London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Another Bagpipe Player.


MY father is a Highlander, and was born in Argyllshire, and there, when he was 14 or 15, he enlisted for a piper into the 92nd. They wear the national costume in that regiment—the Campbell tartan. Father married whilst he was in Scotland. We are six in family now, and my big brother is 17, and I"m getting on for 15—a little better than 14. We and another brother of 10, all of us, go about the streets playing the bagpipes.

Father served in India. It was after I was born (and so was my other brother of 10) that the regiment was ordered over there. Mother came up to England to see him off, and she has stopped in London ever since. Father lost a leg in the Punjaub war, and now he receives a pension of 1s. a-day. Mother had a very bad time of it whilst father was away; I don"t know the reason why, but father didn"t send her any money. All her time was taken up looking after us at home, so she couldn"t do any work. The parish allowed her some money. She used to go for some food every week. I can remember when we were so hard up. We lived principally on bread and potatoes. At last mother told Jim he had better go out in the streets and play the bagpipes, to see what he could pick up. Father had left some pipes behind him, small ones, what he learnt to play upon. Jim wasn"t dressed up in the Highland costume as he is now. He did very well the first time he went out; he took about 10s. or so. When mother saw that she was very pleased, "OLD SARAH," THE WELL-KNOWN HURDY-GURDY PLAYER. [From a Daguerreotype by BEARD.] and thought she had the Bank of England tumbled into her lap. Jim continued going out every day until father came home. After father lost his leg he came home again. He had been absent about eighteen months. The pipers always go into action with the regiment. When they are going into the field they play in front of the regiment, but when the fighting begins they go to the side. He never talks about his wound. I never heard him talk about it beyond just what I"ve said; as to how they go into war and play the regiment into the field. I never felt much curiosity to ask him about it, for I"m out all day long and until about 10 o"clock at night, and when I get home I"m too tired to talk; I never think about asking him how he was wounded.

When father came home from India he brought 10l. with him. He didn"t get his pension not till he got his medal, and that was a good while after—about a year after, I should say. This war they gave the pension directly they got home, but the other war they didn"t. Jim still continued playing in the streets. Then father made him a Highland suit out of his old regimentals. He did better then; indeed he one day brought home a pound, and never less than five, or nine or ten, shillings. Next, father made me a suit, and I used to go out with Jim and dance the fling to his bagpipes. I usen"t to take no carpet with me, but dance in the middle of the road. I wear father"s regimental-belt to this day, only he cut it down smaller for me. Here"s his number at the end of it, 62, and the date, 1834—so it"s twenty-two years old, and it"s strong and good now, only it"s been white buff leather, and my father"s blacked it. We didn"t take much more money going out together, but we took it quicker and got home sooner. Besides, it was a help to mother to get rid of me. We still took about 10s. a-day, but it got lesser and lesser after a time. It was a couple of years after we come out that it got lesser. People got stingier, or perhaps they was accustomed to see us, and was tired of the dancing. Whilst I was doing the dancing, father, when I got home of a night, used to teach me the bagpipes. It took me more than twelve months to learn to play. Now I"m reckoned a middling player.

When I could play I went out with my big brother, and we played together; we did the tunes both together. No, I didn"t do a bass, or anything of that; we only played louder when we was together, and so made more noise, and so got more attention. In the day-time we walked along the streets playing. We did better the two playing together than when I danced. Sometimes gentlemen would tell us to come to their houses and play to "em. We"ve often been to General Campbell"s and played to him, whilst he was at dinner sometimes, or sometimes after. We had 5s. or half-a-sovereign, according to the time we stopped there. There was about six or seven gentlemen like this, and we go to their houses and play for them. We get from one shilling to five for each visit. When we go inside and play to them it"s never less than 5s. They are all Scotch gentlemen that we go to see, but we have done it for one Englishman, but he"s the only one.

When my little brother John was old enough to go out, father made him a Highland suit, and then he went out along with my big brother and danced to his playing, and I went out by myself. I did pretty well, but not so well as when I was with Jim. We neither did so well as when we were together, but putting both our earnings together we did better, for the two separated took more than the two joined.

