the London Poor
The original, squashed down to read in about 45 minutes
Mayhew was a journalist who took a real interest in the lives of the London Poor which the, relatively prosperous, audience for his newspaper articles knew all but nothing about. Collected into the truly vast and immensely detailed 'London Labour and the London Poor', it constitutes one of the first great sociological studies.
Abridged: GH, fom the selections in the version published as 'Mayhew's London'
the London Poor
THE STREET FOLK
OF THE COSTERMONGERS
The number of costermongers, - that it is to say, of streetsellers - appears to be, from the best data at my command, now 30,000 men, women and children. One-half of the entire class are costermongers proper, that is to say, the calling with them is hereditary, and perhaps has been so for many generations; while the other half is composed of three-eighths Irish, and one eighth mechanics, tradesmen, and Jews.
Under the term 'costermonger' is here included only such 'street-sellers' as deal in fish, fruit, and vegetables, purchasing their goods at the wholesale 'green' and 'fish' markets. Of these some carry on their business at the same stationary stall or 'standing' in the street, while others go on 'rounds.'
HABITS AND AMUSEMENTS OF COSTERMONGERS
The habits of the costermonger are not domestic. His busy life is passed in the markets or the streets, and as his leisure is devoted to the beer-shop, the dancing-room, or the theatre. Excitement or amusement are indispensable to uneducated men.
Those who meet first in the beer-shop talk over the state of trade and of the markets, while the later comers enter at once into what may be styled the serious business of the evening - amusement.
Business topics are discussed in a most peculiar style. One man takes the pipe from his mouth and says, 'Bill made a doogheno hit this morning.' 'Jem,' says another, to a man just entering, 'you'll stand a top o' reeb?' 'On,' answers Jem, 'I've had a trosseno tol, and have been doing dab.' If any strangers are present, the conversation is still further clothed in slang, so as to be unintelligible even to the partially initiated. The evident puzzlement of any listener is of course gratifying to the costermonger's vanity, for he feels that he possesses a knowledge peculiarly his own.
Among the in-door amusements of the costermonger is card-playing, at which many of them are adepts. The usual games are all-fours, all-fives, cribbage, and put. There is not much quarrelling over the cards, unless strangers play with them, and then the costermongers all take part one with another, fairly or unfairly. It has been said that there is a close resemblance between many of the characteristics of a very high class, socially, and a very low class. 'Skittles' is another favourite amusement, and the costermongers class themselves among the best players in London.
'Twopenny-hops' are much resorted to by the costermongers, men and women, boys and girls. At these 'hops' the clog-hornpipe is often danced, and sometimes a collection is made to ensure the performance of a firstrate professor of that dance; sometimes, and more frequently, it is volunteered gratuitously. Sometimes they do the 'pipe-dance.' For this a number of tobacco-pipes, about a dozen, are laid close together on the floor, and the dancer places the toe of his boot between the different pipes, keeping time with the music. The hours are from half-past eight to twelve, sometimes to one or two in the morning, and never later than two, as the costermongers are early risers. There is sometimes a good deal of drinking; some of the young girls being often pressed to drink, and frequently yielding to the temptation.
Among the men, rat-killing is a favourite sport. They will enter an old stable, fasten the door and then turn out the rats. Or they will find out some unfrequented yard, and at night time build up a pit with apple-case boards, and lighting up their lamps, enjoy the sport. Nearly every coster is fond of dogs. Some fancy them greatly, and are proud of making them fight.
The costermongers frequently attend political meetings, going there in bodies of from six to twelve. Some of them, I learned, could not understand why Chartist leaders exhorted them to peace and quietness, when they might as well fight it out with the police at once. The costers boast, moreover, that they stick more together in any 'row' than any other class.
It is a matter of marvel to many of this class that people can live without working. The ignorant costers have no knowledge of 'property,' or 'income,' and conclude that the non-workers all live out of the taxes. Of the taxes generally they judge from their knowledge that tobacco, which they account a necessary of life, pays 3s. per lb. duty.
