The Project Gutenberg EBook of London Labour and the London Poor (Vol. 1
of 4), by Henry Mayhew

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most
other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of
the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at  If you are not located in the United States, you'll have
to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.

Title: London Labour and the London Poor (Vol. 1 of 4)

Author: Henry Mayhew

Release Date: November 19, 2017 [EBook #55998]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Henry Flower, Jonathan Ingram, Suzanne Lybarger,
the booksmiths at eBookForge and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at

In the html version of this eBook, images with blue borders are linked to higher-resolution versions of the illustrations.


[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]


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




Wandering Tribes in General1
Wandering Tribes in the Country2
The London Street-Folk3
Street Sellers of Fish61
Street Sellers of Fruit and Vegetables79
Stationary Street Sellers of Fish, Fruit, and Vegetables97
The Street Irish104
Street Sellers of Game, Poultry, Rabbits, Butter, Cheese, and Eggs120
Street Sellers of Trees, Shrubs, Flowers, Roots, Seeds, and Branches131
Street Sellers of Green Stuff145
Street Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables158
Street Sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts213
Street Sellers of Manufactured Articles323
The Women Street Sellers457
The Children Street Sellers468



London CostermongerPage 13
The Coster Girl„   37
The Oyster Stall„   49
The Orange Mart (Duke’s Place)„   73
The Irish Street-Seller„   97
The Wall-Flower Girl„   127
The Groundsell Man„   147
The Baked Potato Man„   167
The Coffee StallTo face page 184
Coster Boy and Girl “Tossing the Pieman”„   196
Doctor Bokanky, the Street-Herbalist„   206
The Long Song Seller„   222
Illustrations of Street Art, No. I.„   224
    „                     „                  No. II.„   238
The Hindoo Tract Seller„   242
The “Kitchen,” Fox Court„   251
Illustrations of Street Art, No. III.„   278
The Book Auctioneer„   296
The Street-Seller of Nutmeg-Graters„   330
The Street-Seller of Dog-Collars„   360
The Street-Seller of Crockeryware„   366
The Blind Boot-Lace Seller„   406
The Street-Seller of Grease-Removing Composition„   428
The Lucifer-Match Girl„   432
The Street-Seller of Walking-Sticks„   438
The Street-Seller of Rhubarb and Spice„   452
The Street-Seller of Combs„   458
Portrait of Mr. MayhewTo face the Title Page



The present volume is the first of an intended series, which it is hoped will form, when complete, a cyclopædia of the industry, the want, and the vice of the great Metropolis.

It is believed that the book is curious for many reasons:

It surely may be considered curious as being the first attempt to publish the history of a people, from the lips of the people themselves—giving a literal description of their labour, their earnings, their trials, and their sufferings, in their own “unvarnished” language; and to pourtray the condition of their homes and their families by personal observation of the places, and direct communion with the individuals.

It may be considered curious also as being the first commission of inquiry into the state of the people, undertaken by a private individual, and the first “blue book” ever published in twopenny numbers.

It is curious, moreover, as supplying information concerning a large body of persons, of whom the public had less knowledge than of the most distant tribes of the earth—the government population returns not even numbering them among the inhabitants of the kingdom; and as adducing facts so extraordinary, that the traveller in the undiscovered country of the poor must, like Bruce, until his stories are corroborated by after investigators, be content to lie under the imputation of telling such tales, as travellers are generally supposed to delight in.

Be the faults of the present volume what they may, assuredly they are rather short-comings than exaggerations, for in every instance the author and his coadjutors have sought to understate, and most assuredly never to exceed the truth. For the omissions, the author would merely remind the reader of the entire novelty of the task—there being no other similar work in the language by which to guide or check his inquiries. When the following leaves are turned over, and the two or three pages of information derived from books contrasted with the hundreds of pages of facts obtained by positive observation and investigation, surely some allowance will be made for the details which may still be left for others to supply. Within the last two years some thousands of the humbler classes of society must have been seen and visited with the especial view of noticing their condition and learning their histories; and it is but right that the truthfulness of the poor generally should be made known; for though checks have been usually adopted, the people have been mostly found to be astonishingly correct in their statements,—so much so indeed, that the attempts at deception are certainly the exceptions rather than the rule. Those persons who, from an ignorance of the simplicity of the honest poor, might be inclined to think otherwise, have, in order[iv] to be convinced of the justice of the above remarks, only to consult the details given in the present volume, and to perceive the extraordinary agreement in the statements of all the vast number of individuals who have been seen at different times, and who cannot possibly have been supposed to have been acting in concert.

The larger statistics, such as those of the quantities of fish and fruit, &c., sold in London, have been collected from tradesmen connected with the several markets, or from the wholesale merchants belonging to the trade specified—gentlemen to whose courtesy and co-operation I am indebted for much valuable information, and whose names, were I at liberty to publish them, would be an indisputable guarantee for the facts advanced. The other statistics have been obtained in the same manner—the best authorities having been invariably consulted on the subject treated of.

It is right that I should make special mention of the assistance I have received in the compilation of the present volume from Mr. Henry Wood and Mr. Richard Knight (late of the City Mission), gentlemen who have been engaged with me from nearly the commencement of my inquiries, and to whose hearty co-operation both myself and the public are indebted for a large increase of knowledge. Mr. Wood, indeed, has contributed so large a proportion of the contents of the present volume that he may fairly be considered as one of its authors.

The subject of the Street-Folk will still require another volume, in order to complete it in that comprehensive manner in which I am desirous of executing the modern history of this and every other portion of the people. There still remain—the Street-Buyers, the Street-Finders, the Street-Performers, the Street-Artizans, and the Street-Labourers, to be done, among the several classes of street-people; and the Street Jews, the Street Italians and Foreigners, and the Street Mechanics, to be treated of as varieties of the order. The present volume refers more particularly to the Street-Sellers, and includes special accounts of the Costermongers and the Patterers (the two broadly-marked varieties of street tradesmen), the Street Irish, the Female Street-Sellers, and the Children Street-Sellers of the metropolis.

My earnest hope is that the book may serve to give the rich a more intimate knowledge of the sufferings, and the frequent heroism under those sufferings, of the poor—that it may teach those who are beyond temptation to look with charity on the frailties of their less fortunate brethren—and cause those who are in “high places,” and those of whom much is expected, to bestir themselves to improve the condition of a class of people whose misery, ignorance, and vice, amidst all the immense wealth and great knowledge of “the first city in the world,” is, to say the very least, a national disgrace to us.




Of Wandering Tribes in General.

Of the thousand millions of human beings that are said to constitute the population of the entire globe, there are—socially, morally, and perhaps even physically considered—but two distinct and broadly marked races, viz., the wanderers and the settlers—the vagabond and the citizen—the nomadic and the civilized tribes. Between these two extremes, however, ethnologists recognize a mediate variety, partaking of the attributes of both. There is not only the race of hunters and manufacturers—those who live by shooting and fishing, and those who live by producing—but, say they, there are also the herdsmen, or those who live by tending and feeding, what they consume.

Each of these classes has its peculiar and distinctive physical as well as moral characteristics. “There are in mankind,” says Dr. Pritchard, “three principal varieties in the form of the head and other physical characters. Among the rudest tribes of men—the hunters and savage inhabitants of forests, dependent for their supply of food on the accidental produce of the soil and the chase—a form of head is prevalent which is mostly distinguished by the term “prognathous,” indicating a prolongation or extension forward of the jaws. A second shape of the head belongs principally to such races as wander with their herds and flocks over vast plains; these nations have broad lozenge-shaped faces (owing to the great development of the cheek bones), and pyramidal skulls. The most civilized races, on the other hand—those who live by the arts of cultivated life,—have a shape of the head which differs from both of those above mentioned. The characteristic form of the skull among these nations may be termed oval or elliptical.”

These three forms of head, however, clearly admit of being reduced to two broadly-marked varieties, according as the bones of the face or those of the skull are more highly developed. A greater relative development of the jaws and cheek bones, says the author of the “Natural History of Man,” indicates a more ample extension of the organs subservient to sensation and the animal faculties. Such a configuration is adapted to the wandering tribes; whereas, the greater relative development of the bones of the skull—indicating as it does a greater expansion of the brain, and consequently of the intellectual faculties—is especially adapted to the civilized races or settlers, who depend mainly on their knowledge of the powers and properties of things for the necessaries and comforts of life.

Moreover it would appear, that not only are all races divisible into wanderers and settlers, but that each civilized or settled tribe has generally some wandering horde intermingled with, and in a measure preying upon, it.

According to Dr. Andrew Smith, who has recently made extensive observations in South Africa, almost every tribe of people who have submitted themselves to social laws, recognizing the rights of property and reciprocal social duties, and thus acquiring wealth and forming themselves into a respectable caste, are surrounded by hordes of vagabonds and outcasts from their own community. Such are the Bushmen and Sonquas of the Hottentot race—the term “sonqua” meaning literally pauper. But a similar condition in society produces similar results in regard to other races; and the Kafirs have their Bushmen as well as the Hottentots—these are called Fingoes—a word signifying wanderers, beggars, or outcasts. The Lappes seem to have borne a somewhat similar relation to the Finns; that is to say, they appear to have been a wild and predatory tribe who sought the desert like the Arabian Bedouins, while the Finns cultivated the soil like the industrious Fellahs.

But a phenomenon still more deserving of[2] notice, is the difference of speech between the Bushmen and the Hottentots. The people of some hordes, Dr. Andrew Smith assures us, vary their speech designedly, and adopt new words, with the intent of rendering their ideas unintelligible to all but the members of their own community. For this last custom a peculiar name exists, which is called “cuze-cat.” This is considered as greatly advantageous in assisting concealment of their designs.

Here, then, we have a series of facts of the utmost social importance. (1) There are two distinct races of men, viz.:—the wandering and the civilized tribes; (2) to each of these tribes a different form of head is peculiar, the wandering races being remarkable for the development of the bones of the face, as the jaws, cheek-bones, &c., and the civilized for the development of those of the head; (3) to each civilized tribe there is generally a wandering horde attached; (4) such wandering hordes have frequently a different language from the more civilized portion of the community, and that adopted with the intent of concealing their designs and exploits from them.

It is curious that no one has as yet applied the above facts to the explanation of certain anomalies in the present state of society among ourselves. That we, like the Kafirs, Fellahs, and Finns, are surrounded by wandering hordes—the “Sonquas” and the “Fingoes” of this country—paupers, beggars, and outcasts, possessing nothing but what they acquire by depredation from the industrious, provident, and civilized portion of the community;—that the heads of these nomades are remarkable for the greater development of the jaws and cheekbones rather than those of the head;—and that they have a secret language of their own—an English “cuze-cat” or “slang” as it is called—for the concealment of their designs: these are points of coincidence so striking that, when placed before the mind, make us marvel that the analogy should have remained thus long unnoticed.

The resemblance once discovered, however, becomes of great service in enabling us to use the moral characteristics of the nomade races of other countries, as a means of comprehending the more readily those of the vagabonds and outcasts of our own. Let us therefore, before entering upon the subject in hand, briefly run over the distinctive, moral, and intellectual features of the wandering tribes in general.

The nomad then is distinguished from the civilized man by his repugnance to regular and continuous labour—by his want of providence in laying up a store for the future—by his inability to perceive consequences ever so slightly removed from immediate apprehension—by his passion for stupefying herbs and roots, and, when possible, for intoxicating fermented liquors—by his extraordinary powers of enduring privation—by his comparative insensibility to pain—by an immoderate love of gaming, frequently risking his own personal liberty upon a single cast—by his love of libidinous dances—by the pleasure he experiences in witnessing the suffering of sentient creatures—by his delight in warfare and all perilous sports—by his desire for vengeance—by the looseness of his notions as to property—by the absence of chastity among his women, and his disregard of female honour—and lastly, by his vague sense of religion—his rude idea of a Creator, and utter absence of all appreciation of the mercy of the Divine Spirit.

Strange to say, despite its privations, its dangers, and its hardships, those who have once adopted the savage and wandering mode of life, rarely abandon it. There are countless examples of white men adopting all the usages of the Indian hunter, but there is scarcely one example of the Indian hunter or trapper adopting the steady and regular habits of civilized life; indeed, the various missionaries who have visited nomade races have found their labours utterly unavailing, so long as a wandering life continued, and have succeeded in bestowing the elements of civilization, only on those compelled by circumstances to adopt a settled habitation.

Of the Wandering Tribes of this Country.

The nomadic races of England are of many distinct kinds—from the habitual vagrant—half-beggar, half-thief—sleeping in barns, tents, and casual wards—to the mechanic on tramp, obtaining his bed and supper from the trade societies in the different towns, on his way to seek work. Between these two extremes there are several mediate varieties—consisting of pedlars, showmen, harvest-men, and all that large class who live by either selling, showing, or doing something through the country. These are, so to speak, the rural nomads—not confining their wanderings to any one particular locality, but ranging often from one end of the land to the other. Besides these, there are the urban and suburban wanderers, or those who follow some itinerant occupation in and round about the large towns. Such are, in the metropolis more particularly, the pickpockets—the beggars—the prostitutes—the street-sellers—the street-performers—the cabmen—the coachmen—the watermen—the sailors and such like. In each of these classes—according as they partake more or less of the purely vagabond, doing nothing whatsoever for their living, but moving from place to place preying upon the earnings of the more industrious portion of the community, so will the attributes of the nomade tribes be found to be more or less marked in them. Whether it be that in the mere act of wandering, there is a greater determination of blood to the surface of the body, and consequently a less quantity sent to the brain, the muscles being thus nourished at the expense of the mind, I leave physiologists to say. But certainly be the physical cause what it may, we must all allow that in each of the classes above-mentioned, there is[3] a greater development of the animal than of the intellectual or moral nature of man, and that they are all more or less distinguished for their high cheek-bones and protruding jaws—for their use of a slang language—for their lax ideas of property—for their general improvidence—their repugnance to continuous labour—their disregard of female honour—their love of cruelty—their pugnacity—and their utter want of religion.

Of the London Street-folk.

Those who obtain their living in the streets of the metropolis are a very large and varied class; indeed, the means resorted to in order “to pick up a crust,” as the people call it, in the public thoroughfares (and such in many instances it literally is,) are so multifarious that the mind is long baffled in its attempts to reduce them to scientific order or classification.

It would appear, however, that the street-people may be all arranged under six distinct genera or kinds.

These are severally:

The first of these divisions—the Street-Sellers—includes many varieties; viz.—

1. The Street-sellers of Fish, &c.—“wet,” “dry,” and shell-fish—and poultry, game, and cheese.

2. The Street-sellers of Vegetables, fruit (both “green” and “dry”), flowers, trees, shrubs, seeds, and roots, and “green stuff” (as water-cresses, chickweed and grun’sel, and turf).

3. The Street-sellers of Eatables and Drinkables,—including the vendors of fried fish, hot eels, pickled whelks, sheep’s trotters, ham sandwiches, peas’-soup, hot green peas, penny pies, plum “duff,” meat-puddings, baked potatoes, spice-cakes, muffins and crumpets, Chelsea buns, sweetmeats, brandy-balls, cough drops, and cat and dog’s meat—such constituting the principal eatables sold in the street; while under the head of street-drinkables may be specified tea and coffee, ginger-beer, lemonade, hot wine, new milk from the cow, asses milk, curds and whey, and occasionally water.

4. The Street-sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts—among whom are comprised the flying stationers, or standing and running patterers; the long-song-sellers; the wall-song-sellers (or “pinners-up,” as they are technically termed); the ballad sellers; the vendors of play-bills, second editions of newspapers, back numbers of periodicals and old books, almanacks, pocket books, memorandum books, note paper, sealing-wax, pens, pencils, stenographic cards, valentines, engravings, manuscript music, images, and gelatine poetry cards.

5. The Street-sellers of Manufactured Articles, which class comprises a large number of individuals, as, (a) the vendors of chemical articles of manufacture—viz., blacking, lucifers, corn-salves, grease-removing compositions, plating-balls, poison for rats, crackers, detonating-balls, and cigar-lights. (b) The vendors of metal articles of manufacture—razors and pen-knives, tea-trays, dog-collars, and key-rings, hardware, bird-cages, small coins, medals, jewellery, tin-ware, tools, card-counters, red-herring-toasters, trivets, gridirons, and Dutch ovens. (c) The vendors of china and stone articles of manufacture—as cups and saucers, jugs, vases, chimney ornaments, and stone fruit. (d) The vendors of linen, cotton, and silken articles of manufacture—as sheeting, table-covers, cotton, tapes and thread, boot and stay-laces, haberdashery, pretended smuggled goods, shirt-buttons, etc., etc.; and (e) the vendors of miscellaneous articles of manufacture—as cigars, pipes, and snuff-boxes, spectacles, combs, “lots,” rhubarb, sponges, wash-leather, paper-hangings, dolls, Bristol toys, sawdust, and pin-cushions.

6. The Street-sellers of Second-hand Articles, of whom there are again four separate classes; as (a) those who sell old metal articles—viz. old knives and forks, keys, tin-ware, tools, and marine stores generally; (b) those who sell old linen articles—as old sheeting for towels; (c) those who sell old glass and crockery—including bottles, old pans and pitchers, old looking glasses, &c.; and (d) those who sell old miscellaneous articles—as old shoes, old clothes, old saucepan lids, &c., &c.

7. The Street-sellers of Live Animals—including the dealers in dogs, squirrels, birds, gold and silver fish, and tortoises.

8. The Street-sellers of Mineral Productions and Curiosities—as red and white sand, silver sand, coals, coke, salt, spar ornaments, and shells.

These, so far as my experience goes, exhaust the whole class of street-sellers, and they appear to constitute nearly three-fourths of the entire number of individuals obtaining a subsistence in the streets of London.

The next class are the Street-Buyers, under which denomination come the purchasers of hareskins, old clothes, old umbrellas, bottles, glass, broken metal, rags, waste paper, and dripping.

After these we have the Street-Finders, or those who, as I said before, literally “pick up” their living in the public thoroughfares. They are the “pure” pickers, or those who live by gathering dogs’-dung; the cigar-end finders, or “hard-ups,” as they are called, who collect the refuse pieces of smoked cigars from the gutters, and having dried them, sell them as tobacco to the very poor; the dredgermen or coal-finders; the mud-larks, the bone-grubbers; and the sewer-hunters.

Under the fourth division, or that of the Street-Performers, Artists, and Showmen, are likewise many distinct callings.

1. The Street-Performers, who admit of being classified into (a) mountebanks—or those who enact puppet-shows, as Punch and Judy, the fan[4]toccini, and the Chinese shades. (b) The street-performers of feats of strength and dexterity—as “acrobats” or posturers, “equilibrists” or balancers, stiff and bending tumblers, jugglers, conjurors, sword-swallowers, “salamanders” or fire-eaters, swordsmen, etc. (c) The street-performers with trained animals—as dancing dogs, performing monkeys, trained birds and mice, cats and hares, sapient pigs, dancing bears, and tame camels. (d) The street-actors—as clowns, “Billy Barlows,” “Jim Crows,” and others.

2. The Street Showmen, including shows of (a) extraordinary persons—as giants, dwarfs, Albinoes, spotted boys, and pig-faced ladies. (b) Extraordinary animals—as alligators, calves, horses and pigs with six legs or two heads, industrious fleas, and happy families. (c) Philosophic instruments—as the microscope, telescope, thaumascope. (d) Measuring-machines—as weighing, lifting, measuring, and striking machines; and (e) miscellaneous shows—such as peep-shows, glass ships, mechanical figures, wax-work shows, pugilistic shows, and fortune-telling apparatus.

3. The Street-Artists—as black profile-cutters, blind paper-cutters, “screevers” or draughtsmen in coloured chalks on the pavement, writers without hands, and readers without eyes.

4. The Street Dancers—as street Scotch girls, sailors, slack and tight rope dancers, dancers on stilts, and comic dancers.

5. The Street Musicians—as the street bands (English and German), players of the guitar, harp, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, dulcimer, musical bells, cornet, tom-tom, &c.

6. The Street Singers, as the singers of glees, ballads, comic songs, nigger melodies, psalms, serenaders, reciters, and improvisatori.

7. The Proprietors of Street Games, as swings, highflyers, roundabouts, puff-and-darts, rifle shooting, down the dolly, spin-’em-rounds, prick the garter, thimble-rig, etc.

Then comes the Fifth Division of the Street-Folk, viz., the Street-Artizans, or Working Pedlars;

These may be severally arranged into three distinct groups—(1) Those who make things in the streets; (2) Those who mend things in the streets; and (3) Those who make things at home and sell them in the streets.

1. Of those who make things in the streets there are the following varieties: (a) the metal workers—such as toasting-fork makers, pin makers, engravers, tobacco-stopper makers. (b) The textile-workers—stocking-weavers, cabbage-net makers, night-cap knitters, doll-dress knitters. (c) The miscellaneous workers,—the wooden spoon makers, the leather brace and garter makers, the printers, and the glass-blowers.

2. Those who mend things in the streets, consist of broken china and glass menders, clock menders, umbrella menders, kettle menders, chair menders, grease removers, hat cleaners, razor and knife grinders, glaziers, travelling bell hangers, and knife cleaners.

3. Those who make things at home and sell them in the streets, are (a) the wood workers—as the makers of clothes-pegs, clothes-props, skewers, needle-cases, foot-stools and clothes-horses, chairs and tables, tea-caddies, writing-desks, drawers, work-boxes, dressing-cases, pails and tubs. (b) The trunk, hat, and bonnet-box makers, and the cane and rush basket makers. (c) The toy makers—such as Chinese roarers, children’s windmills, flying birds and fishes, feathered cocks, black velvet cats and sweeps, paper houses, cardboard carriages, little copper pans and kettles, tiny tin fireplaces, children’s watches, Dutch dolls, buy-a-brooms, and gutta-percha heads. (d) The apparel makers—viz., the makers of women’s caps, boys and men’s cloth caps, night-caps, straw bonnets, children’s dresses, watch-pockets, bonnet shapes, silk bonnets, and gaiters. (e) The metal workers,—as the makers of fire-guards, bird-cages, the wire workers. (f) The miscellaneous workers—or makers of ornaments for stoves, chimney ornaments, artificial flowers in pots and in nose-gays, plaster-of-Paris night-shades, brooms, brushes, mats, rugs, hearthstones, firewood, rush matting, and hassocks.

Of the last division, or Street-Labourers, there are four classes:

1. The Cleansers—such as scavengers, nightmen, flushermen, chimney-sweeps, dustmen, crossing-sweepers, “street-orderlies,” labourers to sweeping-machines and to watering-carts.

2. The Lighters and Waterers—or the turncocks and the lamplighters.

3. The Street-Advertisers—viz., the bill-stickers, bill-deliverers, boardmen, men to advertising vans, and wall and pavement stencillers.

4. The Street-Servants—as horse holders, link-men, coach-hirers, street-porters, shoe-blacks.

Of the Number of Costermongers and other Street-folk.

The number of costermongers,—that it is to say, of those street-sellers attending the London “green” and “fish markets,”—appears to be, from the best data at my command, now 30,000 men, women, and children. The census of 1841 gives only 2,045 “hawkers, hucksters, and pedlars,” in the metropolis, and no costermongers or street-sellers, or street-performers at all. This number is absurdly small, and its absurdity is accounted for by the fact that not one in twenty of the costermongers, or of the people with whom they lodged, troubled themselves to fill up the census returns—the majority of them being unable to read and write, and others distrustful of the purpose for which the returns were wanted.

The costermongering class extends itself yearly; and it is computed that for the last five years it has increased considerably faster than the general metropolitan population. This increase is derived partly from all the children of costermongers following the father’s trade, but chiefly from working men, such as the servants of greengrocers or of innkeepers, when out of[5] employ, “taking to a coster’s barrow” for a livelihood; and the same being done by mechanics and labourers out of work. At the time of the famine in Ireland, it is calculated, that the number of Irish obtaining a living in the London streets must have been at least doubled.

The great discrepancy between the government returns and the accounts of the costermongers themselves, concerning the number of people obtaining a living by the sale of fish, fruit, and vegetables, in the streets of London, caused me to institute an inquiry at the several metropolitan markets concerning the number of street-sellers attending them: the following is the result:

During the summer months and fruit season, the average number of costermongers attending Covent-garden market is about 2,500 per market-day. In the strawberry season there are nearly double as many, there being, at that time, a large number of Jews who come to buy; during that period, on a Saturday morning, from the commencement to the close of the market, as many as 4,000 costers have been reckoned purchasing at Covent-garden. Through the winter season, however, the number of costermongers does not exceed upon the average 1,000 per market morning. About one-tenth of the fruit and vegetables of the least expensive kind sold at this market is purchased by the costers. Some of the better class of costers, who have their regular customers, are very particular as to the quality of the articles they buy; but others are not so particular; so long as they can get things cheap, I am informed, they do not care much about the quality. The Irish more especially look out for damaged articles, which they buy at a low price. One of my informants told me that the costers were the best customers to the growers, inasmuch as when the market is flagging on account of the weather, they (the costers) wait and make their purchases. On other occasions, such as fine mornings, the costers purchase as early as others. There is no trust given to them—to use the words of one of my informants, they are such slippery customers; here to-day and gone to-morrow.

At Leadenhall market, during the winter months, there are from 70 to 100 costermongers general attendants; but during the summer not much more than one-half that number make their appearance. Their purchases consist of warren-rabbits, poultry, and game, of which about one-eighth of the whole amount brought to this market is bought by them. When the market is slack, and during the summer, when there is “no great call” for game, etc., the costers attending Leadenhall-market turn their hand to crockery, fruit, and fish.

The costermongers frequenting Spitalfields-market average all the year through from 700 to 1,000 each market-day. They come from all parts, as far as Edmonton, Edgeware, and Tottenham; Highgate, Hampstead, and even from Greenwich and Lewisham. Full one-third of the produce of this market is purchased by them.

The number of costermongers attending the Borough-market is about 250 during the fruit season, after which time they decrease to about 200 per market morning. About one-sixth of the produce that comes into this market is purchased by the costermongers. One gentleman informed me, that the salesmen might shut up their shops were it not for these men. “In fact,” said another, “I don’t know what would become of the fruit without them.”

The costers at Billingsgate-market, daily, number from 3,000 to 4,000 in winter, and about 2,500 in summer. A leading salesman told me that he would rather have an order from a costermonger than a fishmonger; for the one paid ready money, while the other required credit. The same gentleman assured me, that the costermongers bought excellent fish, and that very largely. They themselves aver that they purchase half the fish brought to Billingsgate—some fish trades being entirely in their hands. I ascertained, however, from the authorities at Billingsgate, and from experienced salesmen, that of the quantity of fish conveyed to that great mart, the costermongers bought one-third; another third was sent into the country; and another disposed of to the fishmongers, and to such hotel-keepers, or other large purchasers, as resorted to Billingsgate.

The salesmen at the several markets all agreed in stating that no trust was given to the costermongers. “Trust them!” exclaimed one, “O, certainly, as far as I can see them.”

Now, adding the above figures together, we have the subjoined sum for the gross number of



Besides these, I am credibly informed, that it may be assumed there are full 1,000 men who are unable to attend market, owing to the dissipation of the previous night; another 1,000 are absent owing to their having “stock on hand,” and so requiring no fresh purchases; and further, it may be estimated that there are at least 2,000 boys in London at work for costers, at half profits, and who consequently have no occasion to visit the markets. Hence, putting these numbers together, we arrive at the conclusion that there are in London upwards of 13,000 street-sellers, dealing in fish, fruit, vegetables, game, and poultry alone. To be on the safe side, however, let us assume the number of London costermongers to be 12,000, and that one-half of these are married and have two children (which from all accounts appears to be about the proportion); and then we have 30,000 for the[6] sum total of men, women, and children dependent on “costermongering” for their subsistence.

Large as this number may seem, still I am satisfied it is rather within than beyond the truth. In order to convince myself of its accuracy, I caused it to be checked in several ways. In the first place, a survey was made as to the number of stalls in the streets of London—forty-six miles of the principal thoroughfares were travelled over, and an account taken of the “standings.” Thus it was found that there were upon an average upwards of fourteen stalls to the mile, of which five-sixths were fish and fruit-stalls. Now, according to the Metropolitan Police Returns, there are 2,000 miles of street throughout London, and calculating that the stalls through the whole of the metropolis run upon an average only four to the mile, we shall thus find that there are 8,000 stalls altogether in London; of these we may reckon that at least 6,000 are fish and fruit-stalls. I am informed, on the best authority, that twice as many costers “go rounds” as have standings; hence we come to the conclusion that there are 18,000 itinerant and stationary street-sellers of fish, vegetables, and fruit, in the metropolis; and reckoning the same proportion of wives and children as before, we have thus 45,000 men, women, and children, obtaining a living in this manner. Further, “to make assurance doubly sure,” the street-markets throughout London were severally visited, and the number of street-sellers at each taken down on the spot. These gave a grand total of 3,801, of which number two-thirds were dealers in fish, fruit, and vegetables; and reckoning that twice as many costers again were on their rounds, we thus make the total number of London costermongers to be 11,403, or calculating men, women, and children, 28,506. It would appear, therefore, that if we estimate the gross number of individuals subsisting on the sale of fish, fruit, and vegetables, in the streets of London, at between twenty-five and thirty thousand, we shall not be very wide of the truth.

But, great as is this number, still the costermongers are only a portion of the street-folk. Besides these, there are, as we have seen, many other large classes obtaining their livelihood in the streets. The street musicians, for instance, are said to number 1,000, and the old clothesmen the same. There are supposed to be at the least 500 sellers of water-cresses; 200 coffee-stalls; 300 cats-meat men; 250 ballad-singers; 200 play-bill sellers; from 800 to 1,000 bone-grubbers and mud-larks; 1,000 crossing-sweepers; another thousand chimney-sweeps, and the same number of turncocks and lamp-lighters; all of whom, together with the street-performers and showmen, tinkers, chair, umbrella, and clock-menders, sellers of bonnet-boxes, toys, stationery, songs, last dying-speeches, tubs, pails, mats, crockery, blacking, lucifers, corn-salves, clothes-pegs, brooms, sweetmeats, razors, dog-collars, dogs, birds, coals, sand,—scavengers, dustmen, and others, make up, it may be fairly assumed, full thirty thousand adults, so that, reckoning men, women, and children, we may truly say that there are upwards of fifty thousand individuals, or about a fortieth-part of the entire population of the metropolis getting their living in the streets.

Now of all modes of obtaining subsistence, that of street-selling is the most precarious. Continued wet weather deprives those who depend for their bread upon the number of people frequenting the public thoroughfares of all means of living; and it is painful to think of the hundreds belonging to this class in the metropolis who are reduced to starvation by three or four days successive rain. Moreover, in the winter, the street-sellers of fruit and vegetables are cut off from the ordinary means of gaining their livelihood, and, consequently, they have to suffer the greatest privations at a time when the severity of the season demands the greatest amount of physical comforts. To expect that the increased earnings of the summer should be put aside as a provision against the deficiencies of the winter, is to expect that a precarious occupation should beget provident habits, which is against the nature of things, for it is always in those callings which are the most uncertain, that the greatest amount of improvidence and intemperance are found to exist. It is not the well-fed man, be it observed, but the starving one that is in danger of surfeiting himself.

Moreover, when the religious, moral, and intellectual degradation of the great majority of these fifty thousand people is impressed upon us, it becomes positively appalling to contemplate the vast amount of vice, ignorance and want, existing in these days in the very heart of our land. The public have but to read the following plain unvarnished account of the habits, amusements, dealings, education, politics, and religion of the London costermongers in the nineteenth century, and then to say whether they think it safe—even if it be thought fit—to allow men, women, and children to continue in such a state.

Of the Varieties of Street-folk in general, and Costermongers in particular.

Among the street-folk there are many distinct characters of people—people differing as widely from each in tastes, habits, thoughts and creed, as one nation from another. Of these the costermongers form by far the largest and certainly the mostly broadly marked class. They appear to be a distinct race—perhaps, originally, of Irish extraction—seldom associating with any other of the street-folks, and being all known to each other. The “patterers,” or the men who cry the last dying-speeches, &c. in the street, and those who help off their wares by long harrangues in the public thoroughfares, are again a separate class. These, to use their own term, are “the aristocracy of the street-sellers,” despising the costers for[7] their ignorance, and boasting that they live by their intellect. The public, they say, do not expect to receive from them an equivalent for their money—they pay to hear them talk. Compared with the costermongers, the patterers are generally an educated class, and among them are some classical scholars, one clergyman, and many sons of gentlemen. They appear to be the counterparts of the old mountebanks or street-doctors. As a body they seem far less improvable than the costers, being more “knowing” and less impulsive. The street-performers differ again from those; these appear to possess many of the characteristics of the lower class of actors, viz., a strong desire to excite admiration, an indisposition to pursue any settled occupation, a love of the tap-room, though more for the society and display than for the drink connected with it, a great fondness for finery and predilection for the performance of dexterous or dangerous feats. Then there are the street mechanics, or artizans—quiet, melancholy, struggling men, who, unable to find any regular employment at their own trade, have made up a few things, and taken to hawk them in the streets, as the last shift of independence. Another distinct class of street-folk are the blind people (mostly musicians in a rude way), who, after the loss of their eyesight, have sought to keep themselves from the workhouse by some little excuse for alms-seeking. These, so far as my experience goes, appear to be a far more deserving class than is usually supposed—their affliction, in most cases, seems to have chastened them and to have given a peculiar religious cast to their thoughts.

Such are the several varieties of street-folk, intellectually considered—looked at in a national point of view, they likewise include many distinct people. Among them are to be found the Irish fruit-sellers; the Jew clothesmen; the Italian organ boys, French singing women, the German brass bands, the Dutch buy-a-broom girls, the Highland bagpipe players, and the Indian crossing-sweepers—all of whom I here shall treat of in due order.

The costermongering class or order has also its many varieties. These appear to be in the following proportions:—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.” The itinerant costermongers, as contradistinguished from the stationary street-fishmongers and greengrocers, have in many instances regular rounds, which they go daily, and which extend from two to ten miles. The longest are those which embrace a suburban part; the shortest are through streets thickly peopled by the poor, where duly to “work” a single street consumes, in some instances, an hour. There are also “chance” rounds. Men “working” these carry their wares to any part in which they hope to find customers. The costermongers, moreover, diversify their labours by occasionally going on a country round, travelling on these excursions, in all directions, from thirty to ninety and even a hundred miles from the metropolis. Some, again, confine their callings chiefly to the neighbouring races and fairs.

Of all the characteristics attending these diversities of traders, I shall treat severally. I may here premise, that the regular or “thorough-bred costermongers,” repudiate the numerous persons who sell only nuts or oranges in the streets, whether at a fixed stall, or any given locality, or who hawk them through the thoroughfares or parks. They repudiate also a number of Jews, who confine their street-trading to the sale of “coker-nuts” on Sundays, vended from large barrows. Nor do they rank with themselves the individuals who sell tea and coffee in the streets, or such condiments as peas-soup, sweetmeats, spice-cakes, and the like; those articles not being purchased at the markets. I often heard all such classes called “the illegitimates.”

Of Costermongering Mechanics.

“From the numbers of mechanics,” said one smart costermonger to me, “that I know of in my own district, I should say there’s now more than 1,000 costers in London that were once mechanics or labourers. They are driven to it as a last resource, when they can’t get work at their trade. They don’t do well, at least four out of five, or three out of four don’t. They’re not up to the dodges of the business. They go to market with fear, and don’t know how to venture a bargain if one offers. They’re inferior salesmen too, and if they have fish left that won’t keep, it’s a dead loss to them, for they aren’t up to the trick of selling it cheap at a distance where the coster ain’t known; or of quitting it to another, for candle-light sale, cheap, to the Irish or to the ‘lushingtons,’ that haven’t a proper taste for fish. Some of these poor fellows lose every penny. They’re mostly middle-aged when they begin costering. They’ll generally commence with oranges or herrings. We pity them. We say, ‘Poor fellows! they’ll find it out by-and-bye.’ It’s awful to see some poor women, too, trying to pick up a living in the streets by selling nuts or oranges. It’s awful to see them, for they can’t set about it right; besides that, there’s too many before they start. They don’t find a living, it’s only another way of starving.”

Ancient Calling of Costermongers.

The earliest record of London cries is, according to Mr. Charles Knight, in Lydgate’s poem of “London Lyckpeny,” which is as old as the days of Henry V., or about 430[8] years back. Among Lydgate’s cries are enumerated “Strawberries ripe and cherries in the rise;” the rise being a twig to which the cherries were tied, as at present. Lydgate, however, only indicates costermongers, but does not mention them by name.

It is not my intention, as my inquiries are directed to the present condition of the costermongers, to dwell on this part of the question, but some historical notice of so numerous a body is indispensable. I shall confine myself therefore to show from the elder dramatists, how the costermongers flourished in the days of Elizabeth and James I.

“Virtue,” says Shakespeare, “is of so little regard in these coster-monger times, that true valour is turned bear-herd.” Costermonger times are as old as any trading times of which our history tells; indeed, the stationary costermonger of our own day is a legitimate descendant of the tradesmen of the olden time, who stood by their shops with their open casements, loudly inviting buyers by praises of their wares, and by direct questions of “What d’ye buy? What d’ye lack?”

Ben Jonson makes his Morose, who hated all noises, and sought for a silent wife, enter “upon divers treaties with the fish-wives and orange-women,” to moderate their clamour; but Morose, above all other noisy people, “cannot endure a costard-monger; he swoons if he hear one.”

In Ford’s “Sun’s Darling” I find the following: “Upon my life he means to turn costermonger, and is projecting how to forestall the market. I shall cry pippins rarely.”

In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Scornful Lady” is the following:

“Pray, sister, do not laugh; you’ll anger him,
And then he’ll rail like a rude costermonger.”

Dr. Johnson, gives the derivation of costard-monger (the orthography he uses), as derived from the sale of apples or costards, “round and bulky like the head;” and he cites Burton as an authority: “Many country vicars,” writes Burton, “are driven to shifts, and if our great patrons hold us to such conditions, they will make us costard-mongers, graziers, or sell ale.”

“The costard-monger,” says Mr. Charles Knight, in his “London,” “was originally an apple-seller, whence his name, and, from the mention of him in the old dramatists, he appears to have been frequently an Irishman.”

In Ireland the word “costermonger” is almost unknown.

Of the Obsolete Cries of the Costermongers.

A brief account of the cries once prevalent among the street-sellers will show somewhat significantly the change in the diet or regalements of those who purchase their food in the street. Some of the articles are not vended in the public thoroughfares now, while others are still sold, but in different forms.

“Hot sheep’s feet,” for instance, were cried in the streets in the time of Henry V.; they are now sold cold, at the doors of the lower-priced theatres, and at the larger public-houses. Among the street cries, the following were common prior to the wars of the Roses: “Ribs of beef,”—“Hot peascod,”—and “Pepper and saffron.” These certainly indicate a different street diet from that of the present time.

The following are more modern, running from Elizabeth’s days down to our own. “Pippins,” and, in the times of Charles II., and subsequently, oranges were sometimes cried as “Orange pips,”—“Fair lemons and oranges; oranges and citrons,”—“New Wall-fleet oysters,” [“fresh” fish was formerly cried as “new,”]—“New-river water,” [I may here mention that water-carriers still ply their trade in parts of Hampstead,]—“Rosemary and lavender,”—“Small coals,” [a cry rendered almost poetical by the character, career, and pitiful end, through a practical joke, of Tom Britton, the “small-coal man,”]—“Pretty pins, pretty women,”—“Lilly-white vinegar,”—“Hot wardens” (pears)—“Hot codlings,”—and lastly the greasy-looking beverage which Charles Lamb’s experience of London at early morning satisfied him was of all preparations the most grateful to the stomach of the then existing climbing-boys—viz., “Sa-loop.” I may state, for the information of my younger readers, that saloop (spelt also “salep” and “salop”) was prepared, as a powder, from the root of the Orchis mascula, or Red-handed Orchis, a plant which grows luxuriantly in our meadows and pastures, flowering in the spring, though never cultivated to any extent in this country; that required for the purposes of commerce was imported from India. The saloop-stalls were superseded by the modern coffee-stalls.

There were many other cries, now obsolete, but what I have cited were the most common.

Of the Costermongers “economically” considered.

Political economy teaches us that, between the two great classes of producers and consumers, stand the distributors—or dealers—saving time, trouble, and inconvenience to, the one in disposing of, and to the other in purchasing, their commodities.

But the distributor was not always a part and parcel of the economical arrangements of the State. In olden times, the producer and consumer were brought into immediate contact, at markets and fairs, holden at certain intervals. The inconvenience of this mode of operation, however, was soon felt; and the pedlar, or wandering distributor, sprang up as a means of carrying the commodities to those who were unable to attend the public markets at the appointed time. Still the pedlar or wandering distributor was not without his disadvantages. He only came at certain periods, and commodities were occasionally required in the interim. Hence the shopkeeper, or stationary distributor, was called into existence, so that the consumer might obtain any commodity of the producer at[9] any time he pleased. Hence we see that the pedlar is the primitive tradesman, and that the one is contradistinguished from the other by the fact, that the pedlar carries the goods to the consumer, whereas, in the case of the shopkeeper, the consumer goes after the goods. In country districts, remote from towns and villages, the pedlar is not yet wholly superseded; “but a dealer who has a fixed abode, and fixed customers, is so much more to be depended on,” says Mr. Stewart Mill, “that consumers prefer resorting to him if he is conveniently accessible, and dealers, therefore, find their advantage in establishing themselves in every locality where there are sufficient customers near at hand to afford them a remuneration.” Hence the pedlar is now chiefly confined to the poorer districts, and is consequently distinguished from the stationary tradesman by the character and means of his customers, as well as by the amount of capital and extent of his dealings. The shopkeeper supplies principally the noblemen and gentry with the necessaries and luxuries of life, but the pedlar or hawker is the purveyor in general to the poor. He brings the greengrocery, the fruit, the fish, the water-cresses, the shrimps, the pies and puddings, the sweetmeats, the pine-apples, the stationery, the linendrapery, and the jewellery, such as it is, to the very door of the working classes; indeed, the poor man’s food and clothing are mainly supplied to him in this manner. Hence the class of travelling tradesmen are important, not only as forming a large portion of the poor themselves, but as being the persons through whom the working people obtain a considerable part of their provisions and raiment.

But the itinerant tradesman or street-seller is still further distinguished from the regular fixed dealer—the stallkeeper from the shopkeeper—the street-wareman from the warehouseman, by the arts they respectively employ to attract custom. The street-seller cries his goods aloud at the head of his barrow; the enterprising tradesman distributes bills at the door of his shop. The one appeals to the ear, the other to the eye. The cutting costermonger has a drum and two boys to excite attention to his stock; the spirited shopkeeper has a column of advertisements in the morning newspapers. They are but different means of attaining the same end.

The London Street Markets on a Saturday Night.

The street sellers are to be seen in the greatest numbers at the London street markets on a Saturday night. Here, and in the shops immediately adjoining, the working-classes generally purchase their Sunday’s dinner; and after pay-time on Saturday night, or early on Sunday morning, the crowd in the New-cut, and the Brill in particular, is almost impassable. Indeed, the scene in these parts has more of the character of a fair than a market. There are hundreds of stalls, and every stall has its one or two lights; either it is illuminated by the intense white light of the new self-generating gas-lamp, or else it is brightened up by the red smoky flame of the old-fashioned grease lamp. One man shows off his yellow haddock with a candle stuck in a bundle of firewood; his neighbour makes a candlestick of a huge turnip, and the tallow gutters over its sides; whilst the boy shouting “Eight a penny, stunning pears!” has rolled his dip in a thick coat of brown paper, that flares away with the candle. Some stalls are crimson with the fire shining through the holes beneath the baked chestnut stove; others have handsome octohedral lamps, while a few have a candle shining through a sieve: these, with the sparkling ground-glass globes of the tea-dealers’ shops, and the butchers’ gaslights streaming and fluttering in the wind, like flags of flame, pour forth such a flood of light, that at a distance the atmosphere immediately above the spot is as lurid as if the street were on fire.

The pavement and the road are crowded with purchasers and street-sellers. The housewife in her thick shawl, with the market-basket on her arm, walks slowly on, stopping now to look at the stall of caps, and now to cheapen a bunch of greens. Little boys, holding three or four onions in their hand, creep between the people, wriggling their way through every interstice, and asking for custom in whining tones, as if seeking charity. Then the tumult of the thousand different cries of the eager dealers, all shouting at the top of their voices, at one and the same time, is almost bewildering. “So-old again,” roars one. “Chestnuts all ’ot, a penny a score,” bawls another. “An ’aypenny a skin, blacking,” squeaks a boy. “Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy—bu-u-uy!” cries the butcher. “Half-quire of paper for a penny,” bellows the street stationer. “An ’aypenny a lot ing-uns.” “Twopence a pound grapes.” “Three a penny Yarmouth bloaters.” “Who’ll buy a bonnet for fourpence?” “Pick ’em out cheap here! three pair for a halfpenny, bootlaces.” “Now’s your time! beautiful whelks, a penny a lot.” “Here’s ha’p’orths,” shouts the perambulating confectioner. “Come and look at ’em! here’s toasters!” bellows one with a Yarmouth bloater stuck on a toasting-fork. “Penny a lot, fine russets,” calls the apple woman: and so the Babel goes on.

One man stands with his red-edged mats hanging over his back and chest, like a herald’s coat; and the girl with her basket of walnuts lifts her brown-stained fingers to her mouth, as she screams, “Fine warnuts! sixteen a penny, fine war-r-nuts.” A bootmaker, to “ensure custom,” has illuminated his shop-front with a line of gas, and in its full glare stands a blind beggar, his eyes turned up so as to show only “the whites,” and mumbling some begging rhymes, that are drowned in the shrill notes of the bamboo-flute-player next to him. The boy’s sharp cry, the woman’s cracked voice, the gruff, hoarse shout of the man, are all mingled together. Sometimes an Irish[10]man is heard with his “fine ating apples;” or else the jingling music of an unseen organ breaks out, as the trio of street singers rest between the verses.

Then the sights, as you elbow your way through the crowd, are equally multifarious. Here is a stall glittering with new tin saucepans; there another, bright with its blue and yellow crockery, and sparkling with white glass. Now you come to a row of old shoes arranged along the pavement; now to a stand of gaudy tea-trays; then to a shop with red handkerchiefs and blue checked shirts, fluttering backwards and forwards, and a counter built up outside on the kerb, behind which are boys beseeching custom. At the door of a tea-shop, with its hundred white globes of light, stands a man delivering bills, thanking the public for past favours, and “defying competition.” Here, alongside the road, are some half-dozen headless tailors’ dummies, dressed in Chesterfields and fustian jackets, each labelled, “Look at the prices,” or “Observe the quality.” After this is a butcher’s shop, crimson and white with meat piled up to the first-floor, in front of which the butcher himself, in his blue coat, walks up and down, sharpening his knife on the steel that hangs to his waist. A little further on stands the clean family, begging; the father with his head down as if in shame, and a box of lucifers held forth in his hand—the boys in newly-washed pinafores, and the tidily got-up mother with a child at her breast. This stall is green and white with bunches of turnips—that red with apples, the next yellow with onions, and another purple with pickling cabbages. One minute you pass a man with an umbrella turned inside up and full of prints; the next, you hear one with a peepshow of Mazeppa, and Paul Jones the pirate, describing the pictures to the boys looking in at the little round windows. Then is heard the sharp snap of the percussion-cap from the crowd of lads firing at the target for nuts; and the moment afterwards, you see either a black man half-clad in white, and shivering in the cold with tracts in his hand, or else you hear the sounds of music from “Frazier’s Circus,” on the other side of the road, and the man outside the door of the penny concert, beseeching you to “Be in time—be in time!” as Mr. Somebody is just about to sing his favourite song of the “Knife Grinder.” Such, indeed, is the riot, the struggle, and the scramble for a living, that the confusion and uproar of the New-cut on Saturday night have a bewildering and saddening effect upon the thoughtful mind.

Each salesman tries his utmost to sell his wares, tempting the passers-by with his bargains. The boy with his stock of herbs offers “a double ’andful of fine parsley for a penny;” the man with the donkey-cart filled with turnips has three lads to shout for him to their utmost, with their “Ho! ho! hi-i-i! What do you think of this here? A penny a bunch—hurrah for free trade! Here’s your turnips!” Until it is seen and heard, we have no sense of the scramble that is going on throughout London for a living. The same scene takes place at the Brill—the same in Leather-lane—the same in Tottenham-court-road—the same in Whitecross-street; go to whatever corner of the metropolis you please, either on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning, and there is the same shouting and the same struggling to get the penny profit out of the poor man’s Sunday’s dinner.

Since the above description was written, the New Cut has lost much of its noisy and brilliant glory. In consequence of a New Police regulation, “stands” or “pitches” have been forbidden, and each coster, on a market night, is now obliged, under pain of the lock-up house, to carry his tray, or keep moving with his barrow. The gay stalls have been replaced by deal boards, some sodden with wet fish, others stained purple with blackberries, or brown with walnut-peel; and the bright lamps are almost totally superseded by the dim, guttering candle. Even if the pole under the tray or “shallow” is seen resting on the ground, the policeman on duty is obliged to interfere.

The mob of purchasers has diminished one-half; and instead of the road being filled with customers and trucks, the pavement and kerb-stones are scarcely crowded.

The Sunday Morning Markets.

Nearly every poor man’s market does its Sunday trade. For a few hours on the Sabbath morning, the noise, bustle, and scramble of the Saturday night are repeated, and but for this opportunity many a poor family would pass a dinnerless Sunday. The system of paying the mechanic late on the Saturday night—and more particularly of paying a man his wages in a public-house—when he is tired with his day’s work, lures him to the tavern, and there the hours fly quickly enough beside the warm tap-room fire, so that by the time the wife comes for her husband’s wages, she finds a large portion of them gone in drink, and the streets half cleared, so that the Sunday market is the only chance of getting the Sunday’s dinner.

Of all these Sunday-morning markets, the Brill, perhaps, furnishes the busiest scene; so that it may be taken as a type of the whole.

The streets in the neighbourhood are quiet and empty. The shops are closed with their different-coloured shutters, and the people round about are dressed in the shiney cloth of the holiday suit. There are no “cabs,” and but few omnibuses to disturb the rest, and men walk in the road as safely as on the footpath.

As you enter the Brill the market sounds are scarcely heard. But at each step the low hum grows gradually into the noisy shouting, until at last the different cries become distinct, and the hubbub, din, and confusion of a thousand voices bellowing at once again fill the air. The road and footpath are crowded, as on the over-night; the men are standing in groups, smoking and talking; whilst the women run[11] to and fro, some with the white round turnips showing out of their filled aprons, others with cabbages under their arms, and a piece of red meat dangling from their hands. Only a few of the shops are closed, but the butcher’s and the coal-shed are filled with customers, and from the door of the shut-up baker’s, the women come streaming forth with bags of flour in their hands, while men sally from the halfpenny barber’s smoothing their clean-shaved chins. Walnuts, blacking, apples, onions, braces, combs, turnips, herrings, pens, and corn-plaster, are all bellowed out at the same time. Labourers and mechanics, still unshorn and undressed, hang about with their hands in their pockets, some with their pet terriers under their arms. The pavement is green with the refuse leaves of vegetables, and round a cabbage-barrow the women stand turning over the bunches, as the man shouts, “Where you like, only a penny.” Boys are running home with the breakfast herring held in a piece of paper, and the side-pocket of the apple-man’s stuff coat hangs down with the weight of the halfpence stored within it. Presently the tolling of the neighbouring church bells breaks forth. Then the bustle doubles itself, the cries grow louder, the confusion greater. Women run about and push their way through the throng, scolding the saunterers, for in half an hour the market will close. In a little time the butcher puts up his shutters, and leaves the door still open; the policemen in their clean gloves come round and drive the street-sellers before them, and as the clock strikes eleven the market finishes, and the Sunday’s rest begins.

The following is a list of the street-markets, and the number of costers usually attending:—


New-cut, Lambeth300
Kent-street, Borough38
Union-street, Borough29
Great Suffolk-street46


Brill and Chapel-st., Somers’ Town300
Camden Town50
Hampstead-rd. and Tottenham-ct.-rd.333
St. George’s Market, Oxford-street177
Tothill-st. & Broadway, Westminster119
Exmouth-street and Aylesbury-street, Clerkenwell142
St. John’s-street47
Old-street (St. Luke’s)46
Whitecross-street, Cripplegate150
Mile End105
Commercial-rd. (East)114
Ratcliffe Highway122

We find, from the foregoing list of markets, held in the various thoroughfares of the metropolis, that there are 10 on the Surrey side and 27 on the Middlesex side of the Thames. The total number of hucksters attending these markets is 3,911, giving an average of 105 to each market.

Habits and Amusements of Costermongers.

I find it impossible to separate these two headings; for the habits of the costermonger are not domestic. His busy life is past in the markets or the streets, and as his leisure is devoted to the beer-shop, the dancing-room, or the theatre, we must look for his habits to his demeanour at those places. Home has few attractions to a man whose life is a street-life. Even those who are influenced by family ties and affections, prefer to “home”—indeed that word is rarely mentioned among them—the conversation, warmth, and merriment of the beer-shop, where they can take their ease among their “mates.” Excitement or amusement are indispensable to uneducated men. Of beer-shops resorted to by costermongers, and principally supported by them, it is computed that there are 400 in London.

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.” For an explanation of what may be obscure in this dialogue, I must refer my readers to my remarks concerning the language of the class. 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. Whist is known to a few, but is never played, being considered dull and slow. Of short whist they have not heard; “but,” said one, whom I questioned on the subject, “if it’s come into fashion, it’ll soon be among us.” The play is usually for beer, but the game is rendered exciting by bets both among the players and the lookers-on. “I’ll back Jem for a yanepatine,” says one. “Jack for a gen,” cries another. A penny is the lowest sum laid, and five shillings generally the highest, but a shilling is not often exceeded. “We play fair among ourselves,” said a costermonger to me—“aye, fairer than the aristocrats—but we’ll take in anybody else.” Where it is known that the landlord will not supply cards, “a sporting coster” carries a pack or two with him. The cards played with have rarely been stamped;[12] they are generally dirty, and sometimes almost illegible, from long handling and spilled beer. Some men will sit patiently for hours at these games, and they watch the dealing round of the dingy cards intently, and without the attempt—common among politer gamesters—to appear indifferent, though they bear their losses well. In a full room of card-players, the groups are all shrouded in tobacco-smoke, and from them are heard constant sounds—according to the games they are engaged in—of “I’m low, and Ped’s high.” “Tip and me’s game.” “Fifteen four and a flush of five.” I may remark it is curious that costermongers, who can neither read nor write, and who have no knowledge of the multiplication table, are skilful in all the intricacies and calculations of cribbage. 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. Those who remember the disclosures on a trial a few years back, as to how men of rank and wealth passed their leisure in card-playing—many of their lives being one continued leisure—can judge how far the analogy holds when the card-passion of the costermongers is described.

“Shove-halfpenny” is another game played by them; so is “Three up.” Three halfpennies are thrown up, and when they fall all “heads” or all “tails,” it is a mark; and the man who gets the greatest number of marks out of a given amount—three, or five, or more—wins. “Three-up” is played fairly among the costermongers; but is most frequently resorted to when strangers are present to “make a pitch,”—which is, in plain words, to cheat any stranger who is rash enough to bet upon them. “This is the way, sir,” said an adept to me; “bless you, I can make them fall as I please. If I’m playing with Jo, and a stranger bets with Jo, why, of course, I make Jo win.” This adept illustrated his skill to me by throwing up three halfpennies, and, five times out of six, they fell upon the floor, whether he threw them nearly to the ceiling or merely to his shoulder, all heads or all tails. The halfpence were the proper current coins—indeed, they were my own; and the result is gained by a peculiar position of the coins on the fingers, and a peculiar jerk in the throwing. There was an amusing manifestation of the pride of art in the way in which my obliging informant displayed his skill.

“Skittles” is another favourite amusement, and the costermongers class themselves among the best players in London. The game is always for beer, but betting goes on.

A fondness for “sparring” and “boxing” lingers among the rude members of some classes of the working men, such as the tanners. With the great majority of the costermongers this fondness is still as dominant as it was among the “higher classes,” when boxers were the pets of princes and nobles. The sparring among the costers is not for money, but for beer and “a lark”—a convenient word covering much mischief. Two out of every ten landlords, whose houses are patronised by these lovers of “the art of self-defence,” supply gloves. Some charge 2d. a night for their use; others only 1d. The sparring seldom continues long, sometimes not above a quarter of an hour; for the costermongers, though excited for a while, weary of sports in which they cannot personally participate, and in the beer-shops only two spar at a time, though fifty or sixty may be present. The shortness of the duration of this pastime may be one reason why it seldom leads to quarrelling. The stake is usually a “top of reeb,” and the winner is the man who gives the first “noser;” a bloody nose however is required to show that the blow was veritably a noser. The costermongers boast of their skill in pugilism as well as at skittles. “We are all handy with our fists,” said one man, “and are matches, aye, and more than matches, for anybody but reg’lar boxers. We’ve stuck to the ring, too, and gone reg’lar to the fights, more than any other men.”

“Twopenny-hops” are much resorted to by the costermongers, men and women, boys and girls. At these dances decorum is sometimes, but not often, violated. “The women,” I was told by one man, “doesn’t show their necks as I’ve seen the ladies do in them there pictures of high life in the shop-winders, or on the stage. Their Sunday gowns, which is their dancing gowns, ain’t made that way.” At these “hops” the clog-hornpipe is often danced, and sometimes a collection is made to ensure the performance of a first-rate professor of that dance; sometimes, and more frequently, it is volunteered gratuitously. The other dances are jigs, “flash jigs”—hornpipes in fetters—a dance rendered popular by the success of the acted “Jack Sheppard”—polkas, and country-dances, the last-mentioned being generally demanded by the women. Waltzes are as yet unknown to them. 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. Two of the pipes are arranged as a cross, and the toe has to be inserted between each of the angles, without breaking them. The numbers present at these “hops” vary from 30 to 100 of both sexes, their ages being from 14 to 45, and the female sex being slightly predominant as to the proportion of those in attendance. At these “hops” there is nothing of the leisurely style of dancing—half a glide and half a skip—but vigorous, laborious capering. 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. From 1l. to 7l. is spent in drink at a hop; the youngest men or lads present spend the most, especially in that act of costermonger [15] politeness—“treating the gals.” The music is always a fiddle, sometimes with the addition of a harp and a cornopean. The band is provided by the costermongers, to whom the assembly is confined; but during the present and the last year, when the costers’ earnings have been less than the average, the landlord has provided the harp, whenever that instrument has added to the charms of the fiddle. Of one use to which these “hops” are put I have given an account, under the head of “Marriage.”


“Here Pertaters! Kearots and Turnups! Fine Brockello-o-o!”

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

The other amusements of this class of the community are the theatre and the penny concert, and their visits are almost entirely confined to the galleries of the theatres on the Surrey-side—the Surrey, the Victoria, the Bower Saloon, and (but less frequently) Astley’s. Three times a week is an average attendance at theatres and dances by the more prosperous costermongers. The most intelligent man I met with among them gave me the following account. He classes himself with the many, but his tastes are really those of an educated man:—“Love and murder suits us best, sir; but within these few years I think there’s a great deal more liking for deep tragedies among us. They set men a thinking; but then we all consider them too long. Of Hamlet we can make neither end nor side; and nine out of ten of us—ay, far more than that—would like it to be confined to the ghost scenes, and the funeral, and the killing off at the last. Macbeth would be better liked, if it was only the witches and the fighting. The high words in a tragedy we call jaw-breakers, and say we can’t tumble to that barrikin. We always stay to the last, because we’ve paid for it all, or very few costers would see a tragedy out if any money was returned to those leaving after two or three acts. We are fond of music. Nigger music was very much liked among us, but it’s stale now. Flash songs are liked, and sailors’ songs, and patriotic songs. Most costers—indeed, I can’t call to mind an exception—listen very quietly to songs that they don’t in the least understand. We have among us translations of the patriotic French songs. ‘Mourir pour la patrie’ is very popular, and so is the ‘Marseillaise.’ A song to take hold of us must have a good chorus.” “They like something, sir, that is worth hearing,” said one of my informants, “such as the ‘Soldier’s Dream,’ ‘The Dream of Napoleon,’ or ‘I ’ad a dream—an ’appy dream.’”

The songs in ridicule of Marshal Haynau, and in laudation of Barclay and Perkin’s draymen, were and are very popular among the costers; but none are more popular than Paul Jones—“A noble commander, Paul Jones was his name.” Among them the chorus of “Britons never shall be slaves,” is often rendered “Britons always shall be slaves.” The most popular of all songs with the class, however, is “Duck-legged Dick,” of which I give the first verse.

“Duck-legged Dick had a donkey,
And his lush loved much for to swill,
One day he got rather lumpy,
And got sent seven days to the mill.
His donkey was taken to the green-yard,
A fate which he never deserved.
Oh! it was such a regular mean yard,
That alas! the poor moke got starved.
Oh! bad luck can’t be prevented,
Fortune she smiles or she frowns,
He’s best off that’s contented,
To mix, sirs, the ups and the downs.”

Their sports, are enjoyed the more, if they are dangerous and require both courage and dexterity to succeed in them. They prefer, if crossing a bridge, to climb over the parapet, and walk along on the stone coping. When a house is building, rows of coster lads will climb up the long ladders, leaning against the unslated roof, and then slide down again, each one resting on the other’s shoulders. A peep show with a battle scene is sure of its coster audience, and a favourite pastime is fighting with cheap theatrical swords. They are, however, true to each other, and should a coster, who is the hero of his court, fall ill and go to a hospital, the whole of the inhabitants of his quarter will visit him on the Sunday, and take him presents of various articles so that “he may live well.”

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. If when out working, they see a handsome stray, whether he is a “toy” or “sporting” dog, they whip him up—many of the class not being very particular whether the animals are stray or not.

Their dog fights are both cruel and frequent. It is not uncommon to see a lad walking with the trembling legs of a dog shivering under a bloody handkerchief, that covers the bitten and wounded body of an animal that has been figuring at some “match.” These fights take place on the sly—the tap-room or back-yard of a beer-shop, being generally chosen for the purpose. A few men are let into the secret, and they attend to bet upon the winner, the police being carefully kept from the spot.

Pigeons are “fancied” to a large extent, and are kept in lath cages on the roofs of the houses. The lads look upon a visit to the Red-house, Battersea, where the pigeon-shooting takes place, as a great treat. They stand without the hoarding that encloses the ground, and watch for the wounded pigeons to fall, when a violent scramble takes place among them, each bird being valued at 3d. or 4d. So popular has this sport become, that some boys take dogs with them trained to retrieve the birds, and two Lambeth costers attend regularly after their morning’s work with their guns, to shoot those that escape the ‘shots’ within.

A good pugilist is looked up to with great admiration by the costers, and fighting is considered to be a necessary part of a boy’s education. Among them cowardice in any shape is despised[16] as being degrading and loathsome, indeed the man who would avoid a fight, is scouted by the whole of the court he lives in. Hence it is important for a lad and even a girl to know how to “work their fists well”—as expert boxing is called among them. If a coster man or woman is struck they are obliged to fight. When a quarrel takes place between two boys, a ring is formed, and the men urge them on to have it out, for they hold that it is a wrong thing to stop a battle, as it causes bad blood for life; whereas, if the lads fight it out they shake hands and forget all about it. Everybody practises fighting, and the man who has the largest and hardest muscle is spoken of in terms of the highest commendation. It is often said in admiration of such a man that “he could muzzle half a dozen bobbies before breakfast.”

To serve out a policeman is the bravest act by which a costermonger can distinguish himself. Some lads have been imprisoned upwards of a dozen times for this offence; and are consequently looked upon by their companions as martyrs. When they leave prison for such an act, a subscription is often got up for their benefit. In their continual warfare with the force, they resemble many savage nations, from the cunning and treachery they use. The lads endeavour to take the unsuspecting “crusher” by surprise, and often crouch at the entrance of a court until a policeman passes, when a stone or a brick is hurled at him, and the youngster immediately disappears. Their love of revenge too, is extreme—their hatred being in no way mitigated by time; they will wait for months, following a policeman who has offended or wronged them, anxiously looking out for an opportunity of paying back the injury. One boy, I was told, vowed vengeance against a member of the force, and for six months never allowed the man to escape his notice. At length, one night, he saw the policeman in a row outside a public-house, and running into the crowd kicked him savagely, shouting at the same time: “Now, you b——, I’ve got you at last.” When the boy heard that his persecutor was injured for life, his joy was very great, and he declared the twelvemonth’s imprisonment he was sentenced to for the offence to be “dirt cheap.” The whole of the court where the lad resided sympathized with the boy, and vowed to a man, that had he escaped, they would have subscribed a pad or two of dry herrings, to send him into the country until the affair had blown over, for he had shown himself a “plucky one.”

It is called “plucky” to bear pain without complaining. To flinch from expected suffering is scorned, and he who does so is sneered at and told to wear a gown, as being more fit to be a woman. To show a disregard for pain, a lad, when without money, will say to his pal, “Give us a penny, and you may have a punch at my nose.” They also delight in tattooing their chests and arms with anchors, and figures of different kinds. During the whole of this painful operation, the boy will not flinch, but laugh and joke with his admiring companions, as if perfectly at ease.

Gambling of Costermongers.

It would be difficult to find in the whole of this numerous class, a youngster who is not—what may be safely called—a desperate gambler. At the age of fourteen this love of play first comes upon the lad, and from that time until he is thirty or so, not a Sunday passes but he is at his stand on the gambling ground. Even if he has no money to stake, he will loll away the morning looking on, and so borrow excitement from the successes of others. Every attempt made by the police, to check this ruinous system, has been unavailing, and has rather given a gloss of daring courage to the sport, that tends to render it doubly attractive.

If a costermonger has an hour to spare, his first thought is to gamble away the time. He does not care what he plays for, so long as he can have a chance of winning something. Whilst waiting for a market to open, his delight is to find out some pieman and toss him for his stock, though, by so doing, he risks his market-money and only chance of living, to win that which he will give away to the first friend he meets. For the whole week the boy will work untiringly, spurred on by the thought of the money to be won on the Sunday. Nothing will damp his ardour for gambling, the most continued ill-fortune making him even more reckless than if he were the luckiest man alive.

Many a lad who had gone down to the gambling ground, with a good warm coat upon his back and his pocket well filled from the Saturday night’s market, will leave it at evening penniless and coatless, having lost all his earnings, stock-money, and the better part of his clothing. Some of the boys, when desperate with “bad luck,” borrow to the utmost limit of their credit; then they mortgage their “king’s-man” or neck-tie, and they will even change their cord trousers, if better than those of the winner, so as to have one more chance at the turn of fortune. The coldest winter’s day will not stop the Sunday’s gathering on the river-side, for the heat of play warms them in spite of the sharp wind blowing down the Thames. If the weather be wet, so that the half-pence stick to the ground, they find out some railway-arch or else a beer-shop, and having filled the tap-room with their numbers, they muffle the table with handkerchiefs, and play secretly. When the game is very exciting, they will even forget their hunger, and continue to gamble until it is too dark to see, before they think of eating. One man told me, that when he was working the races with lemonade, he had often seen in the centre of a group, composed of costers, thimble-riggers and showmen, as much as 100l. on the ground at one time, in gold and silver. A friend of his, who had gone down in company with him, with a pony-truck of toys,[17] lost in less than an hour his earnings, truck, stock of goods, and great-coat. Vowing to have his revenge next time, he took his boy on his back, and started off on the tramp to London, there to borrow sufficient money to bring down a fresh lot of goods on the morrow, and then gamble away his earnings as before.

It is perfectly immaterial to the coster with whom he plays, whether it be a lad from the Lambeth potteries, or a thief from the Westminster slums. Very often, too, the gamblers of one costermonger district, will visit those of another, and work what is called “a plant” in this way. One of the visitors will go before hand, and, joining a group of gamblers, commence tossing. When sufficient time has elapsed to remove all suspicion of companionship, his mate will come up and commence betting on each of his pals’ throws with those standing round. By a curious quickness of hand, a coster can make the toss tell favourably for his wagering friend, who meets him after the play is over in the evening, and shares the spoil.

The spots generally chosen for the Sunday’s sport are in secret places, half-hidden from the eye of the passers, where a scout can give quick notice of the approach of the police: in the fields about King’s-cross, or near any unfinished railway buildings. The Mint, St. George’s-fields, Blackfriars’-road, Bethnal-green, and Marylebone, are all favourite resorts. Between Lambeth and Chelsea, the shingle on the left side of the Thames, is spotted with small rings of lads, half-hidden behind the barges. One boy (of the party) is always on the look out, and even if a stranger should advance, the cry is given of “Namous” or “Kool Eslop.” Instantly the money is whipped-up and pocketed, and the boys stand chattering and laughing together. It is never difficult for a coster to find out where the gambling parties are, for he has only to stop the first lad he meets, and ask him where the “erht pu” or “three up” is going on, to discover their whereabouts.

If during the game a cry of “Police!” should be given by the looker-out, instantly a rush at the money is made by any one in the group, the costers preferring that a stranger should have the money rather than the policeman. There is also a custom among them, that the ruined player should be started again by a gift of 2d. in every shilling lost, or, if the loss is heavy, a present of four or five shillings is made; neither is it considered at all dishonourable for the party winning to leave with the full bloom of success upon him.

That the description of one of these Sunday scenes might be more truthful, a visit was paid to a gambling-ring close to ——. Although not twenty yards distant from the steam-boat pier, yet the little party was so concealed among the coal-barges, that not a head could be seen. The spot chosen was close to a small narrow court, leading from the street to the water-side, and here the lad on the look-out was stationed. There were about thirty young fellows, some tall strapping youths, in the costers’ cable-cord costume,—others, mere boys, in rags, from the potteries, with their clothes stained with clay. The party was hidden from the river by the black dredger-boats on the beach; and it was so arranged, that should the alarm be given, they might leap into the coal-barges, and hide until the intruder had retired. Seated on some oars stretched across two craft, was a mortar-stained bricklayer, keeping a look-out towards the river, and acting as a sort of umpire in all disputes. The two that were tossing had been playing together since early morning; and it was easy to tell which was the loser, by the anxious-looking eye and compressed lip. He was quarrelsome too; and if the crowd pressed upon him, he would jerk his elbow back savagely, saying, “I wish to C——t you’d stand backer.” The winner, a short man, in a mud-stained canvas jacket, and a week’s yellow beard on his chin, never spake a word beyond his “heads,” or “tails;” but his cheeks were red, and the pipe in his mouth was unlit, though he puffed at it.

In their hands they each held a long row of halfpence, extending to the wrist, and topped by shillings and half-crowns. Nearly every one round had coppers in his hands, and bets were made and taken as rapidly as they could be spoken. “I lost a sov. last night in less than no time,” said one man, who, with his hands in his pockets, was looking on; “never mind—I musn’t have no wenson this week, and try again next Sunday.”

The boy who was losing was adopting every means to “bring back his luck again.” Before crying, he would toss up a halfpenny three times, to see what he should call. At last, with an oath, he pushed aside the boys round him, and shifted his place, to see what that would do; it had a good effect, for he won toss after toss in a curiously fortunate way, and then it was strange to watch his mouth gradually relax and his brows unknit. His opponent was a little startled, and passing his fingers through his dusty hair, said, with a stupid laugh, “Well, I never see the likes.” The betting also began to shift. “Sixpence Ned wins!” cried three or four; “Sixpence he loses!” answered another; “Done!” and up went the halfpence. “Half-a-crown Joe loses!”—“Here you are,” answered Joe, but he lost again. “I’ll try you a ‘gen’” (shilling) said a coster; “And a ‘rouf yenap’” (fourpence), added the other. “Say a ‘exes’” (sixpence).—“Done!” and the betting continued, till the ground was spotted with silver and halfpence.

“That’s ten bob he’s won in five minutes,” said Joe (the loser), looking round with a forced smile; but Ned (the winner) never spake a word, even when he gave any change to his antagonist; and if he took a bet, he only nodded to the one that offered it, and threw down his money. Once, when he picked up more than a sovereign from the ground, that he had won in one throw, a washed sweep, with a black rim round his neck, said, “There’s a hog!” but[18] there wasn’t even a smile at the joke. At last Joe began to feel angry, and stamping his foot till the water squirted up from the beach, cried, “It’s no use; luck’s set in him—he’d muck a thousand!” and so he shifted his ground, and betted all round on the chance of better fortune attending the movement. He lost again, and some one bantering said, “You’ll win the shine-rag, Joe,” meaning that he would be “cracked up,” or ruined, if he continued.

When one o’clock struck, a lad left, saying, he was “going to get an inside lining” (dinner). The sweep asked him what he was going to have. “A two-and-half plate, and a ha’p’orth of smash” (a plate of soup and a ha’p’orth of mashed potatoes), replied the lad, bounding into the court. Nobody else seemed to care for his dinner, for all stayed to watch the gamblers.

Every now and then some one would go up the court to see if the lad watching for the police was keeping a good look-out; but the boy never deserted his post, for fear of losing his threepence. If he had, such is the wish to protect the players felt by every lad, that even whilst at dinner, one of them, if he saw a policeman pass, would spring up and rush to the gambling ring to give notice.

When the tall youth, “Ned,” had won nearly all the silver of the group, he suddenly jerked his gains into his coat-pocket, and saying, “I’ve done,” walked off, and was out of sight in an instant. The surprise of the loser and all around was extreme. They looked at the court where he had disappeared, then at one another, and at last burst out into one expression of disgust. “There’s a scurf!” said one; “He’s a regular scab,” cried another; and a coster declared that he was “a trosseno, and no mistake.” For although it is held to be fair for the winner to go whenever he wishes, yet such conduct is never relished by the losers.

It was then determined that “they would have him to rights” the next time he came to gamble; for every one would set at him, and win his money, and then “turn up,” as he had done.

The party was then broken up, the players separating to wait for the new-comers that would be sure to pour in after dinner.

Vic. Gallery.

On a good attractive night, the rush of costers to the threepenny gallery of the Coburg (better known as “the Vic”) is peculiar and almost awful.

The long zig-zag staircase that leads to the pay box is crowded to suffocation at least an hour before the theatre is opened; but, on the occasion of a piece with a good murder in it, the crowd will frequently collect as early as three o’clock in the afternoon. Lads stand upon the broad wooden bannisters about 50 feet from the ground, and jump on each others’ backs, or adopt any expedient they can think of to obtain a good place.

The walls of the well-staircase having a remarkably fine echo, and the wooden floor of the steps serving as a sounding board, the shouting, whistling, and quarrelling of the impatient young costers is increased tenfold. If, as sometimes happens, a song with a chorus is started, the ears positively ache with the din, and when the chant has finished it seems as though a sudden silence had fallen on the people. To the centre of the road, and all round the door, the mob is in a ferment of excitement, and no sooner is the money-taker at his post than the most frightful rush takes place, every one heaving with his shoulder at the back of the person immediately in front of him. The girls shriek, men shout, and a nervous fear is felt lest the massive staircase should fall in with the weight of the throng, as it lately did with the most terrible results. If a hat tumbles from the top of the staircase, a hundred hands snatch at it as it descends. When it is caught a voice roars above the tumult, “All right, Bill, I’ve got it”—for they all seem to know one another—“Keep us a pitch and I’ll bring it.”

To any one unaccustomed to be pressed flat it would be impossible to enter with the mob. To see the sight in the gallery it is better to wait until the first piece is over. The ham-sandwich men and pig-trotter women will give you notice when the time is come, for with the first clatter of the descending footsteps they commence their cries.

There are few grown-up men that go to the “Vic” gallery. The generality of the visitors are lads from about twelve to three-and-twenty, and though a few black-faced sweeps or whitey-brown dustmen may be among the throng, the gallery audience consists mainly of costermongers. Young girls, too, are very plentiful, only one-third of whom now take their babies, owing to the new regulation of charging half-price for infants. At the foot of the staircase stands a group of boys begging for the return checks, which they sell again for 1½d. or 1d., according to the lateness of the hour.

At each step up the well-staircase the warmth and stench increase, until by the time one reaches the gallery doorway, a furnace-heat rushes out through the entrance that seems to force you backwards, whilst the odour positively prevents respiration. The mob on the landing, standing on tiptoe and closely wedged together, resists any civil attempt at gaining a glimpse of the stage, and yet a coster lad will rush up, elbow his way into the crowd, then jump up on to the shoulders of those before him, and suddenly disappear into the body of the gallery.

The gallery at “the Vic” is one of the largest in London. It will hold from 1500 to 2000 people, and runs back to so great a distance, that the end of it is lost in shadow, excepting where the little gas-jets, against the wall, light up the two or three faces around them. When the gallery is well packed, it is usual to see piles of boys on each others shoulders at the back, while on the partition[19] boards, dividing off the slips, lads will pitch themselves, despite the spikes.

As you look up the vast slanting mass of heads from the upper boxes, each one appears on the move. The huge black heap, dotted with faces, and spotted with white shirt sleeves, almost pains the eye to look at, and should a clapping of hands commence, the twinkling nearly blinds you. It is the fashion with the mob to take off their coats; and the cross-braces on the backs of some, and the bare shoulders peeping out of the ragged shirts of others, are the only variety to be found. The bonnets of the “ladies” are hung over the iron railing in front, their numbers nearly hiding the panels, and one of the amusements of the lads in the back seats consists in pitching orange peel or nutshells into them, a good aim being rewarded with a shout of laughter.

When the orchestra begins playing, before “the gods” have settled into their seats, it is impossible to hear a note of music. The puffed-out cheeks of the trumpeters, and the raised drumsticks tell you that the overture has commenced, but no tune is to be heard. An occasional burst of the full band being caught by gushes, as if a high wind were raging. Recognitions take place every moment, and “Bill Smith” is called to in a loud voice from one side, and a shout in answer from the other asks “What’s up?” Or family secrets are revealed, and “Bob Triller” is asked where “Sal” is, and replies amid a roar of laughter, that she is “a-larning the pynanney.”

By-and-by a youngster, who has come in late, jumps up over the shoulders at the door, and doubling himself into a ball, rolls down over the heads in front, leaving a trail of commotion for each one as he passes aims a blow at the fellow. Presently a fight is sure to begin, and then every one rises from his seat whistling and shouting; three or four pairs of arms fall to, the audience waving their hands till the moving mass seems like microscopic eels in paste. But the commotion ceases suddenly on the rising of the curtain, and then the cries of “Silence!” “Ord-a-a-r!” “Ord-a-a-r!” make more noise than ever.

The “Vic” gallery is not to be moved by touching sentiment. They prefer vigorous exercise to any emotional speech. “The Child of the Storm’s” declaration that she would share her father’s “death or imprisonment as her duty,” had no effect at all, compared with the split in the hornpipe. The shrill whistling and brayvos that followed the tar’s performance showed how highly it was relished, and one “god” went so far as to ask “how it was done.” The comic actor kicking a dozen Polish peasants was encored, but the grand banquet of the Czar of all the Russias only produced merriment, and a request that he would “give them a bit” was made directly the Emperor took the willow-patterned plate in his hand. All affecting situations were sure to be interrupted by cries of “orda-a-r;” and the lady begging for her father’s life was told to “speak up old gal;” though when the heroine of the “dummestic dreamer” (as they call it) told the general of all the Cossack forces “not to be a fool,” the uproar of approbation grew greater than ever,—and when the lady turned up her swan’s-down cuffs, and seizing four Russian soldiers shook them successively by the collar, then the enthusiasm knew no bounds, and the cries of “Bray-vo Vincent! Go it my tulip!” resounded from every throat.

Altogether the gallery audience do not seem to be of a gentle nature. One poor little lad shouted out in a crying tone, “that he couldn’t see,” and instantly a dozen voices demanded “that he should be thrown over.”

Whilst the pieces are going on, brown, flat bottles are frequently raised to the mouth, and between the acts a man with a tin can, glittering in the gas-light, goes round crying, “Port-a-a-a-r! who’s for port-a-a-a-r.” As the heat increased the faces grew bright red, every bonnet was taken off, and ladies could be seen wiping the perspiration from their cheeks with the play-bills.

No delay between the pieces will be allowed, and should the interval appear too long, some one will shout out—referring to the curtain—“Pull up that there winder blind!” or they will call to the orchestra, saying, “Now then you catgut-scrapers! Let’s have a ha’purth of liveliness.” Neither will they suffer a play to proceed until they have a good view of the stage, and “Higher the blue,” is constantly shouted, when the sky is too low, or “Light up the moon,” when the transparency is rather dim.

The dances and comic songs, between the pieces, are liked better than anything else. A highland fling is certain to be repeated, and a stamping of feet will accompany the tune, and a shrill whistling, keep time through the entire performance.

But the grand hit of the evening is always when a song is sung to which the entire gallery can join in chorus. Then a deep silence prevails all through the stanzas. Should any burst in before his time, a shout of “orda-a-r” is raised, and the intruder put down by a thousand indignant cries. At the proper time, however, the throats of the mob burst forth in all their strength. The most deafening noise breaks out suddenly, while the cat-calls keep up the tune, and an imitation of a dozen Mr. Punches squeak out the words. Some actors at the minor theatres make a great point of this, and in the bill upon the night of my visit, under the title of “There’s a good time coming, boys,” there was printed, “assisted by the most numerous and effective chorus in the metropolis—” meaning the whole of the gallery. The singer himself started the mob, saying, “Now then, the Exeter Hall touch if you please gentlemen,” and beat time with his hand, parodying M. Jullien with his baton. An “angcore” on such occasions is always[20] demanded, and, despite a few murmurs of “change it to ‘Duck-legged Dick,’” invariably insisted on.

The Politics of Costermongers.—Policemen.

The notion of the police is so intimately blended with what may be called the politics of the costermongers that I give them together.

The politics of these people are detailed in a few words—they are nearly all Chartists. “You might say, sir,” remarked one of my informants, “that they all were Chartists, but as its better you should rather be under than over the mark, say nearly all.” Their ignorance, and their being impulsive, makes them a dangerous class. I am assured that in every district where the costermongers are congregated, one or two of the body, more intelligent than the others, have great influence over them; and these leading men are all Chartists, and being industrious and not unprosperous persons, their pecuniary and intellectual superiority cause them to be regarded as oracles. One of these men said to me: “The costers think that working-men know best, and so they have confidence in us. I like to make men discontented, and I will make them discontented while the present system continues, because it’s all for the middle and the moneyed classes, and nothing, in the way of rights, for the poor. People fancy when all’s quiet that all’s stagnating. Propagandism is going on for all that. It’s when all’s quiet that the seed’s a growing. Republicans and Socialists are pressing their doctrines.”

The costermongers have very vague notions of an aristocracy; they call the more prosperous of their own body “aristocrats.” Their notions of an aristocracy of birth or wealth seem to be formed on their opinion of the rich, or reputed rich salesmen with whom they deal; and the result is anything but favourable to the nobility.

Concerning free-trade, nothing, I am told, can check the costermongers’ fervour for a cheap loaf. A Chartist costermonger told me that he knew numbers of costers who were keen Chartists without understanding anything about the six points.

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 considered by them a reflection on the character of the thieves that they are seldom true to one another.

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 the 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?”

To thwart the police in any measure the costermongers readily aid one another. One very common procedure, if the policeman has seized a barrow, is to whip off a wheel, while the officers have gone for assistance; for a large and loaded barrow requires two men to convey it to the green-yard. This is done with great dexterity; and the next step is to dispose of the stock to any passing costers, or to any “standing” in the neighbourhood, and it is honestly accounted for. The policemen, on their return, find an empty, and unwheelable barrow, which they must carry off by main strength, amid the jeers of the populace.

I am assured that in case of a political riot every “coster” would seize his policeman.

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. The married women associate with the unmarried mothers of families without the slightest scruple. 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.

As regards the fidelity of these women I was assured that, “in anything like good times,” they were rigidly faithful to their husbands or paramours; but that, in the worst pinch of poverty, a departure from this fidelity—if it provided a few meals or a fire—was not considered at all heinous. An old costermonger, who had been mixed up with other callings, and whose[21] prejudices were certainly not in favour of his present trade, said to me, “What I call the working girls, sir, are as industrious and as faithful a set as can well be. I’m satisfied that they’re more faithful to their mates than other poor working women. I never knew one of these working girls do wrong that way. They’re strong, hearty, healthy girls, and keep clean rooms. Why, there’s numbers of men leave their stock-money with their women, just taking out two or three shillings to gamble with and get drunk upon. They sometimes take a little drop themselves, the women do, and get beaten by their husbands for it, and hardest beaten if the man’s drunk himself. They’re sometimes beaten for other things too, or for nothing at all. But they seem to like the men better for their beating them. I never could make that out.” Notwithstanding this fidelity, it appears that the “larking and joking” of the young, and sometimes of the middle-aged people, among themselves, is anything but delicate. The unmarried separate as seldom as the married. The fidelity characterizing the women does not belong to the men.

The dancing-rooms are the places where matches are made up. There the boys go to look out for “mates,” and sometimes a match is struck up the first night of meeting, and the couple live together forthwith. The girls at these dances are all the daughters of costermongers, or of persons pursuing some other course of street life. Unions take place when the lad is but 14. Two or three out of 100 have their female helpmates at that early age; but the female is generally a couple of years older than her partner. Nearly all the costermongers form such alliances as I have described, when both parties are under twenty. One reason why these alliances are contracted at early ages is, that when a boy has assisted his father, or any one engaging him, in the business of a costermonger, he knows that he can borrow money, and hire a shallow or a barrow—or he may have saved 5s.—“and then if the father vexes him or snubs him,” said one of my informants, “he’ll tell his father to go to h—l, and he and his gal will start on their own account.”

Most of the costermongers have numerous families, but not those who contract alliances very young. The women continue working down to the day of their confinement.

“Chance children,” as they are called, or children unrecognised by any father, are rare among the young women of the costermongers.

Religion of Costermongers.

An intelligent and trustworthy man, until very recently actively engaged in costermongering, computed that not 3 in 100 costermongers had ever been in the interior of a church, or any place of worship, or knew what was meant by Christianity. The same person gave me the following account, which was confirmed by others:

“The costers have no religion at all, and very little notion, or none at all, of what religion or a future state is. Of all things they hate tracts. They hate them because the people leaving them never give them anything, and as they can’t read the tract—not one in forty—they’re vexed to be bothered with it. And really what is the use of giving people reading before you’ve taught them to read? Now, they respect the City Missionaries, because they read to them—and the costers will listen to reading when they don’t understand it—and because they visit the sick, and sometimes give oranges and such like to them and the children. I’ve known a City Missionary buy a shilling’s worth of oranges of a coster, and give them away to the sick and the children—most of them belonging to the costermongers—down the court, and that made him respected there. I think the City Missionaries have done good. But I’m satisfied that if the costers had to profess themselves of some religion to-morrow, they would all become Roman Catholics, every one of them. This is the reason:—London costers live very often in the same courts and streets as the poor Irish, and if the Irish are sick, be sure there comes to them the priest, the Sisters of Charity—they are good women—and some other ladies. Many a man that’s not a Catholic, has rotted and died without any good person near him. Why, I lived a good while in Lambeth, and there wasn’t one coster in 100, I’m satisfied, knew so much as the rector’s name,—though Mr. Dalton’s a very good man. But the reason I was telling you of, sir, is that the costers reckon that religion’s the best that gives the most in charity, and they think the Catholics do this. I’m not a Catholic myself, but I believe every word of the Bible, and have the greater belief that it’s the word of God because it teaches democracy. The Irish in the courts get sadly chaffed by the others about their priests,—but they’ll die for the priest. Religion is a regular puzzle to the costers. They see people come out of church and chapel, and as they’re mostly well dressed, and there’s very few of their own sort among the church-goers, the costers somehow mix up being religious with being respectable, and so they have a queer sort of feeling about it. It’s a mystery to them. It’s shocking when you come to think of it. They’ll listen to any preacher that goes among them; and then a few will say—I’ve heard it often—‘A b—y fool, why don’t he let people go to h-ll their own way?’ There’s another thing that makes the costers think so well of the Catholics. If a Catholic coster—there’s only very few of them—is ‘cracked up’ (penniless), he’s often started again, and the others have a notion that it’s through some chapel-fund. I don’t know whether it is so or not, but I know the cracked-up men are started again, if they’re Catholics. It’s still the stranger that the regular costermongers, who are nearly all Londoners, should have such respect for the Roman Catholics, when they have such a hatred of the Irish, whom they look upon as intruders and underminers.”—“If a missionary came among[22] us with plenty of money,” said another costermonger, “he might make us all Christians or Turks, or anything he liked.” Neither the Latter-day Saints, nor any similar sect, have made converts among the costermongers.

Of the Uneducated State of Costermongers.

I have stated elsewhere, that only about one in ten of the regular costermongers is able to read. The want of education among both men and women is deplorable, and I tested it in several instances. The following statement, however, from one of the body, is no more to be taken as representing the ignorance of the class generally, than are the clear and discriminating accounts I received from intelligent costermongers to be taken as representing the intelligence of the body.

