Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Services Industry / General - Flower Girls, Sellers of Plants, Seeds etc 
Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Labour and the London Poor; 1851, 1861-2; Henry Mayhew


   The street-sellers of whom I have now to treat comprise those who deal in trees and shrubs, in flowers (whether in pots, or merely with soil attached to the roots, or cut from the plant as it grows in the garden), and in seeds and branches (as of holly, mistletoe, ivy, yew, laurel, palm, lilac, and may). The "root-sellers" (as the dealers in flowers in pots are mostly called) rank, when in a prosperous business, with the highest "aristocracy" of the streetgreengrocers. The condition of a portion of them, may be characterised by a term which is readily understood as "comfortable," that is to say, comparatively comfortable, when the circumstances of other street-sellers are considered. I may here remark, that though there are a great number of Scotchmen connected with horticultural labour in England, but more in the provincial than the metropolitan districts, there is not one Scotchman concerned in the metropolitan street-sale of flowers; nor, indeed, as I have good reason to believe, is there a single Scotchman earning his bread as a costermonger in London. A non-commissioned officer in an infantry regiment, a Scotchman, whom I met with a few months back, in the course of my inquiries concerning street musicians, told me that he thought any of his young countrymen, if hard pushed "to get a crust," would enlist, rather than resort, even under favourable circumstances, to any kind of street-sale in London.
      The dealers in trees and shrubs are the same as the root-sellers.
      The same may be said, but with some few exceptions, of the seed-sellers.
      The street-trade in holly, mistletoe, and all kinds of evergreens known as "Christmas," is in the hands of the coster boys more than the men, while the trade in may, &c., is almost altogether confined to these lads.
      The root-sellers do not reside in any particular localities, but there are more of them living in the outskirts than in the thickly populated streets.
      The street-sellers of cut flowers present characteristics peculiarly their own. This trade is mostly in the hands of girls, who are of two classes. This traffic ranks with the street sale of water-cresses and congreves, that is to say, among the lowest grades of the street-trade, being pursued only by the very poor, or the very young.


    The returns which I caused to be procured, to show the extent of the business carried on in the metropolitan markets, give the following results as to the quantity of trees, shrubs, flowers, roots, and branches, sold wholesale in London, as well as the proportion retailed in the streets.
       Perhaps the pleasantest of all cries in early spring is that of "All a-growing -all a-blowing" heard for the first time in the season. It is that of the "root-seller" who has stocked his barrow with primroses, violets, and daisies. Their beauty and fragrance gladden the senses; and the first and, perhaps, unexpected sight of them may prompt hopes of the coming year, such as seem proper to the spring.

  Covent Garden. Farringdon. Total. Proportion sold to Costers.
Firs . . . . . . . . . 400 doz. roots 400 800 One-third.
Laurels . . . . . . . . 480 ” 480 960 One-third.
Myrtles . . . . . . . . 1,440 ” 1,120 2,560 One-fourth.
Rhododendrons . . . . . . 288 ” 256 544 One-ninth.
Lilac . . . . . . . . . 192 ” 192 384 One-sixth.
Box . . . . . . . . . 288 ” 192 480 One-sixth.
Heaths (of all kinds) . . . . 1,600 ” 1,440 3,040 One-fifth.
Broom and Furze . . . . . 544 ” 480 1,024 One-fourth.
Laurustinus . . . . . . . 400 ” 320 720 One-fourth.
Southernwood (Old Man) . . 960 ” 480 1,440 One-half.
FLOWERS (IN POTS).          
Roses (Moss) . . . . . . 1,200 doz. pots 960 2,160 One-half.
Ditto (China) . . . . . . 1,200 ” 960 2,160 One-half.
Fuchsias . . . . . . . . 1,200 ” 960 2,160 One-half.
FLOWER ROOTS.          
Primroses. . . . . . . . 600 doz. roots 400 1,000 One-half.
Polyanthus . . . . . . . 720 ” 720 1,440 One-half.
Cowslips . . . . . . . . 720 ” 480 1,200 One-half.
Daisies . . . . . . . . 800 ” 600 1,400 One-half.
Wallflowers . . . . . . . 960 ” 960 1,920 One-half.
Candytufts . . . . . . . 720 ” 480 1,200 One-half.
Daffodils . . . . . . . . 720 ” 480 1,200 One-half.
Violets . . . . . . . . . 1,200 ” 1,200 2,400 One-third.
Mignonette . . . . . . . 2,000 ” 1,800 3,800 One-sixth.
Stocks . . . . . . . . . 1,600 ” 1,280 2,880 One-sixth.
Pinks and Carnations . . . . 480 ” 320 800 One-half.
Lilies of the Valley . . . . 144 ” 144 288 One-fourth.
Pansies. . . . . . . . . 600 ” 480 1,080 One-fourth.
Lilies and Tulips . . . . . 152 ” 128 280 One-ninth.
Balsam . . . . . . . . 320 ” 320 640 One sixth.
Calceolarii . . . . . . . 360 ” 240 600 One-ninth.
Musk-plants . . . . . . 5,760 ” 4,800 10,560 One-half.
London Pride . . . . . . 400 ” 320 720 One-third.
Lupins . . . . . . . . 960 ” 640 1,600 One-third.
China-asters . . . . . . . 450 ” 400 850 One-sixth.
Marigolds . . . . . . . 5,760 ” 4,800 10,560 One-eighth.
Dahlias . . . . . . . . 80 ” 80 160 One-ninth.
Heliotrope . . . . . . . 800 ” 480 1,280 One-sixth.
Michaelmas Daisies . . . . 216 ” 216 432 One-third.
FLOWERS (CUT).          
Violets . . . . . . . . 1,440 doz. bunches 1,280 2,720 One-half.
Wallflowers . . . . . . . 3,200 ” 1,600 4,800 One-half.
Lavender (green and dry) . . 1,600 ” 1,200 4,1202 One-half.
Pinks . . . . . . . . . 720 ” 600 1,320 One-third.
Mignonette . . . . . . . 2,000 ” 1,600 3,600 One-half.
Lilies of the Valley . . . . 180 ” 160 340 One-tenth.
Moss Roses . . . . . . . 2,000 ” 1,600 3,600 One-third.
China ditto . . . . . . . 2,000 ” 1,600 3,600 One-third.
Stocks . . . . . . . . . 800 ” 480 1,280 One-third.
Holly . . . . . . . . . 840 doz. bundles 720 1,6403 One-half.
Mistletoe . . . . . . . . 800 ” 640 1,5604 One-half.
Ivy and Laurel . . . . . . 360 ” 280 7405 One-half.
Lilac . . . . . . . . . 96 ” 64 150 One-half.
Palm . . . . . . . . . 12 ” 8 286 One-half.
May . . . . . . . . . 30 ” 20 707 One-half.

1 The numbers here given do not include the shrubs, roots, &c., bought by the hawkers at the nursery gardens.
2 These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.
 These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.
 These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.
 These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.
 These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.
 These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.

