Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50; Henry Mayhew - Letter XXXVI

[back to menu for this book]


Monday, February 18, 1850

My investigations into the condition of the men working at the Slop Boot and Shoe trade are now drawing to a close. I have already given illustrations of the different systems by which the slop articles are produced at a far lower rate than those of the regular and honourable part of the trade. The principal of these appears to be the employment of what is called by the workmen "compound labour" - that is to say, by the use of boys, girls, apprentices, or unskilled journeymen, as helps to some skilled or superior workman. Again, it has been shown that the same system which is called "sweating" in the slop trade of the tailors is carried on among the stop boot and shoe makers, but under the more euphonious, but less forcible title of "chamber-mastering." The object of each and all of these different practices is to bring an inferior, and consequently cheaper, labour into competition with that of the skilled artisan, and to be able to undersell others in the market. Hence it will be seen that the tendency of the cheap trade is to displace the handicraftsman for the rude and unskilled workman; or, as the operatives themselves express it, the men are being driven out by the boys - "our own children," say they, "are made to destroy us." It is difficult, if not impossible, for the inexperienced public to discriminate at a glance between the work of the skilful and the unskilful, so that the enterprising warehouseman who is intent upon underselling his neighbour, or, in trade language, determined to defy competition, employs boys, women, and - as I purpose showing in the letters immediately succeeding the present - convicts and criminals, and paupers of all kinds, in order to get his goods made up at a less price than he would have to pay the practised, honest, and independent workman. "It is all the same to us," said one of the employers to the operatives, "whether the articles are produced by boy or thief-labour, so long as they are cheap." (See the evidence given in the letter before last.) As a further corroboration of the tendency of the cheap slop- trade to destroy not only the able artisan, but the honourable tradesman, and to substitute for employer and employed, cheats, children, and criminals, I subjoin the statement of a lady's shoemaker - a tradesman of the highest respectability, at the west end of the town, who gave me the following account concerning the way in which a fair trade is injured by the slop system, with its starvation wages:
    "I remember," he said, "when there was no shoe slop-seller in London, exept B---. I speak of the West-end some thirty years ago. At that time Mr. Taylor, in Bond-street, Mr. Sutton, Mr. Sly, and other first-class tradesmen (all now dead) used to carry on very extensive businesses, getting everything made by their own men, employed directly by themselves, without the intervention of any middleman system. They also gave their journeymen and binders fair and liberal wages. As it is, I pay 3s. 5d., and not at all extravagant wages, for what --- and --- pay 1s. 4d. Of course mine is an infinitely superior article; but the firm,' as they parade themselves, actually puff off their wares as equal to the best. I first felt the low-priced system tell upon me when the chamber-masters became numerous, and indulged in keen competition. These chamber-masters will now come to my shop and offer to sell me goods at the price I pay for wages alone. The low-priced goods affected my profits gradually. My books show this; first my profits fell 10 per cent, then 15, and now I reckon my profits 20 per cent less than they were 30 years ago. I have been obliged to reduce my prices, and consequently the wages; I still pay the highest wages, and this last week I looked carefully through my books to ascertain the earnings of my men. The two first weeks in February, by an arrangement I introduced into the trade some years ago, is the period for adjusting any change in wages, or in the trade generally, so as to obviate the necessity of strikes. I looked, as I have said, through my books, and as an honest man I felt that I could not reduce any one man's wages a half-penny. Businesses like mine are kept together by connection - by a principle of respect between tradesman and customer, because the customer knows and perhaps has long known the tradesman's integrity. But no business like mine could be started now with any prospect of success. All the money at present embarked in the shoe trade, or nearly all, is on the low-priced system. I fear that if no check be interposed to the Northampton and slop system, matters will get worse. The underpaid and inferior workman will drag down the able well- conducted artisan to his level. First-rate workmen become scarcer and scarcer. The trade is falling into the hands of an inferior craft - it's becoming slop-work, not the fine workmanship of skilled labour - of a nice handicraft. That's another evil to all who look to ulterior consequences. Bad workmen have little self-respect. We can beat the French - it's the slop-system that is so vile. Fashion is so strong, however, that a lady bought a pair of shoes of me, thinking they were made in Paris. In the course of conversation I told her they were made by my own men in London, and she has never had such a shoe from me since - much as she admired them.
    As a fitting sequel to the above, I annex the statement that I received from one of the East-end employers. His account is the more valuable, because it comes from a man who has himself resorted to some of the most reprehensible practices of the cheap trade.
    "I recollect the trade before there were any chamber-masters. In 1819, I only knew one chamber-master in London, and the number gradually spread through this: Masters were oft tyrannical, and kept men waiting, and humbugged them all sorts of ways, and so the men made a few sets of shoes, and sold them at a penny a pair profit, to drapers' shops and such like; and that went on for a while, until some wide-awake gentlefolks, that had their wits about them, like ---, and ---. Bless you, they've their country houses now, and are worth thousands - thought there was a chance to turn a penny - I mean a pound - and they opened great warehouses and bought of the chamber-masters and of anybody in the trade. These chamber-masters are often, or were often, precious rogues. They'd owe money to the tallyman, and the chandler, and the baker, and the butcher (if they could spring tick), and then 'made a death' in Whitechapel, and 'rose again' in the Borough. That's what we call their leaving a place which gets too hot for them, and leaving them that they're in debt to whistle for chamber-masters and their money. The chamber-masters were always sure of a market if they could stand screwing, and didn't care for a turn at hunger now and then, and so they kept up 'deaths' here, and 'resurrections' throughout London, for a rare spin. Of course it's nothing to the wholesale man that the chamber-master has a large circle of weeping tradesmen belonging to his acquaintance. The more he 'does' people what wants honest money of him, the cheaper he can live and the cheaper he can sell. It's a system that ought to be exposed. And so you see, things is made so very cheap that it's wonderful the perfection trade's brought to."
    The impositions practised by the cheap shopkeeper are equally reprehensible. Some of these are injurious not only to the producers but to the consumers. Concerning the tricks resorted to by some of the most dishonourable tradesmen, in order to deprive the workman of his fair rate of wages, the following may be cited; and first of the frauds practised in the strong trade.
