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Tuesday, December 4, 1849
Of the hucksters of provisions but one
class remains to be described, and even that is seldom to be met with
now-a-days. The penny-pie trade has passed from the streets into the shops. The
following statement may be taken as a fair average of the condition of the class
The itinerant meat and fruit pieman is another class of street provision merchant. The meat pies consist of mutton and beef; the fruit, of apple, and, occasionally, mince-meat. These are sold in the streets at ld. each. A few years ago the meat and fruit pies used to sell very well, but lately too many of the people are out of work, and they have not any money to spend. Fairs and races are generally the best places for the sale of pies in the summer. In London the best times for the sale of pies are during any grand sight or holiday-making - a review in Hyde Park, the Lord Mayor's show, the opening of Parliament, Greenwich fair, Whitsun Monday - and, indeed, whenever anything is going on that brings the people together in large crowds. The piemen in the streets of London are seldom stationary; they go along with their pie-can on their arm, crying "Pies all hot! meat and fruit, pies all hot!" This can is somewhat similar to a potato-can, but it has no boiler inside it. The pies are kept hot by means of a charcoal fire beneath, and there is a partition in the body of the can, to separate the hot from the cold pies. There are two tin drawers one at the bottom where the hot pies are kept, and above these are the cold ones. As fast as the hot pies are sold, the cold ones above are placed on the drawers below. There is a pieman who goes about Billingsgate market, who has a pony and "shay cart." He does the best business in the pie line in town. It is believed he sells £1 worth every day; but the generality of piemen throughout London do nothing like this. "I was out myself, last night," said one to me, "from four in the afternoon till half-past twelve, and went from Somers-town down to the Horse Guards, and looked in at all the public-houses on the way, and I didn't take above 1s. 6d. I have been out sometimes all those hours, and haven't taken more than 4d.; and out of that I have had to pay a penny for charcoal." The piemen usually make the pies themselves. The meat is mostly bought as "pieces," and paid for at the rate of 3d. a pound. "People, when I go into houses, often begin at me, crying 'Molrow!' and 'Bow-wow!' at me; but there's nothing of that kind. Meat, you see, is so cheap now." The pieman usually makes about five dozen of pies at a time. To do this, he takes one quartern of flour, at 6d.; two pounds of suet, at 6d.; one pound and a half of meat, at 3d., amounting, in all to about 2s.; to this must be added 3d. for the expense of baking. ld. for the cost of keeping hot, and 2d. for pepper, salt, and eggs with which to wash them over. Hence the cost of the five dozen would be 2s. 6d., and the profit the same. The usual quantity of meat in each pie is about half an ounce. There are not more than a dozen hot-piemen now in London. There are some who carry pies about on a tray slung before them; these are mostly boys, and. including these, the number may amount to 25 in the winter time. and to double that number in the summer. in the summer time the most business is done; the trade then is nearly double as brisk as in the winter. This is owing to the markets being better attended; the people generally have more money to spend. The penny-pie shops have done the street trade a great deal of harm. They have got mostly all the custom. They make them much larger than those sold in the streets. The pies in Tottenham-court-road are very highly seasoned. "I bought one there the other day, and it nearly took the skin off my mouth; it was full of pepper," said a pieman to me. The reason why they put in so large a quantity of pepper is because persons can't exactly tell the flavour of the meat with it. Piemen generally are not very particular about the flavour of the meat they buy, for they know that they can season it up into anything. The usual part of beef used, is what are called "the stickings." This is what is mostly used for sausages, and costs about 3d. per pound. In the summer time, a pieman about the street thinks he is doing a good business if he takes 5s. per day, and in the winter if he gets half that. On a Saturday night, however, he generally takes 5s. in the winter, and about 8s. in the summer. At Greenwich fair he will take about l4s. At a review in Hyde-park, if it is a good one, he will sell about l0s. worth. The generality of the customers are the boys of London. The women seldom, if ever, buy them in the streets. At the public-houses a few are sold, and the pieman makes a practice of looking in at all the public-houses on his way. Here his customers are found principally in the tap-room. "Here's all hot!" they cry, as they look into the tap-room.
"Toss or buy; up and win em!" This is the only way that the pies can be got rid of. "If it wasn't for tossing we shouldn't sell one." The pieman never tosses himself, but always calls head or tail to the customer. At the week's end it comes to the same thing. whether they toss or not. "I've taken as much as 2s. 6d. at tossing. which I shouldn't have had if I hadn't done so. Very few people buy without tossing, and the boys in particular. Gentlemen 'out on the spree' at the late public-houses will frequently toss when they don't want the pies, and when they have won they will amuse themselves by throwing the pies at one another, or at me. The boys have the greatest love of gambling, and they seldom, if ever, buy without tossing. Sometimes I have taken as much as half-a-crown, and the people has never eaten a pie." For street mince-meat pies the pie-man usually makes about 5 lb. of mince-meat at a time; and for this he will put in two dozen of apples, 1 lb. of sugar, 1 lb. of currants, 2 lb. of "critlings" (critlings being the refuse left after boiling down the lard), a good bit of spice to give the critlings a flavour. and plenty of treacle to make the mince-meat look rich. The "gravy" which used to be given with the meat pies consisted of a little salt and water poured out of an oil-can. A hole was made with the little finger in the top of the meat pie, and the "gravy" poured in until the crust rose. With this gravy a person in the line assured me that he has known pies four days old to go off very freely, and be pronounced excellent, The street piemen are mostly bakers, who are unable to obtain employment at their trade. "I myself," said one, "was a bread and biscuit baker. I have been at it now about two years and a half, and I can't get a living at it. Last week my earnings were not more than 7s. all the week through, and I was out till three o'clock in the morning to get that. The piemen seldom begin business till six o'clock, and some remain out all night. The best time for the sale of pies is generally from ten at night to one in the morning.
I now pass to the hucksters of articles of domestic use. These include principally the street dealers in blacking, boot-laces, bareskins, crockeryware, old clothes, hearthstones, lucifers, and cotton, tapes, and thread. These are the principal varieties of the class. It is true, there are others, such as the street vendors of brooms, of door-mats, of umbrellas, of fire-guards, of bonnet-boxes, and other household articles; but these do not strictly belong to the species, for they generally make the goods which they sell in the street, and so come more properly under the head of artisans than hucksters.
