Two fasts are rigidly observed by the Jews, and even by those Jews who are usually indifferent to the observances of their religion. These are the Black Fast, in commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the White Fast, in commemoration of the atonement. On each of those occasions the Jews abstain altogether from food for 24 hours, or from sunset to sunset.

Of the Jew Street-Sellers of Accordions, and of their Street Musical Pursuits.

I conclude my account of the Street-Jews with an account of the accordion sellers.

Although the Jews, as a people, are musical, they are little concerned at present either in the sale of musical instruments in the streets, or in street-music or singing. Until within a few years, however, the street-sale of accordions was carried on by itinerant Jews, and had previously been carried on most extensively in the country, even in the far north of England. Some years back well-dressed Jews “travelled” with stocks of accordions. In many country towns and in gentlemen’s country mansions, in taverns, and schools also, these accordions were then a novelty. The Jew could play on the instrument, and carried a book of instructions, which usually formed part of the bargain, and by the aid of which, he made out, any one, even without previous knowledge of the practical art of music, could easily teach himself—nothing but a little practice in fingering being wanted to make a good accordion-player. At first the accordions sold by the Jew hawkers were good, two guineas being no unusual price to be paid for one, even to a street-seller, while ten and twenty shillings were the lower charges. But the accordions were in a few years “made slop,” cheap instruments being sent to this country from Germany, and sold at less than half their former price, until the charge fell as low as 3s. 6d. or even 2s. 6d.—but only for “rubbish,” I was told. When the fragility and inferior musical qualities of these instruments came to be known, it was found almost impossible to sell in the streets even superior instruments, however reasonable in price, and thus the trade sunk to a nonentity. So little demand is there now for these instruments that no pawnbroker, I am assured, will advance money on one, however well made.

The itinerant accordion trade was always much greater in the country than in London, for in town, I was told, few would be troubled to try, or even listen, to the tones of an accordion played by a street-seller, at their own doors, or in their houses. While there were 100 or 120 Jews hawking accordions in the country, there would not be 20 in London, including even the suburbs, where the sale was the best.

Calculating that, when the trade was at its best, 130 Jews hawked accordions in town and country, and that each sold three a week, at an average price of 20s. each, or six in a week at an average price of 10s. each, the profit being from 50 to 100 per cent., we find upwards of 20,000l. expended in the course of the year in accordions of which, however, little more than a sixth part, or about 3000l., was expended in London. This was only when the trade had all the recommendations of novelty, and in the following year perhaps not half the amount was realized. One informant thought that the year 1828-9 was the best for the sale of these instruments, but he spoke only from memory. At the present time I could not find or hear of one street-Jew selling accordions; I re[132]member, however, having seen one within the present year. Most of the Jews who travelled with them have emigrated.

It is very rarely indeed that, fond as the Jews are of music, any of them are to be found in the bands of street-musicians, or of such street-performers as the Ethiopian serenaders. If there be any, I was told, they were probably not pure Jews, but of Christian parentage on one side or the other, and not associating with their own people. At the cheap concert-rooms, however, Jews are frequently singers, but rarely the Jewesses, while some of the twopenny concerts at the East-end are got up and mainly patronized by the poorer class of Jews. Jews are also to be found occasionally among the supernumeraries of the theatres; but, when not professionally engaged, these still live among their own people. I asked one young Jew who occasionally sang at a cheap concert-room, what description of songs they usually sung, and he answered “all kinds.” He, it seems, sang comic songs, but his friend Barney, who had just left him, sang sentimental songs. He earned 1s. and sometimes 2s., but more frequently 1s., three or four nights in the week, as he had no regular engagement. In the daytime he worked at cigar-making, but did not like it, it was “so confining.” He had likewise sung, but gratuitously, at concerts got up for the benefit of any person “bad off.” He knew nothing of the science and art of music. Of the superior class of Jew vocalists and composers, it is not of course necessary here to speak, as they do not come within the scope of my present subject. Of Hebrew youths thus employed in cheap and desultory concert-singing, there are in the winter season, I am told, from 100 to 150, few, if any, depending entirely upon their professional exertions, but being in circumstances similar to those of my young informant.

Of the Street-Buyers of Hogs’-Wash.

The trade in hogs’-wash, or in the refuse of the table, is by no means insignificant. The street-buyers are of the costermonger class, and some of them have been costermongers, and “when not kept going regular on wash,” I was told, are “costers still,” but with the advantage of having donkeys, ponies, or horses and carts, and frequently shops, as the majority of the wash-buyers have; for they are often greengrocers as well as costermongers.

The hogs’ food obtained by these street-folk, or, as I most frequently heard it called, the “wash,” is procured from the eating-houses, the coffee-houses which are also eating-houses (with “hot joints from 12 to 4”), the hotels, the club-houses, the larger mansions, and the public institutions. It is composed of the scum and lees of all broths and soups; of the washings of cooking utensils, and of the dishes and plates used at dinners and suppers; of small pieces of meat left on the plates of the diners in taverns, clubs, or cook-shops; of pieces of potato, or any remains of vegetables; of any viands, such as puddings, left in the plates in the same manner; of gristle; of pieces of stale bread, or bread left at table; occasionally of meat kept, whether cooked or uncooked, until “blown,” and unfit for consumption (one man told me that he had found whole legs of mutton in the wash he bought from a great eating-house, but very rarely): of potato-peelings; of old and bad potatoes; of “stock,” or the remains of meat stewed for soup, which was not good enough for sale to be re-used by the poor; of parings of every kind of cheese or meat; and of the many things which are considered “only fit for pigs.”

It is not always, however, that the unconsumed food of great houses or of public bodies (where the dinners are a part of the institution) goes to the wash-tub. At Buckingham-palace, I am told, it is given to poor people who have tickets for the receipt of it. At Lincoln’s-inn the refuse or leavings of the bar dinners are sold to men who retail them, usually small chandlers, and the poor people, who have the means, buy this broken meat very readily at 4d., 6d., and 8d. the pound, which is cheap for good cooked meat. Pie-crust, obtained by its purveyors in the same way, is sold, perhaps with a small portion of the contents of the pie, in penny and twopenny-worths. A man familiar with this trade told me that among the best customers for this kind of second-hand food were women of the town of the poorer class, who were always ready, whenever they had a few pence at command, to buy what was tasty, cheap, and ready-cooked, because “they hadn’t no trouble with it, but only just to eat it.”

One of the principal sources of the “wash” supply is the cook-shops, or eating-houses, where the “leavings” on the plates are either the perquisites of the waiters or waitresses, or looked sharply after by master or mistress. There are also in these places the remains of soups, and the potato-peelings, &c., of which I have spoken, together with the keen appropriation to a profitable use of every crumb and scrap—when it is a portion of the gains of a servant, or when it adds to the receipts of the proprietor. In calculating the purchase-value of the good-will of an eating-house, the “wash” is as carefully considered as is the number of daily guests.

One of the principal street-buyers from the eating-houses, and in several parts of town, is Jemmy Divine, of Lambeth. He is a pig-dealer, but also sells his wash to others who keep pigs. He sends round a cart and horse under the care of a boy, or of a man, whom he may have employed, or drives it himself, and he often has more carts than one. In his cart are two or three tubs, well secured, so that they may not be jostled out, into which the wash is deposited. He contracts by the week, month, or quarter, with hotel-keepers and others, for their wash, paying from 10l. to as high as 50l. a year, about 20l. being an average for well-frequented taverns and “dining-rooms.” The wash-tubs on the premises of these buyers are often offensive, sometimes sending forth very sour smells.

In Sharp’s-alley, Smithfield, is another man buying quantities of wash, and buying fat and[133] grease extensively. There is one also in Prince’s-street, Lambeth, who makes it his sole business to collect hogs’-wash; he was formerly a coal-heaver and wretchedly poor, but is now able to make a decent livelihood in this trade, keeping a pony and cart. He generally keeps about 30 pigs, but also sells hogs’ food retail to any pig-keeper, the price being 4d. to 6d. a pail-full, according to the quality, as the collectors are always anxious to have the wash “rich,” and will not buy it if cabbage-leaves or the parings of green vegetables form a part of it. This man and the others often employ lads to go round for wash, paying them 2s. a week, and finding them in board. They are the same class of boys as those I have described as coster-boys, and are often strong young fellows. These lads—or men hired for the purpose—are sometimes sent round to the smaller cook-shops and to private houses, where the wash is given to them for the trouble of carrying it away, in preference to its being thrown down the drain. Sometimes only 1d. a pail is paid by the street-buyer, provided the stuff be taken away punctually and regularly. These youths or men carry pails after the fashion of a milkman.

The supply from the workhouses is very large. It is often that the paupers do not eat all the rice-pudding allowed, or all the bread, while soup is frequently left, and potatoes; and these leavings are worthless, except for pig-meat, as they would soon turn sour. It is the same, though not to the same extent, in the prisons.

What I have said of some of the larger eating-houses relates also to the club-houses.

There are a number of wash-buyers in the suburbs, who purchase, or obtain their stock gratuitously, at gentlemen’s houses, and retail it either to those who feed pigs as a business, or else to the many, I was told, who live a little way out of town, and “like to grow their own bacon.” Many of these men perform the work themselves, without a horse and cart, and are on their feet every day and all day long, except on Sundays, carrying hogs’-wash from the seller, or to the buyer. One man, who had been in this trade at Woolwich, told me that he kept pigs at one time, but ceased to do so, as his customers often murmured at the thin quality of the wash, declaring that he gave all the best to his own animals.

If it be estimated that there are 200 men daily buying hogs’-wash in London and the suburbs, within 15 miles, and that each collects only 20 pails per day, paying 2d. per pail (thus allowing for what is collected without purchase), we find 10,400l. expended annually in buying hogs’-wash.

Of the Street-Buyers of Tea-Leaves.

An extensive trade, but less extensive, I am informed, than it was a few years ago, is carried on in tea-leaves, or in the leaves of the herb after their having been subjected, in the usual way, to decoction. These leaves are, so to speak, re-manufactured, in spite of great risk and frequent exposure, and in defiance of the law. The 17th Geo. III., c. 29, is positive and stringent on the subject:—

“Every person, whether a dealer in or seller of tea, or not, who shall dye or fabricate any sloe-leaves, liquorice-leaves or the leaves of tea that have been used, or the leaves of the ash, elder or other tree, shrub or plant, in imitation of tea, or who shall mix or colour such leaves with terra Japonica, copperas, sugar, molasses, clay, logwood or other ingredient, or who shall sell or expose to sale, or have in custody, any such adulterations in imitation of tea, shall for every pound forfeit, on conviction, by the oath of one witness, before one justice, 5l.; or, on non-payment, be committed to the House of Correction for not more than twelve or less than six months.”

The same act also authorizes a magistrate, on the oath of an excise officer, or any one, by whom he suspects this illicit trade to be carried on, to seize the herbs, or spurious teas, and the whole apparatus that may be found on the premises, the herbs to be burnt and the other articles sold, the proceeds of such a sale, after the payment of expenses, going half to the informer and half to the poor of the parish.

It appears evident, from the words of this act which I have italicised, that the use of tea-leaves for the robbery of the public and the defrauding of the revenue has been long in practice. The extract also shows what other cheats were formerly resorted to—the substitutes most popular with the tea-manufacturers at one time being sloe-leaves. If, however, one-tenth of the statements touching the applications of the leaves of the sloe-tree, and of the juice of its sour, astringent fruit, during the war-time, had any foundation in truth, the sloe must have been regarded commercially as one of the most valuable of our native productions, supplying our ladies with their tea, and our gentlemen with their port-wine.

Women and men, three-fourths of the number being women, go about buying tea-leaves of the female servants in the larger, and of the shopkeepers’ wives in the smaller, houses. But the great purveyors of these things are the charwomen. In the houses where they char the tea-leaves are often reserved for them to be thrown on the carpets when swept, as a means of allaying the dust, or else they form a part of their perquisites, and are often asked for if not offered. The mistress of a coffee-shop told me that her charwoman, employed in cleaning every other morning, had the tea-leaves as a part of her remuneration, or as a matter of course. What the charwoman did with them her employer never inquired, although she was always anxious to obtain them, and she referred me to the poor woman in question. I found her in a very clean apartment on the second floor of a decent house in Somers-town; a strong hale woman, with what may be called an industrious look. She was middle-aged, and a widow, with one daughter, then a nursemaid in the neighbourhood, and had regular employment.

“Yes,” she said, “I get the tea-leaves whenever I can, and the most at two coffee-shops that I work at, but neither of them have so many as they used to have. I think it’s because cocoa’s come so much to be asked for in them, and so[134] they sell less tea. I buy tea-leaves only at one place. It’s a very large family, and I give the servant 4d. and sometimes 3d. or 2d. a fortnight for them, but I’m nothing in pocket, for the young girl is a bit of a relation of mine, and it’s like a trifle of pocket-money for her. She gives a penny every time she goes to her chapel, and so do I; there’s a box for it fixed near the door. O yes, her mistress knows I buy them, for her mistress knew me before she was married, and that’s about 15 or 16 years since. When I’ve got this basin (producing it) full I sell it, generally for 4d. I don’t know what the leaves in it will weigh, and I have never sold them by weight, but I believe some have. Perhaps they might weigh, as damp as some of them are, about a pound. I sell them to a chandler now. I have sold them to a rag-and-bottle-shop. I’ve had men and women call upon me and offer to buy them, but not lately, and I never liked the looks of them, and never sold them any. I don’t know what they’re wanted for, but I’ve heard that they’re mixed with new tea. I have nothing to do with that. I get them honestly and sell them honestly, and that’s all I can say about it. Every little helps, and if rich people won’t pay poor people properly, then poor people can’t be expected to be very nice. But I don’t complain, and that’s all I know about it.”

The chandler in question knew nothing of the trade in tea-leaves, he said; he bought none, and he did not know that any of the shopkeepers did, and he could not form a notion what they could be wanted for, if it wasn’t to sweep carpets!

This mode of buying or collecting is, I am told the commonest mode of any, and it certainly presents some peculiarities. The leaves which are to form the spurious tea are collected, in great measure, by a class who are perhaps more likely than any other to have themselves to buy and drink the stuff which they have helped to produce! By charwomen and washer-women a “nice cup of tea” in the afternoon during their work is generally classed among the comforts of existence, yet they are the very persons who sell the tea-leaves which are to make their “much prized beverage.” It is curious to reflect also, that as tea-leaves are used indiscriminately for being re-made into what is considered new tea, what must be the strength of our tea in a few years. Now all housewives complain that twice the quantity of tea is required to make the infusion of the same strength as formerly, and if the collection of old tea-leaves continues, and the refuse leaves are to be dried and re-dried perpetually, surely we must get to use pounds where we now do ounces.

