London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street Sale of Flowers in Pots, Roots, Etc.


THE "flower-root sellers"—for I heard them so called to distinguish them from the sellers of "cut flowers"—are among the best-mannered and the best-dressed of all the street-sellers I have met with, but that only as regards a portion of them. Their superiority in this respect may perhaps be in some measure attributable to their dealing with a better class of customers —with persons who, whether poor or rich, exercise healthful tastes.

I may mention, that I found the street-sellers of "roots" —always meaning thereby flowerroots in bloom—more attached to their trade than others of their class.

The roots, sold in the streets, are bought in the markets and at the nursery-gardens; but about -fourths of those required by the better class of street-dealers are bought at the gardens, as are "cut flowers" occasionally. Hackney is the suburb most resorted to by the root-sellers. The best "pitches" for the sale of roots in the street are situated in the Newroad, the City-road, the Hampstead-road, the Edgeware-road, and places of similar character, where there is a constant stream of passers along, who are not too much immersed in business. Above -fourths of the sale is effected by itinerant costermongers. For this there is manifest reason: a flower-pot, with the delicate petals of its full-blown moss-rose, perhaps, suffers even from the trifling concussion in the journey of an omnibus, for instance. To carry a heavy flower-pot, even any short distance, cannot be expected, and to take a cab for its conveyance adds greatly to the expense. Hence, flower-roots are generally purchased at the door of the buyer.

For the flowers of commoner or easier culture, the root-seller receives from to These are primroses, polyanthuses, cowslips (but in small quantities comparatively), daisies (single and double,—and single or wild, daisies were coming to be more asked for, each ), small early wallflowers, candy-tufts, southernwood (called "lad's love" or "old man" by some), and daffodils, (but daffodils were sometimes dearer than ). The plants that may be said to struggle against frost and snow in a hard season, such as the snowdrop, the crocus, and the mezereon, are rarely sold by the costers; "They come too soon," I was told. The prim-


roses, and the other plants I have enumerated, are sold, for the most part, not in pots, but with soil attached to the roots, so that they may be planted in a garden (as they most frequently are) or in a pot.

Towards the close of May, in an early season, and in the following months, the root-trade is at its height. Many of the stalls and barrows are then exceedingly beautiful, the barrow often resembling a moving garden. The stall-keepers have sometimes their flowers placed on a series of shelves, above another, so as to present a small amphitheatre of beautiful and diversified hues; the purest white, as in the lily of the valley, to the deepest crimson, as in the fuschia; the bright or rust-blotted yellow of the wallflower, to the many hues of the stock. Then there are the pinks and carnations, double and single, with the rich-coloured and heavily scented "clove-pinks;" roses, mignonette, the velvetty pansies (or heart's-ease), the white and orange lilies, calceolarias, balsams (a flower going out of fashion), geraniums (flowers coming again into fashion), musk-plants, London pride (and other saxifrages; the species known, oddly enough, as London pride being a native of wild and mountainous districts, such as botanists call "Alpine habitats,") and the many coloured lupins. Later again come the Chinaasters, the African marigolds, the dahlias, the poppies, and the common and very aromatic marigold. Later still there are the Michaelmas daisies—the growth of the "All-Hallow'n summer," to which Falstaff was compared.

There is a class of "roots" in which the street-sellers, on account of their general dearness, deal so sparingly, that I cannot class them as a part of the business. Among these are anemones, hyacinths, tulips, ranunculuses, and the orchidaceous tribe. Neither do the street people meddle, unless very exceptionally, with the taller and statelier plants, such as foxgloves, hollyoaks, and sunflowers; these are too difficult of carriage for their purpose. Nor do they sell, unless again as an exception, such flowers as require support—the convolvolus and the sweet-pea, for instance.

The plants I have specified vary in price. Geraniums are sold at from to ; pinks at from for the common pink, to for the best single clove, and for the best double; stocks, as they are small and single, to their being large and double, from (and sometimes less) to ; dahlias from to ; fuschias, from to ; rose-bushes from to , and sometimes, but not often, much higher; musk-plants, London pride, lupins, &c., are and , pots generally included.