      Cobbett has insisted, and with unquestioned truth, that a fondness for bees and flowers is among the very best characteristics of the English peasant. I consider it equally unquestionable that a fondness for in-door flowers, is indicative of the good character and healthful tastes, as well as of the domestic and industrious habits, of the city artizan. Among some of the most intelligent and best-conducted of these artizans, I may occasionally have found, on my visits to their homes, neither flowers nor birds, but then I have found books.
      United with the fondness for the violet, the wallflower, the rose -is the presence of the quality which has been pronounced the handmaiden of all the virtues -cleanliness. I believe that the bunch of violets, on which a poor woman or her husband has expended 1d., rarely ornaments an unswept hearth. In my investigations, I could not but notice how the presence or absence of flowers, together with other indications of the better tastes, marked the difference between the well-paid and the ill-paid workman. Concerning the tailors, for instance, I had occasion to remark, of the dwellings of these classes: -"In the one, you occasionally find small statues of Shakspere beneath glass shades; in the other, all is dirt and foetor. The working-tailor's comfortable first-floor at the West-end is redolent with the perfume of the small bunch of violets that stands in a tumbler over the mantel-piece; the sweater's wretched garret is rank with the stench of filth and herrings." The presence of the bunch of flowers of itself tells us of "a better state of things" elevating the workman; for, amidst the squalid poverty and fustiness of a slopworker's garret, the nostril loses its daintiness of sense, so that even a freshly fragrant wallflower is only so many yellow petals and green leaves.
      A love of flowers is also observable among men whose avocations are out of doors, and those whose habits are necessarily those of order and punctuality.
      Among this class are such persons as gentlemen's coachmen, who delight in the display of a flower or two in the button-holes of their coats when out of doors, and in small vases in their rooms in their masters' mews. I have even seen the trellis work opposite the windows of cabmen's rooms, which were over stables, with a projecting roof covering the whole, thickly yellow and green with the flowers and leaves of the easily-trained nasturtium and herb "twopence." The omnibus driver occasionally "sports a nosegay" -as he himself might    word it -in his button-hole; and the stagecoachman of old felt he was improperly dressed if a big bunch of flowers were not attached to his coat. Sailors ashore are likewise generally fond of flowers.
      A delight in flowers is observable, also, among the workers whose handicraft requires the exercise of taste, and whose eyes are sensible, from the nature of their employment, to the beauty of colour. To this class belong especially the Spitalfields' silk-weavers. At one time the Spitalfields weavers were almost the only botanists in London, and their love of flowers is still strong. I have seen fuchsias gladdening the weaver's eyes by being placed near his loom, their crimson pendants swinging backwards and forwards to the motion of the treadles, while his small back garden has been many-coloured with dahlias. These weavers, too, were at one time highly-successful as growers of tulips.
      Those out-door workmen, whose calling is of coarse character, are never known to purchase flowers, which to them are mere trumpery. Perhaps no one of my readers ever saw a flower in the possession of a flusherman, nightman, slaughterer, sweep, gaslayer, gut and tripe-preparer, or such like labourer. Their eyes convey to the mind no appreciation of beauty, and the sense of smell is actually dead in them, except the odour be rank exceedingly.
      The fondness for flowers in London is strongest in the women, and, perhaps, strongest in those whose callings are in-door and sedentary. Flowers are to them a companionship.
      It remains only for me to state that, in the poorest districts, and among people where there is no sense of refinement or but a small love for natural objects, flowers are little known. Flowers are not bought by the slop-workers, the garret and chamber-masters of Bethnal-green, nor in the poor Irish districts, nor by the City people Indeed, as I have observed, there is not a flower-stand in the city.
      It should be remembered that, in poor districts, the first appearance of flowers conveys to the slop-workman only one pleasurable association -that the season of warmth has arrived, and that he will not only escape being chilled with cold, but that he will be delivered from the heavy burden of providing fire and candle.
      A pleasant-looking man, with an appearance which the vulgar characterise as "jolly," and with hearty manners, gave me the following account as to the character of his customers. He had known the business since he was a boy, his friends having been in it previously. He said:
      "There's one old gentleman a little way out of town, he always gives 1s. for the first violet root that any such as me carries there. I'm often there before any others: `Ah!' he says, `here you are; you've come, like Buonaparte, with your violet.' I don't know exactly what he means. I don't like to ask him you see; for, though he's civil, he's not what you may call a free sort of man -that's it." [I explained to him that the allusion was to Buonaparte's emblem of the violet, with the interpretation he or his admirers gave to it - "I come in the spring."] "That's it, sir, is it?" he resumed; "well, I'm glad I know, because I don't like to be puzzled. Mine's a puzzling trade, though. Violets have a good sale. I've sold six dozen roots in a day, and only half as many primroses and double-daisies, if half. Everybody likes violets. I've sold some to poor people in town, but they like their roots in pots. They haven't a bit of a garden for 'em. More shame too I say, when they pays such rents. People that sits working all day is very fond of a sweet flower. A gentleman that's always a-writing or a-reading in his office -he's in the timber-trade -buys something of me every time I see him; twice or thrice a week, sometimes. I can't say what he does with them all. Barmaids, though you mightn't think it, sir, is wery tidy customers. So, sometimes, is young women that's in an improper way of life, about Lisson-grove, and in some parts near Oxfordstreet. They buys all sorts. Perhaps more stocks than anything, for they're beautiful roots, and not dear. I've sold real beauties for 2d. - real beauties, but small; 6d. is a fair price; one stock will perfume a house. I tell my customers not to sleep with them in the room; it isn't good for the health. A doctor told me that, and said, `You ought to give me a fuchsia for my opinion.' That was his joke. Primroses I sell most of - they're not in pots -two or three or four miles out of town, and most if a family's come into a new house, or changed their house, if there's children. The young ones teases the old ones to buy them to set in the garden, and when children gets fairly to work that way, it's a sure sale. If they can't get over father, they'll get over mother. Busy men never buy flowers, as far as I've seen." [`In no thoroughfare in the city, I am assured, is there a flower-stand -a circumstance speaking volumes as to the habits and tastes of the people. Of fruit-stalls and chop-houses there are in the neighbourhood of the Exchange, more than in any other part of London perhaps - the faculty of perceiving the beauty of colour, form, and perfume, as combined in flowers is not common to the man of business. The pleasures of the palate, however, they can all understand.'] "Parsons and doctors are often tidy customers," resumed my informant. "They have a good deal of sitting and reading, I believe. I've heard a parson say to his wife, `Do, my dear, go and buy a couple of those wallflowers for my study.' I don't do much for working-men; the women's my best customers. There's a shoemaker to be sure comes down sometimes with his old woman to lay out 2d. or 3d. on me; `Let's have something that smells strong,' he'll say, `stronger than cobbler's wax; for, though I can't smell that, others can.' I've sold him musks (musk-plants) as often as anything.
     "The poor people buy rather largely at times; that is, many of them buy. One day last summer, my old woman and me sold 600 penny pots of mignonette; and all about you saw them -and it was a pleasure to see them -in the poor women's windows. The women are far the best customers. There was the mignonette behind the bits of bars they have, in the shape of gates and such like, in the front of their windows, in the way of preventing the pots falling into the street. Mignonette's the best of all for a sure sale; where can you possibly have a sweeter or a nicer penn'orth, pot and all."


     The street-trade in trees and shrubs is an appendage of "root-selling," and not an independent avocation. The season of supply at the markets extends over July, August, September, and October, with a smaller trade in the winter and spring months. At the nursery gardens, from the best data I can arrive at, there are about twice as many trees and shrubs purchased as in the markets by the costermongers. Nor is this the only difference. It is the more costly descriptions that are bought at the nursery grounds.
      The trees and shrubs are bought at the gardens under precisely the same circumstances as the roots, but the trade is by no means popular with the root-sellers. They regard these heavy, cumbrous goods, as the smarter costers do such things as turnips and potatoes, requiring more room, and yielding less profit. "It breaks a man's heart," said one dealer, "and half kills his beast, going round with a lot of heavy things, that perhaps you can't sell." The streetdealers say they must keep them, "or people will go, where they can get roots, and trees, and everything, all together." In winter, or in early spring, the street-seller goes a round now and then, with evergreens and shrubs alone, and the trade is then less distasteful to him. The trees and shrubs are displayed, when the market-space allows, on a sort of stand near the flower-stand; sometimes they are placed on the ground, along-side the flower-stand, but only when no better display can be made.
      The trees and shrubs sold by the costers are mezereons, rhododendrons, savine, laurustinus, acacias (of the smaller genera, some being highly aromatic when in flower), myrtles, guelder-roses (when small), privet, genistas, broom, furze (when small), the cheaper heaths, syringas (small), lilacs (almost always young and for transplanting), southernwood (when large), box (large) dwarf laurels, variegated laurels (called a cuber by the street-people), and young firtrees, &c.
      The prices of trees vary far more than flower-roots, because they are dependent upon size for value. "Why," said one man, "I've bought roddies, as I calls them (rhododendrons), at 4s. a dozen, but they was scrubby things, and I've bought them at 14s. 6d. I once gave 5s. for two trees of them, which I had ordered, and there was a rare grumbling about the price,though I only charged 7s. 6d. for the two, which was 1s. 3d. a piece for carriage, and hard earned too, to carry them near five miles in my cart, almost on purpose, but I thought I was pleasing a good customer. Then there's myrtles, why I can get them at 5d. a piece, and at 5s., and a deal more if wanted. You can have myrtles that a hat might be very big for them to grow in, and myrtles that will fill a great window in a fine house. I've bought common heaths at 1s. 3d. a dozen."
      The coster ordinarily confines himself to the cheaper sorts of plants, and rarely meddles with such things as acacias, mezereons, savines, syringas, lilacs, or even myrtles, and with none of these things unless cheap. "Trees, real trees," I was told, "are often as cheap as anything. Them young firs there was 4s. 6d. a dozen, and a man at market can buy four or six of them if he don't want a dozen."
      The customers for trees and shrubs are generally those who inhabit the larger sort of houses, where there is room in the hall or the windows for display; or where there is a garden capacious enough for the implantation of the shrubs. Three-fourths of the trees are sold on a round, and when purchased at a stall the costermonger generally undertakes to deliver them at the purchaser's residence, if not too much out of his way, in his regular rounds. Or he may diverge, and make a round on speculation, purposely. There is as much bartering trees for old clothes, as for roots, and as many, or more, complaints of the hard bargainings of ladies: "I'd rather sell polyanthuses at a farthing a piece profit to poor women, if I could get no more," said one man, "than I'd work among them screws that's so fine in grand caps and so civil. They'd skin a flea for his hide and tallow."
      The number of trees and shrubs sold annually, in the streets, are, as near as I can ascertain, as follows -I have added to the quantity purchased by the street-sellers, at the metropolitan markets, the amount bought by them at the principal nursery-gardens in the environs of London:

Firs 9,576 roots
Laurels 1,152 "
Myrtles 23,040 "
Rhododendrons 2,160 "
Lilacs 2,304 "
Box 2,880 "
Heaths 21,888 "
Broom 2,880 "
Furze 6,912 "
Laurustinus 6,480 "
Southernwood 25,920 "


