London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


An Old Street Showman.


A SHORT, thick-set man, with small, puckeredup eyes, and dressed in an old brown velveteen shooting-jacket, gave me an account of some bygone exhibitions of the galantee show.

My father was a soldier," he said, "and was away in foreign parts, and I and a sister lived with my mother in St. Martin"s workhouse. I was fifty-five last New-year"s-day. My uncle, a bootmaker in St. Martin"s-lane, took my mother out of the workhouse, that she might do a little washing, and pick up a living for herself; and we children went to live with my grandfather, a tailor. After his death, and after many changes, we had a lodging in the Dials, and there ——, the sweep, coaxed me with pudding one day, and encouraged me so well, that I didn"t like to go back to my mother; and at last I was "prenticed to him from Hatton-Garden on a month"s trial, and I liked chimley-sweeping for that month; but it was quite different when I was regularly indentured. I was cruelly-treated then, and poorly fed, and had to turn out barefooted between three and four many a morning in frost and snow. In first climbing the chimleys, a man stood beneath me, and pushed me up, telling me how to use my elbows and knees, and if I slipped, he was beneath me and ketched me, and shoved me up again. The skin came off my knees and elbows; here"s the marks now, you see. I suffered a great deal, as well as Dan Duff, a fellow-sweep, a boy that died. I"ve been to Mrs. Montague"s dinner in the Square on the 1st of May, when I was a boy-sweep. It was a dinner in honour of her son having been stolen away by a sweep." (The man"s own words.) "I suppose there were more than three hundred of us sweeps there, in a large green, at the back of her house. I run away from my master once, but was carried back, and was rather better used. My master then got me knee and ankle-pads, and bathed my limbs in salt and water, and I managed to drag on seven sorrowful years with him. I was glad to be my own man at last, and I cut the sweep-trade, bought pandean pipes, and started with an organ-man, as his mate. I saved money with the organ-man and then bought a drum. He gave me five shillings, a-week and my wittles and drink, washing and lodging; but there wasn"t so much music afloat then. I left the music-man and went out with "Michael," the Italy bear. Michael was the man"s name that brought over the bear from somewhere abroad. He was a Italy man; and he used to beat the bear, and manage her; they called her Jenny; but Michael was not to say roughish to her, unless she was obstropelous. If she were, he showed her the large mop-stick, and beat her with it—hard sometimes—specially when she wouldn"t let the monkey get a top on her head; for that was a part of the performance. The monkey was dressed the same as a soldier, but the bear had no dress but her muzzle and chain. The monkey (a clever fellow he was, and could jump over sticks like a Christian) was called Billy. He jumped up and down the bear, too, and on his master"s shoulders, where he set as Michael walked up and down the streets. The bear had been taught to roll and tumble. She rolled right over her head, all round a stick, and then she danced round about it. She did it at the word of command. Michael said to her, "Round and round again." We fed her on bread, a quartern-loaf every night after her work in half-a-pail of water, the same every morning; never any meat—nothing but bread, boiled "tatoes, or raw carrots: meat would have made her savage. The monkey was fed upon nuts, apples, gingerbread, or anything. Besides them we had two dancingdogs. The bear didn"t like them, and they were kept on one side in performing. The dogs jumped through hoops, and danced on their hind legs; they"re easyish enough trained. Sometimes the butchers set bull-dogs, two or three at a time, at Jenny; and Michael and me had to beat them off as well as the two other men that we had with us. Those two men collected the money, and I played the pipes and drum, and Michael minded the bear and the dogs and monkey. In London we did very well. The West-end was the best. Whitechapel was crowded for us, but only with ha"pence. I don"t know what Michael made, but I had seven shillings a-week, with my wittles and lodging. Michael done well. We generally had twenty to thirty shillings every night in ha"pence, and used to give twenty-one shillings of it for a one-pound note; for they was in then. When we"ve travelled in the country, we"ve sometimes had trouble to get lodgings for the bear. We"ve had to sleep in outhouses with her, and have sometimes frightened people that didn"t know as we was there, but nothing serious. Bears is well-behaved enough if they ain"t aggravated. Perhaps no one but me is left in England now what properly understands a dancing-bear.