As regards the police, the hatred of a costermonger to a 'peeler' is intense, and with their opinion of police, all the more ignorant unite that of the governing power. 'Can you wonder at it, sir,' said a costermonger to me, 'that I hate the police? They drive us about, we must move on, we can't stand here, and we can't pitch there. But if we're cracked up, that is if we're forced to go into the Union (I've known it both at Clerkenwell and the City of London workhouses), why the parish gives us money to buy a barrow, or a shallow, or to hire them, and leave the house and start for ourselves; and what's the use of that, if the police won't let us sell our goods? - Which is right, the parish or the police?'
MARRIAGE AND CONCUBINAGE OF COSTERMONGERS
'Only one-tenth - at the outside one-tenth - of the couples living together and carrying on the costermongering trade, are married. In Clerkenwell parish, however, where the number of married couples is about a fifth of the whole, this difference is easily accounted for, as in Advent and Easter the incumbent of that parish marries poor couples without a fee. Of the rights of 'legitimate' or 'illegitimate' children the costermongers understand nothing, and account it a mere waste of money and time to go through the ceremony of wedlock when a pair can live together, and be quite as well regarded by their fellows, without it. There is no honour attached to the marriage state, and no shame to concubinage. Neither are the unmarried women less faithful to their 'partners' than the married; but I understand that, of the two classes, the unmarried betray the most jealousy.
I was told that; 'The costers have no religion at all, and very little notion, or none at all, of what religion or a future state is.
OF THE 'SLANG' WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
All counterfeit weights and measures, the costermongers call by the appropriate name of 'slang.' 'There are not half so many slangs as there was eighteen months ago,' said a 'general dealer' to me. The slang quart is a pint and a half. It is made precisely like the proper quart; and the maker, I was told, 'knows well enough what it's for, as it's charged, new, 6d. more than a true quart measure; but it's nothing to him, as he says, what it's for, so long as he gets his price. It was often said, or implied to me, the 'people just brings it on themselves, by wanting things for next to nothing; so it's all right; it's people's own faults.'
OF THE 'PENNY GAFF'
In many of the thoroughfares of London there are shops which have been turned into a kind of temporary theatre (admission one penny), where dancing and singing take place every night. Rude pictures of the performers are arranged outside, to give the front a gaudy and attractive look, and at night-time coloured lamps and transparencies are displayed to draw an audience.
Not wishing to believe in the description which some of the more intelligent of the costermongers had given of these places, it was thought better to visit one of them, so that all exaggeration might be avoided. One of the least offensive of the exhibitions was fixed upon.
The visitors, with a few exceptions, were all boys and girls, whose ages seemed to vary from eight to twenty years. Some of the girls - though their figures showed them to be mere children - were dressed in showy cotton-velvet polkas, and wore dowdy feathers in their crushed bonnets. They stood laughing and joking with the lads, in an unconcerned, impudent manner, that was almost appalling. Some of them, when tired of waiting, chose their partners, and commenced dancing grotesquely, to the admiration of the lookers-on, who expressed their approbation in obscene terms, that, far from disgusting the poor little women, were received as compliments, and acknowledged with smiles and coarse repartees. The boys clustered together, smoking their pipes, and laughing at each other's anecdotes, or else jingling halfpence in time with the tune, while they whistled an accompaniment to it. Presently one of the performers, with a gilt crown on his well greased locks, descended from the staircase, his fleshings covered by a dingy dressing-gown, and mixed with the mob, shaking hands with old acquaintances. The 'comic singer' too, made his appearance among the throng - the huge bow to his cravat, which nearly covered his waistcoat.
To discover the kind of entertainment, a lad near me and my companion was asked 'if there was any flash dancing.' With a knowing wink the boy answered, 'Lots! show their legs and all, prime!' and immediately the boy followed up his information by a request for a 'yenep' to get a 'tib of occabat.' There were three or four songs sung in the course of the evening, each one being encored, and then changed. One written about 'Pine-apple rock,' was the grand treat of the night, and offered greater scope to the rhyming powers of the author than any of the others. In this, not a single chance had been missed; ingenuity had been exerted to its utmost lest an obscene thought should be passed by, and it was absolutely awful to behold the relish with which the young ones jumped to the hideous meaning of the verses.
