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it well that while we range with Science, glorying in. the Time,
City children soak and blacken soul and sense in city slime ?
There among the gloomy alleys Progress halls on palsied feet,
Grime and hunger cast our maidens by the thousand on the street.
There the Master scrimps his haggard sempstress of her daily bread,
There a single sordid attic holds the living and the dead!"
THE flower-girl is such a familiar sight to Londoners,
that few of us realise what the streets of the metropolis would miss if she were
"The world would be a sorry place if it had no flowers in it," an old man said to one of our Commissioners, while he was buying some prim- roses from a girl at the corner of Oxford Street. It was Primrose Day, and the old man was fastening a small bunch of primroses in his coat when our Commissioner stopped beside the flower-girl's basket.
Fifteen years ago no flower-girls enlivened London thoroughfares. If people wanted flowers they were obliged to find a nursery garden, or to visit a market. At these places flowers were then very expensive ; for the people had not at that time learnt to appreciate simple flowers [-2-] like primroses and daffodils ; they only cared for costly exotics.
Now any one can during the spring season buy enough flowers in the streets to deck a room for sixpence, and a small bunch of violets or a button-hole for one penny. Nothing comes amiss to the flower-girl's basket snowdrops, crocuses, violets, "dim, but sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes or Cytherea's breath;" "daisies pied, and lady-smocks all silver-white, or cuckoo buds of yellow hue, that paint the meadows with delight." These the flower-girl brings to us in the spring season. Later on she offers us roses and carnations, geraniums and mignonette. Last of all, she fills her basket with foreign flowers and ferns from the Continent. Every one buys of her that is to say, every pedestrian, from the young girl, "a maiden in her flower," on her way to tennis, to the poor sempstress, whose home is a garret. Only the other day a working man, whose little child lay dead in a hospital, picked up a bunch of violets that some one richer than himself had bought from a flower-girl and thrown away, or dropped. He carried them to the mortuary, and placed them in the little dead child's cold fingers. As he left the place the nurse heard him say to himself, " The little un was always so fond of violets."
[-3-] It is wonderful to witness the love which the poorest and lowest people in London have for flowers. They watch over their sickly geraniums and blighted dwarf rose-trees with more devotion than a gardener bestows on hot-house plants, which he expects to see later on carrying off prizes at exhibitions. In the East End markets, flowers in pots, musk plants, and shrubs, are sold to people who never eat meat during the week, who can scarcely afford to buy meat on Sunday. This love of flowers is one of the most hopeful symptoms in the condition of the very poor in London.
"I believe," says one who has studied the ways of such people closely, "that the bunch of violets, on which a poor woman or her husband has expended a penny, rarely ornaments an unswept hearth."
To learn how much the poor appreciate flowers, one has only to pass by our large London hospitals on a Sunday afternoon, at the hour when patients are allowed to see their friends and relations. Outside the hospital gates stand men and women selling flowers at low prices, flowers which are bought by poor people to give the patients. Also at the entrances of our great cemeteries flower-sellers take their stand on Sundays, and mourners purchase from them bunches [-4-] of flowers to lay on the graves, or plants to place beside the tombstones of those who have gone over to "the great majority."
It is a fact that on Saturdays more flowers are sold in the London streets than on any other day of the week ; and these are bought by working-men and working-women out of their small, hardly-earned wages.
Flowers carry a message of love and hope even to slum children. The following is a true anecdote.
When the present matron of the London Hospital was a nurse at the Westminster Hospital, a little child under her care became one night so ill that the house-doctor thought it was dying. This child had been brought from one of the slums that lie not far away from Westminster Abbey. It was accustomed to hear oaths, to see drunken quarrels ; nothing else. When it lay near death, it was heard to say, "That's daddy," as a drunken man passed beneath the windows of the ward singing a ribald song accompanied by a volley of curses.
The nurse thought it sad that this child should pass away knowing nothing of earth but sin and misery. She had in her dress a bunch of violets which she had bought from a flower-girl's basket. She showed these violets to the child, [-5-] who lay on her knee, and she spoke of a place called heaven, where all would be happiness, into which sorrow and sin would never enter. The child did not understand. So she took the flowers out of her dress, and said, "Look here, heaven is full of things like this; look at these violets!"
