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Title: London Labour and the London Poor (Vol. 1 of 4)
Author: Mayhew, Henry
Language: English
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[Illustration: HENRY MAYHEW.

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]


  A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings









  First edition                                             1851
  (_Volume One only and parts of Volumes Two and Three_)
  Enlarged edition (Four volumes)                        1861-62
  New impression                                            1865




  WANDERING TRIBES IN GENERAL                                              1
  WANDERING TRIBES IN THE COUNTRY                                          2
  THE LONDON STREET-FOLK                                                   3
  COSTERMONGERS                                                            4
  STREET SELLERS OF FISH                                                  61
  STREET SELLERS OF FRUIT AND VEGETABLES                                  79
  THE STREET IRISH                                                       104
  STREET SELLERS OF GREEN STUFF                                          145
  STREET SELLERS OF EATABLES AND DRINKABLES                              158
  STREET SELLERS OF MANUFACTURED ARTICLES                                323
  THE WOMEN STREET SELLERS                                               457
  THE CHILDREN STREET SELLERS                                            468


  LONDON COSTERMONGER                                Page      13
  THE COSTER GIRL                                     „        37
  THE OYSTER STALL                                    „        49
  THE ORANGE MART (DUKE’S PLACE)                      „        73
  THE IRISH STREET-SELLER                             „        97
  THE WALL-FLOWER GIRL                                „       127
  THE GROUNDSELL MAN                                  „       147
  THE BAKED POTATO MAN                                „       167
  THE COFFEE STALL                            To face page    184
  COSTER BOY AND GIRL “TOSSING THE PIEMAN”            „       196
  DOCTOR BOKANKY, THE STREET-HERBALIST                „       206
  THE LONG SONG SELLER                                „       222
  ILLUSTRATIONS OF STREET ART, NO. I.                 „       224
       „              „        NO. II.                „       238
  THE HINDOO TRACT SELLER                             „       242
  THE “KITCHEN,” FOX COURT                            „       251
  ILLUSTRATIONS OF STREET ART, NO. III.               „       278
  THE BOOK AUCTIONEER                                 „       296
  THE STREET-SELLER OF NUTMEG-GRATERS                 „       330
  THE STREET-SELLER OF DOG-COLLARS                    „       360
  THE STREET-SELLER OF CROCKERYWARE                   „       366
  THE BLIND BOOT-LACE SELLER                          „       406
  THE LUCIFER-MATCH GIRL                              „       432
  THE STREET-SELLER OF WALKING-STICKS                 „       438
  THE STREET-SELLER OF RHUBARB AND SPICE              „       452
  THE STREET-SELLER OF COMBS                          „       458
  PORTRAIT OF MR. MAYHEW                   To face the Title Page


The present volume is the first of an intended series, which it is
hoped will form, when complete, a cyclopædia of the industry, the want,
and the vice of the great Metropolis.

It is believed that the book is curious for many reasons:

It surely may be considered curious as being the first attempt
to publish the history of a people, from the lips of the people
themselves--giving a literal description of their labour, their
earnings, their trials, and their sufferings, in their own
“unvarnished” language; and to pourtray the condition of their homes
and their families by personal observation of the places, and direct
communion with the individuals.

It may be considered curious also as being the first commission
of inquiry into the state of the people, undertaken by a private
individual, and the first “blue book” ever published in twopenny

It is curious, moreover, as supplying information concerning a large
body of persons, of whom the public had less knowledge than of the most
distant tribes of the earth--the government population returns not even
numbering them among the inhabitants of the kingdom; and as adducing
facts so extraordinary, that the traveller in the undiscovered country
of the poor must, like Bruce, until his stories are corroborated by
after investigators, be content to lie under the imputation of telling
such tales, as travellers are generally supposed to delight in.

Be the faults of the present volume what they may, assuredly they
are rather short-comings than exaggerations, for in every instance
the author and his coadjutors have sought to understate, and most
assuredly never to exceed the truth. For the omissions, the author
would merely remind the reader of the entire novelty of the task--there
being no other similar work in the language by which to guide or
check his inquiries. When the following leaves are turned over, and
the two or three pages of information derived from books contrasted
with the hundreds of pages of facts obtained by positive observation
and investigation, surely some allowance will be made for the details
which may still be left for others to supply. Within the last two years
some thousands of the humbler classes of society must have been seen
and visited with the especial view of noticing their condition and
learning their histories; and it is but right that the truthfulness of
the poor generally should be made known; for though checks have been
usually adopted, the people have been mostly found to be astonishingly
correct in their statements,--so much so indeed, that the attempts at
deception are certainly the exceptions rather than the rule. Those
persons who, from an ignorance of the simplicity of the honest poor,
might be inclined to think otherwise, have, in order to be convinced
of the justice of the above remarks, only to consult the details given
in the present volume, and to perceive the extraordinary agreement in
the statements of all the vast number of individuals who have been seen
at different times, and who cannot possibly have been supposed to have
been acting in concert.

The larger statistics, such as those of the quantities of fish and
fruit, &c., sold in London, have been collected from tradesmen
connected with the several markets, or from the wholesale merchants
belonging to the trade specified--gentlemen to whose courtesy and
co-operation I am indebted for much valuable information, and whose
names, were I at liberty to publish them, would be an indisputable
guarantee for the facts advanced. The other statistics have been
obtained in the same manner--the best authorities having been
invariably consulted on the subject treated of.

It is right that I should make special mention of the assistance I have
received in the compilation of the present volume from Mr. HENRY WOOD
and Mr. RICHARD KNIGHT (late of the City Mission), gentlemen who have
been engaged with me from nearly the commencement of my inquiries, and
to whose hearty co-operation both myself and the public are indebted
for a large increase of knowledge. Mr. Wood, indeed, has contributed so
large a proportion of the contents of the present volume that he may
fairly be considered as one of its authors.

The subject of the Street-Folk will still require another volume,
in order to complete it in that comprehensive manner in which I am
desirous of executing the modern history of this and every other
portion of the people. There still remain--the _Street-Buyers_, the
_Street-Finders_, the _Street-Performers_, the _Street-Artizans_,
and the _Street-Labourers_, to be done, among the several classes
of street-people; and the _Street Jews_, the _Street Italians and
Foreigners_, and the _Street Mechanics_, to be treated of as varieties
of the order. The present volume refers more particularly to the
_Street-Sellers_, and includes special accounts of the _Costermongers_
and the _Patterers_ (the two broadly-marked varieties of street
tradesmen), the _Street Irish_, the _Female Street-Sellers_, and the
_Children Street-Sellers_ of the metropolis.

My earnest hope is that the book may serve to give the rich a more
intimate knowledge of the sufferings, and the frequent heroism under
those sufferings, of the poor--that it may teach those who are beyond
temptation to look with charity on the frailties of their less
fortunate brethren--and cause those who are in “high places,” and those
of whom much is expected, to bestir themselves to improve the condition
of a class of people whose misery, ignorance, and vice, amidst all the
immense wealth and great knowledge of “the first city in the world,”
is, to say the very least, a national disgrace to us.






Of the thousand millions of human beings that are said to constitute
the population of the entire globe, there are--socially, morally,
and perhaps even physically considered--but two distinct and broadly
marked races, viz., the wanderers and the settlers--the vagabond and
the citizen--the nomadic and the civilized tribes. Between these two
extremes, however, ethnologists recognize a mediate variety, partaking
of the attributes of both. There is not only the race of hunters and
manufacturers--those who live by shooting and fishing, and those who
live by producing--but, say they, there are also the herdsmen, or those
who live by tending and feeding, what they consume.

Each of these classes has its peculiar and distinctive physical as
well as moral characteristics. “There are in mankind,” says Dr.
Pritchard, “three principal varieties in the form of the head and other
physical characters. Among the rudest tribes of men--the hunters and
savage inhabitants of forests, dependent for their supply of food on
the accidental produce of the soil and the chase--a form of head is
prevalent which is mostly distinguished by the term “_prognathous_,”
indicating a prolongation or extension forward of the jaws. A second
shape of the head belongs principally to such races as wander with
their herds and flocks over vast plains; these nations have broad
lozenge-shaped faces (owing to the great development of the cheek
bones), and pyramidal skulls. The most civilized races, on the other
hand--those who live by the arts of cultivated life,--have a shape
of the head which differs from both of those above mentioned. The
characteristic form of the skull among these nations may be termed oval
or elliptical.”

These three forms of head, however, clearly admit of being reduced
to two broadly-marked varieties, according as the bones of the face
or those of the skull are more highly developed. A greater relative
development of the jaws and cheek bones, says the author of the
“Natural History of Man,” indicates a more ample extension of the
organs subservient to sensation and the animal faculties. Such a
configuration is adapted to the wandering tribes; whereas, the greater
relative development of the bones of the skull--indicating as it does
a greater expansion of the brain, and consequently of the intellectual
faculties--is especially adapted to the civilized races or settlers,
who depend mainly on their knowledge of the powers and properties of
things for the necessaries and comforts of life.

Moreover it would appear, that not only are all races divisible into
wanderers and settlers, but that each civilized or settled tribe has
generally some wandering horde intermingled with, and in a measure
preying upon, it.

According to Dr. Andrew Smith, who has recently made extensive
observations in South Africa, almost every tribe of people who have
submitted themselves to social laws, recognizing the rights of
property and reciprocal social duties, and thus acquiring wealth
and forming themselves into a respectable caste, are surrounded by
hordes of vagabonds and outcasts from their own community. Such are
the Bushmen and _Sonquas_ of the Hottentot race--the term “_sonqua_”
meaning literally _pauper_. But a similar condition in society produces
similar results in regard to other races; and the Kafirs have their
Bushmen as well as the Hottentots--these are called _Fingoes_--a word
signifying wanderers, beggars, or outcasts. The Lappes seem to have
borne a somewhat similar relation to the Finns; that is to say, they
appear to have been a wild and predatory tribe who sought the desert
like the Arabian Bedouins, while the Finns cultivated the soil like the
industrious Fellahs.

But a phenomenon still more deserving of notice, is the difference
of speech between the Bushmen and the Hottentots. The people of some
hordes, Dr. Andrew Smith assures us, vary their speech designedly,
and adopt new words, with the intent of rendering their ideas
unintelligible to all but the members of their own community. For this
last custom a peculiar name exists, which is called “_cuze-cat_.” This
is considered as greatly advantageous in assisting concealment of their

Here, then, we have a series of facts of the utmost social importance.
(1) There are two distinct races of men, viz.:--the wandering and
the civilized tribes; (2) to each of these tribes a different form
of head is peculiar, the wandering races being remarkable for the
development of the bones of the face, as the jaws, cheek-bones, &c.,
and the civilized for the development of those of the head; (3) to each
civilized tribe there is generally a wandering horde attached; (4) such
wandering hordes have frequently a different language from the more
civilized portion of the community, and that adopted with the intent of
concealing their designs and exploits from them.

It is curious that no one has as yet applied the above facts to the
explanation of certain anomalies in the present state of society
among ourselves. That we, like the Kafirs, Fellahs, and Finns, are
surrounded by wandering hordes--the “Sonquas” and the “Fingoes” of
this country--paupers, beggars, and outcasts, possessing nothing but
what they acquire by depredation from the industrious, provident, and
civilized portion of the community;--that the heads of these nomades
are remarkable for the greater development of the jaws and cheekbones
rather than those of the head;--and that they have a secret language
of their own--an English “_cuze-cat_” or “slang” as it is called--for
the concealment of their designs: these are points of coincidence so
striking that, when placed before the mind, make us marvel that the
analogy should have remained thus long unnoticed.

The resemblance once discovered, however, becomes of great service in
enabling us to use the moral characteristics of the nomade races of
other countries, as a means of comprehending the more readily those
of the vagabonds and outcasts of our own. Let us therefore, before
entering upon the subject in hand, briefly run over the distinctive,
moral, and intellectual features of the wandering tribes in general.

The nomad then is distinguished from the civilized man by his
repugnance to regular and continuous labour--by his want of providence
in laying up a store for the future--by his inability to perceive
consequences ever so slightly removed from immediate apprehension--by
his passion for stupefying herbs and roots, and, when possible, for
intoxicating fermented liquors--by his extraordinary powers of enduring
privation--by his comparative insensibility to pain--by an immoderate
love of gaming, frequently risking his own personal liberty upon a
single cast--by his love of libidinous dances--by the pleasure he
experiences in witnessing the suffering of sentient creatures--by
his delight in warfare and all perilous sports--by his desire for
vengeance--by the looseness of his notions as to property--by the
absence of chastity among his women, and his disregard of female
honour--and lastly, by his vague sense of religion--his rude idea of
a Creator, and utter absence of all appreciation of the mercy of the
Divine Spirit.

Strange to say, despite its privations, its dangers, and its hardships,
those who have once adopted the savage and wandering mode of life,
rarely abandon it. There are countless examples of white men adopting
all the usages of the Indian hunter, but there is scarcely one example
of the Indian hunter or trapper adopting the steady and regular habits
of civilized life; indeed, the various missionaries who have visited
nomade races have found their labours utterly unavailing, so long as a
wandering life continued, and have succeeded in bestowing the elements
of civilization, only on those compelled by circumstances to adopt a
settled habitation.


The nomadic races of England are of many distinct kinds--from the
habitual vagrant--half-beggar, half-thief--sleeping in barns, tents,
and casual wards--to the mechanic on tramp, obtaining his bed and
supper from the trade societies in the different towns, on his way
to seek work. Between these two extremes there are several mediate
varieties--consisting of pedlars, showmen, harvest-men, and all that
large class who live by either selling, showing, or doing something
through the country. These are, so to speak, the rural nomads--not
confining their wanderings to any one particular locality, but
ranging often from one end of the land to the other. Besides these,
there are the urban and suburban wanderers, or those who follow some
itinerant occupation in and round about the large towns. Such are, in
the metropolis more particularly, the pickpockets--the beggars--the
prostitutes--the street-sellers--the street-performers--the cabmen--the
coachmen--the watermen--the sailors and such like. In each of these
classes--according as they partake more or less of the purely vagabond,
doing nothing whatsoever for their living, but moving from place to
place preying upon the earnings of the more industrious portion of the
community, so will the attributes of the nomade tribes be found to be
more or less marked in them. Whether it be that in the mere act of
wandering, there is a greater determination of blood to the surface
of the body, and consequently a less quantity sent to the brain, the
muscles being thus nourished at the expense of the mind, I leave
physiologists to say. But certainly be the physical cause what it may,
we must all allow that in each of the classes above-mentioned, there
is a greater development of the animal than of the intellectual or
moral nature of man, and that they are all more or less distinguished
for their high cheek-bones and protruding jaws--for their use of a
slang language--for their lax ideas of property--for their general
improvidence--their repugnance to continuous labour--their disregard of
female honour--their love of cruelty--their pugnacity--and their utter
want of religion.


Those who obtain their living in the streets of the metropolis are a
very large and varied class; indeed, the means resorted to in order “to
pick up a crust,” as the people call it, in the public thoroughfares
(and such in many instances it _literally_ is,) are so multifarious
that the mind is long baffled in its attempts to reduce them to
scientific order or classification.

It would appear, however, that the street-people may be all arranged
under six distinct genera or kinds.

These are severally:


The first of these divisions--the STREET-SELLERS--includes many
varieties; viz.--

1. _The Street-sellers of Fish, &c._--“wet,” “dry,” and shell-fish--and
poultry, game, and cheese.

2. _The Street-sellers of Vegetables_, fruit (both “green” and “dry”),
flowers, trees, shrubs, seeds, and roots, and “green stuff” (as
water-cresses, chickweed and grun’sel, and turf).

3. _The Street-sellers of Eatables and Drinkables_,--including the
vendors of fried fish, hot eels, pickled whelks, sheep’s trotters,
ham sandwiches, peas’-soup, hot green peas, penny pies, plum “duff,”
meat-puddings, baked potatoes, spice-cakes, muffins and crumpets,
Chelsea buns, sweetmeats, brandy-balls, cough drops, and cat and dog’s
meat--such constituting the principal eatables sold in the street;
while under the head of street-drinkables may be specified tea and
coffee, ginger-beer, lemonade, hot wine, new milk from the cow, asses
milk, curds and whey, and occasionally water.

4. _The Street-sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine
Arts_--among whom are comprised the flying stationers, or standing and
running patterers; the long-song-sellers; the wall-song-sellers (or
“pinners-up,” as they are technically termed); the ballad sellers; the
vendors of play-bills, second editions of newspapers, back numbers of
periodicals and old books, almanacks, pocket books, memorandum books,
note paper, sealing-wax, pens, pencils, stenographic cards, valentines,
engravings, manuscript music, images, and gelatine poetry cards.

5. _The Street-sellers of Manufactured Articles_, which class
comprises a large number of individuals, as, (_a_) the vendors
of chemical articles of manufacture--viz., blacking, lucifers,
corn-salves, grease-removing compositions, plating-balls, poison for
rats, crackers, detonating-balls, and cigar-lights. (_b_) The vendors
of metal articles of manufacture--razors and pen-knives, tea-trays,
dog-collars, and key-rings, hardware, bird-cages, small coins, medals,
jewellery, tin-ware, tools, card-counters, red-herring-toasters,
trivets, gridirons, and Dutch ovens. (_c_) The vendors of china and
stone articles of manufacture--as cups and saucers, jugs, vases,
chimney ornaments, and stone fruit. (_d_) The vendors of linen,
cotton, and silken articles of manufacture--as sheeting, table-covers,
cotton, tapes and thread, boot and stay-laces, haberdashery, pretended
smuggled goods, shirt-buttons, etc., etc.; and (_e_) the vendors
of miscellaneous articles of manufacture--as cigars, pipes, and
snuff-boxes, spectacles, combs, “lots,” rhubarb, sponges, wash-leather,
paper-hangings, dolls, Bristol toys, sawdust, and pin-cushions.

6. _The Street-sellers of Second-hand Articles_, of whom there are
again four separate classes; as (_a_) those who sell old metal
articles--viz. old knives and forks, keys, tin-ware, tools, and
marine stores generally; (_b_) those who sell old linen articles--as
old sheeting for towels; (_c_) those who sell old glass and
crockery--including bottles, old pans and pitchers, old looking
glasses, &c.; and (_d_) those who sell old miscellaneous articles--as
old shoes, old clothes, old saucepan lids, &c., &c.

7. _The Street-sellers of Live Animals_--including the dealers in dogs,
squirrels, birds, gold and silver fish, and tortoises.

8. _The Street-sellers of Mineral Productions and Curiosities_--as red
and white sand, silver sand, coals, coke, salt, spar ornaments, and

These, so far as my experience goes, exhaust the whole class of
street-sellers, and they appear to constitute nearly three-fourths of
the entire number of individuals obtaining a subsistence in the streets
of London.

The next class are the STREET-BUYERS, under which denomination come the
purchasers of hareskins, old clothes, old umbrellas, bottles, glass,
broken metal, rags, waste paper, and dripping.

After these we have the STREET-FINDERS, or those who, as I said before,
literally “pick up” their living in the public thoroughfares. They are
the “pure” pickers, or those who live by gathering dogs’-dung; the
cigar-end finders, or “hard-ups,” as they are called, who collect the
refuse pieces of smoked cigars from the gutters, and having dried them,
sell them as tobacco to the very poor; the dredgermen or coal-finders;
the mud-larks, the bone-grubbers; and the sewer-hunters.

Under the fourth division, or that of the STREET-PERFORMERS, ARTISTS,
AND SHOWMEN, are likewise many distinct callings.

1. _The Street-Performers_, who admit of being classified into (_a_)
mountebanks--or those who enact puppet-shows, as Punch and Judy, the
fantoccini, and the Chinese shades. (_b_) The street-performers
of feats of strength and dexterity--as “acrobats” or posturers,
“equilibrists” or balancers, stiff and bending tumblers, jugglers,
conjurors, sword-swallowers, “salamanders” or fire-eaters, swordsmen,
etc. (_c_) The street-performers with trained animals--as dancing dogs,
performing monkeys, trained birds and mice, cats and hares, sapient
pigs, dancing bears, and tame camels. (_d_) The street-actors--as
clowns, “Billy Barlows,” “Jim Crows,” and others.

2. _The Street Showmen_, including shows of (_a_) extraordinary
persons--as giants, dwarfs, Albinoes, spotted boys, and pig-faced
ladies. (_b_) Extraordinary animals--as alligators, calves, horses
and pigs with six legs or two heads, industrious fleas, and happy
families. (_c_) Philosophic instruments--as the microscope, telescope,
thaumascope. (_d_) Measuring-machines--as weighing, lifting, measuring,
and striking machines; and (_e_) miscellaneous shows--such as
peep-shows, glass ships, mechanical figures, wax-work shows, pugilistic
shows, and fortune-telling apparatus.

3. _The Street-Artists_--as black profile-cutters, blind paper-cutters,
“screevers” or draughtsmen in coloured chalks on the pavement, writers
without hands, and readers without eyes.

4. _The Street Dancers_--as street Scotch girls, sailors, slack and
tight rope dancers, dancers on stilts, and comic dancers.

5. _The Street Musicians_--as the street bands (English and German),
players of the guitar, harp, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, dulcimer, musical
bells, cornet, tom-tom, &c.

6. _The Street Singers_, as the singers of glees, ballads, comic songs,
nigger melodies, psalms, serenaders, reciters, and improvisatori.

7. _The Proprietors of Street Games_, as swings, highflyers,
roundabouts, puff-and-darts, rifle shooting, down the dolly,
spin-’em-rounds, prick the garter, thimble-rig, etc.

Then comes the Fifth Division of the Street-Folk, viz., the

These may be severally arranged into three distinct groups--(1) Those
who _make_ things in the streets; (2) Those who _mend_ things in the
streets; and (3) Those who _make_ things _at home_ and _sell_ them in
the _streets_.

1. Of _those who make things in the streets_ there are the
following varieties: (_a_) the metal workers--such as toasting-fork
makers, pin makers, engravers, tobacco-stopper makers. (_b_) The
textile-workers--stocking-weavers, cabbage-net makers, night-cap
knitters, doll-dress knitters. (_c_) The miscellaneous workers,--the
wooden spoon makers, the leather brace and garter makers, the printers,
and the glass-blowers.

2. _Those who mend things in the streets_, consist of broken china and
glass menders, clock menders, umbrella menders, kettle menders, chair
menders, grease removers, hat cleaners, razor and knife grinders,
glaziers, travelling bell hangers, and knife cleaners.

3. _Those who make things at home and sell them in the streets_, are
(_a_) the wood workers--as the makers of clothes-pegs, clothes-props,
skewers, needle-cases, foot-stools and clothes-horses, chairs
and tables, tea-caddies, writing-desks, drawers, work-boxes,
dressing-cases, pails and tubs. (_b_) The trunk, hat, and bonnet-box
makers, and the cane and rush basket makers. (_c_) The toy makers--such
as Chinese roarers, children’s windmills, flying birds and fishes,
feathered cocks, black velvet cats and sweeps, paper houses, cardboard
carriages, little copper pans and kettles, tiny tin fireplaces,
children’s watches, Dutch dolls, buy-a-brooms, and gutta-percha heads.
(_d_) The apparel makers--viz., the makers of women’s caps, boys and
men’s cloth caps, night-caps, straw bonnets, children’s dresses,
watch-pockets, bonnet shapes, silk bonnets, and gaiters. (_e_) The
metal workers,--as the makers of fire-guards, bird-cages, the wire
workers. (_f_) The miscellaneous workers--or makers of ornaments
for stoves, chimney ornaments, artificial flowers in pots and in
nose-gays, plaster-of-Paris night-shades, brooms, brushes, mats, rugs,
hearthstones, firewood, rush matting, and hassocks.

Of the last division, or STREET-LABOURERS, there are four classes:

1. _The Cleansers_--such as scavengers, nightmen, flushermen,
chimney-sweeps, dustmen, crossing-sweepers, “street-orderlies,”
labourers to sweeping-machines and to watering-carts.

2. _The Lighters and Waterers_--or the turncocks and the lamplighters.

3. _The Street-Advertisers_--viz., the bill-stickers, bill-deliverers,
boardmen, men to advertising vans, and wall and pavement stencillers.

4. _The Street-Servants_--as horse holders, link-men, coach-hirers,
street-porters, shoe-blacks.


The number of costermongers,--that it is to say, of those
street-sellers attending the London “green” and “fish
markets,”--appears to be, from the best data at my command, now 30,000
men, women, and children. The census of 1841 gives only 2,045 “hawkers,
hucksters, and pedlars,” in the metropolis, and no costermongers or
street-sellers, or street-performers at all. This number is absurdly
small, and its absurdity is accounted for by the fact that not one in
twenty of the costermongers, or of the people with whom they lodged,
troubled themselves to fill up the census returns--the majority of them
being unable to read and write, and others distrustful of the purpose
for which the returns were wanted.

The costermongering class extends itself yearly; and it is computed
that for the last five years it has increased considerably faster than
the general metropolitan population. This increase is derived partly
from _all_ the children of costermongers following the father’s trade,
but chiefly from working men, such as the servants of greengrocers or
of innkeepers, when out of employ, “taking to a coster’s barrow” for a
livelihood; and the same being done by mechanics and labourers out of
work. At the time of the famine in Ireland, it is calculated, that the
number of Irish obtaining a living in the London streets must have been
at least doubled.

The great discrepancy between the government returns and the accounts
of the costermongers themselves, concerning the number of people
obtaining a living by the sale of fish, fruit, and vegetables, in the
streets of London, caused me to institute an inquiry at the several
metropolitan markets concerning the number of street-sellers attending
them: the following is the result:

During the summer months and fruit season, the average number of
costermongers attending Covent-garden market is about 2,500 per
market-day. In the strawberry season there are nearly double as many,
there being, at that time, a large number of Jews who come to buy;
during that period, on a Saturday morning, from the commencement to
the close of the market, as many as 4,000 costers have been reckoned
purchasing at Covent-garden. Through the winter season, however, the
number of costermongers does not exceed upon the average 1,000 per
market morning. About one-tenth of the fruit and vegetables of the
least expensive kind sold at this market is purchased by the costers.
Some of the better class of costers, who have their regular customers,
are very particular as to the quality of the articles they buy; but
others are not so particular; so long as they can get things cheap, I
am informed, they do not care much about the quality. The Irish more
especially look out for damaged articles, which they buy at a low
price. One of my informants told me that the costers were the best
customers to the growers, inasmuch as when the market is flagging
on account of the weather, they (the costers) wait and make their
purchases. On other occasions, such as fine mornings, the costers
purchase as early as others. There is no trust given to them--to use
the words of one of my informants, they are such slippery customers;
here to-day and gone to-morrow.

At Leadenhall market, during the winter months, there are from 70 to
100 costermongers general attendants; but during the summer not much
more than one-half that number make their appearance. Their purchases
consist of warren-rabbits, poultry, and game, of which about one-eighth
of the whole amount brought to this market is bought by them. When the
market is slack, and during the summer, when there is “no great call”
for game, etc., the costers attending Leadenhall-market turn their hand
to crockery, fruit, and fish.

The costermongers frequenting Spitalfields-market average all the year
through from 700 to 1,000 each market-day. They come from all parts, as
far as Edmonton, Edgeware, and Tottenham; Highgate, Hampstead, and even
from Greenwich and Lewisham. Full one-third of the produce of this
market is purchased by them.

The number of costermongers attending the Borough-market is about 250
during the fruit season, after which time they decrease to about 200
per market morning. About one-sixth of the produce that comes into this
market is purchased by the costermongers. One gentleman informed me,
that the salesmen might shut up their shops were it not for these men.
“In fact,” said another, “I don’t know what would become of the fruit
without them.”

The costers at Billingsgate-market, daily, number from 3,000 to 4,000
in winter, and about 2,500 in summer. A leading salesman told me that
he would rather have an order from a costermonger than a fishmonger;
for the one paid ready money, while the other required credit. The same
gentleman assured me, that the costermongers bought excellent fish, and
that very largely. They themselves aver that they purchase half the
fish brought to Billingsgate--some fish trades being entirely in their
hands. I ascertained, however, from the authorities at Billingsgate,
and from experienced salesmen, that of the quantity of fish conveyed
to that great mart, the costermongers bought one-third; another third
was sent into the country; and another disposed of to the fishmongers,
and to such hotel-keepers, or other large purchasers, as resorted to

The salesmen at the several markets all agreed in stating that no
trust was given to the costermongers. “Trust them!” exclaimed one, “O,
certainly, as far as I can see them.”

Now, adding the above figures together, we have the subjoined sum for
the gross number of


  Billingsgate-market   3,500
  Covent-garden         4,000
  Spitalfields          1,000
  Borough                 250
  Leadenhall              100

Besides these, I am credibly informed, that it may be assumed there
are full 1,000 men who are unable to attend market, owing to the
dissipation of the previous night; another 1,000 are absent owing to
their having “stock on hand,” and so requiring no fresh purchases;
and further, it may be estimated that there are at least 2,000 boys
in London at work for costers, at half profits, and who consequently
have no occasion to visit the markets. Hence, putting these numbers
together, we arrive at the conclusion that there are in London upwards
of 13,000 street-sellers, dealing in fish, fruit, vegetables, game,
and poultry alone. To be on the safe side, however, let us assume the
number of London costermongers to be 12,000, and that one-half of these
are married and have two children (which from all accounts appears to
be about the proportion); and then we have 30,000 for the sum total
of men, women, and children dependent on “costermongering” for their

Large as this number may seem, still I am satisfied it is rather
within than beyond the truth. In order to convince myself of its
accuracy, I caused it to be checked in several ways. In the first
place, a survey was made as to the number of stalls in the streets of
London--forty-six miles of the principal thoroughfares were travelled
over, and an account taken of the “standings.” Thus it was found that
there were upon an average upwards of fourteen stalls to the mile,
of which five-sixths were fish and fruit-stalls. Now, according to
the Metropolitan Police Returns, there are 2,000 miles of street
throughout London, and calculating that the stalls through the whole
of the metropolis run upon an average only four to the mile, we shall
thus find that there are 8,000 stalls altogether in London; of these
we may reckon that at least 6,000 are fish and fruit-stalls. I am
informed, on the best authority, that twice as many costers “go rounds”
as have standings; hence we come to the conclusion that there are
18,000 itinerant and stationary street-sellers of fish, vegetables, and
fruit, in the metropolis; and reckoning the same proportion of wives
and children as before, we have thus 45,000 men, women, and children,
obtaining a living in this manner. Further, “to make assurance doubly
sure,” the street-markets throughout London were severally visited,
and the number of street-sellers at each taken down on the spot.
These gave a grand total of 3,801, of which number two-thirds were
dealers in fish, fruit, and vegetables; and reckoning that twice as
many costers again were on their rounds, we thus make the total number
of London costermongers to be 11,403, or calculating men, women, and
children, 28,506. It would appear, therefore, that if we estimate the
gross number of individuals subsisting on the sale of fish, fruit, and
vegetables, in the streets of London, at between twenty-five and thirty
thousand, we shall not be very wide of the truth.

But, great as is this number, still the costermongers are only a
portion of the street-folk. Besides these, there are, as we have
seen, many other large classes obtaining their livelihood in the
streets. The street musicians, for instance, are said to number 1,000,
and the old clothesmen the same. There are supposed to be at the
least 500 sellers of water-cresses; 200 coffee-stalls; 300 cats-meat
men; 250 ballad-singers; 200 play-bill sellers; from 800 to 1,000
bone-grubbers and mud-larks; 1,000 crossing-sweepers; another thousand
chimney-sweeps, and the same number of turncocks and lamp-lighters;
all of whom, together with the street-performers and showmen, tinkers,
chair, umbrella, and clock-menders, sellers of bonnet-boxes, toys,
stationery, songs, last dying-speeches, tubs, pails, mats, crockery,
blacking, lucifers, corn-salves, clothes-pegs, brooms, sweetmeats,
razors, dog-collars, dogs, birds, coals, sand,--scavengers, dustmen,
and others, make up, it may be fairly assumed, full thirty thousand
adults, so that, reckoning men, women, and children, we may truly
say that there are upwards of fifty thousand individuals, or about a
fortieth-part of the entire population of the metropolis getting their
living in the streets.

Now of all modes of obtaining subsistence, that of street-selling is
the most precarious. Continued wet weather deprives those who depend
for their bread upon the number of people frequenting the public
thoroughfares of all means of living; and it is painful to think of the
hundreds belonging to this class in the metropolis who are reduced
to starvation by three or four days successive rain. Moreover, in the
winter, the street-sellers of fruit and vegetables are cut off from the
ordinary means of gaining their livelihood, and, consequently, they
have to suffer the greatest privations at a time when the severity
of the season demands the greatest amount of physical comforts. To
expect that the increased earnings of the summer should be put aside
as a provision against the deficiencies of the winter, is to expect
that a precarious occupation should beget provident habits, which is
against the nature of things, for it is always in those callings which
are the most uncertain, that the greatest amount of improvidence and
intemperance are found to exist. It is not the well-fed man, be it
observed, but the starving one that is in danger of surfeiting himself.

Moreover, when the religious, moral, and intellectual degradation of
the great majority of these fifty thousand people is impressed upon
us, it becomes positively appalling to contemplate the vast amount of
vice, ignorance and want, existing in these days in the very heart of
our land. The public have but to read the following plain unvarnished
account of the habits, amusements, dealings, education, politics, and
religion of the London costermongers in the nineteenth century, and
then to say whether they think it safe--even if it be thought fit--to
allow men, women, and children to continue in such a state.


Among the street-folk there are many distinct characters of
people--people differing as widely from each in tastes, habits,
thoughts and creed, as one nation from another. Of these the
costermongers form by far the largest and certainly the mostly
broadly marked class. They appear to be a distinct race--perhaps,
originally, of Irish extraction--seldom associating with any other of
the street-folks, and being all known to each other. The “patterers,”
or the men who cry the last dying-speeches, &c. in the street, and
those who help off their wares by long harrangues in the public
thoroughfares, are again a separate class. These, to use their own
term, are “the aristocracy of the street-sellers,” despising the
costers for their ignorance, and boasting that they live by their
intellect. The public, they say, do not expect to receive from them an
equivalent for their money--they pay to hear them talk. Compared with
the costermongers, the patterers are generally an educated class, and
among them are some classical scholars, one clergyman, and many sons of
gentlemen. They appear to be the counterparts of the old mountebanks
or street-doctors. As a body they seem far less improvable than the
costers, being more “knowing” and less impulsive. The street-performers
differ again from those; these appear to possess many of the
characteristics of the lower class of actors, viz., a strong desire to
excite admiration, an indisposition to pursue any settled occupation,
a love of the tap-room, though more for the society and display than
for the drink connected with it, a great fondness for finery and
predilection for the performance of dexterous or dangerous feats.
Then there are the street mechanics, or artizans--quiet, melancholy,
struggling men, who, unable to find any regular employment at their
own trade, have made up a few things, and taken to hawk them in the
streets, as the last shift of independence. Another distinct class of
street-folk are the blind people (mostly musicians in a rude way), who,
after the loss of their eyesight, have sought to keep themselves from
the workhouse by some little excuse for alms-seeking. These, so far
as my experience goes, appear to be a far more deserving class than
is usually supposed--their affliction, in most cases, seems to have
chastened them and to have given a peculiar religious cast to their

Such are the several varieties of street-folk, intellectually
considered--looked at in a national point of view, they likewise
include many distinct people. Among them are to be found the Irish
fruit-sellers; the Jew clothesmen; the Italian organ boys, French
singing women, the German brass bands, the Dutch buy-a-broom girls, the
Highland bagpipe players, and the Indian crossing-sweepers--all of whom
I here shall treat of in due order.

The costermongering class or order has also its many varieties. These
appear to be in the following proportions:--One-half of the entire
class are costermongers proper, that is to say, the calling with them
is hereditary, and perhaps has been so for many generations; while
the other half is composed of three-eighths Irish, and one-eighth
mechanics, tradesmen, and Jews.

Under the term “costermonger” is here included only such
“street-sellers” as deal in fish, fruit, and vegetables, purchasing
their goods at the wholesale “green” and fish markets. Of these some
carry on their business at the same stationary stall or “standing” in
the street, while others go on “rounds.” The itinerant costermongers,
as contradistinguished from the stationary street-fishmongers and
greengrocers, have in many instances regular rounds, which they go
daily, and which extend from two to ten miles. The longest are those
which embrace a suburban part; the shortest are through streets
thickly peopled by the poor, where duly to “work” a single street
consumes, in some instances, an hour. There are also “chance” rounds.
Men “working” these carry their wares to any part in which they hope to
find customers. The costermongers, moreover, diversify their labours by
occasionally going on a country round, travelling on these excursions,
in all directions, from thirty to ninety and even a hundred miles from
the metropolis. Some, again, confine their callings chiefly to the
neighbouring races and fairs.

Of all the characteristics attending these diversities of traders,
I shall treat severally. I may here premise, that the regular or
“thorough-bred costermongers,” repudiate the numerous persons who sell
only nuts or oranges in the streets, whether at a fixed stall, or any
given locality, or who hawk them through the thoroughfares or parks.
They repudiate also a number of Jews, who confine their street-trading
to the sale of “coker-nuts” on Sundays, vended from large barrows. Nor
do they rank with themselves the individuals who sell tea and coffee in
the streets, or such condiments as peas-soup, sweetmeats, spice-cakes,
and the like; those articles not being purchased at the markets. I
often heard all such classes called “the illegitimates.”


“From the numbers of mechanics,” said one smart costermonger to me,
“that I know of in my own district, I should say there’s now more than
1,000 costers in London that were once mechanics or labourers. They
are driven to it as a last resource, when they can’t get work at their
trade. They don’t do well, at least four out of five, or three out
of four don’t. They’re not up to the dodges of the business. They go
to market with fear, and don’t know how to venture a bargain if one
offers. They’re inferior salesmen too, and if they have fish left that
won’t keep, it’s a dead loss to them, for they aren’t up to the trick
of selling it cheap at a distance where the coster ain’t known; or of
quitting it to another, for candle-light sale, cheap, to the Irish
or to the ‘lushingtons,’ that haven’t a proper taste for fish. Some
of these poor fellows lose every penny. They’re mostly middle-aged
when they begin costering. They’ll generally commence with oranges or
herrings. We pity them. We say, ‘Poor fellows! they’ll find it out
by-and-bye.’ It’s awful to see some poor women, too, trying to pick up
a living in the streets by selling nuts or oranges. It’s awful to see
them, for they can’t set about it right; besides that, there’s too many
before they start. They don’t find a living, _it’s only another way of


The earliest record of London cries is, according to Mr. Charles
Knight, in Lydgate’s poem of “London Lyckpeny,” which is as old as the
days of Henry V., or about 430 years back. Among Lydgate’s cries are
enumerated “Strawberries ripe and cherries in the rise;” the _rise_
being a twig to which the cherries were tied, as at present. Lydgate,
however, only indicates costermongers, but does not mention them by

It is not my intention, as my inquiries are directed to the _present_
condition of the costermongers, to dwell on this part of the question,
but some historical notice of so numerous a body is indispensable. I
shall confine myself therefore to show from the elder dramatists, how
the costermongers flourished in the days of Elizabeth and James I.

“Virtue,” says Shakespeare, “is of so little regard in these
_coster-monger times_, that true valour is turned bear-herd.”
Costermonger times are as old as any trading times of which our
history tells; indeed, the stationary costermonger of our own day is
a legitimate descendant of the tradesmen of the olden time, who stood
by their shops with their open casements, loudly inviting buyers by
praises of their wares, and by direct questions of “What d’ye buy? What
d’ye lack?”

Ben Jonson makes his _Morose_, who hated all noises, and sought for
a silent wife, enter “upon divers treaties with the fish-wives and
orange-women,” to moderate their clamour; but _Morose_, above all other
noisy people, “cannot endure a costard-monger; he swoons if he hear

In Ford’s “Sun’s Darling” I find the following: “Upon my life he means
to turn costermonger, and is projecting how to forestall the market. I
shall cry pippins rarely.”

In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Scornful Lady” is the following:

  “Pray, sister, do not laugh; you’ll anger him,
  And then he’ll rail like a rude costermonger.”

Dr. Johnson, gives the derivation of costard-monger (the orthography he
uses), as derived from the sale of apples or costards, “round and bulky
like the head;” and he cites Burton as an authority: “Many country
vicars,” writes Burton, “are driven to shifts, and if our great patrons
hold us to such conditions, they will make us _costard-mongers_,
graziers, or sell ale.”

“The costard-monger,” says Mr. Charles Knight, in his “London,” “was
originally an apple-seller, whence his name, and, from the mention
of him in the old dramatists, he appears to have been frequently an

In Ireland the word “costermonger” is almost unknown.


A brief account of the cries once prevalent among the street-sellers
will show somewhat significantly the change in the diet or regalements
of those who purchase their food in the street. Some of the articles
are not vended in the public thoroughfares now, while others are still
sold, but in different forms.

“Hot sheep’s feet,” for instance, were cried in the streets in the
time of Henry V.; they are now sold _cold_, at the doors of the
lower-priced theatres, and at the larger public-houses. Among the
street cries, the following were common prior to the wars of the Roses:
“Ribs of beef,”--“Hot peascod,”--and “Pepper and saffron.” These
certainly indicate a different street diet from that of the present

The following are more modern, running from Elizabeth’s days down to
our own. “Pippins,” and, in the times of Charles II., and subsequently,
oranges were sometimes cried as “Orange pips,”--“Fair lemons and
oranges; oranges and citrons,”--“New Wall-fleet oysters,” [“_fresh_”
fish was formerly cried as “new,”]--“New-river water,” [I may here
mention that water-carriers still ply their trade in parts of
Hampstead,]--“Rosemary and lavender,”--“Small coals,” [a cry rendered
almost poetical by the character, career, and pitiful end, through a
practical joke, of Tom Britton, the “small-coal man,”]--“Pretty pins,
pretty women,”--“Lilly-white vinegar,”--“Hot wardens” (pears)--“Hot
codlings,”--and lastly the greasy-looking beverage which Charles
Lamb’s experience of London at early morning satisfied him was of all
preparations the most grateful to the stomach of the then existing
climbing-boys--viz., “Sa-loop.” I may state, for the information of
my younger readers, that saloop (spelt also “salep” and “salop”) was
prepared, as a powder, from the root of the _Orchis mascula_, or
Red-handed Orchis, a plant which grows luxuriantly in our meadows and
pastures, flowering in the spring, though never cultivated to any
extent in this country; that required for the purposes of commerce was
imported from India. The saloop-stalls were superseded by the modern

There were many other cries, now obsolete, but what I have cited were
the most common.


Political economy teaches us that, between the two great classes of
producers and consumers, stand the distributors--or dealers--saving
time, trouble, and inconvenience to, the one in disposing of, and to
the other in purchasing, their commodities.

But the distributor was not always a part and parcel of the economical
arrangements of the State. In olden times, the producer and consumer
were brought into immediate contact, at markets and fairs, holden
at certain intervals. The inconvenience of this mode of operation,
however, was soon felt; and the pedlar, or wandering distributor,
sprang up as a means of carrying the commodities to those who were
unable to attend the public markets at the appointed time. Still the
pedlar or wandering distributor was not without _his_ disadvantages.
He only came at certain periods, and commodities were occasionally
required in the interim. Hence the shopkeeper, or stationary
distributor, was called into existence, so that the consumer might
obtain any commodity of the producer at any time he pleased. Hence we
see that the pedlar is the primitive tradesman, and that the one is
contradistinguished from the other by the fact, that the pedlar carries
the goods to the consumer, whereas, in the case of the shopkeeper,
the consumer goes after the goods. In country districts, remote from
towns and villages, the pedlar is not yet wholly superseded; “but a
dealer who has a fixed abode, and fixed customers, is so much more
to be depended on,” says Mr. Stewart Mill, “that consumers prefer
resorting to him if he is conveniently accessible, and dealers,
therefore, find their advantage in establishing themselves in every
locality where there are sufficient customers near at hand to afford
them a remuneration.” Hence the pedlar is now chiefly confined to the
poorer districts, and is consequently distinguished from the stationary
tradesman by the character and means of his customers, as well as
by the amount of capital and extent of his dealings. The shopkeeper
supplies principally the noblemen and gentry with the necessaries and
luxuries of life, but the pedlar or hawker is the purveyor in general
to the poor. He brings the greengrocery, the fruit, the fish, the
water-cresses, the shrimps, the pies and puddings, the sweetmeats, the
pine-apples, the stationery, the linendrapery, and the jewellery, such
as it is, to the very door of the working classes; indeed, the poor
man’s food and clothing are mainly supplied to him in this manner.
Hence the class of travelling tradesmen are important, not only as
forming a large portion of the poor themselves, but as being the
persons through whom the working people obtain a considerable part of
their provisions and raiment.

But the itinerant tradesman or street-seller is still further
distinguished from the regular fixed dealer--the _stall_keeper from the
_shop_keeper--the _street_-wareman from the ware_house_man, by the arts
they respectively employ to attract custom. The street-seller cries
his goods aloud at the head of his barrow; the enterprising tradesman
distributes bills at the door of his shop. The one appeals to the ear,
the other to the eye. The cutting costermonger has a drum and two boys
to excite attention to his stock; the spirited shopkeeper has a column
of advertisements in the morning newspapers. They are but different
means of attaining the same end.


The street sellers are to be seen in the greatest numbers at the
London street markets on a Saturday night. Here, and in the shops
immediately adjoining, the working-classes generally purchase their
Sunday’s dinner; and after pay-time on Saturday night, or early on
Sunday morning, the crowd in the New-cut, and the Brill in particular,
is almost impassable. Indeed, the scene in these parts has more of
the character of a fair than a market. There are hundreds of stalls,
and every stall has its one or two lights; either it is illuminated
by the intense white light of the new self-generating gas-lamp, or
else it is brightened up by the red smoky flame of the old-fashioned
grease lamp. One man shows off his yellow haddock with a candle stuck
in a bundle of firewood; his neighbour makes a candlestick of a huge
turnip, and the tallow gutters over its sides; whilst the boy shouting
“Eight a penny, stunning pears!” has rolled his dip in a thick coat of
brown paper, that flares away with the candle. Some stalls are crimson
with the fire shining through the holes beneath the baked chestnut
stove; others have handsome octohedral lamps, while a few have a candle
shining through a sieve: these, with the sparkling ground-glass globes
of the tea-dealers’ shops, and the butchers’ gaslights streaming and
fluttering in the wind, like flags of flame, pour forth such a flood of
light, that at a distance the atmosphere immediately above the spot is
as lurid as if the street were on fire.

The pavement and the road are crowded with purchasers and
street-sellers. The housewife in her thick shawl, with the
market-basket on her arm, walks slowly on, stopping now to look at
the stall of caps, and now to cheapen a bunch of greens. Little boys,
holding three or four onions in their hand, creep between the people,
wriggling their way through every interstice, and asking for custom in
whining tones, as if seeking charity. Then the tumult of the thousand
different cries of the eager dealers, all shouting at the top of their
voices, at one and the same time, is almost bewildering. “So-old
again,” roars one. “Chestnuts all ’ot, a penny a score,” bawls another.
“An ’aypenny a skin, blacking,” squeaks a boy. “Buy, buy, buy, buy,
buy--bu-u-uy!” cries the butcher. “Half-quire of paper for a penny,”
bellows the street stationer. “An ’aypenny a lot ing-uns.” “Twopence a
pound grapes.” “Three a penny Yarmouth bloaters.” “Who’ll buy a bonnet
for fourpence?” “Pick ’em out cheap here! three pair for a halfpenny,
bootlaces.” “Now’s your time! beautiful whelks, a penny a lot.” “Here’s
ha’p’orths,” shouts the perambulating confectioner. “Come and look at
’em! here’s toasters!” bellows one with a Yarmouth bloater stuck on a
toasting-fork. “Penny a lot, fine russets,” calls the apple woman: and
so the Babel goes on.

One man stands with his red-edged mats hanging over his back and chest,
like a herald’s coat; and the girl with her basket of walnuts lifts
her brown-stained fingers to her mouth, as she screams, “Fine warnuts!
sixteen a penny, fine war-r-nuts.” A bootmaker, to “ensure custom,”
has illuminated his shop-front with a line of gas, and in its full
glare stands a blind beggar, his eyes turned up so as to show only “the
whites,” and mumbling some begging rhymes, that are drowned in the
shrill notes of the bamboo-flute-player next to him. The boy’s sharp
cry, the woman’s cracked voice, the gruff, hoarse shout of the man, are
all mingled together. Sometimes an Irishman is heard with his “fine
ating apples;” or else the jingling music of an unseen organ breaks
out, as the trio of street singers rest between the verses.

Then the sights, as you elbow your way through the crowd, are equally
multifarious. Here is a stall glittering with new tin saucepans; there
another, bright with its blue and yellow crockery, and sparkling
with white glass. Now you come to a row of old shoes arranged along
the pavement; now to a stand of gaudy tea-trays; then to a shop with
red handkerchiefs and blue checked shirts, fluttering backwards and
forwards, and a counter built up outside on the kerb, behind which are
boys beseeching custom. At the door of a tea-shop, with its hundred
white globes of light, stands a man delivering bills, thanking the
public for past favours, and “defying competition.” Here, alongside
the road, are some half-dozen headless tailors’ dummies, dressed in
Chesterfields and fustian jackets, each labelled, “Look at the prices,”
or “Observe the quality.” After this is a butcher’s shop, crimson
and white with meat piled up to the first-floor, in front of which
the butcher himself, in his blue coat, walks up and down, sharpening
his knife on the steel that hangs to his waist. A little further on
stands the clean family, begging; the father with his head down as if
in shame, and a box of lucifers held forth in his hand--the boys in
newly-washed pinafores, and the tidily got-up mother with a child at
her breast. This stall is green and white with bunches of turnips--that
red with apples, the next yellow with onions, and another purple with
pickling cabbages. One minute you pass a man with an umbrella turned
inside up and full of prints; the next, you hear one with a peepshow
of Mazeppa, and Paul Jones the pirate, describing the pictures to
the boys looking in at the little round windows. Then is heard the
sharp snap of the percussion-cap from the crowd of lads firing at the
target for nuts; and the moment afterwards, you see either a black
man half-clad in white, and shivering in the cold with tracts in his
hand, or else you hear the sounds of music from “Frazier’s Circus,” on
the other side of the road, and the man outside the door of the penny
concert, beseeching you to “Be in time--be in time!” as Mr. Somebody
is just about to sing his favourite song of the “Knife Grinder.” Such,
indeed, is the riot, the struggle, and the scramble for a living,
that the confusion and uproar of the New-cut on Saturday night have a
bewildering and saddening effect upon the thoughtful mind.

Each salesman tries his utmost to sell his wares, tempting the
passers-by with his bargains. The boy with his stock of herbs offers
“a double ’andful of fine parsley for a penny;” the man with the
donkey-cart filled with turnips has three lads to shout for him
to their utmost, with their “Ho! ho! hi-i-i! What do you think of
this here? A penny a bunch--hurrah for free trade! _Here’s_ your
turnips!” Until it is seen and heard, we have no sense of the
scramble that is going on throughout London for a living. The same
scene takes place at the Brill--the same in Leather-lane--the same in
Tottenham-court-road--the same in Whitecross-street; go to whatever
corner of the metropolis you please, either on a Saturday night or a
Sunday morning, and there is the same shouting and the same struggling
to get the penny profit out of the poor man’s Sunday’s dinner.

Since the above description was written, the New Cut has lost much
of its noisy and brilliant glory. In consequence of a New Police
regulation, “stands” or “pitches” have been forbidden, and each coster,
on a market night, is now obliged, under pain of the lock-up house, to
carry his tray, or keep moving with his barrow. The gay stalls have
been replaced by deal boards, some sodden with wet fish, others stained
purple with blackberries, or brown with walnut-peel; and the bright
lamps are almost totally superseded by the dim, guttering candle. Even
if the pole under the tray or “shallow” is seen resting on the ground,
the policeman on duty is obliged to interfere.

The mob of purchasers has diminished one-half; and instead of the road
being filled with customers and trucks, the pavement and kerb-stones
are scarcely crowded.


Nearly every poor man’s market does its Sunday trade. For a few hours
on the Sabbath morning, the noise, bustle, and scramble of the Saturday
night are repeated, and but for this opportunity many a poor family
would pass a dinnerless Sunday. The system of paying the mechanic late
on the Saturday night--and more particularly of paying a man his wages
in a public-house--when he is tired with his day’s work, lures him to
the tavern, and there the hours fly quickly enough beside the warm
tap-room fire, so that by the time the wife comes for her husband’s
wages, she finds a large portion of them gone in drink, and the streets
half cleared, so that the Sunday market is the only chance of getting
the Sunday’s dinner.

Of all these Sunday-morning markets, the Brill, perhaps, furnishes the
busiest scene; so that it may be taken as a type of the whole.

The streets in the neighbourhood are quiet and empty. The shops are
closed with their different-coloured shutters, and the people round
about are dressed in the shiney cloth of the holiday suit. There are no
“cabs,” and but few omnibuses to disturb the rest, and men walk in the
road as safely as on the footpath.

As you enter the Brill the market sounds are scarcely heard. But at
each step the low hum grows gradually into the noisy shouting, until
at last the different cries become distinct, and the hubbub, din, and
confusion of a thousand voices bellowing at once again fill the air.
The road and footpath are crowded, as on the over-night; the men are
standing in groups, smoking and talking; whilst the women run to and
fro, some with the white round turnips showing out of their filled
aprons, others with cabbages under their arms, and a piece of red meat
dangling from their hands. Only a few of the shops are closed, but the
butcher’s and the coal-shed are filled with customers, and from the
door of the shut-up baker’s, the women come streaming forth with bags
of flour in their hands, while men sally from the halfpenny barber’s
smoothing their clean-shaved chins. Walnuts, blacking, apples, onions,
braces, combs, turnips, herrings, pens, and corn-plaster, are all
bellowed out at the same time. Labourers and mechanics, still unshorn
and undressed, hang about with their hands in their pockets, some with
their pet terriers under their arms. The pavement is green with the
refuse leaves of vegetables, and round a cabbage-barrow the women stand
turning over the bunches, as the man shouts, “Where you like, only a
penny.” Boys are running home with the breakfast herring held in a
piece of paper, and the side-pocket of the apple-man’s stuff coat hangs
down with the weight of the halfpence stored within it. Presently the
tolling of the neighbouring church bells breaks forth. Then the bustle
doubles itself, the cries grow louder, the confusion greater. Women run
about and push their way through the throng, scolding the saunterers,
for in half an hour the market will close. In a little time the butcher
puts up his shutters, and leaves the door still open; the policemen in
their clean gloves come round and drive the street-sellers before them,
and as the clock strikes eleven the market finishes, and the Sunday’s
rest begins.

The following is a list of the street-markets, and the number of
costers usually attending:--


  New-cut, Lambeth        300
  Lambeth-walk            104
  Walworth-road            22
  Camberwell               15
  Newington                45
  Kent-street, Borough     38
  Bermondsey              107
  Union-street, Borough    29
  Great Suffolk-street     46
  Blackfriars-road         58


  Brill and Chapel-st., Somers’ Town                300
  Camden Town                                        50
  Hampstead-rd. and Tottenham-ct.-rd.               333
  St. George’s Market, Oxford-street                177
  Marylebone                                         37
  Edgeware-road                                      78
  Crawford-street                                   145
  Knightsbridge                                      46
  Pimlico                                            32
  Tothill-st. & Broadway, Westminster               119
  Drury-lane                                         22
  Clare-street                                      139
  Exmouth-street and Aylesbury-street, Clerkenwell  142
  Leather-lane                                      150
  St. John’s-street                                  47
  Old-street (St. Luke’s)                            46
  Whitecross-street, Cripplegate                    150
  Islington                                          79
  City-road                                          49
  Shoreditch                                        100
  Bethnal-green                                     100
  Whitechapel                                       258
  Mile End                                          105
  Commercial-rd. (East)                             114
  Limehouse                                          88
  Ratcliffe Highway                                 122
  Rosemary-lane                                     119

We find, from the foregoing list of markets, held in the various
thoroughfares of the metropolis, that there are 10 on the Surrey
side and 27 on the Middlesex side of the Thames. The total number of
hucksters attending these markets is 3,911, giving an average of 105
to each market.


I find it impossible to separate these two headings; for the habits
of the costermonger are not domestic. His busy life is past in the
markets or the streets, and as his leisure is devoted to the beer-shop,
the dancing-room, or the theatre, we must look for his habits to his
demeanour at those places. Home has few attractions to a man whose
life is a street-life. Even those who are influenced by family ties
and affections, prefer to “home”--indeed that word is rarely mentioned
among them--the conversation, warmth, and merriment of the beer-shop,
where they can take their ease among their “mates.” Excitement or
amusement are indispensable to uneducated men. Of beer-shops resorted
to by costermongers, and principally supported by them, it is computed
that there are 400 in London.

Those who meet first in the beer-shop talk over the state of trade and
of the markets, while the later comers enter at once into what may be
styled the serious business of the evening--amusement.

Business topics are discussed in a most peculiar style. One man takes
the pipe from his mouth and says, “Bill made a doogheno hit this
morning.” “Jem,” says another, to a man just entering, “you’ll stand
a top o’ reeb?” “On,” answers Jem, “I’ve had a trosseno tol, and
have been doing dab.” For an explanation of what may be obscure in
this dialogue, I must refer my readers to my remarks concerning the
language of the class. If any strangers are present, the conversation
is still further clothed in slang, so as to be unintelligible even to
the partially initiated. The evident puzzlement of any listener is of
course gratifying to the costermonger’s vanity, for he feels that he
possesses a knowledge peculiarly his own.

Among the in-door amusements of the costermonger is card-playing,
at which many of them are adepts. The usual games are all-fours,
all-fives, cribbage, and put. Whist is known to a few, but is never
played, being considered dull and slow. Of short whist they have not
heard; “but,” said one, whom I questioned on the subject, “if it’s come
into fashion, it’ll soon be among us.” The play is usually for beer,
but the game is rendered exciting by bets both among the players and
the lookers-on. “I’ll back Jem for a yanepatine,” says one. “Jack for a
gen,” cries another. A penny is the lowest sum laid, and five shillings
generally the highest, but a shilling is not often exceeded. “We play
fair among ourselves,” said a costermonger to me--“aye, fairer than
the aristocrats--but we’ll take in anybody else.” Where it is known
that the landlord will not supply cards, “a sporting coster” carries a
pack or two with him. The cards played with have rarely been stamped;
they are generally dirty, and sometimes almost illegible, from long
handling and spilled beer. Some men will sit patiently for hours at
these games, and they watch the dealing round of the dingy cards
intently, and without the attempt--common among politer gamesters--to
appear indifferent, though they bear their losses well. In a full room
of card-players, the groups are all shrouded in tobacco-smoke, and from
them are heard constant sounds--according to the games they are engaged
in--of “I’m low, and Ped’s high.” “Tip and me’s game.” “Fifteen four
and a flush of five.” I may remark it is curious that costermongers,
who can neither read nor write, and who have no knowledge of the
multiplication table, are skilful in all the intricacies and
calculations of cribbage. There is not much quarrelling over the cards,
unless strangers play with them, and then the costermongers all take
part one with another, fairly or unfairly.

It has been said that there is a close resemblance between many of the
characteristics of a very high class, socially, and a very low class.
Those who remember the disclosures on a trial a few years back, as to
how men of rank and wealth passed their leisure in card-playing--many
of their lives being one continued leisure--can judge how far the
analogy holds when the card-passion of the costermongers is described.

“Shove-halfpenny” is another game played by them; so is “Three up.”
Three halfpennies are thrown up, and when they fall all “heads” or all
“tails,” it is a mark; and the man who gets the greatest number of
marks out of a given amount--three, or five, or more--wins. “Three-up”
is played fairly among the costermongers; but is most frequently
resorted to when strangers are present to “make a pitch,”--which is, in
plain words, to cheat any stranger who is rash enough to bet upon them.
“This is the way, sir,” said an adept to me; “bless you, I can make
them fall as I please. If I’m playing with Jo, and a stranger bets with
Jo, why, of course, I make Jo win.” This adept illustrated his skill
to me by throwing up three halfpennies, and, five times out of six,
they fell upon the floor, whether he threw them nearly to the ceiling
or merely to his shoulder, all heads or all tails. The halfpence were
the proper current coins--indeed, they were my own; and the result
is gained by a peculiar position of the coins on the fingers, and a
peculiar jerk in the throwing. There was an amusing manifestation of
the pride of art in the way in which my obliging informant displayed
his skill.

“Skittles” is another favourite amusement, and the costermongers class
themselves among the best players in London. The game is always for
beer, but betting goes on.

A fondness for “sparring” and “boxing” lingers among the rude members
of some classes of the working men, such as the tanners. With the great
majority of the costermongers this fondness is still as dominant as it
was among the “higher classes,” when boxers were the pets of princes
and nobles. The sparring among the costers is not for money, but for
beer and “a lark”--a convenient word covering much mischief. Two out
of every ten landlords, whose houses are patronised by these lovers of
“the art of self-defence,” supply gloves. Some charge 2_d._ a night
for their use; others only 1_d._ The sparring seldom continues long,
sometimes not above a quarter of an hour; for the costermongers, though
excited for a while, weary of sports in which they cannot personally
participate, and in the beer-shops only two spar at a time, though
fifty or sixty may be present. The shortness of the duration of this
pastime may be one reason why it seldom leads to quarrelling. The stake
is usually a “top of reeb,” and the winner is the man who gives the
first “noser;” a _bloody_ nose however is required to show that the
blow was veritably a noser. The costermongers boast of their skill in
pugilism as well as at skittles. “We are all handy with our fists,”
said one man, “and are matches, aye, and more than matches, for anybody
but reg’lar boxers. We’ve stuck to the ring, too, and gone reg’lar to
the fights, more than any other men.”

“Twopenny-hops” are much resorted to by the costermongers, men and
women, boys and girls. At these dances decorum is sometimes, but not
often, violated. “The women,” I was told by one man, “doesn’t show
their necks as I’ve seen the ladies do in them there pictures of high
life in the shop-winders, or on the stage. Their Sunday gowns, which
is their dancing gowns, ain’t made that way.” At these “hops” the
clog-hornpipe is often danced, and sometimes a collection is made
to ensure the performance of a first-rate professor of that dance;
sometimes, and more frequently, it is volunteered gratuitously. The
other dances are jigs, “flash jigs”--hornpipes in fetters--a dance
rendered popular by the success of the acted “Jack Sheppard”--polkas,
and country-dances, the last-mentioned being generally demanded by
the women. Waltzes are as yet unknown to them. Sometimes they do the
“pipe-dance.” For this a number of tobacco-pipes, about a dozen, are
laid close together on the floor, and the dancer places the toe of his
boot between the different pipes, keeping time with the music. Two
of the pipes are arranged as a cross, and the toe has to be inserted
between each of the angles, without breaking them. The numbers present
at these “hops” vary from 30 to 100 of both sexes, their ages being
from 14 to 45, and the female sex being slightly predominant as to the
proportion of those in attendance. At these “hops” there is nothing
of the leisurely style of dancing--half a glide and half a skip--but
vigorous, laborious capering. The hours are from half-past eight to
twelve, sometimes to one or two in the morning, and never later than
two, as the costermongers are early risers. There is sometimes a good
deal of drinking; some of the young girls being often pressed to drink,
and frequently yielding to the temptation. From 1_l._ to 7_l._ is
spent in drink at a hop; the youngest men or lads present spend the
most, especially in that act of costermonger politeness--“treating
the gals.” The music is always a fiddle, sometimes with the addition
of a harp and a cornopean. The band is provided by the costermongers,
to whom the assembly is confined; but during the present and the last
year, when the costers’ earnings have been less than the average, the
landlord has provided the harp, whenever that instrument has added to
the charms of the fiddle. Of one use to which these “hops” are put I
have given an account, under the head of “Marriage.”


“Here Pertaters! Kearots and Turnups! Fine Brockello-o-o!”

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

The other amusements of this class of the community are the theatre
and the penny concert, and their visits are almost entirely confined
to the galleries of the theatres on the Surrey-side--the Surrey, the
Victoria, the Bower Saloon, and (but less frequently) Astley’s. Three
times a week is an average attendance at theatres and dances by the
more prosperous costermongers. The most intelligent man I met with
among them gave me the following account. He classes himself with the
many, but his tastes are really those of an educated man:--“Love and
murder suits us best, sir; but within these few years I think there’s
a great deal more liking for deep tragedies among us. They set men a
thinking; but then we all consider them too long. Of _Hamlet_ we can
make neither end nor side; and nine out of ten of us--ay, far more
than that--would like it to be confined to the ghost scenes, and the
funeral, and the killing off at the last. _Macbeth_ would be better
liked, if it was only the witches and the fighting. The high words in a
tragedy we call jaw-breakers, and say we can’t tumble to that barrikin.
We always stay to the last, because we’ve paid for it all, or very few
costers would see a tragedy out if any money was returned to those
leaving after two or three acts. We are fond of music. Nigger music was
very much liked among us, but it’s stale now. Flash songs are liked,
and sailors’ songs, and patriotic songs. Most costers--indeed, I can’t
call to mind an exception--listen very quietly to songs that they don’t
in the least understand. We have among us translations of the patriotic
French songs. ‘Mourir pour la patrie’ is very popular, and so is the
‘Marseillaise.’ A song to take hold of us must have a good chorus.”
“They like something, sir, that is worth hearing,” said one of my
informants, “such as the ‘Soldier’s Dream,’ ‘The Dream of Napoleon,’ or
‘I ’ad a dream--an ’appy dream.’”

The songs in ridicule of Marshal Haynau, and in laudation of Barclay
and Perkin’s draymen, were and are very popular among the costers;
but none are more popular than Paul Jones--“A noble commander, Paul
Jones was his name.” Among them the chorus of “Britons never shall be
slaves,” is often rendered “Britons always shall be slaves.” The most
popular of all songs with the class, however, is “Duck-legged Dick,” of
which I give the first verse.

  “Duck-legged Dick had a donkey,
    And his lush loved much for to swill,
  One day he got rather lumpy,
    And got sent seven days to the mill.
  His donkey was taken to the green-yard,
    A fate which he never deserved.
  Oh! it was such a regular mean yard,
    That alas! the poor moke got starved.
  Oh! bad luck can’t be prevented,
    Fortune she smiles or she frowns,
  He’s best off that’s contented,
    To mix, sirs, the ups and the downs.”

Their sports, are enjoyed the more, if they are dangerous and require
both courage and dexterity to succeed in them. They prefer, if crossing
a bridge, to climb over the parapet, and walk along on the stone
coping. When a house is building, rows of coster lads will climb up the
long ladders, leaning against the unslated roof, and then slide down
again, each one resting on the other’s shoulders. A peep show with a
battle scene is sure of its coster audience, and a favourite pastime
is fighting with cheap theatrical swords. They are, however, true to
each other, and should a coster, who is the hero of his court, fall ill
and go to a hospital, the whole of the inhabitants of his quarter will
visit him on the Sunday, and take him presents of various articles so
that “he may live well.”

Among the men, rat-killing is a favourite sport. They will enter an
old stable, fasten the door and then turn out the rats. Or they will
find out some unfrequented yard, and at night time build up a pit with
apple-case boards, and lighting up their lamps, enjoy the sport. Nearly
every coster is fond of dogs. Some fancy them greatly, and are proud
of making them fight. If when out working, they see a handsome stray,
whether he is a “toy” or “sporting” dog, they whip him up--many of the
class not being _very_ particular whether the animals are stray or not.

Their dog fights are both cruel and frequent. It is not uncommon to see
a lad walking with the trembling legs of a dog shivering under a bloody
handkerchief, that covers the bitten and wounded body of an animal
that has been figuring at some “match.” These fights take place on the
sly--the tap-room or back-yard of a beer-shop, being generally chosen
for the purpose. A few men are let into the secret, and they attend to
bet upon the winner, the police being carefully kept from the spot.

Pigeons are “fancied” to a large extent, and are kept in lath cages on
the roofs of the houses. The lads look upon a visit to the Red-house,
Battersea, where the pigeon-shooting takes place, as a great treat.
They stand without the hoarding that encloses the ground, and watch for
the wounded pigeons to fall, when a violent scramble takes place among
them, each bird being valued at 3_d._ or 4_d._ So popular has this
sport become, that some boys take dogs with them trained to retrieve
the birds, and two Lambeth costers attend regularly after their
morning’s work with their guns, to shoot those that escape the ‘shots’

A good pugilist is looked up to with great admiration by the costers,
and fighting is considered to be a necessary part of a boy’s education.
Among them cowardice in any shape is despised as being degrading and
loathsome, indeed the man who would avoid a fight, is scouted by the
whole of the court he lives in. Hence it is important for a lad and
even a girl to know how to “work their fists well”--as expert boxing
is called among them. If a coster man or woman is struck they are
obliged to fight. When a quarrel takes place between two boys, a ring
is formed, and the men urge them on to have it out, for they hold that
it is a wrong thing to stop a battle, as it causes bad blood for life;
whereas, if the lads fight it out they shake hands and forget all about
it. Everybody practises fighting, and the man who has the largest and
hardest muscle is spoken of in terms of the highest commendation. It
is often said in admiration of such a man that “he could muzzle half a
dozen bobbies before breakfast.”

To serve out a policeman is the bravest act by which a costermonger
can distinguish himself. Some lads have been imprisoned upwards of
a dozen times for this offence; and are consequently looked upon by
their companions as martyrs. When they leave prison for such an act,
a subscription is often got up for their benefit. In their continual
warfare with the force, they resemble many savage nations, from
the cunning and treachery they use. The lads endeavour to take the
unsuspecting “crusher” by surprise, and often crouch at the entrance of
a court until a policeman passes, when a stone or a brick is hurled at
him, and the youngster immediately disappears. Their love of revenge
too, is extreme--their hatred being in no way mitigated by time;
they will wait for months, following a policeman who has offended or
wronged them, anxiously looking out for an opportunity of paying back
the injury. One boy, I was told, vowed vengeance against a member of
the force, and for six months never allowed the man to escape his
notice. At length, one night, he saw the policeman in a row outside a
public-house, and running into the crowd kicked him savagely, shouting
at the same time: “Now, you b----, I’ve got you at last.” When the boy
heard that his persecutor was injured for life, his joy was very great,
and he declared the twelvemonth’s imprisonment he was sentenced to
for the offence to be “dirt cheap.” The whole of the court where the
lad resided sympathized with the boy, and vowed to a man, that had he
escaped, they would have subscribed a pad or two of dry herrings, to
send him into the country until the affair had blown over, for he had
shown himself a “plucky one.”

It is called “plucky” to bear pain without complaining. To flinch
from expected suffering is scorned, and he who does so is sneered at
and told to wear a gown, as being more fit to be a woman. To show a
disregard for pain, a lad, when without money, will say to his pal,
“Give us a penny, and you may have a punch at my nose.” They also
delight in tattooing their chests and arms with anchors, and figures
of different kinds. During the whole of this painful operation, the boy
will not flinch, but laugh and joke with his admiring companions, as if
perfectly at ease.


It would be difficult to find in the whole of this numerous class, a
youngster who is not--what may be safely called--a desperate gambler.
At the age of fourteen this love of play first comes upon the lad, and
from that time until he is thirty or so, not a Sunday passes but he is
at his stand on the gambling ground. Even if he has no money to stake,
he will loll away the morning looking on, and so borrow excitement
from the successes of others. Every attempt made by the police, to
check this ruinous system, has been unavailing, and has rather given a
gloss of daring courage to the sport, that tends to render it doubly

If a costermonger has an hour to spare, his first thought is to gamble
away the time. He does not care what he plays for, so long as he can
have a chance of winning something. Whilst waiting for a market to
open, his delight is to find out some pieman and toss him for his
stock, though, by so doing, he risks his market-money and only chance
of living, to win that which he will give away to the first friend he
meets. For the whole week the boy will work untiringly, spurred on by
the thought of the money to be won on the Sunday. Nothing will damp his
ardour for gambling, the most continued ill-fortune making him even
more reckless than if he were the luckiest man alive.

Many a lad who had gone down to the gambling ground, with a good warm
coat upon his back and his pocket well filled from the Saturday night’s
market, will leave it at evening penniless and coatless, having lost
all his earnings, stock-money, and the better part of his clothing.
Some of the boys, when desperate with “bad luck,” borrow to the
utmost limit of their credit; then they mortgage their “king’s-man”
or neck-tie, and they will even change their cord trousers, if better
than those of the winner, so as to have one more chance at the turn of
fortune. The coldest winter’s day will not stop the Sunday’s gathering
on the river-side, for the heat of play warms them in spite of the
sharp wind blowing down the Thames. If the weather be wet, so that the
half-pence stick to the ground, they find out some railway-arch or else
a beer-shop, and having filled the tap-room with their numbers, they
muffle the table with handkerchiefs, and play secretly. When the game
is very exciting, they will even forget their hunger, and continue
to gamble until it is too dark to see, before they think of eating.
One man told me, that when he was working the races with lemonade,
he had often seen in the centre of a group, composed of costers,
thimble-riggers and showmen, as much as 100_l._ on the ground at one
time, in gold and silver. A friend of his, who had gone down in company
with him, with a pony-truck of toys, lost in less than an hour his
earnings, truck, stock of goods, and great-coat. Vowing to have his
revenge next time, he took his boy on his back, and started off on the
tramp to London, there to borrow sufficient money to bring down a fresh
lot of goods on the morrow, and then gamble away his earnings as before.

It is perfectly immaterial to the coster with whom he plays, whether it
be a lad from the Lambeth potteries, or a thief from the Westminster
slums. Very often, too, the gamblers of one costermonger district,
will visit those of another, and work what is called “a plant” in this
way. One of the visitors will go before hand, and, joining a group of
gamblers, commence tossing. When sufficient time has elapsed to remove
all suspicion of companionship, his mate will come up and commence
betting on each of his pals’ throws with those standing round. By a
curious quickness of hand, a coster can make the toss tell favourably
for his wagering friend, who meets him after the play is over in the
evening, and shares the spoil.

The spots generally chosen for the Sunday’s sport are in secret
places, half-hidden from the eye of the passers, where a scout can
give quick notice of the approach of the police: in the fields about
King’s-cross, or near any unfinished railway buildings. The Mint, St.
George’s-fields, Blackfriars’-road, Bethnal-green, and Marylebone,
are all favourite resorts. Between Lambeth and Chelsea, the shingle
on the left side of the Thames, is spotted with small rings of lads,
half-hidden behind the barges. One boy (of the party) is always on
the look out, and even if a stranger should advance, the cry is given
of “Namous” or “Kool Eslop.” Instantly the money is whipped-up and
pocketed, and the boys stand chattering and laughing together. It is
never difficult for a coster to find out where the gambling parties
are, for he has only to stop the first lad he meets, and ask him where
the “erht pu” or “three up” is going on, to discover their whereabouts.

If during the game a cry of “Police!” should be given by the
looker-out, instantly a rush at the money is made by any one in the
group, the costers preferring that a stranger should have the money
rather than the policeman. There is also a custom among them, that
the ruined player should be started again by a gift of 2_d._ in every
shilling lost, or, if the loss is heavy, a present of four or five
shillings is made; neither is it considered at all dishonourable for
the party winning to leave with the full bloom of success upon him.

That the description of one of these Sunday scenes might be more
truthful, a visit was paid to a gambling-ring close to ----. Although
not twenty yards distant from the steam-boat pier, yet the little
party was so concealed among the coal-barges, that not a head could
be seen. The spot chosen was close to a small narrow court, leading
from the street to the water-side, and here the lad on the look-out
was stationed. There were about thirty young fellows, some tall
strapping youths, in the costers’ cable-cord costume,--others, mere
boys, in rags, from the potteries, with their clothes stained with
clay. The party was hidden from the river by the black dredger-boats
on the beach; and it was so arranged, that should the alarm be given,
they might leap into the coal-barges, and hide until the intruder
had retired. Seated on some oars stretched across two craft, was a
mortar-stained bricklayer, keeping a look-out towards the river, and
acting as a sort of umpire in all disputes. The two that were tossing
had been playing together since early morning; and it was easy to tell
which was the loser, by the anxious-looking eye and compressed lip. He
was quarrelsome too; and if the crowd pressed upon him, he would jerk
his elbow back savagely, saying, “I wish to C----t you’d stand backer.”
The winner, a short man, in a mud-stained canvas jacket, and a week’s
yellow beard on his chin, never spake a word beyond his “heads,” or
“tails;” but his cheeks were red, and the pipe in his mouth was unlit,
though he puffed at it.

In their hands they each held a long row of halfpence, extending to
the wrist, and topped by shillings and half-crowns. Nearly every one
round had coppers in his hands, and bets were made and taken as rapidly
as they could be spoken. “I lost a sov. last night in less than no
time,” said one man, who, with his hands in his pockets, was looking
on; “never mind--I musn’t have no wenson this week, and try again next

The boy who was losing was adopting every means to “bring back his
luck again.” Before crying, he would toss up a halfpenny three times,
to see what he should call. At last, with an oath, he pushed aside the
boys round him, and shifted his place, to see what that would do; it
had a good effect, for he won toss after toss in a curiously fortunate
way, and then it was strange to watch his mouth gradually relax and
his brows unknit. His opponent was a little startled, and passing his
fingers through his dusty hair, said, with a stupid laugh, “Well, I
never see the likes.” The betting also began to shift. “Sixpence Ned
wins!” cried three or four; “Sixpence he loses!” answered another;
“Done!” and up went the halfpence. “Half-a-crown Joe loses!”--“Here
you are,” answered Joe, but he lost again. “I’ll try you a ‘gen’”
(shilling) said a coster; “And a ‘rouf yenap’” (fourpence), added the
other. “Say a ‘exes’” (sixpence).--“Done!” and the betting continued,
till the ground was spotted with silver and halfpence.

“That’s ten bob he’s won in five minutes,” said Joe (the loser),
looking round with a forced smile; but Ned (the winner) never spake a
word, even when he gave any change to his antagonist; and if he took
a bet, he only nodded to the one that offered it, and threw down his
money. Once, when he picked up more than a sovereign from the ground,
that he had won in one throw, a washed sweep, with a black rim round
his neck, said, “There’s a hog!” but there wasn’t even a smile at the
joke. At last Joe began to feel angry, and stamping his foot till the
water squirted up from the beach, cried, “It’s no use; luck’s set in
him--he’d muck a thousand!” and so he shifted his ground, and betted
all round on the chance of better fortune attending the movement. He
lost again, and some one bantering said, “You’ll win the shine-rag,
Joe,” meaning that he would be “cracked up,” or ruined, if he continued.

When one o’clock struck, a lad left, saying, he was “going to get an
inside lining” (dinner). The sweep asked him what he was going to have.
“A two-and-half plate, and a ha’p’orth of smash” (a plate of soup and
a ha’p’orth of mashed potatoes), replied the lad, bounding into the
court. Nobody else seemed to care for his dinner, for all stayed to
watch the gamblers.

Every now and then some one would go up the court to see if the lad
watching for the police was keeping a good look-out; but the boy never
deserted his post, for fear of losing his threepence. If he had, such
is the wish to protect the players felt by every lad, that even whilst
at dinner, one of them, if he saw a policeman pass, would spring up and
rush to the gambling ring to give notice.

When the tall youth, “Ned,” had won nearly all the silver of the group,
he suddenly jerked his gains into his coat-pocket, and saying, “I’ve
done,” walked off, and was out of sight in an instant. The surprise of
the loser and all around was extreme. They looked at the court where he
had disappeared, then at one another, and at last burst out into one
expression of disgust. “There’s a scurf!” said one; “He’s a regular
scab,” cried another; and a coster declared that he was “a trosseno,
and no mistake.” For although it is held to be fair for the winner to
go whenever he wishes, yet such conduct is never relished by the losers.

It was then determined that “they would have him to rights” the next
time he came to gamble; for every one would set at him, and win his
money, and then “turn up,” as he had done.

The party was then broken up, the players separating to wait for the
new-comers that would be sure to pour in after dinner.


On a good attractive night, the rush of costers to the threepenny
gallery of the Coburg (better known as “the Vic”) is peculiar and
almost awful.

The long zig-zag staircase that leads to the pay box is crowded to
suffocation at least an hour before the theatre is opened; but, on the
occasion of a piece with a good murder in it, the crowd will frequently
collect as early as three o’clock in the afternoon. Lads stand upon the
broad wooden bannisters about 50 feet from the ground, and jump on each
others’ backs, or adopt any expedient they can think of to obtain a
good place.

The walls of the well-staircase having a remarkably fine echo, and the
wooden floor of the steps serving as a sounding board, the shouting,
whistling, and quarrelling of the impatient young costers is increased
tenfold. If, as sometimes happens, a song with a chorus is started,
the ears positively ache with the din, and when the chant has finished
it seems as though a sudden silence had fallen on the people. To the
centre of the road, and all round the door, the mob is in a ferment of
excitement, and no sooner is the money-taker at his post than the most
frightful rush takes place, every one heaving with his shoulder at the
back of the person immediately in front of him. The girls shriek, men
shout, and a nervous fear is felt lest the massive staircase should
fall in with the weight of the throng, as it lately did with the most
terrible results. If a hat tumbles from the top of the staircase, a
hundred hands snatch at it as it descends. When it is caught a voice
roars above the tumult, “All right, Bill, I’ve got it”--for they all
seem to know one another--“Keep us a pitch and I’ll bring it.”

To any one unaccustomed to be pressed flat it would be impossible
to enter with the mob. To see the sight in the gallery it is better
to wait until the first piece is over. The ham-sandwich men and
pig-trotter women will give you notice when the time is come, for with
the first clatter of the descending footsteps they commence their cries.

There are few grown-up men that go to the “Vic” gallery. The generality
of the visitors are lads from about twelve to three-and-twenty, and
though a few black-faced sweeps or whitey-brown dustmen may be among
the throng, the gallery audience consists mainly of costermongers.
Young girls, too, are very plentiful, only one-third of whom now take
their babies, owing to the new regulation of charging half-price for
infants. At the foot of the staircase stands a group of boys begging
for the return checks, which they sell again for 1-1/2_d._ or 1_d._,
according to the lateness of the hour.

At each step up the well-staircase the warmth and stench increase,
until by the time one reaches the gallery doorway, a furnace-heat
rushes out through the entrance that seems to force you backwards,
whilst the odour positively prevents respiration. The mob on the
landing, standing on tiptoe and closely wedged together, resists any
civil attempt at gaining a glimpse of the stage, and yet a coster lad
will rush up, elbow his way into the crowd, then jump up on to the
shoulders of those before him, and suddenly disappear into the body of
the gallery.

The gallery at “the Vic” is one of the largest in London. It will hold
from 1500 to 2000 people, and runs back to so great a distance, that
the end of it is lost in shadow, excepting where the little gas-jets,
against the wall, light up the two or three faces around them. When the
gallery is well packed, it is usual to see piles of boys on each others
shoulders at the back, while on the partition boards, dividing off the
slips, lads will pitch themselves, despite the spikes.

As you look up the vast slanting mass of heads from the upper boxes,
each one appears on the move. The huge black heap, dotted with faces,
and spotted with white shirt sleeves, almost pains the eye to look at,
and should a clapping of hands commence, the twinkling nearly blinds
you. It is the fashion with the mob to take off their coats; and the
cross-braces on the backs of some, and the bare shoulders peeping out
of the ragged shirts of others, are the only variety to be found. The
bonnets of the “ladies” are hung over the iron railing in front, their
numbers nearly hiding the panels, and one of the amusements of the lads
in the back seats consists in pitching orange peel or nutshells into
them, a good aim being rewarded with a shout of laughter.

When the orchestra begins playing, before “the gods” have settled into
their seats, it is impossible to hear a note of music. The puffed-out
cheeks of the trumpeters, and the raised drumsticks tell you that the
overture has commenced, but no tune is to be heard. An occasional burst
of the full band being caught by gushes, as if a high wind were raging.
Recognitions take place every moment, and “Bill Smith” is called to
in a loud voice from one side, and a shout in answer from the other
asks “What’s up?” Or family secrets are revealed, and “Bob Triller” is
asked where “Sal” is, and replies amid a roar of laughter, that she is
“a-larning the pynanney.”

By-and-by a youngster, who has come in late, jumps up over the
shoulders at the door, and doubling himself into a ball, rolls down
over the heads in front, leaving a trail of commotion for each one
as he passes aims a blow at the fellow. Presently a fight is sure to
begin, and then every one rises from his seat whistling and shouting;
three or four pairs of arms fall to, the audience waving their hands
till the moving mass seems like microscopic eels in paste. But the
commotion ceases suddenly on the rising of the curtain, and then the
cries of “Silence!” “Ord-a-a-r!” “Ord-a-a-r!” make more noise than ever.

The “Vic” gallery is not to be moved by touching sentiment. They prefer
vigorous exercise to any emotional speech. “The Child of the Storm’s”
declaration that she would share her father’s “death or imprisonment
as her duty,” had no effect at all, compared with the split in the
hornpipe. The shrill whistling and brayvos that followed the tar’s
performance showed how highly it was relished, and one “god” went so
far as to ask “how it was done.” The comic actor kicking a dozen Polish
peasants was encored, but the grand banquet of the Czar of all the
Russias only produced merriment, and a request that he would “give them
a bit” was made directly the Emperor took the willow-patterned plate in
his hand. All affecting situations were sure to be interrupted by cries
of “orda-a-r;” and the lady begging for her father’s life was told to
“speak up old gal;” though when the heroine of the “dummestic dreamer”
(as they call it) told the general of all the Cossack forces “not to be
a fool,” the uproar of approbation grew greater than ever,--and when
the lady turned up her swan’s-down cuffs, and seizing four Russian
soldiers shook them successively by the collar, then the enthusiasm
knew no bounds, and the cries of “Bray-vo Vincent! Go it my tulip!”
resounded from every throat.

Altogether the gallery audience do not seem to be of a gentle nature.
One poor little lad shouted out in a crying tone, “that he couldn’t
see,” and instantly a dozen voices demanded “that he should be thrown

Whilst the pieces are going on, brown, flat bottles are frequently
raised to the mouth, and between the acts a man with a tin can,
glittering in the gas-light, goes round crying, “Port-a-a-a-r! who’s
for port-a-a-a-r.” As the heat increased the faces grew bright red,
every bonnet was taken off, and ladies could be seen wiping the
perspiration from their cheeks with the play-bills.

No delay between the pieces will be allowed, and should the
interval appear too long, some one will shout out--referring to the
curtain--“Pull up that there winder blind!” or they will call to the
orchestra, saying, “Now then you catgut-scrapers! Let’s have a ha’purth
of liveliness.” Neither will they suffer a play to proceed until they
have a good view of the stage, and “Higher the blue,” is constantly
shouted, when the sky is too low, or “Light up the moon,” when the
transparency is rather dim.

The dances and comic songs, between the pieces, are liked better than
anything else. A highland fling is certain to be repeated, and a
stamping of feet will accompany the tune, and a shrill whistling, keep
time through the entire performance.

But the grand hit of the evening is always when a song is sung to which
the entire gallery can join in chorus. Then a deep silence prevails
all through the stanzas. Should any burst in before his time, a shout
of “orda-a-r” is raised, and the intruder put down by a thousand
indignant cries. At the proper time, however, the throats of the mob
burst forth in all their strength. The most deafening noise breaks
out suddenly, while the cat-calls keep up the tune, and an imitation
of a dozen Mr. Punches squeak out the words. Some actors at the minor
theatres make a great point of this, and in the bill upon the night of
my visit, under the title of “There’s a good time coming, boys,” there
was printed, “assisted by the most numerous and effective chorus in
the metropolis--” meaning the whole of the gallery. The singer himself
started the mob, saying, “Now then, the Exeter Hall touch if you please
gentlemen,” and beat time with his hand, parodying M. Jullien with
his _baton_. An “angcore” on such occasions is always demanded, and,
despite a few murmurs of “change it to ‘Duck-legged Dick,’” invariably
insisted on.


The notion of the police is so intimately blended with what may be
called the politics of the costermongers that I give them together.

The politics of these people are detailed in a few words--they
are nearly all Chartists. “You might say, sir,” remarked one of
my informants, “that they _all_ were Chartists, but as its better
you should rather be under than over the mark, say _nearly_ all.”
Their ignorance, and their being impulsive, makes them a dangerous
class. I am assured that in every district where the costermongers
are congregated, one or two of the body, more intelligent than the
others, have great influence over them; and these leading men are all
Chartists, and being industrious and not unprosperous persons, their
pecuniary and intellectual superiority cause them to be regarded
as oracles. One of these men said to me: “The costers think that
working-men know best, and so they have confidence in us. I like to
make men discontented, and I will make them discontented while the
present system continues, because it’s all for the middle and the
moneyed classes, and nothing, in the way of rights, for the poor.
People fancy when all’s quiet that all’s stagnating. Propagandism is
going on for all that. It’s when all’s quiet that the seed’s a growing.
Republicans and Socialists are pressing their doctrines.”

The costermongers have very vague notions of an aristocracy; they call
the more prosperous of their own body “aristocrats.” Their notions of
an aristocracy of birth or wealth seem to be formed on their opinion of
the rich, or reputed rich salesmen with whom they deal; and the result
is anything but favourable to the nobility.

Concerning free-trade, nothing, I am told, can check the costermongers’
fervour for a cheap loaf. A Chartist costermonger told me that he
knew numbers of costers who were keen Chartists without understanding
anything about the six points.

The costermongers frequently attend political meetings, going there
in bodies of from six to twelve. Some of them, I learned, could not
understand why Chartist leaders exhorted them to peace and quietness,
when they might as well fight it out with the police at once. The
costers boast, moreover, that they stick more together in any “row”
than any other class. It is considered by them a reflection on the
character of the thieves that they are seldom true to one another.

It is a matter of marvel to many of this class that people can live
without working. The ignorant costers have no knowledge of “property,”
or “income,” and conclude that the non-workers all live out of the
taxes. Of the taxes generally they judge from their knowledge that
tobacco, which they account a necessary of life, pays 3_s._ per lb.

As regards the police, the hatred of a costermonger to a “peeler” is
intense, and with their opinion of the police, all the more ignorant
unite that of the governing power. “Can you wonder at it, sir,” said a
costermonger to me, “that I hate the police? They drive us about, we
must move on, we can’t stand here, and we can’t pitch there. But if
we’re cracked up, that is if we’re forced to go into the Union (I’ve
known it both at Clerkenwell and the City of London workhouses,) why
the parish gives us money to buy a barrow, or a shallow, or to hire
them, and leave the house and start for ourselves: and what’s the use
of that, if the police won’t let us sell our goods?--Which is right,
the parish or the police?”

To thwart the police in any measure the costermongers readily aid
one another. One very common procedure, if the policeman has seized
a barrow, is to whip off a wheel, while the officers have gone for
assistance; for a large and loaded barrow requires two men to convey it
to the green-yard. This is done with great dexterity; and the next step
is to dispose of the stock to any passing costers, or to any “standing”
in the neighbourhood, and it is honestly accounted for. The policemen,
on their return, find an empty, and unwheelable barrow, which they must
carry off by main strength, amid the jeers of the populace.

I am assured that in case of a political riot every “coster” would
seize his policeman.


Only one-tenth--at the outside one-tenth--of the couples living
together and carrying on the costermongering trade, are married. In
Clerkenwell parish, however, where the number of married couples is
about a fifth of the whole, this difference is easily accounted for,
as in Advent and Easter the incumbent of that parish marries poor
couples without a fee. Of the rights of “legitimate” or “illegitimate”
children the costermongers understand nothing, and account it a mere
waste of money and time to go through the ceremony of wedlock when a
pair can live together, and be quite as well regarded by their fellows,
without it. The married women associate with the unmarried mothers of
families without the slightest scruple. There is no honour attached
to the marriage state, and no shame to concubinage. Neither are the
unmarried women less faithful to their “partners” than the married; but
I understand that, of the two classes, the unmarried betray the most

As regards the fidelity of these women I was assured that, “in anything
like good times,” they were rigidly faithful to their husbands or
paramours; but that, in the worst pinch of poverty, a departure
from this fidelity--if it provided a few meals or a fire--was not
considered at all heinous. An old costermonger, who had been mixed
up with other callings, and whose prejudices were certainly not in
favour of his present trade, said to me, “What I call the working
girls, sir, are as industrious and as faithful a set as can well be.
I’m satisfied that they’re more faithful to their mates than other
poor working women. I never knew one of these working girls do wrong
that way. They’re strong, hearty, healthy girls, and keep clean rooms.
Why, there’s numbers of men leave their stock-money with their women,
just taking out two or three shillings to gamble with and get drunk
upon. They sometimes take a little drop themselves, the women do,
and get beaten by their husbands for it, and hardest beaten if the
man’s drunk himself. They’re sometimes beaten for other things too,
or for nothing at all. But they seem to like the men better for their
beating them. I never could make that out.” Notwithstanding this
fidelity, it appears that the “larking and joking” of the young, and
sometimes of the middle-aged people, among themselves, is anything but
delicate. The unmarried separate as seldom as the married. The fidelity
characterizing the women does not belong to the men.

The dancing-rooms are the places where matches are made up. There the
boys go to look out for “mates,” and sometimes a match is struck up the
first night of meeting, and the couple live together forthwith. The
girls at these dances are all the daughters of costermongers, or of
persons pursuing some other course of street life. Unions take place
when the lad is but 14. Two or three out of 100 have their female
helpmates at that early age; but the female is generally a couple of
years older than her partner. Nearly all the costermongers form such
alliances as I have described, when both parties are under twenty.
One reason why these alliances are contracted at early ages is, that
when a boy has assisted his father, or any one engaging him, in the
business of a costermonger, he knows that he can borrow money, and hire
a shallow or a barrow--or he may have saved 5_s._--“and then if the
father vexes him or snubs him,” said one of my informants, “he’ll tell
his father to go to h--l, and he and his gal will start on their own

Most of the costermongers have numerous families, but not those who
contract alliances very young. The women continue working down to the
day of their confinement.

“Chance children,” as they are called, or children unrecognised by any
father, are rare among the young women of the costermongers.


An intelligent and trustworthy man, until very recently actively
engaged in costermongering, computed that not 3 in 100 costermongers
had ever been in the interior of a church, or any place of worship,
or knew what was meant by Christianity. The same person gave me the
following account, which was confirmed by others:

“The costers have no religion at all, and very little notion, or none
at all, of what religion or a future state is. Of all things they
hate tracts. They hate them because the people leaving them never
give them anything, and as they can’t read the tract--not one in
forty--they’re vexed to be bothered with it. And really what is the
use of giving people reading before you’ve taught them to read? Now,
they respect the City Missionaries, because they read to them--and
the costers will listen to reading when they don’t understand it--and
because they visit the sick, and sometimes give oranges and such like
to them and the children. I’ve known a City Missionary buy a shilling’s
worth of oranges of a coster, and give them away to the sick and the
children--most of them belonging to the costermongers--down the court,
and that made him respected there. I think the City Missionaries
have done good. But I’m satisfied that if the costers had to profess
themselves of some religion to-morrow, they would all become Roman
Catholics, every one of them. This is the reason:--London costers live
very often in the same courts and streets as the poor Irish, and if the
Irish are sick, be sure there comes to them the priest, the Sisters
of Charity--they _are_ good women--and some other ladies. Many a man
that’s not a Catholic, has rotted and died without any good person near
him. Why, I lived a good while in Lambeth, and there wasn’t one coster
in 100, I’m satisfied, knew so much as the rector’s name,--though
Mr. Dalton’s a very good man. But the reason I was telling you of,
sir, is that the costers reckon _that_ religion’s the best that gives
the most in charity, and they think the Catholics do this. I’m not a
Catholic myself, but I believe every word of the Bible, and have the
greater belief that it’s the word of God because it teaches democracy.
The Irish in the courts get sadly chaffed by the others about their
priests,--but they’ll die for the priest. Religion is a regular puzzle
to the costers. They see people come out of church and chapel, and as
they’re mostly well dressed, and there’s very few of their own sort
among the church-goers, the costers somehow mix up being religious with
being respectable, and so they have a queer sort of feeling about it.
It’s a mystery to them. It’s shocking when you come to think of it.
They’ll listen to any preacher that goes among them; and then a few
will say--I’ve heard it often--‘A b--y fool, why don’t he let people go
to h-ll their own way?’ There’s another thing that makes the costers
think so well of the Catholics. If a Catholic coster--there’s only very
few of them--is ‘cracked up’ (penniless), he’s often started again, and
the others have a notion that it’s through some chapel-fund. I don’t
know whether it is so or not, but I know the cracked-up men are started
again, if they’re Catholics. It’s still the stranger that the regular
costermongers, who are nearly all Londoners, should have such respect
for the Roman Catholics, when they have such a hatred of the Irish,
whom they look upon as intruders and underminers.”--“If a missionary
came among us with plenty of money,” said another costermonger, “he
might make us all Christians or Turks, or anything he liked.” Neither
the Latter-day Saints, nor any similar sect, have made converts among
the costermongers.


I have stated elsewhere, that only about one in ten of the regular
costermongers is able to read. The want of education among both men
and women is deplorable, and I tested it in several instances. The
following statement, however, from one of the body, is no more to be
taken as representing the ignorance of the class generally, than are
the clear and discriminating accounts I received from intelligent
costermongers to be taken as representing the intelligence of the body.

