London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Life of a Tin-Ware Seller.


THE following street-biography was communicated to me in writing. It is, I believe, a striking instance of the vicissitudes and privations to which a street-life is subject. It forms, moreover, a curious example of those moral contradictions which make the same individual at time give way to the force of circumstances, and at another resolutely control them.

My object," says my correspondent, "for writing this, what some folks no doubt will call a nonsensical epistle, is merely to show how much human nature is capable of enduring in the shape of privations. People in easy circumstances will scarcely credit what I am about to relate; and many of the poor will smile at what I have termed hardships, and at my folly in endeavouring to paint the misery I have endured, which will appear slight when compared to what they themselves have suffered.

I am the son of a mechanic who was accidentally drowned some weeks previous to my birth. My mother, through industry and perseverance, endeavoured to support me and my sister till we arrived at the ages of 15 and 18, I being the younger. I entered a gentleman's service as pantry-boy, where I continued until I considered myself competent to take a higher situation. Still a servant's life was not the bent of my inclinations; martial music and viewing soldiers on parade made me think that a rifle was a more graceful tool than a toasting-fork. I resolved to serve his Majesty, and for that purpose enlisted in the 60th Rifles on the route for India, but Providence ordained it otherwise. On the afternoon on which I 'listed I fell by accident and broke my leg, and as I was not sworn in I was entitled to no pension. I was six months confined to my bed, and it was three years before I could go without my crutch. Grief for my misfortunes had borne my mother to an early grave, and I was left a cripple and destitute. Whether by design or accident I do not recollect, but I met with the lady (Lady M——) in whose service I first entered as pantry-boy; she took pity on my forlorn condition, and kindly invited me to her Mansion, where I remained until completely restored to health, but still crippled. After this I was employed painting and glazing, &c., and, considering myself competent to get my living in that line, I resolved to go to London—the theatre of all my misery to come, for I was disappointed. On reaching the metropolis my paint-brush was turned into a shovel, my paint-pot into a dust sieve, for I could only get employed by a man to work in a dust-yard at 10s. a week. From thence I went to a firm belonging to a friend at Beckenham, near Croydon, as working time-keeper, or foreman; but during a fair in that village I neglected to back the time, and being discharged was cast upon the world again with only 3s. in my pocket, which I eat and drank up, having no idea of street trading. Then came my trials; but having had sufficient food during the day, I did not feel much the effects of my first night in the streets. The next day I had no food, and towards dusk began bitterly to feel my situation; that night I slept, or rather lay, in an empty house. Towards noon of the next day I felt weak, and drank large quantities of water, for I had no particular desire for food. Passing by a shop where old clothes were offered for sale, I saw a man wretched in appearance disposing of an old vest for a few pence. I caught the malady and was instantly spoiled of my coat, having received in exchange for it 2s. and an old frock—such as are generally worn by waggoners or countrymen. I more than once smiled at my novel appearance. A penny loaf, a drink of water, and a threepenny lodging was the first assault upon my 2s. I regretted, however, the 3d. paid for my lodging, and determined not to risk another, for my bedfellows were so numerous, and of such teazing propensities, that they would not allow me to sleep; truly indeed is it said that 'poverty makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows.' At this time I formed an acquaintance with a man whose condition was similar to my own; he engaged to put me 'fly to a dodge' or two; an explanation from him was necessary to make me acquainted with the sense of his words, which I soon found simply meant artful manœuvres. One of these dodges was to snooze (a term for sleeping) in the Adelphi arches; I felt grateful for such a mark of disinterested friendship, and next day my friend and me fared sumptuously on the produce of my coat, and at night we repaired to the Arches in question, and there found a comfortable lodging in a hay-loft. I lay for some time, but did not sleep. I was several times addressed by my companion in an under tone, 'Are you asleep,' he whispered, 'ain't it a stunning dos?' (which means a good bed). I was not in a mood for