London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry
1851

The Rat-Killer.

The Rat-Killer.

IN "the Brill," or rather in Brill-place, Somers"--town, there is a variety of courts branching out into Chapel-street, and in one of the most angular and obscure of these is to be found a perfect nest of rat-catchers—not altogether professional rat-catchers, but for the most part sporting mechanics and costermongers. The court is not easily to be found, being inhabited by men not so well known in the immediate neighbourhood as perhaps a mile or two away, and only to be discovered by the aid and direction of the little girl at the neighbouring cat"s-meat shop.

My first experience of this court was the usual disturbance at the entrance. I found one end or branch of it filled with a mob of eager listeners, principally women, all attracted to a particular house by the sounds of quarrelling. One man gave it as his opinion that the disturbers must have earned too much money yesterday; and a woman, speaking to another who had just come out, lifting up both her hands and laughing, said, "Here they are—at it again!"

The rat-killer whom we were in search of was out at his stall in Chapel-street when we called, but his wife soon fetched him. He was a strong, sturdy-looking man, rather above the middle height, with light hair, ending in sandy whiskers, reaching under his chin, sharp deepset eyes, a tight-skinned nose that looked as if the cuticle had been stretched to its utmost on its bridge. He was dressed in the ordinary corduroy costermonger habit, having, in addition, a dark blue Guernsey drawn over his waistcoat.

The man"s first anxiety was to show us that rats were not his only diversion; and in consequence he took us into the yard of the house, where in a shed lay a bull-dog, a bull-bitch, and a litter of pups just a week old. They did not belong to him, but he said he did a good deal in the way of curing dogs when he could get "em.

On a shelf in this shed were two large dishes, the one containing mussels without the shells, and the other eels; these are the commodities in which he deals at present, so that he is properly what one would call a "pickledeel seller."

We found his room on the first-floor clean and tidy, of a good size, containing two bedsteads and a large sea-chest, besides an oldfashioned, rickety, mahogany table, while in a far corner of the room, perhaps waiting for the cold weather and the winter"s fire, was an armchair. Behind the door hung a couple of dogleads, made of strong leather, and ornamented with brass. Against one side of the wall were two framed engravings of animals, and a sort of chart of animated nature, while over the mantel-shelf was a variety of most characteristic articles. Among these appeared a model of a bull-dog"s head, cut out of sandstone, and painted in imitation of nature—a most marvellous piece of ugliness. "He was the best dog I ever see," said the host, "and when I parted with him for a ten-pound note, a man as worked in the New Road took and made this model—he was a real beauty, was that dog. The man as carved that there, didn"t have no difficulty in holdin" him still, becos he was very good at that sort o" thing; and when he"d looked at anything he couldn"t be off doin" it."

There were also a great many common prints about the walls, "a penny each, frame and all," amongst which were four dogs—all ratting—a game cock, two Robinson Crusoes, and three scripture subjects.

There was, besides, a photograph of another favourite dog which he"d "had give him."

The man apologised for the bareness of the room, but said, "You see, master, my brother went over to "Merica contracting for a railway under Peto"s, and they sends to me about a year ago, telling me to get together as many likely fellows as I could (about a dozen), and take them over as excavators; and when I was ready, to go to Peto"s and get what money I wanted. But when I"d got the men, sold off all my sticks, and went for the money, they told me my brother had got plenty, and that if he wanted me he ought to be ashamed of hisself not to send some over hisself; so I just got together these few things again, and I ain"t heard of nothing at all about it since."

After I had satisfied him that I was not a collector of dog-tax, trying to find out how many animals he kept, he gave me what he evidently thought was "a treat"—a peep at his bull-dog, which he fetched from upstairs, and let it jump about the room with a most unpleasant liberty, informing me the while how he had given five pound for him, and that one of the first pups he got by a bull he had got five pounds for, and that cleared him. "That Punch" (the bull-dog"s name), he said, "is as quiet as a lamb—wouldn"t hurt nobody; I frequently takes him through the streets without a lead. Sartainly he killed a cat the t"other afternoon, but he couldn"t help that, "cause the cat flew at him; though he took it as quietly as a man would a woman in a passion, and only went at her just to save his eyes. But you couldn"t easy get him off, master, when he once got a holt. He was a good one for rats, and, he believed, the stanchest and tricksiest dog in London."

When he had taken the brute upstairs, for which I was not a little thankful, the man made the following statement:—

I a"n"t a Londoner. I"ve travelled all about the country. I"m a native of Iver, in Buckinghamshire. I"ve been three year here at these lodgings, and five year in London altogether up to last September.

Before I come to London I was nothink, sir—a labouring man, an eshkewator. I come to London the same as the rest, to do anythink I could. I was at work at the eshkewations at King"s Cross Station. I work as hard as any man in London, I think.