The man with whom I conversed, and from whom I received the following
statement, seemed about thirty. He was certainly not ill-looking, but
with a heavy cast of countenance, his light blue eyes having little
expression. His statements, or opinions, I need hardly explain, were
given both spontaneously in the course of conversation, and in answer
to my questions. I give them almost verbatim, omitting oaths and slang:

“Well, times is bad, sir,” he said, “but it’s a deadish time. I don’t
do so well at present as in middlish times, I think. When I served the
Prince of Naples, not far from here (I presume that he alluded to the
Prince of Capua), I did better and times was better. That was five
years ago, but I can’t say to a year or two. He was a good customer,
and was very fond of peaches. I used to sell them to him, at 12_s._ the
plasket when they was new. The plasket held a dozen, and cost me 6_s._
at Covent-garden--more sometimes; but I didn’t charge him more when
they did. His footman was a black man, and a ignorant man quite, and
his housekeeper was a Englishwoman. He was the Prince o’ Naples, was my
customer; but I don’t know what he was like, for I never saw him. I’ve
heard that he was the brother of the king of Naples. I can’t say where
Naples is, but if you was to ask at Euston-square, they’ll tell you the
fare there and the time to go it in. It may be in France for anything
I know may Naples, or in Ireland. Why don’t you ask at the square? I
went to Croydon once by rail, and slept all the way without stirring,
and so you may to Naples for anything I know. I never heard of the
Pope being a neighbour of the King of Naples. Do you mean living next
door to him? But I don’t know nothing of the King of Naples, only the
prince. I don’t know what the Pope is. Is he any trade? It’s nothing to
me, when he’s no customer of mine. I have nothing to say about nobody
that ain’t no customers. My crabs is caught in the sea, in course. I
gets them at Billingsgate. I never saw the sea, but it’s salt-water,
I know. I can’t say whereabouts it lays. I believe it’s in the hands
of the Billingsgate salesmen--all of it? I’ve heard of shipwrecks at
sea, caused by drownding, in course. I never heard that the Prince
of Naples was ever at sea. I like to talk about him, he was such a
customer when he lived near here.” (Here he repeated his account of
the supply of peaches to his Royal Highness.) “I never was in France,
no, sir, never. I don’t know the way. Do you think I could do better
there? I never was in the Republic there. What’s it like? Bonaparte?
O, yes; I’ve heard of him. He was at Waterloo. I didn’t know he’d been
alive now and in France, as you ask me about him. I don’t think you’re
larking, sir. Did I hear of the French taking possession of Naples,
and Bonaparte making his brother-in-law king? Well, I didn’t, but it
may be true, because I served the Prince of Naples, what _was_ the
brother of the king. I never heard whether the Prince was the king’s
older brother or his younger. I wish he may turn out his older if
there’s property coming to him, as the oldest has the first turn; at
least so I’ve heard--first come, first served. I’ve worked the streets
and the courts at all times. I’ve worked them by moonlight, but you
couldn’t see the moonlight where it was busy. I can’t say how far the
moon’s off us. It’s nothing to me, but I’ve seen it a good bit higher
than St. Paul’s. I don’t know nothing about the sun. Why do you ask?
It must be nearer than the moon for it’s warmer,--and if they’re both
fire, that shows it. It’s like the tap-room grate and that bit of a
gas-light; to compare the two is. What was St. Paul’s that the moon
was above? A church, sir; so I’ve heard. I never was in a church. O,
yes, I’ve heard of God; he made heaven and earth; I never heard of his
making the sea; that’s another thing, and you can best learn about that
at Billingsgate. (He seemed to think that the sea was an appurtenance
of Billingsgate.) Jesus Christ? Yes. I’ve heard of him. Our Redeemer?
Well, I only wish I could redeem my Sunday togs from my uncle’s.”

Another costermonger, in answer to inquiries, said: “I ’spose you think
us ’riginal coves that you ask. We’re not like Methusalem, or some such
swell’s name, (I presume that Malthus was meant) as wanted to murder
children afore they was born, as I once heerd lectured about--we’re
nothing like that.”

Another on being questioned, and on being told that the information was
wanted for the press, replied: “The press? I’ll have nothing to say to
it. We are oppressed enough already.”

That a class numbering 30,000 should be permitted to remain in a state
of almost brutish ignorance is a national disgrace. If the London
costers belong especially to the “dangerous classes,” the danger of
such a body is assuredly an evil of our own creation; for the gratitude
of the poor creatures to any one who seeks to give them the least
knowledge is almost pathetic.


The slang language of the costermongers is not very remarkable for
originality of construction; it possesses no humour: but they boast
that it is known only to themselves; it is far beyond the Irish, they
say, and puzzles the Jews. The _root_ of the costermonger tongue, so to
speak, is to give the words spelt backward, or rather pronounced rudely
backward,--for in my present chapter the language has, I believe,
been reduced to orthography for the first time. With this backward
pronunciation, which is very arbitrary, are mixed words reducible to no
rule and seldom referrable to any origin, thus complicating the mystery
of this unwritten tongue; while any syllable is added to a proper slang
word, at the discretion of the speaker.

Slang is acquired very rapidly, and some costermongers will converse
in it by the hour. The women use it sparingly; the girls more than
the women; the men more than the girls; and the boys most of all. The
most ignorant of all these classes deal most in slang and boast of
their cleverness and proficiency in it. In their conversations among
themselves, the following are invariably the terms used in money
matters. A rude back-spelling may generally be traced:

  _Flatch_         Halfpenny.
  _Yenep_          Penny.
  _Owt-yenep_      Twopence.
  _Erth-yenep_     Threepence.
  _Rouf-yenep_     Fourpence.
  _Ewif-yenep_     Fivepence.
  _Exis-yenep_     Sixpence.
  _Neves-yenep_    Sevenpence.
  _Teaich-yenep_   Eightpence.
  _Enine-yenep_    Ninepence.
  _Net-yenep_      Tenpence.
  _Leven_          Elevenpence.
  _Gen_            Twelvepence.
  _Yenep-flatch_   Three half-pence.

and so on through the penny-halfpennies.

It was explained to me by a costermonger, who had introduced some
new words into the slang, that “leven” was allowed so closely
to resemble the proper word, because elevenpence was almost an
unknown sum to costermongers, the transition--weights and measures
notwithstanding--being immediate from 10_d._ to 1_s._

“Gen” is a shilling and the numismatic sequence is pursued with the
gens, as regards shillings, as with the “yeneps” as regards pence. The
blending of the two is also according to the same system as “Owt-gen,
teaich-yenep” two-and-eightpence. The exception to the uniformity
of the “gen” enumeration is in the sum of 8_s._, which instead of
“teaich-gen” is “teaich-guy:” a deviation with ample precedents in all
civilised tongues.

As regards the larger coins the translation into slang is not reducible
into rule. The following are the costermonger coins of the higher

  _Couter_                       Sovereign.
  _Half-Couter_, or _Net-gen_    Half-sovereign.
  _Ewif-gen_                     Crown.
  _Flatch-ynork_                 Half-crown.

The costermongers still further complicate their slang by a mode of
multiplication. They thus say, “Erth Ewif-gens” or 3 times 5_s._, which
means of course 15_s._

Speaking of this language, a costermonger said to me: “The Irish can’t
tumble to it anyhow; the Jews can tumble better, but we’re _their_
masters. Some of the young salesmen at Billingsgate understand us,--but
only at Billingsgate; and they think they’re uncommon clever, but
they’re not quite up to the mark. The police don’t understand us at
all. It would be a pity if they did.”

I give a few more phrases:

  _A doogheno or dabheno?_      Is it a good or bad market?
  _A regular trosseno_          A regular bad one.
  _On_                          No.
  _Say_                         Yes.
  _Tumble to your barrikin_     Understand you.
  _Top o’ reeb_                 Pot of beer.
  _Doing dab_                   Doing badly.
  _Cool him_                    Look at him.

The latter phrase is used when one costermonger warns another of
the approach of a policeman “who might order him to move on, or be
otherwise unpleasant.” “Cool” (look) is exclaimed, or “Cool him” (look
at him). One costermonger told me as a great joke that a very stout
policeman, who was then new to the duty, was when in a violent state of
perspiration, much offended by a costermonger saying “Cool him.”

  _Cool the esclop_           Look at the police.
  _Cool the namesclop_        Look at the policeman.
  _Cool ta the dillo nemo_    Look at the old woman;

said of any woman, young or old, who, according to costermonger
notions, is “giving herself airs.”

This language seems confined, in its general use, to the immediate
objects of the costermonger’s care; but is, among the more acute
members of the fraternity, greatly extended, and is capable of
indefinite extension.

The costermongers oaths, I may conclude, are all in the vernacular; nor
are any of the common salutes, such as “How d’you do?” or “Good-night”
known to their slang.

    _Kennetseeno_               Stinking;
  (applied principally to the quality of fish.)
    _Flatch kanurd_             Half-drunk.
    _Flash it_                  Show it;
  (in cases of bargains offered.)
    _On doog_                   No good.
    _Cross chap_                A thief.
    _Showfulls_                 Bad money;
  (seldom in the hands of costermongers.)
    _I’m on to the deb_         I’m going to bed.
    _Do the tightner_           Go to dinner.
    _Nommus_                    Be off.
    _Tol_                       Lot, Stock, or Share.

Many costermongers, “but principally--perhaps entirely,”--I was told,
“those who had not been regular born and bred to the trade, but had
taken to it when cracked up in their own,” do not trouble themselves
to acquire any knowledge of slang. It is not indispensable for the
carrying on of their business; the grand object, however, seems to be,
to shield their bargainings at market, or their conversation among
themselves touching their day’s work and profits, from the knowledge of
any Irish or uninitiated fellow-traders.

The simple principle of costermonger slang--that of pronouncing
backward, may cause its acquirement to be regarded by the educated
as a matter of ease. But it is a curious fact that lads who become
costermongers’ boys, without previous association with the class,
acquire a very ready command of the language, and this though they are
not only unable to spell, but don’t “know a letter in a book.” I saw
one lad, whose parents had, until five or six months back, resided
in the country. The lad himself was fourteen; he told me he had not
been “a costermongering” more than three months, and prided himself on
his mastery over slang. To test his ability, I asked him the coster’s
word for “hippopotamus;” he answered, with tolerable readiness,
“musatoppop.” I then asked him for the like rendering of “equestrian”
(one of Astley’s bills having caught my eye). He replied, but not quite
so readily, “nirtseque.” The last test to which I subjected him was
“good-naturedly;” and though I induced him to repeat the word twice,
I could not, on any of the three renderings, distinguish any precise
sound beyond an indistinct gabbling, concluded emphatically with
“doog:”--“good” being a word with which all these traders are familiar.
It must be remembered, that the words I demanded were remote from the
young costermonger’s vocabulary, if not from his understanding.

Before I left this boy, he poured forth a minute or more’s gibberish,
of which, from its rapid utterance, I could distinguish nothing; but I
found from his after explanation, that it was a request to me to make a
further purchase of his walnuts.

This slang is utterly devoid of any applicability to humour. It gives
no new fact, or approach to a fact, for philologists. One superior
genius among the costers, who has invented words for them, told me
that he had no system for coining his term. He gave to the known words
some terminating syllable, or, as he called it, “a new turn, just,”
to use his own words, “as if he chorussed them, with a tol-de-rol.”
The intelligence communicated in this slang is, in a great measure,
communicated, as in other slang, as much by the inflection of the
voice, the emphasis, the tone, the look, the shrug, the nod, the wink,
as by the words spoken.


Like many rude, and almost all wandering communities, the
costermongers, like the cabmen and pickpockets, are hardly ever known
by their real names; even the honest men among them are distinguished
by some strange appellation. Indeed, they are all known one to another
by nicknames, which they acquire either by some mode of dress, some
remark that has ensured costermonger applause, some peculiarity in
trading, or some defect or singularity in personal appearance. Men are
known as “Rotten Herrings,” “Spuddy” (a seller of bad potatoes, until
beaten by the Irish for his bad wares,) “Curly” (a man with a curly
head), “Foreigner” (a man who had been in the Spanish-Legion), “Brassy”
(a very saucy person), “Gaffy” (once a performer), “The One-eyed
Buffer,” “Jaw-breaker,” “Pine-apple Jack,” “Cast-iron Poll” (her
head having been struck with a pot without injury to her), “Whilky,”
“Blackwall Poll” (a woman generally having two black eyes), “Lushy
Bet,” “Dirty Sall” (the costermongers generally objecting to dirty
women), and “Dancing Sue.”


I have used the heading of “Education,” but perhaps to say
“non-education,” would be more suitable. Very few indeed of the
costermongers’ children are sent even to the Ragged Schools; and if
they are, from all I could learn, it is done more that the mother
may be saved the trouble of tending them at home, than from any
desire that the children shall acquire useful knowledge. Both boys
and girls are sent out by their parents in the evening to sell nuts,
oranges, &c., at the doors of the theatres, or in any public place,
or “round the houses” (a stated circuit from their place of abode).
This trade they pursue eagerly for the sake of “bunts,” though some
carry home the money they take, very honestly. The costermongers are
kind to their children, “perhaps in a rough way, and the women make
regular pets of them very often.” One experienced man told me, that
he had seen a poor costermonger’s wife--one of the few who could
read--instructing her children in reading; but such instances were
very rare. The education of these children is such only as the streets
afford; and the streets teach them, for the most part--and in greater
or lesser degrees,--acuteness--a precocious acuteness--in all that
concerns their immediate wants, business, or gratifications; a patient
endurance of cold and hunger; a desire to obtain money without working
for it; a craving for the excitement of gambling; an inordinate love
of amusement; and an irrepressible repugnance to any settled in-door


We have now had an inkling of the London costermonger’s notions upon
politics and religion. We have seen the brutified state in which he is
allowed by society to remain, though possessing the same faculties and
susceptibilities as ourselves--the same power to perceive and admire
the forms of truth, beauty, and goodness, as even the very highest
in the state. We have witnessed how, instinct with all the elements
of manhood and beasthood, the qualities of the beast are principally
developed in him, while those of the man are stunted in their growth.
It now remains for us to look into some other matters concerning this
curious class of people, and, first, of their literature:

It may appear anomalous to speak of the literature of an uneducated
body, but even the costermongers have their tastes for books. They
are very fond of hearing any one read aloud to them, and listen very
attentively. One man often reads the Sunday paper of the beer-shop to
them, and on a fine summer’s evening a costermonger, or any neighbour
who has the advantage of being “a schollard,” reads aloud to them
in the courts they inhabit. What they love best to listen to--and,
indeed, what they are most eager for--are Reynolds’s periodicals,
especially the “Mysteries of the Court.” “They’ve got tired of Lloyd’s
blood-stained stories,” said one man, who was in the habit of reading
to them, “and I’m satisfied that, of all London, Reynolds is the
most popular man among them. They stuck to him in Trafalgar-square,
and would again. They all say he’s ‘a trump,’ and Feargus O’Connor’s
another trump with them.”

One intelligent man considered that the spirit of curiosity manifested
by costermongers, as regards the information or excitement derived from
hearing stories read, augured well for the improvability of the class.

Another intelligent costermonger, who had recently read some of
the cheap periodicals to ten or twelve men, women, and boys, all
costermongers, gave me an account of the comments made by his auditors.
They had assembled, after their day’s work or their rounds, for the
purpose of hearing my informant read the last number of some of the
penny publications.

“The costermongers,” said my informant, “are very fond of
illustrations. I have known a man, what couldn’t read, buy a periodical
what had an illustration, a little out of the common way perhaps, just
that he might learn from some one, who _could_ read, what it was all
about. They have all heard of Cruikshank, and they think everything
funny is by him--funny scenes in a play and all. His ‘Bottle’ was very
much admired. I heard one man say it was very prime, and showed what
‘lush’ did, but I saw the same man,” added my informant, “drunk three
hours afterwards. Look you here, sir,” he continued, turning over a
periodical, for he had the number with him, “here’s a portrait of
‘Catherine of Russia.’ ‘Tell us all about her,’ said one man to me
last night; ‘read it; what was she?’ When I had read it,” my informant
continued, “another man, to whom I showed it, said, ‘Don’t the cove
as did that know a deal?’ for they fancy--at least, a many do--that
one man writes a whole periodical, or a whole newspaper. Now here,”
proceeded my friend, “you see’s an engraving of a man hung up, burning
over a fire, and some costers would go mad if they couldn’t learn
what he’d been doing, who he was, and all about him. ‘But about the
picture?’ they would say, and this is a very common question put by
them whenever they see an engraving.

“Here’s one of the passages that took their fancy wonderfully,” my
informant observed:

 ‘With glowing cheeks, flashing eyes, and palpitating bosom, Venetia
 Trelawney rushed back into the refreshment-room, where she threw
 herself into one of the arm-chairs already noticed. But scarcely
 had she thus sunk down upon the flocculent cushion, when a sharp
 click, as of some mechanism giving way, met her ears; and at the same
 instant her wrists were caught in manacles which sprang out of the
 arms of the treacherous chair, while two steel bands started from the
 richly-carved back and grasped her shoulders. A shriek burst from her
 lips--she struggled violently, but all to no purpose: for she was a
 captive--and powerless!

 ‘We should observe that the manacles and the steel bands which had
 thus fastened upon her, were covered with velvet, so that they
 inflicted no positive injury upon her, nor even produced the slightest
 abrasion of her fair and polished skin.’

Here all my audience,” said the man to me, “broke out with--‘Aye!
that’s the way the harristocrats hooks it. There’s nothing o’ that sort
among us; the rich has all that barrikin to themselves.’ ‘Yes, that’s
the b---- way the taxes goes in,’ shouted a woman.

“Anything about the police sets them a talking at once. This did when I
read it:

 ‘The Ebenezers still continued their fierce struggle, and, from
 the noise they made, seemed as if they were tearing each other
 to pieces, to the wild roar of a chorus of profane swearing. The
 alarm, as Bloomfield had predicted, was soon raised, and some two or
 three policemen, with their bull’s-eyes, and still more effective
 truncheons, speedily restored order.’

‘The blessed crushers is everywhere,’ shouted one. ‘I wish I’d been
there to have had a shy at the eslops,’ said another. And then a man
sung out: ‘O, don’t I like the Bobbys?’

“If there’s any foreign language which can’t be explained, I’ve seen
the costers,” my informant went on, “annoyed at it--quite annoyed.
Another time I read part of one of Lloyd’s numbers to them--but they
like something spicier. One article in them--here it is--finishes in
this way:

 “The social habits and costumes of the Magyar _noblesse_ have almost
 all the characteristics of the corresponding class in Ireland. This
 word _noblesse_ is one of wide signification in Hungary; and one may
 with great truth say of this strange nation, that ‘_qui n’est point
 noble n’est rien_.’”

‘I can’t tumble to that barrikin,’ said a young fellow; ‘it’s a
jaw-breaker. But if this here--what d’ye call it, you talk about--was
like the Irish, why they was a rum lot.’ ‘Noblesse,’ said a man that’s
considered a clever fellow, from having once learned his letters,
though he can’t read or write. ‘Noblesse! Blessed if I know what he’s
up to.’ Here there was a regular laugh.”

From other quarters I learned that some of the costermongers who were
able to read, or loved to listen to reading, purchased their literature
in a very commercial spirit, frequently buying the periodical which is
the largest in size, because when “they’ve got the reading out of it,”
as they say, “it’s worth a halfpenny for the barrow.”

Tracts they will rarely listen to, but if any persevering man
_will_ read tracts, and state that he does it for their benefit and
improvement, they listen without rudeness, though often with evident
unwillingness. “Sermons or tracts,” said one of their body to me,
“gives them the ’orrors.” Costermongers purchase, and not unfrequently,
the first number of a penny periodical, “to see what it’s like.”

The tales of robbery and bloodshed, of heroic, eloquent, and
gentlemanly highwaymen, or of gipsies turning out to be nobles, now
interest the costermongers but little, although they found great
delight in such stories a few years back. Works relating to Courts,
potentates, or “harristocrats,” are the most relished by these rude


I heard on all hands that the costers never steal from one another,
and never wink at any one stealing from a neighbouring stall. Any
stall-keeper will leave his stall untended to get his dinner, his
neighbour acting for him; sometimes he will leave it to enjoy a game
at skittles. It was computed for me, that property worth 10,000_l._
belonging to costers is daily left exposed in the streets or at the
markets, almost entirely unwatched, the policeman or market-keeper
only passing at intervals. And yet thefts are rarely heard of, and
when heard of are not attributable to costermongers, but to regular
thieves. The way in which the sum of 10,000_l._ was arrived at, is
this: “In Hooper-street, Lambeth,” said my informant, “there are thirty
barrows and carts exposed on an evening, left in the street, with
nobody to see to them; left there all night. That is only one street.
Each barrow and board would be worth, on the average, 2_l._ 5_s._,
and that would be 67_l._ 10_s._ In the other bye-streets and courts
off the New-cut are six times as many, Hooper-street having the most.
This would give 405_l._ in all, left unwatched of a night. There are,
throughout London, twelve more districts besides the New-cut--at least
twelve districts--and, calculating the same amount in these, we have,
altogether, 4,860_l._ worth of barrows. Taking in other bye-streets, we
may safely reckon it at 4,000 barrows; for the numbers I have given in
the thirteen places are 2,520, and 1,480 added is moderate. At least
half of those which are in use next day, are left unwatched; more, I
have no doubt, but say half. The stock of these 2,000 will average
10_s._ each, or 1,000_l._; and the barrows will be worth 4,500_l._; in
all 5,500_l._, and the property exposed on the stalls and the markets
will be double in amount, or 11,000_l._ in value, every day, but say

“Besides, sir,” I was told, “the thieves won’t rob the costers so often
as they will the shopkeepers. It’s easier to steal from a butcher’s or
bacon-seller’s open window than from a costermonger’s stall or barrow,
because the shopkeeper’s eye can’t be always on his goods. But there’s
always some one to give an eye to a coster’s property. At Billingsgate
the thieves will rob the salesmen far readier than they will us. They
know we’d take it out of them readier if they were caught. It’s Lynch
law with us. We never give them in charge.”

The costermongers’ boys will, I am informed, cheat their employers, but
they do not steal from them. The costers’ donkey stables have seldom
either lock or latch, and sometimes oysters, and other things which the
donkey will not molest, are left there, but are never stolen.


We now come to consider the matters relating more particularly to the
commercial life of the costermonger.

All who pass along the thoroughfares of the Metropolis, bestowing
more than a cursory glance upon the many phases of its busy street
life, must be struck with astonishment to observe the various modes of
conveyance, used by those who resort to the public thoroughfares for
a livelihood. From the more provident costermonger’s pony and donkey
cart, to the old rusty iron tray slung round the neck by the vendor
of blacking, and down to the little grey-eyed Irish boy with his
lucifer-matches, in the last remains of a willow hand-basket--the shape
and variety of the means resorted to by the costermongers and other
street-sellers, for carrying about their goods, are almost as manifold
as the articles they vend.

The pony--or donkey--carts (and the latter is by far the more usual
beast of draught), of the prosperous costermongers are of three
kinds:--the first is of an oblong shape, with a rail behind, upon which
is placed a tray filled with bunches of greens, turnips, celery, &c.,
whilst other commodities are laid in the bed of the cart. Another kind
is the common square cart without springs, which is so constructed
that the sides, as well as the front and back, will let down and form
shelves whereon the stock may be arranged to advantage. The third sort
of pony-cart is one of home manufacture, consisting of the framework
of a body without sides, or front, or hind part. Sometimes a coster’s
barrow is formed into a donkey cart merely by fastening, with cord, two
rough poles to the handles. All these several kinds of carts are used
for the conveyance of either fruit, vegetables, or fish; but besides
those, there is the salt and mustard vendor’s cart, with and without
the tilt or covering, and a square piece of tin (stuck into a block of
salt), on which is painted “salt 3 lbs. a penny,” and “mustard a penny
an ounce.” Then there is the poultry cart, with the wild-ducks, and
rabbits dangling at its sides, and with two uprights and a cross-stick,
upon which are suspended birds, &c., slung across in couples.

The above conveyances are all of small dimensions, the barrows being
generally about five feet long and three wide, while the carts are
mostly about four feet square.

Every kind of harness is used; some is well blacked and greased and
glittering with brass, others are almost as grey with dust as the
donkey itself. Some of the jackasses are gaudily caparisoned in an old
carriage-harness, which fits it like a man’s coat on a boy’s back,
while the plated silver ornaments are pink, with the copper showing
through; others have rope traces and belly-bands, and not a few indulge
in old cotton handkerchiefs for pads.

The next conveyance (which, indeed, is the most general) is the
costermonger’s hand-barrow. These are very light in their make, with
springs terminating at the axle. Some have rails behind for the
arrangement of their goods; others have not. Some have side rails,
whilst others have only the frame-work. The shape of these barrows is
oblong, and sloped from the hind-part towards the front; the bottom of
the bed is not boarded, but consists of narrow strips of wood nailed
athwart and across. When the coster is hawking his fish, or vending his
green stuff, he provides himself with a wooden tray, which is placed
upon his barrow. Those who cannot afford a tray get some pieces of
board and fasten them together, these answering their purpose as well.
Pine-apple and pine-apple rock barrows are not unfrequently seen with
small bright coloured flags at the four corners, fluttering in the wind.

The knife-cleaner’s barrow, which has lately appeared in the streets,
must not be passed over here. It consists of a huge sentry-box, with
a door, and is fixed upon two small wheels, being propelled in the
same way as a wheel-barrow. In the interior is one of Kent’s Patent
Knife-cleaning Machines, worked by turning a handle. Then there are
the cat and dog’s-meat barrows. These, however, are merely common
wheelbarrows, with a board in front and a ledge or shelf, formed by
a piece of board nailed across the top of the barrow, to answer the
purpose of a cutting-board. Lastly, there is the hearth-stone barrow,
piled up with hearth-stone, Bath-brick, and lumps of whiting.

Another mode of conveying the goods through the streets, is by baskets
of various kinds; as the sieve or head basket; the square and oval
“shallow,” fastened in front of the fruit-woman with a strap round the
waist; the hand-basket; and the “prickle.” The sieve, or head-basket,
is a round willow basket, containing about one-third of a bushel.
The square and oval shallows are willow baskets, about four inches
deep, and thirty inches long, by eighteen broad. The hand-basket is
the common oval basket, with a handle across to hang upon the arm;
the latter are generally used by the Irish for onions and apples. The
prickle is a brown willow basket, in which walnuts are imported into
this country from the Continent; they are about thirty inches deep, and
in bulk rather larger than a gallon measure; they are used only by the
vendors of walnuts.

Such are the principal forms of the costermongers’ conveyances; but
besides carts, barrows, and baskets, there are many other means adopted
by the London street-sellers for carrying their goods from one part
of the metropolis to another. The principal of these are cans, trays,
boxes, and poles.

The baked potato-cans sometimes are square and sometimes oval; they are
made with and without legs, a lid fastened on with hinges, and have a
small charcoal fire fixed at the bottom of the can, so as to keep the
potatoes hot, while there is a pipe at top to let off the steam. On
one side of the can is a little compartment for the salt, and another
on the other side for the butter. The hot pie-can is a square tin can,
standing upon four legs, with a door in front, and three partitions
inside; a fire is kept in the bottom, and the pies arranged in order
upon the iron plates or shelves. When the pies at the bottom are
sufficiently hot they are taken out, and placed on the upper shelf,
whilst those above are removed to the lower compartments, by which
means all the pies are kept “hot and hot.”

The muffin and crumpet-boy carries his articles in a basket, covered
outside with oil-cloth and inside with green-baize, either at his back,
or slung over his arm, and rings his bell as he walks.

The blacking boy, congreve-match and water-cress girl, use a rusty
tray, spread over with their “goods,” and suspended to the neck by a
piece of string.

The vendors of corn-salve, plating balls, soap for removing grease
spots, paper, steel pens, envelopes, &c., carry their commodities in
front of them in boxes, suspended round the neck by a narrow leather

Rabbits and game are sometimes carried in baskets, and at other
times tied together and slung over a pole upon the shoulder. Hat and
bonnet-boxes are likewise conveyed upon a pole.

Door-mats, baskets and “duffer’s” packs, wood pails, brushes, brooms,
clothes-props, clothes-lines and string, and grid-irons, Dutch-ovens,
skewers and fire-shovels, are carried across the shoulder.


Having set forth the costermonger’s usual mode of conveying his
goods through the streets of London, I shall now give the reader a
description of the place and scene where and when he purchases his

When a costermonger wishes to sell or buy a donkey, he goes to
Smithfield-market on a Friday afternoon. On this day, between the hours
of one and five, there is a kind of fair held, attended solely by
costermongers, for whose convenience a long paved slip of ground, about
eighty feet in length, has been set apart. The animals for sale are
trotted up and down this--the “race-course,” as it is called--and on
each side of it stand the spectators and purchasers, crowding among the
stalls of peas-soup, hot eels, and other street delicacies.

Every thing necessary for the starting of a costermonger’s barrow
can be had in Smithfield on a Friday,--from the barrow itself to the
weights--from the donkey to the whip. The animals can be purchased at
prices ranging from 5_s._ to 3_l._ On a brisk market-day as many as two
hundred donkeys have been sold. The barrows for sale are kept apart
from the steeds, but harness to any amount can be found everywhere,
in all degrees of excellence, from the bright japanned cart saddle
with its new red pads, to the old mouldy trace covered with buckle
marks. Wheels of every size and colour, and springs in every stage of
rust, are hawked about on all sides. To the usual noise and shouting
of a Saturday night’s market is added the shrill squealing of distant
pigs, the lowing of the passing oxen, the bleating of sheep, and the
braying of donkeys. The paved road all down the “race-course” is level
and soft, with the mud trodden down between the stones. The policeman
on duty there wears huge fishermen’s or flushermen’s boots, reaching
to their thighs; and the trouser ends of the costers’ corduroys are
black and sodden with wet dirt. Every variety of odour fills the air;
you pass from the stable smell that hangs about the donkeys, into an
atmosphere of apples and fried fish, near the eating-stalls, while a
few paces further on you are nearly choked with the stench of goats.
The crowd of black hats, thickly dotted with red and yellow plush caps,
reels about; and the “hi-hi-i-i” of the donkey-runners sounds on all
sides. Sometimes a curly-headed bull, with a fierce red eye, on its way
to or from the adjacent cattle-market, comes trotting down the road,
making all the visitors rush suddenly to the railings, for fear--as a
coster near me said--of “being taught the hornpipe.”

The donkeys standing for sale are ranged in a long line on both sides
of the “race-course,” their white velvetty noses resting on the wooden
rail they are tied to. Many of them wear their blinkers and head
harness, and others are ornamented with ribbons, fastened in their
halters. The lookers-on lean against this railing, and chat with the
boys at the donkeys’ heads, or with the men who stand behind them, and
keep continually hitting and shouting at the poor still beasts to make
them prance. Sometimes a party of two or three will be seen closely
examining one of these “Jerusalem ponys,” passing their hands down its
legs, or looking quietly on, while the proprietor’s ash stick descends
on the patient brute’s back, making a dull hollow sound. As you walk
in front of the long line of donkeys, the lads seize the animals by
their nostrils, and show their large teeth, asking if you “want a
hass, sir,” and all warranting the creature to be “five years old next
buff-day.” Dealers are quarrelling among themselves, downcrying each
other’s goods. “A hearty man,” shouted one proprietor, pointing to his
rival’s stock, “could eat three sich donkeys as yourn at a meal.”

One fellow, standing behind his steed, shouts as he strikes, “Here’s
the real Brittannia mettle;” whilst another asks, “Who’s for the Pride
of the Market?” and then proceeds to flip “the pride” with his whip,
till she clears away the mob with her kickings. Here, standing by its
mother, will be a shaggy little colt, with a group of ragged boys
fondling it, and lifting it in their arms from the ground.

During all this the shouts of the drivers and runners fill the air,
as they rush past each other on the race-course. Now a tall fellow,
dragging a donkey after him, runs by crying, as he charges in amongst
the mob, “Hulloa! Hulloa! hi! hi!” his mate, with his long coat-tails
flying in the wind, hurrying after and roaring, between his blows,

On nearly every post are hung traces or bridles; and in one place, on
the occasion of my visit, stood an old collar with a donkey nibbling at
the straw that had burst out. Some of the lads, in smock-frocks, walk
about with cart-saddles on their heads, and crowds gather round the
trucks, piled up with a black heap of harness studded with brass. Those
without trays have spread out old sacks on the ground, on which are
laid axle-trees, bound-up springs, and battered carriage-lamps. There
are plenty of rusty nails and iron bolts to be had, if a barrow should
want mending; and if the handles are broken, an old cab-shaft can be
bought cheap, to repair them.

In another “race-course,” opposite to the donkeys,--the ponies are
sold. These make a curious collection, each one showing what was his
last master’s whim. One has its legs and belly shorn of its hair,
another has its mane and tail cut close, and some have switch tails,
muddy at the end from their length. A big-hipped black nag, with red
tinsel-like spots on its back, had its ears cut close, and another
curly-haired brute that was wet and steaming with having been shown
off, had two huge letters burnt into its hind-quarters. Here the
clattering of the hoofs and the smacking of whips added to the din; and
one poor brute, with red empty eye-holes, and carrying its head high
up--as a blind man does--sent out showers of sparks from its hoofs as
it spluttered over the stones, at each blow it received. Occasionally,
in one part of the pony market, there may be seen a crowd gathered
round a nag, that some one swears has been stolen from him.

Raised up over the heads of the mob are bundles of whips, and men push
their way past, with their arms full of yellow-handled curry-combs;
whilst, amongst other cries, is heard that of “Sticks 1/2_d._ each!
sticks--real smarters.” At one end of the market the barrows for sale
are kept piled up one on another, or filled with old wheels, and some
with white unpainted wood, showing where they have been repaired. Men
are here seen thumping the wooden trays, and trying the strength of
the springs by leaning on them; and here, too, stood, on the occasion
of my visit, a ragged coster lad trying to sell his scales, now the
cherry-season had past.

On all sides the refreshment-barrows are surrounded by customers.
The whelk-man peppers his lots, and shouts, “A lumping penn’orth for
a ha’penny;” and a lad in a smock-frock carries two full pails of
milk, slopping it as he walks, and crying, “Ha’penny a mug-full, new
milk from the ke-ow!” The only quiet people to be seen are round the
peas-soup stall, with their cups in their hands; and there is a huge
crowd covering in the hot-eel stand, with the steam rising up in the
centre. Baskets of sliced cake, apples, nuts, and pine-apple rock,
block up the pathway; and long wicker baskets of live fowls hem you in,
round which are grouped the costers, handling and blowing apart the
feathers on the breast.


The costermongers almost universally treat their donkeys with kindness.
Many a costermonger will resent the ill-treatment of a donkey, as
he would a personal indignity. These animals are often not only
favourites, but pets, having their share of the costermonger’s dinner
when bread forms a portion of it, or pudding, or anything suited to
the palate of the brute. Those well-used, manifest fondness for their
masters, and are easily manageable; it is, however, difficult to get
an ass, whose master goes regular rounds, away from its stable for
any second labour during the day, unless it has fed and slept in the
interval. The usual fare of a donkey is a peck of chaff, which costs
1_d._, a quart of oats and a quart of beans, each averaging 1-1/2_d._,
and sometimes a pennyworth of hay, being an expenditure of 4_d._ or
5_d._ a day; but some give double this quantity in a prosperous time.
Only one meal a day is given. Many costermongers told me, that their
donkeys lived well when they themselves lived well.

“It’s all nonsense to call donkeys stupid,” said one costermonger to
me; “them’s stupid that calls them so: they’re sensible. Not long since
I worked Guildford with my donkey-cart and a boy. Jack (the donkey) was
slow and heavy in coming back, until we got in sight of the lights at
Vauxhall-gate, and then he trotted on like one o’clock, he did indeed!
just as if he smelt it was London besides seeing it, and knew he was
at home. He had a famous appetite in the country, and the fresh grass
did him good. I gave a country lad 2_d._ to mind him in a green lane
there. I wanted my own boy to do so, but he said, ‘I’ll see you further
first.’ A London boy hates being by himself in a lone country part.
He’s afraid of being burked; he is indeed. One can’t quarrel with a lad
when he’s away with one in the country; he’s very useful. I feed my
donkey well. I sometimes give him a carrot for a luxury, but carrots
are dear now. He’s fond of mashed potatoes, and has many a good mash
when I can buy them at 4lb. a penny.”

“There was a friend of mine,” said another man, “had great trouble
about his donkey a few months back. I saw part of it, and knew all
about it. He was doing a little work on a Sunday morning at Wandsworth,
and the poor thing fell down dead. He was very fond of his donkey and
kind to it, and the donkey was very fond of him. He thought he wouldn’t
leave the poor creature he’d had a good while, and had been out with
in all weathers, by the road side; so he dropped all notion of doing
business, and with help got the poor dead thing into his cart; its
head lolloping over the end of the cart, and its poor eyes staring at
nothing. He thought he’d drag it home and bury it somewheres. It wasn’t
for the value he dragged it, for what’s a dead donkey worth? There
was a few persons about him, and they was all quiet and seemed sorry
for the poor fellow and for his donkey; but the church-bells struck
up, and up came a ‘crusher,’ and took the man up, and next day he was
fined 10_s._, I can’t exactly say for what. He never saw no more of the
animal, and lost his stock as well as his donkey.”


The costermongers, though living by buying and selling, are seldom
or never capitalists. It is estimated that not more than one-fourth
of the entire body trade upon their own property. Some borrow their
stock money, others borrow the stock itself, others again borrow the
donkey-carts, barrows, or baskets, in which their stock is carried
round, whilst others borrow even the weights and measures by which it
is meted out.

The reader, however uninformed he may be as to the price the poor
usually have to pay for any loans they may require, doubtlessly
need not be told that the remuneration exacted for the use of the
above-named commodities is not merely confined to the legal 5_l._ per
centum per annum; still many of even the most “knowing” will hardly
be able to credit the fact that the ordinary rate of interest in the
costermongers’ money-market amounts to 20 per cent. per week, or no
less than 1040_l._ a year, for every 100_l._ advanced.

But the iniquity of this usury in the present instance is felt, not
so much by the costermongers themselves, as by the poor people whom
they serve; for, of course, the enormous rate of interest must be paid
out of the profits on the goods they sell, and consequently added to
the price, so that coupling this overcharge with the customary short
allowance--in either weight or measure, as the case may be--we can
readily perceive how cruelly the poor are defrauded, and how they not
only get often too little for what they do, but have as often to pay
too much for what they buy.

Premising thus much, I shall now proceed to describe the terms upon
which the barrow, the cart, the basket, the weights, the measures,
the stock-money, or the stock, is usually advanced to the needy
costermongers by their more thrifty brethren.

The hire of a barrow is 3_d._ a day, or 1_s._ a week, for the six
winter months; and 4_d._ a day, or 1_s._ 6_d._ a week, for the six
summer months. Some are to be had rather lower in the summer, but never
for less than 4_d._--sometimes for not less than 6_d._ on a Saturday,
when not unfrequently every barrow in London is hired. No security
and no deposit is required, but the lender satisfies himself that the
borrower is really what he represents himself to be. I am informed that
5,000 hired barrows are now in the hands of the London costermongers,
at an average rental of 3_l._ 5_s._ each, or 16,250_l._ a year. One
man lets out 120 yearly, at a return (dropping the 5_s._) of 360_l._;
while the cost of a good barrow, new, is 2_l._ 12_s._, and in the
autumn and winter they may be bought new, or “as good as new,” at
30_s._ each; so that reckoning each to cost this barrow-letter 2_l._,
he receives 360_l._ rent or interest--exactly 150 per cent. per annum
for property which originally cost but 240_l._, and property which is
still as good for the ensuing year’s business as for the past. One man
has rented a barrow for eight years, during which period he has paid
26_l._ for what in the first instance did not cost more than twice as
many shillings, and which he must return if he discontinues its use. “I
know men well to do,” said an intelligent costermonger, “who have paid
1_s._ and 1_s._ 6_d._ a week for a barrow for three, four, and five
years; and they can’t be made to understand that it’s rather high rent
for what might cost 40_s._ at first. They can’t see they are losers.
One barrow-lender sends his son out, mostly on a Sunday, collecting
his rents (for barrows), but he’s not a hard man.” Some of the
lenders complain that their customers pay them irregularly and cheat
them often, and that in consequence they must charge high; while the
“borrowers” declare that it is very seldom indeed that a man “shirks”
the rent for his barrow, generally believing that he has made an
advantageous bargain, and feeling the want of his vehicle, if he lose
it temporarily. Let the lenders, however, be deceived by many, still,
it is evident, that the rent charged for barrows is most exorbitant, by
the fact, that all who take to the business become men of considerable
property in a few years.

Donkey-carts are rarely hired. “If there’s 2,000 donkey and pony-carts
in London, more or less, not 200 of them’s borrowed; but of barrows
five to two is borrowed.” A donkey-cart costs from 2_l._ to 10_l._;
3_l._ 10_s._ being an average price. The hire is 2_s._ or 2_s._ 6_d._ a
week. The harness costs 2_l._ 10_s._ new, but is bought, nineteen times
out of twenty, second-hand, at from 2_s._ 6_d._ to 20_s._ The donkeys
themselves are not let out on hire, though a costermonger may let
out his donkey to another in the trade when he does not require its
services; the usual sum paid for the hire of a donkey is 2_s._ 6_d._ or
3_s._ per week. The cost price of a pony varies from 5_l._ to 13_l._;
that of a donkey from 1_l._ to 3_l._ There may be six donkeys, or more,
in costermonger use, to one pony. Some traffic almost weekly in these
animals, liking the excitement of such business.

The repairs to barrows, carts, and harness are almost always effected
by the costermongers themselves.

“Shallows” (baskets) which cost 1_s._ and 1_s._ 6_d._, are let out
at 1_d._ a day; but not five in 100 of those in use are borrowed, as
their low price places them at the costermonger’s command. A pewter
quart-pot, for measuring onions, &c., is let out at 2_d._ a day, its
cost being 2_s._ Scales are 2_d._, and a set of weights 1_d._ a day.

Another common mode of usury is in the lending of stock-money. This
is lent by the costermongers who have saved the means for such use of
their funds, and by beer-shop keepers. The money-lending costermongers
are the most methodical in their usury--1,040_l._ per cent. per annum,
as was before stated, being the rate of interest usually charged. It
is seldom that a lower sum than 10_s._ is borrowed, and never a higher
sum than 2_l._ When a stranger applies for a loan, the money-lender
satisfies himself as I have described of the barrow-lender. He charges
2_d._ a day for a loan of 2_s._ 6_d._; 3_d._ a day for 5_s._; 6_d._ a
day for 10_s._; and 1_s._ a day for 1_l._ If the daily payments are
rendered regularly, at a month’s end the terms are reduced to 6_d._ a
week for 5_s._; 1_s._ for 10_s._; and 2_s._ for 1_l._ “That’s reckoned
an extraordinary small interest,” was said to me, “only 4_d._ a day
for a pound.” The average may be 3_s._ a week for the loan of 20_s._;
it being only to a few that a larger sum than 20_s._ is lent. “I paid
2_s._ a week for 1_l._ for a whole year,” said one man, “or 5_l._ 4_s._
for the use of a pound, and then I was liable to repay the 1_l._” The
principal, however, is seldom repaid; nor does the lender seem to
expect it, though he will occasionally demand it. One money-lender
is considered to have a floating capital of 150_l._ invested in
loans to costermongers. If he receive 2_s._ per week per 1_l._ for
but twenty-six weeks in the year (and he often receives it for the
fifty-two weeks)--his 150_l._ brings him in 390_l._ a year.

Sometimes a loan is effected only for a day, generally a Saturday, as
much as 2_s._ 6_d._ being sometimes given for the use of 5_s._; the
5_s._ being of course repaid in the evening.

The money-lenders are subject to at least twice the extent of loss to
which the barrow-lender is exposed, as it is far oftener that money is
squandered (on which of course no interest can be paid) than that a
barrow is disposed of.

The money-lenders, (from the following statement, made to me by one
who was in the habit of borrowing,) pursue their business in a not
very dissimilar manner to that imputed to those who advance larger
sums:--“If I want to borrow in a hurry,” said my informant, “as I
may hear of a good bargain, I run to my neighbour L----’s, and he
first says he hasn’t 20_s._ to lend, and his wife’s by, and she says
she hasn’t 2_s._ in her pocket, and so I can’t be accommodated. Then
he says if I must have the money he’ll have to pawn his watch,--or
to borrow it of Mr. ----, (an innkeeper) who would charge a deal of
interest, for he wasn’t paid all he lent two months back, and 1_s._
would be expected to be spent in drink--though L---- don’t drink--or
he must try if his sister would trust him, but she was sick and wanted
all her money--or perhaps his barrow-merchant would lend him 10_s._, if
he’d undertake to return 15_s._ at night; and it ends by my thinking
I’ve done pretty well if I can get 1_l._ for 5_s._ interest, for a
day’s use of it.”

The beer-shop keepers lend on far easier terms, perhaps at half
the interest exacted by the others, and without any regular system
of charges; but they look sharp after the repayment, and expect a
considerable outlay in beer, and will only lend to good customers; they
however have even lent money without interest.

“In the depth of last winter,” said a man of good character to me, “I
borrowed 5_s._ The beer-shop keeper wouldn’t lend; he’ll rather lend to
men doing well and drinking. But I borrowed it at 6_d._ a day interest,
and that 6_d._ a day I paid exactly four weeks, Sundays and all; and
that was 15_s._ in thirty days for the use of 5_s._ I was half starving
all the time, and then I had a slice of luck, and paid the 5_s._ back
slap, and got out of it.”

Many shopkeepers lend money to the stall-keepers, whom they know from
standing near their premises, and that without interest. They generally
lend, however, to the women, as they think the men want to get drunk
with it. “Indeed, if it wasn’t for the women,” said a costermonger to
me, “half of us might go to the Union.”

Another mode of usurious lending or trading is, as I said before, to
provide the costermonger--not with the stock-money--but with the stock
itself. This mode also is highly profitable to the usurer, who is
usually a costermonger, but sometimes a greengrocer. A stock of fruit,
fish, or vegetables, with a barrow for its conveyance, is entrusted to
a street-seller, the usual way being to “let him have a sovereign’s
worth.” The value of this, however, at the market cost, rarely exceeds
14_s._, still the man entrusted with it must carry 20_s._ to his
creditor, or he will hardly be trusted a second time. The man who
trades with the stock is not required to pay the 20_s._ on the first
day of the transaction, as he may not have realised so much, but he
must pay some of it, generally 10_s._, and must pay the remainder the
next day or the money-lender will decline any subsequent dealings.

It may be thought, as no security is given, and as the costermongering
barrow, stock, or money-lender never goes to law for the recovery of
any debt or goods, that the per centage is not so very exorbitant
after all. But I ascertained that not once in twenty times was the
money lender exposed to any loss by the non-payment of his usurious
interest, while his profits are enormous. The borrower knows that if
he fail in his payment, the lender will acquaint the other members of
his fraternity, so that no future loan will be attainable, and the
costermonger’s business may be at an end. One borrower told me that
the re-payment of his loan of 2_l._, borrowed two years ago at 4_s._
a week, had this autumn been reduced to 2_s._ 6_d._ a week: “He’s a
decent man I pay now,” he said; “he has twice forgiven me a month at a
time when the weather was very bad and the times as bad as the weather.
Before I borrowed of him I had dealings with ----. He _was_ a scurf. If
I missed a week, and told him I would make it up next week, ‘That won’t
do,’ he’d say, ‘I’ll turn you up. I’ll take d----d good care to stop
you. _I’ll_ have you to rights.’ If I hadn’t satisfied him, as I did at
last, I could never have got credit again; never.” I am informed that
most of the money-lenders, if a man has paid for a year or so, will now
“drop it for a month or so in a very hard-up time, and go on again.”
There is no I.O.U. or any memorandum given to the usurer. “There’s
never a slip of paper about it, sir,” I was told.

I may add that a very intelligent man from whom I derived information,
said to me concerning costermongers never going to law to recover money
owing to them, nor indeed for any purpose: “If any one steals anything
from me--and that, as far as I know, never happened but once in ten
years--and I catch him, I take it out of him on the spot. I give him
a jolly good hiding and there’s an end of it. I know very well, sir,
that costers are ignorant men, but in my opinion” (laughing) “our
never going to law shows that in _that_ point we are in advance of the
aristocrats. I never heard of a coster in a law court, unless he was
in trouble (charged with some offence)--for assaulting a crusher, or
anybody he had quarrelled with, or something of that kind.”

The barrow-lender, when not regularly paid, sends some one, or goes
himself, and carries away the barrow.

My personal experience with this peculiar class justifies me in saying
that they are far less dishonest than they are usually believed to
be, and much more honest than their wandering habits, their want of
education and “principle” would lead even the most charitable to
suppose. Since I have exhibited an interest in the sufferings and
privations of these neglected people, I have, as the reader may readily
imagine, had many applications for assistance, and without vanity, I
believe I may say, that as far as my limited resources would permit,
I have striven to extricate the street-sellers from the grasp of the
usurer. Some to whom I have _lent_ small sums (for gifts only degrade
struggling honest men into the apathy of beggars) have taken the money
with many a protestation that they would repay it in certain weekly
instalments, which they themselves proposed, but still have never made
their appearance before me a second time--it may be from dishonesty
and it may be from inability and shame--others, however, and they are
not a few, have religiously kept faith with me, calling punctually
to pay back a sixpence or a shilling as the precariousness of their
calling would permit, and doing this, though they knew that I abjured
all claims upon them but through their honour, and was, indeed, in
most cases, ignorant where to find them, even if my inclination led me
to seek or enforce a return of the loan. One case of this kind shows
so high a sense of honour among a class, generally considered to rank
among the most dishonourable, that, even at the risk of being thought
egotistical, I will mention it here:--“Two young men, street-sellers,
called upon me and begged hard for the loan of a little stock-money.
They made needle-cases and hawked them from door to door at the east
end of the town, and had not the means of buying the wood. I agreed to
let them have ten shillings between them; this they promised to repay
at a shilling a week. They were utter strangers to me; nevertheless, at
the end of the first week one shilling of the sum was duly returned.
The second week, however, brought no shilling, nor did the third, nor
the fourth, by which time I got to look upon the money as lost; but
at the end of the fifth week one of the men called with his sixpence,
and told me how he should have been with me before but his mate had
promised each week to meet him with his sixpence, and each week
disappointed him; so he had come on alone. I thanked him, and the next
week he came again; so he did the next, and the next after that. On the
latter occasion he told me that in five more weeks he should have paid
off his half of the amount advanced, and that then, as he had come with
the other man, he would begin paying off _his_ share as well!”

Those who are unacquainted with the character of the people may feel
inclined to doubt the trustworthiness of the class, but it is an
extraordinary fact that but few of the costermongers fail to repay the
money advanced to them, even at the present ruinous rate of interest.
The poor, it is my belief, have not yet been sufficiently tried in this
respect;--pawnbrokers, loan-offices, tally-shops, dolly-shops, are the
only parties who will trust them--but, as a startling proof of the good
faith of the humbler classes generally, it may be stated that Mrs.
Chisholm (the lady who has exerted herself so benevolently in the cause
of emigration) has lent out, at different times, as much as 160,000_l._
that has been entrusted to her for the use of the “lower orders,”
and that the whole of this large amount has been returned--_with the
exception of_ 12_l._!

I myself have often given a sovereign to professed thieves to get
“changed,” and never knew one to make off with the money. Depend upon
it, if we would really improve, we must begin by elevating instead of


All counterfeit weights and measures, the costermongers call by the
appropriate name of “slang.” “There are not half so many slangs as
there was eighteen months ago,” said a ‘general dealer’ to me. “You
see, sir, the letters in the _Morning Chronicle_ set people a talking,
and some altered their way of business. Some was very angry at what was
said in the articles on the street-sellers, and swore that costers was
gentlemen, and that they’d smash the men’s noses that had told you,
sir, if they knew who they were. There’s plenty of costers wouldn’t
use slangs at all, if people would give a fair price; but you see the
boys _will_ try it on for their bunts, and how is a man to sell fine
cherries at 4_d._ a pound that cost him 3-1/2_d._, when there’s a kid
alongside of him a selling his ‘tol’ at 2_d._ a pound, and singing it
out as bold as brass? So the men slangs it, and cries ‘2_d._ a pound,’
and gives half-pound, as the boy does; which brings it to the same
thing. We doesn’t ’dulterate our goods like the tradesmen--that is, the
regular hands doesn’t. It wouldn’t be easy, as you say, to ’dulterate
cabbages or oysters; but we deals fair to all that’s fair to us,--and
that’s more than many a tradesman does, for all their juries.”

The slang quart is a pint and a half. It is made precisely like the
proper quart; and the maker, I was told, “knows well enough what it’s
for, as it’s charged, new, 6_d._ more than a true quart measure; but
it’s nothing to him, as he says, what it’s for, so long as he gets
his price.” The slang quart is let out at 2_d._ a day--1_d._ extra
being charged “for the risk.” The slang pint holds in some cases
three-fourths of the just quantity, having a very thick bottom; others
hold only half a pint, having a false bottom half-way up. These are
used chiefly in measuring nuts, of which the proper quantity is hardly
ever given to the purchaser; “but, then,” it was often said, or implied
to me, the “price is all the lower, and people just brings it on
themselves, by wanting things for next to nothing; so it’s all right;
it’s people’s own faults.” The hire of the slang pint is 2_d._ per day.

The scales used are almost all true, but the weights are often beaten
out flat to look large, and are 4, 5, 6, or even 7 oz. deficient in
a pound, and in the same relative proportion with other weights. The
charge is 2_d._, 3_d._, and 4_d._ a day for a pair of scales and a set
of slang weights.

The wooden measures--such as pecks, half pecks, and quarter pecks--are
not let out slang, but the bottoms are taken out by the costers, and
put in again half an inch or so higher up. “I call this,” said a
humorous dealer to me, “slop-work, or the cutting-system.”

One candid costermonger expressed his perfect contempt of slangs, as
fit only for bunglers, as _he_ could always “work slang” with a true
measure. “Why, I can cheat any man,” he said. “I can manage to measure
mussels so as you’d think you got a lot over, but there’s a lot under
measure, for I holds them up with my fingers and keep crying, ‘Mussels!
full measure, live mussels!’ I can do the same with peas. I delight
to do it with stingy aristocrats. We don’t work slang in the City.
People know what they’re a buying on there. There’s plenty of us would
pay for an inspector of weights; I would. We might do fair without an
inspector, and make as much if we only agreed one with another.”

In conclusion, it is but just I should add that there seems to be a
strong disposition on the part of the more enlightened of the class
to adopt the use of fair weights and measures; and that even among
the less scrupulous portion of the body, short allowance seems to be
given chiefly from a desire to be _even_ with a “scaly customer.” The
coster makes it a rule never to refuse an offer, and if people _will_
give him less than what he considers his proper price, why--he gives
them less than their proper quantity. As a proof of the growing honesty
among this class, many of the better disposed have recently formed
themselves into a society, the members of which are (one and all)
pledged not only to deal fairly with their customers, but to compel
all other street-sellers to do the same. With a view of distinguishing
themselves to the public, they have come to the resolution of wearing a
medal, on which shall be engraved a particular number, so that should
any imposition be practised by any of their body, the public will have
the opportunity of complaining to the Committee of the Association, and
having the individual (if guilty) immediately expelled from the society.


Besides the modes of trading on borrowed capital above described,
there is still another means of obtaining stock prevalent among the
London costermongers. It is a common practice with some of the more
provident costermongers, who buy more largely--for the sake of buying
cheaply--than is required for the supply of their own customers, to
place goods in the hands of young men who are unable to buy goods on
their own account, “on half profits,” as it is called. The man adopting
this means of doing a more extensive business, says to any poor fellow
willing to work on those terms, “Here’s a barrow of vegetables to carry
round, and the profit on them will be 2_s._; you sell them, and half
is for yourself.” The man sells them accordingly; if however he fail
to realize the 2_s._ anticipated profit, his employer must still be
paid 1_s._, even if the “seller” prove that only 13_d._ was cleared; so
that the costermonger capitalist, as he may be described, is always, to
use the words of one of my informants, “on the profitable side of the

Boys are less frequently employed on half-profits than young men; and
I am assured that instances of these young men wronging their employers
are hardly ever known.


But there are still other “agents” among the costermongers, and
these are the “boys” deputed to sell a man’s goods for a certain
sum, all over that amount being the boys’ profit or “bunts.” Almost
every costermonger who trades through the streets with his barrow is
accompanied by a boy. The ages of these lads vary from ten to sixteen,
there are few above sixteen, for the lads think it is then high time
for them to start on their own account. These boys are useful to the
man in “calling,” their shrill voices being often more audible than
the loudest pitch of an adult’s lungs. Many persons, moreover, I am
assured, prefer buying of a boy, believing that if the lad did not
succeed in selling his goods he would be knocked about when he got
home; others think that they are safer in a boy’s hands, and less
likely to be cheated; these, however, are equally mistaken notions.
The boys also are useful in pushing at the barrow, or in drawing it
along by tugging at a rope in front. Some of them are the sons of the
costermongers; some go round to the costermongers’ abodes and say:
“Will you want me to-morrow?” “Shall I come and give you a lift?”
The parents of the lads thus at large are, when they _have_ parents,
either unable to support them, or, if able, prefer putting their money
to other uses, (such as drinking); and so the lads have to look out
for themselves, or, as they say, “pick up a few halfpence and a bit
of grub as we can.” Such lads, however, are the smallest class of
costermongering youths; and are sometimes called “cas’alty boys,” or

The boys--and nearly the whole of them--soon become very quick, and
grow masters of slang, in from six weeks to two or three months. “I
suppose,” said one man familiar with their character, “they’d learn
French as soon, if they was thrown into the way of it. They must learn
slang to live, and as they have to wait at markets every now and then,
from one hour to six, they associate one with another and carry on
conversations in slang about the “penny gaffs” (theatres), criticising
the actors; or may be they toss the pieman, if they’ve got any
ha’pence, or else they chaff the passers by. The older ones may talk
about their sweethearts; but they always speak of them by the name of
‘nammow’ (girls).

“The boys are severe critics too (continued my informant) on dancing. I
heard one say to another; ‘What do you think of Johnny Millicent’s new
step?’ for they always recognise a new step, or they discuss the female
dancer’s legs, and not very decently. At other times the boys discuss
the merits or demerits of their masters, as to who feeds them best. I
have heard one say, ‘O, aint Bob stingy? We have bread and cheese!’
Another added; ‘_We_ have steak and beer, and I’ve the use of Bill’s,
(the master’s) ’baccy box.’”

Some of these lads are paid by the day, generally from 2_d._ or 3_d._
and their food, and as much fruit as they think fit to eat, as by that
they soon get sick of it. They generally carry home fruit in their
pockets for their playmates, or brothers, or sisters; the costermongers
allow this, if they are satisfied that the pocketing is not for sale.
Some lads are engaged by the week, having from 1_s._ to 1_s._ 6_d._,
and their food when out with their employer. Their lodging is found
only in a few cases, and then they sleep in the same room with their
master and mistress. Of master or mistress, however, they never speak,
but of Jack and Bet. They behave respectfully to the women, who are
generally kind to them. They soon desert a very surly or stingy master;
though such a fellow could get fifty boys next day if he wanted them,
but not lads used to the trade, for to these he’s well known by their
talk one with another, and they soon tell a man his character very
plainly--“_very_ plainly indeed, sir, and to his face too,” said one.

Some of these boys are well beaten by their employers; this they put up
with readily enough, if they experience kindness at the hands of the
man’s wife; for, as I said before, parties that have never thought of
marriage, if they live together, call one another husbands and wives.

In “working the country” these lads are put on the same footing as
their masters, with whom they eat, drink, and sleep; but they do not
gamble with them. A few, however, go out and tempt country boys to
gamble, and--as an almost inevitable consequence--to lose. “Some of
the boys,” said one who had seen it often, “will keep a number of
countrymen in a beer-shop in a roar for the hour, while the countrymen
ply them with beer, and some of the street-lads can drink a good deal.
I’ve known three bits of boys order a pot of beer each, one after
the other, each paying his share, and a quartern of gin each after
that--drunk neat; they don’t understand water. Drink doesn’t seem to
affect them as it does men. I don’t know why.” “Some costermongers,”
said another informant, “have been known, when they’ve taken a fancy
to a boy--I know of two--to dress him out like themselves, silk
handkerchiefs and all; for if they didn’t find them silk handkerchiefs,
the boys would soon get them out of their ‘_bunts_.’ They like silk
handkerchiefs, for if they lose all their money gambling, they can then
pledge their handkerchiefs.”

I have mentioned the term “_bunts_.” Bunts is the money made by
the boys in this manner:--If a costermonger, after having sold a
sufficiency, has 2_s._ or 3_s._ worth of goods left, and is anxious
to get home, he says to the boy, “Work these streets, and bring me
2_s._ 6_d._ for the tol,” (lot) which the costermonger knows by his
eye--for he seldom measures or counts--is easily worth that money. The
lad then proceeds to sell the things entrusted to him, and often shows
great ingenuity in so doing. If, for instance, turnips be tied up in
penny bunches, the lad will open some of them, so as to spread them
out to nearly twice their previous size, and if any one ask if that
be a penn’orth, he will say, “Here’s a larger for 1-1/2_d._, marm,”
and so palm off a penny bunch at 1-1/2_d._ Out of each bunch of onions
he takes one or two, and makes an extra bunch. All that the lad can
make in this way over the half-crown is his own, and called “bunts.”
Boys have made from 6_d._ to 1_s._ 6_d._ “bunts,” and this day after
day. Many of them will, in the course of their traffic, beg old boots
or shoes, if they meet with better sort of people, and so “work it to
rights,” as they call it among themselves; servants often give them
cast-off clothes. It is seldom that a boy carries home less than the
stipulated sum.

The above is what is understood as “fair bunts.”

“Unfair bunts” is what the lad may make unknown to his master; as, if a
customer call from the area for goods cried at 2_d._, the lad may get
2-1/2_d._, by pretending what he had carried was a superior sort to
that called at 2_d._,--or by any similar trick.

“I have known some civil and industrious boys,” said a costermonger
to me, “get to save a few shillings, and in six months start with
a shallow, and so rise to a donkey-cart. The greatest drawback to
struggling boys is their sleeping in low lodging-houses, where they are
frequently robbed, or trepanned to part with their money, or else they
get corrupted.”

Some men employ from four to twelve boys, sending them out with
shallows and barrows, the boys bringing home the proceeds. The men who
send lads out in this way, count the things, and can tell to a penny
what can be realised on them. They neither pay nor treat the boys
well, I am told, and are looked upon by the other costermongers as
extortioners, or unfair dealers, making money by trading on poor lads’
necessities, who serve them to avoid starvation. These men are called
“Scurfs.” If the boys working for them make bunts, or are suspected of
making bunts, there is generally “a row” about it.

The bunts is for the most part the gambling money, as well as the money
for the “penny gaff,” the “twopenny hop,” the tobacco, and the pudding
money of the boys. “More would save their wages and their bunts,” was
said to me on good authority, “but they have no place to keep their
money in, and don’t understand anything about savings banks. Many of
these lads are looked on with suspicion by the police, and treated
like suspected folks; but in my opinion they are not thieves, or they
wouldn’t work so hard; for a thief’s is a much easier life than a

When a boy begins business on his own account, or “sets up,” as they
call it, he purchases a shallow, which costs at least 1_s._, and a
half hundred of herrings, 1_s._ 6_d._ By the sale of the herrings he
will clear 1_s._, going the round he has been accustomed to, and then
trade on the 2_s._ 6_d._ Or, if it be fruit time, he will trade in
apples until master of 5_s._, and then “take to a barrow,” at 3_d._ a
day hire. By this system the ranks of the costermongers are not only
recruited but increased. There is one grand characteristic of these
lads; I heard on all hands they are, every one of them, what the
costers call--“wide awake.”

There are I am assured from 200 to 300 costers, who, in the busier
times of the year, send out four youths or lads each on an average. The
young men thus sent out generally live with the costermonger, paying
7_s._ a week for board, lodging and washing. These youths, I was told
by one who knew them well, were people who “didn’t care to work for
themselves, because they couldn’t keep their money together; it would
soon all go; and they _must_ keep it together for their masters. They
are not fed badly, but then they make ‘bunts’ sometimes, and it goes
for grub when they’re out, so they eat less at home.”


My inquiries among the costermongers induced one of their number
to address me by letter. My correspondent--a well-informed and
well-educated man--describes himself as “being one of those that have
been unfortunately thrust into that precarious way of obtaining a
living, not by choice but circumstances.” The writer then proceeds to
say: “No person but those actually connected with the streets can tell
the exertion, anxiety, and difficulties we have to undergo; and I know
for a fact it induces a great many to drink that would not do so, only
to give them a stimulant to bear up against the troubles that they have
to contend with; and so it ultimately becomes habitual. I could point
out many instances of the kind. My chief object in addressing you is
to give my humble suggestion as to the best means of alleviating our
present position in society, and establishing us in the eyes of the
public as a respectable body of men, honestly endeavouring to support
our families, without becoming chargeable to the parish, and to show
that we are not all the degraded class we are at present thought to
be, subject to the derision of every passer by, and all looked upon as
extortioners and the confederates of thieves. It is grievous to see
children, as soon as they are able to speak, thrust into the streets
to sell, and in many instances, I am sorry to state, to support their
parents. Kind sir, picture to yourself a group of those children mixing
together indiscriminately--the good with the bad--all uneducated--and
without that parental care which is so essential for youth--and judge
for yourself the result: the lads in some instances take to thieving,
(this being easier for a living), and the girls to prostitution; and so
they pass the greater part of their time in gaol, or get transported.
Even those who are honestly disposed cannot have a chance of bettering
their condition, in consequence of their being uneducated, so that
they often turn out brutal husbands and bad fathers. Surely, sir,
Government could abolish in a measure this juvenile trading, so
conducive to crime and so injurious to the shopkeeper, who is highly
rated. How is it possible, if children congregate around his door
with the very articles he may deal in, that he can meet the demands
for rates and taxes; whereas the educated man, brought by want to
sell in the streets, would not do so, but keep himself apart from the
shopkeeper, and not merit his enmity, and the interference of the
police, which he necessarily claims. I have procured an existence
(with a few years’ exception) in the streets for the last twenty-five
years as a general salesman of perishable and imperishable articles,
and should be most happy to see anything done for the benefit of my
class. This juvenile trading I consider the root of the evil; after
the removal of this, the costermongers might, by classifying and
co-operation, render themselves comparatively happy, in their position,
and become acknowledged members of society.”

Another costermonger, in conversing with me concerning these young
traders, said, that many of them would ape the vices of men:
mere urchins would simulate drunkenness, or boast, with many an
exaggeration, of their drinking feats. They can get as much as they
please at the public-houses; and this too, I may add, despite the 43rd
clause in the Police Act, which enacts, that “every person, licensed
to deal in exciseable liquors within the said (Metropolitan Police)
District, who shall knowingly supply any sort of distilled exciseable
liquor to be drunk upon the premises, to any boy or girl, apparently
under the age of sixteen years, shall be liable to a penalty of not
more than 20_s._;” and upon a second conviction to 40_s._ penalty; and
on a third to 5_l._


Among the costers the term education is (as I have already intimated)
merely understood as meaning a complete knowledge of the art of “buying
in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest.” There are few lads
whose training extends beyond this. The father is the tutor, who takes
the boy to the different markets, instructs him in the art of buying,
and when the youth is perfect on this point, the parent’s duty is
supposed to have been performed. Nearly all these boys are remarkable
for their precocious sharpness. To use the words of one of the class,
“these young ones are as sharp as terriers, and learns every dodge of
business in less than half no time. There’s one I knows about three
feet high, that’s up to the business as clever as a man of thirty.
Though he’s only twelve years old he’ll chaff down a peeler so uncommon
severe, that the only way to stop him is to take him in charge!”

It is idle to imagine that these lads, possessed of a mental acuteness
almost wonderful, will not educate themselves in vice, if we neglect
to train them to virtue. At their youthful age, the power of acquiring
knowledge is the strongest, and some kind of education is continually
going on. If they are not taught by others, they will form their own
characters--developing habits of dissipation, and educing all the
grossest passions of their natures, and learning to indulge in the
gratification of every appetite without the least restraint.

As soon as a boy is old enough to shout well and loudly, his father
takes him into the streets. Some of these youths are not above seven
years of age, and it is calculated that not more than one in a hundred
has ever been to a school of any kind. The boy walks with the barrow,
or guides the donkey, shouting by turns with the father, who, when the
goods are sold, will as a reward, let him ride home on the tray. The
lad attends all markets with his father, who teaches him his business
and shows him his tricks of trade; “for,” said a coster, “a governor in
our line leaves the knowledge of all his dodges to his son, jist as the
rich coves do their tin.”

The life of a coster-boy is a very hard one. In summer he will have
to be up by four o’clock in the morning, and in winter he is never in
bed after six. When he has returned from market, it is generally his
duty to wash the goods and help dress the barrow. About nine he begins
his day’s work, shouting whilst the father pushes; and as very often
the man has lost his voice, this share of the labour is left entirely
to him. When a coster has regular customers, the vegetables or fish
are all sold by twelve o’clock, and in many coster families the lad is
then packed off with fruit to hawk in the streets. When the work is
over, the father will perhaps take the boy to a public-house with him,
and give him part of his beer. Sometimes a child of four or five is
taken to the tap-room, especially if he be pretty and the father proud
of him. “I have seen,” said a coster to me, “a baby of five year old
reeling drunk in a tap-room. His governor did it for the lark of the
thing, to see him chuck hisself about--sillyfied like.”

The love of gambling soon seizes upon the coster boy. Youths of
about twelve or so will as soon as they can get away from work go to
a public-house and play cribbage for pints of beer, or for a pint
a corner. They generally continue playing till about midnight, and
rarely--except on a Sunday--keep it up all night.

It ordinarily happens that when a lad is about thirteen, he quarrels
with his father, and gets turned away from home. Then he is forced to
start for himself. He knows where he can borrow stock-money and get his
barrow, for he is as well acquainted with the markets as the oldest
hand at the business, and children may often be seen in the streets
under-selling their parents. “How’s it possible,” said a woman, “for
people to live when there’s their own son at the end of the court
a-calling his goods as cheap again as we can afford to sell ourn.”

If the boy is lucky in trade, his next want is to get a girl to keep
home for him. I was assured, that it is not at all uncommon for a lad
of fifteen to be living with a girl of the same age, as man and wife.
It creates no disgust among his class, but seems rather to give him a
position among such people. Their courtship does not take long when
once the mate has been fixed upon. The girl is invited to “raffles,”
and treated to “twopenny hops,” and half-pints of beer. Perhaps a silk
neck handkerchief--a “King’s-man” is given as a present; though some of
the lads will, when the arrangement has been made, take the gift back
again and wear it themselves. The boys are very jealous, and if once
made angry behave with great brutality to the offending girl. A young
fellow of about sixteen told me, as he seemed to grow angry at the very
thought, “If I seed my gal a talking to another chap I’d fetch her sich
a punch of the nose as should plaguy quick stop the whole business.”
Another lad informed me, with a knowing look, “that the gals--it was
a rum thing now he come to think on it--axully liked a feller for
walloping them. As long as the bruises hurted, she was always thinking
on the cove as gived ’em her.” After a time, if the girl continues
faithful, the young coster may marry her; but this is rarely the case,
and many live with their girls until they have grown to be men, or
perhaps they may quarrel the very first year, and have a fight and part.

These boys hate any continuous work. So strong is this objection to
continuity that they cannot even remain selling the same article for
more than a week together. Moreover none of them can be got to keep
stalls. They must be perpetually on the move--or to use their own words
“they like a roving life.” They all of them delight in dressing “flash”
as they call it. If a “governor” was to try and “palm off” his old cord
jacket upon the lad that worked with him, the boy wouldn’t take it.
“Its too big and seedy for me,” he’d say, “and I aint going to have
your leavings.” They try to dress like the men, with large pockets in
their cord jackets and plenty of them. Their trowsers too must fit
tight at the knee, and their boots they like as good as possible. A
good “King’s-man,” a plush skull cap, and a seam down the trowsers are
the great points of ambition with the coster boys.

[Illustration: THE COSTER-GIRL.

“Apples! An ’aypenny a lot, Apples!”

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

A lad about fourteen informed me that “brass buttons, like a huntman’s,
with foxes’ heads on em, looked stunning flash, and the gals liked em.”
As for the hair, they say it ought to be long in front, and done in
“figure-six” curls, or twisted back to the ear “Newgate-knocker style.”
“But the worst of hair is,” they add, “that it is always getting cut
off in quod, all along of muzzling the bobbies.”

The whole of the coster-boys are fond of good living. I was told that
when a lad started for himself, he would for the first week or so
live almost entirely on cakes and nuts. When settled in business they
always manage to have what they call “a relish” for breakfast and tea,
“a couple of herrings, or a bit of bacon, or what not.” Many of them
never dine excepting on the Sunday--the pony and donkey proprietors
being the only costers whose incomes will permit them to indulge in
a “fourpenny plate of meat at a cook’s shop.” The whole of the boys
too are extremely fond of pudding, and should the “plum duff” at an
eating-house contain an unusual quantity of plums, the news soon
spreads, and the boys then endeavour to work that way so as to obtain
a slice. While waiting for a market, the lads will very often spend
a shilling in the cakes and three cornered puffs sold by the Jews.
The owners toss for them, and so enable the young coster to indulge
his two favourite passions at the same time--his love of pastry, and
his love of gambling. The Jews crisp butter biscuits also rank very
high with the boys, who declare that they “slip down like soapsuds
down a gully hole.” In fact it is curious to notice how perfectly
unrestrained are the passions and appetites of these youths. The only
thoughts that trouble them are for their girls, their eating and their
gambling--beyond the love of self they have no tie that binds them to


One lad that I spoke to gave me as much of his history as he could
remember. He was a tall stout boy, about sixteen years old, with a face
utterly vacant. His two heavy lead-coloured eyes stared unmeaningly at
me, and, beyond a constant anxiety to keep his front lock curled on his
cheek, he did not exhibit the slightest trace of feeling. He sank into
his seat heavily and of a heap, and when once settled down he remained
motionless, with his mouth open and his hands on his knees--almost as
if paralyzed. He was dressed in all the slang beauty of his class, with
a bright red handkerchief and unexceptionable boots.

“My father” he told me in a thick unimpassioned voice, “was a waggoner,
and worked the country roads. There was two on us at home with mother,
and we used to play along with the boys of our court, in Golding-lane,
at buttons and marbles. I recollects nothing more than this--only the
big boys used to cheat like bricks and thump us if we grumbled--that’s
all I recollects of my infancy, as you calls it. Father I’ve heard
tell died when I was three and brother only a year old. It was worse
luck for us!--Mother was so easy with us. I once went to school for
a couple of weeks, but the cove used to fetch me a wipe over the
knuckles with his stick, and as I wasn’t going to stand that there,
why you see I aint no great schollard. We did as we liked with mother,
she was so precious easy, and I never learned anything but playing
buttons and making leaden ‘bonces,’ that’s all,” (here the youth
laughed slightly.) “Mother used to be up and out very early washing in
families--anything for a living. She was a good mother to us. We was
left at home with the key of the room and some bread and butter for
dinner. Afore she got into work--and it was a goodish long time--we was
shocking hard up, and she pawned nigh everything. Sometimes, when we
had’nt no grub at all, the other lads, perhaps, would give us some of
their bread and butter, but often our stomachs used to ache with the
hunger, and we would cry when we was werry far gone. She used to be at
work from six in the morning till ten o’clock at night, which was a
long time for a child’s belly to hold out again, and when it was dark
we would go and lie down on the bed and try and sleep until she came
home with the food. I was eight year old then.

“A man as know’d mother, said to her, ‘Your boy’s got nothing to do,
let him come along with me and yarn a few ha’pence,’ and so I became a
coster. He gave me 4_d._ a morning and my breakfast. I worked with him
about three year, until I learnt the markets, and then I and brother
got baskets of our own, and used to keep mother. One day with another,
the two on us together could make 2_s._ 6_d._ by selling greens of a
morning, and going round to the publics with nuts of a evening, till
about ten o’clock at night. Mother used to have a bit of fried meat or
a stew ready for us when we got home, and by using up the stock as we
couldn’t sell, we used to manage pretty tidy. When I was fourteen I
took up with a girl. She lived in the same house as we did, and I used
to walk out of a night with her and give her half-pints of beer at the
publics. She were about thirteen, and used to dress werry nice, though
she weren’t above middling pretty. Now I’m working for another man as
gives me a shilling a week, victuals, washing, and lodging, just as if
I was one of the family.

“On a Sunday I goes out selling, and all I yarns I keeps. As for
going to church, why, I can’t afford it,--besides, to tell the truth,
I don’t like it well enough. Plays, too, ain’t in my line much; I’d
sooner go to a dance--its more livelier. The ‘penny gaffs’ is rather
more in my style; the songs are out and out, and makes our gals laugh.
The smuttier the better, I thinks; bless you! the gals likes it as
much as we do. If we lads ever has a quarrel, why, we fights for it.
If I was to let a cove off once, he’d do it again; but I never give
a lad a chance, so long as I can get anigh him. I never heard about
Christianity; but if a cove was to fetch me a lick of the head, I’d
give it him again, whether he was a big ’un or a little ’un. I’d
precious soon see a henemy of mine shot afore I’d forgive him,--where’s
the use? Do I understand what behaving to your neighbour is?--In coorse
I do. If a feller as lives next me wanted a basket of mine as I wasn’t
using, why, he might have it; if I was working it though, I’d see him
further! I can understand that all as lives in a court is neighbours;
but as for policemen, they’re nothing to me, and I should like to pay
’em all off well. No; I never heerd about this here creation you speaks
about. In coorse God Almighty made the world, and the poor bricklayers’
labourers built the houses arterwards--that’s _my_ opinion; but I
can’t say, for I’ve never been in no schools, only always hard at
work, and knows nothing about it. I have heerd a little about our
Saviour,--they seem to say he were a goodish kind of a man; but if he
says as how a cove’s to forgive a feller as hits you, I should say he
know’d nothing about it. In coorse the gals the lads goes and lives
with thinks our walloping ’em wery cruel of us, but we don’t. Why don’t
we?--why, because we don’t. Before father died, I used sometimes to
say my prayers, but after that mother was too busy getting a living to
mind about my praying. Yes, I knows!--in the Lord’s prayer they says,
‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgives them as trespasses agin us.’
It’s a very good thing, in coorse, but no costers can’t do it.”


In many of the thoroughfares of London there are shops which have
been turned into a kind of temporary theatre (admission one penny),
where dancing and singing take place every night. Rude pictures of
the performers are arranged outside, to give the front a gaudy and
attractive look, and at night-time coloured lamps and transparencies
are displayed to draw an audience. These places are called by
the costers “Penny Gaffs;” and on a Monday night as many as six
performances will take place, each one having its two hundred visitors.

It is impossible to contemplate the ignorance and immorality of so
numerous a class as that of the costermongers, without wishing to
discover the cause of their degradation. Let any one curious on this
point visit one of these penny shows, and he will wonder that _any_
trace of virtue and honesty should remain among the people. Here the
stage, instead of being the means for illustrating a moral precept, is
turned into a platform to teach the cruelest debauchery. The audience
is usually composed of children so young, that these dens become the
school-rooms where the guiding morals of a life are picked up; and so
precocious are the little things, that the girl of nine will, from
constant attendance at such places, have learnt to understand the
filthiest sayings, and laugh at them as loudly as the grown-up lads
around her. What notions can the young female form of marriage and
chastity, when the penny theatre rings with applause at the performance
of a scene whose sole point turns upon the pantomimic imitation of the
unrestrained indulgence of the most corrupt appetites of our nature?
How can the lad learn to check his hot passions and think honesty
and virtue admirable, when the shouts around him impart a glory to a
descriptive song so painfully corrupt, that it can only have been made
tolerable by the most habitual excess? The men who preside over these
infamous places know too well the failings of their audiences. They
know that these poor children require no nicely-turned joke to make the
evening pass merrily, and that the filth they utter needs no double
meaning to veil its obscenity. The show that will provide the most
unrestrained debauchery will have the most crowded benches; and to gain
this point, things are acted and spoken that it is criminal even to
allude to.

Not wishing to believe in the description which some of the more
intelligent of the costermongers had given of these places, it was
thought better to visit one of them, so that all exaggeration might be
avoided. One of the least offensive of the exhibitions was fixed upon.

The “penny gaff” chosen was situated in a broad street near Smithfield;
and for a great distance off, the jingling sound of music was heard,
and the gas-light streamed out into the thick night air as from a
dark lantern, glittering on the windows of the houses opposite, and
lighting up the faces of the mob in the road, as on an illumination
night. The front of a large shop had been entirely removed, and the
entrance was decorated with paintings of the “comic singers,” in their
most “humourous” attitudes. On a table against the wall was perched
the band, playing what the costers call “dancing tunes” with great
effect, for the hole at the money-taker’s box was blocked up with
hands tendering the penny. The crowd without was so numerous, that a
policeman was in attendance to preserve order, and push the boys off
the pavement--the music having the effect of drawing them insensibly
towards the festooned green-baize curtain.

The shop itself had been turned into a waiting-room, and was crowded
even to the top of the stairs leading to the gallery on the first
floor. The ceiling of this “lobby” was painted blue, and spotted
with whitewash clouds, to represent the heavens; the boards of the
trap-door, and the laths that showed through the holes in the plaster,
being all of the same colour. A notice was here posted, over the
canvass door leading into the theatre, to the effect that “LADIES AND

The visitors, with a few exceptions, were all boys and girls,
whose ages seemed to vary from eight to twenty years. Some of the
girls--though their figures showed them to be mere children--were
dressed in showy cotton-velvet polkas, and wore dowdy feathers in
their crushed bonnets. They stood laughing and joking with the lads,
in an unconcerned, impudent manner, that was almost appalling. Some
of them, when tired of waiting, chose their partners, and commenced
dancing grotesquely, to the admiration of the lookers-on, who expressed
their approbation in obscene terms, that, far from disgusting the poor
little women, were received as compliments, and acknowledged with
smiles and coarse repartees. The boys clustered together, smoking
their pipes, and laughing at each other’s anecdotes, or else jingling
halfpence in time with the tune, while they whistled an accompaniment
to it. Presently one of the performers, with a gilt crown on his well
greased locks, descended from the staircase, his fleshings covered by
a dingy dressing-gown, and mixed with the mob, shaking hands with old
acquaintances. The “comic singer,” too, made his appearance among the
throng--the huge bow to his cravat, which nearly covered his waistcoat,
and the red end to his nose, exciting neither merriment nor surprise.

To discover the kind of entertainment, a lad near me and my companion
was asked “if there was any flash dancing.” With a knowing wink the boy
answered, “Lots! show their legs and all, prime!” and immediately the
boy followed up his information by a request for a “yennep” to get a
“tib of occabot.” After waiting in the lobby some considerable time,
the performance inside was concluded, and the audience came pouring
out through the canvass door. As they had to pass singly, I noticed
them particularly. Above three-fourths of them were women and girls,
the rest consisting chiefly of mere boys--for out of about two hundred
persons I counted only eighteen men. Forward they came, bringing an
overpowering stench with them, laughing and yelling as they pushed
their way through the waiting-room. One woman carrying a sickly child
with a bulging forehead, was reeling drunk, the saliva running down her
mouth as she stared about her with a heavy fixed eye. Two boys were
pushing her from side to side, while the poor infant slept, breathing
heavily, as if stupified, through the din. Lads jumping on girls’
shoulders, and girls laughing hysterically from being tickled by the
youths behind them, every one shouting and jumping, presented a mad
scene of frightful enjoyment.

When these had left, a rush for places by those in waiting began, that
set at defiance the blows and strugglings of a lady in spangles who
endeavoured to preserve order and take the checks. As time was a great
object with the proprietor, the entertainment within began directly the
first seat was taken, so that the lads without, rendered furious by the
rattling of the piano within, made the canvass partition bulge in and
out, with the strugglings of those seeking admission, like a sail in a
flagging wind.

To form the theatre, the first floor had been removed; the whitewashed
beams however still stretched from wall to wall. The lower room had
evidently been the warehouse, while the upper apartment had been the
sitting-room, for the paper was still on the walls. A gallery, with
a canvass front, had been hurriedly built up, and it was so fragile
that the boards bent under the weight of those above. The bricks in
the warehouse were smeared over with red paint, and had a few black
curtains daubed upon them. The coster-youths require no very great
scenic embellishment, and indeed the stage--which was about eight feet
square--could admit of none. Two jets of gas, like those outside a
butcher’s shop, were placed on each side of the proscenium, and proved
very handy for the gentlemen whose pipes required lighting. The band
inside the “theatre” could not compare with the band without. An old
grand piano, whose canvass-covered top extended the entire length of
the stage, sent forth its wiry notes under the be-ringed fingers of
a “professor Wilkinsini,” while another professional, with his head
resting on his violin, played vigorously, as he stared unconcernedly at
the noisy audience.

Singing and dancing formed the whole of the hours’ performance, and,
of the two, the singing was preferred. A young girl, of about fourteen
years of age, danced with more energy than grace, and seemed to be
well-known to the spectators, who cheered her on by her Christian name.
When the dance was concluded, the proprietor of the establishment threw
down a penny from the gallery, in the hopes that others might be moved
to similar acts of generosity; but no one followed up the offering,
so the young lady hunted after the money and departed. The “comic
singer,” in a battered hat and the huge bow to his cravat, was received
with deafening shouts. Several songs were named by the costers, but
the “funny gentleman” merely requested them “to hold their jaws,” and
putting on a “knowing” look, sang a song, the whole point of which
consisted in the mere utterance of some filthy word at the end of each
stanza. Nothing, however, could have been more successful. The lads
stamped their feet with delight; the girls screamed with enjoyment.
Once or twice a young shrill laugh would anticipate the fun--as if
the words were well known--or the boys would forestall the point by
shouting it out before the proper time. When the song was ended the
house was in a delirium of applause. The canvass front to the gallery
was beaten with sticks, drum-like, and sent down showers of white
powder on the heads in the pit. Another song followed, and the actor
knowing on what his success depended, lost no opportunity of increasing
his laurels. The most obscene thoughts, the most disgusting scenes
were coolly described, making a poor child near me wipe away the tears
that rolled down her eyes with the enjoyment of the poison. There were
three or four of these songs sung in the course of the evening, each
one being encored, and then changed. One written about “Pine-apple
rock,” was the grand treat of the night, and offered greater scope to
the rhyming powers of the author than any of the others. In this, not a
single chance had been missed; ingenuity had been exerted to its utmost
lest an obscene thought should be passed by, and it was absolutely
awful to behold the relish with which the young ones jumped to the
hideous meaning of the verses.

There was one scene yet to come, that was perfect in its wickedness.
A ballet began between a man dressed up as a woman, and a country
clown. The most disgusting attitudes were struck, the most immoral
acts represented, without one dissenting voice. If there had been any
feat of agility, any grimacing, or, in fact, anything with which the
laughter of the uneducated classes is usually associated, the applause
might have been accounted for; but here were two ruffians degrading
themselves each time they stirred a limb, and forcing into the brains
of the childish audience before them thoughts that must embitter a
lifetime, and descend from father to child like some bodily infirmity.

When I had left, I spoke to a better class costermonger on this
saddening subject. “Well, sir, it is frightful,” he said, “but the boys
_will_ have their amusements. If their amusements is bad they don’t
care; they only wants to laugh, and this here kind of work does it.
Give ’em better singing and better dancing, and they’d go, if the price
was as cheap as this is. I’ve seen, when a decent concert was given at
a penny, as many as four thousand costers present, behaving themselves
as quietly and decently as possible. Their wives and children was with
’em, and no audience was better conducted. It’s all stuff talking about
them preferring this sort of thing. Give ’em good things at the same
price, and I _know_ they will like the good, better than the bad.”

My own experience with this neglected class goes to prove, that if
we would really lift them out of the moral mire in which they are
wallowing, the first step must be to provide them with _wholesome_
amusements. The misfortune, however, is, that when we seek to elevate
the character of the people, we give them such mere dry abstract
truths and dogmas to digest, that the uneducated mind turns with
abhorrence from them. We forget how we ourselves were originally won
by our _emotions_ to the consideration of such subjects. We do not
remember how our own tastes have been formed, nor do we, in our zeal,
stay to reflect how the tastes of a people generally are created; and,
consequently, we cannot perceive that a habit of enjoying any matter
whatsoever can only be induced in the mind by linking with it some
æsthetic affection. The heart is the mainspring of the intellect, and
the feelings the real educers and educators of the thoughts. As games
with the young destroy the fatigue of muscular exercise, so do the
sympathies stir the mind to action without any sense of effort. It is
because “serious” people generally object to enlist the emotions in the
education of the poor, and look upon the delight which arises in the
mind from the mere perception of the beauty of sound, motion, form,
and colour--or from the apt association of harmonious or incongruous
ideas--or from the sympathetic operation of the affections; it is
because, I say, the zealous portion of society look upon these matters
as “_vanity_,” that the amusements of the working-classes are left to
venal traders to provide. Hence, in the low-priced entertainments
which necessarily appeal to the poorer, and, therefore, to the least
educated of the people, the proprietors, instead of trying to develop
in them the purer sources of delight, seek only to gratify their
audience in the coarsest manner, by appealing to their most brutal
appetites. And thus the emotions, which the great Architect of the
human mind gave us as the means of quickening our imaginations and
refining our sentiments, are made the instruments of crushing every
operation of the intellect and debasing our natures. It is idle and
unfeeling to believe that the great majority of a people whose days are
passed in excessive toil, and whose homes are mostly of an uninviting
character, will forego _all_ amusements, and consent to pass their
evenings by their _no_ firesides, reading tracts or singing hymns.
It is folly to fancy that the mind, spent with the irksomeness of
compelled labour, and depressed, perhaps, with the struggle to live
by that labour after all, will not, when the work is over, seek out
some place where at least it can forget its troubles or fatigues in
the temporary pleasure begotten by some mental or physical stimulant.
It is because we exact too much of the poor--because we, as it were,
strive to make true knowledge and true beauty as forbidding as possible
to the uneducated and unrefined, that they fly to their penny gaffs,
their twopenny-hops, their beer-shops, and their gambling-grounds for
pleasures which we deny them, and which we, in our arrogance, believe
it is possible for them to do without.

The experiment so successfully tried at Liverpool of furnishing music
of an enlivening and yet elevating character at the same price as the
concerts of the lowest grade, shows that the people may be won to
delight in beauty instead of beastiality, and teaches us again that
it is _our_ fault to allow them to be as they are and not their’s to
remain so. All men are compound animals, with many inlets of pleasure
to their brains, and if one avenue be closed against them, why it but
forces them to seek delight through another. So far from the perception
of beauty inducing habits of gross enjoyment as “serious” people
generally imagine, a moment’s reflection will tell us that these very
habits are only the necessary consequences of the non-development
of the æsthetic faculty; for the two assuredly cannot co-exist. To
cultivate the sense of the beautiful is necessarily to inculcate a
detestation of the sensual. Moreover, it is impossible for the mind
to be accustomed to the contemplation of what is admirable without
continually mounting to higher and higher forms of it--from the beauty
of nature to that of thought--from thought to feeling, from feeling
to action, and lastly to the fountain of all goodness--the great
munificent Creator of the sea, the mountains, and the flowers--the
stars, the sunshine, and the rainbow--the fancy, the reason, the love
and the heroism of man and womankind--the instincts of the beasts--the
glory of the angels--and the mercy of Christ.


The costermongers, taken as a body, entertain the most imperfect idea
of the sanctity of marriage. To their undeveloped minds it merely
consists in the fact of a man and woman living together, and sharing
the gains they may each earn by selling in the street. The father and
mother of the girl look upon it as a convenient means of shifting the
support of their child over to another’s exertions; and so thoroughly
do they believe this to be the end and aim of matrimony, that the
expense of a church ceremony is considered as a useless waste of money,
and the new pair are received by their companions as cordially as if
every form of law and religion had been complied with.

The notions of morality among these people agree strangely, as I have
said, with those of many savage tribes--indeed, it would be curious if
it were otherwise. They are a part of the Nomades of England, neither
knowing nor caring for the enjoyments of home. The hearth, which is
so sacred a symbol to all civilized races as being the spot where the
virtues of each succeeding generation are taught and encouraged, has
no charms to them. The tap-room is the father’s chief abiding place;
whilst to the mother the house is only a better kind of _tent_. She
is away at the stall, or hawking her goods from morning till night,
while the children are left to play away the day in the court or
alley, and pick their morals out of the gutter. So long as the limbs
gain strength the parent cares for nothing else. As the young ones
grow up, their only notions of wrong are formed by what the policeman
will permit them to do. If we, who have known from babyhood the kindly
influences of a home, require, before we are thrust out into the world
to get a living for ourselves, that our perceptions of good and evil
should be quickened and brightened (the same as our perceptions of
truth and falsity) by the experience and counsel of those who are wiser
and better than ourselves,--if, indeed, it needed a special creation
and example to teach the best and strongest of us the law of right,
how bitterly must the children of the street-folk require tuition,
training, and advice, when from their very cradles (if, indeed, they
ever knew such luxuries) they are doomed to witness in their parents,
whom they naturally believe to be their superiors, habits of life in
which passion is the sole rule of action, and where every appetite of
our animal nature is indulged in without the least restraint.

I say thus much because I am anxious to make others feel, as I do
myself, that _we_ are the culpable parties in these matters. That they
poor things should do as they do is but human nature--but that _we_
should allow them to remain thus destitute of every blessing vouchsafed
to ourselves--that we should willingly share what we enjoy with our
brethren at the Antipodes, and yet leave those who are nearer and who,
therefore, should be dearer to us, to want even the commonest moral
necessaries is a paradox that gives to the zeal of our Christianity a
strong savour of the chicanery of Cant.

The costermongers strongly resemble the North American Indians in their
conduct to their wives. They can understand that it is the duty of
the woman to contribute to the happiness of the man, but cannot feel
that there is a reciprocal duty from the man to the woman. The wife
is considered as an inexpensive servant, and the disobedience of a
wish is punished with blows. She must work early and late, and to the
husband must be given the proceeds of her labour. Often when the man
is in one of his drunken fits--which sometimes last two or three days
continuously--she must by her sole exertions find food for herself and
him too. To live in peace with him, there must be no murmuring, no
tiring under work, no fancied cause for jealousy--for if there be, she
is either beaten into submission or cast adrift to begin life again--as
another’s leavings.

The story of one coster girl’s life may be taken as a type of the many.
When quite young she is placed out to nurse with some neighbour, the
mother--if a fond one--visiting the child at certain periods of the
day, for the purpose of feeding it, or sometimes, knowing the round she
has to make, having the infant brought to her at certain places, to be
“suckled.” As soon as it is old enough to go alone, the court is its
play-ground, the gutter its school-room, and under the care of an elder
sister the little one passes the day, among children whose mothers
like her own are too busy out in the streets helping to get the food,
to be able to mind the family at home. When the girl is strong enough,
she in her turn is made to assist the mother by keeping guard over
the younger children, or, if there be none, she is lent out to carry
about a baby, and so made to add to the family income by gaining her
sixpence weekly. Her time is from the earliest years fully occupied;
indeed, her parents cannot afford to keep her without doing and getting
_something_. Very few of the children receive the least education. “The
parents,” I am told, “never give their minds to learning, for they say,
‘What’s the use of it? _that_ won’t yarn a gal a living.’” Everything
is sacrificed--as, indeed, under the circumstances it must be--in the
struggle to live--aye! and to live _merely_. Mind, heart, soul, are all
absorbed in the belly. The rudest form of animal life, physiologists
tell us, is simply a locomotive stomach. Verily, it would appear as if
our social state had a tendency to make the highest animal sink into
the lowest.

At about seven years of age the girls first go into the streets to
sell. A shallow-basket is given to them, with about two shillings for
stock-money, and they hawk, according to the time of year, either
oranges, apples, or violets; some begin their street education with
the sale of water-cresses. The money earned by this means is strictly
given to the parents. Sometimes--though rarely--a girl who has been
unfortunate during the day will not dare to return home at night, and
then she will sleep under some dry arch or about some market, until the
morrow’s gains shall ensure her a safe reception and shelter in her
father’s room.

The life of the coster-girls is as severe as that of the boys. Between
four and five in the morning they have to leave home for the markets,
and sell in the streets until about nine. Those that have more kindly
parents, return then to breakfast, but many are obliged to earn the
morning’s meal for themselves. After breakfast, they generally remain
in the streets until about ten o’clock at night; many having nothing
during all that time but one meal of bread and butter and coffee, to
enable them to support the fatigue of walking from street to street
with the heavy basket on their heads. In the course of a day, some
girls eat as much as a pound of bread, and very seldom get any meat,
unless it be on a Sunday.

There are many poor families that, without the aid of these girls,
would be forced into the workhouse. They are generally of an
affectionate disposition, and some will perform acts of marvellous
heroism to keep together the little home. It is not at all unusual
for mere children of fifteen to walk their eight or ten miles a day,
carrying a basket of nearly two hundred weight on their heads. A
journey to Woolwich and back, or to the towns near London, is often
undertaken to earn the 1_s._ 6_d._ their parents are anxiously waiting
for at home.

Very few of these girls are married to the men they afterwards live
with. Their courtship is usually a very short one; for, as one told
me, “the life is such a hard one, that a girl is ready to get rid of
a _little_ of the labour at any price.” The coster-lads see the girls
at market, and if one of them be pretty, and a boy take a fancy to
her, he will make her bargains for her, and carry her basket home.
Sometimes a coster working his rounds will feel a liking for a wench
selling her goods in the street, and will leave his barrow to go and
talk with her. A girl seldom takes up with a lad before she is sixteen,
though some of them, when barely fifteen or even fourteen, will pair
off. They court for a time, going to raffles and “gaffs” together, and
then the affair is arranged. The girl tells her parents “she’s going to
keep company with so-and-so,” packs up what things she has, and goes
at once, without a word of remonstrance from either father or mother.
A furnished room, at about 4_s._ a week is taken, and the young couple
begin life. The lad goes out as usual with his barrow, and the girl
goes out with her basket, often working harder for her lover than she
had done for her parents. They go to market together, and at about nine
o’clock her day’s selling begins. Very often she will take out with her
in the morning what food she requires during the day, and never return
home until eleven o’clock at night.

