London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry




CONCERNING these, I received the subjoined narrative from a man of considerable experience in the "profession:"—

Being a cripple, I am obliged to exhibit a small peep-show. I lost the use of this arm ever since I was three months old. My mother died when I was ten years old, and after that my father took up with an Irishwoman, and turned me and my youngest sister (she was two years younger than me) out into the streets. My father had originally been a dyer, but was working at the fiddlestring business then. My youngest sister got employment at my father"s trade, but I couldn"t get no work, because of my crippled arms. I walked about till I fell down in the streets for want. At last a man, who had a sweetmeatshop, took pity on me. His wife made the sweetmeats, and minded the shop while he went out a-juggling in the streets, in the Ramo Samee line. He told me as how, if I would go round the country with him, and sell prints while he was a-juggling in the public-houses, he"d find me in wittles and pay my lodging. I joined him, and stopped with him two or three year. After that, I went to work for a werry large waste-paper dealer. He used to buy up all the old back numbers of the cheap periodicals and penny publications, and send me out with them to sell at a farden a-piece. He used to give me fourpence out of every shilling, and I done very well with that, till the periodicals came so low, and so many on "em, that they wouldn"t sell at all. Sometimes I could make 15s. on a Saturday night and a Sunday morning, aselling the odd numbers of periodicals, such as "Tales of the Wars," "Lives of the Pirates," "Lives of the Highwaymen," &c. I"ve often sold as many as 2000 numbers on a Saturday night in the New Cut, and the most of them was works about thieves, and highwaymen, and pirates. Besides me there was three others at the same business. Altogether, I dare say, my master alone used to get rid of 10,000 copies of such works on a Saturday night and Sunday morning. Our principal customers was young men. My master made a good bit of money at it. He had been about 18 years in the business, and had begun with 2s. 6d. I was with him 15 year on and off, and at the best time I used to earn my 30s. a-week full at that time. But then I was foolish, and didn"t take care of my money. When I was at the "odd-number business," I bought a peep-show. I gave 2l. 10s. for it. I had it second-hand. I was persuaded to buy it. A person as has got only one hand, you see, isn"t like other folks, and the people said it would always bring me a meal of victuals, and keep me from starving. The peep-shows was a-doing very well then (that"s about five or six years back), when the theaytres was all a shilling to go into them whole price, but now there"s many at 3d. and 2d., and a good lot at a penny. Before the theaytres lowered, a peep-showman could make 3s. or 4s. a-day, at the least, in fine weather, and on a Saturday night about double that money. At a fair he could take his 15s. to 1l. a-day. Then there was about nine or ten peep-shows in London. These were all back-shows. There are two kinds of peep-shows, which we call "back-shows" and "caravan-shows." The caravan-shows are much larger than the others, and are drawn by a horse or a donkey. They have a green-baize curtain at the back, which shuts out them as don"t pay. The showmen usually lives in these caravans with their families. Often there will be a man, his wife, and three or four children, living in one of these shows. These caravans mostly go into the country, and very seldom are seen in town. They exhibit principally at fairs and feasts, or wakes, in country villages. They generally go out of London between March and April, because some fairs begin at that time, but many wait for the fairs at May. Then they work their way right round, from village to town. They tell one another what part they"re agoing to, and they never interfere with one another"s rounds. If a new hand comes into the business, they"re werry civil, and tells him what places to work. The carawans comes to London about October, after the fairs is over. The scenes of them carawan shows is mostly upon recent battles and murders. Anything in that way, of late occurrence, suits them. Theatrical plays ain"t no good for country towns, "cause they don"t understand such things there. People is werry fond of the battles in the country, but a murder wot is well known is worth more than all the fights. There was more took with Rush"s murder than there has been even by the Battle of Waterloo itself. Some of the carawan-shows does werry well. Their average taking is 30s. a-week for the summer months. At some fairs they"ll take 5l. in the three days. They have been about town as long as we can recollect. I should say there is full 50 of these carawanshows throughout the country. Some never comes into London at all. There is about a dozen that comes to London regular every winter. The business in general goes from family to family. The cost of a carawanshow, second-hand, is 40l.; that"s without the glasses, and them runs from 10s. to 1l. apiece, because they"re large. Why, I"ve knowed the front of a peep-show, with the glasses, cost 