When the station was finished, I, having a large family, thought I"d do the best I could, so I went to be foreman at the Caledonian Sawmills. I stopped there a twelvemonth; but one day I went for a load and a-half of lime, and where you fetches a load and a-half of lime they always gives you fourpence. So as I was having a pint of beer out of it, my master come by and saw me drinking, and give me the sack. Then he wanted me to ax his pardon, and I might stop; but I told him I wouldn"t beg no one"s pardon for drinking a pint of beer as was give me. So I left there.

Ever since the Great Western was begun, my family has been distributed all over the country, wherever there was a railway making. My brothers were contractors for Peto, and I generally worked for my brothers; but they"ve gone to America, and taken a contract for a railway at St. John"s, New Brunswick, British North America. I can do anything in the eshkewating way—I don"t care what it is.

After I left the Caledonian Sawmills I went to Billingsgate, and bought anythink I could see a chance of gettin" a shilling out on, or to"ards keeping my family.

All my lifetime I"ve been a-dealing a little in rats; but it was not till I come to London that I turned my mind fully to that sort of thing. My father always had a great notion of the same. We all like the sport. When any on us was in the country, and the farmers wanted us to, we"d do it. If anybody heerd tell of my being an activish chap like, in that sort of way, they"d get me to come for a day or so.

If anybody has a place that"s eaten up with rats, I goes and gets some ferruts, and takes a dog, if I"ve got one, and manages to kill "em. Sometimes I keep my own ferruts, but mostly I borrows them. This young man that"s with me, he"ll sometimes have an order to go fifty or sixty mile into the country, and then he buys his ferruts, or gets them the best way he can. They charges a good sum for the loan of "em—sometimes as much as you get for the job.

You can buy ferruts at Leadenhall-market for 5s. or 7s.—it all depends; you can"t get them all at one price, some of "em is real cowards to what others is; some won"t even kill a rat. The way we tries "em is, we puts "em down anywhere, in a room maybe, with a rat, and if they smell about and won"t go up to it, why they won"t do; "cause you see, sometimes the ferrut has to go up a hole, and at the end there may be a dozen or sixteen rats, and if he hasn"t got the heart to tackle one on "em, why he ain"t worth a farden.

I have kept ferruts for four or five months at a time, but they"re nasty stinking things. I"ve had them get loose; but, bless you, they do no harm, they"re as hinnocent as cats; they won"t hurt nothink; you can play with them like a kitten. Some puts things down to ketch rats—sorts of pison, which is their secret— but I don"t. I relies upon my dogs and ferruts, and nothink else.

I went to destroy a few rats up at Russellsquare; there was a shore come right along, and a few holes—they was swarmed with "em there—and didn"t know how it was; but the cleverest men in the world couldn"t ketch many there, "cause you see, master, they run down the hole into the shore, and no dog could get through a rat-hole.

I couldn"t get my living, though, at that business. If any gentleman comes to me and says he wants a dog cured, or a few rats destroyed, I does it.

In the country they give you fourpence a rat, and you can kill sometimes as many in a farmyard as you can in London. The most I ever got for destroying rats was four bob, and then I filled up the brickwork and made the holes good, and there was no more come.

I calls myself a coster; some calls theirselves general dealers, but I doesn"t. I goes to market, and if one thing don"t suit, why I buys another.

I don"t know whether you"ve heerd of it, master, or not, but I"m the man as they say kills rats—that"s to say, I kills "em like a dog. I"m almost ashamed to mention it, and I shall never do it any more, but I"ve killed rats for a wager often. You see it"s only been done like for a lark; we"ve bin all together daring one another, and trying to do something as nobody else could. I remember the first time I did it for a wager, it was up at ——, where they"ve got a pit. There was a bull-dog a killing rats, so I says,

"Oh, that"s a duffin" dog; any dog could kill quicker than him. I"d kill again him myself."

Well, then they chaffed me, and I warn"t goin" to be done; so I says,

"I"ll kill again that dog for a sov"rin."

The sov"rin was staked. I went down to kill eight rats again the dog, and I beat him. I killed "em like a dog, with my teeth. I went down hands and knees and bit "em. I"ve done it three times for a sov"rin, and I"ve won each time. I feels very much ashamed of it, though.

On the hind part of my neck, as you may see, sir, there"s a scar; that"s where I was bit by one; the rat twisted hisself round and held on like a vice. It was very bad, sir, for a long time; it festered, and broke out once or twice, but it"s all right now.