Songsheet for 'Pinepple Rock'
Image: Broadside Ballads Online at the Bodleian Libraries
There was one scene yet to come, that was perfect in its wickedness. A ballet began between a man dressed up as a woman, and a country clown. The most disgusting attitudes were struck, the most immoral acts represented, without one dissenting voice.
OF CATS' AND DOGS-MEAT DEALERS
The supply of food for cats and dogs is far greater than may be generally thought. 'Vy, sir,' said one of the dealers to me, 'can you tell me 'ow many people's in London?' On my replying, upwards of two millions; 'I don't know nothing vatever,' said my informant, 'about millions, but I think there's a cat to every ten people, aye, and more than that; and so, sir, you can reckon.
'I must know, for they all knows me, and I sarves about 200 cats and 70 dogs. Mine's a middling trade, but some does far better. Some cats has a hap'orth a day, some every other day; werry few can afford a penn'orth, but times is inferior. Dogs is better pay when you've a connection among 'em.'
The cat and dogs'-meat dealers, or 'carriers,' as they call themselves, generally purchase the meat at the knackers' (horseslaughterers') yards.
OF COFFEE-STALL KEEPERS
The vending of tea and coffee, in the streets, was little if at all known twenty years ago, saloop being then the beverage supplied from stalls to the late and early wayfarers. Nor was it until after 1842 that the stalls approached to anything like their present number, which is said to be upwards of 300 - the majority of the proprietors being women.
Some of the stall-keepers make their appearance at twelve at night, and some not till three or four in the morning. Those that come out at midnight, are for the accommodation of the 'nightwalkers' - 'fast gentlemen' and loose girls; and those that come out in the morning, are for the accommodation of the working men.
OF THE STREET-SELLERS OF HOT ELDER WINE
The sale of hot elder wine in the streets is one of the trades which have been long established, but it is only within these eight or ten years that it has been carried on in its present form. It continues for about four months in the winter. Elder wine is made from the berries of the elder-tree.
OF THE STREET-SELLERS OF STATIONERY, LITERATURE, AND THE FINE ARTS
The street- sellers of stationery, literature, and the fine arts constitute principally the class of street-orators, known in these days as 'patterers,' and formerly termed 'mountebanks,' - people who, in the words of Strutt, strive to 'help off their wares by pompous speeches, in which little regard is paid either to truth or propriety.' To patter, is a slang term, meaning to speak. To indulge in this kind of oral puffery, of course, requires a certain exercise of the intellect, and it is the consciousness of their mental superiority which makes the patterers look down upon the costermongers as an inferior body, as profound as the contempt of the pickpocket for the pure beggar.
Occasionally, however, the running patterer (who is especially literary) transmigrates into a standing one, betaking himself to 'board work,' as it is termed in street technology, and stopping at the corners of thoroughfares with a large pictorial placard raised upon a pole, and glowing with a highly-coloured exaggeration of the interesting terrors of the pamphlet he has for sale. This is either 'The Life of Calcraft, the Hangman,' 'The Diabolical Practices of Dr. on his Patients when in a state of Mesmerism,' or 'The Secret Doings at the White House, Soho,' and other similar attractively-repulsive details. Akin to this 'board work' is the practice of what is called 'strawing,' or selling straws in the street, and giving away with them something that is either really or fictionally forbidden to be sold, - as indecent papers, political songs, and the like. It is true, there are three or four patterers who live chiefly by professing to dispose of 'sealed packets' of obscene drawings and cards for gentlemen; but this is generally a trick adopted to extort money from old debauchees, young libertines, and people of degraded or diseased tastes; for the packets, on being opened, seldom contain anything, but an odd number of some defunct periodical. There is, however, a large traffic in such secret papers carried on in what is called 'the public-house trade,' that is to say, by itinerant 'paper-workers' (mostly women), who never make their appearance in the streets.