"Then I'll pick 'em, nurse," the child said, with that perfect faith which only comes to little children.
all places then, and in all seasons,
Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us by most persuasive reasons
How akin they are to human things."
The Pall Mall Gazette gives the following description
of a flower-girl's appearance:-
"Her gown is generally of dark stuff or print, practically short in the skirt, and over her jacket-bodice she wears a woollen shawl of bright, not to say gaudy hues, pinned across the bust to each side of her waist, whence depends an ample apron of unbleached linen or coloured print. Her black bonnet, if she wears a bonnet, will generally have a gay flower in it ; a pair of bright metal earrings hang at her ears ; her boots are strong and water-tight, laced with leather thongs."
[-6-] This description is true with regard to all things but boots and bonnets. It would be well indeed if the flower-girl had strong and watertight boots. The boots she wears are, as a rule, full of holes, and show her dirty stockings or naked feet. She generally buys her boots in old clothes-markets, and the sight of a good pair of boots on the feet of a flower-girl is so rare that our Commissioners assert it has never been their good fortune to witness it. The flower-girl seldom wears a bonnet. Her head-gear is almost always an old black hat, with a limp, coloured feather in front, and some bits of black ribbon or velvet at the back.
Even flower-girls belong to feather clubs. One girl collects the pence from the rest ; then a raid is made on some shop where cheap coloured feathers are kept, in which ostrich tips can be had for twopence or threepence, and long ostrich feathers for one shilling or eighteenpence. Such clubs are to be found among working- girls all over London, and are rudimentary attempts at organisation which ought not to be scoffed at by those people who believe in the redemption of female labour by means of trades unions.
There are at the present time about 2,000 flower-girls in London. These figures include [-7-] the girls who sell water-cress, and the girls who act as street-hawkers.
Flower-girls may be divided into two classes those who sell by day and those who sell by night. It is needless to say which class is the most respectable. Sometimes girls of the first class are obliged to stay out until three o'clock in the morning, because they cannot get rid of their merchandise; but generally such girls go home at dark, and get up early in the morning to replenish their baskets. Girls of the second class come out at nine or ten o'clock at night and stay in the streets until the morning.
Flower-girls become street hawkers during the winter months, when flowers are scarce, and only the old hands can sell enough to keep body and soul together.
After "Lavender! sweet lavender! Who'll buy my sweet lavender?" has been heard in the suburbs, flower-girls fill their baskets with oranges, and go about singing, "Oranges, two-a-pinny oranges!" Or they sell dry goods, such as fusees and lucifer matches.
It is important to bear in mind that flower-girls and street-hawkers are the same individuals plying different trades at different seasons of the year. They sell flowers in summer, fruit and matches in winter. The water-cress seller belongs to their [-8-] ranks. She is a poorer sister. The cress trade is chiefly carried on by old women, who buy it at one penny the "hand, and sell it outside factories and places of business. During mid-winter there is practically no water-cress ; so the piteous tales which one reads about children shivering while they wash cress under pumps are rather exaggerated. Yet it is cold enough on February mornings; and one may then see barefooted children buying a "hand" or two "hands" of cress in Farringdon Market. These "hands" they sell again in back streets, and in mews, with a very small profit. Many a London child goes out thus to earn its breakfast. Its boots (if it has any) arc kept at home, for otherwise it would not escape the School Board visitor whose business it is to hunt up truants.
A "hand" can be made by a clever cress-seller into four penny bunches. It is calculated that 15,000,000 "hands" of cress are sold in London during the year; but of course in a matter like this it is impossible to get accurate statistics.