To carry on his business efficiently, the rootseller mostly keeps a pony and a cart, to convey his purchases from the garden to his stall or his barrow, and he must have a sheltered and cool shed in which to deposit the flowers which are to be kept over-night for the morrow's business. "It's a great bother, sir," said a root-seller, "a man having to provide a shed for his roots. It wouldn't do at all to have them in the same room as we sleep in—they'd droop. I have a beautiful big shed, and a snug stall for a donkey in a corner of it; but he won't bear tying up— he'll fight against tying all night, and if he was loose, why in course he'd eat the flowers I put in the shed. The price is nothing to him; he'd eat the Queen's camellias, if he could get at them, if they cost a pound a-piece. So I have a deal of trouble, for I must block him up somehow; but he's a -rate ass." To carry on a considerable business, the services of a man and his wife are generally required, as well as those of a boy.

The purchases wholesale are generally by the dozen roots, all ready for sale in pots. Mignonette, however, is grown in boxes, and sold by the box at from to , according to the size, &c. The costermonger buys, for the large sale to the poor, at a rate which brings the mignonette roots into his possession at something less, perhaps, than a halfpenny each. He then purchases a gross of small common pots, costing him a dozen, and has to transfer the roots and soil to the pots, and then offer them for sale. The profit thus is about per , but with the drawback of considerable labour and some cost in the conveyance of the boxes. The same method is sometimes pursued with young stocks.

The cheapness of pots, I may mention incidentally, and the more frequent sale of roots in them, has almost entirely swept away the fragment of a pitcher and "the spoutless teapot," which Cowper mentions as containing the poor man's flowers, that testified an inextinguishable love of rural objects, even in the heart of a city. There are a few such things, however, to be seen still.

Of root-sellers there are, for months of the year, about in London. Of these, onefifth devote themselves principally, but none entirely, to the sale of roots; -fifths sell roots regularly, but only as a portion, and not a larger portion of their business; and the remaining -fifths are casual dealers in roots, buying them — almost always in the markets—whenever a bargain offers. Seveneighths of the root-sellers are, I am informed, regular costers, occasionally a gardener's assistant has taken to the street trade in flowers, "but I fancy, sir," said an experienced man to me, "they've very seldom done any good at it. They're always at their roots, trimming them, and such like, and they overdo it. They're too careful of their plants; people like to trim them theirselves."

"I did well on fuschias last season," said of my informants; "I sold them from to The 'Globes' went off well. Geraniums was very fair. The 'Fairy Queens' of them sold faster than any, I think. It's the ladies out of town a little way, and a few in town, that buy them, and buy the fuschias too. They require a good window. The 'Jenny Linds'—they was geraniums and


other plants—didn't sell so well as the Fairy Queens, though they was cheaper. Good cloves (pinks) sell to the better sort of houses; so do carnations. Mignonette's everybody's money. Dahlias didn't go off so well. I had very tidy dahlias at and , and some I do a goodish bit in giving flowers for old clothes. I very seldom do it, but to ladies. I deal mostly with them for their husbands' old hats, or boots, or shoes; yes, sir, and their trowsers and waistcoats sometimes—very seldom their coats—and ladies boots and shoes too. There's pleasant old lady, and her daughters, they'll talk me over any day. I very seldom indeed trade for ladies' clothes. I have, though. Mostly for something in the shawl way, or wraps of some kind. Why, that lady I was telling you of and her daughters, got me to take togs that didn't bring the prime cost of my roots and expenses. They called them by such fine names, that I was had. Then they was so polite; 'O, my good man,' says of the young daughters, 'I must have this geranium in 'change.' It was a most big and beautiful Fairy Queen, well worth The tog—I didn't know what they called it—a sort of cloak, fetched short of half-a-crown, and that just with cheaper togs. Some days, if it's very hot, and the stall business isn't good in hot weather, my wife goes a round with me, and does considerable in swopping with ladies. They can't do her as they can me. The same on wet days, if it's not very wet, when I has my roots covered in the cart. Ladies is mostly at home such times, and perhaps they're dull, and likes to go to work at a bargaining. My wife manages them. In good weeks, I can clear in my trade; the of us can, anyhow. But then there's bad weather, and there's sometimes roots spoiled if they're not cheap, and don't go off—but I'll sell that cost me for to get rid of it; and there's always the expenses to meet, and the pony to keep, and everything that way. No, sir, I don't make a week for the months—its nearer than —the season lasts; perhaps something near it. The rest of the year I sell fruit, or anything, and may clear or a week, but, some weeks, next to nothing, and the expenses all going on.