Of the hucksters of the articles of domestic use, I shall deal first with the itinerant vendors of crockeryware - The hucksters of crockeryware are a considerable class. One who has great experience in the business thinks there must be some hundreds employed in it throughout London. He says he meets many at the warehouses on the evenings that he goes there. He is often half an hour before he can be served. There are seven or eight warehouses frequented by the hucksters; and at the busy time my informant has often seen as many as twenty-five at each house, and he is satisfied that there must be two or three hundred hucksters of china and glass throughout the metropolis. The china and glass in which they deal are usually purchased at the east-end of the town, upon the understanding that if the huckster is unable to dispose of them in the course of the day the articles will be taken back in the morning, if uninjured, and the money returned The hucksters usually take out their goods in the morning. Their baskets are commonly deposited at the warehouse, and each warehouse has from thirty to forty baskets left there over-night, when the unsold articles are returned. The baskets are usually filled with china and glass and ornaments, to the amount of from 5s. to 15s., according to the stock-money of the huckster. A basket filled with 15s. worth of china is considered, I am told, "a very tidy stock" in the same neighbourhood where they get the crockery, are made the baskets in which it is carried. For these baskets they pay from 1s. 6d. to 3s., and they are made expressly for the hucksters; indeed, on one side of a well-known street at the east-end, the baskets made in the cellars may be seen piled outside the houses up to the second-floor windows. The class of persons engaged in hawking china through the metropolis are either broken-down tradesmen or clerks out of place, or Jews, or they may be Staffordshire men who have been regularly bred to the business. They carry different kinds of articles. The Staffordshire man may generally be known by the heavy load of china that he carries with him. He has few light or fancy articles in his basket; it is filled chiefly with plates and dishes and earthenware pans. The broken down tradesman carries a lighter load. He prefers tea services and vases, and "rummers" and cruet-stands, as they are generally of a more delicate make than the articles carried by the Staffordshire men. The Jew, however, will carry nothing of any considerable weight. He takes with him mostly light, showy, Bohemian goods - which are difficult "to be prized" by his customers, and do not require much labour to carry about. The hucksters usually start on their rounds about nine. They mostly live in the neighbourhood of Bethnal-green-road. There are very few who take money; indeed, they profess to take none at all. "But that is all flam," said my informant. "If anyone was to ask me the price of an article in an artful way like, I shouldn't give him a straightforward answer. To such parties we always say, 'Have you got any old clothes?'" The hucksters do take money when they can get it, and they adopt the principle of exchanging their goods for old clothes merely as a means of evading the licence. Still they are compelled to do a great deal in the old clothes line. When they take money they usually reckon to get 4d. in the shilling, but at least three-fourths of their transactions consist of exchanges for old clothes. "A good tea service we generally give," said my informant, "for a left-off suit of clothes, hat, and boots - they must all be in a decent condition to fetch as much as that. We give a sugar-basin for an old coat, and a rummer for a pair of old Wellington boots. For a glass milk-jug I should expect a waistcoat and trousers; and they must be tidy ones, too. But there's nothing so saleable as a pair of old boots to us. There is always a market for old boots, when there is not for old clothes. You can always get a dinner out of old Wellingtons; but coats and waistcoats there's a fashion about them, and what pleases one don't another. I can sell a pair of old boots going along the streets, if I carry them in my hand. The snobs will run after us to get those - the backs are so valuable. Old beaver hats and waistcoats are worth little or nothing. Old silk hats, however, there's a tidy market for. They are bought for the shops, and are made up into new hats for the country. The shape is what is principally wanted. We won't give a farden for the polka hats with the low crowns. If we can double an old hat up and put it in our pockets, it's more valuable to us than a stiff one. We know that the shape must be good to stand that. As soon as a hatter touches a hat, he knows by the touch or the stiffness of it whether it's been 'through' the fire or not; and if so, they'll give it you back in a minute. There is one man who stands in Devonshire-street, Bishopsgate-street, waiting to buy the hats of us as we go into the market, and who purchases at least thirty dozen of us a week. There will be three or four there besides him, looking out for us as we return from our rounds, and they'll either outbid one another, according as the demand is, or they'll all hold together to give one price. The same will be done by other parties wanting the old umbrellas that we bring back with us. These are valuable principally for the whalebone. Cane-ribbed ones are worth only from 1d. to 2d. and that's merely the value of the stick and the supporters. Iron skewers are made principally out of the old supporters of umbrellas. The china and crockery bought by the hucksters at the warehouses are always second-rate articles. They are most of them a little damaged, and the glass won't stand hot water. Every huckster, when he starts, has a bag, and most of them two - the one for the inferior, and the other for the better kind of old clothes he buys. We purchase gentlemen's left-off wearing apparel. This is mostly sold to us by women. They are either the wives of tradesmen or mechanics who sell them to us; or else it is the servant of a lodging-house, who has had the things given to her, and with her we can deal much easier than the others. She's come to 'em light, and of course she parts with 'em light," said the man, "and she'll take a pair of sugar-basins worth about 6d., you know, for a thing that'll fetch two or three shillings sometimes. But the mistresses of the houses are she-dragons. They wants a whole dinner chany service for their husband's rags. As for plates and dishes, they think they can be had for picking up. Many a time they sells their husband's things unbeknown to 'em, and often the gentleman of the house, coming up to the door, and seeing us making a deal - for his trousers maybe - puts a stop to the whole transaction. Often and often I've known a woman to sell the best part of her husband's stock of clothes for chany ornaments for her mantelpiece. And I'm sure the other day a lady stripped the whole of her passage, and gave me almost a new great coat, that was hanging up in the hall, for a few trumpery tea-things. But the greatest 'screws' we have to deal with are some of the ladies in the squares. They stops you on the sly in the streets, and tells you to call at their house at sitch a hour of the day, and when you goes there they smuggles you quietly into some room by yourselves, and then sets to work Jewing away as hard as they can, prizing up their own things, and downcrying yourn. Why, the other day I was told to call at a fashionable part of Pimlico; so I gave a woman 3d to mind the child, and me and my good woman started off at eight in the morning with a double load. But, bless you, when we got there, the lady took us both into a private room unbeknown to the servants, and wanted me to go and buy expressly for her a green-and white chamber service all complete, with soap trays and brush trays, together with four breakfast cups - and all this here grand set-out she wanted for a couple of old washed-out light waistcoats, and