A Commissioner reports the following case of a cress-girl, visited a few weeks ago at her lodging in Soho:-
"Mounting a steep, dark staircase," the Cornmissioner says, "I came to a room the door of which stood open. The room measured eight [-9-] feet by ten feet, certainly not more. The window was broken, and a dirty yellow apron was stretched across the cracked glass. The furniture consisted of a four-post bedstead, on which were a filthy mattress and an old torn blanket. Underneath the bed stood a large basket, full of watercress. Above the empty fireplace hung a rosary, and on the wall near the bed was a picture of the Virgin Mary.
"I lifted the yellow apron, and looked down into the yard. Dead cats, old baskets, bits of wood, rags and refuse, lay on the slanting roofs. Far down, almost further than I could see, stood a girl by a pump. She was filling a bucket, and I felt sure that she was the girl I had come to visit. So I waited. Presently she came upstairs, carrying the bucket. She did not inquire what I wanted, but began at once to wash her cress and to tie it up with rush. She took it as a matter of course that I had come to pay her a visit, and did not ask me 'to be seated,' as is the way in country cottages. She squatted on the floor herself, beside the bucket. She dipped the cress in water, and made it into bundles as though her fingers had been bits of machinery.
"After I had broken the ice by the gift of a soup ticket, she began to tell me her history. She was Irish. She lived in this room by her-[-10-]self, and paid for it 4s. 6d. per week. It was close to Covent Garden, so it was handy for the market.
"How much could she make in a day?
"That depended on the weather mostly. Sometimes she earned 1s. 6d., sometimes more, sometimes less. She was going to be married next week. She was tired of living by herself, and the chap' she meant to marry would carry her basket.
"What did he do?
"Oh, he did nothing. He sold flowers in pots sometimes, but mostly he did nothing.
"Did she go to church?
"Yes, to Mass once a year. She had a religion of her own, which was as good as any other religion. She worshipped the Mother of God. When she died she'd know 'the great secret.'
"What was that?
"If she'd a soul that would live again, or if she was nothing."
It is rare to find a girl selling flowers or watercress in the streets who is not Irish and a Roman Catholic. Our Commissioners say that in nearly all the homes of such girls they have found pictures of the Virgin Mary and rosaries. It would seem that the Irish temperament lends itself to Bohemianism, and enjoys a roving life. [-11-] These girls believe in the Catholic religion to a certain extent. They do not believe much in anything. Their hand-to-mouth existence leaves them little time to think about religion, and their ragged clothes make them ashamed to enter churches.
They say: "A poor girl has other things to do than busy herself about religion. Religion's all very well for folks that haven't to earn their living, folks that have money and carriages. If a girl sells her flowers she's got enough to think about. Our Blessed Lady can't expect us to do more than say our beads of a Sunday, and go to Mass at Christmas."
Amongst these girls death is often called "the great secret." It is useless to pretend that they hold the doctrines of the Catholic Church with regard to heaven and hell. They sometimes say, "All must go to purgatory, you, me, and everybody."
But their faith does not stretch far into the future. Some are simple materialists, and very few trouble themselves about a life after death- in other words "the great secret."
The favourite haunt of flower-girls is Seven Dials. They live there in large numbers, also about Drury Lane and Soho. The neighbourhood suits them because it is near Covent Garden, [-12-] at which place they must be early in the morning to buy flowers and green-stuff. Water-cress is sold at Covent Garden, also in Farringdon, Spitalfields, and the Borough markets.
But " Fresh wo-orter cree-ses" is becoming a rare cry in the fashionable parts of London. It is daily heard farther and farther away from the West End, in the East End, and in the outlying London districts.
Certainly if people could have a look at the rooms in which water-cress is kept after it leaves the market, if they could have a glance into the places which constitute "home" for poor watercress sellers, they would never eat water-cress again, not even if they gathered it for themselves in country districts.
Imagine for a minute a running stream between two green meadows Look into the clear water, and see the water-cress moved backwards and forwards by the current! Then picture it in a London market, after it leaves the hamper in which it has been tightly packed for twenty-four hours. See the grimy hands of the cress girl, and watch her carrying it home in her dirty apron. She takes it to a pump, and puts it into a bucket which is used for every imaginable domestic purpose. While she sweeps her room it lies under the bed, with nothing to cover it up. [-13-] So the filth of the place gives it a relish. Presently she turns it out on an old blanket, or upon the bed, and begins to tie it up with rush. Sometimes she nibbles a green leaf, or bites a stalk, while she arranges it in her basket. At last it is ready for customers. Then she puts on her hat, and carries it out in the street, crying, "Wo-orter cree-ses! fresh wo-orter cree-ses!" in a shrill voice.