My little sister Mary has been out with me for the last month. Father made her a suit. It"s a boy"s, and not a girl"s costume, and she goes along with me. Whilst I play, she goes up to ladies and gentlemen and asks for the money. They generally give her something. She never says anything, only makes a bow and holds out her little hand. It was father"s notion to send her out. He said, "She may as well go out with one of you as be stopping at home." She stops out as long as I do. She doesn"t get tired, at least she never tells me she is. I always carry her home at night on my back. She is eight years old, and very fond of me. I buy her cakes as we go along. We dine anywhere we can. We have bread and cheese, and sometimes bread and meat. Besides, she"s very often called over and given something to eat. I"ve got regular houses where they always give me dinner. There"s one in Eaton-place where the servants are Scotch, and at the Duke of Argyle"s, out Kensington way, and another at York-terrace, Camdentown. It"s generally from Scotch servants I get the food, except at the Duke"s, and he orders me a dinner whenever I come that way. It ain"t the Lowland Scotch give me the food, only the Highland Scotch. Highlanders don"t talk with a drawl, only Lowlanders. I can tell a Highlander in a minute. I speak a few words of Gaelic to him.

So you see I never have occasion to buy my dinner, unless I"m out at a place where I am too far to go, but I generally work up to my eating places.

It"s about three years now since I"ve been out playing the pipe. Jim and Johnny go together, and I go with Mary. Between the two we take about 5s. a-day, excepting on Saturdays. I get home by ten, and have supper and then go to bed; but Jim he sometimes doesn"t come till very late, about one in the morning. At night we generally go down to the Haymarket, and play before the publichouses. The ladies and gentlemen both give us money. We pick up more at night-time than in the day. Some of the girls then make the gentlemen give us money. They"ll say, "Give the little fellow a penny." The highest I ever had given me at one time was a Scotch lady at a hotel in Jermyn-street, and she gave me a sovereign. I"ve often had half-a-crown give me in the Haymarket. It"s always from Scotch gentlemen. English have given me a shilling, but never more; and nearly all we take is from Scotch people. Jim says the same thing, and I always found it so.

I"ve had a whole mob round me listening. Some of them will ask for this tune, and some for that. I play all Scotch tunes. "The Campbells are coming" is the chief air they like. Some ask for the "Loch Harbour no more." That"s a sentimental air. "The Highland Fling," that is very popular; "Money Musk," and the "Miss Drummond of Perth" is another they like very much. Another great favourite is "Maggie Lauder." That"s a song. When I play in a gentleman"s room I don"t put the drone on, but only play on the chanter, or what you would call the flute part of it. I cut off the drone, by putting the finger in the tall pipe that stands up against the shoulder, which we call the drone pipe. The wind goes up there; and if you stop it up, it don"t sound. A bagpipes has got five pipes—the chanter, the drone pipe, the two tenor pipes, and the blow-stick, through which you send the wind into the bag, which is of sheep-skin, covered with green baize. Every set of pipes is all alike. That"s the true Highland pipe. When I"m playing in the streets I put the drone on, and I can be heard miles off. I"ve very often had a horse shy at me. He won"t pass me sometimes, or if they do, they shy at me.

I get the reeds which go inside my pipes, and which make the noise, from the Duke of Argyle"s piper. He"s a good friend to me, and very fond of me. They"re made of thin pieces of split cane, and it"s the wind going through them that makes them jar and give the music. Before I play, I have to wet them. They last me six or seven months, if I take care of them. The Duke of Argyle"s piper never grumbles when I go for new ones. When I go to him he makes me play to him, to see how I"ve got on with my music. He"s a splendid player, and plays from books. I play by ear. His pipes are of ebony, and with a silver chanter or flute-pipe. He plays every day to the Duke while he"s at dinner. My pipes are made out of cocoa-nut wood.

I know the Duke very well. He"s very kind to his clan. He"s Campbell clan, and so am I. He never spoke to me; but he told the servants to give me dinner every time I came that way. The servants told me the Duke had promised me my dinner every time I came. When I touch my bonnet, he always nods to me. He never gave me only a shilling once, but always my dinner. That"s better for me.

I wear the regular Highland costume, but I don"t wear the Campbell plaid, only the Stuart, because it"s cheaper. My kilt ain"t a regular one, because it"s too dear for me. In a soldier"s kilt it"s reckoned there"s thirty-two yards; mine has only got two and a half. My philibeg ought by rights to be of badgers" skin, with a badger"s head on the top, and with tassels set in brass caps; but my philibeg is only sheep-skin. The centre is made up to look like the real one. Father makes all our clothes. He makes the jackets, and the belts even, down to the German silver buckles, with the slide and the tip. He cuts them out of sheet metal. He casts our buttons, too, in pewter. They are square ones, you see, with a Highlander on them. He makes our shoes, too, with the little buckle in front. Mother knits the stockings. They are mixed—red and blue mixed. I wear out about three a-year. She makes about twelve pairs a-year for us all. We buy our tartan and our bonnets, but make the pewter thistles at the side and the brooch which fastens the scarf on one shoulder. A suit of clothes lasts about twelve months, so that father has to make four suits a-year for us all; that is for Jim, myself, Johnny, and Mary. The shoes last, with repairing, twelve months. There"s twenty buttons on each coat. Father has always got something to do, repairing our clothes. He"s not able to go out for his leg, or else he"d go out himself; and he"d do well playing, for he"s a first-rate piper, but not so good as the Duke"s.