A man formerly in the tea-leaf business, and very anxious not to be known—but upon whose information, I am assured from a respectable source, full reliance may be placed—gave me the following account:—

“My father kept a little shop in the general line, and I helped him; so I was partly brought up to the small way. But I was adrift by myself when I was quite young—18 or so perhaps. I can read and write well enough, but I was rather of too gay a turn to be steady. Besides, father was very poor at times, and could seldom pay me anything, if I worked ever so. He was very fond of his belly too, and I’ve known him, when he’s had a bit of luck, or a run of business, go and stuff hisself with fat roast pork at a cook-shop till he could hardly waddle, and then come home and lock hisself upstairs in his bed-room and sleep three parts of the afternoon. (My mother was dead.) But father was a kind-hearted man for all that, and for all his roast pork, was as thin as a whipping-post. I kept myself when I left him, just off and on like, by collecting grease, and all that; it can’t be done so easy now, I fancy; so I got into the tea-leaf business, but father had nothing to do with it. An elderly sort of a woman who I met with in my collecting, and who seemed to take a sort of fancy to me, put me up to the leaves. She was an out-and-out hand at anything that way herself. Then I bought tea-leaves with other things, for I suppose for four or five years. How long ago is it? O, never mind, sir, a few years. I bought them at many sorts of houses, and carried a box of needles, and odds and ends, as a sort of introduction. There wasn’t much of that wanted though, for I called, when I could, soon in the mornings before the family was up, and some ladies don’t get up till 10 or 11 you know. The masters wasn’t much; it was the mistresses I cared about, because they are often such Tartars to the maids and always a-poking in the way.

“I’ve tried to do business in the great lords’ houses in the squares and about the parks, but there was mostly somebody about there to hinder you. Besides, the servants in such places are often on board wages, and often, when they’re not on board wages, find their own tea and sugar, and little of the tea-leaves is saved when every one has a separate pot of tea; so there’s no good to be done there. Large houses in trade where a number of young men is boarded, drapers or grocers, is among the best places, as there is often a housekeeper there to deal with, and no mistress to bother. I always bought by the lot. If you offered to weigh you would not be able to clear anything, as they’d be sure to give the leaves a extra wetting. I put handfulls of the leaves to my nose, and could tell from the smell whether they were hard drawn or not. When they isn’t hard drawn they answer best, and them I put to one side. I had a bag like a lawyer’s blue bag, with three divisions in it, to put my leaves into, and so keep them ’sunder. Yes, I’ve bought of charwomen, but somehow I think they did’nt much admire selling to me. I hardly know how I made them out, but one told me of another. They like the shops better for their leaves, I think; because they can get a bit of cheese, or snuff, or candles for them there; though I don’t know much about the shop-work in this line. I’ve often been tried to be took in by the servants. I’ve found leaves in the lot offered to me to buy what was all dusty, and had been used for sweeping; and if I’d sold them with my stock they’d have been stopped out of the next[135] money. I’ve had tea-leaves given me by servants oft enough, for I used to sweetheart them a bit, just to get over them; and they’ve laughed, and asked me whatever I could want with them. As for price, why, I judged what a lot was worth, and gave accordingly—from 1d. to 1s. I never gave more than 1s. for any one lot at a time, and that had been put to one side for me in a large concern, for about a fortnight I suppose. I can’t say how many people had been tea’d on them. If it was a housekeeper, or anybody that way, that I bought of, there was never anything said about what they was wanted for. What did I want them for? Why, to sell again; and though him as I sold them to never said so, I knew they was to dry over again. I know nothing about who he was, or where he lived. The woman I told you of sent him to me. I suppose I cleared about 10s. a week on them, and did a little in other things beside; perhaps I cleared rather more than 10s. on leaves some weeks, and 5s. at others. The party as called upon me once a week to buy my leaves was a very polite man, and seemed quite the gentleman. There was no weighing. He examined the lot, and said ‘so much.’ He wouldn’t stand ’bating, or be kept haggling; and his money was down, and no nonsense. What cost me 5s. I very likely got three half-crowns for. It was no great trade, if you consider the trouble. I’ve sometimes carried the leaves that he’d packed in papers, and put into a carpet-bag, where there was others, to a coffee-shop; they always had ‘till called for’ marked on a card then. I asked no questions, but just left them. There was two, and sometimes four boys, as used to bring me leaves on Saturday nights. I think they was charwomen’s sons, but I don’t know for a positive, and I don’t know how they made me out. I think I was one of the tip-tops of the trade at one time; some weeks I’ve laid out a sov. (sovereign) in leaves. I haven’t a notion how many’s in the line, or what’s doing now; but much the same I’ve no doubt. I’m glad I’ve done with it.”

I am told by those who are as well-informed on the subject as is perhaps possible, when a surreptitious and dishonest traffic is the subject of inquiry, that although less spurious tea is sold, there are more makers of it. Two of the principal manufacturers have of late, however, been prevented carrying on the business by the intervention of the excise officers. The spurious tea-men are also the buyers of “wrecked tea,” that is, of tea which has been part of the salvage of a wrecked vessel, and is damaged or spoiled entirely by the salt water. This is re-dried and dyed, so as to appear fresh and new. It is dyed with Prussian blue, which gives it what an extensive tea-dealer described to me as an “intensely fine green.” It is then mixed with the commonest Gunpowder teas and with the strongest Young Hysons, and has always a kind of “metallic” smell, somewhat like that of a copper vessel after friction in its cleaning. These teas are usually sold at 4s. the pound.

Sloe-leaves for spurious tea, as I have before stated, were in extensive use, but this manufacture ceased to exist about 20 years ago. Now the spurious material consists only of the old tea-leaves, at least so far as experienced tradesmen know. The adulteration is, however, I am assured, more skilfully conducted than it used to be, and its staple is of far easier procuration. The law, though it makes the use of old tea-leaves, as components of what is called tea, punishable, is nevertheless silent as to their sale or purchase; they can be collected, therefore, with a comparative impunity.

The tea-leaves are dried, dyed (or re-dyed), and shrivelled on plates of hot metal, carefully tended. The dyes used are those I have mentioned. These teas, when mixed, are hawked in the country, but not in town, and are sold to the hawkers at 7 lbs. for 21s. The quarters of pounds are retailed at 1s. A tea-dealer told me that he could recognise this adulterated commodity, but it was only a person skilled in teas who could do so, by its coarse look. For green tea—the mixture to which the prepared leaves are mostly devoted—the old tea is blended with the commonest Gunpowders and Hysons. No dye, I am told, is required when black tea is thus re-made; but I know that plumbago is often used to simulate the bloom. The inferior shopkeepers sell this adulterated tea, especially in neighbourhoods where the poor Irish congregate, or any of the lowest class of the poor English.

To obtain the statistics of a trade which exists in spite not only of the vigilance of the excise and police officers but of public reprobation, and which is essentially a secret trade, is not possible. I heard some, who were likely to be well-informed, conjecture—for it cannot honestly be called more than a conjecture—that between 500 and 1000 lbs., perhaps 700 lbs., of old tea-leaves were made up weekly in London; but of this he thought that about an eighth was spoilt by burning in the process of drying.

Another gentleman, however, thought that, at the very least, double the above quantity of old tea-leaves was weekly manufactured into new tea. According to his estimate, and he was no mean authority, no less than 1500 lbs. weekly, or 78,000 lbs. per annum of this trash are yearly poured into the London market. The average consumption of tea is about 1¼ lb. per annum for each man, woman, or child in the kingdom; coffee being the principal unfermented beverage of the poor. Those, however, of the poorest who drink tea consume about two ounces per week (half an ounce serving them twice), or one pound in the course of every two months. This makes the annual consumption of the adult tea-drinking poor amount to 6 lbs., and it is upon this class the spurious tea is chiefly foisted.



These men, for by far the great majority are men, may be divided, according to the nature of their occupations, into three classes:—

1. The bone-grubbers and rag-gatherers, who are, indeed, the same individuals, the pure-finders, and the cigar-end and old wood collectors.

2. The dredgermen, the mud-larks, and the sewer-hunters.

3. The dustmen and nightmen, the sweeps and the scavengers.

The first class go abroad daily to find in the streets, and carry away with them such things as bones, rags, “pure” (or dogs’-dung), which no one appropriates. These they sell, and on that sale support a wretched life. The second class of people are also as strictly finders; but their industry, or rather their labour, is confined to the river, or to that subterranean city of sewerage unto which the Thames supplies the great outlets. These persons may not be immediately connected with the streets of London, but their pursuits are carried on in the open air (if the sewer-air may be so included), and are all, at any rate, out-of-door avocations. The third class is distinct from either of these, as the labourers comprised in it are not finders, but collectors or removers of the dirt and filth of our streets and houses, and of the soot of our chimneys.

The two first classes also differ from the third in the fact that the sweeps, dustmen, scavengers, &c., are paid (and often large sums) for the removal of the refuse they collect; whereas the bone-grubbers, and mud-larks, and pure-finders, and dredgermen, and sewer-hunters, get for their pains only the value of the articles they gather.

Herein, too, lies a broad distinction between the street-finder, or collector, and the street-buyer: though both deal principally with refuse, the buyer pays for what he is permitted to take away; whereas the finder or collector is either paid (like the sweep), or else he neither pays nor is paid (like the bone-grubber), for the refuse that he removes.

The third class of street-collectors also presents another and a markedly distinctive characteristic. They act in the capacity of servants, and do not depend upon chance for the result of their day’s labour, but are put to stated tasks, being employed and paid a fixed sum for their work. To this description, however, some of the sweeps present an exception; as when the sweep works on his own account, or, as it is worded, “is his own master.”

The public health requires the periodical cleaning of the streets, and the removal of the refuse matter from our dwellings; and the man who contracts to carry on this work is decidedly a street-collector; for on what he collects or removes depends the amount of his remuneration. Thus a wealthy contractor for the public scavengery, is as entirely one of the street-folk as the unskilled and ignorant labourer he employs. The master lives, and, in many instances, has become rich, on the results of his street employment; for, of course, the actual workmen are but as the agents or sources of his profit. Even the collection of “pure” (dogs’-dung) in the streets, if conducted by the servants of any tanner or leather dresser, either for the purposes of his own trade or for sale to others, might be the occupation of a wealthy man, deriving a small profit from the labour of each particular collector. The same may also be said of bone-grubbing, or any similar occupation, however insignificant, and now abandoned to the outcast.

Were the collection of mud and dust carried on by a number of distinct individuals—that is to say, were each individual dustman and scavenger to collect on his own account, there is no doubt that no one man could amass a fortune by such means—while if the collection of bones and rags and even dogs’-dung were carried on “in the large way,” that is to say, by a number of individual collectors working for one “head man,” even the picking up of the most abject refuse of the metropolis might become the source of great riches.

The bone-grubber and the mud-lark (the searcher for refuse on the banks of the river) differ little in their pursuits or in their characteristics, excepting that the mud-larks are generally boys, which is more an accidental than a definite distinction. The grubbers are with a few exceptions stupid, unconscious of their degradation, and with little anxiety to be relieved from it. They are usually taciturn, but this taciturn habit is common to men whose callings, if they cannot be called solitary, are pursued with little communication with others. I was informed by a man who once kept a little beer-shop near Friar-street, Southwark Bridge-road (where then and still, he thought, was a bone-grinding establishment), that the bone-grubbers who carried their sacks of bones thither sometimes had a pint of beer at his house when they had received their money. They usually sat, he told me, silently looking at the corners of the floor—for they rarely lifted their eyes up—as if they were expecting to see some bones or refuse there available for their bags. Of this inertion, perhaps fatigue and despair may be a part. I asked some questions of a man of this class whom I saw pick up in a road in the suburbs something that appeared to have been a coarse canvas apron, although it was wet after a night’s rain and half covered with mud. I inquired of him what he thought about when he trudged along looking on the ground on every side. His answer was, “Of nothing, sir.” I believe that no better description could be given of that vacuity of mind or mental inactivity which seems to form a part of the most degraded callings. The minds of such men, even without an approach to idiotcy, appear to be a blank. One characteristic of these poor fellows, bone-grubbers and mud-larks, is that they[137] are very poor, although I am told some of them, the older men, have among the poor the reputation of being misers. It is not unusual for the youths belonging to these callings to live with their parents and give them the amount of their earnings.

The sewer-hunters are again distinct, and a far more intelligent and adventurous class; but they work in gangs. They must be familiar with the course of the tides, or they might be drowned at high water. They must have quick eyes too, not merely to descry the objects of their search, but to mark the points and bearings of the subterraneous roads they traverse; in a word, “to know their way underground.” There is, moreover, some spirit of daring in venturing into a dark, solitary sewer, the chart being only in the memory, and in braving the possibility of noxious vapours, and the by no means insignificant dangers of the rats infesting these places.

The dredgermen, the finders of the water, are again distinct, as being watermen, and working in boats. In some foreign parts, in Naples, for instance, men carrying on similar pursuits are also divers for anything lost in the bay or its confluent waters. One of these men, known some years ago as “the Fish,” could remain (at least, so say those whom there is no reason to doubt) three hours under the water without rising to the surface to take breath. He was, it is said, web-footed, naturally, and partially web-fingered. The King of the Two Sicilies once threw a silver cup into the sea for “the Fish” to bring up and retain as a reward, but the poor diver was never seen again. It was believed that he got entangled among the weeds on the rocks, and so perished. The dredgermen are necessarily well acquainted with the sets of the tide and the course of the currents in the Thames. Every one of these men works on his own account, being as it were a “small master,” which, indeed, is one of the great attractions of open-air pursuits. The dredgermen also depend for their maintenance upon the sale of what they find, or the rewards they receive.

It is otherwise, however, as was before observed, with the third class of the street-finders, or rather collectors. In all the capacities of dustmen, nightmen, scavengers, and sweeps, the employers of the men are paid to do the work, the proceeds of the street-collection forming only a portion of the employer’s remuneration. The sweep has the soot in addition to his 6d. or 1s.; the master scavenger has a payment from the parish funds to sweep the streets, though the clearance of the cesspools, &c., in private houses, may be an individual bargain. The whole refuse of the streets belongs to the contractor to make the best of, but it must be cleared away, and so must the contents of a dust-bin; for if a mass of dirt become offensive, the householder may be indicted for a nuisance, and municipal by-laws require its removal. It is thus made a matter of compulsion that the dust be removed from a private house; but it is otherwise with the soot. Why a man should be permitted to let soot accumulate in his chimney—perhaps exposing himself, his family, his lodgers, and his neighbours to the dangers of fire, it may not be easy to account for, especially when we bear in mind that the same man may not accumulate cabbage-leaves and fish-tails in his yard.

The dustmen are of the plodding class of labourers, mere labourers, who require only bodily power, and possess little or no mental development. Many of the agricultural labourers are of this order, and the dustman often seems to be the stolid ploughman, modified by a residence in a city, and engaged in a peculiar calling. They are generally uninformed, and no few of them are dustmen because their fathers were. The same may be said of nightmen and scavengers. At one time it was a popular, or rather a vulgar notion that many dustmen had become possessed of large sums, from the plate, coins, and valuables they found in clearing the dust-bins—a manifest absurdity; but I was told by a marine-store dealer that he had known a young woman, a dustman’s daughter, sell silver spoons to a neighbouring marine-store man, who was “not very particular.”

The circumstances and character of the chimney-sweeps have, since Parliament “put down” the climbing boys, undergone considerable change. The sufferings of many of the climbing boys were very great. They were often ill-lodged, ill-fed, barely-clad, forced to ascend hot and narrow flues, and subject to diseases—such as the chimney-sweep’s cancer—peculiar to their calling. The child hated his trade, and was easily tempted to be a thief, for prison was an asylum; or he grew up a morose tyrannical fellow as journeyman or master. Some of the young sweeps became very bold thieves and house-breakers, and the most remarkable, as far as personal daring is concerned: the boldest feat of escape from Newgate was performed by a youth who had been brought up a chimney-sweep. He climbed up the two bare rugged walls of a corner of the interior of the prison, in the open air, to the height of some 60 feet. He had only the use of his hands, knees, and feet, and a single slip, from fear or pain, would have been death; he surmounted a parapet after this climbing, and gained the roof, but was recaptured before he could get clear away. He was, moreover, a sickly, and reputed a cowardly, young man, and ended his career in this country by being transported.