This is the truth. It is far more romantic to think of the little cress-girl at the clean pump, although she may be shivering and have bare feet. As we said before, water-cress is "out of season" during the winter months, and is chiefly sold by old women.
Of course selling flowers is unskilled labour yet few succeed in the business unless they are the daughters of street-hawkers, and have been trained to the work from infancy. To buy, to tie, and to sell are the three important lessons which a flower-girl has to learn. In order to buy well she must understand the market, she must know when to hold off, and when to step in and make her purchases. Some girls are so clever in their mode of buying, that they get their flowers and ferns for almost nothing. During the summer months Covent Garden is practically open all night, and quick girls know how [-14-] to stock their baskets on market days with little money. They look out for leavings, and buy faded flowers for a mere song. The art of tying consists in wiring and gluing the flowers, in making the most of every leaf, in hiding faded goods behind fresh merchandise, and in arranging the flowers to advantage in the basket.
To sell well requires a certain knowledge of the human face and a pleasant address. It is a melancholy fact that flower-girls of the second class-namely, those who sell at night-make the greatest profits. Such girls are much patronised by a certain class of women, and can earn as much as £3 a week by selling flowers outside theatres and music-halls. Girls who sell by day make sometimes 10s. a week, generally less, and during wet weather little or nothing.
Flower-girls are an improvident race. They do not save money. Generally some old woman lends them what is called "stock-cash," and charges them an exorbitant interest upon it. They do not put by for a rainy day, unless they marry and become what they call "staid women." Most of them (as we said before) are Irish, and possess the facile tongue of their nation. Business is always "slack" with them; they never own to making money. But they have also the chief virtue of the Irish - they are exceedingly gener-[-15-]ous. They lend one another money and clothes; they buy for one another in the market; they share food and sleeping accommodation ; they show one another an endless amount of kindness.
The highest ambition of a street-hawker is to possess a barrow and sell whelks. Twelve shillings is sufficient to start a whelk business. If a girl arrives at the possession of a barrow and the necessary paraphernalia of saucers, pepper-pot, etc., she can generally earn "a tidy bit of money." Women make such stalls look more attractive than men they dish up the whelks with parsley, and scrub the saucers. Then they put on a clean apron, and with a pleasant smile beguile passers-by to indulge in a dainty dish which is much appreciated in some London districts.
But for one street-hawker who rises in life high enough to possess a whelk business, ten sink under the demoralising influence of street-life. Flower-girls deteriorate rapidly after they reach the age of fifteen. Everything that is "womanly" seems then to die out within them they grow lawless, and lose all sense of what is "clean and decent." Many sink deep into the mire and are never heard of again, except in the lowest dens of the metropolis.
The Pall Mall calls them "girl graduates" in [-16-] the school of vice. Certainly they tread a path that is beset with temptations. On wet days they take refuge in some public-house, and the post at which they can carry on the best business in winter is the entrance of a gin-palace.
Very few marry.
A Commissioner reports the following case, which gives an idea of what flower-girls call "being married."
She went to see a young couple who had started as husband and wife in a house near Drury Lane. They had hired an unfurnished apartment, for which they were to pay 3s. 6d. weekly. When she knocked at the door a voice said, "Come in." She found the bride and bridegroom at tea. They were sitting on the floor, drinking coffee out of the same white pot and eating slices of bread-and-butter. The room had not a vestige of furniture-nothing but four walls and a bare floor. There they sat, looking at one another, talking about the best way to buy next morning at Covent Garden Market. One shilling was all the worldly goods they possessed, so they were anxious to make the most of it. The bride was fifteen, and the bridegroom was about two years older. They looked very happy, and said that they supposed something would turn up next day in the way of [-17-] money. Other folks had started like them, folks they knew well, not older than themselves, folks in the flower-business. The girl had no hat, only a print dress and a small shawl. The boy wore ragged clothes, and had no boots on his feet. They were not at all shy, and did not seem to think their conduct extraordinary. Needless to say, they had not been to church, so the girl would have no "lines" to show later on in case the lad "took up" with some other woman.