Why, no, sir; I can't say that times is what they was. Where I made 4l. on my roots five or six years back, I make only 3l. now. But it's no use complaining; there's lots worse off than I am—lots. I've given pennies and twopences to plenty that's seen better days in the streets; it might be their own fault. It is so mostly, but perhaps only partly. I keep a connection together as well as I can. I have a stall; my wife's there generally, and I go a round as well.

of the principal root-sellers in the streets told me that he not unfrequently sold dozen a day, over and above those sold not in pots. As my informant had a superior trade, his business is not to be taken as an average; but, reckoning that he averages dozen a day for weeks— he said —it shows that man alone sells flowers in pots in the season. The prin- cipal sellers carry on about the same extent of business.

According to similar returns, the number of the several kinds of flowers in pots and flower roots sold annually in the London streets, are as follows:

 Moss-roses . . . . . 38,880 
 China-roses . . . . 38,880 
 Fuschias . . . . . 38,800 
 Geraniums . . . . . 12,800 
 Total number of flowers in pots sold in the streets . 129,360 
 Primroses . . . . . 24,000 
 Polyanthuses . . . . 34,560 
 Cowslips . . . . . . 28,800 
 Daisies . . . . . . 33,600 
 Wallflowers . . . . . 46,080 
 Candytufts . . . . . 28,800 
 Daffodils . . . . . 28,800 
 Violets . . . . . . 38,400 
 Mignonette . . . . . 30,384 
 Stocks . . . . . . 23,040 
 Pinks and Carnations . 19,200 
 Lilies of the Valley . . 3,456 
 Pansies . . . . . . 12,960 
 Lilies . . . . . . 660 
 Tulips . . . . . . 852 
 Balsams . . . . . 7,704 
 Calceolarias . . . . 3,180 
 Musk Plants . . . . 253,440 
 London Pride . . . . 11,520 
 Lupins . . . . . . 25,596 
 China-asters . . . . 9,156 
 Marigolds . . . . . 63,360 
 Dahlias . . . . . . 852 
 Heliotrope . . . . . 13,356 
 Poppies . . . . . . 1,920 
 Michaelmas Daisies . . 6,912 
 Total number of flowerroots sold in the streets 750,588 