A master sweep, now in middle age, and a man “well to do,” told me that when a mere child he had been apprenticed out of the workhouse to a sweep, such being at that time a common occurrence. He had undergone, he said, great hardships while learning his business, and was long, from the indifferent character of his class, ashamed of being a sweep, both as journeyman and master; but the sweeps were so much improved in character now, that he no longer felt himself disgraced in his calling.

The sweeps are more intelligent than the mere ordinary labourers I have written of under this head, but they are, of course, far from being an educated body.


The further and more minute characteristics of the curious class of street-finders or collectors will be found in the particular details and statements.

Among the finders there is perhaps the greatest poverty existing, they being the very lowest class of all the street-people. Many of the very old live on the hard dirty crusts they pick up out of the roads in the course of their rounds, washing them and steeping them in water before they eat them. Probably that vacuity of mind which is a distinguishing feature of the class is the mere atony or emaciation of the mental faculties proceeding from—though often producing in the want of energy that it necessarily begets—the extreme wretchedness of the class. But even their liberty and a crust—as it frequently literally is—appears preferable to these people to the restrictions of the workhouse. Those who are unable to comprehend the inertia of both body and mind begotten by the despair of long-continued misfortune are referred to page 357 of the first volume of this work, where it will be found that a tinman, in speaking of the misery connected with the early part of his street-career, describes the effect of extreme want as producing not only an absence of all hope, but even of a desire to better the condition. Those, however, who have studied the mysterious connection between body and mind, and observed what different creatures they themselves are before and after dinner, can well understand that a long-continued deficiency of food must have the same weakening effect on the muscles of the mind and energy of the thoughts and will, as it has on the limbs themselves.

Occasionally it will be found that the utter abjectness of the bone-grubbers has arisen from the want of energy begotten by intemperate habits. The workman has nothing but this same energy to live upon, and the permanent effect of stimulating liquors is to produce an amount of depression corresponding to the excitement momentarily caused by them in the frame. The operative, therefore, who spends his earnings on “drink,” not only squanders them on a brutalising luxury, but deprives himself of the power, and consequently of the disposition, to work for more, and hence that idleness, carelessness, and neglect which are the distinctive qualities of the drunkard, and sooner or later compass his ruin.

For the poor wretched children who are reared to this the lowest trade of all, surely even the most insensible and unimaginative must feel the acutest pity. There is, however, this consolation: I have heard of none, with the exception of the more prosperous sewer-hunters and dredgermen, who have remained all their lives at street-finding. Still there remains much to be done by all those who are impressed with a sense of the trust that has been confided to them, in the possession of those endowments which render their lot in this world so much more easy than that of the less lucky street-finders.

Bone-Grubbers and Rag-Gatherers.

The habits of the bone-grubbers and rag-gatherers, the “pure,” or dogs’-dung collectors, and the cigar-end finders, are necessarily similar. All lead a wandering, unsettled sort of life, being compelled to be continually on foot, and to travel many miles every day in search of the articles in which they deal. They seldom have any fixed place of abode, and are mostly to be found at night in one or other of the low lodging-houses throughout London. The majority are, moreover, persons who have been brought up to other employments, but who from some failing or mishap have been reduced to such a state of distress that they were obliged to take to their present occupation, and have never after been able to get away from it.

Of the whole class it is considered that there are from 800 to 1000 resident in London, one-half of whom, at the least, sleep in the cheap lodging-houses. The Government returns estimate the number of mendicants’ lodging-houses in London to be upwards of 200. Allowing two bone-grubbers and pure-finders to frequent each of these lodging-houses, there will be upwards of 400 availing themselves of such nightly shelters. As many more, I am told, live in garrets and ill-furnished rooms in the lowest neighbourhoods. There is no instance on record of any of the class renting even the smallest house for himself.

Moreover there are in London during the winter a number of persons called “trampers,” who employ themselves at that season in street-finding. These people are in the summer country labourers of some sort, but as soon as the harvest and potato-getting and hop-picking are over, and they can find nothing else to do in the country, they come back to London to avail themselves of the shelter of the night asylums or refuges for the destitute (usually called “straw-yards” by the poor), for if they remained in the provinces at that period of the year they would be forced to have recourse to the unions, and as they can only stay one night in each place they would be obliged to travel from ten to fifteen miles per day, to which in the winter they have a strong objection. They come up to London in the winter, not to look for any regular work or employment, but because they know that they can have a nightly shelter, and bread night and morning for nothing, during that season, and can during the day collect bones, rags, &c. As soon as the “straw-yards” close, which is generally about the beginning of April, the “trampers” again start off to the country in small bands of two or three, and without any fixed residence keep wandering about all the summer, sometimes begging their way through the villages and sleeping in the casual wards of the unions, and sometimes, when hard driven, working at hay-making or any other light labour.


[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

Those among the bone-grubbers who do not belong to the regular “trampers” have been either navvies, or men who have not been able to obtain employment at their own business, and have been driven to it by necessity as a means of obtaining a little bread for the time being, and without any intention of pursuing the calling regularly; but, as I have said, when once in the[139] business they cannot leave it, for at least they make certain of getting a few halfpence by it, and their present necessity does not allow them time to look after other employment. There are many of the street-finders who are old men and women, and many very young children who have no other means of living. Since the famine in Ireland vast numbers of that unfortunate people, particularly boys and girls, have been engaged in gathering bones and rags in the streets.

The bone-picker and rag-gatherer may be known at once by the greasy bag which he carries on his back. Usually he has a stick in his hand, and this is armed with a spike or hook, for the purpose of more easily turning over the heaps of ashes or dirt that are thrown out of the houses, and discovering whether they contain anything that is saleable at the rag-and-bottle or marine-store shop. The bone-grubber generally seeks out the narrow back streets, where dust and refuse are cast, or where any dust-bins are accessible. The articles for which he chiefly searches are rags and bones—rags he prefers—but waste metal, such as bits of lead, pewter, copper, brass, or old iron, he prizes above all. Whatever he meets with that he knows to be in any way saleable he puts into the bag at his back. He often finds large lumps of bread which have been thrown out as waste by the servants, and occasionally the housekeepers will give him some bones on which there is a little meat remaining; these constitute the morning meal of most of the class. One of my informants had a large rump of beef bone given to him a few days previous to my seeing him, on which “there was not less than a pound of meat.”

The bone-pickers and rag-gatherers are all early risers. They have all their separate beats or districts, and it is most important to them that they should reach their district before any one else of the same class can go over the ground. Some of the beats lie as far as Peckham, Clapham, Hammersmith, Hampstead, Bow, Stratford, and indeed all parts within about five miles of London. In summer time they rise at two in the morning, and sometimes earlier. It is not quite light at this hour—but bones and rags can be discovered before daybreak. The “grubbers” scour all quarters of London, but abound more particularly in the suburbs. In the neighbourhood of Petticoat-lane and Ragfair, however, they are the most numerous on account of the greater quantity of rags which the Jews have to throw out. It usually takes the bone-picker from seven to nine hours to go over his rounds, during which time he travels from 20 to 30 miles with a quarter to a half hundredweight on his back. In the summer he usually reaches home about eleven of the day, and in the winter about one or two. On his return home he proceeds to sort the contents of his bag. He separates the rags from the bones, and these again from the old metal (if he be lucky enough to have found any). He divides the rags into various lots, according as they are white or coloured; and if he have picked up any pieces of canvas or sacking, he makes these also into a separate parcel. When he has finished the sorting he takes his several lots to the rag-shop or the marine-store dealer, and realizes upon them whatever they may be worth. For the white rags he gets from 2d. to 3d. per pound, according as they are clean or soiled. The white rags are very difficult to be found; they are mostly very dirty, and are therefore sold with the coloured ones at the rate of about 5 lbs. for 2d. The bones are usually sold with the coloured rags at one and the same price. For fragments of canvas or sacking the grubber gets about three-farthings a pound; and old brass, copper, and pewter about 4d. (the marine-store keepers say 5d.), and old iron one farthing per pound, or six pounds for 1d. The bone-grubber thinks he has done an excellent day’s work if he can earn 8d.; and some of them, especially the very old and the very young, do not earn more than from 2d. to 3d. a day. To make 10d. a day, at the present price of rags and bones, a man must be remarkably active and strong,—“ay! and lucky, too,” adds my informant. The average amount of earnings, I am told, varies from about 6d. to 8d. per day, or from 3s. to 4s. a week; and the highest amount that a man, the most brisk and persevering at the business, can by any possibility earn in one week is about 5s., but this can only be accomplished by great good fortune and industry—the usual weekly gains are about half that sum. In bad weather the bone-grubber cannot do so well, because the rags are wet, and then they cannot sell them. The majority pick up bones only in wet weather; those who do gather rags during or after rain are obliged to wash and dry them before they can sell them. The state of the shoes of the rag and bone-picker is a very important matter to him; for if he be well shod he can get quickly over the ground; but he is frequently lamed, and unable to make any progress from the blisters and gashes on his feet, occasioned by the want of proper shoes.

Sometimes the bone-grubbers will pick up a stray sixpence or a shilling that has been dropped in the street. “The handkerchief I have round my neck,” said one whom I saw, “I picked up with 1s. in the corner. The greatest prize I ever found was the brass cap of the nave of a coach-wheel; and I did once find a quarter of a pound of tobacco in Sun-street, Bishopsgate. The best bit of luck of all that I ever had was finding a cheque for 12l. 15s. lying in the gateway of the mourning-coach yard in Titchborne-street, Haymarket. I was going to light my pipe with it, indeed I picked it up for that purpose, and then saw it was a cheque. It was on the London and County Bank, 21, Lombard-street. I took it there, and got 10s. for finding it. I went there in my rags, as I am now, and the cashier stared a bit at me. The cheque was drawn by a Mr. Knibb, and payable to a Mr. Cox. I did think I should have got the odd 15s. though.”

It has been stated that the average amount of the earnings of the bone-pickers is 6d. per day, or 3s. per week, being 7l. 16s. per annum for each person. It has also been shown that the number[140] of persons engaged in the business may be estimated at about 800; hence the earnings of the entire number will amount to the sum of 20l. per day, or 120l. per week, which gives 6240l. as the annual earnings of the bone-pickers and rag-gatherers of London. It may also be computed that each of the grubbers gathers on an average 20 lbs. weight of bone and rags; and reckoning the bones to constitute three-fourths of the entire weight, we thus find that the gross quantity of these articles gathered by the street-finders in the course of the year, amounts to 3,744,000 lbs. of bones, and 1,240,000 lbs. of rags.

Between the London and St. Katherine’s Docks and Rosemary Lane, there is a large district inter-laced with narrow lanes, courts, and alleys ramifying into each other in the most intricate and disorderly manner, insomuch that it would be no easy matter for a stranger to work his way through the interminable confusion without the aid of a guide, resident in and well conversant with the locality. The houses are of the poorest description, and seem as if they tumbled into their places at random. Foul channels, huge dust-heaps, and a variety of other unsightly objects, occupy every open space, and dabbling among these are crowds of ragged dirty children who grub and wallow, as if in their native element. None reside in these places but the poorest and most wretched of the population, and, as might almost be expected, this, the cheapest and filthiest locality of London, is the head-quarters of the bone-grubbers and other street-finders. I have ascertained on the best authority, that from the centre of this place, within a circle of a mile in diameter, there dwell not less than 200 persons of this class. In this quarter I found a bone-grubber who gave me the following account of himself:—

“I was born in Liverpool, and when about 14 years of age, my father died. He used to work about the Docks, and I used to run on errands for any person who wanted me. I managed to live by this after my father’s death for three or four years. I had a brother older than myself, who went to France to work on the railroads, and when I was about 18 he sent for me, and got me to work with himself on the Paris and Rouen Railway, under McKenzie and Brassy, who had the contract. I worked on the railroads in France for four years, till the disturbance broke out, and then we all got notice to leave the country. I lodged at that time with a countryman, and had 12l., which I had saved out of my earnings. This sum I gave to my countryman to keep for me till we got to London, as I did not like to have it about me, for fear I’d lose it. The French people paid our fare from Rouen to Havre by the railway, and there put us on board a steamer to Southampton. There was about 50 of us altogether. When we got to Southampton, we all went before the mayor; we told him about how we had been driven out of France, and he gave us a shilling a piece; he sent some one with us, too, to get us a lodging, and told us to come again the next day. In the morning the mayor gave every one who was able to walk half-a-crown, and for those who were not able he paid their fare to London on the railroad. I had a sore leg at the time, and I came up by the train, and when I gave up my ticket at the station, the gentleman gave me a shilling more. I couldn’t find the man I had given my money to, because he had walked up; and I went before the Lord Mayor to ask his advice; he gave me 2s. 6d. I looked for work everywhere, but could get nothing to do; and when the 2s. 6d. was all spent, I heard that the man who had my money was on the London and York Railway in the country; however, I couldn’t get that far for want of money then; so I went again before the Lord Mayor, and he gave me two more, but told me not to trouble him any further. I told the Lord Mayor about the money, and then he sent an officer with me, who put me into a carriage on the railway. When I got down to where the man was at work, he wouldn’t give me a farthing; I had given him the money without any witness bring present, and he said I could do nothing, because it was done in another country. I staid down there more than a week trying to get work on the railroad, but could not. I had no money and was nearly starved, when two or three took pity on me, and made up four or five shillings for me, to take me back again to London. I tried all I could to get something to do, till the money was nearly gone; and then I took to selling lucifers, and the fly-papers that they use in the shops, and little things like that; but I could do no good at this work, there was too many at it before me, and they knew more about it than I did. At last, I got so bad off I didn’t know what to do; but seeing a great many about here gathering bones and rags, I thought I’d do so too—a poor fellow must do something. I was advised to do so, and I have been at it ever since. I forgot to tell you that my brother died in France. We had good wages there, four francs a day, or 3s. 4d. English; I don’t make more than 3d. or 4d. and sometimes 6d. a day at bone-picking. I don’t go out before daylight to gather anything, because the police takes my bag and throws all I’ve gathered about the street to see if I have anything stolen in it. I never stole anything in all my life, indeed I’d do anything before I’d steal. Many a night I’ve slept under an arch of the railway when I hadn’t a penny to pay for my bed; but whenever the police find me that way, they make me and the rest get up, and drive us on, and tell us to keep moving. I don’t go out on wet days, there’s no use in it, as the things won’t be bought. I can’t wash and dry them, because I’m in a lodging-house. There’s a great deal more than a 100 bone-pickers about here, men, women, and children. The Jews in this lane and up in Petticoat-lane give a good deal of victuals away on the Saturday. They sometimes call one of us in from the street to light the fire for them, or take off the kettle, as they must not do anything themselves on the Sabbath; and then they put some food on the footpath, and throw rags and bones into the street for us, because they must not hand anything to us. There are some about here who get a couple of shillings’ worth of goods, and go on[141] board the ships in the Docks, and exchange them for bones and bits of old canvas among the sailors; I’d buy and do so too if I only had the money, but can’t get it. The summer is the worst time for us, the winter is much better, for there is more meat used in winter, and then there are more bones.” (Others say differently.) “I intend to go to the country this season, and try to get something to do at the hay-making and harvest. I make about 2s. 6d. a week, and the way I manage is this: sometimes I get a piece of bread about 12 o’clock, and I make my breakfast of that and cold water; very seldom I have any dinner,—unless I earn 6d. I can’t get any,—and then I have a basin of nice soup, or a penn’orth of plum-pudding and a couple of baked ’tatoes. At night I get ¼d. worth of coffee, ½d. worth of sugar, and 1¼d. worth of bread, and then I have 2d. a night left for my lodging; I always try to manage that, for I’d do anything sooner than stop out all night. I’m always happy the day when I make 4d., for then I know I won’t have to sleep in the street. The winter before last, there was a straw-yard down in Black Jack’s-alley, where we used to go after six o’clock in the evening, and get ½ lb. of bread, and another ½ lb. in the morning, and then we’d gather what we could in the daytime and buy victuals with what we got for it. We were well off then, but the straw-yard wasn’t open at all last winter. There used to be 300 of us in there of a night, a great many of the dock-labourers and their families were there, for no work was to be got in the docks; so they weren’t able to pay rent, and were obliged to go in. I’ve lost my health since I took to bone-picking, through the wet and cold in the winter, for I’ve scarcely any clothes, and the wet gets to my feet through the old shoes; this caused me last winter to be nine weeks in the hospital of the Whitechapel workhouse.”