a pair of light trousers! She tried hard to make me believe that the buttons alone on the waistcoats was worth 6d. a piece, but I knowed the value of buttons afore she were born; at first start-off I'm sure they wouldn't have cost ld. each; so I couldn't make a deal of it no how, and I had to take all my things back for my trouble. I asked her even for a pint of beer, but she wouldn't listen to such a thing. We generally cry as we go, 'Any old clothes to sell or exchange?' and I look down the area, and sometimes knock at the door. If I go out with a 15s. basket of crockery, may be after a tidy day's work I shall come home with one shilling in my pocket (perhaps I shall have sold a couple of tumblers, or half a dozen plates), and a bundle of old clothes, consisting of two or three old shirts, a coat or two, a suit of left-off livery, a woman's gown may be, or a pair of old stays, a couple of pair of Wellingtons, and a waistcoat or so. These I should have at my back, and the remainder of my chany and glass on my head, and werry probably a humberella or two under my arm, and five or six old hats in my hand. This load altogether will weigh about three-quarters of a hundredweight, and I shall have travelled fifteen miles with that at least; for as fast as I gets rid on the weight of the crockery, I takes up the weight of the old clothes. The clothes I hardly know the value on till I gets to the Clothes Exchange, in Houndsdjtch. The usual time for the hucksters arriving there is between three and four at this time of year, or between five and six in the summer. In fact, we must be at the Exchange at them hours, because there all our buyers is, and we can't go out the next day until we've sold our lot. We can't have our baskets stocked again until we've got the money for our old clothes." The Exchange is a large square plot of damp ground, about an acre in extent, enclosed by a hoarding about eight feet high, on the top of which is a narrow sloping roof, projecting sufficiently forward to shelter one person from the rain. Across this ground are placed four rows of double seats, ranged back to back. Here meet all the Jew clothes-men, hucksters, dealers in second-hand shoes, left-off wardrobe keepers, hare-skin dealers, umbrella dealers and menders, and indeed buyers and sellers of left-off clothes and worn-out commodities of every description. The purchasers are of all nations and in all costumes. Some are Greeks, others Swiss, and others Germans; some have come there to buy up old rough charity clothing and army coats for the Irish market, others have come to purchase the hare-skins and old furs, or else to pick up cheap old teapots and tea-urns. That man with the long flowing beard and greasy tattered gaberdine is worth thousands, and he has come to make another sixpence out of the rags and tatters that are strewn about the ground in heaps for sale. At a little before three o'clock the stream of rag-sellers sets in in a flood towards this spot. At the gate stands "Barney Aaron," to take the halfpenny admission of everyone entering the ground. By his side stands his son, with a leather pouch of halfpence to give change for any silver that may be tendered. The stench of the old clothes is positively overpowering. Everyone there is dressed in his worst. If he has any good clothes he does not put them on to go there. Almost each one that enters has a bag at his back, and scarcely has he passed the gate before he is surrounded by some half-dozen eager Jews: one feels the contents of the bundle on the huckster's back - another clamours for the first sight - a third cries, "I'm sure you have something that'll suit me." "You know me," says a fourth, "I'm a buyer, and give a good price." "Have you got any breaking?" asked this Jew, who wants an old coat or two to cut up into cloth caps - "Have you got any fustian, any old cords, or old boots?" And such is the anxiety and greediness of the buyers, that it is as much as the seller can do to keep his bundle on his back. At length he forces his way to a seat, and as he empties the contents of his sack on the ground, each different article is snapped up and eagerly overhaued by the different Jews that have followed him to his seat. Then they all ask what sum is wanted for the several things, and they, one and all, bid one quarter of the price demanded. I am assured that it requires the greatest vigilance to prevent the things being carried off unpaid in the confusion. While this scene is going on, a Jew, perched upon a high stage in the centre of the ground, shouts aloud to the multitude, "Hot wine, a halfpen'y a glass here!" Beside him stands another, with smoking cans of hot eels; and next to this one is a sweetmeat stall, with a crowd of Jew boys gathered round the keeper of it, gambling with marbles for Albert rock and hardbake. Up and down between the seats push women with baskets of sheep's trotters on their arms, and screaming, "Legs of mutton, two for a penny; who'll give me a handsel - who'll give me a handsel?" After them comes a man with a large tin can under his arm, and roaring, "Hot pea, oh! Hot pea, oh!" In one corner is a coffee and beer shop. Inside this are Jews playing at draughts, or settling and wrangling about the goods they have bought of one another. In fact, in no other place is such a scene of riot, rags, and filth to be witnessed. The cause of this excitement is the great demand, on the part of the poor, and the cheap clothiers as well, for those articles which are considered as worthless by the rich. The old shoes are to be cobbled up, and the cracks heelballed over, and sold out to the working classes as strong durable articles. The Wellingtons are to be new fronted, and disposed of to clerks who are expected to appear respectable upon the smallest salaries. The old coats and trousers are wanted for the slop-shops; they are to be "turned," and made up into new garments. The best black suits are to "clobbered" up; and those which are more worn in parts are to be cut up and made into new cloth caps or gaiters; whilst others are to be transformed into the "best boys' tunics." Such as are too far gone are bought to be torn to pieces by the "devil," and made up into new cloth, or "shoddy," as it is termed; while such as have already done this duty are sold for manure for the ground. The old shirts, if they are past mending, are bought as "rubbish" by the marine-store dealers, and sold as rags to the paper-mills, to be changed either into the bank-note, the newspaper, or the best satin note-paper. The average earnings of the hucksters who exchange crockery. china, and glass for the above articles, are from 8s. to l0s. a week. Some days, I am told, they will make 3s., and on others they will get only 6d. However, taking the good with the bad, it is thought that 10s. a week is about a fair average of the earnings of the whole class. The best times for this trade are at the turn of the winter, and at the summer season, because then people usually purchase new clothes, and are throwing off the old ones. The price of an old hat varies from ld. to 8d.; for an old pair of shoes. from ld. to 4d.; an old pair of Wellingtons fetch from 3d. to 1s. 6d. (those of French leather are of scarcely any value). An old coat is worth from 4d. to 1s.; waistcoats are valued from ld. to 3d.; trousers are worth from 4d. to 8d.; cotton gowns are of the same value; bonnets are of no value whatever; shirts fetch from 2d. to 6d.; stockings are ld. per pair; a silk handkerchief varies in value from 3d. to ls. The party supplying me with the above information was originally in the coal and greengrocery business, but, owing to a succession of calamities, he has been unable to carry it on. Since then he has taken to the vending of crockery in the streets, but owing to an insufficiency of capital he is incapable of making a living at it. He says if he could get £5, it would be the making of him in his present business. He seems to be a man far above the average of the class to which he at present belongs.