The men generally behave very cruelly to the girls they live with.
They are as faithful to them as if they were married, but they
are jealous in the extreme. To see a man talking to their girl is
sufficient to ensure the poor thing a beating. They sometimes ill-treat
them horribly--most unmercifully indeed--nevertheless the girls say
they cannot help loving them still, and continue working for them, as
if they experienced only kindness at their hands. Some of the men are
gentler and more considerate in their treatment of them, but by far
the larger portion are harsh and merciless. Often when the Saturday
night’s earnings of the two have been large, the man will take the
entire money, and as soon as the Sunday’s dinner is over, commence
drinking hard, and continue drunk for two or three days together, until
the funds are entirely exhausted. The women never gamble; they say, “it
gives them no excitement.” They prefer, if they have a spare moment
in the evening, sitting near the fire making up and patching their
clothes. “Ah, sir,” said a girl to me, “a neat gown does a deal with a
man; he always likes a girl best when everybody else likes her too.” On
a Sunday they clean their room for the week and go for a treat, if they
can persuade their young man to take them out in the afternoon, either
to Chalk Farm or Battersea Fields--“where there’s plenty of life.”

After a girl has once grown accustomed to a street-life, it is almost
impossible to wean her from it. The muscular irritability begotten by
continued wandering makes her unable to rest for any time in one place,
and she soon, if put to any _settled_ occupation, gets to crave for the
severe exercise she formerly enjoyed. The least restraint will make
her sigh after the perfect liberty of the coster’s “roving life.” As
an instance of this I may relate a fact that has occurred within the
last six months. A gentleman of high literary repute, struck with the
heroic strugglings of a coster Irish girl to maintain her mother, took
her to his house, with a view of teaching her the duties of a servant.
At first the transition was a painful one to the poor thing. Having
travelled barefoot through the streets since a mere child, the pressure
of shoes was intolerable to her, and in the evening or whenever a few
minutes’ rest could be obtained, the boots were taken off, for with
them on she could enjoy no ease. The perfect change of life, and the
novelty of being in a new place, reconciled her for some time to the
loss of her liberty. But no sooner did she hear from her friends, that
sprats were again in the market, than, as if there were some magical
influence in the fish, she at once requested to be freed from the
confinement, and permitted to return to her old calling.

Such is the history of the lower class of girls, though this lower
class, I regret to say, constitutes by far the greater portion of the
whole. Still I would not for a moment have it inferred that _all_
are bad. There are many young girls getting their living, or rather
helping to get the living of others in the streets, whose goodness,
considering the temptations and hardships besetting such an occupation,
approximates to the marvellous. As a type of the more prudent class of
coster girls, I would cite the following narrative received from the
lips of a young woman in answer to a series of questions.


I wished to have obtained a statement from the girl whose portrait is
here given, but she was afraid to give the slightest information about
the habits of her companions, lest they should recognize her by the
engraving and persecute her for the revelations she might make. After
disappointing me some dozen times, I was forced to seek out some other
coster girl.

The one I fixed upon was a fine-grown young woman of eighteen. She
had a habit of curtsying to every question that was put to her. Her
plaid shawl was tied over the breast, and her cotton-velvet bonnet was
crushed in with carrying her basket. She seemed dreadfully puzzled
where to put her hands, at one time tucking them under her shawl,
warming them at the fire, or measuring the length of her apron, and
when she answered a question she invariably addressed the fireplace.
Her voice was husky from shouting apples.

“My mother has been in the streets selling all her lifetime. Her uncle
learnt her the markets and she learnt me. When business grew bad she
said to me, ‘Now you shall take care on the stall, and I’ll go and
work out charing.’ The way she learnt me the markets was to judge of
the weight of the baskets of apples, and then said she, ‘Always bate
’em down, a’most a half.’ I always liked the street-life very well,
that was if I was selling. I have mostly kept a stall myself, but I’ve
known gals as walk about with apples, as have told me that the weight
of the baskets is sich that the neck cricks, and when the load is took
off, its just as if you’d a stiff neck, and the head feels as light as
a feather. The gals begins working very early at our work; the parents
makes them go out when a’most babies. There’s a little gal, I’m sure
she an’t more than half-past seven, that stands selling water-cresses
next my stall, and mother was saying, ‘Only look there, how that little
one has to get her living afore she a’most knows what a penn’orth

“There’s six on us in family, and father and mother makes eight.
Father used to do odd jobs with the gas-pipes in the streets, and
when work was slack we had very hard times of it. Mother always liked
being with us at home, and used to manage to keep us employed out of
mischief--she’d give us an old gown to make into pinafores for the
children and such like! She’s been very good to us, has mother, and
so’s father. She always liked to hear us read to her whilst she was
washing or such like! and then we big ones had to learn the little
ones. But when father’s work got slack, if she had no employment
charing, she’d say, ‘Now I’ll go and buy a bushel of apples,’ and then
she’d turn out and get a penny that way. I suppose by sitting at the
stall from nine in the morning till the shops shuts up--say ten o’clock
at night, I can earn about 1_s._ 6_d._ a day. It’s all according to the
apples--whether they’re good or not--what we makes. If I’m unlucky,
mother will say, ‘Well, I’ll go out to-morrow and see what _I_ can
do;’ and if I’ve done well, she’ll say ‘Come you’re a good hand at it;
you’ve done famous.’ Yes, mother’s very fair that way. Ah! there’s many
a gal I knows whose back has to suffer if she don’t sell her stock
well; but, thank God! I never get more than a blowing up. My parents is
very fair to me.

“I dare say there ain’t ten out of a hundred gals what’s living with
men, what’s been married Church of England fashion. I know plenty
myself, but I don’t, indeed, think it right. It seems to me that the
gals is fools to be ’ticed away, but, in coorse, they needn’t go
without they likes. This is why I don’t think it’s right. Perhaps a
man will have a few words with his gal, and he’ll say, ‘Oh! I ain’t
obligated to keep her!’ and he’ll turn her out: and then where’s that
poor gal to go? Now, there’s a gal I knows as came to me no later than
this here week, and she had a dreadful swole face and a awful black
eye; and I says, ‘Who’s done that?’ and she says, says she, ‘Why,
Jack’--just in that way; and then she says, says she, ‘I’m going to
take a warrant out to-morrow.’ Well, he gets the warrant that same
night, but she never appears again him, for fear of getting more
beating. That don’t seem to me to be like married people ought to be.
Besides, if parties is married, they ought to bend to each other; and
they won’t, for sartain, if they’re only living together. A man as is
married is obligated to keep his wife if they quarrels or not; and he
says to himself, says he, ‘Well, I may as well live happy, like.’ But
if he can turn a poor gal off, as soon as he tires of her, he begins
to have noises with her, and then gets quit of her altogether. Again,
the men takes the money of the gals, and in coorse ought to treat ’em
well--which they don’t. This is another reason: when the gal is in the
family way, the lads mostly sends them to the workhouse to lay in, and
only goes sometimes to take them a bit of tea and shuggar; but, in
coorse, married men wouldn’t behave in such likes to their poor wives.
After a quarrel, too, a lad goes and takes up with another young gal,
and that isn’t pleasant for the first one. The first step to ruin is
them places of ‘penny gaffs,’ for they hears things there as oughtn’t
to be said to young gals. Besides, the lads is very insinivating, and
after leaving them places will give a gal a drop of beer, and make her
half tipsy, and then they makes their arrangements. I’ve often heerd
the boys boasting of having ruined gals, for all the world as if they
was the first noblemen in the land.

“It would be a good thing if these sort of goings on could be stopped.
It’s half the parents’ fault; for if a gal can’t get a living, they
turns her out into the streets, and then what’s to become of her? I’m
sure the gals, if they was married, would be happier, because they
couldn’t be beat worse. And if they was married, they’d get a nice
home about ’em; whereas, if they’s only living together, they takes a
furnished room. I’m sure, too, that it’s a bad plan; for I’ve heerd
the gals themselves say, ‘Ah! I wish I’d never seed Jack’ (or Tom, or
whatever it is); ‘I’m sure I’d never be half so bad but for him.’

“Only last night father was talking about religion. We often talks
about religion. Father has told me that God made the world, and I’ve
heerd him talk about the first man and woman as was made and lived--it
must be more than a hundred years ago--but I don’t like to speak on
what I don’t know. Father, too, has told me about our Saviour what
was nailed on a cross to suffer for such poor people as we is. Father
has told us, too, about his giving a great many poor people a penny
loaf and a bit of fish each, which proves him to have been a very kind
gentleman. The Ten Commandments was made by him, I’ve heerd say, and
he performed them too among other miracles. Yes! this is part of what
our Saviour tells us. We are to forgive everybody, and do nobody no
injury. I don’t think I could forgive an enemy if she injured me very
much; I’m sure I don’t know why I couldn’t, unless it is that I’m poor,
and never learnt to do it. If a gal stole my shawl and didn’t return
it back or give me the value on it, I couldn’t forgive her; but if she
told me she lost it off her back, I shouldn’t be so hard on her. We
poor gals ain’t very religious, but we are better than the men. We all
of us thanks God for everything--even for a fine day; as for sprats,
we always says they’re God’s blessing for the poor, and thinks it hard
of the Lord Mayor not to let ’em come in afore the ninth of November,
just because he wants to dine off them--which he always do. Yes, we
knows for certain that they eats plenty of sprats at the Lord Mayor’s
‘blanket.’ They say in the Bible that the world was made in six days:
the beasts, the birds, the fish, and all--and sprats was among them in
coorse. There was only one house at that time as was made, and that
was the Ark for Adam and Eve and their family. It seems very wonderful
indeed how all this world was done so quick. I should have thought
that England alone would have took double the time; shouldn’t you,
sir? But then it says in the Bible, God Almighty’s a just and true
God, and in coorse time would be nothing to him. When a good person is
dying, we says, ‘The Lord has called upon him, and he must go,’ but I
can’t think what it means, unless it is that an angel comes--like when
we’re a-dreaming--and tells the party he’s wanted in heaven. I know
where heaven is; it’s above the clouds, and they’re placed there to
prevent us seeing into it. That’s where all the good people go, but I’m
afeerd,”--she continued solemnly--“there’s very few costers among the
angels--’specially those as deceives poor gals.

“No, I don’t think this world could well go on for ever. There’s
a great deal of ground in it, certainly, and it seems very strong
at present; but they say there’s to be a flood on the earth, and
earthquakes, and that will destroy it. The earthquake ought to have
took place some time ago, as people tells me, but I never heerd any
more about it. If we cheats in the streets, I know we shan’t go to
Heaven; but it’s very hard upon us, for if we didn’t cheat we couldn’t
live, profits is so bad. It’s the same with the shops, and I suppose
the young men there won’t go to Heaven neither; but if people won’t
give the money, both costers and tradesmen must cheat, and that’s very
hard. Why, look at apples! customers want them for less than they cost
us, and so we are forced to shove in bad ones as well as good ones; and
if we’re to suffer for that, it does seem to me dreadful cruel.”

Curious and extravagant as this statement may perhaps appear to the
uninitiated, nevertheless it is here given as it was spoken; and it was
spoken with an earnestness that proved the poor girl looked upon it as
a subject, the solemnity of which forced her to be truthful.


Concerning the connection of these two classes I had the following
account from a costermonger: “I’ve known the coster trade for twelve
years, and never knew thieves go out a costering as a cloak; they may
have done so, but I very much doubt it. Thieves go for an idle life,
and costermongering don’t suit them. Our chaps don’t care a d--n who
they associate with,--if they’re thieves they meet ’em all the same,
or anything that way. But costers buy what they call ‘a gift,’--may-be
it’s a watch or coat wot’s been stolen--from any that has it to sell. A
man will say: ‘If you’ve a few shillings, you may make a good thing of
it. Why this identical watch is only twenty shillings, and it’s worth
fifty;’ so if the coster has money, he buys. Thieves will get 3_d._
where a mechanic or a coster will earn 1/2_d._, and the most ignorant
of our people has a queer sort of respect for thieves, because of the
money they make. Poverty’s as much despised among costers as among
other people. People that’s badly off among us are called ‘cursed.’
In bad weather it’s common for costers to ‘curse themselves,’ as they
call having no trade. ‘Well, I’m cursed,’ they say when they can make
no money. It’s a common thing among them to shout after any one they
don’t like, that’s reduced, ‘Well, ain’t you cursed?’” The costers, I
am credibly informed, gamble a great deal with the wealthier class of
thieves, and win of them the greater part of the money they get.


Concerning this head, I give the statement of a man whose information
I found fully confirmed:--“We are not such a degraded set as some
believe; sir, but a living doesn’t tumble into a man’s mouth, now a
days. A good many of us costers rises into greengrocers and coal-sheds,
and still carries on their rounds as costers, all the same. Why, in
Lock’s-fields, I could show you twenty such, and you’d find them very
decent men, sir--very. There’s one man I know, that’s risen that way,
who is worth hundreds of pounds, and keeps his horse and cart like a
gentleman. They rises to be voters, and they all vote liberal. Some
marry the better kind of servants,--such servant-maids as would’nt
marry a rag and bottle shop, but doesn’t object to a coal shed. It’s
mostly younger men that manages this. As far as I have observed, these
costers, after they has settled and got to be housekeepers, don’t turn
their backs on their old mates. They’d have a nice life of it if they
did--yes! a very nice life.”


The costermongers usually reside in the courts and alleys in the
neighbourhood of the different street-markets. They themselves
designate the locality where, so to speak, a colony of their people has
been established, a “coster district,” and the entire metropolis is
thus parcelled out, almost as systematically as if for the purposes of
registration. These costermonger districts are as follows, and are here
placed in the order of the numerical importance of the residents:

  The New Cut (Lambeth).
  The Brill, Somers’ Town.
  The Broadway, Westminster.
  Paddington and Edgeware Road.
  Tottenham-court Road.
  Old-street Road.
  Clare Market.
  Ratcliffe Highway.
  Petticoat and Rosemary-lane.
  Commercial-road (East).
  Camden Town.

The homes of the costermongers in these places, may be divided into
three classes; firstly, those who, by having a regular trade or by
prudent economy, are enabled to live in comparative ease and plenty;
secondly, those who, from having a large family or by imprudent
expenditure, are, as it were, struggling with the world; and thirdly,
those who for want of stock-money, or ill success in trade are nearly

The first home I visited was that of an old woman, who with the
assistance of her son and girls, contrived to live in a most
praiseworthy and comfortable manner. She and all her family were
teetotallers, and may be taken as a fair type of the thriving

As I ascended a dark flight of stairs, a savory smell of stew grew
stronger at each step I mounted. The woman lived in a large airy room
on the first floor (“the drawing-room” as she told me laughing at her
own joke), well lighted by a clean window, and I found her laying out
the savory smelling dinner looking most temptingly clean. The floor
was as white as if it had been newly planed, the coke fire was bright
and warm, making the lid of the tin saucepan on it rattle up and down
as the steam rushed out. The wall over the fire-place was patched
up to the ceiling with little square pictures of saints, and on the
mantel-piece, between a row of bright tumblers and wine glasses filled
with odds and ends, stood glazed crockeryware images of Prince Albert
and M. Jullien. Against the walls, which were papered with “hangings”
of four different patterns and colours, were hung several warm shawls,
and in the band-box, which stood on the stained chest of drawers, you
could tell that the Sunday bonnet was stowed safely away from the
dust. A turn-up bedstead thrown back, and covered with a many-coloured
patch-work quilt, stood opposite to a long dresser with its mugs and
cups dangling from the hooks, and the clean blue plates and dishes
ranged in order at the back. There were a few bushel baskets piled up
in one corner, “but the apples smelt so,” she said, “they left them in
a stable at night.”

By the fire sat the woman’s daughter, a pretty meek-faced gray-eyed
girl of sixteen, who “was home nursing” for a cold. “Steve” (her boy)
I was informed, was out working. With his help, the woman assured me,
she could live very comfortably--“God be praised!” and when he got the
barrow he was promised, she gave me to understand, that their riches
were to increase past reckoning. Her girl too was to be off at work
as soon as sprats came in. “Its on Lord Mayor’s-day they comes in,”
said a neighbour who had rushed up to see the strange gentleman, “they
says he has ’em on his table, but I never seed ’em. They never gives
us the pieces, no not even the heads,” and every one laughed to their
utmost. The good old dame was in high spirits, her dark eyes sparkling
as she spoke about her “Steve.” The daughter in a little time lost
her bashfulness, and informed me “that one of the Polish refugees was
a-courting Mrs. M----, who had given him a pair of black eyes.”

On taking my leave I was told by the mother that their silver gilt
Dutch clock--with its glass face and blackleaded weights--“was the best
one in London, and might be relied on with the greatest safety.”

As a specimen of the dwellings of the struggling costers, the following
may be cited:

The man, a tall, thick-built, almost good-looking fellow, with a large
fur cap on his head, lived with his family in a front kitchen, and as
there were, with his mother-in-law, five persons, and only one bed, I
was somewhat puzzled to know where they could _all_ sleep. The barrow
standing on the railings over the window, half shut out the light,
and when any one passed there was a momentary shadow thrown over the
room, and a loud rattling of the iron gratings above that completely
prevented all conversation. When I entered, the mother-in-law was
reading aloud one of the threepenny papers to her son, who lolled on
the bed, that with its curtains nearly filled the room. There was the
usual attempt to make the fireside comfortable. The stone sides had
been well whitened, and the mantel-piece decorated with its small tin
trays, tumblers, and a piece of looking-glass. A cat with a kitten
were seated on the hearth-rug in front. “They keeps the varmint away,”
said the woman, stroking the “puss,” “and gives a look of home.” By
the drawers were piled up four bushel baskets, and in a dark corner
near the bed stood a tall measure full of apples that scented the room.
Over the head, on a string that stretched from wall to wall, dangled
a couple of newly-washed shirts, and by the window were two stone
barrels, for lemonade, when the coster visited the fairs and races.

Whilst we were talking, the man’s little girl came home. For a poor
man’s child she was dressed to perfection; her pinafore was clean, her
face shone with soap, and her tidy cotton print gown had clearly been
newly put on that morning. She brought news that “Janey” was coming
home from auntey’s, and instantly a pink cotton dress was placed by the
mother-in-law before the fire to air. (It appeared that Janey was out
at service, and came home once a week to see her parents and take back
a clean frock.) Although these people were living, so to speak, in a
cellar, still every endeavour had been made to give the home a look of
comfort. The window, with its paper-patched panes, had a clean calico
blind. The side-table was dressed up with yellow jugs and cups and
saucers, and the band-boxes had been stowed away on the flat top of the
bedstead. All the chairs, which were old fashioned mahogany ones, had
sound backs and bottoms.

Of the third class, or the very poor, I chose the following “type” out
of the many others that presented themselves. The family here lived in
a small slanting-roofed house, partly stripped of its tiles. More than
one half of the small leaden squares of the first-floor window were
covered with brown paper, puffing out and crackling in the wind, while
through the greater part of the others were thrust out ball-shaped
bundles of rags, to keep out the breeze. The panes that did remain were
of all shapes and sizes, and at a distance had the appearance of yellow
glass, they were so stained with dirt. I opened a door with a number
chalked on it, and groped my way up a broken tottering staircase.

It took me some time after I had entered the apartment before I could
get accustomed to the smoke, that came pouring into the room from the
chimney. The place was filled with it, curling in the light, and making
every thing so indistinct that I could with difficulty see the white
mugs ranged in the corner-cupboard, not three yards from me. When the
wind was in the north, or when it rained, it was always that way, I was
told, “but otherwise,” said an old dame about sixty, with long grisly
hair spreading over her black shawl, “it is pretty good for that.”

On a mattrass, on the floor, lay a pale-faced girl--“eighteen years old
last twelfth-cake day”--her drawn-up form showing in the patch-work
counterpane that covered her. She had just been confined, and the child
had died! A little straw, stuffed into an old tick, was all she had to
lie upon, and even that had been given up to her by the mother until
she was well enough to work again. To shield her from the light of the
window, a cloak had been fastened up slantingly across the panes; and
on a string that ran along the wall was tied, amongst the bonnets, a
clean nightcap--“against the doctor came,” as the mother, curtsying,
informed me. By the side of the bed, almost hidden in the dark shade,
was a pile of sieve baskets, crowned by the flat shallow that the
mother “worked” with.

The room was about nine feet square, and furnished a home for three
women. The ceiling slanted like that of a garret, and was the colour of
old leather, excepting a few rough white patches, where the tenants had
rudely mended it. The white light was easily seen through the laths,
and in one corner a large patch of the paper looped down from the wall.
One night the family had been startled from their sleep by a large mass
of mortar--just where the roof bulged in--falling into the room. “We
never want rain water,” the woman told me, “for we can catch plenty
just over the chimney-place.”

They had made a carpet out of three or four old mats. They were
“obligated to it, for fear of dropping anything through the boards into
the donkey stables in the parlour underneath. But we only pay ninepence
a week rent,” said the old woman, “and mustn’t grumble.”

The only ornament in the place was on the mantel-piece--an old
earthenware sugar-basin, well silvered over, that had been given by the
eldest girl when she died, as a remembrance to her mother. Two cracked
tea-cups, on their inverted saucers, stood on each side, and dressed up
the fire-side into something like tidiness. The chair I sat on was by
far the best out of the three in the room, and that had no back, and
only half its quantity of straw.

The parish, the old woman told me, allowed her 1_s._ a week and two
loaves. But the doctor ordered her girl to take sago and milk, and she
was many a time sorely puzzled to get it. The neighbours helped her a
good deal, and often sent her part of their unsold greens;--even if it
was only the outer leaves of the cabbages, she was thankful for them.
Her other girl--a big-boned wench, with a red shawl crossed over her
bosom, and her black hair parted on one side--did all she could, and
so they lived on. “As long as they kept out of the ‘big house’ (the
workhouse) she would not complain.”

[Illustration: THE OYSTER STALL.

“Penny a lot, Oysters! Penny a lot!”

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

I never yet beheld so much destitution borne with so much content.
Verily the acted philosophy of the poor is a thing to make those who
write and preach about it hide their heads.


From the homes of the costermongers we pass to a consideration of their

The costermonger’s ordinary costume partakes of the durability of
the warehouseman’s, with the quaintness of that of the stable-boy. A
well-to-do “coster,” when dressed for the day’s work, usually wears a
small cloth cap, a little on one side. A close-fitting worsted tie-up
skull-cap, is very fashionable, just now, among the class, and ringlets
at the temples are looked up to as the height of elegance. Hats they
never wear--excepting on Sunday--on account of their baskets being
frequently carried on their heads. Coats are seldom indulged in; their
waistcoats, which are of a broad-ribbed corduroy, with fustian back
and sleeves, being made as long as a groom’s, and buttoned up nearly
to the throat. If the corduroy be of a light sandy colour, then plain
brass, or sporting buttons, with raised fox’s or stag’s heads upon
them--or else black bone-buttons, with a flower-pattern--ornament the
front; but if the cord be of a dark rat-skin hue, then mother-of-pearl
buttons are preferred. Two large pockets--sometimes four--with huge
flaps or lappels, like those in a shooting-coat, are commonly worn. If
the costermonger be driving a good trade and have his set of regular
customers, he will sport a blue cloth jacket, similar in cut to the
cord ones above described; but this is looked upon as an extravagance
of the highest order, for the slime and scales of the fish stick to the
sleeves and shoulders of the garment, so as to spoil the appearance of
it in a short time. The fashionable stuff for trousers, at the present,
is a dark-coloured “cable cord,” and they are made to fit tightly at
the knee and swell gradually until they reach the boot, which they
nearly cover. Velveteen is now seldom worn, and knee-breeches are quite
out of date. Those who deal wholly in fish wear a blue serge apron,
either hanging down or tucked up round their waist. The costermonger,
however, prides himself most of all upon his neckerchief and boots.
Men, women, boys and girls, all have a passion for these articles. The
man who does not wear his silk neckerchief--his “King’s-man” as it is
called--is known to be in desperate circumstances; the inference being
that it has gone to supply the morning’s stock-money. A yellow flower
on a green ground, or a red and blue pattern, is at present greatly
in vogue. The women wear their kerchiefs tucked-in under their gowns,
and the men have theirs wrapped loosely round the neck, with the ends
hanging over their waistcoats. Even if a costermonger has two or three
silk handkerchiefs by him already, he seldom hesitates to buy another,
when tempted with a bright showy pattern hanging from a Field-lane

The costermonger’s love of a good strong boot is a singular prejudice
that runs throughout the whole class. From the father to the youngest
child, all will be found well shod. So strong is their predilection in
this respect, that a costermonger may be immediately known by a glance
at his feet. He will part with everything rather than his boots, and to
wear a pair of second-hand ones, or “translators” (as they are called),
is felt as a bitter degradation by them all. Among the men, this pride
has risen to such a pitch, that many will have their upper-leathers
tastily ornamented, and it is not uncommon to see the younger men of
this class with a heart or a thistle, surrounded by a wreath of roses,
worked below the instep, on their boots. The general costume of the
women or girls is a black velveteen or straw bonnet, with a few ribbons
or flowers, and almost always a net cap fitting closely to the cheek.
The silk “King’s-man” covering their shoulders, is sometimes tucked
into the neck of the printed cotton-gown, and sometimes the ends are
brought down outside to the apron-strings. Silk dresses are never worn
by them--they rather despise such articles. The petticoats are worn
short, ending at the ankles, just high enough to show the whole of the
much-admired boots. Coloured, or “illustrated shirts,” as they are
called, are especially objected to by the men.

On the Sunday no costermonger will, if he can possibly avoid it,
wheel a barrow. If a shilling be an especial object to him, he may,
perhaps, take his shallow and head-basket as far as Chalk-farm, or
some neighbouring resort; but even then he objects strongly to the
Sunday-trading. They leave this to the Jews and Irish, who are always
willing to earn a penny--as they say.

The prosperous coster _will_ have his holiday on the Sunday, and, if
possible, his Sunday suit as well--which usually consists of a rough
beaver hat, brown Petersham, with velvet facings of the same colour,
and cloth trousers, with stripes down the side. The women, generally,
manage to keep by them a cotton gown of a bright showy pattern, and a
new shawl. As one of the craft said to me--“Costers likes to see their
gals and wives look lady-like when they takes them out.” Such of the
costers as are not in a flourishing way of business, seldom make any
alteration in their dress on the Sunday.

There are but five tailors in London who make the garb proper to
costermongers; one of these is considered somewhat “slop,” or as a
coster called him, a “springer-up.”

This springer-up is blamed by some of the costermongers, who
condemn him for employing women at reduced wages. A whole court of
costermongers, I was assured, would withdraw their custom from a
tradesman, if one of their body, who had influence among them, showed
that the tradesman was unjust to his workpeople. The tailor in question
issues bills after the following fashion. I give one verbatim, merely
withholding the address for obvious reasons:


_Slap-up Tog and out-and-out Kicksies Builder._

Mr. ---- nabs the chance of putting his customers awake, that he has
just made his escape from Russia, not forgetting to clap his mawleys
upon some of the right sort of Ducks, to make single and double backed
Slops for gentlemen in black, when on his return home he was stunned
to find one of the top manufacturers of Manchester had cut his lucky
and stepped off to the Swan Stream, leaving behind him a valuable stock
of Moleskins, Cords, Velveteens, Plushes, Swandowns, &c., and I having
some ready in my kick, grabbed the chance, and stepped home with my
swag, and am now safe landed at my crib. I can turn out toggery of
every description very slap up, at the following low prices for

  _Ready Gilt--Tick being no go._

Upper Benjamins, built on a downey plan, a monarch to half a finnuff.
Slap up Velveteen Togs, lined with the same, 1 pound 1 quarter and
a peg. Moleskin ditto, any colour, lined with the same, 1 couter. A
pair of Kerseymere Kicksies, any colour, built very slap up, with
the artful dodge, a canary. Pair of stout Cord ditto, built in the
‘Melton Mowbray’ style, half a sov. Pair of very good broad Cord ditto,
made very saucy, 9 bob and a kick. Pair of long sleeve Moleskin, all
colours, built hanky-spanky, with a double fakement down the side and
artful buttons at bottom, half a monarch. Pair of stout ditto, built
very serious, 9 times. Pair of out-and-out fancy sleeve Kicksies, cut
to drop down on the trotters, 2 bulls. Waist Togs, cut long, with
moleskin back and sleeves, 10 peg. Blue Cloth ditto, cut slap, with
pearl buttons, 14 peg. Mud Pipes, Knee Caps, and Trotter Cases, built
very low.

“A decent allowance made to Seedy Swells, Tea Kettle Purgers, Head
Robbers, and Flunkeys out of Collar.

“N.B. Gentlemen finding their own Broady can be accommodated.”


It is less easy to describe the diet of costermongers than it is to
describe that of many other of the labouring classes, for their diet,
so to speak, is an “out-door diet.” They breakfast at a coffee-stall,
and (if all their means have been expended in purchasing their stock,
and none of it be yet sold) they expend on the meal only 1_d._,
reserved for the purpose. For this sum they can procure a small cup of
coffee, and two “thin” (that is to say two thin slices of bread and
butter). For dinner--which on a week-day is hardly ever eaten at the
costermonger’s abode--they buy “block ornaments,” as they call the
small, dark-coloured pieces of meat exposed on the cheap butchers’
blocks or counters. These they cook in a tap-room; half a pound
costing 2_d._ If time be an object, the coster buys a hot pie or two;
preferring fruit-pies when in season, and next to them meat-pies. “We
never eat eel-pies,” said one man to me, “because we know they’re often
made of large dead eels. _We_, of all people, are not to be had that
way. But the haristocrats eats ’em and never knows the difference.” I
did not hear that these men had any repugnance to meat-pies; but the
use of the dead eel happens to come within the immediate knowledge of
the costermongers, who are, indeed, its purveyors. Saveloys, with a
pint of beer, or a glass of “short” (neat gin) is with them another
common week-day dinner. The costers make all possible purchases of
street-dealers, and pride themselves in thus “sticking to their own.”
On Sunday, the costermonger, when not “cracked up,” enjoys a good
dinner at his own abode. This is always a joint--most frequently a
shoulder or half-shoulder of mutton--and invariably with “lots of good
taturs baked along with it.” In the quality of their potatoes these
people are generally particular.

The costermonger’s usual beverage is beer, and many of them drink hard,
having no other way of spending their leisure but in drinking and
gambling. It is not unusual in “a good time,” for a costermonger to
spend 12_s._ out of every 20_s._ in beer and pleasure.

I ought to add, that the “single fellows,” instead of living on “block
ornaments” and the like, live, when doing well, on the best fare, at
the “spiciest” cook-shops on their rounds, or in the neighbourhood of
their residence.

There are some families of costermongers who have persevered in
carrying out the principles of teetotalism. One man thought there might
be 200 individuals, including men, women, and children, who practised
total abstinence from intoxicating drinks. These parties are nearly
all somewhat better off than their drinking companions. The number of
teetotallers amongst the costers, however, was more numerous three or
four years back.


I shall now proceed to treat of the London costermongers’ mode of doing

In the first place all the goods they sell are cried or “hawked,” and
the cries of the costermongers in the present day are as varied as the
articles they sell. The principal ones, uttered in a sort of cadence,
are now, “Ni-ew mackerel, 6 a shilling.” (“I’ve got a good jacketing
many a Sunday morning,” said one dealer, “for waking people up with
crying mackerel, but I’ve said, ‘I must live while you sleep.’”) “Buy a
pair of live soles, 3 pair for 6_d._”--or, with a barrow, “Soles, 1_d._
a pair, 1_d._ a pair;” “Plaice alive, alive, cheap;” “Buy a pound crab,
cheap;” “Pine-apples, 1/2_d._ a slice;” “Mussels a penny a quart;”
“Oysters, a penny a lot;” “Salmon alive, 6_d._ a pound;” “Cod alive,
2_d._ a pound;” “Real Yarmouth bloaters, 2 a penny;” “New herrings
alive, 16 a groat” (this is the loudest cry of any); “Penny a bunch
turnips” (the same with greens, cabbages, &c.); “All new nuts, 1_d._
half-pint;” “Oranges, 2 a penny;” “All large and alive-O, new sprats,
O, 1_d._ a plate;” “Wi-ild Hampshire rabbits, 2 a shilling;” “Cherry
ripe, 2_d._ a pound;” “Fine ripe plums, 1_d._ a pint;” “Ing-uns, a
penny a quart;” “Eels, 3lbs. a shilling--large live eels 3lbs. a

The continual calling in the streets is very distressing to the voice.
One man told me that it had broken his, and that very often while out
he lost his voice altogether. “They seem to have no breath,” the men
say, “after calling for a little while.” The repeated shouting brings
on a hoarseness, which is one of the peculiar characteristics of
hawkers in general. The costers mostly go out with a boy to cry their
goods for them. If they have two or three hallooing together, it makes
more noise than one, and the boys can shout better and louder than
the men. The more noise they can make in a place the better they find
their trade. Street-selling has been so bad lately that many have been
obliged to have a drum for their bloaters, “to drum the fish off,” as
they call it.

In the second place, the costermongers, as I said before, have mostly
their little bit of a “round;” that is, they go only to certain places;
and if they don’t sell their goods they “work back” the same way again.
If they visit a respectable quarter, they confine themselves to the
mews near the gentlemen’s houses. They generally prefer the poorer
neighbourhoods. They go down or through almost all the courts and
alleys--and avoid the better kind of streets, unless with lobsters,
rabbits, or onions. If they have anything inferior, they visit the low
Irish districts--for the Irish people, they say, want only quantity,
and care nothing about quality--_that_ they don’t study. But if they
have anything they wish to make a price of, they seek out the mews, and
try to get it off among the gentlemen’s coachmen, for _they_ will have
what is good; or else they go among the residences of mechanics,--for
their wives, they say, like good-living as well as the coachmen. Some
costers, on the other hand, go chance rounds.

Concerning the busiest days of the week for the coster’s trade, they
say Wednesdays and Fridays are the best, because they are regular fish
days. These two days are considered to be those on which the poorer
classes generally run short of money. Wednesday night is called “draw
night” among some mechanics and labourers--that is, they then get a
portion of their wages in advance, and on Friday they run short as well
as on the Wednesday, and have to make shift for their dinners. With
the few halfpence they have left, they are glad to pick up anything
cheap, and the street-fishmonger never refuses an offer. Besides, he
can supply them with a cheaper dinner than any other person. In the
season the poor generally dine upon herrings. The poorer classes live
mostly on fish, and the “dropped” and “rough” fish is bought chiefly
for the poor. The fish-huckster has no respect for persons, however;
one assured me that if Prince Halbert was to stop him in the street to
buy a pair of soles of him, he’d as soon sell him a “rough pair as any
other man--indeed, I’d take in my own father,” he added, “if he wanted
to deal with me.” Saturday is the worst day of all for fish, for then
the poor people have scarcely anything at all to spend; Saturday night,
however, the street-seller takes more money than at any other time in
the week.


Some costermongers go what they term “country rounds,” and they speak
of their country expeditions as if they were summer excursions of mere
pleasure. They are generally variations from a life growing monotonous.
It was computed for me that at present three out of every twenty
costermongers “take a turn in the country” at least once a year. Before
the prevalence of railways twice as many of these men carried their
speculations in fish, fruit, or vegetables to a country mart. Some did
so well that they never returned to London. Two for instance, after a
country round, settled at Salisbury; they are now regular shopkeepers,
“and very respectable, too,” was said to me, “for I believe they are
both pretty tidy off for money; and are growing rich.” The railway
communication supplies the local-dealer with fish, vegetables, or any
perishable article, with such rapidity and cheapness that the London
itinerant’s occupation in the towns and villages about the metropolis
is now half gone.

In the following statement by a costermonger, the mode of life on
a country round, is detailed with something of an assumption of
metropolitan superiority.

“It was fine times, sir, ten year back, aye, and five year back, in
the country, and it ain’t so bad now, if a man’s known. It depends on
that now far more than it did, and on a man’s knowing how to work a
village. Why, I can tell you if it wasn’t for such as me, there’s many
a man working on a farm would never taste such a nice thing as a fresh
herring--never, sir. It’s a feast at a poor country labourer’s place,
when he springs six-penn’orth of fresh herrings, some for supper, and
some in salt for next day. I’ve taken a shillings’-worth to a farmer’s
door of a darkish night in a cold autumn, and they’d a warm and good
dish for supper, and looked on me as a sort of friend. We carry them
relishes from London; and they like London relishes, for we know how
to set them off. I’ve fresh herringed a whole village near Guildford,
first thing in the morning. I’ve drummed round Guildford too, and done
well. I’ve waked up Kingston with herrings. I’ve been as welcome as
anything to the soldiers in the barracks at Brentwood, and Romford,
and Maidstone with my fresh herrings; for they’re good customers. In
two days I’ve made 2_l._ out of 10_s._ worth of fresh herrings, bought
at Billingsgate. I always lodge at a public-house in the country; so
do all of us, for the publicans are customers. We are well received at
the public-houses; some of us go there for the handiness of the ‘lush.’
I’ve done pretty well with red herrings in the country. A barrel holds
(say) 800. We sell the barrels at 6_d._ a piece, and the old women
fight after them. They pitch and tar them, to make water-barrels. More
of us would settle in the country, only there’s no life there.”

The most frequented round is from Lambeth to Wandsworth, Kingston,
Richmond, Guildford, and Farnham. The costermonger is then “sold out,”
as he calls it,--he has disposed of his stock, and returns by the way
which is most lightly tolled, no matter if the saving of 1_d._ or 2_d._
entail some miles extra travelling. “It cost me 15_d._ for tolls from
Guildford for an empty cart and donkey,” said a costermonger just up
from the country.

Another round is to Croydon, Reigate, and the neighbourhoods; another
to Edgeware, Kilburn, Watford, and Barnet; another to Maidstone; but
the costermonger, if he starts trading at a distance, as he now does
frequently, has his barrow and goods sent down by railway to such towns
as Maidstone, so he saves the delay and cost of a donkey-cart. A “mate”
sees to the transmission of the goods from London, the owner walking
to Maidstone to be in readiness to “work” them immediately he receives
them. “The railway’s an ease and a saving,” I was told; “I’ve got a
stock sent for 2_s._, and a donkey’s keep would cost that for the time
it would be in travelling. There’s 5,000 of us, I think, might get a
living in the country, if we stuck to it entirely.”

If the country enterprise be a failure, the men sometimes abandon it in
“a pet,” sell their goods at any loss, and walk home, generally getting
drunk as the first step to their return. Some have been known to pawn
their barrow on the road for drink. This they call “doing queer.”

In summer the costermongers carry plums, peas, new potatoes, cucumbers,
and quantities of pickling vegetables, especially green walnuts, to
the country. In winter their commodities are onions, fresh and red
herrings, and sprats. “I don’t know how it is,” said one man to me,
“but we sell ing-uns and all sorts of fruits and vegetables, cheaper
than they can buy them where they’re grown; and green walnuts, too,
when you’d think they had only to be knocked off a tree.”

Another costermonger told me that, in the country, he and his
mates attended every dance or other amusement, “if it wasn’t too
respectable.” Another said: “If I’m idle in the country on a Sunday, I
never go to church. I never was in a church; I don’t know why, for my
silk handkerchief’s worth more than one of their smock-frocks, and is
quite as respectable.”

Some costermongers confine their exertions to the fairs and races, and
many of them are connected with the gipsies, who are said to be the
usual receivers of the stolen handkerchiefs at such places.


The earnings of the costermonger--the next subject of inquiry that,
in due order, presents itself--vary as much as in more fashionable
callings, for he is greatly dependent on the season, though he may be
little affected by London being full or empty.

Concurrent testimony supplied me with the following estimate of their
earnings. I cite the average earnings (apart from any charges or
drawbacks), of the most staple commodities:

In January and February the costers generally sell fish. In these
months the wealthier of the street fishmongers, or those who can always
command “money to go to market,” enjoy a kind of monopoly. The wintry
season renders the supply of fish dearer and less regular, so that the
poorer dealers cannot buy “at first hand,” and sometimes cannot be
supplied at all; while the others monopolise the fish, more or less,
and will not sell it to any of the other street-dealers until a profit
has been realised out of their own regular customers, and the demand
partially satisfied. “Why, I’ve known one man sell 10_l._ worth of
fish--most of it mackarel--at his stall in Whitecross-street,” said
a costermonger to me, “and all in one snowy day, in last January. It
was very stormy at that time, and fish came in unregular, and he got
a haul. I’ve known him sell 2_l._ worth in an hour, and once 2_l._
10_s._ worth, for I then helped at his stall. If people has dinner
parties they must have fish, and gentlemen’s servants came to buy.” The
_average_ earnings however of those that “go rounds” in these months
are computed not to exceed 8_s._ a week; Monday and Saturday being days
of little trade in fish.

“March is dreadful,” said an itinerant fish seller to me; “we don’t
average, I’m satisfied, more nor 4_s._ a week. I’ve had my barrow idle
for a week sometimes--at home every day, though it had to be paid for,
all the same. At the latter end of March, if it’s fine, it’s 1_s._ a
week better, because there’s flower roots in--‘all a-growing,’ you
know, sir. And that lasts until April, and we then make above 6_s._
a week. I’ve heard people say when I’ve cried ‘all a-growing’ on a
fine-ish day, ‘Aye, now summer’s a-coming.’ I wish you may get it, says
I to myself; for I’ve studied the seasons.”

In May the costermonger’s profit is greater. He vends fresh fish--of
which there is a greater supply and a greater demand, and the fine and
often not very hot weather insures its freshness--and he sells dried
herrings and “roots” (as they are called) such as wall-flowers and
stocks. The average earnings then are from 10_s._ to 12_s._ a week.

In June, new potatoes, peas, and beans tempt the costermongers’
customers, and then his earnings rise to 1_l._ a week. In addition to
this 1_l._, if the season allow, a costermonger at the end of the week,
I was told by an experienced hand, “will earn an extra 10_s._ if he has
anything of a round.” “Why, I’ve cleared thirty shillings myself,” he
added, “on a Saturday night.”

In July cherries are the principal article of traffic, and then the
profit varies from 4_s._ to 8_s._ a day, weather permitting, or 30_s._
a week on a low average. On my inquiry if they did not sell fish in
that month, the answer was, “No, sir; we pitch fish to the ----; we
stick to cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and ripe currants and
gooseberries. Potatoes is getting good and cheap then, and so is peas.
Many a round’s worth a crown every day of the week.”

In August, the chief trading is in Orleans plums, green-gages, apples
and pears, and in this month the earnings are from 5_s._ to 6_s._ a
day. [I may here remark that the costermongers care little to deal in
either vegetables or fish, “when the fruit’s in,” but they usually
carry a certain supply of vegetables all the year round, for those
customers who require them.]

In September apples are vended, and about 2_s._ 6_d._ a day made.

In October “the weather gets cold,” I was told, “and the apples gets
fewer, and the day’s work’s over at four; we then deals most in fish,
such as soles; there’s a good bit done in oysters, and we may make
1_s._ or 1_s._ 6_d._ a day, but it’s uncertain.”

In November fish and vegetables are the chief commodities, and then
from 1_s._ to 1_s._ 6_d._ a day is made; but in the latter part of the
month an extra 6_d._ or 1_s._ a day may be cleared, as sprats come in
and sell well when newly introduced.

In December the trade is still principally in fish, and 12_d._ or
18_d._ a day is the costermonger’s earnings. Towards the close of the
month he makes rather more, as he deals in new oranges and lemons,
holly, ivy, &c., and in Christmas week he makes 3_s._ or 4_s._ a day.

These calculations give an average of about 14_s._ 6_d._ a week, when a
man pursues his trade regularly. One man calculated it for me at 15_s._
average the year through--that is supposing, of course, that the larger
earnings of the summer are carefully put by to eke out the winter’s
income. This, I need hardly say, is never done. Prudence is a virtue,
which is comparatively unknown to the London costermongers. They have
no knowledge of savings’-banks; and to expect that they themselves
should keep their money by them untouched for months (even if they had
the means of so doing) is simply to expect impossibilities--to look for
the continued withstanding of temptation among a class who are unused
to the least moral or prudential restraint.

_Some_ costers, I am told, make upwards of 30_s._ a week all the year
round; but allowing for cessations in the street-trade, through bad
weather, neglect, ill-health, or casualty of any kind, and taking the
more prosperous costers with the less successful--the English with the
Irish--the men with the women--perhaps 10_s._ a week may be a fair
average of the earnings of the entire body the year through.

These earnings, I am assured, were five years ago at least 25 per cent.
higher; some said they made half as much again: “I can’t make it out
how it is,” said one man, “but I remember that I could go out and sell
twelve bushel of fruit in a day, when sugar was dear, and now, when
sugar’s cheap, I can’t sell three bushel on the same round. Perhaps we
want thinning.”

Such is the state of the working-classes; say all the costers, they
have little or no money to spend. “Why, I can assure you,” declared
one of the parties from whom I obtained much important information,
“there’s my missis--she sits at the corner of the street with fruit.
Eight years ago she would have taken 8_s._ out of that street on a
Saturday, and last Saturday week she had one bushel of apples, which
cost 1_s._ 6_d._ She was out from ten in the morning till ten at night,
and all she took that day was 1_s._ 7-1/2_d._ Go to whoever you will,
you will hear much upon the same thing.” Another told me, “The costers
are often obliged to sell the things for what they gave for them. The
people haven’t got money to lay out with them--they tell us so; and
if they are poor we must be poor too. If we can’t get a profit upon
what goods we buy with our stock-money, let it be our own or anybody’s
else, we are compelled to live upon it, and when that’s broken into, we
must either go to the workhouse or starve. If we go to the workhouse,
they’ll give us a piece of dry bread, and abuse us worse than dogs.”
Indeed, the whole course of my narratives shows how the costers
generally--though far from universally--complain of the depressed
state of their trade. The following statement was given to me by a man
who, for twelve years, had been a stall-keeper in a street-market. It
shows to what causes he (and I found others express similar opinions)
attributes the depression:--

“I never knew things so bad as at present--never! I had six prime
cod-fish, weighing 15lbs. to 20lbs. each, yesterday and the day
before, and had to take two home with me last night, and lost money
on the others--besides all my time, and trouble, and expense. I had
100 herrings, too, that cost 3_s._--prime quality, and I only sold ten
out of them in a whole day. I had two pads of soles, sir, and lost
4_s._--that is one pad--by them. I took only 4_s._ the first day I laid
in this stock, and only 2_s._ 6_d._ the next; I then had to sell for
anything I could get, and throw some away. Yet, people say mine’s a
lazy, easy life. I think the fall off is owing to meat being so cheap,
’cause people buy that rather than my goods, as they think there’s more
stay in it. I’m afeard things will get worse too.” (He then added by
way of _sequitur_, though it is difficult to follow the reasoning,) “If
this here is free-trade, then to h-- with it, I say!”


I shall now pass, from the consideration of the individual earnings, to
the income and capital of the entire body. Great pains have been taken
to ensure exactitude on these points, and the following calculations
are certainly below the mark. In order to be within due bounds, I
will take the costermongers, exclusive of their wives and families,
at 10,000, whereas it would appear that their numbers are upwards of

  1,000 carts, at 3_l._ 3_s._ each                 £3,150
    [Donkeys, and occasionally ponies, are
      harnessed to barrows.]
  5,000 barrows, at 2_l._ each                     10,000
  1,500 donkeys, at 1_l._ 5_s._ each                1,875
    [One intelligent man thought there were
      2,000 donkeys, but I account that in
  200 ponies, at 5_l._ each                         1,000
    [Some of these ponies, among the very
      first-class men, are worth 20_l._: one
      was sold by a coster for 30_l._]
  1,700 sets of harness, at 5_s._ each                425
    [All calculated as worn and second-hand.]
  4,000 baskets (or shallows), at 1_s._ each          200
  3,500 stalls or standings, at 5_s._ each            875
    [The stall and barrow men have generally
      baskets to be used when required.]
  10,000 weights, scales, and measures,
      at 2_s._ 6_d._ each                           1,250
    [It is difficult to estimate this item with
      exactitude. Many averaged the value
      at 3_s._ 4_d._]
  Stock-money for 10,000 costers, at
      10_s._ each                                   5,000
                   Total capital                  £23,775

Very nearly 24,000_l._, then, at the most moderate computation,
represents the value of the animals, vehicles, and stock, belonging to
the costermongers in the streets of London.

The keep of the donkeys is not here mixed up with their value, and I
have elsewhere spoken of it.

The whole course of my narrative shows that the bulk of the property
in the street goods, and in the appliances for their sale, is in the
hands of usurers as well as of the costers. The following account shows
the sum paid yearly by the London costermongers for the hire, rent, or
interest (I have heard each word applied) of their barrows, weights,
baskets, and stock:

  Hire of 3,000 barrows, at 1_s._ 3_d._ a week          £9,750
  Hire of 600 weights, scales, &c., at
      1_s._ 6_d._ a week for 2, and 6_d._ a week
      for 10 months                                      1,020
  Hire of 100 baskets, &c., at 6_d._ a week                130
  Interest on 2,500_l._ stock-money, at
      125_l._ per week                                   6,500
    [Calculating at 1_s._ interest weekly for 20_s._]
          Total paid for hire and interest             £17,400

Concerning the income of the entire body of costermongers in the
metropolis, I estimate the earnings of the 10,000 costermongers, taking
the average of the year, at 10_s._ weekly. My own observation, the
result of my inquiries, confirmed by the opinion of some of the most
intelligent of the costermongers, induce me to adopt this amount.
It must be remembered, that if some costermongers do make 30_s._ a
week through the year, others will not earn a fourth of it, and hence
many of the complaints and sufferings of the class. Then there is the
drawback in the sum paid for “hire,” “interest,” &c., by numbers of
these people; so that it appears to me, that if we assume the income
of the entire body--including Irish and English--to be 15_s._ a week
per head in the summer, and 5_s._ a week each in the winter, as the
two extremes, or a mean of 10_s._ a week all the year through, we
shall not be far out either way. The aggregate earnings of the London
costermongers, at this rate, are 5,000_l._ per week, or 260,000_l._
yearly. Reckoning that 30,000 individuals have to be supported out of
this sum, it gives an average of 3_s._ 4_d._ a week per head.

But it is important to ascertain not only the earnings or aggregate
amount of profit made by the London costermongers in the course
of the year, but likewise their receipts, or aggregate amount of
“takings,” and thus to arrive at the gross sum of money annually laid
out by the poorer classes of the metropolis in the matter of fish,
fruit, and vegetables alone. Assuming that the average profits of
the costermongers are at the rate of 25 per cent. (and this, I am
satisfied, is a high estimate--for we should remember, that though
cent. per cent. may be frequently obtained, still their “goods,”
being of a “perishable” nature, are as frequently lost or sold off at
a “tremendous sacrifice”); assuming then, I say, that the _average_
profits of the entire 10,000 individuals are 25 per cent. on the
cost-price of their stock, and that the aggregate amount of their
profits or earnings is upwards of 260,000_l._, it follows that the
gross sum of money laid out with the London costers in the course of
the twelvemonth is 1,040,000_l._ sterling--a sum so enormous as almost
to make us believe that the tales of individual want are matters of
pure fiction. Large, however, as the amount appears in the mass, still,
if distributed among the families of the working men and the poorer
class of Londoners, it will be found that it allows but the merest
pittance per head per week for the consumption of those articles, which
may be fairly said to constitute the staple commodities of the dinners
and “desserts!” of the poor.


The costermongers, like all wandering tribes, have generally no
foresight; only an exceptional few are provident--and these are
mostly the more intelligent of the class--though some of the very
ignorant do occasionally save. The providence of the more intelligent
costermonger enables him in some few cases to become “a settled man,”
as I have before pointed out. He perhaps gets to be the proprietor
of a coal-shed, with a greengrocery and potato business attached to
it; and with the usual trade in oysters and ginger-beer. He may too,
sometimes, have a sum of money in the savings’-bank, or he may invest
it in the purchase of a lease of the premises he occupies, or expend
it in furnishing the rooms of his house to let them out to single-men
lodgers; or he may become an usurer, and lend out his money to his
less provident brethren at 1040_l._ per cent. per annum; or he may
purchase largely at the markets, and engage youths to sell his surplus
stock at half profits.

The provident costermonger, who has thus “got on in the world,” is
rarely speculative. He can hardly be induced to become a member of
a “building” or “freehold land” society, for instance. He has been
accustomed to an almost _immediate_ return for his outlays, and
distrusts any remote or contingent profit. A regular costermonger--or
any one who has been a regular costermonger, in whatever trade he may
be afterwards engaged--generally dies intestate, let his property be
what it may; but there is seldom any dispute as to the disposition of
his effects: the widow takes possession of them, as a matter of course.
If there be grown-up children, they may be estranged from home, and not
trouble their heads about the matter; or, if not estranged, an amicable
arrangement is usually come to. The costermongers’ dread of all courts
of law, or of anything connected with the law, is only second to their
hatred of the police.

The more ignorant costermonger, on the other hand, if he be of a
saving turn, and have no great passion for strong drink or gaming, is
often afraid to resort to the simple modes of investment which I have
mentioned. He will rather keep money in his pocket; for, though it does
not fructify there, at least it is safe. But this is only when provided
with a donkey or pony “what suits;” when not so provided, he will “suit
himself” forthwith. If, however, he have saved a little money, and have
a craving after gambling or amusements, he is sure at last to squander
it that way. Such a man, without any craving for drink or gaming,
will often continue to pay usuriously for the hire of his barrow, not
suspecting that he is purchasing it over and over and over again, in
his weekly payments. To suggest to him that he might place his money in
a bank, is to satisfy him that he would be “had” in some way or other,
as he believes all banks and public institutions to be connected with
government, and the taxes, and the police. Were any one to advise a
man of this class--and it must be remembered that I am speaking of the
_ignorant_ costers--to invest a spare 50_l._ (supposing he possessed
it) in the “three per cents.,” it would but provoke a snappish remark
that he knew nothing about them, and would have nothing to do with
them; for he would be satisfied that there was “some cheatery at the
bottom.” If he could be made to understand what is meant by 3_l._ per
centum per annum, he would be sure to be indignant at the robbery of
giving only 7-1/2_d._ for the use of 1_l._ for a whole year!

I may state, in conclusion, that a costermonger of the class I have
been describing, mostly objects to give change for a five-pound note;
he will sooner give credit--when he knows “the party”--than change,
even if he have it. If, however, he feels compelled, rather than offend
a regular customer, to take the note, he will not rest until he has
obtained sovereigns for it at a neighbouring innkeeper’s, or from some
tradesman to whom he is known. “Sovereigns,” said one man, and not a
very ignorant man, to me, “is something to lay hold on; a note ain’t.”

Moreover, should one of the more ignorant, having tastes for the
beer-shop, &c., meet with “a great haul,” or save 5_l._ by some
continuous industry (which he will most likely set down as “luck”),
he will spend it idly or recklessly in dissipation and amusement,
regardless of the coming winter, whatever he may have suffered during
the past. Nor, though they know, from the bitterest experience, that
their earnings in the winter are not half those of the rest of the
year, and that they are incapacitated from pursuing their trade in bad
weather, do they endeavour to make the extra gains of their best time
mitigate the want of the worst.


“Three wet days,” I was told by a clergyman, who is now engaged in
selling stenographic cards in the streets, “will bring the greater part
of 30,000 street-people to the brink of starvation.” This statement,
terrible as it is, is not exaggerated. The average number of wet days
every year in London is, according to the records of the Royal Society,
161--that is to say, rain falls in the metropolis more than three days
in each week, and very nearly every other day throughout the year. How
precarious a means of living then must street-selling be!

When a costermonger cannot pursue his out-door labour, he leaves it to
the women and children to “work the public-houses,” while he spends his
time in the beer-shop. Here he gambles away his stock-money oft enough,
“if the cards or the luck runs again him;” or else he has to dip into
his stock-money to support himself and his family. He must then borrow
fresh capital at any rate of interest to begin again, and he begins on
a small scale. If it be in the cheap and busy seasons, he may buy a pad
of soles for 2_s._ 6_d._, and clear 5_s._ on them, and that “sets him
a-going again, and then he gets his silk handkerchief out of pawn, and
goes as usual to market.”

The sufferings of the costermongers during the prevalence of the
cholera in 1849, were intense. Their customers generally relinquished
the consumption of potatoes, greens, fruit, and fish; indeed, of almost
every article on the consumption of which the costermongers depend
for his daily bread. Many were driven to apply to the parish; “many
had relief and many hadn’t,” I was told. Two young men, within the
knowledge of one of my informants, became professional thieves, after
enduring much destitution. It does not appear that the costermongers
manifested any personal dread of the visitation of the cholera, or
thought that their lives were imperilled: “We weren’t a bit afraid,”
said one of them, “and, perhaps, that was the reason so few costers
died of the cholera. I knew them all in Lambeth, I think, and I knew
only one die of it, and he drank hard. Poor Waxy! he was a good fellow
enough, and was well known in the Cut. But it was a terrible time for
us, sir. It seems to me now like a shocking dream. Fish I could’nt
sell a bit of; the people had a perfect dread of it--all but the poor
Irish, and there was no making a crust out of them. _They_ had no
dread of fish, however; indeed, they reckon it a religious sort of
living, living on fish,--but they _will_ have it dirt cheap. We were in
terrible distress all that time.”


In their relief of the sick, if relief it is to be called, the
costermongers resort to an exciting means; something is raffled, and
the proceeds given to the sufferer. This mode is common to other
working-classes; it partakes of the excitement of gambling, and is
encouraged by the landlords of the houses to which the people resort.
The landlord displays the terms of the raffle in his bar a few days
before the occurrence, which is always in the evening. The raffle
is not confined to the sick, but when any one of the class is in
distress--that is to say, without stock-money, and unable to borrow
it,--a raffle for some article of his is called at a public-house in
the neighbourhood. Cards are printed, and distributed among his mates.
The article, let it be whatever it may--perhaps a handkerchief--is
put up at 6_d._ a member, and from twenty to forty members are got,
according as the man is liked by his “mates,” or as he has assisted
others similarly situated. The paper of every raffle is kept by the
party calling it, and before he puts his name down to a raffle for
another party, he refers to the list of subscribers to _his_ raffle,
in order to see if the person ever assisted him. Raffles are very
“critical things, the pint pots fly about wonderful sometimes”--to
use the words of one of my informants. The party calling the raffle
is expected to take the chair, if he can write down the subscribers’
names. One who had been chairman at one of these meetings assured me
that on a particular occasion, having called a “general dealer” to
order, the party very nearly split his head open with a quart measure.
If the hucksters know that the person calling the raffle is “down,”
and that it is necessity that has made him call it, they will not
allow the property put up to be thrown for. “If you was to go to the
raffle to-night, sir,” said one of them to me, many months ago, before
I became known to the class, “they’d say to one another directly you
come in, ‘Who’s this here swell? What’s he want?’ And they’d think you
were a ‘cad,’ or else a spy, come from the police. But they’d treat you
civilly, I’m sure. Some very likely would fancy you was a fast kind of
a gentleman, come there for a lark. But you need have no fear, though
the pint pots _does_ fly about sometimes.”


The next point of consideration is what are the legal regulations under
which the several descriptions of hawkers and pedlars are allowed to
pursue their occupations.

The laws concerning hawkers and pedlars, (50 Geo. III., c. 41, and 6
Geo. IV., c. 80,) treat of them as identical callings. The “hawker,”
however, is, strictly speaking, one who sells wares by _crying_
them in the streets of towns, while the _pedlar_ travels _on foot_
through the country with his wares, not publicly proclaiming them, but
visiting the houses on his way to solicit private custom. Until the
commencement of the present century--before the increased facilities
for conveyance--the pedlars were a numerous body in the country. The
majority of them were Scotchmen and some amassed considerable wealth.
Railways, however, have now reduced the numbers to insignificance.

Hawkers and pedlars are required to pay 4_l._ yearly for a license, and
an additional 4_l._ for every horse or ass employed in the conveyance
of wares. The hawking or exposing for sale of fish, fruit, or victuals,
does not require a license; and further, it is lawful for any one
“being the maker of any home manufacture,” to expose it for sale in
any fair or market, without a warrant. Neither does anything in either
of the two acts in question prohibit “any tinker, cooper, glazier,
plumber, harness-mender, or other person, from going about and carrying
the materials proper to their business.”

The right of the costermongers, then, to “hawk” their wares through
the streets is plainly inferred by the above acts; that is to say,
nothing in them extends to prohibit persons “going about,” unlicensed,
and at their own discretion, and selling fish, vegetables, fruit, or
provisions generally.

The law acknowledges none of the street “markets.” These congregatings
are, indeed, in antagonism to the municipal laws of London, which
provide that no market, or public place where provisions are sold,
shall be held within seven miles of the city. The law, though it
permits butchers and other provisionmongers to hire stalls and
standings in the flesh and other markets, recognised by custom or
usage, gives no such permission as to street-trading.

The right to sell provisions from stands in the streets of the
metropolis, it appears, is merely permissive. The regulation observed
is this: where the costermongers or other street-dealers have been in
the habit of standing to sell their goods, they are not to be disturbed
by the police unless on complaint of an adjacent shopkeeper or other
inhabitant. If such a person shows that the costermonger, whose stand
is near his premises, is by his improper conduct a nuisance, or that,
by his clamour or any peculiarity in his mode of business, he causes a
crowd to gather and obstruct the thoroughfare, the policeman’s duty
is to remove him. If the complaint from the inhabitants against the
street-sellers be at all general the policemen of the beat report it to
the authorities, taking no steps until they receive instructions.

It is somewhat anomalous, however, that the law now
recognises--inferentially it is true--the right of costermongers to
carry about their goods for sale. Formerly the stands were sometimes
tolerated, but not the itinerancy.

The enactments of the Common-council from the time of Elizabeth are
stringent against itinerant traders of all descriptions, but stringent
to no purpose of prevention. In 1607, a Common-council enactment sets
forth, that “many People of badd and lewde Condicon daylie resorte
from the most Parte of this Realme to the said Cyttie, Suburbes, and
Places adjoininge, procuringe themselves small Habytacons, namely, one
Chamber-Roome for a poore Forreynor and his Familye, in a small Cottage
with some other as poore as himself in the Cyttie, Suburbes, or Places
adjacente, to the great Increase and Pestringe of this Cyttie with
poore People; many of them proovinge Shifters, lyvinge by Cozeninge,
Stealinge, and Imbeazellinge of Mens Gooddes as Opportunitye may serve
them, remoovinge from Place to Place accordinglye; many Tymes runninge
away, forsakinge their Wives and Children, leavinge them to the Charge
of the said Cyttie, and the Hospitalles of the same.”

It was towards this class of men who, by their resort to the capital,
recruited the numbers of the street-sellers and public porters
and others that the jealousy of the Corporation was directed. The
city shop-keepers, three centuries ago, complained vehemently and
continuously of the injuries inflicted on their trade by itinerant
dealers, complaints which led to bootless enactments. In Elizabeth’s
reign the Court of Common Council declared that the streets of the city
should be used, as in ancient times, for the common highway, and not
for the traffic of hucksters, pedlars, and hagglers. But this traffic
increased, and in 1632 another enactment was accounted necessary.
Oyster-wives, herb-wives, tripe-wives, and all such “unruly people,”
were threatened with the full pains and penalties of the outraged
law if they persevered in the prosecution of their callings, which
are stigmatised as “a way whereby to live a more easie life than by
labour.” In 1694 the street-sellers were menaced with the punishments
then deemed suitable for arrant rogues and sturdy beggars--whipping;
and that remedy to be applied alike to males and females!

The tenor of these Vagrant Laws not being generally known, I here
transcribe them, as another proof of the “wisdom” and mercy of our
“ancestors” in “the good old times!”

In the year 1530 the English Parliament enacted, that, while the
impotent poor should receive licenses from the justices of the peace
to beg within certain limits, all men and _women_, “being whole and
mighty in body, and able to labour,” if found vagrant and unable
to give an account as to how they obtained their living, should be
apprehended by the constables, tied to the tail of a cart _naked_,
and beaten with whips through the nearest market-town, or hamlet,
“till their bodies be bloody by reason of such whipping!” Five years
afterwards it was added, that, if the individual had been once already
whipped, he or she should not only be whipped again, but “also shall
have the upper part of the gristle of his ear clean cut off, so as
it may appear for a perpetual token hereafter that he hath been a
contemner of the good order of the commonwealth.” And finally, in 1562,
it was directed that any beggar convicted of being a vagabond should,
after being grievously whipped, be burnt through the gristle of the
right ear “with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about,” unless
some person should agree to take him as a servant--of course without
wages--for a year; then, that if he twice ran away from such master, he
should be adjudged a felon; and that if he ran away a third time, he
should “suffer pains of death and loss of land and goods as a felon,
without benefit of clergy or sanctuary.”

The only acts now in force which regulate the government of the
streets, so to speak, are those best known as Michael Angelo Taylor’s
Act, and the 2 & 3 Vic., best known as the Police Act.


Such are the laws concerning street trading: let us now see the effect
of them.

Within these three months, or little more, there have been many
removals of the costermongers from their customary standings in the
streets. This, as I have stated, is never done, unless the shopkeepers
represent to the police that the costermongers are an injury and a
nuisance to them in the prosecution of their respective trades. The
costermongers, for the most part, know nothing of the representation
of the shopkeepers, so that perhaps the first intimation that they
must “quit” comes from the policemen, who thus incur the full odium
of the measure, the majority of the street people esteeming it a mere
arbitrary act on the part of the members of the force.

The first removal, recently, took place in Leather-lane, Holborn,
between three and four months back. It was effected in consequence of
representations from the shopkeepers of the neighbourhood. But the
removal was of a brief continuance. “Leather-lane,” I was told, “looked
like a desert compared to what it was. People that had lived there for
years hardly knew their own street; and those that had complained,
might twiddle their thumbs in their shops for want of something better
to do.”

The reason, or one reason, why the shopkeepers’ trade is co-existent
with that of the street-sellers was explained to me in this way by a
tradesman perfectly familiar with the subject. “The poorer women, the
wives of mechanics or small tradesmen, who have to prepare dinners
for their husbands, like, as they call it, ‘to make one errand do.’
If the wife buys fish or vegetables in the street, as is generally
done, she will, at the same time, buy her piece of bacon or cheese
at the cheesemonger’s, her small quantity of tea and sugar at the
grocer’s, her fire-wood at the oilman’s, or her pound of beef or liver
at the butcher’s. In all the street-markets there are plenty of such
tradesmen, supplying necessaries not vended in the streets, and so
one errand is sufficient to provide for the wants of the family. Such
customers--that is, such as have been used to buy in the streets--will
_not_ be driven to buy at the shops. They can’t be persuaded that
they can buy as cheap at the shops; and besides they are apt to think
shopkeepers are rich and street-sellers poor, and that they may as
well encourage the poor. So if one street-market is abolished, they’ll
go to another, or buy of the itinerant costermongers, and they’ll get
their bits of groceries and the like at the shops in the neighbourhood
of the other street-market, even if they have a walk for it; and thus
everybody’s injured by removing markets, except a few, and they are
those at the nearest markets that’s not disturbed.”

In Leather-lane the shopkeepers speedily retrieved what many soon
came to consider the false step (as regards their interests) which
they had taken, and in a fortnight or so, they managed, by further
representations to the police authorities, and by agreement with the
street-sellers, that the street-market people should return. In little
more than a fortnight from that time, Leather-lane, Holborn, resumed
its wonted busy aspect.

In Lambeth the case at present is different. The men, women, and
children, between two and three months back, were all driven by the
police from their standings. These removals were made, I am assured,
in consequence of representations to the police from the parishioners,
not of Lambeth, but of the adjoining parish of Christchurch,
Blackfriars-road, who described the market as an injury and a hindrance
to their business. The costermongers, etc., were consequently driven
from the spot.

A highly respectable tradesman in “the Cut” told me, that he and
all his brother shopkeepers had found their receipts diminished a
quarter, or an eighth at least, by the removal; and as in all populous
neighbourhoods profits were small, this falling off was a very serious
matter to them.

In “the Cut” and its immediate neighbourhood, are tradesmen who
supply street-dealers with the articles they trade in,--such as cheap
stationery, laces, children’s shoes, braces, and toys. They, of course,
have been seriously affected by the removal; but the pinch has fallen
sorest upon the street-sellers themselves. These people depend a good
deal one upon another, as they make mutual purchases; now, as they have
neither stalls nor means, such a source of profit is abolished.

“It is hard on such as me,” said a fruit-seller to me, “to be driven
away, for nothing that I’ve done wrong as I knows of, and not let me
make a living, as I’ve been brought up to. I can’t get no work at any
of the markets. I’ve tried Billingsgate and the Borough hard, but
there is so many poor men trying for a crust, they’re fit to knock a
new-comer’s head off, though if they did, it wouldn’t be much matter.
I had 9_s._ 6_d._ stock-money, and I sold the apples and a few pears I
had for 3_s._ 9_d._, and that 13_s._ 3_d._ I’ve been spinning out since
I lost my pitch. But it’s done now, and I haven’t had two meals a day
for a week and more--and them not to call meals--only bread and coffee,
or bread and a drink of beer. I tried to get a round of customers, but
all the rounds was full, and I’m a very bad walker, and a weak man
too. My wife’s gone to try the country--I don’t know where she is now.
I suppose I shall lose my lodging this week, and then I must see what
‘the great house’ will say to me. Perhaps they’ll give me nothing, but
take me in, and that’s hard on a man as don’t want to be a pauper.”

Another man told me that he now paid 3_s._ a week for privilege to
stand with two stalls on a space opposite the entrance into the
National Baths, New Cut; and that he and his wife, who had stood for
eleven years in the neighbourhood, without a complaint against them,
could hardly get a crust.

One man, with a fruit-stall, assured me that nine months ago he
would not have taken 20_l._ for his pitch, and now he was a “regular
bankrupt.” I asked a girl, who stood beside the kerb with her load in
front strapped round her loins, whether her tray was heavy to carry.
“After eight hours at it,” she answered, “it swaggers me, like drink.”
The person whom I was with brought to me two girls, who, he informed
me, had been forced to go upon the streets to gain a living. Their
stall on the Saturday night used to have 4_l._ worth of stock; but
trade had grown so bad since the New Police order, that after living on
their wares, they had taken to prostitution for a living, rather than
go to the “house.” The ground in front of the shops has been bought
up by the costermongers at any price. Many now give the tradesmen six
shillings a week for a stand, and one man pays as much as eight for the
right of pitching in front.

The applications for parochial relief, in consequence of these
removals, have been fewer than was anticipated. In Lambeth parish,
however, about thirty families have been relieved, at a cost of 50_l._
Strange to say, a quarter, or rather more, of the very applicants for
relief had been furnished by the parish with money to start the trade,
their expulsion from which had driven them to pauperism.

It consequently becomes a question for serious consideration, whether
any particular body of householders should, for their own interest,
convenience, or pleasure, have it in their power to deprive so many
poor people of their only means of livelihood, and so either force
the rate-payers to keep them as paupers, or else drive the women, who
object to the imprisonment of the Union, to prostitution, and the
men to theft--especially when the very occupation which they are not
allowed to pursue, not only does no injury to the neighbourhood, but
is, on the contrary, the means of attracting considerable custom to the
shops in the locality, and has, moreover, been provided for them by
the parish authorities as a means of enabling them to get a living for


I shall now treat of the tricks of trade practised by the London
costermongers. Of these the costers speak with as little reserve and
as little shame as a fine gentleman of his peccadilloes. “I’ve boiled
lots of oranges,” chuckled one man, “and sold them to Irish hawkers,
as wasn’t wide awake, for stunning big uns. The boiling swells the
oranges and so makes ’em look finer ones, but it spoils them, for it
takes out the juice. People can’t find that out though until it’s too
late. I boiled the oranges only a few minutes, and three or four dozen
at a time.” Oranges thus prepared will not keep, and any unfortunate
Irishwoman, tricked as were my informant’s customers, is astonished
to find her stock of oranges turn dark-coloured and worthless in
forty-eight hours. The fruit is “cooked” in this way for Saturday night
and Sunday sale--times at which the demand is the briskest. Some prick
the oranges and express the juice, which they sell to the British

Apples cannot be dealt with like oranges, but they are mixed. A cheap
red-skinned fruit, known to costers as “gawfs,” is rubbed hard, to
look bright and feel soft, and is mixed with apples of a superior
description. “Gawfs are sweet and sour at once,” I was told, “and fit
for nothing but mixing.” Some foreign apples, from Holland and Belgium,
were bought very cheap last March, at no more than 16_d._ a bushel, and
on a fine morning as many as fifty boys might be seen rubbing these
apples, in Hooper-street, Lambeth. “I’ve made a crown out of a bushel
of ’em on a fine day,” said one sharp youth. The larger apples are
rubbed sometimes with a piece of woollen cloth, or on the coat skirt,
if that appendage form part of the dress of the person applying the
friction, but most frequently they are rolled in the palms of the
hand. The smaller apples are thrown to and fro in a sack, a lad holding
each end. “I wish I knew how the shopkeepers manages _their_ fruit,”
said one youth to me; “I should like to be up to some of their moves;
they do manage their things so plummy.”

Cherries are capital for mixing, I was assured by practical men. They
purchase three sieves of indifferent Dutch, and one sieve of good
English cherries, spread the English fruit over the inferior quality,
and sell them as the best. Strawberry pottles are often half cabbage
leaves, a few tempting strawberries being displayed on the top of the
pottle. “Topping up,” said a fruit dealer to me, “is the principal
thing, and we are perfectly justified in it. You ask any coster that
knows the world, and he’ll tell you that all the salesmen in the
markets tops up. It’s only making the best of it.” Filberts they bake
to make them look brown and ripe. Prunes they boil to give them a
plumper and finer appearance. The latter trick, however, is not unusual
in the shops.

The more honest costermongers will throw away fish when it is unfit
for consumption, less scrupulous dealers, however, only throw away
what is utterly unsaleable; but none of them fling away the dead eels,
though their prejudice against such dead fish prevents their indulging
in eel-pies. The dead eels are mixed with the living, often in the
proportion of 20 lb. dead to 5 lb. alive, equal quantities of each
being accounted very fair dealing. “And after all,” said a street fish
dealer to me, “I don’t know why dead eels should be objected to; the
aristocrats don’t object to them. Nearly all fish is dead before it’s
cooked, and why not eels? Why not eat them when they’re sweet, if
they’re ever so dead, just as you eat fresh herrings? I believe it’s
only among the poor and among our chaps, that there’s this prejudice.
Eels die quickly if they’re exposed to the sun.”

Herrings are made to look fresh and bright by candle-light, by the
lights being so disposed “as to give them,” I was told, “a good
reflection. Why I can make them look splendid; quite a pictur. I can do
the same with mackerel, but not so prime as herrings.”

There are many other tricks of a similar kind detailed in the course of
my narrative. We should remember, however, that _shopkeepers_ are not
immaculate in this respect.



Having now given the reader a general view of the numbers, characters,
habits, tastes, amusements, language, opinions, earnings, and
vicissitudes of the London costermongers,--having described their usual
style of dress, diet, homes, conveyances, and street-markets,--having
explained where their donkeys are bought, or the terms on which they
borrow them, their barrows, their stock-money, and occasionally
their stock itself,--having shown their ordinary mode of dealing,
either in person or by deputy, either at half-profits or by means
of boys,--where they go and how they manage on their rounds in town
and in the country,--what are the laws affecting them, as well as
the operation of those laws upon the rest of the community,--having
done all this by way of giving the reader a general knowledge of the
street-sellers of fish, fruit, and vegetables,--I now proceed to treat
more particularly of each of these classes _seriatim_. Beginning
with the street-fishmongers, I shall describe, in due order, the
season when, the market where, and the classes of people by whom, the
wet-fish, the dry-fish, and the shell-fish are severally sold and
purchased in the London streets, together with all other concomitant

The facilities of railway conveyance, by means of which fish can be
sent from the coast to the capital with much greater rapidity, and
therefore be received much fresher than was formerly the case, have
brought large supplies to London from places that before contributed
no quantity to the market, and so induced, as I heard in all quarters
at Billingsgate, an extraordinary lowness of price in this species of
diet. This cheap food, through the agency of the costermongers, is
conveyed to every poor man’s door, both in the thickly-crowded streets
where the poor reside--a family at least in a room--in the vicinity of
Drury-lane and of Whitechapel, in Westminster, Bethnal-green, and St.
Giles’s, and through the long miles of the suburbs. For all low-priced
fish the poor are the costermongers’ best customers, and a fish diet
seems becoming almost as common among the ill-paid classes of London,
as is a potato diet among the peasants of Ireland. Indeed, now, the
fish season of the poor never, or rarely, knows an interruption. If
fresh herrings are not in the market, there are sprats; and if not
sprats, there are soles, or whitings, or mackarel, or plaice.

The rooms of the very neediest of our needy metropolitan population,
always smell of fish; most frequently of herrings. So much so, indeed,
that to those who, like myself, have been in the habit of visiting
their dwellings, the smell of herrings, even in comfortable homes,
savours from association, so strongly of squalor and wretchedness, as
to be often most oppressive. The volatile oil of the fish seems to
hang about the walls and beams of the rooms for ever. Those who have
experienced the smell of fish only in a well-ordered kitchen, can
form no adequate notion of this stench, in perhaps a dilapidated and
ill-drained house, and in a rarely-cleaned room; and I have many a time
heard both husband and wife--one couple especially, who were “sweating”
for a gorgeous clothes’ emporium--say that they had not time to be

The costermonger supplies the poor with every kind of fish, for he
deals, usually, in every kind when it is cheap. Some confine their
dealings to such things as shrimps, or periwinkles, but the adhering
to one particular article is the exception and not the rule; while
shrimps, lobsters, &c., are rarely bought by the very poor. Of the
entire quantity of fish sent to Billingsgate-market, the costermongers,
stationary and itinerant, may be said to sell one-third, taking one
kind with another.

The fish sent to London is known to Billingsgate salesmen as “red”
and “white” fish. The red fish is, as regards the metropolitan mart,
confined to the salmon. The other descriptions are known as “white.”
The costermongers classify the fish they vend as “wet” and “dry.”
All fresh fish is “wet;” all cured or salted fish, “dry.” The fish
which is sold “pickled,” is known by that appellation, but its street
sale is insignificant. The principal fish-staple, so to speak of the
street-fishmonger, is soles, which are in supply all, or nearly all,
the year. The next are herrings, mackarel, whitings, Dutch eels, and
plaice. The trade in plaice and sprats is almost entirely in the hands
of the costermongers; their sale of shrimps is nearer a half than a
third of the entire quantity sent to Billingsgate; but their purchase
of cod, or of the best lobsters, or crabs, is far below a third. The
costermonger rarely buys turbot, or brill, or even salmon, unless he
can retail it at 6_d._ the pound. When it is at that price, a street
salmon-seller told me that the eagerness to buy it was extreme. He had
known persons, who appeared to him to be very poor, buy a pound of
salmon, “just for a treat once in a way.” His best, or rather readiest
customers--for at 6_d._ a pound all classes of the community may be
said to be his purchasers--were the shopkeepers of the busier parts,
and the occupants of the smaller private houses of the suburbs. During
the past year salmon was scarce and dear, and the costermongers bought,
comparatively, none of it. In a tolerably cheap season they do not sell
more than from a fifteenth to a twentieth of the quantity received at

In order to be able to arrive at the quantity or weight of the
several kinds of fish sold by the costermongers in the streets of
London, it is necessary that we should know the entire amount sent
to Billingsgate-market, for it is only by estimating the proportion
which the street-sale bears to the whole, that we can attain even an
approximation to the truth. The following Table gives the results of
certain information collected by myself for the first time, I believe,
in this country. The facts, as well as the estimated proportions of
each kind of fish sold by the costermongers, have been furnished me
by the most eminent of the Billingsgate salesmen--gentlemen to whom
I am under many obligations for their kindness, consideration, and
assistance, at all times and seasons.


                            |   Number    |    Weight or     |  Proportion
      Description of Fish.  |     of      |    Measure of    |   sold by
                            |    Fish.    |      Fish.       | Costermongers.
            WET FISH.       |             |          lbs.    |
  Salmon and Salmon Trout   |             |                  |
    (29,000 boxes, 14 fish  |             |                  |
    per box)                |      406,000|         3,480,000|One-twentieth.
  Live Cod (averaging 10    |             |                  |
    lbs. each)              |      400,000|         4,000,000|One-fourth.
  Soles (averaging          |             |                  |
    1/4 lb. each)           |   97,520,000|        26,880,000|One-fifteenth.
  Whiting (averaging        |             |                  |
    6 oz. each)             |   17,920,000|         6,720,000|One-fourth.
  Haddock (averaging        |             |                  |
    2 lbs. each)            |    2,470,000|         4,940,000|One-tenth.
  Plaice (averaging         |             |                  |
    1 lb. each)             |   33,600,000|        33,600,000|Seven-eighths.
  Mackarel (averaging
    1 lb. each)             |   23,520,000|        23,520,000|Two-thirds.
  Fresh Herrings            |             |                  |
    (250,000 bars.,         |             |                  |
    700 fish per bar.)      |  175,000,000|        42,000,000|One-half.
        „        (in bulk)  |1,050,000,000|       252,000,000|Three-fourths.
  Sprats                    |             |         4,000,000|Three-fourths.
  Eels from Holland       } |             |       { 1,505,280|One-fourth.
   „  England and Ireland } |    9,797,760|       {   127,680|One-fourth.
    (6 fish per 1 lb.)      |             |                  |
  Flounders (7,200          |             |                  |
    quarterns,              |             |                  |
    36 fish per quartern)   |      259,200|            43,200|All.
  Dabs (7,500 quarterns,    |             |                  |
    36 fish per quartern)   |      270,000|            48,750|All.
                            |             |                  |
            DRY FISH.       |             |                  |
  Barrelled Cod             |             |                  |
    (15,000 barrels,        |             |                  |
    50 fish per barrel)     |      750,000|         4,200,000|One-eighth.
  Dried Salt Cod            |             |                  |
    (5 lbs. each)           |    1,600,000|         8,000,000|One-tenth.
  Smoked Haddock (65,000    |             |                  |
    bars., 300 fish         |             |                  |
    per bar.)               |   19,500,000|        10,920,000|One-eighth.
  Bloaters (265,000         |             |                  |
    baskets, 150 fish       |             |                  |
    per basket)             |   49,750,000|        10,600,000|One-fourth.
  Red Herrings (100,000     |             |                  |
    bars., 500 fish         |             |                  |
    per bar.)               |   50,000,000|        14,000,000|One-half.
  Dried Sprats (9,600       |             |                  |
    large bundles, 30 fish  |             |                  |
    per bundle)[1]          |      288,000|            96,000|None.
                            |             |                  |
            SHELL FISH.     |             |                  |
  Oysters (309,935 bars.,   |             |                  |
    1,600 fish per bar.)    |  495,896,000|                  |One-fourth.
  Lobsters (averaging 1 lb. |             |                  |
    each fish)              |    1,200,000|         1,200,000|One-twentieth.
  Crabs (averaging 1 lb.    |             |                  |
    each fish)              |      600,000|           600,000|One-twelfth.
  Shrimps (324 to the pint) |  498,428,648|     192,295 gals.|One-half.
  Whelks (224 to the        |             |                  |
    1/2 bus.)               |    4,943,200|22,067 1/2 bus.[2]|All.
  Mussels (1000 to the      |             |                  |
    1/2 bus.)               |   50,400,000|50,400      „     |Two-thirds.
  Cockles (2,000 to the     |             |                  |
    1/2 bus.)               |   67,392,000|33,696      „     |Three-fourths.
  Periwinkles (4,000 to     |             |                  |
    the 1/2 bus.)           |  304,000,000|76,000      „     |Three-fourths.

[1] Costermongers dry their own sprats.

[2] The half-bushel measure at Billingsgate is double quantity--or,
more correctly, a bushel.


The season for the street-fishmongers begins about October and ends in

In October, or a month or two earlier, may-be, they generally deal
in fresh herrings, the supply of which lasts up to about the middle
or end of November. This is about the best season. The herrings are
sold to the poor, upon an average, at twelve a groat, or from 3_s._
to 4_s._ the hundred. After or during November, the sprat and plaice
season begins. The regular street-fishmonger, however, seldom deals
in sprats. He “works” these only when there is no other fish to be
got. He generally considers this trade beneath him, and more fit for
women than men. Those costers who do sell them dispose of them now by
weight at the rate of 1_d._ to 2_d._ the pound--a bushel averaging from
40 to 50 pounds. The plaice season continues to the first or second
week in May. During May the casualty season is on, and there is little
fish certain from that time till salmon comes in, and this is about
the end of the month. The salmon season lasts till about the middle
of July. The selling of salmon is a bad trade in the poor districts,
but a very good one in the better streets or the suburbs. At this work
the street-fishmonger will sometimes earn on a fine day from 5_s._
to 12_s._ The losses, however, are very great in this article if the
weather prove bad. If kept at all “over” it loses its colour, and
turns to a pale red, which is seen immediately the knife goes into the
fish. While I was obtaining this information some months back, a man
went past the window of the house in which I was seated, with a barrow
drawn by a donkey. He was crying, “Fresh cod, oh! 1-1/2_d._ a pound,
cod alive, oh!” My informant called me to the window, saying, “Now,
here is what we call rough cod.” He told me it was three days old. He
thought it was eatable _then_, he said. The eyes were dull and heavy
and sunken, and the limp tails of the fish dangled over the ends of
the barrow. He said it was a hanging market that day--that is to say,
things had been dear, and the costers couldn’t pay the price for them.
He should fancy, he told me, the man had paid for the fish from 9_d._
to 1_s._ each, which was at the rate of 1_d._ per pound. He was calling
them at 1-1/2_d._ He would not take less than this until he had “got
his own money in;” and then, probably, if he had one or two of the fish
left, he would put up with 1_d._ per pound. The weight he was “working”
was 12 oz. to the pound. My informant assured me he knew this, because
he had borrowed _his_ 12 oz. pound weight that morning. This, with
the draught of 2 oz. in the weighing-machine, and the ounce gained by
placing the fish at the end of the pan, would bring the actual weight
given to 9 oz. per pound, and probably, he said the man had even a
lighter pound weight in his barrow ready for a “scaly” customer.

After the street-fishmonger has done his morning’s work, he sometimes
goes out with his tub of pickled salmon on a barrow or stall, and
sells it in saucers at 1_d._ each, or by the piece. This he calls as
“fine Newcastle salmon.” There is generally a great sale for this at
the races; and if country-people begin with a pennyworth they end with
a shillingsworth--a pennyworth, the costers say, makes a fool of the
mouth. If they have any on hand, and a little stale, at the end of
the week, they sell it at the public-houses to the “Lushingtons,” and
to them, with plenty of vinegar, it goes down sweet. It is generally
bought for 7_s._ a kit, a little bit “pricked;” but, if good, the price
is from 12_s._ to 18_s._ “We’re in no ways particular to that,” said
one candid coster to me. “We don’t have the eating on it ourselves, and
people a’n’t always got their taste, especially when they have been
drinking, and we sell a great deal to parties in that way. We think it
no sin to cheat ’em of 1_d._ while the publicans takes 1_s._”

Towards the middle of June the street-fishmonger looks for mackerel,
and he is generally employed in selling this fish up to the end of
July. After July the Billingsgate season is said to be finished.
From this time to the middle of October, when the herrings return,
he is mostly engaged selling dried haddocks and red herrings,
and other “cas’alty fish that may come across him.” Many of the
street-fishmongers object to deal in periwinkles, or stewed mussels,
or boiled whelks, because, being accustomed to take their money
in sixpences at a time, they do not like, they say, to traffic in
halfpennyworths. The dealers in these articles are generally looked
upon as an inferior class.

There are, during the day, two periods for the sale of street-fish--the
one (the morning trade) beginning about ten, and lasting till one
in the day--and the other (the night trade) lasting from six in the
evening up to ten at night. What fish is left in the forenoon is
generally disposed of cheap at night. That sold at the latter time is
generally used by the working-class for supper, or kept by them with a
little salt in a cool place for the next day’s dinner, if it will last
as long. Several articles are sold by the street-fishmonger chiefly by
night. These are oysters, lobsters, pickled salmon, stewed mussels,
and the like. The reason why the latter articles sell better by night
is, my informant says, “Because people are lofty-minded, and don’t
like to be seen eating on ’em in the street in the day-time.” Shrimps
and winkles are the staple commodities of the afternoon trade, which
lasts from three to half-past five in the evening. These articles are
generally bought by the working-classes for their tea.


To see this market in its busiest costermonger time, the visitor should
be there about seven o’clock on a Friday morning. The market opens at
four, but for the first two or three hours, it is attended solely by
the regular fishmongers and “bummarees” who have the pick of the best
there. As soon as these are gone, the costers’ sale begins.

Many of the costers that usually deal in vegetables, buy a little fish
on the Friday. It is the fast day of the Irish, and the mechanics’
wives run short of money at the end of the week, and so make up their
dinners with fish; for this reason the attendance of costers’ barrows
at Billingsgate on a Friday morning is always very great. As soon as
you reach the Monument you see a line of them, with one or two tall
fishmonger’s carts breaking the uniformity, and the din of the cries
and commotion of the distant market, begins to break on the ear like
the buzzing of a hornet’s nest. The whole neighbourhood is covered with
the hand-barrows, some laden with baskets, others with sacks. Yet as
you walk along, a fresh line of costers’ barrows are creeping in or
being backed into almost impossible openings; until at every turning
nothing but donkeys and rails are to be seen. The morning air is filled
with a kind of seaweedy odour, reminding one of the sea-shore; and
on entering the market, the smell of fish, of whelks, red herrings,
sprats, and a hundred others, is almost overpowering.

The wooden barn-looking square where the fish is sold, is soon after
six o’clock crowded with shiny cord jackets and greasy caps. Everybody
comes to Billingsgate in his worst clothes, and no one knows the
length of time a coat can be worn until they have been to a fish sale.
Through the bright opening at the end are seen the tangled rigging of
the oyster-boats and the red worsted caps of the sailors. Over the hum
of voices is heard the shouts of the salesmen, who, with their white
aprons, peering above the heads of the mob, stand on their tables,
roaring out their prices.

All are bawling together--salesmen and hucksters of provisions,
capes, hardware, and newspapers--till the place is a perfect Babel
of competition. “Ha-a-ansome cod! best in the market! All alive!
alive! alive O!” “Ye-o-o! Ye-o-o! here’s your fine Yarmouth bloaters!
Who’s the buyer?” “Here you are, governor, splendid whiting! some
of the right sort!” “Turbot! turbot! all alive! turbot!” “Glass of
nice peppermint! this cold morning a ha’penny a glass!” “Here you
are at your own price! Fine soles, O!” “Oy! oy! oy! Now’s your time!
fine grizzling sprats! all large and no small!” “Hullo! hullo here!
beautiful lobsters! good and cheap! fine cock crabs all alive O!”
“Five brill and one turbot--have that lot for a pound! Come and
look at ’em, governor; you wont see a better sample in the market.”
“Here, this way! this way for splendid skate! skate O! skate O!”
“Had--had--had--had--haddick! all fresh and good!” “Currant and meat
puddings! a ha’penny each!” “Now, you mussel-buyers, come along! come
along! come along! now’s your time for fine fat mussels!” “Here’s food
for the belly, and clothes for the back, but I sell food for the mind”
(shouts the newsvender). “Here’s smelt O!” “Here ye are, fine Finney
haddick!” “Hot soup! nice peas-soup! a-all hot! hot!” “Ahoy! ahoy here!
live plaice! all alive O!” “Now or never! whelk! whelk! whelk!” “Who’ll
buy brill O! brill O!” “Capes! water-proof capes! sure to keep the
wet out! a shilling a piece!” “Eels O! eels O! Alive! alive O!” “Fine
flounders, a shilling a lot! Who’ll have this prime lot of flounders?”
“Shrimps! shrimps! fine shrimps!” “Wink! wink! wink!” “Hi! hi-i! here
you are, just eight eels left, only eight!” “O ho! O ho! this way--this
way--this way! Fish alive! alive! alive O!”

In the darkness of the shed, the white bellies of the turbots, strung
up bow-fashion, shine like mother-of-pearl, while, the lobsters, lying
upon them, look intensely scarlet, from the contrast. Brown baskets
piled up on one another, and with the herring-scales glittering like
spangles all over them, block up the narrow paths. Men in coarse canvas
jackets, and bending under huge hampers, push past, shouting “Move
on! move on, there!” and women, with the long limp tails of cod-fish
dangling from their aprons, elbow their way through the crowd. Round
the auction-tables stand groups of men turning over the piles of soles,
and throwing them down till they slide about in their slime; some are
smelling them, while others are counting the lots. “There, that lot of
soles are worth your money,” cries the salesman to one of the crowd as
he moves on leisurely; “none better in the market. You shall have ’em
for a pound and half-a-crown.” “Oh!” shouts another salesman, “it’s no
use to bother him--he’s no go.” Presently a tall porter, with a black
oyster-bag, staggers past, trembling under the weight of his load, his
back and shoulders wet with the drippings from the sack. “Shove on one
side!” he mutters from between his clenched teeth, as he forces his
way through the mob. Here is a tray of reddish-brown shrimps piled up
high, and the owner busy sifting his little fish into another stand,
while a doubtful customer stands in front, tasting the flavour of the
stock and consulting with his companion in speculation. Little girls
carrying matting-bags, that they have brought from Spitalfields, come
up, and ask you in a begging voice to buy their baskets; and women with
bundles of twigs for stringing herrings, cry out, “Half-penny a bunch!”
from all sides. Then there are blue-black piles of small live lobsters,
moving about their bound-up claws and long “feelers,” one of them
occasionally being taken up by a looker-on, and dashed down again, like
a stone. Everywhere every one is asking, “What’s the price, master?”
while shouts of laughter from round the stalls of the salesmen,
bantering each other, burst out, occasionally, over the murmuring noise
of the crowd. The transparent smelts on the marble-slabs, and the
bright herrings, with the lump of transparent ice magnifying their eyes
like a lens, are seldom looked at until the market is over, though the
hampers and piles of huge maids, dropping slime from the counter, are
eagerly examined and bartered for.

One side of the market is set apart for whelks. There they stand in
sackfulls, with the yellow shells piled up at the mouth, and one or
two of the fish, curling out like corkscrews, placed as a sample. The
coster slips one of these from its shell, examines it, pushes it back
again, and then passes away, to look well round the market. In one part
the stones are covered with herring-barrels, packed closely with dried
fish, and yellow heaps of stiff haddock rise up on all sides. Here a
man walks up with his knot on his shoulder, waiting for a job to carry
fish to the trucks. Boys in ragged clothes, who have slept during the
night under a railway-arch, clamour for employment; while the heads of
those returning from the oyster-boats, rise slowly up the stone sides
of the wharf.

The costermongers have nicknamed the long row of oyster boats moored
close alongside the wharf “Oyster-street.” On looking down the line
of tangled ropes and masts, it seems as though the little boats would
sink with the crowds of men and women thronged together on their decks.
It is as busy a scene as one can well behold. Each boat has its black
sign-board, and salesman in his white apron walking up and down “his
shop,” and on each deck is a bright pewter pot and tin-covered plate,
the remains of the salesman’s breakfast. “Who’s for Baker’s?” “Who’s
for Archer’s?” “Who’ll have Alston’s?” shout the oyster-merchants, and
the red cap of the man in the hold bobs up and down as he rattles the
shells about with his spade. These holds are filled with oysters--a
gray mass of sand and shell--on which is a bushel measure well piled
up in the centre, while some of them have a blue muddy heap of
mussels divided off from the “natives.” The sailors in their striped
guernseys sit on the boat sides smoking their morning’s pipe, allowing
themselves to be tempted by the Jew boys with cloth caps, old shoes,
and silk handkerchiefs. Lads with bundles of whips skip from one boat
to another, and, seedy-looking mechanics, with handfuls of tin fancy
goods, hover about the salesmen, who are the principal supporters
of this trade. The place has somewhat the appearance of a little
Holywell-street; for the old clothes’ trade is entirely in the hands
of the Jew boys, and coats, caps, hats, umbrellas, and old shoes, are
shouted out in a rich nasal twang on all sides.

Passing by a man and his wife who were breakfasting on the stone
coping, I went to the shore where the watermen ply for passengers
to the eel boats. Here I found a crowd of punts, half filled with
flounders, and small closely-packed baskets of them ranged along the
seats. The lads, who act as jacks-in-the-water, were busy feeling in
the mud for the fish that had fallen over board, little caring for the
water that dashed over their red swollen feet. Presently a boat, piled
up with baskets, shot in, grazing the bottom, and men and women, blue
with the cold morning air, stepped out.

The Dutch built eel-boats, with their bulging polished oak sides, were
half-hidden in the river mist. They were surrounded by skiffs, that
ply from the Surrey and Middlesex shores, and wait whilst the fares
buy their fish. The holds of these eel-boats are fitted up with long
tanks of muddy water, and the heads of the eels are seen breathing
on the surface--a thick brown bubble rising slowly, and floating to
the sides. Wooden sabots and large porcelain pipes are ranged round
the ledges, and men in tall fur caps with high cheek bones, and rings
in their ears, walk the decks. At the stern of one boat was moored a
coffin-shaped barge pierced with holes, and hanging in the water were
baskets, shaped like olive jars--both to keep the stock of fish alive
and fresh. In the centre of the boat stood the scales,--a tall heavy
apparatus, one side fitted up with the conical net-bag to hold the
eels, and the other with the weights, and pieces of stone to make up
for the extra draught of the water hanging about the fish. When a skiff
load of purchasers arrives, the master Dutchman takes his hands from
his pockets, lays down his pipe, and seizing a sort of long-handled
landing-net scoops from the tank a lot of eels. The purchasers examine
them, and try to beat down the price. “You calls them eels do you?”
said a man with his bag ready opened. “Yeas,” answered the Dutchman
without any show of indignation. “Certainly, there is a few among
them,” continued the customer; and after a little more of this kind of
chaffering the bargain is struck.