The man with whom I conversed, and from whom I received the following statement, seemed about thirty. He was certainly not ill-looking, but with a heavy cast of countenance, his light blue eyes having little expression. His statements, or opinions, I need hardly explain, were given both spontaneously in the course of conversation, and in answer to my questions. I give them almost verbatim, omitting oaths and slang:

“Well, times is bad, sir,” he said, “but it’s a deadish time. I don’t do so well at present as in middlish times, I think. When I served the Prince of Naples, not far from here (I presume that he alluded to the Prince of Capua), I did better and times was better. That was five years ago, but I can’t say to a year or two. He was a good customer, and was very fond of peaches. I used to sell them to him, at 12s. the plasket when they was new. The plasket held a dozen, and cost me 6s. at Covent-garden—more sometimes; but I didn’t charge him more when they did. His footman was a black man, and a ignorant man quite, and his housekeeper was a Englishwoman. He was the Prince o’ Naples, was my customer; but I don’t know what he was like, for I never saw him. I’ve heard that he was the brother of the king of Naples. I can’t say where Naples is, but if you was to ask at Euston-square, they’ll tell you the fare there and the time to go it in. It may be in France for anything I know may Naples, or in Ireland. Why don’t you ask at the square? I went to Croydon once by rail, and slept all the way without stirring, and so you may to Naples for anything I know. I never heard of the Pope being a neighbour of the King of Naples. Do you mean living next door to him? But I don’t know nothing of the King of Naples, only the prince. I don’t know what the Pope is. Is he any trade? It’s nothing to me, when he’s no customer of mine. I have nothing to say about nobody that ain’t no customers. My crabs is caught in the sea, in course. I gets them at Billingsgate. I never saw the sea, but it’s salt-water, I know. I can’t say whereabouts it lays. I believe it’s in the hands of the Billingsgate salesmen—all of it? I’ve heard of shipwrecks at sea, caused by drownding, in course. I never heard that the Prince of Naples was ever at sea. I like to talk about him, he was such a customer when he lived near here.” (Here he repeated his account of the supply of peaches to his Royal Highness.) “I never was in France, no, sir, never. I don’t know the way. Do you think I could do better there? I never was in the Republic there. What’s it like? Bonaparte? O, yes; I’ve heard of him. He was at Waterloo. I didn’t know he’d been alive now and in France, as you ask me about him. I don’t think you’re larking, sir. Did I hear of the French taking possession of Naples, and Bonaparte making his brother-in-law king? Well, I didn’t, but it may be true, because I served the Prince of Naples, what was the brother of the king. I never heard whether the Prince was the king’s older brother or his younger. I wish he may turn out his older if there’s property coming to him, as the oldest has the first turn; at least so I’ve heard—first come, first served. I’ve worked the streets and the courts at all times. I’ve worked them by moonlight, but you couldn’t see the moonlight where it was busy. I can’t say how far the moon’s off us. It’s nothing to me, but I’ve seen it a good bit higher than St. Paul’s. I don’t know nothing about the sun. Why do you ask? It must be nearer than the moon for it’s warmer,—and if they’re both fire, that shows it. It’s like the tap-room grate and that bit of a gas-light; to compare the two is. What was St. Paul’s that the moon was above? A church, sir; so I’ve heard. I never was in a church. O, yes, I’ve heard of God; he made heaven and earth; I never heard of his making the sea; that’s another thing, and you can best learn about that at Billingsgate. (He seemed to think that the sea was an appurtenance of Billingsgate.) Jesus Christ? Yes. I’ve heard of him. Our Redeemer? Well, I only wish I could redeem my Sunday togs from my uncle’s.”

Another costermonger, in answer to inquiries, said: “I ’spose you think us ’riginal coves that you ask. We’re not like Methusalem, or some such swell’s name, (I presume that Malthus was meant) as wanted to murder children afore they was born, as I once heerd lectured about—we’re nothing like that.”

Another on being questioned, and on being told that the information was wanted for the press, replied: “The press? I’ll have nothing to say to it. We are oppressed enough already.”

That a class numbering 30,000 should be permitted to remain in a state of almost brutish ignorance is a national disgrace. If the London costers belong especially to the “dangerous classes,” the danger of such a body is assuredly an evil of our own creation; for the gratitude of the poor creatures to any one who seeks to give them the least knowledge is almost pathetic.


Language of Costermongers.

The slang language of the costermongers is not very remarkable for originality of construction; it possesses no humour: but they boast that it is known only to themselves; it is far beyond the Irish, they say, and puzzles the Jews. The root of the costermonger tongue, so to speak, is to give the words spelt backward, or rather pronounced rudely backward,—for in my present chapter the language has, I believe, been reduced to orthography for the first time. With this backward pronunciation, which is very arbitrary, are mixed words reducible to no rule and seldom referrable to any origin, thus complicating the mystery of this unwritten tongue; while any syllable is added to a proper slang word, at the discretion of the speaker.

Slang is acquired very rapidly, and some costermongers will converse in it by the hour. The women use it sparingly; the girls more than the women; the men more than the girls; and the boys most of all. The most ignorant of all these classes deal most in slang and boast of their cleverness and proficiency in it. In their conversations among themselves, the following are invariably the terms used in money matters. A rude back-spelling may generally be traced:

Yenep-flatchThree half-pence.

and so on through the penny-halfpennies.

It was explained to me by a costermonger, who had introduced some new words into the slang, that “leven” was allowed so closely to resemble the proper word, because elevenpence was almost an unknown sum to costermongers, the transition—weights and measures notwithstanding—being immediate from 10d. to 1s.

“Gen” is a shilling and the numismatic sequence is pursued with the gens, as regards shillings, as with the “yeneps” as regards pence. The blending of the two is also according to the same system as “Owt-gen, teaich-yenep” two-and-eightpence. The exception to the uniformity of the “gen” enumeration is in the sum of 8s., which instead of “teaich-gen” is “teaich-guy:” a deviation with ample precedents in all civilised tongues.

As regards the larger coins the translation into slang is not reducible into rule. The following are the costermonger coins of the higher value:

Half-Couter, or Net-genHalf-sovereign.

The costermongers still further complicate their slang by a mode of multiplication. They thus say, “Erth Ewif-gens” or 3 times 5s., which means of course 15s.

Speaking of this language, a costermonger said to me: “The Irish can’t tumble to it anyhow; the Jews can tumble better, but we’re their masters. Some of the young salesmen at Billingsgate understand us,—but only at Billingsgate; and they think they’re uncommon clever, but they’re not quite up to the mark. The police don’t understand us at all. It would be a pity if they did.”

I give a few more phrases:

A doogheno or dabheno?Is it a good or bad market?
A regular trossenoA regular bad one.
Tumble to your barrikinUnderstand you.
Top o’ reebPot of beer.
Doing dabDoing badly.
Cool himLook at him.

The latter phrase is used when one costermonger warns another of the approach of a policeman “who might order him to move on, or be otherwise unpleasant.” “Cool” (look) is exclaimed, or “Cool him” (look at him). One costermonger told me as a great joke that a very stout policeman, who was then new to the duty, was when in a violent state of perspiration, much offended by a costermonger saying “Cool him.”

Cool the esclopLook at the police.
Cool the namesclopLook at the policeman.
Cool ta the dillo nemoLook at the old woman;

said of any woman, young or old, who, according to costermonger notions, is “giving herself airs.”

This language seems confined, in its general use, to the immediate objects of the costermonger’s care; but is, among the more acute members of the fraternity, greatly extended, and is capable of indefinite extension.

The costermongers oaths, I may conclude, are all in the vernacular; nor are any of the common salutes, such as “How d’you do?” or “Good-night” known to their slang.

(applied principally to the quality of fish.)
Flatch kanurdHalf-drunk.
Flash itShow it;
(in cases of bargains offered.)
[24]On doogNo good.
Cross chapA thief.
ShowfullsBad money;
(seldom in the hands of costermongers.)
I’m on to the debI’m going to bed.
Do the tightnerGo to dinner.
NommusBe off.
TolLot, Stock, or Share.

Many costermongers, “but principally—perhaps entirely,”—I was told, “those who had not been regular born and bred to the trade, but had taken to it when cracked up in their own,” do not trouble themselves to acquire any knowledge of slang. It is not indispensable for the carrying on of their business; the grand object, however, seems to be, to shield their bargainings at market, or their conversation among themselves touching their day’s work and profits, from the knowledge of any Irish or uninitiated fellow-traders.

The simple principle of costermonger slang—that of pronouncing backward, may cause its acquirement to be regarded by the educated as a matter of ease. But it is a curious fact that lads who become costermongers’ boys, without previous association with the class, acquire a very ready command of the language, and this though they are not only unable to spell, but don’t “know a letter in a book.” I saw one lad, whose parents had, until five or six months back, resided in the country. The lad himself was fourteen; he told me he had not been “a costermongering” more than three months, and prided himself on his mastery over slang. To test his ability, I asked him the coster’s word for “hippopotamus;” he answered, with tolerable readiness, “musatoppop.” I then asked him for the like rendering of “equestrian” (one of Astley’s bills having caught my eye). He replied, but not quite so readily, “nirtseque.” The last test to which I subjected him was “good-naturedly;” and though I induced him to repeat the word twice, I could not, on any of the three renderings, distinguish any precise sound beyond an indistinct gabbling, concluded emphatically with “doog:”—“good” being a word with which all these traders are familiar. It must be remembered, that the words I demanded were remote from the young costermonger’s vocabulary, if not from his understanding.

Before I left this boy, he poured forth a minute or more’s gibberish, of which, from its rapid utterance, I could distinguish nothing; but I found from his after explanation, that it was a request to me to make a further purchase of his walnuts.

This slang is utterly devoid of any applicability to humour. It gives no new fact, or approach to a fact, for philologists. One superior genius among the costers, who has invented words for them, told me that he had no system for coining his term. He gave to the known words some terminating syllable, or, as he called it, “a new turn, just,” to use his own words, “as if he chorussed them, with a tol-de-rol.” The intelligence communicated in this slang is, in a great measure, communicated, as in other slang, as much by the inflection of the voice, the emphasis, the tone, the look, the shrug, the nod, the wink, as by the words spoken.

Of the Nicknames of Costermongers.

Like many rude, and almost all wandering communities, the costermongers, like the cabmen and pickpockets, are hardly ever known by their real names; even the honest men among them are distinguished by some strange appellation. Indeed, they are all known one to another by nicknames, which they acquire either by some mode of dress, some remark that has ensured costermonger applause, some peculiarity in trading, or some defect or singularity in personal appearance. Men are known as “Rotten Herrings,” “Spuddy” (a seller of bad potatoes, until beaten by the Irish for his bad wares,) “Curly” (a man with a curly head), “Foreigner” (a man who had been in the Spanish-Legion), “Brassy” (a very saucy person), “Gaffy” (once a performer), “The One-eyed Buffer,” “Jaw-breaker,” “Pine-apple Jack,” “Cast-iron Poll” (her head having been struck with a pot without injury to her), “Whilky,” “Blackwall Poll” (a woman generally having two black eyes), “Lushy Bet,” “Dirty Sall” (the costermongers generally objecting to dirty women), and “Dancing Sue.”

Of the Education of Costermongers’ Children.

I have used the heading of “Education,” but perhaps to say “non-education,” would be more suitable. Very few indeed of the costermongers’ children are sent even to the Ragged Schools; and if they are, from all I could learn, it is done more that the mother may be saved the trouble of tending them at home, than from any desire that the children shall acquire useful knowledge. Both boys and girls are sent out by their parents in the evening to sell nuts, oranges, &c., at the doors of the theatres, or in any public place, or “round the houses” (a stated circuit from their place of abode). This trade they pursue eagerly for the sake of “bunts,” though some carry home the money they take, very honestly. The costermongers are kind to their children, “perhaps in a rough way, and the women make regular pets of them very often.” One experienced man told me, that he had seen a poor costermonger’s wife—one of the few who could read—instructing her children in reading; but such instances were very rare. The education of these children is such only as the streets afford; and the streets teach them, for the most part—and in greater or lesser degrees,—acuteness—a precocious acuteness—in all that concerns their immediate wants, business, or gratifications; a patient endurance of cold and hunger; a desire to obtain money without working for it; a craving for the excitement of gambling; an inordinate love of amusement; and an irrepressible repugnance to any settled in-door industry.


The Literature of Costermongers.

We have now had an inkling of the London costermonger’s notions upon politics and religion. We have seen the brutified state in which he is allowed by society to remain, though possessing the same faculties and susceptibilities as ourselves—the same power to perceive and admire the forms of truth, beauty, and goodness, as even the very highest in the state. We have witnessed how, instinct with all the elements of manhood and beasthood, the qualities of the beast are principally developed in him, while those of the man are stunted in their growth. It now remains for us to look into some other matters concerning this curious class of people, and, first, of their literature:

It may appear anomalous to speak of the literature of an uneducated body, but even the costermongers have their tastes for books. They are very fond of hearing any one read aloud to them, and listen very attentively. One man often reads the Sunday paper of the beer-shop to them, and on a fine summer’s evening a costermonger, or any neighbour who has the advantage of being “a schollard,” reads aloud to them in the courts they inhabit. What they love best to listen to—and, indeed, what they are most eager for—are Reynolds’s periodicals, especially the “Mysteries of the Court.” “They’ve got tired of Lloyd’s blood-stained stories,” said one man, who was in the habit of reading to them, “and I’m satisfied that, of all London, Reynolds is the most popular man among them. They stuck to him in Trafalgar-square, and would again. They all say he’s ‘a trump,’ and Feargus O’Connor’s another trump with them.”

One intelligent man considered that the spirit of curiosity manifested by costermongers, as regards the information or excitement derived from hearing stories read, augured well for the improvability of the class.

Another intelligent costermonger, who had recently read some of the cheap periodicals to ten or twelve men, women, and boys, all costermongers, gave me an account of the comments made by his auditors. They had assembled, after their day’s work or their rounds, for the purpose of hearing my informant read the last number of some of the penny publications.

“The costermongers,” said my informant, “are very fond of illustrations. I have known a man, what couldn’t read, buy a periodical what had an illustration, a little out of the common way perhaps, just that he might learn from some one, who could read, what it was all about. They have all heard of Cruikshank, and they think everything funny is by him—funny scenes in a play and all. His ‘Bottle’ was very much admired. I heard one man say it was very prime, and showed what ‘lush’ did, but I saw the same man,” added my informant, “drunk three hours afterwards. Look you here, sir,” he continued, turning over a periodical, for he had the number with him, “here’s a portrait of ‘Catherine of Russia.’ ‘Tell us all about her,’ said one man to me last night; ‘read it; what was she?’ When I had read it,” my informant continued, “another man, to whom I showed it, said, ‘Don’t the cove as did that know a deal?’ for they fancy—at least, a many do—that one man writes a whole periodical, or a whole newspaper. Now here,” proceeded my friend, “you see’s an engraving of a man hung up, burning over a fire, and some costers would go mad if they couldn’t learn what he’d been doing, who he was, and all about him. ‘But about the picture?’ they would say, and this is a very common question put by them whenever they see an engraving.

“Here’s one of the passages that took their fancy wonderfully,” my informant observed:

‘With glowing cheeks, flashing eyes, and palpitating bosom, Venetia Trelawney rushed back into the refreshment-room, where she threw herself into one of the arm-chairs already noticed. But scarcely had she thus sunk down upon the flocculent cushion, when a sharp click, as of some mechanism giving way, met her ears; and at the same instant her wrists were caught in manacles which sprang out of the arms of the treacherous chair, while two steel bands started from the richly-carved back and grasped her shoulders. A shriek burst from her lips—she struggled violently, but all to no purpose: for she was a captive—and powerless!

‘We should observe that the manacles and the steel bands which had thus fastened upon her, were covered with velvet, so that they inflicted no positive injury upon her, nor even produced the slightest abrasion of her fair and polished skin.’

Here all my audience,” said the man to me, “broke out with—‘Aye! that’s the way the harristocrats hooks it. There’s nothing o’ that sort among us; the rich has all that barrikin to themselves.’ ‘Yes, that’s the b—— way the taxes goes in,’ shouted a woman.

“Anything about the police sets them a talking at once. This did when I read it:

‘The Ebenezers still continued their fierce struggle, and, from the noise they made, seemed as if they were tearing each other to pieces, to the wild roar of a chorus of profane swearing. The alarm, as Bloomfield had predicted, was soon raised, and some two or three policemen, with their bull’s-eyes, and still more effective truncheons, speedily restored order.’

‘The blessed crushers is everywhere,’ shouted one. ‘I wish I’d been there to have had a shy at the eslops,’ said another. And then a man sung out: ‘O, don’t I like the Bobbys?’

“If there’s any foreign language which can’t be explained, I’ve seen the costers,” my informant went on, “annoyed at it—quite annoyed. Another time I read part of one of Lloyd’s numbers to them—but they like something spicier. One article in them—here it is—finishes in this way:

“The social habits and costumes of the Magyar noblesse have almost all the characteristics of the corresponding class in Ireland. This word noblesse is one of wide signification in Hungary; and one may with great truth say of this strange nation, that ‘qui n’est point noble n’est rien.’”

‘I can’t tumble to that barrikin,’ said a young fellow; ‘it’s a jaw-breaker. But if this here—what d’ye call it, you talk about—was like the Irish, why they was a rum lot.’ ‘Noblesse,’ said a man that’s considered a clever fellow, from having once learned his letters, though he can’t[26] read or write. ‘Noblesse! Blessed if I know what he’s up to.’ Here there was a regular laugh.”

From other quarters I learned that some of the costermongers who were able to read, or loved to listen to reading, purchased their literature in a very commercial spirit, frequently buying the periodical which is the largest in size, because when “they’ve got the reading out of it,” as they say, “it’s worth a halfpenny for the barrow.”

Tracts they will rarely listen to, but if any persevering man will read tracts, and state that he does it for their benefit and improvement, they listen without rudeness, though often with evident unwillingness. “Sermons or tracts,” said one of their body to me, “gives them the ’orrors.” Costermongers purchase, and not unfrequently, the first number of a penny periodical, “to see what it’s like.”

The tales of robbery and bloodshed, of heroic, eloquent, and gentlemanly highwaymen, or of gipsies turning out to be nobles, now interest the costermongers but little, although they found great delight in such stories a few years back. Works relating to Courts, potentates, or “harristocrats,” are the most relished by these rude people.

Of the Honesty of Costermongers.

I heard on all hands that the costers never steal from one another, and never wink at any one stealing from a neighbouring stall. Any stall-keeper will leave his stall untended to get his dinner, his neighbour acting for him; sometimes he will leave it to enjoy a game at skittles. It was computed for me, that property worth 10,000l. belonging to costers is daily left exposed in the streets or at the markets, almost entirely unwatched, the policeman or market-keeper only passing at intervals. And yet thefts are rarely heard of, and when heard of are not attributable to costermongers, but to regular thieves. The way in which the sum of 10,000l. was arrived at, is this: “In Hooper-street, Lambeth,” said my informant, “there are thirty barrows and carts exposed on an evening, left in the street, with nobody to see to them; left there all night. That is only one street. Each barrow and board would be worth, on the average, 2l. 5s., and that would be 67l. 10s. In the other bye-streets and courts off the New-cut are six times as many, Hooper-street having the most. This would give 405l. in all, left unwatched of a night. There are, throughout London, twelve more districts besides the New-cut—at least twelve districts—and, calculating the same amount in these, we have, altogether, 4,860l. worth of barrows. Taking in other bye-streets, we may safely reckon it at 4,000 barrows; for the numbers I have given in the thirteen places are 2,520, and 1,480 added is moderate. At least half of those which are in use next day, are left unwatched; more, I have no doubt, but say half. The stock of these 2,000 will average 10s. each, or 1,000l.; and the barrows will be worth 4,500l.; in all 5,500l., and the property exposed on the stalls and the markets will be double in amount, or 11,000l. in value, every day, but say 10,000l.

“Besides, sir,” I was told, “the thieves won’t rob the costers so often as they will the shopkeepers. It’s easier to steal from a butcher’s or bacon-seller’s open window than from a costermonger’s stall or barrow, because the shopkeeper’s eye can’t be always on his goods. But there’s always some one to give an eye to a coster’s property. At Billingsgate the thieves will rob the salesmen far readier than they will us. They know we’d take it out of them readier if they were caught. It’s Lynch law with us. We never give them in charge.”

The costermongers’ boys will, I am informed, cheat their employers, but they do not steal from them. The costers’ donkey stables have seldom either lock or latch, and sometimes oysters, and other things which the donkey will not molest, are left there, but are never stolen.

Of the Conveyances of the Costermongers and other Street-sellers.

We now come to consider the matters relating more particularly to the commercial life of the costermonger.

All who pass along the thoroughfares of the Metropolis, bestowing more than a cursory glance upon the many phases of its busy street life, must be struck with astonishment to observe the various modes of conveyance, used by those who resort to the public thoroughfares for a livelihood. From the more provident costermonger’s pony and donkey cart, to the old rusty iron tray slung round the neck by the vendor of blacking, and down to the little grey-eyed Irish boy with his lucifer-matches, in the last remains of a willow hand-basket—the shape and variety of the means resorted to by the costermongers and other street-sellers, for carrying about their goods, are almost as manifold as the articles they vend.

The pony—or donkey—carts (and the latter is by far the more usual beast of draught), of the prosperous costermongers are of three kinds:—the first is of an oblong shape, with a rail behind, upon which is placed a tray filled with bunches of greens, turnips, celery, &c., whilst other commodities are laid in the bed of the cart. Another kind is the common square cart without springs, which is so constructed that the sides, as well as the front and back, will let down and form shelves whereon the stock may be arranged to advantage. The third sort of pony-cart is one of home manufacture, consisting of the framework of a body without sides, or front, or hind part. Sometimes a coster’s barrow is formed into a donkey cart merely by fastening, with cord, two rough poles to the handles. All these several kinds of carts are used for the conveyance of either fruit, vegetables, or fish; but besides those, there is the salt and mustard vendor’s cart, with and without the tilt or covering, and a square piece of tin (stuck into a block of salt), on which is[27] painted “salt 3 lbs. a penny,” and “mustard a penny an ounce.” Then there is the poultry cart, with the wild-ducks, and rabbits dangling at its sides, and with two uprights and a cross-stick, upon which are suspended birds, &c., slung across in couples.

The above conveyances are all of small dimensions, the barrows being generally about five feet long and three wide, while the carts are mostly about four feet square.

Every kind of harness is used; some is well blacked and greased and glittering with brass, others are almost as grey with dust as the donkey itself. Some of the jackasses are gaudily caparisoned in an old carriage-harness, which fits it like a man’s coat on a boy’s back, while the plated silver ornaments are pink, with the copper showing through; others have rope traces and belly-bands, and not a few indulge in old cotton handkerchiefs for pads.

The next conveyance (which, indeed, is the most general) is the costermonger’s hand-barrow. These are very light in their make, with springs terminating at the axle. Some have rails behind for the arrangement of their goods; others have not. Some have side rails, whilst others have only the frame-work. The shape of these barrows is oblong, and sloped from the hind-part towards the front; the bottom of the bed is not boarded, but consists of narrow strips of wood nailed athwart and across. When the coster is hawking his fish, or vending his green stuff, he provides himself with a wooden tray, which is placed upon his barrow. Those who cannot afford a tray get some pieces of board and fasten them together, these answering their purpose as well. Pine-apple and pine-apple rock barrows are not unfrequently seen with small bright coloured flags at the four corners, fluttering in the wind.

The knife-cleaner’s barrow, which has lately appeared in the streets, must not be passed over here. It consists of a huge sentry-box, with a door, and is fixed upon two small wheels, being propelled in the same way as a wheel-barrow. In the interior is one of Kent’s Patent Knife-cleaning Machines, worked by turning a handle. Then there are the cat and dog’s-meat barrows. These, however, are merely common wheelbarrows, with a board in front and a ledge or shelf, formed by a piece of board nailed across the top of the barrow, to answer the purpose of a cutting-board. Lastly, there is the hearth-stone barrow, piled up with hearth-stone, Bath-brick, and lumps of whiting.

Another mode of conveying the goods through the streets, is by baskets of various kinds; as the sieve or head basket; the square and oval “shallow,” fastened in front of the fruit-woman with a strap round the waist; the hand-basket; and the “prickle.” The sieve, or head-basket, is a round willow basket, containing about one-third of a bushel. The square and oval shallows are willow baskets, about four inches deep, and thirty inches long, by eighteen broad. The hand-basket is the common oval basket, with a handle across to hang upon the arm; the latter are generally used by the Irish for onions and apples. The prickle is a brown willow basket, in which walnuts are imported into this country from the Continent; they are about thirty inches deep, and in bulk rather larger than a gallon measure; they are used only by the vendors of walnuts.

Such are the principal forms of the costermongers’ conveyances; but besides carts, barrows, and baskets, there are many other means adopted by the London street-sellers for carrying their goods from one part of the metropolis to another. The principal of these are cans, trays, boxes, and poles.

The baked potato-cans sometimes are square and sometimes oval; they are made with and without legs, a lid fastened on with hinges, and have a small charcoal fire fixed at the bottom of the can, so as to keep the potatoes hot, while there is a pipe at top to let off the steam. On one side of the can is a little compartment for the salt, and another on the other side for the butter. The hot pie-can is a square tin can, standing upon four legs, with a door in front, and three partitions inside; a fire is kept in the bottom, and the pies arranged in order upon the iron plates or shelves. When the pies at the bottom are sufficiently hot they are taken out, and placed on the upper shelf, whilst those above are removed to the lower compartments, by which means all the pies are kept “hot and hot.”

The muffin and crumpet-boy carries his articles in a basket, covered outside with oil-cloth and inside with green-baize, either at his back, or slung over his arm, and rings his bell as he walks.

The blacking boy, congreve-match and water-cress girl, use a rusty tray, spread over with their “goods,” and suspended to the neck by a piece of string.

The vendors of corn-salve, plating balls, soap for removing grease spots, paper, steel pens, envelopes, &c., carry their commodities in front of them in boxes, suspended round the neck by a narrow leather strap.

Rabbits and game are sometimes carried in baskets, and at other times tied together and slung over a pole upon the shoulder. Hat and bonnet-boxes are likewise conveyed upon a pole.

Door-mats, baskets and “duffer’s” packs, wood pails, brushes, brooms, clothes-props, clothes-lines and string, and grid-irons, Dutch-ovens, skewers and fire-shovels, are carried across the shoulder.

Of the “Smithfield Races.”

Having set forth the costermonger’s usual mode of conveying his goods through the streets of London, I shall now give the reader a description of the place and scene where and when he purchases his donkeys.

When a costermonger wishes to sell or buy a donkey, he goes to Smithfield-market on a Friday afternoon. On this day, between the hours of one and five, there is a kind of fair held,[28] attended solely by costermongers, for whose convenience a long paved slip of ground, about eighty feet in length, has been set apart. The animals for sale are trotted up and down this—the “race-course,” as it is called—and on each side of it stand the spectators and purchasers, crowding among the stalls of peas-soup, hot eels, and other street delicacies.

Every thing necessary for the starting of a costermonger’s barrow can be had in Smithfield on a Friday,—from the barrow itself to the weights—from the donkey to the whip. The animals can be purchased at prices ranging from 5s. to 3l. On a brisk market-day as many as two hundred donkeys have been sold. The barrows for sale are kept apart from the steeds, but harness to any amount can be found everywhere, in all degrees of excellence, from the bright japanned cart saddle with its new red pads, to the old mouldy trace covered with buckle marks. Wheels of every size and colour, and springs in every stage of rust, are hawked about on all sides. To the usual noise and shouting of a Saturday night’s market is added the shrill squealing of distant pigs, the lowing of the passing oxen, the bleating of sheep, and the braying of donkeys. The paved road all down the “race-course” is level and soft, with the mud trodden down between the stones. The policeman on duty there wears huge fishermen’s or flushermen’s boots, reaching to their thighs; and the trouser ends of the costers’ corduroys are black and sodden with wet dirt. Every variety of odour fills the air; you pass from the stable smell that hangs about the donkeys, into an atmosphere of apples and fried fish, near the eating-stalls, while a few paces further on you are nearly choked with the stench of goats. The crowd of black hats, thickly dotted with red and yellow plush caps, reels about; and the “hi-hi-i-i” of the donkey-runners sounds on all sides. Sometimes a curly-headed bull, with a fierce red eye, on its way to or from the adjacent cattle-market, comes trotting down the road, making all the visitors rush suddenly to the railings, for fear—as a coster near me said—of “being taught the hornpipe.”

The donkeys standing for sale are ranged in a long line on both sides of the “race-course,” their white velvetty noses resting on the wooden rail they are tied to. Many of them wear their blinkers and head harness, and others are ornamented with ribbons, fastened in their halters. The lookers-on lean against this railing, and chat with the boys at the donkeys’ heads, or with the men who stand behind them, and keep continually hitting and shouting at the poor still beasts to make them prance. Sometimes a party of two or three will be seen closely examining one of these “Jerusalem ponys,” passing their hands down its legs, or looking quietly on, while the proprietor’s ash stick descends on the patient brute’s back, making a dull hollow sound. As you walk in front of the long line of donkeys, the lads seize the animals by their nostrils, and show their large teeth, asking if you “want a hass, sir,” and all warranting the creature to be “five years old next buff-day.” Dealers are quarrelling among themselves, downcrying each other’s goods. “A hearty man,” shouted one proprietor, pointing to his rival’s stock, “could eat three sich donkeys as yourn at a meal.”

One fellow, standing behind his steed, shouts as he strikes, “Here’s the real Brittannia mettle;” whilst another asks, “Who’s for the Pride of the Market?” and then proceeds to flip “the pride” with his whip, till she clears away the mob with her kickings. Here, standing by its mother, will be a shaggy little colt, with a group of ragged boys fondling it, and lifting it in their arms from the ground.

During all this the shouts of the drivers and runners fill the air, as they rush past each other on the race-course. Now a tall fellow, dragging a donkey after him, runs by crying, as he charges in amongst the mob, “Hulloa! Hulloa! hi! hi!” his mate, with his long coat-tails flying in the wind, hurrying after and roaring, between his blows, “Keem-up!”

On nearly every post are hung traces or bridles; and in one place, on the occasion of my visit, stood an old collar with a donkey nibbling at the straw that had burst out. Some of the lads, in smock-frocks, walk about with cart-saddles on their heads, and crowds gather round the trucks, piled up with a black heap of harness studded with brass. Those without trays have spread out old sacks on the ground, on which are laid axle-trees, bound-up springs, and battered carriage-lamps. There are plenty of rusty nails and iron bolts to be had, if a barrow should want mending; and if the handles are broken, an old cab-shaft can be bought cheap, to repair them.

In another “race-course,” opposite to the donkeys,—the ponies are sold. These make a curious collection, each one showing what was his last master’s whim. One has its legs and belly shorn of its hair, another has its mane and tail cut close, and some have switch tails, muddy at the end from their length. A big-hipped black nag, with red tinsel-like spots on its back, had its ears cut close, and another curly-haired brute that was wet and steaming with having been shown off, had two huge letters burnt into its hind-quarters. Here the clattering of the hoofs and the smacking of whips added to the din; and one poor brute, with red empty eye-holes, and carrying its head high up—as a blind man does—sent out showers of sparks from its hoofs as it spluttered over the stones, at each blow it received. Occasionally, in one part of the pony market, there may be seen a crowd gathered round a nag, that some one swears has been stolen from him.

Raised up over the heads of the mob are bundles of whips, and men push their way past, with their arms full of yellow-handled curry-combs; whilst, amongst other cries, is heard that of “Sticks ½d. each! sticks—real smarters.” At one end of the market the barrows for sale[29] are kept piled up one on another, or filled with old wheels, and some with white unpainted wood, showing where they have been repaired. Men are here seen thumping the wooden trays, and trying the strength of the springs by leaning on them; and here, too, stood, on the occasion of my visit, a ragged coster lad trying to sell his scales, now the cherry-season had past.

On all sides the refreshment-barrows are surrounded by customers. The whelk-man peppers his lots, and shouts, “A lumping penn’orth for a ha’penny;” and a lad in a smock-frock carries two full pails of milk, slopping it as he walks, and crying, “Ha’penny a mug-full, new milk from the ke-ow!” The only quiet people to be seen are round the peas-soup stall, with their cups in their hands; and there is a huge crowd covering in the hot-eel stand, with the steam rising up in the centre. Baskets of sliced cake, apples, nuts, and pine-apple rock, block up the pathway; and long wicker baskets of live fowls hem you in, round which are grouped the costers, handling and blowing apart the feathers on the breast.

Of the Donkeys of the Costermongers.

The costermongers almost universally treat their donkeys with kindness. Many a costermonger will resent the ill-treatment of a donkey, as he would a personal indignity. These animals are often not only favourites, but pets, having their share of the costermonger’s dinner when bread forms a portion of it, or pudding, or anything suited to the palate of the brute. Those well-used, manifest fondness for their masters, and are easily manageable; it is, however, difficult to get an ass, whose master goes regular rounds, away from its stable for any second labour during the day, unless it has fed and slept in the interval. The usual fare of a donkey is a peck of chaff, which costs 1d., a quart of oats and a quart of beans, each averaging 1½d., and sometimes a pennyworth of hay, being an expenditure of 4d. or 5d. a day; but some give double this quantity in a prosperous time. Only one meal a day is given. Many costermongers told me, that their donkeys lived well when they themselves lived well.

“It’s all nonsense to call donkeys stupid,” said one costermonger to me; “them’s stupid that calls them so: they’re sensible. Not long since I worked Guildford with my donkey-cart and a boy. Jack (the donkey) was slow and heavy in coming back, until we got in sight of the lights at Vauxhall-gate, and then he trotted on like one o’clock, he did indeed! just as if he smelt it was London besides seeing it, and knew he was at home. He had a famous appetite in the country, and the fresh grass did him good. I gave a country lad 2d. to mind him in a green lane there. I wanted my own boy to do so, but he said, ‘I’ll see you further first.’ A London boy hates being by himself in a lone country part. He’s afraid of being burked; he is indeed. One can’t quarrel with a lad when he’s away with one in the country; he’s very useful. I feed my donkey well. I sometimes give him a carrot for a luxury, but carrots are dear now. He’s fond of mashed potatoes, and has many a good mash when I can buy them at 4lb. a penny.”

“There was a friend of mine,” said another man, “had great trouble about his donkey a few months back. I saw part of it, and knew all about it. He was doing a little work on a Sunday morning at Wandsworth, and the poor thing fell down dead. He was very fond of his donkey and kind to it, and the donkey was very fond of him. He thought he wouldn’t leave the poor creature he’d had a good while, and had been out with in all weathers, by the road side; so he dropped all notion of doing business, and with help got the poor dead thing into his cart; its head lolloping over the end of the cart, and its poor eyes staring at nothing. He thought he’d drag it home and bury it somewheres. It wasn’t for the value he dragged it, for what’s a dead donkey worth? There was a few persons about him, and they was all quiet and seemed sorry for the poor fellow and for his donkey; but the church-bells struck up, and up came a ‘crusher,’ and took the man up, and next day he was fined 10s., I can’t exactly say for what. He never saw no more of the animal, and lost his stock as well as his donkey.”

Of the Costermongers’ Capital.

The costermongers, though living by buying and selling, are seldom or never capitalists. It is estimated that not more than one-fourth of the entire body trade upon their own property. Some borrow their stock money, others borrow the stock itself, others again borrow the donkey-carts, barrows, or baskets, in which their stock is carried round, whilst others borrow even the weights and measures by which it is meted out.

The reader, however uninformed he may be as to the price the poor usually have to pay for any loans they may require, doubtlessly need not be told that the remuneration exacted for the use of the above-named commodities is not merely confined to the legal 5l. per centum per annum; still many of even the most “knowing” will hardly be able to credit the fact that the ordinary rate of interest in the costermongers’ money-market amounts to 20 per cent. per week, or no less than 1040l. a year, for every 100l. advanced.

But the iniquity of this usury in the present instance is felt, not so much by the costermongers themselves, as by the poor people whom they serve; for, of course, the enormous rate of interest must be paid out of the profits on the goods they sell, and consequently added to the price, so that coupling this overcharge with the customary short allowance—in either weight or measure, as the case may be—we can readily perceive how cruelly the poor are defrauded, and how they not only get often too little for what they do, but have as often to pay too much for what they buy.


Premising thus much, I shall now proceed to describe the terms upon which the barrow, the cart, the basket, the weights, the measures, the stock-money, or the stock, is usually advanced to the needy costermongers by their more thrifty brethren.

The hire of a barrow is 3d. a day, or 1s. a week, for the six winter months; and 4d. a day, or 1s. 6d. a week, for the six summer months. Some are to be had rather lower in the summer, but never for less than 4d.—sometimes for not less than 6d. on a Saturday, when not unfrequently every barrow in London is hired. No security and no deposit is required, but the lender satisfies himself that the borrower is really what he represents himself to be. I am informed that 5,000 hired barrows are now in the hands of the London costermongers, at an average rental of 3l. 5s. each, or 16,250l. a year. One man lets out 120 yearly, at a return (dropping the 5s.) of 360l.; while the cost of a good barrow, new, is 2l. 12s., and in the autumn and winter they may be bought new, or “as good as new,” at 30s. each; so that reckoning each to cost this barrow-letter 2l., he receives 360l. rent or interest—exactly 150 per cent. per annum for property which originally cost but 240l., and property which is still as good for the ensuing year’s business as for the past. One man has rented a barrow for eight years, during which period he has paid 26l. for what in the first instance did not cost more than twice as many shillings, and which he must return if he discontinues its use. “I know men well to do,” said an intelligent costermonger, “who have paid 1s. and 1s. 6d. a week for a barrow for three, four, and five years; and they can’t be made to understand that it’s rather high rent for what might cost 40s. at first. They can’t see they are losers. One barrow-lender sends his son out, mostly on a Sunday, collecting his rents (for barrows), but he’s not a hard man.” Some of the lenders complain that their customers pay them irregularly and cheat them often, and that in consequence they must charge high; while the “borrowers” declare that it is very seldom indeed that a man “shirks” the rent for his barrow, generally believing that he has made an advantageous bargain, and feeling the want of his vehicle, if he lose it temporarily. Let the lenders, however, be deceived by many, still, it is evident, that the rent charged for barrows is most exorbitant, by the fact, that all who take to the business become men of considerable property in a few years.

Donkey-carts are rarely hired. “If there’s 2,000 donkey and pony-carts in London, more or less, not 200 of them’s borrowed; but of barrows five to two is borrowed.” A donkey-cart costs from 2l. to 10l.; 3l. 10s. being an average price. The hire is 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week. The harness costs 2l. 10s. new, but is bought, nineteen times out of twenty, second-hand, at from 2s. 6d. to 20s. The donkeys themselves are not let out on hire, though a costermonger may let out his donkey to another in the trade when he does not require its services; the usual sum paid for the hire of a donkey is 2s. 6d. or 3s. per week. The cost price of a pony varies from 5l. to 13l.; that of a donkey from 1l. to 3l. There may be six donkeys, or more, in costermonger use, to one pony. Some traffic almost weekly in these animals, liking the excitement of such business.

The repairs to barrows, carts, and harness are almost always effected by the costermongers themselves.

“Shallows” (baskets) which cost 1s. and 1s. 6d., are let out at 1d. a day; but not five in 100 of those in use are borrowed, as their low price places them at the costermonger’s command. A pewter quart-pot, for measuring onions, &c., is let out at 2d. a day, its cost being 2s. Scales are 2d., and a set of weights 1d. a day.

Another common mode of usury is in the lending of stock-money. This is lent by the costermongers who have saved the means for such use of their funds, and by beer-shop keepers. The money-lending costermongers are the most methodical in their usury—1,040l. per cent. per annum, as was before stated, being the rate of interest usually charged. It is seldom that a lower sum than 10s. is borrowed, and never a higher sum than 2l. When a stranger applies for a loan, the money-lender satisfies himself as I have described of the barrow-lender. He charges 2d. a day for a loan of 2s. 6d.; 3d. a day for 5s.; 6d. a day for 10s.; and 1s. a day for 1l. If the daily payments are rendered regularly, at a month’s end the terms are reduced to 6d. a week for 5s.; 1s. for 10s.; and 2s. for 1l. “That’s reckoned an extraordinary small interest,” was said to me, “only 4d. a day for a pound.” The average may be 3s. a week for the loan of 20s.; it being only to a few that a larger sum than 20s. is lent. “I paid 2s. a week for 1l. for a whole year,” said one man, “or 5l. 4s. for the use of a pound, and then I was liable to repay the 1l.” The principal, however, is seldom repaid; nor does the lender seem to expect it, though he will occasionally demand it. One money-lender is considered to have a floating capital of 150l. invested in loans to costermongers. If he receive 2s. per week per 1l. for but twenty-six weeks in the year (and he often receives it for the fifty-two weeks)—his 150l. brings him in 390l. a year.

Sometimes a loan is effected only for a day, generally a Saturday, as much as 2s. 6d. being sometimes given for the use of 5s.; the 5s. being of course repaid in the evening.

The money-lenders are subject to at least twice the extent of loss to which the barrow-lender is exposed, as it is far oftener that money is squandered (on which of course no interest can be paid) than that a barrow is disposed of.

The money-lenders, (from the following statement, made to me by one who was in the habit of borrowing,) pursue their business in a not very dissimilar manner to that imputed to those who advance larger sums:—“If I want to borrow in a hurry,” said my informant, “as I may[31] hear of a good bargain, I run to my neighbour L——’s, and he first says he hasn’t 20s. to lend, and his wife’s by, and she says she hasn’t 2s. in her pocket, and so I can’t be accommodated. Then he says if I must have the money he’ll have to pawn his watch,—or to borrow it of Mr. ——, (an innkeeper) who would charge a deal of interest, for he wasn’t paid all he lent two months back, and 1s. would be expected to be spent in drink—though L—— don’t drink—or he must try if his sister would trust him, but she was sick and wanted all her money—or perhaps his barrow-merchant would lend him 10s., if he’d undertake to return 15s. at night; and it ends by my thinking I’ve done pretty well if I can get 1l. for 5s. interest, for a day’s use of it.”

The beer-shop keepers lend on far easier terms, perhaps at half the interest exacted by the others, and without any regular system of charges; but they look sharp after the repayment, and expect a considerable outlay in beer, and will only lend to good customers; they however have even lent money without interest.

“In the depth of last winter,” said a man of good character to me, “I borrowed 5s. The beer-shop keeper wouldn’t lend; he’ll rather lend to men doing well and drinking. But I borrowed it at 6d. a day interest, and that 6d. a day I paid exactly four weeks, Sundays and all; and that was 15s. in thirty days for the use of 5s. I was half starving all the time, and then I had a slice of luck, and paid the 5s. back slap, and got out of it.”

Many shopkeepers lend money to the stall-keepers, whom they know from standing near their premises, and that without interest. They generally lend, however, to the women, as they think the men want to get drunk with it. “Indeed, if it wasn’t for the women,” said a costermonger to me, “half of us might go to the Union.”

Another mode of usurious lending or trading is, as I said before, to provide the costermonger—not with the stock-money—but with the stock itself. This mode also is highly profitable to the usurer, who is usually a costermonger, but sometimes a greengrocer. A stock of fruit, fish, or vegetables, with a barrow for its conveyance, is entrusted to a street-seller, the usual way being to “let him have a sovereign’s worth.” The value of this, however, at the market cost, rarely exceeds 14s., still the man entrusted with it must carry 20s. to his creditor, or he will hardly be trusted a second time. The man who trades with the stock is not required to pay the 20s. on the first day of the transaction, as he may not have realised so much, but he must pay some of it, generally 10s., and must pay the remainder the next day or the money-lender will decline any subsequent dealings.

It may be thought, as no security is given, and as the costermongering barrow, stock, or money-lender never goes to law for the recovery of any debt or goods, that the per centage is not so very exorbitant after all. But I ascertained that not once in twenty times was the money lender exposed to any loss by the non-payment of his usurious interest, while his profits are enormous. The borrower knows that if he fail in his payment, the lender will acquaint the other members of his fraternity, so that no future loan will be attainable, and the costermonger’s business may be at an end. One borrower told me that the re-payment of his loan of 2l., borrowed two years ago at 4s. a week, had this autumn been reduced to 2s. 6d. a week: “He’s a decent man I pay now,” he said; “he has twice forgiven me a month at a time when the weather was very bad and the times as bad as the weather. Before I borrowed of him I had dealings with ——. He was a scurf. If I missed a week, and told him I would make it up next week, ‘That won’t do,’ he’d say, ‘I’ll turn you up. I’ll take d——d good care to stop you. I’ll have you to rights.’ If I hadn’t satisfied him, as I did at last, I could never have got credit again; never.” I am informed that most of the money-lenders, if a man has paid for a year or so, will now “drop it for a month or so in a very hard-up time, and go on again.” There is no I.O.U. or any memorandum given to the usurer. “There’s never a slip of paper about it, sir,” I was told.

I may add that a very intelligent man from whom I derived information, said to me concerning costermongers never going to law to recover money owing to them, nor indeed for any purpose: “If any one steals anything from me—and that, as far as I know, never happened but once in ten years—and I catch him, I take it out of him on the spot. I give him a jolly good hiding and there’s an end of it. I know very well, sir, that costers are ignorant men, but in my opinion” (laughing) “our never going to law shows that in that point we are in advance of the aristocrats. I never heard of a coster in a law court, unless he was in trouble (charged with some offence)—for assaulting a crusher, or anybody he had quarrelled with, or something of that kind.”

The barrow-lender, when not regularly paid, sends some one, or goes himself, and carries away the barrow.

My personal experience with this peculiar class justifies me in saying that they are far less dishonest than they are usually believed to be, and much more honest than their wandering habits, their want of education and “principle” would lead even the most charitable to suppose. Since I have exhibited an interest in the sufferings and privations of these neglected people, I have, as the reader may readily imagine, had many applications for assistance, and without vanity, I believe I may say, that as far as my limited resources would permit, I have striven to extricate the street-sellers from the grasp of the usurer. Some to whom I have lent small sums (for gifts only degrade struggling honest men into the apathy of beggars) have taken the money with many a protesta[32]tion that they would repay it in certain weekly instalments, which they themselves proposed, but still have never made their appearance before me a second time—it may be from dishonesty and it may be from inability and shame—others, however, and they are not a few, have religiously kept faith with me, calling punctually to pay back a sixpence or a shilling as the precariousness of their calling would permit, and doing this, though they knew that I abjured all claims upon them but through their honour, and was, indeed, in most cases, ignorant where to find them, even if my inclination led me to seek or enforce a return of the loan. One case of this kind shows so high a sense of honour among a class, generally considered to rank among the most dishonourable, that, even at the risk of being thought egotistical, I will mention it here:—“Two young men, street-sellers, called upon me and begged hard for the loan of a little stock-money. They made needle-cases and hawked them from door to door at the east end of the town, and had not the means of buying the wood. I agreed to let them have ten shillings between them; this they promised to repay at a shilling a week. They were utter strangers to me; nevertheless, at the end of the first week one shilling of the sum was duly returned. The second week, however, brought no shilling, nor did the third, nor the fourth, by which time I got to look upon the money as lost; but at the end of the fifth week one of the men called with his sixpence, and told me how he should have been with me before but his mate had promised each week to meet him with his sixpence, and each week disappointed him; so he had come on alone. I thanked him, and the next week he came again; so he did the next, and the next after that. On the latter occasion he told me that in five more weeks he should have paid off his half of the amount advanced, and that then, as he had come with the other man, he would begin paying off his share as well!”

Those who are unacquainted with the character of the people may feel inclined to doubt the trustworthiness of the class, but it is an extraordinary fact that but few of the costermongers fail to repay the money advanced to them, even at the present ruinous rate of interest. The poor, it is my belief, have not yet been sufficiently tried in this respect;—pawnbrokers, loan-offices, tally-shops, dolly-shops, are the only parties who will trust them—but, as a startling proof of the good faith of the humbler classes generally, it may be stated that Mrs. Chisholm (the lady who has exerted herself so benevolently in the cause of emigration) has lent out, at different times, as much as 160,000l. that has been entrusted to her for the use of the “lower orders,” and that the whole of this large amount has been returned—with the exception of 12l.!

I myself have often given a sovereign to professed thieves to get “changed,” and never knew one to make off with the money. Depend upon it, if we would really improve, we must begin by elevating instead of degrading.

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. “You see, sir, the letters in the Morning Chronicle set people a talking, and some altered their way of business. Some was very angry at what was said in the articles on the street-sellers, and swore that costers was gentlemen, and that they’d smash the men’s noses that had told you, sir, if they knew who they were. There’s plenty of costers wouldn’t use slangs at all, if people would give a fair price; but you see the boys will try it on for their bunts, and how is a man to sell fine cherries at 4d. a pound that cost him 3½d., when there’s a kid alongside of him a selling his ‘tol’ at 2d. a pound, and singing it out as bold as brass? So the men slangs it, and cries ‘2d. a pound,’ and gives half-pound, as the boy does; which brings it to the same thing. We doesn’t ’dulterate our goods like the tradesmen—that is, the regular hands doesn’t. It wouldn’t be easy, as you say, to ’dulterate cabbages or oysters; but we deals fair to all that’s fair to us,—and that’s more than many a tradesman does, for all their juries.”

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.” The slang quart is let out at 2d. a day—1d. extra being charged “for the risk.” The slang pint holds in some cases three-fourths of the just quantity, having a very thick bottom; others hold only half a pint, having a false bottom half-way up. These are used chiefly in measuring nuts, of which the proper quantity is hardly ever given to the purchaser; “but, then,” it was often said, or implied to me, the “price is all the lower, and people just brings it on themselves, by wanting things for next to nothing; so it’s all right; it’s people’s own faults.” The hire of the slang pint is 2d. per day.

The scales used are almost all true, but the weights are often beaten out flat to look large, and are 4, 5, 6, or even 7 oz. deficient in a pound, and in the same relative proportion with other weights. The charge is 2d., 3d., and 4d. a day for a pair of scales and a set of slang weights.

The wooden measures—such as pecks, half pecks, and quarter pecks—are not let out slang, but the bottoms are taken out by the costers, and put in again half an inch or so higher up. “I call this,” said a humorous dealer to me, “slop-work, or the cutting-system.”

One candid costermonger expressed his perfect contempt of slangs, as fit only for bunglers, as he could always “work slang” with a true[33] measure. “Why, I can cheat any man,” he said. “I can manage to measure mussels so as you’d think you got a lot over, but there’s a lot under measure, for I holds them up with my fingers and keep crying, ‘Mussels! full measure, live mussels!’ I can do the same with peas. I delight to do it with stingy aristocrats. We don’t work slang in the City. People know what they’re a buying on there. There’s plenty of us would pay for an inspector of weights; I would. We might do fair without an inspector, and make as much if we only agreed one with another.”

In conclusion, it is but just I should add that there seems to be a strong disposition on the part of the more enlightened of the class to adopt the use of fair weights and measures; and that even among the less scrupulous portion of the body, short allowance seems to be given chiefly from a desire to be even with a “scaly customer.” The coster makes it a rule never to refuse an offer, and if people will give him less than what he considers his proper price, why—he gives them less than their proper quantity. As a proof of the growing honesty among this class, many of the better disposed have recently formed themselves into a society, the members of which are (one and all) pledged not only to deal fairly with their customers, but to compel all other street-sellers to do the same. With a view of distinguishing themselves to the public, they have come to the resolution of wearing a medal, on which shall be engraved a particular number, so that should any imposition be practised by any of their body, the public will have the opportunity of complaining to the Committee of the Association, and having the individual (if guilty) immediately expelled from the society.

Of Half Profits.

Besides the modes of trading on borrowed capital above described, there is still another means of obtaining stock prevalent among the London costermongers. It is a common practice with some of the more provident costermongers, who buy more largely—for the sake of buying cheaply—than is required for the supply of their own customers, to place goods in the hands of young men who are unable to buy goods on their own account, “on half profits,” as it is called. The man adopting this means of doing a more extensive business, says to any poor fellow willing to work on those terms, “Here’s a barrow of vegetables to carry round, and the profit on them will be 2s.; you sell them, and half is for yourself.” The man sells them accordingly; if however he fail to realize the 2s. anticipated profit, his employer must still be paid 1s., even if the “seller” prove that only 13d. was cleared; so that the costermonger capitalist, as he may be described, is always, to use the words of one of my informants, “on the profitable side of the hedge.”

Boys are less frequently employed on half-profits than young men; and I am assured that instances of these young men wronging their employers are hardly ever known.

Of the Boys of the Costermongers, and their Bunts.

But there are still other “agents” among the costermongers, and these are the “boys” deputed to sell a man’s goods for a certain sum, all over that amount being the boys’ profit or “bunts.” Almost every costermonger who trades through the streets with his barrow is accompanied by a boy. The ages of these lads vary from ten to sixteen, there are few above sixteen, for the lads think it is then high time for them to start on their own account. These boys are useful to the man in “calling,” their shrill voices being often more audible than the loudest pitch of an adult’s lungs. Many persons, moreover, I am assured, prefer buying of a boy, believing that if the lad did not succeed in selling his goods he would be knocked about when he got home; others think that they are safer in a boy’s hands, and less likely to be cheated; these, however, are equally mistaken notions. The boys also are useful in pushing at the barrow, or in drawing it along by tugging at a rope in front. Some of them are the sons of the costermongers; some go round to the costermongers’ abodes and say: “Will you want me to-morrow?” “Shall I come and give you a lift?” The parents of the lads thus at large are, when they have parents, either unable to support them, or, if able, prefer putting their money to other uses, (such as drinking); and so the lads have to look out for themselves, or, as they say, “pick up a few halfpence and a bit of grub as we can.” Such lads, however, are the smallest class of costermongering youths; and are sometimes called “cas’alty boys,” or “nippers.”

The boys—and nearly the whole of them—soon become very quick, and grow masters of slang, in from six weeks to two or three months. “I suppose,” said one man familiar with their character, “they’d learn French as soon, if they was thrown into the way of it. They must learn slang to live, and as they have to wait at markets every now and then, from one hour to six, they associate one with another and carry on conversations in slang about the “penny gaffs” (theatres), criticising the actors; or may be they toss the pieman, if they’ve got any ha’pence, or else they chaff the passers by. The older ones may talk about their sweethearts; but they always speak of them by the name of ‘nammow’ (girls).

“The boys are severe critics too (continued my informant) on dancing. I heard one say to another; ‘What do you think of Johnny Millicent’s new step?’ for they always recognise a new step, or they discuss the female dancer’s legs, and not very decently. At other times the boys discuss the merits or demerits of their masters, as to who feeds them best. I have heard one say, ‘O, aint Bob stingy? We have bread and cheese!’ Another added; ‘We have[34] steak and beer, and I’ve the use of Bill’s, (the master’s) ’baccy box.’”

Some of these lads are paid by the day, generally from 2d. or 3d. and their food, and as much fruit as they think fit to eat, as by that they soon get sick of it. They generally carry home fruit in their pockets for their playmates, or brothers, or sisters; the costermongers allow this, if they are satisfied that the pocketing is not for sale. Some lads are engaged by the week, having from 1s. to 1s. 6d., and their food when out with their employer. Their lodging is found only in a few cases, and then they sleep in the same room with their master and mistress. Of master or mistress, however, they never speak, but of Jack and Bet. They behave respectfully to the women, who are generally kind to them. They soon desert a very surly or stingy master; though such a fellow could get fifty boys next day if he wanted them, but not lads used to the trade, for to these he’s well known by their talk one with another, and they soon tell a man his character very plainly—“very plainly indeed, sir, and to his face too,” said one.

Some of these boys are well beaten by their employers; this they put up with readily enough, if they experience kindness at the hands of the man’s wife; for, as I said before, parties that have never thought of marriage, if they live together, call one another husbands and wives.

In “working the country” these lads are put on the same footing as their masters, with whom they eat, drink, and sleep; but they do not gamble with them. A few, however, go out and tempt country boys to gamble, and—as an almost inevitable consequence—to lose. “Some of the boys,” said one who had seen it often, “will keep a number of countrymen in a beer-shop in a roar for the hour, while the countrymen ply them with beer, and some of the street-lads can drink a good deal. I’ve known three bits of boys order a pot of beer each, one after the other, each paying his share, and a quartern of gin each after that—drunk neat; they don’t understand water. Drink doesn’t seem to affect them as it does men. I don’t know why.” “Some costermongers,” said another informant, “have been known, when they’ve taken a fancy to a boy—I know of two—to dress him out like themselves, silk handkerchiefs and all; for if they didn’t find them silk handkerchiefs, the boys would soon get them out of their ‘bunts.’ They like silk handkerchiefs, for if they lose all their money gambling, they can then pledge their handkerchiefs.”

I have mentioned the term “bunts.” Bunts is the money made by the boys in this manner:—If a costermonger, after having sold a sufficiency, has 2s. or 3s. worth of goods left, and is anxious to get home, he says to the boy, “Work these streets, and bring me 2s. 6d. for the tol,” (lot) which the costermonger knows by his eye—for he seldom measures or counts—is easily worth that money. The lad then proceeds to sell the things entrusted to him, and often shows great ingenuity in so doing. If, for instance, turnips be tied up in penny bunches, the lad will open some of them, so as to spread them out to nearly twice their previous size, and if any one ask if that be a penn’orth, he will say, “Here’s a larger for 1½d., marm,” and so palm off a penny bunch at 1½d. Out of each bunch of onions he takes one or two, and makes an extra bunch. All that the lad can make in this way over the half-crown is his own, and called “bunts.” Boys have made from 6d. to 1s. 6d. “bunts,” and this day after day. Many of them will, in the course of their traffic, beg old boots or shoes, if they meet with better sort of people, and so “work it to rights,” as they call it among themselves; servants often give them cast-off clothes. It is seldom that a boy carries home less than the stipulated sum.

The above is what is understood as “fair bunts.”

“Unfair bunts” is what the lad may make unknown to his master; as, if a customer call from the area for goods cried at 2d., the lad may get 2½d., by pretending what he had carried was a superior sort to that called at 2d.,—or by any similar trick.

“I have known some civil and industrious boys,” said a costermonger to me, “get to save a few shillings, and in six months start with a shallow, and so rise to a donkey-cart. The greatest drawback to struggling boys is their sleeping in low lodging-houses, where they are frequently robbed, or trepanned to part with their money, or else they get corrupted.”

Some men employ from four to twelve boys, sending them out with shallows and barrows, the boys bringing home the proceeds. The men who send lads out in this way, count the things, and can tell to a penny what can be realised on them. They neither pay nor treat the boys well, I am told, and are looked upon by the other costermongers as extortioners, or unfair dealers, making money by trading on poor lads’ necessities, who serve them to avoid starvation. These men are called “Scurfs.” If the boys working for them make bunts, or are suspected of making bunts, there is generally “a row” about it.

The bunts is for the most part the gambling money, as well as the money for the “penny gaff,” the “twopenny hop,” the tobacco, and the pudding money of the boys. “More would save their wages and their bunts,” was said to me on good authority, “but they have no place to keep their money in, and don’t understand anything about savings banks. Many of these lads are looked on with suspicion by the police, and treated like suspected folks; but in my opinion they are not thieves, or they wouldn’t work so hard; for a thief’s is a much easier life than a costermonger’s.”

When a boy begins business on his own account, or “sets up,” as they call it, he purchases a shallow, which costs at least 1s., and a half hundred of herrings, 1s. 6d. By the sale of the herrings he will clear 1s., going the round he has been accustomed to, and then trade on the 2s. 6d. Or, if it be fruit time, he will trade in[35] apples until master of 5s., and then “take to a barrow,” at 3d. a day hire. By this system the ranks of the costermongers are not only recruited but increased. There is one grand characteristic of these lads; I heard on all hands they are, every one of them, what the costers call—“wide awake.”

There are I am assured from 200 to 300 costers, who, in the busier times of the year, send out four youths or lads each on an average. The young men thus sent out generally live with the costermonger, paying 7s. a week for board, lodging and washing. These youths, I was told by one who knew them well, were people who “didn’t care to work for themselves, because they couldn’t keep their money together; it would soon all go; and they must keep it together for their masters. They are not fed badly, but then they make ‘bunts’ sometimes, and it goes for grub when they’re out, so they eat less at home.”

Of the Juvenile Trading of the Costermongers.

My inquiries among the costermongers induced one of their number to address me by letter. My correspondent—a well-informed and well-educated man—describes himself as “being one of those that have been unfortunately thrust into that precarious way of obtaining a living, not by choice but circumstances.” The writer then proceeds to say: “No person but those actually connected with the streets can tell the exertion, anxiety, and difficulties we have to undergo; and I know for a fact it induces a great many to drink that would not do so, only to give them a stimulant to bear up against the troubles that they have to contend with; and so it ultimately becomes habitual. I could point out many instances of the kind. My chief object in addressing you is to give my humble suggestion as to the best means of alleviating our present position in society, and establishing us in the eyes of the public as a respectable body of men, honestly endeavouring to support our families, without becoming chargeable to the parish, and to show that we are not all the degraded class we are at present thought to be, subject to the derision of every passer by, and all looked upon as extortioners and the confederates of thieves. It is grievous to see children, as soon as they are able to speak, thrust into the streets to sell, and in many instances, I am sorry to state, to support their parents. Kind sir, picture to yourself a group of those children mixing together indiscriminately—the good with the bad—all uneducated—and without that parental care which is so essential for youth—and judge for yourself the result: the lads in some instances take to thieving, (this being easier for a living), and the girls to prostitution; and so they pass the greater part of their time in gaol, or get transported. Even those who are honestly disposed cannot have a chance of bettering their condition, in consequence of their being uneducated, so that they often turn out brutal husbands and bad fathers. Surely, sir, Government could abolish in a measure this juvenile trading, so conducive to crime and so injurious to the shopkeeper, who is highly rated. How is it possible, if children congregate around his door with the very articles he may deal in, that he can meet the demands for rates and taxes; whereas the educated man, brought by want to sell in the streets, would not do so, but keep himself apart from the shopkeeper, and not merit his enmity, and the interference of the police, which he necessarily claims. I have procured an existence (with a few years’ exception) in the streets for the last twenty-five years as a general salesman of perishable and imperishable articles, and should be most happy to see anything done for the benefit of my class. This juvenile trading I consider the root of the evil; after the removal of this, the costermongers might, by classifying and co-operation, render themselves comparatively happy, in their position, and become acknowledged members of society.”

Another costermonger, in conversing with me concerning these young traders, said, that many of them would ape the vices of men: mere urchins would simulate drunkenness, or boast, with many an exaggeration, of their drinking feats. They can get as much as they please at the public-houses; and this too, I may add, despite the 43rd clause in the Police Act, which enacts, that “every person, licensed to deal in exciseable liquors within the said (Metropolitan Police) District, who shall knowingly supply any sort of distilled exciseable liquor to be drunk upon the premises, to any boy or girl, apparently under the age of sixteen years, shall be liable to a penalty of not more than 20s.;” and upon a second conviction to 40s. penalty; and on a third to 5l.

Of the Education of the “Coster-Lads.”

Among the costers the term education is (as I have already intimated) merely understood as meaning a complete knowledge of the art of “buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest.” There are few lads whose training extends beyond this. The father is the tutor, who takes the boy to the different markets, instructs him in the art of buying, and when the youth is perfect on this point, the parent’s duty is supposed to have been performed. Nearly all these boys are remarkable for their precocious sharpness. To use the words of one of the class, “these young ones are as sharp as terriers, and learns every dodge of business in less than half no time. There’s one I knows about three feet high, that’s up to the business as clever as a man of thirty. Though he’s only twelve years old he’ll chaff down a peeler so uncommon severe, that the only way to stop him is to take him in charge!”

It is idle to imagine that these lads, possessed of a mental acuteness almost wonderful, will not educate themselves in vice, if we neglect[36] to train them to virtue. At their youthful age, the power of acquiring knowledge is the strongest, and some kind of education is continually going on. If they are not taught by others, they will form their own characters—developing habits of dissipation, and educing all the grossest passions of their natures, and learning to indulge in the gratification of every appetite without the least restraint.

As soon as a boy is old enough to shout well and loudly, his father takes him into the streets. Some of these youths are not above seven years of age, and it is calculated that not more than one in a hundred has ever been to a school of any kind. The boy walks with the barrow, or guides the donkey, shouting by turns with the father, who, when the goods are sold, will as a reward, let him ride home on the tray. The lad attends all markets with his father, who teaches him his business and shows him his tricks of trade; “for,” said a coster, “a governor in our line leaves the knowledge of all his dodges to his son, jist as the rich coves do their tin.”

The life of a coster-boy is a very hard one. In summer he will have to be up by four o’clock in the morning, and in winter he is never in bed after six. When he has returned from market, it is generally his duty to wash the goods and help dress the barrow. About nine he begins his day’s work, shouting whilst the father pushes; and as very often the man has lost his voice, this share of the labour is left entirely to him. When a coster has regular customers, the vegetables or fish are all sold by twelve o’clock, and in many coster families the lad is then packed off with fruit to hawk in the streets. When the work is over, the father will perhaps take the boy to a public-house with him, and give him part of his beer. Sometimes a child of four or five is taken to the tap-room, especially if he be pretty and the father proud of him. “I have seen,” said a coster to me, “a baby of five year old reeling drunk in a tap-room. His governor did it for the lark of the thing, to see him chuck hisself about—sillyfied like.”

The love of gambling soon seizes upon the coster boy. Youths of about twelve or so will as soon as they can get away from work go to a public-house and play cribbage for pints of beer, or for a pint a corner. They generally continue playing till about midnight, and rarely—except on a Sunday—keep it up all night.

It ordinarily happens that when a lad is about thirteen, he quarrels with his father, and gets turned away from home. Then he is forced to start for himself. He knows where he can borrow stock-money and get his barrow, for he is as well acquainted with the markets as the oldest hand at the business, and children may often be seen in the streets under-selling their parents. “How’s it possible,” said a woman, “for people to live when there’s their own son at the end of the court a-calling his goods as cheap again as we can afford to sell ourn.”

If the boy is lucky in trade, his next want is to get a girl to keep home for him. I was assured, that it is not at all uncommon for a lad of fifteen to be living with a girl of the same age, as man and wife. It creates no disgust among his class, but seems rather to give him a position among such people. Their courtship does not take long when once the mate has been fixed upon. The girl is invited to “raffles,” and treated to “twopenny hops,” and half-pints of beer. Perhaps a silk neck handkerchief—a “King’s-man” is given as a present; though some of the lads will, when the arrangement has been made, take the gift back again and wear it themselves. The boys are very jealous, and if once made angry behave with great brutality to the offending girl. A young fellow of about sixteen told me, as he seemed to grow angry at the very thought, “If I seed my gal a talking to another chap I’d fetch her sich a punch of the nose as should plaguy quick stop the whole business.” Another lad informed me, with a knowing look, “that the gals—it was a rum thing now he come to think on it—axully liked a feller for walloping them. As long as the bruises hurted, she was always thinking on the cove as gived ’em her.” After a time, if the girl continues faithful, the young coster may marry her; but this is rarely the case, and many live with their girls until they have grown to be men, or perhaps they may quarrel the very first year, and have a fight and part.

These boys hate any continuous work. So strong is this objection to continuity that they cannot even remain selling the same article for more than a week together. Moreover none of them can be got to keep stalls. They must be perpetually on the move—or to use their own words “they like a roving life.” They all of them delight in dressing “flash” as they call it. If a “governor” was to try and “palm off” his old cord jacket upon the lad that worked with him, the boy wouldn’t take it. “Its too big and seedy for me,” he’d say, “and I aint going to have your leavings.” They try to dress like the men, with large pockets in their cord jackets and plenty of them. Their trowsers too must fit tight at the knee, and their boots they like as good as possible. A good “King’s-man,” a plush skull cap, and a seam down the trowsers are the great points of ambition with the coster boys.


“Apples! An ’aypenny a lot, Apples!”

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

A lad about fourteen informed me that “brass buttons, like a huntman’s, with foxes’ heads on em, looked stunning flash, and the gals liked em.” As for the hair, they say it ought to be long in front, and done in “figure-six” curls, or twisted back to the ear “Newgate-knocker style.” “But the worst of hair is,” they add, “that it is always getting cut off in quod, all along of muzzling the bobbies.”

The whole of the coster-boys are fond of good living. I was told that when a lad started [39] for himself, he would for the first week or so live almost entirely on cakes and nuts. When settled in business they always manage to have what they call “a relish” for breakfast and tea, “a couple of herrings, or a bit of bacon, or what not.” Many of them never dine excepting on the Sunday—the pony and donkey proprietors being the only costers whose incomes will permit them to indulge in a “fourpenny plate of meat at a cook’s shop.” The whole of the boys too are extremely fond of pudding, and should the “plum duff” at an eating-house contain an unusual quantity of plums, the news soon spreads, and the boys then endeavour to work that way so as to obtain a slice. While waiting for a market, the lads will very often spend a shilling in the cakes and three cornered puffs sold by the Jews. The owners toss for them, and so enable the young coster to indulge his two favourite passions at the same time—his love of pastry, and his love of gambling. The Jews crisp butter biscuits also rank very high with the boys, who declare that they “slip down like soapsuds down a gully hole.” In fact it is curious to notice how perfectly unrestrained are the passions and appetites of these youths. The only thoughts that trouble them are for their girls, their eating and their gambling—beyond the love of self they have no tie that binds them to existence.

The Life of a Coster-Lad.

One lad that I spoke to gave me as much of his history as he could remember. He was a tall stout boy, about sixteen years old, with a face utterly vacant. His two heavy lead-coloured eyes stared unmeaningly at me, and, beyond a constant anxiety to keep his front lock curled on his cheek, he did not exhibit the slightest trace of feeling. He sank into his seat heavily and of a heap, and when once settled down he remained motionless, with his mouth open and his hands on his knees—almost as if paralyzed. He was dressed in all the slang beauty of his class, with a bright red handkerchief and unexceptionable boots.

“My father” he told me in a thick unimpassioned voice, “was a waggoner, and worked the country roads. There was two on us at home with mother, and we used to play along with the boys of our court, in Golding-lane, at buttons and marbles. I recollects nothing more than this—only the big boys used to cheat like bricks and thump us if we grumbled—that’s all I recollects of my infancy, as you calls it. Father I’ve heard tell died when I was three and brother only a year old. It was worse luck for us!—Mother was so easy with us. I once went to school for a couple of weeks, but the cove used to fetch me a wipe over the knuckles with his stick, and as I wasn’t going to stand that there, why you see I aint no great schollard. We did as we liked with mother, she was so precious easy, and I never learned anything but playing buttons and making leaden ‘bonces,’ that’s all,” (here the youth laughed slightly.) “Mother used to be up and out very early washing in families—anything for a living. She was a good mother to us. We was left at home with the key of the room and some bread and butter for dinner. Afore she got into work—and it was a goodish long time—we was shocking hard up, and she pawned nigh everything. Sometimes, when we had’nt no grub at all, the other lads, perhaps, would give us some of their bread and butter, but often our stomachs used to ache with the hunger, and we would cry when we was werry far gone. She used to be at work from six in the morning till ten o’clock at night, which was a long time for a child’s belly to hold out again, and when it was dark we would go and lie down on the bed and try and sleep until she came home with the food. I was eight year old then.

“A man as know’d mother, said to her, ‘Your boy’s got nothing to do, let him come along with me and yarn a few ha’pence,’ and so I became a coster. He gave me 4d. a morning and my breakfast. I worked with him about three year, until I learnt the markets, and then I and brother got baskets of our own, and used to keep mother. One day with another, the two on us together could make 2s. 6d. by selling greens of a morning, and going round to the publics with nuts of a evening, till about ten o’clock at night. Mother used to have a bit of fried meat or a stew ready for us when we got home, and by using up the stock as we couldn’t sell, we used to manage pretty tidy. When I was fourteen I took up with a girl. She lived in the same house as we did, and I used to walk out of a night with her and give her half-pints of beer at the publics. She were about thirteen, and used to dress werry nice, though she weren’t above middling pretty. Now I’m working for another man as gives me a shilling a week, victuals, washing, and lodging, just as if I was one of the family.

“On a Sunday I goes out selling, and all I yarns I keeps. As for going to church, why, I can’t afford it,—besides, to tell the truth, I don’t like it well enough. Plays, too, ain’t in my line much; I’d sooner go to a dance—its more livelier. The ‘penny gaffs’ is rather more in my style; the songs are out and out, and makes our gals laugh. The smuttier the better, I thinks; bless you! the gals likes it as much as we do. If we lads ever has a quarrel, why, we fights for it. If I was to let a cove off once, he’d do it again; but I never give a lad a chance, so long as I can get anigh him. I never heard about Christianity; but if a cove was to fetch me a lick of the head, I’d give it him again, whether he was a big ’un or a little ’un. I’d precious soon see a henemy of mine shot afore I’d forgive him,—where’s the use? Do I understand what behaving to your neighbour is?—In coorse I do. If a feller as lives next me wanted a basket of mine as I wasn’t using, why, he might have it; if I was working it though, I’d see him further! I can under[40]stand that all as lives in a court is neighbours; but as for policemen, they’re nothing to me, and I should like to pay ’em all off well. No; I never heerd about this here creation you speaks about. In coorse God Almighty made the world, and the poor bricklayers’ labourers built the houses arterwards—that’s my opinion; but I can’t say, for I’ve never been in no schools, only always hard at work, and knows nothing about it. I have heerd a little about our Saviour,—they seem to say he were a goodish kind of a man; but if he says as how a cove’s to forgive a feller as hits you, I should say he know’d nothing about it. In coorse the gals the lads goes and lives with thinks our walloping ’em wery cruel of us, but we don’t. Why don’t we?—why, because we don’t. Before father died, I used sometimes to say my prayers, but after that mother was too busy getting a living to mind about my praying. Yes, I knows!—in the Lord’s prayer they says, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgives them as trespasses agin us.’ It’s a very good thing, in coorse, but no costers can’t do it.”

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. These places are called by the costers “Penny Gaffs;” and on a Monday night as many as six performances will take place, each one having its two hundred visitors.

It is impossible to contemplate the ignorance and immorality of so numerous a class as that of the costermongers, without wishing to discover the cause of their degradation. Let any one curious on this point visit one of these penny shows, and he will wonder that any trace of virtue and honesty should remain among the people. Here the stage, instead of being the means for illustrating a moral precept, is turned into a platform to teach the cruelest debauchery. The audience is usually composed of children so young, that these dens become the school-rooms where the guiding morals of a life are picked up; and so precocious are the little things, that the girl of nine will, from constant attendance at such places, have learnt to understand the filthiest sayings, and laugh at them as loudly as the grown-up lads around her. What notions can the young female form of marriage and chastity, when the penny theatre rings with applause at the performance of a scene whose sole point turns upon the pantomimic imitation of the unrestrained indulgence of the most corrupt appetites of our nature? How can the lad learn to check his hot passions and think honesty and virtue admirable, when the shouts around him impart a glory to a descriptive song so painfully corrupt, that it can only have been made tolerable by the most habitual excess? The men who preside over these infamous places know too well the failings of their audiences. They know that these poor children require no nicely-turned joke to make the evening pass merrily, and that the filth they utter needs no double meaning to veil its obscenity. The show that will provide the most unrestrained debauchery will have the most crowded benches; and to gain this point, things are acted and spoken that it is criminal even to allude to.

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 “penny gaff” chosen was situated in a broad street near Smithfield; and for a great distance off, the jingling sound of music was heard, and the gas-light streamed out into the thick night air as from a dark lantern, glittering on the windows of the houses opposite, and lighting up the faces of the mob in the road, as on an illumination night. The front of a large shop had been entirely removed, and the entrance was decorated with paintings of the “comic singers,” in their most “humourous” attitudes. On a table against the wall was perched the band, playing what the costers call “dancing tunes” with great effect, for the hole at the money-taker’s box was blocked up with hands tendering the penny. The crowd without was so numerous, that a policeman was in attendance to preserve order, and push the boys off the pavement—the music having the effect of drawing them insensibly towards the festooned green-baize curtain.

The shop itself had been turned into a waiting-room, and was crowded even to the top of the stairs leading to the gallery on the first floor. The ceiling of this “lobby” was painted blue, and spotted with whitewash clouds, to represent the heavens; the boards of the trap-door, and the laths that showed through the holes in the plaster, being all of the same colour. A notice was here posted, over the canvass door leading into the theatre, to the effect that “Ladies and Gentlemen to the front places must pay Twopence.”

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[41] 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, and the red end to his nose, exciting neither merriment nor surprise.

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 “yennep” to get a “tib of occabot.” After waiting in the lobby some considerable time, the performance inside was concluded, and the audience came pouring out through the canvass door. As they had to pass singly, I noticed them particularly. Above three-fourths of them were women and girls, the rest consisting chiefly of mere boys—for out of about two hundred persons I counted only eighteen men. Forward they came, bringing an overpowering stench with them, laughing and yelling as they pushed their way through the waiting-room. One woman carrying a sickly child with a bulging forehead, was reeling drunk, the saliva running down her mouth as she stared about her with a heavy fixed eye. Two boys were pushing her from side to side, while the poor infant slept, breathing heavily, as if stupified, through the din. Lads jumping on girls’ shoulders, and girls laughing hysterically from being tickled by the youths behind them, every one shouting and jumping, presented a mad scene of frightful enjoyment.

When these had left, a rush for places by those in waiting began, that set at defiance the blows and strugglings of a lady in spangles who endeavoured to preserve order and take the checks. As time was a great object with the proprietor, the entertainment within began directly the first seat was taken, so that the lads without, rendered furious by the rattling of the piano within, made the canvass partition bulge in and out, with the strugglings of those seeking admission, like a sail in a flagging wind.

To form the theatre, the first floor had been removed; the whitewashed beams however still stretched from wall to wall. The lower room had evidently been the warehouse, while the upper apartment had been the sitting-room, for the paper was still on the walls. A gallery, with a canvass front, had been hurriedly built up, and it was so fragile that the boards bent under the weight of those above. The bricks in the warehouse were smeared over with red paint, and had a few black curtains daubed upon them. The coster-youths require no very great scenic embellishment, and indeed the stage—which was about eight feet square—could admit of none. Two jets of gas, like those outside a butcher’s shop, were placed on each side of the proscenium, and proved very handy for the gentlemen whose pipes required lighting. The band inside the “theatre” could not compare with the band without. An old grand piano, whose canvass-covered top extended the entire length of the stage, sent forth its wiry notes under the be-ringed fingers of a “professor Wilkinsini,” while another professional, with his head resting on his violin, played vigorously, as he stared unconcernedly at the noisy audience.

Singing and dancing formed the whole of the hours’ performance, and, of the two, the singing was preferred. A young girl, of about fourteen years of age, danced with more energy than grace, and seemed to be well-known to the spectators, who cheered her on by her Christian name. When the dance was concluded, the proprietor of the establishment threw down a penny from the gallery, in the hopes that others might be moved to similar acts of generosity; but no one followed up the offering, so the young lady hunted after the money and departed. The “comic singer,” in a battered hat and the huge bow to his cravat, was received with deafening shouts. Several songs were named by the costers, but the “funny gentleman” merely requested them “to hold their jaws,” and putting on a “knowing” look, sang a song, the whole point of which consisted in the mere utterance of some filthy word at the end of each stanza. Nothing, however, could have been more successful. The lads stamped their feet with delight; the girls screamed with enjoyment. Once or twice a young shrill laugh would anticipate the fun—as if the words were well known—or the boys would forestall the point by shouting it out before the proper time. When the song was ended the house was in a delirium of applause. The canvass front to the gallery was beaten with sticks, drum-like, and sent down showers of white powder on the heads in the pit. Another song followed, and the actor knowing on what his success depended, lost no opportunity of increasing his laurels. The most obscene thoughts, the most disgusting scenes were coolly described, making a poor child near me wipe away the tears that rolled down her eyes with the enjoyment of the poison. There were three or four of these 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.


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. If there had been any feat of agility, any grimacing, or, in fact, anything with which the laughter of the uneducated classes is usually associated, the applause might have been accounted for; but here were two ruffians degrading themselves each time they stirred a limb, and forcing into the brains of the childish audience before them thoughts that must embitter a lifetime, and descend from father to child like some bodily infirmity.

When I had left, I spoke to a better class costermonger on this saddening subject. “Well, sir, it is frightful,” he said, “but the boys will have their amusements. If their amusements is bad they don’t care; they only wants to laugh, and this here kind of work does it. Give ’em better singing and better dancing, and they’d go, if the price was as cheap as this is. I’ve seen, when a decent concert was given at a penny, as many as four thousand costers present, behaving themselves as quietly and decently as possible. Their wives and children was with ’em, and no audience was better conducted. It’s all stuff talking about them preferring this sort of thing. Give ’em good things at the same price, and I know they will like the good, better than the bad.”

My own experience with this neglected class goes to prove, that if we would really lift them out of the moral mire in which they are wallowing, the first step must be to provide them with wholesome amusements. The misfortune, however, is, that when we seek to elevate the character of the people, we give them such mere dry abstract truths and dogmas to digest, that the uneducated mind turns with abhorrence from them. We forget how we ourselves were originally won by our emotions to the consideration of such subjects. We do not remember how our own tastes have been formed, nor do we, in our zeal, stay to reflect how the tastes of a people generally are created; and, consequently, we cannot perceive that a habit of enjoying any matter whatsoever can only be induced in the mind by linking with it some æsthetic affection. The heart is the mainspring of the intellect, and the feelings the real educers and educators of the thoughts. As games with the young destroy the fatigue of muscular exercise, so do the sympathies stir the mind to action without any sense of effort. It is because “serious” people generally object to enlist the emotions in the education of the poor, and look upon the delight which arises in the mind from the mere perception of the beauty of sound, motion, form, and colour—or from the apt association of harmonious or incongruous ideas—or from the sympathetic operation of the affections; it is because, I say, the zealous portion of society look upon these matters as “vanity,” that the amusements of the working-classes are left to venal traders to provide. Hence, in the low-priced entertainments which necessarily appeal to the poorer, and, therefore, to the least educated of the people, the proprietors, instead of trying to develop in them the purer sources of delight, seek only to gratify their audience in the coarsest manner, by appealing to their most brutal appetites. And thus the emotions, which the great Architect of the human mind gave us as the means of quickening our imaginations and refining our sentiments, are made the instruments of crushing every operation of the intellect and debasing our natures. It is idle and unfeeling to believe that the great majority of a people whose days are passed in excessive toil, and whose homes are mostly of an uninviting character, will forego all amusements, and consent to pass their evenings by their no firesides, reading tracts or singing hymns. It is folly to fancy that the mind, spent with the irksomeness of compelled labour, and depressed, perhaps, with the struggle to live by that labour after all, will not, when the work is over, seek out some place where at least it can forget its troubles or fatigues in the temporary pleasure begotten by some mental or physical stimulant. It is because we exact too much of the poor—because we, as it were, strive to make true knowledge and true beauty as forbidding as possible to the uneducated and unrefined, that they fly to their penny gaffs, their twopenny-hops, their beer-shops, and their gambling-grounds for pleasures which we deny them, and which we, in our arrogance, believe it is possible for them to do without.

The experiment so successfully tried at Liverpool of furnishing music of an enlivening and yet elevating character at the same price as the concerts of the lowest grade, shows that the people may be won to delight in beauty instead of beastiality, and teaches us again that it is our fault to allow them to be as they are and not their’s to remain so. All men are compound animals, with many inlets of pleasure to their brains, and if one avenue be closed against them, why it but forces them to seek delight through another. So far from the perception of beauty inducing habits of gross enjoyment as “serious” people generally imagine, a moment’s reflection will tell us that these very habits are only the necessary consequences of the non-development of the æsthetic faculty; for the two assuredly cannot co-exist. To cultivate the sense of the beautiful is necessarily to inculcate a detestation of the sensual. Moreover, it is impossible for the mind to be accustomed to the contemplation of what is admirable without continually mounting to higher and higher forms of it—from the beauty of nature to that of thought—from thought to feeling, from feeling to action, and lastly to the fountain of all goodness—the great munificent Creator of the sea, the mountains, and the flowers—the stars, the sunshine, and the rainbow—the fancy, the reason, the love and the heroism of man and womankind—the instincts of the beasts—the glory of the angels—and the mercy of Christ.


Of the Coster-Girls.

The costermongers, taken as a body, entertain the most imperfect idea of the sanctity of marriage. To their undeveloped minds it merely consists in the fact of a man and woman living together, and sharing the gains they may each earn by selling in the street. The father and mother of the girl look upon it as a convenient means of shifting the support of their child over to another’s exertions; and so thoroughly do they believe this to be the end and aim of matrimony, that the expense of a church ceremony is considered as a useless waste of money, and the new pair are received by their companions as cordially as if every form of law and religion had been complied with.

The notions of morality among these people agree strangely, as I have said, with those of many savage tribes—indeed, it would be curious if it were otherwise. They are a part of the Nomades of England, neither knowing nor caring for the enjoyments of home. The hearth, which is so sacred a symbol to all civilized races as being the spot where the virtues of each succeeding generation are taught and encouraged, has no charms to them. The tap-room is the father’s chief abiding place; whilst to the mother the house is only a better kind of tent. She is away at the stall, or hawking her goods from morning till night, while the children are left to play away the day in the court or alley, and pick their morals out of the gutter. So long as the limbs gain strength the parent cares for nothing else. As the young ones grow up, their only notions of wrong are formed by what the policeman will permit them to do. If we, who have known from babyhood the kindly influences of a home, require, before we are thrust out into the world to get a living for ourselves, that our perceptions of good and evil should be quickened and brightened (the same as our perceptions of truth and falsity) by the experience and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,—if, indeed, it needed a special creation and example to teach the best and strongest of us the law of right, how bitterly must the children of the street-folk require tuition, training, and advice, when from their very cradles (if, indeed, they ever knew such luxuries) they are doomed to witness in their parents, whom they naturally believe to be their superiors, habits of life in which passion is the sole rule of action, and where every appetite of our animal nature is indulged in without the least restraint.

I say thus much because I am anxious to make others feel, as I do myself, that we are the culpable parties in these matters. That they poor things should do as they do is but human nature—but that we should allow them to remain thus destitute of every blessing vouchsafed to ourselves—that we should willingly share what we enjoy with our brethren at the Antipodes, and yet leave those who are nearer and who, therefore, should be dearer to us, to want even the commonest moral necessaries is a paradox that gives to the zeal of our Christianity a strong savour of the chicanery of Cant.

The costermongers strongly resemble the North American Indians in their conduct to their wives. They can understand that it is the duty of the woman to contribute to the happiness of the man, but cannot feel that there is a reciprocal duty from the man to the woman. The wife is considered as an inexpensive servant, and the disobedience of a wish is punished with blows. She must work early and late, and to the husband must be given the proceeds of her labour. Often when the man is in one of his drunken fits—which sometimes last two or three days continuously—she must by her sole exertions find food for herself and him too. To live in peace with him, there must be no murmuring, no tiring under work, no fancied cause for jealousy—for if there be, she is either beaten into submission or cast adrift to begin life again—as another’s leavings.

The story of one coster girl’s life may be taken as a type of the many. When quite young she is placed out to nurse with some neighbour, the mother—if a fond one—visiting the child at certain periods of the day, for the purpose of feeding it, or sometimes, knowing the round she has to make, having the infant brought to her at certain places, to be “suckled.” As soon as it is old enough to go alone, the court is its play-ground, the gutter its school-room, and under the care of an elder sister the little one passes the day, among children whose mothers like her own are too busy out in the streets helping to get the food, to be able to mind the family at home. When the girl is strong enough, she in her turn is made to assist the mother by keeping guard over the younger children, or, if there be none, she is lent out to carry about a baby, and so made to add to the family income by gaining her sixpence weekly. Her time is from the earliest years fully occupied; indeed, her parents cannot afford to keep her without doing and getting something. Very few of the children receive the least education. “The parents,” I am told, “never give their minds to learning, for they say, ‘What’s the use of it? that won’t yarn a gal a living.’” Everything is sacrificed—as, indeed, under the circumstances it must be—in the struggle to live—aye! and to live merely. Mind, heart, soul, are all absorbed in the belly. The rudest form of animal life, physiologists tell us, is simply a locomotive stomach. Verily, it would appear as if our social state had a tendency to make the highest animal sink into the lowest.

At about seven years of age the girls first go into the streets to sell. A shallow-basket is given to them, with about two shillings for stock-money, and they hawk, according to the time of year, either oranges, apples, or violets; some begin their street education with the sale of water-cresses. The money earned by this means is strictly given to the parents. Sometimes—though[44] rarely—a girl who has been unfortunate during the day will not dare to return home at night, and then she will sleep under some dry arch or about some market, until the morrow’s gains shall ensure her a safe reception and shelter in her father’s room.

The life of the coster-girls is as severe as that of the boys. Between four and five in the morning they have to leave home for the markets, and sell in the streets until about nine. Those that have more kindly parents, return then to breakfast, but many are obliged to earn the morning’s meal for themselves. After breakfast, they generally remain in the streets until about ten o’clock at night; many having nothing during all that time but one meal of bread and butter and coffee, to enable them to support the fatigue of walking from street to street with the heavy basket on their heads. In the course of a day, some girls eat as much as a pound of bread, and very seldom get any meat, unless it be on a Sunday.

There are many poor families that, without the aid of these girls, would be forced into the workhouse. They are generally of an affectionate disposition, and some will perform acts of marvellous heroism to keep together the little home. It is not at all unusual for mere children of fifteen to walk their eight or ten miles a day, carrying a basket of nearly two hundred weight on their heads. A journey to Woolwich and back, or to the towns near London, is often undertaken to earn the 1s. 6d. their parents are anxiously waiting for at home.

Very few of these girls are married to the men they afterwards live with. Their courtship is usually a very short one; for, as one told me, “the life is such a hard one, that a girl is ready to get rid of a little of the labour at any price.” The coster-lads see the girls at market, and if one of them be pretty, and a boy take a fancy to her, he will make her bargains for her, and carry her basket home. Sometimes a coster working his rounds will feel a liking for a wench selling her goods in the street, and will leave his barrow to go and talk with her. A girl seldom takes up with a lad before she is sixteen, though some of them, when barely fifteen or even fourteen, will pair off. They court for a time, going to raffles and “gaffs” together, and then the affair is arranged. The girl tells her parents “she’s going to keep company with so-and-so,” packs up what things she has, and goes at once, without a word of remonstrance from either father or mother. A furnished room, at about 4s. a week is taken, and the young couple begin life. The lad goes out as usual with his barrow, and the girl goes out with her basket, often working harder for her lover than she had done for her parents. They go to market together, and at about nine o’clock her day’s selling begins. Very often she will take out with her in the morning what food she requires during the day, and never return home until eleven o’clock at night.

