London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Whistling and Dancing Boy.


AT the present time there is only English boy going about the streets of London dancing, and at the same time playing his own musical accompaniment on a tin whistle. There are or Italian boys who dance whilst they perform on either the flute or the hurdy-gurdy, but the lad who gave me the following statement assured me that he was the only Englishman who had made street whistling and dancing "his profession."



He was a red-headed lad, of that peculiar white complexion which accompanies hair of that colour. His forehead was covered with freckles, so thick, that they looked as if a quantity of cayenne pepper had been sprinkled over it; and when he frowned, his hair moved backwards and forwards like the twitching of a horse shaking off flies.

"I"ve put some ile on my hair, to make me look tidy," he said. The grease had turned his locks to a fiery crimson colour, and as he passed his hands through it, and tossed it backwards, it positively glittered with the fat upon it.

The lad soon grew communicative enough, and proceeded to show me a blue jacket which he had bought that morning for a shilling, and explained to me at the same time how artful he had been over the bargain, for the boy had asked eighteenpence.

I remarked that his shoes seemed in a bad state, for they were really as white as a baker"s slippers from want of blacking, and the toe of gaped like the opening to a tortoiseshell. He explained to me that he wore all his boots out dancing, doing the double shuffle.

Now these "ere shoes," he said, "cost me a shilling in Petticoat-lane not a week since, and looked as good as new then, and even now, with a little mending, they"ll make a tidy pair of crab-shells again.

To give force to this remark, he lifted his leg up, but, despite his explanation, I could not see how the leather could possibly be repaired.

He went through his dances for me, at the same time accompanying himself on his penny whistle. He took his shoes off and did a hornpipe, thumping his feet upon the floor the while, like palms on a panel, so that I felt nervous lest there should be a pin in the carpet and he be lamed by it.

The boy seemed to have no notion of his age, for although he accounted for years of existence, yet he insisted he was only "come months." I was sorry to find, moreover, that he was in the habit of drinking, seldom going home after his night"s work without being intoxicated; and, indeed, his thin body and pinched face bore evidence of his excess in this respect, though, but for his assertion that "he was never hungry, and food was no good to him," I should have imagined, at the glance, that he was pining with want.

He seems to be among the more fortunate of those who earn their living in the streets, for although I questioned and cross-questioned him in every possible way, he still clung to his assertion that he made per week. His clothes, however, bore no evidence of his prosperity, for his outer garment was a washedout linen blouse, such as glaziers wear, whilst his trousers were of coarse canvas, and as black on the thighs as the centre of a drum-head.

He brought with him a penny whistle to show me his musical talents, and, certainly, his execution of the tin instrument was rapid and certain.

The following is the statement he gave me:—

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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