We go about with our bare legs, and no drawers on. I never feel cold of my legs; only of my fingers, with playing. I never go cold in the legs. None of the Highlanders ever wear drawers; and none but the rich in Scotland wear stockings and shoes, so that their legs are altogether bare.

When I"m marching through the streets, and playing on the pipes, I always carry my head high up in the air, and throw my legs out well. The boys will follow for miles— some of them. The children very often lose theirselves from following me such a way. Even when I haven"t my pipes with me the boys will follow me in a mob. I"ve never been ill-treated by boys, but a drunken man, often on a Saturday night, gives me a push or a knock. You see, they"ll begin dancing around me, and then a mob will collect, and that sets the police unto me; so I always play a slow tune when drunken men come up, and then they can"t dance. They"ll ask for a quick tune, and as I won"t play one, they"ll hit me or push me about. The police never interfere unless a mob collects, and then they are obliged, by their regulations, to interfere.

I never carried a dirk, or a sword, or any thing of that. My brother used to have one in his stocking; but one day he was called up into a public house, where there was a lot of French butlers and footmen, and they would have him to play; and when he had for some time they begun to pull him about, and they broke his pipes and snapped the chanter in two; so Jim pulled out his dirk, and they got frightened. They tried to take it from him, but they couldn"t. He"s a bold fellow, and would do anything when he"s in a passion. He"d have stuck one of the French fellows if he could. When father heard of it he took the dirk away, for fear Jim should get into mischief.

When I"ve been playing the pipes for long I get very thirsty. It"s continually blowing into the bag. I very seldom go and get any beer; only at dinner half-a-pint. I go to a pump and have a drink of water. At first it made me feel sick, blowing so much; but I very soon got used to it. It always made me feel very hungry, blowing all day long; I could eat every two or three hours. It makes your eyes very weak, from the strain on them. When I first went out with my brother, playing, I used to have to leave off every now and then and have a rest, for it made my head ache. The noise doesn"t affect the hearing, nor has it Jim: but my father"s quite deaf of the left ear, where the drones goes. I never have the drones on, only very seldom. When I have them on I can"t hear anything for a few seconds after I leave off playing.

Sometimes, of wet nights, I go into publichouses and play. Some publicans won"t let you, for the instrument is almost too loud for a room. If there"s a Scotchman in the tap-room he"ll give me something. I do well when there"s good company. I only go there when it rains, for my usual stand of an evening is in the Haymarket.

The bagpipes I play on were sent from Edinburgh. Father wrote for them, and they cost 30s. They are the cheapest made. There are some sets go as high as a 100l. They are mounted with gold and silver. The Duke of Argyle"s piper must have paid 100l. for his, I should say, for they are in silver. The bag is covered with velvet and silk fringe. There"s eight notes in a long pipes. You can"t play them softly, and they must go their own force.

I know all those pipers who regular goes about playing the pipes in London. There"s only four, with me and my brother—two men and us two. Occasionally one may pass through London, but they don"t stop here more than a day or two. I know lots of them who are travelling about the country. There"s about twenty in all. I take about 15s. a-week, and Jim does the same. That"s clear of all expenses, such as for dinner, and so on. We sometimes take more, but it"s very odd that we seldom has a good week both of us together. If he has a good week, most likely I don"t. It comes, taking all the year round, to about 15s. a-week each. We both of us give whatever we may earn to father. We never go out on a Sunday. Whenever I can get home by eight o"clock I go to a night- school, and I am getting on pretty well with my reading and writing. Sometimes I don"t go to school for a week together. It"s generally on the Wednesday and Thursday nights that I can get to school, for they are the worst nights for working in the streets. Our best nights are Saturday and Monday, and then I always take about 5s. Tuesday it comes to about 3s.; but on Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday, it don"t come to more than 2s. 6d.; that"s if I am pretty lucky; but some nights I don"t take above 6d.; and that"s how I put it down at 15s. a-week, taking the year round. Father never says anything if I don"t take any money home, for he knows I"ve been looking out for it: but if he thought I"d been larking and amusing myself, most likely he"d be savage.

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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