The men generally behave very cruelly to the girls they live with. They are as faithful to them as if they were married, but they are jealous in the extreme. To see a man talking to their girl is sufficient to ensure the poor thing a beating. They sometimes ill-treat them horribly—most unmercifully indeed—nevertheless the girls say they cannot help loving them still, and continue working for them, as if they experienced only kindness at their hands. Some of the men are gentler and more considerate in their treatment of them, but by far the larger portion are harsh and merciless. Often when the Saturday night’s earnings of the two have been large, the man will take the entire money, and as soon as the Sunday’s dinner is over, commence drinking hard, and continue drunk for two or three days together, until the funds are entirely exhausted. The women never gamble; they say, “it gives them no excitement.” They prefer, if they have a spare moment in the evening, sitting near the fire making up and patching their clothes. “Ah, sir,” said a girl to me, “a neat gown does a deal with a man; he always likes a girl best when everybody else likes her too.” On a Sunday they clean their room for the week and go for a treat, if they can persuade their young man to take them out in the afternoon, either to Chalk Farm or Battersea Fields—“where there’s plenty of life.”

After a girl has once grown accustomed to a street-life, it is almost impossible to wean her from it. The muscular irritability begotten by continued wandering makes her unable to rest for any time in one place, and she soon, if put to any settled occupation, gets to crave for the severe exercise she formerly enjoyed. The least restraint will make her sigh after the perfect liberty of the coster’s “roving life.” As an instance of this I may relate a fact that has occurred within the last six months. A gentleman of high literary repute, struck with the heroic strugglings of a coster Irish girl to maintain her mother, took her to his house, with a view of teaching her the duties of a servant. At first the transition was a painful one to the poor thing. Having travelled barefoot through the streets since a mere child, the pressure of shoes was intolerable to her, and in the evening or whenever a few minutes’ rest could be obtained, the boots were taken off, for with them on she could enjoy no ease. The perfect change of life, and the novelty of being in a new place, reconciled her for some time to the loss of her liberty. But no sooner did she hear from her friends, that sprats were again in the market, than, as if there were some magical influence in the fish, she at once requested to be freed from the confinement, and permitted to return to her old calling.

Such is the history of the lower class of girls, though this lower class, I regret to say, constitutes by far the greater portion of the whole. Still I would not for a moment have it inferred that all are bad. There are many young girls getting their living, or rather helping to get[45] the living of others in the streets, whose goodness, considering the temptations and hardships besetting such an occupation, approximates to the marvellous. As a type of the more prudent class of coster girls, I would cite the following narrative received from the lips of a young woman in answer to a series of questions.

The Life of a Coster Girl.

I wished to have obtained a statement from the girl whose portrait is here given, but she was afraid to give the slightest information about the habits of her companions, lest they should recognize her by the engraving and persecute her for the revelations she might make. After disappointing me some dozen times, I was forced to seek out some other coster girl.

The one I fixed upon was a fine-grown young woman of eighteen. She had a habit of curtsying to every question that was put to her. Her plaid shawl was tied over the breast, and her cotton-velvet bonnet was crushed in with carrying her basket. She seemed dreadfully puzzled where to put her hands, at one time tucking them under her shawl, warming them at the fire, or measuring the length of her apron, and when she answered a question she invariably addressed the fireplace. Her voice was husky from shouting apples.

“My mother has been in the streets selling all her lifetime. Her uncle learnt her the markets and she learnt me. When business grew bad she said to me, ‘Now you shall take care on the stall, and I’ll go and work out charing.’ The way she learnt me the markets was to judge of the weight of the baskets of apples, and then said she, ‘Always bate ’em down, a’most a half.’ I always liked the street-life very well, that was if I was selling. I have mostly kept a stall myself, but I’ve known gals as walk about with apples, as have told me that the weight of the baskets is sich that the neck cricks, and when the load is took off, its just as if you’d a stiff neck, and the head feels as light as a feather. The gals begins working very early at our work; the parents makes them go out when a’most babies. There’s a little gal, I’m sure she an’t more than half-past seven, that stands selling water-cresses next my stall, and mother was saying, ‘Only look there, how that little one has to get her living afore she a’most knows what a penn’orth means.’

“There’s six on us in family, and father and mother makes eight. Father used to do odd jobs with the gas-pipes in the streets, and when work was slack we had very hard times of it. Mother always liked being with us at home, and used to manage to keep us employed out of mischief—she’d give us an old gown to make into pinafores for the children and such like! She’s been very good to us, has mother, and so’s father. She always liked to hear us read to her whilst she was washing or such like! and then we big ones had to learn the little ones. But when father’s work got slack, if she had no employment charing, she’d say, ‘Now I’ll go and buy a bushel of apples,’ and then she’d turn out and get a penny that way. I suppose by sitting at the stall from nine in the morning till the shops shuts up—say ten o’clock at night, I can earn about 1s. 6d. a day. It’s all according to the apples—whether they’re good or not—what we makes. If I’m unlucky, mother will say, ‘Well, I’ll go out to-morrow and see what I can do;’ and if I’ve done well, she’ll say ‘Come you’re a good hand at it; you’ve done famous.’ Yes, mother’s very fair that way. Ah! there’s many a gal I knows whose back has to suffer if she don’t sell her stock well; but, thank God! I never get more than a blowing up. My parents is very fair to me.

“I dare say there ain’t ten out of a hundred gals what’s living with men, what’s been married Church of England fashion. I know plenty myself, but I don’t, indeed, think it right. It seems to me that the gals is fools to be ’ticed away, but, in coorse, they needn’t go without they likes. This is why I don’t think it’s right. Perhaps a man will have a few words with his gal, and he’ll say, ‘Oh! I ain’t obligated to keep her!’ and he’ll turn her out: and then where’s that poor gal to go? Now, there’s a gal I knows as came to me no later than this here week, and she had a dreadful swole face and a awful black eye; and I says, ‘Who’s done that?’ and she says, says she, ‘Why, Jack’—just in that way; and then she says, says she, ‘I’m going to take a warrant out to-morrow.’ Well, he gets the warrant that same night, but she never appears again him, for fear of getting more beating. That don’t seem to me to be like married people ought to be. Besides, if parties is married, they ought to bend to each other; and they won’t, for sartain, if they’re only living together. A man as is married is obligated to keep his wife if they quarrels or not; and he says to himself, says he, ‘Well, I may as well live happy, like.’ But if he can turn a poor gal off, as soon as he tires of her, he begins to have noises with her, and then gets quit of her altogether. Again, the men takes the money of the gals, and in coorse ought to treat ’em well—which they don’t. This is another reason: when the gal is in the family way, the lads mostly sends them to the workhouse to lay in, and only goes sometimes to take them a bit of tea and shuggar; but, in coorse, married men wouldn’t behave in such likes to their poor wives. After a quarrel, too, a lad goes and takes up with another young gal, and that isn’t pleasant for the first one. The first step to ruin is them places of ‘penny gaffs,’ for they hears things there as oughtn’t to be said to young gals. Besides, the lads is very insinivating, and after leaving them places will give a gal a drop of beer, and make her half tipsy, and then they makes their arrangements. I’ve often heerd the boys boasting of having ruined gals, for all the world as if they was the first noblemen in the land.

“It would be a good thing if these sort of goings on could be stopped. It’s half the pa[46]rents’ fault; for if a gal can’t get a living, they turns her out into the streets, and then what’s to become of her? I’m sure the gals, if they was married, would be happier, because they couldn’t be beat worse. And if they was married, they’d get a nice home about ’em; whereas, if they’s only living together, they takes a furnished room. I’m sure, too, that it’s a bad plan; for I’ve heerd the gals themselves say, ‘Ah! I wish I’d never seed Jack’ (or Tom, or whatever it is); ‘I’m sure I’d never be half so bad but for him.’

“Only last night father was talking about religion. We often talks about religion. Father has told me that God made the world, and I’ve heerd him talk about the first man and woman as was made and lived—it must be more than a hundred years ago—but I don’t like to speak on what I don’t know. Father, too, has told me about our Saviour what was nailed on a cross to suffer for such poor people as we is. Father has told us, too, about his giving a great many poor people a penny loaf and a bit of fish each, which proves him to have been a very kind gentleman. The Ten Commandments was made by him, I’ve heerd say, and he performed them too among other miracles. Yes! this is part of what our Saviour tells us. We are to forgive everybody, and do nobody no injury. I don’t think I could forgive an enemy if she injured me very much; I’m sure I don’t know why I couldn’t, unless it is that I’m poor, and never learnt to do it. If a gal stole my shawl and didn’t return it back or give me the value on it, I couldn’t forgive her; but if she told me she lost it off her back, I shouldn’t be so hard on her. We poor gals ain’t very religious, but we are better than the men. We all of us thanks God for everything—even for a fine day; as for sprats, we always says they’re God’s blessing for the poor, and thinks it hard of the Lord Mayor not to let ’em come in afore the ninth of November, just because he wants to dine off them—which he always do. Yes, we knows for certain that they eats plenty of sprats at the Lord Mayor’s ‘blanket.’ They say in the Bible that the world was made in six days: the beasts, the birds, the fish, and all—and sprats was among them in coorse. There was only one house at that time as was made, and that was the Ark for Adam and Eve and their family. It seems very wonderful indeed how all this world was done so quick. I should have thought that England alone would have took double the time; shouldn’t you, sir? But then it says in the Bible, God Almighty’s a just and true God, and in coorse time would be nothing to him. When a good person is dying, we says, ‘The Lord has called upon him, and he must go,’ but I can’t think what it means, unless it is that an angel comes—like when we’re a-dreaming—and tells the party he’s wanted in heaven. I know where heaven is; it’s above the clouds, and they’re placed there to prevent us seeing into it. That’s where all the good people go, but I’m afeerd,”—she continued solemnly—“there’s very few costers among the angels—’specially those as deceives poor gals.

“No, I don’t think this world could well go on for ever. There’s a great deal of ground in it, certainly, and it seems very strong at present; but they say there’s to be a flood on the earth, and earthquakes, and that will destroy it. The earthquake ought to have took place some time ago, as people tells me, but I never heerd any more about it. If we cheats in the streets, I know we shan’t go to Heaven; but it’s very hard upon us, for if we didn’t cheat we couldn’t live, profits is so bad. It’s the same with the shops, and I suppose the young men there won’t go to Heaven neither; but if people won’t give the money, both costers and tradesmen must cheat, and that’s very hard. Why, look at apples! customers want them for less than they cost us, and so we are forced to shove in bad ones as well as good ones; and if we’re to suffer for that, it does seem to me dreadful cruel.”

Curious and extravagant as this statement may perhaps appear to the uninitiated, nevertheless it is here given as it was spoken; and it was spoken with an earnestness that proved the poor girl looked upon it as a subject, the solemnity of which forced her to be truthful.

Of Costermongers and Thieves.

Concerning the connection of these two classes I had the following account from a costermonger: “I’ve known the coster trade for twelve years, and never knew thieves go out a costering as a cloak; they may have done so, but I very much doubt it. Thieves go for an idle life, and costermongering don’t suit them. Our chaps don’t care a d—n who they associate with,—if they’re thieves they meet ’em all the same, or anything that way. But costers buy what they call ‘a gift,’—may-be it’s a watch or coat wot’s been stolen—from any that has it to sell. A man will say: ‘If you’ve a few shillings, you may make a good thing of it. Why this identical watch is only twenty shillings, and it’s worth fifty;’ so if the coster has money, he buys. Thieves will get 3d. where a mechanic or a coster will earn ½d., and the most ignorant of our people has a queer sort of respect for thieves, because of the money they make. Poverty’s as much despised among costers as among other people. People that’s badly off among us are called ‘cursed.’ In bad weather it’s common for costers to ‘curse themselves,’ as they call having no trade. ‘Well, I’m cursed,’ they say when they can make no money. It’s a common thing among them to shout after any one they don’t like, that’s reduced, ‘Well, ain’t you cursed?’” The costers, I am credibly informed, gamble a great deal with the wealthier class of thieves, and win of them the greater part of the money they get.

Of the more provident Costermongers.

Concerning this head, I give the statement of a man whose information I found fully confirmed:—“We[47] are not such a degraded set as some believe; sir, but a living doesn’t tumble into a man’s mouth, now a days. A good many of us costers rises into greengrocers and coal-sheds, and still carries on their rounds as costers, all the same. Why, in Lock’s-fields, I could show you twenty such, and you’d find them very decent men, sir—very. There’s one man I know, that’s risen that way, who is worth hundreds of pounds, and keeps his horse and cart like a gentleman. They rises to be voters, and they all vote liberal. Some marry the better kind of servants,—such servant-maids as would’nt marry a rag and bottle shop, but doesn’t object to a coal shed. It’s mostly younger men that manages this. As far as I have observed, these costers, after they has settled and got to be housekeepers, don’t turn their backs on their old mates. They’d have a nice life of it if they did—yes! a very nice life.”

Of the Homes of the Costermongers.

The costermongers usually reside in the courts and alleys in the neighbourhood of the different street-markets. They themselves designate the locality where, so to speak, a colony of their people has been established, a “coster district,” and the entire metropolis is thus parcelled out, almost as systematically as if for the purposes of registration. These costermonger districts are as follows, and are here placed in the order of the numerical importance of the residents:

The homes of the costermongers in these places, may be divided into three classes; firstly, those who, by having a regular trade or by prudent economy, are enabled to live in comparative ease and plenty; secondly, those who, from having a large family or by imprudent expenditure, are, as it were, struggling with the world; and thirdly, those who for want of stock-money, or ill success in trade are nearly destitute.

The first home I visited was that of an old woman, who with the assistance of her son and girls, contrived to live in a most praiseworthy and comfortable manner. She and all her family were teetotallers, and may be taken as a fair type of the thriving costermonger.

As I ascended a dark flight of stairs, a savory smell of stew grew stronger at each step I mounted. The woman lived in a large airy room on the first floor (“the drawing-room” as she told me laughing at her own joke), well lighted by a clean window, and I found her laying out the savory smelling dinner looking most temptingly clean. The floor was as white as if it had been newly planed, the coke fire was bright and warm, making the lid of the tin saucepan on it rattle up and down as the steam rushed out. The wall over the fire-place was patched up to the ceiling with little square pictures of saints, and on the mantel-piece, between a row of bright tumblers and wine glasses filled with odds and ends, stood glazed crockeryware images of Prince Albert and M. Jullien. Against the walls, which were papered with “hangings” of four different patterns and colours, were hung several warm shawls, and in the band-box, which stood on the stained chest of drawers, you could tell that the Sunday bonnet was stowed safely away from the dust. A turn-up bedstead thrown back, and covered with a many-coloured patch-work quilt, stood opposite to a long dresser with its mugs and cups dangling from the hooks, and the clean blue plates and dishes ranged in order at the back. There were a few bushel baskets piled up in one corner, “but the apples smelt so,” she said, “they left them in a stable at night.”

By the fire sat the woman’s daughter, a pretty meek-faced gray-eyed girl of sixteen, who “was home nursing” for a cold. “Steve” (her boy) I was informed, was out working. With his help, the woman assured me, she could live very comfortably—“God be praised!” and when he got the barrow he was promised, she gave me to understand, that their riches were to increase past reckoning. Her girl too was to be off at work as soon as sprats came in. “Its on Lord Mayor’s-day they comes in,” said a neighbour who had rushed up to see the strange gentleman, “they says he has ’em on his table, but I never seed ’em. They never gives us the pieces, no not even the heads,” and every one laughed to their utmost. The good old dame was in high spirits, her dark eyes sparkling as she spoke about her “Steve.” The daughter in a little time lost her bashfulness, and informed me “that one of the Polish refugees was a-courting Mrs. M——, who had given him a pair of black eyes.”

On taking my leave I was told by the mother that their silver gilt Dutch clock—with its glass face and blackleaded weights—“was the best one in London, and might be relied on with the greatest safety.”

As a specimen of the dwellings of the struggling costers, the following may be cited:

The man, a tall, thick-built, almost good-looking fellow, with a large fur cap on his head, lived with his family in a front kitchen, and as there were, with his mother-in-law, five persons, and only one bed, I was somewhat puzzled to know where they could all sleep. The barrow standing on the railings over the window, half shut out the light, and when any one passed there was a momentary shadow thrown over the room, and a loud rattling of the[48] iron gratings above that completely prevented all conversation. When I entered, the mother-in-law was reading aloud one of the threepenny papers to her son, who lolled on the bed, that with its curtains nearly filled the room. There was the usual attempt to make the fireside comfortable. The stone sides had been well whitened, and the mantel-piece decorated with its small tin trays, tumblers, and a piece of looking-glass. A cat with a kitten were seated on the hearth-rug in front. “They keeps the varmint away,” said the woman, stroking the “puss,” “and gives a look of home.” By the drawers were piled up four bushel baskets, and in a dark corner near the bed stood a tall measure full of apples that scented the room. Over the head, on a string that stretched from wall to wall, dangled a couple of newly-washed shirts, and by the window were two stone barrels, for lemonade, when the coster visited the fairs and races.

Whilst we were talking, the man’s little girl came home. For a poor man’s child she was dressed to perfection; her pinafore was clean, her face shone with soap, and her tidy cotton print gown had clearly been newly put on that morning. She brought news that “Janey” was coming home from auntey’s, and instantly a pink cotton dress was placed by the mother-in-law before the fire to air. (It appeared that Janey was out at service, and came home once a week to see her parents and take back a clean frock.) Although these people were living, so to speak, in a cellar, still every endeavour had been made to give the home a look of comfort. The window, with its paper-patched panes, had a clean calico blind. The side-table was dressed up with yellow jugs and cups and saucers, and the band-boxes had been stowed away on the flat top of the bedstead. All the chairs, which were old fashioned mahogany ones, had sound backs and bottoms.

Of the third class, or the very poor, I chose the following “type” out of the many others that presented themselves. The family here lived in a small slanting-roofed house, partly stripped of its tiles. More than one half of the small leaden squares of the first-floor window were covered with brown paper, puffing out and crackling in the wind, while through the greater part of the others were thrust out ball-shaped bundles of rags, to keep out the breeze. The panes that did remain were of all shapes and sizes, and at a distance had the appearance of yellow glass, they were so stained with dirt. I opened a door with a number chalked on it, and groped my way up a broken tottering staircase.

It took me some time after I had entered the apartment before I could get accustomed to the smoke, that came pouring into the room from the chimney. The place was filled with it, curling in the light, and making every thing so indistinct that I could with difficulty see the white mugs ranged in the corner-cupboard, not three yards from me. When the wind was in the north, or when it rained, it was always that way, I was told, “but otherwise,” said an old dame about sixty, with long grisly hair spreading over her black shawl, “it is pretty good for that.”

On a mattrass, on the floor, lay a pale-faced girl—“eighteen years old last twelfth-cake day”—her drawn-up form showing in the patch-work counterpane that covered her. She had just been confined, and the child had died! A little straw, stuffed into an old tick, was all she had to lie upon, and even that had been given up to her by the mother until she was well enough to work again. To shield her from the light of the window, a cloak had been fastened up slantingly across the panes; and on a string that ran along the wall was tied, amongst the bonnets, a clean nightcap—“against the doctor came,” as the mother, curtsying, informed me. By the side of the bed, almost hidden in the dark shade, was a pile of sieve baskets, crowned by the flat shallow that the mother “worked” with.

The room was about nine feet square, and furnished a home for three women. The ceiling slanted like that of a garret, and was the colour of old leather, excepting a few rough white patches, where the tenants had rudely mended it. The white light was easily seen through the laths, and in one corner a large patch of the paper looped down from the wall. One night the family had been startled from their sleep by a large mass of mortar—just where the roof bulged in—falling into the room. “We never want rain water,” the woman told me, “for we can catch plenty just over the chimney-place.”

They had made a carpet out of three or four old mats. They were “obligated to it, for fear of dropping anything through the boards into the donkey stables in the parlour underneath. But we only pay ninepence a week rent,” said the old woman, “and mustn’t grumble.”

The only ornament in the place was on the mantel-piece—an old earthenware sugar-basin, well silvered over, that had been given by the eldest girl when she died, as a remembrance to her mother. Two cracked tea-cups, on their inverted saucers, stood on each side, and dressed up the fire-side into something like tidiness. The chair I sat on was by far the best out of the three in the room, and that had no back, and only half its quantity of straw.

The parish, the old woman told me, allowed her 1s. a week and two loaves. But the doctor ordered her girl to take sago and milk, and she was many a time sorely puzzled to get it. The neighbours helped her a good deal, and often sent her part of their unsold greens;—even if it was only the outer leaves of the cabbages, she was thankful for them. Her other girl—a big-boned wench, with a red shawl crossed over her bosom, and her black hair parted on one side—did all she could, and so they lived on. “As long as they kept out of the ‘big house’ (the workhouse) she would not complain.”


“Penny a lot, Oysters! Penny a lot!”

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

I never yet beheld so much destitution borne with so much content. Verily the acted philosophy of the poor is a thing to make those who write and preach about it hide their heads.


Of the Dress of the Costermongers.

From the homes of the costermongers we pass to a consideration of their dress.

The costermonger’s ordinary costume partakes of the durability of the warehouseman’s, with the quaintness of that of the stable-boy. A well-to-do “coster,” when dressed for the day’s work, usually wears a small cloth cap, a little on one side. A close-fitting worsted tie-up skull-cap, is very fashionable, just now, among the class, and ringlets at the temples are looked up to as the height of elegance. Hats they never wear—excepting on Sunday—on account of their baskets being frequently carried on their heads. Coats are seldom indulged in; their waistcoats, which are of a broad-ribbed corduroy, with fustian back and sleeves, being made as long as a groom’s, and buttoned up nearly to the throat. If the corduroy be of a light sandy colour, then plain brass, or sporting buttons, with raised fox’s or stag’s heads upon them—or else black bone-buttons, with a flower-pattern—ornament the front; but if the cord be of a dark rat-skin hue, then mother-of-pearl buttons are preferred. Two large pockets—sometimes four—with huge flaps or lappels, like those in a shooting-coat, are commonly worn. If the costermonger be driving a good trade and have his set of regular customers, he will sport a blue cloth jacket, similar in cut to the cord ones above described; but this is looked upon as an extravagance of the highest order, for the slime and scales of the fish stick to the sleeves and shoulders of the garment, so as to spoil the appearance of it in a short time. The fashionable stuff for trousers, at the present, is a dark-coloured “cable cord,” and they are made to fit tightly at the knee and swell gradually until they reach the boot, which they nearly cover. Velveteen is now seldom worn, and knee-breeches are quite out of date. Those who deal wholly in fish wear a blue serge apron, either hanging down or tucked up round their waist. The costermonger, however, prides himself most of all upon his neckerchief and boots. Men, women, boys and girls, all have a passion for these articles. The man who does not wear his silk neckerchief—his “King’s-man” as it is called—is known to be in desperate circumstances; the inference being that it has gone to supply the morning’s stock-money. A yellow flower on a green ground, or a red and blue pattern, is at present greatly in vogue. The women wear their kerchiefs tucked-in under their gowns, and the men have theirs wrapped loosely round the neck, with the ends hanging over their waistcoats. Even if a costermonger has two or three silk handkerchiefs by him already, he seldom hesitates to buy another, when tempted with a bright showy pattern hanging from a Field-lane door-post.

The costermonger’s love of a good strong boot is a singular prejudice that runs throughout the whole class. From the father to the youngest child, all will be found well shod. So strong is their predilection in this respect, that a costermonger may be immediately known by a glance at his feet. He will part with everything rather than his boots, and to wear a pair of second-hand ones, or “translators” (as they are called), is felt as a bitter degradation by them all. Among the men, this pride has risen to such a pitch, that many will have their upper-leathers tastily ornamented, and it is not uncommon to see the younger men of this class with a heart or a thistle, surrounded by a wreath of roses, worked below the instep, on their boots. The general costume of the women or girls is a black velveteen or straw bonnet, with a few ribbons or flowers, and almost always a net cap fitting closely to the cheek. The silk “King’s-man” covering their shoulders, is sometimes tucked into the neck of the printed cotton-gown, and sometimes the ends are brought down outside to the apron-strings. Silk dresses are never worn by them—they rather despise such articles. The petticoats are worn short, ending at the ankles, just high enough to show the whole of the much-admired boots. Coloured, or “illustrated shirts,” as they are called, are especially objected to by the men.

On the Sunday no costermonger will, if he can possibly avoid it, wheel a barrow. If a shilling be an especial object to him, he may, perhaps, take his shallow and head-basket as far as Chalk-farm, or some neighbouring resort; but even then he objects strongly to the Sunday-trading. They leave this to the Jews and Irish, who are always willing to earn a penny—as they say.

The prosperous coster will have his holiday on the Sunday, and, if possible, his Sunday suit as well—which usually consists of a rough beaver hat, brown Petersham, with velvet facings of the same colour, and cloth trousers, with stripes down the side. The women, generally, manage to keep by them a cotton gown of a bright showy pattern, and a new shawl. As one of the craft said to me—“Costers likes to see their gals and wives look lady-like when they takes them out.” Such of the costers as are not in a flourishing way of business, seldom make any alteration in their dress on the Sunday.

There are but five tailors in London who make the garb proper to costermongers; one of these is considered somewhat “slop,” or as a coster called him, a “springer-up.”

This springer-up is blamed by some of the costermongers, who condemn him for employing women at reduced wages. A whole court of costermongers, I was assured, would withdraw their custom from a tradesman, if one of their body, who had influence among them, showed that the tradesman was unjust to his workpeople. The tailor in question issues bills after the following fashion. I give one verbatim, merely withholding the address for obvious reasons:


Slap-up Tog and out-and-out Kicksies Builder.

Mr. —— nabs the chance of putting his customers[52] awake, that he has just made his escape from Russia, not forgetting to clap his mawleys upon some of the right sort of Ducks, to make single and double backed Slops for gentlemen in black, when on his return home he was stunned to find one of the top manufacturers of Manchester had cut his lucky and stepped off to the Swan Stream, leaving behind him a valuable stock of Moleskins, Cords, Velveteens, Plushes, Swandowns, &c., and I having some ready in my kick, grabbed the chance, and stepped home with my swag, and am now safe landed at my crib. I can turn out toggery of every description very slap up, at the following low prices for

Ready Gilt—Tick being no go.

Upper Benjamins, built on a downey plan, a monarch to half a finnuff. Slap up Velveteen Togs, lined with the same, 1 pound 1 quarter and a peg. Moleskin ditto, any colour, lined with the same, 1 couter. A pair of Kerseymere Kicksies, any colour, built very slap up, with the artful dodge, a canary. Pair of stout Cord ditto, built in the ‘Melton Mowbray’ style, half a sov. Pair of very good broad Cord ditto, made very saucy, 9 bob and a kick. Pair of long sleeve Moleskin, all colours, built hanky-spanky, with a double fakement down the side and artful buttons at bottom, half a monarch. Pair of stout ditto, built very serious, 9 times. Pair of out-and-out fancy sleeve Kicksies, cut to drop down on the trotters, 2 bulls. Waist Togs, cut long, with moleskin back and sleeves, 10 peg. Blue Cloth ditto, cut slap, with pearl buttons, 14 peg. Mud Pipes, Knee Caps, and Trotter Cases, built very low.

“A decent allowance made to Seedy Swells, Tea Kettle Purgers, Head Robbers, and Flunkeys out of Collar.

“N.B. Gentlemen finding their own Broady can be accommodated.”

Of the Diet and Drink of Costermongers.

It is less easy to describe the diet of costermongers than it is to describe that of many other of the labouring classes, for their diet, so to speak, is an “out-door diet.” They breakfast at a coffee-stall, and (if all their means have been expended in purchasing their stock, and none of it be yet sold) they expend on the meal only 1d., reserved for the purpose. For this sum they can procure a small cup of coffee, and two “thin” (that is to say two thin slices of bread and butter). For dinner—which on a week-day is hardly ever eaten at the costermonger’s abode—they buy “block ornaments,” as they call the small, dark-coloured pieces of meat exposed on the cheap butchers’ blocks or counters. These they cook in a tap-room; half a pound costing 2d. If time be an object, the coster buys a hot pie or two; preferring fruit-pies when in season, and next to them meat-pies. “We never eat eel-pies,” said one man to me, “because we know they’re often made of large dead eels. We, of all people, are not to be had that way. But the haristocrats eats ’em and never knows the difference.” I did not hear that these men had any repugnance to meat-pies; but the use of the dead eel happens to come within the immediate knowledge of the costermongers, who are, indeed, its purveyors. Saveloys, with a pint of beer, or a glass of “short” (neat gin) is with them another common week-day dinner. The costers make all possible purchases of street-dealers, and pride themselves in thus “sticking to their own.” On Sunday, the costermonger, when not “cracked up,” enjoys a good dinner at his own abode. This is always a joint—most frequently a shoulder or half-shoulder of mutton—and invariably with “lots of good taturs baked along with it.” In the quality of their potatoes these people are generally particular.

The costermonger’s usual beverage is beer, and many of them drink hard, having no other way of spending their leisure but in drinking and gambling. It is not unusual in “a good time,” for a costermonger to spend 12s. out of every 20s. in beer and pleasure.

I ought to add, that the “single fellows,” instead of living on “block ornaments” and the like, live, when doing well, on the best fare, at the “spiciest” cook-shops on their rounds, or in the neighbourhood of their residence.

There are some families of costermongers who have persevered in carrying out the principles of teetotalism. One man thought there might be 200 individuals, including men, women, and children, who practised total abstinence from intoxicating drinks. These parties are nearly all somewhat better off than their drinking companions. The number of teetotallers amongst the costers, however, was more numerous three or four years back.

Of the Cries, Rounds, and Days of Costermongers.

I shall now proceed to treat of the London costermongers’ mode of doing business.

In the first place all the goods they sell are cried or “hawked,” and the cries of the costermongers in the present day are as varied as the articles they sell. The principal ones, uttered in a sort of cadence, are now, “Ni-ew mackerel, 6 a shilling.” (“I’ve got a good jacketing many a Sunday morning,” said one dealer, “for waking people up with crying mackerel, but I’ve said, ‘I must live while you sleep.’”) “Buy a pair of live soles, 3 pair for 6d.”—or, with a barrow, “Soles, 1d. a pair, 1d. a pair;” “Plaice alive, alive, cheap;” “Buy a pound crab, cheap;” “Pine-apples, ½d. a slice;” “Mussels a penny a quart;” “Oysters, a penny a lot;” “Salmon alive, 6d. a pound;” “Cod alive, 2d. a pound;” “Real Yarmouth bloaters, 2 a penny;” “New herrings alive, 16 a groat” (this is the loudest cry of any); “Penny a bunch turnips” (the same with greens, cabbages, &c.); “All new nuts, 1d. half-pint;” “Oranges, 2 a penny;” “All large and alive-O, new sprats, O, 1d. a plate;”[53] “Wi-ild Hampshire rabbits, 2 a shilling;” “Cherry ripe, 2d. a pound;” “Fine ripe plums, 1d. a pint;” “Ing-uns, a penny a quart;” “Eels, 3lbs. a shilling—large live eels 3lbs. a shilling.”

The continual calling in the streets is very distressing to the voice. One man told me that it had broken his, and that very often while out he lost his voice altogether. “They seem to have no breath,” the men say, “after calling for a little while.” The repeated shouting brings on a hoarseness, which is one of the peculiar characteristics of hawkers in general. The costers mostly go out with a boy to cry their goods for them. If they have two or three hallooing together, it makes more noise than one, and the boys can shout better and louder than the men. The more noise they can make in a place the better they find their trade. Street-selling has been so bad lately that many have been obliged to have a drum for their bloaters, “to drum the fish off,” as they call it.

In the second place, the costermongers, as I said before, have mostly their little bit of a “round;” that is, they go only to certain places; and if they don’t sell their goods they “work back” the same way again. If they visit a respectable quarter, they confine themselves to the mews near the gentlemen’s houses. They generally prefer the poorer neighbourhoods. They go down or through almost all the courts and alleys—and avoid the better kind of streets, unless with lobsters, rabbits, or onions. If they have anything inferior, they visit the low Irish districts—for the Irish people, they say, want only quantity, and care nothing about quality—that they don’t study. But if they have anything they wish to make a price of, they seek out the mews, and try to get it off among the gentlemen’s coachmen, for they will have what is good; or else they go among the residences of mechanics,—for their wives, they say, like good-living as well as the coachmen. Some costers, on the other hand, go chance rounds.

Concerning the busiest days of the week for the coster’s trade, they say Wednesdays and Fridays are the best, because they are regular fish days. These two days are considered to be those on which the poorer classes generally run short of money. Wednesday night is called “draw night” among some mechanics and labourers—that is, they then get a portion of their wages in advance, and on Friday they run short as well as on the Wednesday, and have to make shift for their dinners. With the few halfpence they have left, they are glad to pick up anything cheap, and the street-fishmonger never refuses an offer. Besides, he can supply them with a cheaper dinner than any other person. In the season the poor generally dine upon herrings. The poorer classes live mostly on fish, and the “dropped” and “rough” fish is bought chiefly for the poor. The fish-huckster has no respect for persons, however; one assured me that if Prince Halbert was to stop him in the street to buy a pair of soles of him, he’d as soon sell him a “rough pair as any other man—indeed, I’d take in my own father,” he added, “if he wanted to deal with me.” Saturday is the worst day of all for fish, for then the poor people have scarcely anything at all to spend; Saturday night, however, the street-seller takes more money than at any other time in the week.

Of the Costermongers on their Country Rounds.

Some costermongers go what they term “country rounds,” and they speak of their country expeditions as if they were summer excursions of mere pleasure. They are generally variations from a life growing monotonous. It was computed for me that at present three out of every twenty costermongers “take a turn in the country” at least once a year. Before the prevalence of railways twice as many of these men carried their speculations in fish, fruit, or vegetables to a country mart. Some did so well that they never returned to London. Two for instance, after a country round, settled at Salisbury; they are now regular shopkeepers, “and very respectable, too,” was said to me, “for I believe they are both pretty tidy off for money; and are growing rich.” The railway communication supplies the local-dealer with fish, vegetables, or any perishable article, with such rapidity and cheapness that the London itinerant’s occupation in the towns and villages about the metropolis is now half gone.

In the following statement by a costermonger, the mode of life on a country round, is detailed with something of an assumption of metropolitan superiority.

“It was fine times, sir, ten year back, aye, and five year back, in the country, and it ain’t so bad now, if a man’s known. It depends on that now far more than it did, and on a man’s knowing how to work a village. Why, I can tell you if it wasn’t for such as me, there’s many a man working on a farm would never taste such a nice thing as a fresh herring—never, sir. It’s a feast at a poor country labourer’s place, when he springs six-penn’orth of fresh herrings, some for supper, and some in salt for next day. I’ve taken a shillings’-worth to a farmer’s door of a darkish night in a cold autumn, and they’d a warm and good dish for supper, and looked on me as a sort of friend. We carry them relishes from London; and they like London relishes, for we know how to set them off. I’ve fresh herringed a whole village near Guildford, first thing in the morning. I’ve drummed round Guildford too, and done well. I’ve waked up Kingston with herrings. I’ve been as welcome as anything to the soldiers in the barracks at Brentwood, and Romford, and Maidstone with my fresh herrings; for they’re good customers. In two days I’ve made 2l. out of 10s. worth of fresh herrings, bought at Billingsgate. I always lodge at a public-house in the country; so do all of us, for the publicans are customers. We are well received at the public-houses; some of us go there for the handiness of the ‘lush.’ I’ve done[54] pretty well with red herrings in the country. A barrel holds (say) 800. We sell the barrels at 6d. a piece, and the old women fight after them. They pitch and tar them, to make water-barrels. More of us would settle in the country, only there’s no life there.”

The most frequented round is from Lambeth to Wandsworth, Kingston, Richmond, Guildford, and Farnham. The costermonger is then “sold out,” as he calls it,—he has disposed of his stock, and returns by the way which is most lightly tolled, no matter if the saving of 1d. or 2d. entail some miles extra travelling. “It cost me 15d. for tolls from Guildford for an empty cart and donkey,” said a costermonger just up from the country.

Another round is to Croydon, Reigate, and the neighbourhoods; another to Edgeware, Kilburn, Watford, and Barnet; another to Maidstone; but the costermonger, if he starts trading at a distance, as he now does frequently, has his barrow and goods sent down by railway to such towns as Maidstone, so he saves the delay and cost of a donkey-cart. A “mate” sees to the transmission of the goods from London, the owner walking to Maidstone to be in readiness to “work” them immediately he receives them. “The railway’s an ease and a saving,” I was told; “I’ve got a stock sent for 2s., and a donkey’s keep would cost that for the time it would be in travelling. There’s 5,000 of us, I think, might get a living in the country, if we stuck to it entirely.”

If the country enterprise be a failure, the men sometimes abandon it in “a pet,” sell their goods at any loss, and walk home, generally getting drunk as the first step to their return. Some have been known to pawn their barrow on the road for drink. This they call “doing queer.”

In summer the costermongers carry plums, peas, new potatoes, cucumbers, and quantities of pickling vegetables, especially green walnuts, to the country. In winter their commodities are onions, fresh and red herrings, and sprats. “I don’t know how it is,” said one man to me, “but we sell ing-uns and all sorts of fruits and vegetables, cheaper than they can buy them where they’re grown; and green walnuts, too, when you’d think they had only to be knocked off a tree.”

Another costermonger told me that, in the country, he and his mates attended every dance or other amusement, “if it wasn’t too respectable.” Another said: “If I’m idle in the country on a Sunday, I never go to church. I never was in a church; I don’t know why, for my silk handkerchief’s worth more than one of their smock-frocks, and is quite as respectable.”

Some costermongers confine their exertions to the fairs and races, and many of them are connected with the gipsies, who are said to be the usual receivers of the stolen handkerchiefs at such places.

Of the Earnings of Costermongers.

The earnings of the costermonger—the next subject of inquiry that, in due order, presents itself—vary as much as in more fashionable callings, for he is greatly dependent on the season, though he may be little affected by London being full or empty.

Concurrent testimony supplied me with the following estimate of their earnings. I cite the average earnings (apart from any charges or drawbacks), of the most staple commodities:

In January and February the costers generally sell fish. In these months the wealthier of the street fishmongers, or those who can always command “money to go to market,” enjoy a kind of monopoly. The wintry season renders the supply of fish dearer and less regular, so that the poorer dealers cannot buy “at first hand,” and sometimes cannot be supplied at all; while the others monopolise the fish, more or less, and will not sell it to any of the other street-dealers until a profit has been realised out of their own regular customers, and the demand partially satisfied. “Why, I’ve known one man sell 10l. worth of fish—most of it mackarel—at his stall in Whitecross-street,” said a costermonger to me, “and all in one snowy day, in last January. It was very stormy at that time, and fish came in unregular, and he got a haul. I’ve known him sell 2l. worth in an hour, and once 2l. 10s. worth, for I then helped at his stall. If people has dinner parties they must have fish, and gentlemen’s servants came to buy.” The average earnings however of those that “go rounds” in these months are computed not to exceed 8s. a week; Monday and Saturday being days of little trade in fish.

“March is dreadful,” said an itinerant fish seller to me; “we don’t average, I’m satisfied, more nor 4s. a week. I’ve had my barrow idle for a week sometimes—at home every day, though it had to be paid for, all the same. At the latter end of March, if it’s fine, it’s 1s. a week better, because there’s flower roots in—‘all a-growing,’ you know, sir. And that lasts until April, and we then make above 6s. a week. I’ve heard people say when I’ve cried ‘all a-growing’ on a fine-ish day, ‘Aye, now summer’s a-coming.’ I wish you may get it, says I to myself; for I’ve studied the seasons.”

In May the costermonger’s profit is greater. He vends fresh fish—of which there is a greater supply and a greater demand, and the fine and often not very hot weather insures its freshness—and he sells dried herrings and “roots” (as they are called) such as wall-flowers and stocks. The average earnings then are from 10s. to 12s. a week.

In June, new potatoes, peas, and beans tempt the costermongers’ customers, and then his earnings rise to 1l. a week. In addition to this 1l., if the season allow, a costermonger at the end of the week, I was told by an experienced hand, “will earn an extra 10s. if he has anything of a round.” “Why, I’ve cleared thirty shillings myself,” he added, “on a Saturday night.”

In July cherries are the principal article of traffic, and then the profit varies from 4s. to 8s.[55] a day, weather permitting, or 30s. a week on a low average. On my inquiry if they did not sell fish in that month, the answer was, “No, sir; we pitch fish to the ——; we stick to cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and ripe currants and gooseberries. Potatoes is getting good and cheap then, and so is peas. Many a round’s worth a crown every day of the week.”

In August, the chief trading is in Orleans plums, green-gages, apples and pears, and in this month the earnings are from 5s. to 6s. a day. [I may here remark that the costermongers care little to deal in either vegetables or fish, “when the fruit’s in,” but they usually carry a certain supply of vegetables all the year round, for those customers who require them.]

In September apples are vended, and about 2s. 6d. a day made.

In October “the weather gets cold,” I was told, “and the apples gets fewer, and the day’s work’s over at four; we then deals most in fish, such as soles; there’s a good bit done in oysters, and we may make 1s. or 1s. 6d. a day, but it’s uncertain.”

In November fish and vegetables are the chief commodities, and then from 1s. to 1s. 6d. a day is made; but in the latter part of the month an extra 6d. or 1s. a day may be cleared, as sprats come in and sell well when newly introduced.

In December the trade is still principally in fish, and 12d. or 18d. a day is the costermonger’s earnings. Towards the close of the month he makes rather more, as he deals in new oranges and lemons, holly, ivy, &c., and in Christmas week he makes 3s. or 4s. a day.

These calculations give an average of about 14s. 6d. a week, when a man pursues his trade regularly. One man calculated it for me at 15s. average the year through—that is supposing, of course, that the larger earnings of the summer are carefully put by to eke out the winter’s income. This, I need hardly say, is never done. Prudence is a virtue, which is comparatively unknown to the London costermongers. They have no knowledge of savings’-banks; and to expect that they themselves should keep their money by them untouched for months (even if they had the means of so doing) is simply to expect impossibilities—to look for the continued withstanding of temptation among a class who are unused to the least moral or prudential restraint.

Some costers, I am told, make upwards of 30s. a week all the year round; but allowing for cessations in the street-trade, through bad weather, neglect, ill-health, or casualty of any kind, and taking the more prosperous costers with the less successful—the English with the Irish—the men with the women—perhaps 10s. a week may be a fair average of the earnings of the entire body the year through.

These earnings, I am assured, were five years ago at least 25 per cent. higher; some said they made half as much again: “I can’t make it out how it is,” said one man, “but I remember that I could go out and sell twelve bushel of fruit in a day, when sugar was dear, and now, when sugar’s cheap, I can’t sell three bushel on the same round. Perhaps we want thinning.”

Such is the state of the working-classes; say all the costers, they have little or no money to spend. “Why, I can assure you,” declared one of the parties from whom I obtained much important information, “there’s my missis—she sits at the corner of the street with fruit. Eight years ago she would have taken 8s. out of that street on a Saturday, and last Saturday week she had one bushel of apples, which cost 1s. 6d. She was out from ten in the morning till ten at night, and all she took that day was 1s.d. Go to whoever you will, you will hear much upon the same thing.” Another told me, “The costers are often obliged to sell the things for what they gave for them. The people haven’t got money to lay out with them—they tell us so; and if they are poor we must be poor too. If we can’t get a profit upon what goods we buy with our stock-money, let it be our own or anybody’s else, we are compelled to live upon it, and when that’s broken into, we must either go to the workhouse or starve. If we go to the workhouse, they’ll give us a piece of dry bread, and abuse us worse than dogs.” Indeed, the whole course of my narratives shows how the costers generally—though far from universally—complain of the depressed state of their trade. The following statement was given to me by a man who, for twelve years, had been a stall-keeper in a street-market. It shows to what causes he (and I found others express similar opinions) attributes the depression:—

“I never knew things so bad as at present—never! I had six prime cod-fish, weighing 15lbs. to 20lbs. each, yesterday and the day before, and had to take two home with me last night, and lost money on the others—besides all my time, and trouble, and expense. I had 100 herrings, too, that cost 3s.—prime quality, and I only sold ten out of them in a whole day. I had two pads of soles, sir, and lost 4s.—that is one pad—by them. I took only 4s. the first day I laid in this stock, and only 2s. 6d. the next; I then had to sell for anything I could get, and throw some away. Yet, people say mine’s a lazy, easy life. I think the fall off is owing to meat being so cheap, ’cause people buy that rather than my goods, as they think there’s more stay in it. I’m afeard things will get worse too.” (He then added by way of sequitur, though it is difficult to follow the reasoning,) “If this here is free-trade, then to h— with it, I say!”

Of the Capital and Income of the Costermongers.

I shall now pass, from the consideration of the individual earnings, to the income and capital of the entire body. Great pains have been taken to ensure exactitude on these points, and the following calculations are certainly below the mark. In order to be within due bounds, I will take the costermongers, exclusive of their wives and families, at 10,000, whereas it[56] would appear that their numbers are upwards of 11,000.

1,000 carts, at 3l. 3s. each£3,150
[Donkeys, and occasionally ponies, are harnessed to barrows.]
5,000 barrows, at 2l. each10,000
1,500 donkeys, at 1l. 5s. each1,875
[One intelligent man thought there were 2,000 donkeys, but I account that in excess.]
200 ponies, at 5l. each1,000
[Some of these ponies, among the very first-class men, are worth 20l.: one was sold by a coster for 30l.]
1,700 sets of harness, at 5s. each425
[All calculated as worn and second-hand.]
4,000 baskets (or shallows), at 1s. each200
3,500 stalls or standings, at 5s. each875
[The stall and barrow men have generally baskets to be used when required.]
10,000 weights, scales, and measures, at 2s. 6d. each1,250
[It is difficult to estimate this item with exactitude. Many averaged the value at 3s. 4d.]
Stock-money for 10,000 costers, at 10s. each5,000
Total capital£23,775

Very nearly 24,000l., then, at the most moderate computation, represents the value of the animals, vehicles, and stock, belonging to the costermongers in the streets of London.

The keep of the donkeys is not here mixed up with their value, and I have elsewhere spoken of it.

The whole course of my narrative shows that the bulk of the property in the street goods, and in the appliances for their sale, is in the hands of usurers as well as of the costers. The following account shows the sum paid yearly by the London costermongers for the hire, rent, or interest (I have heard each word applied) of their barrows, weights, baskets, and stock:

Hire of 3,000 barrows, at 1s. 3d. a week£9,750
Hire of 600 weights, scales, &c., at 1s. 6d. a week for 2, and 6d. a week for 10 months1,020
Hire of 100 baskets, &c., at 6d. a week130
Interest on 2,500l. stock-money, at 125l. per week6,500
[Calculating at 1s. interest weekly for 20s.]
Total paid for hire and interest£17,400

Concerning the income of the entire body of costermongers in the metropolis, I estimate the earnings of the 10,000 costermongers, taking the average of the year, at 10s. weekly. My own observation, the result of my inquiries, confirmed by the opinion of some of the most intelligent of the costermongers, induce me to adopt this amount. It must be remembered, that if some costermongers do make 30s. a week through the year, others will not earn a fourth of it, and hence many of the complaints and sufferings of the class. Then there is the drawback in the sum paid for “hire,” “interest,” &c., by numbers of these people; so that it appears to me, that if we assume the income of the entire body—including Irish and English—to be 15s. a week per head in the summer, and 5s. a week each in the winter, as the two extremes, or a mean of 10s. a week all the year through, we shall not be far out either way. The aggregate earnings of the London costermongers, at this rate, are 5,000l. per week, or 260,000l. yearly. Reckoning that 30,000 individuals have to be supported out of this sum, it gives an average of 3s. 4d. a week per head.

But it is important to ascertain not only the earnings or aggregate amount of profit made by the London costermongers in the course of the year, but likewise their receipts, or aggregate amount of “takings,” and thus to arrive at the gross sum of money annually laid out by the poorer classes of the metropolis in the matter of fish, fruit, and vegetables alone. Assuming that the average profits of the costermongers are at the rate of 25 per cent. (and this, I am satisfied, is a high estimate—for we should remember, that though cent. per cent. may be frequently obtained, still their “goods,” being of a “perishable” nature, are as frequently lost or sold off at a “tremendous sacrifice”); assuming then, I say, that the average profits of the entire 10,000 individuals are 25 per cent. on the cost-price of their stock, and that the aggregate amount of their profits or earnings is upwards of 260,000l., it follows that the gross sum of money laid out with the London costers in the course of the twelvemonth is 1,040,000l. sterling—a sum so enormous as almost to make us believe that the tales of individual want are matters of pure fiction. Large, however, as the amount appears in the mass, still, if distributed among the families of the working men and the poorer class of Londoners, it will be found that it allows but the merest pittance per head per week for the consumption of those articles, which may be fairly said to constitute the staple commodities of the dinners and “desserts!” of the poor.

Of the Providence and Improvidence of Costermongers.

The costermongers, like all wandering tribes, have generally no foresight; only an exceptional few are provident—and these are mostly the more intelligent of the class—though some of the very ignorant do occasionally save. The providence of the more intelligent costermonger enables him in some few cases to become “a settled man,” as I have before pointed out. He perhaps gets to be the proprietor of a coal-shed, with a greengrocery and potato business attached to it; and with the usual trade in oysters and ginger-beer. He may too, sometimes, have a sum of money in the savings’-bank, or he may invest it in the purchase of a lease of the premises he occupies, or expend it in furnishing the rooms of his house to let them out to single-men lodgers; or he may become an usurer, and lend out his[57] money to his less provident brethren at 1040l. per cent. per annum; or he may purchase largely at the markets, and engage youths to sell his surplus stock at half profits.

The provident costermonger, who has thus “got on in the world,” is rarely speculative. He can hardly be induced to become a member of a “building” or “freehold land” society, for instance. He has been accustomed to an almost immediate return for his outlays, and distrusts any remote or contingent profit. A regular costermonger—or any one who has been a regular costermonger, in whatever trade he may be afterwards engaged—generally dies intestate, let his property be what it may; but there is seldom any dispute as to the disposition of his effects: the widow takes possession of them, as a matter of course. If there be grown-up children, they may be estranged from home, and not trouble their heads about the matter; or, if not estranged, an amicable arrangement is usually come to. The costermongers’ dread of all courts of law, or of anything connected with the law, is only second to their hatred of the police.

The more ignorant costermonger, on the other hand, if he be of a saving turn, and have no great passion for strong drink or gaming, is often afraid to resort to the simple modes of investment which I have mentioned. He will rather keep money in his pocket; for, though it does not fructify there, at least it is safe. But this is only when provided with a donkey or pony “what suits;” when not so provided, he will “suit himself” forthwith. If, however, he have saved a little money, and have a craving after gambling or amusements, he is sure at last to squander it that way. Such a man, without any craving for drink or gaming, will often continue to pay usuriously for the hire of his barrow, not suspecting that he is purchasing it over and over and over again, in his weekly payments. To suggest to him that he might place his money in a bank, is to satisfy him that he would be “had” in some way or other, as he believes all banks and public institutions to be connected with government, and the taxes, and the police. Were any one to advise a man of this class—and it must be remembered that I am speaking of the ignorant costers—to invest a spare 50l. (supposing he possessed it) in the “three per cents.,” it would but provoke a snappish remark that he knew nothing about them, and would have nothing to do with them; for he would be satisfied that there was “some cheatery at the bottom.” If he could be made to understand what is meant by 3l. per centum per annum, he would be sure to be indignant at the robbery of giving only 7½d. for the use of 1l. for a whole year!

I may state, in conclusion, that a costermonger of the class I have been describing, mostly objects to give change for a five-pound note; he will sooner give credit—when he knows “the party”—than change, even if he have it. If, however, he feels compelled, rather than offend a regular customer, to take the note, he will not rest until he has obtained sovereigns for it at a neighbouring innkeeper’s, or from some tradesman to whom he is known. “Sovereigns,” said one man, and not a very ignorant man, to me, “is something to lay hold on; a note ain’t.”

Moreover, should one of the more ignorant, having tastes for the beer-shop, &c., meet with “a great haul,” or save 5l. by some continuous industry (which he will most likely set down as “luck”), he will spend it idly or recklessly in dissipation and amusement, regardless of the coming winter, whatever he may have suffered during the past. Nor, though they know, from the bitterest experience, that their earnings in the winter are not half those of the rest of the year, and that they are incapacitated from pursuing their trade in bad weather, do they endeavour to make the extra gains of their best time mitigate the want of the worst.

Of the Costermongers in Bad Weather and during the Cholera.

“Three wet days,” I was told by a clergyman, who is now engaged in selling stenographic cards in the streets, “will bring the greater part of 30,000 street-people to the brink of starvation.” This statement, terrible as it is, is not exaggerated. The average number of wet days every year in London is, according to the records of the Royal Society, 161—that is to say, rain falls in the metropolis more than three days in each week, and very nearly every other day throughout the year. How precarious a means of living then must street-selling be!

When a costermonger cannot pursue his out-door labour, he leaves it to the women and children to “work the public-houses,” while he spends his time in the beer-shop. Here he gambles away his stock-money oft enough, “if the cards or the luck runs again him;” or else he has to dip into his stock-money to support himself and his family. He must then borrow fresh capital at any rate of interest to begin again, and he begins on a small scale. If it be in the cheap and busy seasons, he may buy a pad of soles for 2s. 6d., and clear 5s. on them, and that “sets him a-going again, and then he gets his silk handkerchief out of pawn, and goes as usual to market.”

The sufferings of the costermongers during the prevalence of the cholera in 1849, were intense. Their customers generally relinquished the consumption of potatoes, greens, fruit, and fish; indeed, of almost every article on the consumption of which the costermongers depend for his daily bread. Many were driven to apply to the parish; “many had relief and many hadn’t,” I was told. Two young men, within the knowledge of one of my informants, became professional thieves, after enduring much destitution. It does not appear that the costermongers manifested any personal dread of the visitation of the cholera, or thought that their lives were imperilled: “We weren’t a bit afraid,” said one of them, “and, perhaps, that[58] was the reason so few costers died of the cholera. I knew them all in Lambeth, I think, and I knew only one die of it, and he drank hard. Poor Waxy! he was a good fellow enough, and was well known in the Cut. But it was a terrible time for us, sir. It seems to me now like a shocking dream. Fish I could’nt sell a bit of; the people had a perfect dread of it—all but the poor Irish, and there was no making a crust out of them. They had no dread of fish, however; indeed, they reckon it a religious sort of living, living on fish,—but they will have it dirt cheap. We were in terrible distress all that time.”

Of the Costermongers’ Raffles.

In their relief of the sick, if relief it is to be called, the costermongers resort to an exciting means; something is raffled, and the proceeds given to the sufferer. This mode is common to other working-classes; it partakes of the excitement of gambling, and is encouraged by the landlords of the houses to which the people resort. The landlord displays the terms of the raffle in his bar a few days before the occurrence, which is always in the evening. The raffle is not confined to the sick, but when any one of the class is in distress—that is to say, without stock-money, and unable to borrow it,—a raffle for some article of his is called at a public-house in the neighbourhood. Cards are printed, and distributed among his mates. The article, let it be whatever it may—perhaps a handkerchief—is put up at 6d. a member, and from twenty to forty members are got, according as the man is liked by his “mates,” or as he has assisted others similarly situated. The paper of every raffle is kept by the party calling it, and before he puts his name down to a raffle for another party, he refers to the list of subscribers to his raffle, in order to see if the person ever assisted him. Raffles are very “critical things, the pint pots fly about wonderful sometimes”—to use the words of one of my informants. The party calling the raffle is expected to take the chair, if he can write down the subscribers’ names. One who had been chairman at one of these meetings assured me that on a particular occasion, having called a “general dealer” to order, the party very nearly split his head open with a quart measure. If the hucksters know that the person calling the raffle is “down,” and that it is necessity that has made him call it, they will not allow the property put up to be thrown for. “If you was to go to the raffle to-night, sir,” said one of them to me, many months ago, before I became known to the class, “they’d say to one another directly you come in, ‘Who’s this here swell? What’s he want?’ And they’d think you were a ‘cad,’ or else a spy, come from the police. But they’d treat you civilly, I’m sure. Some very likely would fancy you was a fast kind of a gentleman, come there for a lark. But you need have no fear, though the pint pots does fly about sometimes.”

Of the Markets and Trade Rights of the Costermongers, and of the laws affecting them.

The next point of consideration is what are the legal regulations under which the several descriptions of hawkers and pedlars are allowed to pursue their occupations.

The laws concerning hawkers and pedlars, (50 Geo. III., c. 41, and 6 Geo. IV., c. 80,) treat of them as identical callings. The “hawker,” however, is, strictly speaking, one who sells wares by crying them in the streets of towns, while the pedlar travels on foot through the country with his wares, not publicly proclaiming them, but visiting the houses on his way to solicit private custom. Until the commencement of the present century—before the increased facilities for conveyance—the pedlars were a numerous body in the country. The majority of them were Scotchmen and some amassed considerable wealth. Railways, however, have now reduced the numbers to insignificance.

Hawkers and pedlars are required to pay 4l. yearly for a license, and an additional 4l. for every horse or ass employed in the conveyance of wares. The hawking or exposing for sale of fish, fruit, or victuals, does not require a license; and further, it is lawful for any one “being the maker of any home manufacture,” to expose it for sale in any fair or market, without a warrant. Neither does anything in either of the two acts in question prohibit “any tinker, cooper, glazier, plumber, harness-mender, or other person, from going about and carrying the materials proper to their business.”

The right of the costermongers, then, to “hawk” their wares through the streets is plainly inferred by the above acts; that is to say, nothing in them extends to prohibit persons “going about,” unlicensed, and at their own discretion, and selling fish, vegetables, fruit, or provisions generally.

The law acknowledges none of the street “markets.” These congregatings are, indeed, in antagonism to the municipal laws of London, which provide that no market, or public place where provisions are sold, shall be held within seven miles of the city. The law, though it permits butchers and other provisionmongers to hire stalls and standings in the flesh and other markets, recognised by custom or usage, gives no such permission as to street-trading.

The right to sell provisions from stands in the streets of the metropolis, it appears, is merely permissive. The regulation observed is this: where the costermongers or other street-dealers have been in the habit of standing to sell their goods, they are not to be disturbed by the police unless on complaint of an adjacent shopkeeper or other inhabitant. If such a person shows that the costermonger, whose stand is near his premises, is by his improper conduct a nuisance, or that, by his clamour or any peculiarity in his mode of business, he causes a crowd to gather[59] and obstruct the thoroughfare, the policeman’s duty is to remove him. If the complaint from the inhabitants against the street-sellers be at all general the policemen of the beat report it to the authorities, taking no steps until they receive instructions.

It is somewhat anomalous, however, that the law now recognises—inferentially it is true—the right of costermongers to carry about their goods for sale. Formerly the stands were sometimes tolerated, but not the itinerancy.

The enactments of the Common-council from the time of Elizabeth are stringent against itinerant traders of all descriptions, but stringent to no purpose of prevention. In 1607, a Common-council enactment sets forth, that “many People of badd and lewde Condicon daylie resorte from the most Parte of this Realme to the said Cyttie, Suburbes, and Places adjoininge, procuringe themselves small Habytacons, namely, one Chamber-Roome for a poore Forreynor and his Familye, in a small Cottage with some other as poore as himself in the Cyttie, Suburbes, or Places adjacente, to the great Increase and Pestringe of this Cyttie with poore People; many of them proovinge Shifters, lyvinge by Cozeninge, Stealinge, and Imbeazellinge of Mens Gooddes as Opportunitye may serve them, remoovinge from Place to Place accordinglye; many Tymes runninge away, forsakinge their Wives and Children, leavinge them to the Charge of the said Cyttie, and the Hospitalles of the same.”

It was towards this class of men who, by their resort to the capital, recruited the numbers of the street-sellers and public porters and others that the jealousy of the Corporation was directed. The city shop-keepers, three centuries ago, complained vehemently and continuously of the injuries inflicted on their trade by itinerant dealers, complaints which led to bootless enactments. In Elizabeth’s reign the Court of Common Council declared that the streets of the city should be used, as in ancient times, for the common highway, and not for the traffic of hucksters, pedlars, and hagglers. But this traffic increased, and in 1632 another enactment was accounted necessary. Oyster-wives, herb-wives, tripe-wives, and all such “unruly people,” were threatened with the full pains and penalties of the outraged law if they persevered in the prosecution of their callings, which are stigmatised as “a way whereby to live a more easie life than by labour.” In 1694 the street-sellers were menaced with the punishments then deemed suitable for arrant rogues and sturdy beggars—whipping; and that remedy to be applied alike to males and females!

The tenor of these Vagrant Laws not being generally known, I here transcribe them, as another proof of the “wisdom” and mercy of our “ancestors” in “the good old times!”

In the year 1530 the English Parliament enacted, that, while the impotent poor should receive licenses from the justices of the peace to beg within certain limits, all men and women, “being whole and mighty in body, and able to labour,” if found vagrant and unable to give an account as to how they obtained their living, should be apprehended by the constables, tied to the tail of a cart naked, and beaten with whips through the nearest market-town, or hamlet, “till their bodies be bloody by reason of such whipping!” Five years afterwards it was added, that, if the individual had been once already whipped, he or she should not only be whipped again, but “also shall have the upper part of the gristle of his ear clean cut off, so as it may appear for a perpetual token hereafter that he hath been a contemner of the good order of the commonwealth.” And finally, in 1562, it was directed that any beggar convicted of being a vagabond should, after being grievously whipped, be burnt through the gristle of the right ear “with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about,” unless some person should agree to take him as a servant—of course without wages—for a year; then, that if he twice ran away from such master, he should be adjudged a felon; and that if he ran away a third time, he should “suffer pains of death and loss of land and goods as a felon, without benefit of clergy or sanctuary.”

The only acts now in force which regulate the government of the streets, so to speak, are those best known as Michael Angelo Taylor’s Act, and the 2 & 3 Vic., best known as the Police Act.

Of the Removals of Costermongers from the Streets.

Such are the laws concerning street trading: let us now see the effect of them.

Within these three months, or little more, there have been many removals of the costermongers from their customary standings in the streets. This, as I have stated, is never done, unless the shopkeepers represent to the police that the costermongers are an injury and a nuisance to them in the prosecution of their respective trades. The costermongers, for the most part, know nothing of the representation of the shopkeepers, so that perhaps the first intimation that they must “quit” comes from the policemen, who thus incur the full odium of the measure, the majority of the street people esteeming it a mere arbitrary act on the part of the members of the force.

The first removal, recently, took place in Leather-lane, Holborn, between three and four months back. It was effected in consequence of representations from the shopkeepers of the neighbourhood. But the removal was of a brief continuance. “Leather-lane,” I was told, “looked like a desert compared to what it was. People that had lived there for years hardly knew their own street; and those that had complained, might twiddle their thumbs in their shops for want of something better to do.”

The reason, or one reason, why the shopkeepers’ trade is co-existent with that of the street-sellers was explained to me in this way[60] by a tradesman perfectly familiar with the subject. “The poorer women, the wives of mechanics or small tradesmen, who have to prepare dinners for their husbands, like, as they call it, ‘to make one errand do.’ If the wife buys fish or vegetables in the street, as is generally done, she will, at the same time, buy her piece of bacon or cheese at the cheesemonger’s, her small quantity of tea and sugar at the grocer’s, her fire-wood at the oilman’s, or her pound of beef or liver at the butcher’s. In all the street-markets there are plenty of such tradesmen, supplying necessaries not vended in the streets, and so one errand is sufficient to provide for the wants of the family. Such customers—that is, such as have been used to buy in the streets—will not be driven to buy at the shops. They can’t be persuaded that they can buy as cheap at the shops; and besides they are apt to think shopkeepers are rich and street-sellers poor, and that they may as well encourage the poor. So if one street-market is abolished, they’ll go to another, or buy of the itinerant costermongers, and they’ll get their bits of groceries and the like at the shops in the neighbourhood of the other street-market, even if they have a walk for it; and thus everybody’s injured by removing markets, except a few, and they are those at the nearest markets that’s not disturbed.”

In Leather-lane the shopkeepers speedily retrieved what many soon came to consider the false step (as regards their interests) which they had taken, and in a fortnight or so, they managed, by further representations to the police authorities, and by agreement with the street-sellers, that the street-market people should return. In little more than a fortnight from that time, Leather-lane, Holborn, resumed its wonted busy aspect.

In Lambeth the case at present is different. The men, women, and children, between two and three months back, were all driven by the police from their standings. These removals were made, I am assured, in consequence of representations to the police from the parishioners, not of Lambeth, but of the adjoining parish of Christchurch, Blackfriars-road, who described the market as an injury and a hindrance to their business. The costermongers, etc., were consequently driven from the spot.

A highly respectable tradesman in “the Cut” told me, that he and all his brother shopkeepers had found their receipts diminished a quarter, or an eighth at least, by the removal; and as in all populous neighbourhoods profits were small, this falling off was a very serious matter to them.

In “the Cut” and its immediate neighbourhood, are tradesmen who supply street-dealers with the articles they trade in,—such as cheap stationery, laces, children’s shoes, braces, and toys. They, of course, have been seriously affected by the removal; but the pinch has fallen sorest upon the street-sellers themselves. These people depend a good deal one upon another, as they make mutual purchases; now, as they have neither stalls nor means, such a source of profit is abolished.

“It is hard on such as me,” said a fruit-seller to me, “to be driven away, for nothing that I’ve done wrong as I knows of, and not let me make a living, as I’ve been brought up to. I can’t get no work at any of the markets. I’ve tried Billingsgate and the Borough hard, but there is so many poor men trying for a crust, they’re fit to knock a new-comer’s head off, though if they did, it wouldn’t be much matter. I had 9s. 6d. stock-money, and I sold the apples and a few pears I had for 3s. 9d., and that 13s. 3d. I’ve been spinning out since I lost my pitch. But it’s done now, and I haven’t had two meals a day for a week and more—and them not to call meals—only bread and coffee, or bread and a drink of beer. I tried to get a round of customers, but all the rounds was full, and I’m a very bad walker, and a weak man too. My wife’s gone to try the country—I don’t know where she is now. I suppose I shall lose my lodging this week, and then I must see what ‘the great house’ will say to me. Perhaps they’ll give me nothing, but take me in, and that’s hard on a man as don’t want to be a pauper.”

Another man told me that he now paid 3s. a week for privilege to stand with two stalls on a space opposite the entrance into the National Baths, New Cut; and that he and his wife, who had stood for eleven years in the neighbourhood, without a complaint against them, could hardly get a crust.

One man, with a fruit-stall, assured me that nine months ago he would not have taken 20l. for his pitch, and now he was a “regular bankrupt.” I asked a girl, who stood beside the kerb with her load in front strapped round her loins, whether her tray was heavy to carry. “After eight hours at it,” she answered, “it swaggers me, like drink.” The person whom I was with brought to me two girls, who, he informed me, had been forced to go upon the streets to gain a living. Their stall on the Saturday night used to have 4l. worth of stock; but trade had grown so bad since the New Police order, that after living on their wares, they had taken to prostitution for a living, rather than go to the “house.” The ground in front of the shops has been bought up by the costermongers at any price. Many now give the tradesmen six shillings a week for a stand, and one man pays as much as eight for the right of pitching in front.

The applications for parochial relief, in consequence of these removals, have been fewer than was anticipated. In Lambeth parish, however, about thirty families have been relieved, at a cost of 50l. Strange to say, a quarter, or rather more, of the very applicants for relief had been furnished by the parish with money to start the trade, their expulsion from which had driven them to pauperism.

It consequently becomes a question for serious consideration, whether any particular body of householders should, for their own interest, convenience, or pleasure, have it in their power to[61] deprive so many poor people of their only means of livelihood, and so either force the rate-payers to keep them as paupers, or else drive the women, who object to the imprisonment of the Union, to prostitution, and the men to theft—especially when the very occupation which they are not allowed to pursue, not only does no injury to the neighbourhood, but is, on the contrary, the means of attracting considerable custom to the shops in the locality, and has, moreover, been provided for them by the parish authorities as a means of enabling them to get a living for themselves.

Of the Tricks of Costermongers.

I shall now treat of the tricks of trade practised by the London costermongers. Of these the costers speak with as little reserve and as little shame as a fine gentleman of his peccadilloes. “I’ve boiled lots of oranges,” chuckled one man, “and sold them to Irish hawkers, as wasn’t wide awake, for stunning big uns. The boiling swells the oranges and so makes ’em look finer ones, but it spoils them, for it takes out the juice. People can’t find that out though until it’s too late. I boiled the oranges only a few minutes, and three or four dozen at a time.” Oranges thus prepared will not keep, and any unfortunate Irishwoman, tricked as were my informant’s customers, is astonished to find her stock of oranges turn dark-coloured and worthless in forty-eight hours. The fruit is “cooked” in this way for Saturday night and Sunday sale—times at which the demand is the briskest. Some prick the oranges and express the juice, which they sell to the British wine-makers.

Apples cannot be dealt with like oranges, but they are mixed. A cheap red-skinned fruit, known to costers as “gawfs,” is rubbed hard, to look bright and feel soft, and is mixed with apples of a superior description. “Gawfs are sweet and sour at once,” I was told, “and fit for nothing but mixing.” Some foreign apples, from Holland and Belgium, were bought very cheap last March, at no more than 16d. a bushel, and on a fine morning as many as fifty boys might be seen rubbing these apples, in Hooper-street, Lambeth. “I’ve made a crown out of a bushel of ’em on a fine day,” said one sharp youth. The larger apples are rubbed sometimes with a piece of woollen cloth, or on the coat skirt, if that appendage form part of the dress of the person applying the friction, but most frequently they are rolled in the palms of the hand. The smaller apples are thrown to and fro in a sack, a lad holding each end. “I wish I knew how the shopkeepers manages their fruit,” said one youth to me; “I should like to be up to some of their moves; they do manage their things so plummy.”

Cherries are capital for mixing, I was assured by practical men. They purchase three sieves of indifferent Dutch, and one sieve of good English cherries, spread the English fruit over the inferior quality, and sell them as the best. Strawberry pottles are often half cabbage leaves, a few tempting strawberries being displayed on the top of the pottle. “Topping up,” said a fruit dealer to me, “is the principal thing, and we are perfectly justified in it. You ask any coster that knows the world, and he’ll tell you that all the salesmen in the markets tops up. It’s only making the best of it.” Filberts they bake to make them look brown and ripe. Prunes they boil to give them a plumper and finer appearance. The latter trick, however, is not unusual in the shops.

The more honest costermongers will throw away fish when it is unfit for consumption, less scrupulous dealers, however, only throw away what is utterly unsaleable; but none of them fling away the dead eels, though their prejudice against such dead fish prevents their indulging in eel-pies. The dead eels are mixed with the living, often in the proportion of 20 lb. dead to 5 lb. alive, equal quantities of each being accounted very fair dealing. “And after all,” said a street fish dealer to me, “I don’t know why dead eels should be objected to; the aristocrats don’t object to them. Nearly all fish is dead before it’s cooked, and why not eels? Why not eat them when they’re sweet, if they’re ever so dead, just as you eat fresh herrings? I believe it’s only among the poor and among our chaps, that there’s this prejudice. Eels die quickly if they’re exposed to the sun.”

Herrings are made to look fresh and bright by candle-light, by the lights being so disposed “as to give them,” I was told, “a good reflection. Why I can make them look splendid; quite a pictur. I can do the same with mackerel, but not so prime as herrings.”

There are many other tricks of a similar kind detailed in the course of my narrative. We should remember, however, that shopkeepers are not immaculate in this respect.


Of the Kind and Quantities of Fish sold by the London Costermongers.

Having now given the reader a general view of the numbers, characters, habits, tastes, amusements, language, opinions, earnings, and vicissitudes of the London costermongers,—having described their usual style of dress, diet, homes, conveyances, and street-markets,—having explained where their donkeys are bought, or the terms on which they borrow them, their barrows, their stock-money, and occasionally their stock itself,—having shown their ordinary mode of dealing, either in person or by deputy,[62] either at half-profits or by means of boys,—where they go and how they manage on their rounds in town and in the country,—what are the laws affecting them, as well as the operation of those laws upon the rest of the community,—having done all this by way of giving the reader a general knowledge of the street-sellers of fish, fruit, and vegetables,—I now proceed to treat more particularly of each of these classes seriatim. Beginning with the street-fishmongers, I shall describe, in due order, the season when, the market where, and the classes of people by whom, the wet-fish, the dry-fish, and the shell-fish are severally sold and purchased in the London streets, together with all other concomitant circumstances.

The facilities of railway conveyance, by means of which fish can be sent from the coast to the capital with much greater rapidity, and therefore be received much fresher than was formerly the case, have brought large supplies to London from places that before contributed no quantity to the market, and so induced, as I heard in all quarters at Billingsgate, an extraordinary lowness of price in this species of diet. This cheap food, through the agency of the costermongers, is conveyed to every poor man’s door, both in the thickly-crowded streets where the poor reside—a family at least in a room—in the vicinity of Drury-lane and of Whitechapel, in Westminster, Bethnal-green, and St. Giles’s, and through the long miles of the suburbs. For all low-priced fish the poor are the costermongers’ best customers, and a fish diet seems becoming almost as common among the ill-paid classes of London, as is a potato diet among the peasants of Ireland. Indeed, now, the fish season of the poor never, or rarely, knows an interruption. If fresh herrings are not in the market, there are sprats; and if not sprats, there are soles, or whitings, or mackarel, or plaice.

The rooms of the very neediest of our needy metropolitan population, always smell of fish; most frequently of herrings. So much so, indeed, that to those who, like myself, have been in the habit of visiting their dwellings, the smell of herrings, even in comfortable homes, savours from association, so strongly of squalor and wretchedness, as to be often most oppressive. The volatile oil of the fish seems to hang about the walls and beams of the rooms for ever. Those who have experienced the smell of fish only in a well-ordered kitchen, can form no adequate notion of this stench, in perhaps a dilapidated and ill-drained house, and in a rarely-cleaned room; and I have many a time heard both husband and wife—one couple especially, who were “sweating” for a gorgeous clothes’ emporium—say that they had not time to be clean.

The costermonger supplies the poor with every kind of fish, for he deals, usually, in every kind when it is cheap. Some confine their dealings to such things as shrimps, or periwinkles, but the adhering to one particular article is the exception and not the rule; while shrimps, lobsters, &c., are rarely bought by the very poor. Of the entire quantity of fish sent to Billingsgate-market, the costermongers, stationary and itinerant, may be said to sell one-third, taking one kind with another.

The fish sent to London is known to Billingsgate salesmen as “red” and “white” fish. The red fish is, as regards the metropolitan mart, confined to the salmon. The other descriptions are known as “white.” The costermongers classify the fish they vend as “wet” and “dry.” All fresh fish is “wet;” all cured or salted fish, “dry.” The fish which is sold “pickled,” is known by that appellation, but its street sale is insignificant. The principal fish-staple, so to speak of the street-fishmonger, is soles, which are in supply all, or nearly all, the year. The next are herrings, mackarel, whitings, Dutch eels, and plaice. The trade in plaice and sprats is almost entirely in the hands of the costermongers; their sale of shrimps is nearer a half than a third of the entire quantity sent to Billingsgate; but their purchase of cod, or of the best lobsters, or crabs, is far below a third. The costermonger rarely buys turbot, or brill, or even salmon, unless he can retail it at 6d. the pound. When it is at that price, a street salmon-seller told me that the eagerness to buy it was extreme. He had known persons, who appeared to him to be very poor, buy a pound of salmon, “just for a treat once in a way.” His best, or rather readiest customers—for at 6d. a pound all classes of the community may be said to be his purchasers—were the shopkeepers of the busier parts, and the occupants of the smaller private houses of the suburbs. During the past year salmon was scarce and dear, and the costermongers bought, comparatively, none of it. In a tolerably cheap season they do not sell more than from a fifteenth to a twentieth of the quantity received at Billingsgate.

In order to be able to arrive at the quantity or weight of the several kinds of fish sold by the costermongers in the streets of London, it is necessary that we should know the entire amount sent to Billingsgate-market, for it is only by estimating the proportion which the street-sale bears to the whole, that we can attain even an approximation to the truth. The following Table gives the results of certain information collected by myself for the first time, I believe, in this country. The facts, as well as the estimated proportions of each kind of fish sold by the costermongers, have been furnished me by the most eminent of the Billingsgate salesmen—gentlemen to whom I am under many obligations for their kindness, consideration, and assistance, at all times and seasons.



Description of Fish.Number of Fish.Weight or Measure of Fish.Proportion sold by Costermongers.
Wet Fish.lbs.
Salmon and Salmon Trout (29,000 boxes, 14 fish per box)406,0003,480,000One-twentieth.
Live Cod (averaging 10 lbs. each)400,0004,000,000One-fourth.
Soles (averaging ¼ lb. each)97,520,00026,880,000One-fifteenth.
Whiting (averaging 6 oz. each)17,920,0006,720,000One-fourth.
Haddock (averaging 2 lbs. each)2,470,0004,940,000One-tenth.
Plaice (averaging 1 lb. each)33,600,00033,600,000Seven-eighths.
Mackarel (averaging 1 lb. each)23,520,00023,520,000Two-thirds.
Fresh Herrings (250,000 bars., 700 fish per bar.)175,000,00042,000,000One-half.
           „     (in bulk)1,050,000,000252,000,000Three-fourths.
Eels from Holland} (6 fish per 1 lb.)9,797,7601,505,280One-fourth.
           „      England and Ireland127,680One-fourth.
Flounders (7,200 quarterns, 36 fish per quartern)259,20043,200All.
Dabs (7,500 quarterns, 36 fish per quartern)270,00048,750All.
Dry Fish.
Barrelled Cod (15,000 barrels, 50 fish per barrel)750,0004,200,000One-eighth.
Dried Salt Cod (5 lbs. each)1,600,0008,000,000One-tenth.
Smoked Haddock (65,000 bars., 300 fish per bar.)19,500,00010,920,000One-eighth.
Bloaters (265,000 baskets, 150 fish per basket)49,750,00010,600,000One-fourth.
Red Herrings (100,000 bars., 500 fish per bar.)50,000,00014,000,000One-half.
Dried Sprats (9,600 large bundles, 30 fish per bundle)[1]288,00096,000None.
Shell Fish.
Oysters (309,935 bars., 1,600 fish per bar.)495,896,000One-fourth.
Lobsters (averaging 1 lb. each fish)1,200,0001,200,000One-twentieth.
Crabs (averaging 1 lb. each fish)600,000600,000One-twelfth.
Shrimps (324 to the pint)498,428,648192,295 gals.One-half.
Whelks (224 to the ½ bus.)4,943,20022,067 ½ bus.[2]All.
Mussels (1000 to the ½ bus.)50,400,00050,400    „    Two-thirds.
Cockles (2,000 to the ½ bus.)67,392,00033,696    „    Three-fourths.
Periwinkles (4,000 to the ½ bus.)304,000,00076,000    „    Three-fourths.

Of the Costermongers’ Fish Season.

The season for the street-fishmongers begins about October and ends in May.

In October, or a month or two earlier, may-be, they generally deal in fresh herrings, the supply of which lasts up to about the middle or end of November. This is about the best season. The herrings are sold to the poor, upon an average, at twelve a groat, or from 3s. to 4s. the hundred. After or during November, the sprat and plaice season begins. The regular street-fishmonger, however, seldom deals in sprats. He “works” these only when there is no other fish to be got. He generally considers this trade beneath him, and more fit for women than men. Those costers who do sell them dispose of them now by weight at the rate of 1d. to 2d. the pound—a bushel averaging from 40 to 50 pounds. The plaice season continues to the first or second week in May. During May the casualty season is on, and there is little fish certain from that time till salmon comes in, and this is about the end of the month. The salmon season lasts till about the middle of July. The selling of salmon is a bad trade in the poor districts, but a very good one in the better streets or the suburbs. At this work the street-fishmonger will sometimes earn on a fine day from 5s. to 12s. The losses, however, are very great in this article if the weather prove bad. If kept at all “over” it loses its colour, and turns to a pale red, which is seen immediately the knife goes into the fish. While I was obtaining this information some months back, a man went past the window of the house in which I was seated, with a barrow drawn by a donkey. He was crying, “Fresh cod, oh! 1½d. a pound, cod alive, oh!” My informant called me to the[64] window, saying, “Now, here is what we call rough cod.” He told me it was three days old. He thought it was eatable then, he said. The eyes were dull and heavy and sunken, and the limp tails of the fish dangled over the ends of the barrow. He said it was a hanging market that day—that is to say, things had been dear, and the costers couldn’t pay the price for them. He should fancy, he told me, the man had paid for the fish from 9d. to 1s. each, which was at the rate of 1d. per pound. He was calling them at 1½d. He would not take less than this until he had “got his own money in;” and then, probably, if he had one or two of the fish left, he would put up with 1d. per pound. The weight he was “working” was 12 oz. to the pound. My informant assured me he knew this, because he had borrowed his 12 oz. pound weight that morning. This, with the draught of 2 oz. in the weighing-machine, and the ounce gained by placing the fish at the end of the pan, would bring the actual weight given to 9 oz. per pound, and probably, he said the man had even a lighter pound weight in his barrow ready for a “scaly” customer.

After the street-fishmonger has done his morning’s work, he sometimes goes out with his tub of pickled salmon on a barrow or stall, and sells it in saucers at 1d. each, or by the piece. This he calls as “fine Newcastle salmon.” There is generally a great sale for this at the races; and if country-people begin with a pennyworth they end with a shillingsworth—a pennyworth, the costers say, makes a fool of the mouth. If they have any on hand, and a little stale, at the end of the week, they sell it at the public-houses to the “Lushingtons,” and to them, with plenty of vinegar, it goes down sweet. It is generally bought for 7s. a kit, a little bit “pricked;” but, if good, the price is from 12s. to 18s. “We’re in no ways particular to that,” said one candid coster to me. “We don’t have the eating on it ourselves, and people a’n’t always got their taste, especially when they have been drinking, and we sell a great deal to parties in that way. We think it no sin to cheat ’em of 1d. while the publicans takes 1s.

Towards the middle of June the street-fishmonger looks for mackerel, and he is generally employed in selling this fish up to the end of July. After July the Billingsgate season is said to be finished. From this time to the middle of October, when the herrings return, he is mostly engaged selling dried haddocks and red herrings, and other “cas’alty fish that may come across him.” Many of the street-fishmongers object to deal in periwinkles, or stewed mussels, or boiled whelks, because, being accustomed to take their money in sixpences at a time, they do not like, they say, to traffic in halfpennyworths. The dealers in these articles are generally looked upon as an inferior class.

There are, during the day, two periods for the sale of street-fish—the one (the morning trade) beginning about ten, and lasting till one in the day—and the other (the night trade) lasting from six in the evening up to ten at night. What fish is left in the forenoon is generally disposed of cheap at night. That sold at the latter time is generally used by the working-class for supper, or kept by them with a little salt in a cool place for the next day’s dinner, if it will last as long. Several articles are sold by the street-fishmonger chiefly by night. These are oysters, lobsters, pickled salmon, stewed mussels, and the like. The reason why the latter articles sell better by night is, my informant says, “Because people are lofty-minded, and don’t like to be seen eating on ’em in the street in the day-time.” Shrimps and winkles are the staple commodities of the afternoon trade, which lasts from three to half-past five in the evening. These articles are generally bought by the working-classes for their tea.


To see this market in its busiest costermonger time, the visitor should be there about seven o’clock on a Friday morning. The market opens at four, but for the first two or three hours, it is attended solely by the regular fishmongers and “bummarees” who have the pick of the best there. As soon as these are gone, the costers’ sale begins.

Many of the costers that usually deal in vegetables, buy a little fish on the Friday. It is the fast day of the Irish, and the mechanics’ wives run short of money at the end of the week, and so make up their dinners with fish; for this reason the attendance of costers’ barrows at Billingsgate on a Friday morning is always very great. As soon as you reach the Monument you see a line of them, with one or two tall fishmonger’s carts breaking the uniformity, and the din of the cries and commotion of the distant market, begins to break on the ear like the buzzing of a hornet’s nest. The whole neighbourhood is covered with the hand-barrows, some laden with baskets, others with sacks. Yet as you walk along, a fresh line of costers’ barrows are creeping in or being backed into almost impossible openings; until at every turning nothing but donkeys and rails are to be seen. The morning air is filled with a kind of seaweedy odour, reminding one of the sea-shore; and on entering the market, the smell of fish, of whelks, red herrings, sprats, and a hundred others, is almost overpowering.

The wooden barn-looking square where the fish is sold, is soon after six o’clock crowded with shiny cord jackets and greasy caps. Everybody comes to Billingsgate in his worst clothes, and no one knows the length of time a coat can be worn until they have been to a fish sale. Through the bright opening at the end are seen the tangled rigging of the oyster-boats and the red worsted caps of the sailors. Over the hum of voices is heard the shouts of the salesmen, who, with their white aprons, peering above the heads of the mob, stand on their tables, roaring out their prices.

All are bawling together—salesmen and hucksters of provisions, capes, hardware, and newspapers—till[65] the place is a perfect Babel of competition. “Ha-a-ansome cod! best in the market! All alive! alive! alive O!” “Ye-o-o! Ye-o-o! here’s your fine Yarmouth bloaters! Who’s the buyer?” “Here you are, governor, splendid whiting! some of the right sort!” “Turbot! turbot! all alive! turbot!” “Glass of nice peppermint! this cold morning a ha’penny a glass!” “Here you are at your own price! Fine soles, O!” “Oy! oy! oy! Now’s your time! fine grizzling sprats! all large and no small!” “Hullo! hullo here! beautiful lobsters! good and cheap! fine cock crabs all alive O!” “Five brill and one turbot—have that lot for a pound! Come and look at ’em, governor; you wont see a better sample in the market.” “Here, this way! this way for splendid skate! skate O! skate O!” “Had—had—had—had—haddick! all fresh and good!” “Currant and meat puddings! a ha’penny each!” “Now, you mussel-buyers, come along! come along! come along! now’s your time for fine fat mussels!” “Here’s food for the belly, and clothes for the back, but I sell food for the mind” (shouts the newsvender). “Here’s smelt O!” “Here ye are, fine Finney haddick!” “Hot soup! nice peas-soup! a-all hot! hot!” “Ahoy! ahoy here! live plaice! all alive O!” “Now or never! whelk! whelk! whelk!” “Who’ll buy brill O! brill O!” “Capes! water-proof capes! sure to keep the wet out! a shilling a piece!” “Eels O! eels O! Alive! alive O!” “Fine flounders, a shilling a lot! Who’ll have this prime lot of flounders?” “Shrimps! shrimps! fine shrimps!” “Wink! wink! wink!” “Hi! hi-i! here you are, just eight eels left, only eight!” “O ho! O ho! this way—this way—this way! Fish alive! alive! alive O!”

In the darkness of the shed, the white bellies of the turbots, strung up bow-fashion, shine like mother-of-pearl, while, the lobsters, lying upon them, look intensely scarlet, from the contrast. Brown baskets piled up on one another, and with the herring-scales glittering like spangles all over them, block up the narrow paths. Men in coarse canvas jackets, and bending under huge hampers, push past, shouting “Move on! move on, there!” and women, with the long limp tails of cod-fish dangling from their aprons, elbow their way through the crowd. Round the auction-tables stand groups of men turning over the piles of soles, and throwing them down till they slide about in their slime; some are smelling them, while others are counting the lots. “There, that lot of soles are worth your money,” cries the salesman to one of the crowd as he moves on leisurely; “none better in the market. You shall have ’em for a pound and half-a-crown.” “Oh!” shouts another salesman, “it’s no use to bother him—he’s no go.” Presently a tall porter, with a black oyster-bag, staggers past, trembling under the weight of his load, his back and shoulders wet with the drippings from the sack. “Shove on one side!” he mutters from between his clenched teeth, as he forces his way through the mob. Here is a tray of reddish-brown shrimps piled up high, and the owner busy sifting his little fish into another stand, while a doubtful customer stands in front, tasting the flavour of the stock and consulting with his companion in speculation. Little girls carrying matting-bags, that they have brought from Spitalfields, come up, and ask you in a begging voice to buy their baskets; and women with bundles of twigs for stringing herrings, cry out, “Half-penny a bunch!” from all sides. Then there are blue-black piles of small live lobsters, moving about their bound-up claws and long “feelers,” one of them occasionally being taken up by a looker-on, and dashed down again, like a stone. Everywhere every one is asking, “What’s the price, master?” while shouts of laughter from round the stalls of the salesmen, bantering each other, burst out, occasionally, over the murmuring noise of the crowd. The transparent smelts on the marble-slabs, and the bright herrings, with the lump of transparent ice magnifying their eyes like a lens, are seldom looked at until the market is over, though the hampers and piles of huge maids, dropping slime from the counter, are eagerly examined and bartered for.

One side of the market is set apart for whelks. There they stand in sackfulls, with the yellow shells piled up at the mouth, and one or two of the fish, curling out like corkscrews, placed as a sample. The coster slips one of these from its shell, examines it, pushes it back again, and then passes away, to look well round the market. In one part the stones are covered with herring-barrels, packed closely with dried fish, and yellow heaps of stiff haddock rise up on all sides. Here a man walks up with his knot on his shoulder, waiting for a job to carry fish to the trucks. Boys in ragged clothes, who have slept during the night under a railway-arch, clamour for employment; while the heads of those returning from the oyster-boats, rise slowly up the stone sides of the wharf.

The costermongers have nicknamed the long row of oyster boats moored close alongside the wharf “Oyster-street.” On looking down the line of tangled ropes and masts, it seems as though the little boats would sink with the crowds of men and women thronged together on their decks. It is as busy a scene as one can well behold. Each boat has its black sign-board, and salesman in his white apron walking up and down “his shop,” and on each deck is a bright pewter pot and tin-covered plate, the remains of the salesman’s breakfast. “Who’s for Baker’s?” “Who’s for Archer’s?” “Who’ll have Alston’s?” shout the oyster-merchants, and the red cap of the man in the hold bobs up and down as he rattles the shells about with his spade. These holds are filled with oysters—a gray mass of sand and shell—on which is a bushel measure well piled up in the centre, while some of them have a blue muddy heap of mussels[66] divided off from the “natives.” The sailors in their striped guernseys sit on the boat sides smoking their morning’s pipe, allowing themselves to be tempted by the Jew boys with cloth caps, old shoes, and silk handkerchiefs. Lads with bundles of whips skip from one boat to another, and, seedy-looking mechanics, with handfuls of tin fancy goods, hover about the salesmen, who are the principal supporters of this trade. The place has somewhat the appearance of a little Holywell-street; for the old clothes’ trade is entirely in the hands of the Jew boys, and coats, caps, hats, umbrellas, and old shoes, are shouted out in a rich nasal twang on all sides.