The visitors to the eel-boats were of all grades; one was a
neatly-dressed girl to whom the costers showed the utmost gallantry,
calling her “my dear,” and helping her up the shining sides of the
boat; and many of the men had on their blue serge apron, but these
were only where the prices were high. The greatest crowd of customers
is in the heavy barge alongside of the Dutch craft. Here a stout
sailor in his red woollen shirt, and canvass petticoat, is surrounded
by the most miserable and poorest of fish purchasers--the men with
their crushed hats, tattered coats, and unshorn chins, and the women
with their pads on their bonnets, and brown ragged gowns blowing in
the breeze. One, in an old table-cover shawl, was beating her palms
together before the unmoved Dutchman, fighting for an abatement, and
showing her stock of halfpence. Others were seated round the barge,
sorting their lots in their shallows, and sanding the fish till they
were quite yellow. Others, again, were crowding round the scales
narrowly watching the balance, and then begging for a few dead eels to
make up any doubtful weight.

As you walk back from the shore to the market, you see small groups
of men and women dividing the lot of fish they have bought together.
At one basket, a coster, as you pass, calls to you, and says, “Here,
master, just put these three halfpence on these three cod, and obleege
a party.” The coins are placed, and each one takes the fish his coin is
on; and so there is no dispute.

At length nearly all the busy marketing has finished, and the costers
hurry to breakfast. At one house, known as “Rodway’s Coffee-house,”
a man can have a meal for 1_d._--a mug of hot coffee and two slices
of bread and butter, while for two-pence what is elegantly termed “a
tightner,” that is to say, a most plentiful repast, may be obtained.
Here was a large room, with tables all round, and so extremely silent,
that the smacking of lips and sipping of coffee were alone heard.
Upwards of 1,500 men breakfast here in the course of the morning,
many of them taking as many as three such meals. On the counter was a
pile of white mugs, and the bright tin cans stood beside the blazing
fire, whilst Rodway himself sat at a kind of dresser, cutting up and
buttering the bread, with marvellous rapidity. It was a clean, orderly,
and excellent establishment, kept by a man, I was told, who had risen
from a saloop stall.

Opposite to the Coal Exchange were ranged the stalls and barrows with
the street eatables, and the crowds round each showed the effects of
the sharp morning air. One--a Jew’s--had hot-pies with lids that rose
as the gravy was poured in from an oil can; another carried a stone jar
of peppermint-water, at 1/2_d._ a glass; and the pea-soup stand was
hemmed in by boys and men blowing the steam from their cups. Beside
these were Jews with cloth caps and knives, and square yellow cakes;
one old man, in a corner, stood examining a thread-bare scarf that
a cravatless coster had handed to him. Coffee-stalls were in great
plenty; and men left their barrows to run up and have “an oyster,”
or “an ’ot heel.” One man here makes his living by selling sheets
of old newspapers, at 1/2_d._ each, for the costers to dress their
trays with. Though seemingly rather out of place, there was a Mosaic
jewellery stand; old umbrellas, too, were far from scarce; and one had
brought a horse-hair stool for sale.

Everybody was soon busy laying out their stock. The wrinkled dull-eyed
cod was freshened up, the red-headed gurnet placed in rows, the eels
prevented from writhing over the basket sides by cabbage-leaves, and
the soles paired off like gloves. Then the little trucks began to
leave, crawling, as it were, between the legs of the horses in the vans
crowding Thames-street, and plunging in between huge waggons, but still
appearing safely on the other side; and the 4,000 costers who visit
Billingsgate on the Friday morning were shortly scattered throughout
the metropolis.


“Forestalling,” writes Adam Smith, “is the buying or contracting for
any cattle, provisions, or merchandize, on its way to the market (or
at market), or dissuading persons from buying their goods there, or
persuading them to raise the price, or spreading any false rumour with
intent to enhance the value of any article. In the remoter periods of
our history several statutes were passed, prohibiting forestalling
under severe penalties; but as more enlarged views upon such subjects
began to prevail, their impolicy became obvious, and they were
consequently repealed in 1772. But forestalling is still punishable by
fine and imprisonment; though it be doubtful whether any jury would now
convict an individual accused of such practices.”

In Billingsgate the “forestallers” or middlemen are known as
“bummarees,” who, as regards means, are a far superior class to the
“hagglers” (the forestallers of the “green” markets). The bummaree is
the jobber or speculator on the fish-exchange. Perhaps on every busy
morning 100 men buy a quantity of fish, which they account likely
to be remunerative, and retail it, or dispose of it in lots to the
fishmongers or costermongers. Few if any of these dealers, however,
are merely bummarees. A salesman, if he have disposed of the fish
consigned to himself, will turn bummaree if any bargain tempt him. Or
a fishmonger may purchase twice the quantity he requires for his own
trade, in order to procure a cheaper stock, and “bummaree” what he does
not require. These speculations in fish are far more hazardous than
those in fruit or vegetables, for later in the day a large consignment
by railway may reach Billingsgate, and, being thrown upon the market,
may reduce the price one half. In the vegetable and fruit markets there
is but one arrival. The costermongers are among the best customers of
the bummarees.

I asked several parties as to the origin of the word “bummaree,” and
how long it had been in use. “Why, bless your soul, sir,” said one
Billingsgate labourer, “there always was bummarees, and there always
will be; just as Jack there is a ‘rough,’ and I’m a blessed ‘bobber.’”
One man assured me it was a French name; another that it was Dutch. A
fishmonger, to whom I was indebted for information, told me he thought
that the bummaree was originally a bum-boat man, who purchased of
the wind-bound smacks at Gravesend or the Nore, and sent the fish up
rapidly to the market by land.

I may add, as an instance of the probable gains of the forestallers, in
the olden time, that a tradesman whose family had been long connected
with Billingsgate, showed me by his predecessors’ books and memoranda,
that in the depth of winter, when the Thames was perhaps choked with
ice, and no supply of fish “got up” to London, any, that might, by
management, reach Billingsgate used to command exorbitant prices.
To speak only of the present century: March 11th, 1802, a cod fish
(8 lbs.) was bought by Messrs. Phillips and Robertson, fishmongers,
Bond-street, for 1_l._ 8_s._ February, 1809, a salmon (19 lbs.) was
bought by Mr. Phillips at a guinea a pound, 19_l._ 19_s._ for the fish!
March 24th, 1824, three lobsters were sold for a guinea each.

The “haggler,” I may here observe, is the bummaree or forestaller or
middleman of the green markets; as far as the costermonger’s trade is
concerned, he deals in fruit and vegetables. Of these trafficers there
are fully 200 in Covent-garden-market; from 60 to 70 in Farringdon;
from 40 to 50 in the Borough; from 50 to 60 in Spitalfields; and none
in Portman-market; such being the only wholesale green-markets for the
purposes of the costermongers. The haggler is a middleman who makes
his purchases of the growers when the day is somewhat advanced, and
the whole produce conveyed to the market has not been disposed of. The
grower will then, rather than be detained in town, sell the whole lot
remaining in his cart or wagon to a haggler, who re-sells it to the
costers, or to any other customer, from a stand which he hires by the
day. The costermongers who are the most provident, and either have
means or club their resources for a large purchase, often buy early in
the morning, and so have the advantage of anticipating their fellows in
the street-trade, with the day before them. Those who buy later are the
customers of the hagglers, and are street-sellers, whose means do not
command an extensive purchase, or who do not care to venture upon one
unless it be very cheap. These men speak very bitterly of the hagglers,
calling them “cracked-up shop-keepers” and “scurfs,” and declaring that
but for them the growers must remain, and sell off their produce cheap
to the costermongers.

A species of forestalling is now not uncommon, and is on the increase
among the costermongers themselves. There are four men, having the
command of money, who attend the markets and buy either fish or
vegetables largely. One man especially buys almost daily as much fruit
and vegetables as will supply thirty street-dealers. He adds 3_d._ a
bushel to the wholesale market price of apples; 6_d._ to that of pears;
9_d._ to plums; and 1_s._ to cherries. A purchaser can thus get a
smaller quantity than he can always buy at market, and avails himself
of the opportunity.

Moreover, a good many of the more intelligent street-dealers now club
together--six of them, for instance--contributing 15_s._ each, and
a quantity of fish is thus bought by one of their body (a smaller
contribution suffices to buy vegetables). Perhaps, on an equal
partition, each man thus gets for his 15_s._ as much as might have cost
him 20_s._, had he bought “single-handed.” This mode of purchase is
also on the increase.


Concerning the sale of “wet” or fresh fish, I had the following account
from a trustworthy man, of considerable experience and superior

“I have sold ‘wet fish’ in the streets for more than fourteen years,”
he said; “before that I was a gentleman, and was brought up a
gentleman, if I’m a beggar now. I bought fish largely in the north of
England once, and now I must sell it in the streets of London. Never
mind talking about that, sir; there’s some things won’t bear talking
about. There’s a wonderful difference in the streets since I knew them
first; I could make a pound then, where I can hardly make a crown now.
People had more money, and less meanness then. I consider that the
railways have injured me, and all wet fish-sellers, to a great extent.
Fish now, you see, sir, comes in at all hours, so that nobody can
calculate on the quantity that will be received--nobody. That’s the
mischief of it; we are afraid to buy, and miss many a chance of turning
a penny. In my time, since railways were in, I’ve seen cod-fish sold at
a guinea in the morning that were a shilling at noon; for either the
wind and the tide had served, or else the railway fishing-places were
more than commonly supplied, and there was a glut to London. There’s
no trade requires greater judgment than mine--none whatever. Before
the railways--and I never could see the good of them--the fish came in
by the tide, and we knew how to buy, for there would be no more till
next tide. Now, we don’t know. I go to Billingsgate to buy my fish,
and am very well known to Mr. ---- and Mr. ---- (mentioning the names
of some well-known salesmen). The Jews are my ruin there now. When I
go to Billingsgate, Mr. ---- will say, or rather, I will say to him,
‘How much for this pad of soles?’ He will answer, ‘Fourteen shillings.’
‘Fourteen shillings!’ I say, ‘I’ll give you seven shillings,--that’s
the proper amount;’ then the Jew boys--none of them twenty that are
there--ranged about will begin; and one says, when I bid 7_s._, ‘I’ll
give 8_s_;’ ‘nine,’ says another, close on my left; ‘ten,’ shouts
another, on my right, and so they go offering on; at last Mr. ----
says to one of them, as grave as a judge, ‘Yours, sir, at 13_s_,’
but it’s all gammon. The 13_s._ buyer isn’t a buyer at all, and isn’t
required to pay a farthing, and never touches the goods. It’s all done
to keep up the price to poor fishmen, and so to poor buyers that are
our customers in the streets. Money makes money, and it don’t matter
how. Those Jew boys--I dare say they’re the same sort as once sold
oranges about the streets--are paid, I know 1_s._ for spending three
or four hours that way in the cold and wet. My trade has been injured,
too, by the great increase of Irish costermongers; for an Irishman will
starve out an Englishman any day; besides if a tailor can’t live by his
trade, he’ll take to fish, or fruit and cabbages. The month of May is a
fine season for plaice, which is bought very largely by my customers.
Plaice are sold at 1/2_d._ and 1_d._ a piece. It is a difficult fish
to manage, and in poor neighbourhoods an important one to manage well.
The old hands make a profit out of it; new hands a loss. There’s not
much cod or other wet fish sold to the poor, while plaice is in. My
customers are poor men’s wives,--mechanics, I fancy. They want fish
at most unreasonable prices. If I could go and pull them off a line
flung off Waterloo-bridge, and no other expense, I couldn’t supply
them as cheap as they expect them. Very cheap fish-sellers lose their
customers, through the Billingsgate bummarees, for they have pipes,
and blow up the cod-fish, most of all, and puff up their bellies till
they are twice the size, but when it comes to table, there’s hardly to
say any fish at all. The Billingsgate authorities would soon stop it,
if they knew all I know. They won’t allow any roguery, or any trick,
if they only come to hear of it. These bummarees have caused many
respectable people to avoid street-buying, and so fair traders like me
are injured. I’ve nothing to complain of about the police. Oft enough,
if I could be allowed ten minutes longer on a Saturday night, I could
get through all my stock without loss. About a quarter to twelve I
begin to halloo away as hard as I can, and there’s plenty of customers
that lay out never a farthing till that time, and then they can’t be
served fast enough, so they get their fish cheaper than I do. If any
halloos out that way sooner, we must all do the same. Anything rather
than keep fish over a warm Sunday. I have kept mine in ice; I haven’t
opportunity now, but it’ll keep in a cool place this time of year. I
think there’s as many sellers as buyers in the streets, and there’s
scores of them don’t give just weight or measure. I wish there was good
moral rules in force, and everybody gave proper weight. I often talk
to street-dealers about it. I’ve given them many a lecture; but they
say they only do what plenty of shopkeepers do, and just get fined
and go on again, without being a pin the worse thought of. They are
abusive sometimes, too; I mean the street-sellers are, because they are
ignorant. I have no children, thank God, and my wife helps me in my
business. Take the year through, I clear from 10_s._ to 12_s._ every
week. That’s not much to support two people. Some weeks I earn only
4_s._,--such as in wet March weather. In others I earn 18_s._ or 1_l._
November, December, and January are good months for me. I wouldn’t
mind if they lasted all the year round. I’m often very badly off
indeed--very badly; and the misery of being hard up, sir, is not when
you’re making a struggle to get out of your trouble; no, nor to raise
a meal off herrings that you’ve given away once, but when your wife
and you’s sitting by a grate without a fire, and putting the candle
out to save it, a planning how to raise money. ‘Can we borrow there?’
‘Can we manage to sell if we can borrow?’ ‘Shall we get from very bad
to the parish?’ Then, perhaps, there’s a day lost, and without a bite
in our mouths trying to borrow. Let alone a little drop to give a body
courage, which perhaps is the only good use of spirit after all. That’s
the pinch, sir. When the rain you hear outside puts you in mind of

Subjoined is the amount (in round numbers) of wet fish annually
disposed of in the metropolis by the street-sellers:

                           No. of Fish.      lbs. weight.
  Salmon                         20,000           175,000
  Live-cod                      100,000         1,000,000
  Soles                       6,500,000         1,650,000
  Whiting                     4,440,000         1,680,000
  Haddock                       250,000           500,000
  Plaice                     29,400,000        29,400,000
  Mackarel                   15,700,000        15,700,000
  Herrings                  875,000,000       210,000,000
  Sprats                         „              3,000,000
  Eels, from Holland            400,000            65,000
  Flounders                     260,000            43,000
  Dabs                          270,000            48,000
                            -----------       -----------
  Total quantity of    }
  wet fish sold in the }    932,340,000       263,261,000
  streets of London    }

From the above Table we perceive that the fish, of which the greatest
quantity is eaten by the poor, is herrings; of this, compared with
plaice there is upwards of thirty times the number consumed. After
plaice rank mackerel, and of these the consumption is about one-half
less in number than plaice, while the number of soles vended in the
streets, is again half of that of mackerel. Then come whiting, which
are about two-thirds the number of the soles, while the consumption
to the poor of haddock, cod, eels, and salmon, is comparatively
insignificant. Of sprats, which are estimated by weight, only one-fifth
of the number of pounds are consumed compared with the weight of
mackerel. The pounds’ weight of herrings sold in the streets, in
the course of a year, is upwards of seven times that of plaice, and
fourteen times that of mackerel. Altogether more than 260,000,000
pounds, or 116,000 tons weight of wet fish are yearly purchased in the
streets of London, for the consumption of the humbler classes. Of this
aggregate amount, no less than five-sixths consists of herrings; which,
indeed, constitute the great slop diet of the metropolis.


Sprats--one of the cheapest and most grateful luxuries of the poor--are
generally introduced about the 9th of November. Indeed “Lord Mayor’s
day” is sometimes called “sprat day.” They continue in about ten weeks.
They are sold at Billingsgate by the “toss,” or “chuck,” which is about
half a bushel, and weighs from 40lbs. to 50lbs. The price varies from
1_s._ to 5_s._ Sprats are, this season, pronounced remarkably fine.
“Look at my lot sir,” said a street-seller to me; “they’re a heap of
new silver,” and the bright shiny appearance of the glittering little
fish made the comparison not inappropriate. In very few, if in any,
instances does a costermonger confine himself to the sale of sprats,
unless his means limit him to that one branch of the business. A more
prosperous street-fishmonger will sometimes detach the sprats from his
stall, and his wife, or one of his children will take charge of them.
Only a few sprat-sellers are itinerant, the fish being usually sold
by stationary street-sellers at “pitches.” One who worked his sprats
through the streets, or sold them from a stall as he thought best, gave
me the following account. He was dressed in a newish fustian-jacket,
buttoned close up his chest, but showing a portion of a clean cotton
shirt at the neck, with a bright-coloured coarse handkerchief round
it; the rest of his dress was covered by a white apron. His hair, as
far as I could see it under his cloth cap, was carefully brushed, and
(it appeared) as carefully oiled. At the first glance I set him down
as having been a gentleman’s servant. He had a somewhat deferential,
though far from cringing manner with him, and seemed to be about
twenty-five or twenty-six--he thought he was older, he said, but did
not know his age exactly.

“Ah! sir,” he began, in a tone according with his look, “sprats _is_ a
blessing to the poor. Fresh herrings is a blessing too, and sprats is
young herrings, and is a blessing in ’portion” [for so he pronounced
what seemed to be a favourite word with him “proportion”]. “It’s only
four years--yes, four, I’m sure of that--since I walked the streets
starving, in the depth of winter, and looked at the sprats, and said,
I wish I could fill my belly off you. Sir, I hope it was no great sin,
but I could hardly keep my hands from stealing some and eating them
raw. If they make me sick, thought I, the police’ll take care of me,
and that’ll be something. While these thoughts was a passing through
my mind, I met a man who was a gentleman’s coachman; I knew him a
little formerly, and so I stopped him and told him who I was, and that
I hadn’t had a meal for two days. ‘Well, by G--,’ said the coachman,
‘you look like it, why I shouldn’t have known you. Here’s a shilling.’
And then he went on a little way, and then stopped, and turned back and
thrust 3-1/2_d._ more into my hand, and bolted off. I’ve never seen him
since. But I’m grateful to him in the same ’portion (proportion) as if
I had. After I’d had a penn’orth of bread and a penn’orth of cheese,
and half-a-pint of beer, I felt a new man, and I went to the party as
I’d longed to steal the sprats from, and told him what I’d thought
of. I can’t say what made me tell him, but it turned out for good. I
don’t know much about religion, though I can read a little, but may
be that had something to do with it.” The rest of the man’s narrative
was--briefly told--as follows. He was the only child of a gentleman’s
coachman. His father had deserted his mother and him, and gone abroad,
he believed, with some family. His mother, however, took care of him
until her death, which happened “when he was a little turned thirteen,
he had heard, but could not remember the year.” After that he was “a
helper and a jobber in different stables,” and “anybody’s boy,” for a
few years, until he got a footman’s, or rather footboy’s place, which
he kept above a year. After that he was in service, in and out of
different situations, until the time he specified, when he had been out
of place for nearly five weeks, and was starving. His master had got in
difficulties, and had gone abroad; so he was left without a character.
“Well, sir,” he continued, “the man as I wanted to steal the sprats
from, says to me, says he, ‘Poor fellow; I know what a hempty belly is
myself--come and have a pint.’ And over that there pint, he told me,
if I could rise 10_s._ there might be a chance for me in the streets,
and he’d show me how to do. He died not very long after that, poor
man. Well, after a little bit, I managed to borrow 10_s._ of Mr. ----
(I thought of him all of a sudden). He was butler in a family that I
had lived in, and had a charitable character, though he was reckoned
very proud. But I plucked up a spirit, and told him how I was off, and
he said, ‘Well, I’ll try you,’ and he lent me 10_s._, which I paid
him back, little by little, in six or eight weeks; and so I started
in the costermonger line, with the advice of my friend, and I’ve
made from 5_s._ to 10_s._, sometimes more, a week, at it ever since.
The police don’t trouble me much. They is civil to me in ’portion
(proportion) as I am civil to them. I never mixed with the costers but
when I’ve met them at market. I stay at a lodging-house, but it’s very
decent and clean, and I have a bed to myself, at 1_s._ a week, for
I’m a regular man. I’m on sprats now, you see, sir, and you’d wonder,
sometimes, to see how keen people looks to them when they’re new.
They’re a blessing to the poor, in ’portion (proportion) of course. Not
twenty minutes before you spoke to me, there was two poor women came
up--they was sickly-looking, but I don’t know what they was--perhaps
shirt-makers--and they says to me, says they, ‘Show us what a penny
plateful is.’ ‘Sart’nly, ladies,’ says I. Then they whispered together,
and at last one says, says she, ‘We’ll have two platefuls.’ I told you
they was a blessing to the poor, sir--’specially to such as them, as
lives all the year round on bread and tea. But it’s not only the poor
as buys; others in ’portion (proportion). When they’re new they’re a
treat to everybody. I’ve sold them to poor working-men, who’ve said,
‘I’ll take a treat home to the old ’oman and the kids; they dotes on
sprats.’ Gentlemen’s servants is very fond of them, and mechanics comes
down--such as shoemakers in their leather aprons, and sings out, ‘Here,
old sprats, give us two penn’orth.’ They’re _such_ a relish. I sell
more to men than to women, perhaps, but there’s little difference.
They’re best stewed, sir, I think--if you’re fond of sprats--with
vinegar and a pick of allspice; that’s my opinion, and, only yesterday,
an old cook said I was right. I makes 1_s._ 6_d._ to 2_s._ 6_d._ a day,
and sometimes rather more, on my sprats, and sticks to them as much as
I can. I sell about my ‘toss’ a day, seldom less. Of course I can make
as many penn’orths of it as I please, but there’s no custom without one
gives middling penn’orths. If a toss costs me 3_s._, I may make sixty
penn’orths of it sometimes--sometimes seventy or more--and sometimes
less than sixty. There’s many turns over as much as me and more than
that. I’m thinking that I’ll work the country with a lot; they’ll keep
to a second day, when they’re fresh to start, ’specially if its frosty
weather, too, and then they’re better than ever--yes, and a greater
treat--scalding hot from the fire, they’re the cheapest and best of all
suppers in the winter time. I hardly know which way I’ll go. If I can
get anythink to do among horses in the country, I’ll never come back.
I’ve no tie to London.”

To show how small a sum of money will enable the struggling striving
poor to obtain a living, I may here mention that, in the course of
my inquiries among the mudlarks, I casually gave a poor shoeless
urchin, who was spoken of by one of the City Missionaries as being a
well-disposed youth, 1_s._ out of the funds that had been entrusted
to me to dispense. Trifling as the amount appears, it was the means
of keeping his mother, sister, and himself through the winter. It was
invested in sprats, and turned over and over again.

I am informed, by the best authorities, that near upon 1000 “tosses” of
sprats are sold daily in London streets, while the season lasts. These,
sold retail in pennyworths, at very nearly 5_s._ the toss, give about
150_l._ a day, or say 1,000_l._ a week spent on sprats by the poorer
classes of the metropolis; so that, calculating the sprat season to
last ten weeks, about 10,000_l._ would be taken by the costermongers
during that time from the sale of this fish alone.

Another return, furnished me by an eminent salesman at Billingsgate,
estimates the gross quantity of sprats sold by the London costers in
the course of the season at three millions of pounds weight, and this
disposed of at the rate of 1_d._ per pound, gives upwards of 12,000_l._
for the sum of money spent upon this one kind of fish.


I had the following account from an experienced man. He lived with
his mother, his wife, and four children, in one of the streets near
Gray’s-inn-lane. The street was inhabited altogether by people of
his class, the women looking sharply out when a stranger visited the
place. On my first visit to this man’s room, his wife, who is near her
confinement, was at dinner with her children. The time was 1/4 to 12.
The meal was tea, and bread with butter very thinly spread over it.
On the wife’s bread was a small piece of pickled pork, covering about
one-eighth of the slice of a quartern loaf cut through. In one corner
of the room, which is on the ground-floor, was a scantily-covered bed.
A few dingy-looking rags were hanging up to dry in the middle of the
room, which was littered with baskets and boxes, mixed up with old
furniture, so that it was a difficulty to stir. The room (although
the paper, covering the broken panes in the window, was torn and
full of holes) was most oppressively close and hot, and there was a
fetid smell, difficult to sustain, though it was less noticeable on a
subsequent call. I have often had occasion to remark that the poor,
especially those who are much subjected to cold in the open air, will
sacrifice much for heat. The adjoining room, which had no door, seemed
littered like the one where the family were. The walls of the room
I was in were discoloured and weather-stained. The only attempt at
ornament was over the mantel-shelf, the wall here being papered with
red and other gay-coloured papers, that once had been upholsterer’s

On my second visit, the husband was at dinner with the family, on good
boiled beef and potatoes. He was a small-featured man, with a head of
very curly and long black hair, and both in mien, manners, and dress,
resembled the mechanic far more than the costermonger. He said:--

“I’ve been twenty years and more, perhaps twenty-four, selling
shell-fish in the streets. I was a boot-closer when I was young,
and have made my 20_s._ and 30_s._, and sometimes 40_s._, and then
sometimes not 10_s._ a week; but I had an attack of rheumatic-fever,
and lost the use of my hands for my trade. The streets hadn’t any great
name, as far as I knew, then, but as I couldn’t work, it was just a
choice between street-selling and starving, so I didn’t prefer the
last. It was reckoned degrading to go into the streets--but I couldn’t
help that. I was astonished at my success when I first began, and
got into the business--that is into the understanding of it--after a
week, or two, or three. Why, I made 3_l._ the first week I knew my
trade, properly; yes, I cleared 3_l._! I made, not long after, 5_l._
a week--but not often. I was giddy and extravagant. Indeed, I was a
fool, and spent my money like a fool. I could have brought up a family
then like a gentleman--I send them to school as it is--but I hadn’t
a wife and family then, or it might have been better; it’s a great
check on a man, is a family. I began with shell-fish, and sell it
still; very seldom anything else. There’s more demand for shells, no
doubt, because its far cheaper, but then there’s so many more sellers.
I don’t know why exactly. I suppose it’s because poor people go into
the streets when they can’t live other ways, and some do it because
they think it’s an idle life; but it ain’t. Where I took 35_s._ in a
day at my stall--and well on to half of it profit--I now take 5_s._
or 6_s._, or perhaps 7_s._, in the day and less profit on that less
money. I don’t clear 3_s._ a day now, take the year through. I don’t
keep accounts, but I’m certain enough that I average about 15_s._ a
week the year through, and my wife has to help me to make that. She’ll
mind the stall, while I take a round sometimes. I sell all kinds of
shell-fish, but my great dependence is on winkles. I don’t do much in
lobsters. Very few speculate in them. The price varies very greatly.
What’s 10_s._ a score one day may be 25_s._ the next. I sometimes get
a score for 5_s._ or 6_s._, but it’s a poor trade, for 6_d._ is the
top of the tree, with me, for a price to a seller. I never get more.
I sell them to mechanics and tradesmen. I do more in pound crabs.
There’s a great call for haporths and pennorths of lobster or crab,
by children; that’s their claws. I bile them all myself, and buy them
alive. I can bile twenty in half an hour, and do it over a grate in a
back-yard. Lobsters don’t fight or struggle much in the hot water, if
they’re properly packed. It’s very few that knows how to bile a lobster
as he should be biled. I wish I knew any way of killing lobsters
before biling them. I can’t kill them without smashing them to bits,
and that won’t do at all. I kill my crabs before I bile them. I stick
them in the throat with a knife and they’re dead in an instant. Some
sticks them with a skewer, but they kick a good while with the skewer
in them. It’s a shame to torture anything when it can be helped. If I
didn’t kill the crabs they’d shed every leg in the hot water; they’d
come out as bare of claws as this plate. I’ve known it oft enough, as
it is; though I kill them uncommon quick, a crab will be quicker and
shed every leg--throw them off in the moment I kill them, but that
doesn’t happen once in fifty times. Oysters are capital this season, I
mean as to quality, but they’re not a good sale. I made 3_l._ a week in
oysters, not reckoning anything else, eighteen or twenty years back. It
was easy to make money then; like putting down one sovereign and taking
two up. I sold oysters then oft enough at 1_d._ a piece. Now I sell far
finer at three a penny and five for 2_d._ People can’t spend money in
shell-fish when they haven’t got any. They say that fortune knocks once
at every man’s door. I wish I’d opened my door when he knocked at it.”

This man’s wife told me afterwards, that last winter, after an attack
of rheumatism, all their stock-money was exhausted, and her husband
sat day by day at home almost out of his mind; for nothing could tempt
him to apply to the parish, and “he would never have mentioned his
sufferings to me,” she said; “he had too much pride.” The loan of a
few shillings from a poor costermonger enabled the man to go to market
again, or he and his family would now have been in the Union.

As to the quantity of shell-fish sold in the streets of London, the
returns before-cited give the following results:

  Oysters       124,000,000
  Lobsters           60,000
  Crabs              50,000
  Shrimps           770,000 pts.
  Whelks          4,950,000
  Mussels         1,000,000 qts.
  Cockles           750,000 qts.
  Periwinkles     3,640,000 pts.


Shrimp selling, as I have stated, is one of the trades to which the
street-dealer often confines himself throughout the year. The sale is
about equally divided between the two sexes, but the men do the most
business, walking some of them fifteen to twenty miles a day in a
“round” of “ten miles there and ten back.”

The shrimps vended in the streets are the Yarmouth prawn shrimps,
sold at Billingsgate at from 6_d._ to 10_d._ a gallon, while the best
shrimps (chiefly from Lee, in Essex,) vary in price from 10_d._ to
2_s._ 6_d._ a gallon; 2_s._ being a common price. The shrimps are
usually mixed by the street-dealers, and they are cried, from stalls
or on rounds, “a penny half-pint, fine fresh s’rimps.” (I heard them
called nothing but “s’rimps” by the street-dealers.) The half-pint,
however, is in reality but half that quantity. “It’s the same measure
as it was thirty years back,” I was told, in a tone as if its antiquity
removed all imputation of unfair dealing. Some young men “do well on
s’rimps,” sometimes taking 5_s._ in an hour on a Saturday evening,
“when people get their money, and wants a relish.” The females in the
shrimp line are the wives, widows, or daughters of costermongers. They
are computed to average 1_s._ 6_d._ a day profit in fine, and from
9_d._ to 1_s._ in bad weather; and, in snowy, or very severe weather,
sometimes nothing at all.

One shrimp-seller, a middle-aged woman, wrapped up in a hybrid sort of
cloak, that was half a man’s and half a woman’s garment, gave me the
following account. There was little vulgarity in either her language or

“I was in the s’rimp trade since I was a girl. I don’t know how long.
I don’t know how old I am. I never knew; but I’ve two children, one’s
six and t’other’s near eight, both girls; I’ve kept count of that as
well as I can. My husband sells fish in the street; so did father,
but he’s dead. We buried him without the help of the parish, as many
gets--that’s something to say. I’ve known the trade every way. It never
was any good in public-houses. They want such great ha’p’orths there.
They’ll put up with what isn’t very fresh, to be sure, sometimes; and
good enough for them too, I say, as spoils their taste with drink.”
[This was said very bitterly.] “If it wasn’t for my husband’s drinking
for a day together now and then we’d do better. He’s neither to have
nor to hold when he’s the worse for liquor; and it’s the worse with
him, for he’s a quiet man when he’s his own man. Perhaps I make 9_d._ a
day, perhaps 1_s._ or more. Sometimes my husband takes my stand, and I
go a round. Sometimes, if he gets through his fish, he goes my round.
I give good measure, and my pint’s the regular s’rimp pint.” [It was
the _half_-pint I have described.] “The trade’s not so good as it was.
People hasn’t the money, they tells me so. It’s bread before s’rimps,
says they. I’ve heard them say it very cross, if I’ve wanted hard to
sell. Some days I can sell nothing. My children stays with my sister,
when me and my old man’s out. They don’t go to school, but Jane (the
sister) learns them to sew. She makes drawers for the slopsellers, but
has very little work, and gets very little for the little she does; she
would learn them to read if she knew how. She’s married to a pavior,
that’s away all day. It’s a hard life mine, sir. The winter’s a coming,
and I’m now sometimes ’numbed with sitting at my stall in the cold.
My feet feels like lumps of ice in the winter; and they’re beginning
now, as if they weren’t my own. Standing’s far harder work than going
a round. I sell the best s’rimps. My customers is judges. If I’ve any
s’rimps over on a night, as I often have one or two nights a week, I
sells them for half-price to an Irishwoman, and she takes them to the
beer-shops, and the coffee-shops. She washes them to look fresh. I
don’t mind telling that, because people should buy of regular people.
It’s very few people know how to pick a s’rimp properly. You should
take it by the head and the tail and jam them up, and then the shell
separates, and the s’rimp comes out beautifully. That’s the proper way.”

Sometimes the sale on the rounds may be the same as that at the
stalls, or 10 or 20 per cent. more or less, according to the weather,
as shrimps can be sold by the itinerant dealers better than by the
stall-keepers in wet weather, when people prefer buying at their doors.
But in hot weather the stall trade is the best, “for people often fancy
that the s’rimps is sent out to sell ’cause they’ll not keep no longer.
It’s only among customers as knows you, you can do any good on a round

The costermongers sell annually, it appears, about 770,000 pints of
shrimps. At 2_d._ a pint (a very low calculation) the street sale of
shrimps amount to upwards of 6,400_l._ yearly.

[Illustration: ORANGE MART, DUKE’S PLACE.--[_From a Daguerreotype by_


The trade in oysters is unquestionably one of the oldest with which the
London--or rather the English--markets are connected; for oysters from
Britain were a luxury in ancient Rome.

Oysters are now sold out of the smacks at Billingsgate, and a few at
Hungerford. The more expensive kind such as the real Milton, are never
bought by the costermongers, but they buy oysters of a “good middling
quality.” At the commencement of the season these oysters are 14_s._
a “bushel,” but the measure contains from a bushel and a half to two
bushels, as it is more or less heaped up. The general price, however,
is 9_s._ or 10_s._, but they _have_ been 16_s._ and 18_s._ The “big
trade” was unknown until 1848, when the very large shelly oysters, the
fish inside being very small, were introduced from the Sussex coast.
They were sold in Thames-street and by the Borough-market. Their sale
was at first enormous. The costermongers distinguished them by the name
of “scuttle-mouths.” One coster informant told me that on the Saturdays
he not unfrequently, with the help of a boy and a girl, cleared 10_s._
by selling these oysters in the streets, disposing of four bags. He
thus sold, reckoning twenty-one dozen to the bag, 2,016 oysters; and
as the price was two for a penny, he took just 4_l._ 4_s._ by the sale
of oysters in the streets in one night. With the scuttle-mouths the
costermonger takes no trouble: he throws them into a yard, and dashes
a few pails of water over them, and then places them on his barrow, or
conveys them to his stall. Some of the better class of costermongers,
however, lay down their oysters carefully, giving them oatmeal “to
fatten on.”

In April last, some of the street-sellers of this article established,
for the first time, “oyster-rounds.” These were carried on by
costermongers whose business was over at twelve in the day, or a little
later; they bought a bushel of scuttle-mouths (never the others), and,
in the afternoon, went a round with them to poor neighbourhoods, until
about six, when they took a stand in some frequented street. Going
these oyster-rounds is hard work, I am told, and a boy is generally
taken to assist. Monday afternoon is the best time for this trade, when
10_s._ is sometimes taken, and 4_s._ or 5_s._ profit made. On other
evenings only from 1_s._ to 5_s._ is taken--very rarely the larger
sum--as the later the day in the week the smaller is the receipt, owing
to the wages of the working classes getting gradually exhausted.

The women who sell oysters in the street, and whose dealings are
limited, buy either of the costermongers or at the coal-sheds. But
nearly all the men buy at Billingsgate, where as small a quantity as a
peck can be had.

An old woman, who had “seen better days,” but had been reduced to keep
an oyster-stall, gave me the following account of her customers. She
showed much shrewdness in her conversation, but having known better
days, she declined to enter upon any conversation concerning her
former life:--

“As to my customers, sir,” she said, “why, indeed, they’re all sorts.
It’s not a very few times that gentlemen (I call them so because
they’re mostly so civil) will stop--just as it’s getting darkish,
perhaps,--and look about them, and then come to me and say very quick:
‘Two penn’orth for a whet.’ Ah! some of ’em will look, may be, like
poor parsons down upon their luck, and swallow their oysters as if they
was taking poison in a hurry. They’ll not touch the bread or butter
once in twenty times, but they’ll be free with the pepper and vinegar,
or, mayhap, they’ll say quick and short, ‘A crust off that.’ I many
a time think _that_ two penn’orth is a poor gentleman’s dinner. It’s
the same often--but only half as often, or not half--with a poor lady,
with a veil that once was black, over a bonnet to match, and shivering
through her shawl. She’ll have the same. About two penn’orth is the
mark still; it’s mostly two penn’orth. My son says, it’s because that’s
the price of a glass of gin, and some persons buy oysters instead--but
that’s only his joke, sir. It’s not the vulgar poor that’s our chief
customers. There’s many of them won’t touch oysters, and I’ve heard
some of them say: ‘The sight on ’em makes me sick; it’s like eating
snails.’ The poor girls that walk the streets often buy; some are
brazen and vulgar, and often the finest dressed are the vulgarest; at
least, I think so; and of those that come to oyster stalls, I’m sure
it’s the case. Some are shy to such as me, who may, perhaps, call their
own mothers to their minds, though it aint many of them that is so.
One of them always says that she must keep at least a penny for gin
after her oysters. One young woman ran away from my stall once after
swallowing one oyster out of six that she’d paid for. I don’t know
why. Ah! there’s many things a person like me sees that one may say,
‘I don’t know why’ to; that there is. My heartiest customers, that I
serve with the most pleasure, are working people, on a Saturday night.
One couple--I think the wife always goes to meet her husband on a
Saturday night--has two, or three, or four penn’orth, as happens, and
it’s pleasant to hear them say, ‘Won’t you have another, John?’ or,
‘Do have one or two more, Mary Anne.’ I’ve served them that way two or
three years. They’ve no children, I’m pretty sure, for if I say, ‘Take
a few home to the little ones,’ the wife tosses her head, and says,
half vexed and half laughing, ‘_Such_ nonsense.’ I send out a good
many oysters, opened, for people’s suppers, and sometimes for supper
parties--at least, I suppose so, for there’s five or six dozen often
ordered. The maid-servants come for them then, and I give them two or
three for themselves, and say, jokingly-like, ‘It’s no use offering you
any, perhaps, because you’ll have plenty that’s left.’ They’ve mostly
one answer: ‘Don’t we wish we may get ’em?’ The _very_ poor never buy
of me, as I told you. A penny buys a loaf, you see, or a ha’porth
of bread and a ha’porth of cheese, or a half-pint of beer, with a
farthing out. My customers are mostly working people and tradespeople.
Ah! sir, I wish the parson of the parish, or any parson, sat with me a
fortnight; he’d see what life is then. ‘It’s different,’ a learned man
used to say to me--that’s long ago--‘from what’s noticed from the pew
or the pulpit.’ I’ve missed the gentleman as used to say that, now many
years--I don’t know how many. I never knew his name. He was drunk now
and then, and used to tell me he was an author. I felt for him. A dozen
oysters wasn’t much for him. We see a deal of the world, sir--yes, a
deal. Some, mostly working people, take quantities of pepper with their
oysters in cold weather, and say it’s to warm them, and no doubt it
does; but frosty weather is very bad oyster weather. The oysters gape
and die, and then they are not so much as manure. They are very fine
this year. I clear 1_s._ a day, I think, during the season--at least
1_s._, taking the fine with the wet days, and the week days with the
Sundays, though I’m not out then; but, you see, I’m known about here.”

The number of oysters sold by the costermongers amounts to 124,000,000
a year. These, at four a penny, would realise the large sum of
129,650_l._ We may therefore safely assume that 125,000_l._ is spent
yearly in oysters in the streets of London.


There are some street people who, nearly all the year through, sell
nothing but periwinkles, and go regular rounds, where they are well
known. The “wink” men, as these periwinkle sellers are called,
generally live in the lowest parts, and many in lodging-houses. They
are forced to live in low localities, they say, because of the smell
of the fish, which is objected to. The city district is ordinarily the
best for winkle-sellers, for there are not so many cheap shops there
as in other parts. The summer is the best season, and the sellers then
make, upon the average, 12_s._ a week clear profit; in the winter,
they get upon the average, 5_s._ a week clear, by selling mussels and
whelks--for, as winkles last only from March till October, they are
then obliged to do what they can in the whelk and mussel way. “I buy
my winks,” said one, “at Billingsgate, at 3_s._ and 4_s._ the wash.
A wash is about a bushel. There’s some at 2_s._, and some sometimes
as low as 1_s._ the wash, but they wouldn’t do for me, as I serve
very respectable people. If we choose we can boil our winkles at
Billingsgate by paying 4_d._ a week for boiling, and 1/2_d._ for salt,
to salt them after they are boiled. Tradesmen’s families buy them for a
relish to their tea. It’s reckoned a nice present from a young man to
his sweetheart, is winks. Servant girls are pretty good customers, and
want them cheaper when they say it’s for themselves; but I have only
one price.”

One man told me he could make as much as 12_s._ a week--sometimes more
and sometimes less.

He made no speeches, but sung--“Winketty-winketty-wink-wink-wink--
wink-wink--wicketty-wicketty-wink--fine fresh winketty-winks wink wink.”
He was often so sore in the stomach and hoarse with hallooing that
he could hardly speak. He had no child, only himself and wife to keep
out of his earnings. His room was 2_s._ a week rent. He managed to get
a bit of meat every day, he said, “somehow or ’nother.”

Another, more communicative and far more intelligent man, said to me
concerning the character of his customers: “They’re people I think
that like to daddle” (dawdle, I presume) “over their teas or such
like; or when a young woman’s young man takes tea with her mother and
her, then they’ve winks; and then there’s joking, and helping to pick
winks, between Thomas and Betsy, while the mother’s busy with her
tea, or is wiping her specs, ’cause she _can’t_ see. Why, sir, I’ve
known it! I was a Thomas that way myself when I was a tradesman. I was
a patten-maker once, but pattens is no go now, and hasn’t been for
fifteen year or more. Old people, I think, that lives by themselves,
and has perhaps an annuity or the like of that, and nothing to do
pertickler, loves winks, for they likes a pleasant way of making time
long over a meal. They’re the people as reads a newspaper, when it’s a
week old, all through. The other buyers, I think, are tradespeople or
working-people what wants a relish. But winks is a bad trade now, and
so is many that depends on relishes.”

One man who “works” the New Cut, has the “best wink business of all.”
He sells only a little dry fish with his winks, never wet fish, and
has “got his name up,” for the superiority of that shell-fish--a
superiority which he is careful to ensure. He pays 8_s._ a week for
a stand by a grocer’s window. On an ordinary afternoon he sells from
7_s._ to 10_s._ worth of periwinkles. On a Monday afternoon he often
takes 20_s._; and on the Sunday afternoon 3_l._ and 4_l._ He has two
coster lads to help him, and sometimes on a Sunday from twenty to
thirty customers about him. He wraps each parcel sold in a neat brown
paper bag, which, I am assured, is of itself, an inducement to buy of
him. The “unfortunate” women who live in the streets contiguous to the
Waterloo, Blackfriars, and Borough-roads, are among his best customers,
on Sundays especially. He is rather a public character, getting up
dances and the like. “_He_ aint bothered--not he--with ha’p’orths or
penn’orths of a Sunday,” said a person who had assisted him. “It’s
the top of the tree with his customers; 3_d._ or 6_d._ at a go.” The
receipts are one-half profit. I heard from several that he was “the
best man for winks a-going.”

The quantity of periwinkles disposed of by the London street-sellers
is 3,600,000 pints, which, at 1_d._ per pint, gives the large sum
of 15,000_l._ expended annually in this street luxury. It should be
remembered, that a very large consumption of periwinkles takes place
in public-houses and suburban tea-gardens.


The dealing in “dry” or salt fish is never carried on as a totally
distinct trade in the streets, but some make it a principal part of
their business; and many wet fish-dealers whose “wet fish” is disposed
of by noon, sell dry fish in the afternoon. The dry fish, proper,
consists of dried mackerel, salt cod--dried or barrelled--smoked or
dried haddocks (often called “finnie haddies”), dried or pickled salmon
(but salmon is only salted or pickled for the streets when it can be
sold cheap), and salt herrings.

A keen-looking, tidily-dressed man, who was at one time a dry
fish-seller principally, gave me the following account. For the last
two months he has confined himself to another branch of the business,
and seemed to feel a sort of pleasure in telling of the “dodges” he
once resorted to:

“There’s Scotch haddies that never knew anything about Scotland,” he
said, “for I’ve made lots of them myself by Tower-street, just a jump
or two from the Lambeth station-house. I used to make them on Sundays.
I was a wet fish-seller then, and when I couldn’t get through my
haddocks or my whitings of a Saturday night, I wasn’t a-going to give
them away to folks that wouldn’t take the trouble to lift me out of
a gutter if I fell there, so I presarved them. I’ve made haddies of
whitings, and good ones too, and Joe made them of codlings besides. I
had a bit of a back-yard to two rooms, one over the other, that I had
then, and on a Sunday I set some wet wood a fire, and put it under a
great tub. My children used to gut and wash the fish, and I hung them
on hooks all round the sides of the tub, and made a bit of a chimney
in a corner of the top of the tub, and that way I gave them a jolly
good smoking. My wife had a dry fish-stall and sold them, and used
to sing out ‘Real Scotch haddies,’ and tell people how they was from
Aberdeen; I’ve often been fit to laugh, she did it so clever. I had a
way of giving them a yellow colour like the real Scotch, but that’s a
secret. After they was well smoked they was hung up to dry all round
the rooms we lived in, and we often had stunning fires that answered
as well to boil crabs and lobsters when they was cheap enough for the
streets. I’ve boiled a mate’s crabs and lobsters for 2-1/2_d._; it was
two boilings and more, and 2-1/2_d._ was reckoned the price of half
a quarter of a hundred of coals and the use of the pan. There’s more
ways than one of making 6_d._, if a man has eyes in his head and keeps
them open. Haddocks that wouldn’t fetch 1_d._ a piece, nor any money
at all of a Saturday night, I’ve sold--at least she has” (indicating
his wife by a motion of his thumb)--“at 2_d._, and 3_d._, and 4_d._
I’ve bought fish of costers that was over on a Saturday night, to make
Scotch haddies of them. I’ve tried experience” (experiments) “too.
Ivy, burnt under them, gave them, I thought, a nice sort of flavour,
rather peppery, for I used always to taste them; but I hate living
on fish. Ivy with brown berries on it, as it has about this time o’
year, I liked best. Holly wasn’t no good. A black-currant bush was,
but it’s too dear; and indeed it couldn’t be had. I mostly spread
wetted fire-wood, as green as could be got, or damp sticks of any kind,
over shavings, and kept feeding the fire. Sometimes I burnt sawdust.
Somehow, the dry fish trade fell off. People does get so prying and so
knowing, there’s no doing nothing now for no time, so I dropped the
dry fish trade. There’s few up to smoking them proper; they smoke ’em
black, as if they was hung up in a chimbley.”

Another costermonger gave me the following account:

“I’ve salted herrings, but the commonest way of salting is by the Jews
about Whitechapel. They make real Yarmouth bloaters and all sorts
of fish. When I salted herrings, I bought them out of the boats at
Billingsgate by the hundred, which is 120 fish. We give them a bit of
a clean--hardly anything--then chuck them into a tub of salt, and keep
scattering salt over them, and let them lie a few minutes, or sometimes
half an hour, and then hang them up to dry. They eat well enough, if
they’re eaten in time, for they won’t keep. I’ve known three day’s
old herrings salted, just because there was no sale for them. One Jew
sends out six boys crying ‘real Yarmouth bloaters.’ People buy them
in preference, they look so nice and clean and fresh-coloured. It’s
quite a new trade among the Jews. They didn’t do much that way until
two years back. I sometimes wish I was a Jew, because they help one
another, and start one another with money, and so they thrive where
Christians are ruined. I smoked mackerel, too, by thousands; that’s a
new trade, and is done the same way as haddocks. Mackerel that won’t
bring 1_d._ a piece fresh, bring 2_d._ smoked; they are very nice
indeed. I make about 10_s._ or 11_s._ a week by dry fish in the winter
months, and about as much by wet,--but I have a tidy connection.
Perhaps I make 17_s._ or 18_s._ a week all the year round.”

The aggregate quantity of dry fish sold by the London costermongers
throughout the year is as follows--the results being deduced from the
table before given:

  Wet salt cod                           93,750
  Dry    do.                          1,000,000
  Smoked Haddocks                     4,875,000
  Bloaters                           36,750,000
  Red-herrings                       25,000,000


It now but remains for me, in order to complete this account of the
“street-sellers of fish,” to form an estimate of the amount of money
annually expended by the labourers and the poorer classes of London
upon the different kinds of wet, dry, and shell-fish. This, according
to the best authorities, is as follows:

                      _Wet Fish._                         £
      175,000 lbs. of salmon, at 6_d._ per lb.            4,000
    1,000,000 lbs. of live cod, at 1-1/2_d._ per lb.      5,000
    3,250,000 pairs of soles, at 1-1/2_d._ per pair      20,000
    4,400,000 whiting, at 1/2_d._ each                    9,000
   29,400,000 plaice, at 3/4_d._                         90,000
   15,700,000 mackarel, at 6 for 1_s._                  130,000
  875,000,000 herrings, at 16 a groat                   900,000
    3,000,000 lbs. of sprats, at 1_d._ per lb.           12,000
      400,000 lbs. of eels, at 3 lb. for 1_s._            6,000
      260,000 flounders, at 1_d._ per dozen                 100
      270,000 dabs, at 1_d._ per dozen                      100
  Sum total expended yearly in wet fish               1,177,000

                      _Dry Fish._
     525,000 lbs. barrelled cod, at 1-1/2_d._             3,000
     500,000 lbs. dried salt cod, at 2_d._                4,000
   4,875,000 smoked haddock, at 1_d._                    20,000
  36,750,000 bloaters, at 2 for 1_d._                    75,000
  25,000,000 red herrings, at 4 for 1_d._                25,000
  Sum total expended yearly in dry fish                 127,000

                      _Shell Fish._
  124,000,000 oysters, at 4 a penny                     125,000
       60,000 lobsters, at 3_d._                            750
       50,000 crabs, at 2_d._                               400
      770,000 pints of shrimps, at 2_d._                  6,000
    1,000,000 quarts of mussels, at 1_d._                 4,000
      750,000 quarts of cockles, at 1_d._                 3,000
    4,950,000 whelks, at 8 for 1_d._                      2,500
    3,600,000 pints of periwinkles, at 1_d._             15,000
  Sum total expended yearly in shell-fish               156,650

Adding together the above totals, we have the following result as
to the gross money value of the fish purchased yearly in the London

  Wet fish              1,177,200
  Dry fish                127,000
  Shell fish              156,650
          Total        £1,460,850

Hence we find that there is nearly a million and a half of money
annually spent by the poorer classes of the metropolis in fish; a sum
so prodigious as almost to discredit every statement of want, even if
the amount said to be so expended be believed. The returns from which
the above account is made out have been obtained, however, from such
unquestionable sources--not from one salesman alone, but checked and
corrected by many gentlemen who can have no conceivable motive for
exaggeration either one way or the other--that, sceptical as our utter
ignorance of the subject must necessarily make us, still if we will
but examine for ourselves, we shall find there is no gainsaying the

Moreover as to the enormity of the amount dispelling all ideas of
privation among the industrious portion of the community, we shall also
find on examination that assuming the working-men of the metropolis to
be 500,000 in number (the Occupation Abstract of 1841, gives 773,560
individuals following _some_ employment in London, but these include
merchants, employers, shopkeepers, Government-officers and others),
and that they, with their wives and children, make up one million
individuals, it follows that the sum per head, expended in fish by the
poorer classes every week, is a fraction more than 6-3/4_d._, or, in
other words not quite one penny a day.

If the diet of a people be a criterion, as has been asserted, of their
character, it may be feared that the present extensive fish-diet of the
working-people of London, is as indicative of degeneracy of character,
as Cobbett insisted must result from the consumption of tea, and “the
cursed root,” the potato. “The flesh of fish,” says Pereira on Diet,
“is less satisfying than the flesh of either quadrupeds or birds. As
it contains a larger proportion of water (about 80 per cent.), it is
obviously less nourishing.” Haller tells us he found himself weakened
by a fish-diet; and he states that Roman Catholics are generally
debilitated during Lent. Pechlin also affirms that a mechanic,
nourished merely by fish, has less muscular power than one who lives on
the flesh of warm-blooded animals. Jockeys, who _waste themselves_ in
order to reduce their weight, live principally on fish.

The classes of fish above given, are, when considered in a “dietetical
point of view,” of two distinct kinds; viz., those which form the
staple commodity of the dinners and suppers of the poor, and those
which are mere relishes or stimuli to failing, rather than stays
to, eager appetites. Under the former head, I include red-herrings,
bloaters, and smoked haddocks; such things are not merely provocatives
to eat, among the poor, as they are at the breakfast-table of many an
over-fed or intemperate man. With the less affluent these salted fish
are not a “relish,” but a meal.

The shell-fish, however, can only be considered as luxuries. The
150,000_l._ thus annually expended in the streets, represents the sum
laid out in mere relishes or stimuli to sluggish appetites. A very
large proportion of this amount, I am inclined to believe, is spent by
persons whose stomachs have been disordered by drink. A considerable
part of the trade in the minor articles, as winks, shrimps, &c.,
is carried on in public-houses, while a favourite pitch for an
oyster-stall is outside a tavern-door. If, then, so large an amount is
laid out in an endeavour to restore the appetite after drinking, how
much money must be squandered in destroying it by the same means?



There are two kinds of fruit sold in the streets--“green fruit” and
“dry fruit.”

In commerce, all fruit which is edible as it is taken from the tree or
the ground, is known as “green.” A subdivision of this green fruit is
into “fresh” or “tender” fruit, which includes currants, gooseberries,
strawberries, and, indeed, all fruits that demand immediate
consumption, in contradistinction to such productions as nuts which
may be kept without injury for a season. All fruit which is “cured”
is known as “dry” fruit. In summer the costers vend “green fruit,”
and in the winter months, or in the early spring, when the dearness
or insufficiency of the supply of green fruit renders it unsuited for
their traffic, they resort, but not extensively, to “dry fruit.” It is
principally, however, when an abundant season, or the impossibility of
keeping the dry fruit much longer, has tended to reduce the price of
it, that the costlier articles are to be found on the costermonger’s

Fruit is, for the most part, displayed on barrows, by the
street-dealers in it. Some who supply the better sort of houses--more
especially those in the suburbs--carry such things as apples and plums,
in clean round wicker-baskets, holding pecks or half-pecks.

The commoner “green” fruits of home produce are bought by the
costermonger in the markets. The foreign green fruit, as pine-apples,
melons, grapes, chestnuts, coker-nuts, Brazil-nuts, hazel-nuts, and
oranges, are purchased by them at the public sales of the brokers, and
of the Jews in Duke’s-place. The more intelligent and thrifty of the
costers buy at the public sales on the principle of association, as I
have elsewhere described. Some costermongers expend as much as 20_l._
at a time in such green fruit, or dry fruit, as is not immediately
perishable, at a public sale, or at a fruit-warehouse, and supply the
other costers.

The regular costermongers seldom deal in oranges and chestnuts. If
they sell walnuts, they reserve these, they say, for their Sunday
afternoon’s pastime. The people who carry oranges, chestnuts, or
walnuts, or Spanish nuts about the town, are not considered as
costermongers, but are generally, though not always, classed, by
the regular men, with the watercress-women, the sprat-women, the
winkle-dealers, and such others, whom they consider beneath them. The
orange season is called by the costermonger the “Irishman’s harvest.”
Indeed, the street trade in oranges and nuts is almost entirely in
the hands of the Irish and their children; and of the children of
costermongers. The costers themselves would rather starve--and do
starve now and then--than condescend to it. The trade in coker-nuts is
carried on greatly by the Jews on Sundays, and by young men and boys
who are not on other days employed as street-sellers.

The usual kinds of fruit the regular costers deal in are strawberries,
raspberries (plain and stalked), cherries, apricots, plums,
green-gages, currants, apples, pears, damsons, green and ripe
gooseberries, and pine-apples. They also deal in vegetables, such
as turnips, greens, brocoli, carrots, onions, celery, rhubarb, new
potatoes, peas, beans (French and scarlet, broad and Windsor),
asparagus, vegetable marrow, seakale, spinach, lettuces, small
salads, radishes, etc. Their fruit and vegetables they usually buy at
Covent-garden, Spitalfields, or the Borough markets. Occasionally they
buy some at Farringdon, but this they reckon to be very little better
than a “haggler’s market,”--a “haggler” being, as I before explained,
the middle-man who attends in the fruit and vegetable-markets, and buys
of the salesman to sell again to the retail dealer or costermonger.

Concerning the quantity of fruit and vegetables sold in the streets,
by the London costermongers. This, as I said, when treating of the
street-trade in fish, can only be arrived at by ascertaining the entire
quantity sold wholesale at the London markets, and then learning
from the best authorities the proportion retailed in the public
thoroughfares. Fully to elucidate this matter, both as to the extent of
the metropolitan supply of vegetables and fruit, (“foreign” as well as
“home-grown,” and “green” as well as “dry”) and the relative quantity
of each, vended through the agency of the costermongers, I caused
inquiries to be instituted at all the principal markets and brokers
(for not even the vaguest return on the subject had, till then, been
prepared), and received from all the gentlemen connected therewith,
every assistance and information, as I have here great pleasure in

To carry out my present inquiry, I need not give returns of the
articles _not_ sold by the costermongers, nor is it necessary for me to
cite any but those dealt in by them generally. Their exceptional sales,
such as of mushrooms, cucumbers, &c., are not included here.

The following Table shows the ordinary annual supply of _home grown
fruit_ (nearly all produced within a radius of twelve miles from the
Bank) to each of the London “green” markets.


    Description of
  Fruits and Vegetables.  Covent Garden.   Borough. Spitalfields.

  Apples               360,000 bushels       25,000     250,000
  Pears                230,000    „          10,000      83,000
  Cherries              90,000 doz. lbs.     45,000      15,000
  Plums[3]              93,000 bushels       15,500      45,000
  Green Gages[3]         2,000    „             333       1,500
  Damsons[3]            19,800    „           3,150       4,500
  Bullace                1,800    „           1,620         400
  Gooseberries         140,000    „          26,200      91,500
  Currants (Red)[3]     70,000 sieves        15,000      75,000
  Ditto    (Black)      45,000    „          12,000      45,000
  Ditto    (White)       3,800    „           3,000      15,000
  Strawberries[4]      638,000 pottles      330,000     396,000
  Raspberries           22,500    „           3,750       2,500
  Mulberries            17,496    „          57,600       7,064
  Hazel Nuts             2,700 bushels        1,000         648
  Filberts             221,400 lbs.          72,000      43,200

                                       Proportion sold by
     Farringdon.   Portman.   Total.   Costermongers.
       35,000      16,000     686,000  One-half.
       20,000      10,000     353,000  One-half.
       12,000      11,200     173,200  One-half.
        3,000      20,000     176,500  One-fifteenth.
        1,000         500       5,333  One-fiftieth.
        9,000       1,200      37,650  One-thirtieth.
          540         540       4,900  One-half.
       12,000       7,000     276,700  Three-fourths.
        6,000       9,000     175,000  One-half.
        6,000       4,000     112,000  One-eighth.
        3,000       2,000      26,800  One-eighth.
       15,000     148,500   1,527,500  One-half.
        3,500       3,000      35,250  One-twentieth.
       17,281      22,500     121,940  One-fourth.
        5,400         270       9,018  Two-thirds.
      144,000      37,800     518,400  One-thirtieth.

  Potatoes         161,280,000 lbs.      48,384,000  64,512,000
  Cabbages[5]       33,600,000 plants    19,200,000  12,000,000
  Brocoli and  }
  Cauliflowers }     1,800,000 heads      3,780,000   2,880,000
  Turnips           18,800,000 roots      4,800,000   4,800,000
  Turnip Tops          300,000 junks        500,000     600,000
  Carrots           12,000,000 roots      1,571,000   2,400,000
  Peas                 270,000 bushels       50,000     100,000
  Beans                100,000    „          20,000      10,000
  French Beans         140,000    „           9,600      12,000
  Vegetab. Marrows      10,800 dozen          3,240       3,600
  Asparagus             12,000 dz. bun.       3,600       1,080
  Celery                15,000    „           4,800       6,000
  Rhubarb                7,200    „          48,000      28,800
  Lettuces             734,400 plants     1,080,000   2,073,600
  Radishes               6,912 dz. hands     43,200      36,000
  Onions               500,000 bushels      398,000     400,000
  Ditto (Spring)        36,000 dz. bun.      10,800      21,600
  Cucumbers              2,160 bushels       10,800      24,000
  Herbs                  7,200 dz. bun.       9,600       9,400

    24,192,000  12,096,000  310,464,000  One-fifteenth.
     8,400,000  16,472,000   89,672,000  One-third.
     5,320,000     546,000   14,326,000  One-twentieth.
     3,500,000     748,000   32,648,000  One-tenth.
       250,000     200,000    1,850,000  One-third.
     1,500,000     546,000   18,017,000  One-thirtieth.
        14,000       4,000      438,000  One-half.
         2,400       1,000      133,400  One-fifteenth.
        50,000       9,600      221,200  One-tenth.
           432       1,800       19,872  One-third.
         1,440       1,440       19,560  One-fortieth.
         3,000       6,000       34,800  One-eighth.
         2,400       4,800       91,200  One-tenth.
       129,600     475,200    4,492,800  One-eighth.
        18,000      28,800      132,912  One-tenth.
         9,600     182,000    1,489,600  One-third.
        21,600      14,400      104,400  One-fourth.
        12,000      38,400       87,360  One-eighth.
         7,800       3,900       37,900  One-tenth.

[3] The above fruits are not all home grown. The currants, I am
informed, are one-fifteenth foreign. The foreign “tender” fruit being
sent to the markets, it is impossible to obtain separate returns.

[4] A common sale of strawberries in the markets is “rounds.” I have,
however, given the quantity thus sold less technically, and in the
measures most familiar to the general public.

[5] The cabbages, turnips, &c. are brought in loads to the great
wholesale markets, a load varying from 150 to 200 dozen, but being
more frequently nearer 200, and not unfrequently to fully that amount.
Not to perplex my reader with too great a multiplicity of figures
in a tabular arrangement, I have given the quantity of individual
articles in a load, without specifying it. In the smaller market (for
vegetables) of Portman, the cabbages, &c., are not conveyed in waggons,
as to the other markets, but in carts containing generally sixty

The various proportions of the several kinds of fruit and vegetables
sold by the costermongers are here calculated for _all_ the markets,
from returns which have been obtained from each market separately.
To avoid unnecessary detail, however, these several items are lumped
together, and the aggregate proportion above given.

The foregoing Table, however, relates chiefly to “home grown” supplies.
Concerning the quantity of foreign fruit and vegetables imported into
this country, the proportion consumed in London, and the relative
amount sold by the costers, I have obtained the following returns:--


                 | Quantity sold  | Proportion sold
   Description.  |  wholesale in  |  retail in
                 |    London.     |  the streets.
     FRUIT.      |                |
  Apples         | 39,561 bush.   | seven-eighths.
  Pears          | 19,742   „     | seven-eighths.
  Cherries       | 264,240 lbs.   | two-thirds.
  Grapes         | 1,328,190 „    | one-fiftieth.
  Pine-apples    | 200,000 fruit  | one-tenth.
  Oranges        | 61,635,146 „   | one-fourth.
  Lemons         | 15,408,789 „   | one-hundredth.
                 |                |
     NUTS.       |                |
  Spanish Nuts } | 72,509 bush.   | one-third.
  Barcelona „  } |                |
  Brazil    „    | 11,700   „     | one-fourth.
  Chestnuts      | 26,250   „     | one-fourth.
  Walnuts        | 36,088   „     | two-thirds.
  “Coker”-nuts   | 1,255,000 nuts | one-third.
                 |                |
   VEGETABLES.   |                |
  Potatoes       | 79,654,400 lbs.| one-half.

Here, then, we have the entire metropolitan supply of the principal
vegetables and green fruit (both home grown and foreign), as well
as the relative quantity “distributed” throughout London by the
costermongers; it now but remains for me, in order to complete the
account, to do the same for “the dry fruit.”


                 | Quantity sold  | Proportion sold retail
   Description.  |   wholesale    |    in the streets.
                 |  in London.    |
  Shell Almonds  |  12,500 cwt.   | half per cent.
  Raisins        | 135,000  „     | quarter per cent.
  Currants       | 250,000  „     | none.
  Figs           |  21,700  „     | one per cent.
  Prunes         |  15,000  „     | quarter per cent.


The strawberry season begins about June, and continues till about the
middle of July. From the middle to the end of July the costers “work”
raspberries. During July cherries are “in” as well as raspberries; but
many costers prefer working raspberries, because “they’re a quicker
sixpence.” After the cherries, they go to work upon plums, which they
have about the end of August. Apples and pears come in after the plums
in the month of September, and the apples last them all through the
winter till the month of May. The pears last only till Christmas.
Currants they work about the latter end of July, or beginning of August.

Concerning the costermonger’s vegetable season, it may be said that
he “works” greens during the winter months, up to about March; from
that time they are getting “leathery,” the leaves become foxy, I was
told, and they eat tough when boiled. The costers generally do not like
dealing either in greens or turnips, “they are such heavy luggage,”
they say. They would sooner “work” green peas and new potatoes.

The costermonger, however, does the best at fruit; but this he cannot
work--with the exception of apples--for more than four months in the
year. They lose but little from the fruit spoiling. “If it doesn’t
fetch a good price, it must fetch a bad one,” they say; but they are
never at a great loss by it. They find the “ladies” their hardest
or “scaliest” customers. Whatever price they ask, they declare the
“ladies” will try to save the market or “gin” penny out of it, so that
they may have “a glass of something short” before they go home.


On a Saturday--the coster’s business day--it is computed that as many
as 2,000 donkey-barrows, and upwards of 3,000 women with shallows and
head-baskets visit this market during the forenoon. About six o’clock
in the morning is the best time for viewing the wonderful restlessness
of the place, for then not only is the “Garden” itself all bustle and
activity, but the buyers and sellers stream to and from it in all
directions, filling every street in the vicinity. From Long Acre to
the Strand on the one side, and from Bow-street to Bedford-street on
the other, the ground has been seized upon by the market-goers. As you
glance down any one of the neighbouring streets, the long rows of carts
and donkey-barrows seem interminable in the distance. They are of all
kinds, from the greengrocer’s taxed cart to the coster’s barrow--from
the showy excursion-van to the rude square donkey-cart and bricklayer’s
truck. In every street they are ranged down the middle and by the
kerb-stones. Along each approach to the market, too, nothing is to be
seen, on all sides, but vegetables; the pavement is covered with heaps
of them waiting to be carted; the flagstones are stained green with
the leaves trodden under foot; sieves and sacks full of apples and
potatoes, and bundles of brocoli and rhubarb, are left unwatched upon
almost every door-step; the steps of Covent Garden Theatre are covered
with fruit and vegetables; the road is blocked up with mountains of
cabbages and turnips; and men and women push past with their arms bowed
out by the cauliflowers under them, or the red tips of carrots pointing
from their crammed aprons, or else their faces are red with the weight
of the loaded head-basket.

The donkey-barrows, from their number and singularity, force you to
stop and notice them. Every kind of ingenuity has been exercised to
construct harness for the costers’ steeds; where a buckle is wanting,
tape or string make the fastening secure; traces are made of rope and
old chain, and an old sack or cotton handkerchief is folded up as a
saddle-pad. Some few of the barrows make a magnificent exception,
and are gay with bright brass; while one of the donkeys may be seen
dressed in a suit of old plated carriage-harness, decorated with
coronets in all directions. At some one of the coster conveyances
stands the proprietor, arranging his goods, the dozing animal starting
up from its sleep each time a heavy basket is hoisted on the tray.
Others, with their green and white and red load neatly arranged, are
ready for starting, but the coster is finishing his breakfast at the
coffee-stall. On one barrow there may occasionally be seen a solitary
sieve of apples, with the horse of some neighbouring cart helping
himself to the pippins while the owner is away. The men that take
charge of the trucks, whilst the costers visit the market, walk about,
with their arms full of whips and sticks. At one corner a donkey has
slipped down, and lies on the stones covered with the cabbages and
apples that have fallen from the cart.

The market itself presents a beautiful scene. In the clear morning air
of an autumn day the whole of the vast square is distinctly seen from
one end to the other. The sky is red and golden with the newly-risen
sun, and the rays falling on the fresh and vivid colours of the fruit
and vegetables, brightens up the picture as with a coat of varnish.
There is no shouting, as at other markets, but a low murmuring hum
is heard, like the sound of the sea at a distance, and through each
entrance to the market the crowd sweeps by. Under the dark Piazza
little bright dots of gas-lights are seen burning in the shops; and
in the paved square the people pass and cross each other in all
directions, hampers clash together, and excepting the carters from the
country, every one is on the move. Sometimes a huge column of baskets
is seen in the air, and walks away in a marvellously steady manner,
or a monster railway van, laden with sieves of fruit, and with the
driver perched up on his high seat, jolts heavily over the stones.
Cabbages are piled up into stacks as it were. Carts are heaped high
with turnips, and bunches of carrots like huge red fingers, are seen in
all directions. Flower-girls, with large bundles of violets under their
arms, run past, leaving a trail of perfume behind them. Wagons, with
their shafts sticking up in the air, are ranged before the salesmen’s
shops, the high green load railed in with hurdles, and every here and
there bunches of turnips are seen flying in the air over the heads of
the people. Groups of apple-women, with straw pads on their crushed
bonnets, and coarse shawls crossing their bosoms, sit on their porter’s
knots, chatting in Irish, and smoking short pipes; every passer-by
is hailed with the cry of, “Want a baskit, yer honor?” The porter,
trembling under the piled-up hamper, trots along the street, with his
teeth clenched and shirt wet with the weight, and staggering at every
step he takes.

Inside, the market all is bustle and confusion. The people walk along
with their eyes fixed on the goods, and frowning with thought. Men in
all costumes, from the coster in his corduroy suit to the greengrocer
in his blue apron, sweep past. A countryman, in an old straw hat and
dusty boots, occasionally draws down the anger of a woman for walking
about with his hands in the pockets of his smock-frock, and is asked,
“if that is the way to behave on a market-day?” Even the granite
pillars cannot stop the crowd, for it separates and rushes past them,
like the tide by a bridge pier. At every turn there is a fresh odour to
sniff at; either the bitter aromatic perfume of the herbalists’ shops
breaks upon you, or the scent of oranges, then of apples, and then of
onions is caught for an instant as you move along. The brocoli tied up
in square packets, the white heads tinged slightly red, as it were,
with the sunshine,--the sieves of crimson love-apples, polished like
china,--the bundles of white glossy leeks, their roots dangling like
fringe,--the celery, with its pinky stalks and bright green tops,--the
dark purple pickling-cabbages,--the scarlet carrots,--the white knobs
of turnips,--the bright yellow balls of oranges, and the rich brown
coats of the chesnuts--attract the eye on every side. Then there are
the apple-merchants, with their fruit of all colours, from the pale
yellow green to the bright crimson, and the baskets ranged in rows on
the pavement before the little shops. Round these the customers stand
examining the stock, then whispering together over their bargain, and
counting their money. “Give you four shillings for this here lot,
master,” says a coster, speaking for his three companions. “Four and
six is my price,” answers the salesman. “Say four, and it’s a bargain,”
continues the man. “I said my price,” returns the dealer; “go and look
round, and see if you can get ’em cheaper; if not, come back. I only
wants what’s fair.” The men, taking the salesman’s advice, move on.
The walnut merchant, with the group of women before his shop, peeling
the fruit, their fingers stained deep brown, is busy with the Irish
purchasers. The onion stores, too, are surrounded by Hibernians,
feeling and pressing the gold-coloured roots, whose dry skins crackle
as they are handled. Cases of lemons in their white paper jackets, and
blue grapes, just seen above the sawdust are ranged about, and in some
places the ground is slippery as ice from the refuse leaves and walnut
husks scattered over the pavement.

Against the railings of St. Paul’s Church are hung baskets and slippers
for sale, and near the public-house is a party of countrymen preparing
their bunches of pretty coloured grass--brown and glittering, as if it
had been bronzed. Between the spikes of the railing are piled up square
cakes of green turf for larks; and at the pump, boys, who probably
have passed the previous night in the baskets about the market, are
washing, and the water dripping from their hair that hangs in points
over the face. The kerb-stone is blocked up by a crowd of admiring
lads, gathered round the bird-catcher’s green stand, and gazing at
the larks beating their breasts against their cages. The owner, whose
boots are red with the soil of the brick-field, shouts, as he looks
carelessly around, “A cock linnet for tuppence,” and then hits at the
youths who are poking through the bars at the fluttering birds.

Under the Piazza the costers purchase their flowers (in pots) which
they exchange in the streets for old clothes. Here is ranged a small
garden of flower-pots, the musk and mignonette smelling sweetly, and
the scarlet geraniums, with a perfect glow of coloured air about the
flowers, standing out in rich contrast with the dark green leaves of
the evergreens behind them. “There’s myrtles, and larels, and boxes,”
says one of the men selling them, “and there’s a harbora witus, and
lauristiners, and that bushy shrub with pink spots is heath.” Men and
women, selling different articles, walk about under the cover of the
colonnade. One has seed-cake, another small-tooth and other combs,
others old caps, or pig’s feet, and one hawker of knives, razors, and
short hatchets, may occasionally be seen driving a bargain with a
countryman, who stands passing his thumb over the blade to test its
keenness. Between the pillars are the coffee-stalls, with their large
tin cans and piles of bread and butter, and protected from the wind
by paper screens and sheets thrown over clothes-horses; inside these
little parlours, as it were, sit the coffee-drinkers on chairs and
benches, some with a bunch of cabbages on their laps, blowing the steam
from their saucers, others, with their mouths full, munching away at
their slices, as if not a moment could be lost. One or two porters are
there besides, seated on their baskets, breakfasting with their knots
on their heads.

As you walk away from this busy scene, you meet in every street barrows
and costers hurrying home. The pump in the market is now surrounded by
a cluster of chattering wenches quarrelling over whose turn it is to
water their drooping violets, and on the steps of Covent Garden Theatre
are seated the shoeless girls, tying up the halfpenny and penny bundles.


The fruit selling of the streets of London is of a distinct character
from that of vegetable or fish selling, inasmuch as fruit is for the
most part a luxury, and the others are principally necessaries.

There is no doubt that the consumption of fruit supplies a fair
criterion of the condition of the working classes, but the
costermongers, as a body of traders, are little observant, so that it
is not easy to derive from them much information respecting the classes
who are their customers, or as to how their custom is influenced by
the circumstances of the times. One man, however, told me that during
the last panic he sold hardly anything beyond mere necessaries. Other
street-sellers to whom I spoke could not comprehend what a panic meant.

The most intelligent costers whom I conversed with agreed that they
now sold less fruit than ever to working people, but perhaps more
than ever to the dwellers in the smaller houses in the suburbs, and
to shopkeepers who were not in a large way of business. One man sold
baking apples, but not above a peck on an average weekly, to women whom
he knew to be the wives of working men, for he had heard them say,
“Dear me, I didn’t think it had been so late, there’s hardly time to
get the dumplings baked before my husband leaves work for his dinner.”
The course of my inquiries has shown me--and many employers whom I
have conversed with are of a similar opinion--that the well-conducted
and skilful artisan, who, in spite of slop competition, continues to
enjoy a fair rate of wages, usually makes a prudent choice of a wife,
who perhaps has been a servant in a respectable family. Such a wife is
probably “used to cooking,” and will oft enough make a pie or pudding
to eke out the cold meat of the Monday’s dinner, or “for a treat for
the children.” With the mass of the working people, however, it is
otherwise. The wife perhaps has been reared to incessant toil with
her needle, and does not know how to make even a dumpling. Even if
she possess as much knowledge, she may have to labour as well as her
husband, and if their joint earnings enable them to have “the added
pudding,” there is still the trouble of making it; and, after a weary
week’s work, rest is often a greater enjoyment than a gratification
of the palate. Thus something easily prepared, and carried off to the
oven, is preferred. The slop-workers of all trades never, I believe,
taste either fruit pie or pudding, unless a penny one be bought at a
shop or in the street; and even among mechanics who are used to better
diet, the pies and puddings, when wages are reduced, or work grows
slack, are the first things that are dispensed with. “When the money
doesn’t come in, sir,” one working-man said to me, “we mustn’t think of
puddings, but of _bread_.”

A costermonger, more observant than the rest, told me that there were
some classes to whom he had rarely sold fruit, and whom he had seldom
seen buy any. Among these he mentioned sweeps, scavengers, dustmen,
nightmen, gas-pipe-layers, and sewer-men, who preferred to any fruit,
“something to bite in the mouth, such as a penn’orth of gin.” My
informant believed that this abstinence from fruit was common to all
persons engaged in such offensive trades as fiddle-string making,
gut-dressing for whip-makers or sausage-makers, knackers, &c. He
was confident of it, as far as his own experience extended. It is,
moreover, less common for the women of the town, of the poorer sort,
to expend pence in fruit than in such things as whelks, shrimps, or
winks, to say nothing of gin. Persons, whose stomachs may be one week
jaded to excess, and the next be deprived of a sufficiency of proper
food, seek for stimulants, or, as they term it, “relishes.”

The fruit-sellers, meaning thereby those who deal principally in fruit
in the season, are the more intelligent costermongers. The calculation
as to what a bushel of apples, for instance, will make in half or
quarter pecks, puzzles the more ignorant, and they buy “second-hand,”
or of a middle-man, and consequently dearer. The Irish street-sellers
do not meddle much with fruit, excepting a few of the very best class
of them, and they “do well in it,” I was told, “they have such tongue.”

The improvement in the quality of the fruit and vegetables now in our
markets, and consequently in the necessaries and luxuries of the poorer
classes, is very great. Prizes and medals have been deservedly awarded
to the skilled and persevering gardeners who have increased the size
and heightened the flavour of the pine-apple or the strawberry--who
have given a thinner rind to the peach, or a fuller gush of juice to
the apricot,--or who have enhanced alike the bloom, the weight, and
the size of the fruit of the vine, whether as regards the classic
“bunch,” or the individual grape. Still these are benefits confined
mainly to the rich. But there is another class of growers who have
rendered greater services and whose services have been comparatively
unnoticed. I allude to those gardeners who have improved or introduced
our _every day_ vegetables or fruit, such as now form the cheapest
and most grateful and healthy enjoyments of the humbler portion of
the community. I may instance the introduction of rhubarb, which was
comparatively unknown until Mr. Myatt, now of Deptford, cultivated it
thirty years ago. He then, for the first time, carried seven bundles
of rhubarb into the Borough market. Of these he could sell only three,
and he took four back with him. Mr. Myatt could not recollect the price
he received for the first rhubarb he ever sold in public, but he told
me that the stalks were only about half the substance of those he now
produces. People laughed at him for offering “physic pies,” but he
persevered, and I have shown what the sale of rhubarb now is.

Moreover, the importation of foreign “pines” may be cited as another
instance of the increased luxuries of the poor. The trade in this
commodity was unknown until the year 1842. At that period Mr. James
Wood and Messrs. Claypole and Son, of Liverpool, imported them from
the Bahamas, a portion being conveyed to Messrs. Keeling and Hunt, of
London. Since that period the trade has gradually increased until,
instead of 1000 pines being sent to Liverpool, and a portion of them
conveyed to London, as at first, 200,000 pines are now imported to
London alone. The fruit is brought over in “trees,” stowed in numbers
from ten to thirty thousand, in galleries constructed fore and aft
in the vessel, which is so extravagantly fragrant, that it has to
be ventilated to abate the odour. But for this importation, and but
for the trade having become a part of the costermonger’s avocation,
hundreds and thousands in London would never have tasted a pine-apple.
The quality of the fruit has, I am informed, been greatly improved
since its first introduction; the best description of “pines” which
Covent-garden can supply having been sent out to graft, to increase
the size and flavour of the Bahaman products, and this chiefly for the
regalement of the palates of the humbler classes of London. The supply
from the Bahamas is considered inexhaustible.

Pine-apples, when they were first introduced, were a rich harvest to
the costermonger. They made more money “working” these than any other
article. The pines cost them about 4_d._ each, one with the other, good
and bad together, and were sold by the costermonger at from 1_s._ to
1_s._ 6_d._ The public were not aware then that the pines they sold
were “salt-water touched,” and the people bought them as fast as they
could be sold, not only by the whole one, but at 1_d._ a slice,--for
those who could not afford to give 1_s._ for the novelty, had a slice
as a taste for 1_d._ The costermongers used then to have flags flying
at the head of their barrows, and gentlefolk would stop them in the
streets; indeed, the sale for pines was chiefly among “the gentry.” The
poorer people--sweeps, dustmen, cabmen--occasionally had pennyworths,
“just for the fun of the thing;” but gentlepeople, I was told, used
to buy a whole one to take home, so that all the family might have
a taste. One costermonger assured me that he had taken 22_s._ a day
during the rage for pines, when they first came up.

I have before stated that when the season is in its height the
costermonger prefers the vending of fruit to the traffic in either
fish or vegetables; those, however, who have regular rounds and “a
connection,” must supply their customers with vegetables, if not
fish, as well as fruit, but the costers prefer to devote themselves
principally to fruit. I am unable, therefore, to draw a comparison
between what a coster realises in fruit, and what in fish, as the two
seasons are not contemporary. The fruit sale is, however, as I have
shown in p. 54, the costermonger’s harvest.

All the costermongers with whom I conversed represented that the
greater cheapness and abundance of fruit had been anything but a
benefit to them, nor did the majority seem to know whether fruit was
scarcer or more plentiful one year than another, unless in remarkable
instances. Of the way in which the introduction of foreign fruit
had influenced their trade, they knew nothing. If questioned on the
subject, the usual reply was, that things got worse, and people didn’t
buy so much fruit as they did half-a-dozen years back, and so less was
sold. That these men hold such opinions must be accounted for mainly by
the increase in their numbers, of which I have before spoken, and from
their general ignorance.

The fruit of which there is the readiest sale in the streets is one
usually considered among the least useful--cherries. Probably, the
greater eagerness on the part of the poorer classes to purchase this
fruit arises from its being the first of the fresh “green” kind which
our gardens supply for street-sale after the winter and the early
spring. An intelligent costermonger suggested other reasons. “Poor
people,” he said, “like a _quantity_ of any fruit, and no fruit is
cheaper than cherries at 1_d._ a pound, at which I have sold some
hundreds of pounds’ weight. I’m satisfied, sir, that if a cherry could
be grown that weighed a pound, and was of a finer flavour than ever was
known before, poor people would rather have a number of little ones,
even if they was less weight and inferior quality. Then boys buy, I
think, more cherries than other fruit; because, after they have eaten
’em, they can play at cherry-stones.”

From all I can learn, the halfpenny-worth of fruit purchased most
eagerly by a poor man, or by a child to whom the possession of a
halfpenny is a rarity, is cherries. I asked a man “with a good
connection,” according to his own account, as to who were his customers
for cherries. He enumerated ladies and gentlemen; working-people;
wagoners and carters (who “slipped them quietly into their pockets,”
he said); parlour-livers (so he called the occupants of parlours);
maid-servants; and soldiers. “Soldiers,” I was told, “are very fond of
something for a change from their feed, which is about as regular as a

The currant, and the fruit of the same useful genus, the gooseberry,
are sold largely by the costermongers. The price of the currants is
1_d._ or 2_d._ the half-pint, 1_d._ being the more usual charge. Of red
currants there is the greatest supply, but the black “go off better.”
The humbler classes buy a half-pint of the latter for a dumpling, and
“they’re reckoned,” said my informant, “capital for a sore throat,
either in jam or a pudding.” Gooseberries are also retailed by the
half-pint, and are cheaper than currants--perhaps 1/2_d._ the half-pint
is the average street-price. The working-classes do not use ripe
gooseberries, as they do ripe currants, for dumplings, but they are
sold in greater quantities and may be said to constitute, when first
introduced, as other productions do afterwards, the working-people’s
Sunday dessert. “Only you go on board a cheap steamer to Greenwich,
on a fine summer Sunday,” observed a street-seller to me, “and you’ll
see lots of young women with gooseberries in their handkerchiefs in
their laps. Servant-maids is very good customers for such things as
gooseberries, for they always has a penny to spare.” The costers sell
green gooseberries for dumplings, and sometimes to the extent of a
fourth of the ripe fruit. The price of green gooseberries is generally
1/2_d._ a pint dearer than the ripe.

When strawberries descend to such a price as places them at the
costermonger’s command, the whole fraternity is busily at work, and as
the sale can easily be carried on by women and children, the coster’s
family take part in the sale, offering at the corners of streets the
fragrant pottle, with the crimson fruit just showing beneath the green
leaves at the top. Of all cries, too, perhaps that of “hoboys” is the
most agreeable. Strawberries, however, according to all accounts,
are consumed least of all fruits by the poor. “They like something
more solid,” I was told, “something to bite at, and a penny pottle
of strawberries is only like a taste; what’s more, too, the really
good fruit never finds its way into penny pottles.” The coster’s best
customers are dwellers in the suburbs, who purchase strawberries on
a Sunday especially, for dessert, for they think that they get them
fresher in that way than by reserving them from the Saturday night, and
many are tempted by seeing or hearing them cried in the streets. There
is also a good Sunday sale about the steam-wharfs, to people going
“on the river,” especially when young women and children are members
of a party, and likewise in the “clerk districts,” as Camden-town and
Camberwell. Very few pottles, comparatively, are sold in public-houses;
“they don’t go well down with the beer at all,” I was told. The city
people are good customers for street strawberries, conveying them home.
Good strawberries are 2_d._ a pottle in the streets when the season is
at its height. Inferior are 1_d._ These are the most frequent prices.
In raspberries the coster does little, selling them only to such
customers as use them for the sake of jam or for pastry. The price is
from 6_d._ to 1_s._ 6_d._ the pottle, 9_d._ being the average.

The great staple of the street trade in green fruit is apples. These
are first sold by the travelling costers, by the measure, for pies,
&c., and to the classes I have described as the makers of pies. The
apples, however, are soon vended in penny or halfpenny-worths, and
then they are bought by the poor who have a spare penny for the
regalement of their children or themselves, and they are eaten without
any preparation. Pears are sold to the same classes as are apples.
The average price of apples, as sold by the costermonger, is 4_s._ a
bushel, and six a penny. The sale in halfpenny and pennyworths is very
great. Indeed the costermongers sell about half the apples brought to
the markets, and I was told that for one pennyworth of apples bought
in a shop forty were bought in the street. Pears are 9_d._ a bushel,
generally, dearer than apples, but, numerically, they run more to the

The costers purchase the French apples at the wharf, close to
London-bridge, on the Southwark side. They give 10_s._, 12_s._, 18_s._,
or 20_s._ for a case containing four bushels. They generally get from
9_d._ to 1_s._ profit on a bushel of English, but on the French apples
they make a clear profit of from 1_s._ 3_d._ to 2_s._ a bushel, and
would make more, but the fruit sometimes “turns out damaged.” This
extra profit is owing to the French giving better measure, their four
bushels being about five market bushels, as there is much straw packed
up with the English apples, and none with the French.

Plums and damsons are less purchased by the humbler classes than
apples, or than any other larger sized fruit which is supplied
abundantly. “If I’ve worked plums or damsons,” said an experienced
costermonger, “and have told any woman pricing them: ‘They don’t look
so ripe, but they’re all the better for a pie,’ she’s answered, ‘O, a
plum pie’s too fine for us, and what’s more, it takes too much sugar.’”
They are sold principally for desserts, and in penny-worths, at 1_d._
the half-pint for good, and 1/2 _d._ for inferior. Green-gages are
50 per cent. higher. Some costers sell a cheap lot of plums to the
eating-house keepers, and sell them more readily than they sell apples
to the same parties.

West Indian pine-apples are, as regards the street sale, disposed
of more in the city than elsewhere. They are bought by clerks and
warehousemen, who carry them to their suburban homes. The slices at
1/2_d._ and 1_d._ are bought principally by boys. The average price of
a “good street pine” is 9_d._

Peaches are an occasional sale with the costermongers’, and are
disposed of to the same classes as purchase strawberries and pines. The
street sale of peaches is not practicable if the price exceed 1_d._ a

Of other fruits, vended largely in the streets, I have spoken under
their respective heads.

The returns before cited as to the quantity of home-grown and foreign
green fruit sold in London, and the _proportion_ disposed of by the
costermongers give the following results (in round numbers), as to the
absolute quantity of the several kinds of green fruit (oranges and nuts
excepted) “distributed” throughout the metropolis by the street-sellers.

    343,000  bushels of apples, (home-grown)
     34,560     „       apples, (foreign)
    176,500     „       pears,  (home-grown)
     17,235     „       pears,  (foreign)
  1,039,200  lbs. of cherries,  (home-grown)
    176,160    „     cherries,  (foreign)
     11,766  bushels of plums,
        100     „       greengages,
        548     „       damsons,
      2,450     „       bullaces,
    207,525     „       gooseberries,
     85,500  sieves of red currants,
     13,500     „      black currants,
      3,000     „      white currants,
    763,750  pottles of strawberries,
      1,762     „       raspberries,
     30,485     „       mulberries,
      6,012  bushels of hazel nuts,
     17,280  lbs. of filberts,
     26,563    „     grapes,
     20,000  pines.


In Houndsditch there is a market supported principally by
costermongers, who there purchase their oranges, lemons, and nuts.
This market is entirely in the hands of the Jews; and although a few
tradesmen may attend it to buy grapes, still it derives its chief
custom from the street-dealers who say they can make far better
bargains with the Israelites, (as they never refuse an offer,) than
they can with the Covent-garden salesmen, who generally cling to their
prices. This market is known by the name of “Duke’s-place,” although
its proper title is St. James’s-place. The nearest road to it is
through Duke’s-street, and the two titles have been so confounded that
at length the mistake has grown into a custom.

Duke’s-place--as the costers call it--is a large square yard, with the
iron gates of a synagogue in one corner, a dead wall forming one entire
side of the court, and a gas-lamp on a circular pavement in the centre.
The place looks as if it were devoted to money-making--for it is quiet
and dirty. Not a gilt letter is to be seen over a doorway; there is
no display of gaudy colour, or sheets of plate-glass, such as we see
in a crowded thoroughfare when a customer is to be caught by show. As
if the merchants knew their trade was certain, they are content to
let the London smoke do their painter’s work. On looking at the shops
in this quarter, the idea forces itself upon one that they are in
the last stage of dilapidation. Never did property in Chancery look
more ruinous. Each dwelling seems as though a fire had raged in it,
for not a shop in the market has a window to it; and, beyond the few
sacks of nuts exposed for sale, they are empty, the walls within being
blackened with dirt, and the paint without blistered in the sun, while
the door-posts are worn round with the shoulders of the customers, and
black as if charred. A few sickly hens wander about, turning over the
heaps of dried leaves that the oranges have been sent over in, or roost
the time away on the shafts and wheels of the nearest truck. Excepting
on certain days, there is little or no business stirring, so that many
of the shops have one or two shutters up, as if a death had taken
place, and the yard is quiet as an inn of court. At a little distance
the warehouses, with their low ceilings, open fronts, and black sides,
seem like dark holes or coal-stores; and, but for the mahogany backs
of chairs showing at the first floors, you would scarcely believe the
houses to be inhabited, much more to be elegantly furnished as they
are. One of the drawing-rooms that I entered here was warm and red with
morocco leather, Spanish mahogany, and curtains and Turkey carpets;
while the ormolu chandelier and the gilt frames of the looking-glass
and pictures twinkled at every point in the fire-light.

The householders in Duke’s-place are all of the Jewish persuasion, and
among the costers a saying has sprung up about it. When a man has been
out of work for some time, he is said to be “Cursed, like a pig in

Almost every shop has a Scripture name over it, and even the
public-houses are of the Hebrew faith, their signs appealing to the
followers of those trades which most abound with Jews. There is the
“Jeweller’s Arms,” patronised greatly of a Sunday morning, when the
Israelite jewellers attend to exchange their trinkets and barter
amongst themselves. Very often the counter before “the bar” here may
be seen covered with golden ornaments, and sparkling with precious
stones, amounting in value to thousands of pounds. The landlord of this
house of call is licensed to _manufacture_ tobacco and cigars. There
is also the “Fishmongers’ Arms,” the resort of the vendors of fried
soles; here, in the evening, a concert takes place, the performers and
audience being Jews. The landlord of this house too is licensed to
manufacture tobacco and cigars. Entering one of these houses I found a
bill announcing a “Bible to be raffled for, the property of ----.” And,
lastly, there is “Benjamin’s Coffee-house,” open to old clothesmen;
and here, again, the proprietor is a licensed tobacco-manufacturer.
These facts are mentioned to show the untiring energy of the Jew when
anything is to be gained, and to give an instance of the curious manner
in which this people support each other.

Some of the nut and orange shops in Duke’s-place it would be impossible
to describe. At one sat an old woman, with jet-black hair and a
wrinkled face, nursing an infant, and watching over a few matted
baskets of nuts ranged on a kind of carpenter’s bench placed upon the
pavement. The interior of the house was as empty as if it had been to
let, excepting a few bits of harness hanging against the wall, and an
old salt-box nailed near the gas-lamp, in which sat a hen, “hatching,”
as I was told. At another was an excessively stout Israelite mother,
with crisp negro’s hair and long gold earrings, rolling her child on
the table used for sorting the nuts. Here the black walls had been
chalked over with scores, and every corner was filled up with sacks and
orange-cases. Before one warehouse a family of six, from the father
to the infant, were busy washing walnuts in a huge tub with a trap in
the side, and around them were ranged measures of the wet fruit. The
Jewish women are known to make the fondest parents; and in Duke’s-place
there certainly was no lack of fondlings. Inside almost every parlour
a child was either being nursed or romped with, and some little things
were being tossed nearly to the ceiling, and caught, screaming with
enjoyment, in the jewelled hands of the delighted mother. At other
shops might be seen a circle of three or four women--some old as if
grandmothers, grouped admiringly round a hook-nosed infant, tickling it
and poking their fingers at it in a frenzy of affection.

The counters of these shops are generally placed in the open streets
like stalls, and the shop itself is used as a store to keep the stock
in. On these counters are ranged the large matting baskets, some
piled up with dark-brown polished chestnuts--shining like a racer’s
neck--others filled with wedge-shaped Brazil-nuts, and rough hairy
cocoa-nuts. There are heaps, too, of newly-washed walnuts, a few
showing their white crumpled kernels as a sample of their excellence.
Before every doorway are long pot-bellied boxes of oranges, with the
yellow fruit just peeping between the laths on top, and lemons--yet
green--are ranged about in their paper jackets to ripen in the air.

In front of one store the paving-stones were soft with the sawdust
emptied from the grape-cases, and the floor of the shop itself was
whitened with the dry powder. Here stood a man in a long tasselled
smoking-cap, puffing with his bellows at the blue bunches on a tray,
and about him were the boxes with the paper lids thrown back, and
the round sea-green berries just rising above the sawdust as if
floating in it. Close by, was a group of dark-eyed women bending over
an orange-case, picking out the rotten from the good fruit, while a
sallow-complexioned girl was busy with her knife scooping out the
damaged parts, until, what with sawdust and orange-peel, the air smelt
like the pit of a circus.

Nothing could be seen in this strange place that did not, in some way
or another, appertain to Jewish customs. A woman, with a heavy gold
chain round her neck, went past, carrying an old green velvet bonnet
covered with feathers, and a fur tippet, that she had either recently
purchased or was about to sell. Another woman, whose features showed
her to be a Gentile, was hurrying toward the slop-shop in the Minories
with a richly quilted satin-lined coat done up in her shawl, and the
market-basket by her side, as if the money due for the work were to be
spent directly for housekeeping.

At the corner of Duke’s-street was a stall kept by a Jew, who sold
things that are eaten only by the Hebrews. Here in a yellow pie-dish
were pieces of stewed apples floating in a thick puce-coloured sauce.

One man that I spoke to told me that he considered his Sunday morning’s
work a very bad one if he did not sell his five or six hundred bushels
of nuts of different kinds. He had taken 150_l._ that day of the
street-sellers, and usually sold his 100_l._ worth of goods in a
morning. Many others did the same as himself. Here I met with every
attention, and was furnished with some valuable statistical information
concerning the street-trade.


Of foreign fruits, the oranges and nuts supply by far the greater
staple for the street trade, and, therefore, demand a brief, but still
a fuller, notice than other articles.

Oranges were first sold in the streets at the close of Elizabeth’s
reign. So rapidly had the trade increased, that four years after her
death, or in 1607, Ben Jonson classes “orange-wives,” for noisiness,
with “fish-wives.” These women at first carried the oranges in baskets
on their heads; barrows were afterwards used; and now trays are usually
slung to the shoulders.

