London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of Street "Ballads on a Subject."


THERE is a class of ballads which may with perfect propriety be called ballads, as they are written by street authors for street singing (or chaunting) and street sale. These effusions, however, are known in the trade by a title appropriate enough — "Ballads on a Subject." The most successful workers in this branch of the profession, are the men I have already described among the patterers and chaunters.

The "Ballads on a Subject" are always on a political, criminal, or exciting public event, or that has interested the public, and the celerity with which of them is written, and then sung in the streets, is in the spirit of "these railroad times." After any great event, "a ballad on the subject" is often enough written, printed, and sung in the street, in little more than an hour. Such was the case with a song "in honour," it was announced, "of Lord John Russell's resignation." Of course there is no time for either the correction of the rhymes or of the press; but this is regarded as of little consequence—while an early "start" with a new topic is of great consequence, I am assured; "yes, indeed, both for the sake of meals and rents." If, however, the songs were ever so carefully revised, their sale would not be greater.

I need not treat this branch of our street literature at any great length, as specimens of the "Ballad on a Subject" will be found in many of the preceding statements of paperworkers.

It will have struck the reader that all the street lays quoted as popular have a sort of burthen or jingle at the end of each verse. I was corrected, however, by a street chaunter for speaking of this burthen as a jingle. "It's a chorus, sir," he said. "In a proper ballad on a subject, there's often verses, none of them under lines,—and there's a fourline chorus to every verse; and, if it's the right sort, it'll sell the ballad." I was told, on all hands, that it was not the words that ever "made a ballad, but the subject; and, more than the subject,—the chorus; and, far more than either,—" Indeed, many of the streetsingers of ballads on a subject have as supreme a contempt for words as can be felt by any modern composer. To select a tune for a ballad, however, is a matter of deep deliberation. To adapt the ballad to a tune too common or popular is injudicious; for then, I was told, any can sing it—boys and all. To select a more elaborate and less-known air, however appropriate, may not be pleasing to some of the members of "the school" of ballad-singers, who may feel it to be beyond their vocal powers; neither may it be relished by the critical in street song, whose approving criticism induces them to purchase as well as to admire.



The license enjoyed by the court jesters, and, in some respects, by the minstrels of old, is certainly enjoyed, undiminished, by the streetwriters and singers of ballads on a subject. They are unsparing satirists, who, with a rare impartiality, lash all classes and all creeds, as well as any individual. man, upon whose information I can rely, told me that, years ago, he himself had "worked," in town and country, different songs at the same period and on the same subject—the marriage of the Queen. They all "sold,"—but the most profitable was "as sung by Prince Albert in character." It was to the air of the "Dusty Miller;" and "it was good," said the balladman, "because we could easily dress up to the character given to Albert." I quote a verse:

Here I am in rags

From the land of All-dirt,

To marry England's Queen,

And my name it is Prince Albert.

And what's more, sir," continued my informant, "not very long after the honeymoon, the Duchess of L——— drove up in her carriage to the printer's, and bought all the songs in honour of Victoria's wedding, and gave a sovereign for them and wouldn't take the change. It was a duchess. Why I'm sure about it— though I can't say whether it were the Duchess of L—— or S——; for didn't the printer, like an honest man, when he'd stopped the price of the papers, hand over to us chaps the balance to drink, and didn't we drink it! There can't be a mistake about that.

Of street ballads on political subjects, or upon themes which have interested the whole general public, I need not cite additional instances. There are, however, other subjects, which, though not regarded as of great interest by the whole body of the people are still eventful among certain classes, and for them the street author and ballad-singer cater.

I give a specimen of a ballad on a Theatrical Subject. The best I find, in a large collection of these street effusions, is entitled "Jenny Lind and Poet B." After describing how Mr. Bunn "flew to Sweden" and engaged Miss Lind, the poet proceeds,—the tune being "Lucy Long":

After Jenny sign'd the paper,

She repented what she'd done,

And said she must have been a cake,

To be tempted by A. Bunn.

The English tongue she must decline,

It was such awkward stuff,

And we find 'mongst our darling dames,

That one tongue's quite enough.

Chorus. So take your time Miss Jenny, Oh, take your time Miss Lind, You're only to raise your voice, John Bull, will raise the wind. Says Alfred in the public eye, My name you shan't degrade, So birds that can and won't sing Why in course they must be made This put Miss Jenny's pipe out, Says Bunn your tricks I see, Altho' you are a Nightingale, You shan't play larks with me. The Poet said he'd seek the law, No chance away he'd throw; Says Jenny if you think I'll come, You'll find it is no go! When a bird-catcher named "Lummy With independence big, Pounced down upon the Nightingale, And with her hopp'd the twig!

I am inclined to think—though I know it to be an unusual case—that in this theatrical ballad the street poet was what is tenderly called a "plagiarist." I was assured by a chaunter that it was written by a street author,—but probably the chaunter was himself in error or forgetfulness.

Next, there is the Ballad on a Civic Subject. In the old times the Lord Mayor had his laureate. This writer, known as "poet to the City of London," eulogised all lord mayors, and glorified all civic pageants. That of the , especially, "lived in Settle's numbers, day more,"—but Elkanah Settle was the last of such scribes. After his death, the city eschewed a poet. The office has now descended to the street bard, who annually celebrates the great ceremony. I cite stanzas and the chorus from the latest of these civic Odes:

Now Farncombe's out and Musgrove's in,

And grand is his position,

Because he will be made a king,

At the Hyde Park Exhibition;

A feast he'll order at Guildhall,

For hypocrites and sinners,

And he has sent Jack Forester to Rome,

To invite the Pope to dinner!

