London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of ancient and Modern Street Ballad Minstrelsy.


MR. STRUTT, in his "Sports and Pastimes of the People of England," shows, as do other authorities, that in the reigns subsequent to the Norman Conquest the minstrels "were permitted to perform in the rich monasteries, and in the mansions of the nobility, which they frequently visited in large parties, and especially upon occasions of festivity. They entered the castles without the least ceremony, rarely waiting for any previous invitation, and there exhibited their performances for the entertainment of the lord of the mansion and his guests. They were, it seems, admitted without any difficulty, and handsomely rewarded for the exertion of their talents."

Of the truth of this statement all contemporary history is a corroboration. The minstrels then, indeed, constituted the theatre, the opera, and the concert of the powerful and wealthy. They were decried by some of the clergy of that day,—as are popular performers and opera singers (occasionally) by some zealous divine in our own era. John of Salisbury stigmatizes minstrels as "ministers of the devil."

"The large gratuities collected by these artists," the same antiquarian writer further says, "not only occasioned great numbers to join their fraternity, but also induced many idle and dissipated persons to assume the characters of minstrels, to the disgrace of the profession. These evils became at last so notorious, that in the reign of King Edward II. it was thought necessary to restrain them by a public edict, which sufficiently explains the nature of the grievance. It states, that many indolent persons, under the colour of minstrelsy, intruded themselves into the residences of the wealthy, where they had both meat and drink, but were not contented without the addition of large gifts from the householder. To restrain this abuse, the mandate ordains, that no person should resort to the houses of prelates, earls, or barons, to eat, or to drink, who was not a professed minstrel; nor more than or minstrels of honour at most in day (meaning, I presume, the king's minstrels of honour and those retained by the nobility), except they came by invitation from the lord of the house."

The themes of the minstrels were the triumphs, victories, pageants, and great events of the day; commingled with the praise, or the satire of individuals, as the humour of the patron or of the audience might be gratified. It is stated that Longchamp, the favourite and justiciary of Richard Cœur-de-lion, not only engaged poets to make songs and poems in his, Bishop Longchamp's, praise, but the best singers and minstrels to sing them in the public streets!

In the year of the reign of Edward IV. another royal edict was issued, as little favourable to the minstrels as the I have given an account of; and those functionaries seem to


have gradually fallen in the estimation of the public, and to have been contemned by the law, down to the statute of Elizabeth, already alluded to, subjecting them to the same treatment as rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars. A writer of the period () represents the (still-styled) minstrels, singing "ballads and small popular musickes" for the amusement of boys and others "that passe by them in the streete." It is related also that their "matters were for the most part stories of old time; as the tale of Sir Topas, Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwick, Adam Bell, and Clymme of the Clough, and such other old romances or historical rhymes, made purposely for the recreation of the common people at Christmas dinners and bride ales, and in tavernes and alehouse, and such other places of base resort."

These "stories of old time" are now valuable as affording illustrations of ancient manners, and have been not unfertile as subjects of antiquarian annotation.

Under the head of the "Norman Minstrels," Mr. Strutt says: "It is very certain that the poet, the songster, and the musician were frequently united in the same person."

From this historical sketch it appears evident that the ballad-singer and seller of to-day is the sole descendant, or remains, of the minstrel of old, as regards the business of the streets; he is, indeed, the minstrel having lost caste, and being driven to play cheap.

The themes of the minstrels were wars, and victories, and revolutions; so of the modern man of street ballads. If the minstrel celebrated with harp and voice the unhorsings, the broken bones, the deaths, the dust, the blood, and all the glory and circumstance of a tournament,—so does the ballad-seller, with voice and fiddle, glorify the feelings, the broken bones, the blood, the deaths, and all the glory and circumstance of a prize-fight. The minstrel did not scoff at the madness which prevailed in the lists, nor does the ballad-singer at the brutality which rules in the ring. The minstrels had their dirges for departed greatness; the ballad-singer, like old Allan Bane, also "pours his wailing o'er the dead"—for are there not the street "helegies" on all departed greatness? In the bestowal of flattery or even of praise the modern minstrel is far less liberal than was his prototype; but the laudation was, in the good old times, very often "paid for" by the person whom it was sung to honour. Were the same measure applied to the ballad-singer and writer of today, there can be no reason to doubt that it would be attended with the same result. In his satire the modern has somewhat of an advantage over his predecessor. The minstrel not rarely received a "largesse" to satirize some obnoxious to a rival, or to a disappointed man. The ballad-singer (or chaunter, for these remarks apply with equal force to both of these street-professionals), is seldom hired to abuse. I was told, indeed, by a clever chaunter, that he had been sent lately by a strange gentleman to sing a song—which he and his mate (a patterer) happened at the time to be working—in front of a neighbouring house. The song was on the rogueries of the turf; and the "move" had a doubly advantageous effect. " gentleman, you see, sir, gave us to go and sing; and afore we'd well finished the chorus, somebody sent us from the house another to go away agin." I believe this to be the only way in which the satire of a ballad-singer is rewarded, otherwise than by sale to his usual class of customers in the streets or the publichouses. The ancient professors of street minstrelsy unquestionably played and sung satirical lays, depending for their remuneration on the liberality of their out-of-door audience; so is it precisely with the modern. The minstrel played both singly and with his fellows; the ballad-singer "works" both alone (but not frequently) and with his "mates" or his "school."