The regular itinerant old-clothes dealers are generally Jews; there are a few Christians among them, but these are exceptions. A Jew tells me that the Gentiles are not so speculative as they are, and the people do not like to deal with them. My informant, who is an Israelite, speaking and writing some dozen languages, and who has been fifty years in the business, says, "He is no bigot; indeed, he does not care where he buys his meat, so long as he can get it. He often goes into the Minories and buys some, without looking to how it has been killed, or whether it has a seal on it or not." The Christians, he says, are not near so speculative as we are. Now, our people will be out all day in the wet, and begrudge themselves a bit of anything to eat till they go home, and then maybe they'll gamble away their crown just for the love of speculation. He is confident there must be at least from 800 to 1,000 persons in the business. This he knows by the multitude of people about Petticoat-lane and Middlesex-street, and also by the number that pay to go into the Clothes Exchange every day. Part of the people that enter this place are Christians; these are chiefly the hucksters of crockeryware. Of these there are about 150 to 200, and not above six of these are Jews. The itinerant Jew clothesman is generally the son of a former old-clothesman, but many are cigar makers, and some pencil makers, who take to the business whenever their trade is slack; but nineteen out of twenty have been born to it. If the parents of the Jew are poor, and the son is a sharp lad, he generally commences business at ten years of age, by selling lemons or oranges in the street. The Jew boys are in general good boys to their fathers and mothers, and bring home every sixpence they earn. With his lemons the Jew boy will "get a round," or street connection, by becoming known to the neighbourhoods he visits. If he sees a servant, he will, when selling his lemons, ask if she has any old shoes or old clothes, and, if so, say he'll be a purchaser of them. if the clothes should come to more money than the Jew boy has in his pocket, he'll leave what silver he has as "an earnest upon them," and then go seek some regular old Jew clothesman, who will advance the purchase-money. This the old Jew agrees to do upon the understanding that he is to have "half Rybeck," that is, a moiety of the profit, and he will accompany the boy to the house to pass his judgment on the goods, and to see that the lad is not giving too much for them. After this he goes with the lad to Petticoat-lane, and there they will share together whatever money the clothes may bring over and above what has been paid for them. By such means the Jew boy gets his knowledge of the old clothes business; and so quick are these lads generally, that in the course of two months they will acquire sufficient experience in connection with the trade to begin dealing on their own account. There are plenty of them, I am told, at the age of fourteen, as sharp as a man of fifty. They are mostly in Petticoat-lane, Middlesex-street, and Cutler-street, where the business is principally carried on. The itinerant Jew clothesman lives at the east-end of the town. The greater number of them reside in Portsoken ward, Houndsditch, and their favourite localities in this district are either Cobb's-yard or Roper's-buildings, or Wentworth-street. Here they mostly occupy small houses, about 4s. 6d. a week rent, and live with their families. They are generally sober, though not particularly honest, people. It is seldom, however, that a Jew leaves his house and owes his landlord any money; and if his goods should be seized, the rest of his tribe will go round and collect what is owing. As a body of persons, they are particularly charitable one to the other, and never allow any of their own people to be in want or distress, if it is possible to prevent it. It is very seldom that an itinerant Jew clothesman takes away any of the property of the house that he may be called into. "I expect there's a good many of 'em," said my informant, "is fond of cheating - that is, they won't mind giving only 2s. for a thing that's worth five." They are remarkably fond of money, and will do almost anything to get it. They are perhaps the most money- loving people in all England. There are certainly some old-clothesmen, I am told, who will buy articles at such a price that they must know them to have been stolen. Their rule, however, is to ask no questions, and to get as cheap an article as possible. Jews are sober people in general, and the Jew clothesman is seldom or ever seen in liquor. They are particularly fond of "plays;" indeed, on a Friday night the Standard Theatre is above half filled with old-clothesmen. They love gambling for money, and at this they are mostly engaged, either at their own homes or at the public-houses in the neighbourhood. Their favourite games are tossing, dominoes, and cards. I am credibly informed by one of the people, that he has seen as much as £30 in silver and gold lying upon the ground when two parties have been playing at throwing three halfpence in the air. On a Saturday they gamble the whole of the morning and the greater part of the afternoon. They meet in some secret back place, about ten, and begin playing for what they call "one a time" - that is, tossing up three halfpence, and staking a shilling on the result. Other Jews, and occasionally a few Christians, will then gather round the gamblers, and bet upon them. Sometimes the bets laid by the Jew bystanders will be as high as £2 each; and I am assured that on more than one occasion he has seen the old-clothesmen wager as much as £50. But this is only done after great gains at gambling. If they can they will cheat, and this is frequently done by means of a halfpenny with a head or a tail on both sides, commonly called "a gray." The play lasts till the Jewish Sabbath is nearly over, and after this they retire either to their business or the theatre. They seldom or never say a word while they are losing, but merely stamp their foot on the ground; but it is dangerous to interfere with them when luck is against them. The rule is, when a man is losing, to let him alone. My informant has seen them often play for three hours together, and nothing be said all that time but head or tail. They seldom go to synagogue. and on a Sunday evening have generally card parties at their own houses. They seldom or never eat anything while on their rounds. The reason of this is, not because they object to eat meat killed by a Christian, but because they are afraid of losing "a deal," or, in other words, the chance of buying a lot of old clothes by so doing. They are generally too lazy to light their own fire before they start of a morning, and consequently nineteen out of twenty obtain their breakfasts at the coffee-shops in the neighbourhood of Houndsditch. When they return from their day's work, they have mostly some stew ready. prepared by their parents or wife, or, if they are not