A day like this we never saw,

The truth I am confessing,

Batty's astonishing menagerie,

Is in the great procession;

There's lions, tigers, bears and wolves,

To please each smiling feature,

And elephants in harness drawing

Drury Lane Theatre!

Chorus. It is not as it used to be, Cut on so gay and thrifty, The funny Lord Mayor's Show to see, In eighteen hundred and fifty.

There is, beside the descriptions of ballads above cited, the Ballad Local. of these is headed the "Queer Doings in ," and is on a subject concerning which streetsellers generally express themselves strongly— Sunday trading. The endeavour to stop street trading (generally) in , with its injurious results to the shopkeepers, has been already mentioned. The ballad on this local subject presents a personality now, happily, almost confined to the street writers:

A rummy saintly lot is there,

A domineering crew,

A Butcher, and a Baker,

And an Undertaker too,

Besides a cove who deals in wood,

And makes his bundles small,

And looks as black on Sunday As the Undertaker's pall.

The Street-Stationer. [From a Daguerreotype by Beard.]

Chorus. You must not buy, you must not sell, Oh! is it not a shame? It is a shocking place to dwell, About sweet Leather Lane. The Butcher does not like to hear His neighbours holloa, buy! Although he on the Sunday Sells a little on the sly; And the Coffin Maker struts along Just like the great Lord Mayor, To bury folks on Sundays, Instead of going to prayers

There are yet themes of these street songs, of which, though they have been alluded to, no specimens have been given. I now supply them. The is the election ballad. I quote stanzas from "Middlesex and Victory! or, Grosvenor and Osborne for ever!"

Now Osborne is the man

To struggle for your rights,

He will vote against the Bishops,

You know, both day and night,

He will strive to crush the Poor Law Bill,

And that with all his might,

And he will never give his vote

To part a man from his wife.

Chorus. Then cheer Osborne and Lord Grosvenor, Cheer them with three times three, For they beat the soldier, Tommy Wood, And gained the victory. I have not forgot Lord Grosvenor, Who nobly stood the test, For the electors of great Middlesex I know he'll do his best; He will pull old Nosey o'er the coals, And lay him on his back, And he swears that little Bob's head He will shove into a rat trap.

Then come the "elegies." Of of these I cite the opening stanza. That on the "Death of Queen Adelaide" has for an illustration a figure of Britannia leaning on her shield, with the "Muse of History," (as I presume from her attributes,) at Britannia's feet. In the distance is the setting sun:

Old England may weep, lier bright hopes are fled,

The friend of the poor is no more;

For Adelaide now is numbered with the dead,

And her loss we shall sadly deplore.

For though noble her birth, and high was her station

The poor of this nation will miss her,

For their wants she relieved without ostentation,

But now she is gone, God bless her!

God bless her! God bless her!

But now she is gone, God bless her!

The elegy on the "Death of the Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart. M.P.," is set off with a very fair portrait of that statesman.

Britannia! Britannia! what makes thee complain,

O why so in sorrow relenting,

Old England is lost, we are born down in pain,

And the nation in grief is lamenting,

That excellent man—the pride of the land,

Whom every virtue possessed him,

Is gone to that Home, from whence no one returns,

Our dear friend, Sir Robert, God rest him.

The verses which bewail the "Death of H. R. H. the Duke of Cambridge," and which are adorned with the same illustration as those upon Queen Adelaide, begin

Oh! death, thou art severe, and never seems con-


Prince Adolphus Frederick is summoned away,

The death of Royal Cambridge in sorrow lamented,

Like the good Sir Robert Peel, he no longer could


His virtues were good, and noble was his actions,

His presence at all places caused much attraction,

Britannia for her loss is driven to distraction,

Royal Cambridge, we'll behold thee no more!

The class of street-ballads relates to "fires." The I quote, "On the Awful Fire at B. Caunt's, in St. Martin's-lane," is preceded by an engraving of a lady and a cavalier, the lady pointing to a column surmounted by an urn. I again give the stanza:

I will unfold a tale of sorrow,

List, you tender parents dear,

It will thrill each breast with horror,

When the dreadful tale you hear.

Early on last Wednesday morning,

A raging fire as we may see,

Did occur, most sad and awful,

Between the hours of two and three.

In a subsequent stanza are lines, not without some rough pathos, and adapted to move the feelings of a street audience. The writer is alluding to the grief of the parents who had lost children by a terrible death:

No more their smiles they'll be beholding,

No more their pretty faces see,

No more to their bosoms will they fold them,

Oh! what must their feelings be.

I find no difference in style between the ballads on a subject of to-day, and the oldest which I could obtain a sight of, which were sung in the present generation—except that these poems now begin far less frequently with what at time was as common as an invocation to the Muse—the invitation to good Christians to attend to the singer. on the Sloanes, however, opens in the old fashion:

Come all good Christians and give attention,

Unto these lines I will unfold,

With heartfelt feelings to you I'll mention,

I'm sure 'twill make your blood run cold.

I now conclude this account of street-ballads on a subject with verses from on the subject of "The Glorious Fight for the Championship of England." The celebration of these once-popular encounters is, as I have already stated, of the points in which the modern ballad-man emulates his ancient brother minstrel:

On the ninth day of September,

Eighteen hundred and forty five,

From London down to Nottingham

The roads were all alive;

Oh! such a sight was never seen,

Believe me it is so,

Tens of thousands went to see the fight,

With Caunt and Bendigo.

And near to Newport Pagnell,

Those men did strip so fine,

Ben Caunt stood six feet two and a half,

And Bendigo five foot nine;

Ben Caunt, a giant did appear,

And made the claret flow,

And he seemed fully determined

Soon to conquer Bendigo.

Chorus. With their hit away and slash away, So manfully you see, Ben Caunt has lost and Bendige Has gained the victory.

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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