OF THE LOW LODGING-HOUSES OF LONDON
The patterers, as a class, usually frequent the low lodging-houses. I shall therefore now proceed to give some further information touching the abodes of these people.
Some of the lodging-houses present no appearance differing from that of ordinary houses; except, perhaps, that their exterior is dirtier. Some of the older houses have long flat windows on the ground-floor, in which there is rather more paper, or other substitutes, than glass. 'The windows there, sir,' remarked one man, 'are not to let the light in, but to keep the cold out.'
In the abodes in question there seems to have become tacitly established an arrangement as to what character of lodgers shall resort thither; the thieves, the prostitutes, and the better class of street-sellers or traders, usually resorting to the houses where they will meet the same class of persons. Some of the lodging-houses are of the worst class of low brothels, and some may even be described as brothels for children.
The beds are of flock, and as regards the mere washing of the rug, sheet, and blanket, which constitute the bed-furniture, are in better order than they were a few years back; for the visitations of the cholera alarmed even the reckless class of vagrants, and those whose avocations relate to vagrants. In perhaps a tenth of the low lodging-houses of London, a family may have a room to themselves, with the use of the kitchen, at so much a week - generally 2s. 6d. for a couple without family, and 3s. Gd. where there are children. To let out 'beds' by the night is however the general rule.
The younger lodgers in such places live by thieving and pocketpicking, or by prostitution. The charge for a night's lodging is generally 2d., but smaller children have often been admitted for Id. If a boy or girl resort to one of these dens at night without the means of defraying the charge for accommodation, the 'mot of the ken' (mistress of the house) will pack them off, telling them plainly that it will be no use their returning until they have stolen something worth 2d.
OF THE BEGGAR STREET-SELLERS
Under this head I include only such of the beggar street-sellers as are neither infirm nor suffering from any severe bodily affliction or privation. I am well aware that the aged - the blind - the lame and the halt often pretend to sell small articles in the street - such as boot-laces, tracts, cabbage-nets, lucifer-matches, kettle-holders, and the like; and that such matters are carried by them partly to keep clear of the law, and partly to evince a disposition to the public that they are willing to do something for their livelihood. Such, though beggars, are not 'lurkers' - a lurker being strictly one who loiters about for some dishonest purpose. Many modes of thieving as well as begging are termed 'lurking' - the 'dead lurk,' for instance, is the expressive slang phrase for the art of entering dwelling-houses during divine service. The term 'lurk,' however, is mostly applied to the several modes of plundering by representations of sham distress.
There are besides these, two other classes known as 'Duffers' and as 'Lumpers,' and sometimes the same man is both 'Duffer' and 'Lumper.' The two names are often confounded, but an intelligent street-seller, versed in all the arts and mysteries of this trade, told me that he understood by a 'Duffer,' a man who sold goods under false pretences, making out that they were smuggled, or even stolen, so as to enhance the idea of their cheapness; whereas a 'Lumper' would sell linens, cottons, or silks, which might be really the commodities represented; but which, by some management or other, were made to appear new when they were old, or solid when they were flimsy.
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.
Of Old Clothes Exchanges there are now two, both adjacent, the first one 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.
OF THE STREET-JEWS
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 streeet-life.
During the eighteenth century they were considered - and with that exaggeration of belief dear to any ignorant community - as an entire people of misers, usurers, extortioners, clippers and sweaters. 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.
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 there were a number of Jews known as 'hawkers,' or 'travellers,' who traversed every part of England selling watches, gold and silver pencil-cases, eyeglasses, and all the more portable descriptions of jewellery, as well as thermometers, barometers, telescopes, and microscopes.
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.
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 6d. to 10d. per bucket, and sometimes Is. and Is. 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.
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. 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.
The pure-finder may at once be distinguished from the bonegrubber and rag-gatherer; the latter 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 purefinders 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.
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.