Directly a girl of this class leaves school she becomes eligible for the position of "round-the-corner" (sweetheart), and if her lad is willing to begin married life, she "gives notice" at home, and walks away with her "bits of things" to the room she is to share with him. Sometimes the acquaintance begins quite casually in a penny gaff.
After a few walks, the lad suggests that they may as well "put up together." He then treats his round-the-corner at the public-house, and they begin married life, careless of what people say, reckless of the future.
Only too often round-the-corners find their lads a sore burden, and bitterly regret the day on which they said "Yes" to a "lineless" marriage. But they are very faithful to their lazy husbands. It is an old saying:
"A dog, a woman, and a walnut tree,
The more you beat them the better they be."
Round-the-corners develop a slavish love for their lads, and
not only work for them, but bear cuffs and kicks sooner than break away from
Our Commissioners report case after case in which the lad has been found in bed at twelve o clock in the morning, while his round-the-corner has been busy selling flowers to provide him with breakfast. Lads like this begin with promises of carrying baskets, but soon sink into lives of complete laziness.
Few sights in London are prettier to witness than Covent Garden on Primrose Day, at half-past six or seven o'clock in the morning.
"That Bacon, what's his name, he's a good man," a Commissioner heard a flower-girl declare last Primrose Day. "I say, 'Long live Bacon, what's his name, and bless him for what he's done for us poor flower-women.'"
"Baconsfield! Why, he's dead and buried," said another girl. "Haven't you seen his monument, all done up with primroses, down opposite of Westminster Abbey? He's been dead and buried this long while."
"More's the pity," answered the first speaker. "He must have been a kind-hearted gentleman [-19-] to think of us poor flower-women. It's a pity there aren't more of his sort. I'd like to have Primrose Day every week. It would suit my pocket."
Primroses and moss-roses are the flowers that sell best in the streets of the metropolis.
On Primrose Day not only the regular flower- sellers, but also cress-sellers, street-hawkers, and others buy primroses to carry all over London. Boys and girls thus make sixpence. Old men and women in this way take home a shilling. Lord Beaconsfleld's name passes from mouth to mouth, and all agree that he was "a kindhearted gentleman." Needless to say, these people do not trouble their heads much about politics. Their horizon is Covent Garden Market. A Commissioner was told the other day by a flower-seller in Cheapside that "Government" ought to look sharp there, and get the place fit for traffic. It was "mighty hard" on flower-sellers to be kept off their beat. "Government had no right to do it."
It is calculated that at least 3,000,000 flowers are sold in the London streets every year. Buttonholes pay the best. Flower-sellers know how to keep these fresh ; they manipulate them carefully, and handle them gingerly. So their "stock" lasts a week or a fortnight, and [-20-] purchasers wonder why button-holes fall to pieces directly the fragile things come in contact with cold air or hot fingers.
Church festivals are a great boon to flower- sellers, also fashionable weddings, for which churches must be decorated. Large quantities of Lent-lilies and other cheap flowers find their way from the baskets of flower-sellers into the sacred buildings of the metropolis; and young ladies with High Church proclivities are looked upon as "good customers."
We have mentioned two classes of flower-girls: those who sell by night and those who sell by day. The latter class must be divided into button-hole sellers and sellers of flowers in bunches. The former frequent the City, Piccadilly, and Oxford Circus. The latter are to be found chiefly in Kensington, and in the fashionable parts of London. Gentlemen buy from button-hole sellers ; ladies patronise the sellers of flowers in bunches. The latter consist in a large degree of young married women, and amongst these may be found many very respectable people.