Oranges are brought to this country in cases or boxes, containing from
500 to 900 oranges. From official tables, it appears that between
250,000,000 and 300,000,000 of oranges and lemons are now yearly
shipped to England. They are sold wholesale, principally at public
sales, in lots of eight boxes, the price at such sales varying greatly,
according to the supply and the quality. The supply continues to arrive
from October to August.

Oranges are bought by the retailers in Duke’s-place and in
Covent-Garden; but the costermongers nearly all resort to Duke’s-place,
and the shopkeepers to Covent-Garden. They are sold in baskets of 200
or 300; they are also disposed of by the hundred, a half-hundred being
the smallest quantity sold in Duke’s-place. These hundreds, however,
number 110, containing 10 double “hands,” a single hand being 5
oranges. The price in December was 2_s._ 6_d._, 3_s._ 6_d._, and 4_s._
the hundred. They are rarely lower than 4_s._ about Christmas, as there
is then a better demand for them. The damaged oranges are known as
“specks,” and the purchaser runs the risk of specks forming a portion
of the contents of a basket, as he is not allowed to empty it for the
examination of the fruit: but some salesmen agree to change the specks.
A month after Christmas, oranges are generally cheaper, and become
dearer again about May, when there is a great demand for the supply of
the fairs and races.

Oranges are sold by all classes connected with the fruit, flower, or
vegetable trade of the streets. The majority of the street-sellers are,
however, women and children, and the great part of these are Irish. It
has been computed that, when oranges are “at their best” (generally
about Easter), there are 4,000 persons, including stall-keepers,
selling oranges in the metropolis and its suburbs; while there are
generally 3,000 out of this number “working” oranges--that is, hawking
them from street to street: of these, 300 attend at the doors of the
theatres, saloons, &c. Many of those “working” the theatres confine
their trade to oranges, while the other dealers rarely do so, but
unite with them the sale of nuts of some kind. Those who sell only
oranges, or only nuts, are mostly children, and of the poorest class.
The smallness of the sum required to provide a stock of oranges (a
half-hundred being 15_d._ or 18_d._), enables the poor, who cannot
raise “stock-money” sufficient to purchase anything else, to trade upon
a few oranges.

The regular costers rarely buy oranges until the spring, except,
perhaps, for Sunday afternoon sale--though this, as I said before, they
mostly object to. In the spring, however, they stock their barrows with
oranges. One man told me that, four or five years back, he had sold in
a day 2,000 oranges that he picked up as a bargain. They did not cost
him half a farthing each; he said he “cleared 2_l._ by the spec.” At
the same period he could earn 5_s._ or 6_s._ on a Sunday afternoon by
the sale of oranges in the street; but now he could not earn 2_s._

A poor Irishwoman, neither squalid in appearance nor ragged in dress,
though looking pinched and wretched, gave me the subjoined account;
when I saw her, resting with her basket of oranges near Coldbath-fields
prison, she told me she almost wished she was inside of it, but for the
“childer.” Her history was one common to her class--

“I was brought over here, sir, when I was a girl, but my father and
mother died two or three years after. I was in service then, and very
good service I continued in as a maid-of-all-work, and very kind people
I met; yes, indeed, though I was Irish and a Catholic, and they was
English Protistants. I saved a little money there, and got married. My
husband’s a labourer; and when he’s in full worruk he can earn 12_s._
or 14_s._ a week, for he’s a good hand and a harrud-worruking man, and
we do middlin’ thin. He’s out of worruk now, and I’m forced to thry and
sill a few oranges to keep a bit of life in us, and my husband minds
the childer. Bad as I do, I can do 1_d._ or 2_d._ a day profit betther
than him, poor man! for he’s tall and big, and people thinks, if he
goes round with a few oranges, it’s just from idleniss; and the Lorrud
above knows he’ll always worruk whin he can. He goes sometimes whin I’m
harrud tired. One of us must stay with the childer, for the youngist
is not three and the ildest not five. We don’t live, we starruve. We
git a few ’taties, and sometimes a plaice. To-day I’ve not taken 3_d._
as yit, sir, and it’s past three. Oh, no, indeed and indeed, thin, I
dont make 9_d._ a day. We live accordingly, for there’s 1_s._ 3_d._ a
week for rint. I have very little harrut to go into the public-houses
to sill oranges, for they begins flying out about the Pope and Cardinal
Wiseman, as if I had anything to do with it. And that’s another reason
why I like my husband to stay at home, and me to go out, because he’s a
hasty man, and might get into throuble. I don’t know what will become
of us, if times don’t turn.”

On calling upon this poor woman on the following day, I found her and
her children absent. The husband had got employment at some distance,
and she had gone to see if she could not obtain a room 3_d._ a week
cheaper, and lodge near the place of work.

According to the Board of Trade returns, there are nearly two hundred
millions of oranges annually imported into this country. About
one-third of these are sold wholesale in London, and one-fourth of the
latter quantity disposed of retail in the streets. The returns I have
procured, touching the London sale, prove that no less than 15,500,000
are sold yearly by the street-sellers. The retail price of these may
be said to be, upon an average, 5_s._ per 110, and this would give us
about 35,000_l._ for the gross sum of money laid out every year, in the
streets, in the matter of oranges alone.

The street lemon-trade is now insignificant, lemons having become a
more important article of commerce since the law required foreign-bound
ships to be provided with lemon-juice. The street-sale is chiefly in
the hands of the Jews and the Irish. It does not, however, call for
special notice here.


The sellers of foreign hazel nuts are principally women and children,
but the stall-keepers, and oftentimes the costermongers, sell them with
other “goods.” The consumption of them is immense, the annual export
from Tarragona being little short of 8,000 tons. They are to be found
in every poor shop in London, as well as in the large towns; they are
generally to be seen on every street-stall, in every country village,
at every fair, and on every race-ground. The supply is from Gijon and
Tarragona. The Gijon nuts are the “Spanish,” or “fresh” nuts. They are
sold at public sales, in barrels of three bushels each, the price being
from 35_s._ to 40_s._ The nuts from Tarragona, whence comes the great
supply, are known as “Barcelonas,” and they are kiln-dried before they
are shipped. Hence the Barcelonas will “keep,” and the Spanish will
not. The Spanish are coloured with the fumes of sulphur, by the Jews in

It is somewhat remarkable that nuts supply employment to a number of
girls in Spain, and then yield the means of a scanty subsistence to a
number of girls (with or without parents) in England.

The prattle and the laughter (according to Inglis) of the Spanish
girls who sort, find no parallel however among the London girls who
sell the nuts. The appearance of the latter is often wretched. In the
winter months they may be seen as if stupified with cold, and with
the listlessness, not to say apathy, of those whose diet is poor in
quantity and insufficient in amount.

Very few costermongers buy nuts (as hazel nuts are always called)
at the public sales--only those whose dealings are of a wholesale
character, and they are anything but regular attendants at the sales.
The street-sellers derive nearly the whole of their supply from
Duke’s-place. The principal times of business are Friday afternoons
and Sunday mornings. Those who have “capital” buy on the Friday, when
they say they can make 10_s._ go as far as 12_s._ on the Sunday. The
“Barcelonas” are from 4-1/2_d._ to 6_d._ a quart to the street-sellers.
The cob-nuts, which are the large size, used by the pastry-cooks for
mottos, &c., are 2_d._ and 2-1/2_d._ the quart, but they are generally
destitute of a kernel. A quart contains from 100 to 180 nuts, according
to the size. The costermongers buy somewhat largely when nuts are 3_d._
the quart; they then, and not unfrequently, stock their barrows with
nuts entirely, but 2_s._ a day is reckoned excellent earnings at this
trade. “It’s the worst living of all, sir,” I was told, “on nuts.”
The sale in the streets is at the fruit-stalls, in the public-houses,
on board the steamers, and at the theatre doors. They are sold by the
same class as the oranges, and a stock may be procured for a smaller
sum even than is required for oranges. By the outlay of 1_s._ many an
Irishwoman can send out her two or three children with nuts, reserving
some for herself. Seven-eighths of the nuts imported are sold, I am
assured, in the open air.

Some of the costermongers who are to be found in Battersea-fields,
and who attend the fairs and races, get through 5_s._ worth of nuts
in a day, but only exceptionally. These men have a sort of portable
shooting-gallery. The customer fires a kind of rifle, loaded with a
dart, and according to the number marked on the centre, or on the
encircling rings of a board which forms the head of the stall, and
which may be struck by the dart, is the number of nuts payable by the
stall-keeper for the halfpenny “fire.”

The Brazil nuts, which are now sold largely in the streets at twelve
to sixteen a penny, were not known in this country as an article of
commerce before 1824. They are sold by the peck--2_s._ being the
ordinary price--in Duke’s-place.

Coker-nuts--as they are now generally called, and indeed “entered”
as such at the Custom-house, and so written by Mr. Mc Culloch, to
distinguish them from cocoa, or the berries of the cacâo, used for
chocolate, etc.--are brought from the West Indies, both British and
Spanish, and Brazil. They are used as dunnage in the sugar ships, being
interposed between the hogsheads, to steady them and prevent their
being flung about. The coker-nut was introduced into England in 1690.
They are sold at public sales and otherwise, and bring from 10_s._ to
14_s._ per 100. Coker-nuts are now used at fairs to “top” the sticks.

The costermongers rarely speculate in coker-nuts now, as the boys will
not buy them unless cut, and it is almost impossible to tell how the
coker-nut will “open.” The interior is sold in halfpenny-worths and
penny-worths. These nuts are often “worked with a drum.” There may
be now forty coker-nut men in the street trade, but not one in ten
confines himself to the article.

A large proportion of the dry or ripe walnuts sold in the streets is
from Bordeaux. They are sold at public sales, in barrels of three
bushels each, realising 21_s._ to 25_s._ a barrel. They are retailed
at from eight to twenty a penny, and are sold by all classes of

A little girl, who looked stunted and wretched, and who did not know
her age (which might be eleven), told me she was sent out by her mother
with six halfpenny-worth of nuts, and she must carry back 6_d._ or she
would be beat. She had no father, and could neither read nor write.
Her mother was an Englishwoman, _she believed_, and sold oranges. She
had heard of God; he was “Our Father who art in heaven.” She’d heard
that said. She did not know the Lord’s Prayer; had never heard of it;
did not know who the Lord was; perhaps the Lord Mayor, but she had
never been before him. She went into public-houses with her nuts, but
did not know whether she was ever insulted or not; she did not know
what insulted was, but she was never badly used. She often went into
tap-rooms with her nuts, just to warm herself. A man once gave her some
hot beer, which made her ill. Her mother was kind enough to her, and
never beat her but for not taking home 6_d._ She had a younger brother
that did as she did. She had bread and potatoes to eat, and sometimes
tea, and sometimes herrings. Her mother didn’t get tipsy (at first she
did not know what was meant by tipsy) _above_ once a week.


How long the street-trade in roasted chestnuts has been carried on
I find no means of ascertaining precisely, but it is unquestionably
one of the oldest of the public traffics. Before potato-cans were
introduced, the sale of roasted chestnuts was far greater than it is

It is difficult to compute the number of roasted chestnut-sellers at
present in the streets. It is probable that they outnumber 1,000, for
I noticed that on a cold day almost every street fruit-seller, man or
woman, had roasted chestnuts for sale.

Sometimes the chestnuts are roasted in the streets, in a huge iron
apparatus, made expressly for the purpose, and capable of cooking
perhaps a bushel at a time--but these are to be found solely at the

The ordinary street apparatus for roasting chestnuts is simple. A
round pan, with a few holes punched in it, costing 3_d._ or 4_d._ in a
marine-store shop, has burning charcoal within it, and is surmounted by
a second pan, or kind of lid, containing chestnuts, which are thus kept
hot. During my inquiry, chestnuts were dear. “People don’t care,” I
was told, “whether chestnuts is three and six, as they are now, or one
and six a peck, as I hope they will be afore long; they wants the same

Chestnuts are generally bought wholesale in Duke’s-place, on the
Sunday mornings, for street sale; but some street-dealers buy them of
those costermongers, whose means enable them “to lay in” a quantity.
The retail customers are, for the most part, boys and girls, or a few
labourers or street people. The usual price is sixteen a penny.

Roasted apples used to be vended in the streets, and often along with
roasted chestnuts, but it is a trade which has now almost entirely
disappeared, and its disappearance is attributed to the prevalence of
potato cans.

I had the following account from a woman, apparently between sixty and
seventy, though she said she was only about fifty. What she was in
her youth, she said, she neither knew nor cared. At any rate she was
unwilling to converse about it. I found her statement as to chestnuts

“The trade’s nothing to what it was, sir,” she said. “Why when the
hackney coaches was in the streets, I’ve often sold 2_s._ worth of
a night at a time, for a relish, to the hackneymen that was waiting
their turn over their beer. Six and eight a penny was enough then;
now people must have sixteen; though I pays 3_s._ a peck, and to get
them at that’s a favour. I could make my good 12_s._ a week on roasted
chestnuts and apples, and as much on other things in them days, but I’m
half-starved now. There’ll never be such times again. People didn’t
want to cut one another’s throats in the street business then. O, I
don’t know anything about how long ago, or what year--years is nothing
to me--but I only know that it was so. I got a penny a piece then for
my roasted apples, and a halfpenny for sugar to them. I _could_ live
then. Roasted apples was reckoned good for the tooth-ache in them days,
but, people change so, they aren’t now. I don’t know what I make now in
chestnuts and apples, which is all I sells--perhaps 5_s._ a week. My
rent’s 1_s._ 3_d._ a week. I lives on a bit of fish, or whatever I can
get, and that’s all about it.”

The absolute quantity of oranges, lemons, and nuts sold annually in the
London streets is as follows:

  Oranges                      15,400,000
  Lemons                          154,000
  Spanish and Barcelona nuts       24,000 bushels
  Brazil do.                        3,000    „
  Chestnuts                         6,500    „
  Walnuts                          24,000    „
  Coker-nuts                      400,000 nuts


The sellers of “dry fruit” cannot be described as a class, for, with
the exception of one old couple, none that I know of confine themselves
to its sale, but resort to it merely when the season prevents their
dealing in “green fruit” or vegetables. I have already specified what
in commerce is distinguished as “dry fruit,” but its classification
among the costers is somewhat narrowed.

The dry-fruit sellers derive their supplies partly from Duke’s-place,
partly from Pudding-lane, but perhaps principally from the costers
concerning whom I have spoken, who buy wholesale at the markets and
elsewhere, and who will “clear out a grocer,” or buy such figs, &c.
as a leading tradesman will not allow to be sent, or offered, to
his regular customers, although, perhaps, some of the articles are
tolerably good. Or else the dry-fruit men buy a damaged lot of a broker
or grocer, and pick out all that is eatable, or rather saleable.

The sale of dry fruit is unpopular among the costermongers. Despite
their utmost pains, they cannot give to figs, or raisins, or currants,
which may be old and stale, anything of the bloom and plumpness of
good fruit, and the price of good fruit is too high for them. Moreover,
if the fruit be a “damaged lot,” it is almost always discoloured, and
the blemish cannot be removed.

It is impossible to give the average price of dry fruit to the
costermonger. The quality and the “harvest” affect the price materially
in the regular trade.

The rule which I am informed the costermonger, who sometimes “works”
a barrow of dried fruit, observes, is this: he will aim at cent. per
cent., and, to accomplish it, “slang” weights are not unfrequently
used. The stale fruit is sold by the grocers, and the damaged fruit
by the warehouses to the costers, at from a half, but much more
frequently a fourth to a twentieth of its prime cost. The principal
street-purchasers are boys.

A dry-fruit seller gave me the following account:--By “half profits” he
meant cent. per cent., or, in other words, that the money he received
for his stock was half of it cost price and half profit.

“I sell dry fruit, sir, in February and March, because I must be doing
something, and green fruit’s not my money then. It’s a poor trade. I’ve
sold figs at 1_d._ a pound,--no, sir, not slang the time I mean--and
I could hardly make 1_s._ a day at it, though it was half profits.
Our customers look at them quite particler. ‘Let’s see the other side
of them figs,’ the boys’ll say, and then they’ll out with--‘I say,
master, d’you see any green about me?’ Dates I can hardly get off at
all, no!--not if they was as cheap as potatoes, or cheaper. I’ve been
asked by women if dates was good in dumplings? I’ve sometimes said
‘yes,’ though I knew nothing at all about them. They’re foreign. I
can’t say where they’re grown. Almonds and raisins goes off best with
us. I don’t sell them by weight, but makes them up in ha’penny or penny
lots. There’s two things, you see, and one helps off the other. Raisins
is dry grapes, I’ve heard. I’ve sold grapes before they was dried, at
1_d._ and 2_d._ the pound. I didn’t do no good in any of ’em; 1_s._ a
day on ’em was the topper, for all the half profits. I’ll not touch ’em
again if I aint forced.”

There are a few costers who sell tolerable dry fruit, but not to any

The old couple I have alluded to stand all the year round at the corner
of a street running into a great city thoroughfare. They are supplied
with their fruit, I am told, through the friendliness of a grocer who
charges no profit, and sometimes makes a sacrifice for their benefit.
As I was told that this old couple would not like inquiries to be made
of them, I at once desisted.

There are sometimes twenty costermongers selling nothing but dry fruit,
but more frequently only ten, and sometimes only five; while, perhaps,
from 300 to 400 sell a few figs, &c., with other things, such as late
apples, the dry fruit being then used “just as a fill up.”

According to the returns before given, the gross quantity of dry fruit
disposed of yearly in the streets of London may be stated as follows:

   7,000 lbs. of shell almonds,
  37,800    „    raisins,
  24,300    „    figs,
   4,200    „    prunes.


The seller of fruit in the streets confines his traffic far more
closely to fruit, than does the vegetable-dealer to vegetables. Within
these three or four years many street-traders sell only fruit the year
through; but the purveyor of vegetables now usually sells fish with his
cabbages, turnips, cauliflowers, or other garden stuff. The fish that
he carries out on his round generally consists of soles, mackerel, or
fresh or salt herrings. This combination of the street-green-grocer and
street-fishmonger is called a “general dealer.”

The general dealers are usually accompanied by boys (as I have
elsewhere shown), and sometimes by their wives. If a woman be a general
dealer, she is mostly to be found at a stall or standing, and not
“going a round.”

The general dealer “works” everything through the season. He generally
begins the year with sprats or plaice: then he deals in soles until
the month of May. After this he takes to mackerel, haddocks, or red
herrings. Next he trades in strawberries or raspberries. From these
he will turn to green and ripe gooseberries; thence he will go to
cherries; from cherries he will change to red or white currants; from
them to plums or green-gages, and from them again to apples and pears,
and damsons. After these he mostly “works” a few vegetables, and
continues with them until the fish season begins again. Some general
dealers occasionally trade in sweetmeats, but this is not usual, and is
looked down upon by the “trade.”

“I am a general dealer,” said one of the better class; “my missis is
in the same line as myself, and sells everything that I do (barring
green stuff.) She follows me always in what I sell. She has a stall,
and sits at the corner of the street. I have got three children. The
eldest is ten, and goes out with me to call my goods for me. I have had
inflammation in the lungs, and when I call my goods for a little while
my voice leaves me. My missis is lame. She fell down a cellar, when a
child, and injured her hip. Last October twelvemonth I was laid up with
cold, which settled on my lungs, and laid me in my bed for a month. My
missis kept me all that time. She was ‘working’ fresh herrings; and if
it hadn’t been for her we must all have gone into the workhouse. We
are doing very badly now. I have no work to do. I have no stock-money
to work with, and I object to pay 1_s._ 6_d._ a week for the loan of
10_s._ Once I gave a man 1_s._ 6_d._ a week for ten months for the
loan of 10_s._, and that nearly did me up. I have had 8_s._ of the
same party since, and paid 1_s._ a week for eight weeks for the loan
of it. I consider it most extortionate to have to pay 2_d._ a day for
the loan of 8_s._, and won’t do it. When the season gets a bit better
I shall borrow a shilling of one friend and a shilling of another, and
then muddle on with as much stock-money as I can scrape together. My
missis is at home now doing nothing. Last week it’s impossible to say
what she took, for we’re obliged to buy victuals and firing with it as
we take it. She can’t go out charing on account of her hip. When she is
out, and I am out, the children play about in the streets. Only last
Saturday week she was obligated to take the shoes off her feet to get
the children some victuals. We owe two weeks’ rent, and the landlord,
though I’ve lived in the house five years, is as sharp as if I was a

“Why, sir,” said another vegetable-dealer, who was a robust-looking
young man, very clean in his person, and dressed in costermonger
corduroy, “I can hardly say what my business is worth to me, for I’m
no scholard. I was brought up to the business by my mother. I’ve a
middling connection, and perhaps clear 3_s._ a day, every fine day, or
15_s._ or 16_s._ a week; but out of that there’s my donkey to keep,
which I suppose costs 6_d._ a day, that’s seven sixpences off. Wet or
fine, she must be fed, in coorse. So must I; but I’ve only myself to
keep at present, and I hire a lad when I want one. I work my own trap.
Then things is so uncertain. Why, now, look here, sir. Last Friday,
I think it was--but that don’t matter, for it often happens--fresh
herrings was 4_s._ the 500 in the morning, and 1_s._ 6_d._ at night,
so many had come in. I buy at Billingsgate-market, and sometimes of a
large shopkeeper, and at Covent-garden and the Borough. If I lay out
7_s._ in a nice lot of cabbages, I may sell them for 10_s._ 6_d._, or
if it isn’t a lucky day with me for 8_s._, or less. Sometimes people
won’t buy, as if the cholera was in the cabbages. Then turnips isn’t
such good sale yet, but they may be soon, for winter’s best for them.
There’s more bilings then than there’s roastings, I think. People like
broth in cold weather. I buy turnips by the ‘tally.’ A tally’s five
dozen bunches. There’s no confinement of the number to a bunch; it’s
by their size; I’ve known twelve, and I’ve known twice that. I sell
three parts of the turnips at 1_d._ a bunch, and the other part at
1-1/2_d._ If I get them at 3_s._ 6_d._ the tally I do well on turnips.
I go the same rounds pretty regularly every day, or almost every day. I
don’t object to wet weather so much, because women don’t like to stir
out then, and so they’ll buy of me as I pass. Carrots I do little in;
they’re dear, but they’ll be cheaper in a month or two. They always
are. I don’t work on Sundays. If I did, I’d get a jacketing. Our chaps
would say: ‘Well, you _are_ a scurf. _You_ have a round; give another
man a Sunday chance.’ A gentleman once said to me, when I was obligated
to work on a Sunday: ‘Why don’t you leave it off, when you know it
ain’t right?’ ‘Well, sir,’ said I, and he spoke very kind to me,
‘well, sir, I’m working for my dinner, and if you’ll give me 4_s._ or
3_s._ 6_d._, I’ll tumble to your notion and drop it, and I’ll give you
these here cowcumbers,’ (I was working cowcumbers at that time) ‘to do
what you like with, and they cost me half-a-crown.’ In potatoes I don’t
do a great deal, and it’s no great trade. If I did, I should buy at the
warehouses in Tooley-street, where they are sold in sacks of 1 cwt.;
150 lbs. and 200 lbs., at 2_s._ 9_d._ and 3_s._ the cwt. I sell mine,
tidy good, at 3 pound 2_d._, and a halfpenny a pound, but as I don’t do
much, not a bushel a day, I buy at market by the bushel at from 1_s._
6_d._ to 2_s._ I never uses slangs. I sold three times as many potatoes
as I do now four years back. I don’t know why, ’cept it be that the rot
set people again them, and their taste’s gone another way. I sell a few
more greens than I did, but not many. Spinach I don’t do only a little
in it. Celery I’m seldom able to get rid on. It’s more women’s work.
Ing-uns the same.”

I may add that I found the class, who confined their business
principally to the sale of vegetables, the dullest of all the
costermongers. Any man may labour to make 1_s._ 6_d._ of cabbages or
turnips, which cost him 1_s._, when the calculation as to the relative
proportion of measures, &c. is beyond his comprehension.

Pursuing the same mode of calculation as has been heretofore adopted,
we find that the absolute quantity of vegetables sold in the London
streets by the costers is as follows:

  20,700,000 lbs. of potatoes (home grown)
  39,800,000         „        (foreign)
  23,760,133 cabbages,
   3,264,800 turnips,
     616,666 junks of turnip tops,
     601,000 carrots,
     567,300 brocoli and cauliflowers,
     219,000 bushels of peas,
       8,893     „      beans,
      22,110     „      french beans,
      25,608 dozens of vegetable marrows,
         489 dozen bundles of asparagus,
       9,120     „      rhubarb,
       4,350     „      celery,
     561,600 lettuces,
      13,291 dozen hands of radishes,
     499,533 bushels of onions,
      23,600 dozen bunches of spring onions,
      10,920 bushels of cucumbers,
       3,290 dozen bunches of herbs.


In designating these dealers I use a word not uncommon among the
costermongers. These aristocratic sellers, who are not one in twenty,
or perhaps in twenty-five, of the whole body of costermongers, are
generally men of superior manners and better dressed than their
brethren. The following narrative, given to me by one of the body,
shows the nature of the trade:--

“It depends a good deal upon the season and the price, as to what I
begin with in the ‘haristocratic’ way. My rounds are always in the
suburbs. I sell neither in the streets, nor squares in town. I like it
best where there are detached villas, and best of all where there are
kept mistresses. They are the best of all customers to men like me. We
talk our customers over among ourselves, and generally know who’s who.
One way by which we know the kept ladies is, they never sell cast-off
clothes, as some ladies do, for new potatoes or early peas. Now, my
worst customers, as to price, are the ladies--or gentlemen--they’re
both of a kidney--what keeps fashionable schools. _They_ are the people
to drive a bargain, but then they buy largely. Some buy entirely of
costermongers. There’s one gent. of a school-keeper buys so much and
knows so well what o’clock it is, that I’m satisfied he saves many a
pound a year by buying of us ’stead of the greengrocers.

“Perhaps I begin the season in the haristocratic way, with early
lettuces for salads. I carry my goods in handsome baskets, and
sometimes with a boy, or a boy and a girl, to help me. I buy my
lettuces by the score (of heads) when first in, at 1_s._ 6_d._, and
sell them at 1-1/2_d._ each, which is 1_s._ profit on a score. I have
sold twenty, and I once sold thirty score, that way in a day. The
profit on the thirty was 2_l._ 5_s._, but out of that I had to pay
three boys, for I took three with me, and our expenses was 7_s._ But
you must consider, sir, that this is a precarious trade. Such goods are
delicate, and spoil if they don’t go off. I give credit sometimes, if
anybody I know says he has no change. I never lost nothing.

“Then there’s grass (asparagus), and that’s often good money. I buy all
mine at Covent-garden, where it’s sold in bundles, according to the
earliness of the season, at from 5_s._ to 1_s._, containing from six to
ten dozen squibs (heads). These you have to take home, untie, cut off
the scraggy ends, trim, and scrape, and make them level. Children help
me to do this in the court where I live. I give them a few ha’pence,
though they’re eager enough to do it for nothing but the fun. I’ve had
10_s._ worth made ready in half an hour.

“Well, now, sir, about grass, there’s not a coster in London, I’m sure,
ever tasted it; and how it’s eaten puzzles us.” [I explained the manner
in which asparagus was brought to table.] “That’s the ticket, is it,
sir? Well, I was once at the Surrey, and there was some macaroni eaten
on the stage, and I thought grass was eaten in the same way, perhaps;
swallowed like one o’clock,” [rather a favourite comparison among the

“I have the grass--it’s always called, when cried in the streets,
‘Spar-row gra-ass’--tied up in bundles of a dozen, twelve to a dozen,
or one over, and for these I never expect less than 6_d._ For a three
or four dozen lot, in a neat sieve, I ask 2_s._ 6_d._, and never take
less than 1_s._ 3_d._ I once walked thirty-five miles with grass, and
have oft enough been thirty miles. I made 7_s._ or 8_s._ a day by it,
and next day or two perhaps nothing, or may-be had but one customer.
I’ve sold half-crown lots, on a Saturday night, for a sixpence; and
it _was_ sold some time back at 2_d._ a bundle, in the New Cut, to
poor people. I dare say some as bought it had been maid-servants and
understood it. I’ve raffled 5_s._ worth of grass in the parlour of a
respectable country inn of an evening.

“The costers generally buy new potatoes at 4_s._ to 5_s._ the bushel,
and cry them at ‘three-pound-tuppence;’ but I’ve given 7_s._ a bushel,
for choice and early, and sold them at 2_d._ a pound. It’s no great
trade, for the bushel may weigh only 50 lb., and at 2_d._ a pound
that’s only 8_s._ 4_d._ The schools don’t buy at all until they’re
1_d._ the pound, and don’t buy in any quantity until they’re 1_s._
6_d._ the 25 lb. One day a school ’stonished me by giving me 2_s._
6_d._ for 25 lb., which is the general weight of the half bushel.
Perhaps the master had taken a drop of something short that morning.
The schools are dreadful screws, to be sure.

“Green peas, early ones, I don’t buy when they first come in, for then
they’re very dear, but when they’re 4_s._ or 3_s._ 6_d._ a bushel, and
that’s pretty soon. I can make five pecks of a bushel. Schools don’t
touch peas ’till they’re 2_s._ a bushel.

“Cowcumbers were an aristocratic sale. Four or five years ago they
were looked upon, when first in, and with a beautiful bloom upon them,
as the finest possible relish. But the cholera came in 1849, and
everybody--’specially the women--thought the cholera was in cowcumbers,
and I’ve known cases, foreign and English, sent from the Borough Market
for manure.

“I sell a good many mushrooms. I sometimes can pick up a cheap lot at
Covent Garden. I make them up in neat sieves of three dozen to eight
dozen according to size, and I have sold them at 4_s._ the sieve, and
made half that on each sieve I sold. They are down to 1_s._ or 1_s._
6_d._ a sieve very soon.

“Green walnuts for pickling I sell a quantity of. One day I sold 20_s._
worth--half profit--I got them so cheap, but that was an exception. I
sold them cheap too. One lady has bought a bushel and a half at a time.
For walnut catsup the refuse of the walnut is used; it’s picked up in
the court, where I’ve got children or poor fellows for a few ha’pence
or a pint of beer to help me to peel the walnuts.”


The sale of onions in the streets is immense. They are now sold at
the markets at an average of 2_s._ a bushel. Two years ago they were
1s., and they have been 4_s._ and up to 7_s._ the bushel. They are now
twisted into “ropes” for street sale. The ropes are of straw, into
which the roots are platted, and secured firmly enough, so that the
ropes can be hung up; these have superseded the netted onions, formerly
sold by the Jew boys. The plaiting, or twisting, is done rapidly by the
women, and a straw-bonnet-maker described it to me as somewhat after
the mode of her trade, only that the top, or projecting portion of the
stem of the onion, was twisted within the straw, instead of its being
plaited close and flat together. The trade in rope onions is almost
entirely in the hands of the Irish women and girls. There are now, it
is said, from 800 to 1000 persons engaged in it. Onion selling can
be started on a small amount of capital, from 6_d._ to 1_s._, which
is no doubt one inducement for those poor persons to resort to it.
The sixpenny ropes, bunches, or strings (I heard each word applied),
contain from three to four dozen; the penny bunches, from six to twenty
roots, according to size; and the intermediate and higher priced
bunches in proportion. Before Christmas, a good many shilling lots
are sold. Among the costermongers I heard this useful root--which the
learned in such matters have pronounced to be, along with the mushroom,
the foundation of every sauce, ancient or modern--called ing-guns,
ing-ans, injens, injyens, inions, innons, almost everything but onions.

An Irishwoman, apparently of thirty-five, but in all probability
younger--she did not know her age--gave me the following account. Her
face, with its strongly-marked Irish features, was almost purpled
from constant exposure to the weather. She was a teetotaller. She
was communicative and garrulous, even beyond the average of her
countrywomen. She was decently clad, had been in London fifteen years
(she thought) having been brought from Ireland, _viâ_ Bristol, by
her parents (both dead). She herself was a widow, her husband, “a
bricklayer” she called him (probably a bricklayer’s labourer), having
died of the cholera in 1849. I take up her statement from that period:

“Yes, indeed, sir, he died--the heavins be his bed!--and he was
prepared by Father M----. We had our thrials togither, but sore’s been
the cross and heavy the burthin since it plased God to call him. Thin,
there’s the two childer, Biddy and Ned. They’ll be tin and they’ll be
eight come their next burreth-days, ’plase the Lorrud. They can hilp
me now, they can. They sells ing-uns as well. I ropes ’em for ’em. How
is ing-uns roped? Shure, thin--but it’s not mocking me your ’onnur
is--shure, thin, a gintleman like you, that can write like a horrus
a-galloping, and perhaps is as larned as a praste, glory be to God!
_must_ know how to rope ing-uns! Poor people can do it. Some say it’s
a sacrit, but that’s all a say, or there couldn’t be so many ropes
a-silling. I buy the sthraw at a sthraw-daler’s; twopinn’orth at a
time; that’ll make six or twilve ropes, according to what they are,
sixpinny or what. It’s as sthraight as it can be grown, the sthraw,
that it is indeed. Och, sir, we’ve had many’s the black day, me and
the childer, poor things; it’s thim I care about, but--God’s name be
praised!--we’ve got on somehow. Another poor woman--she’s a widdur
too, hilp her!--and me has a 2_s._ room for the two of us. We’ve our
siprate furnithur. She has only hersilf, but is fond of the childer, as
you or your lady--bliss her! if you’ve got one--might be, if you was
with them. I can read a little mysilf, at laste I could oncte, and I
gits them a bit o’ schoolin’ now and thin, whin I can, of an evenin’
mostly. I can’t write a letther; I wish I could. Shure, thin, sir, I’ll
tell you the thruth--we does best on ing-uns. Oranges is nixt, and nuts
isn’t near so good. The three of us now makes 1_s._ and sometimes 1_s._
6_d._ a day, and that’s grand doin’s. We may sill bechuxt us from two
to three dozin ropes a day. I’m quick at roping the ing-uns. I never
noted how many ropes an hour. I buy them of a thradesman, an honist
gintleman, I know, and I see him at mass ivery Sunday, and he gives me
as many as he can for 1_s._ or what it is. We has 1_d._, plase God,
on ivery 6_d._; yis, sir, perhaps more sometimes. I’ll not tell your
’onnur a bit of a lie. And so we now get a nice bit o’ fish, with a
bit of liver on a Sunday. I sell to the thradesmen, and the lodgers of
them, about here (Tottenham-court-road), and in many other parruts, for
we thravels a dale. The childer always goes the same round. We follows
one another. I’ve sould in the sthreets ever since I’ve been in this

The greatest sum of money expended by the poor upon any vegetable
(after potatoes) is spent upon onions--99,900_l._ being annually
devoted to the purchase of that article. To those who know the habits
of the poor, this will appear in no way singular--a piece of bread and
an onion being to the English labourer what bread and an apple or a
bunch of grapes is to the French peasant--often his dinner.


I use the old phrase, _pot-herbs_, for such productions as sage, thyme,
mint, parsley, sweet marjoram, fennel, (though the last is rarely sold
by the street-people), &c.; but “herbs” is the usual term. More herbs,
such as agrimony, balm (balsam), wormwood, tansy, &c., used to be sold
in the streets. These were often used for “teas,” medicinally perhaps,
except tansy, which, being a strong aromatic, was used to flavour
puddings. Wormwood, too, was often bought to throw amongst woollen
fabrics, as a protective against the attack of moths.

The street herb-trade is now almost entirely in the hands of
Irishwomen, and is generally carried on during the autumn and winter
at stalls. With it, is most commonly united the sale of celery. The
herbs are sold at the several markets, usually in shilling lots, but a
quarter of a shilling lot may be purchased. The Irishwoman pursues a
simple method of business. What has cost her 1_s._ she divides into 24
lots, each of 1_d._, or she will sell half of a lot for a halfpenny. An
Irishwoman said to me:

“Thrade isn’t good, sir; it falls and it falls. I don’t sell so many
herrubs or so much ciliry as I did whin mate was higher. Poor people
thin, I’ve often been said it, used to buy bones and bile them for
broth with ciliry and the beautiful herrubs. Now they buys a bit of
mate and ates it without brothing. It’s good one way and it’s bad
another. Only last Sathurday night my husband--and a good husband
he’s to me, though he is a London man, for he knows how to make a
bargain--he bought a bit of mutton, afore the stroke of twilve, in
Newgit-markit, at 2-1/2_d._ the pound. I don’t know what parrut it
was. I don’t understand that, but he does, and tills me how to cook
it. He has worruk at the docks, but not very rigular. I think I sill
most parrusley. Whin frish herrings is chape, some biles them with
parrusley, and some fries them with ing-uns. No, sir; I don’t make
sixpence a day; not half-a-crown a week, I’m shure. Whin herrubs isn’t
in--and they’re autumn and winther things, and so is ciliry--I sills
anything; gooseberries and currints, or anything. If I’d had a family,
I couldn’t have had a shoe to my futt.”


To complete the present account of the costermonger’s trade, we must
now estimate the money value of the fruit and vegetables disposed
of by them throughout the year. The money annually spent in fish
by the humbler portion of the metropolitan population comes to, as
we have seen, very nearly one million five hundred thousand pounds
sterling--the sum laid out in fruit and vegetables we shall find is but
little more than a third of this amount.


     377,500 bushels of apples, at six a
             penny or 4_s._ per bush.
             (288 to the bushel)                 £75,500
     193,700 bushels of pears, at 5_s._ per
             bushel                               48,400
   1,215,360 lbs. of cherries,
             at 2_d._ per lb.                     10,000
      11,700 bushels of plums, at 1_d._ per
             half pint                             6,240
         100 bushels of greengages, at
             1-1/2_d._ per half pint                  80
         548 bushels of damsons, at 1-1/2_d._
             per half pint                           430
       2,450 bushels of bullace, at 1-1/2_d._
             per half pint                         1,950
     207,500 bushels of gooseberries, at
             3_d._ per quart                      83,000
      85,500 sieves of red currants, at
             1_d._ per pint (three half-sieves
             to the bushel)                       15,200
      13,500 sieves of black currants, at
             1_d._ per pint (three half-sieves
             to the bushel)                        2,400
       3,000 sieves of white currants, at
             1_d._ per pint (three half-sieves
             to the bushel)                          530
     763,750 pottles of strawberries, at
             2_d._ per pottle                      6,360
       1,760 pottles of raspberries, at 6_d._
             per pottle                               40
      30,485 pottles of mulberries, at 6_d._
             per pottle                              760
       6,000 bushels of hazel nuts, at
             3/4_d._ per half pint                 2,400
      17,280 lbs. of filberts, at 3_d._ per lb.      200
      26,563 lbs. of grapes, at 4_d._ per lb.        440
      20,000 pine apples, at 6_d._ each              500
  15,400,000 oranges, at two for 1_d._            32,000
     154,000 lemons, at two for 1_d._                320
      24,000 bushels of Spanish and
             Barcelona nuts, at 6_d._
             per quart                            19,200
       3,000 bushels of Brazil nuts (1500
             to the bushel), at fifteen
             for 1_d._                            £1,250
       6,500 bushels of chestnuts (1500
             to the bushel), at fifteen
             for 1_d._                             2,700
      24,000 bushels of walnuts (1750 to
             the bushel), at ten for 1_d._        17,500
     400,000 coker-nuts, at 3_d._ each             5,000
     Total expended yearly in green fruit       £332,400


    7,000 lbs. of shell almonds, at 20
          a penny (320 to the lb.)                £460
   37,800 lbs. of raisins, at 2_d._ per lb.        300
   24,300 lbs. of figs, at 2_d._ per lb.           200
    4,800 lbs. of prunes, at 2_d._ per lb.          40
  Total expended yearly on dry fruit            £1,000


  60,500,000 lbs. of potatoes, at 5lbs.
             for 2_d._                           £100,800
  23,760,000 cabbages, at 1/2_d._ each             49,500
   3,264,800 turnips, at 1-1/2_d._ per doz.         1,700
     601,000 carrots, at 2-1/2_d._ per doz.           520
     567,300 brocoli and cauliflowers, at
             1_d._ per head                         2,360
     616,666 junks of turnip tops, at 4_d._
             per junk                              10,270
     219,000 bushels of peas, at 1_s._ 6_d._
             per bushel                            16,420
       8,890 bushels of beans, at 1_s._ 6_d._
             per bushel                               660
      22,110 bushels of French beans, at
             6_d._ per peck, or 2_s._ per
             bushel                                 2,210
      25,608 vegetable marrows, at 1/2_d._
             each                                      50
         489 dozen bundles of asparagus,
             at 2_s._ 6_d._ per bundle
             (4_d._ or 6_d._ a doz. heads)            730
       9,120 dozen bundles of rhubarb,
             at 2_s._ 6_d._ per doz.                1,140
       4,350 dozen bundles of celery, at
             3_d._ per bundle                         650
     561,602 lettuces, at 3 a penny                   780
      13,291 dozen hands of radishes, at
             3 bunches for 1_d._, and
             6 bunches to the hand                  1,330
     499,530 bushels of onions, at 4_s._ per
             bushel                                99,900
      10,920 bushels of cucumbers, at
             1_d._ each (60 to the bush.)           2,730
       3,290 dozen bundles of herbs, at
             3_d._ a bundle                           490
     Total expended yearly in vegetables         £292,240

Putting the above sums together we have the following aggregate

  Expended yearly in green fruit       £332,400
  Expended yearly in dry fruit            1,000
  Expended yearly in vegetables         292,240
  Gross sum taken annually by the   }
    London costermongers for fruit  }  £625,640
    and vegetables                  }

Then adding the above to the gross amount received by the
street-sellers of fish, which we have before seen comes to as much as
£1,460,850, we have for the annual income of the London costermongers
no less a sum than £2,086,490.



Thus far we have dealt only with the itinerant dealers in fish, fruit,
or vegetables; but there are still a large class of street-sellers, who
obtain a living by the sale of the same articles at some fixed locality
in the public thoroughfares; and as these differ from the others in
certain points, they demand a short special notice here. First, as
to the number of stalls in the streets of London, I caused personal
observations to be made; and in a walk of 46 miles, 632 stalls were
counted, which is at the rate of very nearly 14 to the mile. This, too,
was in bad weather,--was not on a Saturday night,--and at a season when
the fruit-sellers all declare that “things is dull.” The routes taken
in this inquiry were:--No. 1, from Vauxhall to Hatton-garden; No. 2,
from Baker-street to Bermondsey; No. 3, from Blackwall to Brompton; No.
4, from the Hackney-road to the Edgeware-road. I give the results.

             F.    FR.    V.    M.    T.
  No. 1      9     28     5     7     49
   „  2     37     50     4    14    105
   „  3     90    153    30    40    313
   „  4     75     52    23    15    165
            --     --    --    --     --
           211    283    62    76    632

F. denotes fish-stalls; Fr. fruit-stalls; V. vegetable-stalls; M.
miscellaneous; and T. presents the total.

The miscellaneous stalls include peas-soup, pickled whelks, sweetmeats,
toys, tin-ware, elder-wine, and jewellery stands. Of these, the
toy-stalls were found to be the most numerous; sweetmeats the next;
tin-ware the next; while the elder-wine stalls were least numerous.

Some of the results indicate, curiously enough, the character of
the locality. Thus, in Fleet-street there were 3, in the Haymarket
5, in Regent-street 6, and in Piccadilly 14 fruit-stalls, and no
fish-stalls--these streets not being resorted to by the poor, to whom
fruit is a luxury, but fish a necessity. In the Strand were 17 fruit
and 2 fish-stalls; and in Drury-lane were 8 stalls of fish to 6 of
fruit. On the other hand, there were in Ratcliffe-highway, 38 fish
and 23 fruit-stalls; in Rosemary-lane, 13 fish and 8 fruit-stalls; in
Shoreditch, 28 fish and 13 fruit-stalls; and in Bethnal-green Road
(the poorest district of all), 14 of the fish, and but 3 of the fruit
stalls. In some places, the numbers were equal, or nearly so; as in the
Minories, for instance, the City-road, the New-road, Goodge-street,
Tottenham-court Road, and the Camberwell-road; while in Smithfield were
5, and in Cow-cross 2 fish-stalls, and no fruit-stalls at all. In this
enumeration the street-markets of Leather-lane, the New Cut, the Brill,
&c., are not included.

The result of this survey of the principal London thoroughfares is
that in the _mid-route_ (viz., from Brompton, along Piccadilly, the
Strand, Fleet-street, and so _viâ_ the Commercial-road to Blackwall),
there are twice as many stalls as in the great _northern thoroughfare_
(that is to say, from the Edgeware-road, along the New-road, to the
Hackney-road); the latter route, however, has more than one-third
as many stalls as route No. 2, and that again more than double the
number of route No. 1. Hence it appears that the more frequented the
thoroughfare, the greater the quantity of street-stalls.

The number of miles of streets contained within the inner police
district of the metropolis, are estimated by the authorities at 2,000
(including the city), and assuming that there are on an average only
four stalls to the mile throughout London, we have thus a grand total
of 8,000 fish, fruit, vegetable, and other stalls dispersed throughout
the capital.


“Sweet Chany! Two a pinny Or-r-ranges--two a pinny!”

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

Concerning the character of the stalls at the street-markets, the
following observations have been made:--At the New-cut there were,
before the removals, between the hours of eight and ten on a Saturday
evening, ranged along the kerb-stone on the north side of the
road, beginning at Broad-wall to Marsh-gate (a distance of nearly
half-a-mile), a dense line of “pitches”--at 77 of which were vegetables
for sale, at 40 fruit, 25 fish, 22 boots and shoes, 14 eatables,
consisting of cakes and pies, hot eels, baked potatoes, and boiled
whelks; 10 dealt in nightcaps, lace, ladies’ collars, artificial
flowers, silk and straw bonnets; 10 in tinware--such as saucepans,
tea-kettles, and Dutch-ovens; 9 in crockery and glass, 7 in brooms
and brushes, 5 in poultry and rabbits, 6 in paper, books, songs, and
almanacs; and about 60 in sundries.


The stalls occupied by costermongers for the sale of fish, fruit,
vegetables, &c., are chiefly constructed of a double cross-trestle
or moveable frame, or else of two trestles, each with three legs,
upon which is laid a long deal board, or tray. Some of the stalls
consist merely of a few boards resting upon two baskets, or upon
two herring-barrels. The fish-stalls are mostly covered with
paper--generally old newspapers or periodicals--but some of the
street-fishmongers, instead of using paper to display their fish upon,
have introduced a thin marble slab, which gives the stall a cleaner,
and, what they consider a high attribute, a “respectable” appearance.

Most of the fruit-stalls are, in the winter time, fitted up with an
apparatus for roasting apples and chestnuts; this generally consists
of an old saucepan with a fire inside; and the woman who vends
them, huddled up in her old faded shawl or cloak, often presents a
picturesque appearance, in the early evening, or in a fog, with the
gleam of the fire lighting up her half somnolent figure. Within the
last two or three years, however, there has been so large a business
carried on in roasted chestnuts, that it has become a distinct
street-trade, and the vendors have provided themselves with an iron
apparatus, large enough to roast nearly half a bushel at a time. At
the present time, however, the larger apparatus is less common in the
streets, and more frequent in the shops, than in the previous winter.

There are, moreover, peculiar kinds of stalls--such as the hot eels and
hot peas-soup stalls, having tin oval pots, with a small chafing-dish
containing a charcoal fire underneath each, to keep the eels or soup
hot. The early breakfast stall has two capacious tin cans filled with
tea or coffee, kept hot by the means before described, and some are
lighted up by two or three large oil-lamps; the majority of these
stalls, in the winter time, are sheltered from the wind by a screen
made out of an old clothes horse covered with tarpaulin. The cough-drop
stand, with its distilling apparatus, the tin worm curling nearly the
whole length of the tray, has but lately been introduced. The nut-stall
is fitted up with a target at the back of it. The ginger-beer stand may
be seen in almost every street, with its French-polished mahogany frame
and bright polished taps, and its foot-bath-shaped reservoir of water,
to cleanse the glasses. The hot elder wine stand, with its bright brass
urns, is equally popular.

The sellers of plum-pudding, “cake, a penny a slice,” sweetmeats,
cough-drops, pin-cushions, jewellery, chimney ornaments, tea and
table-spoons, make use of a table covered over, some with old
newspapers, or a piece of oil-cloth, upon which are exposed their
articles for sale.

Such is the usual character of the street-stalls. There are, however,
“stands” or “cans” peculiar to certain branches of the street-trade.
The most important of these, such as the baked-potato can, and the
meat-pie stand, I have before described, p. 27.

The other means adopted by the street-sellers for the exhibition of
their various goods at certain “pitches” or fixed localities are
as follows. Straw bonnets, boys’ caps, women’s caps, and prints,
are generally arranged for sale in large umbrellas, placed “upside
down.” Haberdashery, with rolls of ribbons, edgings, and lace, some
street-sellers display on a stall; whilst others have a board at the
edge of the pavement, and expose their wares upon it as tastefully
as they can. Old shoes, patched up and well blacked, ready for the
purchaser’s feet, and tin ware, are often ranged upon the ground, or,
where the stock is small, a stall or table is used.

Many stationary street-sellers use merely baskets, or trays, either
supported in their hand, or on their arm, or else they are strapped
round their loins, or suspended round their necks. These are mostly
fruit-women, watercress, blacking, congreves, sheep’s-trotters, and
ham-sandwich sellers.

Many stationary street-sellers stand on or near the bridges; others
near the steam-packet wharfs or the railway terminuses; a great number
of them take their pitch at the entrance to a court, or at the corners
of streets; and stall-keepers with oysters stand opposite the doors of

It is customary for a street-seller who wants to “pitch” in a new
locality to solicit the leave of the housekeeper, opposite whose
premises he desires to place his stall. Such leave obtained, no other
course is necessary.


I had the following statement from a woman who has “kept a stall”
in Marylebone, at the corner of a street, which she calls “my
corner,” for 38 years. I was referred to her as a curious type of the
class of stall-keepers, and on my visit, found her daughter at the
“pitch.” This daughter had all the eloquence which is attractive in
a street-seller, and so, I found, had her mother when she joined us.
They are profuse in blessings; and on a bystander observing, when he
heard the name of these street-sellers, that a jockey of that name
had won the Derby lately, the daughter exclaimed, “To be sure he did;
he’s my own uncle’s relation, and what a lot of money came into the
family! Bless God for all things, and bless every body! Walnuts, sir,
walnuts, a penny a dozen! Wouldn’t give you a bad one for the world,
which is a great thing for a poor ’oman for to offer to do.” The
daughter was dressed in a drab great-coat, which covered her whole
person. When I saw the mother, she carried a similar great-coat, as
she was on her way to the stall; and she used it as ladies do their
muffs, burying her hands in it. The mother’s dark-coloured old clothes
seemed, to borrow a description from Sir Walter Scott, flung on with
a pitchfork. These two women were at first very suspicious, and could
not be made to understand my object in questioning them; but after a
little while, the mother became not only communicative, but garrulous,
conversing--with no small impatience at any interruption--of the doings
of the people in her neighbourhood. I was accompanied by an intelligent
costermonger, who assured me of his certitude that the old woman’s
statement was perfectly correct, and I found moreover from other
inquiries that it was so.

“Well, sir,” she began, “what is it that you want of me? Do I owe
you anything? There’s half-pay officers about here for no good; what
is it you want? Hold your tongue, you young fool,” (to her daughter,
who was beginning to speak;) “what do you know about it?” [On my
satisfying her that I had no desire to injure her, she continued to
say after spitting, a common practice with her class, on a piece of
money, “for luck,”] “Certainly, sir, that’s very proper and good. Aye,
I’ve seen the world--the town world and the country. I don’t know
where I was born; never mind about that--it’s nothing to nobody. I
don’t know nothing about my father and mother; but I know that afore
I was eleven I went through the country with my missis. She was a
smuggler. I didn’t know then what smuggling was--bless you, sir, I
didn’t; I knew no more nor I know who made that lamp-post. I didn’t
know the taste of the stuff we smuggled for two years--didn’t know it
from small beer; I’ve known it well enough since, God knows. My missis
made a deal of money that time at Deptford Dockyard. The men wasn’t
paid and let out till twelve of a night--I hardly mind what night it
was, days was so alike then--and they was our customers till one,
two, or three in the morning--Sunday morning, for anything I know. I
don’t know what my missis gained; something jolly, there’s not a fear
of it. She was kind enough to me. I don’t know how long I was with
missis. After that I was a hopping, and made my 15_s._ regular at it,
and a haymaking; but I’ve had a pitch at my corner for thirty-eight
year--aye! turned thirty-eight. It’s no use asking me what I made at
first--I can’t tell; but I’m sure I made more than twice as much as my
daughter and me makes now, the two of us. I wish people that thinks
we’re idle now were with me for a day. I’d teach them. I don’t--that’s
the two of us don’t--make 15_s._ a week now, nor the half of it, when
all’s paid. D--d if I do. The d--d boys take care of that.” [Here I
had a statement of the boys’ tradings, similar to what I have given.]
“There’s ‘Canterbury’ has lots of boys, and they bother me. I can tell,
and always could, how it is with working men. When mechanics is in
good work, their children has halfpennies to spend with me. If they’re
hard up, there’s no halfpennies. The pennies go to a loaf or to buy a
candle. I might have saved money once, but had a misfortunate family.
My husband? O, never mind about him. D--n him. I’ve been a widow many
years. My son--it’s nothing how many children I have--is married; he
had the care of an ingine. But he lost it from ill health. It was in
a feather-house, and the flue got down his throat, and coughed him;
and so he went into the country, 108 miles off, to his wife’s mother.
But his wife’s mother got her living by wooding, and other ways, and
couldn’t help him or his wife; so he left, and he’s with me now. He
has a job sometimes with a greengrocer, at 6_d._ a day and a bit of
grub; a little bit--very. I must shelter him. I couldn’t turn him out.
If a Turk I knew was in distress, and I had only half a loaf, I’d
give him half of that, if he was ever such a Turk--I would, sir! Out
of 6_d._ a day, my son--poor fellow, he’s only twenty-seven!--wants a
bit of ’baccy and a pint of beer. It ’ud be unnatural to oppose that,
wouldn’t it, sir? He frets about his wife, that’s staying with her
mother, 108 miles off; and about his little girl; but I tell him to
wait, and he may have more little girls. God knows, they come when
they’re not wanted a bit. I joke and say all my old sweethearts is
dying away. Old Jemmy went off sudden. He lent me money sometimes, but
I always paid him. He had a public once, and had some money when he
died. I saw him the day afore he died. He was in bed, but wasn’t his
own man quite; though he spoke sensible enough to me. He said, said
he, ‘Won’t you have half a quartern of rum, as we’ve often had it?’
‘Certainly, Jemmy,’ says I, ‘I came for that very thing.’ Poor fellow!
his friends are quarrelling now about what he left. It’s 56_l._ they
say, and they’ll go to law very likely, and lose every thing. There’ll
be no such quarrelling when I die, unless it is for the pawn-tickets.
I get a meal now, and got a meal afore; but it was a better meal then,
sir. Then look at my expenses. I was a customer once. I used to buy,
and plenty such did, blue cloth aprons, opposite Drury-lane theatre:
the very shop’s there still, but I don’t know what it is now; I can’t
call to mind. I gave 2_s._ 6_d._ a yard, from twenty to thirty years
ago, for an apron, and it took two yards, and I paid 4_d._ for making
it, and so an apron cost 5_s._ 4_d._--that wasn’t much thought of in
those times. I used to be different off then. I never go to church; I
used to go when I was a little child at Sevenoaks. I suppose I was born
somewhere thereabouts. I’ve forgot what the inside of a church is like.
There’s no costermongers ever go to church, except the rogues of them,
that wants to appear good. I buy my fruit at Covent-garden. Apples is
now 4_s._ 6_d._ a bushel there. I may make twice that in selling them;
but a bushel may last me two, three, or four days.”

As I have already, under the street-sale of fish, given an account of
the oyster stall-keeper, as well as the stationary dealers in sprats,
and the principal varieties of wet fish, there is no necessity for me
to continue this part of my subject.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have now, in a measure, finished with the metropolitan
costermongers. We have seen that the street-sellers of fish, fruit, and
vegetables constitute a large proportion of the London population;
the men, women, and children numbering at the least 30,000, and taking
as much as 2,000,000_l._ per annum. We have seen, moreover, that these
are the principal purveyors of food to the poor, and that consequently
they are as important a body of people as they are numerous. Of all
classes they _should_ be the most honest, since the poor, least of
all, can afford to be cheated; and yet it has been shown that the
consciences of the London costermongers, generally speaking, are as
little developed as their intellects; indeed, the moral and religious
state of these men is a foul disgrace to us, laughing to scorn our zeal
for the “propagation of the gospel in _foreign_ parts,” and making
our many societies for the civilization of savages on the other side
of the globe appear like a “delusion, a mockery, and a snare,” when
we have so many people sunk in the lowest depths of barbarism round
about our very homes. It is well to have Bishops of New Zealand when we
have Christianized all _our own_ heathen; but with 30,000 individuals,
in merely _one_ of our cities, utterly creedless, mindless, and
principleless, surely it would look more like earnestness on our parts
if we created Bishops of the New-Cut, and sent “right reverend fathers”
to watch over the “cure of souls” in the Broadway and the Brill. If our
sense of duty will not rouse us to do this, at least our regard for our
own interests should teach us, that it is not safe to allow this vast
dungheap of ignorance and vice to seethe and fester, breeding a social
pestilence in the very heart of our land. That the costermongers belong
essentially to the dangerous classes none can doubt; and those who know
a coster’s hatred of a “crusher,” will not hesitate to believe that
they are, as they themselves confess, one and all ready, upon the least
disturbance, to seize and disable their policeman.

It would be a marvel indeed if it were otherwise. Denied the right of
getting a living by the street authorities, after having, perhaps, been
supplied with the means of so doing by the parish authorities--the
stock which the one had provided seized and confiscated by the
other--law seems to them a mere farce, or at best, but the exercise
of an arbitrary and despotic power, against which they consider
themselves justified, whenever an opportunity presents itself, of using
the same physical force as it brings to bear against them. That they
are ignorant and vicious as they are, surely is not their fault. If
we were all born with learning and virtue, then might we, with some
show of justice, blame the costermongers for their want of both; but
seeing that even the most moral and intelligent of us owe the greater
part, if not the whole, of our wisdom and goodness to the tuition of
others, we must not in the arrogance of our self-conceit condemn these
men because they are not like ourselves, when it is evident that we
should have been as they are, had not some one done for us what we
refuse to do for them. We leave them destitute of all perception of
beauty, and therefore without any means of pleasure but through their
appetites, and then we are surprized to find their evenings are passed
either in brutalizing themselves with beer, or in gloating over the
mimic sensuality of the “penny gaff.” Without the least intellectual
culture is it likely, moreover, that they should have that perception
of antecedents and consequents which enables us to see in the shadows
of the past the types of the future--or that power of projecting the
mind into the space, as it were, of time, which we in Saxon-English
call fore-sight, and in Anglo-Latin pro-vidence--a power so godlike
that the latter term is often used by us to express the Godhead itself?
Is it possible, then, that men who are as much creatures of the present
as the beasts of the field--instinctless animals--should have the least
faculty of pre-vision? or rather is it not natural that, following
the most precarious of all occupations--one in which the subsistence
depends upon the weather of this the most variable climate of any--they
should fail to make the affluence of the fine days mitigate the
starvation of the rainy ones? or that their appetites, made doubly
eager by the privations suffered in their adversity, should be indulged
in all kinds of excess in their prosperity--their lives being thus, as
it were, a series of alternations between starvation and surfeit?

The fate of children brought up amid the influence of such scenes--with
parents starving one week and drunk all the next--turned loose into
the streets as soon as they are old enough to run alone--sent out to
sell in public-houses almost before they know how to put two halfpence
together--their tastes trained to libidinism long before puberty at
the penny concert, and their passions inflamed with the unrestrained
intercourse of the twopenny hops--the fate of the young, I say,
abandoned to the blight of such associations as these, cannot well be
otherwise than it is. If the child be father to the man, assuredly it
does not require a great effort of imagination to conceive the manhood
that such a childhood must necessarily engender.

Some months back Mr. Mayhew, with a view to mitigate what appeared
to him to be the chief evils of a street-seller’s life, founded “The
Friendly Association of London Costermongers,” the objects of which
were as follows:

1. To establish a Benefit and Provident Fund for insuring to each
Member a small weekly allowance in Sickness or Old Age, as well as a
certain sum to his family at his death, so that the Costermongers, when
incapacitated from labour, may not be forced to seek parochial relief,
nor, at their decease, be left to be buried by the parish.

2. To institute a Penny Savings’ Bank and Winter Fund, where the
smallest deposits will be received and bear interest, so that the
Costermongers may be encouraged to lay by even the most trivial sums,
not only as a provision for future comfort, but as the means of
assisting their poorer brethren with future loans.

3. To form a Small Loan Fund for supplying the more needy Costermongers
with Stock-Money, &c., at a fair and legitimate interest, instead of
the exorbitant rates that are now charged.

4. To promote the use of full weights and measures by every Member of
the Association, as well as a rigid inspection of the scales, &c., of
all other Costermongers, so that the honestly disposed Street-sellers
may be protected, and the public secured against imposition.

5. To protect the Costermongers from interference when lawfully
pursuing their calling, by placing it in their power to employ counsel
to defend them, if unjustly prosecuted.

6. To provide harmless, if not rational, amusements at the same
cheap rate as the pernicious entertainments now resorted to by the

7. To adopt means for the gratuitous education of the children of the
Costermongers, in the day time, and the men and women themselves in the

This institution remains at present comparatively in abeyance, from the
want of funds to complete the preliminary arrangements. Those, however,
who may feel inclined to contribute towards its establishment, will
please to pay their subscriptions into Messrs. Twinings’ Bank, Strand,
to the account of Thomas Hughes, Esq. (of 63, Upper Berkeley-street,
Portman-square), who has kindly consented to act as Treasurer to the


The Association above described arose out of a meeting of costermongers
and other street-folk, which was held, at my instance, on the evening
of the 12th of June last, in the National Hall, Holborn. The meeting
was announced as one of “street-sellers, street-performers, and
street-labourers,” but the costermongers were the great majority
present. The admission was by ticket, and the tickets, which were
of course gratuitous, were distributed by men familiar with all the
classes invited to attend. These men found the tickets received by
some of the street-people with great distrust; others could not be
made to understand why any one should trouble himself on their behoof;
others again, cheerfully promised their attendance. Some accused
the ticket distributors with having been bribed by the Government
or the police, though for what purpose was not stated. Some abused
them heartily, and some offered to treat them. At least 1,000 persons
were present at the meeting, of whom 731 presented their tickets; the
others were admitted, because they were known to the door-keepers,
and had either lost their tickets or had not the opportunity to
obtain them. The persons to whom cards of admission were given were
invited to write their names and callings on the backs, and the
cards so received gave the following result. Costermongers, 256;
fish-sellers, 28; hucksters, 23; lot-sellers, 18; street-labourers, 16;
paper-sellers and workers, 13; toy-sellers, 11; ginger-beer-sellers,
9; hardware-sellers, 9; general-dealers, 7; street-musicians, 5;
street-performers, 5; cakes and pastry-sellers, fried-fish-vendors, and
tinkers, each, 4; turf-vendors, street-exhibitors, strolling-players,
cat’s-meat-men, water-cress-sellers, stay-lace, and cotton-sellers,
each, 3; board-carriers, fruit-sellers, street-tradesmen, hawkers,
street-greengrocers, shell-fish-vendors, poulterers, mud-larks,
wire-workers, ballad-singers, crock-men, and booksellers, each, 2; the
cards also gave one each of the following avocations:--fly-cage-makers,
fly-paper-sellers, grinders, tripe-sellers, pattern-printers,
blind-paper-cutters, lace-collar-sellers, bird-sellers, bird-trainers,
pen-sellers, lucifer-merchants, watch-sellers, decorators, and
play-bill-sellers. 260 cards were given in without being indorsed with
any name or calling.

My object in calling this meeting was to ascertain from the men
themselves what were the grievances to which they considered themselves
subjected; what were the peculiarities and what the privations of a
street-life. Cat-calls, and every description of discordant sound,
prevailed, before the commencement of the proceedings, but there was
also perfect good-humour. Although it had been announced that all the
speakers were to address the meeting from the platform, yet throughout
the evening some man or other would occasionally essay to speak from
the body of the hall. Some of those present expressed misgivings that
the meeting was got up by the Government, or by Sir R. Peel, and
that policemen, in disguise, were in attendance. The majority showed
an ignorance of the usual forms observed at public meetings, though
some manifested a thorough understanding of them. Nor was there much
delicacy observed--but, perhaps, about as much as in some assemblages
of a different character--in clamouring down any prosy speaker. Many
present were without coats (for it was a warm evening), some were
without waistcoats, many were in tatters, hats and caps were in
infinite varieties of shape and shade, while a few were well and even
genteelly dressed. The well dressed street-sellers were nearly all
young men, and one of these wore moustachios. After I had explained,
amidst frequent questions and interruptions, the purpose for which
I had summoned the meeting, and had assured the assembly that, to
the best of my knowledge, no policemen were present, I invited free

It was arranged that some one person should address the meeting as the
representative of each particular occupation. An elderly man of small
stature and lively intelligent features, stood up to speak on behalf
of the “paper-workers,” “flying-stationers,” and “standing-patterers.”
He said, that “for twenty-four years he had been a penny-showman, a
street-seller, and a patterer.” He dwelt upon the difference of a
street-life when he was young and at the present time, the difference
being between meals and no meals; and complained that though he had
been well educated, had friends in a respectable way of life, and had
never been accused of any dishonesty, such was the “moral brand,” of
having been connected with a street life, that it was never got rid of.
He more than once alluded to this “moral brand.” The question was, he
concluded, in what way were they to obtain an honest livelihood, so as
to keep their wives and children decently, without being buffeted about
like wild beasts in the open streets? This address was characterised
by propriety in the delivery, and by the absence of any grammatical
inaccuracy, or vulgarity of tone or expression.

A costermonger, a quiet-looking man, tidily clad, said he was the son
of a country auctioneer, now dead; and not having been brought up to
any trade, he came to London to try his luck. His means were done
before he could obtain employment; and he was in a state of starvation.
At last he was obliged to apply to the parish. The guardians took him
into the workhouse, and offered to pass him home: but as he could do no
good there, he refused to go. Whereupon, giving him a pound of bread,
he was turned into the streets, and had nowhere to lay his head. In
wandering down the New-cut a costermonger questioned him, and then took
him into his house and fed him. This man kept him for a year and a
half; he showed him how to get a living in the street trade; and when
he left, gave him 20_s._ to start with. With this sum he got a good
living directly; and he could do so now, were it not for the police,
whose conduct, he stated, was sometimes very tyrannical. He had been
dragged to the station-house, for standing to serve customers, though
he obstructed nobody; the policeman, however, called it an obstruction,
and he (the speaker) was fined 2_s._ 6_d._; whereupon, because he had
not the half-crown, his barrow and all it contained were taken from
him, and he had heard nothing of them since. This almost broke him
down. There was no redress for these things, and he thought they ought
to be looked into.

This man spoke with considerable energy; and when he had concluded,
many costermongers shouted, at the top of their voices, that they could
substantiate every word of what he had said.

A young man, of superior appearance, said he was the son of a gentleman
who had held a commission as Lieutenant in the 20th Foot, and as
Captain in the 34th Infantry, and afterwards became Sub-director of
the Bute Docks; in which situation he died, leaving no property. He
(the speaker) was a classical scholar; but having no trade, he was
compelled, after his father’s death, to come to London in search of
employment, thinking that his pen and his school acquirements would
secure it. But in this expectation he was disappointed,--though for a
short period he was earning two guineas a week in copying documents for
the House of Commons. That time was past; and he was a street-patterer
now through sheer necessity. He could say from experience that the
earnings of that class were no more than from 8_s._ to 10_s._ a week.
He then declaimed at some length against the interference of the police
with the patterers, considering it harsh and unnecessary.

After some noisy and not very relevant discussion concerning the true
amount of a street-patterer’s earnings, a clergyman of the Established
Church, now selling stenographic cards in the street, addressed the
meeting. He observed, that in every promiscuous assembly there would
always be somebody who might be called unfortunate. Of this number he
was one; for when, upon the 5th September, 1831, he preached a funeral
sermon before a fashionable congregation, upon Mr. Huskisson’s death
by a railway accident, he little thought he should ever be bound over
in his own recognizances in 10_l._ for obstructing the metropolitan
thoroughfares. He was a native of Hackney, but in early life he went to
Scotland, and upon the 24th June, 1832, he obtained the presentation to
a small extra-parochial chapel in that country, upon the presentation
of the Rev. Dr. Bell. His people embraced Irvingism, and he was
obliged to leave; and in January, 1837, he came to the metropolis.
His history since that period he need not state. His occupation was
well known, and he could confirm what had been stated with regard to
the police. The Police Act provided, that all persons selling goods
in the streets were to keep five feet off the pavement, the street
not being a market. He had always kept with his wares and his cards
beyond the prohibited distance of five feet; and for six years and a
half he had sold his cards without molesting or being molested. After
some severe observations upon the police, he narrated several events
in his personal history to account for his present condition, which
he attributed to misfortune and the injustice of society. In the
course of these explanations he gave an illustration of his classical
acquirements, in having detected a grammatical error in a Latin
inscription upon the plate of a foundation-stone for a new church in
Westminster. He wrote to the incumbent, pointing out the error, and
the incumbent asked the beadle who he was. “Oh,” said the beadle, “he
is a fellow who gets his living in the streets.” This was enough. He
got no answer to his letter, though he knew the incumbent and his four
curates, and had attended his church for seven years. After dwelling
on the sufferings of those whose living was gained in the streets, he
said, that if persons wished really to know anything of the character
or habits of life of the very poor, of whom he was one, the knowledge
could only be had from a personal survey of their condition in their
own homes. He ended, by expressing his hope that by better treatment,
and an earnest attention--moral, social, and religious--to their
condition, the poor of the streets might be gathered to the church, and
to God.

A “wandering musician” in a Highland garb, worn and dirty, complained
at some length of the way in which he was treated by the police.

A hale-looking man, a costermonger, of middle age--who said he had
a wife and four children dependent upon him--then spoke. It was a
positive fact, he said, notwithstanding their poverty, their hardships,
and even their degradation in the eyes of some, that the first markets
in London were mainly supported by costermongers. What would the Duke
of Bedford’s market in Covent-garden be without them? This question
elicited loud applause.

Several other persons followed with statements of a similar character,
which were listened to with interest; but from their general sameness
it is not necessary to repeat them here. After occupying nearly four
hours, the proceedings were brought to a close by a vote of thanks, and
the “street-sellers, performers, and labourers,” separated in a most
orderly manner.


The Irish street-sellers are both a numerous and peculiar class of
people. It therefore behoves me, for the due completeness of this work,
to say a few words upon their numbers, earnings, condition, and mode of

The number of Irish street-sellers in the metropolis has increased
greatly of late years. One gentleman, who had every means of being
well-informed, considered that it was not too much to conclude, that,
within these five years, the numbers of the poor Irish people who gain
a scanty maintenance, or what is rather a substitute for a maintenance,
by trading, or begging, or by carrying on the two avocations
simultaneously in the streets of London, had been doubled in number.

I found among the English costermongers a general dislike of the Irish.
In fact, next to a policeman, a genuine London costermonger hates an
Irishman, considering him an intruder. Whether there be any traditional
or hereditary ill-feeling between them, originating from a clannish
feeling, I cannot ascertain. The costermongers whom I questioned had no
knowledge of the feelings or prejudices of their predecessors, but I am
inclined to believe that the prejudice is modern, and has originated in
the great influx of Irishmen and women, intermixing, more especially
during the last five years, with the costermonger’s business. An Irish
costermonger, however, is no novelty in the streets of London. “From
the mention of the costardmonger,” says Mr. Charles Knight, “in the old
dramatists, he appears to have been frequently an Irishman.”

Of the Irish street-sellers, at present, it is computed that there
are, including men, women, and children, upwards of 10,000. Assuming
the street-sellers attending the London fish and green markets to be,
with their families, 30,000 in number, and 7 in every 20 of these to
be Irish, we shall have rather more than the total above given. Of
this large body three-fourths sell only fruit, and more especially
nuts and oranges; indeed, the orange-season is called the “Irishman’s
harvest.” The others deal in fish, fruit, and vegetables, but these are
principally men. Some of the most wretched of the street-Irish deal in
such trifles as lucifer-matches, water-cresses, &c.

I am informed that the great mass of these people have been connected,
in some capacity or other, with the culture of the land in Ireland.
The mechanics who have sought the metropolis from the sister kingdom
have become mixed with their respective handicrafts in England, some
of the Irish--though only a few--taking rank with the English skilled
labourers. The greater part of the Irish artizans who have arrived
within the last five years are to be found among the most degraded
of the tailors and shoemakers who work at the East-end for the

A large class of the Irish who were agricultural labourers in their
country are to be found among the men working for bricklayers, as well
as among the dock-labourers and excavators, &c. Wood chopping is an
occupation greatly resorted to by the Irish in London. Many of the
Irish, however, who are not regularly employed in their respective
callings, resort to the streets when they cannot obtain work otherwise.

The Irish women and girls who sell fruit, &c., in the streets, depend
almost entirely on that mode of traffic for their subsistence. They
are a class not sufficiently taught to avail themselves of the
ordinary resources of women in the humbler walk of life. Unskilled
at their needles, working for slop employers, even at the commonest
shirt-making, is impossible to them. Their ignorance of household work,
moreover (for such description of work is unknown in their wretched
cabins in many parts of Ireland), incapacitates them in a great
measure for such employments as “charing,” washing, and ironing, as
well as from regular domestic employment. Thus there seems to remain
to them but one thing to do--as, indeed, was said to me by one of
themselves--viz., “to sell for a ha’pinny the three apples which cost a

Very few of these women (nor, indeed, of the men, though rather more
of them than the women) can read, and they are mostly all wretchedly
poor; but the women present two characteristics which distinguish them
from the London costerwomen generally--they are chaste, and, unlike the
“coster girls,” very seldom form any connection without the sanction
of the marriage ceremony. They are, moreover, attentive to religious

The majority of the Irish street-sellers of both sexes beg, and often
very eloquently, as they carry on their trade; and I was further
assured, that, but for this begging, some of them might starve outright.

The greater proportion of the Irish street-sellers are from Leinster
and Munster, and a considerable number come from Connaught.


Notwithstanding the prejudices of the English costers, I am of opinion
that the Irishmen and women who have become costermongers, belong to a
better class than the Irish labourers. The Irishman may readily adapt
himself, in a strange place, to labour, though not to trade; but these
costers are--or the majority at least are--poor persevering traders

The most intelligent and prosperous of the street-Irish are those who
have “risen”--for so I heard it expressed--“into regular costers.” The
untaught Irishmen’s capabilities, as I have before remarked, with all
his powers of speech and quickness of apprehension, are far less fitted
for “buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest” than for
mere physical employment. Hence those who take to street-trading for
a living seldom prosper in it, and three-fourths of the street-Irish
confine their dealings to such articles as are easy of sale, like
apples, nuts, or oranges, for they are rarely masters of purchasing to
advantage, and seem to know little about tale or measure, beyond the
most familiar quantities. Compared with an acute costermonger, the mere
apple-seller is but as the labourer to the artizan.

One of the principal causes why the Irish costermongers have increased
so extensively of late years, is to be found in the fact that the
labouring classes, (and of them chiefly the class employed in the
culture of land,) have been driven over from “the sister Isle” more
thickly for the last four or five years than formerly. Several
circumstances have conspired to effect this.--First, they were driven
over by the famine, when they could not procure, or began to fear that
soon they could not procure, food to eat. Secondly, they were forced
to take refuge in this country by the evictions, when their landlords
had left them no roof to shelter them in their own. (The shifts, the
devices, the plans, to which numbers of these poor creatures had
recourse, to raise the means of quitting Ireland for England--or
for anywhere--will present a very remarkable chapter at some future
period.) Thirdly, though the better class of small farmers who have
emigrated from Ireland, in hopes of “bettering themselves,” have mostly
sought the shores of North America, still some who have reached this
country have at last settled into street-sellers. And, fourthly, many
who have come over here only for the harvest have been either induced
or compelled to stay.

Another main cause is, that the Irish, as labourers, can seldom
obtain work all the year through, and thus the ranks of the Irish
street-sellers are recruited every winter by the slackness of certain
periodic trades in which they are largely employed--such as hodmen,
dock-work, excavating, and the like. They are, therefore, driven by
want of employment to the winter sale of oranges and nuts. These
circumstances have a doubly malefic effect, as the increase of costers
accrues in the winter months, and there are consequently the most
sellers when there are the fewest buyers.

Moreover, the cessation of work in the construction of railways,
compared with the abundance of employment which attracted so many to
this country during the railway mania, has been another fertile cause
of there being so many Irish in the London streets.

The prevalence of Irish women and children among street-sellers is
easily accounted for--they are, as I said before, unable to do anything
else to eke out the means of their husbands or parents. A needle is as
useless in their fingers as a pen.

Bitterly as many of these people suffer in this country, grievous and
often eloquent as are their statements, I met with _none_ who did not
manifest repugnance at the suggestion of a return to Ireland. If asked
why they objected to return, the response was usually in the form of a
question: “Shure thin, sir, and what good could I do there?” Neither
can I say that I heard any of these people express any love for their
country, though they often spoke with great affection of their friends.

From an Irish costermonger, a middle-aged man, with a physiognomy
best known as “Irish,” and dressed in corduroy trousers, with a
loose great-coat, far too big for him, buttoned about him, I had the
following statement:

“I had a bit o’ land, yer honor, in County Limerick. Well, it wasn’t
just a farrum, nor what ye would call a garden here, but my father
lived and died on it--glory be to God!--and brought up me and my sister
on it. It was about an acre, and the taties was well known to be good.
But the sore times came, and the taties was afflicted, and the wife
and me--I have no childer--hadn’t a bite nor a sup, but wather to
live on, and an igg or two. I filt the famine a-comin’. I saw people
a-feedin’ on the wild green things, and as I had not such a bad take,
I got Mr. ---- (he was the head master’s agent) to give me 28_s._ for
possission in quietness, and I sould some poulthry I had--their iggs
was a blessin’ to keep the life in us--I sould them in Limerick for
3_s._ 3_d._--the poor things--four of them. The furnithur’ I sould to
the nabors, for somehow about 6_s._ Its the thruth I’m ay-tellin’ of
you, sir, and there’s 2_s._ owin’ of it still, and will be a perpitual
loss. The wife and me walked to Dublin, though we had betther have
gone by the ‘long say,’ but I didn’t understand it thin, and we got
to Liverpool. Then sorrow’s the taste of worruk could I git, beyant
oncte 3_s._ for two days harrud porthering, that broke my back half in
two. I was tould I’d do betther in London, and so, glory be to God! I
have--perhaps I have. I knew Mr. ----, he porthers at Covent-garden,
and I made him out, and hilped him in any long distance of a job.
As I’d been used to farrumin’ I thought it good raison I should be
a costermonger, as they call it here. I can read and write too. And
some good Christian--the heavens light him to glory when he’s gone!--I
don’t know who he was--advanced me 10_s._--or he gave it me, so to
spake, through Father ----,” (a Roman Catholic priest.) “We earrun what
keeps the life in us. I don’t go to markit, but buy of a fair dealin’
man--so I count him--though he’s harrud sometimes. I can’t till how
many Irishmen is in the thrade. There’s many has been brought down to
it by the famin’ and the changes. I don’t go much among the English
street-dalers. They talk like haythens. I never miss mass on a Sunday,
and they don’t know what the blissed mass manes. I’m almost glad I
have no childer, to see how they’re raired here. Indeed, sir, they’re
not raired at all--they run wild. They haven’t the fear of God or the
saints. They’d hang a praste--glory be to God! they would.”


The Jews, in the streets, while acting as costermongers, never “worked
a barrow,” nor dealt in the more ponderous and least profitable
articles of the trade, such as turnips and cabbages. They however, had,
at one period, the chief possession of a portion of the trade which the
“regular hands” do not consider proper costermongering, and which is
now chiefly confined to the Irish--viz.: orange selling.

The trade was, not many years ago, confined almost entirely to the
Jew boys, who kept aloof from the vagrant lads of the streets, or
mixed with them only in the cheap theatres and concert-rooms. A
person who had had great experience at what was, till recently, one
of the greatest “coaching inns,” told me that, speaking within his
own recollection and from his own observation, he thought the sale
of oranges was not so much in the hands of the Jew lads until about
forty years back. The orange monopoly, so to speak, was established by
the street-Jews, about 1810, or three or four years previous to that
date, when recruiting and local soldiering were at their height, and
when a great number of the vagabond or “roving” population, who in one
capacity or other now throng the streets, were induced to enlist. The
young Jews never entered the ranks of the army. The streets were thus
in a measure cleared for them, and the itinerant orange-trade fell
almost entirely into their hands. Some of the young Jews gained, I
am assured, at least 100_l._ a year in this traffic. The numbers of
country people who hastened to London on the occasion of the Allied
Sovereigns’ visit in 1814--many wealthy persons then seeing the capital
for the first time--afforded an excellent market to these dealers.

Moreover, the perseverance of the Jew orange boys was not to be
overcome; they would follow a man who even looked encouragingly
at their wares for a mile or two. The great resort of these Jew
dealers--who eschewed night-work generally, and left the theatre-doors
to old men and women of all ages--was at the coaching inns; for year
by year, after the peace of 1815, the improvement of the roads and the
consequent increase of travellers to London, progressed.

About 1825, as nearly as my informant could recollect, these keen
young traders began to add the sale of other goods to their oranges,
pressing them upon the notice of those who were leaving or visiting
London by the different coaches. So much was this the case, that it
was a common remark at that time, that no one could reach or leave
the metropolis, even for the shortest journey, without being expected
to be in urgent want of oranges and lemons, black-lead pencils,
sticks of sealing-wax, many-bladed pen-knives, pocket-combs, razors,
strops, braces, and sponges. To pursue the sale of the last-mentioned
articles--they being found, I presume, to be more profitable--some of
the street-Jews began to abandon the sale of oranges and lemons; and it
was upon this, that the trade was “taken up” by the wives and children
of the Irish bricklayers’ labourers, and of other Irish work-people
then resident in London. The numbers of Irish in the metropolis at that
time began to increase rapidly; for twenty years ago, they resorted
numerously to England to gather in the harvest, and those who had been
employed in contiguous counties during the autumn, made for London in
the winter. “I can’t say they were well off, sir,” said one man to
me, “but they liked bread and herrings, or bread and tea--better than
potatoes without bread at home.” From 1836 to 1840, I was informed,
the Irish gradually superseded the Jews in the fruit traffic about
the coaching-houses. One reason for this was, that they were far
more eloquent, begging pathetically, and with many benedictions on
their listeners. The Jews never begged, I was told; “they were merely
traders.” Another reason was, that the Irish, men or lads, who had
entered into the fruit trade in the coach-yards, would not only
sell and beg, but were ready to “lend a hand” to any over-burthened
coach-porter. This the Jews never did, and in that way the people of
the yard came to encourage the Irish to the prejudice of the Jews. At
present, I understand that, with the exception of one or two in the
city, no Jews vend oranges in the streets, and that the trade is almost
entirely in the hands of the Irish.

Another reason why the Irish could supersede and even undersell the
Jews and regular costermongers was this, as I am informed on excellent
authority:--Father Mathew, a dozen years back, made temperance
societies popular in Ireland. Many of the itinerant Irish, especially
the younger classes, were “temperance men.” Thus the Irish could live
as sparely as the Jew, but they did not, like him, squander any money
for the evening’s amusement, at the concert or the theatre.

I inquired what might be the number of the Jews plying, so to speak, at
the coaching inns, and was assured that it was less numerous than was
generally imagined. One man computed it at 300 individuals, all under
21; another at only 200; perhaps the mean, or 250, might be about the
mark. The number was naturally considered greater, I was told, because
the same set of street traders were seen over and over again. The
Jews knew when the coaches were to arrive and when they started, and
they would hurry, after availing themselves of a departure, from one
inn--the Belle Sauvage, Ludgate-hill, for instance--to take advantage
of an arrival at another--say the Saracen’s Head, Snow-hill. Thus they
appeared everywhere, but were the same individuals.

I inquired to what calling the youthful Jews, thus driven from their
partially monopolized street commerce, had devoted themselves, and was
told that even when the orange and hawking trade was at the best, the
Jews rarely carried it on after they were twenty-two or twenty-three,
but that they then resorted to some more wholesale calling, such as the
purchase of nuts or foreign grapes, at public sales. At present, I am
informed, they are more thickly than ever engaged in these trades, as
well as in two new avocations, that have been established within these
few years,--the sale of the Bahama pine-apples and of the Spanish and
Portuguese onions.

About the Royal Exchange, Jew boys still hawk pencils, etc., but the
number engaged in this pursuit throughout London is not, as far as I
can ascertain, above one-eighth--if an eighth--of what it was even
twelve years ago.


Having now given a brief sketch as to how the Irish people have come
to form so large a proportion of the London street-sellers, I shall
proceed, as I did with the English costermongers, to furnish the reader
with a short account of their religious, moral, intellectual, and
physical condition, so that he may be able to contrast the habits and
circumstances of the one class with those of the other. First, of the
religion of the Irish street-folk.

Almost all the street-Irish are Roman Catholics. Of course I can but
speak generally; but during my inquiry I met with only two who said
they were Protestants, and when I came to converse with them, I found
out that they were partly ignorant of, and partly indifferent to, any
religion whatever. An Irish Protestant gentleman said to me: “You may
depend upon it, if ever you meet any of my poor countrymen who will
not talk to you about religion, they either know or care nothing about
it; for the religious spirit runs high in Ireland, and Protestants and
Catholics are easily led to converse about their faith.”

I found that _some_ of the Irish Roman Catholics--but they had been for
many years resident in England, and that among the poorest or vagrant
class of the English--had become indifferent to their creed, and did
not attend their chapels, unless at the great fasts or festivals, and
this they did only occasionally. One old stall-keeper, who had been in
London nearly thirty years, said to me: “Ah! God knows, sir, I ought
to attend mass every Sunday, but I haven’t for a many years, barrin’
Christmas-day and such times. But I’ll thry and go more rigular, plase
God.” This man seemed to resent, as a sort of indignity, my question if
he ever attended any other place of worship. “Av coorse not!” was the

One Irishman, also a fruit-seller, with a well-stocked barrow, and
without the complaint of poverty common among his class, entered
keenly into the subject of his religious faith when I introduced it.
He was born in Ireland, but had been in England since he was five or
six. He was a good-looking, fresh-coloured man, of thirty or upwards,
and could read and write well. He spoke without bitterness, though
zealously enough. “Perhaps, sir, you are a gintleman connected with
the Protistant clargy,” he asked, “or a missionary?” On my stating
that I had no claim to either character, he resumed: “Will, sir,
it don’t matther. All the worruld may know my riligion, and I wish
all the worruld was of my riligion, and betther min in it than I
am; I do, indeed. I’m a Roman Catholic, sir;” [here he made the
sign of the cross]; “God be praised for it! O yis, I know all about
Cardinal Wiseman. It’s the will of God, I feel sure, that he’s to be
’stablished here, and it’s no use ribillin’ against that. I’ve nothing
to say against Protistints. I’ve heard it said, ‘It’s best to pray
for them.’ The street-people that call thimselves Protistants are no
riligion at all at all. I serruve Protistant gintlemen and ladies too,
and sometimes they talk to me kindly about religion. They’re good
custhomers, and I have no doubt good people. I can’t say what their lot
may be in another worruld for not being of the true faith. No, sir,
I’ll give no opinions--none.”

This man gave me a clear account of his belief that the Blessed Virgin
(he crossed himself repeatedly as he spoke) was the mother of our Lord
Jesus Christ, and was a mediator with our Lord, who was God of heaven
and earth--of the duty of praying to the holy saints--of attending
mass--(“but the priest,” he said, “won’t exact too much of a poor
man, either about that or about fasting”)--of going to confession at
Easter and Christmas times, at the least--of receiving the body of
Christ, “the rale prisince,” in the holy sacrament--of keeping all
God’s commandments--of purgatory being a purgation of sins--and of
heaven and hell. I found the majority of those I spoke with, at least
as earnest in their faith, if they were not as well instructed in it
as my informant, who may be cited as an example of the better class of

Another Irishman,--who may be taken as a type of the less informed,
and who had been between two and three years in England, having
been disappointed in emigrating to America with his wife and two
children,--gave me the following account, but not without considering
and hesitating. He was a very melancholy looking man, tall and spare,
and decently clad. He and his family were living upon 8_d._ a day,
which he earned by sweeping a crossing. He had been prevented by ill
health from earning 2_l._, which he could have made, he told me, in
harvest time, as a store against winter. He had been a street-seller,
and so had his wife; and she would be so again as soon as he could
raise 2_s._ to buy her a stock of apples. He said, touching his hat at
each holy name,--

“Sure, yis, sir, I’m a Roman Cartholic, and go to mass every Sunday.
Jesus Christ? O yis,” (hesitating, but proceeding readily after a word
of prompting), “he is the Lord our Saviour, and the Son of the Holy
Virgin. The blessed saints? Yis, sir, yis. The praste prays for them.
I--I mane prays to them. O yis. I pray to them mysilf ivery night for a
blissin’, and to rise me out of my misery. No, sir, I can’t say I know
what the mass is about. I don’t know what I’m prayin’ for thin, only
that it’s right. A poor man, that can neither read nor write--I wish I
could and I might do betther--can’t understand it; it’s all in Latin.
I’ve heard about Cardinal Wiseman. It’ll do us no good sir; it’ll only
set people more against us. But it ain’t poor min’s fault.”

As I was anxious to witness the religious zeal that characterizes
these people, I obtained permission to follow one of the priests as
he made his rounds among his flock. Everywhere the people ran out to
meet him. He had just returned to them I found, and the news spread
round, and women crowded to their door-steps, and came creeping up from
the cellars through the trap-doors, merely to curtsey to him. One old
crone, as he passed, cried, “You’re a good father, Heaven comfort you,”
and the boys playing about stood still to watch him. A lad, in a man’s
tail coat and a shirt-collar that nearly covered in his head--like the
paper round a bouquet--was fortunate enough to be noticed, and his eyes
sparkled, as he touched his hair at each word he spoke in answer. At a
conversation that took place between the priest and a woman who kept
a dry fish-stall, the dame excused herself for not having been up to
take tea “with his rivirince’s mother lately, for thrade had been so
bisy, and night was the fullest time.” Even as the priest walked along
the street, boys running at full speed would pull up to touch their
hair, and the stall-women would rise from their baskets; while all
noise--even a quarrel--ceased until he had passed by. Still there was
no look of fear in the people. He called them all by their names, and
asked after their families, and once or twice the “father” was taken
aside and held by the button while some point that required his advice
was whispered in his ear.

The religious fervour of the people whom I saw was intense. At one
house that I entered, the woman set me marvelling at the strength of
her zeal, by showing me how she contrived to have in her sitting-room
a sanctuary to pray before every night and morning, and even in the
day, “when she felt weary and lonesome.” The room was rudely enough
furnished, and the only decent table was covered with a new piece of
varnished cloth; still before a rude print of our Saviour there were
placed two old plated candlesticks, pink, with the copper shining
through; and here it was that she told her beads. In her bed-room, too,
was a coloured engraving of the “Blessed Lady,” which she never passed
without curtseying to.

Of course I detail these matters as mere facts, without desiring to
offer any opinion here, either as to the benefit or otherwise of the
creed in question. As I had shown how the English costermonger neither
had nor knew any religion whatever, it became my duty to give the
reader a view of the religion of the Irish street-sellers. In order
to be able to do so as truthfully as possible, I placed myself in
communication with those parties who were in a position to give me the
best information on the subject. The result is given above, in all the
simplicity and impartiality of history.


These several heads have often required from me lengthened notices,
but as regards the class I am now describing they may be dismissed
briefly enough. The majority of the street-Irish whom I saw were unable
to read, but I found those who had no knowledge of reading--(and the
same remark applies to the English street-sellers as well)--regret
their inability, and say, “I wish I could read, sir; I’d be better
off now.” On the other hand, those who had a knowledge of reading and
writing, said frequently enough, “Why, yes, sir, I _can_ read and
write, but it’s been no good to me,” as if they had been disappointed
in their expectations as to the benefits attendant upon scholarship. I
am inclined to think, however, that a greater anxiety exists among the
poor generally, to have some schooling provided for their children,
than was the case a few years back. One Irishman attributed this to the
increased number of Roman Catholic schools, “for the more schools there
are,” he said, “the more people think about schooling their children.”

The literature, or reading, of the street-Irish is, I believe, confined
to Roman Catholic books, such as the “Lives of the Saints,” published
in a cheap form; one, and only one, I found with the “Nation”
newspaper. The very poor have no leisure to read. During three days
spent in visiting the slop-workers at the East end of the town, not so
much as the fragment of a leaf of a book was seen.

The amusements of the street-Irish are not those of the English
costermongers--though there are exceptions, of course, to the remark.
The Irish fathers and mothers do not allow their daughters, even when
they possess the means, to resort to the “penny gaffs” or the “twopenny
hops,” unaccompanied by them. Some of the men frequent the beer-shops,
and are inveterate drinkers and smokers too. I did not hear of any
amusements popular among, or much resorted to, by the Irishmen, except
dancing parties at one another’s houses, where they jig and reel
furiously. They frequent raffles also, but the article is often never
thrown for, and the evening is spent in dancing.

I may here observe--in reference to the statement that Irish parents
will not expose their daughters to the risk of what they consider
corrupt influences--that when a young Irishwoman _does_ break through
the pale of chastity, she often becomes, as I was assured, one of the
most violent and depraved of, perhaps, _the_ most depraved class.

Of politics, I think, the street-Irish understand nothing, and my own
observations in this respect were confirmed by a remark made to me by
an Irish gentleman: “Their politics are either a dead letter, or the
politics of their priests.”


In almost all of the poorer districts of London are to be found “nests
of Irish”--as they are called--or courts inhabited solely by the Irish
costermongers. These people form separate colonies, rarely visiting or
mingling with the English costers. It is curious, on walking through
one of these settlements, to notice the manner in which the Irish deal
among themselves--street-seller buying of street-seller. Even in some
of the smallest courts there may be seen stalls of vegetables, dried
herrings, or salt cod, thriving, on the associative principle, by
mutual support.

The parts of London that are the most thickly populated with
Irish lie about Brook-street, Ratcliff-cross, down both sides
of the Commercial-road, and in Rosemary-lane, though nearly
all the “coster-districts” cited at p. 47, have their Irish
settlements--Cromer-street, Saffron-hill and King-street, Drury-lane,
for instance, being thickly peopled with the Irish; but the places I
have mentioned above are peculiarly distinguished, by being almost
entirely peopled by visitors from the sister isle.

The same system of immigration is pursued in London as in America. As
soon as the first settler is thriving in his newly chosen country, a
certain portion of his or her earnings are carefully hoarded up, until
they are sufficient to pay for the removal of another member of the
family to England; then one of the friends left “at home” is sent for;
and thus by degrees the entire family is got over, and once more united.

Perhaps there is no quarter of London where the habits and habitations
of the Irish can be better seen and studied than in Rosemary-lane, and
the little courts and alleys that spring from it on each side. Some of
these courts have other courts branching off from them, so that the
locality is a perfect labyrinth of “blind alleys;” and when once in the
heart of the maze it is difficult to find the path that leads to the
main-road. As you walk down “the lane,” and peep through the narrow
openings between the houses, the place seems like a huge peep-show,
with dark holes of gateways to look through, while the court within
appears bright with the daylight; and down it are seen rough-headed
urchins running with their feet bare through the puddles, and
bonnetless girls, huddled in shawls, lolling against the door-posts.
Sometimes you see a long narrow alley, with the houses so close
together that opposite neighbours are talking from their windows; while
the ropes, stretched zig-zag from wall to wall, afford just room enough
to dry a blanket or a couple of shirts, that swell out dropsically in
the wind.

I visited one of the paved yards round which the Irish live, and found
that it had been turned into a complete drying-ground, with shirts,
gowns, and petticoats of every description and colour. The buildings at
the end were completely hidden by “the things,” and the air felt damp
and chilly, and smelt of soap-suds. The gutter was filled with dirty
gray water emptied from the wash-tubs, and on the top were the thick
bubbles floating about under the breath of the boys “playing at boats”
with them.

It is the custom with the inhabitants of these courts and alleys
to assemble at the entrance with their baskets, and chat and smoke
away the morning. Every court entrance has its little group of girls
and women, lolling listlessly against the sides, with their heads
uncovered, and their luxuriant hair fuzzy as oakum. It is peculiar
with the Irish women that--after having been accustomed to their
hoods--they seldom wear bonnets, unless on a long journey. Nearly all
of them, too, have a thick plaid shawl, which they keep on all the day
through, with their hands covered under it. At the mouth of the only
thoroughfare deserving of the name of street--for a cart could just go
through it--were congregated about thirty men and women, who rented
rooms in the houses on each side of the road. Six women, with baskets
of dried herrings, were crouching in a line on the kerb-stone with the
fish before them; their legs were drawn up so closely to their bodies
that the shawl covered the entire figure, and they looked very like
the podgy “tombolers” sold by the Italian boys. As all their wares
were alike, it was puzzling work to imagine how, without the strongest
opposition, they could each obtain a living. The men were dressed in
long-tail coats, with one or two brass buttons. One old dame, with a
face wrinkled like a dried plum, had her cloak placed over her head
like a hood, and the grisly hair hung down in matted hanks about her
face, her black eyes shining between the locks like those of a Skye
terrier; beside her was another old woman smoking a pipe so short that
her nose reached over the bowl.