Passing by a man and his wife who were breakfasting on the stone coping, I went to the shore where the watermen ply for passengers to the eel boats. Here I found a crowd of punts, half filled with flounders, and small closely-packed baskets of them ranged along the seats. The lads, who act as jacks-in-the-water, were busy feeling in the mud for the fish that had fallen over board, little caring for the water that dashed over their red swollen feet. Presently a boat, piled up with baskets, shot in, grazing the bottom, and men and women, blue with the cold morning air, stepped out.

The Dutch built eel-boats, with their bulging polished oak sides, were half-hidden in the river mist. They were surrounded by skiffs, that ply from the Surrey and Middlesex shores, and wait whilst the fares buy their fish. The holds of these eel-boats are fitted up with long tanks of muddy water, and the heads of the eels are seen breathing on the surface—a thick brown bubble rising slowly, and floating to the sides. Wooden sabots and large porcelain pipes are ranged round the ledges, and men in tall fur caps with high cheek bones, and rings in their ears, walk the decks. At the stern of one boat was moored a coffin-shaped barge pierced with holes, and hanging in the water were baskets, shaped like olive jars—both to keep the stock of fish alive and fresh. In the centre of the boat stood the scales,—a tall heavy apparatus, one side fitted up with the conical net-bag to hold the eels, and the other with the weights, and pieces of stone to make up for the extra draught of the water hanging about the fish. When a skiff load of purchasers arrives, the master Dutchman takes his hands from his pockets, lays down his pipe, and seizing a sort of long-handled landing-net scoops from the tank a lot of eels. The purchasers examine them, and try to beat down the price. “You calls them eels do you?” said a man with his bag ready opened. “Yeas,” answered the Dutchman without any show of indignation. “Certainly, there is a few among them,” continued the customer; and after a little more of this kind of chaffering the bargain is struck.

The visitors to the eel-boats were of all grades; one was a neatly-dressed girl to whom the costers showed the utmost gallantry, calling her “my dear,” and helping her up the shining sides of the boat; and many of the men had on their blue serge apron, but these were only where the prices were high. The greatest crowd of customers is in the heavy barge alongside of the Dutch craft. Here a stout sailor in his red woollen shirt, and canvass petticoat, is surrounded by the most miserable and poorest of fish purchasers—the men with their crushed hats, tattered coats, and unshorn chins, and the women with their pads on their bonnets, and brown ragged gowns blowing in the breeze. One, in an old table-cover shawl, was beating her palms together before the unmoved Dutchman, fighting for an abatement, and showing her stock of halfpence. Others were seated round the barge, sorting their lots in their shallows, and sanding the fish till they were quite yellow. Others, again, were crowding round the scales narrowly watching the balance, and then begging for a few dead eels to make up any doubtful weight.

As you walk back from the shore to the market, you see small groups of men and women dividing the lot of fish they have bought together. At one basket, a coster, as you pass, calls to you, and says, “Here, master, just put these three halfpence on these three cod, and obleege a party.” The coins are placed, and each one takes the fish his coin is on; and so there is no dispute.

At length nearly all the busy marketing has finished, and the costers hurry to breakfast. At one house, known as “Rodway’s Coffee-house,” a man can have a meal for 1d.—a mug of hot coffee and two slices of bread and butter, while for two-pence what is elegantly termed “a tightner,” that is to say, a most plentiful repast, may be obtained. Here was a large room, with tables all round, and so extremely silent, that the smacking of lips and sipping of coffee were alone heard. Upwards of 1,500 men breakfast here in the course of the morning, many of them taking as many as three such meals. On the counter was a pile of white mugs, and the bright tin cans stood beside the blazing fire, whilst Rodway himself sat at a kind of dresser, cutting up and buttering the bread, with marvellous rapidity. It was a clean, orderly, and excellent establishment, kept by a man, I was told, who had risen from a saloop stall.

Opposite to the Coal Exchange were ranged the stalls and barrows with the street eatables, and the crowds round each showed the effects of the sharp morning air. One—a Jew’s—had hot-pies with lids that rose as the gravy was poured in from an oil can; another carried a stone jar of peppermint-water, at ½d. a glass; and the pea-soup stand was hemmed in by boys and men blowing the steam from their cups. Beside these were Jews with cloth caps and knives, and square yellow cakes; one old man, in a corner, stood examining a thread-bare scarf that a cravatless coster had handed to him. Coffee-stalls were in great plenty; and men left their barrows to run up and have “an oyster,” or “an ’ot heel.” One man here makes his living by selling sheets of old newspapers, at ½d. each,[67] for the costers to dress their trays with. Though seemingly rather out of place, there was a Mosaic jewellery stand; old umbrellas, too, were far from scarce; and one had brought a horse-hair stool for sale.

Everybody was soon busy laying out their stock. The wrinkled dull-eyed cod was freshened up, the red-headed gurnet placed in rows, the eels prevented from writhing over the basket sides by cabbage-leaves, and the soles paired off like gloves. Then the little trucks began to leave, crawling, as it were, between the legs of the horses in the vans crowding Thames-street, and plunging in between huge waggons, but still appearing safely on the other side; and the 4,000 costers who visit Billingsgate on the Friday morning were shortly scattered throughout the metropolis.

Of the Forestalling of Markets and the Billingsgate Bummarees.

“Forestalling,” writes Adam Smith, “is the buying or contracting for any cattle, provisions, or merchandize, on its way to the market (or at market), or dissuading persons from buying their goods there, or persuading them to raise the price, or spreading any false rumour with intent to enhance the value of any article. In the remoter periods of our history several statutes were passed, prohibiting forestalling under severe penalties; but as more enlarged views upon such subjects began to prevail, their impolicy became obvious, and they were consequently repealed in 1772. But forestalling is still punishable by fine and imprisonment; though it be doubtful whether any jury would now convict an individual accused of such practices.”

In Billingsgate the “forestallers” or middlemen are known as “bummarees,” who, as regards means, are a far superior class to the “hagglers” (the forestallers of the “green” markets). The bummaree is the jobber or speculator on the fish-exchange. Perhaps on every busy morning 100 men buy a quantity of fish, which they account likely to be remunerative, and retail it, or dispose of it in lots to the fishmongers or costermongers. Few if any of these dealers, however, are merely bummarees. A salesman, if he have disposed of the fish consigned to himself, will turn bummaree if any bargain tempt him. Or a fishmonger may purchase twice the quantity he requires for his own trade, in order to procure a cheaper stock, and “bummaree” what he does not require. These speculations in fish are far more hazardous than those in fruit or vegetables, for later in the day a large consignment by railway may reach Billingsgate, and, being thrown upon the market, may reduce the price one half. In the vegetable and fruit markets there is but one arrival. The costermongers are among the best customers of the bummarees.

I asked several parties as to the origin of the word “bummaree,” and how long it had been in use. “Why, bless your soul, sir,” said one Billingsgate labourer, “there always was bummarees, and there always will be; just as Jack there is a ‘rough,’ and I’m a blessed ‘bobber.’” One man assured me it was a French name; another that it was Dutch. A fishmonger, to whom I was indebted for information, told me he thought that the bummaree was originally a bum-boat man, who purchased of the wind-bound smacks at Gravesend or the Nore, and sent the fish up rapidly to the market by land.

I may add, as an instance of the probable gains of the forestallers, in the olden time, that a tradesman whose family had been long connected with Billingsgate, showed me by his predecessors’ books and memoranda, that in the depth of winter, when the Thames was perhaps choked with ice, and no supply of fish “got up” to London, any, that might, by management, reach Billingsgate used to command exorbitant prices. To speak only of the present century: March 11th, 1802, a cod fish (8 lbs.) was bought by Messrs. Phillips and Robertson, fishmongers, Bond-street, for 1l. 8s. February, 1809, a salmon (19 lbs.) was bought by Mr. Phillips at a guinea a pound, 19l. 19s. for the fish! March 24th, 1824, three lobsters were sold for a guinea each.

The “haggler,” I may here observe, is the bummaree or forestaller or middleman of the green markets; as far as the costermonger’s trade is concerned, he deals in fruit and vegetables. Of these trafficers there are fully 200 in Covent-garden-market; from 60 to 70 in Farringdon; from 40 to 50 in the Borough; from 50 to 60 in Spitalfields; and none in Portman-market; such being the only wholesale green-markets for the purposes of the costermongers. The haggler is a middleman who makes his purchases of the growers when the day is somewhat advanced, and the whole produce conveyed to the market has not been disposed of. The grower will then, rather than be detained in town, sell the whole lot remaining in his cart or wagon to a haggler, who re-sells it to the costers, or to any other customer, from a stand which he hires by the day. The costermongers who are the most provident, and either have means or club their resources for a large purchase, often buy early in the morning, and so have the advantage of anticipating their fellows in the street-trade, with the day before them. Those who buy later are the customers of the hagglers, and are street-sellers, whose means do not command an extensive purchase, or who do not care to venture upon one unless it be very cheap. These men speak very bitterly of the hagglers, calling them “cracked-up shop-keepers” and “scurfs,” and declaring that but for them the growers must remain, and sell off their produce cheap to the costermongers.

A species of forestalling is now not uncommon, and is on the increase among the costermongers themselves. There are four men, having the command of money, who attend the markets and buy either fish or vegetables largely. One man especially buys almost daily[68] as much fruit and vegetables as will supply thirty street-dealers. He adds 3d. a bushel to the wholesale market price of apples; 6d. to that of pears; 9d. to plums; and 1s. to cherries. A purchaser can thus get a smaller quantity than he can always buy at market, and avails himself of the opportunity.

Moreover, a good many of the more intelligent street-dealers now club together—six of them, for instance—contributing 15s. each, and a quantity of fish is thus bought by one of their body (a smaller contribution suffices to buy vegetables). Perhaps, on an equal partition, each man thus gets for his 15s. as much as might have cost him 20s., had he bought “single-handed.” This mode of purchase is also on the increase.

Of “Wet” Fish-sellers in the Streets.

Concerning the sale of “wet” or fresh fish, I had the following account from a trustworthy man, of considerable experience and superior education:

“I have sold ‘wet fish’ in the streets for more than fourteen years,” he said; “before that I was a gentleman, and was brought up a gentleman, if I’m a beggar now. I bought fish largely in the north of England once, and now I must sell it in the streets of London. Never mind talking about that, sir; there’s some things won’t bear talking about. There’s a wonderful difference in the streets since I knew them first; I could make a pound then, where I can hardly make a crown now. People had more money, and less meanness then. I consider that the railways have injured me, and all wet fish-sellers, to a great extent. Fish now, you see, sir, comes in at all hours, so that nobody can calculate on the quantity that will be received—nobody. That’s the mischief of it; we are afraid to buy, and miss many a chance of turning a penny. In my time, since railways were in, I’ve seen cod-fish sold at a guinea in the morning that were a shilling at noon; for either the wind and the tide had served, or else the railway fishing-places were more than commonly supplied, and there was a glut to London. There’s no trade requires greater judgment than mine—none whatever. Before the railways—and I never could see the good of them—the fish came in by the tide, and we knew how to buy, for there would be no more till next tide. Now, we don’t know. I go to Billingsgate to buy my fish, and am very well known to Mr. —— and Mr. —— (mentioning the names of some well-known salesmen). The Jews are my ruin there now. When I go to Billingsgate, Mr. —— will say, or rather, I will say to him, ‘How much for this pad of soles?’ He will answer, ‘Fourteen shillings.’ ‘Fourteen shillings!’ I say, ‘I’ll give you seven shillings,—that’s the proper amount;’ then the Jew boys—none of them twenty that are there—ranged about will begin; and one says, when I bid 7s., ‘I’ll give 8s;’ ‘nine,’ says another, close on my left; ‘ten,’ shouts another, on my right, and so they go offering on; at last Mr. —— says to one of them, as grave as a judge, ‘Yours, sir, at 13s,’ but it’s all gammon. The 13s. buyer isn’t a buyer at all, and isn’t required to pay a farthing, and never touches the goods. It’s all done to keep up the price to poor fishmen, and so to poor buyers that are our customers in the streets. Money makes money, and it don’t matter how. Those Jew boys—I dare say they’re the same sort as once sold oranges about the streets—are paid, I know 1s. for spending three or four hours that way in the cold and wet. My trade has been injured, too, by the great increase of Irish costermongers; for an Irishman will starve out an Englishman any day; besides if a tailor can’t live by his trade, he’ll take to fish, or fruit and cabbages. The month of May is a fine season for plaice, which is bought very largely by my customers. Plaice are sold at ½d. and 1d. a piece. It is a difficult fish to manage, and in poor neighbourhoods an important one to manage well. The old hands make a profit out of it; new hands a loss. There’s not much cod or other wet fish sold to the poor, while plaice is in. My customers are poor men’s wives,—mechanics, I fancy. They want fish at most unreasonable prices. If I could go and pull them off a line flung off Waterloo-bridge, and no other expense, I couldn’t supply them as cheap as they expect them. Very cheap fish-sellers lose their customers, through the Billingsgate bummarees, for they have pipes, and blow up the cod-fish, most of all, and puff up their bellies till they are twice the size, but when it comes to table, there’s hardly to say any fish at all. The Billingsgate authorities would soon stop it, if they knew all I know. They won’t allow any roguery, or any trick, if they only come to hear of it. These bummarees have caused many respectable people to avoid street-buying, and so fair traders like me are injured. I’ve nothing to complain of about the police. Oft enough, if I could be allowed ten minutes longer on a Saturday night, I could get through all my stock without loss. About a quarter to twelve I begin to halloo away as hard as I can, and there’s plenty of customers that lay out never a farthing till that time, and then they can’t be served fast enough, so they get their fish cheaper than I do. If any halloos out that way sooner, we must all do the same. Anything rather than keep fish over a warm Sunday. I have kept mine in ice; I haven’t opportunity now, but it’ll keep in a cool place this time of year. I think there’s as many sellers as buyers in the streets, and there’s scores of them don’t give just weight or measure. I wish there was good moral rules in force, and everybody gave proper weight. I often talk to street-dealers about it. I’ve given them many a lecture; but they say they only do what plenty of shopkeepers do, and just get fined and go on again, without being a pin the worse thought of. They are abusive sometimes, too; I mean the street-sellers are, because they are ignorant. I have no children, thank God, and my wife helps me in my business. Take the year through, I clear from 10s. to 12s. every week. That’s not[69] much to support two people. Some weeks I earn only 4s.,—such as in wet March weather. In others I earn 18s. or 1l. November, December, and January are good months for me. I wouldn’t mind if they lasted all the year round. I’m often very badly off indeed—very badly; and the misery of being hard up, sir, is not when you’re making a struggle to get out of your trouble; no, nor to raise a meal off herrings that you’ve given away once, but when your wife and you’s sitting by a grate without a fire, and putting the candle out to save it, a planning how to raise money. ‘Can we borrow there?’ ‘Can we manage to sell if we can borrow?’ ‘Shall we get from very bad to the parish?’ Then, perhaps, there’s a day lost, and without a bite in our mouths trying to borrow. Let alone a little drop to give a body courage, which perhaps is the only good use of spirit after all. That’s the pinch, sir. When the rain you hear outside puts you in mind of drownding!”

Subjoined is the amount (in round numbers) of wet fish annually disposed of in the metropolis by the street-sellers:

No. of Fish.lbs. weight.
Eels, from Holland400,00065,000
Total quantity of wet fish sold in the streets of London932,340,000263,261,000

From the above Table we perceive that the fish, of which the greatest quantity is eaten by the poor, is herrings; of this, compared with plaice there is upwards of thirty times the number consumed. After plaice rank mackerel, and of these the consumption is about one-half less in number than plaice, while the number of soles vended in the streets, is again half of that of mackerel. Then come whiting, which are about two-thirds the number of the soles, while the consumption to the poor of haddock, cod, eels, and salmon, is comparatively insignificant. Of sprats, which are estimated by weight, only one-fifth of the number of pounds are consumed compared with the weight of mackerel. The pounds’ weight of herrings sold in the streets, in the course of a year, is upwards of seven times that of plaice, and fourteen times that of mackerel. Altogether more than 260,000,000 pounds, or 116,000 tons weight of wet fish are yearly purchased in the streets of London, for the consumption of the humbler classes. Of this aggregate amount, no less than five-sixths consists of herrings; which, indeed, constitute the great slop diet of the metropolis.

Of Sprat-selling in the Streets.

Sprats—one of the cheapest and most grateful luxuries of the poor—are generally introduced about the 9th of November. Indeed “Lord Mayor’s day” is sometimes called “sprat day.” They continue in about ten weeks. They are sold at Billingsgate by the “toss,” or “chuck,” which is about half a bushel, and weighs from 40lbs. to 50lbs. The price varies from 1s. to 5s. Sprats are, this season, pronounced remarkably fine. “Look at my lot sir,” said a street-seller to me; “they’re a heap of new silver,” and the bright shiny appearance of the glittering little fish made the comparison not inappropriate. In very few, if in any, instances does a costermonger confine himself to the sale of sprats, unless his means limit him to that one branch of the business. A more prosperous street-fishmonger will sometimes detach the sprats from his stall, and his wife, or one of his children will take charge of them. Only a few sprat-sellers are itinerant, the fish being usually sold by stationary street-sellers at “pitches.” One who worked his sprats through the streets, or sold them from a stall as he thought best, gave me the following account. He was dressed in a newish fustian-jacket, buttoned close up his chest, but showing a portion of a clean cotton shirt at the neck, with a bright-coloured coarse handkerchief round it; the rest of his dress was covered by a white apron. His hair, as far as I could see it under his cloth cap, was carefully brushed, and (it appeared) as carefully oiled. At the first glance I set him down as having been a gentleman’s servant. He had a somewhat deferential, though far from cringing manner with him, and seemed to be about twenty-five or twenty-six—he thought he was older, he said, but did not know his age exactly.

“Ah! sir,” he began, in a tone according with his look, “sprats is a blessing to the poor. Fresh herrings is a blessing too, and sprats is young herrings, and is a blessing in ’portion” [for so he pronounced what seemed to be a favourite word with him “proportion”]. “It’s only four years—yes, four, I’m sure of that—since I walked the streets starving, in the depth of winter, and looked at the sprats, and said, I wish I could fill my belly off you. Sir, I hope it was no great sin, but I could hardly keep my hands from stealing some and eating them raw. If they make me sick, thought I, the police’ll take care of me, and that’ll be something. While these thoughts was a passing through my mind, I met a man who was a gentleman’s coachman; I knew him a little formerly, and so I stopped him and told him who I was, and that I hadn’t had a meal for two days. ‘Well, by G—,’ said the coachman, ‘you look like it, why I shouldn’t have known you. Here’s a shilling.’ And then he went on a little way, and then stopped, and turned back and thrust 3½d. more into my hand, and bolted off. I’ve never seen him since. But I’m grateful to him in the[70] same ’portion (proportion) as if I had. After I’d had a penn’orth of bread and a penn’orth of cheese, and half-a-pint of beer, I felt a new man, and I went to the party as I’d longed to steal the sprats from, and told him what I’d thought of. I can’t say what made me tell him, but it turned out for good. I don’t know much about religion, though I can read a little, but may be that had something to do with it.” The rest of the man’s narrative was—briefly told—as follows. He was the only child of a gentleman’s coachman. His father had deserted his mother and him, and gone abroad, he believed, with some family. His mother, however, took care of him until her death, which happened “when he was a little turned thirteen, he had heard, but could not remember the year.” After that he was “a helper and a jobber in different stables,” and “anybody’s boy,” for a few years, until he got a footman’s, or rather footboy’s place, which he kept above a year. After that he was in service, in and out of different situations, until the time he specified, when he had been out of place for nearly five weeks, and was starving. His master had got in difficulties, and had gone abroad; so he was left without a character. “Well, sir,” he continued, “the man as I wanted to steal the sprats from, says to me, says he, ‘Poor fellow; I know what a hempty belly is myself—come and have a pint.’ And over that there pint, he told me, if I could rise 10s. there might be a chance for me in the streets, and he’d show me how to do. He died not very long after that, poor man. Well, after a little bit, I managed to borrow 10s. of Mr. —— (I thought of him all of a sudden). He was butler in a family that I had lived in, and had a charitable character, though he was reckoned very proud. But I plucked up a spirit, and told him how I was off, and he said, ‘Well, I’ll try you,’ and he lent me 10s., which I paid him back, little by little, in six or eight weeks; and so I started in the costermonger line, with the advice of my friend, and I’ve made from 5s. to 10s., sometimes more, a week, at it ever since. The police don’t trouble me much. They is civil to me in ’portion (proportion) as I am civil to them. I never mixed with the costers but when I’ve met them at market. I stay at a lodging-house, but it’s very decent and clean, and I have a bed to myself, at 1s. a week, for I’m a regular man. I’m on sprats now, you see, sir, and you’d wonder, sometimes, to see how keen people looks to them when they’re new. They’re a blessing to the poor, in ’portion (proportion) of course. Not twenty minutes before you spoke to me, there was two poor women came up—they was sickly-looking, but I don’t know what they was—perhaps shirt-makers—and they says to me, says they, ‘Show us what a penny plateful is.’ ‘Sart’nly, ladies,’ says I. Then they whispered together, and at last one says, says she, ‘We’ll have two platefuls.’ I told you they was a blessing to the poor, sir—’specially to such as them, as lives all the year round on bread and tea. But it’s not only the poor as buys; others in ’portion (proportion). When they’re new they’re a treat to everybody. I’ve sold them to poor working-men, who’ve said, ‘I’ll take a treat home to the old ’oman and the kids; they dotes on sprats.’ Gentlemen’s servants is very fond of them, and mechanics comes down—such as shoemakers in their leather aprons, and sings out, ‘Here, old sprats, give us two penn’orth.’ They’re such a relish. I sell more to men than to women, perhaps, but there’s little difference. They’re best stewed, sir, I think—if you’re fond of sprats—with vinegar and a pick of allspice; that’s my opinion, and, only yesterday, an old cook said I was right. I makes 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. a day, and sometimes rather more, on my sprats, and sticks to them as much as I can. I sell about my ‘toss’ a day, seldom less. Of course I can make as many penn’orths of it as I please, but there’s no custom without one gives middling penn’orths. If a toss costs me 3s., I may make sixty penn’orths of it sometimes—sometimes seventy or more—and sometimes less than sixty. There’s many turns over as much as me and more than that. I’m thinking that I’ll work the country with a lot; they’ll keep to a second day, when they’re fresh to start, ’specially if its frosty weather, too, and then they’re better than ever—yes, and a greater treat—scalding hot from the fire, they’re the cheapest and best of all suppers in the winter time. I hardly know which way I’ll go. If I can get anythink to do among horses in the country, I’ll never come back. I’ve no tie to London.”

To show how small a sum of money will enable the struggling striving poor to obtain a living, I may here mention that, in the course of my inquiries among the mudlarks, I casually gave a poor shoeless urchin, who was spoken of by one of the City Missionaries as being a well-disposed youth, 1s. out of the funds that had been entrusted to me to dispense. Trifling as the amount appears, it was the means of keeping his mother, sister, and himself through the winter. It was invested in sprats, and turned over and over again.

I am informed, by the best authorities, that near upon 1000 “tosses” of sprats are sold daily in London streets, while the season lasts. These, sold retail in pennyworths, at very nearly 5s. the toss, give about 150l. a day, or say 1,000l. a week spent on sprats by the poorer classes of the metropolis; so that, calculating the sprat season to last ten weeks, about 10,000l. would be taken by the costermongers during that time from the sale of this fish alone.

Another return, furnished me by an eminent salesman at Billingsgate, estimates the gross quantity of sprats sold by the London costers in the course of the season at three millions of pounds weight, and this disposed of at the rate of 1d. per pound, gives upwards of 12,000l. for the sum of money spent upon this one kind of fish.


Of Shell-Fish Sellers in the Streets.

I had the following account from an experienced man. He lived with his mother, his wife, and four children, in one of the streets near Gray’s-inn-lane. The street was inhabited altogether by people of his class, the women looking sharply out when a stranger visited the place. On my first visit to this man’s room, his wife, who is near her confinement, was at dinner with her children. The time was ¼ to 12. The meal was tea, and bread with butter very thinly spread over it. On the wife’s bread was a small piece of pickled pork, covering about one-eighth of the slice of a quartern loaf cut through. In one corner of the room, which is on the ground-floor, was a scantily-covered bed. A few dingy-looking rags were hanging up to dry in the middle of the room, which was littered with baskets and boxes, mixed up with old furniture, so that it was a difficulty to stir. The room (although the paper, covering the broken panes in the window, was torn and full of holes) was most oppressively close and hot, and there was a fetid smell, difficult to sustain, though it was less noticeable on a subsequent call. I have often had occasion to remark that the poor, especially those who are much subjected to cold in the open air, will sacrifice much for heat. The adjoining room, which had no door, seemed littered like the one where the family were. The walls of the room I was in were discoloured and weather-stained. The only attempt at ornament was over the mantel-shelf, the wall here being papered with red and other gay-coloured papers, that once had been upholsterer’s patterns.

On my second visit, the husband was at dinner with the family, on good boiled beef and potatoes. He was a small-featured man, with a head of very curly and long black hair, and both in mien, manners, and dress, resembled the mechanic far more than the costermonger. He said:—

“I’ve been twenty years and more, perhaps twenty-four, selling shell-fish in the streets. I was a boot-closer when I was young, and have made my 20s. and 30s., and sometimes 40s., and then sometimes not 10s. a week; but I had an attack of rheumatic-fever, and lost the use of my hands for my trade. The streets hadn’t any great name, as far as I knew, then, but as I couldn’t work, it was just a choice between street-selling and starving, so I didn’t prefer the last. It was reckoned degrading to go into the streets—but I couldn’t help that. I was astonished at my success when I first began, and got into the business—that is into the understanding of it—after a week, or two, or three. Why, I made 3l. the first week I knew my trade, properly; yes, I cleared 3l.! I made, not long after, 5l. a week—but not often. I was giddy and extravagant. Indeed, I was a fool, and spent my money like a fool. I could have brought up a family then like a gentleman—I send them to school as it is—but I hadn’t a wife and family then, or it might have been better; it’s a great check on a man, is a family. I began with shell-fish, and sell it still; very seldom anything else. There’s more demand for shells, no doubt, because its far cheaper, but then there’s so many more sellers. I don’t know why exactly. I suppose it’s because poor people go into the streets when they can’t live other ways, and some do it because they think it’s an idle life; but it ain’t. Where I took 35s. in a day at my stall—and well on to half of it profit—I now take 5s. or 6s., or perhaps 7s., in the day and less profit on that less money. I don’t clear 3s. a day now, take the year through. I don’t keep accounts, but I’m certain enough that I average about 15s. a week the year through, and my wife has to help me to make that. She’ll mind the stall, while I take a round sometimes. I sell all kinds of shell-fish, but my great dependence is on winkles. I don’t do much in lobsters. Very few speculate in them. The price varies very greatly. What’s 10s. a score one day may be 25s. the next. I sometimes get a score for 5s. or 6s., but it’s a poor trade, for 6d. is the top of the tree, with me, for a price to a seller. I never get more. I sell them to mechanics and tradesmen. I do more in pound crabs. There’s a great call for haporths and pennorths of lobster or crab, by children; that’s their claws. I bile them all myself, and buy them alive. I can bile twenty in half an hour, and do it over a grate in a back-yard. Lobsters don’t fight or struggle much in the hot water, if they’re properly packed. It’s very few that knows how to bile a lobster as he should be biled. I wish I knew any way of killing lobsters before biling them. I can’t kill them without smashing them to bits, and that won’t do at all. I kill my crabs before I bile them. I stick them in the throat with a knife and they’re dead in an instant. Some sticks them with a skewer, but they kick a good while with the skewer in them. It’s a shame to torture anything when it can be helped. If I didn’t kill the crabs they’d shed every leg in the hot water; they’d come out as bare of claws as this plate. I’ve known it oft enough, as it is; though I kill them uncommon quick, a crab will be quicker and shed every leg—throw them off in the moment I kill them, but that doesn’t happen once in fifty times. Oysters are capital this season, I mean as to quality, but they’re not a good sale. I made 3l. a week in oysters, not reckoning anything else, eighteen or twenty years back. It was easy to make money then; like putting down one sovereign and taking two up. I sold oysters then oft enough at 1d. a piece. Now I sell far finer at three a penny and five for 2d. People can’t spend money in shell-fish when they haven’t got any. They say that fortune knocks once at every man’s door. I wish I’d opened my door when he knocked at it.”

This man’s wife told me afterwards, that last[72] winter, after an attack of rheumatism, all their stock-money was exhausted, and her husband sat day by day at home almost out of his mind; for nothing could tempt him to apply to the parish, and “he would never have mentioned his sufferings to me,” she said; “he had too much pride.” The loan of a few shillings from a poor costermonger enabled the man to go to market again, or he and his family would now have been in the Union.

As to the quantity of shell-fish sold in the streets of London, the returns before-cited give the following results:


Of Shrimp Selling in the Streets.

Shrimp selling, as I have stated, is one of the trades to which the street-dealer often confines himself throughout the year. The sale is about equally divided between the two sexes, but the men do the most business, walking some of them fifteen to twenty miles a day in a “round” of “ten miles there and ten back.”

The shrimps vended in the streets are the Yarmouth prawn shrimps, sold at Billingsgate at from 6d. to 10d. a gallon, while the best shrimps (chiefly from Lee, in Essex,) vary in price from 10d. to 2s. 6d. a gallon; 2s. being a common price. The shrimps are usually mixed by the street-dealers, and they are cried, from stalls or on rounds, “a penny half-pint, fine fresh s’rimps.” (I heard them called nothing but “s’rimps” by the street-dealers.) The half-pint, however, is in reality but half that quantity. “It’s the same measure as it was thirty years back,” I was told, in a tone as if its antiquity removed all imputation of unfair dealing. Some young men “do well on s’rimps,” sometimes taking 5s. in an hour on a Saturday evening, “when people get their money, and wants a relish.” The females in the shrimp line are the wives, widows, or daughters of costermongers. They are computed to average 1s. 6d. a day profit in fine, and from 9d. to 1s. in bad weather; and, in snowy, or very severe weather, sometimes nothing at all.

One shrimp-seller, a middle-aged woman, wrapped up in a hybrid sort of cloak, that was half a man’s and half a woman’s garment, gave me the following account. There was little vulgarity in either her language or manner.

“I was in the s’rimp trade since I was a girl. I don’t know how long. I don’t know how old I am. I never knew; but I’ve two children, one’s six and t’other’s near eight, both girls; I’ve kept count of that as well as I can. My husband sells fish in the street; so did father, but he’s dead. We buried him without the help of the parish, as many gets—that’s something to say. I’ve known the trade every way. It never was any good in public-houses. They want such great ha’p’orths there. They’ll put up with what isn’t very fresh, to be sure, sometimes; and good enough for them too, I say, as spoils their taste with drink.” [This was said very bitterly.] “If it wasn’t for my husband’s drinking for a day together now and then we’d do better. He’s neither to have nor to hold when he’s the worse for liquor; and it’s the worse with him, for he’s a quiet man when he’s his own man. Perhaps I make 9d. a day, perhaps 1s. or more. Sometimes my husband takes my stand, and I go a round. Sometimes, if he gets through his fish, he goes my round. I give good measure, and my pint’s the regular s’rimp pint.” [It was the half-pint I have described.] “The trade’s not so good as it was. People hasn’t the money, they tells me so. It’s bread before s’rimps, says they. I’ve heard them say it very cross, if I’ve wanted hard to sell. Some days I can sell nothing. My children stays with my sister, when me and my old man’s out. They don’t go to school, but Jane (the sister) learns them to sew. She makes drawers for the slopsellers, but has very little work, and gets very little for the little she does; she would learn them to read if she knew how. She’s married to a pavior, that’s away all day. It’s a hard life mine, sir. The winter’s a coming, and I’m now sometimes ’numbed with sitting at my stall in the cold. My feet feels like lumps of ice in the winter; and they’re beginning now, as if they weren’t my own. Standing’s far harder work than going a round. I sell the best s’rimps. My customers is judges. If I’ve any s’rimps over on a night, as I often have one or two nights a week, I sells them for half-price to an Irishwoman, and she takes them to the beer-shops, and the coffee-shops. She washes them to look fresh. I don’t mind telling that, because people should buy of regular people. It’s very few people know how to pick a s’rimp properly. You should take it by the head and the tail and jam them up, and then the shell separates, and the s’rimp comes out beautifully. That’s the proper way.”

Sometimes the sale on the rounds may be the same as that at the stalls, or 10 or 20 per cent. more or less, according to the weather, as shrimps can be sold by the itinerant dealers better than by the stall-keepers in wet weather, when people prefer buying at their doors. But in hot weather the stall trade is the best, “for people often fancy that the s’rimps is sent out to sell ’cause they’ll not keep no longer. It’s only among customers as knows you, you can do any good on a round then.”

The costermongers sell annually, it appears, about 770,000 pints of shrimps. At 2d. a pint (a very low calculation) the street sale of shrimps amount to upwards of 6,400l. yearly.

ORANGE MART, DUKE’S PLACE.—[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]


Of Oyster Selling in the Streets.

The trade in oysters is unquestionably one of the oldest with which the London—or rather the English—markets are connected; for oysters from Britain were a luxury in ancient Rome.

Oysters are now sold out of the smacks at Billingsgate, and a few at Hungerford. The more expensive kind such as the real Milton, are never bought by the costermongers, but they buy oysters of a “good middling quality.” At the commencement of the season these oysters are 14s. a “bushel,” but the measure contains from a bushel and a half to two bushels, as it is more or less heaped up. The general price, however, is 9s. or 10s., but they have been 16s. and 18s. The “big trade” was unknown until 1848, when the very large shelly oysters, the fish inside being very small, were introduced from the Sussex coast. They were sold in Thames-street and by the Borough-market. Their sale was at first enormous. The costermongers distinguished them by the name of “scuttle-mouths.” One coster informant told me that on the Saturdays he not unfrequently, with the help of a boy and a girl, cleared 10s. by selling these oysters in the streets, disposing of four bags. He thus sold, reckoning twenty-one dozen to the bag, 2,016 oysters; and as the price was two for a penny, he took just 4l. 4s. by the sale of oysters in the streets in one night. With the scuttle-mouths the costermonger takes no trouble: he throws them into a yard, and dashes a few pails of water over them, and then places them on his barrow, or conveys them to his stall. Some of the better class of costermongers, however, lay down their oysters carefully, giving them oatmeal “to fatten on.”

In April last, some of the street-sellers of this article established, for the first time, “oyster-rounds.” These were carried on by costermongers whose business was over at twelve in the day, or a little later; they bought a bushel of scuttle-mouths (never the others), and, in the afternoon, went a round with them to poor neighbourhoods, until about six, when they took a stand in some frequented street. Going these oyster-rounds is hard work, I am told, and a boy is generally taken to assist. Monday afternoon is the best time for this trade, when 10s. is sometimes taken, and 4s. or 5s. profit made. On other evenings only from 1s. to 5s. is taken—very rarely the larger sum—as the later the day in the week the smaller is the receipt, owing to the wages of the working classes getting gradually exhausted.

The women who sell oysters in the street, and whose dealings are limited, buy either of the costermongers or at the coal-sheds. But nearly all the men buy at Billingsgate, where as small a quantity as a peck can be had.

An old woman, who had “seen better days,” but had been reduced to keep an oyster-stall, gave me the following account of her customers. She showed much shrewdness in her conversation, but having known better days, she declined to enter upon any conversation concerning her former life:—

“As to my customers, sir,” she said, “why, indeed, they’re all sorts. It’s not a very few times that gentlemen (I call them so because they’re mostly so civil) will stop—just as it’s getting darkish, perhaps,—and look about them, and then come to me and say very quick: ‘Two penn’orth for a whet.’ Ah! some of ’em will look, may be, like poor parsons down upon their luck, and swallow their oysters as if they was taking poison in a hurry. They’ll not touch the bread or butter once in twenty times, but they’ll be free with the pepper and vinegar, or, mayhap, they’ll say quick and short, ‘A crust off that.’ I many a time think that two penn’orth is a poor gentleman’s dinner. It’s the same often—but only half as often, or not half—with a poor lady, with a veil that once was black, over a bonnet to match, and shivering through her shawl. She’ll have the same. About two penn’orth is the mark still; it’s mostly two penn’orth. My son says, it’s because that’s the price of a glass of gin, and some persons buy oysters instead—but that’s only his joke, sir. It’s not the vulgar poor that’s our chief customers. There’s many of them won’t touch oysters, and I’ve heard some of them say: ‘The sight on ’em makes me sick; it’s like eating snails.’ The poor girls that walk the streets often buy; some are brazen and vulgar, and often the finest dressed are the vulgarest; at least, I think so; and of those that come to oyster stalls, I’m sure it’s the case. Some are shy to such as me, who may, perhaps, call their own mothers to their minds, though it aint many of them that is so. One of them always says that she must keep at least a penny for gin after her oysters. One young woman ran away from my stall once after swallowing one oyster out of six that she’d paid for. I don’t know why. Ah! there’s many things a person like me sees that one may say, ‘I don’t know why’ to; that there is. My heartiest customers, that I serve with the most pleasure, are working people, on a Saturday night. One couple—I think the wife always goes to meet her husband on a Saturday night—has two, or three, or four penn’orth, as happens, and it’s pleasant to hear them say, ‘Won’t you have another, John?’ or, ‘Do have one or two more, Mary Anne.’ I’ve served them that way two or three years. They’ve no children, I’m pretty sure, for if I say, ‘Take a few home to the little ones,’ the wife tosses her head, and says, half vexed and half laughing, ‘Such nonsense.’ I send out a good many oysters, opened, for people’s suppers, and sometimes for supper parties—at least, I suppose so, for there’s five or six dozen often ordered. The maid-servants come for them then, and I give them two or three for themselves, and say, jokingly-like, ‘It’s no use offering you any, perhaps, because you’ll have plenty that’s left.’ They’ve mostly one answer: ‘Don’t we wish we may get ’em?’ The very poor never buy of me, as I told you. A penny[76] buys a loaf, you see, or a ha’porth of bread and a ha’porth of cheese, or a half-pint of beer, with a farthing out. My customers are mostly working people and tradespeople. Ah! sir, I wish the parson of the parish, or any parson, sat with me a fortnight; he’d see what life is then. ‘It’s different,’ a learned man used to say to me—that’s long ago—‘from what’s noticed from the pew or the pulpit.’ I’ve missed the gentleman as used to say that, now many years—I don’t know how many. I never knew his name. He was drunk now and then, and used to tell me he was an author. I felt for him. A dozen oysters wasn’t much for him. We see a deal of the world, sir—yes, a deal. Some, mostly working people, take quantities of pepper with their oysters in cold weather, and say it’s to warm them, and no doubt it does; but frosty weather is very bad oyster weather. The oysters gape and die, and then they are not so much as manure. They are very fine this year. I clear 1s. a day, I think, during the season—at least 1s., taking the fine with the wet days, and the week days with the Sundays, though I’m not out then; but, you see, I’m known about here.”

The number of oysters sold by the costermongers amounts to 124,000,000 a year. These, at four a penny, would realise the large sum of 129,650l. We may therefore safely assume that 125,000l. is spent yearly in oysters in the streets of London.

Of Periwinkle Selling in the Streets.

There are some street people who, nearly all the year through, sell nothing but periwinkles, and go regular rounds, where they are well known. The “wink” men, as these periwinkle sellers are called, generally live in the lowest parts, and many in lodging-houses. They are forced to live in low localities, they say, because of the smell of the fish, which is objected to. The city district is ordinarily the best for winkle-sellers, for there are not so many cheap shops there as in other parts. The summer is the best season, and the sellers then make, upon the average, 12s. a week clear profit; in the winter, they get upon the average, 5s. a week clear, by selling mussels and whelks—for, as winkles last only from March till October, they are then obliged to do what they can in the whelk and mussel way. “I buy my winks,” said one, “at Billingsgate, at 3s. and 4s. the wash. A wash is about a bushel. There’s some at 2s., and some sometimes as low as 1s. the wash, but they wouldn’t do for me, as I serve very respectable people. If we choose we can boil our winkles at Billingsgate by paying 4d. a week for boiling, and ½d. for salt, to salt them after they are boiled. Tradesmen’s families buy them for a relish to their tea. It’s reckoned a nice present from a young man to his sweetheart, is winks. Servant girls are pretty good customers, and want them cheaper when they say it’s for themselves; but I have only one price.”

One man told me he could make as much as 12s. a week—sometimes more and sometimes less.

He made no speeches, but sung—“Winketty-winketty-wink-wink-wink—wink-wink—wicketty-wicketty-wink—fine fresh winketty-winks wink wink.” He was often so sore in the stomach and hoarse with hallooing that he could hardly speak. He had no child, only himself and wife to keep out of his earnings. His room was 2s. a week rent. He managed to get a bit of meat every day, he said, “somehow or ’nother.”

Another, more communicative and far more intelligent man, said to me concerning the character of his customers: “They’re people I think that like to daddle” (dawdle, I presume) “over their teas or such like; or when a young woman’s young man takes tea with her mother and her, then they’ve winks; and then there’s joking, and helping to pick winks, between Thomas and Betsy, while the mother’s busy with her tea, or is wiping her specs, ’cause she can’t see. Why, sir, I’ve known it! I was a Thomas that way myself when I was a tradesman. I was a patten-maker once, but pattens is no go now, and hasn’t been for fifteen year or more. Old people, I think, that lives by themselves, and has perhaps an annuity or the like of that, and nothing to do pertickler, loves winks, for they likes a pleasant way of making time long over a meal. They’re the people as reads a newspaper, when it’s a week old, all through. The other buyers, I think, are tradespeople or working-people what wants a relish. But winks is a bad trade now, and so is many that depends on relishes.”

One man who “works” the New Cut, has the “best wink business of all.” He sells only a little dry fish with his winks, never wet fish, and has “got his name up,” for the superiority of that shell-fish—a superiority which he is careful to ensure. He pays 8s. a week for a stand by a grocer’s window. On an ordinary afternoon he sells from 7s. to 10s. worth of periwinkles. On a Monday afternoon he often takes 20s.; and on the Sunday afternoon 3l. and 4l. He has two coster lads to help him, and sometimes on a Sunday from twenty to thirty customers about him. He wraps each parcel sold in a neat brown paper bag, which, I am assured, is of itself, an inducement to buy of him. The “unfortunate” women who live in the streets contiguous to the Waterloo, Blackfriars, and Borough-roads, are among his best customers, on Sundays especially. He is rather a public character, getting up dances and the like. “He aint bothered—not he—with ha’p’orths or penn’orths of a Sunday,” said a person who had assisted him. “It’s the top of the tree with his customers; 3d. or 6d. at a go.” The receipts are one-half profit. I heard from several that he was “the best man for winks a-going.”

The quantity of periwinkles disposed of by the London street-sellers is 3,600,000 pints, which, at 1d. per pint, gives the large sum of 15,000l. expended annually in this street luxury. It should be remembered, that a very large con[77]sumption of periwinkles takes place in public-houses and suburban tea-gardens.

Of “Dry” Fish Selling in the Streets.

The dealing in “dry” or salt fish is never carried on as a totally distinct trade in the streets, but some make it a principal part of their business; and many wet fish-dealers whose “wet fish” is disposed of by noon, sell dry fish in the afternoon. The dry fish, proper, consists of dried mackerel, salt cod—dried or barrelled—smoked or dried haddocks (often called “finnie haddies”), dried or pickled salmon (but salmon is only salted or pickled for the streets when it can be sold cheap), and salt herrings.

A keen-looking, tidily-dressed man, who was at one time a dry fish-seller principally, gave me the following account. For the last two months he has confined himself to another branch of the business, and seemed to feel a sort of pleasure in telling of the “dodges” he once resorted to:

“There’s Scotch haddies that never knew anything about Scotland,” he said, “for I’ve made lots of them myself by Tower-street, just a jump or two from the Lambeth station-house. I used to make them on Sundays. I was a wet fish-seller then, and when I couldn’t get through my haddocks or my whitings of a Saturday night, I wasn’t a-going to give them away to folks that wouldn’t take the trouble to lift me out of a gutter if I fell there, so I presarved them. I’ve made haddies of whitings, and good ones too, and Joe made them of codlings besides. I had a bit of a back-yard to two rooms, one over the other, that I had then, and on a Sunday I set some wet wood a fire, and put it under a great tub. My children used to gut and wash the fish, and I hung them on hooks all round the sides of the tub, and made a bit of a chimney in a corner of the top of the tub, and that way I gave them a jolly good smoking. My wife had a dry fish-stall and sold them, and used to sing out ‘Real Scotch haddies,’ and tell people how they was from Aberdeen; I’ve often been fit to laugh, she did it so clever. I had a way of giving them a yellow colour like the real Scotch, but that’s a secret. After they was well smoked they was hung up to dry all round the rooms we lived in, and we often had stunning fires that answered as well to boil crabs and lobsters when they was cheap enough for the streets. I’ve boiled a mate’s crabs and lobsters for 2½d.; it was two boilings and more, and 2½d. was reckoned the price of half a quarter of a hundred of coals and the use of the pan. There’s more ways than one of making 6d., if a man has eyes in his head and keeps them open. Haddocks that wouldn’t fetch 1d. a piece, nor any money at all of a Saturday night, I’ve sold—at least she has” (indicating his wife by a motion of his thumb)—“at 2d., and 3d., and 4d. I’ve bought fish of costers that was over on a Saturday night, to make Scotch haddies of them. I’ve tried experience” (experiments) “too. Ivy, burnt under them, gave them, I thought, a nice sort of flavour, rather peppery, for I used always to taste them; but I hate living on fish. Ivy with brown berries on it, as it has about this time o’ year, I liked best. Holly wasn’t no good. A black-currant bush was, but it’s too dear; and indeed it couldn’t be had. I mostly spread wetted fire-wood, as green as could be got, or damp sticks of any kind, over shavings, and kept feeding the fire. Sometimes I burnt sawdust. Somehow, the dry fish trade fell off. People does get so prying and so knowing, there’s no doing nothing now for no time, so I dropped the dry fish trade. There’s few up to smoking them proper; they smoke ’em black, as if they was hung up in a chimbley.”

Another costermonger gave me the following account:

“I’ve salted herrings, but the commonest way of salting is by the Jews about Whitechapel. They make real Yarmouth bloaters and all sorts of fish. When I salted herrings, I bought them out of the boats at Billingsgate by the hundred, which is 120 fish. We give them a bit of a clean—hardly anything—then chuck them into a tub of salt, and keep scattering salt over them, and let them lie a few minutes, or sometimes half an hour, and then hang them up to dry. They eat well enough, if they’re eaten in time, for they won’t keep. I’ve known three day’s old herrings salted, just because there was no sale for them. One Jew sends out six boys crying ‘real Yarmouth bloaters.’ People buy them in preference, they look so nice and clean and fresh-coloured. It’s quite a new trade among the Jews. They didn’t do much that way until two years back. I sometimes wish I was a Jew, because they help one another, and start one another with money, and so they thrive where Christians are ruined. I smoked mackerel, too, by thousands; that’s a new trade, and is done the same way as haddocks. Mackerel that won’t bring 1d. a piece fresh, bring 2d. smoked; they are very nice indeed. I make about 10s. or 11s. a week by dry fish in the winter months, and about as much by wet,—but I have a tidy connection. Perhaps I make 17s. or 18s. a week all the year round.”

The aggregate quantity of dry fish sold by the London costermongers throughout the year is as follows—the results being deduced from the table before given:

Wet salt cod93,750
Dry   do.1,000,000
Smoked Haddocks4,875,000

Gross Value of the several Kinds of Fish annually Sold in the Streets of London.

It now but remains for me, in order to complete this account of the “street-sellers of fish,” to form an estimate of the amount of money annually expended by the labourers and the poorer[78] classes of London upon the different kinds of wet, dry, and shell-fish. This, according to the best authorities, is as follows:

Wet Fish.£
175,000lbs. of salmon, at 6d. per lb.4,000
1,000,000lbs. of live cod, at 1½d. per lb.5,000
3,250,000pairs of soles, at 1½d. per pair20,000
4,400,000whiting, at ½d. each9,000
29,400,000plaice, at ¾d.90,000
15,700,000mackarel, at 6 for 1s.130,000
875,000,000herrings, at 16 a groat900,000
3,000,000lbs. of sprats, at 1d. per lb.12,000
400,000lbs. of eels, at 3 lb. for 1s.6,000
260,000flounders, at 1d. per dozen100
270,000dabs, at 1d. per dozen100
Sum total expended yearly in wet fish1,177,000
Dry Fish.
525,000lbs. barrelled cod, at 1½d.3,000
500,000lbs. dried salt cod, at 2d.4,000
4,875,000smoked haddock, at 1d.20,000
36,750,000bloaters, at 2 for 1d.75,000
25,000,000red herrings, at 4 for 1d.25,000
Sum total expended yearly in dry fish127,000
Shell Fish.
124,000,000oysters, at 4 a penny125,000
60,000lobsters, at 3d.750
50,000crabs, at 2d.400
770,000pints of shrimps, at 2d.6,000
1,000,000quarts of mussels, at 1d.4,000
750,000quarts of cockles, at 1d.3,000
4,950,000whelks, at 8 for 1d.2,500
3,600,000pints of periwinkles, at 1d.15,000
Sum total expended yearly in shell-fish156,650

Adding together the above totals, we have the following result as to the gross money value of the fish purchased yearly in the London streets:

Wet fish1,177,200
Dry fish127,000
Shell fish156,650

Hence we find that there is nearly a million and a half of money annually spent by the poorer classes of the metropolis in fish; a sum so prodigious as almost to discredit every statement of want, even if the amount said to be so expended be believed. The returns from which the above account is made out have been obtained, however, from such unquestionable sources—not from one salesman alone, but checked and corrected by many gentlemen who can have no conceivable motive for exaggeration either one way or the other—that, sceptical as our utter ignorance of the subject must necessarily make us, still if we will but examine for ourselves, we shall find there is no gainsaying the facts.

Moreover as to the enormity of the amount dispelling all ideas of privation among the industrious portion of the community, we shall also find on examination that assuming the working-men of the metropolis to be 500,000 in number (the Occupation Abstract of 1841, gives 773,560 individuals following some employment in London, but these include merchants, employers, shopkeepers, Government-officers and others), and that they, with their wives and children, make up one million individuals, it follows that the sum per head, expended in fish by the poorer classes every week, is a fraction more than 6¾d., or, in other words not quite one penny a day.

If the diet of a people be a criterion, as has been asserted, of their character, it may be feared that the present extensive fish-diet of the working-people of London, is as indicative of degeneracy of character, as Cobbett insisted must result from the consumption of tea, and “the cursed root,” the potato. “The flesh of fish,” says Pereira on Diet, “is less satisfying than the flesh of either quadrupeds or birds. As it contains a larger proportion of water (about 80 per cent.), it is obviously less nourishing.” Haller tells us he found himself weakened by a fish-diet; and he states that Roman Catholics are generally debilitated during Lent. Pechlin also affirms that a mechanic, nourished merely by fish, has less muscular power than one who lives on the flesh of warm-blooded animals. Jockeys, who waste themselves in order to reduce their weight, live principally on fish.

The classes of fish above given, are, when considered in a “dietetical point of view,” of two distinct kinds; viz., those which form the staple commodity of the dinners and suppers of the poor, and those which are mere relishes or stimuli to failing, rather than stays to, eager appetites. Under the former head, I include red-herrings, bloaters, and smoked haddocks; such things are not merely provocatives to eat, among the poor, as they are at the breakfast-table of many an over-fed or intemperate man. With the less affluent these salted fish are not a “relish,” but a meal.

The shell-fish, however, can only be considered as luxuries. The 150,000l. thus annually expended in the streets, represents the sum laid out in mere relishes or stimuli to sluggish appetites. A very large proportion of this amount, I am inclined to believe, is spent by persons whose stomachs have been disordered by drink. A considerable part of the trade in the minor articles, as winks, shrimps, &c., is carried on in public-houses, while a favourite pitch for an oyster-stall is outside a tavern-door. If, then, so large an amount is laid out in an endeavour to restore the appetite after drinking, how much money must be squandered in destroying it by the same means?



Of the Kinds and Quantity of Fruit and Vegetables sold in the Streets.

There are two kinds of fruit sold in the streets—“green fruit” and “dry fruit.”

In commerce, all fruit which is edible as it is taken from the tree or the ground, is known as “green.” A subdivision of this green fruit is into “fresh” or “tender” fruit, which includes currants, gooseberries, strawberries, and, indeed, all fruits that demand immediate consumption, in contradistinction to such productions as nuts which may be kept without injury for a season. All fruit which is “cured” is known as “dry” fruit. In summer the costers vend “green fruit,” and in the winter months, or in the early spring, when the dearness or insufficiency of the supply of green fruit renders it unsuited for their traffic, they resort, but not extensively, to “dry fruit.” It is principally, however, when an abundant season, or the impossibility of keeping the dry fruit much longer, has tended to reduce the price of it, that the costlier articles are to be found on the costermonger’s barrow.

Fruit is, for the most part, displayed on barrows, by the street-dealers in it. Some who supply the better sort of houses—more especially those in the suburbs—carry such things as apples and plums, in clean round wicker-baskets, holding pecks or half-pecks.

The commoner “green” fruits of home produce are bought by the costermonger in the markets. The foreign green fruit, as pine-apples, melons, grapes, chestnuts, coker-nuts, Brazil-nuts, hazel-nuts, and oranges, are purchased by them at the public sales of the brokers, and of the Jews in Duke’s-place. The more intelligent and thrifty of the costers buy at the public sales on the principle of association, as I have elsewhere described. Some costermongers expend as much as 20l. at a time in such green fruit, or dry fruit, as is not immediately perishable, at a public sale, or at a fruit-warehouse, and supply the other costers.

The regular costermongers seldom deal in oranges and chestnuts. If they sell walnuts, they reserve these, they say, for their Sunday afternoon’s pastime. The people who carry oranges, chestnuts, or walnuts, or Spanish nuts about the town, are not considered as costermongers, but are generally, though not always, classed, by the regular men, with the watercress-women, the sprat-women, the winkle-dealers, and such others, whom they consider beneath them. The orange season is called by the costermonger the “Irishman’s harvest.” Indeed, the street trade in oranges and nuts is almost entirely in the hands of the Irish and their children; and of the children of costermongers. The costers themselves would rather starve—and do starve now and then—than condescend to it. The trade in coker-nuts is carried on greatly by the Jews on Sundays, and by young men and boys who are not on other days employed as street-sellers.

The usual kinds of fruit the regular costers deal in are strawberries, raspberries (plain and stalked), cherries, apricots, plums, green-gages, currants, apples, pears, damsons, green and ripe gooseberries, and pine-apples. They also deal in vegetables, such as turnips, greens, brocoli, carrots, onions, celery, rhubarb, new potatoes, peas, beans (French and scarlet, broad and Windsor), asparagus, vegetable marrow, seakale, spinach, lettuces, small salads, radishes, etc. Their fruit and vegetables they usually buy at Covent-garden, Spitalfields, or the Borough markets. Occasionally they buy some at Farringdon, but this they reckon to be very little better than a “haggler’s market,”—a “haggler” being, as I before explained, the middle-man who attends in the fruit and vegetable-markets, and buys of the salesman to sell again to the retail dealer or costermonger.

Concerning the quantity of fruit and vegetables sold in the streets, by the London costermongers. This, as I said, when treating of the street-trade in fish, can only be arrived at by ascertaining the entire quantity sold wholesale at the London markets, and then learning from the best authorities the proportion retailed in the public thoroughfares. Fully to elucidate this matter, both as to the extent of the metropolitan supply of vegetables and fruit, (“foreign” as well as “home-grown,” and “green” as well as “dry”) and the relative quantity of each, vended through the agency of the costermongers, I caused inquiries to be instituted at all the principal markets and brokers (for not even the vaguest return on the subject had, till then, been prepared), and received from all the gentlemen connected therewith, every assistance and information, as I have here great pleasure in acknowledging.

To carry out my present inquiry, I need not give returns of the articles not sold by the costermongers, nor is it necessary for me to cite any but those dealt in by them generally. Their exceptional sales, such as of mushrooms, cucumbers, &c., are not included here.

The following Table shows the ordinary annual supply of home grown fruit (nearly all produced within a radius of twelve miles from the Bank) to each of the London “green” markets.



Description of Fruits and Vegetables.Covent Garden.Borough.Spitalfields.Farringdon.Portman.Total.Costermongers.
Apples360,000 bushels25,000250,00035,00016,000686,000One-half.
Pears230,000    „    10,00083,00020,00010,000353,000One-half.
Cherries90,000 doz. lbs.45,00015,00012,00011,200173,200One-half.
Plums[3]93,000 bushels15,50045,0003,00020,000176,500One-fifteenth.
Green Gages[3]2,000    „    3331,5001,0005005,333One-fiftieth.
Damsons[3]19,800    „    3,1504,5009,0001,20037,650One-thirtieth.
Bullace1,800    „    1,6204005405404,900One-half.
Gooseberries140,000    „    26,20091,50012,0007,000276,700Three-fourths.
Currants (Red)[3]70,000 sieves15,00075,0006,0009,000175,000One-half.
Ditto (Black)45,000    „    12,00045,0006,0004,000112,000One-eighth.
Ditto (White)3,800    „    3,00015,0003,0002,00026,800One-eighth.
Strawberries[4]638,000 pottles330,000396,00015,000148,5001,527,500One-half.
Raspberries22,500    „    3,7502,5003,5003,00035,250One-twentieth.
Mulberries17,496    „    57,6007,06417,28122,500121,940One-fourth.
Hazel Nuts2,700 bushels1,0006485,4002709,018Two-thirds.
Filberts221,400 lbs.72,00043,200144,00037,800518,400One-thirtieth.
Potatoes161,280,000 lbs.48,384,00064,512,00024,192,00012,096,000310,464,000One-fifteenth.
Cabbages[5]33,600,000 plants19,200,00012,000,0008,400,00016,472,00089,672,000One-third.
Brocoli and Cauliflowers1,800,000 heads3,780,0002,880,0005,320,000546,00014,326,000One-twentieth.
Turnips18,800,000 roots4,800,0004,800,0003,500,000748,00032,648,000One-tenth.
Turnip Tops300,000 junks500,000600,000250,000200,0001,850,000One-third.
Carrots12,000,000 roots1,571,0002,400,0001,500,000546,00018,017,000One-thirtieth.
Peas270,000 bushels50,000100,00014,0004,000438,000One-half.
Beans100,000    „    20,00010,0002,4001,000133,400One-fifteenth.
French Beans140,000    „    9,60012,00050,0009,600221,200One-tenth.
Vegetab. Marrows10,800 dozen3,2403,6004321,80019,872One-third.
Asparagus12,000 dz. bun.3,6001,0801,4401,44019,560One-fortieth.
Celery15,000    „    4,8006,0003,0006,00034,800One-eighth.
Rhubarb7,200    „    48,00028,8002,4004,80091,200One-tenth.
Lettuces734,400 plants1,080,0002,073,600129,600475,2004,492,800One-eighth.
Radishes6,912 dz. hands43,20036,00018,00028,800132,912One-tenth.
Onions500,000 bushels398,000400,0009,600182,0001,489,600One-third.
Ditto (Spring)36,000 dz. bun.10,80021,60021,60014,400104,400One-fourth.
Cucumbers2,160 bushels10,80024,00012,00038,40087,360One-eighth.
Herbs7,200 dz. bun.9,6009,4007,8003,90037,900One-tenth.
Description of Fruits and Vegetables.Covent Garden.Borough.Spitalfields.Farringdon.
Apples360,000 bushels25,000250,00035,000
Pears230,000    „    10,00083,00020,000
Cherries90,000 doz. lbs.45,00015,00012,000
Plums[3]93,000 bushels15,50045,0003,000
Green Gages[3]2,000    „    3331,5001,000
Damsons[3]19,800    „    3,1504,5009,000
Bullace1,800    „    1,620400540
Gooseberries140,000    „    26,20091,50012,000
Currants (Red)[3]70,000 sieves15,00075,0006,000
Ditto (Black)45,000    „    12,00045,0006,000
Ditto (White)3,800    „    3,00015,0003,000
Strawberries[4]638,000 pottles330,000396,00015,000
Raspberries22,500    „    3,7502,5003,500
Mulberries17,496    „    57,6007,06417,281
Hazel Nuts2,700 bushels1,0006485,400
Filberts221,400 lbs.72,00043,200144,000
Potatoes161,280,000 lbs.48,384,00064,512,00024,192,000
Cabbages[5]33,600,000 plants19,200,00012,000,0008,400,000
Brocoli and Cauliflowers1,800,000 heads3,780,0002,880,0005,320,000
Turnips18,800,000 roots4,800,0004,800,0003,500,000
Turnip Tops300,000 junks500,000600,000250,000
Carrots12,000,000 roots1,571,0002,400,0001,500,000
Peas270,000 bushels50,000100,00014,000
Beans100,000    „    20,00010,0002,400
French Beans140,000    „    9,60012,00050,000
Vegetab. Marrows10,800 dozen3,2403,600432
Asparagus12,000 dz. bun.3,6001,0801,440
Celery15,000    „    4,8006,0003,000
Rhubarb7,200    „    48,00028,8002,400
Lettuces734,400 plants1,080,0002,073,600129,600
Radishes6,912 dz. hands43,20036,00018,000
Onions500,000 bushels398,000400,0009,600
Ditto (Spring)36,000 dz. bun.10,80021,60021,600
Cucumbers2,160 bushels10,80024,00012,000
Herbs7,200 dz. bun.9,6009,4007,800
Description of Fruits and Vegetables.Portman.Total.Costermongers.
Green Gages[3]5005,333One-fiftieth.
Currants (Red)[3]9,000175,000One-half.
Ditto (Black)4,000112,000One-eighth.
Ditto (White)2,00026,800One-eighth.
Hazel Nuts2709,018Two-thirds.
Brocoli and Cauliflowers546,00014,326,000One-twentieth.
Turnip Tops200,0001,850,000One-third.
French Beans9,600221,200One-tenth.
Vegetab. Marrows1,80019,872One-third.
Ditto (Spring)14,400104,400One-fourth.

The various proportions of the several kinds of fruit and vegetables sold by the costermongers are here calculated for all the markets, from returns which have been obtained from each market separately. To avoid unnecessary detail, however, these several items are lumped together, and the aggregate proportion above given.

The foregoing Table, however, relates chiefly to “home grown” supplies. Concerning the quantity of foreign fruit and vegetables imported into this country, the proportion consumed in London, and the relative amount sold by the costers, I have obtained the following returns:—


Table, showing the Quantity or Measure of the undermentioned Foreign Green Fruits and Vegetables sold Wholesale throughout the Year in London, with the Proportion sold Retail in the Streets.

Description.Quantity sold wholesale in London.Proportion sold retail in the streets.
Pears19,742   „seven-eighths.
Cherries264,240 lbs.two-thirds.
Grapes1,328,190   „one-fiftieth.
Pine-apples200,000 fruitone-tenth.
Oranges61,635,146   „one-fourth.
Lemons15,408,789   „one-hundredth.
Spanish Nuts} 72,509
Barcelona   „
Brazil   „11,700   „one-fourth.
Chestnuts26,250   „one-fourth.
Walnuts36,088   „two-thirds.
“Coker”-nuts1,255,000 nutsone-third.

Here, then, we have the entire metropolitan supply of the principal vegetables and green fruit (both home grown and foreign), as well as the relative quantity “distributed” throughout London by the costermongers; it now but remains for me, in order to complete the account, to do the same for “the dry fruit.”

Table, showing the Quantity of “Dry” Fruit sold wholesale in London throughout the Year, with the proportion Sold retail in the Streets.

Description.Quantity sold
wholesale in London.
Proportion sold retail in the streets.
Shell Almonds12,500 cwt.half per cent.
Raisins135,000  „  quarter per cent.
Currants250,000  „  none.
Figs21,700  „  one per cent.
Prunes15,000  „  quarter per cent.

Of the Fruit and Vegetable Season of the Costermongers.

The strawberry season begins about June, and continues till about the middle of July. From the middle to the end of July the costers “work” raspberries. During July cherries are “in” as well as raspberries; but many costers prefer working raspberries, because “they’re a quicker sixpence.” After the cherries, they go to work upon plums, which they have about the end of August. Apples and pears come in after the plums in the month of September, and the apples last them all through the winter till the month of May. The pears last only till Christmas. Currants they work about the latter end of July, or beginning of August.

Concerning the costermonger’s vegetable season, it may be said that he “works” greens during the winter months, up to about March; from that time they are getting “leathery,” the leaves become foxy, I was told, and they eat tough when boiled. The costers generally do not like dealing either in greens or turnips, “they are such heavy luggage,” they say. They would sooner “work” green peas and new potatoes.

The costermonger, however, does the best at fruit; but this he cannot work—with the exception of apples—for more than four months in the year. They lose but little from the fruit spoiling. “If it doesn’t fetch a good price, it must fetch a bad one,” they say; but they are never at a great loss by it. They find the “ladies” their hardest or “scaliest” customers. Whatever price they ask, they declare the “ladies” will try to save the market or “gin” penny out of it, so that they may have “a glass of something short” before they go home.

Of Covent Garden Market.

On a Saturday—the coster’s business day—it is computed that as many as 2,000 donkey-barrows, and upwards of 3,000 women with shallows and head-baskets visit this market during the forenoon. About six o’clock in the morning is the best time for viewing the wonderful restlessness of the place, for then not only is the “Garden” itself all bustle and activity, but the buyers and sellers stream to and from it in all directions, filling every street in the vicinity. From Long Acre to the Strand on the one side, and from Bow-street to Bedford-street on the other, the ground has been seized upon by the market-goers. As you glance down any one of the neighbouring streets, the long rows of carts and donkey-barrows seem interminable in the distance. They are of all kinds, from the greengrocer’s taxed cart to the coster’s barrow—from the showy excursion-van to the rude square donkey-cart and bricklayer’s truck. In every street they are ranged down the middle and by the kerb-stones. Along each approach to the market, too, nothing is to be seen, on all sides, but vegetables; the pavement is covered with heaps of them waiting to be carted; the flagstones are stained green with the leaves trodden under foot; sieves and sacks full of apples and potatoes, and bundles of brocoli and rhubarb, are left unwatched upon almost every door-step; the steps of Covent Garden Theatre are covered with fruit and vegetables; the road is blocked up with mountains of cabbages and turnips; and men and women push past with their arms bowed out by the cauliflowers under them, or the red tips of carrots pointing from their crammed aprons, or else their faces are red with the weight of the loaded head-basket.

The donkey-barrows, from their number and singularity, force you to stop and notice them. Every kind of ingenuity has been exercised to[82] construct harness for the costers’ steeds; where a buckle is wanting, tape or string make the fastening secure; traces are made of rope and old chain, and an old sack or cotton handkerchief is folded up as a saddle-pad. Some few of the barrows make a magnificent exception, and are gay with bright brass; while one of the donkeys may be seen dressed in a suit of old plated carriage-harness, decorated with coronets in all directions. At some one of the coster conveyances stands the proprietor, arranging his goods, the dozing animal starting up from its sleep each time a heavy basket is hoisted on the tray. Others, with their green and white and red load neatly arranged, are ready for starting, but the coster is finishing his breakfast at the coffee-stall. On one barrow there may occasionally be seen a solitary sieve of apples, with the horse of some neighbouring cart helping himself to the pippins while the owner is away. The men that take charge of the trucks, whilst the costers visit the market, walk about, with their arms full of whips and sticks. At one corner a donkey has slipped down, and lies on the stones covered with the cabbages and apples that have fallen from the cart.

The market itself presents a beautiful scene. In the clear morning air of an autumn day the whole of the vast square is distinctly seen from one end to the other. The sky is red and golden with the newly-risen sun, and the rays falling on the fresh and vivid colours of the fruit and vegetables, brightens up the picture as with a coat of varnish. There is no shouting, as at other markets, but a low murmuring hum is heard, like the sound of the sea at a distance, and through each entrance to the market the crowd sweeps by. Under the dark Piazza little bright dots of gas-lights are seen burning in the shops; and in the paved square the people pass and cross each other in all directions, hampers clash together, and excepting the carters from the country, every one is on the move. Sometimes a huge column of baskets is seen in the air, and walks away in a marvellously steady manner, or a monster railway van, laden with sieves of fruit, and with the driver perched up on his high seat, jolts heavily over the stones. Cabbages are piled up into stacks as it were. Carts are heaped high with turnips, and bunches of carrots like huge red fingers, are seen in all directions. Flower-girls, with large bundles of violets under their arms, run past, leaving a trail of perfume behind them. Wagons, with their shafts sticking up in the air, are ranged before the salesmen’s shops, the high green load railed in with hurdles, and every here and there bunches of turnips are seen flying in the air over the heads of the people. Groups of apple-women, with straw pads on their crushed bonnets, and coarse shawls crossing their bosoms, sit on their porter’s knots, chatting in Irish, and smoking short pipes; every passer-by is hailed with the cry of, “Want a baskit, yer honor?” The porter, trembling under the piled-up hamper, trots along the street, with his teeth clenched and shirt wet with the weight, and staggering at every step he takes.

Inside, the market all is bustle and confusion. The people walk along with their eyes fixed on the goods, and frowning with thought. Men in all costumes, from the coster in his corduroy suit to the greengrocer in his blue apron, sweep past. A countryman, in an old straw hat and dusty boots, occasionally draws down the anger of a woman for walking about with his hands in the pockets of his smock-frock, and is asked, “if that is the way to behave on a market-day?” Even the granite pillars cannot stop the crowd, for it separates and rushes past them, like the tide by a bridge pier. At every turn there is a fresh odour to sniff at; either the bitter aromatic perfume of the herbalists’ shops breaks upon you, or the scent of oranges, then of apples, and then of onions is caught for an instant as you move along. The brocoli tied up in square packets, the white heads tinged slightly red, as it were, with the sunshine,—the sieves of crimson love-apples, polished like china,—the bundles of white glossy leeks, their roots dangling like fringe,—the celery, with its pinky stalks and bright green tops,—the dark purple pickling-cabbages,—the scarlet carrots,—the white knobs of turnips,—the bright yellow balls of oranges, and the rich brown coats of the chesnuts—attract the eye on every side. Then there are the apple-merchants, with their fruit of all colours, from the pale yellow green to the bright crimson, and the baskets ranged in rows on the pavement before the little shops. Round these the customers stand examining the stock, then whispering together over their bargain, and counting their money. “Give you four shillings for this here lot, master,” says a coster, speaking for his three companions. “Four and six is my price,” answers the salesman. “Say four, and it’s a bargain,” continues the man. “I said my price,” returns the dealer; “go and look round, and see if you can get ’em cheaper; if not, come back. I only wants what’s fair.” The men, taking the salesman’s advice, move on. The walnut merchant, with the group of women before his shop, peeling the fruit, their fingers stained deep brown, is busy with the Irish purchasers. The onion stores, too, are surrounded by Hibernians, feeling and pressing the gold-coloured roots, whose dry skins crackle as they are handled. Cases of lemons in their white paper jackets, and blue grapes, just seen above the sawdust are ranged about, and in some places the ground is slippery as ice from the refuse leaves and walnut husks scattered over the pavement.

Against the railings of St. Paul’s Church are hung baskets and slippers for sale, and near the public-house is a party of countrymen preparing their bunches of pretty coloured grass—brown and glittering, as if it had been bronzed. Between the spikes of the railing are piled up square cakes of green turf for larks; and at the pump, boys, who probably have passed the previous night in the baskets about the market, are[83] washing, and the water dripping from their hair that hangs in points over the face. The kerb-stone is blocked up by a crowd of admiring lads, gathered round the bird-catcher’s green stand, and gazing at the larks beating their breasts against their cages. The owner, whose boots are red with the soil of the brick-field, shouts, as he looks carelessly around, “A cock linnet for tuppence,” and then hits at the youths who are poking through the bars at the fluttering birds.

Under the Piazza the costers purchase their flowers (in pots) which they exchange in the streets for old clothes. Here is ranged a small garden of flower-pots, the musk and mignonette smelling sweetly, and the scarlet geraniums, with a perfect glow of coloured air about the flowers, standing out in rich contrast with the dark green leaves of the evergreens behind them. “There’s myrtles, and larels, and boxes,” says one of the men selling them, “and there’s a harbora witus, and lauristiners, and that bushy shrub with pink spots is heath.” Men and women, selling different articles, walk about under the cover of the colonnade. One has seed-cake, another small-tooth and other combs, others old caps, or pig’s feet, and one hawker of knives, razors, and short hatchets, may occasionally be seen driving a bargain with a countryman, who stands passing his thumb over the blade to test its keenness. Between the pillars are the coffee-stalls, with their large tin cans and piles of bread and butter, and protected from the wind by paper screens and sheets thrown over clothes-horses; inside these little parlours, as it were, sit the coffee-drinkers on chairs and benches, some with a bunch of cabbages on their laps, blowing the steam from their saucers, others, with their mouths full, munching away at their slices, as if not a moment could be lost. One or two porters are there besides, seated on their baskets, breakfasting with their knots on their heads.

As you walk away from this busy scene, you meet in every street barrows and costers hurrying home. The pump in the market is now surrounded by a cluster of chattering wenches quarrelling over whose turn it is to water their drooping violets, and on the steps of Covent Garden Theatre are seated the shoeless girls, tying up the halfpenny and penny bundles.

Of “Green” Fruit Selling in the Streets.

The fruit selling of the streets of London is of a distinct character from that of vegetable or fish selling, inasmuch as fruit is for the most part a luxury, and the others are principally necessaries.

There is no doubt that the consumption of fruit supplies a fair criterion of the condition of the working classes, but the costermongers, as a body of traders, are little observant, so that it is not easy to derive from them much information respecting the classes who are their customers, or as to how their custom is influenced by the circumstances of the times. One man, however, told me that during the last panic he sold hardly anything beyond mere necessaries. Other street-sellers to whom I spoke could not comprehend what a panic meant.

The most intelligent costers whom I conversed with agreed that they now sold less fruit than ever to working people, but perhaps more than ever to the dwellers in the smaller houses in the suburbs, and to shopkeepers who were not in a large way of business. One man sold baking apples, but not above a peck on an average weekly, to women whom he knew to be the wives of working men, for he had heard them say, “Dear me, I didn’t think it had been so late, there’s hardly time to get the dumplings baked before my husband leaves work for his dinner.” The course of my inquiries has shown me—and many employers whom I have conversed with are of a similar opinion—that the well-conducted and skilful artisan, who, in spite of slop competition, continues to enjoy a fair rate of wages, usually makes a prudent choice of a wife, who perhaps has been a servant in a respectable family. Such a wife is probably “used to cooking,” and will oft enough make a pie or pudding to eke out the cold meat of the Monday’s dinner, or “for a treat for the children.” With the mass of the working people, however, it is otherwise. The wife perhaps has been reared to incessant toil with her needle, and does not know how to make even a dumpling. Even if she possess as much knowledge, she may have to labour as well as her husband, and if their joint earnings enable them to have “the added pudding,” there is still the trouble of making it; and, after a weary week’s work, rest is often a greater enjoyment than a gratification of the palate. Thus something easily prepared, and carried off to the oven, is preferred. The slop-workers of all trades never, I believe, taste either fruit pie or pudding, unless a penny one be bought at a shop or in the street; and even among mechanics who are used to better diet, the pies and puddings, when wages are reduced, or work grows slack, are the first things that are dispensed with. “When the money doesn’t come in, sir,” one working-man said to me, “we mustn’t think of puddings, but of bread.”

A costermonger, more observant than the rest, told me that there were some classes to whom he had rarely sold fruit, and whom he had seldom seen buy any. Among these he mentioned sweeps, scavengers, dustmen, nightmen, gas-pipe-layers, and sewer-men, who preferred to any fruit, “something to bite in the mouth, such as a penn’orth of gin.” My informant believed that this abstinence from fruit was common to all persons engaged in such offensive trades as fiddle-string making, gut-dressing for whip-makers or sausage-makers, knackers, &c. He was confident of it, as far as his own experience extended. It is, moreover, less common for the women of the town, of the poorer sort, to expend pence in fruit than in such things[84] as whelks, shrimps, or winks, to say nothing of gin. Persons, whose stomachs may be one week jaded to excess, and the next be deprived of a sufficiency of proper food, seek for stimulants, or, as they term it, “relishes.”

The fruit-sellers, meaning thereby those who deal principally in fruit in the season, are the more intelligent costermongers. The calculation as to what a bushel of apples, for instance, will make in half or quarter pecks, puzzles the more ignorant, and they buy “second-hand,” or of a middle-man, and consequently dearer. The Irish street-sellers do not meddle much with fruit, excepting a few of the very best class of them, and they “do well in it,” I was told, “they have such tongue.”

The improvement in the quality of the fruit and vegetables now in our markets, and consequently in the necessaries and luxuries of the poorer classes, is very great. Prizes and medals have been deservedly awarded to the skilled and persevering gardeners who have increased the size and heightened the flavour of the pine-apple or the strawberry—who have given a thinner rind to the peach, or a fuller gush of juice to the apricot,—or who have enhanced alike the bloom, the weight, and the size of the fruit of the vine, whether as regards the classic “bunch,” or the individual grape. Still these are benefits confined mainly to the rich. But there is another class of growers who have rendered greater services and whose services have been comparatively unnoticed. I allude to those gardeners who have improved or introduced our every day vegetables or fruit, such as now form the cheapest and most grateful and healthy enjoyments of the humbler portion of the community. I may instance the introduction of rhubarb, which was comparatively unknown until Mr. Myatt, now of Deptford, cultivated it thirty years ago. He then, for the first time, carried seven bundles of rhubarb into the Borough market. Of these he could sell only three, and he took four back with him. Mr. Myatt could not recollect the price he received for the first rhubarb he ever sold in public, but he told me that the stalks were only about half the substance of those he now produces. People laughed at him for offering “physic pies,” but he persevered, and I have shown what the sale of rhubarb now is.

Moreover, the importation of foreign “pines” may be cited as another instance of the increased luxuries of the poor. The trade in this commodity was unknown until the year 1842. At that period Mr. James Wood and Messrs. Claypole and Son, of Liverpool, imported them from the Bahamas, a portion being conveyed to Messrs. Keeling and Hunt, of London. Since that period the trade has gradually increased until, instead of 1000 pines being sent to Liverpool, and a portion of them conveyed to London, as at first, 200,000 pines are now imported to London alone. The fruit is brought over in “trees,” stowed in numbers from ten to thirty thousand, in galleries constructed fore and aft in the vessel, which is so extravagantly fragrant, that it has to be ventilated to abate the odour. But for this importation, and but for the trade having become a part of the costermonger’s avocation, hundreds and thousands in London would never have tasted a pine-apple. The quality of the fruit has, I am informed, been greatly improved since its first introduction; the best description of “pines” which Covent-garden can supply having been sent out to graft, to increase the size and flavour of the Bahaman products, and this chiefly for the regalement of the palates of the humbler classes of London. The supply from the Bahamas is considered inexhaustible.

Pine-apples, when they were first introduced, were a rich harvest to the costermonger. They made more money “working” these than any other article. The pines cost them about 4d. each, one with the other, good and bad together, and were sold by the costermonger at from 1s. to 1s. 6d. The public were not aware then that the pines they sold were “salt-water touched,” and the people bought them as fast as they could be sold, not only by the whole one, but at 1d. a slice,—for those who could not afford to give 1s. for the novelty, had a slice as a taste for 1d. The costermongers used then to have flags flying at the head of their barrows, and gentlefolk would stop them in the streets; indeed, the sale for pines was chiefly among “the gentry.” The poorer people—sweeps, dustmen, cabmen—occasionally had pennyworths, “just for the fun of the thing;” but gentlepeople, I was told, used to buy a whole one to take home, so that all the family might have a taste. One costermonger assured me that he had taken 22s. a day during the rage for pines, when they first came up.

I have before stated that when the season is in its height the costermonger prefers the vending of fruit to the traffic in either fish or vegetables; those, however, who have regular rounds and “a connection,” must supply their customers with vegetables, if not fish, as well as fruit, but the costers prefer to devote themselves principally to fruit. I am unable, therefore, to draw a comparison between what a coster realises in fruit, and what in fish, as the two seasons are not contemporary. The fruit sale is, however, as I have shown in p. 54, the costermonger’s harvest.

All the costermongers with whom I conversed represented that the greater cheapness and abundance of fruit had been anything but a benefit to them, nor did the majority seem to know whether fruit was scarcer or more plentiful one year than another, unless in remarkable instances. Of the way in which the introduction of foreign fruit had influenced their trade, they knew nothing. If questioned on the subject, the usual reply was, that things got worse, and people didn’t buy so much fruit as they did half-a-dozen years back, and so less was sold. That these men hold such opinions must be accounted for mainly by the increase in their[85] numbers, of which I have before spoken, and from their general ignorance.

The fruit of which there is the readiest sale in the streets is one usually considered among the least useful—cherries. Probably, the greater eagerness on the part of the poorer classes to purchase this fruit arises from its being the first of the fresh “green” kind which our gardens supply for street-sale after the winter and the early spring. An intelligent costermonger suggested other reasons. “Poor people,” he said, “like a quantity of any fruit, and no fruit is cheaper than cherries at 1d. a pound, at which I have sold some hundreds of pounds’ weight. I’m satisfied, sir, that if a cherry could be grown that weighed a pound, and was of a finer flavour than ever was known before, poor people would rather have a number of little ones, even if they was less weight and inferior quality. Then boys buy, I think, more cherries than other fruit; because, after they have eaten ’em, they can play at cherry-stones.”

From all I can learn, the halfpenny-worth of fruit purchased most eagerly by a poor man, or by a child to whom the possession of a halfpenny is a rarity, is cherries. I asked a man “with a good connection,” according to his own account, as to who were his customers for cherries. He enumerated ladies and gentlemen; working-people; wagoners and carters (who “slipped them quietly into their pockets,” he said); parlour-livers (so he called the occupants of parlours); maid-servants; and soldiers. “Soldiers,” I was told, “are very fond of something for a change from their feed, which is about as regular as a prison’s.”

The currant, and the fruit of the same useful genus, the gooseberry, are sold largely by the costermongers. The price of the currants is 1d. or 2d. the half-pint, 1d. being the more usual charge. Of red currants there is the greatest supply, but the black “go off better.” The humbler classes buy a half-pint of the latter for a dumpling, and “they’re reckoned,” said my informant, “capital for a sore throat, either in jam or a pudding.” Gooseberries are also retailed by the half-pint, and are cheaper than currants—perhaps ½d. the half-pint is the average street-price. The working-classes do not use ripe gooseberries, as they do ripe currants, for dumplings, but they are sold in greater quantities and may be said to constitute, when first introduced, as other productions do afterwards, the working-people’s Sunday dessert. “Only you go on board a cheap steamer to Greenwich, on a fine summer Sunday,” observed a street-seller to me, “and you’ll see lots of young women with gooseberries in their handkerchiefs in their laps. Servant-maids is very good customers for such things as gooseberries, for they always has a penny to spare.” The costers sell green gooseberries for dumplings, and sometimes to the extent of a fourth of the ripe fruit. The price of green gooseberries is generally ½d. a pint dearer than the ripe.

When strawberries descend to such a price as places them at the costermonger’s command, the whole fraternity is busily at work, and as the sale can easily be carried on by women and children, the coster’s family take part in the sale, offering at the corners of streets the fragrant pottle, with the crimson fruit just showing beneath the green leaves at the top. Of all cries, too, perhaps that of “hoboys” is the most agreeable. Strawberries, however, according to all accounts, are consumed least of all fruits by the poor. “They like something more solid,” I was told, “something to bite at, and a penny pottle of strawberries is only like a taste; what’s more, too, the really good fruit never finds its way into penny pottles.” The coster’s best customers are dwellers in the suburbs, who purchase strawberries on a Sunday especially, for dessert, for they think that they get them fresher in that way than by reserving them from the Saturday night, and many are tempted by seeing or hearing them cried in the streets. There is also a good Sunday sale about the steam-wharfs, to people going “on the river,” especially when young women and children are members of a party, and likewise in the “clerk districts,” as Camden-town and Camberwell. Very few pottles, comparatively, are sold in public-houses; “they don’t go well down with the beer at all,” I was told. The city people are good customers for street strawberries, conveying them home. Good strawberries are 2d. a pottle in the streets when the season is at its height. Inferior are 1d. These are the most frequent prices. In raspberries the coster does little, selling them only to such customers as use them for the sake of jam or for pastry. The price is from 6d. to 1s. 6d. the pottle, 9d. being the average.

The great staple of the street trade in green fruit is apples. These are first sold by the travelling costers, by the measure, for pies, &c., and to the classes I have described as the makers of pies. The apples, however, are soon vended in penny or halfpenny-worths, and then they are bought by the poor who have a spare penny for the regalement of their children or themselves, and they are eaten without any preparation. Pears are sold to the same classes as are apples. The average price of apples, as sold by the costermonger, is 4s. a bushel, and six a penny. The sale in halfpenny and pennyworths is very great. Indeed the costermongers sell about half the apples brought to the markets, and I was told that for one pennyworth of apples bought in a shop forty were bought in the street. Pears are 9d. a bushel, generally, dearer than apples, but, numerically, they run more to the bushel.

The costers purchase the French apples at the wharf, close to London-bridge, on the Southwark side. They give 10s., 12s., 18s., or 20s. for a case containing four bushels. They generally get from 9d. to 1s. profit on a bushel of English, but on the French apples they make a clear profit of from 1s. 3d. to 2s. a bushel, and would make more, but the fruit some[86]times “turns out damaged.” This extra profit is owing to the French giving better measure, their four bushels being about five market bushels, as there is much straw packed up with the English apples, and none with the French.

Plums and damsons are less purchased by the humbler classes than apples, or than any other larger sized fruit which is supplied abundantly. “If I’ve worked plums or damsons,” said an experienced costermonger, “and have told any woman pricing them: ‘They don’t look so ripe, but they’re all the better for a pie,’ she’s answered, ‘O, a plum pie’s too fine for us, and what’s more, it takes too much sugar.’” They are sold principally for desserts, and in penny-worths, at 1d. the half-pint for good, and ½ d. for inferior. Green-gages are 50 per cent. higher. Some costers sell a cheap lot of plums to the eating-house keepers, and sell them more readily than they sell apples to the same parties.

West Indian pine-apples are, as regards the street sale, disposed of more in the city than elsewhere. They are bought by clerks and warehousemen, who carry them to their suburban homes. The slices at ½d. and 1d. are bought principally by boys. The average price of a “good street pine” is 9d.

Peaches are an occasional sale with the costermongers’, and are disposed of to the same classes as purchase strawberries and pines. The street sale of peaches is not practicable if the price exceed 1d. a piece.

Of other fruits, vended largely in the streets, I have spoken under their respective heads.

The returns before cited as to the quantity of home-grown and foreign green fruit sold in London, and the proportion disposed of by the costermongers give the following results (in round numbers), as to the absolute quantity of the several kinds of green fruit (oranges and nuts excepted) “distributed” throughout the metropolis by the street-sellers.

343,000bushels ofapples, (home-grown)
34,560apples, (foreign)
176,500pears, (home-grown)
17,235pears, (foreign)
1,039,200lbs. ofcherries, (home-grown)
176,160cherries, (foreign)
11,766bushels ofplums,
85,500sieves ofred currants,
13,500black currants,
3,000white currants,
763,750pottles ofstrawberries,
6,012bushels ofhazel nuts,
17,280lbs. offilberts,

Of the Orange and Nut Market.

In Houndsditch there is a market supported principally by costermongers, who there purchase their oranges, lemons, and nuts. This market is entirely in the hands of the Jews; and although a few tradesmen may attend it to buy grapes, still it derives its chief custom from the street-dealers who say they can make far better bargains with the Israelites, (as they never refuse an offer,) than they can with the Covent-garden salesmen, who generally cling to their prices. This market is known by the name of “Duke’s-place,” although its proper title is St. James’s-place. The nearest road to it is through Duke’s-street, and the two titles have been so confounded that at length the mistake has grown into a custom.

Duke’s-place—as the costers call it—is a large square yard, with the iron gates of a synagogue in one corner, a dead wall forming one entire side of the court, and a gas-lamp on a circular pavement in the centre. The place looks as if it were devoted to money-making—for it is quiet and dirty. Not a gilt letter is to be seen over a doorway; there is no display of gaudy colour, or sheets of plate-glass, such as we see in a crowded thoroughfare when a customer is to be caught by show. As if the merchants knew their trade was certain, they are content to let the London smoke do their painter’s work. On looking at the shops in this quarter, the idea forces itself upon one that they are in the last stage of dilapidation. Never did property in Chancery look more ruinous. Each dwelling seems as though a fire had raged in it, for not a shop in the market has a window to it; and, beyond the few sacks of nuts exposed for sale, they are empty, the walls within being blackened with dirt, and the paint without blistered in the sun, while the door-posts are worn round with the shoulders of the customers, and black as if charred. A few sickly hens wander about, turning over the heaps of dried leaves that the oranges have been sent over in, or roost the time away on the shafts and wheels of the nearest truck. Excepting on certain days, there is little or no business stirring, so that many of the shops have one or two shutters up, as if a death had taken place, and the yard is quiet as an inn of court. At a little distance the warehouses, with their low ceilings, open fronts, and black sides, seem like dark holes or coal-stores; and, but for the mahogany backs of chairs showing at the first floors, you would scarcely believe the houses to be inhabited, much more to be elegantly furnished as they are. One of the drawing-rooms that I entered here was warm and red with morocco leather, Spanish mahogany, and curtains and Turkey carpets; while the ormolu chandelier and the gilt frames of the looking-glass and pictures twinkled at every point in the fire-light.