The public is inclined to think flower-selling an open market. This is a mistake. There is barely room in it for the 2,000 girls and women who now try to earn their living by selling [-21-] flowers and water-cress. Girls from factories, and young women whose fathers are out of employment, often imagine that they have only to buy a few flowers and sell them again in the streets in order to make a living. Such people find to their cost that even flower-selling needs an apprenticeship.
The following case, visited by a Commissioner, will give a very good idea of what the flower- market is like at present.
Mrs. ---- has six daughters engaged in selling flowers about London. She lives in a street off Drury Lane; when our Commissioner called upon her at ten o'clock one morning she was preparing flowers for, the baskets of her six daughters. She pays five shillings a week for two rooms and a small cupboard. The front room looks out on the street; the back room has no outlook. She is about forty-five, and a strong, stout woman, with what is called "a motherly presence."
She greeted our Commissioner pleasantly, and asked what flowers were wanted. While she was making up daffodils into bunches, she gave the following account of herself, and of her children.
"Yes, I've six daughters in the flower business. I was in it myself, so I brought 'em up to buy [-22-] and sell sooner than see 'em go away from me. I buried my husband eighteen months ago. He was a good husband to me, and though he suffered a deal, he'd come down to the market and buy, never mind how ill he was, and he'd sell all day like me, never mind what he was feeling. One morning, eighteen months ago, I left him a-bed, and he said he'd be down at the market by seven o'clock. But he didn't come; and at eight my little girl, the youngest-that one there that's nursing my eldest daughter's baby- she came to me, and she said-
"'Mother, father went back to bed directly he'd had his breakfast, and he's lying so still. I can't wake him.'
"I went home, and I found him stone-dead. I fetched the doctor, and the doctor said he'd been dead an hour, most likely. My little girl, she'd never seen any one die, so she didn't know what it was. He must have gone off quiet."
Mrs.--- stopped to wipe her face with her apron, and went on to say-
"The doctor said his heart was weak, most likely. He never was a strong man, but he never used to complain of nothing."
Our Commissioner inquired how much Mrs. --- made in the week by selling flowers with the assistance of her six daughters.
[-23-] "Depends on the market. If the flowers are good and cheap we get a tidy bit of money. If the weather's against us we do next to nothing. There's a many mouths to feed. My two eldest daughters arc married. That's my eldest daughter's baby my little girl's nursing there by the fire."
"Who did they marry?"
"So they leave their children with you, and still go out selling flowers in the streets ?"
"Well, the eldest, her husband is out of work, and he can't mind the children because he's looking for something to do He's a sober man, and he'd be glad of a job if you could recommend him. The other one, her husband don't earn much. I was glad to get 'em married. There's a many girls selling flowers what live with men without being married, so I'm not the one to stand against my daughters getting married, though they do put on me with their babies."
"You have been married more than once yourself?" remarked our Commissioner, looking at the large gold rings on her finger.
Bless you! these rings is my stock money. When I save a goodish bit, I buy a gold ring, and if work gets slack I pawn it. I couldn't have money lying about, so I put it in a ring. Then it's no temptation to me nor nobody."
[-24-] "I suppose you mean by 'temptation' the gin-shop?"
" Yes, that's it. I don't drink myself, but it s hard not to lend a few shillings if you have 'em and then the folks drink and never pay you back. There's women now that owe me money, and I know I'll never see it again. It's the drink that ruins flower-women."
Afterwards Mrs. -- took our Commissioner to see her front room, of which she is very proud because of its "natty" appearance. Needless to say, she is a Roman Catholic.
The uncertainty of the life causes flower-selling to have a most demoralising influence on girls and women. If they are "flush," they find drink a great temptation. If times are bad, a glass of gin "raises their spirits," and helps them to "go on again." They are a short-lived race; for exposure to cold and damp ruins their constitutions. Also the gin they drink gives them a fictitious strength that vanishes at the approach of illness.
When ill they visit cheap dispensaries, where they can get advice and a bottle of physic for sixpence. A doctor's visit costs a shilling. They have a great dislike to hospitals, partly because they go in to be looked at with a herd of other patients, partly because of the off-hand manner in [-25-] which they are received by young doctors who "practise" on out-patients.