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
OF THE DUSTMEN OF LONDON
Dust and rubbish accumulate in houses from a variety of causes, but principally from the residuum of fires, the white ash and cinders, or small fragments of unconsumed coke, giving rise to by far the greater quantity. Some notion of the vast amount of this refuse annually produced in London may be formed from the fact that the consumption of coal in the metropolis is, according to the official returns, 3,000,000 tons per annum, which is at the rate of a little more than 11 tons per house.
The working scavengers usually reside in the neighbourhood of the dust-yards, occupying 'second-floor backs,' kitchens, or garrets; they usually, and perhaps always, when married, or what they consider 'as good,' have their own furniture. The rent runs from Is. 0d. to 2s. 3d. weekly. One room which I was in was but barely furnished, - a sort of dresser, serving also for a table; a chest; three chairs (one almost bottomless): an old turn-up bedstead, a Dutch clock, with the minute-hand broken, or as the scavenger very well called it when he saw me looking at it, 'a stump;' an old 'corner cupboard,' and some pots and domestic utensils in a closet without a door, but retaining a portion of the hinges on which a door had swung. The rent was Is. 10d with a frequent intimation that it ought to be 2s. The place was clean enough, and the scavenger seemed proud of it, assuring me that his old woman (wife or concubine) was 'a good sort,' and kept things as nice as ever she could, washing everything herself, where 'other old women lushed.' The only ornaments in the room were three profiles of children, cut in black paper and pasted upon white card, tacked to the wall over the fire-place, for mantel-shelf there was none, while one of the three profiles, that of the eldest child (then dead), was 'framed,' with a glass, and a sort of bronze or 'cast' frame, costing, I was told, I5d. This was the apartment of a man in regular employ.
HER MAJESTY'S BUG-DESTROYER
The vending of a bug-poison in the London streets is seldom followed as a regular source of living. We have met with persons who remember to have seen men selling penny packets of vermin poison, but to find out the vendors themselves was next to an impossibility. The men seem merely to take to the business as a living when all other sources have failed. All, however, agree in acknowledging that there is such a street trade, but that the living it affords is so precarious that few men stop at it longer than two or three weeks.
Perhaps the most eminent of the bug-destroyers in London is that of Messrs. Tiffin and Son; but they have pursued their calling in the streets, and rejoice in the title of 'Bug- Destroyers to Her Majesty and the Royal Family.'
Mr. Tiffin, the senior partner in this house, most kindly obliged me with the following statement. It may be as well to say that Mr. Tiffin appears to have paid much attention to the subject of bugs, and has studied with much earnestness the natural history of this vermin.
The performer of Punch that I saw was a short, dark, pleasant-looking man, dressed in a very greasy and very shiny green shooting-jacket. This was fastened together by one button in front, all the other button-holes having been burst through. Protruding from his bosom, a corner of the pandean pipes was just visible, and as he told me the story of his adventures, he kept playing with the band of his very limp and very rusty old beaver hat. He had formerly been a gentleman's servant, and was especially civil in his manners. He came to me with his hair tidily brushed for the occasion, but apologised for his appearance on entering the room. He was very communicative, and took great delight in talking like Punch, with his call in his mouth, while some young children were in the room, and who, hearing the well-known sound of Punch's voice, looked all about for the figure. Not seeing the show, they fancied the man had the figure in his pocket, and that the sounds came from it. The change from Punch's voice to the man's natural tone was managed without an effort, and instantaneously. It had a very peculiar effect.
'We used to do a great business with evening parties. At Christmas we have had to go three and four times in the same evening to different parties. We never had less than a guinea, and I have had as much as five pounds, but the usual price was two pounds ten shillings, and all refreshments found you. I had the honour of performing before the Queen when she was Princess Victoria. I can't recollect what we was paid, but it was very handsome and so forth.