The narrator of this tale seemed so dejected and broken in spirit, that it was with difficulty his story was elicited from him. He was evidently labouring under incipient consumption. I have every reason to believe that he made a truthful statement,—indeed, he did not appear to me to have sufficient intellect to invent a falsehood. It is a curious fact, indeed, with reference to the London street-finders generally, that they seem to possess less rational power than any other class. They appear utterly incapable of trading even in the most trifling commodities, probably from the fact that buying articles for the purpose of selling them at a profit, requires an exercise of the mind to which they feel themselves incapable. Begging, too, requires some ingenuity or tact, in order to move the sympathies of the well-to-do, and the street-finders being incompetent for this, they work on day after day as long as they are able to crawl about in pursuit of their unprofitable calling. This cannot be fairly said of the younger members of this class, who are sent into the streets by their parents, and many of whom are afterwards able to find some more reputable and more lucrative employment. As a body of people, however, young and old, they mostly exhibit the same stupid, half-witted appearance.

To show how bone-grubbers occasionally manage to obtain shelter during the night, the following incident may not be out of place. A few mornings past I accidentally encountered one of this class in a narrow back lane; his ragged coat—the colour of the rubbish among which he toiled—was greased over, probably with the fat of the bones he gathered, and being mixed with the dust it seemed as if the man were covered with bird-lime. His shoes—torn and tied on his feet with pieces of cord—had doubtlessly been picked out of some dust-bin, while his greasy bag and stick unmistakably announced his calling. Desirous of obtaining all the information possible on this subject, I asked him a few questions, took his address, which he gave without hesitation, and bade him call on me in the evening. At the time appointed, however, he did not appear; on the following day therefore I made way to the address he had given, and on reaching the spot I was astonished to find the house in which he had said he lived was uninhabited. A padlock was on the door, the boards of which were parting with age. There was not a whole pane of glass in any of the windows, and the frames of many of them were shattered or demolished. Some persons in the neighbourhood, noticing me eyeing the place, asked whom I wanted. On my telling the man’s name, which it appeared he had not dreamt of disguising, I was informed that he had left the day before, saying he had met the landlord in the morning (for such it turned out he had fancied me to be), and that the gentleman had wanted him to come to his house, but he was afraid to go lest he should be sent to prison for breaking into the place. I found, on inspection, that the premises, though locked up, could be entered by the rear, one of the window-frames having been removed, so that admission could be obtained through the aperture. Availing myself of the same mode of ingress, I proceeded to examine the premises. Nothing could well be more dismal or dreary than the interior. The floors were rotting with damp and mildew, especially near the windows, where the wet found easy entrance. The walls were even slimy and discoloured, and everything bore the appearance of desolation. In one corner was strewn a bundle of dirty straw, which doubtlessly had served the bone-grubber for a bed, while scattered about the floor were pieces of bones, and small fragments of dirty rags, sufficient to indicate the calling of the late inmate. He had had but little difficulty in removing his property, seeing that it consisted solely of his bag and his stick.

The following paragraph concerning the chiffoniers or rag-gatherers of Paris appeared in the London journals a few weeks since:—

“The fraternal association of rag-gatherers (chiffoniers) gave a grand banquet on Saturday last (21st of June). It took place at a public-house called the Pot Tricolore, near the Barrière de Fontainbleau, which is frequented by the rag-gathering fraternity. In this house there are three rooms, each of which is specially devoted to the use of different classes of rag-gatherers: one, the least dirty, is called the ‘Chamber of Peers,’[142] and is occupied by the first class—that is, those who possess a basket in a good state, and a crook ornamented with copper; the second, called the ‘Chamber of Deputies,’ belonging to the second class, is much less comfortable, and those who attend it have baskets and crooks not of first-rate quality; the third room is in a dilapidated condition, and is frequented by the lowest class of rag-gatherers who have no basket or crook, and who place what they find in the streets in a piece of sackcloth. They call themselves the ‘Réunion des Vrais Prolétaires.’ The name of each room is written in chalk above the door; and generally such strict etiquette is observed among the rag-gatherers that no one goes into the apartment not occupied by his own class. At Saturday’s banquet, however, all distinctions of rank were laid aside, and delegates of each class united fraternally. The president was the oldest rag-gatherer in Paris; his age is 88, and he is called ‘the Emperor.’ The banquet consisted of a sort of olla podrida, which the master of the establishment pompously called gibelotte, though of what animal it was composed it was impossible to say. It was served up in huge earthen dishes, and before it was allowed to be touched payment was demanded and obtained; the other articles were also paid for as soon as they were brought in; and a deposit was exacted as a security for the plates, knives, and forks. The wine, or what did duty as such, was contained in an earthen pot called the Petit Père Noir, and was filled from a gigantic vessel named Le Moricaud. The dinner was concluded by each guest taking a small glass of brandy. Business was then proceeded to. It consisted in the reading and adoption of the statutes of the association, followed by the drinking of numerous toasts to the president, to the prosperity of rag-gathering, to the union of rag-gatherers, &c. A collection amounting to 6f. 75c. was raised for sick members of the fraternity. The guests then dispersed; but several of them remained at the counter until they had consumed in brandy the amount deposited as security for the crockery, knives, and forks.”

Of the “Pure”-Finders.

Dogs’-dung is called “Pure,” from its cleansing and purifying properties.

The name of “Pure-finders,” however, has been applied to the men engaged in collecting dogs’-dung from the public streets only, within the last 20 or 30 years. Previous to this period there appears to have been no men engaged in the business, old women alone gathered the substance, and they were known by the name of “bunters,” which signifies properly gatherers of rags; and thus plainly intimates that the rag-gatherers originally added the collecting of “Pure” to their original and proper vocation. Hence it appears that the bone-grubbers, rag-gatherers, and pure-finders, constituted formerly but one class of people, and even now they have, as I have stated, kindred characteristics.

The pure-finders meet with a ready market for all the dogs’-dung they are able to collect, at the numerous tanyards in Bermondsey, where they sell it by the stable-bucket full, and get from 8d. to 10d. per bucket, and sometimes 1s. and 1s. 2d. for it, according to its quality. The “dry limy-looking sort” fetches the highest price at some yards, as it is found to possess more of the alkaline, or purifying properties; but others are found to prefer the dark moist quality. Strange as it may appear, the preference for a particular kind has suggested to the finders of Pure the idea of adulterating it to a very considerable extent; this is effected by means of mortar broken away from old walls, and mixed up with the whole mass, which it closely resembles; in some cases, however, the mortar is rolled into small balls similar to those found. Hence it would appear, that there is no business or trade, however insignificant or contemptible, without its own peculiar and appropriate tricks.

The pure-finders are in their habits and mode of proceeding nearly similar to the bone-grubbers. Many of the pure-finders are, however, better in circumstances, the men especially, as they earn more money. They are also, to a certain extent, a better educated class. Some of the regular collectors of this substance have been mechanics, and others small tradesmen, who have been reduced. Those pure-finders who have “a good connection,” and have been granted permission to cleanse some kennels, obtain a very fair living at the business, earning from 10s. to 15s. a week. These, however, are very few; the majority have to seek the article in the streets, and by such means they can obtain only from 6s. to 10s. a week. The average weekly earnings of this class are thought to be about 7s. 6d.

From all the inquiries I have made on this subject, I have found that there cannot be less than from 200 to 300 persons constantly engaged solely in this business. There are about 30 tanyards large and small in Bermondsey, and these all have their regular Pure collectors from whom they obtain the article. Leomont and Roberts’s, Bavingtons’, Beech’s, Murrell’s, Cheeseman’s, Powell’s, Jones’s, Jourdans’, Kent’s, Moorcroft’s, and Davis’s, are among the largest establishments, and some idea of the amount of business done in some of these yards may be formed from the fact, that the proprietors severally employ from 300 to 500 tanners. At Leomont and Roberts’s there are 23 regular street-finders, who supply them with pure, but this is a large establishment, and the number supplying them is considered far beyond the average quantity; moreover, Messrs. Leomont and Roberts do more business in the particular branch of tanning in which the article is principally used, viz., in dressing the leather for book-covers, kid-gloves, and a variety of other articles. Some of the other tanyards, especially the smaller ones, take the substance only as they happen to want it, and others again employ but a limited number of hands. If, therefore, we strike an average, and reduce the number supplying each of the several yards to eight, we shall have 240 persons regularly engaged in the business: besides these, it may be said that numbers of the starving and destitute Irish have taken to picking up the ma[143]terial, but not knowing where to sell it, or how to dispose of it, they part with it for 2d. or 3d. the pail-full to the regular purveyors of it to the tanyards, who of course make a considerable profit by the transaction. The children of the poor Irish are usually employed in this manner, but they also pick up rags and bones, and anything else which may fall in their way.

I have stated that some of the pure-finders, especially the men, earn a considerable sum of money per week; their gains are sometimes as much as 15s.; indeed I am assured that seven years ago, when they got from 3s. to 4s. per pail for the pure, that many of them would not exchange their position with that of the best paid mechanic in London. Now, however, the case is altered, for there are twenty now at the business for every one who followed it then; hence each collects so much the less in quantity, and, moreover, from the competition gets so much less for the article. Some of the collectors at present do not earn 3s. per week, but these are mostly old women who are feeble and unable to get over the ground quickly; others make 5s. and 6s. in the course of the week, while the most active and those who clean out the kennels of the dog fanciers may occasionally make 9s. and 10s. and even 15s. a week still, but this is of very rare occurrence. Allowing the finders, one with the other, to earn on an average 5s. per week, it would give the annual earnings of each to be 13l., while the income of the whole 200 would amount to 50l. a week, or 2600l. per annum. The kennel “pure” is not much valued, indeed many of the tanners will not even buy it, the reason is that the dogs of the “fanciers” are fed on almost anything, to save expense; the kennel cleaners consequently take the precaution of mixing it with what is found in the street, previous to offering it for sale.

The pure-finder may at once be distinguished from the bone-grubber and rag-gatherer; the latter, as I have before mentioned, carries a bag, and usually a stick armed with a spike, while he is most frequently to be met with in back streets, narrow lanes, yards and other places, where dust and rubbish are likely to be thrown out from the adjacent houses. The pure-finder, on the contrary, is often found in the open streets, as dogs wander where they like. The pure-finders always carry a handle basket, generally with a cover, to hide the contents, and have their right hand covered with a black leather glove; many of them, however, dispense with the glove, as they say it is much easier to wash their hands than to keep the glove fit for use. The women generally have a large pocket for the reception of such rags as they may chance to fall in with, but they pick up those only of the very best quality, and will not go out of their way to search even for them. Thus equipped they may be seen pursuing their avocation in almost every street in and about London, excepting such streets as are now cleansed by the “street orderlies,” of whom the pure-finders grievously complain, as being an unwarrantable interference with the privileges of their class.

The pure collected is used by leather-dressers and tanners, and more especially by those engaged in the manufacture of morocco and kid leather from the skins of old and young goats, of which skins great numbers are imported, and of the roans and lambskins which are the sham morocco and kids of the “slop” leather trade, and are used by the better class of shoemakers, bookbinders, and glovers, for the inferior requirements of their business. Pure is also used by tanners, as is pigeon’s dung, for the tanning of the thinner kinds of leather, such as calf-skins, for which purpose it is placed in pits with an admixture of lime and bark.

In the manufacture of moroccos and roans the pure is rubbed by the hands of the workman into the skin he is dressing. This is done to “purify” the leather, I was told by an intelligent leather-dresser, and from that term the word “pure” has originated. The dung has astringent as well as highly alkaline, or, to use the expression of my informant, “scouring,” qualities. When the pure has been rubbed into the flesh and grain of the skin (the “flesh” being originally the interior, and the “grain” the exterior part of the cuticle), and the skin, thus purified, has been hung up to be dried, the dung removes, as it were, all such moisture as, if allowed to remain, would tend to make the leather unsound or imperfectly dressed. This imperfect dressing, moreover, gives a disagreeable smell to the leather—and leather-buyers often use both nose and tongue in making their purchases—and would consequently prevent that agreeable odour being imparted to the skin which is found in some kinds of morocco and kid. The peculiar odour of the Russia leather, so agreeable in the libraries of the rich, is derived from the bark of young birch trees. It is now manufactured in Bermondsey.

Among the morocco manufacturers, especially among the old operatives, there is often a scarcity of employment, and they then dress a few roans, which they hawk to the cheap warehouses, or sell to the wholesale shoemakers on their own account. These men usually reside in small garrets in the poorer parts of Bermondsey, and carry on their trade in their own rooms, using and keeping the pure there; hence the “homes” of these poor men are peculiarly uncomfortable, if not unhealthy. Some of these poor fellows or their wives collect the pure themselves, often starting at daylight for the purpose; they more frequently, however, buy it of a regular finder.

The number of pure-finders I heard estimated, by a man well acquainted with the tanning and other departments of the leather trade, at from 200 to 250. The finders, I was informed by the same person, collected about a pail-full a day, clearing 6s. a week in the summer—1s. and 1s. 2d. being the charge for a pail-full; in the short days of winter, however, and in bad weather, they could not collect five pail-fulls in a week.