    As to certain frauds practised in the different branches of the trade, I received the following information. First, concerning those carried on in the "strong" trade:
    "It is common with a class of masters (said my informant) to use a false size measure stick; not above three masters use the recognised stick. To show how injurious the false size stick is to the journeyman, I will state this: a 'fives' in the fair size stick appears a 'threes' by the false one; for the pair of 'fives' in a fair measuring shop the workman receives 2s. 3d. wages; at the shop where the false size stick is used he receives 1s. 6d. Calculate each workman to make five such pairs a week, and he loses 9d. on each pair, that is 3s. 9d. a week, or £9 l5s. a year. Two shops that I know employ at least six men each on this fraudulent size stick; so that each master defrauds the six men out of £58 10s. every year; and the pair of masters clear £117 between them. Now, sir, take a closer's case. For closing bluchers, by the true measure, he gets 5d. a pair, and four pairs a day will be 10s. a week. By the false size stick he gets only 4?d. a pair, or 9s. a week at the same extent of labour. My employer, an honourable tradesman, finds grindery and pays 2s. 3d. a pair (where the fraudulent size stick men pay is. 6d.), and yet sells his shoes, and they're better made shoes, at the same rate as they do. This fraudulent system cuts two ways; it robs the journeyman first, and then the customer. Many men thus employed are indifferent workmen, and feeling themselves wronged, they slim' the work by way of revenging themselves, and soit wears badly, and the poor man who buys it is victimised. All the profit from these frauds go into these masters' pockets; the public gain nothing; the employers sell no cheaper. By the 'false' size stick system, one master has realized a handsome country house. His system is to attack his men's wages every winter. He has done so this year. Now, as to the footing - known in the trade as new new-footing - there was, six, or seven years ago, a great demand for footed' boots, and indeed there is still. Formerly the legs of the new-footed were old ones, but now they are all new leather, joined across the front. The reason of this is because the wages paid for new footing are only 1    s. 7d., whereas, if closed in the regular way of new boots, the workman would receive 2s. 6d. a pair; the dishonourable' master coolly, and often before a man's face, runs his knife across the front of the leg, and then calls it new new-footing, and the closer has the additional trouble of closing the cut part, and receives ls. 7d. - lid, less than if they had not been cut. The master oft enough sells them for new boots, and so again the public is not benefited by the workman being robbed. Now, one master practises this system - say four pairs a week, or 200 pairs a year - and so robs his closer of more than £9 every year by that plan alone. He has security from each man - 20s., stopped at ls. a week, as long as the man stays.''
    Frauds as injurious as the above, both to the workman and the customer, are practised by the cheap masters in the lighter descriptions of work as well. Among the most glaring of these impositions are the "mock double sales" in the women's trade, and the "false spring heels" in the men's trade.
    As regards the foreign labour, I was anxious to discover, if possible, whether the same systematic importation of cheap workmen from the continent was carried on in the cheap boot and shoe trade, as I had found out was pursued in connection with the s1op trade among the tailors. After considerable trouble, I was able to track out the same annual immigration. This was principally confined to the Germans. Formerly the Frenchmen were brought ever to England by their countrymen who had settled in business, and who made periodic trips to Paris, in order to introduce French workmen into London before the duty was reduced on the French boots, and when there was a great demand for the article. The wages in this country have, however, declined so rapidly within the last nine years, that the number of French workmen have already decreased one-half; for now the prices paid to the workmen by some of our best shops are lower than those in France. The Germans, however, continue to be brought over annually, and are kept in such subjection by their masters, that they are afraid to make the least disclosure. The following narrative I give in the man's own broken English:
"I am a native of Chermany. I come apout six miles dis site of Frankfort: de down is named Butzbach - yes, dat is quite right. I have peen in dis country nine year. I vent over py my own account. A man had been over here, and he come over to my country and he told me as I could earn plenty money coming over here." "Yes, it is plenty money," said the wife with a derisive laugh. "Aye, a starvation life," joined in a shoebinder, who was at work upon some red morocco slippers - "I know I find it so." "Yes, I did vork at dis drade in my country," continued the German. "I had been apprentice to it in Chermany dree year and a half. Oh de wages is very low in Chermany, because you gets everything a man gets - his lodging and everything - and he gets pesites apout 5s. a veek, just as a man can vork. Vot ve gets by our vork in Chermany goes farder dere dan vot you gets here vid a pount. I call dat a very goot wages dare, only de money we gets don't look so much as it does here. Ven I came over here I vent to sew at one of my own countrymens, and I have mostly been vorking for my own countrymens ever since. Most of the Chermans I have vorked for have peen vot you call sveaters in dis country, because dey do make a man sveat. De vorst of de lot I ever vorked for vas von I tell you of." "Ah, he ought to have peen sent out of dis country long ago" (chimed in the wife). "He spoilt de slipper drade, he did - he was a Cherman, living down here in . He has a cas-light in every room. He go out vith his cold rings on his finkers, and his cold vatch in his pocket, and de poor man vot gets em for him sitting in de kitchin. He's cot a clock vot plays de music in his trawing-room dat cost him dirty pounds. I should like for you to step insite dat toor to see dat place and de poor man at vork for him. He von't let a poor man stay vid him vidout he vork for him on a Suntay morning vhile his crand musical clock is a playing. He say you von't be no goot to me. You can't get a loaf of pred." "I'll tell you," cried the wife, "my huspant vorked for him and never see dee outsite of de tore for dree veeks." "He had elefen at vork for him. They most all lived in his house. He cot von room vhere he cot vour peds in it. Dere was dree married men - de rest dey vas single men. He let out his rooms, you know; de married men had dem, and de upstairs he had de peds in for de single men. Dere vas eight men sleeped in dat room vid de vour peds. He charged de single man two shillings a veek for lodging, if he vould sew for him. I had a pedroom. He charge me half-a-grown;" "It vas dree pair of stairs high," cried the wife. "De room I had vas not vurnished. I pought a pedstead and seferal dings of him. Oh yes, he always sell to de man - he puy of a old proker, and de men must give him so much provit." "Oh it's very ill," said the wife of a poor little infant that lay moaning in her lap. "I puried one not long ago, and ah dat gets any von pack. You got to york and slave all