     It is not easy to arrive at any accurate estimate of the number of flower-sellers in the streets of London. The cause of the difficulty lies in the fact that none can be said to devote themselves entirely to the sale of flowers in the street, for the flower-sellers, when oranges are cheap and    good, find their sale of the fruit more certain and profitable than that of flowers, and resort to it accordingly. Another reason is, that a poor costermonger will on a fine summer's day send out his children to sell flowers, while on other days they may be selling watercresses or, perhaps, onions. Sunday is the best day for flower-selling, and one experienced man computed, that in the height and pride of the summer 400 children were selling flowers, on the Sundays, in the streets. Another man thought that number too low an estimate, and contended that it was nearer 800. I found more of the opinion of my last mentioned informant than of the other, but I myself am disposed to think the smaller number nearer the truth. On week days it is computed there are about half the number of flower-sellers that there are on the Sundays. The trade is almost entirely in the hands of children, the girls outnumbering the boys by more than eight to one. The ages of the girls vary from six to twenty; few of the boys are older than twelve, and most of them are under ten.
      Of flower-girls there are two classes. Some girls, and they are certainly the smaller class of the two, avail themselves of the sale of flowers in the streets for immoral purposes, or rather, they seek to eke out the small gains of their trade by such practises. They frequent the great thoroughfares, and offer their bouquets to gentlemen, whom on an evening they pursue for a hundred yards or two in such places as the Strand, mixing up a leer with their whine for custom or for charity. Their ages are from fourteen to nineteen or twenty, and sometimes they remain out offering their flowers -or dried lavender when no fresh flowers are to be had - until late at night. They do not care, to make their appearance in the streets until towards evening, and though they solicit the custom of ladies, they rarely follow or importune them. Of this class I shall treat more fully under another head.
      The other class of flower-girls is composed of the girls who, wholly or partially, depend upon the sale of flowers for their own support or as an assistance to their parents. Some of them are the children of street-sellers, some are orphans, and some are the daughters of mechanics who are out of employment, and who prefer any course rather than an application to the parish. These girls offer their flowers in the principal streets at the West End, and resort greatly to the suburbs; there are a few, also, in the business thoroughfares. They walk up and down in front of the houses, offering their flowers to any one looking out of the windows, or they stand at any likely place. They are generally very persevering, more especially the younger children, who will run along, barefooted, with their "Please, gentleman, do buy my flowers. Poor little girl!" -"Please, kind lady, buy my violets. O, do! please! Poor little girl! Do buy a bunch, please, kind lady!"
      The statement I give, "of two orphan flower-sellers" furnishes another proof, in addition to the many I have already given, of the heroic struggles of the poor, and of the truth of the saying, "What would the poor do without the poor?"
      The better class of flower-girls reside in Lisson-grove, in the streets off Drury-lane, in St. Giles's, and in other parts inhabited by the very poor. Some of them live in lodginghouses, the stench and squalor of which are in remarkable contrast to the beauty and fragrance of the flowers they sometimes have to carry thither with them unsold.


      Of these girls the elder was fifteen and the younger eleven. Both were clad in old, but not torn, dark print frocks, hanging so closely, and yet so loosely, about them as to show the deficiency of under-clothing; they wore old broken black chip bonnets. The older sister (or rather half-sister) had a pair of old worn-out shoes on her feet, the younger was barefoot, but trotted along, in a gait at once quick and feeble -as if the soles of her little feet were impervious, like horn, to the roughness of the road. The elder girl has a modest expression of countenance, with no pretensions to prettiness except in having tolerably good eyes. Her complexion was somewhat muddy, and her features somewhat pinched. The younger child had a round, chubby, and even rosy face, and quite a healthful look. Her portrait is here given.
      They lived in one of the streets near Drurylane. They were inmates of a house, not let out as a lodging-house, in separate beds, but in rooms, and inhabited by street-sellers and street-labourers. The room they occupied was large, and one dim candle lighted it so insufficiently that it seemed to exaggerate the dimensions. The walls were bare and discoloured with damp. The furniture consisted of a crazy table and a few chairs, and in the centre of the room was an old four-post bedstead of the larger size. This bed was occupied nightly by the two sisters and their brother, a lad just turned thirteen. In a sort of recess in a corner of the room was the decency of an old curtain - or something equivalent, for I could hardly see in the dimness -and behind this was, I presume, the bed of the married couple. The three children paid 2s. a week for the room, the tenant an Irishman out of work paying 2s. 9d., but the furniture was his, and his wife aided the children in their trifle of washing, mended their clothes, where such a thing was possible, and such like. The husband was absent at the time of my visit, but the wife seemed of a better stamp, judging by her appearance, and by her refraining from any direct, or even indirect, way of begging, as well as from the "Glory be to Gods!" "the heavens be your honour's bed!" or "it's the thruth I'm telling of you sir," that I so frequently meet with on similar visits.
       The elder girl said, in an English accent, not at all garrulously, but merely in answer to my questions: "I sell flowers, sir; we live almost on flowers when they are to be got. I sell, and so does my sister, all kinds, but it's very little use offering any that's not sweet. I think it's the sweetness as sells them. I sell primroses, when they're in, and violets, and wall-flowers, and stocks, and roses of different sorts, and pinks, and carnations, and mixed flowers, and lilies of the valley, and green lavender, and mignonette (but that I do very seldom), and violets again at this time of the year, for we get them both in spring and winter." [They are forced in hot-houses for winter sale, I may remark.] "The best sale of all is, I think, moss-roses, young moss-roses. We do best of all on them. Primroses are good, for people say: `Well, here's spring again to a certainty.' Gentlemen are our best customers. I've heard that they buy flowers to give to the ladies. Ladies have sometimes said: `A penny, my poor girl, here's three-halfpence for the bunch.' Or they've given me the price of two bunches for one; so have gentlemen. I never had a rude word said to me by a gentleman in my life. No, sir, neither lady nor gentleman ever gave me 6d. for a bunch of flowers. I never had a sixpence given to me in my life -never. I never go among boys, I know nobody but my brother. My father was a tradesman in Mitchelstown, in the County Cork. I don't know what sort of a tradesman he was. I never saw him. He was a tradesman I've been told. I was born in London. Mother was a chairwoman, and lived very well. None of us ever saw a father." [It was evident that they were illegitimate children, but the landlady had never seen the mother, and could give me no information.] "We don't know anything about our fathers. We were all `mother's children.' Mother died seven years ago last Guy Faux day. I've got myself, and my brother and sister a bit of bread ever since, and never had any help but from the neighbours. I never troubled the parish. O, yes, sir, the neighbours is all poor people, very poor, some of them. We've lived with her" (indicating her landlady by a gesture) "these two years, and off and on before that. I can't say how long." "Well, I don't know exactly," said the landlady, "but I've had them with me almost all the time, for four years, as near as I can recollect; perhaps more. I've moved three times, and they always followed me." In answer to my inquiries the landlady assured me that these two poor girls, were never out of doors all the time she had known them after six at night. "We've always good health. We can all read." [Here the three somewhat insisted upon proving to me their proficiency in reading, and having produced a Roman Catholic book, the "Garden of Heaven," they read very well.] "I put myself," continued the girl, "and I put my brother and sister to a Roman Catholic school -and to Ragged schools -but I could read before mother died. My brother can write, and I pray to God that he'll do well with it. I buy my flowers at Covent Garden; sometimes, but very seldom, at Farringdon. I pay 1s. for a dozen bunches, whatever flowers are in. Out of every two bunches I can make three, at 1d. a piece. Sometimes one or two over in the dozen, but not so often as I would like. We make the bunches up ourselves. We get the rush to tie them with for nothing. We put their own leaves round these violets (she produced a bunch). The paper for a dozen costs a penny; sometimes only a halfpenny. The two of us doesn't make less than 6d. a day, unless it's very ill luck. But religion teaches us that God will support us, and if we make less we say nothing. We do better on oranges in March or April, I think it is, than on flowers. Oranges keep better than flowers you see, sir. We make 1s. a day, and 9d. a day, on oranges, the two of us. I wish they was in all the year. I generally go St. John's-wood way, and Hampstead and Highgate way with my flowers. I can get them nearly all the year, but oranges is better liked than flowers, I think. I always keep 1s. stockmoney, if I can. If it's bad weather, so bad that we can't sell flowers at all, and so if we've had to spend our stock-money for a bit of bread, she (the landlady) lends us 1s., if she has one, or she borrows one of a neighbour, if she hasn't, of if the neighbours hasn't it, she borrows it at a dolly-shop" (the illegal pawnshop). "There's 2d. a week to pay for 1s. at a dolly, and perhaps an old rug left for it; if it's very hard weather, the rug must be taken at night time, or we are starved with the cold. It sometimes has to be put into the dolly again next morning, and then there's 2d. to pay for it for the day. We've had a frock in for 6d., and that's a penny a week, and the same for a day. We never pawned anything; we have nothing they would take in at the pawnshop. We live on bread and tea, and sometimes a fresh herring of a night. Sometimes we don't eat a bit all day when we're out; sometimes we take a bit of bread with us, or buy a bit. My sister can't eat taturs; they sicken her. I don't know what emigrating means." [I informed her and she continued]: "No, sir, I wouldn't like to emigrate and leave brother and sister. If they went with me I don't think I should like it, not among strangers. I think our living costs us 2s. a week for the two of us; the rest goes in rent. That's all we make."
      The brother earned from 1s. 6d. to 2s. a week, with an occasional meal, as a costermonger's boy. Neither of them ever missed mass on a Sunday.


      Some of these girls are, as I have stated, of an immoral character, and some of them are sent out by their parents to make out a livelihood    by prostitution. One of this class, whom I saw, had come out of prison a short time previously. She was not nineteen, and had been sentenced about a twelvemonth before to three months' imprisonment with hard labour, "for heaving her shoe," as she said, "at the Lord Mayor, to get a comfortable lodging, for she was tired of being about the streets." After this she was locked up for breaking the lamps in the street. She alleged that her motive for this was a belief that by committing some such act she might be able to get into an asylum for females. She was sent out into the streets by her father and mother, at the age of nine, to sell flowers. Her father used to supply her with the money to buy the flowers, and she used to take the proceeds of the day's work home to her parents. She used to be out frequently till past midnight, and seldom or never got home before nine. She associated only with flower-girls of loose character. The result may be imagined. She could not state positively that her parents were aware of the manner in which she got the money she took home to them. She supposes that they must have imagined what her practices were. He used to give her no supper if she "didn't bring home a good bit of money." Her father and mother did little or no work all this while. They lived on what she brought home. At thirteen years old she was sent to prison (she stated) "for selling combs in the street" (it was winter, and there were no flowers to be had). She was incarcerated fourteen days, and when liberated she returned to her former practices. The very night that she came home from gaol her father sent her out into the streets again. She continued in this state, her father and mother living upon her, until about twelve months before I received this account from her, when her father turned her out of his house, because she didn't bring home money enough. She then went into Kent, hop-picking, and there fell in with a beggar, who accosted her while she was sitting under a tree. He said, "You have got a very bad pair of shoes on; come with me, and you shall have some better ones." She consented, and walked with him into the village close by, where they stood out in the middle of the streets, and the man began addressing the people, "My kind good Christians, me and my poor wife here is ashamed to appear before you in the state we are in." She remained with this person all the winter, and travelled with him through the country, begging. He was a beggar by trade. In the spring she returned to the flower-selling, but scarcely got any money either by that or other means. At last she grew desperate, and wanted to get back to prison. She broke the lamps outside the Mansion-house, and was sentenced to fourteen days' imprisonment. She had been out of prison nearly three weeks when I saw her, and was in training to go into an asylum. She was sick and tired, she said, of her life.