IN "the Brill," or rather in Brill-place, Somers"--town, there is a variety of courts branching out into , and in of the most angular and obscure of these is to be found a perfect nest of rat-catchers—not altogether professional rat-catchers, but for the most part sporting mechanics and costermongers. The court is not easily to be found, being inhabited by men not so well known in the immediate neighbourhood as perhaps a mile or away, and only to be discovered by the aid and direction of the little girl at the neighbouring cat"s-meat shop.

My experience of this court was the usual disturbance at the entrance. I found end or branch of it filled with a mob of eager listeners, principally women, all attracted to a particular house by the sounds of quarrelling. man gave it as his opinion that the disturbers must have earned too much money yesterday; and a woman, speaking to another who had just come out, lifting up both her hands and laughing, said, "Here they are— again!"

The rat-killer whom we were in search of was out at his stall in when we called, but his wife soon fetched him. He was a strong, sturdy-looking man, rather above the middle height, with light hair, ending in sandy whiskers, reaching under his chin, sharp deepset eyes, a tight-skinned nose that looked as if the cuticle had been stretched to its utmost on its bridge. He was dressed in the ordinary corduroy costermonger habit, having, in addition, a dark blue Guernsey drawn over his waistcoat.

The man"s anxiety was to show us that rats were not his only diversion; and in consequence he took us into the yard of the house, where in a shed lay a bull-dog, a bull-bitch, and a litter of pups just a week old. They did not belong to him, but he said he did a good deal in the way of curing dogs when he could get "em.

On a shelf in this shed were large dishes, the containing mussels without the shells, and the other eels; these are the commodities in which he deals at present, so that he is properly what would call a "pickledeel seller."

We found his room on the -floor clean and tidy, of a good size, containing bedsteads and a large sea-chest, besides an oldfashioned, rickety, mahogany table, while in a far corner of the room, perhaps waiting for the cold weather and the winter"s fire, was an armchair. Behind the door hung a couple of dogleads, made of strong leather, and ornamented with brass. Against side of the wall were framed engravings of animals, and a sort of chart of animated nature, while over the mantel-shelf was a variety of most characteristic articles. Among these appeared a model of a bull-dog"s head, cut out of sandstone, and painted in imitation of nature—a most marvellous piece of ugliness. "He was the best dog I ever see," said the host, "and when I parted with him for a -pound note, a man as worked in the took and made this model—he was a real beauty, was that dog. The man as carved that there, didn"t have no difficulty in holdin" him still, becos he was very good at that sort o" thing; and when he"d looked at anything he couldn"t be off doin" it."

There were also a great many common prints about the walls, "a penny each, frame and all," amongst which were dogs—all ratting—a game cock, Robinson Crusoes, and scripture subjects.

There was, besides, a photograph of another favourite dog which he"d "had give him."

The man apologised for the bareness of the room, but said, "You see, master, my brother went over to "Merica contracting for a railway

2

under Peto"s, and they sends to me about a year ago, telling me to get together as many likely fellows as I could (about a dozen), and take them over as excavators; and when I was ready, to go to Peto"s and get what money I wanted. But when I"d got the men, sold off all my sticks, and went for the money, they told me my brother had got plenty, and that if he wanted me he ought to be ashamed of hisself not to send some over hisself; so I just got together these few things again, and I ain"t heard of nothing at all about it since."

After I had satisfied him that I was not a collector of dog-tax, trying to find out how many animals he kept, he gave me what he evidently thought was "a treat"—a peep at his bull-dog, which he fetched from upstairs, and let it jump about the room with a most unpleasant liberty, informing me the while how he had given for him, and that of the pups he got by a bull he had got for, and that cleared him. "That Punch" (the bull-dog"s name), he said, "is as quiet as a lamb—wouldn"t hurt nobody; I frequently takes him through the streets without a lead. Sartainly he killed a cat the t"other afternoon, but he couldn"t help that, "cause the cat flew at him; though he took it as quietly as a man would a woman in a passion, and only went at her just to save his eyes. But you couldn"t easy get him off, master, when he once got a holt. He was a good for rats, and, he believed, the stanchest and tricksiest dog in London."

When he had taken the brute upstairs, for which I was not a little thankful, the man made the following statement:—

I a"n"t a Londoner. I"ve travelled all about the country. I"m a native of Iver, in Buckinghamshire. I"ve been

three

year here at these lodgings, and

five

year in London altogether up to last September.

Before I come to London I was nothink, sir—a labouring man, an eshkewator. I come to London the same as the rest, to do anythink I could. I was at work at the eshkewations at King"s Cross Station. I work as hard as any man in London, I think.

When the station was finished, I, having a large family, thought I"d do the best I could, so I went to be foreman at the Caledonian Sawmills. I stopped there a twelvemonth; but

one

day I went for a load and a-half of lime, and where you fetches a load and a-half of lime they always gives you fourpence. So as I was having a pint of beer out of it, my master come by and saw me drinking, and give me the sack. Then he wanted me to ax his pardon, and I might stop; but I told him I wouldn"t beg no

one

"s pardon for drinking a pint of beer as was give me. So I left there.