After looking at the low foreheads and long bulging upper lips of some
of the group, it was pleasant to gaze upon the pretty faces of the one
or two girls that lolled against the wall. Their black hair, smoothed
with grease, and shining almost as if “japanned,” and their large gray
eyes with the thick dark fringe of lash, seemed out of place among the
hard features of their companions. It was only by looking at the short
petticoats and large feet you could assure yourself that they belonged
to the same class.

In all the houses that I entered were traces of household care and
neatness that I had little expected to have seen. The cupboard fastened
in the corner of the room, and stocked with mugs and cups, the
mantelpiece with its images, and the walls covered with showy-coloured
prints of saints and martyrs, gave an air of comfort that strangely
disagreed with the reports of the cabins in “ould Ireland.” As the
doors to the houses were nearly all of them kept open, I could, even
whilst walking along, gain some notion of the furniture of the homes.
In one house that I visited there was a family of five persons, living
on the ground floor and occupying two rooms. The boards were strewn
with red sand, and the front apartment had three beds in it, with the
printed curtains drawn closely round. In a dark room, at the back,
lived the family itself. It was fitted up as a parlour, and crowded
to excess with chairs and tables, the very staircase having pictures
fastened against the wooden partition. The fire, although it was
midday, and a warm autumn morning, served as much for light as for
heat, and round it crouched the mother, children, and visitors, bending
over the flame as if in the severest winter time. In a room above this
were a man and woman lately arrived in England. The woman sat huddled
up in a corner smoking, with the husband standing over her in, what
appeared at first, a menacing attitude; I was informed, however, that
they were only planning for the future. This room was perfectly empty
of furniture, and the once white-washed walls were black, excepting the
little square patches which showed where the pictures of the former
tenants had hung. In another room, I found a home so small and full
of furniture, that it was almost a curiosity for domestic management.
The bed, with its chintz curtains looped up, filled one end of the
apartment, but the mattress of it served as a long bench for the
visitors to sit on. The table was so large that it divided the room in
two, and if there was one picture there must have been thirty--all of
“holy men,” with yellow glories round their heads. The window-ledge
was dressed out with crockery, and in a tumbler were placed the
beads. The old dame herself was as curious as her room. Her shawl was
fastened over her large frilled cap. She had a little “button” of a
nose, with the nostrils entering her face like bullet holes. She wore
over her gown an old pilot coat, well-stained with fish slime, and her
petticoats being short, she had very much the appearance of a Dutch
fisherman or stage smuggler.

Her story was affecting--made more so, perhaps, by the emotional
manner in which she related it. Nine years ago “the father” of the
district--“the Blissed Lady guard him!”--had found her late at night,
rolling in the gutter, and the boys pelting her with orange-peel
and mud. She was drunk--“the Lorrud pass by her”--and when she came
to, she found herself in the chapel, lying before the sanctuary,
“under the shadow of the holy cross.” Watching over her was the “good
father,” trying to bring back her consciousness. He spoke to her of
her wickedness, and before she left she took the pledge of temperance.
From that time she prospered, and the 1_s._ 6_d._ the “father” gave
her “had God’s blissin’ in it,” for she became the best dressed woman
in the court, and in less than three years had 15_l._ in the savings’
bank, “the father--Heaven chirish him”--keeping her book for her, as
he did for other poor people. She also joined “the Association of the
Blissed Lady,” (and bought herself the dress of the order “a beautiful
grane vilvit, which she had now, and which same cost her 30_s._”), and
then she was secure against want in old age and sickness. But after
nine years prudence and comfort, a brother of hers returned home from
the army, with a pension of 1_s._ a day. He was wild, and persuaded
her to break her pledge, and in a short time he got all her savings
from her and spent every penny. She could’nt shake him off, “for he was
the only kin she had on airth,” and “she must love her own flish and
bones.” Then began her misery. “It plased God to visit her ould limbs
with aches and throubles, and her hips swole with the cowld,” so that
she was at last forced into a hospital, and all that was left of her
store was “aten up by sufferin’s.” This, she assured me, all came about
by the “good father’s” leaving that parish for another one, but now he
had returned to them again, and, with his help and God’s blessing, she
would yet prosper once more.

Whilst I was in the room, the father entered, and “old Norah,”
half-divided between joy at seeing him and shame at “being again a
beggar,” laughed and wept at the same time. She stood wiping her eyes
with the shawl, and groaning out blessings on “his rivirince’s hid,”
begging of him not “to scould her for she was a wake woman.” The
renegade brother was had in to receive a lecture from “his rivirince.”
A more sottish idiotic face it would be difficult to imagine. He stood
with his hands hanging down like the paws of a dog begging, and his
two small eyes stared in the face of the priest, as he censured him,
without the least expression even of consciousness. Old Norah stood by,
groaning like a bagpipe, and writhing while the father spoke to her
“own brother,” as though every reproach were meant for her.

The one thing that struck me during my visit to this neighbourhood,
was the apparent listlessness and lazy appearance of the people. The
boys at play were the only beings who seemed to have any life in their
actions. The women in their plaid shawls strolled along the pavements,
stopping each friend for a chat, or joining some circle, and leaning
against the wall as though utterly deficient in energy. The men smoked,
with their hands in their pockets, listening to the old crones talking,
and only now and then grunting out a reply when a question was directly
put to them. And yet it is curious that these people, who here seemed
as inactive as negroes, will perform the severest bodily labour,
undertaking tasks that the English are almost unfitted for.

To complete this account, I subjoin a brief description of the
lodging-houses resorted to by the Irish immigrants on their arrival in
this country.


Often an Irish immigrant, whose object is to settle in London, arrives
by the Cork steamer without knowing a single friend to whom he can
apply for house-room or assistance of any kind. Sometimes a whole
family is landed late at night, worn out by sickness and the terrible
fatigues of a three days’ deck passage, almost paralysed by exhaustion,
and scarcely able to speak English enough to inquire for shelter till

If the immigrants, however, are bound for America, their lot is very
different. Then they are consigned to some agent in London, who is
always on the wharf at the time the steamer arrives, and takes the
strangers to the homes he has prepared for them until the New York
packet starts. During the two or three days’ necessary stay in London,
they are provided for at the agent’s expense, and no trouble is
experienced by the travellers. A large provision-merchant in the city
told me that he often, during the season, had as many as 500 Irish
consigned to him by one vessel, so that to lead them to their lodgings
was like walking at the head of a regiment of recruits.

The necessities of the immigrants in London have caused several
of their countrymen to open lodging-houses in the courts about
Rosemary-lane; these men attend the coming in of the Cork steamer, and
seek for customers among the poorest of the poor, after the manner of
touters to a sea-side hotel.

The immigrants’-houses are of two kinds--clean and dirty. The better
class of Irish lodging-houses almost startle one by the comfort and
cleanliness of the rooms; for after the descriptions you hear of the
state in which the deck passengers are landed from the Irish boats,
their clothes stained with the manure of the pigs, and drenched with
the spray, you somehow expect to find all the accommodations disgusting
and unwholesome. But one in particular, that I visited, had the floor
clean, and sprinkled with red sand, while the windows were sound,
bright, and transparent. The hobs of the large fire-place were piled up
with bright tin pots, and the chimney piece was white and red with the
china images ranged upon it. In one corner of the principal apartment
there stood two or three boxes still corded up, and with bundles
strung to the sides, and against the wall was hung a bunch of blue
cloaks, such as the Irishwomen wear. The proprietor of the house, who
was dressed in a gray tail-coat and knee-breeches, that had somewhat
the effect of a footman’s livery, told me that he had received seven
lodgers the day before, but six were men, and they were all out seeking
for work. In front of the fire sat a woman, bending over it so close
that the bright cotton gown she had on smelt of scorching. Her feet
were bare, and she held the soles of them near to the bars, curling
her toes about with the heat. She was a short, thick-set woman, with a
pair of wonderfully muscular arms crossed over her bosom, and her loose
rusty hair streaming over her neck. It was in vain that I spoke to her
about her journey, for she wouldn’t answer me, but kept her round, open
eyes fixed on my face with a wild, nervous look, following me about
with them everywhere.

Across the room hung a line, with the newly-washed and well-patched
clothes of the immigrants hanging to it, and on a side-table were
the six yellow basins that had been used for the men’s breakfasts.
During my visit, the neighbours, having observed a strange gentleman
enter, came pouring in, each proffering some fresh bit of news about
their newly-arrived countrymen. I was nearly stunned by half-a-dozen
voices speaking together, and telling me how the poor people had been
four days “at say,” so that they were glad to get near the pigs for
“warrumth,” and instructing me as to the best manner of laying out the
sum of money that it was supposed I was about to shower down upon the

In one of the worst class of lodging-houses I found ten human beings
living together in a small room. The apartment was entirely devoid of
all furniture, excepting an old mattrass rolled up against the wall,
and a dirty piece of cloth hung across one corner, to screen the women
whilst dressing. An old man, the father of five out of the ten, was
seated on a tea-chest, mending shoes, and the other men were looking on
with their hands in their pockets. Two girls and a woman were huddled
together on the floor in front of the fire, talking in Irish. All these
people seemed to be utterly devoid of energy, and the men moved about
so lazily that I couldn’t help asking some of them if they had tried
to obtain work. Every one turned to a good-looking young fellow lolling
against the wall, as if they expected him to answer for them. “Ah,
sure, and that they have,” was the reply; “it’s the docks they have
tried, worrus luck.” The others appeared struck with the truthfulness
of the answer, for they all shook their heads, and said, “Sure an’
that’s thruth, anyhow.” Here my Irish guide ventured an observation,
by remarking solemnly, “It’s no use tilling a lie;” to which the whole
room assented, by exclaiming altogether, “Thrue for you, Norah.” The
chosen spokesman then told me, “They paid half-a-crown a week for the
room, and that was as much as they could earrun, and it was starruve
they should if the neighbours didn’t hilp them a bit.” I asked them
if they were better off over here than when in Ireland, but could
get no direct answer, for my question only gave rise to a political
discussion. “There’s plenty of food over here,” said the spokesman,
addressing his companions as much as myself, “plenty of ’taties--plenty
of mate--plenty of porruk.” “But where the use,” observed my guide,
“if there’s no money to buy ’em wid?” to which the audience muttered,
“Thrue for you again, Norah;” and so it went on, each one pleading
poverty in the most eloquent style.

After I had left, the young fellow who had acted as spokesman followed
me into the street, and taking me into a corner, told me that he was
a “sailor by thrade, but had lost his ‘rigisthration-ticket,’ or he’d
have got a berruth long since, and that it was all for 3_s._ 6_d._ he
wasn’t at say.”

Concerning the number of Irish immigrants, I have obtained the
following information:

The great influx of the Irish into London was in the year of the
famine, 1847-8. This cannot be better shown than by citing the returns
of the number of persons admitted into the Asylum for the Houseless
Poor, in Playhouse-yard, Cripplegate. These returns I obtained for
fourteen years, and the average number of admissions of the applicants
from all parts during that time was 8,794 yearly. Of these, the Irish
averaged 2,455 yearly, or considerably more than a fourth of the whole
number received. The total number of applicants thus sheltered in the
fourteen years was 130,625, of which the Irish numbered 34,378. The
smallest number of Irish (men, women, and children) admitted, was in
1834-5, about 300; in 1846-7, it was as many as 7,576, while in 1847-8,
it was 10,756, and in 1848-9, 5,068.

But it was into Liverpool that the tide of immigration flowed the
strongest, in the calamitous year of the famine. “Between the 13th
Jan., and the 13th Dec., both inclusive,” writes Mr. Rushton, the
Liverpool magistrate, to Sir G. Grey, on the 21st April last, “296,231
persons landed in this port (Liverpool) from Ireland. Of this vast
number, about 130,000 emigrated to the United States; some 50,000 were
passengers on business; and the remainder (161,231), mere paupers,
half-naked and starving, landed, for the most part, during the winter,
and became, immediately on landing, applicants for parochial relief.
You already know the immediate results of this accumulation of misery
in the crowded town of Liverpool; of the cost of relief at once
rendered necessary to prevent the thousands of hungry and naked Irish
perishing in our streets; and also of the cost of the pestilence which
generally follows in the train of famine and misery such as we then had
to encounter.... Hundreds of patients perished, notwithstanding all
efforts made to save them; and ten Roman Catholic and one Protestant
clergyman, many parochial officers, and many medical men, who devoted
themselves to the task of alleviating the sufferings of the wretched,
died in the discharge of these high duties.”

Great numbers of these people were, at the same time, also conveyed
from Ireland to Wales, especially to Newport. They were brought over
by coal-vessels as a return cargo--a living ballast--2_s._ 6_d._ being
the highest fare, and were huddled together like pigs. The manager
of the Newport tramp-house has stated concerning these people, “They
don’t live long, diseased as they are. They are very remarkable; they
will eat salt by basons-full, and drink a great quantity of water
after. I have frequently known those who could not have been hungry eat
cabbage-leaves and other refuse from the ash-heap.”

It is necessary that I should thus briefly allude to this matter,
as there is no doubt that some of these people, making their way to
London, soon became street-sellers there, and many of them took to the
business subsequently, when there was no employment in harvesting,
hop-picking, &c. Of the poor wretches landed at Liverpool, many (Mr.
Rushton states) became beggars, and many thieves. Many, there is no
doubt, tramped their way to London, sleeping at the “casual wards” of
the Unions on their way; but I believe that of those who had become
habituated to the practice of beggary or theft, few or none would
follow the occupation of street-selling, as even the half-passive
industry of such a calling would be irksome to the apathetic and

Of the immigration, direct by the vessels trading from Ireland to
London, there are no returns such has have been collected by Mr.
Rushton for Liverpool, but the influx is comparatively small, on
account of the greater length and cost of the voyage. During the last
year I am informed that 15,000 or 16,000 passengers were brought
from Ireland to London direct, and, in addition to these, 500 more
were brought over from Cork in connection with the arrangements for
emigration to the United States, and consigned to the emigration
agent here. Of the 15,500 (taking the mean between the two numbers
above given) 1,000 emigrated to the United States. It appears, on
the authority of Mr. Rushton, that even in the great year of the
immigration, more than one-sixth of the passengers from Ireland to
Dublin came on business. It may, then, be reasonable to calculate that
during last year one-fourth at least of the passengers to London had
the same object in view, leaving about 10,000 persons who have either
emigrated to British North America, Australia, &c., or have resorted
to some mode of subsistence in the metropolis or the adjacent parts.
Besides these there are the numbers who make their way up to London,
tramping it from the several provincial ports--namely, Liverpool,
Bristol, Newport, and Glasgow. Of these I have no means of forming
any estimate, or of the proportion who adopt street-selling on their
arrival here--all that can be said is, that the influx of Irish into
the street-trade every year must be very considerable. I believe,
however, that only those who “have friends in the line” resort to
street-selling on their arrival in London, though all may make it a
resource when other endeavours fail. The great immigration into London
is from Cork, the average cost of a deck passage being 5_s._ The
immigrants direct to London from Cork are rarely of the poorest class.


The diet of the Irish men, women, and children, who obtain a livelihood
(or what is so designated) by street-sale in London, has, I am told,
on good authority, experienced a change. In the lodging-houses that
they resorted to, their breakfast, two or three years ago, was a
dish of potatoes--two, three, or four lbs., or more, in weight--for
a family. Now half an ounce of coffee (half chicory) costs 1/2_d._,
and that, with the half or quarter of a loaf, according to the number
in family, is almost always their breakfast at the present time. When
their constant diet was potatoes, there were frequent squabbles at the
lodging-houses--to which many of the poor Irish on their first arrival
resort--as to whether the potato-pot or the tea-kettle should have the
preference on the fire. A man of superior intelligence, who had been
driven to sleep and eat occasionally in lodging-houses, told me of some
dialogues he had heard on these occasions:--“It’s about three years
ago,” he said, “since I heard a bitter old Englishwoman say, ‘To ----
with your ’taty-pot; they’re only meat for pigs.’ ‘Sure, thin,’ said
a young Irishman--he was a nice ’cute fellow--‘sure, thin, ma’am, I
should be afther offering you a taste.’ I heard that myself, sir. You
may have noticed, that when an Irishman doesn’t get out of temper, he
never loses his politeness, or rather his blarney.”

The dinner, or second meal of the day--assuming that there has been
a breakfast--ordinarily consists of cheap fish and potatoes. Of the
diet of the poor street-Irish I had an account from a little Irishman,
then keeping an oyster-stall, though he generally sold fruit. In all
such details I have found the Irish far more communicative than the
English. Many a poor untaught Englishman will shrink from speaking of
his spare diet, and his trouble to procure that; a reserve, too, much
more noticeable among the men than the women. My Irish informant told
me he usually had his breakfast at a lodging-house--he preferred a
lodging-house, he said, on account of the warmth and the society. Here
he boiled half an ounce of coffee, costing a 1/2_d._ He purchased of
his landlady the fourth of a quartern loaf (1-1/4_d._ or 1-1/2_d._),
for she generally cut a quartern loaf into four for her single men
lodgers, such as himself, clearing sometimes a farthing or two thereby.
For dinner, my informant boiled at the lodging-house two or three lbs.
of potatoes, costing usually 1_d._ or 1-1/4_d._, and fried three, or
four herrings, or as many as cost a penny. He sometimes mashed his
potatoes, and spread over them the herrings, the fatty portion of which
flavoured the potatoes, which were further flavoured by the roes of the
herrings being crushed into them. He drank water to this meal, and the
cost of the whole was 2_d._ or 2-1/2_d._ A neighbouring stall-keeper
attended to this man’s stock in his absence at dinner, and my informant
did the same for him in his turn. For “tea” he expended 1_d._ on
coffee, or 1-1/2_d._ on tea, being a “cup” of tea, or “half-pint
of coffee,” at a coffee-shop. Sometimes he had a halfpenny-worth
of butter, and with his tea he ate the bread he had saved from his
breakfast, and which he had carried in his pocket. He had no butter to
his breakfast, he said, for he could not buy less than a pennyworth
about where he lodged, and this was too dear for one meal. On a Sunday
morning however he generally had butter, sometimes joining with a
fellow-lodger for a pennyworth; for his Sunday dinner he had a piece of
meat, which cost him 2_d._ on the Saturday night. Supper he dispensed
with, but if he felt much tired he had a half-pint of beer, which was
three farthings “in his own jug,” before he went to bed, about nine or
ten, as he did little or nothing late at night, except on Saturday.
He thus spent 4-1/2_d._ a day for food, and reckoning 2-1/2_d._ extra
for somewhat better fare on a Sunday, his board was 2_s._ 10_d._ a
week. His earnings he computed at 5_s._, and thus he had 2_s._ 2_d._
weekly for other expenses. Of these there was 1_s._ for lodging; 2_d._
or 3_d._ for washing (but this not every week); 1/2_d._ for a Sunday
morning’s shave; 1_d._ “for his religion” (as he worded it); and 6_d._
for “odds and ends,” such as thread to mend his clothes, a piece of
leather to patch his shoes, worsted to darn his stockings, &c. He was
subject to rheumatism, or “he might have saved a trifle of money.”
Judging by his methodical habits, it was probable he had done so. He
had nothing of the eloquence of his countrymen, and seemed indeed of
rather a morose turn.

A family boarding together live even cheaper than this man, for more
potatoes and less fish fall to the share of the children. A meal too
is not unfrequently saved in this manner:--If a man, his wife, and
two children, all go out in the streets selling, they breakfast before
starting, and perhaps agree to re-assemble at four o’clock. Then the
wife prepares the dinner of fish and potatoes, and so tea is dispensed
with. In that case the husband’s and wife’s board would be 4_d._ or
4-1/2_d._ a day each, the children’s 3_d._ or 3-1/2_d._ each, and
giving 1-1/2_d._ extra to each for Sunday, the weekly cost is 10_s._
3_d._ Supposing the husband and wife cleared 5_s._ a week each, and the
children each 3_s._, their earnings would be 16_s._ The balance is the
surplus left to pay rent, washing, firing, and clothing.

From what I can ascertain, the Irish street-seller can always live
at about half the cost of the English costermonger; the Englishman
must have butter for his bread, and meat at no long intervals, for he
“hates fish more than once a week.” It is by this spareness of living,
as well as by frequently importunate and mendacious begging, that the
street-Irish manage to save money.

The diet I have spoken of is _generally_, but not universally, that of
the poor street-Irish; those who live differently, do not, as a rule,
incur greater expense.

It is difficult to ascertain in what proportion the Irish
street-sellers consume strong drink, when compared with the consumption
of the English costers; as a poor Irishman, if questioned on that
or any subject, will far more frequently shape his reply to what he
thinks will please his querist and induce a trifle for himself, than
answer according to the truth. The landlord of a large public-house,
after inquiring of his assistants, that his opinions might be checked
by theirs, told me that in one respect there was a marked difference
between the beer-drinking of the two people. He considered that in the
poor streets near his house there were residing quite as many Irish
street-sellers and labourers as English, but the instances in which the
Irish conveyed beer to their own rooms, as a portion of their meals,
was not as 1 in 20 compared with the English: “I have read your work,
sir,” he said, “and I know that you are quite right in saying that
the costermongers go for a good Sunday dinner. I don’t know what my
customers are except by their appearance, but I do know that many are
costermongers, and by the best of all proofs, for I have bought fish,
fruit, and vegetables of them. Well, now, we’ll take a fine Sunday in
spring or summer, when times are pretty good with them; and, perhaps,
in the ten minutes after my doors are opened at one on the Sunday,
there are 100 customers for their dinner-beer. Nearly three-quarters of
these are working men and their wives, working either in the streets,
or at their indoor trades, such as tailoring. But among the number,
I’m satisfied, there are not more than two Irishmen. There may be
three or four Irishwomen, but one of my barmen tells me he knows that
two of them--very well-behaved and good-looking women--are married to
Englishmen. In my opinion the proportion, as to Sunday dinner-beer,
between English and Irish, may be two or three in 70.”

An Irish gentleman and his wife, who are both well acquainted with
the habits and condition of the people in their own country, informed
me, that among the classes who, though earning only scant incomes,
could not well be called “impoverished,” the use of beer, or even
of small ale--known, now or recently--as “Thunder’s thruppeny,” was
very unfrequent. Even in many “independent” families, only water is
drunk at dinner, with punch to follow. This shows the accuracy of
the information I derived from Mr. ---- (the innkeeper), for persons
unused to the drinking of malt liquor in their own country are not
likely to resort to it afterwards, when their means are limited. I was
further informed, that reckoning the teetotallers among the English
street-sellers at 300, there are 600 among the Irish,--teetotallers
too, who, having taken the pledge, under the sanction of their priests,
and looking upon it as a religious obligation, keep it rigidly.

The Irish street-sellers who frequent the gin-palaces or public-houses,
drink a pot of beer, in a company of three or four, but far more
frequently, a quartern of gin (very seldom whisky) oftener than do the
English. Indeed, from all I could ascertain, the Irish street-sellers,
whether from inferior earnings, their early training, or the restraints
of their priests, drink less beer, by one-fourth, than their English
brethren, but a larger proportion of gin. “And you must bear this in
mind, sir,” I was told by an innkeeper, “I had rather have twenty
poor Englishmen drunk in my tap-room than a couple of poor Irishmen.
They’ll quarrel with anybody--the Irish will--and sometimes clear the
room by swearing they’ll ‘use their knives, by Jasus;’ and if there’s
a scuffle they’ll kick like devils, and scratch, and bite, like women
or cats, instead of using their fists. I wish all the drunkards were
teetotallers, if it were only to be rid of them.”

Whiskey, I was told, would be drunk by the Irish, in preference to
gin, were it not that gin was about half the price. One old Irish
fruit-seller--who admitted that he was fond of a glass of gin--told
me that he had not tasted whiskey for fourteen years, “becase of the
price.” The Irish, moreover, as I have shown, live on stronger and
coarser food than the English, buying all the rough (bad) fish, for, to
use the words of one of my informants, they look to quantity more than
quality; this may account for their preferring a stronger and fiercer
stimulant by way of drink.


It is not easy to ascertain from the poor Irish themselves how they
raise their stock-money, for their command of money is a subject on
which they are not communicative, or, if communicative, not truthful.
“My opinion is,” said an Irish gentleman to me, “that some of these
poor fellows would declare to God that they hadn’t the value of a
halfpenny, even if you heard the silver chink in their pockets.” It is
certain that they never, or very rarely, borrow of the usurers like
their English brethren.

The more usual custom is, that if a poor Irish street-seller be in
want of 5_s._, it is lent to him by the more prosperous people of his
court--bricklayers’ labourers, or other working-men--who club 1_s._
a piece. This is always repaid. An Irish bricklayer, when in full
work, will trust a needy countryman with some article to pledge, on
the understanding that it is to be redeemed and returned when the
borrower is able. Sometimes, if a poor Irishwoman need 1_s._ to buy
oranges, four others--only less poor than herself, because not utterly
penniless--will readily advance 3_d._ each. Money is also advanced to
the deserving Irish through the agency of the Roman Catholic priests,
who are the medium through whom charitable persons of their own faith
exercise good offices. Money, too, there is no doubt, is often advanced
out of the priest’s own pocket.

On all the kinds of loans with which the poor Irish are aided by their
countrymen no interest is ever charged. “I don’t like the Irish,” said
an English costermonger to me; “but they _do_ stick to one another far
more than we do.”

The Irish costers hire barrows and shallows like the English, but,
if they “get on” at all, they will possess themselves of their own
vehicles much sooner than an English costermonger. A quick-witted
Irishman will begin to ponder on his paying 1_s._ 6_d._ a week for the
hire of a barrow worth 20_s._, and he will save and hoard until a pound
is at his command to purchase one for himself; while an obtuse English
coster (who will yet buy cheaper than an Irishman) will probably pride
himself on his cleverness in having got the charge for his barrow
reduced, in the third year of its hire, to 1_s._ a week the twelvemonth

In cases of sickness the mode of relief adopted is similar to that of
the English. A raffle is got up for the benefit of the Irish sufferer,
and, if it be a bad case, the subscribers pay their money without
caring what trifle they throw for, or whether they throw at all. If
sickness continue and such means as raffles cannot be persevered in,
there is one resource from which a poor Irishman never shrinks--the
parish. He will apply for and accept parochial relief without the least
sense of shame, a sense which rarely deserts an Englishman who has been
reared apart from paupers. The English costers appear to have a horror
of the Union. If the Irishman be taken into the workhouse, his friends
do not lose sight of him. In case of his death, they apply for, and
generally receive his body, from the parochial authorities, undertaking
the expence of the funeral, when the body is duly “waked.” “I think
there’s a family contract among the Irish,” said a costermonger to me;
“that’s where it is.”

The Irish street-folk are, generally speaking, a far more provident
body of people than the English street-sellers. To save, the Irish will
often sacrifice what many Englishmen consider a necessary, and undergo
many a hardship.

From all I could ascertain, the saving of an Irish street-seller does
not arise from any wish to establish himself more prosperously in his
business, but for the attainment of some cherished project, such as
emigration. Some of the objects, however, for which these struggling
men hoard money, are of the most praiseworthy character. They will
treasure up halfpenny after halfpenny, and continue to do so for
years, in order to send money to enable their wives and children, and
even their brothers and sisters, when in the depth of distress in
Ireland, to take shipping for England. They will save to be able to
remit money for the relief of their aged parents in Ireland. They will
save to defray the expense of their marriage, an expense the English
costermonger so frequently dispenses with--but they will _not_ save to
preserve either themselves or their children from the degradation of a
workhouse; indeed they often, with the means of independence secreted
on their persons, apply for parish relief, and that principally to
save the expenditure of their own money. Even when detected in such
an attempt at extortion an Irishman betrays no passion, and hardly
manifests any emotion--he has speculated and failed. Not one of them
but has a positive genius for begging--both the taste and the faculty
for alms-seeking developed to an extraordinary extent.

Of the amount “saved” by the patience of the poor Irishmen, I can form
no conjecture.


In order that the following statements might be as truthful as
possible, I obtained permission to use the name of a Roman Catholic
clergyman, to whom I am indebted for much valuable information touching
this part of my subject.

A young woman, of whose age it was not easy to form a conjecture, her
features were so embrowned by exposure to the weather, and perhaps when
I saw her a little swollen from cold, gave me the following account as
to her living. Her tone and manner betrayed indifference to the future,
caused perhaps by ignorance,--for uneducated persons I find are apt
to look on the future as if it must needs be but a repetition of the
present, while the past in many instances is little more than a blank
to them. This young woman said, her brogue being little perceptible,
though she spoke thickly:

“I live by keepin’ this fruit stall. It’s a poor livin’ when I see
how others live. Yes, in thruth, sir, but it’s thankful I am for to
be able to live at all, at all; troth is it, in these sore times. My
father and mother are both did. God be gracious to their sowls! They
was evicted. The family of us was. The thatch of the bit o’ home was
tuk off above our hids, and we were lift to the wide worruld--yis,
indeed, sir, and in the open air too. The rint wasn’t paid and it
couldn’t be paid, and so we had to face the wither. It was a sorrowful
time. But God was good, and so was the neighbours. And when we saw the
praste, he was a frind to us. And we came to this counthry, though I’d
always heard it called a black counthry. Sure, an’ there’s much in it
to indhure. There’s goin’s on it, sir, that the praste, God rewarrud
him! wouldn’t like to see. There’s bad ways. I won’t talk about thim,
and I’m sure you are too much of a gintlemin to ask me; for if you
know Father ----, that shows you are the best of gintlemin, sure. It
was the eviction that brought us here. I don’t know about where we was
just; not in what county; nor parish. I was so young whin we lift the
land. I belave I’m now 19, perhaps only 18” (she certainly looked much
older, but I have often noticed that of her class). “I can’t be more, I
think, for sure an’ its only 5 or 6 years since we left Watherford and
come to Bristol. I’m sure it was Watherford, and a beautiful place it
is, and I know it was Bristol we come to. We walked all the long way to
London. My parints died of the cholera, and I live with mysilf, but my
aunt lodges me and sees to me. She sills in the sthreets too. I don’t
make 7_d._ a day. I may make 6_d._ There’s a good many young payple I
know is now sillin’ in the streets becase they was evicted in their
own counthry. I suppose they had no where ilse to come to. I’m nivir
out of a night. I sleep with my aunt, and we keep to oursilves sure.
I very sildom taste mate, but perhaps I do oftener than before we was
evicted--glory be to God.”

One Irish street-seller I saw informed me that she was a “widdy wid
three childer.” Her husband died about four years since. She had then
five children, and was near her confinement with another. Since the
death of her husband she had lost three of her children; a boy about
twelve years died of stoppage on his lungs, brought on, she said,
through being in the streets, and shouting so loud “to get sale of the
fruit.” She has been in Clare-street, Clare-market, seven years with a
fruit stall. In the summer she sells green fruit, which she purchases
at Covent-garden. When the nuts, oranges, &c., come in season, she
furnishes her stall with that kind of fruit, and continues to sell
them until the spring salad comes in. During the spring and summer her
weekly average income is about 5_s._, but the remaining portion of the
year her income is not more than 3_s._ 6_d._ weekly, so that taking
the year through, her average weekly income is about 4_s._ 3_d._; out
of this she pays 1_s._ 6_d._ a week rent, leaving only 2_s._ 9_d._ a
week to find necessary comforts for herself and family. For fuel the
children go to the market and gather up the waste walnuts, bring them
home and dry them, and these, with a pennyworth of coal and coke, serve
to warm their chilled feet and hands. They have no bedstead, but in
one corner of a room is a flock bed upon the floor, with an old sheet,
blanket, and quilt to cover them at this inclement season. There is
neither chair nor table; a stool serves for the chair, and two pieces
of board upon some baskets do duty for a table, and an old penny
tea-canister for a candlestick. She had parted with every article of
furniture to get food for her family. She received nothing from the
parish, but depended upon the sale of her fruit for her living.

The Irishmen who are in this trade are also very poor; and I learned
that both Irishmen and Irishwomen left the occupation now and then,
and took to begging, as a more profitable calling, often going begging
this month and fruit-selling the next. This is one of the causes which
prompt the London costermongers’ dislike of the Irish. “They’ll beg
themselves into a meal, and work us out of one,” said an English coster
to me. Some of them are, however, less “poverty-struck” (a word in
common use among the costermongers); but these for the most part are
men who have been in the trade for some years, and have got regular

The woman who gave me the following statement seemed about twenty-two
or twenty-three. She was large-boned, and of heavy figure and
deportment. Her complexion and features were both coarse, but her voice
had a softness, even in its broadest brogue, which is not very frequent
among poor Irishwomen. The first sentence she uttered seems to me
tersely to embody a deplorable history of the poverty of a day. It was
between six and seven in the evening when I saw the poor creature:--

“Sure, thin, sir, it’s thrippince I’ve taken to-day, and tuppince is
to pay for my night’s lodgin’. I shall do no more good to-night, and
shall only stay in the cowld, if I stay in it, for nothing. I’m an
orphand, sir,” (she three or four times alluded to this circumstance,)
“and there’s nobody to care for me but God, glory be to his name! I
came to London to join my brother, that had come over and did will,
and he sint for me, but whin I got here I couldn’t find him in it
anyhow. I don’t know how long that’s ago. It may be five years; it may
be tin; but” (she added, with the true eloquence of beggary,) “sure,
thin, sir, I had no harrut to keep count, if I knew how. My father and
mother wasn’t able to keep me, nor to keep thimsilves in Ireland, and
so I was sint over here. They was counthry payple. I don’t know about
their landlorrud. They died not long afther I came here. I don’t know
what they died of, but sure it was of the will of God, and they hadn’t
much to make them love this worruld; no more have I. Would I like
to go back to my own counthry? Will, thin, what would be the use? I
sleep at a lodging-house, and it’s a dacint place. It’s mostly my own
counthrywomen that’s in it; that is, in the women’s part. I pay 1_s._
a week, that’s 2_d._ a night, for I’m not charged for Sundays. I live
on brid, and ’taties and salt, and a herrin’ sometimes. I niver taste
beer, and not often tay, but I sit here all day, and I feel the hunger
this day and that day. It goes off though, if I have nothin’ to ate.
I don’t know why, but I won’t deny the goodness of God to bring such
a thing about. I have lived for a day on a pinny, sir: a ha’pinny for
brid, and a ha’pinny for a herrin’, or two herrin’s for a ha’pinny,
and ’taties for the place of brid. I’ve changed apples for a herrin’
with a poor man, God rewarrud him. Sometimes I make on to 6_d._ a day,
and sometimes I _have_ made 1_s._ 6_d._, but I think that I don’t make
5_d._ a day--arrah, no, thin, sir! one day with the other, and I don’t
worruk on Sunday, not often. If I’ve no mate to ate, I’d rather rist. I
never miss mass on a Sunday. A lady gives me a rag sometimes, but the
bitther time’s comin’. If I was sick I don’t know what I’d do, but I
would sind for the praste, and he’d counsil me. I could read a little
oncte, but I can’t now.”


There still remains to be described one branch of the Irish
street-trade which is peculiar to the class--viz., the sale of
“refuse,” or such fruit and vegetables as are damaged, and suited only
to the very poorest purchasers.

In assorting his goods, a fruit-salesman in the markets generally
throws to one side the shrivelled, dwarfish, or damaged fruit--called
by the street-traders the “specks.” If the supply to the markets be
large, as in the pride of the season, he will put his several kinds
of specks in separate baskets. At other times all kinds are tossed
together, and sometimes with an admixture of nuts and walnuts. The
Irish women purchase these at a quarter, or within a quarter, of the
regular price, paying from 6_d._ to 1_s._ a bushel for apples; 9_d._
to 1_s._ 6_d._ for pears; 1_s._ 6_d._ to 2_s._ 6_d._ for plums. They
are then sorted into halfpenny-worths for sale on the stalls. Among
the refuse is always a portion of what is called “tidy” fruit, and
this occupies the prominent place in the “halfpenny lots”--for they
are usually sold at a halfpenny. Sometimes, too, a salesman will throw
in among the refuse a little good fruit, if he happen to have it over,
either gratuitously or at the refuse price; and this, of course, is
always made the most conspicuous on the stalls. Of other fruits,
perhaps, only a small portion is damaged, from over-ripeness, or by
the aggression of wasps and insects, the remainder being very fine, so
that the retail “lots” are generally cheap. The sellers aim at “half
profits,” or cent. per cent.

The “refuse” trade in fruit--and the refuse-trade is mainly confined to
fruit--is principally in the hands of the Irish. The persons carrying
it on are nearly all middle-aged and elderly women. I once or twice
saw a delicate and pretty-looking girl sitting with the old “refuse”
women; but I found that she was not a “regular hand,” and only now and
then “minded the stall” in her mother’s absence. She worked with her
needle, I was told.

Of the women who confine themselves to this trade there are never less
than twenty, and frequently thirty. Sometimes, when the refuse is very
cheap and very abundant, as many as 100 fruit-sellers, women and girls,
will sell it in halfpenny-worths, along with better articles. These
women also sell refuse dry-fruit, purchased in Duke’s-place, but only
when they cannot obtain green-fruit, or cannot obtain it sufficiently.
All is sold at stalls; as these dealers seem to think that if it were
hawked, the police might look too inquisitively at a barrow stocked
with refuse. The “refuse-sellers” buy at all the markets. The poorer
street-sellers, whose more staple trade is in oranges or nuts, are
_occasional_ dealers in it.

Perhaps the regular refuse-buyers are not among the _very_ poorest
class, as their sale is tolerably quick and certain, but with the usual
drawbacks of wet weather. They make, I was told, from 4_d._ to 1_s._ a
day the year round, or perhaps 7_d._ or 8_d._ a day, Sunday included.
They are all Roman Catholics, and resort to the street-sale after
mass. They are mostly widows, or women who have reached middle-age,
unmarried. Some are the wives of street-sellers. Two of their best
pitches are on Saffron-hill and in Petticoat-lane. It is somewhat
curious to witness these women sitting in a line of five or six, and
notwithstanding their natural garrulity, hardly exchanging a word one
with another. Some of them derive an evident solace from deliberate
puffs at a short black pipe.

A stout, healthy-looking woman of this class said:--“Sure thin, sir,
I’ve sat and sould my bit of fruit in this place, or near it, for
twinty year and more, as is very well known indeed, is it. I could make
twice the money twinty year ago that I can now, for the boys had the
ha’pinnies more thin than they has now, more’s the pity. The childer
is my custhomers, very few beyant--such as has only a ha’pinny now and
thin, God hilp them. They’ll come a mile from any parrut, to spind it
with such as me, for they know it’s chape we sill! Yis, indeed, or
they’ll come with a fardin either, for it’s a ha’pinny lot we’ll split
for them any time. The boys buys most, but they’re dridful tazes. It’s
the patience of the divil must be had to dale wid the likes of thim.
They was dridful about the Pope, but they’ve tired of it now. O, no, it
wasn’t the boys of my counthry that demaned themselves that way. Well,
I make 4_d._ some days, and 6_d._ some, and 1_s._ 6_d._ some, and I
have made 3_s._ 6_d._, and I have made nothing. Perhaps I make 5_s._ or
6_s._ a week rigular, but I’m established and well-known you see.”

The quantity of refuse at the metropolitan “green” markets varies
with the different descriptions of fruit. Of apples it averages
one-twentieth, and of plums and greengages one-fifteenth, of the
entire supply. With pears, cherries, gooseberries, and currants,
however, the damaged amounts to one-twelfth, while of strawberries and
mulberries it reaches as high as one-tenth of the aggregate quantity
sent to market.

The Irish street-sellers, I am informed, buy full two-thirds of all the
refuse, the other third being purchased by the lower class of English
costermongers--“the illegitimates,”--as they are called. We must not
consider the sale of the damaged fruit so great an evil as it would,
at the first blush, appear, for it constitutes perhaps the sole luxury
of poor children, as well as of the poor themselves, who, were it
not for the halfpenny and farthing lots of the refuse-sellers, would
doubtlessly never know the taste of such things.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before leaving this part of the subject, it may be as well to say
a few words concerning the curious revelations made by the returns
from Billingsgate, Covent-garden, and the other London markets, as
to the diet of the poor. In the first place, then, it appears that
in the matter of fish, herrings constitute the chief article of
consumption--no less than 210,000,000 lbs. weight of this fish in a
“fresh” state, and 60,000,000 lbs. in a “dried” state, being annually
eaten by the humbler classes of the metropolis and the suburbs. Of
sprats there are 3,000,000 lbs. weight consumed--and these, with the
addition of plaice, are the staple comestibles at the dinners and
suppers of the ichthyophagous part of the labouring population of
London. One of the reasons for this is doubtless the extraordinary
cheapness of these kinds of fish. The sprats are sold at a penny per
pound; the herrings at the same rate; and the plaice at a fraction
less, perhaps; whereas a pound of butcher’s meat, even “pieces,” or
the “block ornaments,” as they are sometimes called, cannot be got for
less than twopence-halfpenny or threepence. But the relative cheapness
of these two kinds of food can only be tested by the proportionate
quantity of nutrition in each. According to Liebig, butcher’s meat
contains 26 per cent. of solid matter, and 74 per cent. of water;
whereas, according to Brande, fish consists of 20 parts of solid
matter, and 80 parts water in every 100. Hence it would appear that
butcher’s meat is five per cent. more nutritive than fish--or, in
other words, that if the two were equally cheap, the prices, according
to the quantity of nutrition in each, should be for fish one penny
per pound, and butcher’s meat not five farthings; so that even at
twopence-halfpenny the pound, meat is more than twice as dear an
article of diet as fish.

But it is not only on account of their cheapness that herrings and
sprats are consumed in such vast quantities by the labouring people of
London. Salmon, eels, herrings, pilchards, and sprats, Dr. Pereira
tells us, abound in oil; and oleaginous food, according to Leibig,
is an “element of respiration,” consisting of nearly 80 per cent.
charcoal, which burns away in the lungs, and so contributes to the
warmth of the system. Fat, indeed, may be said to act as fuel to the
vital fire; and we now know, from observations made upon the average
daily consumption of food by 28 soldiers of the Grand Duke of Hesse
Darmstadt, in barracks, for a month--which is the same as 840 men for
one day--that an adult taking moderate exercise consumes, in the act of
respiration, very nearly a pound of charcoal every day, which of course
must be supplied in his food. “But persons who take much exercise, or
labour hard,” says Dr. Pereira, “require more frequent and copious
meals than the indolent or sedentary. In the active man the number of
respirations is greater than in the inactive, and therefore a more
frequent supply of food is required to furnish the increased quantity
of carbon and hydrogen to be consumed in the lungs.” “A bird deprived
of food,” says Liebig, “dies on the third day; while a serpent, with
its sluggish respiration, can live without food three months, or

Captain Parry, in his account of one of the Polar expeditions (1827),
states, that both himself and Mr. Beverley, the surgeon, were of
opinion, that, in order to maintain the strength of the men during
their harassing journey across the ice, living constantly in the
open air, and exposed to the wet and cold for twelve hours a day,
an addition was requisite of at least one-third to the quantity of
provisions daily issued. So, in the gaol dietaries, the allowance to
prisoners sentenced to hard labour for three months is one-third more
than the scale for those sentenced to hard labour for three days--the
former having 254 ounces, and the latter only 168 ounces of solid food
served out to them every week.

But the hard-working poor not only require more food than the
non-working rich, but it is mainly because the rich are better fed
that they are more lethargic than the poor; for the greater the supply
of nutriment to the body, the more inactive does the system become.
From experiments made a few years ago at the Zoological Gardens, it
was found, that, by feeding the animals twice, instead of once, in the
twenty-four hours, their habits, as regards exercise, were altered--a
fact which readily explains how the fat and overfed are always the
least energetic; fat being at once the cause and consequence of
inaction. It is well to hear an obese citizen tell a hollow-cheeked
man, who begs a penny of him, “to go and work--a lazy scoundrel;” but
physiology assures us that the fat tradesman is naturally the laziest
of the two. In a word, he is fat because he is lazy, and lazy because
he is fat.

The industrious poor, however, not only require more food than the
indolent rich, but, getting less, they become more susceptible of cold,
and, therefore, more eager for all that tends to promote warmth. I
have often had occasion to remark the sacrifices that the ill-fed
will make to have “a bit of fire.” “He who is well fed,” observes
Sir John Ross, “resists cold better than the man who is stinted,
while starvation from cold follows but too soon a starvation in food.
This doubtlessly explains in a great measure the resisting powers
of the natives of frozen climates, their consumption of food being
enormous, and often incredible.” Captain Cochrane, in his “Journey
through Russia and Siberian Tartary,” tells us that he has repeatedly
seen a Yakut or Tongouse devour forty pounds of meat in a day; and
one of the Yakuti he speaks of as having consumed, in twenty-four
hours, “the hind-quarter of a large ox, twenty pounds of fat, and a
proportionate quantity of melted butter for his drink.” (Vol. i. p.
255). Much less heat is evolved, physiologists tell us, where there is
a deficiency of food. “During the whole of our march,” says Sir John
Franklin, “we experienced that no quantity of clothing could keep us
warm while we fasted; but, on those occasions on which we were enabled
to go to bed with full stomachs, we passed the night in a warm and
comfortable manner.” Hence, it is evident, that in summer a smaller
quantity of food suffices to keep up the temperature of the body. I
know of no experiments to show the different proportions of aliment
required at different seasons of the year. In winter, however, when a
greater supply is certainly needed, the labouring man, unfortunately,
has less means of obtaining it--nearly all trades slacken as the
cold weather comes on, and some, as brick-making, market-gardening,
building, &c., then almost entirely cease--so that, were it not for
the cheapness of fish, and, moreover, the oleaginous quality of those
kinds which are most plentiful in the winter time, the metropolitan
poor would be very likely to suffer that “starvation from cold which,”
in the words of Sir John Ross, “follows but too soon a starvation in
food.” Hence we can readily understand the remark of the enthusiastic
street-seller--“Sprats _is_ a blessing to the poor.”

The returns as to the other articles of food sold in the streets are
equally curious. The 1,500,000_l._ spent yearly in fish, and the
comparatively small amount expended on vegetables, viz., 290,000_l._,
is a circumstance which seems to show that the labouring population of
London have a greater relish for animal than vegetable diet. “It is
quite certain,” says Dr. Carpenter, “that the most perfect physical
development and the greatest intellectual vigour are to be found
among those races in which a mixed diet of animal and vegetable food
is the prevalent habit.” And yet, in apparent contradiction to the
proposition asserted with so much confidence by Dr. Carpenter, we have
the following curious fact cited by Mr. Jacob Bentley:--

 “It is, indeed, a fact worthy of remark, and one that seems never to
 have been noticed, that throughout the whole animal creation, in every
 country and clime of the earth the most useful animals cost nature the
 least waste to sustain them with food. For instance, all animals that
 work, live on vegetable or fruit food; and no animal that eats flesh,
 works. The all-powerful elephant, and the patient, untiring camel in
 the torrid zone; the horse, the ox, or the donkey in the temperate,
 and the rein-deer in the frigid zone; obtain all their muscular
 power for enduring labour, from Nature’s simplest productions,--the
 vegetable kingdom.

 “But all the flesh-eating animals, keep the rest of the animated
 creation in constant dread of them. They seldom eat vegetable food
 till some other animal has eaten it first, and made it into flesh.
 Their only use seems to be, to destroy life; their own flesh is unfit
 for other animals to eat, having been itself made out of flesh,
 and is most foul and offensive. Great strength, fleetness of foot,
 usefulness, cleanliness and docility, are then always characteristic
 of vegetable-eating animals, while all the world dreads flesh-eaters.”

Of vegetables we have seen that the greatest quantity consumed by the
poor consists of potatoes, of which 60,500,000 lbs. are annually sold
in the streets; but ten pounds of potatoes are only equal in nutritive
power to one pound of butcher’s meat, which contains one-fifth more
solid food than fish,--so that a pound of fish may be said to equal
eight pounds of potatoes, and thus the 60,000,000 lbs. of vegetable
is dietetically equivalent to nearly 7,000,000 lbs. of fish diet.
The cost of the potatoes, at five pounds for 2_d._, is, as we have
seen, 100,000_l._; whereas the cost of the same amount of nutritive
matter in the form of fish, at 1_d._ per pound, would have been only
30,000_l._, or upwards of two-thirds less. The vegetable of which there
is the next greatest street sale is onions, upon which 90,000_l._ are
annually expended. This has been before accounted for, by saying, that
a piece of bread and an onion are to the English labourer what bread
and grapes are to the Frenchman--oftentimes a meal. The relish for
onions by the poorer classes is not difficult to explain. Onions are
strongly stimulating substances, and they owe their peculiar odour and
flavour, as well as their pungent and stimulating qualities, to an
acrid volatile oil which contains sulphur. This oil becomes absorbed,
quickens the circulation, and occasions thirst. The same result takes
place with the oil of fish. It not only proves a stimulant to the
general system, but we are told that the thirst and uneasy feeling
at the stomach, frequently experienced after the use of the richer
species of fish, have led to the employment of spirit to this kind of
food. Hence, says Dr. Pereira, the vulgar proverb, “Brandy is Latin
for Fish.” Moreover, the two classes of food are similar in their
comparative indigestibility, for the uneducated palates of the poor not
only require a more pungent kind of diet, but their stronger stomachs
need something that will resist the action of the gastric juice for a
considerable time. Hence their love of shell-fish.

The small quantity of fruit, too, sold to the poor is a further
proof of what is here stated. The amount of the street sale of this
luxury is no criterion as to the quantity purchased by the London
labourers; for according to all accounts the fruit-buyers in the
streets consist mostly of clerks, shopmen, small tradesmen, and the
children of mechanics or the lower grade of middle class people.
Those who may be said strictly to belong to the poor,--viz. those
whose incomes are barely sufficient for their support--seldom purchase
fruit. In the first place they have no money to spend on such a mere
toothsome extravagance; and, secondly, they require a stronger and
more stimulating, and “_staying_” kind of food. The delights of the
palate, we should remember, are studied only when the cravings of the
stomach are satisfied, so that those who have strong stomachs have
necessarily dull palates, and, therefore, prefer something that “bites
in the mouth,”--to use the words of one of my informants--like gin,
onions, sprats, or pickled whelks. What the poor term “relishes” are
very different things from what the rich style the “delicacies of the

I have no means of ascertaining the average number of ounces of solid
food consumed by the poorer class of the metropolis. The _whole_ of the
fish, fruit, and vegetables, sold to the London costermongers, is not
disposed of in the London streets--many of the street-sellers going,
as we have seen, country excursions with their goods. According to
the result of the Government Commissioners of Inquiry, the labourers
in the country are unable to procure for themselves and families an
average allowance of more than 122 ounces of solid food--principally
bread--every week; hence it has been justly said we may infer that the
man consumes, as his share, 140 ounces (134 bread and 6 meat). The gaol
dietaries allow 254 ounces, or nearly twice as much to all prisoners,
who undergo continuous hard labour. In the construction of these
dietaries Sir James Graham--the then Secretary of State--says, in his
“Letter to the Chairman of Quarter Sessions” (January 27th, 1843), “I
have consulted not only the Prison Inspectors, but medical men of the
greatest eminence possessing the advantage of long experience.” They
are proposed, he adds, “as the _minimum_ amount which can be safely
afforded to prisoners without the risk of inflicting a punishment
not contemplated by law and which it is unjust and cruel to inflict;
namely, loss of health and strength through the inadequacy of the food
supplied.” Hence it appears not that the thief gets too much, but the
honest working man too little--or, in other words, that the labourer
of this country is able to procure, by his industry, only half the
quantity of food that is considered by “medical men of the greatest
eminence” to be “the _minimum_ amount” that can be _safely_ afforded
for the support of the criminals--a fact which it would be out of place
to comment upon here.

One word concerning the incomes of the London costermongers, and I have
done. It has been before shown that the gross sum of money _taken_
yearly, in the streets, by the sale of fish, fruit, and vegetables,
amounts, in round numbers, to two million pounds--a million and a
half being expended in fish, and a quarter of a million upon fruit
and vegetables respectively. In estimating the yearly receipts of
the costermongers, from their average gains, the gross “takings” of
the entire body were concluded to be between a million and a quarter
and a million and a half sterling--that is to say, each one of the
10,000 street-sellers of fish, fruit, and vegetables, was supposed to
clear ten shillings a week all the year through, and to _take_ fifty
shillings. But, according to the returns furnished me by the salesmen,
at the several metropolitan markets, the weekly “_takings_” of the
ten thousand men and their families--for often both wife and children
sell--cannot be less than four pounds per week all the year round, out
of which it would seem that the clear weekly _gains_ are about fifteen
shillings. (Some costers we have seen take pounds in a day, others--as
the nut and orange-women and children--only a few shillings a week;
some, again, make cent. per cent. profit, whilst others are obliged
to sell at a loss.) This, from all I can gather, as well as from a
comparison of the coster’s style of living with other classes whose
weekly income is nearly the same, appears to be very close upon the

We may then, I think, safely assert, that the gross yearly receipts of
the London costermongers are two millions of money; that their clear
annual gain, or income, is 425,000_l._; and that the capital invested
in their business, in the form of donkey-carts, barrows, baskets,
weights, and stock-money, is 25,000_l._;--half of this being borrowed,
for which they pay upwards of 20,000_l._ interest per annum.


The class who sell game and poultry in the public thoroughfares of the
metropolis are styled hawkers, both in Leadenhall and Newgate-market.
The number of these dealers in London is computed at between 200
and 300. Of course, legally to sell game, a license, which costs
2_l._ 2_s._ yearly, is required; but the street-seller laughs at the
notion of being subjected to a direct tax; which, indeed, it might be
impossible to levy on so “slippery” a class.

The sale of game, even with a license, was not legalised until 1831;
and, prior to that year, the mere killing of game by an “unqualified”
person was an offence entailing heavy penalties. The “qualification”
consisted of the possession of a freehold estate of 100_l._ a year, or
a leasehold for ninety-nine years of 150_l._ a year! By an Act, passed
in the 25th year of George III., it was provided that a certificate
(costing 3_l._ 13_s._ 6_d._) must be taken out by all qualified
persons killing game. Since 1831 (1 & 2 William IV., c. 32,) a
certificate, without any qualification, is all that is required from
the game-killer.

Both sexes carry on the trade in game-hawking, but there are more
than thrice as many men as women engaged in the business, the weight
occasionally carried being beyond a woman’s strength. The most
customary dress of the game or poultry-hawker is a clean smock-frock
covering the whole of his other attire, except the ends of his
trousers and his thick boots or shoes. Indeed he often, but less
frequently than was the case five years ago, assumes the dress of a
country labourer, although he may have been for years a resident in
London. About forty years ago, I am informed, it was the custom for
countrymen, residing at no great distance, to purchase a stock of
chickens or ducks; and, taking their places in a wagon, to bring their
birds to London, and hawk them from door to door. Some of these men’s
smock-frocks were a convenient garb, for they covered the ample pockets
of the coat beneath, in which were often a store of partridges, or an
occasional pheasant or hare. This game, illegally killed--for it was
all poached--was illegally sold by the hawker, and illegally bought
by the hotel-keepers and the richer tradesmen. One informant (an old
man) was of opinion that the game was rarely offered for sale by these
countrymen at the West-end mansions of the aristocracy. “In fact,” he
said, “I knew one country fellow--though he was sharp enough in his
trade of game and poultry-selling--who seemed to think that every fine
house, without a shop, and where there were livery servants, must needs
be inhabited by a magistrate! But, as the great props of poaching were
the rich--for, of course, the poor couldn’t buy game--there was, no
doubt, a West-end as well as a City trade in it. I have bought game of
a country poultry-hawker,” continued my informant, “when I lived in the
City at the beginning of this century, and generally gave 3_s._ 6_d._
a brace for partridges. I have bid it, and the man has left, refusing
to take it; and has told me afterwards, and, I dare say, he spoke the
truth, that he had sold his partridges at 5_s._ or 6_s._ or more. I
believe 5_s._ a brace was no uncommon price in the City. I have given
as much as 10_s._ for a pheasant for a Christmas supper. The hawker,
before offering the birds for sale, used to peer about him, though we
were alone in my counting-house, and then pull his partridges out of
his pockets, and say, ‘Sir, do you want any very young chickens?’--for
so he called them. Hares he called ‘lions;’ and they cost often,
enough, 5_s._ each of the hawker. The trade had all the charms and
recommendations of a mystery and a risk about it, just like smuggling.”

The sale of game in London, however, was not confined to the
street-hawkers, who generally derived their stock-in-trade immediately
from the poacher. Before the legalisation of the sale, the trade was
carried on, under the rose, by the salesmen in Leadenhall-market,
and that to an extent of not less than a fifteenth of the sale now
accomplished there. The purveyors for the London game-market--I learned
from leading salesmen in Leadenhall--were not then, as now, noble
lords and honourable gentlemen, but peasant or farmer poachers, who
carried on the business systematically. The guards and coachmen of the
stage-coaches were the media of communication, and had charge of the
supply to the London market. The purchasers of the game thus supplied
to a market, which is mostly the property of the municipality of the
City of London, were not only hotel-keepers, who required it for public
dinners presided over by princes, peers, and legislators, but the
purveyors for the civic banquets--such as the Lord Mayor’s ninth of
November dinner, at which the Ministers of State always attended.

This street-hawking of _poached_ game, as far as I could ascertain
from the best-informed quarters, hardly survived the first year of the
legalised sale.

The female hawkers of game are almost all the wives of the men so
engaged, or are women living with them as their wives. The trade is
better, as regards profit, than the costermonger’s ordinary pursuits,
but only when the season is favourable; it is, however, more uncertain.

There is very rarely a distinction between the hawkers of game and of
poultry. A man will carry both, or have game one day and poultry the
next, as suits his means, or as the market avails. The street-sellers
of cheese are generally costers, while the vendors of butter and eggs
are almost extinct.

Game, I may mention, consists of grouse (including black-cocks, and all
the varieties of heath or moor-game), partridges, pheasants, bustards,
and hares. Snipe, woodcocks, plovers, teal, widgeons, wild ducks, and
rabbits are not game, but can only be taken or killed by certificated
persons, who are owners or occupiers of the property on which they are
found, or who have the necessary permission from such persons as are
duly authorised to accord it. Poultry consists of chickens, geese,
ducks, and turkeys, while some persons class pigeons as poultry.

Birds are dietetically divided into three classes: (1) the
white-fleshed, as the common fowl and the turkey; (2) the dark-fleshed
game, as the grouse and the black-cock; and (3) the aquatic (including
swimmers and waders), as the goose and the duck; the flesh of the
latter is penetrated with fat, and difficult of digestion.


It appears from inquiries that I instituted, and from authentic returns
which I procured on the subject, that the following is the quantity
of game and poultry sold yearly, as an average, in the markets of the
metropolis. I give it exclusive of such birds as wild-ducks, woodcocks,
&c., the supply of which depends upon the severity of the winter. I
include all wild birds or animals, whether considered game or not, and
I use round numbers, but as closely as possible.

During the past Christmas, however, I may observe, that the supply of
poultry to the markets has been greater than on any previous occasion.
The immensity of the supply was favourable to the hawker’s profit, as
the glut enabled him to purchase both cheaply and largely. One young
poultry-hawker told me that he had cleared 3_l._ in the Christmas
week, and had spent it all in four days--except 5_s._ reserved for
stock-money. It was not spent _entirely_ in drunkenness, a large
portion of it being expended in treats and amusements. So great,
indeed, has been the supply of game and poultry this year, that a
stranger, unused to the grand scale on which provisions are displayed
in the great metropolitan marts, on visiting Leadenhall, a week before
or after Christmas, might have imagined that the staple food of the
London population consisted of turkeys, geese, and chickens. I give,
however, an _average_ yearly supply:

                     |           |          |          | Proportion
     Description.    |Leadenhall.| Newgate. |  Total.  |   sold in
                     |           |          |          | the Streets.
       GAME, &C.     |           |          |          |
  Grouse             |  45,000   |   12,000 |   57,000 |One-eleventh.
  Partridges         |  85,000   |   60,000 |  145,000 |One-seventh.
  Pheasants          |  44,000   |   20,000 |   64,000 |One-fifth.
  Snipes             |  60,000   |   47,000 |  107,000 |One-twentieth.
  Wild Birds         |  40,000   |   20,000 |   60,000 |None.
  Plovers            |  28,000   |   18,000 |   46,000 |None.
  Larks              | 213,000   |  100,000 |  313,000 |None.
  Teals              |  10,000   |    5,000 |   15,000 |None.
  Widgeons           |  30,000   |    8,000 |   38,000 |None.
  Hares              |  48,000   |   55,000 |  102,000 |One-fifth.
  Rabbits            | 680,000   |  180,000 |  860,000 |Three-fourths.
                     |1,283,000  |  525,000 |1,807,000 |
      POULTRY.       |           |          |          |
  Domestic Fowls     |1,266,000  |  490,000 |1,756,000 |One-third.
  ---- ---- (alive)  |   45,000  |   15,000 |   60,000 |One-tenth.
  Geese              |  888,000  |  114,000 |1,002,000 |One-fifth.
  Ducks              |  235,000  |  148,000 |  383,000 |One-fourth.
  ---- (alive)       |   20,000  |   20,000 |   40,000 |One-tenth.
  Turkeys            |   69,000  |   55,000 |  124,000 |One-fourth.
  Pigeons            |  285,000  |   98,000 |  383,000 |None.
                     |2,808,000  |  940,000 |3,748,000 |
          Game, &c.  |1,283,000  |  525,000 |1,807,000 |
                     |4,091,000  | 1,465,000|5,555,000 |

In the above return wild ducks and woodcocks are not included, because
the quantity sent to London is dependent entirely upon the severity
of the winter. With the costers wild ducks are a favourite article of
trade, and in what those street tradesmen would pronounce a favourable
season for wild ducks, which means a very hard winter, the number
sold in London will, I am told, equal that of pheasants (64,000). The
great stock of wild ducks for the London tables is from Holland, where
the duck decoys are objects of great care. Less than a fifth of the
importation from Holland is from Lincolnshire. These birds, and even
the finest and largest, have been sold during a glut at 1_s._ each.
Woodcocks, under similar circumstances, number with plovers (45,000),
nearly all of which are “golden plovers;” but of woodcocks the
costermongers buy very few: “They’re only a mouthful and a half,” said
one of them, “and don’t suit our customers.” In severe weather a few
ptarmigan are sent to London from Scotland, and in 1841-2 great numbers
were sent to the London markets from Norway. One salesman received
nearly 10,000 ptarmigan in one day. A portion of these were disposed
of to the costers, but the sale was not such as to encourage further

The returns I give show, that, at the two great game and
poultry-markets, 5,500,000 birds and animals, wild and tame, are yearly
sent to London. To this must be added all that may be consigned direct
to metropolitan game-dealers and poulterers, besides what may be sent
as presents from the country, &c., so that the London supply may be
safely estimated, I am assured, at 6,000,000.

It is difficult to arrive at any very precise computation of the
quantity of game and poultry sold by the costers, or rather at the
money value (or price) of what they sell. The most experienced
salesmen agree, that, as to _quantity_, including everything popularly
considered game (and I have so given it in the return), they sell
one-third. As regards _value_, however, their purchases fall very short
of a third. Of the best qualities of game, and even more especially
of poultry, a third of the hawkers may buy a fifteenth, compared with
their purchases in the lower-priced kinds. The others buy none of the
best qualities. The more “aristocratic” of the poultry-hawkers will,
as a rule, only buy, “when they have an order” or a sure sale, the
best quality of English turkey-cocks; which cannot be wondered at,
seeing that the average price of the English turkey-cock is 12_s._ One
salesman this year sold (at Leadenhall) several turkey-cocks at 30_s._
each, and one at 3_l._ The average price of an English turkey-hen
is 4_s._ 6_d._, and of these the costers buy a few: but their chief
trade is in foreign turkey-hens; of which the average price (when of
good quality and in good condition) is 3_s._ The foreign turkey-cocks
average half the price of the English (or 6_s._). Of Dorking fat
chickens, which average 6_s._ the couple, the hawkers buy none (save as
in the case of the turkey-cocks); but of the Irish fowls, which, this
season, have averaged 2_s._ 6_d._ the couple, they buy largely. On the
other hand they buy nearly all the rabbits sent from Scotland, and half
of those sent from Ostend, while they “clear the market”--no matter of
what the glut may consist--when there _is_ a glut. There is another
distinction of which the hawker avails himself. The average price of
young plump partridges is 2_s._ 6_d._ the brace, of old partridges,
2_s._; accordingly, the coster buys the old. It is the same with
pheasants, the young averaging 7_s._ the brace, the old 6_s._: “And I
can sell them best,” said one man; “for my customers say they’re more
tastier-like. I’ve sold game for twelve years, or more, but I never
tasted any of any kind, so I can’t say who’s right and who’s wrong.”

The hawkers buy, also, game and poultry which will not “keep” another
day. Sometimes they puff out the breast of a chicken with fresh pork
fat, which melts as the bird roasts. “It freshens the fowl, I’ve been
told, and improves it,” said one man; “and the shopkeepers now and
then, does the same. It’s a improvement, sir.”

In the present season the costers have bought of wild ducks,
comparatively, none, and of teal, widgeons, wild birds, and larks, none
at all; or so sparely, as to require no notice.


As the purchasers of game and poultry are of a different class to
the costermongers’ ordinary customers, I may devote a few words to
them. From all the information that I could acquire, they appear to
consist, principally, of those who reside at a distance from any cheap
market, and buy a cheap luxury when it is brought to their doors,
as well as of those who are “always on the look-out for something
toothy, such as the shabby genteels, as they’re called, who never
gives nothing but a scaly price. They’ve bargained with me till I was
hard held from pitching into them, and over and over again I should,
only it would have been fourteen days anyhow. They’ll tell me my birds
stinks, when they’re as sweet as flowers. They’d go to the devil to
save three farthings on a partridge.” Other buyers are old gourmands,
living perhaps on small incomes, or if possessed of ample incomes,
but confining themselves to a small expenditure; others, again, are
men who like a cheap dinner, and seldom enjoy it, at their own cost,
unless it be cheap, and who best of all like “such a thing as a moor
bird (grouse),” said one hawker, “which can be eat up to a man’s own
cheek.” This was also the opinion of a poulterer and game-dealer, who
sometimes sold “goods” to the hawkers. Of this class of “patrons” many
shopkeepers, in all branches of business, have a perfect horror, as
they will care nothing for having occupied the tradesmen’s time to no

The game and poultry street-sellers, I am told, soon find out when a
customer is bent upon a bargain, and shape their prices accordingly.
Although these street-sellers may generally take as their motto the
announcement so often seen in the shops of competitive tradesmen, “no
reasonable offer refused,” they are sometimes so worried in bargaining
that they _do_ refuse.

In a conversation I had with a “retired” game salesman, he said it
might be curious to trace the history of a brace of birds--of grouse,
for instance--sold in the streets; and he did it after this manner.
They were shot in the Highlands of Scotland by a member of parliament
who had gladly left the senate for the moors. They were transferred
to a tradesman who lived in or near some Scotch town having railway
communication, and with whom “the honourable gentleman,” or “the
noble lord,” had perhaps endeavoured to drive a hard bargain. He (the
senator) _must_ have a good price for his birds, as he had given a
large sum for the moor: and the season was a bad one: the birds were
scarce and wild: they would soon be “packed” (be in flocks of twenty
or thirty instead of in broods), and then there would be no touching a
feather of them. The canny Scot would quietly say that it was early in
the season, and the birds never packed so early; that as to price, he
could only give what he could get from a London salesman, and he was
“nae just free to enter into any agreement for a fixed price at a’.”
The honourable gentleman, after much demurring, gives way, feeling
perhaps that he cannot well do anything else. In due course the grouse
are received in Leadenhall, and unpacked and flung about with as little
ceremony as if they had been “slaughtered” by a Whitechapel journeyman
butcher, at so much a head. It is a thin market, perhaps, when they
come to hand. A dealer, fashionable in the parish of St. George,
Hanover-square, has declined to give the price demanded; they were not
his money; “he had to give such long credit.” A dealer, popular in
the ward of Cheap, has also declined to buy, and for the same alleged
reason. The salesman, knowing that some of these dealers _must_ buy,
quietly says that he will take no less, and as he is known to be a
man of his word, little is said upon the subject. As the hour arrives
at which fashionable game-dealers are compelled to buy, or disappoint
customers who will not brook such disappointment, the market, perhaps,
is glutted, owing to a very great consignment by a later railway train.
The _Inverness Courier_, or the _North of Scotland Gazette_, are in due
course quoted by the London papers, touching the “extraordinary sport”
of a party of lords and gentlemen in the Highlands; and the “heads” of
game are particularized with a care that would do honour to a _Price
Current_. The salesman then disposes rapidly of divers “brace” to the
“hawkers,” at 1_s._ or 2_s._ the brace, and the hawker offers them to
hotel-keepers, and shop-keepers, and housekeepers, selling some at
3_s._ 6_d._ the brace, some at 3_s._, at 2_s._ 6_d._, at 2_s._, and at
less. “At last,” said my informant, “he may sell the finest brace of
his basket, which he has held back to get a better price for, at 6_d._
a-piece, rather than keep them over-night, and that to a woman of the
town, whom he may have met reeling home with money in her purse. Thus
the products of an honourable gentleman’s skilful industry, on which
he greatly prided himself, are eaten by the woman and her ‘fancy man,’
grumblingly enough, for they pronounce the birds inferior to tripe.”

The best quarters for the street-sale of game and poultry are, I
am informed from several sources, either the business parts of the
metropolis, or else the houses in the several suburbs which are the
furthest from a market or from a business part. The squares, crescents,
places, and streets, that do not partake of one or the other of these
characteristics, are pronounced “no good.”


The man who gave me the following information was strong and robust,
and had a weather-beaten look. He seemed about fifty. He wore when I
saw him a large velveteen jacket, a cloth waistcoat which had been once
green, and brown corduroy trousers. No part of his attire, though it
seemed old, was patched, his shirt being clean and white. He evidently
aimed at the gamekeeper style of dress. He affected some humour, and
was dogged in his opinions:

“I was a gentleman’s footman when I was a young man,” he said, “and
saw life both in town and country; so I knows what things belongs.” [A
common phrase among persons of his class to denote their being men of
the world.] “I never liked the confinement of service, and besides
the upper servants takes on so. The others puts up with it more than
they would, I suppose, because they hopes to be butlers themselves in
time. The only decent people in the house I lived in last was master
and missus. I won 20_l._, and got it too, on the Colonel, when he
won the Leger. Master was a bit of a turf gentleman, and so we all
dabbled--like master like man, you know, sir. I think that was in 1828,
but I’m not certain. We came to London not long after Doncaster” [he
meant Doncaster races], “something about a lawsuit, and that winter I
left service and bought the goodwill of a coffee-shop for 25_l._ It
didn’t answer. I wasn’t up to the coffee-making, I think; there’s a
deal of things belongs to all things; so I got out of it, and after
that I was in service again, and then I was a boots at an inn. But
I couldn’t settle to nothing long; I’m of a free spirit, you see. I
was hard up at last, and I popped my watch for a sovereign, because
a friend of mine--we sometimes drank together of a night--said he
could put me in the pigeon and chicken line; that was what he called
it, but it meant game. This just suited me, for I’d been out with
the poachers when I was a lad, and indeed when I was in service, out
of a night on the sly; so I knew they got stiffish prices. My friend
got me the pigeons. I believe he cheated me, but he’s gone to glory.
The next season game was made legal eating. Before that I cleared
from 25_s._ to 40_s._ a week by selling my ‘pigeons.’ I carried real
pigeons as well, which I said was my own rearing at Gravesend. I sold
my game pigeons--there was all sorts of names for them--in the City,
and sometimes in the Strand, or Charing-cross, or Covent-garden. I
sold to shopkeepers. Oft enough I’ve been offered so much tea for a
hare. I sometimes had a hare in each pocket, but they was very awkward
carriage; if one was sold, the other sagged so. I very seldom sold
them, at that time, at less than 3_s._ 6_d._, often 4_s._ 6_d._, and
sometimes 5_s._ or more. I once sold a thumping old jack-hare to a
draper for 6_s._; it was Christmas time, and he thought it was a
beauty. I went into the country after that, among my friends, and had
a deal of ups and downs in different parts. I was a navvy part of the
time, till five or six year back I came to London again, and got into
my old trade; but it’s quite a different thing now. I hawks grouse,
and every thing, quite open. Leadenhall and Newgate is my markets.
Six of one and half-a-dozen of t’other. When there’s a great arrival
of game, after a game battle” (he would so call a _battue_) “and it’s
warm weather, that’s my time of day, for then I can buy cheap. A muggy
day, when it’s close and warm, is best of all. I have a tidy bit of
connection now in game, and don’t touch poultry when I can get game.
Grouse is the first thing I get to sell. They are legal eating on the
12th of August, but as there’s hundreds of braces sold in London that
day, and as they’re shot in Scotland and Yorkshire, and other places
where there’s moors, in course they’re killed before it’s legal. It’s
not often I can get them early in the season; not the first week,
but I have had three brace two days before they were legal, and sold
them at 5_s._ a brace; they cost me 3_s._ 3_d._, but I was told I
was favoured. I got them of a dealer, but that’s a secret. I sold a
few young partridges with grouse this year at 1_s._ 6_d._ and 1_s._
9_d._ a piece, allowing 2_d._ or 3_d._ if a brace was taken. They
weren’t legal eating till the 1st of September, but they was shot by
grouse shooters, and when I hawked them I called them quails. Lord,
sir, gentlefolks--and I serve a good many, leastways their cooks, and
now and then themselves--_they_ don’t make a fuss about Game Laws;
they’ve too much sense. I’ve bought grouse quite fresh and fine when
there’s been a lot, and bad keeping weather, at 1_s._ and 15_d._
each. I’ve sold them sometimes at 1_s._ 6_d._ and 2_s._ each, and
2_s._ 6_d._ the big ones, but only twice or thrice. If you ask very
low at first, people won’t buy, only a few good judges, ’cause they
think something must be amiss. I once bought a dozen good hares, on
a Saturday afternoon, for 10_s._ 6_d._ It was jolly hot, and I could
hardly sell them. I got 1_s._ 6_d._ a piece for three of them; 2_s._
for the finest one; 1_s._ 3_d._ for five, no, for four; 1_s._ 10_d._
for two; and I had a deal of trouble to get a landlord to take the last
two for 1_s._ 6_d._, to wipe off a bit of a drink score. I didn’t do
so bad as it was, but if it hadn’t been Saturday, I should have made
a good thing of ’em. It’s very hard work carrying a dozen hares; and
every one of that lot--except two, and _they_ was fine leverets--was
as cheap as butcher’s meat at half-a-crown a piece. I’ve done middling
in partridges this year. I’ve bought them, but mixed things they was,
as low as from 10_d._ to 16_d._ a brace, and have made a profit, big
or little as happened, on every one. People that’s regular customers I
always charge 6_d._ profit in 2_s._ 6_d._ to, and that’s far cheaper
than they can get served other ways. It’s chiefly the game battles that
does so much to cheapen partridges or peasants” (so he always called
pheasants); “and it’s only then I meddles with peasants. They’re sold
handier than the other birds at the shops, I think. They’re legal
eating on the 1st of October. Such nonsense! why isn’t mutton made
legal eating, only just at times, as well? In very hard weather I’ve
done well on wild ducks. They come over here when the weather’s a
clipper, for you see cold weather suits some birds and kills others.
It aint hard weather that’s driven them here; the frost has drawed
them here, because it’s only then they’re cheap. I’ve bought beauties
at 1_s._ a piece, and one day I cleared 10_s._ 6_d._ out of twelve
brace of them. I’ve often cleared 6_s._ and 7_s._--at least as often
as there’s been a chance. I knew a man that did uncommon well on them;
and he once told a parson, or a journeyman parson, I don’t know what
he was, that if ever _he_ prayed it was for a hard winter and lots of
wild ducks. I’ve done a little sometimes in plover, and woodcock, and
snipe, but not so much. I never plays no tricks with _my_ birds. I
trims them up to look well, certainly. If they won’t keep, and won’t
sell, I sticks them into a landlord I knows, as likes them high, for
a quartern or a pot, or anything. It’s often impossible to keep them.
If they’re hard hit it’s soon up with them. A sportsman, if he has a
good dog--but you’ll know that if you’ve ever been a shooting, sir--may
get close upon a covey of young partridges before he springs them, and
then give them his one, two, with both barrels, and they’re riddled to
bits. I may make 18_s._ a week all the year round, because I have a
connection. I’m very much respected, I thinks, on my round, for I deal
fair; that there, sir, breeds respect, you know. When I can’t get game
(birds) I can sometimes, indeed often, get hares, and mostly rabbits.
I’ve hawked venson, but did no good--though I cried it at 4_d._ the lb.
My best weeks is worth 30_s._ to 35_s._, my worst is 6_s._ to 10_s._
I’m a good deal in the country, working it. I’m forced to sell fish
sometimes. Geese I sometimes join a mate in selling. I don’t mix much
with the costermongers; in coorse I knows some. I live middling. Do I
ever eat my own game if it’s high? No, sir, never. I couldn’t stand
such cag-mag--my stomach couldn’t--though I’ve been a gentleman’s
servant. Such stuff don’t suit nobody but rich people, whose stomach’s
diseased by over-feeding, and that’s been brought up to it, like. I’ve
only myself to keep now. I’ve had a wife or two, but we parted” (this
was said gravely enough); “there was nothing to hinder us. I see them
sometimes and treat them.”

The quantity of game annually sold in the London streets is as

  Grouse        5,000
  Partridges   20,000
  Pheasants    12,000
  Snipes        5,000
  Hares        20,000


Two brothers, both good-looking and well-spoken young men--one I
might characterise as handsome--gave me the following account. I
found them unwilling to speak of their youth, and did not press them.
I was afterwards informed that their parents died within the same
month, and that the family was taken into the workhouse; but the two
boys left it in a little time, and before they could benefit by any
schooling. Neither of them could read or write. They left, I believe,
with some little sum in hand, to “start theirselves.” An intelligent
costermonger, who was with me when I saw the two brothers, told me that
“a costermonger would rather be thought to have come out of prison
than out of a workhouse,” for his “mates” would say, if they heard he
had been locked up, “O, he’s only been quodded for pitching into a
crusher.” The two brothers wore clean smock country frocks over their
dress, and made a liberal display of their clean, but coarse, shirts.
It was on a Monday that I saw them. What one brother said, the other
confirmed: so I use the plural “we.”

“We sell poultry and game, but stick most to poultry, which suits
our connection best. We buy at Leadenhall. We’re never cheated in
the things we buy; indeed, perhaps, we could’nt be. A salesman will
say--Mr. H---- will--‘Buy, if you like, I can’t recommend them. Use
your own judgment. They’re cheap.’ He has only one price, and that’s
often a low one. We give from 1_s._ to 1_s._ 9_d._ for good chickens,
and from 2_s._ 6_d._ mostly for geese and turkeys. Pigeons is 1_s._
9_d._ to 3_s._ a dozen. We aim at 6_d._ profit on chickens; and 1_s._,
if we can get it, or 6_d._ if we can do no better, on geese and
turkeys. Ducks are the same as chickens. All the year through, we may
make 12_s._ a week a piece. We work together, one on one side of the
street and the other on the other. It answers best that way. People
find we can’t undersell one another. We buy the poultry, whenever
we can, undressed, and dress them ourselves; pull the feathers off
and make them ready for cooking. We sell cheaper than the shops, or
we couldn’t sell at all. But you must be known, to do any trade, or
people will think your poultry’s bad. We work game as well, but mostly
poultry. We’ve been on hares to-day, mostly, and have made about
2_s._ 6_d._ a piece, but that’s an extra day. Our best customers are
tradesmen in a big way, and people in the houses a little way out of
town. Working people don’t buy of us now. We’re going to a penny gaff
to-night” (it was then between four and five); “we’ve no better way of
spending our time when our day’s work is done.”

From the returns before given, the street-sale of poultry amounts
yearly to

  500,000  fowls.
   80,000  ducks.
   20,000  geese.
   30,000  turkeys.


The street trade in live poultry is not considerable, and has become
less considerable every year, since the facilities of railway
conveyance have induced persons in the suburbs to make their purchases
in London rather than of the hawkers. Geese used to be bought very
largely by the hawkers in Leadenhall, and were driven in flocks to the
country, 500 being a frequent number of a flock. Their sale commenced
about six miles from town in all directions, the purchasers being
those who, having the necessary convenience, liked to fatten their own
Christmas geese, and the birds when bought were small and lean. A few
flocks, with 120 or 150 in each, are still disposed of in this way; but
the trade is not a fifth of what it was. As this branch of the business
is not in the hands of the hawkers, but generally of country poulterers
resident in the towns not far from the metropolis, I need but allude to
it. A few flocks of ducks are driven in the same way.

The street trade in live poultry continues only for three months--from
the latter part of June to the latter part of September. At this
period, the hawkers say, as they can’t get “dead” they must get
“live.” During these three months the hawkers sell 500 chickens and
300 ducks weekly, by hawking, or 10,400 in the season of 13 weeks.
Occasionally, as many as 50 men and women--the same who hawk dead game
and poultry--are concerned in the traffic I am treating of. At other
times there are hardly 30, and in some not 20 so employed, for if the
weather be temperate, dead poultry is preferred to live by the hawkers.
Taking the average of “live” sellers at 25 every week, it gives only a
trade of 32 birds each weekly. Some, however, will sell 18 in a day;
but others, who occasionally resort to the trade, only a dozen in a
week. The birds are sometimes carried in baskets on the hawker’s arm,
their heads being let through network at the top; but more frequently
they are hawked in open wicker-work coops carried on the head. The best
live poultry are from Surrey and Sussex; the inferior from Ireland, and
perhaps more than three-fourths of that sold by the hawkers is Irish.

The further nature of the trade, and the class of customers, is shown
in the following statement, given to me by a middle-aged man, who had
been familiar with the trade from his youth.

“Yes, sir,” he said, “I’ve had a turn at live poultry for--let me
see--someways between twenty and twenty-five years. The business is
a sweater, sir; it’s heavy work, but ‘live’ aint so heavy as ‘dead.’
There’s fewer of them to carry in a round, that’s it. Ah! twenty years
ago, or better, live poultry was worth following. I did a good bit in
it. I’ve sold 160 fowls and ducks, and more, in a week, and cleared
about 4_l._ But out of that I had to give a man 1_s._ a day, and his
peck, to help me. At that time I sold my ducks and chickens--I worked
nothing else--at from 2_s._ to 3_s._ 6_d._ a piece, according to size
and quality. Now, if I get from 14_d._ to 2_s._ it’s not so bad. I
sell more, I think, however, over 1_s._ 6_d._ than under it, but I’m
perticler in my ‘live.’ I never sold to any but people out of town that
had convenience to keep them, and Lord knows, I’ve seen ponds I could
jump over reckoned prime for ducks. Them that keeps their gardens nice
won’t buy live poultry. I’ve seldom sold to the big houses anything
like to what I’ve done to the smaller. The big houses, you see, goes
for fancy bantems, such as Sir John Seabright’s, or Spanish hens, or
a bit of a game cross, or real game--just for ornament, and not for
fighting--or for anything that’s got its name up. I’ve known young
couples buy fowls to have their breakfast eggs from them. One young
lady told me to bring her--that’s fifteen year ago, it is so--six
couples, that I knew would lay. I told her she’d better have five hens
to a cock, and she didn’t seem pleased, but I’m sure I don’t know why,
for I hope I’m always civil. I told her there would be murder if there
was a cock to every hen. I supplied her, and made 6_s._ by the job. I
_have_ sold live fowls to the Jews about Whitechapel, on my way to
Stratford and Bow, but only when I’ve bought a bargain and sold one.
I don’t know nothing how the Jews kills their fowls. Last summer I
didn’t make 1_s._ 6_d._ a day; no, nor more than three half-crowns a
week in ‘live.’ But that’s only part of my trade. I don’t complain,
so it’s nothing to nobody what I makes. From Beever (De Beauvoir)
Town to Stamford Hill, and on to Tottenham and Edmonton, and turning
off Walthamstow way is as good a round as any for live; it is so; but
nothing to what it was. Highgate and Hampstead is middling. The t’other
side the water isn’t good at all.”


[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

Fancy chickens, I may add, are never hawked, nor are live pigeons, nor
geese, nor turkeys.

The hawkers’ sale of live poultry may be taken, at a moderate
computation, as 6,500 chickens, and 3,900 ducks.


Rabbit-selling cannot be said to be a distinct branch of
costermongering, but some street-sellers devote themselves to it more
exclusively than to other “goods,” and, for five or six months of the
year, sell little else. It is not often, though it is sometimes, united
with the game or poultry trade, as a stock of rabbits, of a dozen or a
dozen and a half, is a sufficient load for one man. The best sale for
rabbits is in the suburbs. They are generally carried slung two and
two on a long pole, which is supported on the man’s shoulders, or on a
short one which is carried in the hand. Lately, they have been hawked
about hung up on a barrow. The trade is the briskest in the autumn and
winter months; but some men carry them, though they do not confine
themselves to the traffic in them, all the year round. The following
statement shows the nature of the trade.

“I was born and bred a costermonger,” he said, “and I’ve been concerned
with everything in the line. I’ve been mostly ‘on rabbits’ these five
or six years, but I always sold a few, and now sometimes I sell a
hare or two, and, if rabbits is too dear, I tumble on to fish. I buy
at Leadenhall mainly. I’ve given from 6_s._ to 14_s._ a dozen for my
rabbits. The usual price is from 5_s._ to 8_s._ a dozen. [I may remark
that the costers buy nearly all the Scotch rabbits, at an average of
6_s._ the dozen; and the Ostend rabbits, which are a shilling or two
dearer.] They’re Hampshire rabbits; but I don’t know where Hampshire
is. I know they’re from Hampshire, for they’re called ‘Wild Hampshire
rabbits, 1_s._ a pair.’ But still, as you say, that’s only a call.
I never sell a rabbit at 6_d._, in course--it costs more. My way in
business is to get 2_d._ profit, and the skin, on every rabbit. If they
cost me 8_d._, I try to get 10_d._ It’s the skins is the profit. The
skins now brings me from 1_s._ to 1_s._ 9_d._ a dozen. They’re best
in frosty weather. The fur’s thickest then. It grows best in frost, I
suppose. If I sell a dozen, it’s a tidy day’s work. If I get 2_d._
a-piece on them, and the skins at 1_s._ 3_d._, it’s 3_s._ 3_d._, but I
dont sell above 5 dozen in a week--that’s 16_s._ 3_d._ a week, sir, is
it? Wet and dark weather is against me. People won’t often buy rabbits
by candlelight, if they’re ever so sweet. Some weeks in spring and
summer I can’t sell above two dozen rabbits. I have sold two dozen and
ten on a Saturday in the country, but then I had a young man to help
me. I sell the skins to a warehouse for hatters. My old ’oman works a
little fish at a stall sometimes, but she only can in fine weather,
for we’ve a kid that can hardly walk, and it don’t do to let it stand
out in the cold. Perhaps I may make 10_s._ to 14_s._ a week all the
year round. I’m paying 1_s._ a week for 1_l._ borrowed, and paid 2_s._
all last year; but I’ll pay no more after Christmas. I did better on
rabbits four or five year back, because I sold more to working-people
and small shopkeepers than I do now. I suppose it’s because they’re not
so well off now as they was then, and, as you say, butchers’-meat may
be cheaper now, and tempts them. I do best short ways in the country.
Wandsworth way ain’t bad. No more is parts of Stoke-Newington and
Stamford-hill. St. John’s Wood and Hampstead is middling. Hackney’s
bad. I goes all ways. I dont know what sort of people’s my best
customers. Two of ’em, I’ve been told, is banker’s clerks, so in course
they is rich.”

There are 600,000 rabbits sold every year in the streets of London;
these, at 7_d._ a-piece, give 17,500_l._ thus expended annually in the


All these commodities used to be hawked in the streets, and to a
considerable extent. Until, as nearly as I can ascertain, between
twenty and thirty years back, butter was brought from Epping, and
other neighbouring parts, where good pasture existed, and hawked in
the streets of London, usually along with poultry and eggs. This trade
is among the more ancient of the street-trades. Steam-vessels and
railways, however, have so stocked the markets, that no hawking of
butter or eggs, from any agricultural part, even the nearest to London,
would be remunerative now. Eggs are brought in immense quantities from
France and Belgium, though thirty, or even twenty years ago the notion
having of a good French egg, at a London breakfast-table, would have
been laughed at as an absurd attempt at an impossible achievement. The
number of eggs now annually imported into this kingdom, is 98,000,000,
half of which may be said to be the yearly consumption of London. No
butter is now hawked, but sometimes a few “new laid” eggs are carried
from a rural part to the nearest metropolitan suburb, and are sold
readily enough, if the purveyor be known. Mr. M’Culloch estimates the
average consumption of butter, in London, at 6,250,000 lbs. per annum,
or 5 oz., weekly, each individual.

The hawking of cheese was never a prominent part of the street-trade.
Of late, its sale in the streets, may be described as accidental. A
considerable quantity of American cheese was hawked, or more commonly
sold at a standing, five or six years ago; unto December last, and for
three months preceding, cheese was sold in the streets which had been
rejected from Government stores, as it would not “keep” for the period
required; but it was good for immediate consumption, for which all
street-goods are required. This, and the American cheese, were both
sold in the streets at 3_d._ the pound; usually, at fair weights, I am
told, for it might not be easy to deceive the poor in a thing of such
frequent purchase as “half a quarter or a quarter” (of a pound) of

The total quantity of foreign cheese consumed, yearly, in the
metropolis may be estimated at 25,000,000 lbs. weight, or half of the
gross quantity annually imported.

The following statement shows the quantity and sum paid for the game
and poultry sold in London streets:

    5,000 grouse, at 1_s._ 9_d._ each                437
   20,000 partridges, at 1_s._ 6_d._               1,500
   12,000 pheasants, at 3_s._ 6_d._                2,100
    5,000 snipes, at 8_d._                           166
   20,000 hares, at 2_s._ 3_d._                    2,250
  600,000 rabbits, at 7_d._                       17,500
  500,000 fowls, at 1_s._ 6_d._                   37,500
   20,000 geese, at 2_s._ 6_d._                    2,500
   80,000 ducks, at 1_s._ 6_d._                    6,000
   30,000 turkeys, at 3_s._ 6_d._                  5,250
   10,000 live fowls and ducks, at 1_s._ 6_d._       750

In this table I do not give the _refuse_ game and poultry, bought
sometimes for the mere feathers, when “undressed;” neither are the
wild ducks nor woodcocks, nor those things of which the costers buy
only exceptionally, included. Adding these, it may be said, that with
the street sale of butter, cheese, and eggs, 80,000_l._ are annually
expended in the streets on this class of articles.


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 street-greengrocers. 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

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

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.


                     | Covent Garden. |Farringdon.|  Total. |Proportion sold
                     |                |           |         |  to Costers.
   TREES AND SHRUBS. |                |           |         |
  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.      |   1,280   | 2,720   | One-half.
                     |     bunches    |           |         |
  Wallflowers        |3,200   „       |   1,600   | 4,800   | One-half.
  Lavender (green    |                |           |         |
    and dry)         |1,600   „       |   1,200   | 4,120[7]| 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.
                     |                |           |         |
      BRANCHES.      |                |           |         |
  Holly              |  840 doz.      |     720   | 1,640[7]| One-half.
                     |     bundles    |           |         |
  Mistletoe          |  800   „       |     640   | 1,560[7]| One-half.
  Ivy and Laurel     |  360   „       |     280   |   740[7]| One-half.
  Lilac              |   96   „       |      64   |   150   | One-half.
  Palm               |   12   „       |       8   |    28[7]| One-half.
  May                |   30   „       |      20   |    70[7]| One-half.

[6] The numbers here given do not include the shrubs, roots, &c.,
bought by the hawkers at the nursery gardens.

[7] These totals include the supplies sent to the other markets.

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.

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 1_d._, 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 fœtor. 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

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 stage-coachman 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
1_s._ 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
Oxford-street. They buys all sorts. Perhaps more stocks than anything,
for they’re beautiful roots, and not dear. I’ve sold real beauties for
2_d._--real beauties, but small; 6_d._ 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
2_d._ or 3_d._ 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 street-dealers 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

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 fir-trees,

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 4_s._ a dozen, but they
was scrubby things, and I’ve bought them at 14_s._ 6_d._ I once gave
5_s._ for two trees of them, which I had ordered, and there was a rare
grumbling about the price, though I only charged 7_s._ 6_d._ for the
two, which was 1_s._ 3_d._ 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 5_d._ a piece, and at 5_s._, 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 1_s._ 3_d._ 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 4_s._ 6_d._ 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 water-cresses 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 lodging-houses, 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 Drury-lane. 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 2_s._ a week for the room, the tenant an
Irishman out of work paying 2_s._ 9_d._, 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 6_d._ 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) “the 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 1_s._ for a dozen bunches, whatever
flowers are in. Out of every two bunches I can make three, at 1_d._ 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 6_d._ 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 1_s._ a day, and 9_d._ 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 1_s._ stock-money, 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 1_s._, if
she has one, or she borrows one of a neighbour, if she hasn’t, or if
the neighbours hasn’t it, she borrows it at a dolly-shop” (the illegal
pawn-shop). “There’s 2_d._ a week to pay for 1_s._ 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 2_d._
to pay for it for the day. We’ve had a frock in for 6_d._, 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 2_s._ a week for the two of us; the rest goes in
rent. That’s all we make.”

The brother earned from 1_s._ 6_d._ to 2_s._ a week, with an occasional
meal, as a costermonger’s boy. Neither of them ever missed mass on a


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

The street-seller’s profit on lavender is now somewhat more than cent.
per cent., as the bundle, costing 2-1/2_d._, brings when tied up in
sprigs, at least, 6_d._ 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    „
  Lavender                          296,640    „
  Pinks and Carnations               63,360    „
  Moss Roses                        172,800    „
  China ditto                       172,800    „
  Mignonette                         86,400    „
  Lilies of the Valley                1,632    „
  Stocks                             20,448    „
  Cut flowers sold yearly in the }
    streets                      }  994,560    „


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 flower-roots 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 New-road, 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

For the flowers of commoner or easier culture, the root-seller receives
from 1_d._ to 3_d._ 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 1_d._),
small early wallflowers, candy-tufts, southernwood (called “lad’s love”
or “old man” by some), and daffodils, (but daffodils were sometimes
dearer than 3_d._). 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 China-asters, the African marigolds, the dahlias, the
poppies, and the common and very aromatic marigold. Later still there
are the Michaelmas 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
3_d._ to 5_s._; pinks at from 3_d._ for the common pink, to 2_s._ for
the best single clove, and 4_s._ for the best double; stocks, as they
are small and single, to their being large and double, from 3_d._ (and
sometimes less) to 2_s._; dahlias from 6_d._ to 5_s._; fuschias, from
6_d._ to 4_s._; rose-bushes from 3_d._ to 1_s._ 6_d._, and sometimes,
but not often, much higher; musk-plants, London pride, lupins, &c., are
1_d._ and 2_d._, pots generally included.