      The sale of green lavender in the streets is carried on by the same class as the sale of flowers, and is, as often as flowers, used for immoral purposes, when an evening or night sale is carried on.
      The lavender is sold at the markets in bundles, each containing a dozen branches. It is sold principally to ladies in the suburbs, who purchase it to deposit in drawers and wardrobes; the odour communicated to linen from lavender being, perhaps, more agreeable and more communicable than that from any other flower. Nearly a tenth of the market sale may be disposed of in this way. Some costers sell it cheap to recommend themselves to ladies who are customers, that they may have the better chance for a continuance of those ladies' custom.
      The number of lavender-sellers can hardly be given as distinct from that of flower-sellers, because any flower-girl will sell lavender, "when it is in season." The season continues from the beginning of July to the end of September. In the winter months, generally after day-fall, dried lavender is offered for sale; it is bought at the herb-shops. There is, however, an addition to the number of the flower-girls of a few old women, perhaps from twenty to thirty, who vary their street-selling avocations by going from door to door in the suburbs with lavender for sale, but do not stand to offer it in the street.
      The street-seller's profit on lavender is now somewhat more than cent. per cent., as the bundle, costing 2½d., brings when tied up in sprigs, at least, 6d. The profit, I am told, was, six or seven years ago, 200 per cent; "but people will have better penn'orths now." I was informed, by a person long familiar with the trade in flowers, that, from twenty to twenty-five years ago, the sale was the best. It was a fashionable amusement for ladies to tie the sprigs of lavender together, compressing the stems very tightly with narrow ribbon of any favourite colour, the heads being less tightly bound, or remaining unbound; the largest stems were in demand for this work. The lavender bundle, when its manufacture was complete, was placed in drawers, or behind books in the shelves of a glazed book-case, so that a most pleasant atmosphere was diffused when the book-case was opened.

      I now give the quantity of cut flowers sold in the streets. The returns have been derived from nursery-men and market-salesmen. It will be seen how fully these returns corroborate the statement of the poor flower-girl -(p. 135) - "it's very little use offering anything that's not sweet."
      I may remark, too, that at the present period, from "the mildness of the season," wallflowers, primroses, violets, and polyanthuses are almost as abundant as in spring sunshine.

Violets 65,280 bunches.
Wallflowers 115,200 bunches.
Lavender 296,640 bunches.
Pinks and Carnations 63,360 bunches.
Moss Roses 172,800 bunches.
China ditto 172,800 bunches.
Mignonette 86,400 bunches.
Lilies of the Valley 1,632 bunches.
Stocks 20,448 bunches.
Cut flowers sold yearly in the streets 994,560 bunches.

      The "flower-root sellers" -for I heard them so called to distinguish them from the sellers of "cut flowers" -are among the best-mannered and the best-dressed of all the street-sellers I have met with, but that only as regards a portion of them. Their superiority in this respect may perhaps be in some measure attributable to their dealing with a better class of customers -with persons who, whether poor or rich, exercise healthful tastes.
      I may mention, that I found the street-sellers of "roots" -always meaning thereby flowerroots in bloom -more attached to their trade than others of their class.
      The roots, sold in the streets, are bought in the markets and at the nursery-gardens; but about three-fourths of those required by the better class of street-dealers are bought at the gardens, as are "cut flowers" occasionally. Hackney is the suburb most resorted to by the root-sellers. The best "pitches" for the sale of roots in the street are situated in the Newroad, the City-road, the Hampstead-road, the Edgeware-road, and places of similar character, where there is a constant stream of passers along, who are not too much immersed in business. Above three-fourths of the sale is effected by itinerant costermongers. For this there is one manifest reason: a flower-pot, with the delicate petals of its full-blown moss-rose, perhaps, suffers even from the trifling concussion in the journey of an omnibus, for instance. To carry a heavy flower-pot, even any short distance, cannot be expected, and to take a cab for its conveyance adds greatly to the expense. Hence, flower-roots are generally purchased at the door of the buyer.
      For the flowers of commoner or easier culture, the root-seller receives from 1d. to 3d. These are primroses, polyanthuses, cowslips (but in small quantities comparatively), daisies (single and double, -and single or wild, daisies were coming to be more asked for, each 1d.), small early wallflowers, candy-tufts, southernwood (called "lad's love" or "old man" by some), and daffodils, (but daffodils were sometimes dearer than 3d.). The plants that may be said to struggle against frost and snow in a hard season, such as the snowdrop, the crocus, and the mezereon, are rarely sold by the costers; "They come too soon," I was told. The primroses, and the other plants I have enumerated, are sold, for the most part, not in pots, but with soil attached to the roots, so that they may be planted in a garden (as they most frequently are) or in a pot.
      Towards the close of May, in an early season, and in the two following months, the root-trade is at its height. Many of the stalls and barrows are then exceedingly beautiful, the barrow often resembling a moving garden. The stall-keepers have sometimes their flowers placed on a series of shelves, one above another, so as to present a small amphitheatre of beautiful and diversified hues; the purest white, as in the lily of the valley, to the deepest crimson, as in the fuschia; the bright or rust-blotted yellow of the wallflower, to the many hues of the stock. Then there are the pinks and carnations, double and single, with the rich-coloured and heavily scented "clove-pinks;" roses, mignonette, the velvetty pansies (or heart's-ease), the white and orange lilies, calceolarias, balsams (a flower going out of fashion), geraniums (flowers coming again into fashion), musk-plants, London pride (and other saxifrages; the species known, oddly enough, as London pride being a native of wild and mountainous districts, such as botanists call "Alpine habitats,") and the many coloured lupins. Later again come the Chinaasters, the African marigolds, the dahlias, the poppies, and the common and very aromatic marigold. Later still there are the Michaelimas daisies -the growth of the "All-Hallow'n summer," to which Falstaff was compared.
      There is a class of "roots" in which the street-sellers, on account of their general dearness, deal so sparingly, that I cannot class them as a part of the business. Among these are anemones, hyacinths, tulips, ranunculuses, and the orchidaceous tribe. Neither do the street people meddle, unless very exceptionally, with the taller and statelier plants, such as foxgloves, hollyoaks, and sunflowers; these are too difficult of carriage for their purpose. Nor do they sell, unless again as an exception, such flowers as require support -the convolvolus and the sweet-pea, for instance.
      The plants I have specified vary in price. Geraniums are sold at from 3d. to 5s.; pinks at from 3d. for the common pink, to 2s. for the best single clove, and 4s. for the best double; stocks, as they are small and single, to their being large and double, from 3d. (and sometimes less) to 2s.; dahlias from 6d. to 5s.; fuschias, from 6d. to 4s.; rose-bushes from 3d. to 1s. 6d., and sometimes, but not often, much higher; musk-plants, London pride, lupins, &c., are 1d. and 2d., pots generally included.
      To carry on his business efficiently, the rootseller mostly keeps a pony and a cart, to convey his purchases from the garden to his stall or his barrow, and he must have a sheltered and cool shed in which to deposit the flowers which are to be kept over-night for the morrow's business. "It's a great bother, sir," said a root-seller, "a man having to provide a shed for his roots.    It wouldn't do at all to have them in the same room as we sleep in -they'd droop. I have a beautiful big shed, and a snug stall for a donkey in a corner of it; but he won't bear tying up - he'll fight against tying all night, and if he was loose, why in course he'd eat the flowers I put in the shed. The price is nothing to him; he'd eat the Queen's camellias, if he could get at them, if they cost a pound a-piece. So I have a deal of trouble, for I must block him up somehow; but he's a first-rate ass." To carry on a considerable business, the services of a man and his wife are generally required, as well as those of a boy.
      The purchases wholesale are generally by the dozen roots, all ready for sale in pots. Mignonette, however, is grown in boxes, and sold by the box at from 5s. to 20s., according to the size, &c. The costermonger buys, for the large sale to the poor, at a rate which brings the mignonette roots into his possession at something less, perhaps, than a halfpenny each. He then purchases a gross of small common pots, costing him 1½d. a dozen, and has to transfer the roots and soil to the pots, and then offer them for sale. The profit thus is about 4s. per hundred, but with the drawback of considerable labour and some cost in the conveyance of the boxes. The same method is sometimes pursued with young stocks.
      The cheapness of pots, I may mention incidentally, and the more frequent sale of roots in them, has almost entirely swept away the fragment of a pitcher and "the spoutless teapot," which Cowper mentions as containing the poor man's flowers, that testified an inextinguishable love of rural objects, even in the heart of a city. There are a few such things, however, to be seen still.
      Of root-sellers there are, for six months of the year, about 500 in London. Of these, onefifth devote themselves principally, but none entirely, to the sale of roots; two-fifths sell roots regularly, but only as a portion, and not a larger portion of their business; and the remaining two-fifths are casual dealers in roots, buying them -almost always in the markets -whenever a bargain offers. Seveneighths of the root-sellers are, I am informed, regular costers, occasionally a gardener's assistant has taken to the street trade in flowers, "but I fancy, sir," said an experienced man to me, "they've very seldom done any good at it. They're always gardening at their roots, trimming them, and such like, and they overdo it. They're too careful of their plants; people like to trim them theirselves."
      "I did well on fuschias last season," said one of my informants; "I sold them from 6d. to 1s. 6d. The `Globes' went off well. Geraniums was very fair. The `Fairy Queens' of them sold faster than any, I think. It's the ladies out of town a little way, and a few in town, that buy them, and buy the fuschias too. They require a good window. The `Jenny Linds' -they was geraniums and  other plants -didn't sell so well as the Fairy Queens, though they was cheaper. Good cloves (pinks) sell to the better sort of houses; so do carnations. Mignonette's everybody's money. Dahlias didn't go off so well. I had very tidy dahlias at 6d. and 1s., and some 1s. 6d. I do a goodish bit in giving flowers for old clothes. I very seldom do it, but to ladies. I deal mostly with them for their husbands' old hats, or boots, or shoes; yes, sir, and their trowsers and waistcoats sometimes -very seldom their coats -and ladies boots and shoes too. There's one pleasant old lady, and her two daughters, they'll talk me over any day. I very seldom indeed trade for ladies' clothes. I have, though. Mostly for something in the shawl way, or wraps of some kind. Why, that lady I was telling you of and her daughters, got me to take togs that didn't bring the prime cost of my roots and expenses. They called them by such fine names, that I was had. Then they was so polite; `O, my good man,' says one of the young daughters, `I must have this geranium in 'change.' It was a most big and beautiful Fairy Queen, well worth 4s. The tog -I didn't know what they called it -a sort of cloak, fetched short of half-a-crown, and that just with cheaper togs. Some days, if it's very hot, and the stall business isn't good in very hot weather, my wife goes a round with me, and does considerable in swopping with ladies. They can't do her as they can me. The same on wet days, if it's not very wet, when I has my roots covered in the cart. Ladies is mostly at home such times, and perhaps they're dull, and likes to go to work at a bargaining. My wife manages them. In good weeks, I can clear 3l. in my trade; the two of us can, anyhow. But then there's bad weather, and there's sometimes roots spoiled if they're not cheap, and don't go off -but I'll sell one that cost me 1s. for 2d. to get rid of it; and there's always the expenses to meet, and the pony to keep, and everything that way. No, sir, I don't make 2l. a week for the five months -its nearer five than six -the season lasts; perhaps something near it. The rest of the year I sell fruit, or anything, and may clear 10s. or 15s. a week, but, some weeks, next to nothing, and the expenses all going on.
      "Why, no, sir; I can't say that times is what they was. Where I made 4l. on my roots five or six years back, I make only 3l. now. But it's no use complaining; there's lots worse off than I am -lots. I've given pennies and twopences to plenty that's seen better days in the streets; it might be their own fault. It is so mostly, but perhaps only partly. I keep a connection together as well as I can. I have a stall; my wife's there generally, and I go a round as well."
      One of the principal root-sellers in the streets told me that he not unfrequently sold ten dozen a day, over and above those sold not in pots. As my informant had a superior trade, his business is not to be taken as an average; but, reckoning that he averages six dozen a day for 20 weeks - he said 26 -it shows that one man alone sells 8,640 flowers in pots in the season. The prin   cipal sellers carry on about the same extent of business.
      According to similar returns, the number of the several kinds of flowers in pots and flower roots sold annually in the London streets, are as follows:

China-roses 38,880
Fuschias 38,800
Geraniums 12,800
Total number of flowers in pots sold in the streets. 123,360

Polyanthuses 34,560
Cowslips 28,800
Daisies 33,600
Wallflowers 46,080
Candytufts 28,800
Daffodils 28,800
Violets 38,400
Mignonette 30,384
Stocks 23,040
Pinks and Carnations 19,200
Lilies of the Valley 3,456
Pansies 12,960
Lilies 660
Tulips 852
Balsams 7,704
Calceolarias 3,180
Musk Plants 253,440
London Pride 11,520
Lupins 25,596
China-asters 9,156
Marigolds 63,360
Dahlias 852
Heliotrope 13,356
Poppies 1,920
Michaelmas Daisies 6,912
Total number of flowerroots sold in the streets 750,588


      The street sale of seeds, I am informed, is smaller than it was thirty, or even twenty years back. One reason assigned for this falling off is the superior cheapness of "flowers in pots." At one time, I was informed, the poorer classes who were fond of flowers liked to "grow their own mignonette." I told one of my informants that I had been assured by a trustworthy man, that in one day he had sold 600 penny pots of mignonette: "Not a bit of doubt of it, sir," was the answer, "not a doubt about it; I've heard of more than that sold in a day by a man who set on three hands to help him; and that's just where it is. When a poor woman, or poor man either -but its mostly the women -can buy a mignonette pot, all blooming and smelling for 1d., why she won't bother to buy seeds and set them in a box or a pot and wait for them to come into full blow. Selling seeds in the streets can't be done so well now, sir. Anyhow it ain't done as it was, as I've often heard old folk say." The reason assigned for this is that cottages in many parts -such places as Lisson-grove, Islington, Hoxton, Hackney, or Stepney -where the inhabitants formerly cultivated flowers in their little gardens, are now let out in single apartments, and the gardens -or yards as they mostly are now - were used merely to hang clothes in. The only green thing which remained in some of these gardens, I was told, was horse-radish, a root which it is difficult to extirpate: "And it's just the sort of thing," said one man, "that poor people hasn't no great call for, because they, you see, a'n't not overdone with joints of roast beef, nor rump steaks." In the suburbs where the small gardens are planted with flowers, the cultivators rarely buy seeds of the street-sellers, whose stands are mostly at a distance.
      None of the street seed-vendors confine themselves to the sale. One man, whom I saw, told me that last spring he was penniless, after sickness, and a nurseryman, whom he knew, trusted him 5s. worth of seeds, which he continued to sell, trading in nothing else, for three or four weeks, until he was able to buy some flowers in pots. Though the profit is cent. per cent. on most kinds, 1s. 6d. a day is accounted "good earnings, on seeds." On wet days there is no sale, and, indeed, the seeds cannot be exposed in the streets. My informant computed that he cleared 5s. a week. His customers were principally poor women, who liked to sow mignonette in boxes, or in a garden-border, "if it had ever such a little bit of sun," and who resided, he believed, in small, quiet streets, branching off from the thoroughfares. Of flowerseeds, the street-sellers dispose most largely of mignonette, nasturtium, and the various stocks; and of herbs, the most is done in parsley. One of my informants, however, "did best in grass-seeds," which people bought, he said, "to mend their grass-plots with," sowing them in any bare place, and throwing soil loosely over them. Lupin, larkspur, convolvulus, and Venus's looking-glass had a fair sale.
      The street-trade, in seeds, would be less than it is, were it not that the dealers sell it in smaller quantities than the better class of shopkeepers. The street-traders buy their seeds by the quarter of a pound -or any quantity not considered retail -of the nurserymen, who often write the names for the costers on the paper in which the seed has to be inclosed. Seed that costs 4d., the street-seller makes into eight penny lots. "Why, yes, sir," said one man, in answer to my inquiry, "people is often afraid that our seeds ain't honest. If they're not, they're mixed, or they're bad, before they come into our hands. I don't think any of our chaps does anything with them."
      Fourteen or fifteen years ago, although seeds, generally, were fifteen to twenty per cent. dearer than they are now, there was twice the demand for them. An average price of good mignonette    seed, he said, was now 1s. the quarter of a pound, and it was then 1s. 2d. to 1s. 6d. The shilling's worth, is made, by the street-seller, into twenty or twenty-four pennyworths. An average price of parsley, and of the cheaper seeds, is less than half that of mignonette. Other seeds, again, are not sold to the street-people by the weight, but are made up in sixpenny and shilling packages. Their extreme lightness prevents their being weighed to a customer. Of this class are, the African marigold, the senecios (groundsel), and the china-aster; but of these compound flowers, the street-traders sell very few. Poppy-seed used to be in great demand among the street-buyers, but it has ceased to be so. "It's a fine hardy plant, too, sir," I was told, "but somehow, for all its variety in colours, it's gone out of fashion, for fashion runs strong in flowers."
      One long-established street-seller, who is well known to supply the best seeds, makes for the five weeks or so of the season more than twice the weekly average of 5s.; perhaps 12s.; but as he is a shop as well as a stall-keeper, he could not speak very precisely as to the proportionate sale in the street or the shop. This man laughed at the fondness some of his customers manifested for "fine Latin names." "There are some people," he said, "who will buy antirrhinum, and artemisia, and digitalis, and wouldn't hear of snapdragon, or wormwood, or foxglove, though they're the identical plants." The same informant told me that the railways in their approaches to the metropolis had destroyed many small gardens, and had, he thought, injured his trade. It was, also, a common thing now for the greengrocers and corn-chandlers to sell garden-seeds, which until these six or eight years they did much less extensively.
      Last spring, I was told, there were not more than four persons, in London, selling only seeds. The "root-sellers," of whom I have treated, generally deal in seeds also, but the demand does not extend beyond four or five weeks in the spring, though there was "a straggling trade that way" two or three weeks longer. It was computed for me, that there were fully one hundred persons selling seeds (with other things) in the streets, and that each might average a profit of 5s. weekly, for a month; giving 200l. expended in seeds, with 100l. profit to the costers. Seeds are rarely hawked as flowers are.
      It is impossible to give as minutely detailed an account of the street-sale of seeds as of flowers, as from their diversity in size, weight, quantity in a pennyworth, &c., no calculation can be prepared by weight or measure, only by value. Thus, I find it necessary to depart somewhat from the order hitherto observed. One seedsman, acquainted with the street-trade from his dealings with the vendors, was of opinion that the following list and proportions were as nice an approximation as could be arrived at. It was found necessary to give it in proportions of twenty-fifths; but it must be borne in mind that the quantity in 3/25 ths of parsley, for example, is more than double that of 3/25 ths of mignonette. I give, in unison, seeds of about equal sale, whether of the same botanical family or not. Many of the most popular flowers, such as polyanthuses, daisies, violets, and primroses, are not raised from seed, except in the nursery gardens: -

