London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Beetle Destroyers.


A FIRM, which has been established in London years, and which manufactures exclusively poison known to the trade as the "Phosphor Paste for the destruction of black- beetles, cockroaches, rats, mice," &c., were kind enough to give me the following information:—

We have now sold this vermin poison for seven years, but we have never had an application for our composition from any street-seller. We have seen, a year or two since, a man about London who used to sell beetle-wafers; but as we knew that kind of article to be entirely useless, we were not surprised to find that he did not succeed in making a living. We have not heard of him for some time, and have no doubt he is dead, or has taken up some other line of employment.

It is a strange fact, perhaps; but we do not know anything, or scarcely anything, as to the kind of people and tradesmen who purchase our poison—to speak the truth, we do not like to make too many inquiries of our customers. Sometimes, when they have used more than their customary quantity, we have asked, casually, how it was and to what kind of business-people they disposed of it, and we have always been met with an evasive sort of answer. You see tradesmen don"t like to divulge too much; for it must be a poor kind of profession or calling that there are no secrets in; and, again, they fancy we want to know what description of trades use the most of our composition, so that we might supply them direct from ourselves.

From this cause we have made it a rule not to inquire curiously into the matters of our customers. We are quite content to dispose of the quantity we do, for we employ six travellers to call on chemists and oilmen for the town trade, and four for the country.

The other day an elderly lady from Highstreet, Camden Town, called upon us: she stated that she was overrun with black-beetles, and wished to buy some of our paste from ourselves, for she said she always found things better if you purchased them of the maker, as you were sure to get them stronger, and by that means avoided the adulteration of the shopkeepers. But as we have said we would not supply a single box to any one, not wishing to give our agents any cause for complaint, we were obliged to refuse to sell to the old lady.

We don"t care to say how many boxes we sell in the year; but we can tell you, sir, that we sell more for beetle poisoning in the summer than in the winter, as a matter of course. When we find that a particular district uses almost an equal quantity all the year round, we make sure that that is a rat district; for where there is not the heat of summer to breed beetles, it must follow that the people wish to get rid of rats.

Brixton, Hackney, Ball"s Pond, and Lower Road, Islington, are the places that use most of our paste, those districts lying low, and being consequently damp. Camden Town, though it is in a high situation, is very much infested with beetles; it is a clayey soil, you understand, which retains moisture, and will not allow it to filter through like gravel. This is why in some very low districts, where the houses are built on gravel, we sell scarcely any of our paste.

As the farmers say, a good fruit year is a good fly year; so we say, a good dull, wet summer, is a good beetle summer; and this has been a very fertile year, and we only hope it will be as good next year.

We don"t believe in rat-destroyers; they profess to kill with weasels and a lot of things, and sometimes even say they can charm them away. Captains of vessels, when they arrive in the docks, will employ these people; and, as we say, they generally use our composition, but as long as their vessels are cleared of the vermin, they don"t care to know how it is done. A man who drives about in a cart, and does a great business in this way, we have reason to believe uses a great quantity of our Phosphor Paste. He comes from somewhere down the East-end or Whitechapel way.

Our prices are too high for the streetsellers. Your street-seller can only afford to sell an article made by a person in but a very little better position than himself. Even our small boxes cost at the trade price two shillings a dozen, and when sold will only produce three shillings; so you can imagine the profit is not enough for the itinerant vendor.

Bakers don"t use much of our paste, for they seem to think it no use to destroy the vermin — beetles and bakers" shops generally go together.

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