In the wretched locality already referred to as lying between the Docks and Rosemary-lane, redolent of filth and pregnant with pestilential diseases, and whither all the outcasts of the metropolitan[144] population seem to be drawn, either in the hope of finding fitting associates and companions in their wretchedness (for there is doubtlessly something attractive and agreeable to them in such companionship), or else for the purpose of hiding themselves and their shifts and struggles for existence from the world,—in this dismal quarter, and branching from one of the many narrow lanes which interlace it, there is a little court with about half-a-dozen houses of the very smallest dimensions, consisting of merely two rooms, one over the other. Here in one of the upper rooms (the lower one of the same house being occupied by another family and apparently filled with little ragged children), I discerned, after considerable difficulty, an old woman, a Pure-finder. When I opened the door the little light that struggled through the small window, the many broken panes of which were stuffed with old rags, was not sufficient to enable me to perceive who or what was in the room. After a short time, however, I began to make out an old chair standing near the fire-place, and then to discover a poor old woman resembling a bundle of rags and filth stretched on some dirty straw in the corner of the apartment. The place was bare and almost naked. There was nothing in it except a couple of old tin kettles and a basket, and some broken crockeryware in the recess of the window. To my astonishment I found this wretched creature to be, to a certain extent, a “superior” woman; she could read and write well, spoke correctly, and appeared to have been a person of natural good sense, though broken up with age, want, and infirmity, so that she was characterized by all that dull and hardened stupidity of manner which I have noticed in the class. She made the following statement:—

“I am about 60 years of age. My father was a milkman, and very well off; he had a barn and a great many cows. I was kept at school till I was thirteen or fourteen years of age; about that time my father died, and then I was taken home to help my mother in the business. After a while things went wrong; the cows began to die, and mother, alleging she could not manage the business herself, married again. I soon found out the difference. Glad to get away, anywhere out of the house, I married a sailor, and was very comfortable with him for some years; as he made short voyages, and was often at home, and always left me half his pay. At last he was pressed, when at home with me, and sent away; I forget now where he was sent to, but I never saw him from that day to this. The only thing I know is that some sailors came to me four or five years after, and told me that he deserted from the ship in which he had gone out, and got on board the Neptune, East Indiaman, bound for Bombay, where he acted as boatswain’s mate; some little time afterwards, he had got intoxicated while the ship was lying in harbour, and, going down the side to get into a bumboat, and buy more drink, he had fallen overboard and was drowned. I got some money that was due to him from the India House, and, after that was all gone, I went into service, in the Mile-end Road. There I stayed for several years, till I met my second husband, who was bred to the water, too, but as a waterman on the river. We did very well together for a long time, till he lost his health. He became paralyzed like, and was deprived of the use of all one side, and nearly lost the sight of one of his eyes; this was not very conspicuous at first, but when we came to get pinched, and to be badly off, then any one might have seen that there was something the matter with his eye. Then we parted with everything we had in the world; and, at last, when we had no other means of living left, we were advised to take to gathering ‘Pure.’ At first I couldn’t endure the business; I couldn’t bear to eat a morsel, and I was obliged to discontinue it for a long time. My husband kept at it though, for he could do that well enough, only he couldn’t walk as fast as he ought. He couldn’t lift his hands as high as his head, but he managed to work under him, and so put the Pure in the basket. When I saw that he, poor fellow, couldn’t make enough to keep us both, I took heart and went out again, and used to gather more than he did; that’s fifteen years ago now; the times were good then, and we used to do very well. If we only gathered a pail-full in the day, we could live very well; but we could do much more than that, for there wasn’t near so many at the business then, and the Pure was easier to be had. For my part I can’t tell where all the poor creatures have come from of late years; the world seems growing worse and worse every day. They have pulled down the price of Pure, that’s certain; but the poor things must do something, they can’t starve while there’s anything to be got. Why, no later than six or seven years ago, it was as high as 3s. 6d. and 4s. a pail-full, and a ready sale for as much of it as you could get; but now you can only get 1s. and in some places 1s. 2d. a pail-full; and, as I said before, there are so many at it, that there is not much left for a poor old creature like me to find. The men that are strong and smart get the most, of course, and some of them do very well, at least they manage to live. Six years ago, my husband complained that he was ill, in the evening, and lay down in the bed—we lived in Whitechapel then—he took a fit of coughing, and was smothered in his own blood. O dear” (the poor old soul here ejaculated), “what troubles I have gone through! I had eight children at one time, and there is not one of them alive now. My daughter lived to 30 years of age, and then she died in childbirth, and, since then, I have had nobody in the wide world to care for me—none but myself, all alone as I am. After my husband’s death I couldn’t do much, and all my things went away, one by one, until I’ve nothing but bare walls, and that’s the reason why I was vexed at first at your coming in, sir. I was yesterday out all day, and went round Aldgate, Whitechapel, St. George’s East, Stepney, Bow, and Bromley, and then came home; after that, I went over to Bermondsey, and there I got only 6d. for my pains. To-day I wasn’t out at all; I wasn’t well; I had a bad headache, and I’m so much afraid of the fevers that are all about[145] here—though I don’t know why I should be afraid of them—I was lying down, when you came, to get rid of my pains. There’s such a dizziness in my head now, I feel as if it didn’t belong to me. No, I have earned no money to-day. I have had a piece of dried bread that I steeped in water to eat. I haven’t eat anything else to-day; but, pray, sir, don’t tell anybody of it. I could never bear the thought of going into the ‘great house’ [workhouse]; I’m so used to the air, that I’d sooner die in the street, as many I know have done. I’ve known several of our people, who have sat down in the street with their basket alongside them, and died. I knew one not long ago, who took ill just as she was stooping down to gather up the Pure, and fell on her face; she was taken to the London Hospital, and died at three o’clock in the morning. I’d sooner die like them than be deprived of my liberty, and be prevented from going about where I liked. No, I’ll never go into the workhouse; my master is kind to me” [the tanner whom she supplies]. “When I’m ill, he sometimes gives me a sixpence; but there’s one gentleman has done us great harm, by forcing so many into the business. He’s a poor-law guardian, and when any poor person applies for relief, he tells them to go and gather Pure, and that he’ll buy it of them (for he’s in the line), and so the parish, you see, don’t have to give anything, and that’s one way that so many have come into the trade of late, that the likes of me can do little or no good at it. Almost every one I’ve ever known engaged at Pure-finding were people who were better off once. I knew a man who went by the name of Brown, who picked up Pure for years before I went to it; he was a very quiet man; he used to lodge in Blue Anchor-yard, and seldom used to speak to anybody. We two used to talk together sometimes, but never much. One morning he was found dead in his bed; it was of a Tuesday morning, and he was buried about 12 o’clock on the Friday following. About 6 o’clock on that afternoon, three or four gentlemen came searching all through this place, looking for a man named Brown, and offering a reward to any who would find him out; there was a whole crowd about them when I came up. One of the gentlemen said that the man they wanted had lost the first finger of his right hand, and then I knew that it was the man that had been buried only that morning. Would you believe it, Mr. Brown was a real gentleman all the time, and had a large estate, of I don’t know how many thousand pounds, just left him, and the lawyers had advertised and searched everywhere for him, but never found him, you may say, till he was dead. We discovered that his name was not Brown; he had only taken that name to hide his real one, which, of course, he did not want any one to know. I’ve often thought of him, poor man, and all the misery he might have been spared, if the good news had only come a year or two sooner.”

Another informant, a Pure-collector, was originally in the Manchester cotton trade, and held a lucrative situation in a large country establishment. His salary one year exceeded 250l., and his regular income was 150l. “This,” he says, “I lost through drink and neglect. My master was exceedingly kind to me, and has even assisted me since I left his employ. He bore with me patiently for many years, but the love of drink was so strong upon me that it was impossible for him to keep me any longer.” He has often been drunk, he tells me, for three months together; and he is now so reduced that he is ashamed to be seen. When at his master’s it was his duty to carve and help the other assistants belonging to the establishment, and his hand used to shake so violently that he has been ashamed to lift the gravy spoon.

At breakfast he has frequently waited till all the young men had left the table before he ventured to taste his tea; and immediately, when he was alone, he has bent his head down to his cup to drink, being utterly incapable of raising it to his lips. He says he is a living example of the degrading influence of drink. All his friends have deserted him. He has suffered enough, he tells me, to make him give it up. He earned the week before I saw him 5s. 2d.; and the week before that, 6s.

Before leaving me I prevailed upon the man to “take the pledge.” This is now eighteen months ago, and I have not seen him since.

Of the Cigar-end Finders.

There are, strictly speaking, none who make a living by picking up the ends of cigars thrown away as useless by the smokers in the streets, but there are very many who employ themselves from time to time in collecting them. Almost all the street-finders, when they meet with such things, pick them up, and keep them in a pocket set apart for that purpose. The men allow the ends to accumulate till they amount to two or three pounds weight, and then some dispose of them to a person residing in the neighbourhood of Rosemary-lane, who buys them all up at from 6d. to 10d. per pound, according to their length and quality. The long ends are considered the best, as I am told there is more sound tobacco in them, uninjured by the moisture of the mouth. The children of the poor Irish, in particular, scour Ratcliff-highway, the Commercial-road, Mile-end-road, and all the leading thoroughfares of the East, and every place where cigar smokers are likely to take an evening’s promenade. The quantity that each of them collects is very trifling indeed—perhaps not more than a handful during a morning’s search. I am informed, by an intelligent man living in the midst of them, that these children go out in the morning not only to gather cigar-ends, but to pick up out of dust bins, and from amongst rubbish in the streets, the smallest scraps and crusts of bread, no matter how hard or filthy they may be. These they put into a little bag which they carry for the purpose, and, after they have gone their rounds and collected whatever they can, they take the cigar-ends to the man who buys them—sometimes getting not more than a halfpenny or a penny for their morning’s collection. With this they buy a halfpenny or a pennyworth[146] of oatmeal, which they mix up with a large quantity of water, and after washing and steeping the hard and dirty crusts, they put them into the pot or kettle and boil all together. Of this mass the whole family partake, and it often constitutes all the food they taste in the course of the day. I have often seen the bone-grubbers eat the black and soddened crusts they have picked up out of the gutter.

It would, indeed, be a hopeless task to make any attempt to get at the number of persons who occasionally or otherwise pick up cigar-ends with the view of selling them again. For this purpose almost all who ransack the streets of London for a living may be computed as belonging to the class; and to these should be added the children of the thousands of destitute Irish who have inundated the metropolis within the last few years, and who are to be found huddled together in all the low neighbourhoods in every suburb of the City. What quantity is collected, or the amount of money obtained for the ends, there are no means of ascertaining.

Let us, however, make a conjecture. There are in round numbers 300,000 inhabited houses in the metropolis; and allowing the married people living in apartments to be equal in number to the unmarried “housekeepers,” we may compute that the number of families in London is about the same as the inhabited houses. Assuming one young or old gentleman in every ten of these families to smoke one cigar per diem in the public thoroughfares, we have 30,000 cigar-ends daily, or 210,000 weekly cast away in the London streets. Now, reckoning 150 cigars to go to a pound, we may assume that each end so cast away weighs about the thousandth part of a pound; consequently the gross weight of the ends flung into the gutter will, in the course of the week, amount to about 2 cwt.; and calculating that only a sixth part of these are picked up by the finders, it follows that there is very nearly a ton of refuse tobacco collected annually in the metropolitan thoroughfares.

The aristocratic quarters of the City and the vicinity of theatres and casinos are the best for the cigar-end finders. In the Strand, Regent-street, and the more fashionable thoroughfares, I am told, there are many ends picked up; but even in these places they do not exclusively furnish a means of living to any of the finders. All the collectors sell them to some other person, who acts as middle-man in the business. How he disposes of the ends is unknown, but it is supposed that they are resold to some of the large manufacturers of cigars, and go to form the component part of a new stock of the “best Havannahs;” or, in other words, they are worked up again to be again cast away, and again collected by the finders, and so on perhaps, till the millennium comes. Some suppose them to be cut up and mixed with the common smoking tobacco, and others that they are used in making snuff. There are, I am assured, five persons residing in different parts of London, who are known to purchase the cigar-ends.

In Naples the sale of cigar-ends is a regular street-traffic, the street-seller carrying them in a small box suspended round the neck. In Paris, also, le Remasseur de Cigares is a well-known occupation: the “ends” thus collected are sold as cheap tobacco to the poor. In the low lodging-houses of London the ends, when dried, are cut up, and frequently vended by the finders to such of their fellow-lodgers as are anxious to enjoy their pipe at the cheapest possible rate.

Of the Old Wood Gatherers.

All that has been said of the cigar-end finders may, in a great measure, apply to the wood-gatherers. No one can make a living exclusively by the gathering of wood, and those who do gather it, gather as well rags, bones, and bits of metal. They gather it, indeed, as an adjunct to their other findings, on the principle that “every little helps.” Those, however, who most frequently look for wood are the very old and feeble, and the very young, who are both unable to travel far, or to carry a heavy burden, and they may occasionally be seen crawling about in the neighbourhood of any new buildings in the course of construction, or old ones in the course of demolition, and picking up small odds and ends of wood and chips swept out amongst dirt and shavings; these they deposit in a bag or basket which they carry for that purpose. Should there happen to be what they call “pulling-down work,” that is, taking down old houses, or palings, the place is immediately beset by a number of wood-gatherers, young and old, and in general all the poor people of the locality join with them, to obtain their share of the spoil. What the poor get they take home and burn, but the wood-gatherers sell all they procure for some small trifle.

Some short time ago a portion of the wood-pavement in the city was being removed; a large number of the old blocks, which were much worn and of no further use, were thrown aside, and became the perquisite of the wood-gatherers. During the repair of the street, the spot was constantly besieged by a motley mob of men, women, and children, who, in many instances, struggled and fought for the wood rejected as worthless. This wood they either sold for a trifle as they got it, or took home and split, and made into bundles for sale as firewood.

All the mudlarks (of whom I shall treat specially) pick up wood and chips on the bank of the river; these they sell to poor people in their own neighbourhood. They sometimes “find” large pieces of a greater weight than they can carry; in such cases they get some other mudlark to help them with the load, and the two “go halves” in the produce. The only parties among the street-finders who do not pick up wood are the Pure-collectors and the sewer-hunters, or, as they call themselves, shore-workers, both of whom pass it by as of no value.

It is impossible to estimate the quantity of wood which is thus gathered, or what the amount may be which the collector realises in the course of the year.


Of the Dredgers, or River Finders.

The dredgermen of the Thames, or river finders, naturally occupy the same place with reference to the street-finders, as the purlmen or river beer-sellers do to those who get their living by selling in the streets. It would be in itself a curious inquiry to trace the origin of the manifold occupations in which men are found to be engaged in the present day, and to note how promptly every circumstance and occurrence was laid hold of, as it happened to arise, which appeared to have any tendency to open up a new occupation, and to mark the gradual progress, till it became a regularly-established employment, followed by a separate class of people, fenced round by rules and customs of their own, and who at length grew to be both in their habits and peculiarities plainly distinct from the other classes among whom they chanced to be located.

There has been no historian among the dredgers of the Thames to record the commencement of the business, and the utmost that any of the river-finders can tell is that his father had been a dredger, and so had his father before him, and that that’s the reason why they are dredgers also. But no such people as dredgers were known on the Thames in remote days; and before London had become an important trading port, where nothing was likely to be got for the searching, it is not probable that people would have been induced to search. In those days, the only things searched for in the river were the bodies of persons drowned, accidentally or otherwise. For this purpose, the Thames fishermen of all others, appeared to be the best adapted. They were on the spot at all times, and had various sorts of tackle, such as nets, lines, hooks, &c. The fishermen well understood everything connected with the river, such as the various sets of the tide, and the nature of the bottom, and they were therefore on such occasions invariably applied to for these purposes.

