London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The Chinese Shades.


THE proper name of my exhibition," said a showman of this class to me, "is Lez Hombres, or the shades; that"s the proper name for it, for Baron Rothschild told me so when I performed before him. We calls it the Chinese galantee show. It was invented over there with the Chinese, and some travellers went over there and see them doing it, and they come over here and tell us about it. They didn"t do it as we do, you know. As for doing pieces, we lick them out of the field. Them only did the shadows, we do a piece with "em.

I should say, sir,—let me calculate—it is about twenty-six years since the ombres first come out. Reduce it if you like, but that"s the time. Thomas Paris was the first as come out with them. Then Jim Macklin, and Paul Herring the celebrated clown, and the best showman of Punch in the world for pantomime tricks—comic business, you know, but not for showing in a gentleman"s house—was the next that ever come out in the streets with the Chinese galantee show. I think it was his own ingenuity that first gave him the notion. It was thoughts of mind, you know,—you form the opinion in your own mind, you know, by taking it from the Chinese. They met a friend of theirs who had come from China, and he told him of the shadows. One word is as good as fifty, if it"s a little grammatical—sound judgment. When it first come out, he began with the scene called "Mr. Jobson the Cobbler," and that scene has continued to be popular to the present day, and the best scene out. He did it just equally the same as they do it now, in a Punch-and-Judy frame, with a piece of calico stretched in front, and a light behind to throw the shadows on the sheet.

Paul Herring did excellent well with it— nothing less than 30s. or 2l. a-night. He didn"t stop long at it, because he is a stage clown, and had other business to attend to. I saw him the first time he performed. It was in the Waterloo-road, and the next night I were out with one of my own. I only require to see a thing once to be able to do it; but you must have ingenuity, or it"s no use whatsumdiver. Every one who had a Punch-and-Judy frame took to it; doing the regular business in the day and at night turning to the shadows. In less than a week there were two others out, and then Paul Herring cut it. He only done it for a lark. He was hard up for money and got it.

I was the first that ever had a regular piece acted in his show. I believe there"s nobody else as did, but only them that"s copied me. They come and follow me, you understand, and copied me. I am the author of "Cobbler Jobson," and "Kitty biling the Pot, or the Woodchopper"s Frolic." There"s "Billy Button"s journey to Brentford on horseback, and his favorite servant, Jeremiah Stitchem, in want of a situation." I"m the author of that, too. It"s adapted from the equestrian piece brought out at Astley"s. I don"t know who composed "the Broken Bridge." It"s too far gone by to trace who the first author is, but it was adapted from the piece brought out formerly at Drury-lane Theatre. Old ancient gentlemen has told me so who saw it, when it was first brought out, and they"re old enough to be my grandfather. I"ve new revised it.

We in general goes out about 7 o"clock, because we gets away from the noisy children —they place them to bed, and we gets respectable audiences. We choose our places for pitching: Leicester-square is a very good place, and so is Islington, but Regent-street is about the principal. There"s only two of us about now, for it"s dying away. When I"ve a mind to show I can show, and no mistake, for I"m better now than I was twenty years ago.