"He spoke to me as if I were a dog," a Commissioner heard a flower-girl say as she left the out-patients' department of a large London hospital not long ago. "I'll die rather than demean myself to him. I won't go to that place again, not if I'm dying."
Even flower-girls do not like to be thought paupers. They prefer to pay sixpence or a shilling, if they can possibly manage it, rather than accept advice and medicine from hospitals and charitable agencies. They know only too well what it is to be "clamming;" their food is "sawney" and dry bread ; but they have an independent spirit, which is fostered by an outdoor life, and the constant hope that if things arc bad to-day something will turn up to-morrow.
As we said before, they are exceedingly generous. Moreover, they often receive a shilling or half-a-crown if they lay their case before kind-hearted people who are accustomed to deal with them. Such people do not follow them to slumdom, so the condition of their homes remains unknown to the public. Occasionally a house in which they live gets "condemned," and then they wander on to another filthy den about which no one thinks of complaining.
[-26-] On the whole, policemen are very good to them. They are not allowed by the law to stand still, and if an inspector of police comes by, his subordinates say "Move on, move on," to these flower-women. But at other times policemen give them a large license, unless they arc very impertinent. They rarely get "run in, and if they do, it is because they will thrust their wares too near the faces of passers-by, who complain to policemen and threaten to prosecute them.
Their amusements are almost nil, if we except the public-house, where they "drop in" for gossip or a song "of an evening." It is no uncommon thing to see a girl of seventeen, with her husband and her baby, spending an evening in a gin palace. If the baby cries she gives it "a drop of something." Meanwhile she gossips with friends, and sips out of the pewter pot that stands on a form beside her. It is easy to say that she should not do this, but when one sees what her "home" is, one finds it difficult to mete out the harsh judgment that comes so readily to the lips of those who never venture inside the precincts of slumdom. Rents in London are exorbitant, and one room is all that such poor people can afford - a cold, draughty place in winter, a stifling den in summer. Close by is a gin-palace, lighted up to attract customers, full of the flower-girls' friends [-27-] and acquaintances. Shining glasses and bright-coloured bottles ornament the shelves, and behind the bar stands a well-dressed publican, wearing a diamond ring, or a smartly dressed woman in silk and velvet. Songs are sung, music is provided gratis, so flower-girls forsake their small dingy rooms and flock into gin-palaces.
Occasionally two or three flower-sellers will drop in for a cup of tea at low coffee-houses, places in which the fare is much cheaper than at Lockhart's. Boys playing "shove a halfpenny," niggers performing strange antics, men having sham boxing-matches, enliven the scene; and the women collect a few farthings to pay for "a musical tea. The fun that goes on in such places is of the lowest possible description, and the language we cannot tell to "decent, happy folks."
Many flower-sellers speak a jargon which is only understood by themselves. They pronounce words backwards, and abbreviate sentences.
Some well-meaning ladies opened a club for girls of this sort not far from Seven Dials. They were obliged to close it, for they could not understand a word the girls were saying. Other clubs for these girls have been more successful, but all such places need a great deal of tact and patience.
Sometimes during the summer flower-sellers take a ticket to Brighton, and sell flowers during [-28-] the journey. They return late at night, after spending a few hours by the sea and many hours in the train. In the hop season they go to Kent, and thus earn what they call "back money," namely, back rent. Four or five pounds is considered "a tidy bit of money" to make by picking hops ; for the journey is expensive, and wet weather frequently makes work slack. The accommodation provided for hop-pickers varies very much. Sometimes they occupy comfortable little cottages ; sometimes they sleep in tents. It is no uncommon thing to see these poor women lying on wet straw, without any other covering than a bit of sacking or an old blanket. Many a flower-seller "gets her death" by picking hops ; and most say "it isn't worth the trouble and the money."
"Our Lord Shaftesbury," as flower-sellers call the grandfather of the present Earl, was very kind to all engaged in selling flowers and water-cress. In his time flower-girls certainly had good boots, and those must have been the boots which the Pall Mall speaks about in the article we have already quoted.