It is known to all who remember anything of Old London Bridge, that at certain times of the tide, in consequence of the velocity with which the water rushed through the narrow apertures which the arches then afforded for its passage, to bring a boat in safety through the bridge was a feat to be attempted only by the skilful and experienced. This feat was known as “shooting” London Bridge; and it was no unusual thing for accidents to happen even to the most expert. In fact, numerous accidents occurred at this bridge, and at such times valuable articles were sometimes lost, for which high rewards were offered to the finder. Here again the fishermen came into requisition, the small drag-net, which they used while rowing, offering itself for the purpose; for, by fixing an iron frame round the mouth of the drag-net, this part of it, from its specific gravity, sunk first to the bottom, and consequently scraped along as they pulled forward, collecting into the net everything that came in its way; when it was nearly filled, which the rower always knew by the weight, it was hauled up to the surface, its contents examined, and the object lost generally recovered.

It is thus apparent that the fishermen of the Thames were the men originally employed as dredgermen; though casually, indeed, at first, and according as circumstances occurred requiring their services. By degrees, however, as the commerce of the river increased, and a greater number of articles fell overboard from the shipping, they came to be more frequently called into requisition, and so they were naturally led to adopt the dredging as part and parcel of their business. Thus it remains to the present day.

The fishermen all serve a regular apprenticeship, as they say themselves, “duly and truly” for seven years. During the time of their apprenticeship they are (or rather, in former times they were) obliged to sleep in their master’s boat at night to take care of his property, and were subject to many other curious regulations, which are foreign to this subject.

I have said that the fishermen of the Thames to the present day unite the dredging to their proper calling. By this I mean that they employ themselves in fishing during the summer and autumn, either from Barking Creek downwards, or from Chelsea Reach upwards, catching dabs, flounders, eels, and other sorts of fish for the London markets. But in winter when the days are short and cold, and the weather stormy, they prefer stopping at home, and dredging the bed of the river for anything they may chance to find. There are others, however, who have started wholly in the dredging line, there being no hindrance or impediment to any one doing so, nor any licence required for the purpose: these dredge the river winter and summer alike, and are, in fact, the only real dredgermen of the present day living solely by that occupation.

There are in all about 100 dredgermen at work on the river, and these are located as follows:—

From Putney to Vauxhall there are20
From Vauxhall to London-bridge40
From London-bridge to Deptford20
And from Deptford to Gravesend20

All these reside, in general, on the south side of the Thames, the two places most frequented by them being Lambeth and Rotherhithe. They do not, however, confine themselves to the neighbourhoods wherein they reside, but extend their operations to all parts of the river, where it is likely that they may pick up anything; and it is perfectly marvellous with what rapidity the intelligence of any accident calculated to afford them employment is spread among them; for should a loaded coal barge be sunk over night, by daylight the next morning every dredgerman would be sure to be upon the spot, prepared to collect what he could from the wreck at the bottom of the river.

The boats of the dredgermen are of a peculiar shape. They have no stern, but are the same[148] fore and aft. They are called Peter boats, but not one of the men with whom I spoke had the least idea as to the origin of the name. These boats are to be had at almost all prices, according to their condition and age—from 30s. to 20l. The boats used by the fishermen dredgermen are decidedly the most valuable. One with the other, perhaps the whole may average 10l. each; and this sum will give 1000l. as the value of the entire number. A complete set of tackle, including drags, will cost 2l., which comes to 200l. for all hands; and thus we have the sum of 1200l. as the amount of capital invested in the dredging of the Thames.

It is by no means an easy matter to form any estimate of the earnings of the dredgermen, as they are a matter of mere chance. In former years, when Indiamen and all the foreign shipping lay in the river, the river finders were in the habit of doing a good business, not only in their own line, through the greater quantities of rope, bones, and other things which then were thrown or fell overboard, but they also contrived to smuggle ashore great quantities of tobacco, tea, spirits, and other contraband articles, and thought it a bad day’s work when they did not earn a pound independent of their dredging. An old dredger told me he had often in those days made 5l. before breakfast time. After the excavation of the various docks, and after the larger shipping had departed from the river, the finders were obliged to content themselves with the chances of mere dredging; and even then, I am informed, they were in the habit of earning one week with another throughout the year, about 25s. per week, each, or 6500l. per annum among all. Latterly, however, the earnings of these men have greatly fallen off, especially in the summer, for then they cannot get so good a price for the coal they find as in the winter—6d. per bushel being the summer price; and, as they consider three bushels a good day’s work, their earnings at this period of the year amount only to 1s. 6d. per day, excepting when they happen to pick up some bones or pieces of metal, or to find a dead body for which there is a reward. In the winter, however, the dredgermen can readily get 1s. per bushel for all the coals they find; and far more coals are to be found then than in summer, for there are more colliers in the river, and far more accidents at that season. Coal barges are often sunk in the winter, and on such occasions they make a good harvest. Moreover there is the finding of bodies, for which they not only get the reward, but 5s., which they call inquest money; together with many other chances, such as the finding of money and valuables among the rubbish they bring up from the bottom; but as the last-mentioned are accidents happening throughout the year, I am inclined to think that they have understated the amount which they are in the habit of realizing even in the summer.

The dredgers, as a class, may be said to be altogether uneducated, not half a dozen out of the whole number being able to read their own name, and only one or two to write it; this select few are considered by the rest as perfect prodigies. “Lor’ bless you!” said one, “I on’y wish you’d ’ear Bill S—— read; I on’y jist wish you’d ’ear him. Why that ere Bill can read faster nor a dog can trot. And, what’s more, I seed him write an ole letter hisself, ev’ry word on it! What do you think o’ that now?” The ignorance of the dredgermen may be accounted for by the men taking so early to the water; the bustle and excitement of the river being far more attractive to them than the routine of a school. Almost as soon as they are able to do anything, the dredgermen’s boys are taken by their fathers afloat to assist in picking out the coals, bones, and other things of any use, from the midst of the rubbish brought up in their drag-nets; or else the lads are sent on board as assistants to one or other of the fishermen during their fishing voyages. When once engaged in this way it has been found impossible afterwards to keep the youths from the water; and if they have learned anything previously they very soon forget it.

It might be expected that the dredgers, in a manner depending on chance for their livelihood, and leading a restless sort of life on the water, would closely resemble the costermongers in their habits; but it is far otherwise. There can be no two classes more dissimilar, except in their hatred of restraint. The dredgers are sober and steady; gambling is unknown amongst them; and they are, to an extraordinary degree, laborious, persevering, and patient. They are in general men of short stature, but square built, strong, and capable of enduring great fatigue, and have a silent and thoughtful look. Being almost always alone, and studying how they may best succeed in finding what they seek, marking the various sets of the tide, and the direction in which things falling into the water at a particular place must necessarily be carried, they become the very opposite to the other river people, especially to the watermen, who are brawling and clamorous, and delight in continually “chaffing” each other. In consequence of the sober and industrious habits of the dredgermen their homes are, as they say, “pretty fair” for working men, though there is nothing very luxurious to be found in them, nor indeed anything beyond what is absolutely necessary. After their day’s work, especially if they have “done well,” these men smoke a pipe over a pint or two of beer at the nearest public-house, get home early to bed, and if the tide answers may be found on the river patiently dredging away at two or three o’clock in the morning.

Whenever a loaded coal barge happens to sink, as I have already intimated, it is surprising how short a time elapses before that part of the river is alive with the dredgers. They flock thither from all parts. The river on such occasions presents a very animated appearance. At first they are all in a group, and apparently in confusion, crossing and re-crossing each other’s course; some with their oars pulled in while they examine the contents of their nets, and empty the coals into the bottom of their boats; others rowing and tugging against the stream, to obtain an advan[149]tageous position for the next cast; and when they consider they have found this, down go the dredging-nets to the bottom, and away they row again with the stream, as if pulling for a wager, till they find by the weight of their net that it is full; then they at once stop, haul it to the surface, and commence another course. Others who have been successful in getting their boats loaded may be seen pushing away from the main body, and making towards the shore. Here they busily employ themselves, with what help they can get, in emptying the boat of her cargo—carrying it ashore in old coal baskets, bushel measures, or anything else which will suit their purpose; and when this is completed they pull out again to join their comrades, and commence afresh. They continue working thus till the returning tide puts an end to their labours, but these are resumed after the tide has fallen to a certain depth; and so they go on, working night and day while there is anything to be got.

The dredgerman and his boat may be immediately distinguished from all others; there is nothing similar to them on the river. The sharp cutwater fore and aft, and short rounded appearance of the vessel, marks it out at once from the skiff or wherry of the waterman. There is, too, always the appearance of labour about the boat, like a ship returning after a long voyage, daubed and filthy, and looking sadly in need of a thorough cleansing. The grappling irons are over the bow, resting on a coil of rope; while the other end of the boat is filled with coals, bones, and old rope, mixed with the mud of the river. The ropes of the dredging-net hang over the side. A short stout figure, with a face soiled and blackened with perspiration, and surmounted by a tarred sou’-wester, the body habited in a soiled check shirt, with the sleeves turned up above the elbows, and exhibiting a pair of sunburnt brawny arms, is pulling at the sculls, not with the ease and lightness of the waterman, but toiling and tugging away like a galley slave, as he scours the bed of the river with his dredging-net in search of some hoped-for prize.

The dredgers, as was before stated, are the men who find almost all the bodies of persons drowned. If there be a reward offered for the recovery of a body, numbers of the dredgers will at once endeavour to obtain it, while if there be no reward, there is at least the inquest money to be had—beside other chances. What these chances are may be inferred from the well-known fact, that no body recovered by a dredgerman ever happens to have any money about it, when brought to shore. There may, indeed, be a watch in the fob or waistcoat pocket, for that article would be likely to be traced. There may, too, be a purse or pocket-book forthcoming, but somehow it is invariably empty. The dredgers cannot by any reasoning or argument be made to comprehend that there is anything like dishonesty in emptying the pockets of a dead man. They consider them as their just perquisites. They say that any one who finds a body does precisely the same, and that if they did not do so the police would. After having had all the trouble and labour, they allege that they have a much better right to whatever is to be got, than the police who have had nothing whatever to do with it. There are also people who shrewdly suspect that some of the coals from the barges lying in the river, very often find their way into the dredgers’ boats, especially when the dredgers are engaged in night-work; and there are even some who do not hold them guiltless of, now and then, when opportunity offers, smuggling things ashore from many of the steamers coming from foreign parts. But such things, I repeat, the dredgers consider in the fair way of their business.

One of the most industrious, and I believe one of the most skilful and successful of this peculiar class, gave me the following epitome of his history.

“Father was a dredger, and grandfather afore him; grandfather was a dredger and a fisherman too. A’most as soon as I was able to crawl, father took me with him in the boat to help him to pick the coals, and bones, and other things out of the net, and to use me to the water. When I got bigger and stronger, I was sent to the parish school, but I didn’t like it half as well as the boat, and couldn’t be got to stay two days together. At last I went above bridge, and went along with a fisherman, and used to sleep in the boat every night. I liked to sleep in the boat; I used to be as comfortable as could be. Lor bless you! there’s a tilt to them boats, and no rain can’t git at you. I used to lie awake of a night in them times, and listen to the water shipping ag’in the boat, and think it fine fun. I might a got bound ’prentice, but I got aboard a smack, where I stayed three or four year, and if I’d a stayed there, I’d a liked it much better. But I heerd as how father was ill, so I com’d home, and took to the dredging, and am at it off and on ever since. I got no larnin’, how could I? There’s on’y one or two of us dredgers as knows anything of larnin’, and they’re no better off than the rest. Larnin’s no use to a dredger, he hasn’t got no time to read; and if he had, why it wouldn’t tell him where the holes and furrows is at the bottom of the river, and where things is to be found. To be sure there’s holes and furrows at the bottom. I know a good many. I know a furrow off Lime’us Point, no wider nor the dredge, and I can go there, and when others can’t git anything but stones and mud, I can git four or five bushel o’ coal. You see they lay there; they get in with the set of the tide, and can’t git out so easy like. Dredgers don’t do so well now as they used to do. You know Pelican Stairs? well, before the Docks was built, when the ships lay there, I could go under Pelican Pier and pick up four or five shilling of a morning. What was that tho’ to father? I hear him say he often made 5l. afore breakfast, and nobody ever the wiser. Them were fine times! there was a good livin’ to be picked up on the water them days. About ten year ago, the fishermen at Lambeth, them as sarves their time ‘duly and truly’ thought to put us off the water, and went afore the Lord Mayor, but they couldn’t do nothink after all. They do better nor us, as they go[150] fishin’ all the summer, when the dredgin’ is bad, and come back in winter. Some on us down here” [Rotherhithe] “go a deal-portering in the summer, or unloading ’tatoes, or anything else we can get; when we have nothin’ else to do, we go on the river. Father don’t dredge now, he’s too old for that; it takes a man to be strong to dredge, so father goes to ship scrapin’. He on’y sits on a plank outside the ship, and scrapes off the old tar with a scraper. We does very well for all that—why he can make his half a bull a day [2s. 6d.] when he gits work, but that’s not always; howsomever I helps the old man at times, when I’m able. I’ve found a good many bodies. I got a many rewards, and a tidy bit of inquest money. There’s 5s. 6d. inquest money at Rotherhithe, and on’y a shillin’ at Deptford; I can’t make out how that is, but that’s all they give, I know. I never finds anythink on the bodies. Lor bless you! people don’t have anythink in their pockets when they gits drowned, they are not such fools as all that. Do you see them two marks there on the back of my hand? Well, one day—I was on’y young then—I was grabblin’ for old rope in Church Hole, when I brings up a body, and just as I was fixing the rope on his leg to tow him ashore, two swells comes down in a skiff, and lays hold of the painter of my boat, and tows me ashore. The hook of the drag went right thro’ the trowsers of the drowned man and my hand, and I couldn’t let go no how, and tho’ I roared out like mad, the swells didn’t care, but dragged me into the stairs. When I got there, my arm, and the corpse’s shoe and trowsers, was all kivered with my blood. What do you think the gents said?—why, they told me as how they had done me good, in towin’ the body in, and ran away up the stairs. Tho’ times ain’t near so good as they was, I manages purty tidy, and hasn’t got no occasion to hollor much; but there’s some of the dredgers as would hollor, if they was ever so well off.”

Of the Sewer-Hunters.

Some few years ago, the main sewers, having their outlets on the river side, were completely open, so that any person desirous of exploring their dark and uninviting recesses might enter at the river side, and wander away, provided he could withstand the combination of villanous stenches which met him at every step, for many miles, in any direction. At that time it was a thing of very frequent occurrence, especially at the spring tides, for the water to rush into the sewers, pouring through them like a torrent, and then to burst up through the gratings into the streets, flooding all the low-lying districts in the vicinity of the river, till the streets of Shadwell and Wapping resembled a Dutch town, intersected by a series of muddy canals. Of late, however, to remedy this defect, the Commissioners have had a strong brick wall built within the entrance to the several sewers. In each of these brick walls there is an opening covered by a strong iron door, which hangs from the top and is so arranged that when the tide is low the rush of the water and other filth on the inner side, forces it back and allows the contents of the sewer to pass into the river, whilst when the tide rises the door is forced so close against the wall by the pressure of the water outside that none can by any possibility enter, and thus the river neighbourhoods are secured from the deluges which were heretofore of such frequent occurrence.

