London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The Telescope Exhibitor.


IT must be about eight years since I first exhibited the telescope. I have three telescopes now, and their powers vary from about 36 to 300. The instruments of the higher power are seldom used in the streets, because the velocity of the planets is so great that they almost escape the eye before it can fix it. The opening is so very small, that though I can pass my eye on a star in a minute, an ordinary observer would have the orb pass away before he could accustom his eye to the instrument. High power is all very well for separating stars, and so forth; but I"m like Dr. Kitchener, I prefer a low power for street purposes. A street-passer likes to see plenty of margin round a star. If it fills up the opening he don"t like it.

My business is a tailor. I follow that business now. The exhibiting don"t interfere with my trade. I work by day at tailoring, and then, at this time of the year (26th Oct. 1856), I go out with the instrument about six o"clock. You see I can, with a low power, see Jupiter rise. It is visible at about halfpast five, but it gets above the horizon, out of the smoke, about a quarter past six. Saturn rises about ten.

From a boy I was fond of philosophical instruments. I was left an orphan when I was ten years of age; indeed, I haven"t a relation in the world that I"m aware of, only excepting my wife"s family. My mother died the same year as the Princes Charlotte (1818) for I can remember her being in mourning for her. My name is a very peculiar one—it is Tregent. This will show you that it is. I some time ago advertised an instrument for sale, and I had a letter from gentleman living in Liverpool. He said that he was sitting down to lunch and he took up the paper, and cried out, "Good God! here"s my name." He sent for paper and pens and wrote off at once. He asked whether I was a relation of Tregent, the great chronometer maker. He said he always thought he was the only Tregent in England. He said he was a bachelor, and hoped I was too." Perhaps he wanted the name to die out. His father, he told me, kept a paper-mill. We corresponded a long time, till I was tired, and then one day a friend of mine said, "Let me write to him, and I"ll tell him that if he wants any more informaation he must pay your expenses down to Liverpool, and you"ll pay him a visit. This letter was sent, and by and by comes an answer, telling me that I was no gentleman to make such a proposition, and then the matter dropped.

When I was six years old I was brought up to tailoring. I was kept very close to work—always on the board, working. I even took my meals there. I don"t consider it was hard, for it was done for my own benefit. If there was no work going on I used to be made to learn verses out of the Bible. I highly respected my master, for I consider this was done for my benefit. He died in the country, and I was sorry for it; for if I had known it, I would have gone anywhere to see him buried—ay, even if it had been a hundred miles off. I stopped with this party till I was ten years old.

The next party I was with I was "prenticed to, but he failed when I had been with him three or four years, and then I had more the keeping of him than he of me; I had that resolve in me even at that young age.

After I finished my "prentice articles I went with my society card on the tramp. I went all through Yorkshire, going to the tailors" houses of call, where the clubs are held, and a certain sum of money subscribed weekly, to relieve what are called tramps. In some towns I worked for months—such as Leeds. What is called "a tramp" by tailors, means a man searching for work about the country. After I got back to London I went to my trade again, and I was particularly fortunate in getting good situations. Whenever I was out of work I"d start off to the country again. I was three years in Brighton, doing well, and I had six men under me.

It"s about eight years ago that I first exhibited in the streets. It was through a friend of mine that I did this. Me and my wife was at Greenwich-hill one Sunday. I was looking through a pocket-telescope of mine, and he says, "Look through mine." I did so, and it was a very good one; and then he says, "Ah, you should see one I"ve got at home; it"s an astronomical one, and this is terrestrial." I did so, and went and saw it. The first planet I saw was Venus. She was in her horns then, like the moon. She exhibits the same phases as the moon, as does also Mercury; sometimes horns, sometimes half a sphere, and so on; but they"re the only two planets that"s known that does so. When I saw this, I said, "Well, I must have something of this sort." I went to a telescope-maker up at Islington, and I made a bargain with him, and he was to make me a day-and-night telescope for five suits of clothes. Well, I bought the cloth, and raised all the money to complete my part of the contract, and then, when the telescope was finished, it wasn"t worth a d——. You might as well have looked through a blacking-bottle. When I told him of it he said he couldn"t help it. It was worth something to look at, but not to look through. I pawned it for 15l. and sold the ticket for 5l. The gentleman who bought it was highly satisfied with it till he found it out. I took this one out in the streets to exhibit with, but it was quite useless, and showed nothing; you could see the planetary bodies, but it defined nothing. The stars was all manner of colours and forks. The bodies look just like a drawing in chalk smudged out. The people who looked through complained, and wouldn"t come and look again, and that"s why I got rid of it.