Ever since the Great Western was begun, my family has been distributed all over the country, wherever there was a railway making. My brothers were contractors for Peto, and I generally worked for my brothers; but they"ve

gone to America, and taken a contract for a railway at St. John"s, New Brunswick, British North America. I can do anything in the eshkewating way—I don"t care what it is.

After I left the Caledonian Sawmills I went to

Billingsgate

, and bought anythink I could see a chance of gettin" a shilling out on, or to"ards keeping my family.

All my lifetime I"ve been a-dealing a little in rats; but it was not till I come to London that I turned my mind fully to that sort of thing. My father always had a great notion of the same. We all like the sport. When any on us was in the country, and the farmers wanted us to, we"d do it. If anybody heerd tell of my being an activish chap like, in that sort of way, they"d get me to come for a day or so.

If anybody has a place that"s eaten up with rats, I goes and gets some ferruts, and takes a dog, if I"ve got

one

, and manages to kill "em. Sometimes I keep my own ferruts, but mostly I borrows them. This young man that"s with me, he"ll sometimes have an order to go

fifty

or

sixty

mile into the country, and then he buys his ferruts, or gets them the best way he can. They charges a good sum for the loan of "em—sometimes as much as you get for the job.

You can buy ferruts at Leadenhall-market for

5

s.

or

7

s.

—it all depends; you can"t get them all at

one

price, some of "em is real cowards to what others is; some won"t even kill a rat. The way we tries "em is, we puts "em down anywhere, in a room maybe, with a rat, and if they smell about and won"t go up to it, why they won"t do; "cause you see, sometimes the ferrut has to go up a hole, and at the end there may be a dozen or

sixteen

rats, and if he hasn"t got the heart to tackle

one

on "em, why he ain"t worth a farden.

I have kept ferruts for

four

or

five

months at a time, but they"re nasty stinking things. I"ve had them get loose; but, bless you, they do no harm, they"re as hinnocent as cats; they won"t hurt nothink; you can play with them like a kitten. Some puts things down to ketch rats—sorts of pison, which is their secret— but I don"t. I relies upon my dogs and ferruts, and nothink else.

I went to destroy a few rats up at Russellsquare; there was a shore come right along, and a few holes—they was swarmed with "em there—and didn"t know how it was; but the cleverest men in the world couldn"t ketch many there, "cause you see, master, they run down the hole into the shore, and no dog could get through a rat-hole.

I couldn"t get my living, though, at that business. If any gentleman comes to me and says he wants a dog cured, or a few rats destroyed, I does it.

In the country they give you fourpence a rat, and you can kill sometimes as many in a farmyard as you can in London. The most I ever got for destroying rats was

four

bob, and

then I filled up the brickwork and made the holes good, and there was no more come.

I calls myself a coster; some calls theirselves general dealers, but I doesn"t. I goes to market, and if

one

thing don"t suit, why I buys another.

I don"t know whether you"ve heerd of it, master, or not, but I"m the man as they say kills rats—that"s to say, I kills "em like a dog. I"m almost ashamed to mention it, and I shall never do it any more, but I"ve killed rats for a wager often. You see it"s only been done like for a lark; we"ve bin all together daring

one

another, and trying to do something as nobody else could. I remember the

first

time I did it for a wager, it was up at ——, where they"ve got a pit. There was a bull-dog a killing rats, so I says,

"Oh, that"s a duffin" dog; any dog could kill quicker than him. I"d kill again him myself."

Well, then they chaffed me, and I warn"t goin" to be done; so I says,

"I"ll kill again that dog for a sov"rin."

The sov"rin was staked. I went down to kill

eight

rats again the dog, and I beat him. I killed "em like a dog, with my teeth. I went down hands and knees and bit "em. I"ve done it

three

times for a sov"rin, and I"ve won each time. I feels very much ashamed of it, though.

On the hind part of my neck, as you may see, sir, there"s a scar; that"s where I was bit by

one

; the rat twisted hisself round and held on like a vice. It was very bad, sir, for a long time; it festered, and broke out once or twice, but it"s all right now.

 
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 Title Page
collapseChapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
collapseOur Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
collapseChapter III: - Street Musicians
collapseChapter IV: - Street Vocalists
collapseChapter V: - Street Artists
collapseChapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
collapseChapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
collapseChapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
collapseChapter IX: - Ballast-Men
collapseChapter X: - Lumpers
collapseChapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
collapseChapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
collapseChapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
collapseChapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
collapseChapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
collapseChapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
collapseChapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men
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