de year round, and yen trouble come you can't pay your vay at all." "I say de room I had of him," continued the man "vasn't vorth no more dan eighteenpence a veek. De vurniture perhaps I could have cot for nine shilling, and he charge me your and twenty shilling. I done all sorts of vork for him. I done some of dem poots vot is used for de Italian Opera. Sometimes de poots vas de puckskin vons vot dey use in de playhouses - pig vons up apove de knees; and he pay me only von shilling for dem vid touble soles. Any sort of york I made - slippers, springs, vot he got from de shop - anyting. I vorked from morning five o'clock till night elefen, dwelve o'clock; yes, very near every tay I done dat in de summer. Oh! I could not make no more dan vourteen shilling in de veek, Suntay and all. Den I had to pay out of dat de money for de rent, dat was half-a-grown, and half-a- grown for de tings and vurniture vot I pought of him: dat vos vive shilling. Den I used to pay for de pred and de peer. Ve had a pint every night. He always vished us to have our pred and peer of him. He vas very angry if you vent outsite. Not to force you, certainly; he couldn't have done dat; put if ye hadn't done it he vould have turned us avay - yes, dat he vould, for he did give me dree or your times notice cause I fetched a pint of peer outsite. Ven de pred vas outsite vive pence he charged us sixpence, and de peer vas vid him vourpence, and ye can get it always dreepence outsite. De peer vas many times sour, and he vould make us pay twopence de pint for it. He didn't sell anyting else - he didn't sell no grindery. Ven I done some work, dree or your pair of shoes, he paid me; den of a Saturtay he took off vot I owed him for rent and tings; if I didn't have a sixpence of a Suntay he would stop it all de same; he vould say he vant to pay his rent. Sometimes I used to have to take half-a-grown, and sometimes two shillings, just as it happen. I knowed de time as I only had to take eighteenpence; and den on de Sunday I had to borrow a shilling of him for de tinner, and dat vent towards de next veek. Oh, ye always vas in debt vid him; and ye vas in debt yen ye vent avay. I couldn't pay him, so I did gut my stick as you call it. Oh, he is de ruin of de slipper trade, because he go to every shop and say I do the york for such and such a price. He do it a shilling a tozen less dan any von else, so dats vot cuts all do poor people out from a varehouse, because he goes in de varehouse vit a cold vatch in his pocket and dree or your cold rings in his finkers - dats vat make him look a resbectable man, and dey tink dey can drust him. Now, if oder poor man comes in de shop, dey say dey vont give none - dey must have de secoority down - and pecause he takes all de york from de varehouse, dat is de reason a poor man can't get no york to do - so de poor man must go york for him. He can make de slippers so much sheeper dan me, pecause he gives de poor man so much less, and gets de provit out of de lodgings and food of de men in his house. He gets vive shilling a tozen, and gives de men dree-and-sixpence and zometimes dree shilling - dat is de vay he can get his cold vatch in his pocket, and his dirty-pound musical clock in his trawing-room. Most of de Chermans vot take out de slippers to make do de zame as dis man. Dere is von I know vot pays de men your shilling a dozen pair vor batent leather slippers. Yes, I know dey do send for hands from Chermany yen de hands here are slack in de summer. He can't do veil you see vit dose he has had pefore; dey vont come pack again, so he alvays looks for vot you call de creen hand from de country. I have knowed him send for your at a dime. Most of my countrymen is prought over here by such men as he. I know myself a goot many of my yriends vot have been teceived by him. You see Chermany, since de revolutions, has had so many men vot are clad to come over, dat men like dis von veil get dare cold vatches out of dem. Dose of my poor countrymen dat come over and cannot make de shoes he teashes to sew; if dey have money, dey give a pound, and if dey have none he vill make dem vork for a long time for him for nothing. Oh, yes! I sooner vould be pack in my own country again. All my shiltren are ill; I have dree alive, and all of dem have de cough vid de hoop. I am sure dat poor little ding vill die, and I don't know howl shall pury him. The binder who was at work in the room was a widow with two children. She had eight- pence a dozen for binding red morocco women's slippers (the largest size), and couldn't do more than eight pairs in the day; generally she could do only half-a-dozen, and for those she got fourpence - out of that she had to pay for silk, which cost a penny a skein, and a skein would do about three pair. her earnings were not 3d. a day, and out of that she has to keep herself and two children - they were without food." "Ah!" said the woman, "the rich can do as they like with the poor people." She was at work for a Jew slop- seller. "Ah! he's a plackguard, he is," said the German's wife; "he give me a pad zixpence vonce, and yen I took it pack to him, he say to me, 'vell you must lose dree-pence by it, and I must lose dree-pence,' and so I had to pay it him. She pinds poots for that same plackguard - lasting poots, twopence a pair." The husband of the shoe-binder, I found upon inquiry, had died of the cholera six months ago.
    Concerning the French workmen, I received the subjoined statement from a native of Lille, who had been in this country nine years. He spoke with the least perceptible accent: - 
    "Formerly the French shoemakers used to get good wages. The wages were much higher here than in France, and then there was a good demand for French workmen in London, because the duty had not been decreased. There were a great many French workmen then in London. A French boot and shoe maker at that time could earn about twice as much money in England as he could in France, when well employed. The difference between the cost of living in the two countries was about one-fifth, that is to say 20 francs in France would go about as far as 20s. (or 25 francs) in England. These extra wages were a great inducement for the French workmen to come over to this country; and a great many French masters who had started in business in England went over to Paris to engage hands, that would come over to this country. They paid their passage for them. Men that worked in Paris at men's work, at one of the best shops in the Rue St. Honor?, had 5 francs for making a pair of boots, whereas they got here then 7s. and 8s. for the same description of work. For closing, they got 2? francs in Paris, and here the wages were 3s. 9d. In the women's line the wages were, at the best shops, 1f. 5 sous (1s.) for a satin sew-round, and here, for the same work, 1s. 9d. and 2s. were paid. There was at that time a very good seat of work for any Frenchman that came over to England. About seven years ago the Frenchmen formed a society to keep up the prices; the number of French women's men was about sixty-five, and I believe there were about as many men's men belonging to the English societies; altogether I think there were about 150 to 200 French hands in England about seven or eight years back. Now, I am confident the number is reduced at least one-half. The cause of the reduction is, that the English wages are now nearly as low as the French, and if the wages are not quite as low, there is at present so little work to be had of the better kind, that a man cannot earn as much here as in France. This is due to the vast increase of the slop boot and shoe trade in this country. French boots and shoes can be manufactured at Northampton and at the East-end of London cheaper than in Paris. When the French workmen first came over the work was so brisk that a great many of them got English boys to assist them, and now these English boys have grown to be men, who can work as well as themselves; and by working under price they can get the business out of their hands. A great quantity of cheap German labour," said my informant, "is, I know, brought over every year into this country. A man in - street pays the Germans for French sew-round shoes 6d. a pair, and a man cannot do more than four pair a day. The price at the best French shops is for the same work 1s. and 1s. 3d. Some shoes of the same kind, I know, are made at 4d. per pair in the East-end of London. The Polish refugees also undersell the French to a great extent, so that there is little or no demand for our labour in this country."