"Kitty biling the Pot, or the Woodchopper"s Frolic," is this. The shadow of the fireplace is seen with the fire alight, and the smoke is made to go up by mechanism. The woodchopper comes in very hungry and wants his supper. He calls his wife to ask if the leg of mutton is done. He speaks in a gruff voice. He says, "My wife is very lazy, and I don"t think my supper"s done. I"ve been chopping wood all the days of my life, and I want a bullock"s head and a sack of potatoes." The wife comes to him and speaks in a squeaking voice, and she tells him to go and chop some more wood, and in half-an-hour it will be ready. Exaunt. Then the wife calls the daughter Kitty, and tells her to see that the pot don"t boil over; and above all to be sure and see that the cat don"t steal the mutton out of the pot. Kitty says, "Yes, mother, I"ll take particular care that the mutton don"t steal the cat out of the pot." Cross-questions, you see—comic business. Then mother says, "Kitty, bring up the broom to sweep up the room," and Kitty replies, "Yes, mummy, I"ll bring up the room to sweep up the broom." Exaunt again. It"s regular stage business and cross-questions. She brings up the broom, and the cat"s introduced whilst she is sweeping. The cat goes Meaw! meaw! meaw! and Kitty gives it a crack with the broom. Then Kitty gets the bellows and blows up the fire. It"s a beautiful representation, for you see her working the bellows, and the fire get up, and the sparks fly up the chimney. She says, "If I don"t make haste the mutton will be sure to steal the cat out of the pot." She blows the fire right out, and says, "Why, the fire"s blowed the bellows out! but I don"t mind, I shall go and play at shuttlecock." Child like, you see. Then the cat comes in again, and says, Meaw! meaw! and then gets up and steals the mutton. You see her drag it out by the claw, and she burns herself and goes, spit! spit! Then the mother comes in and sees the fire out, and says, "Where my daughter? Here"s the fire out, and my husband"s coming home, and there isn"t a bit of mutton to eat!" She calls "Kitty, Kitty!" and when she comes, asks where she"s been. "I"ve been playing at shuttlecock." The mother asks, "Are you sure the cat hasn"t stolen the mutton." "Oh, no, no, mother," and exaunt again. Then the mother goes to the pot. She"s represented with a squint, so she has one eye up the chimney and another in the pot. She calls out, "Where"s the mutton? It must be down at the bottom, or it has boiled away." Then the child comes in and says, "Oh! mother, mother, here"s a great he-she-tom cat been and gone off with the mutton." Then the mother falls down, and calls out, "I shall faint, I shall faint! Oh! bring me a pail of gin." Then she revives, and goes and looks in the pot again. It"s regular stage business, and if it was only done on a large scale would be wonderful. Then comes the correction scene. Kitty comes to her, and her mother says, "Where have you been?" and Kitty says, "Playing at shuttlecock, mummy;" and then the mother says, "I"ll give you some shuttlecock with the gridiron," and exaunt, and comes back with the gridiron; and then you see her with the child on her knee correcting of her. Then the woodchopper comes in and wants his supper, after chopping wood all the days of his life. "Where"s supper?" "Oh, a nasty big he-she-tom cat has been and stole the mutton out of the pot." "What?" passionate directly, you see. Then she says, "You must put up with bread and cheese." He answers, "That don"t suit some people," and then comes a fight. Then Spring-heeled Jack is introduced, and he carries off the fireplace and pot and all. Exaunt. That"s the end of the piece, and a very good one it was. I took it from Paris, and improved on it. Paris had no workable figures. It was very inferior. He had no fire. It"s a dangerous concern the fire is, for it"s done with a little bit of the snuff of a candle, and if you don"t mind you go alight. It"s a beautiful performance.

Our exhibition generally begins with a sailor doing a hornpipe, and then the tightrope dancing, and after that the Scotch hornpipe dancing. The little figures regularly move their legs as if dancing, the same as on the stage, only it"s more cleverer, for they"re made to do it by ingenuity. Then comes the piece called "Cobbler Jobson." We call it "the laughable, comic, and interesting scene of old Father Jobson, the London cobbler; or, the old Lady disappointed of her Slipper." I am in front, doing the speaking and playing the music on the pandanean pipe. That"s the real word for the pipe, from the Romans, when they first invaded England. That"s the first music ever introduced into England, when the Romans first invaded it. I have to do the dialogue in four different voices. There is the child, the woman, the countryman, and myself, and there"s not many as can do it besides me and another.

The piece called Cobbler Jobson is this. It opens with the shadow of a cottage on one side of the sheet, and a cobbler"s stall on the other. There are boots and shoes hanging up in the windows of the cobbler"s stall. Cobbler Jobson is supposed at work inside, and heard singing: An old cobbler I am, And live in my stall; It serves me for house, Parlour, kitchen, and all. No coin in my pocket, No care in my pate, I sit down at my ease, And get drunk when I please. Hi down, hi derry down.

Then he sings again: Last night I took a wife, And when I first did woo her, I vowed I"d stick through life Like cobblers" wax unto her. Hi down, derry down down down.