The householders in Duke’s-place are all of the Jewish persuasion, and among the costers a[87] saying has sprung up about it. When a man has been out of work for some time, he is said to be “Cursed, like a pig in Duke’s-place.”

Almost every shop has a Scripture name over it, and even the public-houses are of the Hebrew faith, their signs appealing to the followers of those trades which most abound with Jews. There is the “Jeweller’s Arms,” patronised greatly of a Sunday morning, when the Israelite jewellers attend to exchange their trinkets and barter amongst themselves. Very often the counter before “the bar” here may be seen covered with golden ornaments, and sparkling with precious stones, amounting in value to thousands of pounds. The landlord of this house of call is licensed to manufacture tobacco and cigars. There is also the “Fishmongers’ Arms,” the resort of the vendors of fried soles; here, in the evening, a concert takes place, the performers and audience being Jews. The landlord of this house too is licensed to manufacture tobacco and cigars. Entering one of these houses I found a bill announcing a “Bible to be raffled for, the property of ——.” And, lastly, there is “Benjamin’s Coffee-house,” open to old clothesmen; and here, again, the proprietor is a licensed tobacco-manufacturer. These facts are mentioned to show the untiring energy of the Jew when anything is to be gained, and to give an instance of the curious manner in which this people support each other.

Some of the nut and orange shops in Duke’s-place it would be impossible to describe. At one sat an old woman, with jet-black hair and a wrinkled face, nursing an infant, and watching over a few matted baskets of nuts ranged on a kind of carpenter’s bench placed upon the pavement. The interior of the house was as empty as if it had been to let, excepting a few bits of harness hanging against the wall, and an old salt-box nailed near the gas-lamp, in which sat a hen, “hatching,” as I was told. At another was an excessively stout Israelite mother, with crisp negro’s hair and long gold earrings, rolling her child on the table used for sorting the nuts. Here the black walls had been chalked over with scores, and every corner was filled up with sacks and orange-cases. Before one warehouse a family of six, from the father to the infant, were busy washing walnuts in a huge tub with a trap in the side, and around them were ranged measures of the wet fruit. The Jewish women are known to make the fondest parents; and in Duke’s-place there certainly was no lack of fondlings. Inside almost every parlour a child was either being nursed or romped with, and some little things were being tossed nearly to the ceiling, and caught, screaming with enjoyment, in the jewelled hands of the delighted mother. At other shops might be seen a circle of three or four women—some old as if grandmothers, grouped admiringly round a hook-nosed infant, tickling it and poking their fingers at it in a frenzy of affection.

The counters of these shops are generally placed in the open streets like stalls, and the shop itself is used as a store to keep the stock in. On these counters are ranged the large matting baskets, some piled up with dark-brown polished chestnuts—shining like a racer’s neck—others filled with wedge-shaped Brazil-nuts, and rough hairy cocoa-nuts. There are heaps, too, of newly-washed walnuts, a few showing their white crumpled kernels as a sample of their excellence. Before every doorway are long pot-bellied boxes of oranges, with the yellow fruit just peeping between the laths on top, and lemons—yet green—are ranged about in their paper jackets to ripen in the air.

In front of one store the paving-stones were soft with the sawdust emptied from the grape-cases, and the floor of the shop itself was whitened with the dry powder. Here stood a man in a long tasselled smoking-cap, puffing with his bellows at the blue bunches on a tray, and about him were the boxes with the paper lids thrown back, and the round sea-green berries just rising above the sawdust as if floating in it. Close by, was a group of dark-eyed women bending over an orange-case, picking out the rotten from the good fruit, while a sallow-complexioned girl was busy with her knife scooping out the damaged parts, until, what with sawdust and orange-peel, the air smelt like the pit of a circus.

Nothing could be seen in this strange place that did not, in some way or another, appertain to Jewish customs. A woman, with a heavy gold chain round her neck, went past, carrying an old green velvet bonnet covered with feathers, and a fur tippet, that she had either recently purchased or was about to sell. Another woman, whose features showed her to be a Gentile, was hurrying toward the slop-shop in the Minories with a richly quilted satin-lined coat done up in her shawl, and the market-basket by her side, as if the money due for the work were to be spent directly for housekeeping.

At the corner of Duke’s-street was a stall kept by a Jew, who sold things that are eaten only by the Hebrews. Here in a yellow pie-dish were pieces of stewed apples floating in a thick puce-coloured sauce.

One man that I spoke to told me that he considered his Sunday morning’s work a very bad one if he did not sell his five or six hundred bushels of nuts of different kinds. He had taken 150l. that day of the street-sellers, and usually sold his 100l. worth of goods in a morning. Many others did the same as himself. Here I met with every attention, and was furnished with some valuable statistical information concerning the street-trade.

Of Orange and Lemon Selling in the Streets.

Of foreign fruits, the oranges and nuts supply by far the greater staple for the street trade, and, therefore, demand a brief, but still a fuller, notice than other articles.

Oranges were first sold in the streets at the[88] close of Elizabeth’s reign. So rapidly had the trade increased, that four years after her death, or in 1607, Ben Jonson classes “orange-wives,” for noisiness, with “fish-wives.” These women at first carried the oranges in baskets on their heads; barrows were afterwards used; and now trays are usually slung to the shoulders.

Oranges are brought to this country in cases or boxes, containing from 500 to 900 oranges. From official tables, it appears that between 250,000,000 and 300,000,000 of oranges and lemons are now yearly shipped to England. They are sold wholesale, principally at public sales, in lots of eight boxes, the price at such sales varying greatly, according to the supply and the quality. The supply continues to arrive from October to August.

Oranges are bought by the retailers in Duke’s-place and in Covent-Garden; but the costermongers nearly all resort to Duke’s-place, and the shopkeepers to Covent-Garden. They are sold in baskets of 200 or 300; they are also disposed of by the hundred, a half-hundred being the smallest quantity sold in Duke’s-place. These hundreds, however, number 110, containing 10 double “hands,” a single hand being 5 oranges. The price in December was 2s. 6d., 3s. 6d., and 4s. the hundred. They are rarely lower than 4s. about Christmas, as there is then a better demand for them. The damaged oranges are known as “specks,” and the purchaser runs the risk of specks forming a portion of the contents of a basket, as he is not allowed to empty it for the examination of the fruit: but some salesmen agree to change the specks. A month after Christmas, oranges are generally cheaper, and become dearer again about May, when there is a great demand for the supply of the fairs and races.

Oranges are sold by all classes connected with the fruit, flower, or vegetable trade of the streets. The majority of the street-sellers are, however, women and children, and the great part of these are Irish. It has been computed that, when oranges are “at their best” (generally about Easter), there are 4,000 persons, including stall-keepers, selling oranges in the metropolis and its suburbs; while there are generally 3,000 out of this number “working” oranges—that is, hawking them from street to street: of these, 300 attend at the doors of the theatres, saloons, &c. Many of those “working” the theatres confine their trade to oranges, while the other dealers rarely do so, but unite with them the sale of nuts of some kind. Those who sell only oranges, or only nuts, are mostly children, and of the poorest class. The smallness of the sum required to provide a stock of oranges (a half-hundred being 15d. or 18d.), enables the poor, who cannot raise “stock-money” sufficient to purchase anything else, to trade upon a few oranges.

The regular costers rarely buy oranges until the spring, except, perhaps, for Sunday afternoon sale—though this, as I said before, they mostly object to. In the spring, however, they stock their barrows with oranges. One man told me that, four or five years back, he had sold in a day 2,000 oranges that he picked up as a bargain. They did not cost him half a farthing each; he said he “cleared 2l. by the spec.” At the same period he could earn 5s. or 6s. on a Sunday afternoon by the sale of oranges in the street; but now he could not earn 2s.

A poor Irishwoman, neither squalid in appearance nor ragged in dress, though looking pinched and wretched, gave me the subjoined account; when I saw her, resting with her basket of oranges near Coldbath-fields prison, she told me she almost wished she was inside of it, but for the “childer.” Her history was one common to her class—

“I was brought over here, sir, when I was a girl, but my father and mother died two or three years after. I was in service then, and very good service I continued in as a maid-of-all-work, and very kind people I met; yes, indeed, though I was Irish and a Catholic, and they was English Protistants. I saved a little money there, and got married. My husband’s a labourer; and when he’s in full worruk he can earn 12s. or 14s. a week, for he’s a good hand and a harrud-worruking man, and we do middlin’ thin. He’s out of worruk now, and I’m forced to thry and sill a few oranges to keep a bit of life in us, and my husband minds the childer. Bad as I do, I can do 1d. or 2d. a day profit betther than him, poor man! for he’s tall and big, and people thinks, if he goes round with a few oranges, it’s just from idleniss; and the Lorrud above knows he’ll always worruk whin he can. He goes sometimes whin I’m harrud tired. One of us must stay with the childer, for the youngist is not three and the ildest not five. We don’t live, we starruve. We git a few ’taties, and sometimes a plaice. To-day I’ve not taken 3d. as yit, sir, and it’s past three. Oh, no, indeed and indeed, thin, I dont make 9d. a day. We live accordingly, for there’s 1s. 3d. a week for rint. I have very little harrut to go into the public-houses to sill oranges, for they begins flying out about the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman, as if I had anything to do with it. And that’s another reason why I like my husband to stay at home, and me to go out, because he’s a hasty man, and might get into throuble. I don’t know what will become of us, if times don’t turn.”

On calling upon this poor woman on the following day, I found her and her children absent. The husband had got employment at some distance, and she had gone to see if she could not obtain a room 3d. a week cheaper, and lodge near the place of work.

According to the Board of Trade returns, there are nearly two hundred millions of oranges annually imported into this country. About one-third of these are sold wholesale in London, and one-fourth of the latter quantity disposed of retail in the streets. The returns I have procured, touching the London sale, prove that no less than 15,500,000 are sold yearly by the street-sellers. The retail price of these may be[89] said to be, upon an average, 5s. per 110, and this would give us about 35,000l. for the gross sum of money laid out every year, in the streets, in the matter of oranges alone.

The street lemon-trade is now insignificant, lemons having become a more important article of commerce since the law required foreign-bound ships to be provided with lemon-juice. The street-sale is chiefly in the hands of the Jews and the Irish. It does not, however, call for special notice here.

Of Nut Selling in the Streets.

The sellers of foreign hazel nuts are principally women and children, but the stall-keepers, and oftentimes the costermongers, sell them with other “goods.” The consumption of them is immense, the annual export from Tarragona being little short of 8,000 tons. They are to be found in every poor shop in London, as well as in the large towns; they are generally to be seen on every street-stall, in every country village, at every fair, and on every race-ground. The supply is from Gijon and Tarragona. The Gijon nuts are the “Spanish,” or “fresh” nuts. They are sold at public sales, in barrels of three bushels each, the price being from 35s. to 40s. The nuts from Tarragona, whence comes the great supply, are known as “Barcelonas,” and they are kiln-dried before they are shipped. Hence the Barcelonas will “keep,” and the Spanish will not. The Spanish are coloured with the fumes of sulphur, by the Jews in Duke’s-place.

It is somewhat remarkable that nuts supply employment to a number of girls in Spain, and then yield the means of a scanty subsistence to a number of girls (with or without parents) in England.

The prattle and the laughter (according to Inglis) of the Spanish girls who sort, find no parallel however among the London girls who sell the nuts. The appearance of the latter is often wretched. In the winter months they may be seen as if stupified with cold, and with the listlessness, not to say apathy, of those whose diet is poor in quantity and insufficient in amount.

Very few costermongers buy nuts (as hazel nuts are always called) at the public sales—only those whose dealings are of a wholesale character, and they are anything but regular attendants at the sales. The street-sellers derive nearly the whole of their supply from Duke’s-place. The principal times of business are Friday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Those who have “capital” buy on the Friday, when they say they can make 10s. go as far as 12s. on the Sunday. The “Barcelonas” are from 4½d. to 6d. a quart to the street-sellers. The cob-nuts, which are the large size, used by the pastry-cooks for mottos, &c., are 2d. and 2½d. the quart, but they are generally destitute of a kernel. A quart contains from 100 to 180 nuts, according to the size. The costermongers buy somewhat largely when nuts are 3d. the quart; they then, and not unfrequently, stock their barrows with nuts entirely, but 2s. a day is reckoned excellent earnings at this trade. “It’s the worst living of all, sir,” I was told, “on nuts.” The sale in the streets is at the fruit-stalls, in the public-houses, on board the steamers, and at the theatre doors. They are sold by the same class as the oranges, and a stock may be procured for a smaller sum even than is required for oranges. By the outlay of 1s. many an Irishwoman can send out her two or three children with nuts, reserving some for herself. Seven-eighths of the nuts imported are sold, I am assured, in the open air.

Some of the costermongers who are to be found in Battersea-fields, and who attend the fairs and races, get through 5s. worth of nuts in a day, but only exceptionally. These men have a sort of portable shooting-gallery. The customer fires a kind of rifle, loaded with a dart, and according to the number marked on the centre, or on the encircling rings of a board which forms the head of the stall, and which may be struck by the dart, is the number of nuts payable by the stall-keeper for the halfpenny “fire.”

The Brazil nuts, which are now sold largely in the streets at twelve to sixteen a penny, were not known in this country as an article of commerce before 1824. They are sold by the peck—2s. being the ordinary price—in Duke’s-place.

Coker-nuts—as they are now generally called, and indeed “entered” as such at the Custom-house, and so written by Mr. Mc Culloch, to distinguish them from cocoa, or the berries of the cacâo, used for chocolate, etc.—are brought from the West Indies, both British and Spanish, and Brazil. They are used as dunnage in the sugar ships, being interposed between the hogsheads, to steady them and prevent their being flung about. The coker-nut was introduced into England in 1690. They are sold at public sales and otherwise, and bring from 10s. to 14s. per 100. Coker-nuts are now used at fairs to “top” the sticks.

The costermongers rarely speculate in coker-nuts now, as the boys will not buy them unless cut, and it is almost impossible to tell how the coker-nut will “open.” The interior is sold in halfpenny-worths and penny-worths. These nuts are often “worked with a drum.” There may be now forty coker-nut men in the street trade, but not one in ten confines himself to the article.

A large proportion of the dry or ripe walnuts sold in the streets is from Bordeaux. They are sold at public sales, in barrels of three bushels each, realising 21s. to 25s. a barrel. They are retailed at from eight to twenty a penny, and are sold by all classes of street-traders.

A little girl, who looked stunted and wretched, and who did not know her age (which might be eleven), told me she was sent out by her mother with six halfpenny-worth of nuts, and she must carry back 6d. or she would be beat. She had no father, and could neither read nor write.[90] Her mother was an Englishwoman, she believed, and sold oranges. She had heard of God; he was “Our Father who art in heaven.” She’d heard that said. She did not know the Lord’s Prayer; had never heard of it; did not know who the Lord was; perhaps the Lord Mayor, but she had never been before him. She went into public-houses with her nuts, but did not know whether she was ever insulted or not; she did not know what insulted was, but she was never badly used. She often went into tap-rooms with her nuts, just to warm herself. A man once gave her some hot beer, which made her ill. Her mother was kind enough to her, and never beat her but for not taking home 6d. She had a younger brother that did as she did. She had bread and potatoes to eat, and sometimes tea, and sometimes herrings. Her mother didn’t get tipsy (at first she did not know what was meant by tipsy) above once a week.

Of Roasted Chestnuts and Apples.

How long the street-trade in roasted chestnuts has been carried on I find no means of ascertaining precisely, but it is unquestionably one of the oldest of the public traffics. Before potato-cans were introduced, the sale of roasted chestnuts was far greater than it is now.

It is difficult to compute the number of roasted chestnut-sellers at present in the streets. It is probable that they outnumber 1,000, for I noticed that on a cold day almost every street fruit-seller, man or woman, had roasted chestnuts for sale.

Sometimes the chestnuts are roasted in the streets, in a huge iron apparatus, made expressly for the purpose, and capable of cooking perhaps a bushel at a time—but these are to be found solely at the street-markets.

The ordinary street apparatus for roasting chestnuts is simple. A round pan, with a few holes punched in it, costing 3d. or 4d. in a marine-store shop, has burning charcoal within it, and is surmounted by a second pan, or kind of lid, containing chestnuts, which are thus kept hot. During my inquiry, chestnuts were dear. “People don’t care,” I was told, “whether chestnuts is three and six, as they are now, or one and six a peck, as I hope they will be afore long; they wants the same pennyworths.”

Chestnuts are generally bought wholesale in Duke’s-place, on the Sunday mornings, for street sale; but some street-dealers buy them of those costermongers, whose means enable them “to lay in” a quantity. The retail customers are, for the most part, boys and girls, or a few labourers or street people. The usual price is sixteen a penny.

Roasted apples used to be vended in the streets, and often along with roasted chestnuts, but it is a trade which has now almost entirely disappeared, and its disappearance is attributed to the prevalence of potato cans.

I had the following account from a woman, apparently between sixty and seventy, though she said she was only about fifty. What she was in her youth, she said, she neither knew nor cared. At any rate she was unwilling to converse about it. I found her statement as to chestnuts corroborated:—

“The trade’s nothing to what it was, sir,” she said. “Why when the hackney coaches was in the streets, I’ve often sold 2s. worth of a night at a time, for a relish, to the hackneymen that was waiting their turn over their beer. Six and eight a penny was enough then; now people must have sixteen; though I pays 3s. a peck, and to get them at that’s a favour. I could make my good 12s. a week on roasted chestnuts and apples, and as much on other things in them days, but I’m half-starved now. There’ll never be such times again. People didn’t want to cut one another’s throats in the street business then. O, I don’t know anything about how long ago, or what year—years is nothing to me—but I only know that it was so. I got a penny a piece then for my roasted apples, and a halfpenny for sugar to them. I could live then. Roasted apples was reckoned good for the tooth-ache in them days, but, people change so, they aren’t now. I don’t know what I make now in chestnuts and apples, which is all I sells—perhaps 5s. a week. My rent’s 1s. 3d. a week. I lives on a bit of fish, or whatever I can get, and that’s all about it.”

The absolute quantity of oranges, lemons, and nuts sold annually in the London streets is as follows:

Spanish and Barcelona nuts24,000 bushels
Brazil do.3,000
Coker-nuts400,000 nuts

Of “Dry” Fruit Selling in the Streets.

The sellers of “dry fruit” cannot be described as a class, for, with the exception of one old couple, none that I know of confine themselves to its sale, but resort to it merely when the season prevents their dealing in “green fruit” or vegetables. I have already specified what in commerce is distinguished as “dry fruit,” but its classification among the costers is somewhat narrowed.

The dry-fruit sellers derive their supplies partly from Duke’s-place, partly from Pudding-lane, but perhaps principally from the costers concerning whom I have spoken, who buy wholesale at the markets and elsewhere, and who will “clear out a grocer,” or buy such figs, &c. as a leading tradesman will not allow to be sent, or offered, to his regular customers, although, perhaps, some of the articles are tolerably good. Or else the dry-fruit men buy a damaged lot of a broker or grocer, and pick out all that is eatable, or rather saleable.

The sale of dry fruit is unpopular among the costermongers. Despite their utmost pains, they cannot give to figs, or raisins, or currants, which may be old and stale, anything of the bloom and[91] plumpness of good fruit, and the price of good fruit is too high for them. Moreover, if the fruit be a “damaged lot,” it is almost always discoloured, and the blemish cannot be removed.

It is impossible to give the average price of dry fruit to the costermonger. The quality and the “harvest” affect the price materially in the regular trade.

The rule which I am informed the costermonger, who sometimes “works” a barrow of dried fruit, observes, is this: he will aim at cent. per cent., and, to accomplish it, “slang” weights are not unfrequently used. The stale fruit is sold by the grocers, and the damaged fruit by the warehouses to the costers, at from a half, but much more frequently a fourth to a twentieth of its prime cost. The principal street-purchasers are boys.

A dry-fruit seller gave me the following account:—By “half profits” he meant cent. per cent., or, in other words, that the money he received for his stock was half of it cost price and half profit.

“I sell dry fruit, sir, in February and March, because I must be doing something, and green fruit’s not my money then. It’s a poor trade. I’ve sold figs at 1d. a pound,—no, sir, not slang the time I mean—and I could hardly make 1s. a day at it, though it was half profits. Our customers look at them quite particler. ‘Let’s see the other side of them figs,’ the boys’ll say, and then they’ll out with—‘I say, master, d’you see any green about me?’ Dates I can hardly get off at all, no!—not if they was as cheap as potatoes, or cheaper. I’ve been asked by women if dates was good in dumplings? I’ve sometimes said ‘yes,’ though I knew nothing at all about them. They’re foreign. I can’t say where they’re grown. Almonds and raisins goes off best with us. I don’t sell them by weight, but makes them up in ha’penny or penny lots. There’s two things, you see, and one helps off the other. Raisins is dry grapes, I’ve heard. I’ve sold grapes before they was dried, at 1d. and 2d. the pound. I didn’t do no good in any of ’em; 1s. a day on ’em was the topper, for all the half profits. I’ll not touch ’em again if I aint forced.”

There are a few costers who sell tolerable dry fruit, but not to any extent.

The old couple I have alluded to stand all the year round at the corner of a street running into a great city thoroughfare. They are supplied with their fruit, I am told, through the friendliness of a grocer who charges no profit, and sometimes makes a sacrifice for their benefit. As I was told that this old couple would not like inquiries to be made of them, I at once desisted.

There are sometimes twenty costermongers selling nothing but dry fruit, but more frequently only ten, and sometimes only five; while, perhaps, from 300 to 400 sell a few figs, &c., with other things, such as late apples, the dry fruit being then used “just as a fill up.”

According to the returns before given, the gross quantity of dry fruit disposed of yearly in the streets of London may be stated as follows:

7,000lbs. ofshell almonds,

Of the Street-sale of Vegetables.

The seller of fruit in the streets confines his traffic far more closely to fruit, than does the vegetable-dealer to vegetables. Within these three or four years many street-traders sell only fruit the year through; but the purveyor of vegetables now usually sells fish with his cabbages, turnips, cauliflowers, or other garden stuff. The fish that he carries out on his round generally consists of soles, mackerel, or fresh or salt herrings. This combination of the street-green-grocer and street-fishmonger is called a “general dealer.”

The general dealers are usually accompanied by boys (as I have elsewhere shown), and sometimes by their wives. If a woman be a general dealer, she is mostly to be found at a stall or standing, and not “going a round.”

The general dealer “works” everything through the season. He generally begins the year with sprats or plaice: then he deals in soles until the month of May. After this he takes to mackerel, haddocks, or red herrings. Next he trades in strawberries or raspberries. From these he will turn to green and ripe gooseberries; thence he will go to cherries; from cherries he will change to red or white currants; from them to plums or green-gages, and from them again to apples and pears, and damsons. After these he mostly “works” a few vegetables, and continues with them until the fish season begins again. Some general dealers occasionally trade in sweetmeats, but this is not usual, and is looked down upon by the “trade.”

“I am a general dealer,” said one of the better class; “my missis is in the same line as myself, and sells everything that I do (barring green stuff.) She follows me always in what I sell. She has a stall, and sits at the corner of the street. I have got three children. The eldest is ten, and goes out with me to call my goods for me. I have had inflammation in the lungs, and when I call my goods for a little while my voice leaves me. My missis is lame. She fell down a cellar, when a child, and injured her hip. Last October twelvemonth I was laid up with cold, which settled on my lungs, and laid me in my bed for a month. My missis kept me all that time. She was ‘working’ fresh herrings; and if it hadn’t been for her we must all have gone into the workhouse. We are doing very badly now. I have no work to do. I have no stock-money to work with, and I object to pay 1s. 6d. a week for the loan of 10s. Once I gave a man 1s. 6d. a week for ten months for the loan of 10s., and that nearly did me up. I[92] have had 8s. of the same party since, and paid 1s. a week for eight weeks for the loan of it. I consider it most extortionate to have to pay 2d. a day for the loan of 8s., and won’t do it. When the season gets a bit better I shall borrow a shilling of one friend and a shilling of another, and then muddle on with as much stock-money as I can scrape together. My missis is at home now doing nothing. Last week it’s impossible to say what she took, for we’re obliged to buy victuals and firing with it as we take it. She can’t go out charing on account of her hip. When she is out, and I am out, the children play about in the streets. Only last Saturday week she was obligated to take the shoes off her feet to get the children some victuals. We owe two weeks’ rent, and the landlord, though I’ve lived in the house five years, is as sharp as if I was a stranger.”

“Why, sir,” said another vegetable-dealer, who was a robust-looking young man, very clean in his person, and dressed in costermonger corduroy, “I can hardly say what my business is worth to me, for I’m no scholard. I was brought up to the business by my mother. I’ve a middling connection, and perhaps clear 3s. a day, every fine day, or 15s. or 16s. a week; but out of that there’s my donkey to keep, which I suppose costs 6d. a day, that’s seven sixpences off. Wet or fine, she must be fed, in coorse. So must I; but I’ve only myself to keep at present, and I hire a lad when I want one. I work my own trap. Then things is so uncertain. Why, now, look here, sir. Last Friday, I think it was—but that don’t matter, for it often happens—fresh herrings was 4s. the 500 in the morning, and 1s. 6d. at night, so many had come in. I buy at Billingsgate-market, and sometimes of a large shopkeeper, and at Covent-garden and the Borough. If I lay out 7s. in a nice lot of cabbages, I may sell them for 10s. 6d., or if it isn’t a lucky day with me for 8s., or less. Sometimes people won’t buy, as if the cholera was in the cabbages. Then turnips isn’t such good sale yet, but they may be soon, for winter’s best for them. There’s more bilings then than there’s roastings, I think. People like broth in cold weather. I buy turnips by the ‘tally.’ A tally’s five dozen bunches. There’s no confinement of the number to a bunch; it’s by their size; I’ve known twelve, and I’ve known twice that. I sell three parts of the turnips at 1d. a bunch, and the other part at 1½d. If I get them at 3s. 6d. the tally I do well on turnips. I go the same rounds pretty regularly every day, or almost every day. I don’t object to wet weather so much, because women don’t like to stir out then, and so they’ll buy of me as I pass. Carrots I do little in; they’re dear, but they’ll be cheaper in a month or two. They always are. I don’t work on Sundays. If I did, I’d get a jacketing. Our chaps would say: ‘Well, you are a scurf. You have a round; give another man a Sunday chance.’ A gentleman once said to me, when I was obligated to work on a Sunday: ‘Why don’t you leave it off, when you know it ain’t right?’ ‘Well, sir,’ said I, and he spoke very kind to me, ‘well, sir, I’m working for my dinner, and if you’ll give me 4s. or 3s. 6d., I’ll tumble to your notion and drop it, and I’ll give you these here cowcumbers,’ (I was working cowcumbers at that time) ‘to do what you like with, and they cost me half-a-crown.’ In potatoes I don’t do a great deal, and it’s no great trade. If I did, I should buy at the warehouses in Tooley-street, where they are sold in sacks of 1 cwt.; 150 lbs. and 200 lbs., at 2s. 9d. and 3s. the cwt. I sell mine, tidy good, at 3 pound 2d., and a halfpenny a pound, but as I don’t do much, not a bushel a day, I buy at market by the bushel at from 1s. 6d. to 2s. I never uses slangs. I sold three times as many potatoes as I do now four years back. I don’t know why, ’cept it be that the rot set people again them, and their taste’s gone another way. I sell a few more greens than I did, but not many. Spinach I don’t do only a little in it. Celery I’m seldom able to get rid on. It’s more women’s work. Ing-uns the same.”

I may add that I found the class, who confined their business principally to the sale of vegetables, the dullest of all the costermongers. Any man may labour to make 1s. 6d. of cabbages or turnips, which cost him 1s., when the calculation as to the relative proportion of measures, &c. is beyond his comprehension.

Pursuing the same mode of calculation as has been heretofore adopted, we find that the absolute quantity of vegetables sold in the London streets by the costers is as follows:

20,700,000lbs. of potatoes (home grown)
39,800,000„    (foreign)
616,666junks of turnip tops,
567,300brocoli and cauliflowers,
219,000bushels of peas,
8,893       „    beans,
22,110       „    french beans,
25,608dozens of vegetable marrows,
489dozen bundles of asparagus,
9,120       „    rhubarb,
4,350       „    celery,
13,291dozen hands of radishes,
499,533bushels of onions,
23,600dozen bunches of spring onions,
10,920bushels of cucumbers,
3,290dozen bunches of herbs.

Of the “Aristocratic” Vegetable-Sale.

In designating these dealers I use a word not uncommon among the costermongers. These aristocratic sellers, who are not one in twenty, or perhaps in twenty-five, of the whole body of costermongers, are generally men of superior manners and better dressed than their brethren. The following narrative, given to me by one of the body, shows the nature of the trade:—

“It depends a good deal upon the season and the price, as to what I begin with in the ‘haristocratic’ way. My rounds are always in the[93] suburbs. I sell neither in the streets, nor squares in town. I like it best where there are detached villas, and best of all where there are kept mistresses. They are the best of all customers to men like me. We talk our customers over among ourselves, and generally know who’s who. One way by which we know the kept ladies is, they never sell cast-off clothes, as some ladies do, for new potatoes or early peas. Now, my worst customers, as to price, are the ladies—or gentlemen—they’re both of a kidney—what keeps fashionable schools. They are the people to drive a bargain, but then they buy largely. Some buy entirely of costermongers. There’s one gent. of a school-keeper buys so much and knows so well what o’clock it is, that I’m satisfied he saves many a pound a year by buying of us ’stead of the greengrocers.

“Perhaps I begin the season in the haristocratic way, with early lettuces for salads. I carry my goods in handsome baskets, and sometimes with a boy, or a boy and a girl, to help me. I buy my lettuces by the score (of heads) when first in, at 1s. 6d., and sell them at 1½d. each, which is 1s. profit on a score. I have sold twenty, and I once sold thirty score, that way in a day. The profit on the thirty was 2l. 5s., but out of that I had to pay three boys, for I took three with me, and our expenses was 7s. But you must consider, sir, that this is a precarious trade. Such goods are delicate, and spoil if they don’t go off. I give credit sometimes, if anybody I know says he has no change. I never lost nothing.

“Then there’s grass (asparagus), and that’s often good money. I buy all mine at Covent-garden, where it’s sold in bundles, according to the earliness of the season, at from 5s. to 1s., containing from six to ten dozen squibs (heads). These you have to take home, untie, cut off the scraggy ends, trim, and scrape, and make them level. Children help me to do this in the court where I live. I give them a few ha’pence, though they’re eager enough to do it for nothing but the fun. I’ve had 10s. worth made ready in half an hour.

“Well, now, sir, about grass, there’s not a coster in London, I’m sure, ever tasted it; and how it’s eaten puzzles us.” [I explained the manner in which asparagus was brought to table.] “That’s the ticket, is it, sir? Well, I was once at the Surrey, and there was some macaroni eaten on the stage, and I thought grass was eaten in the same way, perhaps; swallowed like one o’clock,” [rather a favourite comparison among the costers.]

“I have the grass—it’s always called, when cried in the streets, ‘Spar-row gra-ass’—tied up in bundles of a dozen, twelve to a dozen, or one over, and for these I never expect less than 6d. For a three or four dozen lot, in a neat sieve, I ask 2s. 6d., and never take less than 1s. 3d. I once walked thirty-five miles with grass, and have oft enough been thirty miles. I made 7s. or 8s. a day by it, and next day or two perhaps nothing, or may-be had but one customer. I’ve sold half-crown lots, on a Saturday night, for a sixpence; and it was sold some time back at 2d. a bundle, in the New Cut, to poor people. I dare say some as bought it had been maid-servants and understood it. I’ve raffled 5s. worth of grass in the parlour of a respectable country inn of an evening.

“The costers generally buy new potatoes at 4s. to 5s. the bushel, and cry them at ‘three-pound-tuppence;’ but I’ve given 7s. a bushel, for choice and early, and sold them at 2d. a pound. It’s no great trade, for the bushel may weigh only 50 lb., and at 2d. a pound that’s only 8s. 4d. The schools don’t buy at all until they’re 1d. the pound, and don’t buy in any quantity until they’re 1s. 6d. the 25 lb. One day a school ’stonished me by giving me 2s. 6d. for 25 lb., which is the general weight of the half bushel. Perhaps the master had taken a drop of something short that morning. The schools are dreadful screws, to be sure.

“Green peas, early ones, I don’t buy when they first come in, for then they’re very dear, but when they’re 4s. or 3s. 6d. a bushel, and that’s pretty soon. I can make five pecks of a bushel. Schools don’t touch peas ’till they’re 2s. a bushel.

“Cowcumbers were an aristocratic sale. Four or five years ago they were looked upon, when first in, and with a beautiful bloom upon them, as the finest possible relish. But the cholera came in 1849, and everybody—’specially the women—thought the cholera was in cowcumbers, and I’ve known cases, foreign and English, sent from the Borough Market for manure.

“I sell a good many mushrooms. I sometimes can pick up a cheap lot at Covent Garden. I make them up in neat sieves of three dozen to eight dozen according to size, and I have sold them at 4s. the sieve, and made half that on each sieve I sold. They are down to 1s. or 1s. 6d. a sieve very soon.

“Green walnuts for pickling I sell a quantity of. One day I sold 20s. worth—half profit—I got them so cheap, but that was an exception. I sold them cheap too. One lady has bought a bushel and a half at a time. For walnut catsup the refuse of the walnut is used; it’s picked up in the court, where I’ve got children or poor fellows for a few ha’pence or a pint of beer to help me to peel the walnuts.”

Of Onion Selling in the Streets.

The sale of onions in the streets is immense. They are now sold at the markets at an average of 2s. a bushel. Two years ago they were 1s., and they have been 4s. and up to 7s. the bushel. They are now twisted into “ropes” for street sale. The ropes are of straw, into which the roots are platted, and secured firmly enough, so that the ropes can be hung up; these have superseded the netted onions, formerly sold by the Jew boys. The plaiting, or twisting, is done rapidly by the women, and a straw-bonnet-maker described it to me as somewhat after the mode of her trade, only that the top, or projecting portion of the stem of the onion, was twisted within the straw,[94] instead of its being plaited close and flat together. The trade in rope onions is almost entirely in the hands of the Irish women and girls. There are now, it is said, from 800 to 1000 persons engaged in it. Onion selling can be started on a small amount of capital, from 6d. to 1s., which is no doubt one inducement for those poor persons to resort to it. The sixpenny ropes, bunches, or strings (I heard each word applied), contain from three to four dozen; the penny bunches, from six to twenty roots, according to size; and the intermediate and higher priced bunches in proportion. Before Christmas, a good many shilling lots are sold. Among the costermongers I heard this useful root—which the learned in such matters have pronounced to be, along with the mushroom, the foundation of every sauce, ancient or modern—called ing-guns, ing-ans, injens, injyens, inions, innons, almost everything but onions.

An Irishwoman, apparently of thirty-five, but in all probability younger—she did not know her age—gave me the following account. Her face, with its strongly-marked Irish features, was almost purpled from constant exposure to the weather. She was a teetotaller. She was communicative and garrulous, even beyond the average of her countrywomen. She was decently clad, had been in London fifteen years (she thought) having been brought from Ireland, viâ Bristol, by her parents (both dead). She herself was a widow, her husband, “a bricklayer” she called him (probably a bricklayer’s labourer), having died of the cholera in 1849. I take up her statement from that period:

“Yes, indeed, sir, he died—the heavins be his bed!—and he was prepared by Father M——. We had our thrials togither, but sore’s been the cross and heavy the burthin since it plased God to call him. Thin, there’s the two childer, Biddy and Ned. They’ll be tin and they’ll be eight come their next burreth-days, ’plase the Lorrud. They can hilp me now, they can. They sells ing-uns as well. I ropes ’em for ’em. How is ing-uns roped? Shure, thin—but it’s not mocking me your ’onnur is—shure, thin, a gintleman like you, that can write like a horrus a-galloping, and perhaps is as larned as a praste, glory be to God! must know how to rope ing-uns! Poor people can do it. Some say it’s a sacrit, but that’s all a say, or there couldn’t be so many ropes a-silling. I buy the sthraw at a sthraw-daler’s; twopinn’orth at a time; that’ll make six or twilve ropes, according to what they are, sixpinny or what. It’s as sthraight as it can be grown, the sthraw, that it is indeed. Och, sir, we’ve had many’s the black day, me and the childer, poor things; it’s thim I care about, but—God’s name be praised!—we’ve got on somehow. Another poor woman—she’s a widdur too, hilp her!—and me has a 2s. room for the two of us. We’ve our siprate furnithur. She has only hersilf, but is fond of the childer, as you or your lady—bliss her! if you’ve got one—might be, if you was with them. I can read a little mysilf, at laste I could oncte, and I gits them a bit o’ schoolin’ now and thin, whin I can, of an evenin’ mostly. I can’t write a letther; I wish I could. Shure, thin, sir, I’ll tell you the thruth—we does best on ing-uns. Oranges is nixt, and nuts isn’t near so good. The three of us now makes 1s. and sometimes 1s. 6d. a day, and that’s grand doin’s. We may sill bechuxt us from two to three dozin ropes a day. I’m quick at roping the ing-uns. I never noted how many ropes an hour. I buy them of a thradesman, an honist gintleman, I know, and I see him at mass ivery Sunday, and he gives me as many as he can for 1s. or what it is. We has 1d., plase God, on ivery 6d.; yis, sir, perhaps more sometimes. I’ll not tell your ’onnur a bit of a lie. And so we now get a nice bit o’ fish, with a bit of liver on a Sunday. I sell to the thradesmen, and the lodgers of them, about here (Tottenham-court-road), and in many other parruts, for we thravels a dale. The childer always goes the same round. We follows one another. I’ve sould in the sthreets ever since I’ve been in this counthry.”

The greatest sum of money expended by the poor upon any vegetable (after potatoes) is spent upon onions—99,900l. being annually devoted to the purchase of that article. To those who know the habits of the poor, this will appear in no way singular—a piece of bread and an onion being to the English labourer what bread and an apple or a bunch of grapes is to the French peasant—often his dinner.

Of Pot-Herbs and Celery.

I use the old phrase, pot-herbs, for such productions as sage, thyme, mint, parsley, sweet marjoram, fennel, (though the last is rarely sold by the street-people), &c.; but “herbs” is the usual term. More herbs, such as agrimony, balm (balsam), wormwood, tansy, &c., used to be sold in the streets. These were often used for “teas,” medicinally perhaps, except tansy, which, being a strong aromatic, was used to flavour puddings. Wormwood, too, was often bought to throw amongst woollen fabrics, as a protective against the attack of moths.

The street herb-trade is now almost entirely in the hands of Irishwomen, and is generally carried on during the autumn and winter at stalls. With it, is most commonly united the sale of celery. The herbs are sold at the several markets, usually in shilling lots, but a quarter of a shilling lot may be purchased. The Irishwoman pursues a simple method of business. What has cost her 1s. she divides into 24 lots, each of 1d., or she will sell half of a lot for a halfpenny. An Irishwoman said to me:

“Thrade isn’t good, sir; it falls and it falls. I don’t sell so many herrubs or so much ciliry as I did whin mate was higher. Poor people thin, I’ve often been said it, used to buy bones and bile them for broth with ciliry and the beautiful herrubs. Now they buys a bit of mate and ates it without brothing. It’s good one way and it’s bad another. Only last Sathurday night my husband—and a good husband he’s to me, though he is a London man, for he knows how to make[95] a bargain—he bought a bit of mutton, afore the stroke of twilve, in Newgit-markit, at 2½d. the pound. I don’t know what parrut it was. I don’t understand that, but he does, and tills me how to cook it. He has worruk at the docks, but not very rigular. I think I sill most parrusley. Whin frish herrings is chape, some biles them with parrusley, and some fries them with ing-uns. No, sir; I don’t make sixpence a day; not half-a-crown a week, I’m shure. Whin herrubs isn’t in—and they’re autumn and winther things, and so is ciliry—I sills anything; gooseberries and currints, or anything. If I’d had a family, I couldn’t have had a shoe to my futt.”

Gross Value of the Fruit and Vegetables Sold Annually in the London Streets.

To complete the present account of the costermonger’s trade, we must now estimate the money value of the fruit and vegetables disposed of by them throughout the year. The money annually spent in fish by the humbler portion of the metropolitan population comes to, as we have seen, very nearly one million five hundred thousand pounds sterling—the sum laid out in fruit and vegetables we shall find is but little more than a third of this amount.

Green Fruit.
377,500bushels of apples, at six a penny or 4s. per bush. (288 to the bushel)£75,500
193,700bushels of pears, at 5s. per bushel48,400
1,215,360lbs. of cherries, at 2d. per lb.10,000
11,700bushels of plums, at 1d. per half pint6,240
100bushels of greengages, at 1½d. per half pint80
548bushels of damsons, at 1½d. per half pint430
2,450bushels of bullace, at 1½d. per half pint1,950
207,500bushels of gooseberries, at 3d. per quart83,000
85,500sieves of red currants, at 1d. per pint (three half-sieves to the bushel)15,200
13,500sieves of black currants, at 1d. per pint (three half-sieves to the bushel)2,400
3,000sieves of white currants, at 1d. per pint (three half-sieves to the bushel)530
763,750pottles of strawberries, at 2d. per pottle6,360
1,760pottles of raspberries, at 6d. per pottle40
30,485pottles of mulberries, at 6d. per pottle760
6,000bushels of hazel nuts, at ¾d. per half pint2,400
17,280lbs. of filberts, at 3d. per lb.200
26,563lbs. of grapes, at 4d. per lb.440
20,000pine apples, at 6d. each500
15,400,000oranges, at two for 1d.32,000
154,000lemons, at two for 1d.320
24,000bushels of Spanish and Barcelona nuts, at 6d. per quart19,200
3,000bushels of Brazil nuts (1500 to the bushel), at fifteen for 1d.£1,250
6,500bushels of chestnuts (1500 to the bushel), at fifteen for 1d.2,700
24,000bushels of walnuts (1750 to the bushel), at ten for 1d.17,500
400,000coker-nuts, at 3d. each5,000
Total expended yearly in green fruit£332,400
Dry Fruit.
7,000lbs. of shell almonds, at 20 a penny (320 to the lb.)£460
37,800lbs. of raisins, at 2d. per lb.300
24,300lbs. of figs, at 2d. per lb.200
4,800lbs. of prunes, at 2d. per lb.40
Total expended yearly on dry fruit£1,000
60,500,000lbs. of potatoes, at 5lbs. for 2d.£100,800
23,760,000cabbages, at ½d. each49,500
3,264,800turnips, at 1½d. per doz.1,700
601,000carrots, at 2½d. per doz.520
567,300brocoli and cauliflowers, at 1d. per head2,360
616,666junks of turnip tops, at 4d. per junk10,270
219,000bushels of peas, at 1s. 6d. per bushel16,420
8,890bushels of beans, at 1s. 6d. per bushel660
22,110bushels of French beans, at 6d. per peck, or 2s. per bushel2,210
25,608vegetable marrows, at ½d. each50
489dozen bundles of asparagus, at 2s. 6d. per bundle (4d. or 6d. a doz. heads)730
9,120dozen bundles of rhubarb, at 2s. 6d. per doz.1,140
4,350dozen bundles of celery, at 3d. per bundle650
561,602lettuces, at 3 a penny780
13,291dozen hands of radishes, at 3 bunches for 1d., and 6 bunches to the hand1,330
499,530bushels of onions, at 4s. per bushel99,900
10,920bushels of cucumbers, at 1d. each (60 to the bush.)2,730
3,290dozen bundles of herbs, at 3d. a bundle490
Total expended yearly in vegetables£292,240


Putting the above sums together we have the following aggregate result:—

Expended yearly in green fruit£332,400
Expended yearly in dry fruit1,000
Expended yearly in vegetables292,240
Gross sum taken annually by the London costermongers for fruit and vegetables£625,640

Then adding the above to the gross amount received by the street-sellers of fish, which we have before seen comes to as much as £1,460,850, we have for the annual income of the London costermongers no less a sum than £2,086,490.


Of the Number of Street Stalls.

Thus far we have dealt only with the itinerant dealers in fish, fruit, or vegetables; but there are still a large class of street-sellers, who obtain a living by the sale of the same articles at some fixed locality in the public thoroughfares; and as these differ from the others in certain points, they demand a short special notice here. First, as to the number of stalls in the streets of London, I caused personal observations to be made; and in a walk of 46 miles, 632 stalls were counted, which is at the rate of very nearly 14 to the mile. This, too, was in bad weather,—was not on a Saturday night,—and at a season when the fruit-sellers all declare that “things is dull.” The routes taken in this inquiry were:—No. 1, from Vauxhall to Hatton-garden; No. 2, from Baker-street to Bermondsey; No. 3, from Blackwall to Brompton; No. 4, from the Hackney-road to the Edgeware-road. I give the results.

No. 19285749
  „   23750414105
  „   3901533040313
  „   475522315165

F. denotes fish-stalls; Fr. fruit-stalls; V. vegetable-stalls; M. miscellaneous; and T. presents the total.

The miscellaneous stalls include peas-soup, pickled whelks, sweetmeats, toys, tin-ware, elder-wine, and jewellery stands. Of these, the toy-stalls were found to be the most numerous; sweetmeats the next; tin-ware the next; while the elder-wine stalls were least numerous.

Some of the results indicate, curiously enough, the character of the locality. Thus, in Fleet-street there were 3, in the Haymarket 5, in Regent-street 6, and in Piccadilly 14 fruit-stalls, and no fish-stalls—these streets not being resorted to by the poor, to whom fruit is a luxury, but fish a necessity. In the Strand were 17 fruit and 2 fish-stalls; and in Drury-lane were 8 stalls of fish to 6 of fruit. On the other hand, there were in Ratcliffe-highway, 38 fish and 23 fruit-stalls; in Rosemary-lane, 13 fish and 8 fruit-stalls; in Shoreditch, 28 fish and 13 fruit-stalls; and in Bethnal-green Road (the poorest district of all), 14 of the fish, and but 3 of the fruit stalls. In some places, the numbers were equal, or nearly so; as in the Minories, for instance, the City-road, the New-road, Goodge-street, Tottenham-court Road, and the Camberwell-road; while in Smithfield were 5, and in Cow-cross 2 fish-stalls, and no fruit-stalls at all. In this enumeration the street-markets of Leather-lane, the New Cut, the Brill, &c., are not included.

The result of this survey of the principal London thoroughfares is that in the mid-route (viz., from Brompton, along Piccadilly, the Strand, Fleet-street, and so viâ the Commercial-road to Blackwall), there are twice as many stalls as in the great northern thoroughfare (that is to say, from the Edgeware-road, along the New-road, to the Hackney-road); the latter route, however, has more than one-third as many stalls as route No. 2, and that again more than double the number of route No. 1. Hence it appears that the more frequented the thoroughfare, the greater the quantity of street-stalls.

The number of miles of streets contained within the inner police district of the metropolis, are estimated by the authorities at 2,000 (including the city), and assuming that there are on an average only four stalls to the mile throughout London, we have thus a grand total of 8,000 fish, fruit, vegetable, and other stalls dispersed throughout the capital.


“Sweet Chany! Two a pinny Or-r-ranges—two a pinny!”

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

Concerning the character of the stalls at the street-markets, the following observations have been made:—At the New-cut there were, before the removals, between the hours of eight and ten on a Saturday evening, ranged along the kerb-stone on the north side of the road, beginning at Broad-wall to Marsh-gate (a distance of nearly half-a-mile), a dense line of “pitches”—at 77 of which were vegetables for sale, at 40 fruit, 25 fish, 22 boots and shoes, 14 eatables, consisting of cakes and pies, hot eels, baked potatoes, and boiled whelks; 10 dealt in nightcaps, lace, ladies’ collars, artificial flowers, silk and straw bonnets; 10 in tinware—such as saucepans, tea-kettles, and Dutch-ovens; 9 in crockery and glass, 7 in brooms and brushes, 5 in poultry and rabbits, 6 in paper, books, songs, and almanacs; and about 60 in sundries.


Of the Character of the Street-Stalls.

The stalls occupied by costermongers for the sale of fish, fruit, vegetables, &c., are chiefly constructed of a double cross-trestle or moveable frame, or else of two trestles, each with three legs, upon which is laid a long deal board, or tray. Some of the stalls consist merely of a few boards resting upon two baskets, or upon two herring-barrels. The fish-stalls are mostly covered with paper—generally old newspapers or periodicals—but some of the street-fishmongers, instead of using paper to display their fish upon, have introduced a thin marble slab, which gives the stall a cleaner, and, what they consider a high attribute, a “respectable” appearance.

Most of the fruit-stalls are, in the winter time, fitted up with an apparatus for roasting apples and chestnuts; this generally consists of an old saucepan with a fire inside; and the woman who vends them, huddled up in her old faded shawl or cloak, often presents a picturesque appearance, in the early evening, or in a fog, with the gleam of the fire lighting up her half somnolent figure. Within the last two or three years, however, there has been so large a business carried on in roasted chestnuts, that it has become a distinct street-trade, and the vendors have provided themselves with an iron apparatus, large enough to roast nearly half a bushel at a time. At the present time, however, the larger apparatus is less common in the streets, and more frequent in the shops, than in the previous winter.

There are, moreover, peculiar kinds of stalls—such as the hot eels and hot peas-soup stalls, having tin oval pots, with a small chafing-dish containing a charcoal fire underneath each, to keep the eels or soup hot. The early breakfast stall has two capacious tin cans filled with tea or coffee, kept hot by the means before described, and some are lighted up by two or three large oil-lamps; the majority of these stalls, in the winter time, are sheltered from the wind by a screen made out of an old clothes horse covered with tarpaulin. The cough-drop stand, with its distilling apparatus, the tin worm curling nearly the whole length of the tray, has but lately been introduced. The nut-stall is fitted up with a target at the back of it. The ginger-beer stand may be seen in almost every street, with its French-polished mahogany frame and bright polished taps, and its foot-bath-shaped reservoir of water, to cleanse the glasses. The hot elder wine stand, with its bright brass urns, is equally popular.

The sellers of plum-pudding, “cake, a penny a slice,” sweetmeats, cough-drops, pin-cushions, jewellery, chimney ornaments, tea and table-spoons, make use of a table covered over, some with old newspapers, or a piece of oil-cloth, upon which are exposed their articles for sale.

Such is the usual character of the street-stalls. There are, however, “stands” or “cans” peculiar to certain branches of the street-trade. The most important of these, such as the baked-potato can, and the meat-pie stand, I have before described, p. 27.

The other means adopted by the street-sellers for the exhibition of their various goods at certain “pitches” or fixed localities are as follows. Straw bonnets, boys’ caps, women’s caps, and prints, are generally arranged for sale in large umbrellas, placed “upside down.” Haberdashery, with rolls of ribbons, edgings, and lace, some street-sellers display on a stall; whilst others have a board at the edge of the pavement, and expose their wares upon it as tastefully as they can. Old shoes, patched up and well blacked, ready for the purchaser’s feet, and tin ware, are often ranged upon the ground, or, where the stock is small, a stall or table is used.

Many stationary street-sellers use merely baskets, or trays, either supported in their hand, or on their arm, or else they are strapped round their loins, or suspended round their necks. These are mostly fruit-women, watercress, blacking, congreves, sheep’s-trotters, and ham-sandwich sellers.

Many stationary street-sellers stand on or near the bridges; others near the steam-packet wharfs or the railway terminuses; a great number of them take their pitch at the entrance to a court, or at the corners of streets; and stall-keepers with oysters stand opposite the doors of public-houses.

It is customary for a street-seller who wants to “pitch” in a new locality to solicit the leave of the housekeeper, opposite whose premises he desires to place his stall. Such leave obtained, no other course is necessary.

Of Fruit-stall Keepers.

I had the following statement from a woman who has “kept a stall” in Marylebone, at the corner of a street, which she calls “my corner,” for 38 years. I was referred to her as a curious type of the class of stall-keepers, and on my visit, found her daughter at the “pitch.” This daughter had all the eloquence which is attractive in a street-seller, and so, I found, had her mother when she joined us. They are profuse in blessings; and on a bystander observing, when he heard the name of these street-sellers, that a jockey of that name had won the Derby lately, the daughter exclaimed, “To be sure he did; he’s my own uncle’s relation, and what a lot of money came into the family! Bless God for all things, and bless every body! Walnuts, sir, walnuts, a penny a dozen! Wouldn’t give you a bad one for the world, which is a great thing for a poor ’oman for to offer to do.” The daughter was dressed in a drab great-coat, which covered her whole person. When I saw the mother, she carried a similar great-coat, as she was on her way to the stall; and she used it as ladies do their muffs, burying her hands in it. The mother’s dark-coloured old clothes seemed, to borrow a description from Sir Walter Scott, flung on with a pitchfork. These two women were at first very suspicious, and could not be made to understand my object in questioning[100] them; but after a little while, the mother became not only communicative, but garrulous, conversing—with no small impatience at any interruption—of the doings of the people in her neighbourhood. I was accompanied by an intelligent costermonger, who assured me of his certitude that the old woman’s statement was perfectly correct, and I found moreover from other inquiries that it was so.

“Well, sir,” she began, “what is it that you want of me? Do I owe you anything? There’s half-pay officers about here for no good; what is it you want? Hold your tongue, you young fool,” (to her daughter, who was beginning to speak;) “what do you know about it?” [On my satisfying her that I had no desire to injure her, she continued to say after spitting, a common practice with her class, on a piece of money, “for luck,”] “Certainly, sir, that’s very proper and good. Aye, I’ve seen the world—the town world and the country. I don’t know where I was born; never mind about that—it’s nothing to nobody. I don’t know nothing about my father and mother; but I know that afore I was eleven I went through the country with my missis. She was a smuggler. I didn’t know then what smuggling was—bless you, sir, I didn’t; I knew no more nor I know who made that lamp-post. I didn’t know the taste of the stuff we smuggled for two years—didn’t know it from small beer; I’ve known it well enough since, God knows. My missis made a deal of money that time at Deptford Dockyard. The men wasn’t paid and let out till twelve of a night—I hardly mind what night it was, days was so alike then—and they was our customers till one, two, or three in the morning—Sunday morning, for anything I know. I don’t know what my missis gained; something jolly, there’s not a fear of it. She was kind enough to me. I don’t know how long I was with missis. After that I was a hopping, and made my 15s. regular at it, and a haymaking; but I’ve had a pitch at my corner for thirty-eight year—aye! turned thirty-eight. It’s no use asking me what I made at first—I can’t tell; but I’m sure I made more than twice as much as my daughter and me makes now, the two of us. I wish people that thinks we’re idle now were with me for a day. I’d teach them. I don’t—that’s the two of us don’t—make 15s. a week now, nor the half of it, when all’s paid. D—d if I do. The d—d boys take care of that.” [Here I had a statement of the boys’ tradings, similar to what I have given.] “There’s ‘Canterbury’ has lots of boys, and they bother me. I can tell, and always could, how it is with working men. When mechanics is in good work, their children has halfpennies to spend with me. If they’re hard up, there’s no halfpennies. The pennies go to a loaf or to buy a candle. I might have saved money once, but had a misfortunate family. My husband? O, never mind about him. D—n him. I’ve been a widow many years. My son—it’s nothing how many children I have—is married; he had the care of an ingine. But he lost it from ill health. It was in a feather-house, and the flue got down his throat, and coughed him; and so he went into the country, 108 miles off, to his wife’s mother. But his wife’s mother got her living by wooding, and other ways, and couldn’t help him or his wife; so he left, and he’s with me now. He has a job sometimes with a greengrocer, at 6d. a day and a bit of grub; a little bit—very. I must shelter him. I couldn’t turn him out. If a Turk I knew was in distress, and I had only half a loaf, I’d give him half of that, if he was ever such a Turk—I would, sir! Out of 6d. a day, my son—poor fellow, he’s only twenty-seven!—wants a bit of ’baccy and a pint of beer. It ’ud be unnatural to oppose that, wouldn’t it, sir? He frets about his wife, that’s staying with her mother, 108 miles off; and about his little girl; but I tell him to wait, and he may have more little girls. God knows, they come when they’re not wanted a bit. I joke and say all my old sweethearts is dying away. Old Jemmy went off sudden. He lent me money sometimes, but I always paid him. He had a public once, and had some money when he died. I saw him the day afore he died. He was in bed, but wasn’t his own man quite; though he spoke sensible enough to me. He said, said he, ‘Won’t you have half a quartern of rum, as we’ve often had it?’ ‘Certainly, Jemmy,’ says I, ‘I came for that very thing.’ Poor fellow! his friends are quarrelling now about what he left. It’s 56l. they say, and they’ll go to law very likely, and lose every thing. There’ll be no such quarrelling when I die, unless it is for the pawn-tickets. I get a meal now, and got a meal afore; but it was a better meal then, sir. Then look at my expenses. I was a customer once. I used to buy, and plenty such did, blue cloth aprons, opposite Drury-lane theatre: the very shop’s there still, but I don’t know what it is now; I can’t call to mind. I gave 2s. 6d. a yard, from twenty to thirty years ago, for an apron, and it took two yards, and I paid 4d. for making it, and so an apron cost 5s. 4d.—that wasn’t much thought of in those times. I used to be different off then. I never go to church; I used to go when I was a little child at Sevenoaks. I suppose I was born somewhere thereabouts. I’ve forgot what the inside of a church is like. There’s no costermongers ever go to church, except the rogues of them, that wants to appear good. I buy my fruit at Covent-garden. Apples is now 4s. 6d. a bushel there. I may make twice that in selling them; but a bushel may last me two, three, or four days.”

As I have already, under the street-sale of fish, given an account of the oyster stall-keeper, as well as the stationary dealers in sprats, and the principal varieties of wet fish, there is no necessity for me to continue this part of my subject.

We have now, in a measure, finished with the metropolitan costermongers. We have seen that the street-sellers of fish, fruit, and vegetables[101] constitute a large proportion of the London population; the men, women, and children numbering at the least 30,000, and taking as much as 2,000,000l. per annum. We have seen, moreover, that these are the principal purveyors of food to the poor, and that consequently they are as important a body of people as they are numerous. Of all classes they should be the most honest, since the poor, least of all, can afford to be cheated; and yet it has been shown that the consciences of the London costermongers, generally speaking, are as little developed as their intellects; indeed, the moral and religious state of these men is a foul disgrace to us, laughing to scorn our zeal for the “propagation of the gospel in foreign parts,” and making our many societies for the civilization of savages on the other side of the globe appear like a “delusion, a mockery, and a snare,” when we have so many people sunk in the lowest depths of barbarism round about our very homes. It is well to have Bishops of New Zealand when we have Christianized all our own heathen; but with 30,000 individuals, in merely one of our cities, utterly creedless, mindless, and principleless, surely it would look more like earnestness on our parts if we created Bishops of the New-Cut, and sent “right reverend fathers” to watch over the “cure of souls” in the Broadway and the Brill. If our sense of duty will not rouse us to do this, at least our regard for our own interests should teach us, that it is not safe to allow this vast dungheap of ignorance and vice to seethe and fester, breeding a social pestilence in the very heart of our land. That the costermongers belong essentially to the dangerous classes none can doubt; and those who know a coster’s hatred of a “crusher,” will not hesitate to believe that they are, as they themselves confess, one and all ready, upon the least disturbance, to seize and disable their policeman.

It would be a marvel indeed if it were otherwise. Denied the right of getting a living by the street authorities, after having, perhaps, been supplied with the means of so doing by the parish authorities—the stock which the one had provided seized and confiscated by the other—law seems to them a mere farce, or at best, but the exercise of an arbitrary and despotic power, against which they consider themselves justified, whenever an opportunity presents itself, of using the same physical force as it brings to bear against them. That they are ignorant and vicious as they are, surely is not their fault. If we were all born with learning and virtue, then might we, with some show of justice, blame the costermongers for their want of both; but seeing that even the most moral and intelligent of us owe the greater part, if not the whole, of our wisdom and goodness to the tuition of others, we must not in the arrogance of our self-conceit condemn these men because they are not like ourselves, when it is evident that we should have been as they are, had not some one done for us what we refuse to do for them. We leave them destitute of all perception of beauty, and therefore without any means of pleasure but through their appetites, and then we are surprized to find their evenings are passed either in brutalizing themselves with beer, or in gloating over the mimic sensuality of the “penny gaff.” Without the least intellectual culture is it likely, moreover, that they should have that perception of antecedents and consequents which enables us to see in the shadows of the past the types of the future—or that power of projecting the mind into the space, as it were, of time, which we in Saxon-English call fore-sight, and in Anglo-Latin pro-vidence—a power so godlike that the latter term is often used by us to express the Godhead itself? Is it possible, then, that men who are as much creatures of the present as the beasts of the field—instinctless animals—should have the least faculty of pre-vision? or rather is it not natural that, following the most precarious of all occupations—one in which the subsistence depends upon the weather of this the most variable climate of any—they should fail to make the affluence of the fine days mitigate the starvation of the rainy ones? or that their appetites, made doubly eager by the privations suffered in their adversity, should be indulged in all kinds of excess in their prosperity—their lives being thus, as it were, a series of alternations between starvation and surfeit?

The fate of children brought up amid the influence of such scenes—with parents starving one week and drunk all the next—turned loose into the streets as soon as they are old enough to run alone—sent out to sell in public-houses almost before they know how to put two halfpence together—their tastes trained to libidinism long before puberty at the penny concert, and their passions inflamed with the unrestrained intercourse of the twopenny hops—the fate of the young, I say, abandoned to the blight of such associations as these, cannot well be otherwise than it is. If the child be father to the man, assuredly it does not require a great effort of imagination to conceive the manhood that such a childhood must necessarily engender.

Some months back Mr. Mayhew, with a view to mitigate what appeared to him to be the chief evils of a street-seller’s life, founded “The Friendly Association of London Costermongers,” the objects of which were as follows:

1. To establish a Benefit and Provident Fund for insuring to each Member a small weekly allowance in Sickness or Old Age, as well as a certain sum to his family at his death, so that the Costermongers, when incapacitated from labour, may not be forced to seek parochial relief, nor, at their decease, be left to be buried by the parish.

2. To institute a Penny Savings’ Bank and Winter Fund, where the smallest deposits will be received and bear interest, so that the Costermongers may be encouraged to lay by even the most trivial sums, not only as a provision for future comfort, but as the means of assisting their poorer brethren with future loans.


3. To form a Small Loan Fund for supplying the more needy Costermongers with Stock-Money, &c., at a fair and legitimate interest, instead of the exorbitant rates that are now charged.

4. To promote the use of full weights and measures by every Member of the Association, as well as a rigid inspection of the scales, &c., of all other Costermongers, so that the honestly disposed Street-sellers may be protected, and the public secured against imposition.

5. To protect the Costermongers from interference when lawfully pursuing their calling, by placing it in their power to employ counsel to defend them, if unjustly prosecuted.

6. To provide harmless, if not rational, amusements at the same cheap rate as the pernicious entertainments now resorted to by the Street-sellers.

7. To adopt means for the gratuitous education of the children of the Costermongers, in the day time, and the men and women themselves in the evening.

This institution remains at present comparatively in abeyance, from the want of funds to complete the preliminary arrangements. Those, however, who may feel inclined to contribute towards its establishment, will please to pay their subscriptions into Messrs. Twinings’ Bank, Strand, to the account of Thomas Hughes, Esq. (of 63, Upper Berkeley-street, Portman-square), who has kindly consented to act as Treasurer to the Association.

Of a Public Meeting of Street-sellers.

The Association above described arose out of a meeting of costermongers and other street-folk, which was held, at my instance, on the evening of the 12th of June last, in the National Hall, Holborn. The meeting was announced as one of “street-sellers, street-performers, and street-labourers,” but the costermongers were the great majority present. The admission was by ticket, and the tickets, which were of course gratuitous, were distributed by men familiar with all the classes invited to attend. These men found the tickets received by some of the street-people with great distrust; others could not be made to understand why any one should trouble himself on their behoof; others again, cheerfully promised their attendance. Some accused the ticket distributors with having been bribed by the Government or the police, though for what purpose was not stated. Some abused them heartily, and some offered to treat them. At least 1,000 persons were present at the meeting, of whom 731 presented their tickets; the others were admitted, because they were known to the door-keepers, and had either lost their tickets or had not the opportunity to obtain them. The persons to whom cards of admission were given were invited to write their names and callings on the backs, and the cards so received gave the following result. Costermongers, 256; fish-sellers, 28; hucksters, 23; lot-sellers, 18; street-labourers, 16; paper-sellers and workers, 13; toy-sellers, 11; ginger-beer-sellers, 9; hardware-sellers, 9; general-dealers, 7; street-musicians, 5; street-performers, 5; cakes and pastry-sellers, fried-fish-vendors, and tinkers, each, 4; turf-vendors, street-exhibitors, strolling-players, cat’s-meat-men, water-cress-sellers, stay-lace, and cotton-sellers, each, 3; board-carriers, fruit-sellers, street-tradesmen, hawkers, street-greengrocers, shell-fish-vendors, poulterers, mud-larks, wire-workers, ballad-singers, crock-men, and booksellers, each, 2; the cards also gave one each of the following avocations:—fly-cage-makers, fly-paper-sellers, grinders, tripe-sellers, pattern-printers, blind-paper-cutters, lace-collar-sellers, bird-sellers, bird-trainers, pen-sellers, lucifer-merchants, watch-sellers, decorators, and play-bill-sellers. 260 cards were given in without being indorsed with any name or calling.

My object in calling this meeting was to ascertain from the men themselves what were the grievances to which they considered themselves subjected; what were the peculiarities and what the privations of a street-life. Cat-calls, and every description of discordant sound, prevailed, before the commencement of the proceedings, but there was also perfect good-humour. Although it had been announced that all the speakers were to address the meeting from the platform, yet throughout the evening some man or other would occasionally essay to speak from the body of the hall. Some of those present expressed misgivings that the meeting was got up by the Government, or by Sir R. Peel, and that policemen, in disguise, were in attendance. The majority showed an ignorance of the usual forms observed at public meetings, though some manifested a thorough understanding of them. Nor was there much delicacy observed—but, perhaps, about as much as in some assemblages of a different character—in clamouring down any prosy speaker. Many present were without coats (for it was a warm evening), some were without waistcoats, many were in tatters, hats and caps were in infinite varieties of shape and shade, while a few were well and even genteelly dressed. The well dressed street-sellers were nearly all young men, and one of these wore moustachios. After I had explained, amidst frequent questions and interruptions, the purpose for which I had summoned the meeting, and had assured the assembly that, to the best of my knowledge, no policemen were present, I invited free discussion.

It was arranged that some one person should address the meeting as the representative of each particular occupation. An elderly man of small stature and lively intelligent features, stood up to speak on behalf of the “paper-workers,” “flying-stationers,” and “standing-patterers.” He said, that “for twenty-four years he had been a penny-showman, a street-seller, and a patterer.” He dwelt upon the difference of a street-life when he was young and at the present time, the difference being between meals and no meals; and complained that though[103] he had been well educated, had friends in a respectable way of life, and had never been accused of any dishonesty, such was the “moral brand,” of having been connected with a street life, that it was never got rid of. He more than once alluded to this “moral brand.” The question was, he concluded, in what way were they to obtain an honest livelihood, so as to keep their wives and children decently, without being buffeted about like wild beasts in the open streets? This address was characterised by propriety in the delivery, and by the absence of any grammatical inaccuracy, or vulgarity of tone or expression.

A costermonger, a quiet-looking man, tidily clad, said he was the son of a country auctioneer, now dead; and not having been brought up to any trade, he came to London to try his luck. His means were done before he could obtain employment; and he was in a state of starvation. At last he was obliged to apply to the parish. The guardians took him into the workhouse, and offered to pass him home: but as he could do no good there, he refused to go. Whereupon, giving him a pound of bread, he was turned into the streets, and had nowhere to lay his head. In wandering down the New-cut a costermonger questioned him, and then took him into his house and fed him. This man kept him for a year and a half; he showed him how to get a living in the street trade; and when he left, gave him 20s. to start with. With this sum he got a good living directly; and he could do so now, were it not for the police, whose conduct, he stated, was sometimes very tyrannical. He had been dragged to the station-house, for standing to serve customers, though he obstructed nobody; the policeman, however, called it an obstruction, and he (the speaker) was fined 2s. 6d.; whereupon, because he had not the half-crown, his barrow and all it contained were taken from him, and he had heard nothing of them since. This almost broke him down. There was no redress for these things, and he thought they ought to be looked into.

This man spoke with considerable energy; and when he had concluded, many costermongers shouted, at the top of their voices, that they could substantiate every word of what he had said.

A young man, of superior appearance, said he was the son of a gentleman who had held a commission as Lieutenant in the 20th Foot, and as Captain in the 34th Infantry, and afterwards became Sub-director of the Bute Docks; in which situation he died, leaving no property. He (the speaker) was a classical scholar; but having no trade, he was compelled, after his father’s death, to come to London in search of employment, thinking that his pen and his school acquirements would secure it. But in this expectation he was disappointed,—though for a short period he was earning two guineas a week in copying documents for the House of Commons. That time was past; and he was a street-patterer now through sheer necessity. He could say from experience that the earnings of that class were no more than from 8s. to 10s. a week. He then declaimed at some length against the interference of the police with the patterers, considering it harsh and unnecessary.

After some noisy and not very relevant discussion concerning the true amount of a street-patterer’s earnings, a clergyman of the Established Church, now selling stenographic cards in the street, addressed the meeting. He observed, that in every promiscuous assembly there would always be somebody who might be called unfortunate. Of this number he was one; for when, upon the 5th September, 1831, he preached a funeral sermon before a fashionable congregation, upon Mr. Huskisson’s death by a railway accident, he little thought he should ever be bound over in his own recognizances in 10l. for obstructing the metropolitan thoroughfares. He was a native of Hackney, but in early life he went to Scotland, and upon the 24th June, 1832, he obtained the presentation to a small extra-parochial chapel in that country, upon the presentation of the Rev. Dr. Bell. His people embraced Irvingism, and he was obliged to leave; and in January, 1837, he came to the metropolis. His history since that period he need not state. His occupation was well known, and he could confirm what had been stated with regard to the police. The Police Act provided, that all persons selling goods in the streets were to keep five feet off the pavement, the street not being a market. He had always kept with his wares and his cards beyond the prohibited distance of five feet; and for six years and a half he had sold his cards without molesting or being molested. After some severe observations upon the police, he narrated several events in his personal history to account for his present condition, which he attributed to misfortune and the injustice of society. In the course of these explanations he gave an illustration of his classical acquirements, in having detected a grammatical error in a Latin inscription upon the plate of a foundation-stone for a new church in Westminster. He wrote to the incumbent, pointing out the error, and the incumbent asked the beadle who he was. “Oh,” said the beadle, “he is a fellow who gets his living in the streets.” This was enough. He got no answer to his letter, though he knew the incumbent and his four curates, and had attended his church for seven years. After dwelling on the sufferings of those whose living was gained in the streets, he said, that if persons wished really to know anything of the character or habits of life of the very poor, of whom he was one, the knowledge could only be had from a personal survey of their condition in their own homes. He ended, by expressing his hope that by better treatment, and an earnest attention—moral, social, and religious—to their condition, the poor of the streets might be gathered to the church, and to God.

A “wandering musician” in a Highland garb, worn and dirty, complained at some[104] length of the way in which he was treated by the police.

A hale-looking man, a costermonger, of middle age—who said he had a wife and four children dependent upon him—then spoke. It was a positive fact, he said, notwithstanding their poverty, their hardships, and even their degradation in the eyes of some, that the first markets in London were mainly supported by costermongers. What would the Duke of Bedford’s market in Covent-garden be without them? This question elicited loud applause.

Several other persons followed with statements of a similar character, which were listened to with interest; but from their general sameness it is not necessary to repeat them here. After occupying nearly four hours, the proceedings were brought to a close by a vote of thanks, and the “street-sellers, performers, and labourers,” separated in a most orderly manner.


The Irish street-sellers are both a numerous and peculiar class of people. It therefore behoves me, for the due completeness of this work, to say a few words upon their numbers, earnings, condition, and mode of life.

The number of Irish street-sellers in the metropolis has increased greatly of late years. One gentleman, who had every means of being well-informed, considered that it was not too much to conclude, that, within these five years, the numbers of the poor Irish people who gain a scanty maintenance, or what is rather a substitute for a maintenance, by trading, or begging, or by carrying on the two avocations simultaneously in the streets of London, had been doubled in number.

I found among the English costermongers a general dislike of the Irish. In fact, next to a policeman, a genuine London costermonger hates an Irishman, considering him an intruder. Whether there be any traditional or hereditary ill-feeling between them, originating from a clannish feeling, I cannot ascertain. The costermongers whom I questioned had no knowledge of the feelings or prejudices of their predecessors, but I am inclined to believe that the prejudice is modern, and has originated in the great influx of Irishmen and women, intermixing, more especially during the last five years, with the costermonger’s business. An Irish costermonger, however, is no novelty in the streets of London. “From the mention of the costardmonger,” says Mr. Charles Knight, “in the old dramatists, he appears to have been frequently an Irishman.”

Of the Irish street-sellers, at present, it is computed that there are, including men, women, and children, upwards of 10,000. Assuming the street-sellers attending the London fish and green markets to be, with their families, 30,000 in number, and 7 in every 20 of these to be Irish, we shall have rather more than the total above given. Of this large body three-fourths sell only fruit, and more especially nuts and oranges; indeed, the orange-season is called the “Irishman’s harvest.” The others deal in fish, fruit, and vegetables, but these are principally men. Some of the most wretched of the street-Irish deal in such trifles as lucifer-matches, water-cresses, &c.

I am informed that the great mass of these people have been connected, in some capacity or other, with the culture of the land in Ireland. The mechanics who have sought the metropolis from the sister kingdom have become mixed with their respective handicrafts in England, some of the Irish—though only a few—taking rank with the English skilled labourers. The greater part of the Irish artizans who have arrived within the last five years are to be found among the most degraded of the tailors and shoemakers who work at the East-end for the slop-masters.

A large class of the Irish who were agricultural labourers in their country are to be found among the men working for bricklayers, as well as among the dock-labourers and excavators, &c. Wood chopping is an occupation greatly resorted to by the Irish in London. Many of the Irish, however, who are not regularly employed in their respective callings, resort to the streets when they cannot obtain work otherwise.

The Irish women and girls who sell fruit, &c., in the streets, depend almost entirely on that mode of traffic for their subsistence. They are a class not sufficiently taught to avail themselves of the ordinary resources of women in the humbler walk of life. Unskilled at their needles, working for slop employers, even at the commonest shirt-making, is impossible to them. Their ignorance of household work, moreover (for such description of work is unknown in their wretched cabins in many parts of Ireland), incapacitates them in a great measure for such employments as “charing,” washing, and ironing, as well as from regular domestic employment. Thus there seems to remain to them but one thing to do—as, indeed, was said to me by one of themselves—viz., “to sell for a ha’pinny the three apples which cost a farruthing.”

Very few of these women (nor, indeed, of the men, though rather more of them than the women) can read, and they are mostly all wretchedly poor; but the women present two characteristics which distinguish them from the London costerwomen generally—they are chaste, and, unlike the “coster girls,” very seldom form any con[105]nection without the sanction of the marriage ceremony. They are, moreover, attentive to religious observances.

The majority of the Irish street-sellers of both sexes beg, and often very eloquently, as they carry on their trade; and I was further assured, that, but for this begging, some of them might starve outright.

The greater proportion of the Irish street-sellers are from Leinster and Munster, and a considerable number come from Connaught.

Of the Causes which have made the Irish turn Costermongers.

Notwithstanding the prejudices of the English costers, I am of opinion that the Irishmen and women who have become costermongers, belong to a better class than the Irish labourers. The Irishman may readily adapt himself, in a strange place, to labour, though not to trade; but these costers are—or the majority at least are—poor persevering traders enough.

The most intelligent and prosperous of the street-Irish are those who have “risen”—for so I heard it expressed—“into regular costers.” The untaught Irishmen’s capabilities, as I have before remarked, with all his powers of speech and quickness of apprehension, are far less fitted for “buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest” than for mere physical employment. Hence those who take to street-trading for a living seldom prosper in it, and three-fourths of the street-Irish confine their dealings to such articles as are easy of sale, like apples, nuts, or oranges, for they are rarely masters of purchasing to advantage, and seem to know little about tale or measure, beyond the most familiar quantities. Compared with an acute costermonger, the mere apple-seller is but as the labourer to the artizan.

One of the principal causes why the Irish costermongers have increased so extensively of late years, is to be found in the fact that the labouring classes, (and of them chiefly the class employed in the culture of land,) have been driven over from “the sister Isle” more thickly for the last four or five years than formerly. Several circumstances have conspired to effect this.—First, they were driven over by the famine, when they could not procure, or began to fear that soon they could not procure, food to eat. Secondly, they were forced to take refuge in this country by the evictions, when their landlords had left them no roof to shelter them in their own. (The shifts, the devices, the plans, to which numbers of these poor creatures had recourse, to raise the means of quitting Ireland for England—or for anywhere—will present a very remarkable chapter at some future period.) Thirdly, though the better class of small farmers who have emigrated from Ireland, in hopes of “bettering themselves,” have mostly sought the shores of North America, still some who have reached this country have at last settled into street-sellers. And, fourthly, many who have come over here only for the harvest have been either induced or compelled to stay.

Another main cause is, that the Irish, as labourers, can seldom obtain work all the year through, and thus the ranks of the Irish street-sellers are recruited every winter by the slackness of certain periodic trades in which they are largely employed—such as hodmen, dock-work, excavating, and the like. They are, therefore, driven by want of employment to the winter sale of oranges and nuts. These circumstances have a doubly malefic effect, as the increase of costers accrues in the winter months, and there are consequently the most sellers when there are the fewest buyers.

Moreover, the cessation of work in the construction of railways, compared with the abundance of employment which attracted so many to this country during the railway mania, has been another fertile cause of there being so many Irish in the London streets.

The prevalence of Irish women and children among street-sellers is easily accounted for—they are, as I said before, unable to do anything else to eke out the means of their husbands or parents. A needle is as useless in their fingers as a pen.

Bitterly as many of these people suffer in this country, grievous and often eloquent as are their statements, I met with none who did not manifest repugnance at the suggestion of a return to Ireland. If asked why they objected to return, the response was usually in the form of a question: “Shure thin, sir, and what good could I do there?” Neither can I say that I heard any of these people express any love for their country, though they often spoke with great affection of their friends.

From an Irish costermonger, a middle-aged man, with a physiognomy best known as “Irish,” and dressed in corduroy trousers, with a loose great-coat, far too big for him, buttoned about him, I had the following statement:

“I had a bit o’ land, yer honor, in County Limerick. Well, it wasn’t just a farrum, nor what ye would call a garden here, but my father lived and died on it—glory be to God!—and brought up me and my sister on it. It was about an acre, and the taties was well known to be good. But the sore times came, and the taties was afflicted, and the wife and me—I have no childer—hadn’t a bite nor a sup, but wather to live on, and an igg or two. I filt the famine a-comin’. I saw people a-feedin’ on the wild green things, and as I had not such a bad take, I got Mr. —— (he was the head master’s agent) to give me 28s. for possission in quietness, and I sould some poulthry I had—their iggs was a blessin’ to keep the life in us—I sould them in Limerick for 3s. 3d.—the poor things—four of them. The furnithur’ I sould to the nabors, for somehow about 6s. Its the thruth I’m ay-tellin’ of you, sir, and there’s 2s. owin’ of it still, and will be a perpitual loss. The wife and me walked to Dublin, though we had betther have gone by the ‘long say,’ but I didn’t under[106]stand it thin, and we got to Liverpool. Then sorrow’s the taste of worruk could I git, beyant oncte 3s. for two days harrud porthering, that broke my back half in two. I was tould I’d do betther in London, and so, glory be to God! I have—perhaps I have. I knew Mr. ——, he porthers at Covent-garden, and I made him out, and hilped him in any long distance of a job. As I’d been used to farrumin’ I thought it good raison I should be a costermonger, as they call it here. I can read and write too. And some good Christian—the heavens light him to glory when he’s gone!—I don’t know who he was—advanced me 10s.—or he gave it me, so to spake, through Father ——,” (a Roman Catholic priest.) “We earrun what keeps the life in us. I don’t go to markit, but buy of a fair dealin’ man—so I count him—though he’s harrud sometimes. I can’t till how many Irishmen is in the thrade. There’s many has been brought down to it by the famin’ and the changes. I don’t go much among the English street-dalers. They talk like haythens. I never miss mass on a Sunday, and they don’t know what the blissed mass manes. I’m almost glad I have no childer, to see how they’re raired here. Indeed, sir, they’re not raired at all—they run wild. They haven’t the fear of God or the saints. They’d hang a praste—glory be to God! they would.”

How the Street-Irish displanted the Street-Jews in the Orange Trade.

The Jews, in the streets, while acting as costermongers, never “worked a barrow,” nor dealt in the more ponderous and least profitable articles of the trade, such as turnips and cabbages. They however, had, at one period, the chief possession of a portion of the trade which the “regular hands” do not consider proper costermongering, and which is now chiefly confined to the Irish—viz.: orange selling.

The trade was, not many years ago, confined almost entirely to the Jew boys, who kept aloof from the vagrant lads of the streets, or mixed with them only in the cheap theatres and concert-rooms. A person who had had great experience at what was, till recently, one of the greatest “coaching inns,” told me that, speaking within his own recollection and from his own observation, he thought the sale of oranges was not so much in the hands of the Jew lads until about forty years back. The orange monopoly, so to speak, was established by the street-Jews, about 1810, or three or four years previous to that date, when recruiting and local soldiering were at their height, and when a great number of the vagabond or “roving” population, who in one capacity or other now throng the streets, were induced to enlist. The young Jews never entered the ranks of the army. The streets were thus in a measure cleared for them, and the itinerant orange-trade fell almost entirely into their hands. Some of the young Jews gained, I am assured, at least 100l. a year in this traffic. The numbers of country people who hastened to London on the occasion of the Allied Sovereigns’ visit in 1814—many wealthy persons then seeing the capital for the first time—afforded an excellent market to these dealers.

Moreover, the perseverance of the Jew orange boys was not to be overcome; they would follow a man who even looked encouragingly at their wares for a mile or two. The great resort of these Jew dealers—who eschewed night-work generally, and left the theatre-doors to old men and women of all ages—was at the coaching inns; for year by year, after the peace of 1815, the improvement of the roads and the consequent increase of travellers to London, progressed.

About 1825, as nearly as my informant could recollect, these keen young traders began to add the sale of other goods to their oranges, pressing them upon the notice of those who were leaving or visiting London by the different coaches. So much was this the case, that it was a common remark at that time, that no one could reach or leave the metropolis, even for the shortest journey, without being expected to be in urgent want of oranges and lemons, black-lead pencils, sticks of sealing-wax, many-bladed pen-knives, pocket-combs, razors, strops, braces, and sponges. To pursue the sale of the last-mentioned articles—they being found, I presume, to be more profitable—some of the street-Jews began to abandon the sale of oranges and lemons; and it was upon this, that the trade was “taken up” by the wives and children of the Irish bricklayers’ labourers, and of other Irish work-people then resident in London. The numbers of Irish in the metropolis at that time began to increase rapidly; for twenty years ago, they resorted numerously to England to gather in the harvest, and those who had been employed in contiguous counties during the autumn, made for London in the winter. “I can’t say they were well off, sir,” said one man to me, “but they liked bread and herrings, or bread and tea—better than potatoes without bread at home.” From 1836 to 1840, I was informed, the Irish gradually superseded the Jews in the fruit traffic about the coaching-houses. One reason for this was, that they were far more eloquent, begging pathetically, and with many benedictions on their listeners. The Jews never begged, I was told; “they were merely traders.” Another reason was, that the Irish, men or lads, who had entered into the fruit trade in the coach-yards, would not only sell and beg, but were ready to “lend a hand” to any over-burthened coach-porter. This the Jews never did, and in that way the people of the yard came to encourage the Irish to the prejudice of the Jews. At present, I understand that, with the exception of one or two in the city, no Jews vend oranges in the streets, and that the trade is almost entirely in the hands of the Irish.

Another reason why the Irish could supersede and even undersell the Jews and regular costermongers was this, as I am informed on ex[107]cellent authority:—Father Mathew, a dozen years back, made temperance societies popular in Ireland. Many of the itinerant Irish, especially the younger classes, were “temperance men.” Thus the Irish could live as sparely as the Jew, but they did not, like him, squander any money for the evening’s amusement, at the concert or the theatre.

I inquired what might be the number of the Jews plying, so to speak, at the coaching inns, and was assured that it was less numerous than was generally imagined. One man computed it at 300 individuals, all under 21; another at only 200; perhaps the mean, or 250, might be about the mark. The number was naturally considered greater, I was told, because the same set of street traders were seen over and over again. The Jews knew when the coaches were to arrive and when they started, and they would hurry, after availing themselves of a departure, from one inn—the Belle Sauvage, Ludgate-hill, for instance—to take advantage of an arrival at another—say the Saracen’s Head, Snow-hill. Thus they appeared everywhere, but were the same individuals.

I inquired to what calling the youthful Jews, thus driven from their partially monopolized street commerce, had devoted themselves, and was told that even when the orange and hawking trade was at the best, the Jews rarely carried it on after they were twenty-two or twenty-three, but that they then resorted to some more wholesale calling, such as the purchase of nuts or foreign grapes, at public sales. At present, I am informed, they are more thickly than ever engaged in these trades, as well as in two new avocations, that have been established within these few years,—the sale of the Bahama pine-apples and of the Spanish and Portuguese onions.

About the Royal Exchange, Jew boys still hawk pencils, etc., but the number engaged in this pursuit throughout London is not, as far as I can ascertain, above one-eighth—if an eighth—of what it was even twelve years ago.

Of the Religion of the Street-Irish.

Having now given a brief sketch as to how the Irish people have come to form so large a proportion of the London street-sellers, I shall proceed, as I did with the English costermongers, to furnish the reader with a short account of their religious, moral, intellectual, and physical condition, so that he may be able to contrast the habits and circumstances of the one class with those of the other. First, of the religion of the Irish street-folk.

Almost all the street-Irish are Roman Catholics. Of course I can but speak generally; but during my inquiry I met with only two who said they were Protestants, and when I came to converse with them, I found out that they were partly ignorant of, and partly indifferent to, any religion whatever. An Irish Protestant gentleman said to me: “You may depend upon it, if ever you meet any of my poor countrymen who will not talk to you about religion, they either know or care nothing about it; for the religious spirit runs high in Ireland, and Protestants and Catholics are easily led to converse about their faith.”

I found that some of the Irish Roman Catholics—but they had been for many years resident in England, and that among the poorest or vagrant class of the English—had become indifferent to their creed, and did not attend their chapels, unless at the great fasts or festivals, and this they did only occasionally. One old stall-keeper, who had been in London nearly thirty years, said to me: “Ah! God knows, sir, I ought to attend mass every Sunday, but I haven’t for a many years, barrin’ Christmas-day and such times. But I’ll thry and go more rigular, plase God.” This man seemed to resent, as a sort of indignity, my question if he ever attended any other place of worship. “Av coorse not!” was the reply.

One Irishman, also a fruit-seller, with a well-stocked barrow, and without the complaint of poverty common among his class, entered keenly into the subject of his religious faith when I introduced it. He was born in Ireland, but had been in England since he was five or six. He was a good-looking, fresh-coloured man, of thirty or upwards, and could read and write well. He spoke without bitterness, though zealously enough. “Perhaps, sir, you are a gintleman connected with the Protistant clargy,” he asked, “or a missionary?” On my stating that I had no claim to either character, he resumed: “Will, sir, it don’t matther. All the worruld may know my riligion, and I wish all the worruld was of my riligion, and betther min in it than I am; I do, indeed. I’m a Roman Catholic, sir;” [here he made the sign of the cross]; “God be praised for it! O yis, I know all about Cardinal Wiseman. It’s the will of God, I feel sure, that he’s to be ’stablished here, and it’s no use ribillin’ against that. I’ve nothing to say against Protistints. I’ve heard it said, ‘It’s best to pray for them.’ The street-people that call thimselves Protistants are no riligion at all at all. I serruve Protistant gintlemen and ladies too, and sometimes they talk to me kindly about religion. They’re good custhomers, and I have no doubt good people. I can’t say what their lot may be in another worruld for not being of the true faith. No, sir, I’ll give no opinions—none.”

This man gave me a clear account of his belief that the Blessed Virgin (he crossed himself repeatedly as he spoke) was the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was a mediator with our Lord, who was God of heaven and earth—of the duty of praying to the holy saints—of attending mass—(“but the priest,” he said, “won’t exact too much of a poor man, either about that or about fasting”)—of going to confession at Easter and Christmas times, at the least—of receiving the body of Christ, “the rale prisince,” in the holy sacrament—of keeping all God’s commandments—of purgatory being a purgation of sins—and of heaven and hell.[108] I found the majority of those I spoke with, at least as earnest in their faith, if they were not as well instructed in it as my informant, who may be cited as an example of the better class of street-sellers.

Another Irishman,—who may be taken as a type of the less informed, and who had been between two and three years in England, having been disappointed in emigrating to America with his wife and two children,—gave me the following account, but not without considering and hesitating. He was a very melancholy looking man, tall and spare, and decently clad. He and his family were living upon 8d. a day, which he earned by sweeping a crossing. He had been prevented by ill health from earning 2l., which he could have made, he told me, in harvest time, as a store against winter. He had been a street-seller, and so had his wife; and she would be so again as soon as he could raise 2s. to buy her a stock of apples. He said, touching his hat at each holy name,—

“Sure, yis, sir, I’m a Roman Cartholic, and go to mass every Sunday. Jesus Christ? O yis,” (hesitating, but proceeding readily after a word of prompting), “he is the Lord our Saviour, and the Son of the Holy Virgin. The blessed saints? Yis, sir, yis. The praste prays for them. I—I mane prays to them. O yis. I pray to them mysilf ivery night for a blissin’, and to rise me out of my misery. No, sir, I can’t say I know what the mass is about. I don’t know what I’m prayin’ for thin, only that it’s right. A poor man, that can neither read nor write—I wish I could and I might do betther—can’t understand it; it’s all in Latin. I’ve heard about Cardinal Wiseman. It’ll do us no good sir; it’ll only set people more against us. But it ain’t poor min’s fault.”