Jenny wasn"t ever baited, but offers was made for it by sporting characters.

The country was better than London, when the weather allowed; but in Gloucester, Cheltenham, and a good many places, we weren"t let in the high streets.

The gentlefolk in the balconies, both in town and country, where they had a good sight, were our best friends.

It"s more than thirty years ago—yes, a good bit more now; at Chester races, one year, we were all taken, and put into prison: bear, and dogs, and musicianer, and all—every one—because we played a day after the races; that was Saturday.

We were all in quod until Monday morning. I don"t know how the authorities fed the bear. We were each in a separate cell, and I had bread and cheese, and gruel.

On Monday morning we were discharged, and the bear was shot by the magistrate"s orders. They wanted to hang poor Jenny at first, but she was shot, and sold to the hairdressers.

I couldn"t stay to see her shot, and had to go into an alehouse on the road. I don"t know what her carcase sold for. It wasn"t very fat.

Michael and me then parted at Chester, and he went home rich to Italy, taking his monkey and dogs with him, I believe.

He lived very careful, chiefly on rice and cabbage, and a very little meat with it, which he called "manesta." He was a very old man. I had "manesta" sometimes, but I didn"t like it much. I drummed and piped my way from Chester to London, and there took up with another foreigner, named Green, in the clock-work-figure line.

The figures were a Turk called Bluebeard, a sailor, a lady called Lady Catarina, and Neptune"s car, which we called Nelson"s car as well; but it was Neptune"s car by rights.

These figures danced on a table, when taken out of a box. Each had its own dance when wound up.

First came my Lady Catarina. She, and the others of them, were full two feet high. She had a cork body, and a very handsome silk dress, or muslin, according to the fashion, or the season. Black in Lent, according to what the nobility wore.

Lady Catarina, when wound up, danced a reel for seven minutes, the sailor a hornpipe, and Bluebeard shook his head, rolled his eyes, and moved his sword, just as natural as life. Neptune"s car went either straight or round the table, as it was set.

We often showed our performances in the houses of the nobility, and would get ten or twelve shillings at a good house, where there were children.

I had a third share, and in town and country we cleared fifty shillings a week, at least, every week, among the three of us, after all our keep and expenses were paid.

At Doncaster races we have taken three pounds in a-day, and four pounds at Lincoln races.

Country, in summer, is better than town. There"s now no such exhibition, barring the one I have; but that"s pledged. It cost twenty pounds at Mr. ——"s for the four figures without dress. I saved money, which went in an illness of rheumatic gout. There"s no bears at all allowed now. Times are changed, and all for the worser. I stuck to the clock-work concern sixteen years, and knows all parts of the country—Ireland, Scotland, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Wight.

A month before Christmas we used to put the figures by, for the weather didn"t suit; and then we went with a galantee show of a magic lantern. We showed it on a white sheet, or on the ceiling, big or little, in the houses of the gentlefolk, and the schools where there was a breaking-up. It was shown by way of a treat to the scholars. There was Harlequin, and Billy Button, and such-like. We had ten and sixpence and fifteen shillings for each performance, and did very well indeed. I have that galantee show now, but it brings in very little.

Green"s dead, and all in the line"s dead, but me. The galantee show don"t answer, because magic lanterns are so cheap in the shops. When we started, magic lanterns wasn"t so common; but we can"t keep hold of a good thing in these times. It was a reg"lar thing for Christmas once—the galantee shows.

I can make, in a holiday time, twenty shillings a-week; but that"s only at holiday times, and is just a mere casualty a few times a year.

I do other jobs, when I can get "em—at other times, I delivers bills, carries boards, and helps at funerals.

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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