Were it not a notorious fact, it might perhaps be thought impossible, that men could be found who, for the chance of obtaining a living of some sort or other, would, day after day, and year after year, continue to travel through these underground channels for the offscouring of the city; but such is the case even at the present moment. In former times, however, this custom prevailed much more than now, for in those days the sewers were entirely open and presented no obstacle to any one desirous of entering them. Many wondrous tales are still told among the people of men having lost their way in the sewers, and of having wandered among the filthy passages—their lights extinguished by the noisome vapours—till, faint and overpowered, they dropped down and died on the spot. Other stories are told of sewer-hunters beset by myriads of enormous rats, and slaying thousands of them in their struggle for life, till at length the swarms of the savage things overpowered them, and in a few days afterwards their skeletons were discovered picked to the very bones. Since the iron doors, however, have been placed on the main sewers a prohibition has been issued against entering them, and a reward of 5l. offered to any person giving information so as to lead to the conviction of any offender. Nevertheless many still travel through these foul labyrinths, in search of such valuables as may have found their way down the drains.

The persons who are in the habit of searching the sewers, call themselves “shore-men” or “shore-workers.” They belong, in a certain degree, to the same class as the “mud-larks,” that is to say, they travel through the mud along shore in the neighbourhood of ship-building and ship-breaking yards, for the purpose of picking up copper nails, bolts, iron, and old rope. The shore-men, however, do not collect the lumps of coal and wood they meet with on their way, but leave them as the proper perquisites of the mud-larks. The sewer-hunters were formerly, and indeed are still, called by the name of “Toshers,” the articles which they pick up in the course of their wanderings along shore being known among themselves by the general term “tosh,” a word more particularly applied by them to anything made of copper. These “Toshers” may be seen, especially on the Surrey side of the Thames, habited in long greasy velveteen coats, furnished with pockets of vast capacity, and their nether limbs encased in dirty canvas trowsers, and any old slops of shoes, that may be fit only for wading through the mud. They carry a bag on their back, and in their hand a pole seven or eight feet long, on one end of which there is a large iron hoe. The uses of this instrument are various; with it they try the ground wherever it appears unsafe, before venturing on it, and, when[151] assured of its safety, walk forward steadying their footsteps with the staff. Should they, as often happens, even to the most experienced, sink in some quagmire, they immediately throw out the long pole armed with the hoe, which is always held uppermost for this purpose, and with it seizing hold of any object within their reach, are thereby enabled to draw themselves out; without the pole, however, their danger would be greater, for the more they struggled to extricate themselves from such places, the deeper they would sink; and even with it, they might perish, I am told, in some part, if there were nobody at hand to render them assistance. Finally, they make use of this pole to rake about the mud when searching for iron, copper, rope, and bones. They mostly exhibit great skill in discovering these things in unlikely places, and have a knowledge of the various sets of the tide, calculated to carry articles to particular points, almost equal to the dredgermen themselves. Although they cannot “pick up” as much now as they formerly did, they are still able to make what they call a fair living, and can afford to look down with a species of aristocratic contempt on the puny efforts of their less fortunate brethren the “mudlarks.”

To enter the sewers and explore them to any considerable distance is considered, even by those acquainted with what is termed “working the shores,” an adventure of no small risk. There are a variety of perils to be encountered in such places. The brick-work in many parts—especially in the old sewers—has become rotten through the continual action of the putrefying matter and moisture, and parts have fallen down and choked up the passage with heaps of rubbish; over these obstructions, nevertheless, the sewer-hunters have to scramble “in the best way they can.” In such parts they are careful not to touch the brick-work over head, for the slightest tap might bring down an avalanche of old bricks and earth, and severely injure them, if not bury them in the rubbish. Since the construction of the new sewers, the old ones are in general abandoned by the “hunters;” but in many places the former channels cross and re-cross those recently constructed, and in the old sewers a person is very likely to lose his way. It is dangerous to venture far into any of the smaller sewers branching off from the main, for in this the “hunters” have to stoop low down in order to proceed; and, from the confined space, there are often accumulated in such places, large quantities of foul air, which, as one of them stated, will “cause instantious death.” Moreover, far from there being any romance in the tales told of the rats, these vermin are really numerous and formidable in the sewers, and have been known, I am assured, to attack men when alone, and even sometimes when accompanied by others, with such fury that the people have escaped from them with difficulty. They are particularly ferocious and dangerous, if they be driven into some corner whence they cannot escape, when they will immediately fly at any one that opposes their progress. I received a similar account to this from one of the London flushermen. There are moreover, in some quarters, ditches or trenches which are filled as the water rushes up the sewers with the tide; in these ditches the water is retained by a sluice, which is shut down at high tide, and lifted again at low tide, when it rushes down the sewers with all the violence of a mountain torrent, sweeping everything before it. If the sewer-hunter be not close to some branch sewer, so that he can run into it, whenever the opening of these sluices takes place, he must inevitably perish. The trenches or water reservoirs for the cleansing of the sewers are chiefly on the south side of the river, and, as a proof of the great danger to which the sewer-hunters are exposed in such cases, it may be stated, that not very long ago, a sewer on the south side of the Thames was opened to be repaired; a long ladder reached to the bottom of the sewer, down which the bricklayer’s labourer was going with a hod of bricks, when the rush of water from the sluice, struck the bottom of the ladder, and instantly swept away ladder, labourer, and all. The bricklayer fortunately was enjoying his “pint and pipe” at a neighbouring public-house. The labourer was found by my informant, a “shore-worker,” near the mouth of the sewer quite dead, battered, and disfigured in a frightful manner. There was likewise great danger in former times from the rising of the tide in the sewers, so that it was necessary for the shore-men to have quitted them before the water had got any height within the entrance. At present, however, this is obviated in those sewers where the main is furnished with an iron door towards the river.

The shore-workers, when about to enter the sewers, provide themselves, in addition to the long hoe already described, with a canvas apron, which they tie round them, and a dark lantern similar to a policeman’s; this they strap before them on their right breast, in such a manner that on removing the shade, the bull’s-eye throws the light straight forward when they are in an erect position, and enables them to see everything in advance of them for some distance; but when they stoop, it throws the light directly under them, so that they can then distinctly see any object at their feet. The sewer-hunters usually go in gangs of three or four for the sake of company, and in order that they may be the better able to defend themselves from the rats. The old hands who have been often up (and every gang endeavours to include at least one experienced person), travel a long distance, not only through the main sewers, but also through many of the branches. Whenever the shore-men come near a street grating, they close their lanterns and watch their opportunity of gliding silently past unobserved, for otherwise a crowd might collect over head and intimate to the policeman on duty, that there were persons wandering in the sewers below. The shore-workers never take dogs with them, lest their barking when hunting the rats might excite attention. As the men go along they search the bottom of the sewer, raking away the mud with their hoe, and pick, from between the crevices of the brick-work, money, or anything else that may have lodged there. There[152] are in many parts of the sewers holes where the brick-work has been worn away, and in these holes clusters of articles are found, which have been washed into them from time to time, and perhaps been collecting there for years; such as pieces of iron, nails, various scraps of metal, coins of every description, all rusted into a mass like a rock, and weighing from a half hundred to two hundred weight altogether. These “conglomerates” of metal are too heavy for the men to take out of the sewers, so that if unable to break them up, they are compelled to leave them behind; and there are very many such masses, I am informed, lying in the sewers at this moment, of immense weight, and growing larger every day by continual additions. The shore-men find great quantities of money—of copper money especially; sometimes they dive their arm down to the elbow in the mud and filth and bring up shillings, sixpences, half-crowns, and occasionally half-sovereigns and sovereigns. They always find the coins standing edge uppermost between the bricks in the bottom, where the mortar has been worn away. The sewer-hunters occasionally find plate, such as spoons, ladles, silver-handled knives and forks, mugs and drinking cups, and now and then articles of jewellery; but even while thus “in luck” as they call it, they do not omit to fill the bags on their backs with the more cumbrous articles they meet with—such as metals of every description, rope and bones. There is always a great quantity of these things to be met with in the sewers, they being continually washed down from the cesspools and drains of the houses. When the sewer-hunters consider they have searched long enough, or when they have found as much as they can conveniently take away, the gang leave the sewers and, adjourning to the nearest of their homes, count out the money they have picked up, and proceed to dispose of the old metal, bones, rope, &c.; this done, they then, as they term it, “whack” the whole lot; that is, they divide it equally among all hands. At these divisions, I am assured, it frequently occurs that each member of the gang will realise from 30s. to 2l.—this at least was a frequent occurrence some few years ago. Of late, however, the shore-men are obliged to use far more caution, as the police, and especially those connected with the river, who are more on the alert, as well as many of the coal-merchants in the neighbourhood of the sewers, would give information if they saw any suspicious persons approaching them.

The principal localities in which the shore-hunters reside are in Mint-square, Mint-street, and Kent-street, in the Borough—Snow’s-fields, Bermondsey—and that never-failing locality between the London Docks and Rosemary-lane which appears to be a concentration of all the misery of the kingdom. There were known to be a few years ago nearly 200 sewer-hunters, or “toshers,” and, incredible as it may appear, I have satisfied myself that, taking one week with another, they could not be said to make much short of 2l. per week. Their probable gains, I was told, were about 6s. per day all the year round. At this rate the property recovered from the sewers of London would have amounted to no less than 20,000l. per annum, which would make the amount of property lost down the drains of each house amount to 1s. 4d. a year. The shore-hunters of the present day greatly complain of the recent restrictions, and inveigh in no measured terms against the constituted authorities. “They won’t let us in to work the shores,” say they, “’cause there’s a little danger. They fears as how we’ll get suffocated, at least they tells us so; but they don’t care if we get starved! no, they doesn’t mind nothink about that.”

It is, however, more than suspected that these men find plenty of means to evade the vigilance of the sewer officials, and continue quietly to reap a considerable harvest, gathered whence it might otherwise have rotted in obscurity.

The sewer-hunters, strange as it may appear, are certainly smart fellows, and take decided precedence of all the other “finders” of London, whether by land or water, both on account of the greater amount of their earnings, and the skill and courage they manifest in the pursuit of their dangerous employment. But like all who make a living as it were by a game of chance, plodding, carefulness, and saving habits cannot be reckoned among their virtues; they are improvident, even to a proverb. With their gains, superior even to those of the better-paid artizans, and far beyond the amount received by many clerks, who have to maintain a “respectable appearance,” the shore-men might, with but ordinary prudence, live well, have comfortable homes, and even be able to save sufficient to provide for themselves in their old age. Their practice, however, is directly the reverse. They no sooner make a “haul,” as they say, than they adjourn to some low public-house in the neighbourhood, and seldom leave till empty pockets and hungry stomachs drive them forth to procure the means for a fresh debauch. It is principally on this account that, despite their large gains, they are to be found located in the most wretched quarter of the metropolis.

It might be supposed that the sewer-hunters (passing much of their time in the midst of the noisome vapours generated by the sewers, the odour of which, escaping upwards from the gratings in the streets, is dreaded and shunned by all as something pestilential) would exhibit in their pallid faces the unmistakable evidence of their unhealthy employment. But this is far from the fact. Strange to say, the sewer-hunters are strong, robust, and healthy men, generally florid in their complexion, while many of them know illness only by name. Some of the elder men, who head the gangs when exploring the sewers, are between 60 and 80 years of age, and have followed the employment during their whole lives. The men appear to have a fixed belief that the odour of the sewers contributes in a variety of ways to their general health; nevertheless, they admit that accidents occasionally occur from the air in some places being fully impregnated with mephitic gas.

I found one of these men, from whom I derived[153] much information, and who is really an active intelligent man, in a court off Rosemary-lane. Access is gained to this court through a dark narrow entrance, scarcely wider than a doorway, running beneath the first floor of one of the houses in the adjoining street. The court itself is about 50 yards long, and not more than three yards wide, surrounded by lofty wooden houses, with jutting abutments in many of the upper stories that almost exclude the light, and give them the appearance of being about to tumble down upon the heads of the intruders. This court is densely inhabited; every room has its own family, more or less in number; and in many of them, I am assured, there are two families residing, the better to enable the one to whom the room is let to pay the rent. At the time of my visit, which was in the evening, after the inmates had returned from their various employments, some quarrel had arisen among them. The court was so thronged with the friends of the contending individuals and spectators of the fight that I was obliged to stand at the entrance, unable to force my way through the dense multitude, while labourers and street-folk with shaggy heads, and women with dirty caps and fuzzy hair, thronged every window above, and peered down anxiously at the affray. There must have been some hundreds of people collected there, and yet all were inhabitants of this very court, for the noise of the quarrel had not yet reached the street. On wondering at the number, my informant, when the noise had ceased, explained the matter as follows: “You see, sir, there’s more than 30 houses in this here court, and there’s not less than eight rooms in every house; now there’s nine or ten people in some of the rooms, I knows, but just say four in every room, and calculate what that there comes to.” I did, and found it, to my surprise, to be 960. “Well,” continued my informant, chuckling and rubbing his hands in evident delight at the result, “you may as well just tack a couple a hundred on to the tail o’ them for make-weight, as we’re not werry pertikler about a hundred or two one way or the other in these here places.”

In this court, up three flights of narrow stairs that creaked and trembled at every footstep, and in an ill-furnished garret, dwelt the shore-worker—a man who, had he been careful, according to his own account at least, might have money in the bank and be the proprietor of the house in which he lived. The sewer-hunters, like the street-people, are all known by some peculiar nickname, derived chiefly from some personal characteristic. It would be a waste of time to inquire for them by their right names, even if you were acquainted with them, for none else would know them, and no intelligence concerning them could be obtained; while under the title of Lanky Bill, Long Tom, One-eyed George, Short-armed Jack, they are known to every one.