family men, they betake themselves to an eating-house. This is sometimes a Jewish house, but occasionally. if no one is looking, the Jew will steal into a Christian "cook-shop" - for they are not particular about eating "tryfer" - that is, meat that has been killed by a Christian. Those that are single will generally go to a neighbour, and agree with him to be found in food during the Sabbath; and for this the charge is generally about 2s. 6d. On a Saturday they always have cold fish for breakfast and supper; indeed, my informant assures me that a Jew would pawn the shirt off his back sooner than go without it; and in holiday-time he will have it, if he has to get it out of the stones. It is not reckoned a holiday among them unless they have fish. At Billingsgate the fish salesmen are so well acquainted with this fact, that the price of fish is always double on a Jews' holiday. The Jew clothesmen are generally far more cleanly in their habits than the lower orders of English people. Their hands they always wash before their meals; and this is done whether the party is a strict Jew or "Meshumet." Again, he will never use the same knife to cut his meat that he previously used to spread his butter, and he will not even put his meat on a plate that has had butter in it. Nor will he use for his soup the spoon that has had melted butter in it. This objection to mix butter with meat is carried so far, that, after partaking of the one, Jews will not eat of the other for the space of two hours. They are generally, when married, most exemplary family men. There are few fonder fathers than they are, and they will starve themselves sooner than their wives and children should want. Whatever their vices may be, at least they are good fathers, husbands, and sons. Their principal characteristic is their extreme love of money; and though the strict Jew will seldom trade himself on his Sabbath, he does not object to employ either one of his tribe, as well as a Gentile, to do so for him. The capital required for commencing in the old clothes line is generally about one pound. This the Jew frequently borrows, especially after holiday- time, for then he has generally spent all his earnings, excepting when he is a provident and saving man. When his stock-money is exhausted, he goes either to a neighbour or to a publican in the vicinity, and borrows £1 on the Monday morning, "to strike a light with," as he calls it, and agrees to return it on the Friday evening, with is. interest for the loan of it. This he always pays back. If he was to sell the coat off his back, he would do this, I am told, because to fail in so doing would be to prevent his obtaining any stock-money for the future. With this capital he starts on his rounds about eight in the morning; and I am assured he will frequently begin his work without tasting food, rather than break into the borrowed stock-money. Each man has his particular walk and never interferes with that of his neighbour; indeed, while upon another's beat he will seldom cry for clothes. Sometimes they go half "Kybeck" together - that is, they will share the profits of the day's business; and when they agree to do this, the one will take one street, and the other another. The lower the neighbourhood the more old clothes are there for sale. At the east-end of the town they like the neighbourhoods frequented by sailors, and there they purchase of the girls and the women the sailors' jackets and trousers. But they buy the most of the marine-store dealers; for as the Jew clothesman never travels the streets by night-time, the parties who have old clothes to dispose of in the evening usually sell them to the marine-store dealers. The first thing that the Jew does in the morning is to seek out these shops, and see what he can pick up there. At the west-end the itinerant clothesmen prefer the mews at the back of gentlemen's houses to all other places, or else the streets where the little tradesmen and small genteel families reside. But he does the most of his business at the marine-store shops at the west as well as at the east end of London. What they purchase overnight, the Jew buys in the morning. He mostly looks out for old hats that are not worn at the tip (that is round the crown). Let them be crushed flat, it is no matter to him; they can be made as good as new if the tip is unworn. For these he generally gives 6d, never more, and often 2d. or ld., "if people knows no better," says my informant; and he will sell them for is. or is. 3d. each. Dress coats are of no great value to the Jew; for these are chiefly cut up for the cap-makers. He never gives more than 1s. for these, and they fetch him but 1s. 6d. The cause of these coats being of so little value arises from the little demand there is for them among poor or working men. But old frock coats are always saleable, summer and winter; and if they are wanted for cutting up, there is a good skirt, they say, hanging to them, that will make plenty of caps; whereas dress coats, if the body is bad, will not cut up into even one cap. The caps made out of the skirts of the oldest frock coat will fetch as much as 4s. 6d. each. All the cap shops at the east and west part of London are supplied by the Polish Jews with cloth caps that are made out of the skirts of the left-off frock coats. This article is the Jew's greatest gain. The parties who sell them to him are generally unacquainted with the difference in value between the frock and dress coat. The frock coat, even if the sleeves and collar be an inch thick in grease, is worth about 4s. 6d. to the jew, whereas the dress coat is only one-third of the value to him. The thicker the grease, the fresher is the wool beneath, and the "clobberer" can clean up the dirtiest coat in a few minutes. The Jew, in buying a frock coat, first overhauls it, as he terms it, and regulates his price according to the wear of the sleeve. If the coat is good throughout, with the exception of the "under sleeve," this can be put in new, and matched so perfectly that the buyer cannot tell the new from the old cloth. nor the seller either, after a few weeks' wear; and by this means a very serviceable coat for the mechanic or clerk is produced out of a gentleman's left-off surtout. The coats are generally renovated. that is, recoloured in the parts where they have gone white at the seams. The dye used for recolouring old "seedy" coats is gall and logwood, with a small portion of copperas. The crockcoat, when renovated and new undersleeved, will be sold for 10s., in case they can get no more. "The Jew salesman will often ask 25s. - and take it, too, says my candid Israelite, "if the buyer is flat enough to give it." - The conversation that generally goes on at such times, he tells me, is the following: - "How much is this here?" says the man who comes to buy it. "One pound five," replies the Jew seller. "I won't give you above half the money." "Half the money!" cries the Jew, "I can't take that money. What above the 16s. that you offer now will you