In the persons of some of these modern street professionals, as I have shown and shall further show, are united the functions of "the poet, the songster, and the musician." So in the days of yore. There are now female balladsingers; there were female minstrels, or gleewomen. The lays which were poured forth in our streets and taverns some centuries back, either for the regalement of a miscellaneous assemblage, or of a select few, were sometimes of an immoral tendency. Such, it cannot be denied, is the case in our more enlightened days at our Cyder-cellars, Coal-holes, Penny Gaffs, and such like places. Rarely, however, are such things sung in the streets of London; but sometimes at country fairs and races.

In respect the analogy between the ages of these promoters of street enjoyment does not hold. The minstrel's garb was distinctive. It was not always the short laced tunic, tight trousers, and russet boots, with a well plumed cap,—which seems to be the modern notion of this tuneful itinerant. The king's and queen's minstrels wore the royal livery, but so altered as to have removed from its appearance what might seem menial. The minstrels of the great barons also assumed their patron's liveries, with the like qualification. A minstrel of the highest class might wear "a fayre gowne of cloth of gold," or a military dress, or a "tawnie coat," or a foreign costume, or even an ecclesiastical garb,—and some of them went so far as to shave their crowns, the better to resemble monks. Of course they were imitated by their inferiors. The minstrel, then, wore a particular dress; the ballad-singer of the present day wears no particular dress. During the terrors of the reign of Henry VIII., and after the Reformation, a large body of the minstrels fell into meanness of attire; and in that respect the modern ballad-singer analogous.

It must be borne in mind that I have all along spoken—except when the description is necessarily general—of the , or itinerant, minstrel of old. The highest professors of the


art were poets and composers, men often of genius, learning, and gravity, and were no more to be ranked with the mass of those I have been describing than is Alfred Tennyson with any scribbler and bawler of some Newgate "Copy of Verses."

How long "Sir Topas" and the other "old stories" continued to be sung in the streets there are no means of ascertaining. But there are old songs, as I ascertained from an intelligent and experienced street-singer, still occasionally heard in the open air, but more in the country than the metropolis. Among those still heard, however rarely, are the Earl of Dorset's song, written on the night before a naval engagement with the Dutch, in :

To all you ladies now on land,

We men at sea indite.

I give the titles of the others, not chronologically, but as they occurred to my informant's recollection—"A Cobbler there was, and he liv'd in a Stall"—Parnell's song of "My Days have been so wond'rous Free," now sung in the streets to the tune of Gramachree." A song (of which I could not procure a copy, but my informant had lately heard it in the street) about the Ghost—

Now ponder well, you parents dear

The words which I shall write;

A doleful story you shall hear,

In time brought forth to light.

the "Children in the Wood" and "Chevychase." Concerning this old ditty man said to me: "Yes, sir, I've sung it at odd times and not long ago in the north of England, and I've been asked whereabouts Chevy-chase lay, but I never learned."

In Scarlet towne where I was borne,

There was a faire maid dwellin',

Made every youth crye, Well-awaye!

Her name was Barbara Allen.

Barbara Allen's selling yet," I was told. "Gilderoy was a Bonnie Boy," is another song yet sung occasionally in the streets.

The ballad," says a writer on the subject, "may be considered as the native species of poetry of this country. It very exactly answers the idea formerly given of original poetry, being the rude uncultivated verse in which the popular tale of the time was recorded. As our ancestors partook of the fierce warlike character of the northern nations, the subjects of their poetry would chiefly consist of the martial exploits of their heroes, and the military events of national history, deeply tinctured with that passion for the marvellous, and that superstitious credulity, which always attend a state of ignorance and barbarism. Many of the ancient ballads have been transmitted to the present times, and in them the character of the nation displays itself in striking colours.

The "Ballads on a Subject," of which I shall proceed to treat, are certainly "the rude uncultivated verse in which the popular tale of the times is recorded," and what may be the cha- racter of the nation as displayed in them I leave to the reader's judgment.

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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