Seeds. Twenty-fifths. Value.
Mignonette Three  £24
Stocks (of all kinds) Two 16
Marigolds (do.) One 8
Convolvulus (do.) One 8
Wallflower One 8
 Scarlet-beans and
Sweet-peas One . . . 8
China-asters and Ve-
nus' looking-glass One 8
Lupin and Larkspur One 8
Nasturtium One 8
Parsley Two 16
Other Pot-herbs One 8
Mustard and Cress,      
Lettuce, and the Two 16
other vegetables
Grass One 8
Other seeds Seven 56
Total expended annually on street-seeds. £200


      In London a large trade is carried on in "Christmasing," or in the sale of holly and mistletoe, for Christmas sports and decorations. I have appended a table of the quantity of these "branches" sold, nearly 250,000, and of the money expended upon them in the streets. It must be borne in mind, to account for this expenditure for a brief season, that almost every housekeeper will expend something in " Christmasing;" from 2d. to 1s. 6d., and the poor buy a pennyworth, or a halfpennyworth each, and they are the coster's customers. In some houses, which are let off in rooms, floors, or suites of apartments, and not to the poorest class, every room will have the cheery decoration of holly, its bright, and as if glazed leaves and red berries, reflecting the light from fire or candle. "Then, look," said a gardener to me, "what's spent on a Christmasing the churches! Why, now, properly to Christmas St. Paul's, I say properly, mind, would take 50l. worth at least; aye, more, when I think of it, nearer 100l. I hope there 'll be no `No Popery' nonsense against Christmasing this year. I'm always sorry when anything of that kind's afloat, because it's frequently a hindrance to business." This was said three weeks before Christmas. In London there are upwards of 300,000 inhabited houses. The whole of the evergreen branches sold number 375,000.
      Even the ordinary-sized inns, I was informed, displayed holly decorations, costing from 2s. to 10s.; while in the larger inns, where, perhaps, an assembly-room, a concert-room, or a clubroom, had to be adorned, along with other apartments, 20s. worth of holly, &c., was a not    uncommon outlay. "Well, then, consider," said another informant, "the plum-puddings! Why, at least there's a hundred thousand of 'em eaten, in London, through the Christmas and the month following. That's nearly one pudding to every twenty of the population, is it, sir? Well, perhaps, that's too much. But, then, there's the great numbers eaten at public dinners and suppers; and there's more plum-pudding clubs at the small grocers and public-houses than there used to be, so, say full a hundred thousand, flinging in any mince-pies that may be decorated with evergreens. Well, sir, every plum-pudding will have a sprig of holly in him. If it's bought just for the occasion, it may cost 1d., to be really prime and nicely berried. If it's part of a lot, why it won't cost a halfpenny, so reckon it all at a halfpenny. What does that come to? Above 200l. Think of that, then, just for sprigging puddings!"
      Mistletoe, I am informed, is in somewhat less demand than it was, though there might be no very perceptible difference. In many houses holly is now used instead of the true plant, for the ancient ceremonies and privileges observed "under the mistletoe bough." The holly is not half the price of the mistletoe, which is one reason; for, though there is not any great disparity of price, wholesale, the holly, which costs 6d. retail, is more than the quantity of mistletoe retailed for 1s. The holly-tree may be grown in any hedge, and ivy may be reared against any wall; while the mistletoe is parasitical of the apple-tree, and, but not to half the extent, of the oak and other trees. It does not grow in the northern counties of England. The purchasers of the mistletoe are, for the most part, the wealthier classes, or, at any rate, I was told, "those who give parties." It is bought, too, by the male servants in large establishments, and more would be so bought, "only so few of the great people, of the most fashionable squares and places, keep their Christmas in town." Half-a-crown is a not uncommon price for a handsome mistletoe bough.
      The costermongers buy about a half of the holly, &c., brought to the markets; it is also sold either direct to those requiring evergreens, or to green-grocers and fruiterers who have received orders for it from their customers, or who know it will be wanted. A shilling's worth may be bought in the market, the bundles being divided. Mistletoe, the costers -those having regular customers in the suburbs -receive orders for. "Last December," said a coster to me, "I remember a servant-girl, and she weren't such a girl either, running after me in a regular flutter, to tell me the family had forgot to order 2s. worth of mistletoe of me, to be brought next day. Oh, yes, sir, if it's ordered by, or delivered to, the servant-girls, they generally have a little giggling about it. If I've said: `What are you laughing at?' they'll mostly say: `Me! I'm not laughing.' "
      The costermongers go into the neighbourhood of London to procure the holly for streetsale. This is chiefly done, I was told, by those who were "cracked up," and some of them laboured at it "days and days." It is, however, a very uncertain trade, as they must generally trespass, and if they are caught trespassing, by the occupier of the land, or any of his servants, they are seldom "given in charge," but their stock of evergreens is not unfrequently taken from them, "and that, sir, that's the cuttingest of all." They do not so freely venture upon the gathering of mistletoe, for to procure it they must trespass in orchards, which is somewhat dangerous work, and they are in constant apprehension of traps, spring-guns, and bull-dogs. Six or seven hundred men or lads, the lads being the most numerous, are thus employed for a week or two before Christmas, and, perhaps, half that number, irregularly at intervals, for a week or two after it. Some of the lads are not known as regular coster-lads, but they are habituιs of the streets in some capacity. To procure as much holly one day, as will sell for 2s. 6d. the next, is accounted pretty good work, and 7s. 6d. would be thus realised in six days. But 5s. is more frequently the return of six days' labour and sale, though a very few have cleared 10s., and one man, "with uncommon luck," once cleared 20s. in six days. The distance travelled in a short winter's day, is sometimes twenty miles, and, perhaps, the lad or man has not broken his fast, on some days, until the evening, or even the next morning, for had he possessed a few pence he would probably have invested it in oranges or nuts, for street-sale, rather than "go a-gathering Christmas."
      One strong-looking lad, of 16 or 17, gave me the following account: -
      "It's hard work, is Christmasing; but, when you have neither money nor work, you must do something, and so the holly may come in handy. I live with a elder brother; he helps the masons, and as we had neither of us either work or money, he cut off Tottenham and Edmonton way, and me the t'other side of the water, Mortlake way, as well as I know. We'd both been used to costering, off and on. I was out, I think, ten days altogether, and didn't make 6s. in it. I'd been out two Christmases before. O, yes, I'd forgot. I made 6d. over the 6s., for I had half a pork-pie and a pint of beer, and the landlord took it out in holly. I meant to have made a quarter of pork do, but I was so hungry -and so would you, sir, if you'd been out a-Christmasing -that I had the t'other quarter. It's 2d. a quarter. I did better when I was out afore, but I forget what I made. It's often slow work, for you must wait sometimes 'till no one's looking, and then you must work away like anything. I'd nothing but a sharp knife, I borrowed, and some bits of cord to tie the holly up. You must look out sharp, because, you see, sir, a man very likely won't like his holly-tree to be stripped. Wherever there is a berry, we goes for the berries.    They're poison berries, I've heard. Moonlight nights is the thing, sir, when you knows where you are. I never goes for mizzletoe. I hardly knows it when I sees it. The first time I was out, a man got me to go for some in a orchard, and told me how to manage; but I cut my lucky in a minute. Something came over me like. I felt sickish. But what can a poor fellow do? I never lost my Christmas, but a little bit of it once. Two men took it from me, and said I ought to thank them for letting me off without a jolly good jacketing, as they was gardeners. I believes they was men out a-Christmasing, as I were. It was a dreadful cold time that; and I was wet, and hungry, -and thirsty, too, for all I was so wet, - and I'd to wait a-watching in the wet. I've got something better to do now, and I'll never go a-Christmasing again, if I can help it."
      This lad contrived to get back to his lodging, in town, every night, but some of those out Christmasing, stay two or three days and nights in the country, sleeping in barns, out-houses, carts, or under hay-stacks, inclement as the weather may be, when their funds are insufficient to defray the charge of a bed, or a part of one, at a country "dossing-crib" (low lodginghouse). They resorted, in considerable numbers, to the casual wards of the workhouses, in Croydon, Greenwich, Reigate, Dartford, &c., when that accommodation was afforded them, concealing their holly for the night.
      As in other matters, it may be a surprise to some of my readers to learn in what way the evergreens, used on festive occasions in their homes, may have been procured.
      The costermongers who procure their own Christmasing, generally hawk it. A few sell it by the lot to their more prosperous brethren. What the costers purchase in the market, they aim to sell at cent. per cent.
      Supposing that 700 men and lads gathered their own holly, &c., and each worked for three weeks (not regarding interruptions), and calculating that, in the time they cleared even 15s. each, it amounts to 575l.
      Some of the costermongers deck their carts and barrows, in the general line, with holly at Christmas. Some go out with their carts full of holly, for sale, and may be accompanied by a fiddler, or by a person beating a drum. The cry is, "Holly! Green Holly!"
      One of my informants alluded incidentally to the decoration of the churches, and I may observe that they used to be far more profusely decked with Christmas evergreens than at present; so much so, that a lady correspondent in January, 1712, complained to "Mr. Spectator" that her church-going was bootless. She was constant at church, to hear divine service and make conquests; but the clerk had so overdone the greens in the church that, for three weeks, Miss Jenny Simper had not even seen the young baronet, whom she dressed at for divine worship, although he pursued his devotions only three pews from hers. The aisle was a pretty shady walk, and each pew was an arbour. The pulpit was so clustered with holly and ivy that the congregation, like Moses, heard the word out of a bush. "Sir Anthony Love's pew in particular," concludes the indignant Miss Simper, "is so well hedged, that all my batteries have no effect. I am obliged to shoot at random among the boughs without taking any manner of aim. Mr. Spectator, unless you'll give orders for removing these greens, I shall grow a very awkward creature at church, and soon have little else to do there but to say my prayers." In a subsequent number, the clerk glorifies himself that he had checked the ogling of Miss Simper. He had heard how the Kentish men evaded the Conqueror by displaying green boughs before them, and so he bethought him of a like device against the love-warfare of this coquettish lady.
      Of all the "branches" in the markets. the costers buy one-half. This season, holly has been cheaper than was ever known previously. In some years, its price was double that cited, in some treble, when the December was very frosty.