The next telescope I had made was by the manufacturer who made the one my friend first showed me. That maker has taken some hundred of pounds of me since then; indeed, I"ve had eleven five or six feet telescopes of him, and his name is Mr. Mull, of 13 Albion-place, Clerkenwell, and the value of each of the object-glasses was, on the average, 30l., though he charged me only trade-price, so I got them for less.

The first telescope that was of any good that I exhibited with in the streets was worth to me 25l. If you was to go to Dollond he would have charged 105l. on a common tripod stand. I had it done under my own direction, and by working myself at it, I got it very cheap. It wasn"t good enough for me, so I got rid of it. I"ve got so nice about object glasses and their distinct vision, and the power they bear, that I have never rested content until I have a telescope that would suit the first astronomer.

I"ve got one now that will bear a magnifying power 300 times, and has an object-glass 4 1/4 inches diameter, with a focal length of 5 feet 6 inches. The stand is made of about 250 pieces of brass-work, and has ratchet action, with vertical and horizontal movement. It cost me 80l. and Ross, Featherstonebuildings, would charge 250l. for it. I"m so initiated into the sort of thing, that I generally get all my patterns made, and then I get the castings made, and then have them polished. The price of the object-glass is 30l. I"m going to take that one out next week. It will weigh about 1 1/2 cwt. My present one is a very fine instrument indeed. I"ve nothing but what is excellent. You can see Jupiter and his satellites, and Saturn and his belt. This is a test for it. Supposing I want to see Polaris—that"s the small star that revolves once in 180 years round the pole. It isn"t the pole star. It isn"t visible to the naked eye. It"s one of the tests for a telescope. My instrument gives it as small as a pin"s point. There"s no magnifying power with a telescope upon stars. Of course they make them more brilliant, and give some that are not visible to the naked eye, for hundreds and thousands will pass through the field in about an hour. They also separate double stars, and penetrate into space, nebula, and so on; but they don"t increase the size of stars, for the distance is too great.

I"ve worked about five years with this last one that I"ve now. It weighs, with the stand, about 1 cwt., and I have to get somebody to help me along with it. One of my boys in general goes along with me.

It depends greatly upon the weather as to what business I do. I"ve known the moon for a month not to be visible for twenty days out of the lunation. I"ve known that for three moons together, the atmosphere is so bad in London. When I do get a good night I have taken 35s.; but then I"ve taken out two instruments, and my boy has minded one. I only charge a penny a peep. Saturdays, and Mondays, and Sundays, are the best nights in my neighbourhood, and then I can mostly reckon on taking 20s. The other nights it may be 7s. or 8s., or even only 2s. 6d. Sometimes I put up the instrument when it"s very fine, and then it"ll come cloudy, and I have to take it down again and go home. Taking the year round, I should think I make 125l. a-year by the telescope. You see my business, as a tailor, keeps me in of a day, or I might go out in the day and show the sun. Now to-day the sun was very fine, and the spots showed remarkably well, and if I"d been out I might have done well. I sold an instrument of mine once to a fireman who had nothing to do in the day, and thought he could make some money exhibiting the telescope. He made 8s. or 10s. of an afternoon on Blackfriar"s-bridge, showing the dome of St. Paul"s at the time they were repairing it.

When the instrument is equatoreally mounted and set to time, you can pick out the stars in the day-time, and they look like black specs. I could show them.

People can"t stop looking through the telescope for long at a time, because the object is soon out of the field, because of the velocity of the earth"s motion and the rapidity at which the planets travel round the sun. Jupiter, for instance, 26,000 miles an hour, and Saturn 29,000, soon removes them from the field of the telescope. I have to adjust the telescope before each person looks through. It has, I fancy, hurt my eyes very much. My eyesight has got very weak through looking at the moon, for on a brilliant night it"s like a plate of silver, and dazzles. It makes a great impression on the retina of the eye. I"ve seen when looking through the telescope a black spec, just as if you had dropped a blot of ink on a piece of paper. I"ve often had dancing lights before my eyes, too—very often. I find a homœopathic globule of belladonna very excellent for that.

When I exhibit, I in general give a short lecture whilst they are looking through. When I am not busy I make them give me a description, for this reason: others are listening, and they would sooner take the word of the observer than mine. Suppose I"m exhibiting Jupiter, and I want to draw customers, I"ll say, "How many moons do you see?" They"ll answer, "Three on the right, and one on the left," as they may be at that time. Perhaps a rough standing by will say, "Three moons! that"s a lie! there"s only one, everybody knows." Then, when they hear the observer state what he sees, they"ll want to have a peep.