    I now give the statement of a highly intelligent man concerning the. condition of his trade as a woman's shoemaker. He had made the calling his particular study: - 
    "You know, sir, it has been reckoned that the earnings of the journeyman shoemakers in England and Wales amount to three millions of pounds yearly. Mr. M'Culloch computes that nine millions of pounds are paid for boots and shoes; of this it has been said three millions go to purchase the material, three millions go to meet the expenses and form the profit of the master shoemakers, and three millions go as wages to the working men. Now I'll show you, from my own knowledge of the working of the trade here in London, how erroneous is this statement. Why, a great portion of the work is got up here by the class known as chamber-masters, who, by going into the labour market, taking every advantage of the men's destitution or ignorance, and by employing boys and girls - and oft enough at so tender an age that they grow up stunted and silly - can get their work done at an amazingly cheap rate. I know one boy, taken from a workhouse by a chamber-master who kept him at work 14 hours every day except Sunday. This constant toil, month by month, wore down the boy's mind into idiocy. When the boy became a confirmed idiot his master tried to get rid of him, but the magistrate refused to cancel the indenture, so the chamber-master managed to get the poor fellow into the workhouse and then he 'cut.' These chamber-masters sell the wares, got up through the means I have described, to the great wholesale firms. Each chamber-master competes with the other, and the rich wholesale dealer follows up the system by cheapening down the needy chamber-masters, oft enough to prices at which a wholesale dealer must know shoes cannot honestly be made; for it's hardly to be called honest work if men resort to such schemes as these chamber-masters. Only say, though, that 'It's the nature of business, or all in the way of trade,' and it's quite fair and honourable.' If the goods were stolen and sold at the price that many of these great masters give, a man so buying stolen goods might be implicated as a receiver, because he knew that the goods could not honestly be made at that price. The wholesale warehousemen sell the goods to the retail dealers all over the country, who sell them to the public. Now here, owing to the interference of the middlemen - who crush everything - are three profits to masters before the public is a purchaser - the chamber-master's profit, the wholesale dealer's, and the retailer's. Where, then, is the third of the nine millions to the working man? Here is a statement of wages for a better description of work by chamber-masters, who give 1s. ld. per pair for pumps. Now a shoemaker in a country town, as this other printed statement shows you, gives 2s. 4d. for the same kind of work. In London, too, the quality is as good, and the workmanship at the low wages the same as that for the 2s. 4d. Snow boots in this country town are 2s. 6d. in wages; in London they are made at 6d., 7d., 8d., 9d., and 10d. a pair. Here you see how different are the wages of the working man in different places. Now, assume that the material is equal in price, take the kingdom through; and will see how profits are wrung of the poor working men, because the slop capitalists find them the most squeezable creatures. Such capitalists sweep profits into their own pockets: many of them sell the materials to the chamber-masters, get a profit on them, and then deduct the price when they buy the shoes; so there's another profit. There's another way, too, in which these slop capitalists have the pull. In the winter, when more than half my trade is unemployed, they reduce the wages to those who are employed. ld., 2d.. or 3d. per pair, and compel the men to do the work better than in a busy season, when they cannot devote so much time to it. They state that they do this to keep the men going. Suppose one warehouseman employs 100 hands and reduces his wages 3d. per pair from what he gives in the summer - just to pay him interest for his money, as he says - and suppose these men average a dozen pairs each weekly at is. instead of 1s. 3d. a pair - that's 1 ,200pairs a week, which leaves him a profit of £15 in one week on an outlay in wages of £60; and that he calls interest for money - a very pretty percentage truly. All comes out of the wages. The third of the nine millions is now sweated down well nigh to nothing. These slop capitalists in my trade represent themselves as altogether a distinct class from working men: our interests are antagonistic, they tell us. They say, in substance, 'It's no concern of ours how you're off, or what you do. We will not be dictated to by any working men.' Strikes have never done us any good; we have often tried them to stop starvation wages, but the chamber-mastering system and the want of unity among us have caused us always to fail; and then we are more than ever in the power of the masters, as masters will put up with inferior work, and poor men, or inferior workmen, gladly get jobs from shops on strike, and defeat the object that the honourable part of our trade is struggling for. Now, again, as to this third to the working men. This sort of ladies' shoes I'm making sells generally at 7s. a pair, in good shops. I get 1s. ld. for making them, and the binder 3d. or 3 ?d. That's not a fifth of the selling price. There is another harassing system some warehousemen practice. They have four or five different sorts of work, the best marked B, middling marked M, and common marked C. The scales for making are different. The best may average 13d., the middling 11d., and the common has many branches, such as best common and middling common, and the like. We can tell what is meant to be best quality by the material, but they are often marked M for the cheaper wage. They'll alter a B to an M before a man's face."
    I now give a list of the principal slop traders in women's boots and shoes, and the number of men each is supposed to employ at the present moment. The work is so mixed up with the employment of women and children, that it is not possible to strike an average of the men's earnings, besides that many are very indifferent workmen. "The best craft," as it was described to me, always get in the best shops if they can. One man who worked on slippers (women's pumps) thought that such as he could earn 8s. a week by their own labour, and 12s. a week with the help of a wife or daughter - only when work was brisk, however. "At other times," he said, "it's catch what few pence we can, and hunger a goodish bit, as soon as the pawn-shop won't advance another farthing on anything left.
    Initials of