give for it? Will you give me eighteen?" asks the Jew. "Well, come, give us your money, I've got ma rent to pay." But the man says, "I only bid you 12s. 6d., and I shan't give no more." And if the Jew finds he can't get him to "spring," or advance any further, he says, "I suppose I must take your money, even if I lose by it. You'll be a better customer another time." This is the usual "deal," I am assured by one who began the business at thirteen years old, and is now upwards of sixty years of age. The Jew will always ask at least twice as much as he means to take. With trousers, the itinerant Jew clothesman does very well - indeed, better than with coats. The trousers, if broken at the knee are almost useless, and only fit for cutting up; but if broken at the seat they are easily repaired, and this is so well done that it makes little or no difference to the wearer. For trousers the old-clothesman will give from 1s. to 4s. For doing up an old pair of trousers with new waistband linings, cleaning, and reseating them complete, the Jew clothesman pays 1s., and he sells them from 4s. to 8s. each. Boots are the most difficult things to buy in the whole of the old-clothes business. If they are not sound behind, the regular height, and the straps perfect at the top, they are scarcely worth carrying home, being fit only for cutting. The price usually given for boots with unsound backs is about 3d., and with sound backs they are of the value of 1s. 6d., no matter what may be the state of the soles or upper leathers. The boots sold by the Jew clothesmen are generally purchased by bootmakers who are in connection with some working man's "boot club"; they are new footed, and then sold at 14s. the pair. There are two exchanges for the sale of the old clothes that the itinerant Jew purchases on his rounds. One of these is called "Isaac's Exchange," and is situate at Phil's-buildings, Houndsditch; the other is in Cutler-street, and is known by the name of "Simmons's Exchange." To either of these places the Jew clothesman makes his way in the afternoon. Wherever his round may be in London, to one of those quarters he will come in the evening. The business in these places begins at one, and ends at four in the winter and eight in the summer. These are the great marts where all the left-off wearing apparel is disposed of. "Forty years ago, I have made as much as £5 in a week by the purchase of old clothes in the streets," says my Jew informant. "Upon an average then, I could earn weekly about £2. But now things are different. People are more wide awake. Every one knows the value of an old coat now. The women knows more than the men. The general average, I think, take the good weeks with the bad, throughout the year, is about £1 a week; some weeks they get £2, and some they gets scarcely none."
According to the above statement of the weekly gains of the Jew clothesmen, and the number of the itinerant purchasers of left-off wearing apparel, frequenting the streets of London, it follows that the value of the old clothes of the metropolis amounts to about £52,000 per annum.
The street Lucifer-Match Trade is in the hands of persons who are unable to earn a penny by any other means, or who resort to it through roguery, or through sheer idleness, as a pretext for begging. It is mentioned by the poor as the very last shift. The persons who sell lucifer matches are of every age. In the New Cut, Lambeth, for instance, on a Saturday night especially, are many hale, strong, Irish labourers, some of whom beg vociferously, telling the most pitiful stories, and following the passers-by with provoking pertinacity. A man who has a long time had "a pitch" in the New Cut - a decent, intelligent man, who through accident had been crippled in his business of a glass-blower, and so was driven to his present occupation sells sometimes two dozen boxes a day - very rarely more - and seldom less than one dozen. He unites with the lucifer trade the sale of envelopes, writing paper, and other articles. He can leave his stock in the street, merely covered over, not even locked up - it is comprised in a sort of desk - because it says "it's hardly worth robbing; and who would rob a poor man?" The lucifer boxes cost him 3d. a dozen; he sells them for a halfpenny each, his customers being servant-maids and the wives of working men. He sometimes clears 15d. a day - averaging, perhaps, something less than 1s. - and considers that he is the most prosperous of any of his class in that populous neighbourhood, though he is always outsold on a Saturday night by a big Irishman, who sings "Mary Blane," and dances, and capers, and performs many antics, as a means of attracting a crowd about him, and so obtaining a great sale for his boxes or other wares. The really poverty-stricken vendors of lucifers are persons who have been discharged from the hospitals, friendless and penniless, and women, who have been in the House of Correction for petty offences, and have regained their liberty. Children are frequently sent out, their raggedness being rendered as conspicuous as possible, by parents who do not mind exposing them to any inclemency for a few pence. Within the recollection of my informant the sellers of lucifer-boxes have greatly increased. Within these three months he has recognised between thirty and forty new faces in and about the Cut; many of them he considers rather well-educated women. Among those driven to lucifer-match selling, I may instance the case of a soldier's widow. She lived in comfort with her husband, who had a pension of 6d. a day, while she carried on the business of a laundress, sometimes employing six women to wash, and as many to iron for her. Her husband's long illness enforced her constant attendance upon him; she had in consequence to neglect her business, and lost her connection, and at her husband's death was in the greatest distress. She sells lucifer matches, not having any other resource, the parish refusing her relief; she never sells more than two dozen, which leaves her a profit of 5d., as she gives 3?d. a dozen for them. In bad weather she sells hardly any, and has sometimes to walk the streets all night, for want of a shelter. She knows very many in the same condition as herself. Some of the dealers in lucifers let out boxes by the dozen or half-dozen, on trust, to girls, for sale or return, exacting daily payment with a per-centage. The lucifer- match sellers are a fluctuating class, and are comprised of every description of the wretched, the feeble, the imbecile and the cheating. I did not hear of any who purchased their wares at the manufacturer's, but always at the oilman's. Among the little girls who sell lucifers, and say that they clear 1d. or 2d. a day, some are quick and intelligent as regards their account of their way and means of living; indeed, they are painfully quick, I may say. They are untaught, barefooted, half-clad, shivering with cold, and their parents sick, or starving, or roguish. Their probable fate may be conjectured.