      The sale of the May, the fragrant flower of the hawthorn, a tree indigenous to this country - Wordsworth mentions one which must have been 800 years old -is carried on by the coster boys (principally), but only in a desultory way. The chief supply is brought to London in the carts or barrows of the costers returning from a country expedition. If the costermonger be accompanied by a lad -as he always is if the expedition be of any length -the lad will say to his master, "Bill, let's have some May to take back." The man will almost always consent, and often assist in procuring the thickly green branches with their white or rose-tinted, and freshly-smelling flowers. The odour of the hawthorn blossom is peculiar, and some eminent botanist -Dr. Withering if I remember rightly -says it may be best described as "fresh." No flower, perhaps, is blended with more poetical, antiquarian, and beautiful associations than the ever-welcome blossom of the may-tree. One gardener told me that as the hawthorn was in perfection in June instead of May, the name was not proper. But it must be remembered that the name of the flower was given during the old style, which carried our present month of May twelve days into June, and the name would then be more appropriate.
      The May is obtained by the costermongers in the same way as the holly, by cutting it from the trees in the hedges. It has sometimes to be cut or broken off stealthily, for persons may no more like their hawthorns to be stripped than their hollies, and an ingenuous lad -as will have been observed -told me of "people's" objections to the unauthorized stripping of their holly-bushes. But there is not a quarter of the difficulty in procuring May that there is in procuring holly at Christmas.
         The costermonger, if he has "done tidy" in the country will very probably leave the May at the disposal of his boy; but a few men, though perhaps little more than twenty, I was told, bring it on their own account. The lads then carry the branches about for sale; or if a considerable quantity has been brought, dispose of it to other boys or girls, or entrust them with the sale of it, at "half-profits," or any terms agreed upon. Costermongers have been known to bring home "a load of May," and this not unfrequently, at the request, and for the benefit of a "cracked-up" brother-trader, to whom it has been at once delivered gratuitously.
      A lad, whom I met with as he was selling holly, told me that he had brought may from the country when he had been there with a coster. He had also gone out of town a few miles to gather it on his own account. "But it ain't no good;" he said; "you must often go a good way -I never knows anything about how many miles -and if it's very ripe (the word he used) it's soon shaken. There's no sure price. You may get 4d. for a big branch or you must take 1d. I may have made 1s. on a round but hardly ever more. It can't be got near hand. There's some stunning fine trees at the top of the park there (the Regent's Park) the t'other side of the 'logical Gardens, but there's always a cove looking after them, they say, and both night and day."
      Palm, the flower of any of the numerous species of the willow, is sold only on Palm Sunday, and the Saturday preceding. The trade is about equally in the hands of the English and Irish lads, but the English lads have a commercial advantage on the morning of Palm Sunday, when so many of the Irish lads are at chapel. The palm is all gathered by the street-vendors. One costermonger told me that when he was a lad, he had sold palm to a man who had managed to get half-drunk on a Sunday morning, and who told him that he wanted it to show his wife, who very seldom stirred out, that he'd been taking a healthful walk into the country!
      Lilac in flower is sold (and procured) in the same way as May, but in small quantities. Very rarely indeed, laburnum; which is too fragile; or syringa, which, I am told, is hardly saleable in the streets. One informant remembered that forty years ago, when he was a boy, branches of elder-berry flowers were sold in the streets, but the trade has disappeared.
      It is very difficult to form a calculation as to the extent of this trade. The best informed give me reason to believe that the sale of all these branches (apart from Christmas) ranges, according to circumstances, from 30l. to 50l., the cost being the labour of gathering, and the subsistence of the labourer while at the work. This is independent of what the costers buy in the markets.
      I now show the quantity of branches forming the street trade: -

Holly 59,040 bunches
Mistletoe 56,160 "
Ivy and Laurel 26,640 "
Lilac 5,400 "
Palm 1,008 "
May 2,520 "
Total number of bunches sold in the streets from market-sale 150,000
Add to quantity from other sources 75,000

      The quantity of branches "from other sources" is that gathered by the costers in the way I have described; but it is impossible to obtain a return of it with proper precision: to state it as half of that purchased in the markets is a low average.
      I now give the amount paid by street-buyers who indulge in the healthful and innocent tastes of which I have been treating -the fondness for the beautiful and the natural.
   Bunches of
per bunch    
65,280 Violets at ½d.  £136
115,200 Wallflowers " ½d. 240
86,400 Mignonette " 1d. 360
1,632 Lilies of the Valley " ½d. 3
20,448 Stocks " ½d. 42
316,800 Pinks and Carnations " ½d. each 660
864,000 Moss Roses " ½d. " 1,800
864,000 China ditto " ½d. " 1,800
296,640 Lavender " 1d. 1,236
Total annually    £6,277

   FLOWER ROOTS.    per root    
24,000 Primroses at ½d.  £50
34,560 Polyanthuses " 1d. 144
28,800 Cowslips " ½d. 50
33,600 Daisies " 1d. 140
46,080 Wallflowers " 1d. 192
28,800 Candy-tufts " 1d. 120
28,800 Daffodils " ½d. 60
38,400 Violets " ½d. 80
30,380 Mignonette  " ½d. 63
23,040 Stocks " 1d. 96
19,200 Pinks and Carnations " 2d. 160
3,456 Lilies of the Valley . " 1d. 14
12,960 Pansies " 1d. 54
660 Lilies " 2d. 5
850 Tulips " 2d. 7
7,704 Balsams " 2d. 64
3,180 Calceolarias " 2d. 26
253,440 Musk Plants " 1d. 1,056
11,520 London Pride " 1d. 48
25,595 Lupins " 1d. 106
9,156 China-asters " 1d. 38
63,360 Marigolds " ½d. 132
852 Dahlias " 6d. 21
13,356 Heliotropes " 2d. 111
1,920 Poppies " 2d. 16
6,912 Michaelmas Daisies . " ½d. 14
Total annually    £2,867

   Bunches of
   per bunch
59,040 Holly at 3d. £738
56,160 Mistletoe " 3d. 702
26,640 Ivy and Laurel " 3d. 333
5,400 Lilac " 3d. 67
1,008 Palm " 3d. 12
2,520 May  " 3d. 31
Total annually from Markets   £1,183
Add one-half as shown   591

TREES AND SHRUBS.    each root
9,576 Firs (roots) at 3d. £119
1,152 Laurels " 3d. 14
23,040 Myrtles " 4d. 384
2,160 Rhododendrons " 9d. 81
2,304 Lilacs " 4d 38
2,880 Box " 2d. 24
21,888 Heaths " 4d. 364
2,880 Broom " 1d. 12
6,912 Furze " 1d. 28
6,480 Laurustinus " 8d. 216
25,920 Southernwood 1d. 108
 Total annually spent    £1,388

   per root     
38,880 Moss Roses at 4d. £648
38,880 China ditto at 2d. 324
38,800 Fushias " 3d. 485
12,850 Geraniums and Pelargniums (of all kinds) 3d. 210
     Total annualy £1,667

      The returns give the following aggregate amount of street expenditure: -
Trees and shrubs 1,388
Cut Fowers 6,277
Flowers in pots 1,667
Flower roots 2,867
Branches 2,774
Seeds 200

      From the returns we find that of "cut flowers" the roses retain their old English favouritism, no fewer than 1,628,000 being annually sold in the streets; but locality affects the sale, as some dealers dispose of more violets than roses, because violets are accounted less fragile. The cheapness and hardihood of the musk-plant and marigold, to say nothing of their peculiar odour, has made them the most popular of the "roots," while the myrtle is the favourite among the "trees and shrubs." The heaths, moreover, command an extensive sale, -a sale, I am told, which was unknown, until eight or ten years ago, another instance of the "fashion in flowers," of which an informant has spoken. Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Curiosities of London Life, or Phases, Physiological and Social of the Great Metropolis, by Charles Manby Smith, 1853