Initials of Employers Sew-rounds Welts Pumps No. of men employed
per doz. prs per pair per pair

M., Houndsditch 

3s. 6d. 1s. 7d. to 8d. 12

M., Fore-street

.. .. .. 15

M., New-street 

.. .. .. 36

M., Tabernacle-sq.

.. .. .. 20

M., Brick-lane 

4s. 1s. 1d. 6d. to 9d. 6


3s. 6d. 1s. 6d. to 9d. 4

W. ditto

3s. 6d. Ditto Ditto 6

D. ditto

3s. 6d. Ditto Ditto 6

H., Houndsditch 

5s. 6d., 3s. 6d. 10d. to 1s. 7d. to 9d. 120

B., ditto

3s., 3s. 6d. 10d. to 1s. Ditto 15

M., Minories

3s. 6d., 5s. 6d. 1s. 4d. 8d. to 10d. 20

M., ditto 

3s. 6d. 1s. to 1s. 6d. 7d. to 9d. 10

B., Union-street 

Ditto Ditto Ditto 16

L., ditto

Ditto Ditto Ditto 20

L., Sun-street 

Ditto Ditto Ditto 30

H. & T., Finsbury-sq 

Ditto Ditto Ditto 40

D., ditto 

4s. 6d., 6s. 6d. 1s. 2d., 1s. 3d. 8d. to 10d. 80


3s. 6d., 4s. 6d. .. 7d. 12

W., Ratcliff-highway 

Ditto 1s. 7d. 10

H., Bethnal-green 

.. 10d., 1s. 6d., 7d. 5


.. 1s., 1s. 2d 7d., 8d. 20

B., ditto 

3s. 6d., 4s. 6d. 10d., 1s. 7d., 8d. 20


.. 1s. 2d. 7d. to 9d. 12

T., Spitalfields 

3s. 6d., 4s. 6d. 1s., 1s. 2d. 7d. to 9d. 15

S., ditto 

3s. 6d., 4s. 10d., 11d. 6d., 7d. 12

R., Hoxton

.. 10d. to 1s. 1d. 6d. to 7d. 12

S., Hatton-garden 

3s. 6d. to 5s. 10d. to 1s. 2d. Ditto 50

A., Bethnal-green 

Ditto 10d. to 1s. 1d. Ditto 10

F., Spitalfields

Ditto Ditto Ditto 40

S., Whitechapel 

Ditto Ditto Ditto 30


.. 1s. to 1s. 4d 8d. to 10d. 30

H., Shoreditch

.. 10d. to 1s. 6d., 7d. 10

H., Whitechapel

.. Ditto Ditto 10

P., ditto

.. Ditto Ditto 10

Duke-street, Aldgate

3s. 6d. to 4s. 1s. to 1s. 2d. 7d. to 9d. 30

Nicholas-lane, Hoxton

Ditto Ditto 6d., to 8d. 15

Paul-street, Finsbury

Ditto Ditto Ditto 12

O., Bethnal-green

2s. 6d., children's .. 5d., 6d. 3

Q., ditto 

Ditto .. Ditto 4

N., Cannon-street 

3s. 6d., 4s. 10d., 8d. 7d., 8d. 8

C., Dog-row 

Ditto Ditto Ditto 6
L., ditto Ditto 1s. 1d. Ditto 7

L., Cambridge hth-rd. 

.. 1s. 2d., 1s. 4d. 7d. to 9d. 20

D., City

5s., 6s., 7s. 1s. 2d., 1s. 6d. 8d. to 10d. 30

J., ditto

.. Ditto Ditto 15

M., ditto 

4s., 4s. 6d. 1s. 2d. 7d. to 10d. 20

D., ditto

.. .. .. 12

W., Commercial-rd 

3s., 3s. 6d. 1s. 1d. 7d., 8d. 12

M'C., Well-street 

.. 1s. 2d., 1s. 4d. 8d. to 1s. 20

A., ditto 

3s., 3s. 6d. 1s., 10d. 6d., 7d., 8d. 10

S., Loman-street 

Ditto Ditto Ditto 6

H. Smithfield 

4s., 5s. 1s. 2d. 7d., 8d. 20

T., City 

3s. 6d., 4s. 1s., 1s. 1d. 7d., 8d. 100

J., Snow-hill 

3s., 4s. 6d. 1s., 1s. 1d. 8d. to 10d. 30


3s. 6d., 4s. 6d. .. 7d. 10

F., Curtain-road

.. 1s., 1s. 1d. 7d. to 9d. 20

I turned my attention also to the workmen employed on men's boots and shoes for the slop shops, to see if the abuses under which they suffered were similar in character and degree to those I have described in the case of the women's men. I found these workmen generally pale, sickly-looking men, but for the most part intelligent also, and with a manliness in their words and notions. Nearly all were indignant at the privations which they and their wives and families had to endure from the wretched wages they received. Several spoke of their employers with bitterness. One quiet-looking elderly man - I met very few elderly men, be it observed, among these slop-workers -  said:- 

