Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Service Industry / General - Knackers

Crack - crack – crack - he goes on his knees - he is whipped on his feet - he falls over on his side - he never gets up again. Crack – crack - Oh! very well - whip away till you are black in the face - the poor animal's time is up - his slavery is over - he will never drag wain more. The mob comes up, as usual, through the cllinks of the stones, or else drops down from the sky; but there it is, talking, shouting, giving advice, loosening the traces, dragging away the wagon shafts from poor old Dobbin, whose glazing eye, and short, heaving breath, shows that his heart is broken. The whip - that universal horse medicine, is applied to head, withers, and flank; but it won't do; Dobbin merely lifts his head, as he would say, let me die in peace, winces under the lash, and lays himself down again.
    The knacker is sent for. Dobbin cannot be permitted to die in peace - a dead horse and a killed horse are two different things in the cat's-meat market - the knacker's cart arrives in double quick - the mob admires the cart, the royal arms, and the inscription, “Knacker to her Majesty." The royal knacker - a swell knacker in cords and tops, with a bit of butcher's apron, just as big as a bishop's - merely to distinguish his profession - pole-axe in hand, descends from his vehicle; the delighted mob closes in, eager to witness the scientific operation. The pole-axe is driven at one blow through the frontal bone of the expiring animal ;a willow wand, finger thick, is pushed into the hole, and twisted about in the brain pan with great dexterity ; the animal is fearfully convulsed, writhing in the most intense agony - the mob is quite in raptures at every kick of one brute and twist of the other - fainter and fainter become the death struggles of Dobbin - another turn or two, as a finisher - he is dead.
    Now a chain is fastened to the dead horse's neck, and made fast at the other end to a windlass, with rack and pinion fixed between the shafts of the knacker's vehicle; this is tilted up, and Dobbin slowly ascends, amid the facetious remarks and jocose sallies of the gratified spectators. “Sassengers," exclaims one fellow (a laugh); "Real Epping," shouts another (laughter); “ Polonies," shrieks a third (much laughter); “Small Germans," “Leg of beef," “Kidney puddins," and a profusion of other allusions to the probable esculent qualities of the respected deceased.
    A few extempore fights, got up by rival pot-boys, diversify the entertainment ;the royal knacker disappears, the mob “maketh itself air, into which it vanisheth," and you walk off, greatly pleased with the extreme sensibility and innate dislike of anything like cruelty, which so eminently distinguishes the true-born cockney.

John Fisher Murray, The Physiology of London Life , in Bentley's Miscellany, 1844


see also Henry Mayhew in Letters to the Morning Chronicle - click here


see also W.J.Gordon in The Horse World of London - click here


see also James Greenwood in Odd People in Odd Places - click here