60l.; the front was mahogany, and had 36 glasses, with gilt carved mouldings round each on "em. The scenes will cost about 6l. if done by the best artist, and 3l. if done by a common hand. The back-shows are peepshows that stand upon trussels, and are so small as to admit of being carried on the back. The scenery is about 18 inches to 2 foot in length, and about 15 inches high. They have been introduced about fifteen or sixteen years. The man as first brought "em up was named Billy T——; he was lame of one leg, and used to exhibit little automaton figures in the New Cut. On their first coming out, the oldest back-showman as I know on told me they could take 15s. a-day. But now we can"t do more than 7s. a-week, run Saturday and all the other days together,—and that"s through the theayters being so low. It"s a regular starving life now. We has to put up with the hinsults of people so. The back-shows generally exhibits plays of different kinds wot"s been performed at the theayters lately. I"ve got many different plays to my show. I only exhibit one at a time. There"s "Halonzer the Brave and the Fair Himogen;" "The Dog of Montargis and the Forest of Bondy;" "Hyder Halley, or the Lions of Mysore;" "The Forty Thieves" (that never done no good to me); "The Devil and Dr. Faustus;" and at Christmas time we exhibit pantomimes. I has some other scenes as well. I"ve "Napoleon"s Return from Helba," "Napoleon at Waterloo," "The Death of Lord Nelson," and also "The Queen embarking to start for Scotland, from the Dockyard at Voolich." We takes more from children than grown people in London, and more from grown people than children in the country. You see, grown people has such remarks made upon them when they"re apeep- ing through in London, as to make it bad for us here. Lately I have been hardly able to get a living, you may say. Some days I"ve taken 6d., others 8d., and sometimes 1s.—that"s what I call a good day for any of the week-days. On a Saturday it runs from 2s. to 2s. 6d. Of the week-days, Monday or Tuesday is the best. If there"s a fair on near London, such as Greenwich, we can go and take 3s., and 4s., or 5s. a-day, so long as it lasts. But after that, we comes back to the old business, and that"s bad enough; for, after you"ve paid 1s. 6d. a-week rent, and 6d. a-week stand for your peep-show, and come to buy a bit of coal, why all one can get is a bit of bread and a cup of tea to live upon. As for meat, we don"t see it from one month"s end to the other. My old woman, when she is at work, only gets five fardens a-pair for making a pair of drawers to send out for the convicts, and three halfpence for a shirt; and out of that she has to find her own thread. There are from six to eight scenes in each of the plays that I shows; and if the scenes are a bit short, why I puts in a couple of battle-scenes; or I makes up a pannerammer for "em. The children will have so much for their money now. I charge a halfpenny for a hactive performance. There is characters and all—and I explains what they are supposed to be a-talking about. There"s about six back-shows in London. I don"t think there"s more. It don"t pay now to get up a new play. We works the old ones over and over again, and sometimes we buys a fresh one of another showman, if we can rise the money—the price is 2s. and 2s. 6d. I"ve been obligated to get rid on about twelve of my plays, to get a bit of victuals at home. Formerly we used to give a hartist 1s. to go in the pit and sketch off the scenes and figures of any new play that was a-doing well, and we thought "ud take, and arter that we used to give him from 1s. 6d. to 2s. for drawing and painting each scene, and 1d. and 1 1/2d. each for the figures, according to the size. Each play costs us from 15s. to 1l. for the inside scenes and figures, and the outside painting as well. The outside painting in general consists of the most attractive part of the performance. The New-Cut is no good at all now on a Saturday night; that"s through the cheap penny hexhibitions there. Tottenham-court-road ain"t much account either. The street-markets is the best of a Saturday night. I"m often obliged to take bottles instead of money, and they don"t fetch more than threepence a dozen. Sometimes I take four dozen of bottles in a day. I lets "em see a play for a bottle, and often two wants to see for one large bottle. The children is dreadful for cheapening things down. In the summer I goes out of London for a month at a stretch. In the country I works my battle-pieces. They"re most pleased there with my Lord Nelson"s death at the battle of Trafalgar. "That there is," I tell "em, "a fine painting, representing Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar." In the centre is Lord Nelson in his last dying moments, supported by Capt. Hardy and the chaplain. On the left is the hexplosion of one of the enemy"s ships by fire. That represents a fine painting, representing the death of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, wot was fought on the 12th of October, 1805. I"ve got five glasses, they cost about 5s. a piece when new, and is about 3 1/2 inches across, with a 3-foot focus.

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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