    "There was Mr. here the other day, a very goodman, and he laid it down how we ought to respect our masters, and how the middle class, such as the masters belong to, are the wealth and strength of the county. As for the wealth of the country, they may have a good deal of that among them, but as you have been among us workmen for Mr. ---, and Mr. ---, you can judge what respect we can have for our masters. The average of the earnings of the men's men employed by the slop-masters was given to me at 12s. and 13s. a week, when the workman is in full work - but to get that much he must work six days, and a great portion of six nights. The average wages of the men partially employed I cannot give, as I met with men whoseearnings last week were 3s., 3s. 6d., and soup to 9s. 6d. Some of the men's wives and children were wretchedly clad and lodged, and showed by their looks as well as words, that they were as wretchedly fed. "Beer," said one of these men to me, "hasn't been in my room these ten months, and I've never tasted it away from home but when I've been treated. What matters it, though, about beer? That little fellow there (pointing to a boy of five or six) doesn't yet know the taste of beef." The married men of this class generally work in their own rooms, but it is common enough for single men to work four or five in one room, as the rent is thereby lightened, and there is a saving in candle, since one of their thick candles gives light sufficient (at least what they accept as sufficient) for the whole. The practice of chamber-masters prevails among the slopmen's men, but not nearly to the same extent as among the women's men. The abuses and degradation are such as I have already described as existing among the women's men, so that I need not enumerate them. From the many narratives that I received, I select the following to show the wages and condition of these men. The other statements were corroborative.
    "This winter," said one man, "I have been making Wellington boots at 3s. 3d. per pair, such as in a fair average shop would be 6s. 9d.; that's what I have had for the bootman's part - the bottom work. The closer has only 1s. a pair. The closing is all done by men, or nearly all done by them. For the pair of Wellington boots that I'm on now I only get 3s. 3d. By working till past midnight every night I can make four pairs of these boots in a week, that's 13s. The grindery costs me 1s. and the candles cost 6d. a week and more, but then there's four of us. To my inquiries if there were numbers employed at as low wages as he obtained, one of his fellow workmen interposed and said - "Aye, hundreds worse off, because they can't get the four pairs to make, and there's men have to slave on lower wages still." "I can make six pairs of shoes a week," replied the first man, "and get 2s. 2d. a pair for them. These sort of masters is always worst. Here is a rip you see in the stiches on the welt, and I am forced to mend it for nothing, because my employer says it wasn't good work, though I made the boots three months ago, and the man who owns them has worn them every day, because you see the sole's worn down as thin as paper. What can I do? To be sure I can complain, and then I'm certain of one thing, and that's the sack."
    I saw another man who made Wellington boots at even 2s. 3d. a pair for a slop-master, until he said he was so sick of such slavery that he cut it, and took his chance. "If I'd been a family man," he added, "I must have stuck to even that work; children's appetites, you see, sir, can't wait until a man has time to look out for another seat of work."
    I found, moreover, that these men have in some cases to give security to their employers, as is the case among the tailors. Concerning this, I give the following statement:
    "You see, sir, I was promised work by --- and ---, when I 'occasioned' them, if I could give security for £5 - that's what they require. I said that my landlord, a bootman, would be my security. "Aye," said the landlord, who was present, "and the man who manages the security called on me, and says, so mighty fine, 'why, Mr. --- , I can't take you for security, your sticks are not good enough, they would fetch nothing if we had to seize them;" so I answered, "that's true enough, and I may thank the likes of you for it partly, sir." "I then," resumed the first man, "referred the firm to a baker, as they must have a householder, but their foreman saw a man working in the room who had worked for --- and --- and who had summoned them for refusing to pay him for two pairs of boots he took in, on the score that they weren't well enough made, and had made --- and --- pay him. When the foreman saw him, he said he wouldn't never have a man out of the same court as that man. So you see how independent these slop masters are - they'll pick their men and have security. The reason is, that so many are starving, and glad to get a crust anyhow, though we know that low wages is like cutting our own throats."
    To show the system of translating, as it is called, I give the following narrative. 
    "Translation, as I understand it (said my informant) is this - to take a worn old pair of shoes or boots, and by repairing them make them appear as if left off with hardly any wear - as if they were only soiled. I'll tell you the way they manage in Monmouth-Street. There are in the trade 'horses' heads' - a horse's head is the foot of a boot with sole and heel, and part of a front - the back and the remainder of the front having been used for refooting the boots. There are also 'stand-bottoms' and 'lick-ups.' A 'stand- bottom' is where the shoe appears only soiled, and a 'lick-up' is merely a boot or shoe re-lasted to take the wrinkles out, the edges of the soles rasped and squared, and so blacked up to hide blemishes, the bottom being covered with a 'smother,' which I will describe. There is another article called a 'flyer,' that is, soling a shoe without welting it. In Monmouth-Street a 'horse's head' is generally retailed at 2s. 6d., but some fetch 4s. 6d. - that's the extreme price. The old feet cost the translator from 1s. a dozen pair to 8s., but those at 8s. are good feet, and are used for the making up of Wellington boots. Some feet - such as are cut off that the pair may be refooted on account of old fashion