see also Charles Manby Smith in The Little World of London - click here
I fell in talk with a
neat pleasant looking young woman who stood next me.
Her father, it gradually appeared, is a farmer near Lutterworth; & she, his only daughter, is a draper's shopwoman. ... I offered her my arm & umbrella and I found she was ready to tell me all I wanted to know about the life of the shop. . . .
Her employer, whom she called 'the Master' and 'our old gentleman', is a bachelor, and keeps eight attendants for his shop, four male, four female. These all, except one man, live in the house, but not with the master. They have a common sittingroom for meals, down stairs in the cellar next the kitchen; and a common drawingroom parlour, at the top of the house. In these they all, young men and young women, sit together, the men however breakfasting & dining at a different time. There is no elder person present, but the cook downstairs has a certain authority. 'We have to get our meals as we can', she said: 'sometimes when you've gone down to get dinner, the shopbell rings, and up you've to come without tasting a thing. The "young ladies" begin work at eight, and go on till nine at night-you don't go out of the shop all day except downstairs for meals; ... I stand behind the counter-we have one counter & the men the other. Our customers is chiefly ladies; and Ladies are so tiresome .
'We've not many gentlemen customers', she went on, 'ours is mostly a ladies' shop: but sometimes a gentleman might come in for gloves or that. Yes, if he asked me to put the gloves on for him, I should, of course; but not without. And if he wanted to joke me, I should say "one of the young men'll attend to you, Sir". Our old gentleman is very particular about us joking with the young men, or the travellers ... he's very particular who you go with: if I was to stop out meals of a Sunday without asking, he'd have ever so many questions about where I'd been when I got home. "Eliza" he says sometimes, "what 'ud your father an' mother say tome if I didn't keep an eye to you?". . ...
'We go out for a walk sometimes after shop hours, from halfpast nine; the men don't often go with us; they try to, but we don't want 'em. I think we like 'em very well, but there's no sweethearting between us. We sit with them of an evening upstairs after supper, and talk; yes, we talk about the customers a good deal, what's happened in the day; that's the chief of what we talk about, I think. I never go out to any amusements hardly; not dancing rooms, no! our old gentleman mould be in a way if I was to go to them. On Sundays we all dine with the master; we go to church, and have to be in at meals, unless we ask leave; but we have the evenings to ourselves, from half past six till eleven; and then I go and see some friends in Pimlico sometimes, or else for a walk, like tonight. . .
'Yes, we're prenticed first; it's according the premium you pay; I was prentice two years, but some's three. ... They rise you [in salary] every year, according; if they didn't rise 'em, they'd go. And of course there's board & lodging besides. Yes, it's much better than service; but the men get a deal more than us. We have to dress nicely for the shop, of course; but he dont like us to be too smart.' It seemed strange enough that Eliza should prefer such a life as she described, to the freshness and freedom of a farm: that however is the foolishness of half educated girls: and I was much pleased, not only with her story but with herself.
Arthur Munby Diary 1861
see also James Greenwood in Toilers in London - click here