The Sellers of Boot and Stay Laces are of the same character as the sellers of lucifers. Either calling can be started by any one with a few pence. In the sale of laces, persons of both sexes are engaged; but the most successful, and those who make themselves known in a neighbourhood, are generally men who loudly announce their wares. One man, a baker by trade, who had come from Shropshire to London in search of employment, through sickness and inability to get work, sells boot and stay laces. He might, on fine days - for all these poor people represent the weather as of great importance in the successful pursuit of their avocations - sell a dozen of boot laces, and another dozen of stay laces; these cost him 3d. or 4d. a dozen at any draper's, according to the quality. and are sold at a halfpenny a-piece. Children are not so much employed in vending these wares, as it has been long the custom of the dealers to cry them, and not unfrequently with the tag of a rhyme - "Long and strong, a penny a pair!" "Two a penny, the best of any!" and such like. With the sale of these laces the man we have mentioned combined that of hearthstones - pursuing one in the morning, the other in the after-part of the day - which is a common arrangement with these articles. His great sale, as he called it, was on Fridays and Saturdays, when he would sell eighteen hearthstones, which brought him 9d., and cost him 6d. On other days he would sell eight, or six, or four, or none. Those who take up this business from destitution and necessity find it their interest to search out new neighbourhoods, often going great distances from their lodging-houses, because in the more frequented localities some old woman, or infirm man, inheriting somewhat the privileges of "the long-remembered beggar," has a sort of monoply in the business, having been long known to the inhabitants. The man from whom I derived my information, which was confirmed on all hands as to the state of this trade generally, was a sickly- looking, well-spoken man, living in a Westminster lodging-house - "for travellers," as the shutters announced - a place unventilated, dirty, foul in air, and crowded beyond decency. What all these poor creatures seem to esteem a luxury is warmth - no matter with what unhealthy accompaniments.
The street vendors of Blacking purchase it at the blacking manufactories. They buy it by the half-gross, for which they pay 1s. 6d. The class who vend it are the poorest of the poor. It takes from 2s. to 2s. 6d. to commence blacking vendor. The quality is very good generally; sometimes it is not quite so good as at other times. They are obliged to live in low-rented rooms, and those who have no home live in lodging-houses. There are some hundreds who sell blacking in London, but it is generally confined to boys and girls. They get 6d. a dozen profit, or 1s. 6d. a half- gross. They can sell half a gross from Saturday night at six o'clock till Sunday morning at eleven o'clock. On the Saturday night they stop out till twelve o'clock. They only sell on the Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, as no one will buy on the other nights in the week. Sometimes the poor are their customers, and sometimes the rich, but mostly the poor. Some of their customers want three skins a penny, but they won't let them have them. Sometimes they suffer from the wet and cold, as they are always out of a Saturday night and Sunday morning, let the weather be ever so wet and cold. Their meals sometimes consist of bread and butter, and sometimes of bread and dripping, and often dry bread. "It's only them that's got a father or mother as can get a bit of meat. There are many as ain't got no father nor mother, and they sleeps under the arches, or else in some of them ere houses that nobody lives in." These destitute boys, beside earning a small sum by selling blacking, get some halfpence by holding gentlemen's horses, carrying small parcels, and sweeping the crossings; and some of them go and pick up coals that fall off the barges. These coals they sell to poor people about 2d. a quarter of a cwt. They will often earn as much as 4d., and sometimes 6d. a day. "They often play at pitch in the hole and toss with the money they get. If they lose all, they are forced to lie all night under the arches. These often turn out thieves and pick-pockets, and everything else that is bad."
The next class that I sought out were the hucksters of tape and cotton. These are usually elderly females; and I was directed to one who had been getting her living by such means for nine years. I was given to understand that the woman was in deep distress, and that she had long been supporting a sick husband by her little trade; but I was wholly unprepared for a scene of such startling misery, sublimed by untiring affection and pious resignation, as I there discovered.
I wish the reader to understand that I do not cite this case as a type of the sufferings of this particular class, but rather as an illustration of the afflictions which frequently befall those who are solely dependent on their labour, or their little trade, for their subsistence, and who, from the smallness of their earnings, are unable to lay by even the least trifle as a fund against any physical calamity.
The poor creatures lived in one of the close alleys at the east- end of London. On inquiring at the house to which I had been directed, I was told I should find them in the "the two-pair back." I mounted the stairs, and on opening the door of the apartment I was terrified with the misery before me. There, on a wretched bed, lay an aged man in almost the last extremity of weakness. At first I thought the poor old creature was really dead, but a tremble of the eyelids as I closed the door, as noiselessly as I could. told me that he breathed. His face was as yellow as clay, and it had more the cold damp look of a corpse than that of a living man. His cheeks were hollowed in with evident want, his temples sunk, and his nostrils pinched close. On the edge of the bed sat his heroic wife, giving him drink with a spoon from a tea-cup. In one corner of the room stood the basket of tapes, cottons, combs, braces, nutmeg-graters and shaving-glasses, with which she strove to keep her poor old dying husband from the workhouse. I asked her how long her husband had been ill, and she told me he had been confined to his bed five weeks last Wednesday, and that it was ten weeks since he had eaten the bulk of a nut of solid food. Nothing but a little beef-tea had passed his lips for months past. "We have lived like children together," said the old woman, as her eyes flooded with tears; "never had no dispute. He hated drink, and there was no cause for us to quarrel. One of my legs, you see, is shorter than the other," said she, rising from the bedside, and showing me that her right foot was several inches from the ground as she stood, "You see my hip is out. I used to go out washing, and walking in my pattens I fell down. My hip is out of the socket three-quarters of an inch, and the sinews is drawn up. I am obliged to walk with a stick." Here the man groaned, and coughed so that I feared the exertion must end his life. "Ah, the heart of a stone would pity that poor fellow!" said the fond wife. "After I put my hip out, I couldn't get my living as I'd been used to do. I couldn't stand a day if I got five hundred pounds for it. I must sit down. So I got a little stall and sat at the end of the alley here, with a few laces and tapes and things. I've done so for this nine year past, and seen many a landlord come in and go out of the house that I sat at. My husband used to sell small ware in the streets - black lead, and furniture paste, and blacking. We