or misfit when hardly worn - fetch 2s. 6d. a pair, and they are made up as new-footed boots, and sell from 10s. to 15s. The average price of feet (for the horse's head, as we call it) is then 4d., for a pair of backs say 2d.; the back is attached loosely by chair stitching, as it is called, to the heel, instead of being stitched to the insole, as in a new boot. The wages for all this is 1s. 4d. in Monmouth-street (in Union-street, Borough, 1s. 6d.); but I was told by a master that he had got the work done, in Gray's-inn-lane, at 9d. Put it, however, at 1s. 4d. wages - that, with 4d. and 2d. for the feet and back, gives 1s. 10d. outlay (the workman finds his own grindery), and 8d. profit on each pair sold at no higher a rate than 2s. 6d. Some masters will sell from 70 to 80 pairs per week, that's under the mark; and that's in horses' heads alone. One man employs, or did lately employ, seven men on horses' heads solely. The profit generally, in fair shops, in 'stand bottoms,' is from 1s. 6d. to 2s. per pair, as the article sells generally at 3s. 6d. One man takes, or did take, £100 in a day (it was calculated as an average) over the counter, all for the sort of shoes I have described. The profit of a 'lick-up' is the same, I suppose, as that of a 'stand- bottom.' I believe that all these tradesmen in Monmouth-street have lodgers. I was one before I married a little while ago, and I know the system to be the same now, unless indeed, it be altered for the worse. To show how disgusting these lodgings must be, I will state this: - I knew a Roman Catholic, who was attentive to his religious duties, but when pronounced on the point of death, and believing firmly that he was dying, he would not have his priest administer extreme unction, for the room was in such a filthy and revolting state he would not have the priest see it. Five men worked and slept in that room, and they were working and sleeping there in the man's illness - all the time that his life was despaired of. He was ill nine weeks. Unless a man lodged there he would not be employed. Each man pays 2s. a week. I was there once, but I couldn't sleep in such a den; and five nights out of seven I slept at my mother's, but my lodging had to be paid all the same. These men (myself excepted) were all Irish, and all teetotallers, as was the master. "How often was the room cleaned out do you say?" Never, sir, never. The refuse of the men's labour was generally burnt, smudged away in the grate, smelling terribly. It would stifle you, though it didn't me, because I got used to it. I lodged in Union-street once. My employer had a room known as 'the barracks;' every lodger paid him 2s. 6d. a week. Five men worked and slept there, and three were sitters - that is, men who paid is. a week to sit there and work, lodging elsewhere. A little before that there were six sitters. The furniture was one table, one chair, and two beds. There was no place for purposes of decency: it fell to bits from decay, and was never repaired. This barrack man always stopped the 2s. 6d. for lodging, if he gave you only that amount of work in the week. The beds were decent enough; but, as to Monmouth-street! you don't see a clean sheet there for nine weeks; and, recollect, such snobs are dirty fellows. There was no chair in the Monmouth-street room that I have spoken of, the men having only their seats used at work; but when the beds were let down for the night, the seats had to be placed in the fire-place because there was no space for them in the room. In many houses in Monmouth-street there is a system of sub-letting among the journeymen. In one room lodged a man and his wife (a laundress worked there), four children, and two single young men. The wife was actually delivered in this room whilst the men kept at their work - they never lost an hour's work; nor is this an unusual case - it's not an isolated case at all. I could instance ten or twelve cases of two or three married people living in one room in that street. The rats have scampered over the beds that lay huddled together in the kitchen. The husband of the wife, confined as I have described, paid 4s. a week, and the two single men paid him 2s. a week each, so the master was rent free; and he receives from each man 1s. 6d. a week for tea (without sugar), and no bread and butter, and 2d. a day for potatoes - that's the regular charge. To show the villanous way the stand- bottoms are got up, I will tell you this. You have seen a broken upper- leather. Well, we place a piece of leather, waxed, underneath the broken part, on which we set a few stitches through and through. When dry and finished, we take what is called 'soft heel-ball' and 'smother' it over, so that it sometimes would deceive a currier, as it appears like the upper-leather. With regard to the bottoms, the worn part of the sole is opened from the edge, a piece of leather is made to fit exactly into the hole or worn part, it is then nailed and filed until level. Paste is then applied, and what we call smothered' over the part, and that imitates the dust of the road. This smother' is obtained from the dust of the room. It is placed in a silk stocking, tied at both ends, and then shook through, just like a powder- puff, only we shake at both ends. It is powdered out into our leather apron, and mixed with a certain preparation which I will describe to you (he did so), but I would rather not have it published in The Morning Chronicle, as it would lead others to practise similar deceptions. I believe there are about 2,000 translators, so you may judge of the extent of the trade; and translators are more constantly employed than any other branch of the business. Many make a great deal of money. A journeyman translator can earn from 3s. to 4s. a day. You can give my average at 20s. a week, as the wages are good. It must be good, for we have 2s. for soling, heeling, and welting a pair of boots; and some men don't get more for making them. Monmouth-stfeet is nothing like what it was; as to curious old garments, that's all gone. There's not one English master in the translating business in Monmouth-street they are all Irish; and there is now hardly an English workman there - perhaps not one."
    In connection with the translation of old boots and shoes, I have obtained the following statistics. There are - 