THE STREET JUGGLER
The juggler from whom I received the following account, was spoken of by his companions and friends as 'one of the cleverest that ever came out.' He certainly appears to have been successful enough when he first appeared in the streets, and the way in which he squandered the amount of money he then made is a constant source of misery to him, for he kept exclaiming in the midst of his narrative, 'Ah! I might have been a gentleman now, if I hadn't been the fool I was then.'
As a proof of his talents and success he assured me, that when Ramo Samee first came out, he not only learned how to do all the Indian's tricks, but also did them so dexterously, that when travelling 'Samee has often paid him ten shillings not to perform in the same town with him.'
'I'm a juggler,' he said, 'but I don't know if that's the right term, for some people call conjurers jugglers; but it's wrong. When I was in Ireland they called me a "manulist," and it was a gentleman wrote the bill out for me. The difference I makes between conjuring and juggling is, one's deceiving to the eye and the other's pleasing to the eye - yes, that's it - it's dexterity.
'I dare say I've been at juggling 40 years, for I was between 14 and 15 when I begun, and I'm 56 now. I remember Ramo Samee and all the first process of the art. He was the first as ever I knew, and very good indeed; there was no other to oppose him, and he must have been good then. I suppose I'm the oldest juggler alive.
'I and my wife are now engaged at the "Temple of Mystery" in Old Street-road, and it says on the bills that they are "at present exhibiting the following new and interesting talent," and then they calls me "The Renowned Indian Juggler, performing his extraordinary Feats with Cups, Balls, Daggers, Plates, Knives, Rings, Balancing, &c. &c."
Concerning street musicians they are of multifarious classes. As a general rule, they may almost be divided into the tolerable and the intolerable performers, some of them trusting to their skill in music for the reward for their exertions, others only making a noise, so that whatever money they obtain is given them merely as as inducement for them to depart. These are a more numerous class than any other of the street performers I have yet dealt with. The musicians are estimated at 1,000, and ballad singers at 250.
THE DANCING DOGS
I received the following narrative from the old man who has been so long known about the streets of London with a troop of performing dogs. He was especially picturesque in his appearance. His hair, which was grizzled rather than grey, was parted down the middle, and hung long and straight over his shoulders. He was dressed in a coachman's blue greatcoat with many capes. His left hand was in a sling made out of a dirty pocket-handkerchief and in his other he held a stick, by means of which he could just manage to hobble along. He was very ill, and very poor, not having been out with his dogs for nearly two months. He appeared to speak in great pain. The civility, if not politeness of his manner, threw an air of refinement about him, that struck me more forcibly from its contrast with the manners of the English belonging to the same class. He began;
'I have de dancing dogs for de street - now I have nothing else. I have tree dogs - One is called Finette, anoder von Favorite, that is her nomme, an de oder von Ozor. Ah!' he said, with a shrug of the shoulders, in answer to my inquiry as to what the dogs did, 'un danse, un valse, un jomp a de stick and troo do hoop - non, noting else. All ma dogs have des habillements - the dress and de leetle hat. I come from Italic - Italic - Oui, Monsieur, oui. I did live in a leetle ville, trcnto miglia, dirty mile, de Parma.
THE PENNY PROFILE-CUTTER
The appearance presented by the profile-cutter from whom I derived my information bordered on the 'respectable.' He was a tall thin man, with a narrow face and long features. His eyes were large and animated. He was dressed in black, and the absence of shirt collar round his bare neck gave him a dingy appearance. He spoke as follows: - 'I'm a penny profile-cutter, or, as we in the profession call ourselves, a profilist. I commenced cutting profiles when I was 14 years of age, always acquiring a taste for cutting out ornaments &c. One day I went to a fair at the Tenter-ground, Whitechapel. While I was walking about the fair, I see a young man I knew standing at "doorsman" at a profile-cutter's, and he told me that another profile-cutter in the fair wanted an assistant, and thought I should do for it.'