got a sort of a living, you see. by this, the two of us together. It's very seldom we had a bit of meat. We had 1s. 9d. rent to pay. Come, my child, will you have another little drop to wet your mouth?" said the woman, breaking off. "Come, my dearest, let me give you this," said she, as the man let his jaw fall, and she poured some warm sugar and water flavoured with cinnamon (it was all she had to give him) into his mouth. "He's been an ailing man these many years. He used to go on errands for me, buy my little things for me, on account of my being lame. We assisted one another, you see. He wasn't able to go about; so he used to go about and buy what I sold for me. I am sure he never earned above 1s. 6d. in the week. He used to attend me, and many a time I've sat for ten and fourteen hours in the cold and wet, and didn't take a sixpence. Some days I'd make a shilling, and some days less; but whatever I got, 1 used to have to put a good part into the basket to keep my little stock. [A knock here came to the door; it was a halfpenny-worth of darning cotton.] You know a shilling goes further with a poor couple that's sober than two shillings does with a drunkard. We lived poor, you see, never had nothing but tea, or we could not have done anyhow. If I'd take 18d. in the day, I'd think I was grandly off, and then if there was 6d. profit got out of that, it would be almost as much as it would. You see these cotton braces here (said the old woman, going to her tray). Well, I gives 2s. 9d. a dozen for these, and I sells 'em for 4?d., and oftentimes 4d. a pair. Now this piece of tape would cost me seven farthings in the shop, and I sells it at six yards a penny. It has the name of being eighteen yards. The profit out of it is five farthings. It's beyond the power of man to wonder how there's a bit of bread got out of such a small way! Now the times is bad, too -1 think I could say I could get 8d. a day profit if I got any sort of custom but I couldn't exceed that at the best of times. I've often sat at the end of the alley and taken only 6d., and that's not much more than 2d. clear - it ain't 3d, I'm sure. I think I could safely say that for the last nine years me and my husband has earned together 5s. a week, and out of that the two of us had to live and pay rent- 1s. 9d. a week. Clothes I could buy none, for the best garment is on me; but I thank the Lord still! I've paid my rent all but three weeks, and that isn't due till to-morrow. We have often reckoned it up here at the fire. Some weeks we have got 5s. 3d., and some weeks less, so that I judge we have had about 3s. to 3s. 6d. a week to live upon, the two of us, for this nine years past. Half-a-hundred of coals would fit me the week in the depths of winter. My husband would have the kettle always boiling for me against I'd come in. He used to sit here, reading his book; he never was fit for work, at the best; and I used to be out minding the basket. He was also so sober and quiet. His neighbours will tell that of him. Within the last ten weeks he's been very ill indeed, but still I could be out with the basket. Since then he's never earnt me a penny: poor old soul, he wasn't able! All that time I still attended to my basket. He wasn't so ill then but what he could do a little here in the room for himself; but he wanted little. God knows! He couldn't eat. After he fell ill, I had to go all my errands myself. I had no one to help, for I'd nothing to pay them; and I'd have to walk from here down to Sun-street with my stick, till my bad leg pained me so that I could hardly stand. You see, the hip being put out has drawn all the sinews of my hip up into my groin, and it leaves me incapable of walking or standing constantly; but I thank God that I've got the use of it anyhow! Our lot's hard enough, goodness knows; but we are content. We never complain. but bless the Lord for the little he pleases to give us. When I was away on my errands, in course I could'nt be minding my basket; so I lost a good bit of money that way. Well, five weeks on Wednesday he has been totally confined to his bed, excepting when I lift him up to make it some nights; but he can't bear that now. Still, the first fortnight he was bad I did manage to leave him, and earn a few pence; but latterly, for this last three, I haven't been able to go out at all, to do anything." "She's been stopping by me, minding me here night and day all that time," mumbled the old man, who now for the first time opened his grey glassy eyes, and turned towards me, to bear, as it were, a last tribute to his wife's incessant affection. "She has been most kind to me. Her tenderness and care has been such that man never knew from woman before, ever since I lay upon this sick bed. We've been married five-and-twenty years. We have always lived happily - happily, indeed - together. Until sickness and weakness overcome me, I always strove to help myself a bit, as well as I could; but since then she has done all in her power for me - worked for me - aye, she has worked for me, surely, and watched over me. My creed through life has been repentance towards God, faith in Jesus Christ, and love to all my brethren. I've made up my mind that I must soon change this tabernacle; and my last wish is that the good people of this world will increase her little stock for her. She cannot get her living out of the little stock she has, and since I lay here it's lessened so, that neither she nor no one else can live upon it. If the kind hearts would give her but a little stock more, it would keep her old age from want, as she has kept mine. Indeed, indeed, she does deserve it. But the Lord, I know, will reward her for all she has done to me." The old man's eyelids dropped exhausted. "I've had a shilling and a loaf twice from the parish," continued the woman. "The overseer came to see if he was fit to be removed to the workhouse. The doctor gave me a certificate that he was not; and then the relieving officer gave me a shilling and a loaf of bread, and out of that shilling I bought my poor old man a sup of port wine. I bought a quartern of wine, which was 4d., and I gave 5d. for a bit of tea and sugar, and I gave 2d. for coals; a halfpenny rush-light I bought, and a short candle; that made a penny - and that s the way I laid out that shilling. If God takes him, I know he'll sleep in Heaven. I know the life he's spent, and am not afraid; but no one else shall him from me - nothing shall part us but death in this world. Poor old soul, he can't be long with me. He's a perfect skeleton. His bones are starting through his skin. But he's clean, thank goodness, I can say - not a speck upon his body." I asked what could be done for her; and the old man thrust forth his skinny arm, and laying hold the bed-post, he raised himself slightly in his bed, as he murmured, "If she could be got into a little parlour, and away from sitting in the streets, it would be the saving of her." And so saying, he fell back, overcome with the exertion, and breathed heavily. The woman sat down beside me and went on: "What shocked him most was that I was obligated in his old age to go and ask for relief at the parish. You see, he was always a spiritful man, and it hurted him sorely that he should come to this at last, and for the first time in his lifetime. The only parish money that ever we had was this, and it does hurt him every day to think that he must be buried by the parish after all: he was always proud, you see."
I told the kind-hearted old dame that some benevolent people had placed certain funds at my disposal for the relief of such distress as hers; and I assured her that neither she nor her husband - should want for anything that might ease their sufferings.