In Drury-lane and streets adjacent, about 50 shops
Seven-dials and streets adjacent, about 100 shops
Monmouth-street  and streets adjacent, about 40 shops
Hanway-court, Oxford-street about 4 shops
Lisson-grove  and streets adjacent, about 100 shops
Paddington and streets adjacent, about 30 shops
Petticoat-lane (shops, stands, &c.) about 200 shops
Somers' town and streets adjacent, about 50 shops
Field-lane, Saffron-hill about 40 shops
Clerkenwell  and streets adjacent, about 30 shops
Bethnal-green, Spitalfields  about 100 shops
Rosemary-lane, &c. about 30 shops
[total] 774 shops

employing upwards of 2,000 men, in making-up and repairing old boots and shoes; besides hundreds of poor men and women who strive for a crust by buying and selling the old material, previously to translating it, and by mending up what will mend; they or their children stand in the street and try to sell them.
    I shall now conclude my account of the boot and shoe makers of London with the following account of the numbers and earnings of the men engaged at the different branches of the trade: 

The number of working boot and shoe makers in the metropolis in 1841 was  26,478
Now to these we must add 10 per cent for increase since that period 2,647
Total at the present time 29,125

Allowing for defective returns at the time of taking the census, it may be said that there are, of working boot and shoe makers in the metropolis, in round numbers 30,000

These 30,000 individuals, I am informed by one of the most intelligent men in the trade, may be divided in the following manner:
Men's-men 10,000
Women's-men 7,500
Strong trade 1,200
Clickers 2,000
Cleaners-up, and other shop assistants 2,500
Translaters, repairers, and cobblers 2,800
Female workers 4,000
[total] 30,000

From the general information that I have received upon the subject, I am led to believe that the following statement is as near the average as possible of the earnings of the different classes of boot and shoe makers above named.

The average weekly earnings of men's-men are 15s. each; hence 10,000 would earn collectively £7,500 per week, or per annum £390,000
The average weekly earnings of the women's-men are 10s. each; thus 7,500 would earn collectively £3,750 per week, or per annum 195,000
The average weekly earnings of the men in the strong trade are 10s. each; thus 1,200 would earn collectively £600 per week, or per annum 31,200 
The average weekly earnings of the clickers are £1 5s. each; thus 2,000 would earn collectively £2,500 per week, or per annum 130,000
The average weekly earnings of the cleaners-up and other shop assistants, are 15s. each; thus 2,500 would earn collectively £1,875 per week, or per annum 97,500
The average weekly earnings of the translaters, repairers, and cobblers, are 10s. each; thus 2,800 would earn collectively £1,400 per week, or per annum 72,800
The average weekly earnings of the female-workers, are 3s. each; thus 4,000 would earn collectively £600 per week, or per annum 31,200
Total earnings by the whole class of boot and shoe makers in the metropolis per annum £947,700
This would give to the whole class an average income for each hand per annum of £31 11 9?
Or an average for each hand per week of £0 12 1?

    It may then be said that there are in round numbers 30,000 working boot and shoe makers in London, earning collectively very nearly one million of money every year, and that the average income of each hand is about thirty guineas a year, or twelve shillings a week.
    In my next letter I purpose devoting my attention to the subject of prison labour.

Henry Mayhew, letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1849-1850