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 Title Page
 The Street-Folk: Of Wandering Tribes in General
 Of the Wandering Tribes of this Country
 Of the London Street-Folk
Of the Number of Costermongers and Other Street-Folk
Of the Number of Costermongers and Other Street-Folk
Of the Varieties of Street-Folk in General, and Costermongers in Particular
Of Costermongering Mechanics
Ancient Calling of Costermongers
Of the Obsolete Cries of the Costermongers
Of the Costermongers 'Economically' Considered
The London Street Markets on a Saturday Night
The Sunday Morning Markets
Habits and amusements of Costermongers
Gambling of Costermongers
'Vic Gallery'
The Politics of Costermongers.-- Policemen
Marriage and Concubinage of Costermongers
Religion of Costermongers
Of the Uneducated State of Costermongers
Language of Costermongers
Of the Nicknames of Costermongers
Of the Education of Costermongers' Children
The Literature of Costermongers
Of the Honesty of Costermongers
Of the Conveyances of the Costermongers and Other Street-Sellers
Of the 'Smithfield Races'
Of the Donkeys of the Costermongers
Of the Costermongers' Capital
Of the 'Slang' Weights and Measures
Of Half Profits
Of the Boys of the Costermongers, and their Bunts
Of the Juvenile Trading of the Costermongers
Of the Education of the 'Coster-Lads'
The Life of a Coster-Lad
Of the 'Penny Gaff'
Of the Coster-Girls
The Life of a Coster Girl
Of Costermongers and Thieves
Of the More Provident Costermongers
Of the Homes of the Costermongers
Of the Dress of the Costermongers
Once Try You'll Come Again
Of the Diet and Drink of Costermongers
Of the Cries, Rounds, and Days of Costermongers
Of the Costermongers on their Country Rounds
Of the Earnings of Costermongers
Of the Capital and Income of the Costermongers
Of the Providence and Improvidence of Costermongers
Of the Costermongers in Bad Weather and During the Cholera
Of the Costermongers' Raffles
Of the Markets and Trade Rights of the Costerongers, and of the Laws Affecting Them
Of the Removals of Costermongers From the Streets
Of the Tricks of Costermongers
Of the Street-Sellers of Fish
Of Sprat-Selling in the Streets
Of the Street-Sellers of Fruit and Vegetables
Of the Stationary Street-Sellers of Fish, Fruit, and Vegetables
Of the Street-Irish
Of the Street-Sellers of Game, Poultry (Live and Dead), Rabbits, Butter, Cheese, and Eggs
Of the Sellers of Trees, Shrubs, Flowers (Cut and In Pots), Roots, Seeds, and Branches
Street-Sellers of Green Stuff
Of the Street-Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables
Of the Street-Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables
Of the Street-Sellers of Pea-Soup and Hot Eels
Of the Experience of a Hot-Eel and Pea-Soup Man
Of the Street-Sellers of Pickled Whelks
Of the Customers, Etc., of Pickled Whelk-Sellers
Of the Street Sellers, and of the Preparation of Fried Fish
Of the Experience of a Fried Fish- Seller, and of the Class of Customers
Of the Preparation and Quantity of Sheep's Trotters, and of the Street-Sellers
Statements of Sheep's Trotter Women
Of the Street Trade in Baked Potatoes
Of 'Trotting,' or 'Hawking' Butchers
Of the Experience of a Hawking Butcher
Of the Street-Sellers of Ham-Sandwiches
Of the Experience of a Ham Sandwich- Seller
Of the Street-Sellers of Bread
Of the Street-Sellers of Hot Green Peas
Of the Experience of a Hot Green Pea Seller
Of Cats' and Dogs'--Meat Dealers
Of the Street-Sale of Drinkables
Of Coffee-Stall Keepers
Of the Street Sale of Ginger-Beer, Sherbet, Lemonade, &c
Of the Experience and Customers of A Ginger-Beer Seller
Of the Street-Sellers of Hot Elder Wine
Of the Street Sale of Peppermint-Water
Of Milk Selling in St. James's Park
Of the Street Sale of Milk
Of the Street-Sale of Curds and Whey
Of the Street-Sellers of Rice-Milk