When I"m busy, I do a lecture like this. We"ll suppose I"m exhibiting Saturn. Perhaps we had better begin with Jupiter, for the orbit of Saturn"s satellites is so extensive that you can never see them all without shifting the glass: indeed it"s only in very fine climates, such as Cincinnati, where the eight may be observed, and indeed up to a late period it was believed there were only seven.

When the observer sees Jupiter, I begin: "Do you see the planet, sir? "Yes." "I introduce to you Jupiter with all his four satellites. It is distant 600 millions of miles from the sun, and its diameter is about 7900 miles. It travels round the sun at about 27,000 miles an hour, and its orbit is over four years, and of course its seasons are four times the length of ours, the summer lasting for a year instead of three months." One night an Irishman, who was quite the gentleman, came to me rather groggy, and he says,—"Old boy, what are you looking at?" "Jupiter," says I. "What"s that?" says he. "A planet you may call it, sir," says I; "and the price is one penny." He paid me and had a look, and then he cries out, "What a deception is this! By J——it"s a moon, and you call it a star!" "There are four moons," said I. "You"re another," said he; "there"s a moon and four stars. You ought to be took up for deception." After a time he had another look, and then he was very pleased, and would bring out gin from a neighbouring public-house, and if he brought one, he brought seven.

Another time, a man was looking through; and I had a tripod stand then, and one of the legs was out, and he pushed the tube and down it came right in his eye. He gave a scream and shouted out, "My God! there"s a star hit me slap in the eye!"

Another night an old woman came up to me, and she says, "God bless you, sir; I"m so glad to see you. I"ve been looking for you ever such a time. You charge a penny, don"t you? I"m a charwoman, sir, and would you believe it, I"ve never had a penny to spare. What are you looking at? The moon? Well, I must see it." I told her she should see it for nothing, and up she mounted the steps. She was a heavy lusty woman, and I had to shove her up with my shoulder to get up the steps. When she saw the moon she kept on saying, "Oh, that"s beautiful! well, it is beautiful! And that"s the moon, is it? Now, do tell me all about it." I told her all about Mount Tycho, and about the light of the sun being seen on the mountain tops, and so on. When she"d looked for a time, she said, "Well, your instrument is a finer one than my master"s, but it don"t show so much as his, for he says he can see the men fighting in it." This made me laugh so, I very nearly let her tumble by taking my shoulder away from under her. But when she came down the steps, she said something quite moved me. She threw her hands up and cried, "If this moon is so beautiful and wonderful, what must that God be like who made it?" And off she went. It was very fine, wasn"t it?

Sometimes when I"m exhibiting there is quite a crowd collects. I"ve seen them sitting down on the curb smoking and drinking, whilst they are waiting for their turns to have a peep. They"ll send to the public-house for beer, and then they"ll stop for hours. Indeed, I"ve had my business quite interfered with by the mob, for they don"t go away after having their look. I seldom stop out after 12 o"clock at night.

Sometimes when I have been exhibiting, the parties have said it was all nonsense and a deception, for the stars was painted on the glass. If the party has been anything agreeable, I"ve taken the trouble to persuade him. I"ve, for instance, placed the star on the very edge of the glass, and then they"ve seen it travel right across the field; and as I"ve told them, if it was painted it couldn"t move and disappear from the lens.

Most of the spectators go away quite surprised and impressed with what they have seen. Some will thank me a dozen times over. Some will say, "Well, my penny is well laid out. I shouldn"t have credited it with my own eyes." Others, but there are very few of them, won"t believe when they have looked. Some, when I can see the moon on their eye as they look in, swear they don"t see it. Those I let go on and don"t take their money, for the penny is no object. When I tell the people what the wonders of the heavens are, and how each of these planets is a world, they go away wonderfully grateful and impressed.