CHALKER ON FLAG-STONES
A spare, sad-looking man, very poorly dressed, gave me the following statement. He is well-known by his coloured drawings upon the flagstones: 'I was usher in a school for three years, and had a paralytic stroke, which lost me my employment, and was soon the cause of great poverty. I was fond of drawing, and colouring drawings, when a child, using sixpenny boxes of colours, or the best my parents could procure me, but I never had lessons. I am a self-taught man. When I was reduced to distress, and indeed to starvation, I thought of trying some mode of living, and remembering having seen a man draw mackerel on the flags in the streets of Bristol 20 years ago, I thought I would try what I could do that way. It's 14 or 15 years since I started in the New Kent-road, and I've followed up "screeving," as it's sometimes called, or drawing in coloured chalks on the flag-stones, until now.'
THE HAPPY FAMILY EXHIBITOR
'Happy Families,' or assemblages of animals of diverse habits and propensities living amicably, or at least quietly, in one cage, are so well known as to need no further description here. Concerning them I received the following account: -
'I have been three years connected with happy families, living by such connexion. These exhibitions were first started at Coventry, sixteen years ago, by a man who was my teacher. He had a notion - and a snake-charmer, an old Indian, used to advise him on the subject - that he could show in public animals and birds, supposed to be one another's enemies and victims, living in quiet together. The easiest trained animal is a monkey, and the easiest trained bird a pigeon. They live together in their cages all night, and sleep in a stable, unattended by any one. They were once thirty-six hours, as a trial, without food - that was in Cambridge; and no creature was injured; but they were very peckish, especially the birds of prey.'
As soon as a collier arrives at Gravesend, the captain sends the ship's papers up to the factor at the Coal Exchange, informing him of the quality and quantity of coal in the ship. The captain, when he has moored his ship into the Pool as directed, applies at the Coalwhippers' Office, and 'the gang' next in rotation is sent to him.
I now give the statement of a coal-backer, or coalporter - a class to which the term coalheaver is usually given by those who are unversed in the mysteries of the calling. The man wore the approved fantail, and well-tarred short smock-frock, black velveteen knee breeches, dirty white stockings, and lace-up boots.
'I am a coalbacker,' he said. 'I have been so these twenty-two years. By a coalbacker, I mean a man who is engaged in carrying coals on his back from ships and craft to the waggons. The labour is very hard - there are few men who can continue at it.' My informant said it was too much for him; he had been obliged to give it up eight months back; he had overstrained himself at it, and been obliged to lay up for many months. 'I am forty-five years of age,' he continued, 'and have as many as eight children. None of them bring me in a sixpence. My eldest boy did, a little while back, but his master failed, and he lost his situation. My wife made slop-shirts at a penny each, and could not do more than three a-day. How we have lived through all my illness, I cannot say.'
STREET BEGGARS IN 1816.
It was clearly proved that a man with a dog got 30s. in one day. Two houses in St. Giles's frequented by from 200 to 300 beggars. It was proved that each beggar made on an average from 3s. to 5s. a day. They had grand suppers at midnight, and drank and sang songs until day-break. A negro beggar retired to the West Indies, with a fortune of 1,500£. The value of 15s. 20s. and 30s. found upon ordinary street beggars. They get more by begging than they can by work; they get so much by begging that they never apply for parochial relief.
Beggars stated that they go through 40 streets in a day, and that it is a poor street that does not yield 2d. Beggars are furnished with children at houses in Whitechapel and Shoreditch; some who look like twins. Children let out by the day, who carried to their parents 2s. 6d. a day as the price paid by the persons who hired them. A little boy and a little girl earned 8s. a day. An instance is stated of an old woman who kept a night school for instructing children in the street language, and how to beg.
The number of beggars infesting London at this time (1816) was computed to be 16,000, of which 6,300 were Irish. A magistrate in the office at Whitechapel, thinks there is not one who is not worthless. The rector of Saint Clement Danes describes them as living very well, especially if they are pretty well maimed, blind, or if they have children.
Beggars scarify their feet to make the blood come; share considerable sums of money, and get scandalously drunk, quarrel, and fight, and one teaches the other the mode of extorting money; they are the worst of characters, blasphemous and abusive; when they are detected as impostors in one parish they go into another.
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