Of Water-Carriers
Of the Street-Sellers of Pastry and Confectionary
Of Street Piemen
Of the Street-Sellers of Boiled Puddings
Of the Street-Sellers of Plum 'Duff' or Dough
Of the Street-Sellers of Cakes, Tarts, &c.
Of Other Cake-Sellers in the Streets
Of the Street-Sellers of Gingerbread- Nuts, &c.
Of the Street-Sellers of Hot-Cross Buns, and of Chelsea Buns
Of Muffin and Crumpet-Selling in the Streets
Of the Street Sale of Sweet-Stuff
Of the Customers of the Sweet-Stuff Street-Sellers
Of the Street-Sellers of Cough Drops and of Medical Confectionary
'Lohoch de farfara,' the Lohoch of Coltsfoot
Of the Street-Sellers of Ices and of Ice Creams
Of the Capital and Income of the Street-Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables
Capital, or Stock in Trade, of the Street- Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables
Income, or 'Takings,' of Street-Sellers of Eatables and Drinkables
Of the Street-Sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts
Of the Street-Sellers of Stationery, &c.
Of the Former and Present Street- Patterers
Of the Habits, Opinions, Morals, and Religion of Patterers Generally
Of the Publishers and authors of Street-Literature
Of Long Song-Sellers
Of Running Patterers
Experience of a Running Patterer
Of the Recent Experience of a Running Patterer
Of the Chaunters
Of the Experience of a Chaunter
Of the Death and Fire Hunters
Of the Sellers of Second Editions
Of the Standing Patterers
Experience of a Standing Patterer
Of Political Litanies, Dialogues, etc.
Of 'Cocks,' Etc.
Of 'Strawing'
Of the Sham indecent Street-Trade
Of Religious Tract Sellers
Of a Benefit Society of Patterers
Of the Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, and Characteristics of the Different Grades of Patterers
Of the Low Lodging-Houses of London
Of the Filth, Dishonesty, and Immorality of Low Lodging-Houses
Of the Children in Low Lodging- Houses
Of the Low Lodging-Houses Throughout the Country
Of the Street Stationers, and the Street Card-Sellers
Of the Seller of the Penny Short-Hand Cards
The Lecture
'I perish with hunger'
Of the Sellers of Race Cards and Lists
Of the Street-Sellers of Gelatine, of Engraved, and of Playing Cards, &c.
Of the Street-Sellers of Stationery
Of the Experience of a Street- Stationer
Of a 'Reduced' Gentlewoman, and a 'Reduced' Tradesman, as Street-Sellers of Stationery
Of the Street-Sale of Memorandum- Books and Almanacks
Of the Street-Sale of Pocket-Books and Diaries
Of the Street-Sellers of Songs
Of the Street 'Pinners-up,' or Wall Song-Sellers
Of Ancient and Modern Street Ballad Minstrelsy
Of Street 'Ballads on a Subject'
Of the Street Poets and Authors
Of the Experience of a Street Author, or Poet
Of the Street-Sellers of Broad-Sheets
Of the 'Gallows' Literature of the Streets
Of the Street-Sellers of Conundrums
Of the Street-Sellers of Comic Exhibitions, Magical Delusions, &c.
Of the Street-Sellers of Play-Bills
Of the Street-Sellers of Periodicals, Pamphlets, Tracts, Books, Etc.
Of the Street-Sale of Back Numbers
Of the Sale of Waste Newspapers at Billingsgate
Of the Sale of Periodicals on the Steam- Boats and Steam-Boat Piers
Of the Sale of Newspapers, Books, &c., at the Railway Stations
Of the Street Booksellers
Of the Character of Books of the Street-Sale
Of the Experience of a Street Book- Seller
Of Street Book-Auctioneers
Of the Street-Sale of Song-Books, and of Children's Books
Of the Street-Sellers of Account-Books
Of the Street-Sellers of Guide-Books, &c.
Of the Street-Sellers of Fine Arts
Of Street Art
Of the Street-Sellers of Engravings, Etc., in Umbrellas, Etc.
Of the Street-Sellers of Pictures in Frames
Of the Street-Sellers of Manuscript and Other Music
Of the Capital and Income of the Street-Sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts
Capital or Value of the Stock-in-Trade of the Street-Sellers of Stationery, Literature and the Fine Arts
Income, or Average Annual 'Takings,' of the Street-Sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts
An Epitome of the Pattering Class
Of the 'Screevers,' or Writers of Begging-Letters and Petitions
'God Save the Queen'
Of the Probable Means of Reformation
Of the Street-Sellers of Manufactured Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Manufactured Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Manufactured Articles in Metal
Of the Cheap Johns, or Street Han- Sellers
'The Original Cheap John'
The Crippled Street-Seller of Nut- Meg-Graters
Of the Swag-Shops of the Metropolis
Shopkeepers and Dealers Supplied with the Following Articles --
Of the Life of a Cheap-John
The Street-Sellers of Cutlery
Of the Blind Street-Sellers of Tailors' Needles, etc.
The Public-House Hawkers of Metal Spoons, Etc.
Of the Street-Sellers of Jewellery
Of the Pedlar-Jewellers
Of the Street-Sellers of Card-Counters, Medals, Etc.
The Construction is of Iron and of Glass, 1848 Feet Long. about Half is 456 Wide. the Remainder 408 Feet Wide, and 66 Feet High; Site, Upwards of 20 acres. Josh. Paxton, archt.
Of the Street-Sellers of Rings and Sovereigns For Wagers
Of the Street-Sellers of Children's Gilt Watches
Of the Street-Sellers of Tinware
Of the Life of a Tin-Ware Seller
Of the Street-Sellers of Dog-Collars
Of the Life of a Street-Seller of Dog- Collars
Of the Street-Sellers of Tools
Of the Beggar Street-Sellers
Pike's Patent Cotton. 120 Yards
'The Lace-Makers' Appeal'
'ALLEN, Printer, Long-row, Nottingham'
Of the 'House of Lords,' a Street-Seller's Defunct Club
Of the Street-Sellers of Crockery and Glass-Wares
Of the 'Swag,' Crockery, and Glass Shops
Of the Street-Sellers of Spar and China Ornaments, and of Stone Fruit
Of the Street-Sellers of Textile Fabrics
Of the Haberdashery Swag-Shops
Of Hawkers, Pedlars, and Petty Chapmen
Of the Packmen, or Hawkers of Soft Wares
Statement of a Packman
Of the Tally Packman
Of the 'Duffers' or Hawkers of Pretended Smuggled Goods
Of the Street-Sellers of 'Small-Ware,' or Tape, Cotton, Etc.
Of the Street-Sellers of Lace
Of the Street-Sellers of Japanned Table- Covers
Of the Street-Sellers of Braces, Belts, Hose, Trowser-Straps, and Waistcoats
Of the Street-Sellers of Boot and Stay- Laces, &c.
Of a Blind Female Seller of 'Small-Wares'
The Blind Street-Seller of Boot-Laces
Of the Life of a Blind Boot-Lace Seller
Of the Low Lodging-Houses
Statement of a Young Pickpocket
Statement of a Prostitute
Statement of a Beggar
Meeting of Thieves
Of the Country Lodging-Houses
Of the Street-Sellers of Chemical Articles of Manufacture
Of the Street-Sellers of Blacking, Black Lead, Etc.
Of the Street-Sellers of French Polish
Of the Street-Sellers of Grease-Removing Compositions
Of the Street-Sellers of Corn-Salve
Of the Street-Sellers of Glass and China Cement, and of Razor Paste
Of the Street-Seller of Crackers and Detonating Balls
Of the Street-Sellers of Lucifer-Matches
Of the Street-Sellers of Cigar Lights, or Fuzees
Of the Street-Sellers of Gutta-Percha Heads
Of the Street-Sellers of Fly-Papers and Beetle-Wafers
Of the Street-Sellers of Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Walking-Sticks
Of the Street-Sellers of Whips, Etc.
Of the Street-Sellers of Pipes, and of Snuff and Tobacco Boxes
Of the Street-Sellers of Cigars
Of the Street-Sellers of Sponge
Of the Street-Sellers of Wash-Leathers
Of the Street-Sellers of Spectacles and Eye-Glasses
Of the Street-Sellers of Dolls
Of the 'Swag-Barrowmen,' and 'Lot- Sellers'
Of the Street-Sellers of Roulette Boxes
Of the Street-Sellers of Poison For Rats
Of the Street-Sellers of Rhubarb and Spice
Of the Hawking of Tea
Of the Women Street-Sellers
Of the Children Street-Sellers of London