To carry on his business efficiently, the root-seller 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 5_s._ to 20_s._, 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 1-1/2_d._ a dozen, and has to transfer the
roots and soil to the pots, and then offer them for sale. The profit
thus is about 4_s._ 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 tea-pot,” 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, one-fifth 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. Seven-eighths 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 6_d._ to 1_s._ 6_d._ 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 6_d._ and 1_s._, and some 1_s._ 6_d._ 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 4_s._ 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 3_l._ 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
1_s._ for 2_d._ 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 2_l._ 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 10_s._ or 15_s._ 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
4_l._ on my roots five or six years back, I make only 3_l._ 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 principal 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:


  Moss-roses                     38,880
  China-roses                    38,880
  Fuschias                       38,800
  Geraniums                      12,800
  Total number of flowers in }
    pots sold in the streets }  129,360


  Primroses                         24,000
  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 flower-roots }
    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 1_d._, 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

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 5_s._ 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, 1_s._ 6_d._ 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 5_s._ 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 flower-seeds, 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
shop-keepers. 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 4_d._, 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 1_s._ the quarter of a pound, and it was then 1_s._ 2_d._ to
1_s._ 6_d._ 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 5_s._; perhaps 12_s._; 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 5_s._ weekly, for
a month; giving 200_l._ expended in seeds, with 100_l._ 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 3/25ths of parsley, for example, is more than double
that of 3/25ths 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.)                            „               8
  Wallflower                                   „               8
  Scarlet-beans and Sweet-peas                 „               8
  China-asters and Venus’ looking-glass        „               8
  Lupin and Larkspur                           „               8
  Nasturtium                                   „               8
  Parsley                                     Two             16
  Other Pot-herbs                             One              8
  Mustard and Cress, Lettuce, and the }
    other vegetables                  }       Two             16
  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 2_d._ to 1_s._ 6_d._, 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
50_l._ worth at least; aye, more, when I think of it, nearer 100_l._
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 2_s._ to 10_s._; while in the larger inns,
where, perhaps, an assembly-room, a concert-room, or a club-room,
had to be adorned, along with other apartments, 20_s._ 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 1_d._, 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 200_l._ 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
6_d._ retail, is more than the quantity of mistletoe retailed for
1_s._ 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 2_s._ 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 street-sale. 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 _habitués_ of the
streets in some capacity. To procure as much holly one day, as will
sell for 2_s._ 6_d._ the next, is accounted pretty good work, and 7_s._
6_d._ would be thus realised in six days. But 5_s._ is more frequently
the return of six days’ labour and sale, though a very few have cleared
10_s._, and one man, “with uncommon luck,” once cleared 20_s._ 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 6_s_. in it. I’d been out two Christmases
before. O, yes, I’d forgot. I made 6_d._ over the 6_s._, 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 2_d._ 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 lodging-house). 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 15_s._ each, it amounts to 525_l._

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

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

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 4_d._ for a
big branch or you must take 1_d._ I may have made 1_s._ 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

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

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 30_l._ to 50_l._, 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 }   150,768
    market-sale              }
  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 1/2_d._         £136
  115,200  Wallflowers            „ 1/2_d._          240
   86,400  Mignonette             „   1_d._          360
    1,632  Lilies of the Valley   „ 1/2_d._            3
   20,448  Stocks                 „ 1/2_d._           42
  316,800  Pinks and Carnations   „ 1/2_d._ each     660
  864,000  Moss Roses             „ 1/2_d._  „     1,800
  864,000  China ditto            „ 1/2_d._  „     1,800
  296,640  Lavender               „   1_d._        1,236
              Total annually                      £6,277


                                   per root
   24,000  Primroses             at 1/2_d._      £60
   34,560  Polyanthuses           „   1_d._      144
   28,800  Cowslips               „ 1/2_d._       50
   33,600  Daisies                „   1_d._      140
   46,080  Wallflowers            „   1_d._      192
   28,800  Candy-tufts            „   1_d._      120
   28,800  Daffodils              „ 1/2_d._       60
   38,400  Violets                „ 1/2_d._       80
   30,380  Mignonette             „ 1/2_d._       63
   23,040  Stocks                 „   1_d._       96
   19,200  Pinks and Carnations   „   2_d._      160
    3,456  Lilies of the Valley   „   1_d._       14
   12,960  Pansies                „   1_d._       54
      660  Lilies                 „   2_d._        5
      850  Tulips                 „   2_d._        7
    7,704  Balsams                „   2_d._       64
    3,180  Calceolarias           „   2_d._       26
  253,440  Musk Plants            „   1_d._    1,056
   11,520  London Pride           „   1_d._       48
   25,595  Lupins                 „   1_d._      106
    9,156  China-asters           „   1_d._       38
   63,360  Marigolds              „ 1/2_d._      132
      852  Dahlias                „   6_d._       21
   13,356  Heliotropes            „   2_d._      111
    1,920  Poppies                „   2_d._       16
    6,912  Michaelmas Daisies     „ 1/2_d._       14
               Total annually                 £2,877


  Bunches of               per bunch
   59,040  Holly            at 3_d._      £738
   56,160  Mistletoe         „ 3_d._       702
   26,640  Ivy and Laurel    „ 3_d._       333
    5,400  Lilac             „ 3_d._        67
    1,008  Palm              „ 3_d._        12
    2,520  May               „ 3_d._        31
       Total annually from Markets      £1,883
       Add one-half as shown               591


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


                                        per pot
  38,880  Moss Roses                    at 4_d._    £648
  38,880  China ditto                    „ 2_d._     324
  38,800  Fuschias                       „ 3_d._     485
  12,850  Geraniums  and  Pelargoniums
            (of all kinds)               „ 3_d._     160
          Total annually                          £1,617

The returns give the following aggregate amount of street expenditure:--

  Trees and shrubs     1,388
  Cut Flowers          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.


Under this head I class the street-purveyors of water-cresses, and of
the chickweed, groundsel, plantain, and turf required for cage-birds.
These purveyors seem to be on the outskirts, as it were, of the
costermonger class, and, indeed, the regular costers look down upon
them as an inferior caste. The green-stuff trade is carried on by
very poor persons, and, generally, by children or old people, some of
the old people being lame, or suffering from some infirmity, which,
however, does not prevent their walking about with their commodities.
To the children and infirm class, however, the turf-cutters supply an
exception. The costermongers, as I have intimated, do not resort, and
do not let their children resort, to this traffic. If reduced to the
last shift, they will sell nuts or oranges in preference. The “old
hands” have been “reduced,” as a general rule, from other avocations.
Their homes are in the localities I have specified as inhabited by the

I was informed by a seller of birds, that he thought fewer birds
were kept by poor working-people, and even by working-people who had
regular, though, perhaps, diminished earnings, than was the case six
or eight years ago. At one time, it was not uncommon for a young man
to present his betrothed with a pair of singing-birds in a neat cage;
now such a present, as far as my informant’s knowledge extended--and
he was a sharp intelligent man--was but rarely made. One reason this
man had often heard advanced for poor persons not renewing their
birds, when lost or dead, is pitiful in its plainness--“they eat too
much.” I do not know, that, in such a gift as I have mentioned, there
was any intention on the part of the lover to typify the beauty of
cheerfulness, even in a very close confinement to home. “I can’t tell,
sir,” was said to me, “how it may have been originally, but I never
heard such a thing said much about, though there’s been joking about
the matter, as when would the birds have young ones, and such like. No,
sir; I think it was just a fashion.” Contrary to the custom in more
prosperous establishments, I am satisfied, that, among the labouring
classes, birds are more frequently the pets of the men than of the
women. My bird-dealing informant cited merely his own experience, but
there is no doubt that cage-birds are more extensively kept than ever
in London; consequently there is a greater demand for the “green stuff”
the birds require.


The first coster-cry heard of a morning in the London streets is
that of “Fresh wo-orter-creases.” Those that sell them have to be on
their rounds in time for the mechanics’ breakfast, or the day’s gains
are lost. As the stock-money for this calling need only consist of
a few halfpence, it is followed by the very poorest of the poor;
such as young children, who have been deserted by their parents,
and whose strength is not equal to any very great labour, or by old
men and women, crippled by disease or accident, who in their dread
of a workhouse life, linger on with the few pence they earn by

As winter draws near, the Farringdon cress-market begins long before
daylight. On your way to the City to see this strange sight, the
streets are deserted; in the squares the blinds are drawn down before
the windows, and the shutters closed, so that the very houses seem
asleep. All is so silent that you can hear the rattle of the milkmaids’
cans in the neighbouring streets, or the noisy song of three or four
drunken voices breaks suddenly upon you, as if the singers had turned a
corner, and then dies away in the distance. On the cab-stands, but one
or two crazy cabs are left, the horses dozing with their heads down to
their knees, and the drawn-up windows covered with the breath of the
driver sleeping inside. At the corners of the streets, the bright fires
of the coffee-stalls sparkle in the darkness, and as you walk along,
the policeman, leaning against some gas-lamp, turns his lantern full
upon you, as if in suspicion that one who walks abroad so early could
mean no good to householders. At one house there stands a man, with
dirty boots and loose hair, as if he had just left some saloon, giving
sharp single knocks, and then going into the road and looking up at the
bed-rooms, to see if a light appeared in them. As you near the City,
you meet, if it be a Monday or Friday morning, droves of sheep and
bullocks, tramping quietly along to Smithfield, and carrying a fog of
steam with them, while behind, with his hands in his pockets, and his
dog panting at his heels, walks the sheep-drover.

At the principal entrance to Farringdon-market there is an open space,
running the entire length of the railings in front, and extending from
the iron gates at the entrance to the sheds down the centre of the
large paved court before the shops. In this open space the cresses are
sold, by the salesmen or saleswomen to whom they are consigned, in the
hampers they are brought in from the country.

The shops in the market are shut, the gaslights over the iron gates
burn brightly, and every now and then you hear the half-smothered
crowing of a cock, shut up in some shed or bird-fancier’s shop.
Presently a man comes hurrying along, with a can of hot coffee in
each hand, and his stall on his head, and when he has arranged his
stand by the gates, and placed his white mugs between the railings
on the stone wall, he blows at his charcoal fire, making the bright
sparks fly about at every puff he gives. By degrees the customers are
creeping up, dressed in every style of rags; they shuffle up and down
before the gates, stamping to warm their feet, and rubbing their hands
together till they grate like sandpaper. Some of the boys have brought
large hand-baskets, and carry them with the handles round their necks,
covering the head entirely with the wicker-work as with a hood; others
have their shallows fastened to their backs with a strap, and one
little girl, with the bottom of her gown tattered into a fringe like
a blacksmith’s apron, stands shivering in a large pair of worn-out
Vestris boots, holding in her blue hands a bent and rusty tea-tray.
A few poor creatures have made friends with the coffee-man, and are
allowed to warm their fingers at the fire under the cans, and as the
heat strikes into them, they grow sleepy and yawn.

The market--by the time we reach it--has just begun; one dealer has
taken his seat, and sits motionless with cold--for it wants but a month
to Christmas--with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his gray
driving coat. Before him is an opened hamper, with a candle fixed in
the centre of the bright green cresses, and as it shines through the
wicker sides of the basket, it casts curious patterns on the ground--as
a night shade does. Two or three customers, with their “shallows” slung
over their backs, and their hands poked into the bosoms of their gowns,
are bending over the hamper, the light from which tinges their swarthy
features, and they rattle their halfpence and speak coaxingly to the
dealer, to hurry him in their bargains.

Just as the church clocks are striking five, a stout saleswoman enters
the gates, and instantly a country-looking fellow, in a wagoner’s cap
and smock-frock, arranges the baskets he has brought up to London.
The other ladies are soon at their posts, well wrapped up in warm
cloaks, over their thick shawls, and sit with their hands under their
aprons, talking to the loungers, whom they call by their names. Now
the business commences; the customers come in by twos and threes, and
walk about, looking at the cresses, and listening to the prices asked.
Every hamper is surrounded by a black crowd, bending over till their
heads nearly meet, their foreheads and cheeks lighted up by the candle
in the centre. The saleswomen’s voices are heard above the noise of the
mob, sharply answering all objections that may be made to the quality
of their goods. “They’re rather spotty, mum,” says an Irishman, as
he examines one of the leaves. “No more spots than a newborn babe,
Dennis,” answers the lady tartly, and then turns to a new comer. At
one basket, a street-seller in an old green cloak, has spread out a
rusty shawl to receive her bunches, and by her stands her daughter, in
a thin cotton dress, patched like a quilt. “Ah! Mrs. Dolland,” cried
the saleswoman in a gracious tone, “can you keep yourself warm? it
bites the fingers like biling water, it do.” At another basket, an old
man, with long gray hair streaming over a kind of policeman’s cape,
is bitterly complaining of the way he has been treated by another
saleswoman. “He bought a lot of her, the other morning, and by daylight
they were quite white; for he only made threepence on his best day.”
“Well, Joe,” returns the lady, “you should come to them as knows you,
and allers treats you well.”

These saleswomen often call to each other from one end of the market
to the other. If any quarrel take place at one of the hampers, as
frequently it does, the next neighbour is sure to say something. “Pinch
him well, Sally,” cried one saleswoman to another; “pinch him well; _I_
do when I’ve a chance.” “It’s no use,” was the answer; “I might as well
try to pinch a elephant.”

One old wrinkled woman, carrying a basket with an oilcloth bottom, was
asked by a buxom rosy dealer, “Now, Nancy, what’s for you?” But the
old dame was surly with the cold, and sneering at the beauty of the
saleswoman, answered, “Why don’t you go and get a sweetheart; sich as
you aint fit for sich as we.” This caused angry words, and Nancy was
solemnly requested “to draw it mild, like a good soul.”

As the morning twilight came on, the paved court was crowded with
purchasers. The sheds and shops at the end of the market grew every
moment more distinct, and a railway-van, laden with carrots, came
rumbling into the yard. The pigeons, too, began to fly on to the sheds,
or walk about the paving-stones, and the gas-man came round with his
ladder to turn out the lamps. Then every one was pushing about; the
children crying, as their naked feet were trodden upon, and the women
hurrying off, with their baskets or shawls filled with cresses, and
the bunch of rushes in their hands. In one corner of the market,
busily tying up their bunches, were three or four girls seated on the
stones, with their legs curled up under them, and the ground near them
was green with the leaves they had thrown away. A saleswoman, seeing
me looking at the group, said to me, “Ah! you should come here of a
summer’s morning, and then you’d see ’em, sitting tying up, young and
old, upwards of a hundred poor things as thick as crows in a ploughed

[Illustration: THE GROUNDSEL MAN

“Chick-weed and Grun-sell!”

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

As it grew late, and the crowd had thinned; none but the very poorest
of the cress-sellers were left. Many of these had come without money,
others had their halfpence tied up carefully in their shawl-ends, as
though they dreaded the loss. A sickly-looking boy, of about five,
whose head just reached above the hampers, now crept forward, treading
with his blue naked feet over the cold stones as a cat does over wet
ground. At his elbows and knees, his skin showed in gashes through
the rents in his clothes, and he looked so frozen, that the buxom
saleswoman called to him, asking if his mother had gone home. The
boy knew her well, for without answering her question, he went up to
her, and, as he stood shivering on one foot, said, “Give us a few old
cresses, Jinney,” and in a few minutes was running off with a green
bundle under his arm. All of the saleswomen seemed to be of kindly
natures, for at another stall an old dame, whose rags seemed to be
beyond credit, was paying for some cresses she had long since been
trusted with, and excusing herself for the time that had passed since
the transaction. As I felt curious on the point of the honesty of the
poor, I asked the saleswoman when she was alone, whether they lost much
by giving credit. “It couldn’t be much,” she answered, “if they all of
them decamped.” But they were generally honest, and paid back, often
reminding her of credit given that she herself had forgotten. Whenever
she lost anything, it was by the very very poor ones; “though it aint
their fault, poor things,” she added in a kindly tone, “for when they
keeps away from here, it’s either the workhouse or the churchyard as
stops them.”

As you walk home--although the apprentice is knocking at the master’s
door--the little water-cress girls are crying their goods in every
street. Some of them are gathered round the pumps, washing the leaves
and piling up the bunches in their baskets, that are tattered and
worn as their own clothing; in some of the shallows the holes at the
bottom have been laced up or darned together with rope and string, or
twigs and split laths have been fastened across; whilst others are
lined with oilcloth, or old pieces of sheet-tin. Even by the time the
cress-market is over, it is yet so early that the maids are beating
the mats in the road, and mechanics, with their tool-baskets swung
over their shoulders, are still hurrying to their work. To visit
Farringdon-market early on a Monday morning, is the only proper way to
judge of the fortitude and courage and perseverance of the poor. As
Douglas Jerrold has beautifully said, “there is goodness, like wild
honey, hived in strange nooks and corners of the earth.” These poor
cress-sellers belong to a class so poor that their extreme want alone
would almost be an excuse for theft, and they can be trusted paying
the few pence they owe even though they hunger for it. It must require
no little energy of conscience on the part of the lads to make them
resist the temptations around them, and refuse the luring advice of
the young thieves they meet at the low lodging-house. And yet they
prefer the early rising--the walk to market with naked feet along the
cold stones--the pinched meal--and the day’s hard labour to earn the
few halfpence--to the thief’s comparatively easy life. The heroism of
the unknown poor is a thing to set even the dullest marvelling, and in
no place in all London is the virtue of the humblest--both young and
old--so conspicuous as among the watercress-buyers at Farringdon-market.


The dealers in water-cresses are generally very old or very young
people, and it is a trade greatly in the hands of women. The cause
of this is, that the children are sent out by their parents “to
get a loaf of bread somehow” (to use the words of an old man in the
trade), and the very old take to it because they are unable to do
hard labour, and they strive to keep away from the workhouse--(“I’d
do anything before I’d go there--sweep the crossings, or anything:
but I should have had to have gone to the house before, if it hadn’t
been for my wife. I’m sixty-two,” said one who had been sixteen
years at the trade). The old people are both men and women. The men
have been sometimes one thing, and sometimes another. “I’ve been a
porter myself,” said one, “jobbing about in the markets, or wherever
I could get a job to do. Then there’s one old man goes about selling
water-cresses who’s been a seafaring man; he’s very old, he is--older
than what I am, sir. Many a one has been a good mechanic in his younger
days, only he’s got too old for labour. The old women have, many of
them, been laundresses, only they can’t now do the work, you see, and
so they’re glad to pick up a crust anyhow. Nelly, I know, has lost her
husband, and she hasn’t nothing else but her few creases to keep her.
She’s as good, honest, hard-working a creature as ever were, for what
she can do--poor old soul! The young people are, most of them, girls.
There are some boys, but girls are generally put to it by the poor
people. There’s Mary Macdonald, she’s about fourteen. Her father is a
bricklayer’s labourer. He’s an Englishman, and he sends little Mary out
to get a halfpenny or two. He gets sometimes a couple of days’ work in
the week. He don’t get more now, I’m sure, and he’s got three children
to keep out of that; so all on ’em that can work are obligated to do
something. The other two children are so small they can’t do nothing
yet. Then there’s Louisa; she’s about twelve, and she goes about with
creases like I do. I don’t think she’s got ne’er a father. I know she’s
a mother alive, and _she_ sells creases like her daughter. The mother’s
about fifty odd, I dare say. The sellers generally go about with an
arm-basket, like a greengrocer’s at their side, or a ‘shallow’ in front
of them; and plenty of them carry a small tin tray before them, slung
round their neck. Ah! it would make your heart ache if you was to go
to Farringdon-market early, this cold weather, and see the poor little
things there without shoes and stockings, and their feet quite blue
with the cold--oh, that they are, and many on ’em don’t know how to set
one foot before the t’other, poor things. You would say they wanted
something give to ’em.”

The small tin tray is generally carried by the young children. The
cresses are mostly bought in Farringdon-market: “The usual time to go
to the market is between five and six in the morning, and from that to
seven,” said one informant; “myself, I am generally down in the market
by five. I was there this morning at five, and bitter cold it was, I
give you my word. We poor old people feel it dreadful. Years ago I
didn’t mind cold, but I feel it now cruel bad, to be sure. Sometimes,
when I’m turning up my things, I don’t hardly know whether I’ve got
’em in my hands or not; can’t even pick off a dead leaf. But that’s
nothing to the poor little things without shoes. Why, bless you, I’ve
seen ’em stand and cry two and three together, with the cold. Ah!
my heart has ached for ’em over and over again. I’ve said to ’em,
I wonder why your mother sends you out, that I have; and they said
they was obligated to try and get a penny for breakfast. We buy the
water-cresses by the ‘hand.’ One hand will make about five halfpenny
bundles. There’s more call for ’em in the spring of the year than what
there is in the winter. Why, they’re reckoned good for sweetening the
blood in the spring; but, for my own eating, I’d sooner have the crease
in the winter than I would have it in the spring of the year. There’s
an old woman sits in Farringdon-market, of the name of Burrows, that’s
sot there twenty-four years, and she’s been selling out creases to us
all that time.

“The sellers goes to market with a few pence. I myself goes down there
and lays out sometimes my 4_d._; that’s what I laid out this morning.
Sometimes I lay out only 2_d._ and 3_d._, according as how I has the
halfpence in my pocket. Many a one goes down to the market with only
three halfpence, and glad to have that to get a halfpenny, or anything,
so as to earn a mouthful of bread--a bellyful that they can’t get no
how. Ah, many a time I walked through the streets, and picked a piece
of bread that the servants chucked out of the door--may be to the
birds. I’ve gone and picked it up when I’ve been right hungry. Thinks
I, I can eat that as well as the birds. None of the sellers ever goes
down to the market with less than a penny. They won’t make less than
a pennorth, that’s one ‘hand,’ and if the little thing sells that,
she won’t earn more than three halfpence out of it. After they have
bought the creases they generally take them to the pump to wet them.
I generally pump upon mine in Hatton-garden. It’s done to make them
look nice and fresh all the morning, so that the wind shouldn’t make
them flag. You see they’ve been packed all night in the hamper, and
they get dry. Some ties them up in ha’porths as they walks along. Many
of them sit down on the steps of St. Andrew’s Church and make them up
into bunches. You’ll see plenty of them there of a morning between
five and six. Plenty, poor little dear souls, sitting there,” said the
old man to me. There the hand is parcelled out into five halfpenny
bunches. In the summer the dealers often go to market and lay out as
much as 1_s._ “On Saturday morning, this time of year, I buys as many
as nine hands--there’s more call for ’em on Saturday and Sunday morning
than on any other days; and we always has to buy on Saturdays what
we want for Sundays--there an’t no market on that day, sir. At the
market sufficient creases are bought by the sellers for the morning
and afternoon as well. In the morning some begin crying their creases
through the streets at half-past six, and others about seven. They go
to different parts, but there is scarcely a place but what some goes
to--there are so many of us now--there’s twenty to one to what there
used to be. Why, they’re so thick down at the market in the summer
time, that you might bowl balls along their heads, and all a fighting
for the creases. There’s a regular scramble, I can assure you, to get
at ’em, so as to make a halfpenny out of them. I should think in the
spring mornings there’s 400 or 500 on ’em down at Farringdon-market
all at one time--between four and five in the morning--if not more
than that, and as fast as they keep going out, others keep coming
in. I think there is more than a thousand, young and old, about the
streets in the trade. The working classes are the principal of the
customers. The bricklayers, and carpenters, and smiths, and plumbers,
leaving work and going home to breakfast at eight o’clock, purchase the
chief part of them. A great many are sold down the courts and mews,
and bye streets, and very few are got rid of in the squares and the
neighbourhood of the more respectable houses. Many are sold in the
principal thoroughfares--a large number in the City. There is a man who
stands close to the Post-office, at the top of Newgate-street, winter
and summer, who sells a great quantity of bunches every morning. This
man frequently takes between 4_s._ and 5_s._ of a winter’s morning,
and about 10_s._ a day in the summer.” “Sixteen years ago,” said the
old man who gave me the principal part of this information, “I could
come out and take my 18_s._ of a Saturday morning, and 5_s._ on a
Sunday morning as well; but now I think myself very lucky if I can
take my 1_s._ 3_d._, and it’s only on two mornings in the week that I
can get that.” The hucksters of watercresses are generally an honest,
industrious, striving class of persons. The young girls are said to
be well-behaved, and to be the daughters of poor struggling people.
The old men and women are persons striving to save themselves from the
workhouse. The old and young people generally travel nine and ten miles
in the course of the day. They start off to market at four and five,
and are out on their morning rounds from seven till nine, and on their
afternoon rounds from half-past two to five in the evening. They travel
at the rate of two miles an hour. “If it wasn’t for my wife, I must go
to the workhouse outright,” said the old watercress man. “Ah, I do’nt
know what I should do without her, I can assure you. She earns about
1_s._ 3_d._ a day. She takes in a little washing, and keeps a mangle.
When I’m at home I turn the mangle for her. The mangle is my own. When
my wife’s mother was alive she lent us the money to buy it, and as we
earnt the money we paid her back so much a week. It is _that_ what has
kept us together, or else we shouldn’t have been as we are. The mangle
we give 50_s._ for, and it brings us in now 1_s._ 3_d._ a day with the
washing. My wife is younger than I am. She is about thirty-five years
old. We have got two children. One is thirteen and the other fifteen.
They’ve both got learning, and are both in situations. I always sent
’em to school. Though I can’t neither read nor write myself, I wished
to make them some little scholards. I paid a penny a week for ’em at
the school. Lady M---- has always given me my Christmas dinner for the
last five years, and God bless her for it--that I _do_ say indeed.”


The little watercress girl who gave me the following statement,
although only eight years of age, had entirely lost all childish ways,
and was, indeed, in thoughts and manner, a woman. There was something
cruelly pathetic in hearing this infant, so young that her features had
scarcely formed themselves, talking of the bitterest struggles of life,
with the calm earnestness of one who had endured them all. I did not
know how to talk with her. At first I treated her as a child, speaking
on childish subjects; so that I might, by being familiar with her,
remove all shyness, and get her to narrate her life freely. I asked
her about her toys and her games with her companions; but the look of
amazement that answered me soon put an end to any attempt at fun on
my part. I then talked to her about the parks, and whether she ever
went to them. “The parks!” she replied in wonder, “where are they?” I
explained to her, telling her that they were large open places with
green grass and tall trees, where beautiful carriages drove about, and
people walked for pleasure, and children played. Her eyes brightened
up a little as I spoke; and she asked, half doubtingly, “Would they
let such as me go there--just to look?” All her knowledge seemed to
begin and end with water-cresses, and what they fetched. She knew no
more of London than that part she had seen on her rounds, and believed
that no quarter of the town was handsomer or pleasanter than it was at
Farringdon-market or at Clerkenwell, where she lived. Her little face,
pale and thin with privation, was wrinkled where the dimples ought to
have been, and she would sigh frequently. When some hot dinner was
offered to her, she would not touch it, because, if she eat too much,
“it made her sick,” she said; “and she wasn’t used to meat, only on a

The poor child, although the weather was severe, was dressed in a thin
cotton gown, with a threadbare shawl wrapped round her shoulders. She
wore no covering to her head, and the long rusty hair stood out in all
directions. When she walked she shuffled along, for fear that the large
carpet slippers that served her for shoes should slip off her feet.

“I go about the streets with water-creases, crying, ‘Four bunches a
penny, water-creases.’ I am just eight years old--that’s all, and I’ve
a big sister, and a brother and a sister younger than I am. On and off,
I’ve been very near a twelvemonth in the streets. Before that, I had
to take care of a baby for my aunt. No, it wasn’t heavy--it was only
two months old; but I minded it for ever such a time--till it could
walk. It was a very nice little baby, not a very pretty one; but, if
I touched it under the chin, it would laugh. Before I had the baby, I
used to help mother, who was in the fur trade; and, if there was any
slits in the fur, I’d sew them up. My mother learned me to needle-work
and to knit when I was about five. I used to go to school, too; but
I wasn’t there long. I’ve forgot all about it now, it’s such a time
ago; and mother took me away because the master whacked me, though the
missus use’n’t to never touch me. I didn’t like him at all. What do you
think? he hit me three times, ever so hard, across the face with his
cane, and made me go dancing down stairs; and when mother saw the marks
on my cheek, she went to blow him up, but she couldn’t see him--he was
afraid. That’s why I left school.

“The creases is so bad now, that I haven’t been out with ’em for three
days. They’re so cold, people won’t buy ’em; for when I goes up to
them, they say, ‘They’ll freeze our bellies.’ Besides, in the market,
they won’t sell a ha’penny handful now--they’re ris to a penny and
tuppence. In summer there’s lots, and ’most as cheap as dirt; but I
have to be down at Farringdon-market between four and five, or else
I can’t get any creases, because everyone almost--especially the
Irish--is selling them, and they’re picked up so quick. Some of the
saleswomen--we never calls ’em ladies--is very kind to us children,
and some of them altogether spiteful. The good one will give you a
bunch for nothing, when they’re cheap; but the others, cruel ones, if
you try to bate them a farden less than they ask you, will say, ‘Go
along with you, you’re no good.’ I used to go down to market along with
another girl, as must be about fourteen, ’cos she does her back hair
up. When we’ve bought a lot, we sits down on a door-step, and ties
up the bunches. We never goes home to breakfast till we’ve sold out;
but, if it’s very late, then I buys a penn’orth of pudden, which is
very nice with gravy. I don’t know hardly one of the people, as goes
to Farringdon, to talk to; they never speaks to me, so I don’t speak
to them. We children never play down there, ’cos we’re thinking of
our living. No; people never pities me in the street--excepting one
gentleman, and he says, says he, ‘What do you do out so soon in the
morning?’ but he gave me nothink--he only walked away.

“It’s very cold before winter comes on reg’lar--specially getting up
of a morning. I gets up in the dark by the light of the lamp in the
court. When the snow is on the ground, there’s no creases. I bears the
cold--you must; so I puts my hands under my shawl, though it hurts ’em
to take hold of the creases, especially when we takes ’em to the pump
to wash ’em. No; I never see any children crying--it’s no use.

“Sometimes I make a great deal of money. One day I took 1_s._ 6_d._,
and the creases cost 6_d._; but it isn’t often I get such luck as
that. I oftener makes 3_d._ or 4_d._ than 1_s._; and then I’m at work,
crying, ‘Creases, four bunches a penny, creases!’ from six in the
morning to about ten. What do you mean by mechanics?--I don’t know what
they are. The shops buys most of me. Some of ’em says, ‘Oh! I ain’t
a-goin’ to give a penny for these;’ and they want ’em at the same price
as I buys ’em at.

“I always give mother my money, she’s so very good to me. She don’t
often beat me; but, when she do, she don’t play with me. She’s very
poor, and goes out cleaning rooms sometimes, now she don’t work at the
fur. I ain’t got no father, he’s a father-in-law. No; mother ain’t
married again--he’s a father-in-law. He grinds scissors, and he’s very
good to me. No; I dont mean by that that he says kind things to me,
for he never hardly speaks. When I gets home, after selling creases,
I stops at home. I puts the room to rights: mother don’t make me do
it, I does it myself. I cleans the chairs, though there’s only two to
clean. I takes a tub and scrubbing-brush and flannel, and scrubs the
floor--that’s what I do three or four times a week.

“I don’t have no dinner. Mother gives me two slices of bread-and-butter
and a cup of tea for breakfast, and then I go till tea, and has the
same. We has meat of a Sunday, and, of course, I should like to have
it every day. Mother has just the same to eat as we has, but she takes
more tea--three cups, sometimes. No; I never has no sweet-stuff;
I never buy none--I don’t like it. Sometimes we has a game of
‘honey-pots’ with the girls in the court, but not often. Me and Carry
H---- carries the little ’uns. We plays, too, at ‘kiss-in-the-ring.’
I knows a good many games, but I don’t play at ’em, ’cos going out
with creases tires me. On a Friday night, too, I goes to a Jew’s house
till eleven o’clock on Saturday night. All I has to do is to snuff the
candles and poke the fire. You see they keep their Sabbath then, and
they won’t touch anything; so they gives me my wittals and 1-1/2_d._,
and I does it for ’em. I have a reg’lar good lot to eat. Supper of
Friday night, and tea after that, and fried fish of a Saturday morning,
and meat for dinner, and tea, and supper, and I like it very well.

“Oh, yes; I’ve got some toys at home. I’ve a fire-place, and a box of
toys, and a knife and fork, and two little chairs. The Jews gave ’em
to me where I go to on a Friday, and that’s why I said they was very
kind to me. I never had no doll; but I misses little sister--she’s only
two years old. We don’t sleep in the same room; for father and mother
sleeps with little sister in the one pair, and me and brother and other
sister sleeps in the top room. I always goes to bed at seven, ’cos I
has to be up so early.

“I am a capital hand at bargaining--but only at buying watercreases.
They can’t take me in. If the woman tries to give me a small handful of
creases, I says, ‘I ain’t a goin’ to have that for a ha’porth,’ and I
go to the next basket, and so on, all round. I know the quantities very
well. For a penny I ought to have a full market hand, or as much as I
could carry in my arms at one time, without spilling. For 3_d._ I has
a lap full, enough to earn about a shilling; and for 6_d._ I gets as
many as crams my basket. I can’t read or write, but I knows how many
pennies goes to a shilling, why, twelve, of course, but I don’t know
how many ha’pence there is, though there’s two to a penny. When I’ve
bought 3_d._ of creases, I ties ’em up into as many little bundles
as I can. They must look biggish, or the people won’t buy them, some
puffs them out as much as they’ll go. All my money I earns I puts in a
club and draws it out to buy clothes with. It’s better than spending
it in sweet-stuff, for them as has a living to earn. Besides it’s like
a child to care for sugar-sticks, and not like one who’s got a living
and vittals to earn. I aint a child, and I shan’t be a woman till I’m
twenty, but I’m past eight, I am. I don’t know nothing about what I
earns during the year, I only know how many pennies goes to a shilling,
and two ha’pence goes to a penny, and four fardens goes to a penny. I
knows, too, how many fardens goes to tuppence--eight. That’s as much as
I wants to know for the markets.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The market returns I have obtained show the following result of
the quantity vended in the streets, and of the receipts by the


                 |                     |  Proportion
                 |  Quantity sold      |  retailed in
      Market.    |    wholesale.       |  the Streets.
  Covent Garden  |  1,578,000 bunches  |  one-eighth.
  Farringdon     | 12,960,000    „     |  one-half.
  Borough        |    180,000    „     |  one-half.
  Spitalfields   |    180,000    „     |  one-half.
  Portman        |     60,000    „     |  one-third.
                 | ----------          |
    Total        | 14,958,000    „     |

From this sale the street cress-sellers receive:--

                  Bunches.                    Receipts.
  Farringdon     6,480,000  1/2_d._ per bunch  £13,500
  Covent Garden     16,450          „               34
  Borough           90,000          „              187
  Spitalfields      90,000          „              187
  Portman           20,000          „               41

The discrepancy in the quantity sold in the respective markets is to be
accounted for by the fact, that Farringdon is the water-cress market
to which are conveyed the qualities, large-leaved and big-stalked,
that suit the street-folk. Of this description of cress they purchase
one-half of all that is sold in Farringdon; of the finer, and smaller,
and brown-leaved cress sold there, they purchase hardly any. At Covent
Garden only the finer sorts of cress are in demand, and, consequently,
the itinerants buy only an eighth in that market, and they are not
encouraged there. They purchase half the quantity in the Borough,
and the same in Spitalfields, and a third at Portman. I have before
mentioned that 500 might be taken as the number supported by the sale
of “creases;” that is, 500 families, or at least 1,000 individuals. The
total amount received is nearly 14,000_l._, and this apportioned among
1,000 street-sellers, gives a weekly receipt of 5_s._ 5_d._, with a
profit of 3_s._ 3_d._ per individual.

The discrepancy is further accounted for because the other market
salesmen buy cresses at Farringdon; but I have given under the head of
Farringdon _all_ that is sold to those other markets to be disposed to
the street-sellers, and the returns from the other markets are of the
cresses carried _direct_ there, apart from any purchases at Farringdon.


On a former occasion (in the _Morning Chronicle_) I mentioned that
I received a letter informing me that a woman, residing in one of
the courts about Saffron-hill, was making braces, and receiving only
1_s._ for four dozen of them. I was assured she was a most deserving
character, strictly sober, and not receiving parochial relief. “Her
husband,” my informant added, “was paralysed, and endeavoured to
assist his family by gathering green food for birds. They are in deep
distress, but their character is irreproachable.” I found the couple
located up a court, the entrance to which was about as narrow as the
opening to a sentry-box, and on each side lolled groups of labourers
and costermongers, with short black pipes in their mouths. As I dived
into the court, a crowd followed me to see whither I was going. The
brace-maker lived on the first floor of a crazy, fœtid house. I
ascended the stairs, and the banisters, from which the rails had all
been purloined, gave way in my hands. I found the woman, man, and
their family busy at their tea-dinner. In a large broken chair, beside
the fire-place, was the old paralysed man, dressed in a ragged greasy
fustian coat, his beard unshorn, and his hair in the wildest disorder.
On the edge of the bed sat a cleanly looking woman, his wife, with a
black apron on. Standing by the table was a blue-eyed laughing and
shoeless boy, with an old camlet cape pinned over his shoulders. Next
him was a girl in a long grey pinafore, with her hair cut close to her
head, with the exception of a few locks in front, which hung down over
her forehead like a dirty fringe. On a chair near the window stood a
basket half full of chickweed and groundsel, and two large cabbages.
There was a stuffed linnet on the mantel-piece and an empty cage
hanging outside the window. In front of the window-sill was the small
imitation of a gate and palings, so popular among the workpeople. On
the table were a loaf, a few mugs of milkless tea and a small piece of
butter in a saucer. I had scarcely entered when the mother began to
remove the camlet cape from the boy’s shoulders, and to slip a coarse
clean pinafore over his head instead. At present I have only to deal
with the trade of the husband, who made the following statement:

“I sell chickweed and grunsell, and turfs for larks. That’s all I
sell, unless it’s a few nettles that’s ordered. I believe they’re for
tea, sir. I gets the chickweed at Chalk Farm. I pay nothing for it. I
gets it out of the public fields. Every morning about seven I goes for
it. The grunsell a gentleman gives me leave to get out of his garden:
that’s down Battle-bridge way, in the Chalk-road, leading to Holloway.
I gets there every morning about nine. I goes there straight. After I
have got my chickweed, I generally gathers enough of each to make up
a dozen halfpenny bunches. The turfs I buys. A young man calls here
with them. I pay 2_d._ a dozen for ’em to him. He gets them himself.
Sometimes he cuts ’em at Kilburn Wells; and Notting-hill he goes to
sometimes, I believe. He hires a spring barrow, weekly, to take them
about. He pays 4_d._ a day, I believe, for the barrow. He sells the
turfs to the bird-shops, and to such as me. He sells a few to some
private places. I gets the nettles at Highgate. I don’t do much in
the nettle line--there ain’t much call for it. After I’ve gathered
my things I puts them in my basket, and slings ’em at my back, and
starts round London. Low Marrabun I goes to always of a Saturday and
Wednesday. I goes to St. Pancras on a Tuesday. I visit Clerkenwell, and
Russell-square, and round about there, on a Monday. I goes down about
Covent-garden and the Strand on a Thursday. I does High Marrabun on a
Friday, because I aint able to do so much on that day, for I gathers
my stuff on the Friday for Saturday. I find Low Marrabun the best of
my beats. I cry ‘chickweed and grunsell’ as I goes along. I don’t say
‘for young singing birds.’ It is usual, I know, but _I_ never did.
I’ve been at the business about eighteen year. I’m out in usual till
about five in the evening. I never stop to eat. I’m walking all the
time. I has my breakfast afore I starts, and my tea when I comes home.”
Here the woman shivered. I turned round and found the fire was quite
out. I asked them whether they usually sat without one. The answer
was, “We most generally raise a pennyworth, some how, just to boil the
kettle with.” I inquired whether she was cold, and she assured me she
wasn’t. “It was the blood,” she said, “that ran through her like ice
sometimes.” “I am a walking ten hours every day--wet or dry,” the man
continued. “I don’t stand nice much about that. I can’t go much above
one mile and a half an hour, owing to my right side being paralysed.
My leg and foot and all is quite dead. I goes with a stick.” [The
wife brought the stick out from a corner of the room to show me. It
was an old peculiarly carved one, with a bird rudely cut out of wood
for the handle, and a snake twisting itself up the stick.] “I walk
fifteen miles every day of my life, that I do--quite that--excepting
Sunday, in course. I generally sell the chickweed and grunsell and
turfs, all to the houses, not to the shops. The young man as cut the
turf gathers grunsell as well for the shops. They’re tradespeople and
gentlefolks’ houses together that I sells to--such as keeps canaries,
or goldfinches, or linnets. I charge 1/2_d._ a bunch for chickweed and
grunsell together. It’s the regular charge. The nettles is ordered in
certain quantities; I don’t get them unless they’re ordered: I sells
these in three-pennn’orths at a time. Why, Saturday is my best day,
and that’s the reason why I can’t spare time to gather on that day. On
Saturday I dare say I gets rid on two dozen bunches of chickweed and
grunsell. On the other days, sometimes, I goes out and don’t sell above
five or six bunches; at other times I get rid on a dozen; that I call
a tidy day’s work for any other day but a Saturday, and some days I
don’t sell as much as a couple of bunches in the whole day. Wednesday
is my next best day after Saturday. On a Wednesday, sometimes, I sell
a dozen and a half. In the summer I does much better than in winter.
They gives it more to the birds then, and changes it oftener. I’ve
seed a matter of eight or nine people that sell chickweed and grunsell
like myself in the fields where I goes to gather it. They mostly all
goes to where I do to get mine. They are a great many that sells
grunsell about the streets in London, like I do. I dare say there is a
hundred, and far more nor that, taking one place with another. I takes
my nettles to ladies’ houses. They considers the nettles good for the
blood, and drinks ’em at tea, mostly in the spring and autumn. In the
spring I generally sells three threepenn’orths of ’em a week, and in
the autumn about two threepenn’orths. The ladies I sell the nettles to
are mostly sickly, but sometimes they aint, and has only a breaking
out in the skin, or in their face. The nettles are mostly taken in Low
Marrabun. I gathers more than all for Great Titchfield-street. The
turfs I sell mostly in London-street, in Marrabun and John-street,
and Carburton-street, and Portland-street, and Berners, and all about
there. I sells about three dozen of turfs a week. I sells them at three
and four a penny. I charges them at three a penny to gentlefolks and
four a penny to tradespeople. I pays 2_d._ a dozen for ’em and so makes
from 1_d._ to 2_d._ a dozen out of ’em. I does trifling with these
in the winter--about two dozen a week, but always three dozen in the
summer. Of the chickweed and grunsell I sells from six to seven dozen
bunches a week in the summer, and about four or five dozen bunches
in the winter. I sells mostly to regular customers, and a very few
to chance ones that meet me in the street. The chance customers come
mostly in the summer times. Altogether I should say with my regular
and chance customers I make from 4_s._ to 5_s._ a week in the summer,
and from 3_s._ to 4_s._ in the winter. That’s as near as I can tell.
Last Monday I was out all day, and took 1-1/2_d._; Tuesday I took
about 5-1/2_d._; Wednesday I got 9-1/2_d._; Thursday I can’t hardly
recollect, not to tell the truth about it. But oh, dear me, yes I
wasn’t allowed to go out on that day. We was given to understand
nothing was allowed to be sold on that day. They told us it were the
Thanksgiving-day. I was obliged to fast on that day. We did have a
little in the morning, a trifle, but not near enough. Friday I came
home with nigh upon 6_d._, and Saturday I got 1_s._, and 3_d._ after
when I went out at night. I goes into Leather-lane every Saturday
night, and stands with my basket there, so that altogether, last week
I made 3_s._ 1-1/2_d._ But that was a slack week with me, owing to my
having lost Thursday. If it hadn’t been for that I should have made
near upon 4_s._ We felt the loss very severely. Prices have come down
dreadful with us. The same bunches as I sell now for 1/2_d._ I used to
get 1_d._ for nine or ten years ago. I dare say I could earn then, take
one day with another, such a thing as 7_s._ a week, summer and winter
through. There’s so many at it now to what there was afore, that it’s
difficult to get a living, and the ladies are very hard with a body.
They tries to beat me down, and particular in the matter of turfs. They
tell me they can buy half-a-dozen for 1_d._, so I’m obligated to let
’em have three or four. There’s a many women at the business. I hardly
know which is the most, men or women. There’s pretty nigh as much of
one as the other, I think. I am a bed-sacking weaver by trade. When I
worked at it I used to get 15_s._ a week regularly. But I was struck
with paralysis nearly nineteen years ago, and lost the use of all one
side, so I was obleeged to turn to summut else. Another grunseller
told me on the business, and what he got, and I thought I couldn’t do
no better. That’s a favourite linnet. We had that one stuffed there. A
young man that I knew stuffed it for me. I was very sorry when the poor
thing died. I’ve got another little linnet up there.” “I’m particular
fond of little birds,” said the wife. “I never was worse off than I am
now. I pays 2_s._ a week rent, and we has, take one time with another,
about 3_s._ for the four of us to subsist upon for the whole seven
days; yes, that, take one time with another, is generally what I do
have. We very seldom has any meat. This day week we got a pound of
pieces. I gave 4_d._ for ’em. Everything that will pledge I’ve got in
pawn. I’ve been obliged to let them go. I can’t exactly say how much
I’ve got in pledge, but you can see the tickets.” [The wife brought out
a tin box full of duplicates. They were for the usual articles--coats,
shawls, shirts, sheets, handkerchiefs, indeed almost every article
of wearing-apparel and bedding. The sums lent were mostly 6_d._ and
9_d._, while some ran as high as 2_s._ The dates of many were last
year, and these had been backed for three months.] “I’ve been paying
interest for many of the things there for seven years. I pay for the
backing 2-1/2_d._, that is 1_d._ for the backing, and 1-1/2_d._ for the
three months’ interest. I pay 6_d._ a year interest on every one of the
tickets. If its only 3_d._, I have to pay 1/2_d._ a month interest just
the same, but nothing for the ticket when we put it in.” The number of
duplicates was 26, and the gross sum amounted to 1_l._ 4_s._ 8_d._ One
of the duplicates was for 4_d._; nine were for 6_d._, two for 9_d._,
nine were for 1_s._, two for 1_s._ 6_d._, one for 1_s._ 3_d._, one for
1_s._ 7_d._ and two for 2_s._ “The greatest comfort I should like to
have would be something more on our beds. We lay dreadful cold of a
night, on account of being thin clad. I have no petticoats at all. We
have no blankets--of late years I haven’t had any. The warm clothing
would be the greatest blessing I could ask. I’m not at all discontented
at my lot. That wouldn’t mend it. We strive and do the best we can, and
may as well be contented over it. I think its God’s will we should be
as we are. Providence is kind to me, even badly off as we are. I know
it’s all for the best.”

There are no “pitches,” or stands, for the sale of groundsel in the
streets; but, from the best information I could acquire, there are now
1,000 itinerants selling groundsel, each person selling, as an average,
18 bunches a day. We thus have 5,616,000 bunches a year, which, at
1/2_d._ each, realise 11,700_l._--about 4_s._ 2_d._ per week per head
of sellers of groundsel. The “oldest hand” in the trade is the man
whose statement and likeness I give. The sale continues through the
year, but “the groundsel” season extends from April to September; in
those months 24 bunches, per individual seller, is the extent of the
traffic, in the other months half that quantity, giving the average of
18 bunches.

The capital required for groundsel-selling is 4_d._ for a brown
wicker-basket; leather strap to sling it from the shoulder, 6_d._; in
all, 10_d._ No knife is necessary; they pluck the groundsel.

Chickweed is only sold in the summer, and is most generally mixed with
groundsel and plantain. The chickweed and plantain, together, are but
half the sale of groundsel, and that only for five months, adding, to
the total amount, 2,335_l._ But this adds little to the profits of the
regular itinerants; for, when there is the best demand, there are the
greatest number of sellers, who in winter seek some other business. The
total amount of “green stuff” expended upon birds, as supplied by the
street-sellers, I give at the close of my account of the trade of those

Many of the groundsel and chickweed-sellers--for the callings are
carried on together--who are aged men, were formerly brimstone-match
sellers, who “didn’t like to take to the lucifers.”

On the publication of this account in the _Morning Chronicle_,
several sums were forwarded to the office of that journal for the
benefit of this family. These were the means of removing them to a
more comfortable home, of redeeming their clothing, and in a measure
realizing the wishes of the poor woman.


A man long familiar with this trade, and who knew almost every
member of it individually, counted for me 36 turf-cutters, to his
own knowledge, and was confident that there were 40 turf-cutters and
60 sellers in London; the addition of the sellers, however, is but
that of 10 women, who assist their husbands or fathers in the street
sales,--but no women cut turf,--and of 10 men who sell, but buy of the

The turf is simply a sod, but it is considered indispensable that it
should contain the leaves of the “small Dutch clover,” (the shamrock
of the Irish), the most common of all the trefoils. The turf is
used almost entirely for the food and roosting-place of the caged
sky-larks. Indeed one turf-cutter said to me: “It’s only people that
don’t understand it that gives turf to other birds, but of course if
we’re asked about it, we say it’s good for every bird, pigeons and
chickens and all; and very likely it is if they choose to have it.”
The principal places for the cutting of turf are at present Shepherd’s
Bush, Notting Hill, the Caledonian Road, Hampstead, Highgate, Hornsey,
Peckham, and Battersea. Chalk Farm was an excellent place, but it is
now exhausted, “fairly flayed” of the shamrocks. Parts of Camden Town
were also fertile in turf, but they have been built over. Hackney was a
district to which the turf-cutters resorted, but they are now forbidden
to cut sods there. Hampstead Heath used to be another harvest-field
for these turf-purveyors, but they are now prohibited from “so much
as sticking a knife into the Heath;” but turf-cutting is carried on
surreptitiously on all the outskirts of the Heath, for there used
to be a sort of feeling, I was told, among some real Londoners that
Hampstead Heath yielded the best turf of any place. All the “commons”
and “greens,” Paddington, Camberwell, Kennington, Clapham, Putney, &c.
are also forbidden ground to the turf-cutter. “O, as to the parks and
Primrose Hill itself--round about it’s another thing--nobody,” it was
answered to my inquiry, “ever thought of cutting their turf there. The
people about, if they was only visitors, wouldn’t stand it, and right
too. I wouldn’t, if I wasn’t in the turf-cutting myself.”

The places where the turf is principally cut are the fields, or plots,
in the suburbs, in which may be seen a half-illegible board, inviting
the attention of the class of speculating builders to an “eligible
site” for villas. Some of these places are open, and have long been
open, to the road; others are protected by a few crazy rails, and the
turf-cutters consider that outside the rails, or between them and the
road, they have a _right_ to cut turf, unless forbidden by the police.
The fact is, that they cut it on sufferance; but the policeman never
interferes, unless required to do so by the proprietor of the land
or his agent. One gentleman, who has the control over a considerable
quantity of land “eligible” for building, is very inimical to the
pursuits of the turf-cutters, who, of course, return his hostility. One
man told me that he was required, late on a Saturday night, some weeks
ago, to supply six dozen of turfs to a very respectable shopkeeper, by
ten or eleven on the Sunday morning. The shopkeeper had an aristocratic
connection, and durst not disappoint his customers in their demands
for fresh turf on the Sunday, so that the cutter must supply it. In
doing so, he encountered Mr. ---- (the gentleman in question), who
was exceedingly angry with him: “You d--d poaching thief!” said the
gentleman, “if this is the way you pass your Sunday, I’ll give you
in charge.” One turf-cutter, I was informed, had, within these eight
years, paid 3_l._ 15_s._ fines for trespassing, besides losing his
barrow, &c., on every conviction: “But he’s a most outdacious fellor,”
I was told by one of his mates, “and won’t mind spoiling anybody’s
ground to save hisself a bit of trouble. There’s too many that way,
which gives us a bad name.” Some of the managers of the land to
be built upon give the turf-cutters free leave to labour in their
vocation; others sell the sods for garden-plots, or use them to set out
the gardens to any small houses they may be connected with, and with
them the turf-cutters have no chance of turning a sod or a penny.

I accompanied a turf-cutter, to observe the manner of his work. We
went to the neighbourhood of Highgate, which we reached a little
before nine in the morning. There was nothing very remarkable to be
observed, but the scene was not without its interest. Although it was
nearly the middle of January, the grass was very green and the weather
very mild. There happened to be no one on the ground but my companion
and myself, and in some parts of our progress nothing was visible
but green fields with their fringe of dark-coloured leafless trees;
while in other parts, which were somewhat more elevated, glimpses of
the crowded roof of an omnibus, or of a line of fleecy white smoke,
showing the existence of a railway, testified to the neighbourhood of
a city; but no sound was heard except, now and then, a distant railway
whistle. The turf-cutter, after looking carefully about him--the result
of habit, for I was told afterwards, by the policeman, that there was
no trespass--set rapidly to work. His apparatus was a sharp-pointed
table-knife of the ordinary size, which he inserted in the ground,
and made it rapidly describe a half-circle; he then as rapidly ran
his implement in the opposite half-circle, flung up the sod, and,
after slapping it with his knife, cut off the lower part so as to
leave it flat--working precisely as does a butcher cutting out a joint
or a chop, and reducing the fat. Small holes are thus left in the
ground--of such shape and size as if deep saucers were to be fitted
into them--and in the event of a thunder-shower in droughty weather,
they become filled with water, and have caused a puzzlement, I am
told, to persons taking their quiet walk when the storm had ceased, to
comprehend why the rain should be found to gather in little circular
pools in some parts, and not in others.

The man I accompanied cut and shaped six of these turfs in about a
minute, but he worked without intermission, and rather to show me
with what rapidity and precision he could cut, than troubling himself
to select what was saleable. After that we diverged in the direction
of Hampstead; and in a spot not far from a temporary church, found
three turf-cutters at work,--but they worked asunder, and without
communication one with another. The turfs, as soon as they are cut
and shaped, are thrown into a circular basket, and when the basket
is full it is emptied on to the barrow (a costermonger’s barrow),
which is generally left untended at the nearest point: “We can trust
one another, as far as I know,” said one turf-man to me, “and nobody
else would find it worth while to steal turfs.” The largest number
of men that my most intelligent informant had ever seen at work in
one locality was fourteen, and that was in a field just about to be
built over, and “where they had leave.” Among the turf-purveyors there
is no understanding as to where they are to “cut.” Wet weather does
not interfere with turf procuring; it merely adds to the weight, and
consequently to the toil of drawing the barrow. Snow is rather an
advantage to the street-seller, as purchasers are apt to fancy that
if the storm continues, turfs will not be obtainable, and so they buy
more freely. The turf-man clears the snow from the ground in any known
locality--the cold pinching his ungloved hands--and cuts out the turf,
“as green,” I was told, “as an April sod.” The weather most dreaded is
that when hoar frost lies long and heavy on the ground, for the turf
cut with the rime upon it soon turns black, and is unsaleable. Foggy
dark weather is also prejudicial, “for then,” one man said, “the days
clips it uncommon short, and people won’t buy by candlelight, no more
will the shops. Birds has gone to sleep then, and them that’s fondest
on them says, ‘We can get fresher turf to-morrow.’” The gatherers
cannot work by moonlight; “for the clover leaves then shuts up,” I was
told by one who said he was a bit of a botanist, “like the lid of a
box, and you can’t tell them.”

One of my informants told me that he cut 25 dozen turfs every Friday
(the great working turf-day) of the year on an average (he sometimes
cut on that day upwards of 30 dozen); 17 dozen on a Tuesday; and 6
dozen on the other days of the week, more or less, as the demand
justified--but 6 dozen was an average. He had also cut a few turfs on
a Sunday morning, but only at long intervals, sometimes only thrice a
year. Thus one man will cut 2,496 dozen, or 29,952 turfs in a year, not
reckoning the product of any Sunday. From the best information I could
acquire, there seems no doubt but that one-half of the turf-cutters
(20) exert a similar degree of industry to that detailed; and the
other 20 procure a moiety of the quantity cut and disposed of by their
stronger and more fortunate brethren. This gives an aggregate, for an
average year, of 598,560 turfs, or including Sunday turf-cutting, of
600,000. Each turf is about 6 inches diameter at the least; so that the
whole extent of turf cut for London birds yearly, if placed side by
side, would extend fifty-six miles, or from London to Canterbury.

In wet weather, 6 dozen turfs weigh, on an average, 1 cwt.; in dry
weather, 8 dozen weigh no more; if, therefore, we take 7 dozen as the
usual hundred-weight, a turf-cutter of the best class carries, in
basket-loads, to his barrow, and when his stock is completed, drags
into town from the localities I have specified, upwards of 3-1/2 cwt.
every Friday, nearly 2-1/2 every Tuesday, and about 7 cwt. in the
course of a week; the smaller traders drag half the quantity,--and the
total weight of turf disposed of for the cage-birds of London, every
year, is 546 tons.

Of the supply of turf, obtained as I have described, at least
three-fourths is sold to the bird-shops, who retail it to their
customers. The price paid by these shopkeepers to the labourers for
their turf trade is 2_d._ and 2-1/2_d._ a dozen, but rarely 2-1/2_d._
They retail it at from 3_d._ to 6_d._ a dozen, according to connection
and locality. The remainder is sold by the cutters on their rounds from
house to house, at two and three a penny.

None of the turf-cutters confine themselves to it. They sell in
addition groundsel, chickweed, plaintain, very generally; and a few
supply nettles, dandelion, ground-ivy, snails, worms, frogs, and toads.
The sellers of groundsel and chickweed are far more numerous, as I have
shown, than the turf-cutters--indeed many of them are incapable of
cutting turf or of dragging the weight of the turfs.


A short but strongly-built man, of about thirty, with a very English
face, and dressed in a smock-frock, wearing also very strong unblacked
boots, gave me the following account:--

“My father,” he said, “was in the Earl of ----’s service, and I was
brought up to stable-work. I was employed in a large coaching inn,
in Lancashire, when I was last employed in that way, but about ten
years ago a railway line was opened, and the coaching was no go any
longer; it hadn’t a chance to pay, so the horses and all was sold, and
I was discharged with a lot of others. I walked from Manchester to
London--for I think most men when they don’t know what in the world
to do, come to London--and I lived a few months on what little money
I had, and what I could pick up in an odd job about horses. I had
some expectations when I came up that I might get something to do
through my lord, or some of his people--they all knew me: but my lord
was abroad, and his establishment wasn’t in town, and I had to depend
entirely on myself. I was beat out three or four times, and didn’t
know what to do, but somehow or other I got over it. At last--it’s
between eight and nine years ago--I was fairly beat out. I was taking a
walk--I can’t say just now in what way I went, for it was all one which
way--but I remember I saw a man cutting turf, and I remembered then
that a man that lived near me lived pretty middling by turf-cutting.
So I watched how it was done, and then I inquired how I could get into
it, and as I’d paid my way I could give reference to show I might be
trusted; so I got a barrow on hire, and a basket, and bought a knife
for 3_d._ at a marine-shop, and set to work. At first I only supplied
shops, but in a little time I fell into a private round, and that pays
better. I’ve been at it almost every day, I may say, ever since. My
best customers are working people that’s fond of birds; they’re far
the best. It’s the ready penny with them, and no grumbling. I’ve lost
money by trusting noblemen; of course I blame their servants. You’d be
surprised, sir, to hear how often at rich folks’ houses, when they’ve
taken their turf or what they want, they’ll take credit and say, ‘O,
I’ve got no change,’ or ‘I can’t be bothered with ha’pence,’ or ‘you
must call again.’ There’s one great house in Cavendish-square always
takes a month’s credit, and pays one month within another (pays the
first month as the second is falling due), and not always that very
regular. They can’t know how poor men has to fight for a bit of bread.
Some people are very particular about their turfs, and look very sharp
for the small clover leaves. We never have turfs left on hand: in
summer we water them to keep them fresh; in wet weather they don’t
require it; they’ll keep without. I think I make on turf 9_s._ a week
all the year round; the summer’s half as good again as the winter.
Supposing I make 3_s._ a week on groundsel, and chickweed, and snails,
and other things, that’s 12_s._--but look you here, sir. I pay 3_s._
6_d._ a week for my rent--it’s a furnished room--and 1_s._ 6_d._ a week
for my barrow; that’s 5_s._ off the 12_s._; and I’ve a wife and one
little boy. My wife may get a day at least every week at charring; she
has 1_s._ for it and her board. She helps me when she’s not out, and if
she is out, I sometimes have to hire a lad, so it’s no great advantage
the shilling a day. I’ve paid 1_s._ 6_d._ a week for my barrow--it’s a
very good and big one--for four years. Before that I paid 2_s._ a week.
O yes, sir, I know very well, that at 1_s._ 6_d._ a week I’ve paid
nearly 14_l._ for a barrow worth only 2_l._ 2_s._; but I can’t help
it; I really can’t. I’ve tried my hardest to get money to have one of
my own, and to get a few sticks (furniture) of my own too. It’s no use
trying any more. If I have ever got a few shillings a-head, there’s a
pair of shoes wanted, or there’s something else, or my wife has a fit
of sickness, or my little boy has, or something’s sure to happen that
way, and it all goes. Last winter was a very hard time for people in my
way, from hoar frost and fogs. I ran near 3_l._ into debt; greater part
of it for house-rent and my barrow; the rest was small sums borrowed
of shopkeepers that I served. I paid all up in the summer, but I’m now
14_s._ in debt for my barrow; it always keeps me back; the man that
owns it calls every Sunday morning, but he don’t press me, if I haven’t
money. I would get out of the life if I could, but will anybody take a
groom out of the streets? and I’m not master of anything but grooming.
I can read and write. I was brought up a Roman Catholic, and was
christened one. I never go to mass now. One gets out of the way of such
things, having to fight for a living as I have. It seems like mocking
going to chapel, when you’re grumbling in your soul.”


Plantain is sold extensively, and is given to canaries, but water-cress
is given to those birds more than any other green thing. It is the ripe
seed, in a spike, of the “great” and the “ribbed” plantain. The green
leaves of the last-mentioned plant used to be in demand as a styptick.
Shenstone speaks of “plantain ribbed, that heals the reaper’s wound.”
I believe that it was never sold in the streets of London. The most of
the plantain is gathered in the brick-fields, wherever they are found,
as the greater plantain, which gives three-fourths of the supply, loves
an arid situation. It is sold in hands to the shops, about 60 “heads”
going to a “hand,” at a price, according to size, &c., from 1_d._ to
4_d._ On a private round, five or six are given for a halfpenny. It is,
however, generally gathered and sold with chickweed, and along with
chickweed I have shown the quantity used.

       *       *       *       *       *

The money-value of the several kinds and quantities of “green-stuff”
annually purchased in the streets of London is as follows:--

  6,696,450 bunches of water-cresses, at 1/2_d._ per bunch   £13,950
  5,616,000    „       groundsel, at 1/2_d._                  11,700
  1,120,800    „       chickweed and plantain                  2,335
  660,000 turfs, at 2-1/2_d._ per doz.                           572

Of the above amount, it may be said that upwards of 14,000_l._ are
spent yearly on what may be called the bird-food of London.


These dealers were more numerous, even when the metropolitan population
was but half its present extent. I heard several causes assigned for
this,--such as the higher rate of earnings of the labouring people
at that time, as well as the smaller number of shopkeepers who deal
in such cheap luxuries as penny pies, and the fewer places of cheap
amusement, such as the “penny gaffs.” These places, I was told, “run
away with the young people’s pennies,” which were, at one period,
expended in the streets.

The class engaged in the manufacture, or in the sale, of these
articles, are a more intelligent people than the generality of
street-sellers. They have nearly all been mechanics who, from inability
to procure employment at their several crafts--from dislike to an
irksome and, perhaps, sedentary confinement--or from an overpowering
desire “to be their own masters,” have sought a livelihood in the
streets. The purchase and sale of fish, fruit, or vegetables require
no great training or deftness; but to make the dainties, in which
street-people are critical, and to sell them at the lowest possible
price, certainly requires some previous discipline to produce the skill
to combine and the taste to please.

I may here observe, that I found it common enough among these
street-sellers to describe themselves and their fraternity not by
their names or callings, but by the article in which they deal. This
is sometimes ludicrous enough: “Is the man you’re asking about a
pickled whelk, sir?” was said to me. In answer to another inquiry, I
was told, “Oh, yes, I know him--he’s a sweet-stuff.” Such ellipses, or
abbreviations, are common in all mechanical or commercial callings.

Men and women, and most especially boys, purchase their meals day
after day in the streets. The coffee-stall supplies a warm breakfast;
shell-fish of many kinds tempt to a luncheon; hot-eels or pea-soup,
flanked by a potato “all hot,” serve for a dinner; and cakes and tarts,
or nuts and oranges, with many varieties of pastry, confectionary, and
fruit, woo to indulgence in a dessert; while for supper there is a
sandwich, a meat pudding, or a “trotter.”

The street provisions consist of cooked or prepared victuals, which may
be divided into solids, pastry, confectionary, and drinkables.

The “solids” however, of these three divisions, are such as only
regular street-buyers consider to be sufficing for a substantial meal,
for it will be seen that the comestibles accounted “good for dinner,”
are all of a _dainty_, rather than a solid character. Men whose lives,
as I have before stated, are alternations of starvation and surfeit,
love some easily-swallowed and comfortable food, better than the most
approved substantiality of a dinner-table. I was told by a man, who was
once foodless for thirty-eight hours, that in looking into the window
of a cook-shop--he longed far more for a basin of soup than for a cut
from the boiled round, or the roasted ribs, of beef. He felt a gnawing
rather than a ravenous desire, and some tasty semi-liquid was the
incessant object of his desires.

The solids then, according to street estimation, consist of hot-eels,
pickled whelks, oysters, sheep’s-trotters, pea-soup, fried fish,
ham-sandwiches, hot green peas, kidney puddings, boiled meat puddings,
beef, mutton, kidney, and eel pies, and baked potatos. In each of these
provisions the street poor find a mid-day or mid-night meal.

The pastry and confectionary which tempt the street eaters are tarts of
rhubarb, currant, gooseberry, cherry, apple, damson, cranberry, and (so
called) mince pies; plum dough and plum-cake; lard, currant, almond and
many other varieties of cakes, as well as of tarts; gingerbread-nuts
and heart-cakes; Chelsea buns; muffins and crumpets; “sweet stuff”
includes the several kinds of rocks, sticks, lozenges, candies, and
hard-bakes; the medicinal confectionary of cough-drops and horehound;
and, lastly, the more novel and aristocratic luxury of street-ices; and
strawberry cream, at 1_d._ a glass, (in Greenwich Park).

The drinkables are tea, coffee, and cocoa; ginger-beer, lemonade,
Persian sherbet, and some highly-coloured beverages which have no
specific name, but are introduced to the public as “cooling” drinks;
hot elder cordial or wine; peppermint water; curds and whey; water (as
at Hampstead); rice milk; and milk in the parks.

At different periods there have been attempts to introduce more
substantial viands into the street provision trade, but all within
these twenty years have been exceptional and unsuccessful. One man
a few years back established a portable cook-shop in Leather-lane,
cutting out portions of the joints to be carried away or eaten on the
spot, at the buyer’s option. But the speculation was a failure. Black
puddings used to be sold, until a few years back, smoking from cans,
not unlike potato cans, in such places as the New Cut; but the trade in
these rather suspicious articles gradually disappeared.

Mr. Albert Smith, who is an acute observer in all such matters, says,
in a lively article on the Street Boys of London:

“The kerb is his club, offering all the advantages of one of those
institutions without any subscription or ballot. Had he a few pence,
he might dine equally well as at Blackwall, and with the same variety
of delicacies without going twenty yards from the pillars of St.
Clement’s churchyard. He might begin with a water _souchée_ of eels,
varying his first course with pickled whelks, cold fried flounders,
or periwinkles. Whitebait, to be sure, he would find a difficulty
in procuring, but as the more cunning gourmands do not believe these
delicacies to be fish at all, but merely little bits of light pie-crust
fried in grease;--and as moreover, the brown bread and butter is after
all the grand attraction,--the boy might soon find a substitute. Then
would come the potatos, apparently giving out so much steam that the
can which contains them seems in momentary danger of blowing up;
large, hot, mealy fellows, that prove how unfounded were the alarms
of the bad-crop-ites; and he might next have a course of boiled feet
of some animal or other, which he would be certain to find in front
of the gin-shop. Cyder-cups perhaps he would not get; but there would
be ‘ginger-beer from the fountain, at 1_d._ per glass;’ and instead
of mulled claret, he could indulge in hot elder cordial; whilst for
dessert he could calculate upon all the delicacies of the season, from
the salads at the corner of Wych-street to the baked apples at Temple
Bar. None of these things would cost more than a penny a piece; some
of them would be under that sum; and since as at Verey’s, and some
other foreign restaurateurs, there is no objection to your dividing the
“portions,” the boy might, if he felt inclined to give a dinner to a
friend, get off under 6_d._ There would be the digestive advantage too
of moving leisurely about from one course to another; and, above all,
there would be no fee to waiters.” After alluding to the former glories
of some of the street-stands, more especially of the kidney pudding
establishments which displayed rude transparencies, one representing
the courier of St. Petersburg riding six horses at once for a kidney
pudding, Mr. Smith continues,--“But of all these eating-stands the
chief favourite with the boy is the potato-can. They collect around
it as they would do on ’Change, and there talk over local matters, or
discuss the affairs of the adjacent cab-stand, in which they are at
times joined by the waterman whom they respect, more so perhaps than
the policeman; certainly more than they do the street-keeper, for him
they especially delight to annoy, and they watch any of their fellows
eating a potato, with a curiosity and an attention most remarkable, as
if no two persons fed in the same manner, and they expected something
strange or diverting to happen at every mouthful.”

A gentleman, who has taken an artist’s interest in all connected
with the streets, and has been familiar with their daily and nightly
aspect from the commencement of the present century, considers that
the great change is not so much in what has ceased to be sold, but
in the introduction of fresh articles into street-traffic--such as
pine-apples and Brazil-nuts, rhubarb and cucumbers, ham-sandwiches,
ginger-beer, &c. The coffee-stall, he represents, has but superseded
the saloop-stall (of which I have previously spoken); while the class
of street-customers who supported the saloop-dealer now support the
purveyor of coffee. The _appearance_ of the two stalls, however, seen
before daybreak, with their respective customers, on a bleak winter’s
morning, was very different. Round the saloop-stall was a group--hardly
discernible at a little distance in the dimly-lighted streets--the
prominent figures being of two callings now extinct--the climbing-boy
and the old hackney-coachman.

The little sweep _would_ have his saloop smoking hot--and there was the
common appliance of a charcoal grate--regaling himself with the savoury
steam until the mess was cool enough for him to swallow; whilst he
sought to relieve his naked feet from the numbing effects of the cold
by standing now on the right foot and now on the left, and swinging the
other to and fro, until a change of posture was necessitated; his white
teeth the while gleamed from his sooty visage as he gleefully licked
his lips at the warm and oily breakfast.

The old hackney-coachman was wrapped up in a many-caped great coat,
drab--when it left the tailor’s hands some years before--but then
worn and discoloured, and, perhaps, patched or tattered; its weight
alone, however, communicated a sort of warmth to the wearer; his legs
were closely and artistically “wisped” with hay-bands; and as he kept
smiting his chest with his arms, “to keep the cold out,” while his
saloop was cooling, he would, in no very gentle terms, express his
desire to add to its comforting influence the stimulant of a “flash of
lightning,” a “go of rum,” or a “glass of max,”--for so a dram of neat
spirit was then called.

The old watchman of that day, too, almost as heavily coated as the
hackneyman, would sometimes partake of the street “Saloop-loop-loop!
_Sa_-loop!” The woman of the town, in “looped and windowed raggedness,”
the outcast of the very lowest class, was at the saloop, as she is
now and then at the coffee-stall, waiting until daylight drove her to
her filthy lodging-house. But the climbing-boy has, happily, left no
successor; the hackneyman has been succeeded by the jauntier cabman;
and the taciturn old watchman by the lounging and trim policeman.

Another class of street-sellers, no longer to be seen, were the
“barrow-women.” They sold fruit of all kinds, little else, in very
clean white barrows, and their fruit was excellent, and purchased by
the wealthier classes. They were, for the most part, Irish women, and
some were remarkable for beauty. Their dress was usually a good chintz
gown, the skirt being tidily tucked or pinned up behind, “in a way,”
said one informant, “now sometimes seen on the stage when correctness
of costume is cared for.” These women were prosperous in their calling,
nor was there any imputation on their chastity, as the mothers were
almost always wives.

Concerning the bygone street-cries, I had also the following account
from the personal observation of an able correspondent:--

“First among the old ‘musical cries,’ may be cited the ‘Tiddy
Doll!’--immortalised by Hogarth--then comes the last person, who, with
a fine bass voice, coaxed his customers to buy _sweets_ with, ‘Quack,
quack, quack, quack! Browns, browns, browns! have you got any mouldy
browns?’ There was a man, too, who sold tripe, &c., in this way, and
to some purpose; he was as fine a man as ever stepped, and his deep
rich voice would ring through a whole street, ‘Dog’s-meat! cat’s-meat!
nice tripe! neat’s feet! Come buy my trotters!’ The last part would
not have disgraced Lablache. He discovered a new way of pickling
tripe--got on--made contracts for supplying the Navy during the war,
and acquired a large property. One of our most successful artists is
his grandson. Then there was that delight of our childhood--the eight
o’clock ‘Hot spiced gingerbread! hot spiced gingerbread! buy my spiced
gingerbread! sm-o-o-king hot!’” Another informant remembered a very
popular character (among the boys), whose daily cry was: “Hot spiced
gingerbread nuts, nuts, nuts! If _one_’ll warm you, _wha-at_’ll a pound
do?--_Wha-a-a-at_’ll a pound do?” Gingerbread was formerly in much
greater demand than it is now.


Two of the condiments greatly relished by the chilled labourers and
others who regale themselves on street luxuries, are “pea-soup” and
“hot eels.” Of these tradesmen there may be 500 now in the streets on
a Saturday. As the two trades are frequently carried on by the same
party, I shall treat of them together. The greatest number of these
stands is in Old-street, St. Luke’s, about twenty. In warm weather
these street-cooks deal only in “hot eels” and whelks; as the whelk
trade is sometimes an accompaniment of the others, for then the
soup will not sell. These dealers are stationary, having stalls or
stands in the street, and the savoury odour from them attracts more
hungry-looking gazers and longers than does a cook-shop window. They
seldom move about, but generally frequent the same place. A celebrated
dealer of this class has a stand in Clare-street, Clare-market,
opposite a cat’s-meat shop; he has been heard to boast, that he
wouldn’t soil his hands at the business if he didn’t get his 30_s._ a
day, and his 2_l._ 10_s._ on a Saturday. Half this amount is considered
to be about the truth. This person has mostly all the trade for hot
eels in the Clare-market district. There is another “hot eel purveyor”
at the end of Windmill-street, Tottenham-court-road, that does a very
good trade. It is thought that he makes about 5_s._ a day at the
business, and about 10_s._ on Saturday. There was, before the removals,
a man who came out about five every afternoon, standing in the New-cut,
nearly opposite the Victoria Theatre, his “girl” always attending to
the stall. He had two or three lamps with “hot eels” painted upon
them, and a handsome stall. He was considered to make about 7_s._ a
day by the sale of eels alone, but he dealt in fried fish and pickled
whelks as well, and often had a pile of fried fish a foot high. Near
the Bricklayers’ Arms, at the junction of the Old and New Kent-roads,
a hot-eel man dispenses what a juvenile customer assured me was “as
spicy as any in London, as if there was gin in it.” But the dealer in
Clare-market does the largest trade of all in the hot-eel line. He is
“the head man.” On one Saturday he was known to sell 100lbs. of eels,
and on most Saturdays he will get rid of his four “draughts” of eels (a
draught being 20lbs.) He and his son are dressed in Jenny Lind hats,
bound with blue velvet, and both dispense the provisions, while the
daughter attends to wash the cups. “On a Sunday, anybody,” said my
informant, “would think him the first nobleman or squire in the land,
to see him dressed in his white hat, with black crape round it, and his
drab paletot and mother-o’-pearl buttons, and black kid gloves, with
the fingers too long for him.”

I may add, that even the very poorest, who have only a halfpenny to
spend, as well as those with better means, resort to the stylish
stalls in preference to the others. The eels are all purchased at
Billingsgate early in the morning. The parties themselves, or their
sons or daughters, go to Billingsgate, and the watermen row them to
the Dutch eel vessels moored off the market. The fare paid to the
watermen is 1_d._ for every 10lbs. purchased and brought back in the
boat, the passenger being gratis. These dealers generally trade on
their own capital; but when some have been having “a flare up,” and
have “broke down for stock,” to use the words of my informant, they
borrow 1_l._, and pay it back in a week or a fortnight at the outside,
and give 2_s._ for the loan of it. The money is usually borrowed of
the barrow, truck, and basket-lenders. The amount of capital required
for carrying on the business of course depends on the trade done;
but even in a small way, the utensils cost 1_l._ They consist of one
fish-kettle and one soup-kettle, holding upon an average three gallons
each; besides these, five basins and five cups and ten spoons are
required, also a washhand basin to wash the cups, basins, and spoons
in, and a board and tressel on which the whole stand. In a large way,
it requires from 3_l._ to 4_l._ to fit up a handsome stall. For this
the party would have “two fine kettles,” holding about four gallons
each, and two patent cast-iron fireplaces (the 1_l._ outfit only admits
of the bottoms of two tin saucepans being used as fireplaces, in which
charcoal is always burning to keep the eels and soup hot; the whelks
are always eaten cold). The crockery and spoons would be in no way
superior. A small dealer requires, over and above this sum, 10_s._ to
go to market with and purchase stock, and the large dealer about 30_s._
The class of persons belonging to the business have either been bred to
it, or taken to it through being out of work. Some have been disabled
during their work, and have resorted to it to save themselves from the
workhouse. The price of the hot eels is a halfpenny for five or seven
pieces of fish, and three-parts of a cupfull of liquor. The charge
for a half-pint of pea-soup is a halfpenny, and the whelks are sold,
according to the size, from a halfpenny each to three or four for the
same sum. These are put out in saucers.

The eels are Dutch, and are cleaned and washed, and cut in small pieces
of from a half to an inch each. [The daughter of one of my informants
was busily engaged, as I derived this information, in the cutting of
the fish. She worked at a blood-stained board, with a pile of pieces
on one side and a heap of entrails on the other.] The portions so cut
are then boiled, and the liquor is thickened with flour and flavoured
with chopped parsley and mixed spices. It is kept hot in the streets,
and served out, as I have stated, in halfpenny cupfulls, with a small
quantity of vinegar and pepper. The best purveyors add a little butter.
The street-boys are extravagant in their use of vinegar.

To dress a draught of eels takes three hours--to clean, cut them up,
and cook them sufficiently; and the cost is now 5_s._ 2_d._ (much
lower in the summer) for the draught (the 2_d._ being the expense of
“shoring”), 8_d._ for 4 lb. of flour to thicken the liquor, 2_d._ for
the parsley to flavour it, and 1_s._ 6_d._ for the vinegar, spices,
and pepper (about three quarts of vinegar and two ounces of pepper).
This quantity, when dressed and seasoned, will fetch in halfpennyworths
from 15_s._ to 18_s._ The profit upon this would be from 7_s._ to 9_s._
6_d._; but the cost of the charcoal has to be deducted, as well as the
salt used while cooking. These two items amount to about 5_d._

The pea-soup consists of split peas, celery, and beef bones. Five
pints, at 3-1/2_d._ a quart, are used to every three gallons; the
bones cost 2_d._, carrots 1_d._, and celery 1/2_d._--these cost 1_s._
0-1/4_d._; and the pepper, salt, and mint, to season it, about 2_d._
This, when served in halfpenny basinfulls, will fetch from 2_s._ 3_d._
to 2_s._ 4_d._, leaving 1_s._ 1_d._ profit. But from this the expenses
of cooking must be taken; so that the clear gain upon three gallons
comes to about 11_d._ In a large trade, three kettles, or twelve
gallons, of pea-soup will be disposed of in the day, and about four
draughts, or 80 lbs., of hot eels on every day but Saturday,--when
the quantity of eels disposed of would be about five draughts, or 100
lbs. weight, and about 15 gallons of pea-soup. Hence the profits of
a good business in the hot-eel and pea-soup line united will be from
7_l._ to 7_l._ 10_s._ per week, or more. But there is only one man in
London does this amount of business, or rather makes this amount of
money. A small business will do about 15 lbs. of eels in the week,
including Saturday, and about 12 gallons of soup. Sometimes credit is
given for a halfpennyworth, or a pennyworth, at the outside; but very
little is lost from bad debts. Boys who are partaking of the articles
will occasionally say to the proprietor of the stall, “Well, master,
they _are_ nice; trust us another ha’p’orth, and I’ll pay you when I
comes again;” but they are seldom credited, for the stall-keepers know
well they would never see them again. Very often the stock cooked is
not disposed of, and then it is brought home and eaten by the family.
The pea-soup will seldom keep a night, but what is left the family
generally use for supper.

The dealers go out about half-past ten in the morning, and remain out
till about ten at night. Monday is the next best day to Saturday.
The generality of the customers are boys from 12 to 16 years of age.
Newsboys are very partial to hot eels--women prefer the pea-soup. Some
of the boys will have as many as six halfpenny cupfulls consecutively
on a Saturday night; and some women will have three halfpenny
basinsfull of soup. Many persons in the cold weather prefer the hot
soup to beer. On wet, raw, chilly days, the soup goes off better than
usual, and in fine weather there is a greater demand for the hot eels.
One dealer assured me that he once _did_ serve two gentlemen’s servants
with twenty-eight halfpenny cupfulls of hot eels one after another.
One servant had sixteen, and the other twelve cupfulls, which they ate
all at one standing; and one of these customers was so partial to hot
eels, that he used to come twice a day every day for six months after
that, and have eight cupfulls each day, four at noon and four in the
evening. These two persons were the best customers my informant ever
had. Servants, however, are not generally partial to the commodity. Hot
eels are not usually taken for dinner, nor is pea-soup, but throughout
the whole day, and just at the fancy of the passers-by. There are no
shops for the sale of these articles. The dealers keep no accounts of
what their receipts and expenditure are.

The best time of the year for the hot eels is from the middle of June
to the end of August. On some days during that time a person in a small
way of business will clear upon an average 1_s._ 6_d._ a day, on other
days 1_s._; on some days, during the month of August, as much as 2_s._
6_d._ a day. Some cry out “Nice hot eels--nice hot eels!” or “Warm your
hands and fill your bellies for a halfpenny.” One man used to give his
surplus eels, when he considered his sale completed on a night, to the
poor creatures refused admission into a workhouse, lending them his
charcoal fire for warmth, which was always returned to him. The poor
creatures begged cinders, and carried the fire under a railway arch.
The general rule, however, is for the dealer to be silent, and merely
expose the articles for sale. “I likes better,” said one man to me, “to
touch up people’s noses than their heyes or their hears.” There are
now in the trade almost more than can get a living at it, and their
earnings are less than they were formerly. One party attributed this
to the opening of a couple of penny-pie shops in his neighbourhood.
Before then he could get 2_s._ 6_d._ a day clear, take one day with
another; but since the establishment of the business in the penny-pie
line he cannot take above 1_s._ 6_d._ a day clear. On the day the
first of these pie-shops opened, it made as much as 10 lbs., or half a
draught of eels, difference to him. There was a band of music and an
illumination at the pie-shop, and it was impossible to stand against
_that_. The fashionable dress of the trade is the “Jenny Lind” or
“wide-awake” hat, with a broad black ribbon tied round it, and a white
apron and sleeves. The dealers usually go to Hampton-court or Greenwich
on a fine Sunday. They are partial to the pit of Astley’s. One of them
told his waterman at Billingsgate the other morning that “he and his
good lady had been werry amused with the osses at Hashley’s last night.”


“I was a coalheaver,” said one of the class to me, as I sat in his
attic up a close court, watching his wife “thicken the liquor;” “I was
a-going along the plank, from one barge to another, when the swell of
some steamers throwed the plank off the ‘horse,’ and chucked me down,
and broke my knee agin the side of the barge. Before that I was yarning
upon an average my 20_s._ to 30_s._ a week. I was seven months and four
days in King’s College Hospital after this. I found they was a-doing me
no good there, so I come out and went over to Bartholemy’s Hospital.
I was in there nineteen months altogether, and after that I was a
month in Middlesex Hospital, and all on ’em turned me out oncurable.
You see, the bone’s decayed--four bits of bone have been taken from
it. The doctor turned me out three times ’cause I wouldn’t have it
off. He asked my wife if she would give consent, but neither she nor
my daughter would listen to it, so I was turned out on ’em all. How
my family lived all this time it’s hard to tell. My eldest boy did a
little--got 3_s._ 6_d._ a week as an errand-boy, and my daughter was
in service, and did a little for me; but that was all we had to live
upon. There was six children on my hands, and however they _did_ manage
I can’t say. After I came out of the hospital I applied to the parish,
and was allowed 2_s._ 6_d._ a week and four loaves. But I was anxious
to do something, so a master butcher, as I knowed, said he would get
me ‘a pitch’ (the right to fix a stall), if I thought I could sit at a
stall and sell a few things. I told him I thought I could, and would be
very thankful for it. Well, I had heard how the man up in the market
was making a fortune at the hot-eel and pea-soup line. [A paviour as
left his barrow and two shovels with me told me to-day, said the man,
by way of parenthesis--‘that he knowed for a fact he was clearing 6_l._
a week regular.’] So I thought I’d have a touch at the same thing.
But you see, I never could rise money enough to get sufficient stock
to make a do of it, and never shall, I expect--it don’t seem like it,
however. I ought to have 5_s._ to go to market with to-morrow, and
I ain’t got above 1_s._ 6_d._; and what’s that for stock-money, I’d
like to know? Well, as I was saying, the master butcher lent me 10_s._
to start in the line. He was the best friend I ever had. But I’ve
never been able to do anything at it--not to say to get a living.” “He
can’t carry anything now, sir,” said his wife, as the old man strove
to get the bellows to warm up the large kettle of pea-soup that was
on the fire. “Aye, I can’t go without my crutch. My daughter goes to
Billingsgate for me. I’ve got nobody else; and she cuts up the eels.
If it warn’t for her I must give it up altogether, and go into the
workhouse outright. I couldn’t fetch ’em. I ought to have been out
to-night by rights till ten, if I’d had anything to have sold. My wife
can’t do much; she’s troubled with the rheumatics in her head and
limbs.” “Yes,” said the old body, with a sigh, “I’m never well, and
never shall be again, I know.” “Would you accept on a drop of soup,
sir?” asked the man; “you’re very welcome, I can assure you. You’ll
find it very good, sir.” I told him I had just dined, and the poor old
fellow proceeded with his tale. “Last week I earned clear about 8_s._,
and that’s to keep six on us. I didn’t pay no rent last week nor yet
this, and I don’t know when I shall again, if things goes on in this
way. The week before there was a fast-day, and I didn’t earn above
6_s._ that week, if I did that. My boy can’t go to school. He’s got no
shoes nor nothing to go in. The girls go to the ragged-school, but we
can’t send them of a Sunday nowhere.” “Other people can go,” said one
of the young girls nestling round the fire, and with a piece of sacking
over her shoulders for a shawl--“them as has got things to go in; but
mother don’t like to let us go as we are.” “She slips her mother’s
shoes on when she goes out. It would take 1_l._ to start me well.
With that I could go to market, and buy my draught of eels a shilling
cheaper, and I could afford to cut my pieces a little bigger; and
people where they gets used well comes again--don’t you see? I could
have sold more eels if I’d had ’em to-day, and soup too. Why, there’s
four hours of about the best time to-night that I’m losing now ’cause
I’ve nothing to sell. The man in the market can give more than we can.
He gives what is called the lumping ha’p’orth--that is, seven or eight
pieces; ah, that I daresay he does; indeed, some of the boys has told
me he gives as many as eight pieces. And then the more eels you biles
up, you see, the richer the liquor is, and in our little tin-pot way
it’s like biling up a great jint of meat in a hocean of water. In
course we can’t compete agin the man in the market, and so we’re being
ruined entirely. The boys very often comes and asks me if I’ve got a
farden’s-worth of heads. The woman at Broadway, they tells me, sells
’em at four a farden and a drop of liquor, but we chucks ’em away,
there’s nothing to eat on them; the boys though will eat anything.”

In the hot-eel trade are now 140 vendors, each selling 6 lb. of eels
daily at their stands; 60 sell 40 lb. daily; and 100 are itinerant,
selling 5 lb. nightly at the public-houses. The first mentioned take
2_s._ daily; the second 16_s._; and the third 1_s._ 8_d._ This gives a
street expenditure in the trade in hot eels of 21,910_l._ for the year.

To start in this business a capital is required after this rate:--stall
6_s._; basket 1_s._; eel-kettle 3_s._ 6_d._; jar 6_d._; ladle 4_d._;
12 cups 1_s._; 12 spoons 1_s._; stew-pan 2_s._; chafing-dish 6_d._;
strainer 1_s._; 8 cloths 2_s._ 8_d._; a pair sleeves 4_d._; apron
4_d._; charcoal 2_s._ (4_d._ being an average daily consumption); 1/4
cwt. coal 3-1/2_d._; 1/2 lb. butter (the weekly average) 4_d._; 1
quartern flour 5_d._; 4 oz. pepper 4_d._; 1 quart vinegar 10_d._; 1 lb.
salt 1/2_d._; 1 lb. candles for stall 6_d._; parsley 3_d._; stock-money
10_s._ In all 1_l._ 15_s._ In the course of a year the property which
may be described as fixed, as in the stall, &c., and the expenditure
daily occurring as for stock, butter, coal, according to the foregoing
statement, amounts to 15,750_l._ The eels purchased for this trade at
Billingsgate are 1,166,880 lb., costing, at 3_d._ per lb., 14,586_l._

In the pea-soup trade there are now one half of the whole number of
the hot-eel vendors; of whom 100 will sell, each 4 gallons daily; and
of the remaining 50 vendors, each will sell upon an average 10 gallons
daily. The first mentioned take 3_s._ daily; and the last 7_s._ 6_d._
This gives a street expenditure of 4,050_l._ during the winter season
of five months.

To commence business in the street sale of pea-soup a capital is
required after this rate: soup-kettle 4_s._; peas 2_s._; soup-ladle
6_d._; pepper-box 1_d._; mint-box 3_d._; chafing-dish 6_d._; 12 basons
1_s._; 12 spoons 1_s._; bones, celery, mint, carrots, and onions, 1_s._
6_d._ In all 10_s._ 10_d._ The hot-eel trade being in conjunction with
the pea-soup, the same stall, candles, towels, sleeves, and aprons,
does for both, and the quantity of extra coal and charcoal; pepper and
salt given in the summary of hot-eels serves in cooking, &c., both eels
and pea-soup.


The trade in whelks is one of which the costermongers have the
undisputed monopoly. The wholesale business is all transacted in
Billingsgate, where this shell-fish is bought by the measure (a double
peck or gallon), half-measure, or wash. A wash is four measures, and is
the most advantageous mode of purchase; “It’s so much cheaper by taking
that quantity,” I was told, “it’s as good as having a half-measure in.”
An average price for the year may be 4_s._ the wash; “But I’ve given
21_s._ for three wash,” said one costermonger, and he waxed indignant
as he spoke, “one Saturday, when there was a great stock in too, just
because there was a fair coming on on Monday, and the whelkmen, who
are the biggest rogues in Billingsgate, always have the price up then,
and hinder a poor man doing good--they’ve a great knack of that.” A
wash weighs about 60 lbs. On rare occasions it has been as low as 2_s._
6_d._, and even 1_s._ 6_d._

About one-half of the whelks are sold alive (wholesale), and the other
half “cooked” (boiled), some of the salesmen having “convenience for
cooking” near the market; but they are all brought to London alive,
“or what should be alive.” When bought alive, which ensures a better
quality, I was told--for “whelks’ll boil after they’re dead and gone,
you see, sir, as if they was alive and hungry”--the costermonger boils
them in the largest saucepan at his command for about ten minutes, and
then leaves them until they cool. “They never kicks as they boils,
like lobsters or crabs,” said one whelk dealer, “they takes it quiet.
A missionary cove said to me, ‘Why don’t you kill them first? it’s
murder.’ _They_ doesn’t suffer; _I’ve_ suffered more with a toothach
than the whole of a measure of whelks has in a boiling, that I’m clear
upon.” The boiling is generally the work of the women. The next process
is to place them in a tub, throw boiling water over them, and stir them
up for ten or fifteen minutes with a broom-handle. If the quantity be a
wash, two broom-handles, usually wielded by the man and his wife, are
employed. This is both to clean them and “to make them come out easier
to be wormed.” The “worming” is equivalent to the removing of the beard
of an oyster or mussel. The whelks are wormed one by one. The operator
cuts into the fish, rapidly draws out the “worm,” and pushes the
severed parts together, which closes. The small whelks are not wormed,
“because it’s not reckoned necessary, and they’re sold to poor lads and
such like, that’s not particular; but nearly all the women, and a good
many of the boys, are very particular. They think the worm’s poison.”
The whelks are next shaken in a tub, in cold water, and are then ready
for sale. The same process, after the mere boiling, is observed, when
the whelks are bought “cooked.”

Some whelk-sellers, who wish to display a superior article, engage
children for a few halfpence to rub the shell of every whelk, so that
it looks clean and even bright.

I find a difficulty, common in the course of this inquiry, of
ascertaining precisely the number of whelk-sellers, because the sale
is often carried on simultaneously with that of other things, (stewed
eels, for instance,) and because it is common for costermongers to
sell whelks on a Saturday night only, both at stalls and “round to the
public-houses,” but only when they are cheap at Billingsgate. On a
Saturday night there may be 300 whelk-sellers in the streets, nearly
half at stalls, and half, or more, “working the public-houses.” But
of this number it must be understood that perhaps the wife is at the
stall while the husband is on a round, and some whelks are sent out
by a man having an extra stock. This, therefore, reduces the number
of independent dealers, but not the actual number of sellers. On all
other nights there may be half the number engaged in this traffic, in
the streets regularly all the year; and more than half on a Monday,
as regards the public-house business, in which little is done between
Monday and Saturday nights. But a man will, in some instances, work the
public-houses every night (the wife tending the stall), and the more
assiduously if the weather be bad or foggy, when a public-house custom
is the best. A fair week’s earnings in whelks, “when a man’s known,” is
1_l._; a bad week is from 5_s._ to 8_s._ I am assured that bad weeks
are “as plenty as good, at least, the year round;” and thus the average
to the street whelk-sellers, in whelks alone, is about 13_s._ when the
trade is carried on daily and regularly, and 5_s._ a week by those who
occasionally resort to it; and as the occasional hands are the more
numerous, the average may be struck at 7_s._

The whelks are sold at the stalls at two, three, four, six, and eight
a penny, according to size. Four is an average pennyworth for good
whelks; the six a penny are small, and the eight a penny very small.
The principal place for their sale is in Old-street, City-road. The
other principal places are the street-markets, which I have before
particularised. The whelks are sold in saucers, generally small and
white, and of common ware, and are contained in jars, ready to be
“shelled” into any saucer that may have been emptied. Sometimes a
small pyramid of shells, surmounted by a candle protected by a shade,
attracts the regard of the passer-by. The man doing the best business
in London was to be found, before the removals of which I have spoken,
in Lambeth-walk, but he has now no fixed locality. His profits, I
am informed, were regularly 3_l._ a week; but out of this he had to
pay for the assistance of two or sometimes three persons, in washing
his whelks, boiling them, &c.; besides that, his wife was as busy as
himself. To the quality and cleanliness of his whelks he was very
attentive, and would sell no mediocre article if better could be
bought. “He deserved all he earned, sir,” said another street-dealer
to me; “why, in Old-street now they’ll have the old original saucers,
miserable things, such as they had fifty years back; but the man we’re
talking of, about two years ago, brought in very pretty plates, quite
enterprising things, and they answered well. His example’s spreading,
but it’s slowly.” The whelks are eaten with vinegar and pepper.

For sale in the public-houses, the whelks are most frequently carried
in jars, and transferred in a saucer to the consumer. “There’s often
a good sale,” said a man familiar with the business, “when a public
room’s filled. People drinking there always want to eat. They buy
whelks, not to fill themselves, but for a relish. A man that’s used to
the trade will often get off inferior sorts to the lushingtons; he’ll
have them to rights. Whelks is all the same, good, bad, or middling,
when a man’s drinking, if they’re well seasoned with pepper and
vinegar. Oh yes; any whelk-man will take in a drunken fellow, and he
will do it all the same, if he’s made up his mind to, get drunk hisself
that very night.”

The trade is carried on by the regular costers, but of the present
number of whelk-sellers, about twenty have been mechanics or servants.
The whelk-trade is an evening trade, commencing generally about six,
summer and winter, or an hour earlier in winter.

The capital required to start in the whelk-business is: stall,
2_s._ 6_d._; saucers, vinegar-bottle, jar, pepper-castor, and small
watering-pan (used only in dusty weather), 2_s._ 6_d._; a pair of
stilts (supports for the stall), 1_s._ 6_d._; stock-money, 5_s._;
pepper and vinegar, 6_d._, or 12_s._ in all. If the trade be commenced
in a round basket, for public-house sale, 7_s._ or 8_s._ only is
required, but it is a hazardous experiment for a person unpractised in
street business.


An intelligent man gave me the following account. He had been connected
with street-trading from his youth up, and is now about thirty:

“The chief customers for whelks, sir, are working people and poor
people, and they prefer them to oysters; I do myself, and I think
they’re not so much eaten because they’re not fashionable like oysters.
But I’ve sold them to first-rate public-houses, and to doctors’
shops--more than other shops, I don’t know why--and to private houses.
Masters have sent out their servant-maids to me for three or four
penn’orths for supper. I’ve offered the maids a whelk, but they won’t
eat them in the street; I dare say they’re afraid their young men
may be about, and might think they wasn’t ladies if they eat whelks
in the street. Boys are the best customers for ‘small,’ but if you
don’t look sharp, you’ll be done out of three-ha’porth of vinegar to
a ha’porth of whelks. I can’t make out why they like it so. They’re
particular enough in their way. If the whelks are thin, as they will
be sometimes, the lads will say, ‘What a lot of snails you’ve gathered
to-night!’ If they’re plump and fine, then they’ll say, ‘Fat ’uns
to-night--stunners!’ Some people eat whelks for an appetite; they give
me one, and more in summer than winter. The women of the town are
good customers, at least they are in the Cut and Shoreditch, for I
know both. If they have five-penn’orth, when they’re treated perhaps,
there’s always sixpence. They come on the sly sometimes, by themselves,
and make what’s a meal, I’m satisfied, on whelks, and they’ll want
credit sometimes. I’ve given trust to a woman of that sort as far
as 2_s._ 6_d._ I’ve lost very little by them; I don’t know how much
altogether. I keep no account, but carry any credit in my head. Those
women’s good pay, take it altogether, for they know how hard it is to
get a crust, and have a feeling for a poor man, if they haven’t for a
rich one--that’s my opinion, sir. Costermongers in a good time are
capital customers; they’ll buy five or six penn’orths at a time. The
dust’s a great injury to the trade in summer time; it dries the whelks
up, and they look old. I wish whelks were cheaper at Billingsgate, and
I could do more business; and I could do more if I could sell a few
minutes after twelve on a Saturday night, when people must leave the
public-house. I have sold three wash of a Saturday night, and cleared
15_s._ on them. I one week made 3_l._, but I had a few stewed eels
to help,--that is, I cleared 2_l._, and had a pound’s worth over on
the Saturday night, and sent them to be sold--and they were sold--at
Battersea on the Sunday; I never went there myself. I’ve had twenty
people round my stall at one time on a Saturday. Perhaps my earnings
on that (and other odd things) may come to 1_l._ a week, or hardly
so much, the year round. I can’t say exactly. The shells are no use.
Boys have asked me for them ‘to make sea-shells of,’ they say--to hold
them to their ears when they’re big, and there’s a sound like the sea
rolling. Gentlemen have sometimes told me to keep a dozen dozen or
twenty dozen, for borders to a garden. I make no charge for them--just
what a gentleman may please to give.”

The information given shows an outlay of 5,250_l._ yearly for street
whelks, and as the return I have cited shows the money spent in whelks
at Billingsgate to be 2,500_l._, the number of whelks being 4,950,000,
the account is correct, as the coster’s usual “half-profits” make up
the sum expended.