Every one has heard about the donkey which the costermongers presented to Lord Shaftesbury. It was sent to St. Giles's, and there "waxed fat and kicked. The present Earl had many a ride [-29-] on "Coster" when he was a little boy, and visitors at St. Giles's were always taken to see the costermongers donkey.
But the clock which the flower-sellers gave to Lord Shaftesbury in recognition of his kindness has seldom been heard about. The old lady at the Bank who presented it still talks of the day, and says her legs shook so much that she nearly let it fall, "which would have been a pity, as it was real marble, and worth a sight of money."
The Emily Loan Fund, which Lord Shaftesbury instituted for the benefit of flower-sellers, is of inestimable service. From this fund money for stock is provided, and to the honour of the people who use it, we can say on good authority that the borrowed money is most faithfully given back again. The loans are issued upon the security of a respectable householder, and are repaid free of interest. About 300 loans are made every year from this fund, and many a flower-seller has to thank Lord Shaftesbury for the roof above her head, and the "stock" which helped her to keep out of the workhouse.
The loan forms a branch of the Water-cress and Flower-girls' Mission in Clerkenwell. It is a far cry from the West End to this place, and very few people pay a visit. Yet once upon a time "quality" lived there.
[-30-] Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, who was maid of honour to Henrietta Maria, who fled with her to France, and who at the Restoration returned to England, lived in Clerkenwell, where she wrote poems, plays, and philosophical works, such as "Observations upon Experimental Philosophy." Her monument is in Westminster Abbey, but people seldom think of her. She kept a large number of young ladies to write as she dictated, and used to call them up at all hours of the night when a new idea came to her.
Close to the place in which this famous lady lived and wrote is the Flower-sellers' Mission House, where girls of tender age, who have been persuaded to give up street life, are taught to make artificial flowers, and prepared for situations. There is no word so repugnant to a flower-girl as "service."
"I'll go to prison sooner than be a servant," such a one says when asked if she will enter the Mission. With her the word is synonomous with drudgery, loss of freedom, and oppression; and little wonder, considering what the life of a "slavey" is in most houses. But flower-girls take kindly to the work of making artificial flowers. The labour is light. It only requires deft fingers and the taste which such girls must possess in order to display flowers well in their baskets.
[-31-] Artificial roses are made of cambric and muslin.
Placing a leaf on a block of wood, the girl heats a metal ball at a gas stove, and by means of the handle presses the ball on the leaf, causing the latter to bulge out in the centre. Then, with the assistance of a small pair of delicate pincers, the leaf is "crimped" at the edges, and rolled up to form the inside of the rose. The leaves are attached to a gutta-percha stem with needle and thread. Flour-paste is used for the larger rose leaves and the green leaves. A small bead is slipped up the stem to keep the structure steady, and afterwards the rose is dried and finished.
The Flower-girls' Brigade had a stall at the Manchester Exhibition, which attracted a good deal of notice.
Many girls have passed through the hands of this Society, and in a quiet way it makes itself felt everywhere among flower-sellers, although the greater number of them are Roman Catholics, people who "do not hold" with the Protestant religion.
No one has, perhaps, a better knowledge of these women than Mr. Lynes, the missionary who for years has laboured amongst them night and day, who has ruined his health in the work, and who even now goes from beat to beat, speaking a kind word or taking a tired woman [-32-] into a shop for a cup of tea. He enters into all their difficulties, and understands the hardships which they have to endure in their nomadic existence.
He can tell tales of humble heroism which will "give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears," and point out why flower-sellers become only too often the victims of brutal, hulking fellows who live on them. They begin "lineless" marriages very young, before they are old enough to know what will happen, and when they wish to break away they find themselves tied by invisible strings to the fathers of their offspring.
Now we must leave flower-sellers and pass on to those girls who are engaged in home- industries. Flower-sellers breathe the sweet air of heaven, and handle nature's fairest products. These girls pass their lives in sunless rooms, and seldom see a flower unless it blooms in some East End market.