As I was anxious to witness the religious zeal that characterizes these people, I obtained permission to follow one of the priests as he made his rounds among his flock. Everywhere the people ran out to meet him. He had just returned to them I found, and the news spread round, and women crowded to their door-steps, and came creeping up from the cellars through the trap-doors, merely to curtsey to him. One old crone, as he passed, cried, “You’re a good father, Heaven comfort you,” and the boys playing about stood still to watch him. A lad, in a man’s tail coat and a shirt-collar that nearly covered in his head—like the paper round a bouquet—was fortunate enough to be noticed, and his eyes sparkled, as he touched his hair at each word he spoke in answer. At a conversation that took place between the priest and a woman who kept a dry fish-stall, the dame excused herself for not having been up to take tea “with his rivirince’s mother lately, for thrade had been so bisy, and night was the fullest time.” Even as the priest walked along the street, boys running at full speed would pull up to touch their hair, and the stall-women would rise from their baskets; while all noise—even a quarrel—ceased until he had passed by. Still there was no look of fear in the people. He called them all by their names, and asked after their families, and once or twice the “father” was taken aside and held by the button while some point that required his advice was whispered in his ear.

The religious fervour of the people whom I saw was intense. At one house that I entered, the woman set me marvelling at the strength of her zeal, by showing me how she contrived to have in her sitting-room a sanctuary to pray before every night and morning, and even in the day, “when she felt weary and lonesome.” The room was rudely enough furnished, and the only decent table was covered with a new piece of varnished cloth; still before a rude print of our Saviour there were placed two old plated candlesticks, pink, with the copper shining through; and here it was that she told her beads. In her bed-room, too, was a coloured engraving of the “Blessed Lady,” which she never passed without curtseying to.

Of course I detail these matters as mere facts, without desiring to offer any opinion here, either as to the benefit or otherwise of the creed in question. As I had shown how the English costermonger neither had nor knew any religion whatever, it became my duty to give the reader a view of the religion of the Irish street-sellers. In order to be able to do so as truthfully as possible, I placed myself in communication with those parties who were in a position to give me the best information on the subject. The result is given above, in all the simplicity and impartiality of history.

Of the Education, Literature, Amusements, and Politics of the Street-irish.

These several heads have often required from me lengthened notices, but as regards the class I am now describing they may be dismissed briefly enough. The majority of the street-Irish whom I saw were unable to read, but I found those who had no knowledge of reading—(and the same remark applies to the English street-sellers as well)—regret their inability, and say, “I wish I could read, sir; I’d be better off now.” On the other hand, those who had a knowledge of reading and writing, said frequently enough, “Why, yes, sir, I can read and write, but it’s been no good to me,” as if they had been disappointed in their expectations as to the benefits attendant upon scholarship. I am inclined to think, however, that a greater anxiety exists among the poor generally, to have some schooling provided for their children, than was the case a few years back. One Irishman attributed this to the increased number of Roman Catholic schools, “for the more schools there are,” he said, “the more people think about schooling their children.”

The literature, or reading, of the street-Irish is, I believe, confined to Roman Catholic books, such as the “Lives of the Saints,” published in a cheap form; one, and only one, I found with[109] the “Nation” newspaper. The very poor have no leisure to read. During three days spent in visiting the slop-workers at the East end of the town, not so much as the fragment of a leaf of a book was seen.

The amusements of the street-Irish are not those of the English costermongers—though there are exceptions, of course, to the remark. The Irish fathers and mothers do not allow their daughters, even when they possess the means, to resort to the “penny gaffs” or the “twopenny hops,” unaccompanied by them. Some of the men frequent the beer-shops, and are inveterate drinkers and smokers too. I did not hear of any amusements popular among, or much resorted to, by the Irishmen, except dancing parties at one another’s houses, where they jig and reel furiously. They frequent raffles also, but the article is often never thrown for, and the evening is spent in dancing.

I may here observe—in reference to the statement that Irish parents will not expose their daughters to the risk of what they consider corrupt influences—that when a young Irishwoman does break through the pale of chastity, she often becomes, as I was assured, one of the most violent and depraved of, perhaps, the most depraved class.

Of politics, I think, the street-Irish understand nothing, and my own observations in this respect were confirmed by a remark made to me by an Irish gentleman: “Their politics are either a dead letter, or the politics of their priests.”

The Homes of the Street-Irish.

In almost all of the poorer districts of London are to be found “nests of Irish”—as they are called—or courts inhabited solely by the Irish costermongers. These people form separate colonies, rarely visiting or mingling with the English costers. It is curious, on walking through one of these settlements, to notice the manner in which the Irish deal among themselves—street-seller buying of street-seller. Even in some of the smallest courts there may be seen stalls of vegetables, dried herrings, or salt cod, thriving, on the associative principle, by mutual support.

The parts of London that are the most thickly populated with Irish lie about Brook-street, Ratcliff-cross, down both sides of the Commercial-road, and in Rosemary-lane, though nearly all the “coster-districts” cited at p. 47, have their Irish settlements—Cromer-street, Saffron-hill and King-street, Drury-lane, for instance, being thickly peopled with the Irish; but the places I have mentioned above are peculiarly distinguished, by being almost entirely peopled by visitors from the sister isle.

The same system of immigration is pursued in London as in America. As soon as the first settler is thriving in his newly chosen country, a certain portion of his or her earnings are carefully hoarded up, until they are sufficient to pay for the removal of another member of the family to England; then one of the friends left “at home” is sent for; and thus by degrees the entire family is got over, and once more united.

Perhaps there is no quarter of London where the habits and habitations of the Irish can be better seen and studied than in Rosemary-lane, and the little courts and alleys that spring from it on each side. Some of these courts have other courts branching off from them, so that the locality is a perfect labyrinth of “blind alleys;” and when once in the heart of the maze it is difficult to find the path that leads to the main-road. As you walk down “the lane,” and peep through the narrow openings between the houses, the place seems like a huge peep-show, with dark holes of gateways to look through, while the court within appears bright with the daylight; and down it are seen rough-headed urchins running with their feet bare through the puddles, and bonnetless girls, huddled in shawls, lolling against the door-posts. Sometimes you see a long narrow alley, with the houses so close together that opposite neighbours are talking from their windows; while the ropes, stretched zig-zag from wall to wall, afford just room enough to dry a blanket or a couple of shirts, that swell out dropsically in the wind.

I visited one of the paved yards round which the Irish live, and found that it had been turned into a complete drying-ground, with shirts, gowns, and petticoats of every description and colour. The buildings at the end were completely hidden by “the things,” and the air felt damp and chilly, and smelt of soap-suds. The gutter was filled with dirty gray water emptied from the wash-tubs, and on the top were the thick bubbles floating about under the breath of the boys “playing at boats” with them.

It is the custom with the inhabitants of these courts and alleys to assemble at the entrance with their baskets, and chat and smoke away the morning. Every court entrance has its little group of girls and women, lolling listlessly against the sides, with their heads uncovered, and their luxuriant hair fuzzy as oakum. It is peculiar with the Irish women that—after having been accustomed to their hoods—they seldom wear bonnets, unless on a long journey. Nearly all of them, too, have a thick plaid shawl, which they keep on all the day through, with their hands covered under it. At the mouth of the only thoroughfare deserving of the name of street—for a cart could just go through it—were congregated about thirty men and women, who rented rooms in the houses on each side of the road. Six women, with baskets of dried herrings, were crouching in a line on the kerb-stone with the fish before them; their legs were drawn up so closely to their bodies that the shawl covered the entire figure, and they looked very like the podgy “tombolers” sold by the Italian boys. As all their wares were alike, it was puzzling work to imagine how, without the strongest opposition, they could each obtain a living. The[110] men were dressed in long-tail coats, with one or two brass buttons. One old dame, with a face wrinkled like a dried plum, had her cloak placed over her head like a hood, and the grisly hair hung down in matted hanks about her face, her black eyes shining between the locks like those of a Skye terrier; beside her was another old woman smoking a pipe so short that her nose reached over the bowl.

After looking at the low foreheads and long bulging upper lips of some of the group, it was pleasant to gaze upon the pretty faces of the one or two girls that lolled against the wall. Their black hair, smoothed with grease, and shining almost as if “japanned,” and their large gray eyes with the thick dark fringe of lash, seemed out of place among the hard features of their companions. It was only by looking at the short petticoats and large feet you could assure yourself that they belonged to the same class.

In all the houses that I entered were traces of household care and neatness that I had little expected to have seen. The cupboard fastened in the corner of the room, and stocked with mugs and cups, the mantelpiece with its images, and the walls covered with showy-coloured prints of saints and martyrs, gave an air of comfort that strangely disagreed with the reports of the cabins in “ould Ireland.” As the doors to the houses were nearly all of them kept open, I could, even whilst walking along, gain some notion of the furniture of the homes. In one house that I visited there was a family of five persons, living on the ground floor and occupying two rooms. The boards were strewn with red sand, and the front apartment had three beds in it, with the printed curtains drawn closely round. In a dark room, at the back, lived the family itself. It was fitted up as a parlour, and crowded to excess with chairs and tables, the very staircase having pictures fastened against the wooden partition. The fire, although it was midday, and a warm autumn morning, served as much for light as for heat, and round it crouched the mother, children, and visitors, bending over the flame as if in the severest winter time. In a room above this were a man and woman lately arrived in England. The woman sat huddled up in a corner smoking, with the husband standing over her in, what appeared at first, a menacing attitude; I was informed, however, that they were only planning for the future. This room was perfectly empty of furniture, and the once white-washed walls were black, excepting the little square patches which showed where the pictures of the former tenants had hung. In another room, I found a home so small and full of furniture, that it was almost a curiosity for domestic management. The bed, with its chintz curtains looped up, filled one end of the apartment, but the mattress of it served as a long bench for the visitors to sit on. The table was so large that it divided the room in two, and if there was one picture there must have been thirty—all of “holy men,” with yellow glories round their heads. The window-ledge was dressed out with crockery, and in a tumbler were placed the beads. The old dame herself was as curious as her room. Her shawl was fastened over her large frilled cap. She had a little “button” of a nose, with the nostrils entering her face like bullet holes. She wore over her gown an old pilot coat, well-stained with fish slime, and her petticoats being short, she had very much the appearance of a Dutch fisherman or stage smuggler.

Her story was affecting—made more so, perhaps, by the emotional manner in which she related it. Nine years ago “the father” of the district—“the Blissed Lady guard him!”—had found her late at night, rolling in the gutter, and the boys pelting her with orange-peel and mud. She was drunk—“the Lorrud pass by her”—and when she came to, she found herself in the chapel, lying before the sanctuary, “under the shadow of the holy cross.” Watching over her was the “good father,” trying to bring back her consciousness. He spoke to her of her wickedness, and before she left she took the pledge of temperance. From that time she prospered, and the 1s. 6d. the “father” gave her “had God’s blissin’ in it,” for she became the best dressed woman in the court, and in less than three years had 15l. in the savings’ bank, “the father—Heaven chirish him”—keeping her book for her, as he did for other poor people. She also joined “the Association of the Blissed Lady,” (and bought herself the dress of the order “a beautiful grane vilvit, which she had now, and which same cost her 30s.”), and then she was secure against want in old age and sickness. But after nine years prudence and comfort, a brother of hers returned home from the army, with a pension of 1s. a day. He was wild, and persuaded her to break her pledge, and in a short time he got all her savings from her and spent every penny. She could’nt shake him off, “for he was the only kin she had on airth,” and “she must love her own flish and bones.” Then began her misery. “It plased God to visit her ould limbs with aches and throubles, and her hips swole with the cowld,” so that she was at last forced into a hospital, and all that was left of her store was “aten up by sufferin’s.” This, she assured me, all came about by the “good father’s” leaving that parish for another one, but now he had returned to them again, and, with his help and God’s blessing, she would yet prosper once more.

Whilst I was in the room, the father entered, and “old Norah,” half-divided between joy at seeing him and shame at “being again a beggar,” laughed and wept at the same time. She stood wiping her eyes with the shawl, and groaning out blessings on “his rivirince’s hid,” begging of him not “to scould her for she was a wake woman.” The renegade brother was had in to receive a lecture from “his rivirince.” A more sottish idiotic face it would be difficult to imagine. He stood with his hands hanging[111] down like the paws of a dog begging, and his two small eyes stared in the face of the priest, as he censured him, without the least expression even of consciousness. Old Norah stood by, groaning like a bagpipe, and writhing while the father spoke to her “own brother,” as though every reproach were meant for her.

The one thing that struck me during my visit to this neighbourhood, was the apparent listlessness and lazy appearance of the people. The boys at play were the only beings who seemed to have any life in their actions. The women in their plaid shawls strolled along the pavements, stopping each friend for a chat, or joining some circle, and leaning against the wall as though utterly deficient in energy. The men smoked, with their hands in their pockets, listening to the old crones talking, and only now and then grunting out a reply when a question was directly put to them. And yet it is curious that these people, who here seemed as inactive as negroes, will perform the severest bodily labour, undertaking tasks that the English are almost unfitted for.

To complete this account, I subjoin a brief description of the lodging-houses resorted to by the Irish immigrants on their arrival in this country.

Irish Lodging-houses for Immigrants.

Often an Irish immigrant, whose object is to settle in London, arrives by the Cork steamer without knowing a single friend to whom he can apply for house-room or assistance of any kind. Sometimes a whole family is landed late at night, worn out by sickness and the terrible fatigues of a three days’ deck passage, almost paralysed by exhaustion, and scarcely able to speak English enough to inquire for shelter till morning.

If the immigrants, however, are bound for America, their lot is very different. Then they are consigned to some agent in London, who is always on the wharf at the time the steamer arrives, and takes the strangers to the homes he has prepared for them until the New York packet starts. During the two or three days’ necessary stay in London, they are provided for at the agent’s expense, and no trouble is experienced by the travellers. A large provision-merchant in the city told me that he often, during the season, had as many as 500 Irish consigned to him by one vessel, so that to lead them to their lodgings was like walking at the head of a regiment of recruits.

The necessities of the immigrants in London have caused several of their countrymen to open lodging-houses in the courts about Rosemary-lane; these men attend the coming in of the Cork steamer, and seek for customers among the poorest of the poor, after the manner of touters to a sea-side hotel.

The immigrants’-houses are of two kinds—clean and dirty. The better class of Irish lodging-houses almost startle one by the comfort and cleanliness of the rooms; for after the descriptions you hear of the state in which the deck passengers are landed from the Irish boats, their clothes stained with the manure of the pigs, and drenched with the spray, you somehow expect to find all the accommodations disgusting and unwholesome. But one in particular, that I visited, had the floor clean, and sprinkled with red sand, while the windows were sound, bright, and transparent. The hobs of the large fire-place were piled up with bright tin pots, and the chimney piece was white and red with the china images ranged upon it. In one corner of the principal apartment there stood two or three boxes still corded up, and with bundles strung to the sides, and against the wall was hung a bunch of blue cloaks, such as the Irishwomen wear. The proprietor of the house, who was dressed in a gray tail-coat and knee-breeches, that had somewhat the effect of a footman’s livery, told me that he had received seven lodgers the day before, but six were men, and they were all out seeking for work. In front of the fire sat a woman, bending over it so close that the bright cotton gown she had on smelt of scorching. Her feet were bare, and she held the soles of them near to the bars, curling her toes about with the heat. She was a short, thick-set woman, with a pair of wonderfully muscular arms crossed over her bosom, and her loose rusty hair streaming over her neck. It was in vain that I spoke to her about her journey, for she wouldn’t answer me, but kept her round, open eyes fixed on my face with a wild, nervous look, following me about with them everywhere.

Across the room hung a line, with the newly-washed and well-patched clothes of the immigrants hanging to it, and on a side-table were the six yellow basins that had been used for the men’s breakfasts. During my visit, the neighbours, having observed a strange gentleman enter, came pouring in, each proffering some fresh bit of news about their newly-arrived countrymen. I was nearly stunned by half-a-dozen voices speaking together, and telling me how the poor people had been four days “at say,” so that they were glad to get near the pigs for “warrumth,” and instructing me as to the best manner of laying out the sum of money that it was supposed I was about to shower down upon the immigrants.

In one of the worst class of lodging-houses I found ten human beings living together in a small room. The apartment was entirely devoid of all furniture, excepting an old mattrass rolled up against the wall, and a dirty piece of cloth hung across one corner, to screen the women whilst dressing. An old man, the father of five out of the ten, was seated on a tea-chest, mending shoes, and the other men were looking on with their hands in their pockets. Two girls and a woman were huddled together on the floor in front of the fire, talking in Irish. All these people seemed to be utterly devoid of energy, and the men moved about so lazily[112] that I couldn’t help asking some of them if they had tried to obtain work. Every one turned to a good-looking young fellow lolling against the wall, as if they expected him to answer for them. “Ah, sure, and that they have,” was the reply; “it’s the docks they have tried, worrus luck.” The others appeared struck with the truthfulness of the answer, for they all shook their heads, and said, “Sure an’ that’s thruth, anyhow.” Here my Irish guide ventured an observation, by remarking solemnly, “It’s no use tilling a lie;” to which the whole room assented, by exclaiming altogether, “Thrue for you, Norah.” The chosen spokesman then told me, “They paid half-a-crown a week for the room, and that was as much as they could earrun, and it was starruve they should if the neighbours didn’t hilp them a bit.” I asked them if they were better off over here than when in Ireland, but could get no direct answer, for my question only gave rise to a political discussion. “There’s plenty of food over here,” said the spokesman, addressing his companions as much as myself, “plenty of ’taties—plenty of mate—plenty of porruk.” “But where the use,” observed my guide, “if there’s no money to buy ’em wid?” to which the audience muttered, “Thrue for you again, Norah;” and so it went on, each one pleading poverty in the most eloquent style.

After I had left, the young fellow who had acted as spokesman followed me into the street, and taking me into a corner, told me that he was a “sailor by thrade, but had lost his ‘rigisthration-ticket,’ or he’d have got a berruth long since, and that it was all for 3s. 6d. he wasn’t at say.”

Concerning the number of Irish immigrants, I have obtained the following information:

The great influx of the Irish into London was in the year of the famine, 1847-8. This cannot be better shown than by citing the returns of the number of persons admitted into the Asylum for the Houseless Poor, in Playhouse-yard, Cripplegate. These returns I obtained for fourteen years, and the average number of admissions of the applicants from all parts during that time was 8,794 yearly. Of these, the Irish averaged 2,455 yearly, or considerably more than a fourth of the whole number received. The total number of applicants thus sheltered in the fourteen years was 130,625, of which the Irish numbered 34,378. The smallest number of Irish (men, women, and children) admitted, was in 1834-5, about 300; in 1846-7, it was as many as 7,576, while in 1847-8, it was 10,756, and in 1848-9, 5,068.

But it was into Liverpool that the tide of immigration flowed the strongest, in the calamitous year of the famine. “Between the 13th Jan., and the 13th Dec., both inclusive,” writes Mr. Rushton, the Liverpool magistrate, to Sir G. Grey, on the 21st April last, “296,231 persons landed in this port (Liverpool) from Ireland. Of this vast number, about 130,000 emigrated to the United States; some 50,000 were passengers on business; and the remainder (161,231), mere paupers, half-naked and starving, landed, for the most part, during the winter, and became, immediately on landing, applicants for parochial relief. You already know the immediate results of this accumulation of misery in the crowded town of Liverpool; of the cost of relief at once rendered necessary to prevent the thousands of hungry and naked Irish perishing in our streets; and also of the cost of the pestilence which generally follows in the train of famine and misery such as we then had to encounter.... Hundreds of patients perished, notwithstanding all efforts made to save them; and ten Roman Catholic and one Protestant clergyman, many parochial officers, and many medical men, who devoted themselves to the task of alleviating the sufferings of the wretched, died in the discharge of these high duties.”

Great numbers of these people were, at the same time, also conveyed from Ireland to Wales, especially to Newport. They were brought over by coal-vessels as a return cargo—a living ballast—2s. 6d. being the highest fare, and were huddled together like pigs. The manager of the Newport tramp-house has stated concerning these people, “They don’t live long, diseased as they are. They are very remarkable; they will eat salt by basons-full, and drink a great quantity of water after. I have frequently known those who could not have been hungry eat cabbage-leaves and other refuse from the ash-heap.”

It is necessary that I should thus briefly allude to this matter, as there is no doubt that some of these people, making their way to London, soon became street-sellers there, and many of them took to the business subsequently, when there was no employment in harvesting, hop-picking, &c. Of the poor wretches landed at Liverpool, many (Mr. Rushton states) became beggars, and many thieves. Many, there is no doubt, tramped their way to London, sleeping at the “casual wards” of the Unions on their way; but I believe that of those who had become habituated to the practice of beggary or theft, few or none would follow the occupation of street-selling, as even the half-passive industry of such a calling would be irksome to the apathetic and dishonest.

Of the immigration, direct by the vessels trading from Ireland to London, there are no returns such has have been collected by Mr. Rushton for Liverpool, but the influx is comparatively small, on account of the greater length and cost of the voyage. During the last year I am informed that 15,000 or 16,000 passengers were brought from Ireland to London direct, and, in addition to these, 500 more were brought over from Cork in connection with the arrangements for emigration to the United States, and consigned to the emigration agent here. Of the 15,500 (taking the mean between the two numbers above given) 1,000 emigrated to the United States. It appears,[113] on the authority of Mr. Rushton, that even in the great year of the immigration, more than one-sixth of the passengers from Ireland to Dublin came on business. It may, then, be reasonable to calculate that during last year one-fourth at least of the passengers to London had the same object in view, leaving about 10,000 persons who have either emigrated to British North America, Australia, &c., or have resorted to some mode of subsistence in the metropolis or the adjacent parts. Besides these there are the numbers who make their way up to London, tramping it from the several provincial ports—namely, Liverpool, Bristol, Newport, and Glasgow. Of these I have no means of forming any estimate, or of the proportion who adopt street-selling on their arrival here—all that can be said is, that the influx of Irish into the street-trade every year must be very considerable. I believe, however, that only those who “have friends in the line” resort to street-selling on their arrival in London, though all may make it a resource when other endeavours fail. The great immigration into London is from Cork, the average cost of a deck passage being 5s. The immigrants direct to London from Cork are rarely of the poorest class.

Of the Diet, Drink, and Expense Of Living of the Street-Irish.

The diet of the Irish men, women, and children, who obtain a livelihood (or what is so designated) by street-sale in London, has, I am told, on good authority, experienced a change. In the lodging-houses that they resorted to, their breakfast, two or three years ago, was a dish of potatoes—two, three, or four lbs., or more, in weight—for a family. Now half an ounce of coffee (half chicory) costs ½d., and that, with the half or quarter of a loaf, according to the number in family, is almost always their breakfast at the present time. When their constant diet was potatoes, there were frequent squabbles at the lodging-houses—to which many of the poor Irish on their first arrival resort—as to whether the potato-pot or the tea-kettle should have the preference on the fire. A man of superior intelligence, who had been driven to sleep and eat occasionally in lodging-houses, told me of some dialogues he had heard on these occasions:—“It’s about three years ago,” he said, “since I heard a bitter old Englishwoman say, ‘To —— with your ’taty-pot; they’re only meat for pigs.’ ‘Sure, thin,’ said a young Irishman—he was a nice ’cute fellow—‘sure, thin, ma’am, I should be afther offering you a taste.’ I heard that myself, sir. You may have noticed, that when an Irishman doesn’t get out of temper, he never loses his politeness, or rather his blarney.”

The dinner, or second meal of the day—assuming that there has been a breakfast—ordinarily consists of cheap fish and potatoes. Of the diet of the poor street-Irish I had an account from a little Irishman, then keeping an oyster-stall, though he generally sold fruit. In all such details I have found the Irish far more communicative than the English. Many a poor untaught Englishman will shrink from speaking of his spare diet, and his trouble to procure that; a reserve, too, much more noticeable among the men than the women. My Irish informant told me he usually had his breakfast at a lodging-house—he preferred a lodging-house, he said, on account of the warmth and the society. Here he boiled half an ounce of coffee, costing a ½d. He purchased of his landlady the fourth of a quartern loaf (1¼d. or 1½d.), for she generally cut a quartern loaf into four for her single men lodgers, such as himself, clearing sometimes a farthing or two thereby. For dinner, my informant boiled at the lodging-house two or three lbs. of potatoes, costing usually 1d. or 1¼d., and fried three, or four herrings, or as many as cost a penny. He sometimes mashed his potatoes, and spread over them the herrings, the fatty portion of which flavoured the potatoes, which were further flavoured by the roes of the herrings being crushed into them. He drank water to this meal, and the cost of the whole was 2d. or 2½d. A neighbouring stall-keeper attended to this man’s stock in his absence at dinner, and my informant did the same for him in his turn. For “tea” he expended 1d. on coffee, or 1½d. on tea, being a “cup” of tea, or “half-pint of coffee,” at a coffee-shop. Sometimes he had a halfpenny-worth of butter, and with his tea he ate the bread he had saved from his breakfast, and which he had carried in his pocket. He had no butter to his breakfast, he said, for he could not buy less than a pennyworth about where he lodged, and this was too dear for one meal. On a Sunday morning however he generally had butter, sometimes joining with a fellow-lodger for a pennyworth; for his Sunday dinner he had a piece of meat, which cost him 2d. on the Saturday night. Supper he dispensed with, but if he felt much tired he had a half-pint of beer, which was three farthings “in his own jug,” before he went to bed, about nine or ten, as he did little or nothing late at night, except on Saturday. He thus spent 4½d. a day for food, and reckoning 2½d. extra for somewhat better fare on a Sunday, his board was 2s. 10d. a week. His earnings he computed at 5s., and thus he had 2s. 2d. weekly for other expenses. Of these there was 1s. for lodging; 2d. or 3d. for washing (but this not every week); ½d. for a Sunday morning’s shave; 1d. “for his religion” (as he worded it); and 6d. for “odds and ends,” such as thread to mend his clothes, a piece of leather to patch his shoes, worsted to darn his stockings, &c. He was subject to rheumatism, or “he might have saved a trifle of money.” Judging by his methodical habits, it was probable he had done so. He had nothing of the eloquence of his countrymen, and seemed indeed of rather a morose turn.

A family boarding together live even cheaper than this man, for more potatoes and less fish fall to the share of the children. A meal too is[114] not unfrequently saved in this manner:—If a man, his wife, and two children, all go out in the streets selling, they breakfast before starting, and perhaps agree to re-assemble at four o’clock. Then the wife prepares the dinner of fish and potatoes, and so tea is dispensed with. In that case the husband’s and wife’s board would be 4d. or 4½d. a day each, the children’s 3d. or 3½d. each, and giving 1½d. extra to each for Sunday, the weekly cost is 10s. 3d. Supposing the husband and wife cleared 5s. a week each, and the children each 3s., their earnings would be 16s. The balance is the surplus left to pay rent, washing, firing, and clothing.

From what I can ascertain, the Irish street-seller can always live at about half the cost of the English costermonger; the Englishman must have butter for his bread, and meat at no long intervals, for he “hates fish more than once a week.” It is by this spareness of living, as well as by frequently importunate and mendacious begging, that the street-Irish manage to save money.

The diet I have spoken of is generally, but not universally, that of the poor street-Irish; those who live differently, do not, as a rule, incur greater expense.

It is difficult to ascertain in what proportion the Irish street-sellers consume strong drink, when compared with the consumption of the English costers; as a poor Irishman, if questioned on that or any subject, will far more frequently shape his reply to what he thinks will please his querist and induce a trifle for himself, than answer according to the truth. The landlord of a large public-house, after inquiring of his assistants, that his opinions might be checked by theirs, told me that in one respect there was a marked difference between the beer-drinking of the two people. He considered that in the poor streets near his house there were residing quite as many Irish street-sellers and labourers as English, but the instances in which the Irish conveyed beer to their own rooms, as a portion of their meals, was not as 1 in 20 compared with the English: “I have read your work, sir,” he said, “and I know that you are quite right in saying that the costermongers go for a good Sunday dinner. I don’t know what my customers are except by their appearance, but I do know that many are costermongers, and by the best of all proofs, for I have bought fish, fruit, and vegetables of them. Well, now, we’ll take a fine Sunday in spring or summer, when times are pretty good with them; and, perhaps, in the ten minutes after my doors are opened at one on the Sunday, there are 100 customers for their dinner-beer. Nearly three-quarters of these are working men and their wives, working either in the streets, or at their indoor trades, such as tailoring. But among the number, I’m satisfied, there are not more than two Irishmen. There may be three or four Irishwomen, but one of my barmen tells me he knows that two of them—very well-behaved and good-looking women—are married to Englishmen. In my opinion the proportion, as to Sunday dinner-beer, between English and Irish, may be two or three in 70.”

An Irish gentleman and his wife, who are both well acquainted with the habits and condition of the people in their own country, informed me, that among the classes who, though earning only scant incomes, could not well be called “impoverished,” the use of beer, or even of small ale—known, now or recently—as “Thunder’s thruppeny,” was very unfrequent. Even in many “independent” families, only water is drunk at dinner, with punch to follow. This shows the accuracy of the information I derived from Mr. —— (the innkeeper), for persons unused to the drinking of malt liquor in their own country are not likely to resort to it afterwards, when their means are limited. I was further informed, that reckoning the teetotallers among the English street-sellers at 300, there are 600 among the Irish,—teetotallers too, who, having taken the pledge, under the sanction of their priests, and looking upon it as a religious obligation, keep it rigidly.

The Irish street-sellers who frequent the gin-palaces or public-houses, drink a pot of beer, in a company of three or four, but far more frequently, a quartern of gin (very seldom whisky) oftener than do the English. Indeed, from all I could ascertain, the Irish street-sellers, whether from inferior earnings, their early training, or the restraints of their priests, drink less beer, by one-fourth, than their English brethren, but a larger proportion of gin. “And you must bear this in mind, sir,” I was told by an innkeeper, “I had rather have twenty poor Englishmen drunk in my tap-room than a couple of poor Irishmen. They’ll quarrel with anybody—the Irish will—and sometimes clear the room by swearing they’ll ‘use their knives, by Jasus;’ and if there’s a scuffle they’ll kick like devils, and scratch, and bite, like women or cats, instead of using their fists. I wish all the drunkards were teetotallers, if it were only to be rid of them.”

Whiskey, I was told, would be drunk by the Irish, in preference to gin, were it not that gin was about half the price. One old Irish fruit-seller—who admitted that he was fond of a glass of gin—told me that he had not tasted whiskey for fourteen years, “becase of the price.” The Irish, moreover, as I have shown, live on stronger and coarser food than the English, buying all the rough (bad) fish, for, to use the words of one of my informants, they look to quantity more than quality; this may account for their preferring a stronger and fiercer stimulant by way of drink.

Of the Resources of the Street-Irish as regards “Stock-Money,” Sickness, Burials, &c.

It is not easy to ascertain from the poor Irish themselves how they raise their stock-money, for their command of money is a subject on[115] which they are not communicative, or, if communicative, not truthful. “My opinion is,” said an Irish gentleman to me, “that some of these poor fellows would declare to God that they hadn’t the value of a halfpenny, even if you heard the silver chink in their pockets.” It is certain that they never, or very rarely, borrow of the usurers like their English brethren.

The more usual custom is, that if a poor Irish street-seller be in want of 5s., it is lent to him by the more prosperous people of his court—bricklayers’ labourers, or other working-men—who club 1s. a piece. This is always repaid. An Irish bricklayer, when in full work, will trust a needy countryman with some article to pledge, on the understanding that it is to be redeemed and returned when the borrower is able. Sometimes, if a poor Irishwoman need 1s. to buy oranges, four others—only less poor than herself, because not utterly penniless—will readily advance 3d. each. Money is also advanced to the deserving Irish through the agency of the Roman Catholic priests, who are the medium through whom charitable persons of their own faith exercise good offices. Money, too, there is no doubt, is often advanced out of the priest’s own pocket.

On all the kinds of loans with which the poor Irish are aided by their countrymen no interest is ever charged. “I don’t like the Irish,” said an English costermonger to me; “but they do stick to one another far more than we do.”

The Irish costers hire barrows and shallows like the English, but, if they “get on” at all, they will possess themselves of their own vehicles much sooner than an English costermonger. A quick-witted Irishman will begin to ponder on his paying 1s. 6d. a week for the hire of a barrow worth 20s., and he will save and hoard until a pound is at his command to purchase one for himself; while an obtuse English coster (who will yet buy cheaper than an Irishman) will probably pride himself on his cleverness in having got the charge for his barrow reduced, in the third year of its hire, to 1s. a week the twelvemonth round!

In cases of sickness the mode of relief adopted is similar to that of the English. A raffle is got up for the benefit of the Irish sufferer, and, if it be a bad case, the subscribers pay their money without caring what trifle they throw for, or whether they throw at all. If sickness continue and such means as raffles cannot be persevered in, there is one resource from which a poor Irishman never shrinks—the parish. He will apply for and accept parochial relief without the least sense of shame, a sense which rarely deserts an Englishman who has been reared apart from paupers. The English costers appear to have a horror of the Union. If the Irishman be taken into the workhouse, his friends do not lose sight of him. In case of his death, they apply for, and generally receive his body, from the parochial authorities, undertaking the expence of the funeral, when the body is duly “waked.” “I think there’s a family contract among the Irish,” said a costermonger to me; “that’s where it is.”

The Irish street-folk are, generally speaking, a far more provident body of people than the English street-sellers. To save, the Irish will often sacrifice what many Englishmen consider a necessary, and undergo many a hardship.

From all I could ascertain, the saving of an Irish street-seller does not arise from any wish to establish himself more prosperously in his business, but for the attainment of some cherished project, such as emigration. Some of the objects, however, for which these struggling men hoard money, are of the most praiseworthy character. They will treasure up halfpenny after halfpenny, and continue to do so for years, in order to send money to enable their wives and children, and even their brothers and sisters, when in the depth of distress in Ireland, to take shipping for England. They will save to be able to remit money for the relief of their aged parents in Ireland. They will save to defray the expense of their marriage, an expense the English costermonger so frequently dispenses with—but they will not save to preserve either themselves or their children from the degradation of a workhouse; indeed they often, with the means of independence secreted on their persons, apply for parish relief, and that principally to save the expenditure of their own money. Even when detected in such an attempt at extortion an Irishman betrays no passion, and hardly manifests any emotion—he has speculated and failed. Not one of them but has a positive genius for begging—both the taste and the faculty for alms-seeking developed to an extraordinary extent.

Of the amount “saved” by the patience of the poor Irishmen, I can form no conjecture.

Of the History of some Irish street-sellers.

In order that the following statements might be as truthful as possible, I obtained permission to use the name of a Roman Catholic clergyman, to whom I am indebted for much valuable information touching this part of my subject.

A young woman, of whose age it was not easy to form a conjecture, her features were so embrowned by exposure to the weather, and perhaps when I saw her a little swollen from cold, gave me the following account as to her living. Her tone and manner betrayed indifference to the future, caused perhaps by ignorance,—for uneducated persons I find are apt to look on the future as if it must needs be but a repetition of the present, while the past in many instances is little more than a blank to them. This young woman said, her brogue being little perceptible, though she spoke thickly:

“I live by keepin’ this fruit stall. It’s a poor livin’ when I see how others live. Yes, in thruth, sir, but it’s thankful I am for to be able[116] to live at all, at all; troth is it, in these sore times. My father and mother are both did. God be gracious to their sowls! They was evicted. The family of us was. The thatch of the bit o’ home was tuk off above our hids, and we were lift to the wide worruld—yis, indeed, sir, and in the open air too. The rint wasn’t paid and it couldn’t be paid, and so we had to face the wither. It was a sorrowful time. But God was good, and so was the neighbours. And when we saw the praste, he was a frind to us. And we came to this counthry, though I’d always heard it called a black counthry. Sure, an’ there’s much in it to indhure. There’s goin’s on it, sir, that the praste, God rewarrud him! wouldn’t like to see. There’s bad ways. I won’t talk about thim, and I’m sure you are too much of a gintlemin to ask me; for if you know Father ——, that shows you are the best of gintlemin, sure. It was the eviction that brought us here. I don’t know about where we was just; not in what county; nor parish. I was so young whin we lift the land. I belave I’m now 19, perhaps only 18” (she certainly looked much older, but I have often noticed that of her class). “I can’t be more, I think, for sure an’ its only 5 or 6 years since we left Watherford and come to Bristol. I’m sure it was Watherford, and a beautiful place it is, and I know it was Bristol we come to. We walked all the long way to London. My parints died of the cholera, and I live with mysilf, but my aunt lodges me and sees to me. She sills in the sthreets too. I don’t make 7d. a day. I may make 6d. There’s a good many young payple I know is now sillin’ in the streets becase they was evicted in their own counthry. I suppose they had no where ilse to come to. I’m nivir out of a night. I sleep with my aunt, and we keep to oursilves sure. I very sildom taste mate, but perhaps I do oftener than before we was evicted—glory be to God.”

One Irish street-seller I saw informed me that she was a “widdy wid three childer.” Her husband died about four years since. She had then five children, and was near her confinement with another. Since the death of her husband she had lost three of her children; a boy about twelve years died of stoppage on his lungs, brought on, she said, through being in the streets, and shouting so loud “to get sale of the fruit.” She has been in Clare-street, Clare-market, seven years with a fruit stall. In the summer she sells green fruit, which she purchases at Covent-garden. When the nuts, oranges, &c., come in season, she furnishes her stall with that kind of fruit, and continues to sell them until the spring salad comes in. During the spring and summer her weekly average income is about 5s., but the remaining portion of the year her income is not more than 3s. 6d. weekly, so that taking the year through, her average weekly income is about 4s. 3d.; out of this she pays 1s. 6d. a week rent, leaving only 2s. 9d. a week to find necessary comforts for herself and family. For fuel the children go to the market and gather up the waste walnuts, bring them home and dry them, and these, with a pennyworth of coal and coke, serve to warm their chilled feet and hands. They have no bedstead, but in one corner of a room is a flock bed upon the floor, with an old sheet, blanket, and quilt to cover them at this inclement season. There is neither chair nor table; a stool serves for the chair, and two pieces of board upon some baskets do duty for a table, and an old penny tea-canister for a candlestick. She had parted with every article of furniture to get food for her family. She received nothing from the parish, but depended upon the sale of her fruit for her living.

The Irishmen who are in this trade are also very poor; and I learned that both Irishmen and Irishwomen left the occupation now and then, and took to begging, as a more profitable calling, often going begging this month and fruit-selling the next. This is one of the causes which prompt the London costermongers’ dislike of the Irish. “They’ll beg themselves into a meal, and work us out of one,” said an English coster to me. Some of them are, however, less “poverty-struck” (a word in common use among the costermongers); but these for the most part are men who have been in the trade for some years, and have got regular “pitches.”

The woman who gave me the following statement seemed about twenty-two or twenty-three. She was large-boned, and of heavy figure and deportment. Her complexion and features were both coarse, but her voice had a softness, even in its broadest brogue, which is not very frequent among poor Irishwomen. The first sentence she uttered seems to me tersely to embody a deplorable history of the poverty of a day. It was between six and seven in the evening when I saw the poor creature:—

“Sure, thin, sir, it’s thrippince I’ve taken to-day, and tuppince is to pay for my night’s lodgin’. I shall do no more good to-night, and shall only stay in the cowld, if I stay in it, for nothing. I’m an orphand, sir,” (she three or four times alluded to this circumstance,) “and there’s nobody to care for me but God, glory be to his name! I came to London to join my brother, that had come over and did will, and he sint for me, but whin I got here I couldn’t find him in it anyhow. I don’t know how long that’s ago. It may be five years; it may be tin; but” (she added, with the true eloquence of beggary,) “sure, thin, sir, I had no harrut to keep count, if I knew how. My father and mother wasn’t able to keep me, nor to keep thimsilves in Ireland, and so I was sint over here. They was counthry payple. I don’t know about their landlorrud. They died not long afther I came here. I don’t know what they died of, but sure it was of the will of God, and they hadn’t much to make them love this worruld; no more have I. Would I like to go back to my own counthry? Will, thin, what would be the use? I sleep at a lodging-house, and it’s a dacint place.[117] It’s mostly my own counthrywomen that’s in it; that is, in the women’s part. I pay 1s. a week, that’s 2d. a night, for I’m not charged for Sundays. I live on brid, and ’taties and salt, and a herrin’ sometimes. I niver taste beer, and not often tay, but I sit here all day, and I feel the hunger this day and that day. It goes off though, if I have nothin’ to ate. I don’t know why, but I won’t deny the goodness of God to bring such a thing about. I have lived for a day on a pinny, sir: a ha’pinny for brid, and a ha’pinny for a herrin’, or two herrin’s for a ha’pinny, and ’taties for the place of brid. I’ve changed apples for a herrin’ with a poor man, God rewarrud him. Sometimes I make on to 6d. a day, and sometimes I have made 1s. 6d., but I think that I don’t make 5d. a day—arrah, no, thin, sir! one day with the other, and I don’t worruk on Sunday, not often. If I’ve no mate to ate, I’d rather rist. I never miss mass on a Sunday. A lady gives me a rag sometimes, but the bitther time’s comin’. If I was sick I don’t know what I’d do, but I would sind for the praste, and he’d counsil me. I could read a little oncte, but I can’t now.”

Of the Irish “Refuse”-Sellers.

There still remains to be described one branch of the Irish street-trade which is peculiar to the class—viz., the sale of “refuse,” or such fruit and vegetables as are damaged, and suited only to the very poorest purchasers.

In assorting his goods, a fruit-salesman in the markets generally throws to one side the shrivelled, dwarfish, or damaged fruit—called by the street-traders the “specks.” If the supply to the markets be large, as in the pride of the season, he will put his several kinds of specks in separate baskets. At other times all kinds are tossed together, and sometimes with an admixture of nuts and walnuts. The Irish women purchase these at a quarter, or within a quarter, of the regular price, paying from 6d. to 1s. a bushel for apples; 9d. to 1s. 6d. for pears; 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. for plums. They are then sorted into halfpenny-worths for sale on the stalls. Among the refuse is always a portion of what is called “tidy” fruit, and this occupies the prominent place in the “halfpenny lots”—for they are usually sold at a halfpenny. Sometimes, too, a salesman will throw in among the refuse a little good fruit, if he happen to have it over, either gratuitously or at the refuse price; and this, of course, is always made the most conspicuous on the stalls. Of other fruits, perhaps, only a small portion is damaged, from over-ripeness, or by the aggression of wasps and insects, the remainder being very fine, so that the retail “lots” are generally cheap. The sellers aim at “half profits,” or cent. per cent.

The “refuse” trade in fruit—and the refuse-trade is mainly confined to fruit—is principally in the hands of the Irish. The persons carrying it on are nearly all middle-aged and elderly women. I once or twice saw a delicate and pretty-looking girl sitting with the old “refuse” women; but I found that she was not a “regular hand,” and only now and then “minded the stall” in her mother’s absence. She worked with her needle, I was told.

Of the women who confine themselves to this trade there are never less than twenty, and frequently thirty. Sometimes, when the refuse is very cheap and very abundant, as many as 100 fruit-sellers, women and girls, will sell it in halfpenny-worths, along with better articles. These women also sell refuse dry-fruit, purchased in Duke’s-place, but only when they cannot obtain green-fruit, or cannot obtain it sufficiently. All is sold at stalls; as these dealers seem to think that if it were hawked, the police might look too inquisitively at a barrow stocked with refuse. The “refuse-sellers” buy at all the markets. The poorer street-sellers, whose more staple trade is in oranges or nuts, are occasional dealers in it.

Perhaps the regular refuse-buyers are not among the very poorest class, as their sale is tolerably quick and certain, but with the usual drawbacks of wet weather. They make, I was told, from 4d. to 1s. a day the year round, or perhaps 7d. or 8d. a day, Sunday included. They are all Roman Catholics, and resort to the street-sale after mass. They are mostly widows, or women who have reached middle-age, unmarried. Some are the wives of street-sellers. Two of their best pitches are on Saffron-hill and in Petticoat-lane. It is somewhat curious to witness these women sitting in a line of five or six, and notwithstanding their natural garrulity, hardly exchanging a word one with another. Some of them derive an evident solace from deliberate puffs at a short black pipe.

A stout, healthy-looking woman of this class said:—“Sure thin, sir, I’ve sat and sould my bit of fruit in this place, or near it, for twinty year and more, as is very well known indeed, is it. I could make twice the money twinty year ago that I can now, for the boys had the ha’pinnies more thin than they has now, more’s the pity. The childer is my custhomers, very few beyant—such as has only a ha’pinny now and thin, God hilp them. They’ll come a mile from any parrut, to spind it with such as me, for they know it’s chape we sill! Yis, indeed, or they’ll come with a fardin either, for it’s a ha’pinny lot we’ll split for them any time. The boys buys most, but they’re dridful tazes. It’s the patience of the divil must be had to dale wid the likes of thim. They was dridful about the Pope, but they’ve tired of it now. O, no, it wasn’t the boys of my counthry that demaned themselves that way. Well, I make 4d. some days, and 6d. some, and 1s. 6d. some, and I have made 3s. 6d., and I have made nothing. Perhaps I make 5s. or 6s. a week rigular, but I’m established and well-known you see.”

The quantity of refuse at the metropolitan “green” markets varies with the different descriptions of fruit. Of apples it averages one-[118]twentieth, and of plums and greengages one-fifteenth, of the entire supply. With pears, cherries, gooseberries, and currants, however, the damaged amounts to one-twelfth, while of strawberries and mulberries it reaches as high as one-tenth of the aggregate quantity sent to market.

The Irish street-sellers, I am informed, buy full two-thirds of all the refuse, the other third being purchased by the lower class of English costermongers—“the illegitimates,”—as they are called. We must not consider the sale of the damaged fruit so great an evil as it would, at the first blush, appear, for it constitutes perhaps the sole luxury of poor children, as well as of the poor themselves, who, were it not for the halfpenny and farthing lots of the refuse-sellers, would doubtlessly never know the taste of such things.

Before leaving this part of the subject, it may be as well to say a few words concerning the curious revelations made by the returns from Billingsgate, Covent-garden, and the other London markets, as to the diet of the poor. In the first place, then, it appears that in the matter of fish, herrings constitute the chief article of consumption—no less than 210,000,000 lbs. weight of this fish in a “fresh” state, and 60,000,000 lbs. in a “dried” state, being annually eaten by the humbler classes of the metropolis and the suburbs. Of sprats there are 3,000,000 lbs. weight consumed—and these, with the addition of plaice, are the staple comestibles at the dinners and suppers of the ichthyophagous part of the labouring population of London. One of the reasons for this is doubtless the extraordinary cheapness of these kinds of fish. The sprats are sold at a penny per pound; the herrings at the same rate; and the plaice at a fraction less, perhaps; whereas a pound of butcher’s meat, even “pieces,” or the “block ornaments,” as they are sometimes called, cannot be got for less than twopence-halfpenny or threepence. But the relative cheapness of these two kinds of food can only be tested by the proportionate quantity of nutrition in each. According to Liebig, butcher’s meat contains 26 per cent. of solid matter, and 74 per cent. of water; whereas, according to Brande, fish consists of 20 parts of solid matter, and 80 parts water in every 100. Hence it would appear that butcher’s meat is five per cent. more nutritive than fish—or, in other words, that if the two were equally cheap, the prices, according to the quantity of nutrition in each, should be for fish one penny per pound, and butcher’s meat not five farthings; so that even at twopence-halfpenny the pound, meat is more than twice as dear an article of diet as fish.

But it is not only on account of their cheapness that herrings and sprats are consumed in such vast quantities by the labouring people of London. Salmon, eels, herrings, pilchards, and sprats, Dr. Pereira tells us, abound in oil; and oleaginous food, according to Leibig, is an “element of respiration,” consisting of nearly 80 per cent. charcoal, which burns away in the lungs, and so contributes to the warmth of the system. Fat, indeed, may be said to act as fuel to the vital fire; and we now know, from observations made upon the average daily consumption of food by 28 soldiers of the Grand Duke of Hesse Darmstadt, in barracks, for a month—which is the same as 840 men for one day—that an adult taking moderate exercise consumes, in the act of respiration, very nearly a pound of charcoal every day, which of course must be supplied in his food. “But persons who take much exercise, or labour hard,” says Dr. Pereira, “require more frequent and copious meals than the indolent or sedentary. In the active man the number of respirations is greater than in the inactive, and therefore a more frequent supply of food is required to furnish the increased quantity of carbon and hydrogen to be consumed in the lungs.” “A bird deprived of food,” says Liebig, “dies on the third day; while a serpent, with its sluggish respiration, can live without food three months, or longer.”

Captain Parry, in his account of one of the Polar expeditions (1827), states, that both himself and Mr. Beverley, the surgeon, were of opinion, that, in order to maintain the strength of the men during their harassing journey across the ice, living constantly in the open air, and exposed to the wet and cold for twelve hours a day, an addition was requisite of at least one-third to the quantity of provisions daily issued. So, in the gaol dietaries, the allowance to prisoners sentenced to hard labour for three months is one-third more than the scale for those sentenced to hard labour for three days—the former having 254 ounces, and the latter only 168 ounces of solid food served out to them every week.

But the hard-working poor not only require more food than the non-working rich, but it is mainly because the rich are better fed that they are more lethargic than the poor; for the greater the supply of nutriment to the body, the more inactive does the system become. From experiments made a few years ago at the Zoological Gardens, it was found, that, by feeding the animals twice, instead of once, in the twenty-four hours, their habits, as regards exercise, were altered—a fact which readily explains how the fat and overfed are always the least energetic; fat being at once the cause and consequence of inaction. It is well to hear an obese citizen tell a hollow-cheeked man, who begs a penny of him, “to go and work—a lazy scoundrel;” but physiology assures us that the fat tradesman is naturally the laziest of the two. In a word, he is fat because he is lazy, and lazy because he is fat.

The industrious poor, however, not only require more food than the indolent rich, but, getting less, they become more susceptible of cold, and, therefore, more eager for all that tends to[119] promote warmth. I have often had occasion to remark the sacrifices that the ill-fed will make to have “a bit of fire.” “He who is well fed,” observes Sir John Ross, “resists cold better than the man who is stinted, while starvation from cold follows but too soon a starvation in food. This doubtlessly explains in a great measure the resisting powers of the natives of frozen climates, their consumption of food being enormous, and often incredible.” Captain Cochrane, in his “Journey through Russia and Siberian Tartary,” tells us that he has repeatedly seen a Yakut or Tongouse devour forty pounds of meat in a day; and one of the Yakuti he speaks of as having consumed, in twenty-four hours, “the hind-quarter of a large ox, twenty pounds of fat, and a proportionate quantity of melted butter for his drink.” (Vol. i. p. 255). Much less heat is evolved, physiologists tell us, where there is a deficiency of food. “During the whole of our march,” says Sir John Franklin, “we experienced that no quantity of clothing could keep us warm while we fasted; but, on those occasions on which we were enabled to go to bed with full stomachs, we passed the night in a warm and comfortable manner.” Hence, it is evident, that in summer a smaller quantity of food suffices to keep up the temperature of the body. I know of no experiments to show the different proportions of aliment required at different seasons of the year. In winter, however, when a greater supply is certainly needed, the labouring man, unfortunately, has less means of obtaining it—nearly all trades slacken as the cold weather comes on, and some, as brick-making, market-gardening, building, &c., then almost entirely cease—so that, were it not for the cheapness of fish, and, moreover, the oleaginous quality of those kinds which are most plentiful in the winter time, the metropolitan poor would be very likely to suffer that “starvation from cold which,” in the words of Sir John Ross, “follows but too soon a starvation in food.” Hence we can readily understand the remark of the enthusiastic street-seller—“Sprats is a blessing to the poor.”

The returns as to the other articles of food sold in the streets are equally curious. The 1,500,000l. spent yearly in fish, and the comparatively small amount expended on vegetables, viz., 290,000l., is a circumstance which seems to show that the labouring population of London have a greater relish for animal than vegetable diet. “It is quite certain,” says Dr. Carpenter, “that the most perfect physical development and the greatest intellectual vigour are to be found among those races in which a mixed diet of animal and vegetable food is the prevalent habit.” And yet, in apparent contradiction to the proposition asserted with so much confidence by Dr. Carpenter, we have the following curious fact cited by Mr. Jacob Bentley:—

“It is, indeed, a fact worthy of remark, and one that seems never to have been noticed, that throughout the whole animal creation, in every country and clime of the earth the most useful animals cost nature the least waste to sustain them with food. For instance, all animals that work, live on vegetable or fruit food; and no animal that eats flesh, works. The all-powerful elephant, and the patient, untiring camel in the torrid zone; the horse, the ox, or the donkey in the temperate, and the rein-deer in the frigid zone; obtain all their muscular power for enduring labour, from Nature’s simplest productions,—the vegetable kingdom.

“But all the flesh-eating animals, keep the rest of the animated creation in constant dread of them. They seldom eat vegetable food till some other animal has eaten it first, and made it into flesh. Their only use seems to be, to destroy life; their own flesh is unfit for other animals to eat, having been itself made out of flesh, and is most foul and offensive. Great strength, fleetness of foot, usefulness, cleanliness and docility, are then always characteristic of vegetable-eating animals, while all the world dreads flesh-eaters.”

Of vegetables we have seen that the greatest quantity consumed by the poor consists of potatoes, of which 60,500,000 lbs. are annually sold in the streets; but ten pounds of potatoes are only equal in nutritive power to one pound of butcher’s meat, which contains one-fifth more solid food than fish,—so that a pound of fish may be said to equal eight pounds of potatoes, and thus the 60,000,000 lbs. of vegetable is dietetically equivalent to nearly 7,000,000 lbs. of fish diet. The cost of the potatoes, at five pounds for 2d., is, as we have seen, 100,000l.; whereas the cost of the same amount of nutritive matter in the form of fish, at 1d. per pound, would have been only 30,000l., or upwards of two-thirds less. The vegetable of which there is the next greatest street sale is onions, upon which 90,000l. are annually expended. This has been before accounted for, by saying, that a piece of bread and an onion are to the English labourer what bread and grapes are to the Frenchman—oftentimes a meal. The relish for onions by the poorer classes is not difficult to explain. Onions are strongly stimulating substances, and they owe their peculiar odour and flavour, as well as their pungent and stimulating qualities, to an acrid volatile oil which contains sulphur. This oil becomes absorbed, quickens the circulation, and occasions thirst. The same result takes place with the oil of fish. It not only proves a stimulant to the general system, but we are told that the thirst and uneasy feeling at the stomach, frequently experienced after the use of the richer species of fish, have led to the employment of spirit to this kind of food. Hence, says Dr. Pereira, the vulgar proverb, “Brandy is Latin for Fish.” Moreover, the two classes of food are similar in their comparative indigestibility, for the uneducated palates of the poor not only require a more pungent kind of diet, but their stronger stomachs need something that will resist the action of the gastric juice for a considerable time. Hence their love of shell-fish.

The small quantity of fruit, too, sold to the poor is a further proof of what is here stated. The amount of the street sale of this luxury is no criterion as to the quantity purchased by the London labourers; for according to all accounts the fruit-buyers in the streets consist mostly of clerks, shopmen, small tradesmen, and the chil[120]dren of mechanics or the lower grade of middle class people. Those who may be said strictly to belong to the poor,—viz. those whose incomes are barely sufficient for their support—seldom purchase fruit. In the first place they have no money to spend on such a mere toothsome extravagance; and, secondly, they require a stronger and more stimulating, and “staying” kind of food. The delights of the palate, we should remember, are studied only when the cravings of the stomach are satisfied, so that those who have strong stomachs have necessarily dull palates, and, therefore, prefer something that “bites in the mouth,”—to use the words of one of my informants—like gin, onions, sprats, or pickled whelks. What the poor term “relishes” are very different things from what the rich style the “delicacies of the season.”

I have no means of ascertaining the average number of ounces of solid food consumed by the poorer class of the metropolis. The whole of the fish, fruit, and vegetables, sold to the London costermongers, is not disposed of in the London streets—many of the street-sellers going, as we have seen, country excursions with their goods. According to the result of the Government Commissioners of Inquiry, the labourers in the country are unable to procure for themselves and families an average allowance of more than 122 ounces of solid food—principally bread—every week; hence it has been justly said we may infer that the man consumes, as his share, 140 ounces (134 bread and 6 meat). The gaol dietaries allow 254 ounces, or nearly twice as much to all prisoners, who undergo continuous hard labour. In the construction of these dietaries Sir James Graham—the then Secretary of State—says, in his “Letter to the Chairman of Quarter Sessions” (January 27th, 1843), “I have consulted not only the Prison Inspectors, but medical men of the greatest eminence possessing the advantage of long experience.” They are proposed, he adds, “as the minimum amount which can be safely afforded to prisoners without the risk of inflicting a punishment not contemplated by law and which it is unjust and cruel to inflict; namely, loss of health and strength through the inadequacy of the food supplied.” Hence it appears not that the thief gets too much, but the honest working man too little—or, in other words, that the labourer of this country is able to procure, by his industry, only half the quantity of food that is considered by “medical men of the greatest eminence” to be “the minimum amount” that can be safely afforded for the support of the criminals—a fact which it would be out of place to comment upon here.

One word concerning the incomes of the London costermongers, and I have done. It has been before shown that the gross sum of money taken yearly, in the streets, by the sale of fish, fruit, and vegetables, amounts, in round numbers, to two million pounds—a million and a half being expended in fish, and a quarter of a million upon fruit and vegetables respectively. In estimating the yearly receipts of the costermongers, from their average gains, the gross “takings” of the entire body were concluded to be between a million and a quarter and a million and a half sterling—that is to say, each one of the 10,000 street-sellers of fish, fruit, and vegetables, was supposed to clear ten shillings a week all the year through, and to take fifty shillings. But, according to the returns furnished me by the salesmen, at the several metropolitan markets, the weekly “takings” of the ten thousand men and their families—for often both wife and children sell—cannot be less than four pounds per week all the year round, out of which it would seem that the clear weekly gains are about fifteen shillings. (Some costers we have seen take pounds in a day, others—as the nut and orange-women and children—only a few shillings a week; some, again, make cent. per cent. profit, whilst others are obliged to sell at a loss.) This, from all I can gather, as well as from a comparison of the coster’s style of living with other classes whose weekly income is nearly the same, appears to be very close upon the truth.

We may then, I think, safely assert, that the gross yearly receipts of the London costermongers are two millions of money; that their clear annual gain, or income, is 425,000l.; and that the capital invested in their business, in the form of donkey-carts, barrows, baskets, weights, and stock-money, is 25,000l.;—half of this being borrowed, for which they pay upwards of 20,000l. interest per annum.


The class who sell game and poultry in the public thoroughfares of the metropolis are styled hawkers, both in Leadenhall and Newgate-market. The number of these dealers in London is computed at between 200 and 300. Of course, legally to sell game, a license, which costs 2l. 2s. yearly, is required; but the street-seller laughs at the notion of being subjected to a direct tax; which, indeed, it might be impossible to levy on so “slippery” a class.

The sale of game, even with a license, was not legalised until 1831; and, prior to that year, the mere killing of game by an “unqualified” person was an offence entailing heavy penalties. The “qualification” consisted of the possession of a freehold estate of 100l. a year, or a leasehold for ninety-nine years of 150l. a year! By an Act, passed in the 25th year of George III., it was provided that a certificate (costing 3l. 13s. 6d.) must be taken out by all qualified persons[121] killing game. Since 1831 (1 & 2 William IV., c. 32,) a certificate, without any qualification, is all that is required from the game-killer.

Both sexes carry on the trade in game-hawking, but there are more than thrice as many men as women engaged in the business, the weight occasionally carried being beyond a woman’s strength. The most customary dress of the game or poultry-hawker is a clean smock-frock covering the whole of his other attire, except the ends of his trousers and his thick boots or shoes. Indeed he often, but less frequently than was the case five years ago, assumes the dress of a country labourer, although he may have been for years a resident in London. About forty years ago, I am informed, it was the custom for countrymen, residing at no great distance, to purchase a stock of chickens or ducks; and, taking their places in a wagon, to bring their birds to London, and hawk them from door to door. Some of these men’s smock-frocks were a convenient garb, for they covered the ample pockets of the coat beneath, in which were often a store of partridges, or an occasional pheasant or hare. This game, illegally killed—for it was all poached—was illegally sold by the hawker, and illegally bought by the hotel-keepers and the richer tradesmen. One informant (an old man) was of opinion that the game was rarely offered for sale by these countrymen at the West-end mansions of the aristocracy. “In fact,” he said, “I knew one country fellow—though he was sharp enough in his trade of game and poultry-selling—who seemed to think that every fine house, without a shop, and where there were livery servants, must needs be inhabited by a magistrate! But, as the great props of poaching were the rich—for, of course, the poor couldn’t buy game—there was, no doubt, a West-end as well as a City trade in it. I have bought game of a country poultry-hawker,” continued my informant, “when I lived in the City at the beginning of this century, and generally gave 3s. 6d. a brace for partridges. I have bid it, and the man has left, refusing to take it; and has told me afterwards, and, I dare say, he spoke the truth, that he had sold his partridges at 5s. or 6s. or more. I believe 5s. a brace was no uncommon price in the City. I have given as much as 10s. for a pheasant for a Christmas supper. The hawker, before offering the birds for sale, used to peer about him, though we were alone in my counting-house, and then pull his partridges out of his pockets, and say, ‘Sir, do you want any very young chickens?’—for so he called them. Hares he called ‘lions;’ and they cost often, enough, 5s. each of the hawker. The trade had all the charms and recommendations of a mystery and a risk about it, just like smuggling.”

The sale of game in London, however, was not confined to the street-hawkers, who generally derived their stock-in-trade immediately from the poacher. Before the legalisation of the sale, the trade was carried on, under the rose, by the salesmen in Leadenhall-market, and that to an extent of not less than a fifteenth of the sale now accomplished there. The purveyors for the London game-market—I learned from leading salesmen in Leadenhall—were not then, as now, noble lords and honourable gentlemen, but peasant or farmer poachers, who carried on the business systematically. The guards and coachmen of the stage-coaches were the media of communication, and had charge of the supply to the London market. The purchasers of the game thus supplied to a market, which is mostly the property of the municipality of the City of London, were not only hotel-keepers, who required it for public dinners presided over by princes, peers, and legislators, but the purveyors for the civic banquets—such as the Lord Mayor’s ninth of November dinner, at which the Ministers of State always attended.

This street-hawking of poached game, as far as I could ascertain from the best-informed quarters, hardly survived the first year of the legalised sale.

The female hawkers of game are almost all the wives of the men so engaged, or are women living with them as their wives. The trade is better, as regards profit, than the costermonger’s ordinary pursuits, but only when the season is favourable; it is, however, more uncertain.

There is very rarely a distinction between the hawkers of game and of poultry. A man will carry both, or have game one day and poultry the next, as suits his means, or as the market avails. The street-sellers of cheese are generally costers, while the vendors of butter and eggs are almost extinct.

Game, I may mention, consists of grouse (including black-cocks, and all the varieties of heath or moor-game), partridges, pheasants, bustards, and hares. Snipe, woodcocks, plovers, teal, widgeons, wild ducks, and rabbits are not game, but can only be taken or killed by certificated persons, who are owners or occupiers of the property on which they are found, or who have the necessary permission from such persons as are duly authorised to accord it. Poultry consists of chickens, geese, ducks, and turkeys, while some persons class pigeons as poultry.

Birds are dietetically divided into three classes: (1) the white-fleshed, as the common fowl and the turkey; (2) the dark-fleshed game, as the grouse and the black-cock; and (3) the aquatic (including swimmers and waders), as the goose and the duck; the flesh of the latter is penetrated with fat, and difficult of digestion.

Of the Quantity of Game, Rabbits, and Poultry, sold in the Streets.

It appears from inquiries that I instituted, and from authentic returns which I procured on the subject, that the following is the quantity of game and poultry sold yearly, as an average, in the markets of the metropolis. I give it exclusive of such birds as wild-ducks, woodcocks, &c., the supply of which depends upon the severity of the winter. I include all wild birds or animals, whether considered game or not, and I use round numbers, but as closely as possible.


During the past Christmas, however, I may observe, that the supply of poultry to the markets has been greater than on any previous occasion. The immensity of the supply was favourable to the hawker’s profit, as the glut enabled him to purchase both cheaply and largely. One young poultry-hawker told me that he had cleared 3l. in the Christmas week, and had spent it all in four days—except 5s. reserved for stock-money. It was not spent entirely in drunkenness, a large portion of it being expended in treats and amusements. So great, indeed, has been the supply of game and poultry this year, that a stranger, unused to the grand scale on which provisions are displayed in the great metropolitan marts, on visiting Leadenhall, a week before or after Christmas, might have imagined that the staple food of the London population consisted of turkeys, geese, and chickens. I give, however, an average yearly supply:

Description.Leadenhall.Newgate.Total.Proportion sold in the Streets.
Game, &c.
Wild Birds40,00020,00060,000None.
Domestic Fowls1,266,000490,0001,756,000One-third.
—— —— (alive)45,00015,00060,000One-tenth.
—— (alive)20,00020,00040,000One-tenth.
Game, &c. 2,808,000940,0003,748,000

In the above return wild ducks and woodcocks are not included, because the quantity sent to London is dependent entirely upon the severity of the winter. With the costers wild ducks are a favourite article of trade, and in what those street tradesmen would pronounce a favourable season for wild ducks, which means a very hard winter, the number sold in London will, I am told, equal that of pheasants (64,000). The great stock of wild ducks for the London tables is from Holland, where the duck decoys are objects of great care. Less than a fifth of the importation from Holland is from Lincolnshire. These birds, and even the finest and largest, have been sold during a glut at 1s. each. Woodcocks, under similar circumstances, number with plovers (45,000), nearly all of which are “golden plovers;” but of woodcocks the costermongers buy very few: “They’re only a mouthful and a half,” said one of them, “and don’t suit our customers.” In severe weather a few ptarmigan are sent to London from Scotland, and in 1841-2 great numbers were sent to the London markets from Norway. One salesman received nearly 10,000 ptarmigan in one day. A portion of these were disposed of to the costers, but the sale was not such as to encourage further importations.

The returns I give show, that, at the two great game and poultry-markets, 5,500,000 birds and animals, wild and tame, are yearly sent to London. To this must be added all that may be consigned direct to metropolitan game-dealers and poulterers, besides what may be sent as presents from the country, &c., so that the London supply may be safely estimated, I am assured, at 6,000,000.

It is difficult to arrive at any very precise computation of the quantity of game and poultry sold by the costers, or rather at the money[123] value (or price) of what they sell. The most experienced salesmen agree, that, as to quantity, including everything popularly considered game (and I have so given it in the return), they sell one-third. As regards value, however, their purchases fall very short of a third. Of the best qualities of game, and even more especially of poultry, a third of the hawkers may buy a fifteenth, compared with their purchases in the lower-priced kinds. The others buy none of the best qualities. The more “aristocratic” of the poultry-hawkers will, as a rule, only buy, “when they have an order” or a sure sale, the best quality of English turkey-cocks; which cannot be wondered at, seeing that the average price of the English turkey-cock is 12s. One salesman this year sold (at Leadenhall) several turkey-cocks at 30s. each, and one at 3l. The average price of an English turkey-hen is 4s. 6d., and of these the costers buy a few: but their chief trade is in foreign turkey-hens; of which the average price (when of good quality and in good condition) is 3s. The foreign turkey-cocks average half the price of the English (or 6s.). Of Dorking fat chickens, which average 6s. the couple, the hawkers buy none (save as in the case of the turkey-cocks); but of the Irish fowls, which, this season, have averaged 2s. 6d. the couple, they buy largely. On the other hand they buy nearly all the rabbits sent from Scotland, and half of those sent from Ostend, while they “clear the market”—no matter of what the glut may consist—when there is a glut. There is another distinction of which the hawker avails himself. The average price of young plump partridges is 2s. 6d. the brace, of old partridges, 2s.; accordingly, the coster buys the old. It is the same with pheasants, the young averaging 7s. the brace, the old 6s.: “And I can sell them best,” said one man; “for my customers say they’re more tastier-like. I’ve sold game for twelve years, or more, but I never tasted any of any kind, so I can’t say who’s right and who’s wrong.”

The hawkers buy, also, game and poultry which will not “keep” another day. Sometimes they puff out the breast of a chicken with fresh pork fat, which melts as the bird roasts. “It freshens the fowl, I’ve been told, and improves it,” said one man; “and the shopkeepers now and then, does the same. It’s a improvement, sir.”

In the present season the costers have bought of wild ducks, comparatively, none, and of teal, widgeons, wild birds, and larks, none at all; or so sparely, as to require no notice.

Of the Street-Purchasers of Game and Poultry.

As the purchasers of game and poultry are of a different class to the costermongers’ ordinary customers, I may devote a few words to them. From all the information that I could acquire, they appear to consist, principally, of those who reside at a distance from any cheap market, and buy a cheap luxury when it is brought to their doors, as well as of those who are “always on the look-out for something toothy, such as the shabby genteels, as they’re called, who never gives nothing but a scaly price. They’ve bargained with me till I was hard held from pitching into them, and over and over again I should, only it would have been fourteen days anyhow. They’ll tell me my birds stinks, when they’re as sweet as flowers. They’d go to the devil to save three farthings on a partridge.” Other buyers are old gourmands, living perhaps on small incomes, or if possessed of ample incomes, but confining themselves to a small expenditure; others, again, are men who like a cheap dinner, and seldom enjoy it, at their own cost, unless it be cheap, and who best of all like “such a thing as a moor bird (grouse),” said one hawker, “which can be eat up to a man’s own cheek.” This was also the opinion of a poulterer and game-dealer, who sometimes sold “goods” to the hawkers. Of this class of “patrons” many shopkeepers, in all branches of business, have a perfect horror, as they will care nothing for having occupied the tradesmen’s time to no purpose.

The game and poultry street-sellers, I am told, soon find out when a customer is bent upon a bargain, and shape their prices accordingly. Although these street-sellers may generally take as their motto the announcement so often seen in the shops of competitive tradesmen, “no reasonable offer refused,” they are sometimes so worried in bargaining that they do refuse.

In a conversation I had with a “retired” game salesman, he said it might be curious to trace the history of a brace of birds—of grouse, for instance—sold in the streets; and he did it after this manner. They were shot in the Highlands of Scotland by a member of parliament who had gladly left the senate for the moors. They were transferred to a tradesman who lived in or near some Scotch town having railway communication, and with whom “the honourable gentleman,” or “the noble lord,” had perhaps endeavoured to drive a hard bargain. He (the senator) must have a good price for his birds, as he had given a large sum for the moor: and the season was a bad one: the birds were scarce and wild: they would soon be “packed” (be in flocks of twenty or thirty instead of in broods), and then there would be no touching a feather of them. The canny Scot would quietly say that it was early in the season, and the birds never packed so early; that as to price, he could only give what he could get from a London salesman, and he was “nae just free to enter into any agreement for a fixed price at a’.” The honourable gentleman, after much demurring, gives way, feeling perhaps that he cannot well do anything else. In due course the grouse are received in Leadenhall, and unpacked and flung about with as little ceremony as if they had been “slaughtered” by a Whitechapel[124] journeyman butcher, at so much a head. It is a thin market, perhaps, when they come to hand. A dealer, fashionable in the parish of St. George, Hanover-square, has declined to give the price demanded; they were not his money; “he had to give such long credit.” A dealer, popular in the ward of Cheap, has also declined to buy, and for the same alleged reason. The salesman, knowing that some of these dealers must buy, quietly says that he will take no less, and as he is known to be a man of his word, little is said upon the subject. As the hour arrives at which fashionable game-dealers are compelled to buy, or disappoint customers who will not brook such disappointment, the market, perhaps, is glutted, owing to a very great consignment by a later railway train. The Inverness Courier, or the North of Scotland Gazette, are in due course quoted by the London papers, touching the “extraordinary sport” of a party of lords and gentlemen in the Highlands; and the “heads” of game are particularized with a care that would do honour to a Price Current. The salesman then disposes rapidly of divers “brace” to the “hawkers,” at 1s. or 2s. the brace, and the hawker offers them to hotel-keepers, and shop-keepers, and housekeepers, selling some at 3s. 6d. the brace, some at 3s., at 2s. 6d., at 2s., and at less. “At last,” said my informant, “he may sell the finest brace of his basket, which he has held back to get a better price for, at 6d. a-piece, rather than keep them over-night, and that to a woman of the town, whom he may have met reeling home with money in her purse. Thus the products of an honourable gentleman’s skilful industry, on which he greatly prided himself, are eaten by the woman and her ‘fancy man,’ grumblingly enough, for they pronounce the birds inferior to tripe.”

The best quarters for the street-sale of game and poultry are, I am informed from several sources, either the business parts of the metropolis, or else the houses in the several suburbs which are the furthest from a market or from a business part. The squares, crescents, places, and streets, that do not partake of one or the other of these characteristics, are pronounced “no good.”

Of the Experience of a Game Hawker.

The man who gave me the following information was strong and robust, and had a weather-beaten look. He seemed about fifty. He wore when I saw him a large velveteen jacket, a cloth waistcoat which had been once green, and brown corduroy trousers. No part of his attire, though it seemed old, was patched, his shirt being clean and white. He evidently aimed at the gamekeeper style of dress. He affected some humour, and was dogged in his opinions:

“I was a gentleman’s footman when I was a young man,” he said, “and saw life both in town and country; so I knows what things belongs.” [A common phrase among persons of his class to denote their being men of the world.] “I never liked the confinement of service, and besides the upper servants takes on so. The others puts up with it more than they would, I suppose, because they hopes to be butlers themselves in time. The only decent people in the house I lived in last was master and missus. I won 20l., and got it too, on the Colonel, when he won the Leger. Master was a bit of a turf gentleman, and so we all dabbled—like master like man, you know, sir. I think that was in 1828, but I’m not certain. We came to London not long after Doncaster” [he meant Doncaster races], “something about a lawsuit, and that winter I left service and bought the goodwill of a coffee-shop for 25l. It didn’t answer. I wasn’t up to the coffee-making, I think; there’s a deal of things belongs to all things; so I got out of it, and after that I was in service again, and then I was a boots at an inn. But I couldn’t settle to nothing long; I’m of a free spirit, you see. I was hard up at last, and I popped my watch for a sovereign, because a friend of mine—we sometimes drank together of a night—said he could put me in the pigeon and chicken line; that was what he called it, but it meant game. This just suited me, for I’d been out with the poachers when I was a lad, and indeed when I was in service, out of a night on the sly; so I knew they got stiffish prices. My friend got me the pigeons. I believe he cheated me, but he’s gone to glory. The next season game was made legal eating. Before that I cleared from 25s. to 40s. a week by selling my ‘pigeons.’ I carried real pigeons as well, which I said was my own rearing at Gravesend. I sold my game pigeons—there was all sorts of names for them—in the City, and sometimes in the Strand, or Charing-cross, or Covent-garden. I sold to shopkeepers. Oft enough I’ve been offered so much tea for a hare. I sometimes had a hare in each pocket, but they was very awkward carriage; if one was sold, the other sagged so. I very seldom sold them, at that time, at less than 3s. 6d., often 4s. 6d., and sometimes 5s. or more. I once sold a thumping old jack-hare to a draper for 6s.; it was Christmas time, and he thought it was a beauty. I went into the country after that, among my friends, and had a deal of ups and downs in different parts. I was a navvy part of the time, till five or six year back I came to London again, and got into my old trade; but it’s quite a different thing now. I hawks grouse, and every thing, quite open. Leadenhall and Newgate is my markets. Six of one and half-a-dozen of t’other. When there’s a great arrival of game, after a game battle” (he would so call a battue) “and it’s warm weather, that’s my time of day, for then I can buy cheap. A muggy day, when it’s close and warm, is best of all. I have a tidy bit of connection now in game, and don’t touch poultry when I can get game. Grouse is the first thing I get to sell. They are legal eating on the 12th of August, but as there’s hundreds of braces sold in London that day, and as they’re shot in Scotland and Yorkshire, and other places where there’s moors, in course[125] they’re killed before it’s legal. It’s not often I can get them early in the season; not the first week, but I have had three brace two days before they were legal, and sold them at 5s. a brace; they cost me 3s. 3d., but I was told I was favoured. I got them of a dealer, but that’s a secret. I sold a few young partridges with grouse this year at 1s. 6d. and 1s. 9d. a piece, allowing 2d. or 3d. if a brace was taken. They weren’t legal eating till the 1st of September, but they was shot by grouse shooters, and when I hawked them I called them quails. Lord, sir, gentlefolks—and I serve a good many, leastways their cooks, and now and then themselves—they don’t make a fuss about Game Laws; they’ve too much sense. I’ve bought grouse quite fresh and fine when there’s been a lot, and bad keeping weather, at 1s. and 15d. each. I’ve sold them sometimes at 1s. 6d. and 2s. each, and 2s. 6d. the big ones, but only twice or thrice. If you ask very low at first, people won’t buy, only a few good judges, ’cause they think something must be amiss. I once bought a dozen good hares, on a Saturday afternoon, for 10s. 6d. It was jolly hot, and I could hardly sell them. I got 1s. 6d. a piece for three of them; 2s. for the finest one; 1s. 3d. for five, no, for four; 1s. 10d. for two; and I had a deal of trouble to get a landlord to take the last two for 1s. 6d., to wipe off a bit of a drink score. I didn’t do so bad as it was, but if it hadn’t been Saturday, I should have made a good thing of ’em. It’s very hard work carrying a dozen hares; and every one of that lot—except two, and they was fine leverets—was as cheap as butcher’s meat at half-a-crown a piece. I’ve done middling in partridges this year. I’ve bought them, but mixed things they was, as low as from 10d. to 16d. a brace, and have made a profit, big or little as happened, on every one. People that’s regular customers I always charge 6d. profit in 2s. 6d. to, and that’s far cheaper than they can get served other ways. It’s chiefly the game battles that does so much to cheapen partridges or peasants” (so he always called pheasants); “and it’s only then I meddles with peasants. They’re sold handier than the other birds at the shops, I think. They’re legal eating on the 1st of October. Such nonsense! why isn’t mutton made legal eating, only just at times, as well? In very hard weather I’ve done well on wild ducks. They come over here when the weather’s a clipper, for you see cold weather suits some birds and kills others. It aint hard weather that’s driven them here; the frost has drawed them here, because it’s only then they’re cheap. I’ve bought beauties at 1s. a piece, and one day I cleared 10s. 6d. out of twelve brace of them. I’ve often cleared 6s. and 7s.—at least as often as there’s been a chance. I knew a man that did uncommon well on them; and he once told a parson, or a journeyman parson, I don’t know what he was, that if ever he prayed it was for a hard winter and lots of wild ducks. I’ve done a little sometimes in plover, and woodcock, and snipe, but not so much. I never plays no tricks with my birds. I trims them up to look well, certainly. If they won’t keep, and won’t sell, I sticks them into a landlord I knows, as likes them high, for a quartern or a pot, or anything. It’s often impossible to keep them. If they’re hard hit it’s soon up with them. A sportsman, if he has a good dog—but you’ll know that if you’ve ever been a shooting, sir—may get close upon a covey of young partridges before he springs them, and then give them his one, two, with both barrels, and they’re riddled to bits. I may make 18s. a week all the year round, because I have a connection. I’m very much respected, I thinks, on my round, for I deal fair; that there, sir, breeds respect, you know. When I can’t get game (birds) I can sometimes, indeed often, get hares, and mostly rabbits. I’ve hawked venson, but did no good—though I cried it at 4d. the lb. My best weeks is worth 30s. to 35s., my worst is 6s. to 10s. I’m a good deal in the country, working it. I’m forced to sell fish sometimes. Geese I sometimes join a mate in selling. I don’t mix much with the costermongers; in coorse I knows some. I live middling. Do I ever eat my own game if it’s high? No, sir, never. I couldn’t stand such cag-mag—my stomach couldn’t—though I’ve been a gentleman’s servant. Such stuff don’t suit nobody but rich people, whose stomach’s diseased by over-feeding, and that’s been brought up to it, like. I’ve only myself to keep now. I’ve had a wife or two, but we parted” (this was said gravely enough); “there was nothing to hinder us. I see them sometimes and treat them.”

The quantity of game annually sold in the London streets is as follows:—


Statement of Two Poultry Hawkers.

Two brothers, both good-looking and well-spoken young men—one I might characterise as handsome—gave me the following account. I found them unwilling to speak of their youth, and did not press them. I was afterwards informed that their parents died within the same month, and that the family was taken into the workhouse; but the two boys left it in a little time, and before they could benefit by any schooling. Neither of them could read or write. They left, I believe, with some little sum in hand, to “start theirselves.” An intelligent costermonger, who was with me when I saw the two brothers, told me that “a costermonger would rather be thought to have come out of prison than out of a workhouse,” for his “mates” would say, if they heard he had been locked up, “O, he’s only been quodded for pitching into a crusher.” The two brothers wore clean smock country frocks over their dress, and made a liberal display of their clean,[126] but coarse, shirts. It was on a Monday that I saw them. What one brother said, the other confirmed: so I use the plural “we.”

“We sell poultry and game, but stick most to poultry, which suits our connection best. We buy at Leadenhall. We’re never cheated in the things we buy; indeed, perhaps, we could’nt be. A salesman will say—Mr. H—— will—‘Buy, if you like, I can’t recommend them. Use your own judgment. They’re cheap.’ He has only one price, and that’s often a low one. We give from 1s. to 1s. 9d. for good chickens, and from 2s. 6d. mostly for geese and turkeys. Pigeons is 1s. 9d. to 3s. a dozen. We aim at 6d. profit on chickens; and 1s., if we can get it, or 6d. if we can do no better, on geese and turkeys. Ducks are the same as chickens. All the year through, we may make 12s. a week a piece. We work together, one on one side of the street and the other on the other. It answers best that way. People find we can’t undersell one another. We buy the poultry, whenever we can, undressed, and dress them ourselves; pull the feathers off and make them ready for cooking. We sell cheaper than the shops, or we couldn’t sell at all. But you must be known, to do any trade, or people will think your poultry’s bad. We work game as well, but mostly poultry. We’ve been on hares to-day, mostly, and have made about 2s. 6d. a piece, but that’s an extra day. Our best customers are tradesmen in a big way, and people in the houses a little way out of town. Working people don’t buy of us now. We’re going to a penny gaff to-night” (it was then between four and five); “we’ve no better way of spending our time when our day’s work is done.”

From the returns before given, the street-sale of poultry amounts yearly to


Of the Street Sale of Live Poultry.

The street trade in live poultry is not considerable, and has become less considerable every year, since the facilities of railway conveyance have induced persons in the suburbs to make their purchases in London rather than of the hawkers. Geese used to be bought very largely by the hawkers in Leadenhall, and were driven in flocks to the country, 500 being a frequent number of a flock. Their sale commenced about six miles from town in all directions, the purchasers being those who, having the necessary convenience, liked to fatten their own Christmas geese, and the birds when bought were small and lean. A few flocks, with 120 or 150 in each, are still disposed of in this way; but the trade is not a fifth of what it was. As this branch of the business is not in the hands of the hawkers, but generally of country poulterers resident in the towns not far from the metropolis, I need but allude to it. A few flocks of ducks are driven in the same way.

The street trade in live poultry continues only for three months—from the latter part of June to the latter part of September. At this period, the hawkers say, as they can’t get “dead” they must get “live.” During these three months the hawkers sell 500 chickens and 300 ducks weekly, by hawking, or 10,400 in the season of 13 weeks. Occasionally, as many as 50 men and women—the same who hawk dead game and poultry—are concerned in the traffic I am treating of. At other times there are hardly 30, and in some not 20 so employed, for if the weather be temperate, dead poultry is preferred to live by the hawkers. Taking the average of “live” sellers at 25 every week, it gives only a trade of 32 birds each weekly. Some, however, will sell 18 in a day; but others, who occasionally resort to the trade, only a dozen in a week. The birds are sometimes carried in baskets on the hawker’s arm, their heads being let through network at the top; but more frequently they are hawked in open wicker-work coops carried on the head. The best live poultry are from Surrey and Sussex; the inferior from Ireland, and perhaps more than three-fourths of that sold by the hawkers is Irish.

The further nature of the trade, and the class of customers, is shown in the following statement, given to me by a middle-aged man, who had been familiar with the trade from his youth.

“Yes, sir,” he said, “I’ve had a turn at live poultry for—let me see—someways between twenty and twenty-five years. The business is a sweater, sir; it’s heavy work, but ‘live’ aint so heavy as ‘dead.’ There’s fewer of them to carry in a round, that’s it. Ah! twenty years ago, or better, live poultry was worth following. I did a good bit in it. I’ve sold 160 fowls and ducks, and more, in a week, and cleared about 4l. But out of that I had to give a man 1s. a day, and his peck, to help me. At that time I sold my ducks and chickens—I worked nothing else—at from 2s. to 3s. 6d. a piece, according to size and quality. Now, if I get from 14d. to 2s. it’s not so bad. I sell more, I think, however, over 1s. 6d. than under it, but I’m perticler in my ‘live.’ I never sold to any but people out of town that had convenience to keep them, and Lord knows, I’ve seen ponds I could jump over reckoned prime for ducks. Them that keeps their gardens nice won’t buy live poultry. I’ve seldom sold to the big houses anything like to what I’ve done to the smaller. The big houses, you see, goes for fancy bantems, such as Sir John Seabright’s, or Spanish hens, or a bit of a game cross, or real game—just for ornament, and not for fighting—or for anything that’s got its name up. I’ve known young couples buy fowls to have their breakfast eggs from them. One young lady told me to bring her—that’s fifteen year ago, it is so—six couples, that I knew would lay. I told her she’d better have five hens to a cock, and she didn’t seem pleased, but I’m sure I don’t know why, for I hope I’m always civil. I told her there would be murder if there was a cock to every hen. I supplied her, and made 6s. by the job. I have sold [129] live fowls to the Jews about Whitechapel, on my way to Stratford and Bow, but only when I’ve bought a bargain and sold one. I don’t know nothing how the Jews kills their fowls. Last summer I didn’t make 1s. 6d. a day; no, nor more than three half-crowns a week in ‘live.’ But that’s only part of my trade. I don’t complain, so it’s nothing to nobody what I makes. From Beever (De Beauvoir) Town to Stamford Hill, and on to Tottenham and Edmonton, and turning off Walthamstow way is as good a round as any for live; it is so; but nothing to what it was. Highgate and Hampstead is middling. The t’other side the water isn’t good at all.”


[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

Fancy chickens, I may add, are never hawked, nor are live pigeons, nor geese, nor turkeys.

The hawkers’ sale of live poultry may be taken, at a moderate computation, as 6,500 chickens, and 3,900 ducks.

Of Rabbit Selling in the Streets.

Rabbit-selling cannot be said to be a distinct branch of costermongering, but some street-sellers devote themselves to it more exclusively than to other “goods,” and, for five or six months of the year, sell little else. It is not often, though it is sometimes, united with the game or poultry trade, as a stock of rabbits, of a dozen or a dozen and a half, is a sufficient load for one man. The best sale for rabbits is in the suburbs. They are generally carried slung two and two on a long pole, which is supported on the man’s shoulders, or on a short one which is carried in the hand. Lately, they have been hawked about hung up on a barrow. The trade is the briskest in the autumn and winter months; but some men carry them, though they do not confine themselves to the traffic in them, all the year round. The following statement shows the nature of the trade.

“I was born and bred a costermonger,” he said, “and I’ve been concerned with everything in the line. I’ve been mostly ‘on rabbits’ these five or six years, but I always sold a few, and now sometimes I sell a hare or two, and, if rabbits is too dear, I tumble on to fish. I buy at Leadenhall mainly. I’ve given from 6s. to 14s. a dozen for my rabbits. The usual price is from 5s. to 8s. a dozen. [I may remark that the costers buy nearly all the Scotch rabbits, at an average of 6s. the dozen; and the Ostend rabbits, which are a shilling or two dearer.] They’re Hampshire rabbits; but I don’t know where Hampshire is. I know they’re from Hampshire, for they’re called ‘Wild Hampshire rabbits, 1s. a pair.’ But still, as you say, that’s only a call. I never sell a rabbit at 6d., in course—it costs more. My way in business is to get 2d. profit, and the skin, on every rabbit. If they cost me 8d., I try to get 10d. It’s the skins is the profit. The skins now brings me from 1s. to 1s. 9d. a dozen. They’re best in frosty weather. The fur’s thickest then. It grows best in frost, I suppose. If I sell a dozen, it’s a tidy day’s work. If I get 2d. a-piece on them, and the skins at 1s. 3d., it’s 3s. 3d., but I dont sell above 5 dozen in a week—that’s 16s. 3d. a week, sir, is it? Wet and dark weather is against me. People won’t often buy rabbits by candlelight, if they’re ever so sweet. Some weeks in spring and summer I can’t sell above two dozen rabbits. I have sold two dozen and ten on a Saturday in the country, but then I had a young man to help me. I sell the skins to a warehouse for hatters. My old ’oman works a little fish at a stall sometimes, but she only can in fine weather, for we’ve a kid that can hardly walk, and it don’t do to let it stand out in the cold. Perhaps I may make 10s. to 14s. a week all the year round. I’m paying 1s. a week for 1l. borrowed, and paid 2s. all last year; but I’ll pay no more after Christmas. I did better on rabbits four or five year back, because I sold more to working-people and small shopkeepers than I do now. I suppose it’s because they’re not so well off now as they was then, and, as you say, butchers’-meat may be cheaper now, and tempts them. I do best short ways in the country. Wandsworth way ain’t bad. No more is parts of Stoke-Newington and Stamford-hill. St. John’s Wood and Hampstead is middling. Hackney’s bad. I goes all ways. I dont know what sort of people’s my best customers. Two of ’em, I’ve been told, is banker’s clerks, so in course they is rich.”