Among the cooked food which has for many years formed a portion of the
street trade is fried fish. The sellers are about 350, as a maximum
and 250 as a minimum, 300 being an average number. The reason of the
variation in number is, that on a Saturday night, and occasionally on
other nights, especially on Mondays, stall-keepers sell fried fish,
and not as an ordinary article of their trade. Some men, too, resort
to the trade for a time, when they cannot be employed in any way more
profitable or suitable to them. The dealers in this article are, for
the most part, old men and boys, though there may be 30 or 40 women
who sell it, but only 3 or 4 girls, and they are the daughters of the
men in the business as the women are the wives. Among the fried-fish
sellers there are not half a dozen Irish people, although fish is so
especial a part of the diet of the poor Irish. The men in the calling
have been, as regards the great majority, mechanics or servants; none,
I was told, had been fishmongers, or their assistants.

The fish fried by street dealers is known as “plaice dabs” and “sole
dabs,” which are merely plaice and soles, “dab” being a common word
for any flat fish. The fish which supplies upwards of one half the
quantity fried for the streets is plaice; the other fishes used are
soles, haddocks, whitings, flounders, and herrings, but very sparingly
indeed as regards herrings. Soles are used in as large a quantity as
the other kinds mentioned altogether. On my inquiry as to the precise
quantity of each description fried, the answer from the traders was
uniform: “I can’t say, sir. I buy whatever’s cheapest.” The fish is
bought at Billingsgate, but some of the street dealers obtain another
and even a cheaper commodity than at that great mart. This supply is
known in the trade as “friers,” and consists of the overplus of a
fishmonger’s stock, of what he has not sold overnight, and does not
care to offer for sale on the following morning, and therefore vends
it to the costermongers, whose customers are chiefly among the poor.
The friers are sometimes half, and sometimes more than half, of the
wholesale price in Billingsgate. Many of the friers are good, but some,
I was told, “in any thing like muggy or close weather were very queer
fish, very queer indeed,” and they are consequently fried with a most
liberal allowance of oil, “which will conceal anything.”

The fish to be fried is first washed and gutted; the fins, head, and
tail are then cut off, and the trunk is dipped in flour and water, so
that in frying, oil being always used, the skin will not be scorched by
the, perhaps, too violent action of the fire, but merely browned. Pale
rape oil is generally used. The sellers, however, are often twitted
with using lamp oil, even when it is dearer than that devoted to the
purpose. The fish is cooked in ordinary frying-pans. One tradesman in
Cripplegate, formerly a costermonger, has on his premises a commodious
oven which he had built for the frying, or rather baking, of fish.
He supplies the small shopkeepers who deal in the article (although
some prepare it themselves), and sells his fish retail also, but the
street-sellers buy little of him, as they are nearly all “their own
cooks.” Some of the “illegitimates,” however, lay in their stock by
purchase of the tradesman in question. The fish is cut into portions
before it is fried, and the frying occupies about ten minutes. The
quantity prepared together is from six to twenty portions, according to
the size of the pans; four dozen portions, or “pieces,” as the street
people call them, require a quart of oil.

The fried fish-sellers live in some out of the way alley, and not
unfrequently in garrets; for among even the poorest class there are
great objections to their being fellow-lodgers, on account of the odour
from the frying. Even when the fish is fresh (as it most frequently
is), and the oil pure, the odour is rank. In one place I visited, which
was, moreover, admirable for cleanliness, it was very rank. The cooks,
however, whether husbands or wives--for the women often attend to the
pan--when they hear of this disagreeable rankness, answer that it
may be so, many people say so; but for their parts they cannot smell
it at all. The garments of the fried-fish sellers are more strongly
impregnated with the smell of fish than were those of any “wet” or
other fish-sellers whom I met with. Their residences are in some of
the labyrinths of courts and alleys that run from Gray’s-inn-lane to
Leather-lane, and similar places between Fetter and Chancery-lanes.
They are to be found, too, in the courts running from Cow-cross,
Smithfield; and from Turnmill-street and Ray-street, Clerkenwell; also,
in the alleys about Bishopsgate-street and the Kingsland-road, and some
in the half-ruinous buildings near the Southwark and Borough-roads.
None, or very few, of those who are their own cooks, reside at a
greater distance than three miles from Billingsgate. A gin-drinking
neighbourhood, one coster said, suits best, “for people hasn’t their
smell so correct there.”

The sale is both on rounds and at stalls, the itinerants being twice
as numerous as the stationary. The round is usually from public-house
to public-house, in populous neighbourhoods. The itinerants generally
confine themselves to the trade in fried fish, but the stall-keepers
always sell other articles, generally fish of some kind, along with it.
The sale in the public-houses is the greatest.

At the neighbouring races and fairs there is a great sale of fried
fish. At last Epsom races, I was told, there were at least fifty
purveyors of that dainty from London, half of them perhaps being
costermongers, who speculated in it merely for the occasion, preparing
it themselves. Three men joined in one speculation, expending 8_l._ in
fish, and did well, selling at the usual profit of cent. per cent.,
but with the drawback of considerable expenses. Their customers at the
races and fairs are the boys who hold horses or brush clothes, or who
sell oranges or nuts, or push at roundabouts, and the costers who are
there on business. At Epsom races there was plenty of bread, I was
informed, to be picked up on the ground; it had been flung from the
carriages after luncheon, and this, with a piece of fish, supplied a
meal or “a relish” to hundreds.

In the public-houses, a slice of bread, 16 or 32 being cut from a
quartern loaf--as they are whole or half slices--is sold or offered
with the fish for a penny. The cry of the seller is, “fish and bread,
a penny.” Sometimes for an extra-sized piece, with bread, 2_d._ is
obtained, but very seldom, and sometimes two pieces are given for
1-1/2_d._ At the stalls bread is rarely sold with the edible in

[Illustration: THE BAKED POTATO MAN.

“Baked ’taturs! All ’ot, all ’ot!”

[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

For the itinerant trade, a neatly painted wooden tray, slung by a
leathern strap from the neck, is used: the tray is papered over
generally with clean newspapers, and on the paper is spread the
shapeless brown lumps of fish. Parsley is often strewn over them, and a
salt-box is placed at the discretion of the customer. The trays contain
from two to five dozen pieces. I understand that no one has a trade
greatly in advance of his fellows. The whole body complain of their
earnings being far less than was the case four or five years back.

The itinerant fried fish-sellers, when pursuing their avocation, wear
generally a jacket of cloth or fustian buttoned round them, but the
rest of their attire is hidden by the white sleeves and apron some
wear, or by the black calico sleeves and dark woollen aprons worn by

The capital required to start properly in the business is:--frying-pan
2_s._ (second-hand 9_d._); tray 2_s._ 6_d._ (second-hand 8_d._);
salt-box 6_d._ (second-hand 1_d._); and stock-money 5_s._--in all
10_s._ A man has gone into the trade, however, with 1_s._, which he
expended in fish and oil, borrowed a frying-pan, borrowed an old
tea-board, and so started on his venture.


The man who gave me the following information was well-looking, and
might be about 45 or 50. He was poorly dressed, but his old brown
surtout fitted him close and well, was jauntily buttoned up to his
black satin stock, worn, but of good quality; and, altogether, he
had what is understood among a class as “a _betterly_ appearance
about him.” His statement, as well as those of the other vendors of
provisions, is curious in its details of public-house vagaries:--

“I’ve been in the trade,” he said, “seventeen years. Before that, I
was a gentleman’s servant, and I married a servant-maid, and we had a
family, and, on that account, couldn’t, either of us, get a situation,
though we’d good characters. I was out of employ for seven or eight
months, and things was beginning to go to the pawn for a living; but at
last, when I gave up any hope of getting into a gentleman’s service, I
raised 10_s._, and determined to try something else. I was persuaded,
by a friend who kept a beer-shop, to sell oysters at his door. I took
his advice, and went to Billingsgate for the first time in my life,
and bought a peck of oysters for 2_s._ 6_d._ I was dressed respectable
then--nothing like the mess and dirt I’m in now” [I may observe, that
there was no dirt about him]; “and so the salesman laid it on, but I
gave him all he asked. I know a deal better now. I’d never been used
to open oysters, and I couldn’t do it. I cut my fingers with the knife
slipping all over them, and had to hire a man to open for me, or the
blood from my cut fingers would have run upon the oysters. For all
that, I cleared 2_s._ 6_d._ on that peck, and I soon got up to the
trade, and did well; till, in two or three months, the season got over,
and I was advised, by the same friend, to try fried fish. That suited
me. I’ve lived in good families, where there was first-rate men-cooks,
and I know what good cooking means. I bought a dozen plaice; I forget
what I gave for them, but they were dearer then than now. For all that,
I took between 11_s._ and 12_s._ the first night--it was Saturday--that
I started; and I stuck to it, and took from 7_s._ to 10_s._ every
night, with more, of course, on Saturday, and it was half of it profit
then. I cleared a good mechanic’s earnings at that time--30_s._ a week
and more. Soon after, I was told that, if agreeable, my wife could
have a stall with fried fish, opposite a wine-vaults just opened,
and she made nearly half as much as I did on my rounds. I served the
public-houses, and soon got known. With some landlords I had the
privilege of the parlour, and tap-room, and bar, when other tradesmen
have been kept out. The landlords will say to me still: ‘_You_ can go
in, Fishy.’ Somehow, I got the name of ‘Fishy’ then, and I’ve kept it
ever since. There was hospitality in those days. I’ve gone into a room
in a public-house, used by mechanics, and one of them has said: ‘I’ll
stand fish round, gentlemen;’ and I’ve supplied fifteen penn’orths.
Perhaps he was a stranger, such a sort of customer, that wanted to be
agreeable. Now, it’s more likely I hear: ‘Jack, lend us a penny to
buy a bit of fried;’ and then Jack says: ‘You be d--d! here, lass,
let’s have another pint.’ The insults and difficulties I’ve had in
the public-house trade is dreadful. I once sold 16_d._ worth to three
rough-looking fellows I’d never seen before, and they seemed hearty,
and asked me to drink with them, so I took a pull; but they wouldn’t
pay me when I asked, and I waited a goodish bit before I did ask. I
thought, at first, it was their fun, but I waited from four to seven,
and I found it was no fun. I felt upset, and ran out and told the
policeman, but he said it was only a debt, and he couldn’t interfere.
So I ran to the station, but the head man there said the same, and told
me I should hand over the fish with one hand, and hold out the other
hand for my money. So I went back to the public-house, and asked for my
money--and there was some mechanics that knew me there then--but I got
nothing but ‘---- you’s!’ and one of ’em used most dreadful language.
At last, one of the mechanics said: ‘Muzzle him, Fishy, if he won’t
pay.’ He was far bigger than me, him that was one in debt; but my
spirit was up, and I let go at him and gave him a bloody nose, and the
next hit I knocked him backwards, I’m sure I don’t know how, on to a
table; but I fell on him, and he clutched me by the coat-collar--I was
respectable dressed then--and half smothered me. He tore the back of my
coat, too, and I went home like Jim Crow. The pot-man and the others
parted us, and they made the man give me 1_s._, and the waiter paid me
the other 4_d._, and said he’d take his chance to get it--but he never
got it. Another time I went into a bar, and there was a ball in the
house, and one of the ball gents came down and gave my basket a kick
without ever a word, and started the fish; and in a scuffle--he was a
little fellow, but my master--I had this finger put out of joint--you
can see that, sir, still--and was in the hospital a week from an
injury to my leg; the tiblin bone was hurt, the doctors said” [the
tibia.] “I’ve had my tray kicked over for a lark in a public-house,
and a scramble for my fish, and all gone, and no help and no money
for me. The landlords always prevent such things, when they can, and
interfere for a poor man; but then it’s done sudden, and over in an
instant. That sort of thing wasn’t the worst. I once had some powdery
stuff flung sudden over me at a parlour door. My fish fell off, for I
jumped, because I felt blinded, and what became of them I don’t know;
but I aimed at once for home--it was very late--and had to feel my way
almost like a blind man. I can’t tell what I suffered. I found it was
something black, for I kept rubbing my face with my apron, and could
just tell it came away black. I let myself in with my latch, and my
wife was in bed, and I told her to get up and look at my face and get
some water, and she thought I was joking, as she was half asleep; but
when she got up and got a light, and a glass, she screamed, and said I
looked such a shiny image; and so I did, as well as I could see, for
it was black lead--such as they use for grates--that was flung on me.
I washed it off, but it wasn’t easy, and my face was sore days after.
I had a respectable coat on then, too, which was greatly spoiled, and
no remedy at all. I don’t know who did it to me. I heard some one say:
‘You’re served out beautiful.’ Its men that calls themselves gentlemen
that does such things. I know the style of them then--it was eight or
ten years ago; they’d heard of Lord ----, and his goings on. That way
it’s better now, but worse, far, in the way of getting a living. I dare
say, if I had dressed in rough corderoys, I shouldn’t have been larked
at so much, because they might have thought I was a regular coster, and
a fighter; but I don’t like that sort of thing--I like to be decent and
respectable, if I can.

“I’ve been in the ‘fried’ trade ever since, except about three months
that I tried the sandwiches. I didn’t do so well in them, but it
was a far easier trade; no carrying heavy weights all the way from
Billingsgate: but I went back to the fried. Why now, sir, a good week
with me--and I’ve only myself in the trade now” [he was a widower]--“is
to earn 12_s._, a poor week is 9_s._; and there’s as many of one as of
the other. I’m known to sell the best of fish, and to cook it in the
best style. I think half of us, take it round and round for a year,
may earn as much as I do, and the other half about half as much. I
think so. I might have saved money, but for a family. I’ve only one
at home with me now, and he really _is_ a good lad. My customers are
public-house people that want a relish or a sort of supper with their
beer, not so much to drinkers. I sell to tradesmen, too; 4_d._ worth
for tea or supper. Some of them send to my place, for I’m known. The
Great Exhibition can’t be any difference to me. I’ve a regular round.
I used to sell a good deal to women of the town, but I don’t now. They
haven’t the money, I believe. Where I took 10_s._ of them, eight or
ten years ago, I now take only 6_d._ They may go for other sorts of
relishes now; I can’t say. The worst of my trade is, that people must
have as big penn’orths when fish is dear as when its cheap. I never
sold a piece of fish to an Italian boy in my life, though they’re
Catholics. Indeed, I never saw an Italian boy spend a halfpenny in the
streets on anything.”

A working-man told me that he often bought fried fish, and accounted it
a good to men like himself. He was fond of fried fish to his supper;
he couldn’t buy half so cheap as the street-sellers, perhaps not a
quarter; and, if he could, it would cost him 1_d._ for dripping to fry
the fish in, and he got it ready, and well fried, and generally good,
for 1_d._

Subsequent inquiries satisfied me that my informant was correct as
to his calculations of his fellows’ earnings, judging from his own.
The price of plaice at Billingsgate is from 1/2_d._ to 2_d._ each,
according to size (the fried fish purveyors never calculate by the
weight), 3/4_d._ being a fair average. A plaice costing 1_d._ will now
be fried into four pieces, each 1_d._; but the addition of bread, cost
of oil, &c., reduces the “fried” peoples’ profits to rather less than
cent. per cent. Soles and the other fish are, moreover, 30 per cent.
dearer than plaice. As 150 sellers make as much weekly as my informant,
and the other 150 half that amount, we have an average yearly earning
of 27_l._ 6_s._ in one case, and of 13_l._ 13_s._ in the other. Taking
only 20_l._ a year as a medium earning, and adding 90 per cent. for
profit, the outlay on the fried fish supplied by London street-sellers
is 11,400_l._


The sale of sheep’s trotters, as a regular street-trade, is confined
to London, Liverpool, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and a few more of our greater
towns. The “trotter,” as it is commonly called, is the boiled foot of
the sheep. None of my readers can have formed any commensurate notion
of the extent of the sale in London, and to some readers the very
existence of such a comestible may be unknown. The great supply now
required is readily attained. The wholesale trade is now in the hands
of one fellmongering firm, though until within these twenty months
or so there were two, and the feet are cut off the sheep-skins by
the salesmen in the skin-market, in Bermondsey, and conveyed to the
fellmonger’s premises in carts and in trucks.

Sheep’s trotters, one of my informants could remember, were sold in the
streets fifty years ago, but in such small quantities that it could
hardly be called a trade. Instead of being prepared wholesale as at
present, and then sold out to the retailers, the trotters were then
prepared by the individual retailers, or by small traders in tripe
and cow-heel. Twenty-five years ago nearly all the sheep’s trotters
were “lined and prepared,” when the skin came into the hands of the
fellmonger, for the glue and size makers. Twenty years ago only about
one-twentieth of the trotters now prepared for eating were devoted to
the same purpose; and it was not until about fifteen years back that
the trade began to reach its present magnitude; and for the last twelve
years it has been about stationary, but there were never more sold than
last year.

From fifteen to twenty years ago glue and size, owing principally to
improved modes of manufacture, became cheaper, so that it paid the
fellmonger better to dispose of the trotters as an article “cooked” for
the poor, than to the glue-boiler.

The process of cookery is carried on rapidly at the fellmonger’s in
question. The feet are first scalded for about half an hour. After
that from ten to fifteen boys are employed in scooping out the hoofs,
which are sold for manure or to manufacturers of Prussian blue, which
is extensively used by painters. Women are then employed, forty
being an average number, “to scrape the hair off,”--for hair it is
called--quickly, but softly, so that the skin should not be injured,
and after that the trotters are boiled for about four hours, and they
are then ready for market.

The proprietor of this establishment, after he had obligingly given
me the information I required, invited me to walk round his premises
unaccompanied, and observe how the business was conducted. The premises
are extensive, and are situated, as are nearly all branches of the
great trade connected with hides and skins, in Bermondsey. The trotter
business is kept distinct from the general fellmongering. Within a long
shed are five coppers, each containing, on an average, 250 “sets,”
a set being the complement of the sheep’s feet, four. Two of these
coppers, on my visit, were devoted to the scalding, and three to the
boiling of the trotters. They looked like what one might imagine to be
witches’ big caldrons; seething, hissing, boiling, and throwing forth
a steam not peculiarly grateful to the nostrils of the uninitiated.
Thus there are, weekly, “cooking” in one form or other, the feet of
20,000 sheep for the consumption of the poorer classes, or as a relish
for those whose stomachs crave after edibles of this description. At
one extremity of this shed are the boys, who work in a place open at
the side, but the flues and fires make all parts sufficiently warm.
The women have a place to themselves on the opposite side of the
yard. The room where they work has forms running along its sides, and
each woman has a sort of bench in front of her seat, on which she
scrapes the trotters. One of the best of these workwomen can scrape
150 sets, or 600 feet in a day, but the average of the work is 500
sets a week, including women and girls. I saw no girls but what seemed
above seventeen or eighteen, and none of the women were old. They were
exceedingly merry, laughing and chatting, and appearing to consider
that a listener was not of primary consequence, as they talked pretty
much altogether. I saw none but what were decently dressed, some were
good-looking, and none seemed sickly.

In this establishment are prepared, weekly, 20,000 sets, or 80,000
feet; a yearly average of 4,160,000 trotters, or the feet of 1,040,000
sheep. Of this quantity the street-folk buy seven-eighths; 3,640,000
trotters yearly, or 70,000 weekly. The number of sheep trotter-sellers
may be taken at 300, which gives an average of nearly sixty sets a week
per individual.

The wholesale price, at the “trotter yard,” is five a penny, which
gives an outlay by the street-sellers of 3,033_l._ 6_s._ 8_d._ yearly.

But this is not the whole of the trade. Lamb’s trotters are also
prepared, but only to one-twentieth of the quantity of sheep’s
trotters, and that for only three months of the year. These are all
sold to the street-sellers. The lamb’s foot is usually left appended
to the leg and shoulder of lamb. It is weighed with the joint, but
the butcher’s man or boy will say to the purchaser: “Do you want the
foot?” As the answer is usually in the negative, it is at once cut off
and forms a “perquisite.” There are some half dozen men, journeymen
butchers not fully employed, who collect these feet, prepare and sell
them to the street-people, but as the lamb’s feet are very seldom as
fresh as those of the sheep carried direct from the skin market to--so
to speak--the great trotter kitchen, the demand for “lamb’s” falls off
yearly. Last year the sale may be taken at about 14,000 sets, selling,
wholesale, at about 46_l._, the same price as the sheep.

The sellers of trotters, who are stationary at publichouse and theatre
doors, and at street corners, and itinerant, but itinerant chiefly from
one public house to another are a wretchedly poor class. Three fourths
of them are elderly women and children, the great majority being Irish
people, and there are more boys than girls in the trade. The capital
required to start in the business is very small. A hand basket of the
larger size costs 1_s._ 9_d._, but smaller or second-hand only 1_s._,
and the white cotton cloth on which the trotters are displayed costs
4_d._ or 6_d._; stock-money need not exceed 1_s._, so that 3_s._
is all that is required. This is one reason, I heard from several
trotter-sellers, why the business is over-peopled.


From one woman, who, I am assured, may be taken as a fair type of the
better class of trotter-sellers--some of the women being sottish and
addicted to penn’orths of gin beyond their means--I had the following
statement. I found her in the top room of a lofty house in Clerkenwell.
She was washing when I called, and her son, a crippled boy of 16, with
his crutch by his side, was cleaning knives, which he had done for many
months for a family in the neighbourhood, who paid for his labour in
what the mother pronounced better than money--broken victuals, because
they were of such good, wholesome quality. The room, which is of a
good size, had its red-brown plaster walls, stained in parts with damp,
but a great portion was covered with the cheap engravings “given away
with No. 6” (or any other number) of some periodical “of thrilling
interest;” while the narrow mantel-shelf was almost covered with
pot figures of dumpy men, red-breeched and blue-coated, and similar
ornaments. I have often noted such attempts to subdue, as it were, the
grimness of poverty, by the poor who had “seen better days.” The mother
was tall and spare, and the boy had that look of premature sedateness,
his face being of a sickly hue, common to those of quiet dispositions,
who have been afflicted from their childhood:--

“I’m the widow of a sawyer, sir,” said Mrs. ----, with a very slight
brogue, for she was an Irishwoman, “and I’ve been a widow 18 long
years. I’m 54, I believe, but that 18 years seems longer than all
the rest of my life together. My husband earned hardly ever less
than 30_s._ a week, sometimes 3_l._, and I didn’t know what pinching
was. But I was left destitute with four young children, and had to
bring them up as well as I could, by what I could make by washing
and charing, and a hard fight it was. One of my children went for a
soldier, one’s dead, another’s married, and that’s the youngest there.
Ah! poor fellow, what he’s gone through! He’s had 18 abscesses, one
after another, and he has been four times in Bartholomew’s. There’s
only God above to help him when I’m gone. My health broke six years
ago, and I couldn’t do hard work in washing, and I took to trotter
selling, because one of my neighbours was in that way, and told me how
to go about it. My son sells trotters too; he always sits at the corner
of this street. I go from one public-house to another, and sometimes
stand at the door, or sit inside, because I’m known and have leave. But
I can’t either sit, or stand, or walk long at a time, I’m so rheumatic.
No, sir, I can’t say I was ever badly insulted in a public-house; but
I only go to those I know. Others may be different. We depend mostly
on trotters, but I have a shilling and my meat, for charing, a day in
every week. I’ve tried ’winks and whelks too, ’cause I thought they
might be more in my pocket than trotters, but they don’t suit a poor
woman that’s begun a street-trade when she’s not very young. And the
trotters can be carried on with so little money. It’s not so long
ago that I’ve sold three-penn’orth of trotters--that is, him and me
has--pretty early in the evening; I’d bought them at Mr. ----’s, in
Bermondsey, in the afternoon, for we can buy three penn’orth, and I
walked there again--perhaps it’s four miles there and back--and bought
another 3_d._ worth. The first three-pence was all I could rise. It’s a
long weary way for me to walk, but some walk from Poplar and Limehouse.
If I lay out 2_s._ on the Saturday--there’s 15 sets for 1_s._, that’s
60 trotters--they’ll carry us on to Monday night, and sometimes, if
they’ll keep, to Tuesday night. Sometimes I could sell half-a-crown’s
worth in less time. I have to go to Bermondsey three or four times
a week. The trade was far better six years ago, though trotters were
dearer then, only 13 sets 1_s._, then 14, now 15. For some very few,
that’s very fine and very big, I get a penny a piece; for some I get
1-1/2_d._ for two; the most’s 1/2_d._ each; some’s four for 1-1/2_d._;
and some I have to throw into the dust-hole. The two of us earns
5_s._ a week on trotters, not more, I’m sure. I sell to people in the
public-houses; some of them may be rather the worse for drink, but not
so many; regular drunkards buys nothing but drink. I’ve sold them too
to steady, respectable gentlemen, that’s been passing in the street,
who put them in their pockets for supper. My rent’s 1_s._ a week.”

I then had some conversation with the poor lad. He’d had many a bitter
night, he told me, from half-past five to twelve, for he knew there was
no breakfast for his mother and him if he couldn’t sell some trotters.
He had a cry sometimes. He didn’t know any good it did him, but he
couldn’t help it. The boys gathered round him sometimes, and teased
him, and snatched at his crutch; and the policeman said that he must
make him “move on,” as he encouraged the boys about him. He didn’t like
the boys any more than they were fond of the policemen. He had often
sad thoughts as he sat with his trotters before him, when he didn’t
cry; he wondered if ever he would be better off; but what could he do?
He could read, but not write; he liked to read very well when he had
anything to read. His mother and he never missed mass.

Another old woman, very poorly, but rather tidily dressed, gave me the
following account, which shows a little of public-house custom:--

“I’ve seen better days, sir, I have indeed; I don’t like to talk about
that, but now I’m only a poor sheep’s trotter seller, and I’ve been one
a good many years. I don’t know how long, and I don’t like to think
about it. It’s a shocking bad trade, and such insults as we have to
put up with. I serve some public-houses, and I stand sometimes at a
playhouse-door. I make 3_s._ or 3_s._ 6_d._ a week, and in a very good
week 4_s._, but, then, I sometimes make only 2_s._ I’m infirm now, God
help me! and I can do nothing else. Another old woman and me has a room
between us, at 1_s._ 4_d._ a week. Mother’s the best name I’m called in
a public-house, and it ain’t a respectable name. ‘Here, mother, give us
one of your b-- trotters,’ is often said to me. One customer sometimes
says: ‘The stuff’ll choke me, but that’s as good as the Union.’
_He_ ain’t a bad man, though. He sometimes treats me. He’ll bait my
trotters, but that’s his larking way, and then he’ll say:

  ‘A pennorth o’ gin,
  ’ll make your old body spin.’

It’s his own poetry, he says. I don’t know what he is, but he’s often
drunk, poor fellow. Women’s far worse to please than men. I’ve known
a woman buy a trotter, put her teeth into it, and then say it wasn’t
good, and return it. It wasn’t paid for when she did so, and because
I grumbled, I was abused by her, as if I’d been a Turk. The landlord
interfered, and he said, said he, ‘I’ll not have this poor woman
insulted; she’s here for the convenience of them as requires trotters,
and she’s a well-conducted woman, and I’ll not have her insulted,’ he
says, says he, lofty and like a gentleman, sir. ‘Why, who’s insulting
the old b--h?’ says the woman, says she. ‘Why, you are,’ says the
landlord, says he, ‘and you ought to pay her for her trotter, or how is
she to live?’ ‘What the b-- h--ll do I care how she lives,’ says the
woman, ‘its nothing to me, and I won’t pay her.’ ‘Then I will,’ says
the landlord, says he, ‘here’s 6_d._,’ and he wouldn’t take the change.
After that I soon sold all my trotters, and some gave me double price,
when the landlord showed himself such a gentleman, and I went out and
bought nine trotters more, another woman’s stock, that she was dreading
she couldn’t sell, and I got through them in no time. It was the best
trotter night I ever had. She wasn’t a woman of the town as used me so.
I have had worse sauce from modest women, as they called themselves,
than from the women of the town, for plenty of _them_ knows what
poverty is, and is civiler, poor things--yes, I’m sure of that, though
it’s a shocking life--O, shocking! I never go to the playhouse-door but
on a fine night. Young men treats their sweethearts to a trotter, for
a relish, with a drop of beer between the acts. Wet nights is the best
for public-houses. ‘They’re not salt enough,’ has been said to me, oft
enough, ‘they don’t make a man thirsty.’ It’ll come to the workhouse
with me before long, and, perhaps, all the better. It’s warm in the
public-house, and that draws me to sell my trotters there sometimes. I
live on fish and bread a good deal.”

The returns I collected show that there is expended yearly in London
streets on trotters, calculating their sale, retail, at 1/2_d._ each,
6,500_l._, but though the regular price is 1/2_d._, some trotters are
sold at four for 1-1/2_d._, very few higher than 1/2_d._, and some are
kept until they are unsaleable, so that the amount may be estimated
at 6,000_l._, a receipt of 7_s._ 6_d._ weekly, per individual seller,
rather more than one-half of which sum is profit.


The _baked potato trade_, in the way it is at present carried on, has
not been known more than fifteen years in the streets. Before that,
potatoes were sometimes roasted as chestnuts are now, but only on a
small scale. The trade is more profitable than that in fruit, but
continues for but six months of the year.

The potatoes, for street-consumption, are bought of the greengrocers,
at the rate of 5_s._ 6_d._ the cwt. They are usually a large-sized
“fruit,” running about two or three to the pound. The kind generally
bought is what are called the “French Regent’s.” French potatoes
are greatly used now, as they are cheaper than the English. The
potatoes are picked, and those of a large size, and with a rough skin,
selected from the others, because they are the mealiest. A waxy potato
shrivels in the baking. There are usually from 280 to 300 potatoes in
the cwt.; these are cleaned by the huckster, and, when dried, taken
in baskets, about a quarter cwt. at a time, to the baker’s, to be
cooked. They are baked in large tins, and require an hour and a half
to do them well. The charge for baking is 9_d._ the cwt., the baker
usually finding the tins. They are taken home from the bakehouse in
a basket, with a yard and a half of green baize in which they are
covered up, and so protected from the cold. The huckster then places
them in his can, which consists of a tin with a half-lid; it stands
on four legs, and has a large handle to it, while an iron fire-pot is
suspended immediately beneath the vessel which is used for holding
the potatoes. Directly over the fire-pot is a boiler for hot water.
This is concealed within the vessel, and serves to keep the potatoes
always hot. Outside the vessel where the potatoes are kept is, at
one end, a small compartment for butter and salt, and at the other
end another compartment for fresh charcoal. Above the boiler, and
beside the lid, is a small pipe for carrying off the steam. These
potato-cans are sometimes brightly polished, sometimes painted red,
and occasionally brass-mounted. Some of the handsomest are all brass,
and some are highly ornamented with brass-mountings. Great pride is
taken in the cans. The baked-potato man usually devotes half an hour to
polishing them up, and they are mostly kept as bright as silver. The
handsomest potato-can is now in Shoreditch. It cost ten guineas, and
is of brass mounted with German silver. There are three lamps attached
to it, with coloured glass, and of a style to accord with that of the
machine; each lamp cost 5_s._ The expense of an ordinary can, tin and
brass-mounted, is about 50_s._ They are mostly made by a tinman in
the Ratcliffe-highway. The usual places for these cans to stand are
the principal thoroughfares and street-markets. It is considered by
one who has been many years at the business, that there are, taking
those who have regular stands and those who are travelling with their
cans on their arm, at least two hundred individuals engaged in the
trade in London. There are three at the bottom of Farringdon-street,
two in Smithfield, and three in Tottenham-court-road (the two places
last named are said to be the best ‘pitches’ in all London), two in
Leather-lane, one on Holborn-hill, one at King’s-cross, three at the
Brill, Somers-town, three in the New-cut, three in Covent-garden (this
is considered to be on market-days the second-best pitch), two at
the Elephant and Castle, one at Westminster-bridge, two at the top
of Edgeware-road, one in St. Martin’s-lane, one in Newport-market,
two at the upper end of Oxford-street, one in Clare-market, two in
Regent-street, one in Newgate-market, two at the Angel, Islington,
three at Shoreditch church, four about Rosemary-lane, two at
Whitechapel, two near Spitalfields-market, and more than double the
above number wandering about London. Some of the cans have names--as
the “Royal Union Jack” (engraved in a brass plate), the “Royal George,”
the “Prince of Wales,” the “Original Baked Potatoes,” and the “_Old_
Original Baked Potatoes.”

The business begins about the middle of August and continues to the
latter end of April, or as soon as the potatoes get to any size,--until
they are pronounced ‘bad.’ The season, upon an average, lasts about
half the year, and depends much upon the weather. If it is cold and
frosty, the trade is brisker than in wet weather; indeed then little
is doing. The best hours for business are from half-past ten in the
morning till two in the afternoon, and from five in the evening till
eleven or twelve at night. The night trade is considered the best. In
cold weather the potatoes are frequently bought to warm the hands.
Indeed, an eminent divine classed them, in a public speech, among
the best of modern improvements, it being a cheap luxury to the poor
wayfarer, who was benumbed in the night by cold, and an excellent
medium for diffusing warmth into the system, by being held in the
gloved hand. Some buy them in the morning for lunch and some for
dinner. A newsvender, who had to take a hasty meal in his shop, told me
he was “always glad to hear the baked-potato cry, as it made a dinner
of what was only a snack without it.” The best time at night, is about
nine, when the potatoes are purchased for supper.

The customers consist of all classes. Many gentlefolks buy them in
the street, and take them home for supper in their pockets; but the
working classes are the greatest purchasers. Many boys and girls lay
out a halfpenny in a baked potato. Irishmen are particularly fond of
them, but they are the worst customers, I am told, as they want the
largest potatoes in the can. Women buy a great number of those sold.
Some take them home, and some eat them in the street. Three baked
potatoes are as much as will satisfy the stoutest appetite. One potato
dealer in Smithfield is said to sell about 2-1/2 cwt. of potatoes on a
market-day; or, in other words, from 900 to 1,000 potatoes, and to take
upwards of 2_l._ One informant told me that he himself had often sold
1-1/2 cwt. of a day, and taken 1_l._ in halfpence. I am informed, that
upon an average, taking the good stands with the bad ones throughout
London, there are about 1 cwt. of potatoes sold by each baked-potato
man--and there are 200 of these throughout the metropolis--making
the total quantity of baked potatoes consumed every day 10 tons. The
money spent upon these comes to within a few shillings of 125_l._
(calculating 300 potatoes to the cwt., and each of those potatoes to
be sold at a halfpenny). Hence, there are 60 tons of baked potatoes
eaten in London streets, and 750_l._ spent upon them every week
during the season. Saturdays and Mondays are the best days for the
sale of baked potatoes in those parts of London that are not near the
markets; but in those in the vicinity of Clare, Newport, Covent-garden,
Newgate, Smithfield, and other markets, the trade is briskest on
the market-days. The baked-potato men are many of them broken-down
tradesmen. Many are labourers who find a difficulty of obtaining
employment in the winter time; some are costermongers; some have been
artisans; indeed, there are some of all classes among them.

After the baked potato season is over, the generality of the hucksters
take to selling strawberries, raspberries, or anything in season. Some
go to labouring work. One of my informants, who had been a bricklayer’s
labourer, said that after the season he always looked out for work
among the bricklayers, and this kept him employed until the baked
potato season came round again.

“When I first took to it,” he said, “I was very badly off. My master
had no employment for me, and my brother was ill, and so was my
wife’s sister, and I had no way of keeping ’em, or myself either. The
labouring men are mostly out of work in the winter time, so I spoke
to a friend of mine, and he told me how he managed every winter, and
advised me to do the same. I took to it, and have stuck to it ever
since. The trade was much better then. I could buy a hundred-weight
of potatoes for 1_s._ 9_d._ to 2_s._ 3_d._, and there were fewer to
sell them. We generally use to a cwt. of potatoes three-quarters of a
pound of butter--tenpenny salt butter is what we buy--a pennyworth of
salt, a pennyworth of pepper, and five pennyworth of charcoal. This,
with the baking, 9_d._, brings the expenses to just upon 7_s._ 6_d._
per cwt., and for this our receipts will be 12_s._ 6_d._, thus leaving
about 5_s._ per cwt. profit.” Hence the average profits of the trade
are about 30_s._ a week--“and more to some,” said my informant. A man
in Smithfield-market, I am credibly informed, clears at the least 3_l._
a week. On the Friday he has a fresh basket of hot potatoes brought to
him from the baker’s every quarter of an hour. Such is his custom that
he has not even time to take money, and his wife stands by his side to
do so.

Another potato-vender who shifted his can, he said, “from a
public-house where the tap dined at twelve,” to another half-a-mile
off, where it “dined at one, and so did the parlour,” and afterwards
to any place he deemed best, gave me the following account of his

“Such a day as this, sir [Jan. 24], when the fog’s like a cloud come
down, people looks very shy at my taties, very; they’ve been more
suspicious ever since the taty rot. I thought I should never have
rekivered it; never, not the rot. I sell most to mechanics--I was a
grocer’s porter myself before I was a baked taty--for their dinners,
and they’re on for good shops where I serves the taps and parlours,
and pays me without grumbling, like gentlemen. Gentlemen does grumble
though, for I’ve sold to them at private houses when they’ve held the
door half open as they’ve called me--aye, and ladies too--and they’ve
said, ‘Is _that_ all for 2_d._?’ If it’d been a peck they’d have said
the same, I know. Some customers is very pleasant with me, and says
I’m a blessing. One always says he’ll give me a ton of taties when his
ship comes home, ’cause he can always have a hot murphy to his cold
saveloy, when tin’s short. He’s a harness-maker, and the railways has
injured him. There’s Union-street and there’s Pearl-row, and there’s
Market-street, now,--they’re all off the Borough-road--if I go there
at ten at night or so, I can sell 3_s._ worth, perhaps, ’cause they
know me, and I have another baked taty to help there sometimes. They’re
women that’s not reckoned the best in the world that buys there, but
they pay me. I know why I got my name up. I had luck to have good fruit
when the rot was about, and they got to know me. I only go twice or
thrice a week, for it’s two miles from my regular places. I’ve trusted
them sometimes. They’ve said to me, as modest as could be, ‘Do give me
credit, and ’pon my word you shall be paid; there’s a dear!’ I am paid
mostly. Little shopkeepers is fair customers, but I do best for the
taps and the parlours. Perhaps I make 12_s._ or 15_s._ a week--I hardly
know, for I’ve only myself and keep no ’count--for the season; money
goes one can’t tell how, and ’specially if you drinks a drop, as I do
sometimes. Foggy weather drives me to it, I’m so worritted; that is,
now and then, you’ll mind, sir.”

There are, at present, 300 vendors of hot baked potatoes getting their
living in the streets of London, each of whom sell, upon an average,
3/4 cwt. of potatoes daily. The average takings of each vendor is 6_s._
a day; and the receipts of the whole number throughout the season
(which lasts from the latter end of September till March inclusive), a
period of 6 months, is 14,000_l._

A capital is required to start in this trade, as follows:--can, 2_l._;
knife, 3_d._; stock-money, 8_s._; charge for baking 100 potatoes,
1_s._; charcoal, 4_d._; butter, 2_d._; salt, 1_d._, and pepper, 1_d._;
altogether, 2_l._ 9_s._ 11_d._ The can and knife is the only property
described as fixed, stock-money, &c., being daily occurring, amounts to
75_l._ during the season.


These two appellations are, or have been, used somewhat confusedly in
the meat trade. Thirty, or forty, or fifty years ago--for each term was
mentioned to me--the butcher in question was a man who went “trotting”
on his small horse to the more distant suburbs to sell meat. This was
when the suburbs, in any direction, were “not built up to” as they are
now, and the appearance of the trotting butcher might be hailed as
saving a walk of a mile, or a mile and a half, to a butcher’s shop,
for only tradesmen of a smaller capital then opened butcher’s shops in
the remoter suburbs. For a suburban butcher to send round “for orders”
at that period would have occupied too much time, for a distance must
be traversed; and to have gone, or sent, on horseback, would have
entailed the keeping or hiring of a horse which was in those days an
expensive matter. One butcher who told me that he had known the trade,
man and boy, for nearly fifty years, said: “As to ‘trotting,’ a small
man couldn’t so well do it, for if 20_l._ was offered for a tidy horse
in the war time it would most likely be said, ‘I’ll get more for it in
the cavaldry--for it was often called cavaldry then--there’s better
plunder there.’ (_Plunder_, I may explain, is a common word in the
horse trade to express _profit_.) So it wasn’t so easy to get a horse.”
The trotting butchers were then men sent or going out from the more
frequented parts to supply the suburbs, but in many cases only when a
tradesman was “hung up” with meat. They carried from 20 to 100 lb. of
meat generally in one basket, resting on the pommel of the saddle, and
attached by a long leathern strap to the person of the “trotter.” The
trade, however, was irregular and, considering the expenses, little
remunerative; neither was it extensive, but what might be the extent
I could not ascertain. There then sprung up the class of butchers--or
rather the class became greatly multiplied--who sent their boys or
men on fast trotting horses to take orders from the dwellers in the
suburbs, and even in the streets, not suburbs, which were away from
the shop thoroughfares, and afterwards to deliver the orders--still
travelling on horseback--at the customer’s door. This system still
continues, but to nothing like its former extent, and as it does
not pertain especially to the street-trade I need not dwell upon it
at present, nor on the competition that sprung up as to “trotting
butcher’s ponies,”--in the “matching” of which “against time” sporting
men have taken great interest.

Of “trotting” butchers, keeping their own horses, there are now none,
but there are still, I am told, about six of the class who contrive, by
hiring, or more frequently borrowing, horses of some friendly butcher,
to live by trotting. These men are all known, and all call upon known
customers--often those whom they have served in their prosperity, for
the trotting butcher is a “reduced” man--and are not likely to be
succeeded by any in the same line, or--as I heard it called--“ride” of
business. These traders not subsisting exactly upon street traffic,
or on any adventure depending upon door by door, or street by street,
commerce, but upon a _connection_ remaining from their having been in
business on their own accounts, need no further mention.

The present class of street-traders in raw meat are known to the trade
as “hawking” butchers, and they are as thoroughly street-sellers as
are the game and poultry “hawkers.” Their number, I am assured, is
never less than 150, and sometimes 200 or even 250. They have all
been butchers, or journeymen butchers, and are broken down in the one
case, or unable to obtain work in the other. They then “watch the
turn of the markets,” as small meat “jobbers,” and--as on the Stock
Exchange--“invest,” when they account the market at the lowest. The
meat so purchased is hawked in a large basket carried on the shoulders,
if of a weight too great to be sustained in a basket on the arm. The
sale is confined almost entirely to public-houses, and those at no
great distance from the great meat marts of Newgate, Leadenhall, and
Whitechapel. The hawkers do not go to the suburbs. Their principal
trade is in pork and veal,--for those joints weigh lighter, and present
a larger surface in comparison with the weight, than do beef or mutton.
The same may be said of lamb; but of that they do not buy one quarter
so much as of pork or veal.

The hawking butcher bought his meat last year at from 2-1/2_d._ to
5-1/2_d._ the pound, according to kind and quality. He seldom gave
6_d._, even years ago, when meat was dearer; for it is difficult--I
was told by one of these hawkers--to get more than 6_d._ per lb. from
chance customers, no matter what the market price. “If I ask 7-1/2_d._
or 7_d._,” he said, “I’m sure of one answer--‘Nonsense!’ I never goes
no higher nor 6_d._” Sometimes--and especially if he can command credit
for two or three days--the hawking butcher will buy the whole carcass
of a sheep. If he reside near the market, he may “cut it up” in his own
room; but he can generally find the necessary accommodation at some
friendly butcher’s block. If the weather be “bad for keeping,” he will
dispose of a portion of the carcass to his brother-hawkers; if cold,
he will persevere in hawking the whole himself. He usually, however,
buys only a hind or fore-quarter of mutton, or other meat, except
beef, which he buys by the joint, and more sparingly than he buys any
other animal food. The hawker generally has his joints weighed before
he starts, and can remember the exact pounds and ounces of each, but
the purchasers generally weigh them before payment; or, as one hawker
expressed it, “They goes to the scales before they come to the tin.”

Many of these hawkers drink hard, and, being often men of robust
constitution, until the approach of age, can live “hard,”--as regards
lodging, especially. One hawker I heard of slept in a slaughter-house,
on the bare but clean floor, for nearly two years: “But that was seven
years ago, and no butcher would allow it now.”


A middle-aged man, the front of his head being nearly bald, and the
few hairs there were to be seen shining strongly and lying flat, as if
rubbed with suet or dripping, gave me the following account. He was
dressed in the usual blue garb of the butcher:--

“I’ve hawked, sir--well, perhaps for fifteen years. My father was a
journeyman butcher, and I helped him, and so grew up to it. I never
had to call regular work, and made it out with hawking. Perhaps I’ve
hawked, take it altogether, nearly three quarters of every year. The
other times I’ve had a turn at slaughtering. But I haven’t slaughtered
for these three or four years; I’ve had turns as a butcher’s porter,
and wish I had more, as it’s sure browns, if it’s only 1_s._ 6_d._ a
day: but there’s often a bit of cuttings. I sell most pork of anything
in autumn and winter, and most mutton in summer; but the summer
isn’t much more than half as good as the winter for my trade. When I
slaughtered I had 3_s._ for an ox, 4_d._ for a sheep, and 1_s._ for
a pig. Calves is slaughtered by the master’s people generally. Well,
I dare say it _is_ cruel the way they slaughter calves; you would
think it so, no doubt. I believe they slaughter cheaper now. If I buy
cheap--and on a very hot day and a slow market, I have bought a fore,
aye, and a hind, quarter of mutton, about two and a half stone each
(8 lbs. to the stone), at 2_d._ a pound; but that’s only very, very
seldom--when I buy cheap sir, I aim at 2_d._ a pound over what I give,
if not so cheap at 1_d._, and then its low to my customers. But I cut
up the meat, you see, myself, and I carry it. I sell eight times as
much to public-houses and eating-houses as anywhere else; most to the
publics if they’ve ordinaries, and a deal for the publics’ families’
eating, ’cause a landlord knows I wouldn’t deceive _him_,--and there’s
a part of it taken out in drink, of course, and landlords is good
judges. Trade was far better years back. I’ve heard my father and his
pals talk about a hawking butcher that twenty years ago was imprisoned
falsely, and got a honest lawyer to bring his haction, and had 150_l._
damages for false imprisonment. It was in the Lord Mayor’s Court of
Equity, I’ve heard. It was a wrong arrest. I don’t understand the
particulars of it, but it’s true; and the damages was for loss of time
and trade. I’m no lawyer myself; not a bit. I have sold the like of a
loin of mutton, when it was small, in a tap-room, to make chops for the
people there. They’ll cook chops and steaks for a pint of beer, at a
public; that is, you must order a pint--but I’ve sold it very seldom.
When mutton was dearer it was easier to sell it that way, for I sold
cheap; and at one public the mechanics--I hardly know just what they
was, something about building--used to gather there at one o’clock and
wait for ‘Giblets’; so they called me there. I live a good bit on the
cuttings of the meat I hawk, or I chop a meal off if I can manage or
afford it, or my wife--(I’ve only a wife and she earns never less than
2_s._ a week in washing for a master butcher--I wish I was a master
butcher,--and that covers the rent)--my wife makes it into broth.
Take it all the year round, I s’pose I sell three stun a day (24 lb.),
and at 1_d._ a pound profit. Not a farthing more go round and round. I
don’t think the others, altogether, do as much, for I’m known to a many
landlords. But some make 3_s._ and 4_s._ a day oft enough. I’ve made as
much myself sometimes. We all aim at 1_d._ a pound profit, but have to
take less in hot weather sometimes. Last year 4_d._ the pound has been
a haverage price to me for all sorts.”

“Dead salesmen,” as they are called--that is, the market salesmen
of the meat sent so largely from Scotland and elsewhere, ready
slaughtered--expressed to me their conviction that my informant’s
calculation was correct, and might be taken as an average; so did
butchers. Thus, then, we find that the hawking butchers, taking
their number at 150, sell 747,000 lbs. of meat, producing 12,450_l._
annually, one-fourth being profit; this gives an annual receipt of
83_l._ each, and an annual earning of 20_l._ 15_s._ The capital
required to start in this trade is about 20_s._, which is usually laid
out as follows:--A basket for the shoulders, which costs 4_s._ 6_d._; a
leathern strap, 1_s._; a basket for the arm, 2_s._ 6_d._; a butcher’s
knife, 1_s._; a steel, 1_s._ 6_d._; a leather belt for the waist to
which the knife is slung, 6_d._; a chopper, 1_s._ 6_d._; and a saw,
2_s._; 6_s._ stock-money, though credit is sometimes given.


The ham-sandwich-seller carries his sandwiches on a tray or flat
basket, covered with a clean white cloth; he also wears a white apron,
and white sleeves. His usual stand is at the doors of the theatres.

The trade was unknown until eleven years ago, when a man who had
been unsuccessful in keeping a coffee-shop in Westminster, found it
necessary to look out for some mode of living, and he hit upon the plan
of vending sandwiches, precisely in the present style, at the theatre
doors. The attempt was successful; the man soon took 10_s._ a night,
half of which was profit. He “attended” both the great theatres, and
was “doing well;” but at five or six weeks’ end, competitors appeared
in the field, and increased rapidly, and so his sale was affected,
people being regardless of his urging that he “was the original
ham-sandwich.” The capital required to start in the trade was small; a
few pounds of ham, a proportion of loaves, and a little mustard was all
that was required, and for this 10_s._ was ample. That sum, however,
could not be commanded by many who were anxious to deal in sandwiches;
and the man who commenced the trade supplied them at 6_d._ a dozen, the
charge to the public being 1_d._ a-piece. Some of the men, however,
murmured, because they thought that what they thus bought were not
equal to those the wholesale sandwich-man offered for sale himself; and
his wholesale trade fell off, until now, I am told, he has only two
customers among street-sellers.

Ham sandwiches are made from any part of the bacon which may be
sufficiently lean, such as “the gammon,” which now costs 4_d._ and
5_d._ the pound. It is sometimes, but very rarely, picked up at
3-1/2_d._ When the trade was first started, 7_d._ a pound was paid for
the ham, but the sandwiches are now much larger. To make three dozen a
pound of meat is required, and four quartern loaves. The “ham” may cost
5_d._, the bread 1_s._ 8_d._ or 1_s._ 10_d._, and the mustard 1_d._ The
proceeds for this would be 3_s._, but the trade is very precarious:
little can be done in wet weather. If unsold, the sandwiches spoil, for
the bread gets dry, and the ham loses its fresh colour; so that those
who depend upon this trade are wretchedly poor. A first-rate week is
to clear 10_s._; a good week is put at 7_s._; and a bad week at 3_s._
6_d._ On some nights they do not sell a dozen sandwiches. There are
halfpenny sandwiches, but these are only half the size of those at a

The persons carrying on this trade have been, for the most part, in
some kind of service--errand-boys, pot-boys, foot-boys (or pages), or
lads engaged about inns. Some few have been mechanics. Their average
weekly earnings hardly exceed 5_s._, but some “get odd jobs” at other

“There are now, sir, at the theatres this (the Strand) side the
water, and at Ashley’s, the Surrey, and the Vic., two dozen and nine
sandwiches.” So said one of the trade, who counted up his brethren for
me. This man calculated also that at the Standard, the saloons, the
concert-rooms, and at Limehouse, Mile-end, Bethnal-green-road, and
elsewhere, there might be more than as many again as those “working”
the theatres--or 70 in all. They are nearly all men, and no boys or
girls are now in the trade. The number of these people, when the large
theatres were open with the others, was about double what it is now.

The information collected shows that the expenditure in ham-sandwiches,
supplied by street-sellers, is 1,820_l._ yearly, and a consumption of
436,800 sandwiches.

To start in the ham-sandwich street-trade requires 2_s._ for a basket,
2_s._ for kettle to boil ham in, 6_d._ for knife and fork, 2_d._ for
mustard-pot and spoon, 7_d._ for 1/2 cwt. of coals, 5_s._ for ham,
1_s._ 3_d._ for bread, 4_d._ for mustard, 9_d._ for basket, cloth, and
apron, 4_d._ for over-sleeves--or a capital of 12_s._ 11_d._


A young man gave me the following account. His look and manners were
subdued; and, though his dress was old and worn, it was clean and

“I hardly remember my father, sir,” he said; “but I believe, if
he’d lived, I should have been better off. My mother couldn’t keep
my brother and me--he’s older than me--when we grew to be twelve or
thirteen, and we had to shift for ourselves. She works at the stays,
and now makes only 3_s._ a week, and we can’t help her. I was first
in place as a sort of errand-boy, then I was a stationer’s boy, and
then a news agent’s boy. I wasn’t wanted any longer, but left with a
good character. My brother had gone into the sandwich trade--I hardly
know what made him--and he advised me to be a ham sandwich-man, and
so I started as one. At first, I made 10_s._, and 7_s._, and 8_s._
a week--that’s seven years, or so--but things are worse now, and
I make 3_s._ 6_d._ some weeks, and 5_s._ others, and 6_s._ is an
out-and-outer. My rent’s 2_s._ a week, but I haven’t my own things. I
am so sick of this life, I’d do anything to get out of it; but I don’t
see a way. Perhaps I might have been more careful when I was first
in it; but, really, if you do make 10_s._ a week, you want shoes, or
a shirt--so what is 10_s._ after all? I wish I had it now, though. I
used to buy my sandwiches at 6_d._ a dozen, but I found that wouldn’t
do; and now I buy and boil the stuff, and make them myself. What _did_
cost 6_d._, now only costs me 4_d._ or 4-1/2_d._ I work the theatres
this side of the water, chiefly the ’Lympic and the ’Delphi. The best
theatre I ever had was the Garding, when it had two galleries, and was
dramatic--the operas there wasn’t the least good to me. The Lyceum was
good, when it was Mr. Keeley’s. I hardly know what sort my customers
are, but they’re those that go to theaytres: shopkeepers and clerks,
I think. Gentlemen don’t often buy of me. They _have_ bought, though.
Oh, no, they never give a farthing over; they’re more likely to want
seven for 6_d._ The women of the town buy of me, when it gets late, for
themselves and their fancy men. They’re liberal enough when they’ve
money. They sometimes treat a poor fellow in a public-house. In summer
I’m often out ’till four in the morning, and then must lie in bed half
next day. The ’Delphi was better than it is. I’ve taken 3_s._ at the
first “turn out” (the leaving the theatre for a short time after the
first piece), “but the turn-outs at the Garding was better than that.
A penny pie-shop has spoiled us at the ’Delphi and at Ashley’s. I go
out between eight and nine in the evening. People often want more in
my sandwiches, though I’m starving on them. ‘Oh,’ they’ll say, ‘you’ve
been ’prenticed to Vauxhall, you have.’ ‘They’re 1_s._ there,’ says I,
‘and no bigger. I haven’t Vauxhall prices.’ I stand by the night-houses
when it’s late--not the fashionables. Their customers would’nt look
at me; but I’ve known women, that carried their heads very high, glad
to get a sandwich afterwards. Six times I’ve been upset by drunken
fellows, on purpose, I’ve no doubt, and lost all my stock. Once, a
gent. kicked my basket into the dirt, and he was going off--for it
was late--but some people by began to make remarks about using a poor
fellow that way, so he paid for all, after he had them counted. I am
_so_ sick of this life, sir. I _do_ dread the winter so. I’ve stood up
to the ankles in snow till after midnight, and till I’ve wished I was
snow myself, and could melt like it and have an end. I’d do anything
to get away from this, but I can’t. Passion Week’s another dreadful
time. It drives us to starve, just when we want to get up a little
stock-money for Easter. I’ve been bilked by cabmen, who’ve taken a
sandwich; but, instead of paying for it, have offered to fight me.
There’s no help. We’re knocked about sadly by the police. Time’s very
heavy on my hands, sometimes, and that’s where you feel it. I read a
bit, if I can get anything to read, for I was at St. Clement’s school;
or I walk out to look for a job. On summer-days I sell a trotter or
two. But mine’s a wretched life, and so is most ham sandwich-men. I’ve
no enjoyment of my youth, and no comfort.

“Ah, sir! I live very poorly. A ha’porth or a penn’orth of cheap
fish, which I cook myself, is one of my treats--either herrings or
plaice--with a ’tatur, perhaps. Then there’s a sort of meal, now and
then, off the odds and ends of the ham, such as isn’t quite viewy
enough for the public, along with the odds and ends of the loaves. I
can’t boil a bit of greens with my ham, ’cause I’m afraid it might
rather spoil the colour. I don’t slice the ham till it’s cold--it cuts
easier, and is a better colour then, I think. I wash my aprons, and
sleeves, and cloths myself, and iron them too. A man that sometimes
makes only 3_s._ 6_d._ a week, and sometimes less, and must pay 2_s._
rent out of that, must look after every farthing. I’ve often walked
eight miles to see if I could find ham a halfpenny a pound cheaper
anywhere. If it was tainted, I know it would be flung in my face. If I
was sick there’s only the parish for me.”


The street-trade in bread is not so extensive as might be expected,
from the universality of the consumption. It is confined to
Petticoat-lane and the poorer districts in that neighbourhood. A person
who has known the East-end of town for nearly fifty years, told me
that as long as he could recollect, bread was sold in the streets,
but not to the present extent. In 1812 and 1813, when bread was the
dearest, there was very little sold in the streets. At that time,
and until 1815, the Assize Acts, regulating the bread-trade, were in
force, and had been in force in London since 1266. Previously to 1815
bakers were restricted, by these Acts, to the baking of three kinds
of bread--wheaten, standard wheaten, and household. The wheaten was
made of the best flour, the standard wheaten of the different kinds of
flour mixed together, and the household of the coarser and commoner
flour. In 1823, however, it was enacted that within the City of London
and ten miles round, “it shall be lawful for the bakers to make and
sell bread made of wheat, barley, rye, oats, buck-wheat, Indian-corn,
peas, beans, rice, or potatoes, or any of them, along with common salt,
pure-water, eggs, milk, barm-leaven, potato, or other yeast, and mixed
in such proportions as they shall think fit.” I mention this because
my informant, as well as an old master baker with whom I conversed on
the subject, remembered that every now and then, after 1823, but only
for two or three years, some speculative trader, both in shops and in
the streets, would endeavour to introduce an inferior, but still a
wholesome, bread, to his customers, such as an admixture of barley with
wheat-flour, but no one--as far as I could learn--persevered in the
speculation for more than a week or so. Their attempts were not only
unsuccessful but they met with abuse, from street-buyers especially,
for endeavouring to palm off “brown” bread as “good enough for poor
people.” One of my elder informants remembered his father telling
him that in 1800 and 1801, George III. had set the example of eating
brown bread at his one o’clock dinner, but he was sometimes assailed
as he passed in his carriage, with the reproachful epithet of “_Brown_
George.” This feeling continues, for the poor people, and even the more
intelligent working-men, if cockneys, have still a notion that only
“white” bread is fit for consumption. Into the question of the relative
nutrition of breads, I shall enter when I treat of the bakers.

During a period of about four months in the summer, there are from
twenty to thirty men daily selling stale bread. Of these only twelve
sell it regularly every day of the year, and they trade chiefly on
their own account. Of the others, some are sent out by their masters,
receiving from 1_s._ to 2_s._ for their labour. Those who sell on their
own account, go round to the bakers’ shops about Stepney, Mile-end,
and Whitechapel, and purchase the stale-bread on hand. It is sold to
them at 1/2_d._, 1_d._ and 1-1/2_d._ per quartern less than the retail
shop price; but when the weather is very hot, and the bakers have a
large quantity of stale-bread on hand, the street-sellers sometimes
get the bread at 2_d._ a quartern less than the retail price. All the
street-sellers of bread have been brought up as bakers. Some have
resorted to the street-trade, I am told, when unable to procure work;
others because it is a less toilsome, and sometimes a more profitable
means of subsistence, than the labour of an operative baker. It is very
rarely that any of the street-traders leave their calling to resume
working as journeymen. Some of these traders have baskets containing
the bread offered for street-sale; others have barrows, and one has a
barrow resembling a costermonger’s, with a long basket made to fit upon
it. The dress of these vendors is a light coat of cloth or fustian;
corduroy, fustian, or cloth trousers, and a cloth cap or a hat, the
whole attire being, what is best understood as “dusty,” ingrained as it
is with flour.

From one bread-seller, a middle-aged man, with the pale look and
habitual stoop of a journeyman baker, I had the following account:

“I’ve known the street-trade a few years; I can’t say exactly how
many. I was a journeyman baker before that, and can’t say but what I
had pretty regular employment; but then, sir, what an employment it
is! So much night-work, and the heat of the oven, with the close air,
and sleeping on sacks at nights (for you can’t leave the place), so
that altogether it’s a slave’s life. A journeyman baker hasn’t what
can be called a home, for he’s so much away at the oven; he’d better
not be a married man, for if his wife isn’t very careful there’s talk,
and there’s unhappiness about nothing perhaps. I can’t be thought to
speak feelingly that way though, for I’ve been fortunate in a wife.
But a journeyman baker’s life drives him to drink, almost whether he
will or not. A street life’s not quite so bad. I was out of work two
or three weeks, and I certainly lushed too much, and can’t say as I
tried very hard to get work, but I had a pound or two in hand, and
then I began to think I’d try and sell stale bread in the streets, for
it’s a healthfuller trade than the other; so I started, and have been
at it ever since, excepting when I work a few days, or weeks, for a
master baker; but he’s a relation, and I assist him when he’s ill. My
customers are all poor persons,--some in rags, and some as decent as
their bad earnings’ll let them. No doubt about it, sir, there’s poor
women buy of me that’s wives of mechanics working slop, and that’s
forced to live on stale bread. Where there’s a family of children,
stale bread goes so very much further. I think I sell to few but what
has families, for a quartern’s too much at a time for a single woman.
I often hear my customers talk about their children, and say they must
make haste, as the poor things are hungry, and they couldn’t get them
any bread sooner. O, it’s a hard fight to live, all Spitalfields and
Bethnal-green way, for I know it all. There are first the journeyman
bakers over-worked and fretted into drinking, a-making the bread, and
there are the poor fellows in all sorts of trade over-worked to get
money to buy it. I’ve had women that looked as if they was ‘reduced,’
come to me of an evening as soon as it was dusk, and buy stale bread,
as if they was ashamed to be seen. Yes, I give credit. Some has a
week’s credit regular, and pays every Saturday night. I lose very
little in trusting. I sometimes have bread over and sell it--rather
than hold it over to next day--for half what it cost me. I have given
it away to begging people, sooner than keep it to be too stale, and
they would get something for it at a lodging-house. The lodging-house
keepers never buy of me that I know of. They can buy far cheaper than
I can--you understand, sir. Perhaps, altogether, I make about a guinea
every week; wet weather and short days are against me. I don’t sell
more, I think, on a Saturday than on other nights. The nights are much
of a muchness that way.”

The average quantity sold by each vendor during the summer months
is 150 quarterns daily, usually at 4_d._, but occasionally at 3_d._
the quartern. One man informed me that he had sold in one day 350
quarterns, receiving 5_l._ 16_s._ 8_d._ for them.

The number of men (for if there be women they are the men’s wives)
engaged daily throughout the year in the street-sale of bread is 12.
These sell upon an average 100 quarterns each per day: taking every day
in the year 1_l._ 12_s._ each (a few being sold at 3_d._)

Calculating then the four months’ trade in summer at 150 quarterns per
day per man, and reckoning 15 men so selling, and each receiving 45_s._
(thus allowing for the threepenny sale); and taking the receipts of the
12 regular traders at 1_l._ 12_s._ per day, we find nearly 9,000_l._
annually expended in the street purchase of 700,000 quartern loaves
of bread. The profits of the sellers vary from 1_l._ to 2_l._ a week,
according to the extent of their business.

To start in this branch of the street-trade a capital is required
according to the following rate:--Stock-money for bread, average 1_l._;
(largest amount required, 5_l._; smallest, 10_s._); a basket, 4_s._
6_d._ Of those who are employed in the summer, one-half have baskets,
and the other half bakers’ barrows; while of those who attend the year
through, 8 have baskets at 4_s._ 6_d._ each, 3 have barrows at 40_s._
each, and one a barrow and the long basket, before mentioned. The
barrow costs 30_s._, and the basket 2_l._


The sale of hot green peas in the streets is of great antiquity, that
is to say, if the cry of “hot peas-cod,” recorded by Lydgate (and
formerly alluded to), may be taken as having intimated the sale of the
same article. In many parts of the country it is, or was, customary
to have “_scaldings_ of peas,” often held as a sort of rustic feast.
The peas were not shelled, but boiled in the pod, and eaten by the
pod being dipped in melted butter, with a little pepper, salt, and
vinegar, and then drawn through the teeth to extract the peas, the
pod being thrown away. The mention of _peas-cod_ (or pea-shell) by
Lydgate renders it probable that the “scalding” method was that then in
use in the streets. None of the street-sellers, however, whom I saw,
remembered the peas being vended in any other form than shelled and
boiled as at present.

The sellers of green peas have no stands, but carry a round or oval tin
pot or pan, with a swing handle; the pan being wrapped round with a
thick cloth, to retain the heat. The peas are served out with a ladle,
and eaten by the customers, if eaten in the street, out of basins,
provided with spoons, by the pea-man. Salt, vinegar, and pepper, are
applied from the vendor’s store, at the customer’s discretion.

There are now four men carrying on this trade. They wear no particular
dress, “just what clothes we can get,” said one of them. One, who has
been in the trade twenty-five years, was formerly an inn-porter; the
other three are ladies’ shoemakers in the day-time, and pea-sellers
in the evening, or at early morning, in any market. Their average
sale is three gallons daily, with a receipt of 7_s._ per man. Seven
gallons a day is accounted a large sale; but the largest of all is at
Greenwich fair, when each pea-man will take 35_s._ in a day. Each
vendor has his district. One takes Billingsgate, Rosemary-lane, and its
vicinity; another, the Old Clothes Exchange, Bishopsgate, Shoreditch,
and Bethnal-green; a third, Mile-end and Stepney; and a fourth,
Ratcliffe-highway, Limehouse, and Poplar. Each man resides in his
“round,” for the convenience of boiling his peas, and introducing them
to his customers “hot and hot.”

The peas used in this traffic are all the dried field pea, but dried
green and whole, and not split, or prepared, as are the yellow peas
for soup or puddings. They are purchased at the corn-chandlers’ or
the seed-shops, the price being 2_s._ the peck (or two gallons.) The
peas are soaked before they are boiled, and swell considerably, so
that one gallon of the dried peas makes rather more than two gallons
of the boiled. The hot green peas are sold in halfpennyworths; a
halfpennyworth being about a quarter of a pint. The cry of the sellers
is, “Hot green peas! all hot, all hot! Here’s your peas hot, hot, hot!”


The most experienced man in the trade gave me the following account:--

“Come the 25th of March, sir, and I shall have been 26 years in the
business, for I started it on the 25th of March--it’s a day easy for
to remember, ’cause everybody knows it’s quarter-day--in 1825. I was a
porter in coaching-inns before; but there was a mishap, and I had to
drop it. I didn’t leave ’cause I thought the pea line might be better,
but because I must do something, and knew a man in the trade, and
all about it. It was a capital trade then, and for a good many years
after I was in it. Many a day I’ve taken a guinea, and, sometimes,
35_s._; and I have taken two guineas at Greenwich Fair, but then I
worked till one or two in the morning from eleven the day before.
Money wasn’t so scarce then. Oh, sir, as to what my profit was or is,
I never tell. I wouldn’t to my own wife; neither her that’s living nor
her that’s dead.” [A person present intimated that the secret might be
safely confided to the dead wife, but the pea-seller shook his head.]
“Now, one day with another, except Sundays, when I don’t work, I may
take 7_s._ I always use the dried peas. They pay better than fresh
garden-peas would at a groat a peck. People has asked for young green
peas, but I’ve said that I didn’t have them. Billingsgate’s my best
ground. I sell to the costers, and the roughs, and all the parties that
has their dinners in the tap-rooms--they has a bit of steak, or a bit
of cold meat they’ve brought with them. There’s very little fish eat
in Billingsgate, except, perhaps, at the ord’n’ries (ordinaries). I’m
looked for as regular as dinner-time. The landlords tell me to give
my customers plenty of pepper and salt, to make them thirsty. I go on
board the Billingsgate ships, too, and sometimes sell 6_d._ worth to
captain and crew. It’s a treat, after a rough voyage. Oh, no, sir, I
never go on board the Dutch eel-vessels. There’s nothing to be got out
of scaly fur’ners (foreigners.) I sell to the herring, and mackarel,
and oyster-boats, when they’re up. My great sale is in public-houses,
but I sometimes sell 2_d._ or 3_d._ worth to private houses. I go out
morning, noon, and night; and at night I go my round when people’s
having a bite of supper, perhaps, in the public-houses. I sell to
the women of the town then. Yes, I give them credit. To-night, now
(Saturday), I expect to receive 2_s._ 3_d._, or near on to it, that
I’ve trusted them this week. They mostly pay me on a Saturday night.
I lose very little by them. I’m knocked about in public-houses by the
Billingsgate roughs, and I’ve been bilked by the prigs. I’ve known at
least six people try my trade, and fail in it, and I was glad to see
them broke. I sell twice as much in cold weather as in warm.”

I ascertained that my informant sold three times as much as the
other dealers, who confine their trade principally to an evening
round. Reckoning that the chief man of business sells 3 gallons a day
(which, at 1_d._ the quarter-pint, would be 8_s._, my informant said
7_s._), and that the other three together sell the same quantity, we
find a street-expenditure on hot green peas of 250_l._ and a street
consumption of 1870 gallons. The peas, costing 2_s._ the two gallons,
are vended for 4_s._ or 5_s._, at the least, as they boil into more
than double the quantity, and a gallon, retail, is 2_s._ 8_d._; but the
addition of vinegar, pepper, &c., may reduce the profit to cent. per
cent., while there is the heaping up of every measure retail to reduce
the profit. Thus, independent of any consideration as to the labour in
boiling, &c. (generally done by the women), the principal man’s profit
is 21_s._ a week; that of the others 7_s._ each weekly.

The capital required to start in the business is--can, 2_s._ 6_d._;
vinegar-bottle and pepper-box, 4_d._; saucers and spoons, 6_d._;
stock-money, about 2_s._; cloth to wrap over the peas, 4_d._ (a vendor
wearing out a cloth in three months); or an average of 9_s._ or 10_s._


The supply of food for cats and dogs is far greater than may be
generally thought. “Vy, sir,” said one of the dealers to me, “can you
tell me ’ow many people’s in London?” On my replying, upwards of two
millions; “I don’t know nothing vatever,” said my informant, “about
millions, but I think there’s a cat to every ten people, aye, and more
than that; and so, sir, you can reckon.” [I told him this gave a total
of 200,000 cats in London; but the number of inhabited houses in the
metropolis was 100,000 more than this, and though there was not a cat
to every house, still, as many lodgers as well as householders kept
cats, I added that I thought the total number of cats in London might
be taken at the same number as the inhabited houses, or 300,000 in
all.] “There’s not near half so many dogs as cats. I must know, for
they all knows me, and I sarves about 200 cats and 70 dogs. Mine’s a
middling trade, but some does far better. Some cats has a hap’orth a
day, some every other day; werry few can afford a penn’orth, but times
is inferior. Dogs is better pay when you’ve a connection among ’em.”

The cat and dogs’-meat dealers, or “carriers,” as they call themselves,
generally purchase the meat at the knackers’ (horse-slaughterers’)
yards. There are upwards of twenty of such yards in London; three or
four are in Whitechapel, one in Wandsworth, two in Cow-cross--one of
the two last mentioned is the largest establishment in London--and
there are two about Bermondsey. The proprietors of these yards purchase
live and dead horses. They contract for them with large firms, such
as brewers, coal-merchants, and large cab and ’bus yards, giving so
much per head for their old live and dead horses through the year. The
price varies from 2_l._ to 50_s._ the carcass. The knackers also have
contractors in the country (harness-makers and others), who bring or
send up to town for them the live and dead stock of those parts. The
dead horses are brought to the yard--two or three upon one cart, and
sometimes five. The live ones are tied to the tail of these carts,
and behind the tail of each other. Occasionally a string of fourteen
or fifteen are brought up, head to tail, at one time. The live horses
are purchased merely for slaughtering. If among the lot bought there
should chance to be one that is young, but in bad condition, it is
placed in the stable, fed up, and then put into the knacker’s carts,
or sold by them, or let on hire. Occasionally a fine horse has been
rescued from death in this manner. One person is known to have bought
an animal for 15_s._, for which he afterwards got 150_l._ Frequently
young horses that will not work in cabs--such as “jibs”--are sold to
the horse-slaughterers as useless. They are kept in the yard, and
after being well fed, often turn out good horses. The live horses
are slaughtered by the persons called “knackers.” These men get upon
an average 4_s._ a day. They begin work at twelve at night, because
some of the flesh is required to be boiled before six in the morning;
indeed, a great part of the meat is delivered to the carriers before
that hour. The horse to be slaughtered has his mane clipped as short
as possible (on account of the hair, which is valuable). It is then
blinded with a piece of old apron smothered in blood, so that it may
not see the slaughterman when about to strike. A pole-axe is used,
and a cane, to put an immediate end to the animal’s sufferings. After
the animal is slaughtered, the hide is taken off, and the flesh cut
from the bones in large pieces. These pieces are termed, according
to the part from which they are cut, hind-quarters, fore-quarters,
cram-bones, throats, necks, briskets, backs, ribs, kidney pieces,
hearts, tongues, liver and lights. The bones (called “racks” by the
knackers) are chopped up and boiled, in order to extract the fat,
which is used for greasing common harness, and the wheels of carts
and drags, &c. The bones themselves are sold for manure. The pieces
of flesh are thrown into large coppers or pans, about nine feet in
diameter and four feet deep. Each of these pans will hold about three
good-sized horses. Sometimes two large brewers’ horses will fill them,
and sometimes as many as four “poor” cab-horses may be put into them.
The flesh is boiled about an hour and 20 minutes for a “killed” horse,
and from two hours to two hours and 20 minutes for a dead horse (a
horse dying from age or disease). The flesh, when boiled, is taken from
the coppers, laid on the stones, and sprinkled with water to cool it.
It is then weighed out in pieces of 112, 56, 28, 21, 14, 7, and 3-1/2
lbs. weight. These are either taken round in a cart to the “carriers,”
or, at about five, the carriers call at the yard to purchase, and
continue doing so till twelve in the day. The price is 14_s._ per cwt.
in winter, and 16_s._ in summer. The tripe is served out at 12 lb. for
6_d._ All this is for cats and dogs. The carriers then take the meat
round town, wherever their “walk” may lie. They sell it to the public
at the rate of 2-1/2_d._ per lb., and in small pieces, on skewers, at
a farthing, a halfpenny, and a penny each. Some carriers will sell as
much as a hundred-weight in a day, and about half a hundred-weight is
the average quantity disposed of by the carriers in London. Some sell
much cheaper than others. These dealers will frequently knock at the
doors of persons whom they have seen served by another on the previous
day, and show them that they can let them have a larger quantity of
meat for the same money. The class of persons belonging to the business
are mostly those who have been unable to obtain employment at their
trade. Occasionally a person is bred to it, having been engaged as a
lad by some carrier to go round with the barrow and assist him in his
business. These boys will, after a time, find a “walk” for themselves,
beginning first with a basket, and ultimately rising to a barrow. Many
of the carriers give light weight to the extent of 2 oz. and 4 oz. in
the pound. At one yard alone near upon 100 carriers purchase meat, and
there are, upon an average, 150 horses slaughtered there every week.
Each slaughter-house may be said to do, one with another, 60 horses per
week throughout the year, which, reckoning the London slaughter-houses
at 12, gives a total of 720 horses killed every week in the metropolis,
or, in round numbers, 37,500 in the course of the year.

The London cat and dogs’-meat carriers or sellers--nearly all
men--number at the least 1,000.

The slaughtermen are said to reap large fortunes very rapidly--indeed,
the carriers say they coin the money. Many of them retire after a few
years, and take large farms. One, after 12 years’ business, retired
with several thousand pounds, and has now three large farms. The
carriers are men, women, and boys. Very few women do as well as the men
at it. The carriers “are generally sad drunkards.” Out of five hundred,
it is said three hundred at least spend 1_l._ a head a week in drink.
One party in the trade told me that he knew a carrier who would often
spend 10_s._ in liquor at one sitting. The profit the carriers make
upon the meat is at present only a penny per pound. In the summer time
the profit per pound is reduced to a halfpenny, owing to the meat being
dearer on account of its scarcity. The carriers give a great deal of
credit--indeed, they take but little ready money. On some days they do
not come home with more than 2_s._ One with a middling walk pays for
his meat 7_s._ 6_d._ per day. For this he has half a hundred-weight.
This produces him as much as 11_s._ 6_d._, so that his profit is 4_s._;
which, I am assured, is about a fair average of the earnings of the
trade. One carrier is said to have amassed 1,000_l._ at the business.
He usually sold from 1-1/2 to 2 cwt. every morning, so that his profits
were generally from 16_s._ to 1_l._ per day. But the trade is much
worse now. There are so many at it, they say, that there is barely a
living for any. A carrier assured me that he seldom went less than
30, and frequently 40 miles, through the streets every day. The best
districts are among the houses of tradesmen, mechanics, and labourers.
The coachmen in the mews at the back of the squares are very good
customers. “The work lays thicker there,” said my informant. Old maids
are bad, though very plentiful, customers. They cheapen the carriers
down so, that they can scarcely live at the business. “They will pay
one halfpenny and owe another, and forget that after a day or two.” The
cats’ meat dealers generally complain of their losses from bad debts.
Their customers require credit frequently to the extent of 1_l._ “One
party owes me 15_s._ now,” said a carrier to me, “and many 10_s._; in
fact, very few people pay ready money for the meat.”

The carriers frequently serve as much as ten pennyworths to one person
in a day. One gentleman has as much as 4 lbs. of meat each morning for
two Newfoundland dogs; and there was one woman--a black--who used to
have as much as 16 pennyworth every day. This person used to get out on
the roof of the house and throw it to the cats on the tiles. By this
she brought so many stray cats round about the neighbourhood, that
the parties in the vicinity complained; it was quite a nuisance. She
_would_ have the meat always brought to her before ten in the morning,
or else she would send to a shop for it, and between ten and eleven in
the morning the noise and cries of the hundreds of stray cats attracted
to the spot was “terrible to hear.” When the meat was thrown to the
cats on the roof, the riot, and confusion, and fighting, was beyond
description. “A beer-shop man,” I was told, “was obliged to keep five
or six dogs to drive the cats from his walls.” There was also a mad
woman in Islington, who used to have 14 lbs. of meat a day. The party
who supplied her had his money often at 2_l._ and 3_l._ at a time. She
had as many as thirty cats at times in her house. Every stray one that
came she would take in and support. The stench was so great that she
was obliged to be ejected. The best days for the cats’ meat business
are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays. A double quantity of meat is sold
on the Saturday; and on that day and Monday and Tuesday the weekly
customers generally pay.

“My father was a baker by trade,” said a carrier to me, “but through
an enlargement of the heart he was obliged to give up working at his
trade; leaning over the trough increased his complaint so severely,
that he used to fall down, and be obliged to be brought home. This made
him take to the cats’ and dogs’ meat trade, and he brought me up to it.
I do pretty comfortably. I have a very good business, having been all
my life at it. If it wasn’t for the bad debts I should do much better;
but some of the people I trust leave the houses, and actually take in
a double quantity of meat the day before. I suppose there is at the
present moment as much as 20_l._ owing to me that I never expect to see
a farthing of.”

The generality of the dealers wear a shiny hat, black plush waistcoat
and sleeves, a blue apron, corduroy trousers, and a blue and white
spotted handkerchief round their necks. Some, indeed, will wear two and
three handkerchiefs round their necks, this being fashionable among
them. A great many meet every Friday afternoon in the donkey-market,
Smithfield, and retire to a public-house adjoining, to spend the

A “cats’ meat carrier” who supplied me with information was more
comfortably situated than any of the poorer classes that I have yet
seen. He lived in the front room of a second floor, in an open and
respectable quarter of the town, and his lodgings were the perfection
of comfort and cleanliness in an humble sphere. It was late in the
evening when I reached the house. I found the “carrier” and his family
preparing for supper. In a large morocco leather easy chair sat the
cats’ meat carrier himself; his “blue apron and black shiny hat” had
disappeared, and he wore a “dress” coat and a black satin waistcoat
instead. His wife, who was a remarkably pretty woman, and of very
attractive manners, wore a “Dolly Varden” cap, placed jauntily at
the back of her head, and a drab merino dress. The room was cosily
carpeted, and in one corner stood a mahogany “crib” with cane-work
sides, in which one of the children was asleep. On the table was a
clean white table-cloth, and the room was savoury with the steaks, and
mashed potatoes that were cooking on the fire. Indeed, I have never
yet seen greater comfort in the abodes of the poor. The cleanliness
and wholesomeness of the apartment were the more striking from the
unpleasant associations connected with the calling.

It is believed by one who has been engaged at the business for 25
years, that there are from 900 to 1,000 horses, averaging 2 cwt. of
meat each--little and big--boiled down every week; so that the quantity
of cats’ and dogs’ meat used throughout London is about 200,000 lbs.
per week, and this, sold at the rate of 2-1/2_d._ per lb., gives
2,000_l._ a week for the money spent in cats’ and dogs’ meat, or
upwards of 100,000_l._ a year, which is at the rate of 100_l._-worth
sold annually by each carrier. The profits of the carriers may be
estimated at about 50_l._ each per annum.

The capital required to start in this business varies from 1_l._ to
2_l._ The stock-money needed is between 5_s._ and 10_s._ The barrow and
basket, weights and scales, knife and steel, or black-stone, cost about
2_l._ when new, and from 15_s._ to 4_s._ second-hand.


The street-sellers of the drinkables, who have now to be considered,
belong to the same class as I have described in treating of the sale
of street-provisions generally. The buyers are not precisely of the
same class, for the street-eatables often supply a meal, but with the
exception of the coffee-stalls, and occasionally of the rice-milk,
the drinkables are more of a luxury than a meal. Thus the buyers are
chiefly those who have “a penny to spare,” rather than those who have
“a penny to dine upon.” I have described the different classes of
purchasers of each potable, and perhaps the accounts--as a picture
of street-life--are even more curious than those I have given of the
purchasers of the eatables--of (literally) the diners _out_.


The vending of tea and coffee, in the streets, was little if at all
known twenty years ago, saloop being then the beverage supplied from
stalls to the late and early wayfarers. Nor was it until after 1842
that the stalls approached to anything like their present number, which
is said to be upwards of 300--the majority of the proprietors being
women. Prior to 1824, coffee was in little demand, even among the
smaller tradesmen or farmers, but in that year the duty having been
reduced from 1_s._ to 6_d._ per lb., the consumption throughout the
kingdom in the next seven years was nearly trebled, the increase being
from 7,933,041 lbs., in 1824, to 22,745,627 lbs., in 1831. In 1842, the
duty on coffee, was fixed at 4_d._, from British possessions, and from
foreign countries at 6_d._

But it was not owing solely to the reduced price of coffee, that the
street-vendors of it increased in the year or two subsequent to 1842,
at least 100 per cent. The great facilities then offered for a cheap
adulteration, by mixing ground chicory with the ground coffee, was an
enhancement of the profits, and a greater temptation to embark in the
business, as a smaller amount of capital would suffice. Within these
two or three years, this cheapness has been still further promoted,
by the medium of adulteration, the chicory itself being, in its turn,
adulterated by the admixture of baked carrots, and the like saccharine
roots, which, of course, are not subjected to any duty, while foreign
chicory is charged 6_d._ per lb. English chicory is not chargeable
with duty, and is now cultivated, I am assured, to the yield of
between 4,000 and 5,000 tons yearly, and this nearly all used in the
adulteration of coffee. Nor is there greater culpability in this trade
among street-venders, than among “respectable” shopkeepers; for I was
assured, by a leading grocer, that he could not mention twenty shops in
the city, of which he could say: “You can go and buy a pound of ground
coffee there, and it will not be adulterated.” The revelations recently
made on this subject by the _Lancet_ are a still more convincing proof
of the _general_ dishonesty of grocers.

The coffee-stall keepers generally stand at the corner of a street.
In the fruit and meat markets there are usually two or three
coffee-stalls, and one or two in the streets leading to them; in
Covent-garden there are no less than four coffee-stalls. Indeed, the
stalls abound in all the great thoroughfares, and the most in those not
accounted “fashionable” and great “business” routes, but such as are
frequented by working people, on their way to their day’s labour. The
best “pitch” in London is supposed to be at the corner of Duke-street,
Oxford-street. The proprietor of that stall is said to take full
30_s._ of a morning, in halfpence. One stall-keeper, I was informed,
when “upon the drink” thinks nothing of spending his 10_l._ or 15_l._
in a week. A party assured me that once, when the stall-keeper above
mentioned was away “on the spree,” he took up his stand there, and got
from 4_s._ to 5_s._ in the course of ten minutes, at the busy time of
the morning.

The coffee-stall usually consists of a spring-barrow, with two, and
occasionally four, wheels. Some are made up of tables, and some have
a tressel and board. On the top of this are placed two or three, and
sometimes four, large tin cans, holding upon an average five gallons
each. Beneath each of these cans is a small iron fire-pot, perforated
like a rushlight shade, and here charcoal is continually burning, so
as to keep the coffee or tea, with which the cans are filled, hot
throughout the early part of the morning. The board of the stall has
mostly a compartment for bread and butter, cake, and ham sandwiches,
and another for the coffee mugs. There is generally a small tub under
each of the stalls, in which the mugs and saucers are washed. The
“grandest” stall in this line is the one before-mentioned, as standing
at the corner of Duke-street, Oxford-street (of which an engraving
is here given). It is a large truck on four wheels, and painted a
bright green. The cans are four in number, and of bright polished
tin, mounted with brass-plates. There are compartments for bread
and butter, sandwiches, and cake. It is lighted by three large oil
lamps, with bright brass mountings, and covered in with an oil-cloth
roof. The coffee-stalls, generally, are lighted by candle-lamps. Some
coffee-stalls are covered over with tarpaulin, like a tent, and others
screened from the sharp night or morning air by a clothes-horse
covered with blankets, and drawn half round the stall.

Some of the stall-keepers make their appearance at twelve at night,
and some not till three or four in the morning. Those that come out
at midnight, are for the accommodation of the “night-walkers”--“fast
gentlemen” and loose girls; and those that come out in the morning, are
for the accommodation of the working men.

It is, I may add, piteous enough to see a few young and good-looking
girls, some without the indelible mark of habitual depravity on their
countenances, clustering together for warmth round a coffee-stall,
to which a penny expenditure, or the charity of the proprietor, has
admitted them. The thieves do not resort to the coffee-stalls, which
are so immediately under the eye of the policeman.

The coffee-stall keepers usually sell coffee and tea, and some of them
cocoa. They keep hot milk in one of the large cans, and coffee, tea,
or cocoa in the others. They supply bread and butter, or currant cake,
in slices--ham sandwiches, water-cresses, and boiled eggs. The price
is 1_d._ per mug, or 1/2_d._ per half-mug, for coffee, tea, or cocoa;
and 1/2_d._ a slice the bread and butter or cake. The ham sandwiches
are 2_d._ (or 1_d._) each, the boiled eggs 1_d._, and the water-cresses
a halfpenny a bunch. The coffee, tea, cocoa, and sugar they generally
purchase by the single pound, at a grocer’s. Those who do an extensive
trade purchase in larger quantities. The coffee is usually bought in
the berry, and ground by themselves. All purchase chicory to mix with
it. For the coffee they pay about 1_s._; for the tea about 3_s._; for
the cocoa 6_d._ per lb.; and for the sugar 3-1/2_d._ to 4_d._ For the
chicory the price is 6_d._ (which is the amount of the duty alone on
foreign chicory), and it is mixed with the coffee at the rate of 6
ozs. to the pound; many use as much as 9 and 12 ozs. The coffee is
made of a dark colour by means of what are called “finings,” which
consist of burnt sugar--such, as is used for browning soups. Coffee
is the article mostly sold at the stalls; indeed, there is scarcely
one stall in a hundred that is supplied with tea, and not more than a
dozen in all London that furnish cocoa. The stall-keepers usually make
the cake themselves. A 4 lb. cake generally consists of half a pound
of currants, half a pound of sugar, six ounces of beef dripping, and
a quartern of flour. The ham for sandwiches costs 5-1/2_d._ or 6_d._
per lb.; and when boiled produces in sandwiches about 2_s._ per lb. It
is usually cut up in slices little thicker than paper. The bread is
usually “second bread;” the butter, salt, at about 8_d._ the pound.
Some borrow their barrows, and pay 1_s._ a week for the hire of them.
Many borrow the capital upon which they trade, frequently of their
landlord. Some get credit for their grocery--some for their bread.
If they borrow, they pay about 20 per cent. per week for the loan. I
was told of one man that makes a practice of lending money to the
coffee-stall-keepers and other hucksters, at the rate of at least 20
per cent. a week. If the party wishing to borrow a pound or two is
unknown to the money-lender, he requires security, and the interest
to be paid him weekly. This money-lender, I am informed, has been
transported once for receiving stolen property, and would now purchase
any amount of plate that might be taken to him.


[_From a Daguerreotype by_ BEARD.]]

The class of persons usually belonging to the business have been either
cab-men, policemen, labourers, or artisans. Many have been bred to
dealing in the streets, and brought up to no other employment, but many
have taken to the business owing to the difficulty of obtaining work at
their own trade. The generality of them are opposed to one another. I
asked one in a small way of business what was the average amount of his
profits, and his answer was,--

“I usually buy 10 ounces of coffee a night. That costs, when good,
1_s._ 0-1/2_d._ With this I should make five gallons of coffee, such as
I sell in the street, which would require 3 quarts of milk, at 3_d._
per quart, and 1-1/2 lb. of sugar, at 3-1/2_d._ per lb., there is some
at 3_d._ This would come to 2_s._ 2-3/4_d._; and, allowing 1-1/4_d._
for a quarter of a peck of charcoal to keep the coffee hot, it would
give 2_s._ 4_d._ for the cost of five gallons of coffee. This I should
sell out at about 1-1/2_d._ per pint; so that the five gallons would
produce me 5_s._, or 2_s._ 8_d._ clear. I generally get rid of one
quartern loaf and 6 oz. of butter with this quantity of coffee, and for
this I pay 5_d._ the loaf and 3_d._ the butter, making 8_d._; and these
I make into twenty-eight slices at 1/2_d._ per slice; so the whole
brings me in 1_s._ 2_d._, or about 6_d._ clear. Added to this, I sell
a 4 lb. cake, which costs me 3-1/2_d._ per lb. 1_s._ 2_d._ the entire
cake; and this in twenty-eight slices, at 1_d._ per slice, would yield
2_s._ 4_d._, or 1_s._ 2_d._ clear; so that altogether my clear gains
would be 4_s._ 4_d._ upon an expenditure of 2_s._ 2_d._--say 200 per

This is said to be about the usual profit of the trade. Sometimes they
give credit. One person assured me he trusted as much as 9-1/2_d._ that
morning, and out of that he was satisfied there was 4_d._, at least,
he should never see. Most of the stalls are stationary, but some are
locomotive. Some cans are carried about with yokes, like milk-cans,
the mugs being kept in a basket. The best district for the night-trade
is the City, and the approaches to the bridges. There are more men
and women, I was told, walking along Cheapside, Aldersgate-street,
Bishopsgate-street, and Fleet-street. In the latter place a good trade
is frequently done between twelve at night and two in the morning. For
the morning trade the best districts are the Strand, Oxford-street,
City-road, New-road (from one end to the other), the markets,
especially Covent Garden, Billingsgate, Newgate, and the Borough. There
are no coffee-stalls in Smithfield. The reason is that the drovers,
on arriving at the market, are generally tired and cold, and prefer
sitting down to their coffee in a warm shop rather than drink it in
the open street. The best days for coffee-stalls are market mornings,
viz. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On these days the receipts are
generally half as much again as those of the other mornings. The best
time of the year for the business is the summer. This is, I am told,
because the workpeople and costermongers have more money to spend.
Some stall-keepers save sufficient to take a shop, but these are
only such as have a “pitch” in the best thoroughfares. One who did a
little business informed me that he usually cleared, including Sunday,
14_s._--last week his gains were 15_s._; the week before that he could
not remember. He is very frequently out all night, and does not earn
sixpence. This is on wet and cold nights, when there are few people
about. His is generally the night-trade. The average weekly earnings
of the trade, throughout the year, are said to be 1_l._ The trade, I
am assured by all, is overstocked. They are half too many, they say.
“Two of us,” to use their own words, “are eating one man’s bread.”
“When coffee in the streets first came up, a man could go and earn,” I
am told, “his 8_s._ a night at the very lowest; but now the same class
of men cannot earn more than 3_s._” Some men may earn comparatively a
large sum, as much as 38_s._ or 2_l._, but the generality of the trade
cannot make more than 1_l._ per week, if so much. The following is the
statement of one of the class:--

“I was a mason’s labourer, a smith’s labourer, a plasterer’s labourer,
or a bricklayer’s labourer. I was, indeed, a labouring man. I could not
get employment. I was for six months without any employment. I did not
know which way to support my wife and child (I have only one child).
Being so long out of employment, I saw no other means of getting a
living but out of the streets. I was almost starving before I took to
it--that I certainly was. I’m not ashamed of telling anybody that,
because it’s true, and I sought for a livelihood wherever I could. Many
said they wouldn’t do such a thing as keep a coffee-stall, but I said
I’d do anything to get a bit of bread honestly. Years ago, when I was
a boy, I used to go out selling water-cresses, and apples, oranges,
and radishes, with a barrow, for my landlord; so I thought, when I
was thrown out of employment, I would take to selling coffee in the
streets. I went to a tinman, and paid him 10_s._ 6_d._ (the last of my
savings, after I’d been four or five months out of work) for a can,
I didn’t care how I got my living so long as I could turn an honest
penny. Well; I went on, and knocked about, and couldn’t get a pitch
anywhere; but at last I heard that an old man, who had been in the
habit of standing for many years at the entrance of one of the markets,
had fell ill; so, what did I do, but I goes and pops into his pitch,
and there I’ve done better than ever I did afore. I get 20_s._ now
where I got 10_s._ one time; and if I only had such a thing as 5_l._
or 10_l._, I might get a good living for life. I cannot do half as much
as the man that was there before me. He used to make his coffee down
there, and had a can for hot water as well; but I have but one can to
keep coffee and all in; and I have to borrow my barrow, and pay 1_s._
a week for it. If I sell my can out, I can’t do any more. The struggle
to get a living is so great, that, what with one and another in the
coffee-trade, it’s only those as can get good ‘pitches’ that can get a
crust at it.”

As it appears that each coffee-stall keeper on an average, clears 1_l._
a week, and his takings may be said to be at least double that sum, the
yearly street expenditure for tea, coffee, &c., amounts to 31,200_l._
The quantity of coffee sold annually in the streets, appears to be
about 550,000 gallons.

To commence as a coffee-stall keeper in a moderate manner requires
about 5_l._ capital. The truck costs 2_l._, and the other utensils and
materials 3_l._ The expense of the cans is near upon 16_s._ each. The
stock-money is a few shillings.


The street-trade in ginger-beer--now a very considerable traffic--was
not known to any extent until about thirty years ago. About that
time (1822) a man, during a most sultry drought, sold extraordinary
quantities of “cool ginger-beer” and of “soda-powders,” near the Royal
Exchange, clearing, for the three or four weeks the heat continued,
30_s._ a day, or 9_l._ weekly. Soda-water he sold “in powders,” the
acid and the alkali being mixed in the water of the glass held by the
customer, and drunk whilst effervescing. His prices were 2_d._ and
3_d._ a glass for ginger-beer; and 3_d._ and 4_d._ for soda-water,
“according to the quality;” though there was in reality no difference
whatever in the quality--only in the price. From that time, the numbers
pursuing this street avocation increased gradually; they have however
fallen off of late years.

The street-sellers who “brew their own beer” generally prepare half
a gross (six dozen) at a time. For a “good quality” or the “penny
bottle” trade, the following are the ingredients and the mode of
preparation:--3 gallons of water; 1 lb. of ginger, 6_d._; lemon-acid,
2_d._; essence of cloves, 2_d._; yeast, 2_d._; and 1 lb. of raw sugar,
7_d._ This admixture, the yeast being the last ingredient introduced,
stands 24 hours, and is then ready for bottling. If the beverage
be required in 12 hours, double the quantity of yeast is used. The
bottles are filled only “to the ridge,” but the liquid and the froth
more than fill a full-sized half-pint glass. “Only half froth,” I was
told, “is reckoned very fair, and it’s just the same in the shops.”
Thus, 72 bottles, each to be sold at 1_d._, cost--apart from any
outlay in utensils, or any consideration of the value of labour--only
1_s._ 7_d._, and yield, at 1_d._ per bottle, 6_s._ For the cheaper
beverage--called “playhouse ginger-beer” in the trade--instead of
sugar, molasses from the “private distilleries” is made available.
The “private” distilleries are the illicit ones: “‘Jiggers,’ we call
them,” said one man; “and I could pass 100 in 10 minutes’ walk from
where we’re talking.” Molasses, costing 3_d._ at a jigger’s, is
sufficient for a half-gross of bottles of ginger-beer; and of the other
ingredients only half the quantity is used, the cloves being altogether
dispensed with, but the same amount of yeast is generally applied. This
quality of “beer” is sold at 1/2_d._ the glass.

About five years ago “fountains” for the production of ginger-beer
became common in the streets. The ginger