Then the figure of a little girl comes in and raps at the door: "Mr. Jobson, is my mamma"s slipper done?" "No, miss, it"s not done; but if you"ll call in half-an-hour it shall be well done, for I"ve taken the soles off and put the upper leathers in a pail to soak." "What, in a pail?" "Yes, my dear, without fail." "Then you won"t disappint." "No, my dear, I"d sooner a pot than a pint." "Then I may depend?" "Yes, and you won"t have it." He says this aside, so the girl don"t hear him. Then Jobson begins to sing again. He comes in front and works. You see his lapstone and the hammer going. He begins to sing: "T"other morning for breakfast on bacon and spinnage, Says I to my wife, "I"m going to Greenwich;" Says she, "Dicky Hall, then I"ll go too!" Says I, "Mrs. Hall, I"ll be dished if you do. Hi down, hi derry down.

Then the little girl comes in again to know if the slipper is done, and as it isn"t, it"s "My dear, you must go without it." Then she gets impertinent, and says, "I shan"t go with it, you nasty old waxy, waxy, waxy, waxy, waxy! Oh, you nasty old ball of bristles and bunch of wax!" Then he tries to hit her, and she runs into the house, and as soon as he"s at work she comes out again: "Ah, you nasty cobbler! who"s got a lump of wax on his breeches? who sold his wife"s shirt to buy a ha"porth of gin? Then the cobbler is regularly vexed, and he tries to coax her into the stall to larrup her. "Here, my dear, here"s a lump of pudden and a farden." "Oh, yes, you nasty old cobbler! you only want to give me a lump of pudden on my back." "Here"s a penny, my dear, if you"ll fetch it." "Chuck it here, and I"ll fetch it." At last she goes into the stall, and she gets a hiding with the hammer. She cries out, "You nasty old cobbler waxy! waxy, waxy! I"ll go and tell my mother all about it." That"s what we call the aggriwating scene; and next comes the passionate scene.

He begins singing one of his songs. He thinks he"s all right now he"s got rid of the girl.

Then comes in the old lady, shaking with rage. "How dare you to strike my child in this here kind of a manner! Come out of the stall, or I"ll pull you out neck and crop!" Then Jobson is in a funk, and expects a hiding. "Oh, mum! I"m very sorry, but your child said, I skinned a cat for ninepence, and called me cobbler waxy, waxy, waxy." "I won"t believe a word of it, Mr. Jobson." "Yes, mum, your child"s very insaulting." "How dare you strike the chick? You nasty old villain! I"ll tear the eyes out of you."

A fight then commences between them, and the old lady gets the worst of it. Then they make it up, and they"ll have some gin. "I"ll be a penny to your threepence," says the cobbler; and the old lady says, "Oh, I can always treat myself." Then there"s another fight, for there"s two fights in it. The old lady gets the worst of it, and runs into the cottage, and then old Jobson cries, "I"d better be off, stall and all, for fear she should come back with the kitchen poker." That finishes up the scene, don"t you see, for he carries off the stall with him.

Cobbler Jobson is up to the door, I think. It"s first rate; it only wants elaborating. "Billy Button" is a very laughable thing, and equally up to the door. There"s another piece, called "Billy Waters, the celebrated London Beggar;" and that"s a great hit. There"s the "Bullbaiting." That"s all the scenes I know of. I believe I am the only man that knows the words all through. "Kitty biling the pot" is one of the most beautifullest scenes in the world. It wants expounding, you know; for you could open it the whole length of the theatre. I wanted to take Ramsgate Theatre, and do it there; but they wanted 2l. a-night, and that was too much for me. I should have put a sheet up, and acted it with real figures, as large as life.

When I was down at Brighton, acting with the Chinese galantee show, I was forced to drop performing of them. Oh dear! oh dear! don"t mention it. You"d have thought the town was on fire. You never saw such an uproar as it made; put the town in such an agitation, that the town authorities forced me to desist. I filled the whole of Northstreet, and the people was pressing upon me so, that I was obliged to run away. I was lodging at the Clarence Hotel in North-street, at the time. I ran off down a side-street. The next day the police come up to me and tell me that I mustn"t exhibit that performance again.

I shall calculate it at 5s. a-night, when I exhibit with the ombres. We don"t go out every night, for it"s according to the weather; but when we do, the calculation is 5s. every night. Sometimes it is 10s., or it may be only 2s. 6d.; but 5s. is a fair balanee. Take it all the year round, it would come to 9s. a-week, taking the good weather in the bad. It"s no use to exaggerate, for the shoe is sure to pinch somewhere if you do.