There are 600,000 rabbits sold every year in the streets of London; these, at 7d. a-piece, give 17,500l. thus expended annually in the metropolis.

Of the Street Sale of Butter, Cheese, and Eggs.

All these commodities used to be hawked in the streets, and to a considerable extent. Until, as nearly as I can ascertain, between twenty and thirty years back, butter was brought from Epping, and other neighbouring parts, where good pasture existed, and hawked in the streets of London, usually along with poultry and eggs. This trade is among the more ancient of the street-trades. Steam-vessels and railways, however, have so stocked the markets, that no hawking of butter or eggs, from any agricultural part, even the nearest to London, would be remunerative now. Eggs are brought in immense quantities from France and Belgium, though thirty, or even twenty years ago the notion having of a good French egg, at a London breakfast-table, would have been laughed at as an absurd attempt at an impossible achievement. The number of eggs now annually imported into this kingdom, is 98,000,000, half of which may be said to be the yearly consumption of London. No butter is now hawked, but sometimes a few “new laid” eggs are carried from a rural part to the nearest metropolitan suburb, and are sold readily enough, if the purveyor be known. Mr. M’Culloch estimates the average consumption of butter, in London, at 6,250,000 lbs. per annum, or 5 oz., weekly, each individual.


The hawking of cheese was never a prominent part of the street-trade. Of late, its sale in the streets, may be described as accidental. A considerable quantity of American cheese was hawked, or more commonly sold at a standing, five or six years ago; unto December last, and for three months preceding, cheese was sold in the streets which had been rejected from Government stores, as it would not “keep” for the period required; but it was good for immediate consumption, for which all street-goods are required. This, and the American cheese, were both sold in the streets at 3d. the pound; usually, at fair weights, I am told, for it might not be easy to deceive the poor in a thing of such frequent purchase as “half a quarter or a quarter” (of a pound) of cheese.

The total quantity of foreign cheese consumed, yearly, in the metropolis may be estimated at 25,000,000 lbs. weight, or half of the gross quantity annually imported.

The following statement shows the quantity and sum paid for the game and poultry sold in London streets:

5,000grouse, at 1s. 9d. each437
20,000partridges, at 1s. 6d.1,500
12,000pheasants, at 3s. 6d.2,100
5,000snipes, at 8d.166
20,000hares, at 2s. 3d.2,250
600,000rabbits, at 7d.17,500
500,000fowls, at 1s. 6d.37,500
20,000geese, at 2s. 6d.2,500
80,000ducks, at 1s. 6d.6,000
30,000turkeys, at 3s. 6d.5,250
10,000live fowls and ducks, at 1s. 6d.750

In this table I do not give the refuse game and poultry, bought sometimes for the mere feathers, when “undressed;” neither are the wild ducks nor woodcocks, nor those things of which the costers buy only exceptionally, included. Adding these, it may be said, that with the street sale of butter, cheese, and eggs, 80,000l. are annually expended in the streets on this class of articles.


The street-sellers of whom I have now to treat comprise those who deal in trees and shrubs, in flowers (whether in pots, or merely with soil attached to the roots, or cut from the plant as it grows in the garden), and in seeds and branches (as of holly, mistletoe, ivy, yew, laurel, palm, lilac, and may). The “root-sellers” (as the dealers in flowers in pots are mostly called) rank, when in a prosperous business, with the highest “aristocracy” of the street-greengrocers. The condition of a portion of them, may be characterised by a term which is readily understood as “comfortable,” that is to say, comparatively comfortable, when the circumstances of other street-sellers are considered. I may here remark, that though there are a great number of Scotchmen connected with horticultural labour in England, but more in the provincial than the metropolitan districts, there is not one Scotchman concerned in the metropolitan street-sale of flowers; nor, indeed, as I have good reason to believe, is there a single Scotchman earning his bread as a costermonger in London. A non-commissioned officer in an infantry regiment, a Scotchman, whom I met with a few months back, in the course of my inquiries concerning street musicians, told me that he thought any of his young countrymen, if hard pushed “to get a crust,” would enlist, rather than resort, even under favourable circumstances, to any kind of street-sale in London.

The dealers in trees and shrubs are the same as the root-sellers.

The same may be said, but with some few exceptions, of the seed-sellers.

The street-trade in holly, mistletoe, and all kinds of evergreens known as “Christmas,” is in the hands of the coster boys more than the men, while the trade in may, &c., is almost altogether confined to these lads.

The root-sellers do not reside in any particular localities, but there are more of them living in the outskirts than in the thickly populated streets.

The street-sellers of cut flowers present characteristics peculiarly their own. This trade is mostly in the hands of girls, who are of two classes. This traffic ranks with the street sale of water-cresses and congreves, that is to say, among the lowest grades of the street-trade, being pursued only by the very poor, or the very young.

Of the Quantity of Shrubs, “Roots,” Flowers, etc., sold in the Streets, and of the Buyers.

The returns which I caused to be procured, to show the extent of the business carried on in the metropolitan markets, give the following results as to the quantity of trees, shrubs, flowers, roots, and branches, sold wholesale in London, as well as the proportion retailed in the streets.



Covent Garden.Farringdon.Total.Proportion sold to Costers.
Trees and Shrubs.
Firs400doz. roots400800One-third.
Heaths (of all kinds)1,6001,4403,040One-fifth.
Broom and Furze5444801,024One-fourth.
Southernwood (Old Man)9604801,440One-half.
Flowers (in Pots).
Roses (Moss)1,200doz. pots9602,160One-half.
Ditto (China)1,2009602,160One-half.
Flower Roots.
Primroses600 doz. roots4001,000One-half.
Pinks and Carnations480320800One-half.
Lilies of the Valley144144288One-fourth.
Lilies and Tulips152128280One-ninth.
London Pride400320720One-third.
Michaelmas Daisies216216432One-third.
Flowers (cut).
Violets1,440 doz. bunches1,2802,720One-half.
Lavender (green and dry)1,6001,2004,120[7]One-half.
Lilies of the Valley180160340One-tenth.
Moss Roses2,0001,6003,600One-third.
China ditto2,0001,6003,600One-third.
Holly840 doz. bundles7201,640[7]One-half.
Ivy and Laurel360280740[7]One-half.


Perhaps the pleasantest of all cries in early spring is that of “All a-growing—all a-blowing” heard for the first time in the season. It is that of the “root-seller” who has stocked his barrow with primroses, violets, and daisies. Their beauty and fragrance gladden the senses; and the first and, perhaps, unexpected sight of them may prompt hopes of the coming year, such as seem proper to the spring.

Cobbett has insisted, and with unquestioned truth, that a fondness for bees and flowers is among the very best characteristics of the English peasant. I consider it equally unquestionable that a fondness for in-door flowers, is indicative of the good character and healthful tastes, as well as of the domestic and industrious habits, of the city artizan. Among some of the most intelligent and best-conducted of these artizans, I may occasionally have found, on my visits to their homes, neither flowers nor birds, but then I have found books.

United with the fondness for the violet, the wallflower, the rose—is the presence of the quality which has been pronounced the handmaiden of all the virtues—cleanliness. I believe that the bunch of violets, on which a poor woman or her husband has expended 1d., rarely ornaments an unswept hearth. In my investigations, I could not but notice how the presence or absence of flowers, together with other indications of the better tastes, marked the difference between the well-paid and the ill-paid workman. Concerning the tailors, for instance, I had occasion to remark, of the dwellings of these classes:—“In the one, you occasionally find small statues of Shakspere beneath glass shades; in the other, all is dirt and fœtor. The working-tailor’s comfortable first-floor at the West-end is redolent with the perfume of the small bunch of violets that stands in a tumbler over the mantel-piece; the sweater’s wretched garret is rank with the stench of filth and herrings.” The presence of the bunch of flowers of itself tells us of “a better state of things” elevating the workman; for, amidst the squalid poverty and fustiness of a slopworker’s garret, the nostril loses its daintiness of sense, so that even a freshly fragrant wallflower is only so many yellow petals and green leaves.

A love of flowers is also observable among men whose avocations are out of doors, and those whose habits are necessarily those of order and punctuality.

Among this class are such persons as gentlemen’s coachmen, who delight in the display of a flower or two in the button-holes of their coats when out of doors, and in small vases in their rooms in their masters’ mews. I have even seen the trellis work opposite the windows of cabmen’s rooms, which were over stables, with a projecting roof covering the whole, thickly yellow and green with the flowers and leaves of the easily-trained nasturtium and herb “twopence.” The omnibus driver occasionally “sports a nosegay”—as he himself might word it—in his button-hole; and the stage-coachman of old felt he was improperly dressed if a big bunch of flowers were not attached to his coat. Sailors ashore are likewise generally fond of flowers.

A delight in flowers is observable, also, among the workers whose handicraft requires the exercise of taste, and whose eyes are sensible, from the nature of their employment, to the beauty of colour. To this class belong especially the Spitalfields’ silk-weavers. At one time the Spitalfields weavers were almost the only botanists in London, and their love of flowers is still strong. I have seen fuchsias gladdening the weaver’s eyes by being placed near his loom, their crimson pendants swinging backwards and forwards to the motion of the treadles, while his small back garden has been many-coloured with dahlias. These weavers, too, were at one time highly-successful as growers of tulips.

Those out-door workmen, whose calling is of coarse character, are never known to purchase flowers, which to them are mere trumpery. Perhaps no one of my readers ever saw a flower in the possession of a flusherman, nightman, slaughterer, sweep, gaslayer, gut and tripe-preparer, or such like labourer. Their eyes convey to the mind no appreciation of beauty, and the sense of smell is actually dead in them, except the odour be rank exceedingly.

The fondness for flowers in London is strongest in the women, and, perhaps, strongest in those whose callings are in-door and sedentary. Flowers are to them a companionship.

It remains only for me to state that, in the poorest districts, and among people where there is no sense of refinement or but a small love for natural objects, flowers are little known. Flowers are not bought by the slop-workers, the garret and chamber-masters of Bethnal-green, nor in the poor Irish districts, nor by the City people. Indeed, as I have observed, there is not a flower-stand in the city.

It should be remembered that, in poor districts, the first appearance of flowers conveys to the slop-workman only one pleasurable association—that the season of warmth has arrived, and that he will not only escape being chilled with cold, but that he will be delivered from the heavy burden of providing fire and candle.

A pleasant-looking man, with an appearance which the vulgar characterise as “jolly,” and with hearty manners, gave me the following account as to the character of his customers. He had known the business since he was a boy, his friends having been in it previously. He said:

“There’s one old gentleman a little way out of town, he always gives 1s. for the first violet root that any such as me carries there. I’m often there before any others: ‘Ah!’ he says, ‘here you are; you’ve come, like Buonaparte, with your violet.’ I don’t know exactly what he means. I don’t like to ask him you see; for, though he’s civil, he’s not what you[133] may call a free sort of man—that’s it.” [I explained to him that the allusion was to Buonaparte’s emblem of the violet, with the interpretation he or his admirers gave to it—“I come in the spring.”] “That’s it, sir, is it?” he resumed; “well, I’m glad I know, because I don’t like to be puzzled. Mine’s a puzzling trade, though. Violets have a good sale. I’ve sold six dozen roots in a day, and only half as many primroses and double-daisies, if half. Everybody likes violets. I’ve sold some to poor people in town, but they like their roots in pots. They haven’t a bit of a garden for ’em. More shame too I say, when they pays such rents. People that sits working all day is very fond of a sweet flower. A gentleman that’s always a-writing or a-reading in his office—he’s in the timber-trade—buys something of me every time I see him; twice or thrice a week, sometimes. I can’t say what he does with them all. Barmaids, though you mightn’t think it, sir, is wery tidy customers. So, sometimes, is young women that’s in an improper way of life, about Lisson-grove, and in some parts near Oxford-street. They buys all sorts. Perhaps more stocks than anything, for they’re beautiful roots, and not dear. I’ve sold real beauties for 2d.—real beauties, but small; 6d. is a fair price; one stock will perfume a house. I tell my customers not to sleep with them in the room; it isn’t good for the health. A doctor told me that, and said, ‘You ought to give me a fuchsia for my opinion.’ That was his joke. Primroses I sell most of—they’re not in pots—two or three or four miles out of town, and most if a family’s come into a new house, or changed their house, if there’s children. The young ones teases the old ones to buy them to set in the garden, and when children gets fairly to work that way, it’s a sure sale. If they can’t get over father, they’ll get over mother. Busy men never buy flowers, as far as I’ve seen.” [‘In no thoroughfare in the city, I am assured, is there a flower-stand—a circumstance speaking volumes as to the habits and tastes of the people. Of fruit-stalls and chop-houses there are in the neighbourhood of the Exchange, more than in any other part of London perhaps—the faculty of perceiving the beauty of colour, form, and perfume, as combined in flowers is not common to the man of business. The pleasures of the palate, however, they can all understand.’] “Parsons and doctors are often tidy customers,” resumed my informant. “They have a good deal of sitting and reading, I believe. I’ve heard a parson say to his wife, ‘Do, my dear, go and buy a couple of those wallflowers for my study.’ I don’t do much for working-men; the women’s my best customers. There’s a shoemaker to be sure comes down sometimes with his old woman to lay out 2d. or 3d. on me; ‘Let’s have something that smells strong,’ he’ll say, ‘stronger than cobbler’s wax; for, though I can’t smell that, others can.’ I’ve sold him musks (musk-plants) as often as anything.

“The poor people buy rather largely at times; that is, many of them buy. One day last summer, my old woman and me sold 600 penny pots of mignonette; and all about you saw them—and it was a pleasure to see them—in the poor women’s windows. The women are far the best customers. There was the mignonette behind the bits of bars they have, in the shape of gates and such like, in the front of their windows, in the way of preventing the pots falling into the street. Mignonette’s the best of all for a sure sale; where can you possibly have a sweeter or a nicer penn’orth, pot and all.”

Of the Street Sale of Trees and Shrubs.

The street-trade in trees and shrubs is an appendage of “root-selling,” and not an independent avocation. The season of supply at the markets extends over July, August, September, and October, with a smaller trade in the winter and spring months. At the nursery gardens, from the best data I can arrive at, there are about twice as many trees and shrubs purchased as in the markets by the costermongers. Nor is this the only difference. It is the more costly descriptions that are bought at the nursery grounds.

The trees and shrubs are bought at the gardens under precisely the same circumstances as the roots, but the trade is by no means popular with the root-sellers. They regard these heavy, cumbrous goods, as the smarter costers do such things as turnips and potatoes, requiring more room, and yielding less profit. “It breaks a man’s heart,” said one dealer, “and half kills his beast, going round with a lot of heavy things, that perhaps you can’t sell.” The street-dealers say they must keep them, “or people will go, where they can get roots, and trees, and everything, all together.” In winter, or in early spring, the street-seller goes a round now and then, with evergreens and shrubs alone, and the trade is then less distasteful to him. The trees and shrubs are displayed, when the market-space allows, on a sort of stand near the flower-stand; sometimes they are placed on the ground, along-side the flower-stand, but only when no better display can be made.

The trees and shrubs sold by the costers are mezereons, rhododendrons, savine, laurustinus, acacias (of the smaller genera, some being highly aromatic when in flower), myrtles, guelder-roses (when small), privet, genistas, broom, furze (when small), the cheaper heaths, syringas (small), lilacs (almost always young and for transplanting), southernwood (when large), box (large) dwarf laurels, variegated laurels (called a cuber by the street-people), and young fir-trees, &c.

The prices of trees vary far more than flower-roots, because they are dependent upon size for value. “Why,” said one man, “I’ve bought roddies, as I calls them (rhododendrons), at 4s. a dozen, but they was scrubby things, and I’ve bought them at 14s. 6d. I once gave 5s. for two trees of them, which I had ordered, and there was a rare grumbling about the price,[134] though I only charged 7s. 6d. for the two, which was 1s. 3d. a piece for carriage, and hard earned too, to carry them near five miles in my cart, almost on purpose, but I thought I was pleasing a good customer. Then there’s myrtles, why I can get them at 5d. a piece, and at 5s., and a deal more if wanted. You can have myrtles that a hat might be very big for them to grow in, and myrtles that will fill a great window in a fine house. I’ve bought common heaths at 1s. 3d. a dozen.”

The coster ordinarily confines himself to the cheaper sorts of plants, and rarely meddles with such things as acacias, mezereons, savines, syringas, lilacs, or even myrtles, and with none of these things unless cheap. “Trees, real trees,” I was told, “are often as cheap as anything. Them young firs there was 4s. 6d. a dozen, and a man at market can buy four or six of them if he don’t want a dozen.”

The customers for trees and shrubs are generally those who inhabit the larger sort of houses, where there is room in the hall or the windows for display; or where there is a garden capacious enough for the implantation of the shrubs. Three-fourths of the trees are sold on a round, and when purchased at a stall the costermonger generally undertakes to deliver them at the purchaser’s residence, if not too much out of his way, in his regular rounds. Or he may diverge, and make a round on speculation, purposely. There is as much bartering trees for old clothes, as for roots, and as many, or more, complaints of the hard bargainings of ladies: “I’d rather sell polyanthuses at a farthing a piece profit to poor women, if I could get no more,” said one man, “than I’d work among them screws that’s so fine in grand caps and so civil. They’d skin a flea for his hide and tallow.”

The number of trees and shrubs sold annually, in the streets, are, as near as I can ascertain, as follows—I have added to the quantity purchased by the street-sellers, at the metropolitan markets, the amount bought by them at the principal nursery-gardens in the environs of London:


The London Flower Girls.

It is not easy to arrive at any accurate estimate of the number of flower-sellers in the streets of London. The cause of the difficulty lies in the fact that none can be said to devote themselves entirely to the sale of flowers in the street, for the flower-sellers, when oranges are cheap and good, find their sale of the fruit more certain and profitable than that of flowers, and resort to it accordingly. Another reason is, that a poor costermonger will on a fine summer’s day send out his children to sell flowers, while on other days they may be selling water-cresses or, perhaps, onions. Sunday is the best day for flower-selling, and one experienced man computed, that in the height and pride of the summer 400 children were selling flowers, on the Sundays, in the streets. Another man thought that number too low an estimate, and contended that it was nearer 800. I found more of the opinion of my last mentioned informant than of the other, but I myself am disposed to think the smaller number nearer the truth. On week days it is computed there are about half the number of flower-sellers that there are on the Sundays. The trade is almost entirely in the hands of children, the girls outnumbering the boys by more than eight to one. The ages of the girls vary from six to twenty; few of the boys are older than twelve, and most of them are under ten.

Of flower-girls there are two classes. Some girls, and they are certainly the smaller class of the two, avail themselves of the sale of flowers in the streets for immoral purposes, or rather, they seek to eke out the small gains of their trade by such practises. They frequent the great thoroughfares, and offer their bouquets to gentlemen, whom on an evening they pursue for a hundred yards or two in such places as the Strand, mixing up a leer with their whine for custom or for charity. Their ages are from fourteen to nineteen or twenty, and sometimes they remain out offering their flowers—or dried lavender when no fresh flowers are to be had—until late at night. They do not care, to make their appearance in the streets until towards evening, and though they solicit the custom of ladies, they rarely follow or importune them. Of this class I shall treat more fully under another head.

The other class of flower-girls is composed of the girls who, wholly or partially, depend upon the sale of flowers for their own support or as an assistance to their parents. Some of them are the children of street-sellers, some are orphans, and some are the daughters of mechanics who are out of employment, and who prefer any course rather than an application to the parish. These girls offer their flowers in the principal streets at the West End, and resort greatly to the suburbs; there are a few, also, in the business thoroughfares. They walk up and down in front of the houses, offering their flowers to any one looking out of the windows, or they stand at any likely place. They are generally very persevering, more especially the younger children, who will run along, barefooted, with their “Please, gentleman, do buy my flowers. Poor little girl!”—“Please, kind lady, buy my violets. O, do! please! Poor little girl! Do buy a bunch, please, kind lady!”

The statement I give, “of two orphan flower-[135]sellers” furnishes another proof, in addition to the many I have already given, of the heroic struggles of the poor, and of the truth of the saying, “What would the poor do without the poor?”

The better class of flower-girls reside in Lisson-grove, in the streets off Drury-lane, in St. Giles’s, and in other parts inhabited by the very poor. Some of them live in lodging-houses, the stench and squalor of which are in remarkable contrast to the beauty and fragrance of the flowers they sometimes have to carry thither with them unsold.

Of Two Orphan Flower Girls.

Of these girls the elder was fifteen and the younger eleven. Both were clad in old, but not torn, dark print frocks, hanging so closely, and yet so loosely, about them as to show the deficiency of under-clothing; they wore old broken black chip bonnets. The older sister (or rather half-sister) had a pair of old worn-out shoes on her feet, the younger was barefoot, but trotted along, in a gait at once quick and feeble—as if the soles of her little feet were impervious, like horn, to the roughness of the road. The elder girl has a modest expression of countenance, with no pretensions to prettiness except in having tolerably good eyes. Her complexion was somewhat muddy, and her features somewhat pinched. The younger child had a round, chubby, and even rosy face, and quite a healthful look. Her portrait is here given.

They lived in one of the streets near Drury-lane. They were inmates of a house, not let out as a lodging-house, in separate beds, but in rooms, and inhabited by street-sellers and street-labourers. The room they occupied was large, and one dim candle lighted it so insufficiently that it seemed to exaggerate the dimensions. The walls were bare and discoloured with damp. The furniture consisted of a crazy table and a few chairs, and in the centre of the room was an old four-post bedstead of the larger size. This bed was occupied nightly by the two sisters and their brother, a lad just turned thirteen. In a sort of recess in a corner of the room was the decency of an old curtain—or something equivalent, for I could hardly see in the dimness—and behind this was, I presume, the bed of the married couple. The three children paid 2s. a week for the room, the tenant an Irishman out of work paying 2s. 9d., but the furniture was his, and his wife aided the children in their trifle of washing, mended their clothes, where such a thing was possible, and such like. The husband was absent at the time of my visit, but the wife seemed of a better stamp, judging by her appearance, and by her refraining from any direct, or even indirect, way of begging, as well as from the “Glory be to Gods!” “the heavens be your honour’s bed!” or “it’s the thruth I’m telling of you sir,” that I so frequently meet with on similar visits.

The elder girl said, in an English accent, not at all garrulously, but merely in answer to my questions: “I sell flowers, sir; we live almost on flowers when they are to be got. I sell, and so does my sister, all kinds, but it’s very little use offering any that’s not sweet. I think it’s the sweetness as sells them. I sell primroses, when they’re in, and violets, and wall-flowers, and stocks, and roses of different sorts, and pinks, and carnations, and mixed flowers, and lilies of the valley, and green lavender, and mignonette (but that I do very seldom), and violets again at this time of the year, for we get them both in spring and winter.” [They are forced in hot-houses for winter sale, I may remark.] “The best sale of all is, I think, moss-roses, young moss-roses. We do best of all on them. Primroses are good, for people say: ‘Well, here’s spring again to a certainty.’ Gentlemen are our best customers. I’ve heard that they buy flowers to give to the ladies. Ladies have sometimes said: ‘A penny, my poor girl, here’s three-halfpence for the bunch.’ Or they’ve given me the price of two bunches for one; so have gentlemen. I never had a rude word said to me by a gentleman in my life. No, sir, neither lady nor gentleman ever gave me 6d. for a bunch of flowers. I never had a sixpence given to me in my life—never. I never go among boys, I know nobody but my brother. My father was a tradesman in Mitchelstown, in the County Cork. I don’t know what sort of a tradesman he was. I never saw him. He was a tradesman I’ve been told. I was born in London. Mother was a chairwoman, and lived very well. None of us ever saw a father.” [It was evident that they were illegitimate children, but the landlady had never seen the mother, and could give me no information.] “We don’t know anything about our fathers. We were all ‘mother’s children.’ Mother died seven years ago last Guy Faux day. I’ve got myself, and my brother and sister a bit of bread ever since, and never had any help but from the neighbours. I never troubled the parish. O, yes, sir, the neighbours is all poor people, very poor, some of them. We’ve lived with her” (indicating her landlady by a gesture) “the two years, and off and on before that. I can’t say how long.” “Well, I don’t know exactly,” said the landlady, “but I’ve had them with me almost all the time, for four years, as near as I can recollect; perhaps more. I’ve moved three times, and they always followed me.” In answer to my inquiries the landlady assured me that these two poor girls, were never out of doors all the time she had known them after six at night. “We’ve always good health. We can all read.” [Here the three somewhat insisted upon proving to me their proficiency in reading, and having produced a Roman Catholic book, the “Garden of Heaven,” they read very well.] “I put myself,” continued the girl, “and I put my brother and sister to[136] a Roman Catholic school—and to Ragged schools—but I could read before mother died. My brother can write, and I pray to God that he’ll do well with it. I buy my flowers at Covent Garden; sometimes, but very seldom, at Farringdon. I pay 1s. for a dozen bunches, whatever flowers are in. Out of every two bunches I can make three, at 1d. a piece. Sometimes one or two over in the dozen, but not so often as I would like. We make the bunches up ourselves. We get the rush to tie them with for nothing. We put their own leaves round these violets (she produced a bunch). The paper for a dozen costs a penny; sometimes only a halfpenny. The two of us doesn’t make less than 6d. a day, unless it’s very ill luck. But religion teaches us that God will support us, and if we make less we say nothing. We do better on oranges in March or April, I think it is, than on flowers. Oranges keep better than flowers you see, sir. We make 1s. a day, and 9d. a day, on oranges, the two of us. I wish they was in all the year. I generally go St. John’s-wood way, and Hampstead and Highgate way with my flowers. I can get them nearly all the year, but oranges is better liked than flowers, I think. I always keep 1s. stock-money, if I can. If it’s bad weather, so bad that we can’t sell flowers at all, and so if we’ve had to spend our stock-money for a bit of bread, she (the landlady) lends us 1s., if she has one, or she borrows one of a neighbour, if she hasn’t, or if the neighbours hasn’t it, she borrows it at a dolly-shop” (the illegal pawn-shop). “There’s 2d. a week to pay for 1s. at a dolly, and perhaps an old rug left for it; if it’s very hard weather, the rug must be taken at night time, or we are starved with the cold. It sometimes has to be put into the dolly again next morning, and then there’s 2d. to pay for it for the day. We’ve had a frock in for 6d., and that’s a penny a week, and the same for a day. We never pawned anything; we have nothing they would take in at the pawnshop. We live on bread and tea, and sometimes a fresh herring of a night. Sometimes we don’t eat a bit all day when we’re out; sometimes we take a bit of bread with us, or buy a bit. My sister can’t eat taturs; they sicken her. I don’t know what emigrating means.” [I informed her and she continued]: “No, sir, I wouldn’t like to emigrate and leave brother and sister. If they went with me I don’t think I should like it, not among strangers. I think our living costs us 2s. a week for the two of us; the rest goes in rent. That’s all we make.”

The brother earned from 1s. 6d. to 2s. a week, with an occasional meal, as a costermonger’s boy. Neither of them ever missed mass on a Sunday.

Of the Life of a Flower Girl.

Some of these girls are, as I have stated, of an immoral character, and some of them are sent out by their parents to make out a livelihood by prostitution. One of this class, whom I saw, had come out of prison a short time previously. She was not nineteen, and had been sentenced about a twelvemonth before to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour, “for heaving her shoe,” as she said, “at the Lord Mayor, to get a comfortable lodging, for she was tired of being about the streets.” After this she was locked up for breaking the lamps in the street. She alleged that her motive for this was a belief that by committing some such act she might be able to get into an asylum for females. She was sent out into the streets by her father and mother, at the age of nine, to sell flowers. Her father used to supply her with the money to buy the flowers, and she used to take the proceeds of the day’s work home to her parents. She used to be out frequently till past midnight, and seldom or never got home before nine. She associated only with flower-girls of loose character. The result may be imagined. She could not state positively that her parents were aware of the manner in which she got the money she took home to them. She supposes that they must have imagined what her practices were. He used to give her no supper if she “didn’t bring home a good bit of money.” Her father and mother did little or no work all this while. They lived on what she brought home. At thirteen years old she was sent to prison (she stated) “for selling combs in the street” (it was winter, and there were no flowers to be had). She was incarcerated fourteen days, and when liberated she returned to her former practices. The very night that she came home from gaol her father sent her out into the streets again. She continued in this state, her father and mother living upon her, until about twelve months before I received this account from her, when her father turned her out of his house, because she didn’t bring home money enough. She then went into Kent, hop-picking, and there fell in with a beggar, who accosted her while she was sitting under a tree. He said, “You have got a very bad pair of shoes on; come with me, and you shall have some better ones.” She consented, and walked with him into the village close by, where they stood out in the middle of the streets, and the man began addressing the people, “My kind good Christians, me and my poor wife here is ashamed to appear before you in the state we are in.” She remained with this person all the winter, and travelled with him through the country, begging. He was a beggar by trade. In the spring she returned to the flower-selling, but scarcely got any money either by that or other means. At last she grew desperate, and wanted to get back to prison. She broke the lamps outside the Mansion-house, and was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment. She had been out of prison nearly three weeks when I saw her, and was in training to go into an asylum. She was sick and tired, she said, of her life.


Of the Street Sale of Lavender.

The sale of green lavender in the streets is carried on by the same class as the sale of flowers, and is, as often as flowers, used for immoral purposes, when an evening or night sale is carried on.

The lavender is sold at the markets in bundles, each containing a dozen branches. It is sold principally to ladies in the suburbs, who purchase it to deposit in drawers and wardrobes; the odour communicated to linen from lavender being, perhaps, more agreeable and more communicable than that from any other flower. Nearly a tenth of the market sale may be disposed of in this way. Some costers sell it cheap to recommend themselves to ladies who are customers, that they may have the better chance for a continuance of those ladies’ custom.

The number of lavender-sellers can hardly be given as distinct from that of flower-sellers, because any flower-girl will sell lavender, “when it is in season.” The season continues from the beginning of July to the end of September. In the winter months, generally after day-fall, dried lavender is offered for sale; it is bought at the herb-shops. There is, however, an addition to the number of the flower-girls of a few old women, perhaps from twenty to thirty, who vary their street-selling avocations by going from door to door in the suburbs with lavender for sale, but do not stand to offer it in the street.

The street-seller’s profit on lavender is now somewhat more than cent. per cent., as the bundle, costing 2½d., brings when tied up in sprigs, at least, 6d. The profit, I am told, was, six or seven years ago, 200 per cent.; “but people will have better penn’orths now.” I was informed, by a person long familiar with the trade in flowers, that, from twenty to twenty-five years ago, the sale was the best. It was a fashionable amusement for ladies to tie the sprigs of lavender together, compressing the stems very tightly with narrow ribbon of any favourite colour, the heads being less tightly bound, or remaining unbound; the largest stems were in demand for this work. The lavender bundle, when its manufacture was complete, was placed in drawers, or behind books in the shelves of a glazed book-case, so that a most pleasant atmosphere was diffused when the book-case was opened.

Cut Flowers.

I now give the quantity of cut flowers sold in the streets. The returns have been derived from nursery-men and market-salesmen. It will be seen how fully these returns corroborate the statement of the poor flower-girl—(p. 135)—“it’s very little use offering anything that’s not sweet.”

I may remark, too, that at the present period, from “the mildness of the season,” wallflowers, primroses, violets, and polyanthuses are almost as abundant as in spring sunshine.

Pinks and Carnations63,360
Moss Roses172,800
China ditto172,800
Lilies of the Valley1,632
Cut flowers sold yearly in the streets994,560

Of the Street Sale of Flowers in Pots, Roots, etc.

The “flower-root sellers”—for I heard them so called to distinguish them from the sellers of “cut flowers”—are among the best-mannered and the best-dressed of all the street-sellers I have met with, but that only as regards a portion of them. Their superiority in this respect may perhaps be in some measure attributable to their dealing with a better class of customers—with persons who, whether poor or rich, exercise healthful tastes.

I may mention, that I found the street-sellers of “roots”—always meaning thereby flower-roots in bloom—more attached to their trade than others of their class.

The roots, sold in the streets, are bought in the markets and at the nursery-gardens; but about three-fourths of those required by the better class of street-dealers are bought at the gardens, as are “cut flowers” occasionally. Hackney is the suburb most resorted to by the root-sellers. The best “pitches” for the sale of roots in the street are situated in the New-road, the City-road, the Hampstead-road, the Edgeware-road, and places of similar character, where there is a constant stream of passers along, who are not too much immersed in business. Above three-fourths of the sale is effected by itinerant costermongers. For this there is one manifest reason: a flower-pot, with the delicate petals of its full-blown moss-rose, perhaps, suffers even from the trifling concussion in the journey of an omnibus, for instance. To carry a heavy flower-pot, even any short distance, cannot be expected, and to take a cab for its conveyance adds greatly to the expense. Hence, flower-roots are generally purchased at the door of the buyer.

For the flowers of commoner or easier culture, the root-seller receives from 1d. to 3d. These are primroses, polyanthuses, cowslips (but in small quantities comparatively), daisies (single and double,—and single or wild, daisies were coming to be more asked for, each 1d.), small early wallflowers, candy-tufts, southernwood (called “lad’s love” or “old man” by some), and daffodils, (but daffodils were sometimes dearer than 3d.). The plants that may be said to struggle against frost and snow in a hard season, such as the snowdrop, the crocus, and the mezereon, are rarely sold by the costers; “They come too soon,” I was told. The prim[138]roses, and the other plants I have enumerated, are sold, for the most part, not in pots, but with soil attached to the roots, so that they may be planted in a garden (as they most frequently are) or in a pot.

Towards the close of May, in an early season, and in the two following months, the root-trade is at its height. Many of the stalls and barrows are then exceedingly beautiful, the barrow often resembling a moving garden. The stall-keepers have sometimes their flowers placed on a series of shelves, one above another, so as to present a small amphitheatre of beautiful and diversified hues; the purest white, as in the lily of the valley, to the deepest crimson, as in the fuschia; the bright or rust-blotted yellow of the wallflower, to the many hues of the stock. Then there are the pinks and carnations, double and single, with the rich-coloured and heavily scented “clove-pinks;” roses, mignonette, the velvetty pansies (or heart’s-ease), the white and orange lilies, calceolarias, balsams (a flower going out of fashion), geraniums (flowers coming again into fashion), musk-plants, London pride (and other saxifrages; the species known, oddly enough, as London pride being a native of wild and mountainous districts, such as botanists call “Alpine habitats,”) and the many coloured lupins. Later again come the China-asters, the African marigolds, the dahlias, the poppies, and the common and very aromatic marigold. Later still there are the Michaelmas daisies—the growth of the “All-Hallow’n summer,” to which Falstaff was compared.

There is a class of “roots” in which the street-sellers, on account of their general dearness, deal so sparingly, that I cannot class them as a part of the business. Among these are anemones, hyacinths, tulips, ranunculuses, and the orchidaceous tribe. Neither do the street people meddle, unless very exceptionally, with the taller and statelier plants, such as foxgloves, hollyoaks, and sunflowers; these are too difficult of carriage for their purpose. Nor do they sell, unless again as an exception, such flowers as require support—the convolvolus and the sweet-pea, for instance.

The plants I have specified vary in price. Geraniums are sold at from 3d. to 5s.; pinks at from 3d. for the common pink, to 2s. for the best single clove, and 4s. for the best double; stocks, as they are small and single, to their being large and double, from 3d. (and sometimes less) to 2s.; dahlias from 6d. to 5s.; fuschias, from 6d. to 4s.; rose-bushes from 3d. to 1s. 6d., and sometimes, but not often, much higher; musk-plants, London pride, lupins, &c., are 1d. and 2d., pots generally included.

To carry on his business efficiently, the root-seller mostly keeps a pony and a cart, to convey his purchases from the garden to his stall or his barrow, and he must have a sheltered and cool shed in which to deposit the flowers which are to be kept over-night for the morrow’s business. “It’s a great bother, sir,” said a root-seller, “a man having to provide a shed for his roots. It wouldn’t do at all to have them in the same room as we sleep in—they’d droop. I have a beautiful big shed, and a snug stall for a donkey in a corner of it; but he won’t bear tying up—he’ll fight against tying all night, and if he was loose, why in course he’d eat the flowers I put in the shed. The price is nothing to him; he’d eat the Queen’s camellias, if he could get at them, if they cost a pound a-piece. So I have a deal of trouble, for I must block him up somehow; but he’s a first-rate ass.” To carry on a considerable business, the services of a man and his wife are generally required, as well as those of a boy.

The purchases wholesale are generally by the dozen roots, all ready for sale in pots. Mignonette, however, is grown in boxes, and sold by the box at from 5s. to 20s., according to the size, &c. The costermonger buys, for the large sale to the poor, at a rate which brings the mignonette roots into his possession at something less, perhaps, than a halfpenny each. He then purchases a gross of small common pots, costing him 1½d. a dozen, and has to transfer the roots and soil to the pots, and then offer them for sale. The profit thus is about 4s. per hundred, but with the drawback of considerable labour and some cost in the conveyance of the boxes. The same method is sometimes pursued with young stocks.

The cheapness of pots, I may mention incidentally, and the more frequent sale of roots in them, has almost entirely swept away the fragment of a pitcher and “the spoutless tea-pot,” which Cowper mentions as containing the poor man’s flowers, that testified an inextinguishable love of rural objects, even in the heart of a city. There are a few such things, however, to be seen still.

Of root-sellers there are, for six months of the year, about 500 in London. Of these, one-fifth devote themselves principally, but none entirely, to the sale of roots; two-fifths sell roots regularly, but only as a portion, and not a larger portion of their business; and the remaining two-fifths are casual dealers in roots, buying them—almost always in the markets—whenever a bargain offers. Seven-eighths of the root-sellers are, I am informed, regular costers, occasionally a gardener’s assistant has taken to the street trade in flowers, “but I fancy, sir,” said an experienced man to me, “they’ve very seldom done any good at it. They’re always gardening at their roots, trimming them, and such like, and they overdo it. They’re too careful of their plants; people like to trim them theirselves.”

“I did well on fuschias last season,” said one of my informants; “I sold them from 6d. to 1s. 6d. The ‘Globes’ went off well. Geraniums was very fair. The ‘Fairy Queens’ of them sold faster than any, I think. It’s the ladies out of town a little way, and a few in town, that buy them, and buy the fuschias too. They require a good window. The ‘Jenny Linds’—they was geraniums and[139] other plants—didn’t sell so well as the Fairy Queens, though they was cheaper. Good cloves (pinks) sell to the better sort of houses; so do carnations. Mignonette’s everybody’s money. Dahlias didn’t go off so well. I had very tidy dahlias at 6d. and 1s., and some 1s. 6d. I do a goodish bit in giving flowers for old clothes. I very seldom do it, but to ladies. I deal mostly with them for their husbands’ old hats, or boots, or shoes; yes, sir, and their trowsers and waistcoats sometimes—very seldom their coats—and ladies boots and shoes too. There’s one pleasant old lady, and her two daughters, they’ll talk me over any day. I very seldom indeed trade for ladies’ clothes. I have, though. Mostly for something in the shawl way, or wraps of some kind. Why, that lady I was telling you of and her daughters, got me to take togs that didn’t bring the prime cost of my roots and expenses. They called them by such fine names, that I was had. Then they was so polite; ‘O, my good man,’ says one of the young daughters, ‘I must have this geranium in ’change.’ It was a most big and beautiful Fairy Queen, well worth 4s. The tog—I didn’t know what they called it—a sort of cloak, fetched short of half-a-crown, and that just with cheaper togs. Some days, if it’s very hot, and the stall business isn’t good in very hot weather, my wife goes a round with me, and does considerable in swopping with ladies. They can’t do her as they can me. The same on wet days, if it’s not very wet, when I has my roots covered in the cart. Ladies is mostly at home such times, and perhaps they’re dull, and likes to go to work at a bargaining. My wife manages them. In good weeks, I can clear 3l. in my trade; the two of us can, anyhow. But then there’s bad weather, and there’s sometimes roots spoiled if they’re not cheap, and don’t go off—but I’ll sell one that cost me 1s. for 2d. to get rid of it; and there’s always the expenses to meet, and the pony to keep, and everything that way. No, sir, I don’t make 2l. a week for the five months—its nearer five than six—the season lasts; perhaps something near it. The rest of the year I sell fruit, or anything, and may clear 10s. or 15s. a week, but, some weeks, next to nothing, and the expenses all going on.

“Why, no, sir; I can’t say that times is what they was. Where I made 4l. on my roots five or six years back, I make only 3l. now. But it’s no use complaining; there’s lots worse off than I am—lots. I’ve given pennies and twopences to plenty that’s seen better days in the streets; it might be their own fault. It is so mostly, but perhaps only partly. I keep a connection together as well as I can. I have a stall; my wife’s there generally, and I go a round as well.”

One of the principal root-sellers in the streets told me that he not unfrequently sold ten dozen a day, over and above those sold not in pots. As my informant had a superior trade, his business is not to be taken as an average; but, reckoning that he averages six dozen a day for 20 weeks—he said 26—it shows that one man alone sells 8,640 flowers in pots in the season. The principal sellers carry on about the same extent of business.

According to similar returns, the number of the several kinds of flowers in pots and flower roots sold annually in the London streets, are as follows:

Total number of flowers in pots sold in the streets129,360
Pinks and Carnations19,200
Lilies of the Valley3,456
Musk Plants253,440
London Pride11,520
Michaelmas Daisies6,912
Total number of flower-roots sold in the streets750,588

Of the Street Sale of Seeds.

The street sale of seeds, I am informed, is smaller than it was thirty, or even twenty years back. One reason assigned for this falling off is the superior cheapness of “flowers in pots.” At one time, I was informed, the poorer classes who were fond of flowers liked to “grow their own mignonette.” I told one of my informants that I had been assured by a trustworthy man, that in one day he had sold 600 penny pots of mignonette: “Not a bit of doubt of it, sir,” was the answer, “not a doubt about it; I’ve heard of more than that sold in a day by a man who set on three hands to help him; and that’s just where it is. When a poor woman, or poor man either—but its mostly the women—can buy a mignonette pot, all blooming and smelling for 1d., why she won’t bother to buy seeds and set them in a box or a pot and wait for them to come into full blow. Selling seeds in the streets can’t be done so well now, sir. Anyhow[140] it ain’t done as it was, as I’ve often heard old folk say.” The reason assigned for this is that cottages in many parts—such places as Lisson-grove, Islington, Hoxton, Hackney, or Stepney—where the inhabitants formerly cultivated flowers in their little gardens, are now let out in single apartments, and the gardens—or yards as they mostly are now—were used merely to hang clothes in. The only green thing which remained in some of these gardens, I was told, was horse-radish, a root which it is difficult to extirpate: “And it’s just the sort of thing,” said one man, “that poor people hasn’t no great call for, because they, you see, a’n’t not overdone with joints of roast beef, nor rump steaks.” In the suburbs where the small gardens are planted with flowers, the cultivators rarely buy seeds of the street-sellers, whose stands are mostly at a distance.

None of the street seed-vendors confine themselves to the sale. One man, whom I saw, told me that last spring he was penniless, after sickness, and a nurseryman, whom he knew, trusted him 5s. worth of seeds, which he continued to sell, trading in nothing else, for three or four weeks, until he was able to buy some flowers in pots. Though the profit is cent. per cent. on most kinds, 1s. 6d. a day is accounted “good earnings, on seeds.” On wet days there is no sale, and, indeed, the seeds cannot be exposed in the streets. My informant computed that he cleared 5s. a week. His customers were principally poor women, who liked to sow mignonette in boxes, or in a garden-border, “if it had ever such a little bit of sun,” and who resided, he believed, in small, quiet streets, branching off from the thoroughfares. Of flower-seeds, the street-sellers dispose most largely of mignonette, nasturtium, and the various stocks; and of herbs, the most is done in parsley. One of my informants, however, “did best in grass-seeds,” which people bought, he said, “to mend their grass-plots with,” sowing them in any bare place, and throwing soil loosely over them. Lupin, larkspur, convolvulus, and Venus’s looking-glass had a fair sale.

The street-trade, in seeds, would be less than it is, were it not that the dealers sell it in smaller quantities than the better class of shop-keepers. The street-traders buy their seeds by the quarter of a pound—or any quantity not considered retail—of the nurserymen, who often write the names for the costers on the paper in which the seed has to be inclosed. Seed that costs 4d., the street-seller makes into eight penny lots. “Why, yes, sir,” said one man, in answer to my inquiry, “people is often afraid that our seeds ain’t honest. If they’re not, they’re mixed, or they’re bad, before they come into our hands. I don’t think any of our chaps does anything with them.”

Fourteen or fifteen years ago, although seeds, generally, were fifteen to twenty per cent. dearer than they are now, there was twice the demand for them. An average price of good mignonette seed, he said, was now 1s. the quarter of a pound, and it was then 1s. 2d. to 1s. 6d. The shilling’s worth, is made, by the street-seller, into twenty or twenty-four pennyworths. An average price of parsley, and of the cheaper seeds, is less than half that of mignonette. Other seeds, again, are not sold to the street-people by the weight, but are made up in sixpenny and shilling packages. Their extreme lightness prevents their being weighed to a customer. Of this class are, the African marigold, the senecios (groundsel), and the china-aster; but of these compound flowers, the street-traders sell very few. Poppy-seed used to be in great demand among the street-buyers, but it has ceased to be so. “It’s a fine hardy plant, too, sir,” I was told, “but somehow, for all its variety in colours, it’s gone out of fashion, for fashion runs strong in flowers.”

One long-established street-seller, who is well known to supply the best seeds, makes for the five weeks or so of the season more than twice the weekly average of 5s.; perhaps 12s.; but as he is a shop as well as a stall-keeper, he could not speak very precisely as to the proportionate sale in the street or the shop. This man laughed at the fondness some of his customers manifested for “fine Latin names.” “There are some people,” he said, “who will buy antirrhinum, and artemisia, and digitalis, and wouldn’t hear of snapdragon, or wormwood, or foxglove, though they’re the identical plants.” The same informant told me that the railways in their approaches to the metropolis had destroyed many small gardens, and had, he thought, injured his trade. It was, also, a common thing now for the greengrocers and corn-chandlers to sell garden-seeds, which until these six or eight years they did much less extensively.

Last spring, I was told, there were not more than four persons, in London, selling only seeds. The “root-sellers,” of whom I have treated, generally deal in seeds also, but the demand does not extend beyond four or five weeks in the spring, though there was “a straggling trade that way” two or three weeks longer. It was computed for me, that there were fully one hundred persons selling seeds (with other things) in the streets, and that each might average a profit of 5s. weekly, for a month; giving 200l. expended in seeds, with 100l. profit to the costers. Seeds are rarely hawked as flowers are.

It is impossible to give as minutely detailed an account of the street-sale of seeds as of flowers, as from their diversity in size, weight, quantity in a pennyworth, &c., no calculation can be prepared by weight or measure, only by value. Thus, I find it necessary to depart somewhat from the order hitherto observed. One seedsman, acquainted with the street-trade from his dealings with the vendors, was of opinion that the following list and proportions were as nice an approximation as could be arrived at. It was found necessary to give it in proportions of twenty-fifths; but it must be borne in mind that the quantity in 3/25ths of parsley, for exam[141]ple, is more than double that of 3/25ths of mignonette. I give, in unison, seeds of about equal sale, whether of the same botanical family or not. Many of the most popular flowers, such as polyanthuses, daisies, violets, and primroses, are not raised from seed, except in the nursery gardens:—

Stocks (of all kinds)Two16
Marigolds (do.)One8
Convolvulus (do.)   „8
Wallflower   „8
Scarlet-beans and Sweet-peas   „8
China-asters and Venus’ looking-glass   „8
Lupin and Larkspur   „8
Nasturtium   „8
Other Pot-herbsOne8
Mustard and Cress, Lettuce, and the other vegetablesTwo16
Other seedsSeven56
Total expended annually on street-seeds£200

Of Christmasing—Laurel, Ivy, Holly, and Mistletoe.

In London a large trade is carried on in “Christmasing,” or in the sale of holly and mistletoe, for Christmas sports and decorations. I have appended a table of the quantity of these “branches” sold, nearly 250,000, and of the money expended upon them in the streets. It must be borne in mind, to account for this expenditure for a brief season, that almost every housekeeper will expend something in “Christmasing;” from 2d. to 1s. 6d., and the poor buy a pennyworth, or a halfpennyworth each, and they are the coster’s customers. In some houses, which are let off in rooms, floors, or suites of apartments, and not to the poorest class, every room will have the cheery decoration of holly, its bright, and as if glazed leaves and red berries, reflecting the light from fire or candle. “Then, look,” said a gardener to me, “what’s spent on a Christmasing the churches! Why, now, properly to Christmas St. Paul’s, I say properly, mind, would take 50l. worth at least; aye, more, when I think of it, nearer 100l. I hope there’ll be no ‘No Popery’ nonsense against Christmasing this year. I’m always sorry when anything of that kind’s afloat, because it’s frequently a hindrance to business.” This was said three weeks before Christmas. In London there are upwards of 300,000 inhabited houses. The whole of the evergreen branches sold number 375,000.

Even the ordinary-sized inns, I was informed, displayed holly decorations, costing from 2s. to 10s.; while in the larger inns, where, perhaps, an assembly-room, a concert-room, or a club-room, had to be adorned, along with other apartments, 20s. worth of holly, &c., was a not uncommon outlay. “Well, then, consider,” said another informant, “the plum-puddings! Why, at least there’s a hundred thousand of ’em eaten, in London, through the Christmas and the month following. That’s nearly one pudding to every twenty of the population, is it, sir? Well, perhaps, that’s too much. But, then, there’s the great numbers eaten at public dinners and suppers; and there’s more plum-pudding clubs at the small grocers and public-houses than there used to be, so, say full a hundred thousand, flinging in any mince-pies that may be decorated with evergreens. Well, sir, every plum-pudding will have a sprig of holly in him. If it’s bought just for the occasion, it may cost 1d., to be really prime and nicely berried. If it’s part of a lot, why it won’t cost a halfpenny, so reckon it all at a halfpenny. What does that come to? Above 200l. Think of that, then, just for sprigging puddings!”

Mistletoe, I am informed, is in somewhat less demand than it was, though there might be no very perceptible difference. In many houses holly is now used instead of the true plant, for the ancient ceremonies and privileges observed “under the mistletoe bough.” The holly is not half the price of the mistletoe, which is one reason; for, though there is not any great disparity of price, wholesale, the holly, which costs 6d. retail, is more than the quantity of mistletoe retailed for 1s. The holly-tree may be grown in any hedge, and ivy may be reared against any wall; while the mistletoe is parasitical of the apple-tree, and, but not to half the extent, of the oak and other trees. It does not grow in the northern counties of England. The purchasers of the mistletoe are, for the most part, the wealthier classes, or, at any rate, I was told, “those who give parties.” It is bought, too, by the male servants in large establishments, and more would be so bought, “only so few of the great people, of the most fashionable squares and places, keep their Christmas in town.” Half-a-crown is a not uncommon price for a handsome mistletoe bough.

The costermongers buy about a half of the holly, &c., brought to the markets; it is also sold either direct to those requiring evergreens, or to green-grocers and fruiterers who have received orders for it from their customers, or who know it will be wanted. A shilling’s worth may be bought in the market, the bundles being divided. Mistletoe, the costers—those having regular customers in the suburbs—receive orders for. “Last December,” said a coster to me, “I remember a servant-girl, and she weren’t such a girl either, running after me in a regular flutter, to tell me the family had forgot to order 2s. worth of mistletoe of me, to be brought next day. Oh, yes, sir, if it’s ordered by, or delivered to, the servant-girls, they generally have a little giggling about it. If I’ve said: ‘What are you laughing at?’ they’ll mostly say: ‘Me! I’m not laughing.’”

The costermongers go into the neighbour[142]hood of London to procure the holly for street-sale. This is chiefly done, I was told, by those who were “cracked up,” and some of them laboured at it “days and days.” It is, however, a very uncertain trade, as they must generally trespass, and if they are caught trespassing, by the occupier of the land, or any of his servants, they are seldom “given in charge,” but their stock of evergreens is not unfrequently taken from them, “and that, sir, that’s the cuttingest of all.” They do not so freely venture upon the gathering of mistletoe, for to procure it they must trespass in orchards, which is somewhat dangerous work, and they are in constant apprehension of traps, spring-guns, and bull-dogs. Six or seven hundred men or lads, the lads being the most numerous, are thus employed for a week or two before Christmas, and, perhaps, half that number, irregularly at intervals, for a week or two after it. Some of the lads are not known as regular coster-lads, but they are habitués of the streets in some capacity. To procure as much holly one day, as will sell for 2s. 6d. the next, is accounted pretty good work, and 7s. 6d. would be thus realised in six days. But 5s. is more frequently the return of six days’ labour and sale, though a very few have cleared 10s., and one man, “with uncommon luck,” once cleared 20s. in six days. The distance travelled in a short winter’s day, is sometimes twenty miles, and, perhaps, the lad or man has not broken his fast, on some days, until the evening, or even the next morning, for had he possessed a few pence he would probably have invested it in oranges or nuts, for street-sale, rather than “go a-gathering Christmas.”

One strong-looking lad, of 16 or 17, gave me the following account:—

“It’s hard work, is Christmasing; but, when you have neither money nor work, you must do something, and so the holly may come in handy. I live with a elder brother; he helps the masons, and as we had neither of us either work or money, he cut off Tottenham and Edmonton way, and me the t’other side of the water, Mortlake way, as well as I know. We’d both been used to costering, off and on. I was out, I think, ten days altogether, and didn’t make 6s. in it. I’d been out two Christmases before. O, yes, I’d forgot. I made 6d. over the 6s., for I had half a pork-pie and a pint of beer, and the landlord took it out in holly. I meant to have made a quarter of pork do, but I was so hungry—and so would you, sir, if you’d been out a-Christmasing—that I had the t’other quarter. It’s 2d. a quarter. I did better when I was out afore, but I forget what I made. It’s often slow work, for you must wait sometimes ’till no one’s looking, and then you must work away like anything. I’d nothing but a sharp knife, I borrowed, and some bits of cord to tie the holly up. You must look out sharp, because, you see, sir, a man very likely won’t like his holly-tree to be stripped. Wherever there is a berry, we goes for the berries. They’re poison berries, I’ve heard. Moonlight nights is the thing, sir, when you knows where you are. I never goes for mizzletoe. I hardly knows it when I sees it. The first time I was out, a man got me to go for some in a orchard, and told me how to manage; but I cut my lucky in a minute. Something came over me like. I felt sickish. But what can a poor fellow do? I never lost my Christmas, but a little bit of it once. Two men took it from me, and said I ought to thank them for letting me off without a jolly good jacketing, as they was gardeners. I believes they was men out a-Christmasing, as I were. It was a dreadful cold time that; and I was wet, and hungry,—and thirsty, too, for all I was so wet,—and I’d to wait a-watching in the wet. I’ve got something better to do now, and I’ll never go a-Christmasing again, if I can help it.”

This lad contrived to get back to his lodging, in town, every night, but some of those out Christmasing, stay two or three days and nights in the country, sleeping in barns, out-houses, carts, or under hay-stacks, inclement as the weather may be, when their funds are insufficient to defray the charge of a bed, or a part of one, at a country “dossing-crib” (low lodging-house). They resorted, in considerable numbers, to the casual wards of the workhouses, in Croydon, Greenwich, Reigate, Dartford, &c., when that accommodation was afforded them, concealing their holly for the night.

As in other matters, it may be a surprise to some of my readers to learn in what way the evergreens, used on festive occasions in their homes, may have been procured.

The costermongers who procure their own Christmasing, generally hawk it. A few sell it by the lot to their more prosperous brethren. What the costers purchase in the market, they aim to sell at cent. per cent.

Supposing that 700 men and lads gathered their own holly, &c., and each worked for three weeks (not regarding interruptions), and calculating that, in the time they cleared even 15s. each, it amounts to 525l.

Some of the costermongers deck their carts and barrows, in the general line, with holly at Christmas. Some go out with their carts full of holly, for sale, and may be accompanied by a fiddler, or by a person beating a drum. The cry is, “Holly! Green Holly!”

One of my informants alluded incidentally to the decoration of the churches, and I may observe that they used to be far more profusely decked with Christmas evergreens than at present; so much so, that a lady correspondent in January, 1712, complained to “Mr. Spectator” that her church-going was bootless. She was constant at church, to hear divine service and make conquests; but the clerk had so overdone the greens in the church that, for three weeks, Miss Jenny Simper had not even seen the young baronet, whom she dressed at for divine worship, although he pursued his devotions only three pews from hers. The aisle was a pretty[143] shady walk, and each pew was an arbour. The pulpit was so clustered with holly and ivy that the congregation, like Moses, heard the word out of a bush. “Sir Anthony Love’s pew in particular,” concludes the indignant Miss Simper, “is so well hedged, that all my batteries have no effect. I am obliged to shoot at random among the boughs without taking any manner of aim. Mr. Spectator, unless you’ll give orders for removing these greens, I shall grow a very awkward creature at church, and soon have little else to do there but to say my prayers.” In a subsequent number, the clerk glorifies himself that he had checked the ogling of Miss Simper. He had heard how the Kentish men evaded the Conqueror by displaying green boughs before them, and so he bethought him of a like device against the love-warfare of this coquettish lady.

Of all the “branches” in the markets, the costers buy one-half. This season, holly has been cheaper than was ever known previously. In some years, its price was double that cited, in some treble, when the December was very frosty.

Of the Sale of May, Palm, etc.

The sale of the May, the fragrant flower of the hawthorn, a tree indigenous to this country—Wordsworth mentions one which must have been 800 years old—is carried on by the coster boys (principally), but only in a desultory way. The chief supply is brought to London in the carts or barrows of the costers returning from a country expedition. If the costermonger be accompanied by a lad—as he always is if the expedition be of any length—the lad will say to his master, “Bill, let’s have some May to take back.” The man will almost always consent, and often assist in procuring the thickly green branches with their white or rose-tinted, and freshly-smelling flowers. The odour of the hawthorn blossom is peculiar, and some eminent botanist—Dr. Withering if I remember rightly—says it may be best described as “fresh.” No flower, perhaps, is blended with more poetical, antiquarian, and beautiful associations than the ever-welcome blossom of the may-tree. One gardener told me that as the hawthorn was in perfection in June instead of May, the name was not proper. But it must be remembered that the name of the flower was given during the old style, which carried our present month of May twelve days into June, and the name would then be more appropriate.

The May is obtained by the costermongers in the same way as the holly, by cutting it from the trees in the hedges. It has sometimes to be cut or broken off stealthily, for persons may no more like their hawthorns to be stripped than their hollies, and an ingenuous lad—as will have been observed—told me of “people’s” objections to the unauthorized stripping of their holly-bushes. But there is not a quarter of the difficulty in procuring May that there is in procuring holly at Christmas.

The costermonger, if he has “done tidy” in the country will very probably leave the May at the disposal of his boy; but a few men, though perhaps little more than twenty, I was told, bring it on their own account. The lads then carry the branches about for sale; or if a considerable quantity has been brought, dispose of it to other boys or girls, or entrust them with the sale of it, at “half-profits,” or any terms agreed upon. Costermongers have been known to bring home “a load of May,” and this not unfrequently, at the request, and for the benefit of a “cracked-up” brother-trader, to whom it has been at once delivered gratuitously.

A lad, whom I met with as he was selling holly, told me that he had brought may from the country when he had been there with a coster. He had also gone out of town a few miles to gather it on his own account. “But it ain’t no good;” he said; “you must often go a good way—I never knows anything about how many miles—and if it’s very ripe (the word he used) it’s soon shaken. There’s no sure price. You may get 4d. for a big branch or you must take 1d. I may have made 1s. on a round but hardly ever more. It can’t be got near hand. There’s some stunning fine trees at the top of the park there (the Regent’s Park) the t’other side of the ’logical Gardens, but there’s always a cove looking after them, they say, and both night and day.”

Palm, the flower of any of the numerous species of the willow, is sold only on Palm Sunday, and the Saturday preceding. The trade is about equally in the hands of the English and Irish lads, but the English lads have a commercial advantage on the morning of Palm Sunday, when so many of the Irish lads are at chapel. The palm is all gathered by the street-vendors. One costermonger told me that when he was a lad, he had sold palm to a man who had managed to get half-drunk on a Sunday morning, and who told him that he wanted it to show his wife, who very seldom stirred out, that he’d been taking a healthful walk into the country!

Lilac in flower is sold (and procured) in the same way as May, but in small quantities. Very rarely indeed, laburnum; which is too fragile; or syringa, which, I am told, is hardly saleable in the streets. One informant remembered that forty years ago, when he was a boy, branches of elder-berry flowers were sold in the streets, but the trade has disappeared.

It is very difficult to form a calculation as to the extent of this trade. The best informed give me reason to believe that the sale of all these branches (apart from Christmas) ranges, according to circumstances, from 30l. to 50l., the cost being the labour of gathering, and the subsistence of the labourer while at the work. This is independent of what the costers buy in the markets.

I now show the quantity of branches forming the street trade:—


Ivy and Laurel26,640
Total number of bunches sold in the streets from market-sale150,768
Add to quantity from other sources75,000

The quantity of branches “from other sources” is that gathered by the costers in the way I have described; but it is impossible to obtain a return of it with proper precision: to state it as half of that purchased in the markets is a low average.

I now give the amount paid by street-buyers who indulge in the healthful and innocent tastes of which I have been treating—the fondness for the beautiful and the natural.

Bunches ofper bunch
65,280Violetsat ½d.£136
115,200Wallflowers„ ½d.240
86,400Mignonette„ 1d.360
1,632Lilies of the Valley„ ½d.3
20,448Stocks„ ½d.42
316,800Pinks and Carnations„ ½d.each660
864,000Moss Roses„ ½d.1,800
864,000China ditto„ ½d.1,800
296,640Lavender„ 1d.1,236
Total annually£6,277
per root
19,200Pinks and Carnations2d.160
3,456Lilies of the Valley1d.14
253,440Musk Plants1d.1,056
11,520London Pride1d.48
6,912Michaelmas Daisies½d.14
Total annually£2,877
Bunches ofper bunch
59,040Hollyat 3d.£738
56,160Mistletoe„ 3d.702
26,640Ivy and Laurel„ 3d.333
5,400Lilac„ 3d.67
1,008Palm„ 3d.12
2,520May„ 3d.31
Total annually from Markets£1,883
Add one-half as shown591
each root
9,576Firs (roots)at 3d.£119
1,152Laurels„ 3d.14
23,040Myrtles„ 4d.384
2,160Rhododendrons„ 9d.81
2,304Lilacs„ 4d.38
2,880Box„ 2d.24
21,888Heaths„ 4d.364
2,880Broom„ 1d.12
6,912Furze„ 1d.28
6,480Laurustinus„ 8d.216
25,920Southernwood„ 1d.108
Total annually spent£1,388
per pot
38,880Moss Rosesat 4d.£648
38,880China ditto„ 2d.324
38,800Fuschias„ 3d.485
12,850Geraniums and Pelargoniums (of all kinds)„ 3d.160
Total annually£1,617

The returns give the following aggregate amount of street expenditure:—

Trees and shrubs1,388
Cut Flowers6,277
Flowers in pots1,667
Flower roots2,867

From the returns we find that of “cut flowers” the roses retain their old English favouritism, no fewer than 1,628,000 being annually sold in the streets; but locality affects the sale, as some dealers dispose of more violets than roses, because violets are accounted less fragile. The cheapness and hardihood of the musk-plant and marigold, to say nothing of their peculiar odour, has made them the most popular of the “roots,” while the myrtle is the favourite among the “trees and shrubs.” The heaths, moreover, command an extensive sale,—a sale, I am told, which was unknown, until eight or ten years ago, another instance of the “fashion in flowers,” of which an informant has spoken.



Under this head I class the street-purveyors of water-cresses, and of the chickweed, groundsel, plantain, and turf required for cage-birds. These purveyors seem to be on the outskirts, as it were, of the costermonger class, and, indeed, the regular costers look down upon them as an inferior caste. The green-stuff trade is carried on by very poor persons, and, generally, by children or old people, some of the old people being lame, or suffering from some infirmity, which, however, does not prevent their walking about with their commodities. To the children and infirm class, however, the turf-cutters supply an exception. The costermongers, as I have intimated, do not resort, and do not let their children resort, to this traffic. If reduced to the last shift, they will sell nuts or oranges in preference. The “old hands” have been “reduced,” as a general rule, from other avocations. Their homes are in the localities I have specified as inhabited by the poor.

I was informed by a seller of birds, that he thought fewer birds were kept by poor working-people, and even by working-people who had regular, though, perhaps, diminished earnings, than was the case six or eight years ago. At one time, it was not uncommon for a young man to present his betrothed with a pair of singing-birds in a neat cage; now such a present, as far as my informant’s knowledge extended—and he was a sharp intelligent man—was but rarely made. One reason this man had often heard advanced for poor persons not renewing their birds, when lost or dead, is pitiful in its plainness—“they eat too much.” I do not know, that, in such a gift as I have mentioned, there was any intention on the part of the lover to typify the beauty of cheerfulness, even in a very close confinement to home. “I can’t tell, sir,” was said to me, “how it may have been originally, but I never heard such a thing said much about, though there’s been joking about the matter, as when would the birds have young ones, and such like. No, sir; I think it was just a fashion.” Contrary to the custom in more prosperous establishments, I am satisfied, that, among the labouring classes, birds are more frequently the pets of the men than of the women. My bird-dealing informant cited merely his own experience, but there is no doubt that cage-birds are more extensively kept than ever in London; consequently there is a greater demand for the “green stuff” the birds require.

Of Watercress-selling, in Farringdon-market.

The first coster-cry heard of a morning in the London streets is that of “Fresh wo-orter-creases.” Those that sell them have to be on their rounds in time for the mechanics’ breakfast, or the day’s gains are lost. As the stock-money for this calling need only consist of a few halfpence, it is followed by the very poorest of the poor; such as young children, who have been deserted by their parents, and whose strength is not equal to any very great labour, or by old men and women, crippled by disease or accident, who in their dread of a workhouse life, linger on with the few pence they earn by street-selling.

As winter draws near, the Farringdon cress-market begins long before daylight. On your way to the City to see this strange sight, the streets are deserted; in the squares the blinds are drawn down before the windows, and the shutters closed, so that the very houses seem asleep. All is so silent that you can hear the rattle of the milkmaids’ cans in the neighbouring streets, or the noisy song of three or four drunken voices breaks suddenly upon you, as if the singers had turned a corner, and then dies away in the distance. On the cab-stands, but one or two crazy cabs are left, the horses dozing with their heads down to their knees, and the drawn-up windows covered with the breath of the driver sleeping inside. At the corners of the streets, the bright fires of the coffee-stalls sparkle in the darkness, and as you walk along, the policeman, leaning against some gas-lamp, turns his lantern full upon you, as if in suspicion that one who walks abroad so early could mean no good to householders. At one house there stands a man, with dirty boots and loose hair, as if he had just left some saloon, giving sharp single knocks, and then going into the road and looking up at the bed-rooms, to see if a light appeared in them. As you near the City, you meet, if it be a Monday or Friday morning, droves of sheep and bullocks, tramping quietly along to Smithfield, and carrying a fog of steam with them, while behind, with his hands in his pockets, and his dog panting at his heels, walks the sheep-drover.

At the principal entrance to Farringdon-market there is an open space, running the entire length of the railings in front, and extending from the iron gates at the entrance to the sheds down the centre of the large paved court before the shops. In this open space the cresses are sold, by the salesmen or saleswomen to whom they are consigned, in the hampers they are brought in from the country.

The shops in the market are shut, the gaslights over the iron gates burn brightly, and every now and then you hear the half-smothered crowing of a cock, shut up in some shed or bird-fancier’s shop. Presently a man comes hurrying along, with a can of hot coffee in each hand, and his stall on his head, and when he has arranged his stand by the gates, and placed his white mugs between the railings on the stone wall, he blows at his charcoal fire, making the bright sparks fly about at every puff he gives. By degrees the customers are creeping up, dressed[146] in every style of rags; they shuffle up and down before the gates, stamping to warm their feet, and rubbing their hands together till they grate like sandpaper. Some of the boys have brought large hand-baskets, and carry them with the handles round their necks, covering the head entirely with the wicker-work as with a hood; others have their shallows fastened to their backs with a strap, and one little girl, with the bottom of her gown tattered into a fringe like a blacksmith’s apron, stands shivering in a large pair of worn-out Vestris boots, holding in her blue hands a bent and rusty tea-tray. A few poor creatures have made friends with the coffee-man, and are allowed to warm their fingers at the fire under the cans, and as the heat strikes into them, they grow sleepy and yawn.

The market—by the time we reach it—has just begun; one dealer has taken his seat, and sits motionless with cold—for it wants but a month to Christmas—with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his gray driving coat. Before him is an opened hamper, with a candle fixed in the centre of the bright green cresses, and as it shines through the wicker sides of the basket, it casts curious patterns on the ground—as a night shade does. Two or three customers, with their “shallows” slung over their backs, and their hands poked into the bosoms of their gowns, are bending over the hamper, the light from which tinges their swarthy features, and they rattle their halfpence and speak coaxingly to the dealer, to hurry him in their bargains.

Just as the church clocks are striking five, a stout saleswoman enters the gates, and instantly a country-looking fellow, in a wagoner’s cap and smock-frock, arranges the baskets he has brought up to London. The other ladies are soon at their posts, well wrapped up in warm cloaks, over their thick shawls, and sit with their hands under their aprons, talking to the loungers, whom they call by their names. Now the business commences; the customers come in by twos and threes, and walk about, looking at the cresses, and listening to the prices asked. Every hamper is surrounded by a black crowd, bending over till their heads nearly meet, their foreheads and cheeks lighted up by the candle in the centre. The saleswomen’s voices are heard above the noise of the mob, sharply answering all objections that may be made to the quality of their goods. “They’re rather spotty, mum,” says an Irishman, as he examines one of the leaves. “No more spots than a newborn babe, Dennis,” answers the lady tartly, and then turns to a new comer. At one basket, a street-seller in an old green cloak, has spread out a rusty shawl to receive her bunches, and by her stands her daughter, in a thin cotton dress, patched like a quilt. “Ah! Mrs. Dolland,” cried the saleswoman in a gracious tone, “can you keep yourself warm? it bites the fingers like biling water, it do.” At another basket, an old man, with long gray hair streaming over a kind of policeman’s cape, is bitterly complaining of the way he has been treated by another saleswoman. “He bought a lot of her, the other morning, and by daylight they were quite white; for he only made threepence on his best day.” “Well, Joe,” returns the lady, “you should come to them as knows you, and allers treats you well.”

These saleswomen often call to each other from one end of the market to the other. If any quarrel take place at one of the hampers, as frequently it does, the next neighbour is sure to say something. “Pinch him well, Sally,” cried one saleswoman to another; “pinch him well; I do when I’ve a chance.” “It’s no use,” was the answer; “I might as well try to pinch a elephant.”

One old wrinkled woman, carrying a basket with an oilcloth bottom, was asked by a buxom rosy dealer, “Now, Nancy, what’s for you?” But the old dame was surly with the cold, and sneering at the beauty of the saleswoman, answered, “Why don’t you go and get a sweetheart; sich as you aint fit for sich as we.” This caused angry words, and Nancy was solemnly requested “to draw it mild, like a good soul.”

As the morning twilight came on, the paved court was crowded with purchasers. The sheds and shops at the end of the market grew every moment more distinct, and a railway-van, laden with carrots, came rumbling into the yard. The pigeons, too, began to fly on to the sheds, or walk about the paving-stones, and the gas-man came round with his ladder to turn out the lamps. Then every one was pushing about; the children crying, as their naked feet were trodden upon, and the women hurrying off, with their baskets or shawls filled with cresses, and the bunch of rushes in their hands. In one corner of the market, busily tying up their bunches, were three or four girls seated on the stones, with their legs curled up under them, and the ground near them was green with the leaves they had thrown away. A saleswoman, seeing me looking at the group, said to me, “Ah! you should come here of a summer’s morning, and then you’d see ’em, sitting tying up, young and old, upwards of a hundred poor things as thick as crows in a ploughed field.”


“Chick-weed and Grun-sell!”

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

As it grew late, and the crowd had thinned; none but the very poorest of the cress-sellers were left. Many of these had come without money, others had their halfpence tied up carefully in their shawl-ends, as though they dreaded the loss. A sickly-looking boy, of about five, whose head just reached above the hampers, now crept forward, treading with his blue naked feet over the cold stones as a cat does over wet ground. At his elbows and knees, his skin showed in gashes through the rents in his clothes, and he looked so frozen, that the buxom saleswoman called to him, asking if his mother had gone home. The boy knew her well, for without answering her question, he went up to her, and, as he stood shivering on one foot, said, “Give us a few old cresses, Jinney,” and in a few minutes was running off with a green bundle under his arm. All of the saleswomen [149] seemed to be of kindly natures, for at another stall an old dame, whose rags seemed to be beyond credit, was paying for some cresses she had long since been trusted with, and excusing herself for the time that had passed since the transaction. As I felt curious on the point of the honesty of the poor, I asked the saleswoman when she was alone, whether they lost much by giving credit. “It couldn’t be much,” she answered, “if they all of them decamped.” But they were generally honest, and paid back, often reminding her of credit given that she herself had forgotten. Whenever she lost anything, it was by the very very poor ones; “though it aint their fault, poor things,” she added in a kindly tone, “for when they keeps away from here, it’s either the workhouse or the churchyard as stops them.”

As you walk home—although the apprentice is knocking at the master’s door—the little water-cress girls are crying their goods in every street. Some of them are gathered round the pumps, washing the leaves and piling up the bunches in their baskets, that are tattered and worn as their own clothing; in some of the shallows the holes at the bottom have been laced up or darned together with rope and string, or twigs and split laths have been fastened across; whilst others are lined with oilcloth, or old pieces of sheet-tin. Even by the time the cress-market is over, it is yet so early that the maids are beating the mats in the road, and mechanics, with their tool-baskets swung over their shoulders, are still hurrying to their work. To visit Farringdon-market early on a Monday morning, is the only proper way to judge of the fortitude and courage and perseverance of the poor. As Douglas Jerrold has beautifully said, “there is goodness, like wild honey, hived in strange nooks and corners of the earth.” These poor cress-sellers belong to a class so poor that their extreme want alone would almost be an excuse for theft, and they can be trusted paying the few pence they owe even though they hunger for it. It must require no little energy of conscience on the part of the lads to make them resist the temptations around them, and refuse the luring advice of the young thieves they meet at the low lodging-house. And yet they prefer the early rising—the walk to market with naked feet along the cold stones—the pinched meal—and the day’s hard labour to earn the few halfpence—to the thief’s comparatively easy life. The heroism of the unknown poor is a thing to set even the dullest marvelling, and in no place in all London is the virtue of the humblest—both young and old—so conspicuous as among the watercress-buyers at Farringdon-market.

Of the Street-sellers of Water-cress.

The dealers in water-cresses are generally very old or very young people, and it is a trade greatly in the hands of women. The cause of this is, that the children are sent out by their parents “to get a loaf of bread somehow” (to use the words of an old man in the trade), and the very old take to it because they are unable to do hard labour, and they strive to keep away from the workhouse—(“I’d do anything before I’d go there—sweep the crossings, or anything: but I should have had to have gone to the house before, if it hadn’t been for my wife. I’m sixty-two,” said one who had been sixteen years at the trade). The old people are both men and women. The men have been sometimes one thing, and sometimes another. “I’ve been a porter myself,” said one, “jobbing about in the markets, or wherever I could get a job to do. Then there’s one old man goes about selling water-cresses who’s been a seafaring man; he’s very old, he is—older than what I am, sir. Many a one has been a good mechanic in his younger days, only he’s got too old for labour. The old women have, many of them, been laundresses, only they can’t now do the work, you see, and so they’re glad to pick up a crust anyhow. Nelly, I know, has lost her husband, and she hasn’t nothing else but her few creases to keep her. She’s as good, honest, hard-working a creature as ever were, for what she can do—poor old soul! The young people are, most of them, girls. There are some boys, but girls are generally put to it by the poor people. There’s Mary Macdonald, she’s about fourteen. Her father is a bricklayer’s labourer. He’s an Englishman, and he sends little Mary out to get a halfpenny or two. He gets sometimes a couple of days’ work in the week. He don’t get more now, I’m sure, and he’s got three children to keep out of that; so all on ’em that can work are obligated to do something. The other two children are so small they can’t do nothing yet. Then there’s Louisa; she’s about twelve, and she goes about with creases like I do. I don’t think she’s got ne’er a father. I know she’s a mother alive, and she sells creases like her daughter. The mother’s about fifty odd, I dare say. The sellers generally go about with an arm-basket, like a greengrocer’s at their side, or a ‘shallow’ in front of them; and plenty of them carry a small tin tray before them, slung round their neck. Ah! it would make your heart ache if you was to go to Farringdon-market early, this cold weather, and see the poor little things there without shoes and stockings, and their feet quite blue with the cold—oh, that they are, and many on ’em don’t know how to set one foot before the t’other, poor things. You would say they wanted something give to ’em.”

The small tin tray is generally carried by the young children. The cresses are mostly bought in Farringdon-market: “The usual time to go to the market is between five and six in the morning, and from that to seven,” said one informant; “myself, I am generally down in the market by five. I was there this morning at five, and bitter cold it was, I give you my word. We poor old people feel it dreadful. Years ago I didn’t mind cold, but I feel it now cruel bad, to be sure. Sometimes, when I’m turning up my[150] things, I don’t hardly know whether I’ve got ’em in my hands or not; can’t even pick off a dead leaf. But that’s nothing to the poor little things without shoes. Why, bless you, I’ve seen ’em stand and cry two and three together, with the cold. Ah! my heart has ached for ’em over and over again. I’ve said to ’em, I wonder why your mother sends you out, that I have; and they said they was obligated to try and get a penny for breakfast. We buy the water-cresses by the ‘hand.’ One hand will make about five halfpenny bundles. There’s more call for ’em in the spring of the year than what there is in the winter. Why, they’re reckoned good for sweetening the blood in the spring; but, for my own eating, I’d sooner have the crease in the winter than I would have it in the spring of the year. There’s an old woman sits in Farringdon-market, of the name of Burrows, that’s sot there twenty-four years, and she’s been selling out creases to us all that time.

“The sellers goes to market with a few pence. I myself goes down there and lays out sometimes my 4d.; that’s what I laid out this morning. Sometimes I lay out only 2d. and 3d., according as how I has the halfpence in my pocket. Many a one goes down to the market with only three halfpence, and glad to have that to get a halfpenny, or anything, so as to earn a mouthful of bread—a bellyful that they can’t get no how. Ah, many a time I walked through the streets, and picked a piece of bread that the servants chucked out of the door—may be to the birds. I’ve gone and picked it up when I’ve been right hungry. Thinks I, I can eat that as well as the birds. None of the sellers ever goes down to the market with less than a penny. They won’t make less than a pennorth, that’s one ‘hand,’ and if the little thing sells that, she won’t earn more than three halfpence out of it. After they have bought the creases they generally take them to the pump to wet them. I generally pump upon mine in Hatton-garden. It’s done to make them look nice and fresh all the morning, so that the wind shouldn’t make them flag. You see they’ve been packed all night in the hamper, and they get dry. Some ties them up in ha’porths as they walks along. Many of them sit down on the steps of St. Andrew’s Church and make them up into bunches. You’ll see plenty of them there of a morning between five and six. Plenty, poor little dear souls, sitting there,” said the old man to me. There the hand is parcelled out into five halfpenny bunches. In the summer the dealers often go to market and lay out as much as 1s. “On Saturday morning, this time of year, I buys as many as nine hands—there’s more call for ’em on Saturday and Sunday morning than on any other days; and we always has to buy on Saturdays what we want for Sundays—there an’t no market on that day, sir. At the market sufficient creases are bought by the sellers for the morning and afternoon as well. In the morning some begin crying their creases through the streets at half-past six, and others about seven. They go to different parts, but there is scarcely a place but what some goes to—there are so many of us now—there’s twenty to one to what there used to be. Why, they’re so thick down at the market in the summer time, that you might bowl balls along their heads, and all a fighting for the creases. There’s a regular scramble, I can assure you, to get at ’em, so as to make a halfpenny out of them. I should think in the spring mornings there’s 400 or 500 on ’em down at Farringdon-market all at one time—between four and five in the morning—if not more than that, and as fast as they keep going out, others keep coming in. I think there is more than a thousand, young and old, about the streets in the trade. The working classes are the principal of the customers. The bricklayers, and carpenters, and smiths, and plumbers, leaving work and going home to breakfast at eight o’clock, purchase the chief part of them. A great many are sold down the courts and mews, and bye streets, and very few are got rid of in the squares and the neighbourhood of the more respectable houses. Many are sold in the principal thoroughfares—a large number in the City. There is a man who stands close to the Post-office, at the top of Newgate-street, winter and summer, who sells a great quantity of bunches every morning. This man frequently takes between 4s. and 5s. of a winter’s morning, and about 10s. a day in the summer.” “Sixteen years ago,” said the old man who gave me the principal part of this information, “I could come out and take my 18s. of a Saturday morning, and 5s. on a Sunday morning as well; but now I think myself very lucky if I can take my 1s. 3d., and it’s only on two mornings in the week that I can get that.” The hucksters of watercresses are generally an honest, industrious, striving class of persons. The young girls are said to be well-behaved, and to be the daughters of poor struggling people. The old men and women are persons striving to save themselves from the workhouse. The old and young people generally travel nine and ten miles in the course of the day. They start off to market at four and five, and are out on their morning rounds from seven till nine, and on their afternoon rounds from half-past two to five in the evening. They travel at the rate of two miles an hour. “If it wasn’t for my wife, I must go to the workhouse outright,” said the old watercress man. “Ah, I do’nt know what I should do without her, I can assure you. She earns about 1s. 3d. a day. She takes in a little washing, and keeps a mangle. When I’m at home I turn the mangle for her. The mangle is my own. When my wife’s mother was alive she lent us the money to buy it, and as we earnt the money we paid her back so much a week. It is that what has kept us together, or else we shouldn’t have been as we are. The mangle we give 50s. for, and it brings us in now 1s. 3d. a day with the washing. My wife is[151] younger than I am. She is about thirty-five years old. We have got two children. One is thirteen and the other fifteen. They’ve both got learning, and are both in situations. I always sent ’em to school. Though I can’t neither read nor write myself, I wished to make them some little scholards. I paid a penny a week for ’em at the school. Lady M—— has always given me my Christmas dinner for the last five years, and God bless her for it—that I do say indeed.”

Watercress Girl.

The little watercress girl who gave me the following statement, although only eight years of age, had entirely lost all childish ways, and was, indeed, in thoughts and manner, a woman. There was something cruelly pathetic in hearing this infant, so young that her features had scarcely formed themselves, talking of the bitterest struggles of life, with the calm earnestness of one who had endured them all. I did not know how to talk with her. At first I treated her as a child, speaking on childish subjects; so that I might, by being familiar with her, remove all shyness, and get her to narrate her life freely. I asked her about her toys and her games with her companions; but the look of amazement that answered me soon put an end to any attempt at fun on my part. I then talked to her about the parks, and whether she ever went to them. “The parks!” she replied in wonder, “where are they?” I explained to her, telling her that they were large open places with green grass and tall trees, where beautiful carriages drove about, and people walked for pleasure, and children played. Her eyes brightened up a little as I spoke; and she asked, half doubtingly, “Would they let such as me go there—just to look?” All her knowledge seemed to begin and end with water-cresses, and what they fetched. She knew no more of London than that part she had seen on her rounds, and believed that no quarter of the town was handsomer or pleasanter than it was at Farringdon-market or at Clerkenwell, where she lived. Her little face, pale and thin with privation, was wrinkled where the dimples ought to have been, and she would sigh frequently. When some hot dinner was offered to her, she would not touch it, because, if she eat too much, “it made her sick,” she said; “and she wasn’t used to meat, only on a Sunday.”

The poor child, although the weather was severe, was dressed in a thin cotton gown, with a threadbare shawl wrapped round her shoulders. She wore no covering to her head, and the long rusty hair stood out in all directions. When she walked she shuffled along, for fear that the large carpet slippers that served her for shoes should slip off her feet.

“I go about the streets with water-creases, crying, ‘Four bunches a penny, water-creases.’ I am just eight years old—that’s all, and I’ve a big sister, and a brother and a sister younger than I am. On and off, I’ve been very near a twelvemonth in the streets. Before that, I had to take care of a baby for my aunt. No, it wasn’t heavy—it was only two months old; but I minded it for ever such a time—till it could walk. It was a very nice little baby, not a very pretty one; but, if I touched it under the chin, it would laugh. Before I had the baby, I used to help mother, who was in the fur trade; and, if there was any slits in the fur, I’d sew them up. My mother learned me to needle-work and to knit when I was about five. I used to go to school, too; but I wasn’t there long. I’ve forgot all about it now, it’s such a time ago; and mother took me away because the master whacked me, though the missus use’n’t to never touch me. I didn’t like him at all. What do you think? he hit me three times, ever so hard, across the face with his cane, and made me go dancing down stairs; and when mother saw the marks on my cheek, she went to blow him up, but she couldn’t see him—he was afraid. That’s why I left school.

“The creases is so bad now, that I haven’t been out with ’em for three days. They’re so cold, people won’t buy ’em; for when I goes up to them, they say, ‘They’ll freeze our bellies.’ Besides, in the market, they won’t sell a ha’penny handful now—they’re ris to a penny and tuppence. In summer there’s lots, and ’most as cheap as dirt; but I have to be down at Farringdon-market between four and five, or else I can’t get any creases, because everyone almost—especially the Irish—is selling them, and they’re picked up so quick. Some of the saleswomen—we never calls ’em ladies—is very kind to us children, and some of them altogether spiteful. The good one will give you a bunch for nothing, when they’re cheap; but the others, cruel ones, if you try to bate them a farden less than they ask you, will say, ‘Go along with you, you’re no good.’ I used to go down to market along with another girl, as must be about fourteen, ’cos she does her back hair up. When we’ve bought a lot, we sits down on a door-step, and ties up the bunches. We never goes home to breakfast till we’ve sold out; but, if it’s very late, then I buys a penn’orth of pudden, which is very nice with gravy. I don’t know hardly one of the people, as goes to Farringdon, to talk to; they never speaks to me, so I don’t speak to them. We children never play down there, ’cos we’re thinking of our living. No; people never pities me in the street—excepting one gentleman, and he says, says he, ‘What do you do out so soon in the morning?’ but he gave me nothink—he only walked away.

“It’s very cold before winter comes on reg’lar—specially getting up of a morning. I gets up in the dark by the light of the lamp in the court. When the snow is on the ground, there’s no creases. I bears the cold—you must; so I puts my hands under my shawl, though it hurts ’em to take hold of the creases, especially when we takes ’em to the pump to wash ’em. No; I never see any children crying—it’s no use.

“Sometimes I make a great deal of money.[152] One day I took 1s. 6d., and the creases cost 6d.; but it isn’t often I get such luck as that. I oftener makes 3d. or 4d. than 1s.; and then I’m at work, crying, ‘Creases, four bunches a penny, creases!’ from six in the morning to about ten. What do you mean by mechanics?—I don’t know what they are. The shops buys most of me. Some of ’em says, ‘Oh! I ain’t a-goin’ to give a penny for these;’ and they want ’em at the same price as I buys ’em at.

“I always give mother my money, she’s so very good to me. She don’t often beat me; but, when she do, she don’t play with me. She’s very poor, and goes out cleaning rooms sometimes, now she don’t work at the fur. I ain’t got no father, he’s a father-in-law. No; mother ain’t married again—he’s a father-in-law. He grinds scissors, and he’s very good to me. No; I dont mean by that that he says kind things to me, for he never hardly speaks. When I gets home, after selling creases, I stops at home. I puts the room to rights: mother don’t make me do it, I does it myself. I cleans the chairs, though there’s only two to clean. I takes a tub and scrubbing-brush and flannel, and scrubs the floor—that’s what I do three or four times a week.

“I don’t have no dinner. Mother gives me two slices of bread-and-butter and a cup of tea for breakfast, and then I go till tea, and has the same. We has meat of a Sunday, and, of course, I should like to have it every day. Mother has just the same to eat as we has, but she takes more tea—three cups, sometimes. No; I never has no sweet-stuff; I never buy none—I don’t like it. Sometimes we has a game of ‘honey-pots’ with the girls in the court, but not often. Me and Carry H—— carries the little ’uns. We plays, too, at ‘kiss-in-the-ring.’ I knows a good many games, but I don’t play at ’em, ’cos going out with creases tires me. On a Friday night, too, I goes to a Jew’s house till eleven o’clock on Saturday night. All I has to do is to snuff the candles and poke the fire. You see they keep their Sabbath then, and they won’t touch anything; so they gives me my wittals and 1½d., and I does it for ’em. I have a reg’lar good lot to eat. Supper of Friday night, and tea after that, and fried fish of a Saturday morning, and meat for dinner, and tea, and supper, and I like it very well.

“Oh, yes; I’ve got some toys at home. I’ve a fire-place, and a box of toys, and a knife and fork, and two little chairs. The Jews gave ’em to me where I go to on a Friday, and that’s why I said they was very kind to me. I never had no doll; but I misses little sister—she’s only two years old. We don’t sleep in the same room; for father and mother sleeps with little sister in the one pair, and me and brother and other sister sleeps in the top room. I always goes to bed at seven, ’cos I has to be up so early.

