London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Blind Scotch Violoncello Player.


A STOUT, hale-looking blind man, dressed very decently in coloured clothes, and scrupulously clean, gave me the following details:—

I am one of the three blind Scotchmen who go about the streets in company, playing the violoncello, clarionet, and flute. We are really Highlanders, and can all speak Gaelic; but a good many London Highlanders are Irish. I have been thirty years in the streets of London; one of my mates has been forty years, —he"s sixty-nine;—the other has been thirty years. I became partially blind, through an inflammation, when I was fourteen, and was stone-blind when I was twenty-two. Before I was totally blind I came to London, travelling up with the help of my bagpipes, guided by a little boy. I settled in London, finding it a big place, where a man could do well at that time, and I took a turn every now and then into the country. I could make 14s. aweek, winter and summer through, thirty years ago, by playing in the streets; now I can"t make 6s. a-week, take winter and summer. I met my two mates, who are both blind men, —both came to England for the same reason as I did,—in my journeyings in London; and at last we agreed to go together,—that"s twenty years ago. We"ve been together, on and off, ever since. Sometimes, one of us will take a turn round the coast of Kent, and another round the coast of Devon; and then join again in London, or meet by accident. We have always agreed very well, and never fought. We,—I mean the street-blind,— tried to maintain a burying and sick-club of our own; but we were always too poor. We live in rooms. I don"t know one blind musician who lives in a lodging-house. I myself know a dozen blind men, now performing in the streets of London; these are not all exactly blind, but about as bad; the most are stone-blind. The blind musicians are chiefly married men. I don"t know one who lives with a woman unmarried. The loss of sight changes a man. He doesn"t think of women, and women don"t think of him. We are of a religious turn, too, generally. I am a Roman Catholic; but the other Scotch blind men here are Presbyterians. The Scotch in London are our good friends, because they give us a little sum altogether, perhaps; but the English working-people are our main support: it is by them we live, and I always found them kind and liberal,—the most liberal in the world as I know. Through Marylebone is our best round, and Saturday night our best time. We play all three together. "Johnny Cope" is our best-liked tune. I think the blind Scotchmen don"t come to play in London now. I can remember many blind Scotch musicians, or pipers, in London: they are all dead now! The trade"s dead too,—it is so! When we thought of forming the blind club, there was never more than a dozen members. These were two basket-makers, one mat-maker, four violin-players, myself, and my two mates; which was the number when it dropped for want of funds; that"s now fifteen years ago. We were to pay 1s. a-month; and sick members were to have 5s. a-week, when they"d paid two years. Our other rules were the same as other clubs, I believe. The blind musicians now in London are we three; C—, a Jew, who plays the violin; R—, an Enlishman, who plays the violin elegantly; W—, a harp player; T—, violin again; H—, violin (but he plays more in public-houses); R—, the flute; M—, bagpipes; C—, bagpipes; K—, violin: that"s all I know myself. There"s a good many blind who play at the sailors" dances, Wapping and Deptford way. We seldom hire children to lead us in the streets; we have plenty of our own, generally —I have five! Our wives are generally women who have their eyesight; but some blind men,—I know one couple,—marry blind women.

This object is in collection Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 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