London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Organ Man, With Flute Harmonicon Organ.


WHEN I am come in this country I had nine or ten year old, so I know the English language better than mine. At that time there was no organ about but the old-fashioned one made in Bristol, with gold organ-pipe in front. Then come the one with figure-dolls in front; and then next come the piano one, made at Bristol too; and now the flute one, which come from Paris, where they make them. He is an Italian man that make them, and he is the only man dat can make them, because he paid for them to the government (patented them), and now he is the only one.

I belong to Parma,—to the small village in the duchy. My father keep a farm, but I had three year old, I think, when he died. There was ten of us altogeder; but one of us he was died, and one he drown in the water. I was very poor, and I was go out begging there; and my uncle said I should go to Paris to get my living. I was so poor I was afraid to die, for I get nothing to eat. My uncle say, I will take one of them to try to keep him. So I go along with him. Mother was crying when I went away. She was very poor. I went with my uncle to Paris, and we walk all the way. I had some white mice there, and he had a organ. I did middling. The French people is more kind to the charity than the English. There are not so many beggar there as in England. The first time the Italian come over here we was took a good bit of money, but now——!

When I was in Paris my uncle had to go home again on business. He ask me too if I would go with him. But I was afraid to be hungry again, for you see I was feel hungry again, and I wouldn"t, for I got a piece of bread in France.

My uncle was along with another man, who was a master like, you know; for he had a few instrument, but common thing. I don"t know if he have some word wid my uncle, but they part. Den dis man say "Come to England with me," and he said "you shall have five franc the month, and your victual." We walk as far as Calais, and then we come in the boat. I was very sick, and I thought that I die then. I say to him plenty times "I wish I never come," for I never thought to get over.

When we got to London, we go to a little court there, in Saffron-hill; and I was live there in the little public-house. I go out, sometime white mice, sometime monkey, sometime with organ—small one. I dare say I make 10s. a-week for him; but he wor very kind to me, and give me to eat what I like. He was take care of me, of course. I was very young at dat time.

After I was in London a-year, I go back to Paris with my master. There I could have made my fortune, but I was so young I did not know what I do. There was an old lady who ask me to come as her servant. My master did not like very well to let me go. She say to me, "You shall not have no hard work, only to go behind the carriage, or follow with the umbrella." But I was so young I did not know my chance. I tell her I have my parent in Italy; and she say she go to Italy all the years, and I shall have two months to visit my mother. I did not go with this old lady, and I lose the chance; but I had only thirteen years, and I was foolish.

Then I come to England again, and stop here three years. Where my master go, I was obliged to go too. Then I go to Italy, and I saw my moder. The most part of my family never know me when I went home, for I was grown much, and older. I stop there six weeks, and then I come back to England with anoder man. He give me 12 franc a-month, and very kind indeed he was. He had some broder in this country, so he take me along wid him. There was only me and him. My other master have two beside me.

The master of organs send to Italy for boys to come here. Suppose I have a broder in Italy, I write to him to send me two boys, and he look out for them. They send money for the boy to come. Sometimes he send 3l., sometimes 3l. 10s. or 4l. Then they walk, and live on the pear or the grape, or what is cheap; and if they put by any, then they keep what they put by. They generally tell them they shall have 12 francs a-month. But sometime they was cheap; but now they are dear, and it is sometime a pound a-month. They"d sooner have one who have been here before, because den they know the way to take care of the instrument, you know.

I stop in England two year and six month, when I come over with my second master. He paid me like a bank, and I saved it up, and I take it over to Italy with me. When I had a bit of money I was obliged to send it home to my broder in Italy, for to keep him, you know. When I go home again I had a bit of money with me. I give it to the gentleman what support my mother and sister; but it was not enough, you know, not three part, so I was obliged to give him a good bit more.

Then I came back to England again, to the same master. It take about a month to make the voyage. I was walk it all the way. I was cross the Alps. You must to come over here. I dare say I walk thirty miles a-day, sometime more dan that. I sleep at the public-house; but when you not get to the public-house, then when it begins dark, then I go to the farm-house and ask for a bit of straw to lodge. But I generally goes to the public-house when I get one. They charge 3d. or 2d., or sometimes 1d. I never play anything on the road, or take de white mice. I never take nothing.

After that time I have been to Italy and back three or four times; but I never been with no master, not after the second one. I bought an organ of my master. I think I give him 13l. No, sir, I not give the money down, but so much the week, and he trust me. It was according what I took, I paid him. I was trying to make up 1l. and bring him down. It take me about eighteen months to pay him, because I was obliged to keep me and one things and another. It was a middling organ. It was one was a piano, you know. I take about 1s. 3d. or 1s. 6d. a-day regularly with it.

I have now an organ—a flute organ they call it—and it is my own. It cost me 20l. A man make it come from France. He knows an organ-maker in France, and he write for me, and make it come over for me. I suppose he had a pound profit for to make it come for me; for I think it cost less than 20l. in Paris.