“I am a capital hand at bargaining—but only at buying watercreases. They can’t take me in. If the woman tries to give me a small handful of creases, I says, ‘I ain’t a goin’ to have that for a ha’porth,’ and I go to the next basket, and so on, all round. I know the quantities very well. For a penny I ought to have a full market hand, or as much as I could carry in my arms at one time, without spilling. For 3d. I has a lap full, enough to earn about a shilling; and for 6d. I gets as many as crams my basket. I can’t read or write, but I knows how many pennies goes to a shilling, why, twelve, of course, but I don’t know how many ha’pence there is, though there’s two to a penny. When I’ve bought 3d. of creases, I ties ’em up into as many little bundles as I can. They must look biggish, or the people won’t buy them, some puffs them out as much as they’ll go. All my money I earns I puts in a club and draws it out to buy clothes with. It’s better than spending it in sweet-stuff, for them as has a living to earn. Besides it’s like a child to care for sugar-sticks, and not like one who’s got a living and vittals to earn. I aint a child, and I shan’t be a woman till I’m twenty, but I’m past eight, I am. I don’t know nothing about what I earns during the year, I only know how many pennies goes to a shilling, and two ha’pence goes to a penny, and four fardens goes to a penny. I knows, too, how many fardens goes to tuppence—eight. That’s as much as I wants to know for the markets.”

The market returns I have obtained show the following result of the quantity vended in the streets, and of the receipts by the cress-sellers:—

A Table Showing the Quantity of Watercresses Sold Wholesale throughout the Year in London, with the Proportion Retailed in the Streets.

Market.Quantity sold wholesale.Proportion retailed in the Streets.
Covent Garden1,578,000 bunchesone-eighth.
Farringdon12,960,000       „      one-half.
Borough180,000       „      one-half.
Spitalfields180,000       „      one-half.
Portman60,000       „      one-third.
Total14,958,000       „     

From this sale the street cress-sellers receive:—

Farringdon6,480,000½d. per bunch£13,500
Covent Garden16,45034

The discrepancy in the quantity sold in the respective markets is to be accounted for by the fact, that Farringdon is the water-cress market to which are conveyed the qualities, large-[153]leaved and big-stalked, that suit the street-folk. Of this description of cress they purchase one-half of all that is sold in Farringdon; of the finer, and smaller, and brown-leaved cress sold there, they purchase hardly any. At Covent Garden only the finer sorts of cress are in demand, and, consequently, the itinerants buy only an eighth in that market, and they are not encouraged there. They purchase half the quantity in the Borough, and the same in Spitalfields, and a third at Portman. I have before mentioned that 500 might be taken as the number supported by the sale of “creases;” that is, 500 families, or at least 1,000 individuals. The total amount received is nearly 14,000l., and this apportioned among 1,000 street-sellers, gives a weekly receipt of 5s. 5d., with a profit of 3s. 3d. per individual.

The discrepancy is further accounted for because the other market salesmen buy cresses at Farringdon; but I have given under the head of Farringdon all that is sold to those other markets to be disposed to the street-sellers, and the returns from the other markets are of the cresses carried direct there, apart from any purchases at Farringdon.

Of Groundsel and Chickweed Sellers.

On a former occasion (in the Morning Chronicle) I mentioned that I received a letter informing me that a woman, residing in one of the courts about Saffron-hill, was making braces, and receiving only 1s. for four dozen of them. I was assured she was a most deserving character, strictly sober, and not receiving parochial relief. “Her husband,” my informant added, “was paralysed, and endeavoured to assist his family by gathering green food for birds. They are in deep distress, but their character is irreproachable.” I found the couple located up a court, the entrance to which was about as narrow as the opening to a sentry-box, and on each side lolled groups of labourers and costermongers, with short black pipes in their mouths. As I dived into the court, a crowd followed me to see whither I was going. The brace-maker lived on the first floor of a crazy, fœtid house. I ascended the stairs, and the banisters, from which the rails had all been purloined, gave way in my hands. I found the woman, man, and their family busy at their tea-dinner. In a large broken chair, beside the fire-place, was the old paralysed man, dressed in a ragged greasy fustian coat, his beard unshorn, and his hair in the wildest disorder. On the edge of the bed sat a cleanly looking woman, his wife, with a black apron on. Standing by the table was a blue-eyed laughing and shoeless boy, with an old camlet cape pinned over his shoulders. Next him was a girl in a long grey pinafore, with her hair cut close to her head, with the exception of a few locks in front, which hung down over her forehead like a dirty fringe. On a chair near the window stood a basket half full of chickweed and groundsel, and two large cabbages. There was a stuffed linnet on the mantel-piece and an empty cage hanging outside the window. In front of the window-sill was the small imitation of a gate and palings, so popular among the workpeople. On the table were a loaf, a few mugs of milkless tea and a small piece of butter in a saucer. I had scarcely entered when the mother began to remove the camlet cape from the boy’s shoulders, and to slip a coarse clean pinafore over his head instead. At present I have only to deal with the trade of the husband, who made the following statement:

“I sell chickweed and grunsell, and turfs for larks. That’s all I sell, unless it’s a few nettles that’s ordered. I believe they’re for tea, sir. I gets the chickweed at Chalk Farm. I pay nothing for it. I gets it out of the public fields. Every morning about seven I goes for it. The grunsell a gentleman gives me leave to get out of his garden: that’s down Battle-bridge way, in the Chalk-road, leading to Holloway. I gets there every morning about nine. I goes there straight. After I have got my chickweed, I generally gathers enough of each to make up a dozen halfpenny bunches. The turfs I buys. A young man calls here with them. I pay 2d. a dozen for ’em to him. He gets them himself. Sometimes he cuts ’em at Kilburn Wells; and Notting-hill he goes to sometimes, I believe. He hires a spring barrow, weekly, to take them about. He pays 4d. a day, I believe, for the barrow. He sells the turfs to the bird-shops, and to such as me. He sells a few to some private places. I gets the nettles at Highgate. I don’t do much in the nettle line—there ain’t much call for it. After I’ve gathered my things I puts them in my basket, and slings ’em at my back, and starts round London. Low Marrabun I goes to always of a Saturday and Wednesday. I goes to St. Pancras on a Tuesday. I visit Clerkenwell, and Russell-square, and round about there, on a Monday. I goes down about Covent-garden and the Strand on a Thursday. I does High Marrabun on a Friday, because I aint able to do so much on that day, for I gathers my stuff on the Friday for Saturday. I find Low Marrabun the best of my beats. I cry ‘chickweed and grunsell’ as I goes along. I don’t say ‘for young singing birds.’ It is usual, I know, but I never did. I’ve been at the business about eighteen year. I’m out in usual till about five in the evening. I never stop to eat. I’m walking all the time. I has my breakfast afore I starts, and my tea when I comes home.” Here the woman shivered. I turned round and found the fire was quite out. I asked them whether they usually sat without one. The answer was, “We most generally raise a pennyworth, some how, just to boil the kettle with.” I inquired whether she was cold, and she assured me she wasn’t. “It was the blood,” she said, “that ran through her like ice sometimes.” “I am a walking ten hours every day—wet or dry,” the man continued. “I don’t stand nice much about that. I can’t go much above one mile[154] and a half an hour, owing to my right side being paralysed. My leg and foot and all is quite dead. I goes with a stick.” [The wife brought the stick out from a corner of the room to show me. It was an old peculiarly carved one, with a bird rudely cut out of wood for the handle, and a snake twisting itself up the stick.] “I walk fifteen miles every day of my life, that I do—quite that—excepting Sunday, in course. I generally sell the chickweed and grunsell and turfs, all to the houses, not to the shops. The young man as cut the turf gathers grunsell as well for the shops. They’re tradespeople and gentlefolks’ houses together that I sells to—such as keeps canaries, or goldfinches, or linnets. I charge ½d. a bunch for chickweed and grunsell together. It’s the regular charge. The nettles is ordered in certain quantities; I don’t get them unless they’re ordered: I sells these in three-pennn’orths at a time. Why, Saturday is my best day, and that’s the reason why I can’t spare time to gather on that day. On Saturday I dare say I gets rid on two dozen bunches of chickweed and grunsell. On the other days, sometimes, I goes out and don’t sell above five or six bunches; at other times I get rid on a dozen; that I call a tidy day’s work for any other day but a Saturday, and some days I don’t sell as much as a couple of bunches in the whole day. Wednesday is my next best day after Saturday. On a Wednesday, sometimes, I sell a dozen and a half. In the summer I does much better than in winter. They gives it more to the birds then, and changes it oftener. I’ve seed a matter of eight or nine people that sell chickweed and grunsell like myself in the fields where I goes to gather it. They mostly all goes to where I do to get mine. They are a great many that sells grunsell about the streets in London, like I do. I dare say there is a hundred, and far more nor that, taking one place with another. I takes my nettles to ladies’ houses. They considers the nettles good for the blood, and drinks ’em at tea, mostly in the spring and autumn. In the spring I generally sells three threepenn’orths of ’em a week, and in the autumn about two threepenn’orths. The ladies I sell the nettles to are mostly sickly, but sometimes they aint, and has only a breaking out in the skin, or in their face. The nettles are mostly taken in Low Marrabun. I gathers more than all for Great Titchfield-street. The turfs I sell mostly in London-street, in Marrabun and John-street, and Carburton-street, and Portland-street, and Berners, and all about there. I sells about three dozen of turfs a week. I sells them at three and four a penny. I charges them at three a penny to gentlefolks and four a penny to tradespeople. I pays 2d. a dozen for ’em and so makes from 1d. to 2d. a dozen out of ’em. I does trifling with these in the winter—about two dozen a week, but always three dozen in the summer. Of the chickweed and grunsell I sells from six to seven dozen bunches a week in the summer, and about four or five dozen bunches in the winter. I sells mostly to regular customers, and a very few to chance ones that meet me in the street. The chance customers come mostly in the summer times. Altogether I should say with my regular and chance customers I make from 4s. to 5s. a week in the summer, and from 3s. to 4s. in the winter. That’s as near as I can tell. Last Monday I was out all day, and took 1½d.; Tuesday I took about 5½d.; Wednesday I got 9½d.; Thursday I can’t hardly recollect, not to tell the truth about it. But oh, dear me, yes I wasn’t allowed to go out on that day. We was given to understand nothing was allowed to be sold on that day. They told us it were the Thanksgiving-day. I was obliged to fast on that day. We did have a little in the morning, a trifle, but not near enough. Friday I came home with nigh upon 6d., and Saturday I got 1s., and 3d. after when I went out at night. I goes into Leather-lane every Saturday night, and stands with my basket there, so that altogether, last week I made 3s.d. But that was a slack week with me, owing to my having lost Thursday. If it hadn’t been for that I should have made near upon 4s. We felt the loss very severely. Prices have come down dreadful with us. The same bunches as I sell now for ½d. I used to get 1d. for nine or ten years ago. I dare say I could earn then, take one day with another, such a thing as 7s. a week, summer and winter through. There’s so many at it now to what there was afore, that it’s difficult to get a living, and the ladies are very hard with a body. They tries to beat me down, and particular in the matter of turfs. They tell me they can buy half-a-dozen for 1d., so I’m obligated to let ’em have three or four. There’s a many women at the business. I hardly know which is the most, men or women. There’s pretty nigh as much of one as the other, I think. I am a bed-sacking weaver by trade. When I worked at it I used to get 15s. a week regularly. But I was struck with paralysis nearly nineteen years ago, and lost the use of all one side, so I was obleeged to turn to summut else. Another grunseller told me on the business, and what he got, and I thought I couldn’t do no better. That’s a favourite linnet. We had that one stuffed there. A young man that I knew stuffed it for me. I was very sorry when the poor thing died. I’ve got another little linnet up there.” “I’m particular fond of little birds,” said the wife. “I never was worse off than I am now. I pays 2s. a week rent, and we has, take one time with another, about 3s. for the four of us to subsist upon for the whole seven days; yes, that, take one time with another, is generally what I do have. We very seldom has any meat. This day week we got a pound of pieces. I gave 4d. for ’em. Everything that will pledge I’ve got in pawn. I’ve been obliged to let them go. I can’t exactly say how much I’ve got in pledge, but you can see the tickets.” [The wife brought out a tin box full of duplicates. They were for the usual articles—coats, shawls, shirts, sheets,[155] handkerchiefs, indeed almost every article of wearing-apparel and bedding. The sums lent were mostly 6d. and 9d., while some ran as high as 2s. The dates of many were last year, and these had been backed for three months.] “I’ve been paying interest for many of the things there for seven years. I pay for the backing 2½d., that is 1d. for the backing, and 1½d. for the three months’ interest. I pay 6d. a year interest on every one of the tickets. If its only 3d., I have to pay ½d. a month interest just the same, but nothing for the ticket when we put it in.” The number of duplicates was 26, and the gross sum amounted to 1l. 4s. 8d. One of the duplicates was for 4d.; nine were for 6d., two for 9d., nine were for 1s., two for 1s. 6d., one for 1s. 3d., one for 1s. 7d. and two for 2s. “The greatest comfort I should like to have would be something more on our beds. We lay dreadful cold of a night, on account of being thin clad. I have no petticoats at all. We have no blankets—of late years I haven’t had any. The warm clothing would be the greatest blessing I could ask. I’m not at all discontented at my lot. That wouldn’t mend it. We strive and do the best we can, and may as well be contented over it. I think its God’s will we should be as we are. Providence is kind to me, even badly off as we are. I know it’s all for the best.”

There are no “pitches,” or stands, for the sale of groundsel in the streets; but, from the best information I could acquire, there are now 1,000 itinerants selling groundsel, each person selling, as an average, 18 bunches a day. We thus have 5,616,000 bunches a year, which, at ½d. each, realise 11,700l.—about 4s. 2d. per week per head of sellers of groundsel. The “oldest hand” in the trade is the man whose statement and likeness I give. The sale continues through the year, but “the groundsel” season extends from April to September; in those months 24 bunches, per individual seller, is the extent of the traffic, in the other months half that quantity, giving the average of 18 bunches.

The capital required for groundsel-selling is 4d. for a brown wicker-basket; leather strap to sling it from the shoulder, 6d.; in all, 10d. No knife is necessary; they pluck the groundsel.

Chickweed is only sold in the summer, and is most generally mixed with groundsel and plantain. The chickweed and plantain, together, are but half the sale of groundsel, and that only for five months, adding, to the total amount, 2,335l. But this adds little to the profits of the regular itinerants; for, when there is the best demand, there are the greatest number of sellers, who in winter seek some other business. The total amount of “green stuff” expended upon birds, as supplied by the street-sellers, I give at the close of my account of the trade of those purveyors.

Many of the groundsel and chickweed-sellers—for the callings are carried on together—who are aged men, were formerly brimstone-match sellers, who “didn’t like to take to the lucifers.”

On the publication of this account in the Morning Chronicle, several sums were forwarded to the office of that journal for the benefit of this family. These were the means of removing them to a more comfortable home, of redeeming their clothing, and in a measure realizing the wishes of the poor woman.

Of Turf Cutting and Selling.

A man long familiar with this trade, and who knew almost every member of it individually, counted for me 36 turf-cutters, to his own knowledge, and was confident that there were 40 turf-cutters and 60 sellers in London; the addition of the sellers, however, is but that of 10 women, who assist their husbands or fathers in the street sales,—but no women cut turf,—and of 10 men who sell, but buy of the cutters.

The turf is simply a sod, but it is considered indispensable that it should contain the leaves of the “small Dutch clover,” (the shamrock of the Irish), the most common of all the trefoils. The turf is used almost entirely for the food and roosting-place of the caged sky-larks. Indeed one turf-cutter said to me: “It’s only people that don’t understand it that gives turf to other birds, but of course if we’re asked about it, we say it’s good for every bird, pigeons and chickens and all; and very likely it is if they choose to have it.” The principal places for the cutting of turf are at present Shepherd’s Bush, Notting Hill, the Caledonian Road, Hampstead, Highgate, Hornsey, Peckham, and Battersea. Chalk Farm was an excellent place, but it is now exhausted, “fairly flayed” of the shamrocks. Parts of Camden Town were also fertile in turf, but they have been built over. Hackney was a district to which the turf-cutters resorted, but they are now forbidden to cut sods there. Hampstead Heath used to be another harvest-field for these turf-purveyors, but they are now prohibited from “so much as sticking a knife into the Heath;” but turf-cutting is carried on surreptitiously on all the outskirts of the Heath, for there used to be a sort of feeling, I was told, among some real Londoners that Hampstead Heath yielded the best turf of any place. All the “commons” and “greens,” Paddington, Camberwell, Kennington, Clapham, Putney, &c. are also forbidden ground to the turf-cutter. “O, as to the parks and Primrose Hill itself—round about it’s another thing—nobody,” it was answered to my inquiry, “ever thought of cutting their turf there. The people about, if they was only visitors, wouldn’t stand it, and right too. I wouldn’t, if I wasn’t in the turf-cutting myself.”

The places where the turf is principally cut are the fields, or plots, in the suburbs, in which may be seen a half-illegible board, inviting the attention of the class of speculating builders to an “eligible site” for villas. Some of these places are open, and have long been open, to the road; others are protected by a few crazy rails, and the turf-cutters consider that outside the rails, or between them and the road, they[156] have a right to cut turf, unless forbidden by the police. The fact is, that they cut it on sufferance; but the policeman never interferes, unless required to do so by the proprietor of the land or his agent. One gentleman, who has the control over a considerable quantity of land “eligible” for building, is very inimical to the pursuits of the turf-cutters, who, of course, return his hostility. One man told me that he was required, late on a Saturday night, some weeks ago, to supply six dozen of turfs to a very respectable shopkeeper, by ten or eleven on the Sunday morning. The shopkeeper had an aristocratic connection, and durst not disappoint his customers in their demands for fresh turf on the Sunday, so that the cutter must supply it. In doing so, he encountered Mr. —— (the gentleman in question), who was exceedingly angry with him: “You d—d poaching thief!” said the gentleman, “if this is the way you pass your Sunday, I’ll give you in charge.” One turf-cutter, I was informed, had, within these eight years, paid 3l. 15s. fines for trespassing, besides losing his barrow, &c., on every conviction: “But he’s a most outdacious fellor,” I was told by one of his mates, “and won’t mind spoiling anybody’s ground to save hisself a bit of trouble. There’s too many that way, which gives us a bad name.” Some of the managers of the land to be built upon give the turf-cutters free leave to labour in their vocation; others sell the sods for garden-plots, or use them to set out the gardens to any small houses they may be connected with, and with them the turf-cutters have no chance of turning a sod or a penny.

I accompanied a turf-cutter, to observe the manner of his work. We went to the neighbourhood of Highgate, which we reached a little before nine in the morning. There was nothing very remarkable to be observed, but the scene was not without its interest. Although it was nearly the middle of January, the grass was very green and the weather very mild. There happened to be no one on the ground but my companion and myself, and in some parts of our progress nothing was visible but green fields with their fringe of dark-coloured leafless trees; while in other parts, which were somewhat more elevated, glimpses of the crowded roof of an omnibus, or of a line of fleecy white smoke, showing the existence of a railway, testified to the neighbourhood of a city; but no sound was heard except, now and then, a distant railway whistle. The turf-cutter, after looking carefully about him—the result of habit, for I was told afterwards, by the policeman, that there was no trespass—set rapidly to work. His apparatus was a sharp-pointed table-knife of the ordinary size, which he inserted in the ground, and made it rapidly describe a half-circle; he then as rapidly ran his implement in the opposite half-circle, flung up the sod, and, after slapping it with his knife, cut off the lower part so as to leave it flat—working precisely as does a butcher cutting out a joint or a chop, and reducing the fat. Small holes are thus left in the ground—of such shape and size as if deep saucers were to be fitted into them—and in the event of a thunder-shower in droughty weather, they become filled with water, and have caused a puzzlement, I am told, to persons taking their quiet walk when the storm had ceased, to comprehend why the rain should be found to gather in little circular pools in some parts, and not in others.

The man I accompanied cut and shaped six of these turfs in about a minute, but he worked without intermission, and rather to show me with what rapidity and precision he could cut, than troubling himself to select what was saleable. After that we diverged in the direction of Hampstead; and in a spot not far from a temporary church, found three turf-cutters at work,—but they worked asunder, and without communication one with another. The turfs, as soon as they are cut and shaped, are thrown into a circular basket, and when the basket is full it is emptied on to the barrow (a costermonger’s barrow), which is generally left untended at the nearest point: “We can trust one another, as far as I know,” said one turf-man to me, “and nobody else would find it worth while to steal turfs.” The largest number of men that my most intelligent informant had ever seen at work in one locality was fourteen, and that was in a field just about to be built over, and “where they had leave.” Among the turf-purveyors there is no understanding as to where they are to “cut.” Wet weather does not interfere with turf procuring; it merely adds to the weight, and consequently to the toil of drawing the barrow. Snow is rather an advantage to the street-seller, as purchasers are apt to fancy that if the storm continues, turfs will not be obtainable, and so they buy more freely. The turf-man clears the snow from the ground in any known locality—the cold pinching his ungloved hands—and cuts out the turf, “as green,” I was told, “as an April sod.” The weather most dreaded is that when hoar frost lies long and heavy on the ground, for the turf cut with the rime upon it soon turns black, and is unsaleable. Foggy dark weather is also prejudicial, “for then,” one man said, “the days clips it uncommon short, and people won’t buy by candlelight, no more will the shops. Birds has gone to sleep then, and them that’s fondest on them says, ‘We can get fresher turf to-morrow.’” The gatherers cannot work by moonlight; “for the clover leaves then shuts up,” I was told by one who said he was a bit of a botanist, “like the lid of a box, and you can’t tell them.”

One of my informants told me that he cut 25 dozen turfs every Friday (the great working turf-day) of the year on an average (he sometimes cut on that day upwards of 30 dozen); 17 dozen on a Tuesday; and 6 dozen on the other days of the week, more or less, as the demand justified—but 6 dozen was an average. He had also cut a few turfs on a Sunday morning, but only at long intervals, sometimes only thrice a year. Thus one man will cut 2,496 dozen, or 29,952 turfs in a year, not reckoning[157] the product of any Sunday. From the best information I could acquire, there seems no doubt but that one-half of the turf-cutters (20) exert a similar degree of industry to that detailed; and the other 20 procure a moiety of the quantity cut and disposed of by their stronger and more fortunate brethren. This gives an aggregate, for an average year, of 598,560 turfs, or including Sunday turf-cutting, of 600,000. Each turf is about 6 inches diameter at the least; so that the whole extent of turf cut for London birds yearly, if placed side by side, would extend fifty-six miles, or from London to Canterbury.

In wet weather, 6 dozen turfs weigh, on an average, 1 cwt.; in dry weather, 8 dozen weigh no more; if, therefore, we take 7 dozen as the usual hundred-weight, a turf-cutter of the best class carries, in basket-loads, to his barrow, and when his stock is completed, drags into town from the localities I have specified, upwards of 3½ cwt. every Friday, nearly 2½ every Tuesday, and about 7 cwt. in the course of a week; the smaller traders drag half the quantity,—and the total weight of turf disposed of for the cage-birds of London, every year, is 546 tons.

Of the supply of turf, obtained as I have described, at least three-fourths is sold to the bird-shops, who retail it to their customers. The price paid by these shopkeepers to the labourers for their turf trade is 2d. and 2½d. a dozen, but rarely 2½d. They retail it at from 3d. to 6d. a dozen, according to connection and locality. The remainder is sold by the cutters on their rounds from house to house, at two and three a penny.

None of the turf-cutters confine themselves to it. They sell in addition groundsel, chickweed, plaintain, very generally; and a few supply nettles, dandelion, ground-ivy, snails, worms, frogs, and toads. The sellers of groundsel and chickweed are far more numerous, as I have shown, than the turf-cutters—indeed many of them are incapable of cutting turf or of dragging the weight of the turfs.

Of the Experience and Customers of a Turf-Cutter.

A short but strongly-built man, of about thirty, with a very English face, and dressed in a smock-frock, wearing also very strong unblacked boots, gave me the following account:—

“My father,” he said, “was in the Earl of ——’s service, and I was brought up to stable-work. I was employed in a large coaching inn, in Lancashire, when I was last employed in that way, but about ten years ago a railway line was opened, and the coaching was no go any longer; it hadn’t a chance to pay, so the horses and all was sold, and I was discharged with a lot of others. I walked from Manchester to London—for I think most men when they don’t know what in the world to do, come to London—and I lived a few months on what little money I had, and what I could pick up in an odd job about horses. I had some expectations when I came up that I might get something to do through my lord, or some of his people—they all knew me: but my lord was abroad, and his establishment wasn’t in town, and I had to depend entirely on myself. I was beat out three or four times, and didn’t know what to do, but somehow or other I got over it. At last—it’s between eight and nine years ago—I was fairly beat out. I was taking a walk—I can’t say just now in what way I went, for it was all one which way—but I remember I saw a man cutting turf, and I remembered then that a man that lived near me lived pretty middling by turf-cutting. So I watched how it was done, and then I inquired how I could get into it, and as I’d paid my way I could give reference to show I might be trusted; so I got a barrow on hire, and a basket, and bought a knife for 3d. at a marine-shop, and set to work. At first I only supplied shops, but in a little time I fell into a private round, and that pays better. I’ve been at it almost every day, I may say, ever since. My best customers are working people that’s fond of birds; they’re far the best. It’s the ready penny with them, and no grumbling. I’ve lost money by trusting noblemen; of course I blame their servants. You’d be surprised, sir, to hear how often at rich folks’ houses, when they’ve taken their turf or what they want, they’ll take credit and say, ‘O, I’ve got no change,’ or ‘I can’t be bothered with ha’pence,’ or ‘you must call again.’ There’s one great house in Cavendish-square always takes a month’s credit, and pays one month within another (pays the first month as the second is falling due), and not always that very regular. They can’t know how poor men has to fight for a bit of bread. Some people are very particular about their turfs, and look very sharp for the small clover leaves. We never have turfs left on hand: in summer we water them to keep them fresh; in wet weather they don’t require it; they’ll keep without. I think I make on turf 9s. a week all the year round; the summer’s half as good again as the winter. Supposing I make 3s. a week on groundsel, and chickweed, and snails, and other things, that’s 12s.—but look you here, sir. I pay 3s. 6d. a week for my rent—it’s a furnished room—and 1s. 6d. a week for my barrow; that’s 5s. off the 12s.; and I’ve a wife and one little boy. My wife may get a day at least every week at charring; she has 1s. for it and her board. She helps me when she’s not out, and if she is out, I sometimes have to hire a lad, so it’s no great advantage the shilling a day. I’ve paid 1s. 6d. a week for my barrow—it’s a very good and big one—for four years. Before that I paid 2s. a week. O yes, sir, I know very well, that at 1s. 6d. a week I’ve paid nearly 14l. for a barrow worth only 2l. 2s.; but I can’t help it; I really can’t. I’ve tried my hardest to get money to have one of my own, and to get a few sticks (furniture) of my own too. It’s no use trying any more. If I have ever got a few shillings a-head, there’s a pair of shoes wanted, or there’s[158] something else, or my wife has a fit of sickness, or my little boy has, or something’s sure to happen that way, and it all goes. Last winter was a very hard time for people in my way, from hoar frost and fogs. I ran near 3l. into debt; greater part of it for house-rent and my barrow; the rest was small sums borrowed of shopkeepers that I served. I paid all up in the summer, but I’m now 14s. in debt for my barrow; it always keeps me back; the man that owns it calls every Sunday morning, but he don’t press me, if I haven’t money. I would get out of the life if I could, but will anybody take a groom out of the streets? and I’m not master of anything but grooming. I can read and write. I was brought up a Roman Catholic, and was christened one. I never go to mass now. One gets out of the way of such things, having to fight for a living as I have. It seems like mocking going to chapel, when you’re grumbling in your soul.”

Of Plantain-Sellers.

Plantain is sold extensively, and is given to canaries, but water-cress is given to those birds more than any other green thing. It is the ripe seed, in a spike, of the “great” and the “ribbed” plantain. The green leaves of the last-mentioned plant used to be in demand as a styptick. Shenstone speaks of “plantain ribbed, that heals the reaper’s wound.” I believe that it was never sold in the streets of London. The most of the plantain is gathered in the brick-fields, wherever they are found, as the greater plantain, which gives three-fourths of the supply, loves an arid situation. It is sold in hands to the shops, about 60 “heads” going to a “hand,” at a price, according to size, &c., from 1d. to 4d. On a private round, five or six are given for a halfpenny. It is, however, generally gathered and sold with chickweed, and along with chickweed I have shown the quantity used.

The money-value of the several kinds and quantities of “green-stuff” annually purchased in the streets of London is as follows:—

6,696,450 bunches of water-cresses, at ½d. per bunch£13,950
5,616,000groundsel, at ½d.11,700
1,120,800chickweed and plantain2,335
660,000 turfs, at 2½d. per doz.572

Of the above amount, it may be said that upwards of 14,000l. are spent yearly on what may be called the bird-food of London.


These dealers were more numerous, even when the metropolitan population was but half its present extent. I heard several causes assigned for this,—such as the higher rate of earnings of the labouring people at that time, as well as the smaller number of shopkeepers who deal in such cheap luxuries as penny pies, and the fewer places of cheap amusement, such as the “penny gaffs.” These places, I was told, “run away with the young people’s pennies,” which were, at one period, expended in the streets.

The class engaged in the manufacture, or in the sale, of these articles, are a more intelligent people than the generality of street-sellers. They have nearly all been mechanics who, from inability to procure employment at their several crafts—from dislike to an irksome and, perhaps, sedentary confinement—or from an overpowering desire “to be their own masters,” have sought a livelihood in the streets. The purchase and sale of fish, fruit, or vegetables require no great training or deftness; but to make the dainties, in which street-people are critical, and to sell them at the lowest possible price, certainly requires some previous discipline to produce the skill to combine and the taste to please.

I may here observe, that I found it common enough among these street-sellers to describe themselves and their fraternity not by their names or callings, but by the article in which they deal. This is sometimes ludicrous enough: “Is the man you’re asking about a pickled whelk, sir?” was said to me. In answer to another inquiry, I was told, “Oh, yes, I know him—he’s a sweet-stuff.” Such ellipses, or abbreviations, are common in all mechanical or commercial callings.

Men and women, and most especially boys, purchase their meals day after day in the streets. The coffee-stall supplies a warm breakfast; shell-fish of many kinds tempt to a luncheon; hot-eels or pea-soup, flanked by a potato “all hot,” serve for a dinner; and cakes and tarts, or nuts and oranges, with many varieties of pastry, confectionary, and fruit, woo to indulgence in a dessert; while for supper there is a sandwich, a meat pudding, or a “trotter.”

The street provisions consist of cooked or prepared victuals, which may be divided into solids, pastry, confectionary, and drinkables.

The “solids” however, of these three divisions, are such as only regular street-buyers consider to be sufficing for a substantial meal, for it will be seen that the comestibles accounted “good for dinner,” are all of a dainty, rather than a solid character. Men whose lives, as I have before stated, are alternations of starvation[159] and surfeit, love some easily-swallowed and comfortable food, better than the most approved substantiality of a dinner-table. I was told by a man, who was once foodless for thirty-eight hours, that in looking into the window of a cook-shop—he longed far more for a basin of soup than for a cut from the boiled round, or the roasted ribs, of beef. He felt a gnawing rather than a ravenous desire, and some tasty semi-liquid was the incessant object of his desires.

The solids then, according to street estimation, consist of hot-eels, pickled whelks, oysters, sheep’s-trotters, pea-soup, fried fish, ham-sandwiches, hot green peas, kidney puddings, boiled meat puddings, beef, mutton, kidney, and eel pies, and baked potatos. In each of these provisions the street poor find a mid-day or mid-night meal.

The pastry and confectionary which tempt the street eaters are tarts of rhubarb, currant, gooseberry, cherry, apple, damson, cranberry, and (so called) mince pies; plum dough and plum-cake; lard, currant, almond and many other varieties of cakes, as well as of tarts; gingerbread-nuts and heart-cakes; Chelsea buns; muffins and crumpets; “sweet stuff” includes the several kinds of rocks, sticks, lozenges, candies, and hard-bakes; the medicinal confectionary of cough-drops and horehound; and, lastly, the more novel and aristocratic luxury of street-ices; and strawberry cream, at 1d. a glass, (in Greenwich Park).

The drinkables are tea, coffee, and cocoa; ginger-beer, lemonade, Persian sherbet, and some highly-coloured beverages which have no specific name, but are introduced to the public as “cooling” drinks; hot elder cordial or wine; peppermint water; curds and whey; water (as at Hampstead); rice milk; and milk in the parks.

At different periods there have been attempts to introduce more substantial viands into the street provision trade, but all within these twenty years have been exceptional and unsuccessful. One man a few years back established a portable cook-shop in Leather-lane, cutting out portions of the joints to be carried away or eaten on the spot, at the buyer’s option. But the speculation was a failure. Black puddings used to be sold, until a few years back, smoking from cans, not unlike potato cans, in such places as the New Cut; but the trade in these rather suspicious articles gradually disappeared.

Mr. Albert Smith, who is an acute observer in all such matters, says, in a lively article on the Street Boys of London:

“The kerb is his club, offering all the advantages of one of those institutions without any subscription or ballot. Had he a few pence, he might dine equally well as at Blackwall, and with the same variety of delicacies without going twenty yards from the pillars of St. Clement’s churchyard. He might begin with a water souchée of eels, varying his first course with pickled whelks, cold fried flounders, or periwinkles. Whitebait, to be sure, he would find a difficulty in procuring, but as the more cunning gourmands do not believe these delicacies to be fish at all, but merely little bits of light pie-crust fried in grease;—and as moreover, the brown bread and butter is after all the grand attraction,—the boy might soon find a substitute. Then would come the potatos, apparently giving out so much steam that the can which contains them seems in momentary danger of blowing up; large, hot, mealy fellows, that prove how unfounded were the alarms of the bad-crop-ites; and he might next have a course of boiled feet of some animal or other, which he would be certain to find in front of the gin-shop. Cyder-cups perhaps he would not get; but there would be ‘ginger-beer from the fountain, at 1d. per glass;’ and instead of mulled claret, he could indulge in hot elder cordial; whilst for dessert he could calculate upon all the delicacies of the season, from the salads at the corner of Wych-street to the baked apples at Temple Bar. None of these things would cost more than a penny a piece; some of them would be under that sum; and since as at Verey’s, and some other foreign restaurateurs, there is no objection to your dividing the “portions,” the boy might, if he felt inclined to give a dinner to a friend, get off under 6d. There would be the digestive advantage too of moving leisurely about from one course to another; and, above all, there would be no fee to waiters.” After alluding to the former glories of some of the street-stands, more especially of the kidney pudding establishments which displayed rude transparencies, one representing the courier of St. Petersburg riding six horses at once for a kidney pudding, Mr. Smith continues,—“But of all these eating-stands the chief favourite with the boy is the potato-can. They collect around it as they would do on ’Change, and there talk over local matters, or discuss the affairs of the adjacent cab-stand, in which they are at times joined by the waterman whom they respect, more so perhaps than the policeman; certainly more than they do the street-keeper, for him they especially delight to annoy, and they watch any of their fellows eating a potato, with a curiosity and an attention most remarkable, as if no two persons fed in the same manner, and they expected something strange or diverting to happen at every mouthful.”

A gentleman, who has taken an artist’s interest in all connected with the streets, and has been familiar with their daily and nightly aspect from the commencement of the present century, considers that the great change is not so much in what has ceased to be sold, but in the introduction of fresh articles into street-traffic—such as pine-apples and Brazil-nuts, rhubarb and cucumbers, ham-sandwiches, ginger-beer, &c. The coffee-stall, he represents, has but superseded the saloop-stall (of which I have previously spoken); while the class of street-customers who supported the saloop-dealer now support the purveyor of coffee. The appearance of the[160] two stalls, however, seen before daybreak, with their respective customers, on a bleak winter’s morning, was very different. Round the saloop-stall was a group—hardly discernible at a little distance in the dimly-lighted streets—the prominent figures being of two callings now extinct—the climbing-boy and the old hackney-coachman.

The little sweep would have his saloop smoking hot—and there was the common appliance of a charcoal grate—regaling himself with the savoury steam until the mess was cool enough for him to swallow; whilst he sought to relieve his naked feet from the numbing effects of the cold by standing now on the right foot and now on the left, and swinging the other to and fro, until a change of posture was necessitated; his white teeth the while gleamed from his sooty visage as he gleefully licked his lips at the warm and oily breakfast.

The old hackney-coachman was wrapped up in a many-caped great coat, drab—when it left the tailor’s hands some years before—but then worn and discoloured, and, perhaps, patched or tattered; its weight alone, however, communicated a sort of warmth to the wearer; his legs were closely and artistically “wisped” with hay-bands; and as he kept smiting his chest with his arms, “to keep the cold out,” while his saloop was cooling, he would, in no very gentle terms, express his desire to add to its comforting influence the stimulant of a “flash of lightning,” a “go of rum,” or a “glass of max,”—for so a dram of neat spirit was then called.

The old watchman of that day, too, almost as heavily coated as the hackneyman, would sometimes partake of the street “Saloop-loop-loop! Sa-loop!” The woman of the town, in “looped and windowed raggedness,” the outcast of the very lowest class, was at the saloop, as she is now and then at the coffee-stall, waiting until daylight drove her to her filthy lodging-house. But the climbing-boy has, happily, left no successor; the hackneyman has been succeeded by the jauntier cabman; and the taciturn old watchman by the lounging and trim policeman.

Another class of street-sellers, no longer to be seen, were the “barrow-women.” They sold fruit of all kinds, little else, in very clean white barrows, and their fruit was excellent, and purchased by the wealthier classes. They were, for the most part, Irish women, and some were remarkable for beauty. Their dress was usually a good chintz gown, the skirt being tidily tucked or pinned up behind, “in a way,” said one informant, “now sometimes seen on the stage when correctness of costume is cared for.” These women were prosperous in their calling, nor was there any imputation on their chastity, as the mothers were almost always wives.

Concerning the bygone street-cries, I had also the following account from the personal observation of an able correspondent:—

“First among the old ‘musical cries,’ may be cited the ‘Tiddy Doll!’—immortalised by Hogarth—then comes the last person, who, with a fine bass voice, coaxed his customers to buy sweets with, ‘Quack, quack, quack, quack! Browns, browns, browns! have you got any mouldy browns?’ There was a man, too, who sold tripe, &c., in this way, and to some purpose; he was as fine a man as ever stepped, and his deep rich voice would ring through a whole street, ‘Dog’s-meat! cat’s-meat! nice tripe! neat’s feet! Come buy my trotters!’ The last part would not have disgraced Lablache. He discovered a new way of pickling tripe—got on—made contracts for supplying the Navy during the war, and acquired a large property. One of our most successful artists is his grandson. Then there was that delight of our childhood—the eight o’clock ‘Hot spiced gingerbread! hot spiced gingerbread! buy my spiced gingerbread! sm-o-o-king hot!’” Another informant remembered a very popular character (among the boys), whose daily cry was: “Hot spiced gingerbread nuts, nuts, nuts! If one’ll warm you, wha-at’ll a pound do?—Wha-a-a-at’ll a pound do?” Gingerbread was formerly in much greater demand than it is now.

Of the Street-sellers of Pea-Soup and Hot Eels.

Two of the condiments greatly relished by the chilled labourers and others who regale themselves on street luxuries, are “pea-soup” and “hot eels.” Of these tradesmen there may be 500 now in the streets on a Saturday. As the two trades are frequently carried on by the same party, I shall treat of them together. The greatest number of these stands is in Old-street, St. Luke’s, about twenty. In warm weather these street-cooks deal only in “hot eels” and whelks; as the whelk trade is sometimes an accompaniment of the others, for then the soup will not sell. These dealers are stationary, having stalls or stands in the street, and the savoury odour from them attracts more hungry-looking gazers and longers than does a cook-shop window. They seldom move about, but generally frequent the same place. A celebrated dealer of this class has a stand in Clare-street, Clare-market, opposite a cat’s-meat shop; he has been heard to boast, that he wouldn’t soil his hands at the business if he didn’t get his 30s. a day, and his 2l. 10s. on a Saturday. Half this amount is considered to be about the truth. This person has mostly all the trade for hot eels in the Clare-market district. There is another “hot eel purveyor” at the end of Windmill-street, Tottenham-court-road, that does a very good trade. It is thought that he makes about 5s. a day at the business, and about 10s. on Saturday. There was, before the removals, a man who came out about five every afternoon, standing in the New-cut, nearly opposite the Victoria Theatre, his “girl” always attending to the stall. He had two or three lamps with “hot eels” painted upon them, and a handsome stall. He was considered to make about 7s. a day by the sale of eels alone, but he dealt in fried fish and pickled whelks as well, and often had a pile of fried fish a foot high. Near the[161] Bricklayers’ Arms, at the junction of the Old and New Kent-roads, a hot-eel man dispenses what a juvenile customer assured me was “as spicy as any in London, as if there was gin in it.” But the dealer in Clare-market does the largest trade of all in the hot-eel line. He is “the head man.” On one Saturday he was known to sell 100lbs. of eels, and on most Saturdays he will get rid of his four “draughts” of eels (a draught being 20lbs.) He and his son are dressed in Jenny Lind hats, bound with blue velvet, and both dispense the provisions, while the daughter attends to wash the cups. “On a Sunday, anybody,” said my informant, “would think him the first nobleman or squire in the land, to see him dressed in his white hat, with black crape round it, and his drab paletot and mother-o’-pearl buttons, and black kid gloves, with the fingers too long for him.”

I may add, that even the very poorest, who have only a halfpenny to spend, as well as those with better means, resort to the stylish stalls in preference to the others. The eels are all purchased at Billingsgate early in the morning. The parties themselves, or their sons or daughters, go to Billingsgate, and the watermen row them to the Dutch eel vessels moored off the market. The fare paid to the watermen is 1d. for every 10lbs. purchased and brought back in the boat, the passenger being gratis. These dealers generally trade on their own capital; but when some have been having “a flare up,” and have “broke down for stock,” to use the words of my informant, they borrow 1l., and pay it back in a week or a fortnight at the outside, and give 2s. for the loan of it. The money is usually borrowed of the barrow, truck, and basket-lenders. The amount of capital required for carrying on the business of course depends on the trade done; but even in a small way, the utensils cost 1l. They consist of one fish-kettle and one soup-kettle, holding upon an average three gallons each; besides these, five basins and five cups and ten spoons are required, also a washhand basin to wash the cups, basins, and spoons in, and a board and tressel on which the whole stand. In a large way, it requires from 3l. to 4l. to fit up a handsome stall. For this the party would have “two fine kettles,” holding about four gallons each, and two patent cast-iron fireplaces (the 1l. outfit only admits of the bottoms of two tin saucepans being used as fireplaces, in which charcoal is always burning to keep the eels and soup hot; the whelks are always eaten cold). The crockery and spoons would be in no way superior. A small dealer requires, over and above this sum, 10s. to go to market with and purchase stock, and the large dealer about 30s. The class of persons belonging to the business have either been bred to it, or taken to it through being out of work. Some have been disabled during their work, and have resorted to it to save themselves from the workhouse. The price of the hot eels is a halfpenny for five or seven pieces of fish, and three-parts of a cupfull of liquor. The charge for a half-pint of pea-soup is a halfpenny, and the whelks are sold, according to the size, from a halfpenny each to three or four for the same sum. These are put out in saucers.

The eels are Dutch, and are cleaned and washed, and cut in small pieces of from a half to an inch each. [The daughter of one of my informants was busily engaged, as I derived this information, in the cutting of the fish. She worked at a blood-stained board, with a pile of pieces on one side and a heap of entrails on the other.] The portions so cut are then boiled, and the liquor is thickened with flour and flavoured with chopped parsley and mixed spices. It is kept hot in the streets, and served out, as I have stated, in halfpenny cupfulls, with a small quantity of vinegar and pepper. The best purveyors add a little butter. The street-boys are extravagant in their use of vinegar.

To dress a draught of eels takes three hours—to clean, cut them up, and cook them sufficiently; and the cost is now 5s. 2d. (much lower in the summer) for the draught (the 2d. being the expense of “shoring”), 8d. for 4 lb. of flour to thicken the liquor, 2d. for the parsley to flavour it, and 1s. 6d. for the vinegar, spices, and pepper (about three quarts of vinegar and two ounces of pepper). This quantity, when dressed and seasoned, will fetch in halfpennyworths from 15s. to 18s. The profit upon this would be from 7s. to 9s. 6d.; but the cost of the charcoal has to be deducted, as well as the salt used while cooking. These two items amount to about 5d.

The pea-soup consists of split peas, celery, and beef bones. Five pints, at 3½d. a quart, are used to every three gallons; the bones cost 2d., carrots 1d., and celery ½d.—these cost 1s.d.; and the pepper, salt, and mint, to season it, about 2d. This, when served in halfpenny basinfulls, will fetch from 2s. 3d. to 2s. 4d., leaving 1s. 1d. profit. But from this the expenses of cooking must be taken; so that the clear gain upon three gallons comes to about 11d. In a large trade, three kettles, or twelve gallons, of pea-soup will be disposed of in the day, and about four draughts, or 80 lbs., of hot eels on every day but Saturday,—when the quantity of eels disposed of would be about five draughts, or 100 lbs. weight, and about 15 gallons of pea-soup. Hence the profits of a good business in the hot-eel and pea-soup line united will be from 7l. to 7l. 10s. per week, or more. But there is only one man in London does this amount of business, or rather makes this amount of money. A small business will do about 15 lbs. of eels in the week, including Saturday, and about 12 gallons of soup. Sometimes credit is given for a halfpennyworth, or a pennyworth, at the outside; but very little is lost from bad debts. Boys who are partaking of the articles will occasionally say to the proprietor of the stall, “Well, master, they are nice; trust us another ha’p’orth, and I’ll pay you when I comes again;” but they are seldom credited, for the stall-keepers know well they would never see them again. Very often the stock cooked is not disposed of,[162] and then it is brought home and eaten by the family. The pea-soup will seldom keep a night, but what is left the family generally use for supper.

The dealers go out about half-past ten in the morning, and remain out till about ten at night. Monday is the next best day to Saturday. The generality of the customers are boys from 12 to 16 years of age. Newsboys are very partial to hot eels—women prefer the pea-soup. Some of the boys will have as many as six halfpenny cupfulls consecutively on a Saturday night; and some women will have three halfpenny basinsfull of soup. Many persons in the cold weather prefer the hot soup to beer. On wet, raw, chilly days, the soup goes off better than usual, and in fine weather there is a greater demand for the hot eels. One dealer assured me that he once did serve two gentlemen’s servants with twenty-eight halfpenny cupfulls of hot eels one after another. One servant had sixteen, and the other twelve cupfulls, which they ate all at one standing; and one of these customers was so partial to hot eels, that he used to come twice a day every day for six months after that, and have eight cupfulls each day, four at noon and four in the evening. These two persons were the best customers my informant ever had. Servants, however, are not generally partial to the commodity. Hot eels are not usually taken for dinner, nor is pea-soup, but throughout the whole day, and just at the fancy of the passers-by. There are no shops for the sale of these articles. The dealers keep no accounts of what their receipts and expenditure are.

The best time of the year for the hot eels is from the middle of June to the end of August. On some days during that time a person in a small way of business will clear upon an average 1s. 6d. a day, on other days 1s.; on some days, during the month of August, as much as 2s. 6d. a day. Some cry out “Nice hot eels—nice hot eels!” or “Warm your hands and fill your bellies for a halfpenny.” One man used to give his surplus eels, when he considered his sale completed on a night, to the poor creatures refused admission into a workhouse, lending them his charcoal fire for warmth, which was always returned to him. The poor creatures begged cinders, and carried the fire under a railway arch. The general rule, however, is for the dealer to be silent, and merely expose the articles for sale. “I likes better,” said one man to me, “to touch up people’s noses than their heyes or their hears.” There are now in the trade almost more than can get a living at it, and their earnings are less than they were formerly. One party attributed this to the opening of a couple of penny-pie shops in his neighbourhood. Before then he could get 2s. 6d. a day clear, take one day with another; but since the establishment of the business in the penny-pie line he cannot take above 1s. 6d. a day clear. On the day the first of these pie-shops opened, it made as much as 10 lbs., or half a draught of eels, difference to him. There was a band of music and an illumination at the pie-shop, and it was impossible to stand against that. The fashionable dress of the trade is the “Jenny Lind” or “wide-awake” hat, with a broad black ribbon tied round it, and a white apron and sleeves. The dealers usually go to Hampton-court or Greenwich on a fine Sunday. They are partial to the pit of Astley’s. One of them told his waterman at Billingsgate the other morning that “he and his good lady had been werry amused with the osses at Hashley’s last night.”

Of the Experience of a Hot-Eel and Pea-soup Man.

“I was a coalheaver,” said one of the class to me, as I sat in his attic up a close court, watching his wife “thicken the liquor;” “I was a-going along the plank, from one barge to another, when the swell of some steamers throwed the plank off the ‘horse,’ and chucked me down, and broke my knee agin the side of the barge. Before that I was yarning upon an average my 20s. to 30s. a week. I was seven months and four days in King’s College Hospital after this. I found they was a-doing me no good there, so I come out and went over to Bartholemy’s Hospital. I was in there nineteen months altogether, and after that I was a month in Middlesex Hospital, and all on ’em turned me out oncurable. You see, the bone’s decayed—four bits of bone have been taken from it. The doctor turned me out three times ’cause I wouldn’t have it off. He asked my wife if she would give consent, but neither she nor my daughter would listen to it, so I was turned out on ’em all. How my family lived all this time it’s hard to tell. My eldest boy did a little—got 3s. 6d. a week as an errand-boy, and my daughter was in service, and did a little for me; but that was all we had to live upon. There was six children on my hands, and however they did manage I can’t say. After I came out of the hospital I applied to the parish, and was allowed 2s. 6d. a week and four loaves. But I was anxious to do something, so a master butcher, as I knowed, said he would get me ‘a pitch’ (the right to fix a stall), if I thought I could sit at a stall and sell a few things. I told him I thought I could, and would be very thankful for it. Well, I had heard how the man up in the market was making a fortune at the hot-eel and pea-soup line. [A paviour as left his barrow and two shovels with me told me to-day, said the man, by way of parenthesis—‘that he knowed for a fact he was clearing 6l. a week regular.’] So I thought I’d have a touch at the same thing. But you see, I never could rise money enough to get sufficient stock to make a do of it, and never shall, I expect—it don’t seem like it, however. I ought to have 5s. to go to market with to-morrow, and I ain’t got above 1s. 6d.; and what’s that for stock-money, I’d like to know? Well, as I was saying, the master butcher lent me 10s. to[163] start in the line. He was the best friend I ever had. But I’ve never been able to do anything at it—not to say to get a living.” “He can’t carry anything now, sir,” said his wife, as the old man strove to get the bellows to warm up the large kettle of pea-soup that was on the fire. “Aye, I can’t go without my crutch. My daughter goes to Billingsgate for me. I’ve got nobody else; and she cuts up the eels. If it warn’t for her I must give it up altogether, and go into the workhouse outright. I couldn’t fetch ’em. I ought to have been out to-night by rights till ten, if I’d had anything to have sold. My wife can’t do much; she’s troubled with the rheumatics in her head and limbs.” “Yes,” said the old body, with a sigh, “I’m never well, and never shall be again, I know.” “Would you accept on a drop of soup, sir?” asked the man; “you’re very welcome, I can assure you. You’ll find it very good, sir.” I told him I had just dined, and the poor old fellow proceeded with his tale. “Last week I earned clear about 8s., and that’s to keep six on us. I didn’t pay no rent last week nor yet this, and I don’t know when I shall again, if things goes on in this way. The week before there was a fast-day, and I didn’t earn above 6s. that week, if I did that. My boy can’t go to school. He’s got no shoes nor nothing to go in. The girls go to the ragged-school, but we can’t send them of a Sunday nowhere.” “Other people can go,” said one of the young girls nestling round the fire, and with a piece of sacking over her shoulders for a shawl—“them as has got things to go in; but mother don’t like to let us go as we are.” “She slips her mother’s shoes on when she goes out. It would take 1l. to start me well. With that I could go to market, and buy my draught of eels a shilling cheaper, and I could afford to cut my pieces a little bigger; and people where they gets used well comes again—don’t you see? I could have sold more eels if I’d had ’em to-day, and soup too. Why, there’s four hours of about the best time to-night that I’m losing now ’cause I’ve nothing to sell. The man in the market can give more than we can. He gives what is called the lumping ha’p’orth—that is, seven or eight pieces; ah, that I daresay he does; indeed, some of the boys has told me he gives as many as eight pieces. And then the more eels you biles up, you see, the richer the liquor is, and in our little tin-pot way it’s like biling up a great jint of meat in a hocean of water. In course we can’t compete agin the man in the market, and so we’re being ruined entirely. The boys very often comes and asks me if I’ve got a farden’s-worth of heads. The woman at Broadway, they tells me, sells ’em at four a farden and a drop of liquor, but we chucks ’em away, there’s nothing to eat on them; the boys though will eat anything.”

In the hot-eel trade are now 140 vendors, each selling 6 lb. of eels daily at their stands; 60 sell 40 lb. daily; and 100 are itinerant, selling 5 lb. nightly at the public-houses. The first mentioned take 2s. daily; the second 16s.; and the third 1s. 8d. This gives a street expenditure in the trade in hot eels of 21,910l. for the year.

To start in this business a capital is required after this rate:—stall 6s.; basket 1s.; eel-kettle 3s. 6d.; jar 6d.; ladle 4d.; 12 cups 1s.; 12 spoons 1s.; stew-pan 2s.; chafing-dish 6d.; strainer 1s.; 8 cloths 2s. 8d.; a pair sleeves 4d.; apron 4d.; charcoal 2s. (4d. being an average daily consumption); ¼ cwt. coal 3½d.; ½ lb. butter (the weekly average) 4d.; 1 quartern flour 5d.; 4 oz. pepper 4d.; 1 quart vinegar 10d.; 1 lb. salt ½d.; 1 lb. candles for stall 6d.; parsley 3d.; stock-money 10s. In all 1l. 15s. In the course of a year the property which may be described as fixed, as in the stall, &c., and the expenditure daily occurring as for stock, butter, coal, according to the foregoing statement, amounts to 15,750l. The eels purchased for this trade at Billingsgate are 1,166,880 lb., costing, at 3d. per lb., 14,586l.

In the pea-soup trade there are now one half of the whole number of the hot-eel vendors; of whom 100 will sell, each 4 gallons daily; and of the remaining 50 vendors, each will sell upon an average 10 gallons daily. The first mentioned take 3s. daily; and the last 7s. 6d. This gives a street expenditure of 4,050l. during the winter season of five months.

To commence business in the street sale of pea-soup a capital is required after this rate: soup-kettle 4s.; peas 2s.; soup-ladle 6d.; pepper-box 1d.; mint-box 3d.; chafing-dish 6d.; 12 basons 1s.; 12 spoons 1s.; bones, celery, mint, carrots, and onions, 1s. 6d. In all 10s. 10d. The hot-eel trade being in conjunction with the pea-soup, the same stall, candles, towels, sleeves, and aprons, does for both, and the quantity of extra coal and charcoal; pepper and salt given in the summary of hot-eels serves in cooking, &c., both eels and pea-soup.

Of the Street-sellers of Pickled Whelks.

The trade in whelks is one of which the costermongers have the undisputed monopoly. The wholesale business is all transacted in Billingsgate, where this shell-fish is bought by the measure (a double peck or gallon), half-measure, or wash. A wash is four measures, and is the most advantageous mode of purchase; “It’s so much cheaper by taking that quantity,” I was told, “it’s as good as having a half-measure in.” An average price for the year may be 4s. the wash; “But I’ve given 21s. for three wash,” said one costermonger, and he waxed indignant as he spoke, “one Saturday, when there was a great stock in too, just because there was a fair coming on on Monday, and the whelkmen, who are the biggest rogues in Billingsgate, always have the price up then, and hinder a poor man[164] doing good—they’ve a great knack of that.” A wash weighs about 60 lbs. On rare occasions it has been as low as 2s. 6d., and even 1s. 6d.

About one-half of the whelks are sold alive (wholesale), and the other half “cooked” (boiled), some of the salesmen having “convenience for cooking” near the market; but they are all brought to London alive, “or what should be alive.” When bought alive, which ensures a better quality, I was told—for “whelks’ll boil after they’re dead and gone, you see, sir, as if they was alive and hungry”—the costermonger boils them in the largest saucepan at his command for about ten minutes, and then leaves them until they cool. “They never kicks as they boils, like lobsters or crabs,” said one whelk dealer, “they takes it quiet. A missionary cove said to me, ‘Why don’t you kill them first? it’s murder.’ They doesn’t suffer; I’ve suffered more with a toothach than the whole of a measure of whelks has in a boiling, that I’m clear upon.” The boiling is generally the work of the women. The next process is to place them in a tub, throw boiling water over them, and stir them up for ten or fifteen minutes with a broom-handle. If the quantity be a wash, two broom-handles, usually wielded by the man and his wife, are employed. This is both to clean them and “to make them come out easier to be wormed.” The “worming” is equivalent to the removing of the beard of an oyster or mussel. The whelks are wormed one by one. The operator cuts into the fish, rapidly draws out the “worm,” and pushes the severed parts together, which closes. The small whelks are not wormed, “because it’s not reckoned necessary, and they’re sold to poor lads and such like, that’s not particular; but nearly all the women, and a good many of the boys, are very particular. They think the worm’s poison.” The whelks are next shaken in a tub, in cold water, and are then ready for sale. The same process, after the mere boiling, is observed, when the whelks are bought “cooked.”

Some whelk-sellers, who wish to display a superior article, engage children for a few halfpence to rub the shell of every whelk, so that it looks clean and even bright.

I find a difficulty, common in the course of this inquiry, of ascertaining precisely the number of whelk-sellers, because the sale is often carried on simultaneously with that of other things, (stewed eels, for instance,) and because it is common for costermongers to sell whelks on a Saturday night only, both at stalls and “round to the public-houses,” but only when they are cheap at Billingsgate. On a Saturday night there may be 300 whelk-sellers in the streets, nearly half at stalls, and half, or more, “working the public-houses.” But of this number it must be understood that perhaps the wife is at the stall while the husband is on a round, and some whelks are sent out by a man having an extra stock. This, therefore, reduces the number of independent dealers, but not the actual number of sellers. On all other nights there may be half the number engaged in this traffic, in the streets regularly all the year; and more than half on a Monday, as regards the public-house business, in which little is done between Monday and Saturday nights. But a man will, in some instances, work the public-houses every night (the wife tending the stall), and the more assiduously if the weather be bad or foggy, when a public-house custom is the best. A fair week’s earnings in whelks, “when a man’s known,” is 1l.; a bad week is from 5s. to 8s. I am assured that bad weeks are “as plenty as good, at least, the year round;” and thus the average to the street whelk-sellers, in whelks alone, is about 13s. when the trade is carried on daily and regularly, and 5s. a week by those who occasionally resort to it; and as the occasional hands are the more numerous, the average may be struck at 7s.

The whelks are sold at the stalls at two, three, four, six, and eight a penny, according to size. Four is an average pennyworth for good whelks; the six a penny are small, and the eight a penny very small. The principal place for their sale is in Old-street, City-road. The other principal places are the street-markets, which I have before particularised. The whelks are sold in saucers, generally small and white, and of common ware, and are contained in jars, ready to be “shelled” into any saucer that may have been emptied. Sometimes a small pyramid of shells, surmounted by a candle protected by a shade, attracts the regard of the passer-by. The man doing the best business in London was to be found, before the removals of which I have spoken, in Lambeth-walk, but he has now no fixed locality. His profits, I am informed, were regularly 3l. a week; but out of this he had to pay for the assistance of two or sometimes three persons, in washing his whelks, boiling them, &c.; besides that, his wife was as busy as himself. To the quality and cleanliness of his whelks he was very attentive, and would sell no mediocre article if better could be bought. “He deserved all he earned, sir,” said another street-dealer to me; “why, in Old-street now they’ll have the old original saucers, miserable things, such as they had fifty years back; but the man we’re talking of, about two years ago, brought in very pretty plates, quite enterprising things, and they answered well. His example’s spreading, but it’s slowly.” The whelks are eaten with vinegar and pepper.

For sale in the public-houses, the whelks are most frequently carried in jars, and transferred in a saucer to the consumer. “There’s often a good sale,” said a man familiar with the business, “when a public room’s filled. People drinking there always want to eat. They buy whelks, not to fill themselves, but for a relish. A man that’s used to the trade will often get off inferior sorts to the lushingtons; he’ll have them to rights. Whelks is all the same, good, bad, or middling, when a man’s drinking, if they’re well seasoned with pepper and vinegar.[165] Oh yes; any whelk-man will take in a drunken fellow, and he will do it all the same, if he’s made up his mind to, get drunk hisself that very night.”

The trade is carried on by the regular costers, but of the present number of whelk-sellers, about twenty have been mechanics or servants. The whelk-trade is an evening trade, commencing generally about six, summer and winter, or an hour earlier in winter.

The capital required to start in the whelk-business is: stall, 2s. 6d.; saucers, vinegar-bottle, jar, pepper-castor, and small watering-pan (used only in dusty weather), 2s. 6d.; a pair of stilts (supports for the stall), 1s. 6d.; stock-money, 5s.; pepper and vinegar, 6d., or 12s. in all. If the trade be commenced in a round basket, for public-house sale, 7s. or 8s. only is required, but it is a hazardous experiment for a person unpractised in street business.

Of the Customers, etc., of Pickled Whelk-sellers.

An intelligent man gave me the following account. He had been connected with street-trading from his youth up, and is now about thirty:

“The chief customers for whelks, sir, are working people and poor people, and they prefer them to oysters; I do myself, and I think they’re not so much eaten because they’re not fashionable like oysters. But I’ve sold them to first-rate public-houses, and to doctors’ shops—more than other shops, I don’t know why—and to private houses. Masters have sent out their servant-maids to me for three or four penn’orths for supper. I’ve offered the maids a whelk, but they won’t eat them in the street; I dare say they’re afraid their young men may be about, and might think they wasn’t ladies if they eat whelks in the street. Boys are the best customers for ‘small,’ but if you don’t look sharp, you’ll be done out of three-ha’porth of vinegar to a ha’porth of whelks. I can’t make out why they like it so. They’re particular enough in their way. If the whelks are thin, as they will be sometimes, the lads will say, ‘What a lot of snails you’ve gathered to-night!’ If they’re plump and fine, then they’ll say, ‘Fat ’uns to-night—stunners!’ Some people eat whelks for an appetite; they give me one, and more in summer than winter. The women of the town are good customers, at least they are in the Cut and Shoreditch, for I know both. If they have five-penn’orth, when they’re treated perhaps, there’s always sixpence. They come on the sly sometimes, by themselves, and make what’s a meal, I’m satisfied, on whelks, and they’ll want credit sometimes. I’ve given trust to a woman of that sort as far as 2s. 6d. I’ve lost very little by them; I don’t know how much altogether. I keep no account, but carry any credit in my head. Those women’s good pay, take it altogether, for they know how hard it is to get a crust, and have a feeling for a poor man, if they haven’t for a rich one—that’s my opinion, sir. Costermongers in a good time are capital customers; they’ll buy five or six penn’orths at a time. The dust’s a great injury to the trade in summer time; it dries the whelks up, and they look old. I wish whelks were cheaper at Billingsgate, and I could do more business; and I could do more if I could sell a few minutes after twelve on a Saturday night, when people must leave the public-house. I have sold three wash of a Saturday night, and cleared 15s. on them. I one week made 3l., but I had a few stewed eels to help,—that is, I cleared 2l., and had a pound’s worth over on the Saturday night, and sent them to be sold—and they were sold—at Battersea on the Sunday; I never went there myself. I’ve had twenty people round my stall at one time on a Saturday. Perhaps my earnings on that (and other odd things) may come to 1l. a week, or hardly so much, the year round. I can’t say exactly. The shells are no use. Boys have asked me for them ‘to make sea-shells of,’ they say—to hold them to their ears when they’re big, and there’s a sound like the sea rolling. Gentlemen have sometimes told me to keep a dozen dozen or twenty dozen, for borders to a garden. I make no charge for them—just what a gentleman may please to give.”

The information given shows an outlay of 5,250l. yearly for street whelks, and as the return I have cited shows the money spent in whelks at Billingsgate to be 2,500l., the number of whelks being 4,950,000, the account is correct, as the coster’s usual “half-profits” make up the sum expended.

Of the Street Sellers, and of the Preparation of Fried Fish.

Among the cooked food which has for many years formed a portion of the street trade is fried fish. The sellers are about 350, as a maximum and 250 as a minimum, 300 being an average number. The reason of the variation in number is, that on a Saturday night, and occasionally on other nights, especially on Mondays, stall-keepers sell fried fish, and not as an ordinary article of their trade. Some men, too, resort to the trade for a time, when they cannot be employed in any way more profitable or suitable to them. The dealers in this article are, for the most part, old men and boys, though there may be 30 or 40 women who sell it, but only 3 or 4 girls, and they are the daughters of the men in the business as the women are the wives. Among the fried-fish sellers there are not half a dozen Irish people, although fish is so especial a part of the diet of the poor Irish. The men in the calling have been, as regards the great majority, mechanics or servants; none, I was told, had been fishmongers, or their assistants.

The fish fried by street dealers is known as “plaice dabs” and “sole dabs,” which are merely plaice and soles, “dab” being a com[166]mon word for any flat fish. The fish which supplies upwards of one half the quantity fried for the streets is plaice; the other fishes used are soles, haddocks, whitings, flounders, and herrings, but very sparingly indeed as regards herrings. Soles are used in as large a quantity as the other kinds mentioned altogether. On my inquiry as to the precise quantity of each description fried, the answer from the traders was uniform: “I can’t say, sir. I buy whatever’s cheapest.” The fish is bought at Billingsgate, but some of the street dealers obtain another and even a cheaper commodity than at that great mart. This supply is known in the trade as “friers,” and consists of the overplus of a fishmonger’s stock, of what he has not sold overnight, and does not care to offer for sale on the following morning, and therefore vends it to the costermongers, whose customers are chiefly among the poor. The friers are sometimes half, and sometimes more than half, of the wholesale price in Billingsgate. Many of the friers are good, but some, I was told, “in any thing like muggy or close weather were very queer fish, very queer indeed,” and they are consequently fried with a most liberal allowance of oil, “which will conceal anything.”

The fish to be fried is first washed and gutted; the fins, head, and tail are then cut off, and the trunk is dipped in flour and water, so that in frying, oil being always used, the skin will not be scorched by the, perhaps, too violent action of the fire, but merely browned. Pale rape oil is generally used. The sellers, however, are often twitted with using lamp oil, even when it is dearer than that devoted to the purpose. The fish is cooked in ordinary frying-pans. One tradesman in Cripplegate, formerly a costermonger, has on his premises a commodious oven which he had built for the frying, or rather baking, of fish. He supplies the small shopkeepers who deal in the article (although some prepare it themselves), and sells his fish retail also, but the street-sellers buy little of him, as they are nearly all “their own cooks.” Some of the “illegitimates,” however, lay in their stock by purchase of the tradesman in question. The fish is cut into portions before it is fried, and the frying occupies about ten minutes. The quantity prepared together is from six to twenty portions, according to the size of the pans; four dozen portions, or “pieces,” as the street people call them, require a quart of oil.

The fried fish-sellers live in some out of the way alley, and not unfrequently in garrets; for among even the poorest class there are great objections to their being fellow-lodgers, on account of the odour from the frying. Even when the fish is fresh (as it most frequently is), and the oil pure, the odour is rank. In one place I visited, which was, moreover, admirable for cleanliness, it was very rank. The cooks, however, whether husbands or wives—for the women often attend to the pan—when they hear of this disagreeable rankness, answer that it may be so, many people say so; but for their parts they cannot smell it at all. The garments of the fried-fish sellers are more strongly impregnated with the smell of fish than were those of any “wet” or other fish-sellers whom I met with. Their residences are in some of the labyrinths of courts and alleys that run from Gray’s-inn-lane to Leather-lane, and similar places between Fetter and Chancery-lanes. They are to be found, too, in the courts running from Cow-cross, Smithfield; and from Turnmill-street and Ray-street, Clerkenwell; also, in the alleys about Bishopsgate-street and the Kingsland-road, and some in the half-ruinous buildings near the Southwark and Borough-roads. None, or very few, of those who are their own cooks, reside at a greater distance than three miles from Billingsgate. A gin-drinking neighbourhood, one coster said, suits best, “for people hasn’t their smell so correct there.”

The sale is both on rounds and at stalls, the itinerants being twice as numerous as the stationary. The round is usually from public-house to public-house, in populous neighbourhoods. The itinerants generally confine themselves to the trade in fried fish, but the stall-keepers always sell other articles, generally fish of some kind, along with it. The sale in the public-houses is the greatest.

At the neighbouring races and fairs there is a great sale of fried fish. At last Epsom races, I was told, there were at least fifty purveyors of that dainty from London, half of them perhaps being costermongers, who speculated in it merely for the occasion, preparing it themselves. Three men joined in one speculation, expending 8l. in fish, and did well, selling at the usual profit of cent. per cent., but with the drawback of considerable expenses. Their customers at the races and fairs are the boys who hold horses or brush clothes, or who sell oranges or nuts, or push at roundabouts, and the costers who are there on business. At Epsom races there was plenty of bread, I was informed, to be picked up on the ground; it had been flung from the carriages after luncheon, and this, with a piece of fish, supplied a meal or “a relish” to hundreds.

In the public-houses, a slice of bread, 16 or 32 being cut from a quartern loaf—as they are whole or half slices—is sold or offered with the fish for a penny. The cry of the seller is, “fish and bread, a penny.” Sometimes for an extra-sized piece, with bread, 2d. is obtained, but very seldom, and sometimes two pieces are given for 1½d. At the stalls bread is rarely sold with the edible in question.


“Baked ’taturs! All ’ot, all ’ot!”

[From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

For the itinerant trade, a neatly painted wooden tray, slung by a leathern strap from the neck, is used: the tray is papered over generally with clean newspapers, and on the paper is spread the shapeless brown lumps of fish. Parsley is often strewn over them, and a salt-box is placed at the discretion of the customer. The trays contain from two to five dozen pieces. [169] I understand that no one has a trade greatly in advance of his fellows. The whole body complain of their earnings being far less than was the case four or five years back.

The itinerant fried fish-sellers, when pursuing their avocation, wear generally a jacket of cloth or fustian buttoned round them, but the rest of their attire is hidden by the white sleeves and apron some wear, or by the black calico sleeves and dark woollen aprons worn by others.

The capital required to start properly in the business is:—frying-pan 2s. (second-hand 9d.); tray 2s. 6d. (second-hand 8d.); salt-box 6d. (second-hand 1d.); and stock-money 5s.—in all 10s. A man has gone into the trade, however, with 1s., which he expended in fish and oil, borrowed a frying-pan, borrowed an old tea-board, and so started on his venture.

Of the Experience of a Fried Fish-seller, and of the Class of Customers.

The man who gave me the following information was well-looking, and might be about 45 or 50. He was poorly dressed, but his old brown surtout fitted him close and well, was jauntily buttoned up to his black satin stock, worn, but of good quality; and, altogether, he had what is understood among a class as “a betterly appearance about him.” His statement, as well as those of the other vendors of provisions, is curious in its details of public-house vagaries:—

“I’ve been in the trade,” he said, “seventeen years. Before that, I was a gentleman’s servant, and I married a servant-maid, and we had a family, and, on that account, couldn’t, either of us, get a situation, though we’d good characters. I was out of employ for seven or eight months, and things was beginning to go to the pawn for a living; but at last, when I gave up any hope of getting into a gentleman’s service, I raised 10s., and determined to try something else. I was persuaded, by a friend who kept a beer-shop, to sell oysters at his door. I took his advice, and went to Billingsgate for the first time in my life, and bought a peck of oysters for 2s. 6d. I was dressed respectable then—nothing like the mess and dirt I’m in now” [I may observe, that there was no dirt about him]; “and so the salesman laid it on, but I gave him all he asked. I know a deal better now. I’d never been used to open oysters, and I couldn’t do it. I cut my fingers with the knife slipping all over them, and had to hire a man to open for me, or the blood from my cut fingers would have run upon the oysters. For all that, I cleared 2s. 6d. on that peck, and I soon got up to the trade, and did well; till, in two or three months, the season got over, and I was advised, by the same friend, to try fried fish. That suited me. I’ve lived in good families, where there was first-rate men-cooks, and I know what good cooking means. I bought a dozen plaice; I forget what I gave for them, but they were dearer then than now. For all that, I took between 11s. and 12s. the first night—it was Saturday—that I started; and I stuck to it, and took from 7s. to 10s. every night, with more, of course, on Saturday, and it was half of it profit then. I cleared a good mechanic’s earnings at that time—30s. a week and more. Soon after, I was told that, if agreeable, my wife could have a stall with fried fish, opposite a wine-vaults just opened, and she made nearly half as much as I did on my rounds. I served the public-houses, and soon got known. With some landlords I had the privilege of the parlour, and tap-room, and bar, when other tradesmen have been kept out. The landlords will say to me still: ‘You can go in, Fishy.’ Somehow, I got the name of ‘Fishy’ then, and I’ve kept it ever since. There was hospitality in those days. I’ve gone into a room in a public-house, used by mechanics, and one of them has said: ‘I’ll stand fish round, gentlemen;’ and I’ve supplied fifteen penn’orths. Perhaps he was a stranger, such a sort of customer, that wanted to be agreeable. Now, it’s more likely I hear: ‘Jack, lend us a penny to buy a bit of fried;’ and then Jack says: ‘You be d—d! here, lass, let’s have another pint.’ The insults and difficulties I’ve had in the public-house trade is dreadful. I once sold 16d. worth to three rough-looking fellows I’d never seen before, and they seemed hearty, and asked me to drink with them, so I took a pull; but they wouldn’t pay me when I asked, and I waited a goodish bit before I did ask. I thought, at first, it was their fun, but I waited from four to seven, and I found it was no fun. I felt upset, and ran out and told the policeman, but he said it was only a debt, and he couldn’t interfere. So I ran to the station, but the head man there said the same, and told me I should hand over the fish with one hand, and hold out the other hand for my money. So I went back to the public-house, and asked for my money—and there was some mechanics that knew me there then—but I got nothing but ‘—— you’s!’ and one of ’em used most dreadful language. At last, one of the mechanics said: ‘Muzzle him, Fishy, if he won’t pay.’ He was far bigger than me, him that was one in debt; but my spirit was up, and I let go at him and gave him a bloody nose, and the next hit I knocked him backwards, I’m sure I don’t know how, on to a table; but I fell on him, and he clutched me by the coat-collar—I was respectable dressed then—and half smothered me. He tore the back of my coat, too, and I went home like Jim Crow. The pot-man and the others parted us, and they made the man give me 1s., and the waiter paid me the other 4d., and said he’d take his chance to get it—but he never got it. Another time I went into a bar, and there was a ball in the house, and one of the ball gents came down and gave my basket a kick without ever a word, and started the fish; and in a scuffle—he was a little fellow, but my master—I had this finger put out of joint—you can see that, sir, still—and was in the hospital a week from an injury to my leg; the tiblin bone was hurt, the doctors said” [the tibia.] “I’ve had my tray kicked over for a lark in a public-house, and a scramble for my[170] fish, and all gone, and no help and no money for me. The landlords always prevent such things, when they can, and interfere for a poor man; but then it’s done sudden, and over in an instant. That sort of thing wasn’t the worst. I once had some powdery stuff flung sudden over me at a parlour door. My fish fell off, for I jumped, because I felt blinded, and what became of them I don’t know; but I aimed at once for home—it was very late—and had to feel my way almost like a blind man. I can’t tell what I suffered. I found it was something black, for I kept rubbing my face with my apron, and could just tell it came away black. I let myself in with my latch, and my wife was in bed, and I told her to get up and look at my face and get some water, and she thought I was joking, as she was half asleep; but when she got up and got a light, and a glass, she screamed, and said I looked such a shiny image; and so I did, as well as I could see, for it was black lead—such as they use for grates—that was flung on me. I washed it off, but it wasn’t easy, and my face was sore days after. I had a respectable coat on then, too, which was greatly spoiled, and no remedy at all. I don’t know who did it to me. I heard some one say: ‘You’re served out beautiful.’ Its men that calls themselves gentlemen that does such things. I know the style of them then—it was eight or ten years ago; they’d heard of Lord ——, and his goings on. That way it’s better now, but worse, far, in the way of getting a living. I dare say, if I had dressed in rough corderoys, I shouldn’t have been larked at so much, because they might have thought I was a regular coster, and a fighter; but I don’t like that sort of thing—I like to be decent and respectable, if I can.

“I’ve been in the ‘fried’ trade ever since, except about three months that I tried the sandwiches. I didn’t do so well in them, but it was a far easier trade; no carrying heavy weights all the way from Billingsgate: but I went back to the fried. Why now, sir, a good week with me—and I’ve only myself in the trade now” [he was a widower]—“is to earn 12s., a poor week is 9s.; and there’s as many of one as of the other. I’m known to sell the best of fish, and to cook it in the best style. I think half of us, take it round and round for a year, may earn as much as I do, and the other half about half as much. I think so. I might have saved money, but for a family. I’ve only one at home with me now, and he really is a good lad. My customers are public-house people that want a relish or a sort of supper with their beer, not so much to drinkers. I sell to tradesmen, too; 4d. worth for tea or supper. Some of them send to my place, for I’m known. The Great Exhibition can’t be any difference to me. I’ve a regular round. I used to sell a good deal to women of the town, but I don’t now. They haven’t the money, I believe. Where I took 10s. of them, eight or ten years ago, I now take only 6d. They may go for other sorts of relishes now; I can’t say. The worst of my trade is, that people must have as big penn’orths when fish is dear as when its cheap. I never sold a piece of fish to an Italian boy in my life, though they’re Catholics. Indeed, I never saw an Italian boy spend a halfpenny in the streets on anything.”

A working-man told me that he often bought fried fish, and accounted it a good to men like himself. He was fond of fried fish to his supper; he couldn’t buy half so cheap as the street-sellers, perhaps not a quarter; and, if he could, it would cost him 1d. for dripping to fry the fish in, and he got it ready, and well fried, and generally good, for 1d.

Subsequent inquiries satisfied me that my informant was correct as to his calculations of his fellows’ earnings, judging from his own. The price of plaice at Billingsgate is from ½d. to 2d. each, according to size (the fried fish purveyors never calculate by the weight), ¾d. being a fair average. A plaice costing 1d. will now be fried into four pieces, each 1d.; but the addition of bread, cost of oil, &c., reduces the “fried” peoples’ profits to rather less than cent. per cent. Soles and the other fish are, moreover, 30 per cent. dearer than plaice. As 150 sellers make as much weekly as my informant, and the other 150 half that amount, we have an average yearly earning of 27l. 6s. in one case, and of 13l. 13s. in the other. Taking only 20l. a year as a medium earning, and adding 90 per cent. for profit, the outlay on the fried fish supplied by London street-sellers is 11,400l.

Of the Preparation and Quantity of Sheep’s Trotters, and of the Street-sellers.

The sale of sheep’s trotters, as a regular street-trade, is confined to London, Liverpool, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and a few more of our greater towns. The “trotter,” as it is commonly called, is the boiled foot of the sheep. None of my readers can have formed any commensurate notion of the extent of the sale in London, and to some readers the very existence of such a comestible may be unknown. The great supply now required is readily attained. The wholesale trade is now in the hands of one fellmongering firm, though until within these twenty months or so there were two, and the feet are cut off the sheep-skins by the salesmen in the skin-market, in Bermondsey, and conveyed to the fellmonger’s premises in carts and in trucks.

Sheep’s trotters, one of my informants could remember, were sold in the streets fifty years ago, but in such small quantities that it could hardly be called a trade. Instead of being prepared wholesale as at present, and then sold out to the retailers, the trotters were then prepared by the individual retailers, or by small traders in tripe and cow-heel. Twenty-five years ago nearly all the sheep’s trotters were “lined and prepared,” when the skin came into the hands of the fellmonger, for the glue and size makers. Twenty years ago only about one-[171]twentieth of the trotters now prepared for eating were devoted to the same purpose; and it was not until about fifteen years back that the trade began to reach its present magnitude; and for the last twelve years it has been about stationary, but there were never more sold than last year.

From fifteen to twenty years ago glue and size, owing principally to improved modes of manufacture, became cheaper, so that it paid the fellmonger better to dispose of the trotters as an article “cooked” for the poor, than to the glue-boiler.

The process of cookery is carried on rapidly at the fellmonger’s in question. The feet are first scalded for about half an hour. After that from ten to fifteen boys are employed in scooping out the hoofs, which are sold for manure or to manufacturers of Prussian blue, which is extensively used by painters. Women are then employed, forty being an average number, “to scrape the hair off,”—for hair it is called—quickly, but softly, so that the skin should not be injured, and after that the trotters are boiled for about four hours, and they are then ready for market.

The proprietor of this establishment, after he had obligingly given me the information I required, invited me to walk round his premises unaccompanied, and observe how the business was conducted. The premises are extensive, and are situated, as are nearly all branches of the great trade connected with hides and skins, in Bermondsey. The trotter business is kept distinct from the general fellmongering. Within a long shed are five coppers, each containing, on an average, 250 “sets,” a set being the complement of the sheep’s feet, four. Two of these coppers, on my visit, were devoted to the scalding, and three to the boiling of the trotters. They looked like what one might imagine to be witches’ big caldrons; seething, hissing, boiling, and throwing forth a steam not peculiarly grateful to the nostrils of the uninitiated. Thus there are, weekly, “cooking” in one form or other, the feet of 20,000 sheep for the consumption of the poorer classes, or as a relish for those whose stomachs crave after edibles of this description. At one extremity of this shed are the boys, who work in a place open at the side, but the flues and fires make all parts sufficiently warm. The women have a place to themselves on the opposite side of the yard. The room where they work has forms running along its sides, and each woman has a sort of bench in front of her seat, on which she scrapes the trotters. One of the best of these workwomen can scrape 150 sets, or 600 feet in a day, but the average of the work is 500 sets a week, including women and girls. I saw no girls but what seemed above seventeen or eighteen, and none of the women were old. They were exceedingly merry, laughing and chatting, and appearing to consider that a listener was not of primary consequence, as they talked pretty much altogether. I saw none but what were decently dressed, some were good-looking, and none seemed sickly.

In this establishment are prepared, weekly, 20,000 sets, or 80,000 feet; a yearly average of 4,160,000 trotters, or the feet of 1,040,000 sheep. Of this quantity the street-folk buy seven-eighths; 3,640,000 trotters yearly, or 70,000 weekly. The number of sheep trotter-sellers may be taken at 300, which gives an average of nearly sixty sets a week per individual.

The wholesale price, at the “trotter yard,” is five a penny, which gives an outlay by the street-sellers of 3,033l. 6s. 8d. yearly.

But this is not the whole of the trade. Lamb’s trotters are also prepared, but only to one-twentieth of the quantity of sheep’s trotters, and that for only three months of the year. These are all sold to the street-sellers. The lamb’s foot is usually left appended to the leg and shoulder of lamb. It is weighed with the joint, but the butcher’s man or boy will say to the purchaser: “Do you want the foot?” As the answer is usually in the negative, it is at once cut off and forms a “perquisite.” There are some half dozen men, journeymen butchers not fully employed, who collect these feet, prepare and sell them to the street-people, but as the lamb’s feet are very seldom as fresh as those of the sheep carried direct from the skin market to—so to speak—the great trotter kitchen, the demand for “lamb’s” falls off yearly. Last year the sale may be taken at about 14,000 sets, selling, wholesale, at about 46l., the same price as the sheep.

The sellers of trotters, who are stationary at publichouse and theatre doors, and at street corners, and itinerant, but itinerant chiefly from one public house to another are a wretchedly poor class. Three fourths of them are elderly women and children, the great majority being Irish people, and there are more boys than girls in the trade. The capital required to start in the business is very small. A hand basket of the larger size costs 1s. 9d., but smaller or second-hand only 1s., and the white cotton cloth on which the trotters are displayed costs 4d. or 6d.; stock-money need not exceed 1s., so that 3s. is all that is required. This is one reason, I heard from several trotter-sellers, why the business is over-peopled.

Statements of Sheep’s Trotter Women.

From one woman, who, I am assured, may be taken as a fair type of the better class of trotter-sellers—some of the women being sottish and addicted to penn’orths of gin beyond their means—I had the following statement. I found her in the top room of a lofty house in Clerkenwell. She was washing when I called, and her son, a crippled boy of 16, with his crutch by his side, was cleaning knives, which he had done for many months for a family in the neighbourhood, who paid for his labour in what the mother pronounced better than money—broken victuals, because they were of such good, wholesome quality. The room, which[172] is of a good size, had its red-brown plaster walls, stained in parts with damp, but a great portion was covered with the cheap engravings “given away with No. 6” (or any other number) of some periodical “of thrilling interest;” while the narrow mantel-shelf was almost covered with pot figures of dumpy men, red-breeched and blue-coated, and similar ornaments. I have often noted such attempts to subdue, as it were, the grimness of poverty, by the poor who had “seen better days.” The mother was tall and spare, and the boy had that look of premature sedateness, his face being of a sickly hue, common to those of quiet dispositions, who have been afflicted from their childhood:—

“I’m the widow of a sawyer, sir,” said Mrs. ——, with a very slight brogue, for she was an Irishwoman, “and I’ve been a widow 18 long years. I’m 54, I believe, but that 18 years seems longer than all the rest of my life together. My husband earned hardly ever less than 30s. a week, sometimes 3l., and I didn’t know what pinching was. But I was left destitute with four young children, and had to bring them up as well as I could, by what I could make by washing and charing, and a hard fight it was. One of my children went for a soldier, one’s dead, another’s married, and that’s the youngest there. Ah! poor fellow, what he’s gone through! He’s had 18 abscesses, one after another, and he has been four times in Bartholomew’s. There’s only God above to help him when I’m gone. My health broke six years ago, and I couldn’t do hard work in washing, and I took to trotter selling, because one of my neighbours was in that way, and told me how to go about it. My son sells trotters too; he always sits at the corner of this street. I go from one public-house to another, and sometimes stand at the door, or sit inside, because I’m known and have leave. But I can’t either sit, or stand, or walk long at a time, I’m so rheumatic. No, sir, I can’t say I was ever badly insulted in a public-house; but I only go to those I know. Others may be different. We depend mostly on trotters, but I have a shilling and my meat, for charing, a day in every week. I’ve tried ’winks and whelks too, ’cause I thought they might be more in my pocket than trotters, but they don’t suit a poor woman that’s begun a street-trade when she’s not very young. And the trotters can be carried on with so little money. It’s not so long ago that I’ve sold three-penn’orth of trotters—that is, him and me has—pretty early in the evening; I’d bought them at Mr. ——’s, in Bermondsey, in the afternoon, for we can buy three penn’orth, and I walked there again—perhaps it’s four miles there and back—and bought another 3d. worth. The first three-pence was all I could rise. It’s a long weary way for me to walk, but some walk from Poplar and Limehouse. If I lay out 2s. on the Saturday—there’s 15 sets for 1s., that’s 60 trotters—they’ll carry us on to Monday night, and sometimes, if they’ll keep, to Tuesday night. Sometimes I could sell half-a-crown’s worth in less time. I have to go to Bermondsey three or four times a week. The trade was far better six years ago, though trotters were dearer then, only 13 sets 1s., then 14, now 15. For some very few, that’s very fine and very big, I get a penny a piece; for some I get 1½d. for two; the most’s ½d. each; some’s four for 1½d.; and some I have to throw into the dust-hole. The two of us earns 5s. a week on trotters, not more, I’m sure. I sell to people in the public-houses; some of them may be rather the worse for drink, but not so many; regular drunkards buys nothing but drink. I’ve sold them too to steady, respectable gentlemen, that’s been passing in the street, who put them in their pockets for supper. My rent’s 1s. a week.”

I then had some conversation with the poor lad. He’d had many a bitter night, he told me, from half-past five to twelve, for he knew there was no breakfast for his mother and him if he couldn’t sell some trotters. He had a cry sometimes. He didn’t know any good it did him, but he couldn’t help it. The boys gathered round him sometimes, and teased him, and snatched at his crutch; and the policeman said that he must make him “move on,” as he encouraged the boys about him. He didn’t like the boys any more than they were fond of the policemen. He had often sad thoughts as he sat with his trotters before him, when he didn’t cry; he wondered if ever he would be better off; but what could he do? He could read, but not write; he liked to read very well when he had anything to read. His mother and he never missed mass.

Another old woman, very poorly, but rather tidily dressed, gave me the following account, which shows a little of public-house custom:—

“I’ve seen better days, sir, I have indeed; I don’t like to talk about that, but now I’m only a poor sheep’s trotter seller, and I’ve been one a good many years. I don’t know how long, and I don’t like to think about it. It’s a shocking bad trade, and such insults as we have to put up with. I serve some public-houses, and I stand sometimes at a playhouse-door. I make 3s. or 3s. 6d. a week, and in a very good week 4s., but, then, I sometimes make only 2s. I’m infirm now, God help me! and I can do nothing else. Another old woman and me has a room between us, at 1s. 4d. a week. Mother’s the best name I’m called in a public-house, and it ain’t a respectable name. ‘Here, mother, give us one of your b— trotters,’ is often said to me. One customer sometimes says: ‘The stuff’ll choke me, but that’s as good as the Union.’ He ain’t a bad man, though. He sometimes treats me. He’ll bait my trotters, but that’s his larking way, and then he’ll say:

‘A pennorth o’ gin,
’ll make your old body spin.’

It’s his own poetry, he says. I don’t know what he is, but he’s often drunk, poor fellow. Women’s far worse to please than men. I’ve known a woman buy a trotter, put her teeth into it, and then say it wasn’t good, and return it. It wasn’t paid for when she did so, and be[173]cause I grumbled, I was abused by her, as if I’d been a Turk. The landlord interfered, and he said, said he, ‘I’ll not have this poor woman insulted; she’s here for the convenience of them as requires trotters, and she’s a well-conducted woman, and I’ll not have her insulted,’ he says, says he, lofty and like a gentleman, sir. ‘Why, who’s insulting the old b—h?’ says the woman, says she. ‘Why, you are,’ says the landlord, says he, ‘and you ought to pay her for her trotter, or how is she to live?’ ‘What the b— h—ll do I care how she lives,’ says the woman,