My informant, who is also dignified with a title, or as he calls it a “handle to his name,” gave me the following account of himself: “I was born in Birmingham, but afore I recollects anythink, we came to London. The first thing I remembers is being down on the shore at Cuckold’s P’int, when the tide was out and up to my knees in mud, and a gitting down deeper and deeper every minute till I was picked up by one of the shore-workers. I used to git down there every day, to look at the ships and boats a sailing up and down; I’d niver be tired a looking at them at that time. At last father ’prenticed me to a blacksmith in Bermondsey, and then I couldn’t git down to the river when I liked, so I got to hate the forge and the fire, and blowing the bellows, and couldn’t stand the confinement no how,—at last I cuts and runs. After some time they gits me back ag’in, but I cuts ag’in. I was determined not to stand it. I wouldn’t go home for fear I’d be sent back, so I goes down to Cuckold’s P’int and there I sits near half the day, when who should I see but the old un as had picked me up out of the mud when I was a sinking. I tells him all about it, and he takes me home along with hisself, and gits me a bag and an o, and takes me out next day, and shows me what to do, and shows me the dangerous places, and the places what are safe, and how to rake in the mud for rope, and bones, and iron, and that’s the way I comed to be a shore-worker. Lor’ bless you, I’ve worked Cuckold’s P’int for more nor twenty year. I know places where you’d go over head and ears in the mud, and jist alongside on ’em you may walk as safe as you can on this floor. But it don’t do for a stranger to try it, he’d wery soon git in, and it’s not so easy to git out agin, I can tell you. I stay’d with the old un a long time, and we used to git lots o’ tin, specially when we’d go to work the sewers. I liked that well enough. I could git into small places where the old un couldn’t, and when I’d got near the grating in the street, I’d search about in the bottom of the sewer; I’d put down my arm to my shoulder in the mud and bring up shillings and half-crowns, and lots of coppers, and plenty other things. I once found a silver jug as big as a quart pot, and often found spoons and knives and forks and every thing you can think of. Bless your heart the smells nothink; it’s a roughish smell at first, but nothink near so bad as you thinks, ’cause, you see, there’s sich lots o’ water always a coming down the sewer, and the air gits in from the gratings, and that helps to sweeten it a bit. There’s some places, ’specially in the old sewers, where they say there’s foul air, and they tells me the foul air ’ill cause instantious death, but I niver met with anythink of the kind, and I think if there was sich a thing I should know somethink about it, for I’ve worked the sewers, off and on, for twenty year. When we comes to a narrow-place as we don’t know, we takes the candle out of the lantern and fastens it on the hend of the o, and then runs it up the sewer, and if the light stays in, we knows as there a’n’t no danger. We used to go up the city sewer at Blackfriars-bridge, but that’s stopped up now; it’s boarded across inside. The city wouldn’t let us up if they knew it, ’cause of the danger, they say, but they don’t care if we hav’n’t got nothink to eat nor a place to put our heads in, while there’s plenty of money[154] lying there and good for nobody. If you was caught up it and brought afore the Lord Mayor, he’d give you fourteen days on it, as safe as the bellows, so a good many on us now is afraid to wenture in. We don’t wenture as we used to, but still it’s done at times. There’s a many places as I knows on where the bricks has fallen down, and that there’s dangerous; it’s so delaberated that if you touches it with your head or with the hend of the o, it ’ill all come down atop o’ you. I’ve often seed as many as a hundred rats at once, and they’re woppers in the sewers, I can tell you; them there water rats, too, is far more ferociouser than any other rats, and they’d think nothink of tackling a man, if they found they couldn’t get away no how, but if they can why they runs by and gits out o’ the road. I knows a chap as the rats tackled in the sewers; they bit him hawfully: you must ha’ heard on it; it was him as the watermen went in arter when they heard him a shouting as they was a rowin’ by. Only for the watermen the rats would ha’ done for him, safe enough. Do you recollect hearing on the man as was found in the sewers about twelve year ago?—oh you must—the rats eat every bit of him, and left nothink but his bones. I knowed him well, he was a rig’lar shore-worker.

“The rats is wery dangerous, that’s sartain, but we always goes three or four on us together, and the varmint’s too wide awake to tackle us then, for they know they’d git off second best. You can go a long way in the sewers if you like; I don’t know how far. I niver was at the end on them myself, for a cove can’t stop in longer than six or seven hour, ’cause of the tide; you must be out before that’s up. There’s a many branches on ivery side, but we don’t go into all; we go where we know, and where we’re always sure to find somethink. I know a place now where there’s more than two or three hundred weight of metal all rusted together, and plenty of money among it too; but it’s too heavy to carry it out, so it ’ill stop there I s’pose till the world comes to an end. I often brought out a piece of metal half a hundred in weight, and took it under the harch of the bridge, and broke it up with a large stone to pick out the money. I’ve found sovereigns and half sovereigns over and over ag’in, and three on us has often cleared a couple of pound apiece in one day out of the sewers. But we no sooner got the money than the publican had it. I only wish I’d back all the money I’ve guv to the publican, and I wouldn’t care how the wind blew for the rest of my life. I never thought about taking a hammer along with me into the sewer, no; I never thought I’d want it. You can’t go in every day, the tides don’t answer, and they’re so pertikler now, far more pertikler than formerly; if you was known to touch the traps, you’d git hauled up afore the beak. It’s done for all that, and though there is so many eyes about. The “Johnnys” on the water are always on the look out, and if they sees any on us about, we has to cut our lucky. We shore workers sometimes does very well other ways. When we hears of a fire anywheres, we goes and watches where they shoots the rubbish, and then we goes and sifts it over, and washes it afterwards, then all the metal sinks to the bottom. The way we does it is this here: we takes a barrel cut in half, and fills it with water, and then we shovels in the siftings, and stirs ’em round and round and round with a stick; then we throws out that water and puts in some fresh, and stirs that there round ag’in; arter some time the water gets clear, and every thing heavy’s fell to the bottom, and then we sees what it is and picks it out. I’ve made from a pound to thirty shilling a day, at that there work on lead alone. The time the Parliament Houses was burnt, the rubbish was shot in Hyde Park, and Long J—— and I goes to work it, and while we were at it, we didn’t make less nor three pounds apiece a day; we found sovereigns and half sovereigns, and lots of silver half melted away, and jewellery, such as rings, and stones, and brooches; but we never got half paid for them. I found two sets of bracelets for a lady’s arms, and took ’em to a jeweller, and he tried them jist where the “great” heat had melted the catch away, and found they was only metal double plated, or else he said as how he’d give us thirty pounds for them; howsomever, we takes them down to a Jew in Petticoat-lane, who used to buy things of us, and he gives us 7l. 10s. for ’em. We found so many things, that at last Long J—— and I got to quarrel about the “whacking;” there was cheatin’ a goin’ on; it wasn’t all fair and above board as it ought to be, so we gits to fightin’, and kicks up sich a jolly row, that they wouldn’t let us work no more, and takes and buries the whole on the rubbish. There’s plenty o’ things under the ground along with it now, if anybody could git at them. There was jist two loads o’ rubbish shot at one time in Bishop Bonner’s-fields, which I worked by myself, and what do you think I made out of that there?—why I made 3l. 5s. The rubbish was got out of a cellar, what hadn’t been stirred for fifty year or more, so I thinks there ought to be somethink in it, and I keeps my eye on it, and watches where it’s shot; then I turns to work, and the first thing I gits hold on is a chain, which I takes to be copper; it was so dirty, but it turned out to be all solid goold, and I gets 1l. 5s. for it from the Jew; arter that I finds lots o’ coppers, and silver money, and many things besides. The reason I likes this sort of life is, ’cause I can sit down when I likes, and nobody can’t order me about. When I’m hard up, I knows as how I must work, and then I goes at it like sticks a breaking; and tho’ the times isn’t as they was, I can go now and pick up my four or five bob a day, where another wouldn’t know how to get a brass farden.”

There is a strange tale in existence among the shore-workers, of a race of wild hogs inhabiting the sewers in the neighbourhood of Hampstead. The story runs, that a sow in young, by some accident got down the sewer through an opening, and, wandering away from the spot, littered and reared her offspring in the drain, feeding on the offal and garbage washed into it continually. Here, it is alleged, the breed multiplied exceedingly, and[155] have become almost as ferocious as they are numerous. This story, apocryphal as it seems, has nevertheless its believers, and it is ingeniously argued, that the reason why none of the subterranean animals have been able to make their way to the light of day is, that they could only do so by reaching the mouth of the sewer at the river-side, while, in order to arrive at that point, they must necessarily encounter the Fleet ditch, which runs towards the river with great rapidity, and as it is the obstinate nature of a pig to swim against the stream, the wild hogs of the sewers invariably work their way back to their original quarters, and are thus never to be seen. What seems strange in the matter is, that the inhabitants of Hampstead never have been known to see any of these animals pass beneath the gratings, nor to have been disturbed by their gruntings. The reader of course can believe as much of the story as he pleases, and it is right to inform him that the sewer-hunters themselves have never yet encountered any of the fabulous monsters of the Hampstead sewers.

Of the Mud-Larks.

There is another class who may be termed river-finders, although their occupation is connected only with the shore; they are commonly known by the name of “mud-larks,” from being compelled, in order to obtain the articles they seek, to wade sometimes up to their middle through the mud left on the shore by the retiring tide. These poor creatures are certainly about the most deplorable in their appearance of any I have met with in the course of my inquiries. They may be seen of all ages, from mere childhood to positive decrepitude, crawling among the barges at the various wharfs along the river; it cannot be said that they are clad in rags, for they are scarcely half covered by the tattered indescribable things that serve them for clothing; their bodies are grimed with the foul soil of the river, and their torn garments stiffened up like boards with dirt of every possible description.

Among the mud-larks may be seen many old women, and it is indeed pitiable to behold them, especially during the winter, bent nearly double with age and infirmity, paddling and groping among the wet mud for small pieces of coal, chips of wood, or any sort of refuse washed up by the tide. These women always have with them an old basket or an old tin kettle, in which they put whatever they chance to find. It usually takes them a whole tide to fill this receptacle, but when filled, it is as much as the feeble old creatures are able to carry home.


[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

The mud-larks generally live in some court or alley in the neighbourhood of the river, and, as the tide recedes, crowds of boys and little girls, some old men, and many old women, may be observed loitering about the various stairs, watching eagerly for the opportunity to commence their labours. When the tide is sufficiently low they scatter themselves along the shore, separating from each other, and soon disappear among the craft lying about in every direction. This is the case on both sides of the river, as high up as there is anything to be found, extending as far as Vauxhall-bridge, and as low down as Woolwich. The mud-larks themselves, however, know only those who reside near them, and whom they are accustomed to meet in their daily pursuits; indeed, with but few exceptions, these people are dull, and apparently stupid; this is observable particularly among the boys and girls, who, when engaged in searching the mud, hold but little converse one with another. The men and women may be passed and repassed, but they notice no one; they never speak, but with a stolid look of wretchedness they plash their way through the mire, their bodies bent down while they peer anxiously about, and occasionally stoop to pick up some paltry treasure that falls in their way.

The mud-larks collect whatever they happen to find, such as coals, bits of old-iron, rope, bones, and copper nails that drop from ships while lying or repairing along shore. Copper nails are the most valuable of all the articles they find, but these they seldom obtain, as they are always driven from the neighbourhood of a ship while being new-sheathed. Sometimes the younger and bolder mud-larks venture on sweeping some empty coal-barge, and one little fellow with whom I spoke, having been lately caught in the act of so doing, had to undergo for the offence seven days’ imprisonment in the House of Correction: this, he says, he liked much better than mud-larking, for while he staid there he wore a coat and shoes and stockings, and though he had not over much to eat, he certainly was never afraid of going to bed without anything at all—as he often had to do when at liberty. He thought he would try it on again in the winter, he told me, saying, it would be so comfortable to have clothes and shoes and stockings then, and not be obliged to go into the cold wet mud of a morning.

The coals that the mud-larks find, they sell to the poor people of the neighbourhood at 1d. per pot, holding about 14 lbs. The iron and bones and rope and copper nails which they collect, they sell at the rag-shops. They dispose of the iron at 5 lbs. for 1d., the bones at 3 lbs. a 1d., rope a ½d. per lb. wet, and ¾d. per lb. dry, and copper nails at the rate of 4d. per lb. They occasionally pick up tools, such as saws and hammers; these they dispose of to the seamen for biscuit and meat, and sometimes sell them at the rag-shops for a few halfpence. In this manner they earn from 2½d. to 8d. per day, but rarely the latter sum; their average gains may be estimated at about 3d. per day. The boys, after leaving the river, sometimes scrape their trousers, and frequent the cab-stands, and try to earn a trifle by opening the cab-doors for those who enter them, or by holding gentlemen’s horses. Some of them go, in the evening, to a ragged school, in the neighbourhood of which they live; more, as they say, because other boys go there, than from any desire to learn.

At one of the stairs in the neighbourhood of the pool, I collected about a dozen of these unfortunate children; there was not one of them[156] over twelve years of age, and many of them were but six. It would be almost impossible to describe the wretched group, so motley was their appearance, so extraordinary their dress, and so stolid and inexpressive their countenances. Some carried baskets, filled with the produce of their morning’s work, and others old tin kettles with iron handles. Some, for want of these articles, had old hats filled with the bones and coals they had picked up; and others, more needy still, had actually taken the caps from their own heads, and filled them with what they had happened to find. The muddy slush was dripping from their clothes and utensils, and forming a puddle in which they stood. There did not appear to be among the whole group as many filthy cotton rags to their backs as, when stitched together, would have been sufficient to form the material of one shirt. There were the remnants of one or two jackets among them, but so begrimed and tattered that it would have been difficult to have determined either the original material or make of the garment. On questioning one, he said his father was a coal-backer; he had been dead eight years; the boy was nine years old. His mother was alive; she went out charing and washing when she could get any such work to do. She had 1s. a day when she could get employment, but that was not often; he remembered once to have had a pair of shoes, but it was a long time since. “It is very cold in winter,” he said, “to stand in the mud without shoes,” but he did not mind it in summer. He had been three years mud-larking, and supposed he should remain a mud-lark all his life. What else could he be? for there was nothing else that he knew how to do. Some days he earned 1d., and some days 4d.; he never earned 8d. in one day, that would have been a “jolly lot of money.” He never found a saw or a hammer, he “only wished” he could, they would be glad to get hold of them at the dolly’s. He had been one month at school before he went mud-larking. Some time ago he had gone to the ragged-school; but he no longer went there, for he forgot it. He could neither read nor write, and did not think he could learn if he tried “ever so much.” He didn’t know what religion his father and mother were, nor did know what religion meant. God was God, he said. He had heard he was good, but didn’t know what good he was to him. He thought he was a Christian, but he didn’t know what a Christian was. He had heard of Jesus Christ once, when he went to a Catholic chapel, but he never heard tell of who or what he was, and didn’t “particular care” about knowing. His father and mother were born in Aberdeen, but he didn’t know where Aberdeen was. London was England, and England, he said, was in London, but he couldn’t tell in what part. He could not tell where he would go to when he died, and didn’t believe any one could tell that. Prayers, he told me, were what people said to themselves at night. He never said any, and didn’t know any; his mother sometimes used to speak to him about them, but he could never learn any. His mother didn’t go to church or to chapel, because she had no clothes. All the money he got he gave to his mother, and she bought bread with it, and when they had no money they lived the best way they could.

Such was the amount of intelligence manifested by this unfortunate child.

Another was only seven years old. He stated that his father was a sailor who had been hurt on board ship, and been unable to go to sea for the last two years. He had two brothers and a sister, one of them older than himself; and his elder brother was a mud-lark like himself. The two had been mud-larking more than a year; they went because they saw other boys go, and knew that they got money for the things they found. They were often hungry, and glad to do anything to get something to eat. Their father was not able to earn anything, and their mother could get but little to do. They gave all the money they earned to their mother. They didn’t gamble, and play at pitch and toss when they had got some money, but some of the big boys did on the Sunday, when they didn’t go a mud-larking. He couldn’t tell why they did nothing on a Sunday, “only they didn’t;” though sometimes they looked about to see where the best place would be on the next day. He didn’t go to the ragged school; he should like to know how to read a book, though he couldn’t tell what good it would do him. He didn’t like mud larking, would be glad of something else, but didn’t know anything else that he could do.

Another of the boys was the son of a dock labourer,—casually employed. He was between seven and eight years of age, and his sister, who was also a mud-lark, formed one of the group. The mother of these two was dead, and there were three children younger than themselves.

The rest of the histories may easily be imagined, for there was a painful uniformity in the stories of all the children: they were either the children of the very poor, who, by their own improvidence or some overwhelming calamity, had been reduced to the extremity of distress, or else they were orphans, and compelled from utter destitution to seek for the means of appea