    ON a late visit to Covent-garden Market, where I arrived at the dawn of day in the month of April, amid the confused hubbub and monotonous din of the busy population, my attention was arrested by the tall and weather-beaten figure of a hoary-headed man, who leaned patiently against one of the square pillars of the piazza. Though he was not exactly "the oldest man that ever wore grey hairs," he had plainly long outlived the threescore and ten years assigned by the Psalmist as the usual limits of mortal existence. Though but a few white locks clustered sparingly around his bald forehead, yet his frame was not bowed by a long life of labour, nor the fire of his eye grown dim: the brown hue of health yet mantled in his furrowed check, upon which dwelt the expression of patriarchal tranquillity and repose; and an air of semi-abstraction marked his aspect, as though his thoughts were not altogether centred upon the motley and ever-moving scene around him. He stood in simple and quiet dignity, presiding over a large basket of buttercups -early buttercups, which, yet moist with the sparkling dews of night, he had gathered in the fields or hedge-rows, and brought upon his back to the market for sale.
    "Strange merchandise!" thought I to myself. "Buttercups! who will be likely to buy buttercups, which anybody may go and gather for nothing in the fields? Surely the old man must be in his dotage!" And I passed on, not without a feeling of compassion for the simplicity of a man of his years, who could imagine that he would find a market for buttercups in the very centre of civilization and refinement. There was something, however, in the vivid flash of the old man's eye, as his glance met mine for a moment - and it may well be that there was something in the dewy golden bowls of the buttercups too - which impressed the spectacle he presented upon my memory after I had turned away, and brought him at intervals again and again before my mind's eye.
    As I strolled pleasantly among the floral beauties of the parterre and the hothouse - the graceful arums, the delicate and fragile monthly roses, the modest and luxuriant pansies, and the brilliant exotics, which even in early spring render Covent-garden the paradise of commerce, the images of the buttercups and their grey-haired guardian recurred many times, and ever with added force, to my imagination. By-and-by I began to doubt whether I had not done the old man an injustice in the estimate I had formed of him - whether, in fact, I was not myself the simpleton, and he the wiser man of the two. "Buttercups!" I again mentally ejaculated, "what are the associations connected with them, and what are the images they present to the Londoner pent up in the murky wilderness of brick? Is not the buttercup the first flower plucked by infant hands from the green bosom of bountiful mother earth? Are not the sweet memories of infancy and childhood, which are the purest poetry of man's troubled life, all floating magically in its little golden cup? Who does not remember-and who, remembering, would willingly forget?- his first ecstatic rambles in the yellow fields - yellow with buttercups, when he pulled the nodding flowers, and held the gleaming calyx beneath his little sister's chin, enraptured at the ruddy reflection from the flower; and then, with look demure and solemn, submitted his own face to the same mysterious experiment? Who does not remember the ravage he committed in the golden meadows, while he was yet a tottering plaything hardly higher than the tall grass in which he was half-buried, when, had he had but the power, he would have culled every flower of the field, and garnered them up for treasures? And how many thousands and tens of thousands are there among the weary workers of London, to whom these associations are dearer by far than any which could be called into existence by the most rare and gorgeous products of combined art and nature which wealth could procure?
    Simpleton that I was - I had set down a profound practical philosopher for a mere dotard. The old man knew the secrets of the human heart better than I did. He was well aware that to the industrious country-bred mechanic, caged, perhaps for life, in the stony prison of the metropolis, the simple flower which brought once more within his dark and smoky dwelling the scenes and memories of infancy, would present attractions to which a penny would be light indeed in the balance; and that he should therefore find patrons and purchasers, as long as he could meet with men who had hearts in their bosoms and a few penny-pieces in their pockets.
    These were my speculations; and having now completely altered my opinion of the buttercup-merchant, I resolved, before I left the market, to see the patriarch again, in order to ascertain, if possible, whether I had at length come to a right conclusion with regard to him. A couple of hours had elapsed ere I returned to the spot where I had first seen him. He had not deserted his post. The sun had risen high, and was shining warmly upon his brown face, now animated with a look of joyous satisfaction, which I attributed to the success of his morning's speculation. His basket - an old wine hamper cut down - was empty, and he held out the last bunch of buttercups in his hand, and proffered them to me, having sold, he said, "three score odd that morning."
    Whether I bought the last bunch of buttercups it imports the reader nothing to know. I must confess to an affection - whether it be disease or not, let the nosologists declare - which conjures up visions of hedge-rows sparkling with blossoms, and of embowering shadowy lanes, through gaps in which the green fields glimmer brightly. This affection, when an attack of it comes on, sometimes leads me to do odd things - things far more strange than lugging home a bunch of buttercups half as big as my head. Still I am not going to confess. I do declare, however, that I was not sorry to find that there were so many simpletons to be met with in London, before seven o'clock in the morning, as to buy up half a hundred weight of buttercups at a penny a bunch. Among so many sharp fellows who speculate upon the animal appetites, the vices, and the sordid propensities of mankind, it was refreshing to find one who, like the purveyor of buttercups, founded his claim to remuneration upon the indwelling poetry of human nature, and the love of natural beauties which survives in so many persons, debased and tainted and corrupt though they be by temptation and by sin.

Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Street Life in London - by J.Thomson and Adolphe Smith, 1877    

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    THE metropolis of the vegetable world has class divisions of its own, and a special population depending for their livelihood on the business here transacted. By the side of the wealthy salesmen and wholesale purveyors of fruit, green stuff and flowers, there are innumerable hangers-on, parasites of the flower world, who seek to pick up the few crumbs that must incidentally fall from the loaded boards and counters where so much is bought and sold.
    Where nature, as Charles Kenney puts it, "empties forth her teeming lap filled with the choicest of produce," the poor may well hope to find some small assistance. Indeed, there seems to be something inexpressibly touching in the tendency of the poor to fall back on nature's gifts when reduced to the last extremity. The familiar sight of a poor woman holding a pale child in her arms and offering modest violets to the pedestrian, is pregnant with a poetry which rags and dirt fail to obliterate. In exchange for nature's gifts, she seems to challenge human compassion; and shall the heart of man remain cold where the produce of field and garden are so bounteous and beautiful? Unfortunately, with the spread of civilization, nature seems to lose its hold, and artifice gains on almost every sphere bf human endeavour. The fruits, which the earth gives gratuitously, have been converted into the property of a privileged few; and the pauperized street vendor must bargain and haggle before she can obtain the refuse flowers disdained by fashionable dealers. Even such simple flowers as the primrose and violet are now governed by the inexorable and iron laws of supply and demand. They are sold by auction and by contract; the poor, as is customary in trade, paying in proportion a higher price for the worst goods. Nor is this all, the pure and most delicate flowers fade and bow their heads, as if with shame, in the unwholesome atmosphere of ballroom and theatre. To support such an ordeal, they must be drilled and trained, pierced and propped up with cruel wires, and made to look as stiff and unbending as the world of artifice they are called upon to adorn. How different is the Covent Garden of to-day, with its bustle and din, its wealth and pauperism, its artifices, its hot-house flowers and forced fruit, its camelias with wire stems, its exotics from far-off climes, to "the fair-spreading pastures," measuring, according to the old chronicle, some seven acres in extent, where the Abbots of Westminster buried those who died in their convent. In those days vegetables were not only sold here but grew on the spot; and the land, now so valuable, was considered to be worth an annual income of £6 6s. 8d., when given by the Crown to John Russell, Earl of Bedford, in 1552.
    Many an interesting story is attached to this celebrated spot, honoured by the daily presence and preference of some of the brightest lights of genius England has ever produced; but it is not my purpose to trace the history of the market. I have to deal rather with the group of women who may be seen daily standing by those ugly Tuscan pillars which Inigo Jones designed to ornament the church of St. Paul. Fire, it is true, destroyed the building in 1795, but the design unfortunately remained, and it was rebuilt after the old model. The flower-women seem to follow a somewhat similar policy. When death takes one of the group away, a child has generally been reared to follow in her parents' footsteps; and the "beat in front of the church is not merely the property of its present owners, it has been inherited from previous generations of flower-women. Now and then a stranger makes her appearance, probably during the most profitable season, but as a rule the same women may be seen standing on the spot from year's end to year's end, and the personages of the photograph are well known to nearly all who are connected with the market. By the side of the flower-women may be noted a familiar character, of whom it may truly be said "the tailor makes the man:" for this individual is named not after his family but after his clothes. "Corduroy" generally refused to give his real name, and at last it was conjectured that some mystery overhung his birth. I have, however, only been able to ascertain that he worked for many years in the brickfields; and, on his health giving way, came to the market in search of any little "job" that might bring him a few pence. In the early morning he stood and watched over the costermongers' barrows, while they attended the sales; in the day-time he was assiduous in opening carriage doors, and gallantly held out his arm to prevent ladies' dresses brushing the wheels; while the evening found him loitering about in the vicinity of public-houses always in quest of a "treat" or of "pence." He is now, however, missing; and, as he suffered severely from asthma, it is supposed that he has sought shelter from the inclement weather in the workhouse infirmary.
    His friends and associates, the flower-women, are also greatly dependent on the weather, for it not only influences the price of the flowers, but the wet reduces the number of loiterers who are their best customers. Their income therefore varies considerably according to the season. In the summer months, more than a pound net profits have been cleared in a week; but in bad weather these women have often returned home with less than a shilling as the result of twelve hours exposure to the rain. They arrive at the market before the break of day, and are still faithful to their post late in the afternoon. Those who have children teach them to take their places during the less busy hours, and thus obtain a little relaxation; but at best the life is a hard one, which is the more painful as the women are generally entirely dependent on their own exertion for their existence. The flower vendor, for instance, standing beside "Corduroy," has to provide not only for herself, but for an invalid husband, who, when at his best, can only help her to prepare the nosegays and button flowers. She boasts, however, that in this art he excels all competitors, and certainly we have noticed many customers give preference to her flowers. Her son brings his share of grist to the mill by earning pence as an "independent boot-black;" but how different is the position of this woman to that of Isabelle, the favourite flower-girl of the Paris Jockey Club. Complimented by almost all the crowned heads of Europe, in receipt of £400 a year from the Jockey Club, living in a most luxurious apartment, endowed with a fine collection of diamonds, besporting herself in a neat little brougham, this notorious Parisian flower-girl cannot be compared, morally speaking, with the rough and simple woman whose portrait is before the reader. Notwithstanding her ample income, it is well known that Isabelle refused to give £30 a year to save her mother from starvation; and her meanness caused so great a scandal, that the Jockey Club withdrew its patronage from her, and the popular favourite fell into merited disgrace. The flower-women of Covent Garden are not gifted with the artistic instinct and coquettish charms of Isabelle, but warmer hearts beat beneath their hoddin-grey than ever stirred the black and yellow satin of the Jockey Club.


see also Toilers in London - click here

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Cheapside Flower-girl 1892

Primrose Seller, 1897 [ILN Picture Library]

see also Montagu Williams in Round London - click here