I have this organ this twelve months. It has worn out a little, but not much. It is not so good as when it come from France. An organ will wear twenty year, but some of them break. Then you must have it always repaired and tuned. You see, the music of it must be tuned every five or six months. Mine has never been tuned yet, the time I have it. It is the trumpet part that get out of tune sooner. I know a man who goes out with de big organ on the wheels, and he tune the organ for me. I go to him, and I say, "My organ wants de repair;" and he come, and he never charge me anything. He make the base and tenor agree. He tune the first one to the base, you know, and then the second one to the second base. When the organ out of tune the pipe rattle.

The organ fills with dust a good deal in the summer time, and then you must take it all to pieces. In London they can tune and repair it. They charge 10s. to clean and tune it. Sometime he have something to do with the pipes, and then it come to more. In winter the smoke get inside, and make it come all black. I am obliged to keep it all covered up when I am playing.

My organ play eight tunes. Two are from opera, one is a song, one a waltz, one is hornpipe, one is a polka, and the other two is dancing tunes. One is from "Il Lombardi," of Verdi. All the organs play that piece. I have sold that music to gentlemens. They say to me, "What is that you play?" and I say, "From Il Lombardi." Then they ask me if I have the music; and I say "Yes;" and I sell it to them for 4s. I did not do this with my little organ; but when I went out with a big organ on two wheels. My little flute organ play the same piece. The other opera piece is "Il Trovatore." I have heard "Il Lombardi" in Italy. It is very nice music; but never hear "Il Trovatore." It is very nice music, too. It go very low. My gentlemens like it very much. I don"t understand music at all. The other piece is English piece, which we call the "Liverpool Hornpipe." There is two Liverpool Hornpipe. I know one these twenty years. Then come "The Ratcatcher"s Daughter;" he is a English song. It"s get a little old; but when it"s first come out the poor people do like it, but the gentlemens they like more the opera, you know. After that is what you call "Minnie," another English song. He is middling popular. He is not one of the new tune, but they do like it. The next one is a Scotch contre-danse. It is good tunes, but I don"t know the name of it. The next one is, I think, a polka; but I think he"s made from part of "Scotische." There is two or three tunes belongs to the "Scotische." The next one is, I think, a valtz of Vienna. I don"t know which one, but I say to the organ-man, "I want a valtz of Vienna;" and he say, "Which one? because there is plenty of valtz of Vienna." Of course, there is nine of them. After the opera music, the valtz and the polka is the best music in the organ.

For doing a barrel of eight tune it come very near 14l., one thing and another. You can have a fresh tune put into an old barrel. But then he charge 10s. He"s more trouble than to put only one. I have my tune changed once ayear. You see most of the people gets very tired of one tune, and I"m obliged to change them. You can have the new tune in three or four days, or a week"s time, if he has nothing to do; but sometime it is three or four weeks, if he has plenty to do. It is a man who is called John Hicks who does the new tunes. He was born in Bristol. He has a father in Bristol. He live in Crockenwell, just at the back of the House of Correction. You know the prison? then it is just at the back, on the other side.

It won"t do to have all opera music in my organ. You must have some opera tunes for the gentlemen, and some for the poor people, and they like the dancing tune. Dere is some for the gentlemens, and some for the poor peoples.

I have often been into the houses of gentlemens to play tunes for dancing. I have been to a gentleman"s near Golden-square, where he have a shop for to make the things for the horse—a saddler, you call it. He have plenty customers; them what gets the things for the horse. There was carriage outside. It was large room, where you could dance thirtytwo altogether. I think it"s the boxing-day I go there. I have 10s. for that night. He have a farm in the country, and I go there too. He have the little children there—like a school, and there was two policemen at the door, and you couldn"t get in without the paper to show. He had Punch and Judy. He has a English band as well.

I have some two or three place where I go regular at Christmas-time, to play all night to the children. Sometime I go for an hour or two. When they are tired of dancing they sit down and have a rest, and I play the opera tune. I go to schools, too, and play to the little children. They come and fetch me, and say, "You come such a time and play to the little children," and I say, "Very well," and that"s all right.

My organ is like the organ, but he"s got another part, and that is like a flute. Some organ is called de trompet, and that one he"s called the flute-organ, because he"s got de flute in it. When they first come out they make a great deal of money. I take 2s. 6d. or 3s., and sometimes 1s. 6d. You see, in our business, some has got his regular customer, and some they go up the street and down the street, and they don"t take nothing. I have not got any regular customers much, sir.

On the Monday when I goes out, I goes over the water up the Clapham-road. I have two or three regular there, and they give me plenty of beer and to eat. I know that family those twenty year. If I say to that lady, "I am very ill," he give me his card and say, "Go to the doctor," and I have nothing to pay. There was three sister, but one he died. They is very old, and one he can only come to the window. I dare say I have six houses in that neighbourhood where they give me some 1d. and some 2d. every time I go there. In the summer-time, when it is hot, I walk to Greenwich on the Monday. I have, I dare say, fifteen houses there where I go regular. I can make up 1s. I pay 4d. sometime to ride home in the boat. My organ weight more than fifty pounds, and that tire me. The first time when I"m not used to it, you know, I feel it more tired than when I"m used to it.

