London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Performer on Drum and Pipes.


A STOUT, reddish-faced man, who was familiar with all kinds of exhibitions, and had the coaxing, deferential manner of many persons who ply for money in the streets, gave me an account of what he called "his experience" as the ""—

I have played the pandean pipes and the drum for thirty years to street exhibitions of all kinds. I was a smith when a boy, serving seven years" apprenticeship; but after that I married a young woman that I fell in love with, in the music line. She played a hurdygurdy in the streets, so I bought pandean pipes, as I was always fond of practising music, and I joined her. Times for streetmusicianers were good then, but I was foolish. I"m aware of that now; but I wasn"t particularly partial to hard work; besides, I could make more as a street-musicianer. When I first started, my wife and I joined a fantoccini. It did well. My wife and I made from 9s. to 10s. a-day. We had half the profits. At that time the public exhibitions were different to what they are now. Gentlemen"s houses were good then, but now the profession"s sunk to street corners. Bear-dancing was in vogue then, and clock-work on the round board, and Jack-i"--the-green was in all his glory every May, thirty years ago. Things is now very dead indeed. In the old times, only sweeps were allowed to take part with the Jack; they were particular at that time; all were sweeps but the musicianers. Now it"s everybody"s money, when there"s any money. Every sweep showed his plate then when performing. "My lady" was anybody at all likely that they could get hold of; she was generally a watercress-seller, or something in the public way. "My lady" had 2s. 6d. a-day and her keep for three days—that was the general hire. The boys, who were climbing-boys, had 1s. or 6d., or what the master gave them; and they generally went to the play of a night, after washing themselves, in course. I had 6s. a-day and a good dinner —shoulder of mutton, or something prime— and enough to drink. "My lord" and the other characters shared and shared alike. They have taken, to my knowledge, 5l. on the 1st of May. This year, one set, with two "My ladies," took 3l. the first day. The master of the lot was a teetotaler, but the others drank as they liked. He turned teetotaler because drink always led him into trouble. The dress of the Jack is real ivy tied round hoops. The sweeps gather the ivy in the country, and make the dresses at their homes. My lord"s and the other dresses are generally kept by the sweeps. My lord"s dress costs a mere trifle at the second-hand clothes shop, but it"s gold-papered and ornamented up to the mark required. What I may call war tunes, such as "The White Cockade," the "Downfall of Paris," (I"ve been asked for that five or six times a-day—I don"t remember the composer), "Bonaparte"s March," and the "Duke of York"s March," were in vogue in the old times. So was "Scots wha hae" (very much), and "Off she goes!" Now new tunes come up every day. I play waltzes and pokers now chiefly. They"re not to compare to the old tunes; it"s like playing at musicianers, lots of the tunes now-a-days. I"ve played with Michael, the Italy Bear. I"ve played the fife and tabor with him. The tabor was a little drum about the size of my cap, and it was tapped with a little stick. There are no tabors about now. I made my 7s. or 8s. a-day with Michael. He spoke broken English. A dromedary was about then, but I knew nothing of that or the people; they was all foreigners together. Swinging monkeys were in vogue at that time as well. I was with them, with Antonio of Saffron Hill. He was the original of the swinging monkeys, twenty years ago. They swing from a rope, just like slack-wire dancers. Antonio made money and went back to his own country. He sold his monkeys,—there was three of them,—small animals they were, for 70l. to another foreigner; but I don"t know what became of them. Coarse jokes pleased people long ago, but don"t now; people get more enlightened, and think more of chapel and church instead of amusements. My trade is a bad one now. Take the year through, I may make 12s. a-week, or not so much; say 10s. I go out sometimes playing single,—that"s by myself,—on the drum and pipes; but it"s thought nothing of, for I"m not a German. It"s the same at Brighton as in London; brass bands is all the go when they"ve Germans to play them. The Germans will work at 2s. aday at any fair, when an Englishman will expect 6s. The foreigners ruin this country, for they have more privileges than the English. The Germans pull the bells and knock at the doors for money, which an Englishman has hardly face for. I"m now with a fantoccini figures from Canton, brought over by a seaman. I can"t form an exact notion of how many men there are in town who are musicianers to the street exhibitions; besides the exhibitions" own people, I should say about one hundred. I don"t think that they are more drunken than other people, but they"re liable to get top-heavy at times. None that I know live with women of the town. They live in lodgings, and not in lodging-houses. Oh! no, no, we"ve not come to that yet. Some of them succeeded their fathers as street-musicianers; others took it up casalty-like, by having learned different instruments; none that I know were ever theatrical performers. All the men I know in my line would object, I am sure, to hard work, if it was with confinement along with it. We can never stand being confined to hard work, after being used to the freedom of the streets. None of us save money; it goes either in a lump, if we get a lump, or in dribs and drabs, which is the way it mostly comes to us. I"ve known several in my way who have died in St. Giles"s workhouse. In old age or sickness we"ve nothing but the parish to look to. The newest thing I know of is the singing dogs. I was with that as musician, and it answers pretty well amongst the quality. The dogs is three Tobies to a Punchand-Judy show, and they sing,—that is, they make a noise,—it"s really a howl,—but they keep time with Mr. Punch as he sings.

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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