We go out two men together, one to play the pipes and speak the parts, and the other to work the figures. I always do the speaking and the music, for that"s what is the most particular. When we do a full performance, such as at juvenile parties, it takes one about one hour and a quarter. For attending parties we generally gets a pound, and, perhaps, we may get three or four during the Christmas holiday-time, or perhaps a dozen, for it"s according to the recommendation from one to another. If you goes to a gentleman"s house, it"s according to whether you behave yourself in a superior sort of a manner; but if you have any vulgarity about you you must exaunt, and there"s no recommendation.

Tom Paris, the first man that brought out the ombres in the streets, was a short, stout man, and very old. He kept at it for four or five years, I believe, and he made a very comfortable living at it, but he died poor; what became of him I do not know. Jim Macklin I"ve very little knowledge of. He was a stage performer, but I"m not aware what he did do. I don"t know when he died, but he"s dead and gone; all the old school is dead and gone—all the old ancient performers. Paul Herring is the only one that"s alive now, and he does the clown. He"s a capital clown for tricks; he works his own tricks: that"s the beauty of him.

When we are performing of an evening, the boys and children will annoy us awful. They follow us so that we are obliged to go miles to get away from them. They will have the best places; they give each other raps on the head if they don"t get out of each other"s way. I"m obliged to get fighting myself, and give it them with the drumsticks. They"ll throw a stone or two, and then you have to run after them, and swear you"re going to kill them. There"s the most boys down at Spitalfields, and St. Luke"s, and at Islington; that"s where there"s the worst boys, and the most audaciousest. I dare not go into St. Luke"s; they spile their own amusement by making a noise and disturbance. Quietness is everything; they haven"t the sense to know that. If they give us any money it"s very trifling, only, perhaps, a farden or a halfpenny, and then it"s only one out of a fifty or a hundred. The great business is to keep them quiet. No; girls ain"t better behaved than boys; they was much wus. I"d sooner have fifty boys round me than four girls. The impertinence of them is above bearing. They come carrying babies, and pushing, and crowding, and tearing one another to pieces. "You"re afore me—I was fust—No you wasn"t—Yes I was"— and that"s the way they go on. If a big man comes in front I"m obliged to ask him to go backwards, to let the little children to see. If they"re drunk, perhaps they won"t, and then there"s a row, and all the children will join in. Oh, it"s dreadful erksome!

I was once performing on Islington-green, and some drunken people, whilst I was collecting my money, knocked over the concern from wanton mischief. They said to me, "We haven"t seen nothing, master." I said, "I can see you; and haven"t you got a brown?" Then they begun laughing, and I turned round, and there was the show in a blaze, and my mate inside a kicking. I think it was two or three drunken men did it, to injure a poor man from gaining his livelihood from the sweat of his brow. That"s eighteen years ago.

I was up at Islington last week, and I was really obliged to give over on account of the children. The moment I put it down there was thousands round me. They was sarcy and impertinent. There was a good collection of people, too. But on account of the theatrical business we want quiet, and they"re so noisy there"s no being heard. It"s morals is everything. It"s shameful how parents lets their children run about the streets. As soon as they fill their bellies off they are, till they are hungry again.

The higher class of society is those who give us the most money. The working man is good for his penny or halfpenny, but the higher class supports the exhibition. The swells in Regent-street ain"t very good. They comes and looks on for a moment, and then go on, or sometimes they exempt themselves with "I"m sorry, but I"ve got no pence." The best is the gentlemen; I can tell them in a minute by their appearance.

When we are out performing, we in generally burn three candles at once behind the curtain. One is of no utility, for it wants expansion, don"t you see. I don"t like naphtha or oil-lamps, "cos we"re confined there, and it"s very unhealthy. It"s very warm as it is, and you must have a eye like a hawk to watch it, or it won"t throw the shadows. A brilliant light and a clean sheet is a great attraction, and it"s the attraction is everything. In the course of the evening we"ll burn six penny candles; we generally use the patent one, "cos it throws a clear light. We cut them in half. When we use the others I have to keep a look-out, and tell my mate to snuff the candles when the shadows get dim. I usually say, "Snuff the candles!" out loud, because that"s a word for the outside and the inside too, "cos it let the company know it isn"t all over, and leads them to expect another scene or two.

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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