On the Tuesday I go to Greenwich, now that it is cold, instead of the Monday. On Wednesday I ain"t got no way to go. I try sometime down at Whitechapel, or some other way. On Thursday I goes out Islington way, and I go as far as Highbury Barn, but not further. There is a bill of the railway and a station there. I"ve got three or four regular customers there. The most I get at once is 2d. I never get 6d. One gentleman at Greenwich give me 6d., but only once. On the Friday I"ve got no way to go; I go where I like. On Saturday I go to Regent-street. I go to Leicester-square and the foreign hotels, where the foreign gentlemen is. Sometime I get the chance to get a few shilling; sometime not a halfpenny. The most I make is sometime at the fair-time. Sometime at Greenwich-fair I make 5s. all in copper, and that is the most I ever make; and the lowest is sometime 6d. When I see I can"t make nothing, I go home. It is very bad in wet weather. I must sit at home, for the rain spoil the instrument. There is nothing like summer-times, for the regular money that I make for the year it come to between 9s. and 10s. the week. Sometimes it is 6d., sometimes 1s., or 1s. 6d. or 2s. the day. For 12s. the week it must be 2s. the day, and that is more than I take. I wish somebody pay me 12s.; there is no such chance.

I live in a room by myself with three others, and we pay 1s. each, and there is two bed. If I go to lodging-house I pay 1s. 6d. the week. In the Italian lodging-house they give you clean shirt on the Sunday for the 1s. 6d. It is my own shirt, but they clean it. This is only in Italian house. In English house it is 1s. 6d. and no shirt. I have breakfast of coffee or what I like, and we club together. We have bread and butter, sometime herring, sometime bacon, what we likes. In the day I buy a pen"orth of bread and a pen"orth of cheese, and some beer, and at night I have supper. I make maccarone—what you call it?—or rice and cabbage, or I make soup or bile some taters; with all four together it come to about 9d. or 10d. a-day for living.

In the house where I live they are all Italians. They are nearly all Italians that live about Leather-lane and Saffron-hill. There is a good bit of them live there. I should say 200: I dare say there is. The house where I live is my own. I let empty room; they bring their own things, you know. It is my lease, and I pay the rent.

It is only the people say that the Italian boys are badly used: they are not so, the masters are very kind to them. If he make 1s. he bring it home; if 3s. or 4s. or 6d. he bring it home. He is not commandé to bring home so much; that is what the people say. I was with the magistrate of police in Marlboroughstreet four days ago, about a little Italian boy that the policemen take for asking money. Some one ask to buy his monkey and talk with him, and then he ask for a penny, and the police take him. A gentleman ask me about the boys. I tell him it is all nonsense what the people say. There is no more boys sent here now. If a boy comes over, and he is bad boys, he goes and play in the street instead of working; then, after paying so much for his coming to England, it is a loss. It does not pay the boys. If I was a master I would not have the boys, if they come here for nothing.

Suppose I have two organs, then one is in the house doing nothing. Then some one come and say, "Lend me the organ for to-day." Then I say, "Yes," and charge him, some 4d., some 6d.; or if somebody ill and he cannot go out, then he"s organ doing nothing, and he lend it out for 4d. or 6d. There is two or three in London who sends out men with organs, but I don"t know who has got the most of us. Then they pay the men 1l. a-month and their keep, or some 15s. Then, some goes half and keep him: then, it"s more profits to the man than the master.

Christmas-time is nothing like the summer-time. Sometimes they give you a Christmas-box, but it"s not the time for Christmasbox now. Sometimes it"s a glass of beer: "Here"s a Christmas-box for you." Sometimes it"s a glass of gin, or rum, or a piece of pud- ding: "Here"s a Christmas-box for you." I have had 6d., but never 1s. for a Christmasbox. Sometimes on a boxing-day it is 3s., or 2s. 6d. for the day.

I have never travelled in the country with my organ, only once when I was young, as far as Liverpool, but no further. Many has got his regular time out in the country. When I go out with the organ I should say it make altogether that I walk ten miles. I want two new pairs of boots every year. I start off in the morning, sometimes eight, sometimes nine or ten, whether I have far to go. I never stop out after seven o"clock at night. Some do, but I don"t.

I don"t know music at all. I am middling fond of it. There is none of the Italians that I know that sings. The French is very fond of singing.

When first you begins, it tries the wrist, turning the handle of the organ; but you soon gets accustomed to it. At first, the arm was sore with the work all day. When I am playing I turn the handle regularly. Sometimes there are people who say, "Go a little quick," but not often.

If the silk in front of the organ is bad, I get new and put it in myself; the rain spoil it very much. It depend upon what sort of organ he is, as to the sort of silk he gets: sometimes 2s. 6d. a-yard, and he take about a yard and a half. Some like to do this once a-year; but some when he see it get a little dirty, like fresh things, you know, and then it is twice a-year.

The police are very quiet to us. When anybody throw up a window and say, "Go on," I go. Sometime they say there is sick in the house, when there is none, but I go just the same. If I did not, then the policeman come, and I get into trouble. I have heard of the noise in the papers about the organs in the street, but we never talk of it in our quarter. They pay no attention to the subject, for they know if anybody say, "Go," then we must depart. That is what we do.

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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