I went down to Portsmouth with my telescope at the time the fleet sailed under Sir Charles Napier, and the Queen led them out in her yacht. I took a great deal of money there. I didn"t exhibit in the day-time: I didn"t trouble myself. I took two guineas showing the yacht the day she sailed, and at night with the moon. The other nights, with the moon and planets only, I took from 12s. to 14s. I refused 15s. for one hour, for this reason. A lady sent her servant to ask me to go to her house, and my price is one guinea for to go out, whether for an hour, or two, or three; but she first offered me 10s., and then the next night 15s. Then I found I should have to carry my instrument, weighing one cwt., two miles into the country, and up hill all the way; so, as I was sure of taking more than 10s. where I was, I wouldn"t for an extra shilling give myself the labour. I took 12s. 6d. as it was. At Portsmouth a couple of sailors came up, and one had a look, and the other said "What is there to see?" I told him the moon, and he asked the price. When I said "One penny," he says, "I aint got a penny, but here"s three halfpence, if that"s the same to you;" and he gives it, and when I expected he was about to peep, he turns round and says, "I"ll be smothered if I"m going to look down that gallows long chimney! You"ve got your money, and that"s all your business." So you see there are some people who are quite indifferent to scientific exhibitions.

There are, to the best of my knowledge, about four men besides myself, going about with telescopes. I don"t know of any more. Of these there"s only one of any account. I"ve seen through them all, so I may safely say it. I consider mine the best in London exhibiting. Mine is a very expensive instrument. Everything depends upon the object-glass. There"s glasses on some which have been thrown aside as valueless, and may have been bought for two or three pounds.

The capital required to start a telescope in the streets all depends upon the quantity of the object-glass, from 3l. to 50l. for the objectglass alone.

Nobody, who is not acquainted with telescopes, knows the value of object-glasses. I"ve known this offer to be made—that the object-glass should be placed in one scale and gold in the other to weigh it down, and then they wouldn"t. The rough glass from Birmingham—before it is worked—only 12 inches in diameter, will cost 96l. Chance, at Birmingham, is the principal maker of the crown and flint for optical purposes. The Swiss used formerly to be the only makers of optical metal of any account, and now Birmingham has knocked them out of the field: indeed they have got the Swiss working for them at Chance"s.

You may take a couple of plates of the rough glass to persons ignorant of their value, and they are only twelve inches in diameter, and he would think one shilling dear for them, for they only look like the bits you see in the streets to let light through the pavement. These glasses are half flint and half crown, the flint for the concave, and the crown for the convex side. Their beauty consists in their being pure metal and quite transparent, and not stringy. Under the high magnifying power we use you see this directly, and it makes the object smudgy and distorts the vision.

After getting the rough metal it takes years to finish the object-glass. They polish it with satin and putty. The convex has to be done so correctly, that if the lens is the 100th part of an inch out its value is destroyed.

The well-known object-glass which was shown in the Great Exhibition of 1851, was in Mr. Ross"s hands (of Featherstone-buildings, Holborn,) for four years before it was finished. It was very good, and done him great credit. He is supposed to have lost by the job, for the price is all eat up by wages pretty near.

The observatory on Wandsworth-common is a complete failure, owing to the object-glass being a bad one. It belongs to the Rev. Mr. Cragg. The tube is 72 feet long, I believe, and shaped like a cigar, bulging at the sides. He wanted to have a new object-glass put in, and what do you think they asked him at Birmingham for the rough metal alone?— 2000l.! It is 24 inches in diameter. Mr. Ross asks 6000l., I was told, to make a new one—finished for him.

The making of object-glasses is dreadful and tedious labour. Men have been known to go and throw their heads under waggon wheels, and have them smashed, from being regularly worn out with working an objectglass, and not being able to get the convex right. I was told by a party that one objectglass was in hand for 14 years.

The night of the eclipse of the moon, (the 13th October, 1856,) when it was so well seen in London, I took 1l. 1d. at 1d. each. I might as well have took 2l. by charging 2d., but being so well known then I didn"t make no extra charge. They were forty deep, for everybody wished to see. I had to put two lads under the stand to prevent their being trod to death. They had to stay there for two hours before they could get a peep, and so indeed had many others to do the same. A friend of mine didn"t look at all, for I couldn"t get him near. They kept calling to the one looking through the tube, "Now, then, make haste, you there." They nearly fought for their turns. They got pushing and fighting, one crying, "I was first," and, "Now it"s my turn." I was glad when it was over, I can assure you. The buttons to my braces were dragged off my back by the pressure behind, and I had to hold up my breeches with my hand. The eclipse lasted from 21 minutes past 9 to 25 minutes past 12, and in that time 247 persons had a peep. The police were there to keep order, but they didn"t interfere with me. They are generally very good to me, and they seem to think that my exhibition improves the minds of the public, and so protect me.

When I went to Portsmouth, I applied to Mr. Myers the goldsmith, a very opulent and rich man there, and chairman of the Esplanade Committee at Southsea, and he instantly gave me permission to place my stand there. Likewise the mayor and magistrates of Portsmouth, to exhibit in the streets.

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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