conversation, and made no reply; to silence him completely I affected to snore, and this had the desired effect. For a few minutes he was quite quiet, and then he commenced with great caution to unlace my boots, with a view to stealing them. I perceived his object, and immediately left my lodging and companion. I felt grieved and disappointed at the loss of one in whom I placed all confidence; but this time wisdom was purchased cheaply, inasmuch as I suffered no loss except that my money might have lasted me a little longer. The remainder of that night I strayed about the Strand and Charing cross, after a drink of water; I took a seat on a curb surrounding the pump; many wretched beings came and seated themselves beside me, and a conversation ensued respecting their several destinations during the day. One proposed going to Hungerford-market to do a feed on decayed shrimps or other offal laying about the market; another proposed going to Covent-garden to do a 'tightener' of rotten oranges, to which I was humorously invited; I accepted the invitation, and proceeded with my new companion. I fared well; I filled my hat, took a seat, and made a most delicious breakfast. I remained strolling about the Garden all day, and towards evening was invited by my companions to a 'dos' in an open shed in Islington; this I declined, alleging that I had a lodging, but that night I slept amongst a heap of stones near the pillar at Charing-cross. I continued to attend the Garden for several weeks, subsisting entirely on the offal of that market. One day I took notice of a man there selling chestnut leaves; I enquired how he obtained them: he told me he plucked them from the trees without hindrance, and directed me to where I could obtain some. I went to a grove in the vicinity of Kilburn, and lay there all night. Next morning I found no leaves, so I returned disappointed to town, and on going through the market a woman employed me to carry a bushel of pears some little distance for her for a penny. I felt quite elevated in anticipation of such a treat as a penny loaf, but alas! I fell down under the weight of the fruit and poverty; my employer, however, kindly gave me the penny, though some of her pears were injured, and I had not taken them half the required distance. With the money I purchased a loaf, and sat on a stone near the pump in Covent Garden and began my meal. Here I soon had a companion, who after rincing a lettuce at the pump, began to devour it. I shared my loaf with him. 'O God!' said he, 'what are we destined to suffer. I have escaped the bullets of the Carlists in Spain to die in the streets of London with hunger.' I felt an interest in the poor fellow, who I discovered in the course of conversation had been a gentleman's servant in his time; he assured me he had been living in the same way for several weeks as I myself had been. Towards night my companion asked me where I slept. I told him my different haunts, he told me I'd better go to the straw-yard with him; this was a place I had not yet heard of; it was the nightly refuge for the houseless poor. I accompanied him without hesitation; my confidence was not misplaced; I slept there several nights. Bread was distributed to us night and morning, and this was fortunate, for the Garden began to fail. In the course of conversation with some of the inmates of the Refuge, we found that we could obtain employment at stone-breaking; this we tried the next morning, and succeeded. We worked all day, and received 6d. each on leaving work. We then made up our minds to go to lodgings that we might have an opportunity of washing what were once shirts.

Misery had not had that wasting influence on my companion as it had on me. I was at this time a complete skeleton; a puff of wind would cause me to stagger. I continued stone-breaking, but about noon of the third day I sunk exhausted on the heap of stones before me. Poverty had done its work, and I anticipated with pleasure approaching dissolution. I was assisted to my lodging by my companion, and went to bed. When the woman at the lodging-house discovered that I was ill, she ordered some of her domestics to dress me and put me in the street, alleging that she was under a penalty of 20l. were it discovered that she lodged a sick stranger. I was, therefore, cast into the street at 12 o'clock at night. My companion then gave me the 3d. he had earned that day to procure me a lodging if possible, and he slept in the streets the remainder of the night. I went to another lodging, concealing as much as possible my illness; my money was taken, and I was conducted to bed. I spent a wretched night, and next morning I was very bad. The landlady led me to the workhouse; I was admitted directly; had they detained me asking questions I should have sunk on the floor. My disorder was pronounced English cholera. I lay three weeks in a precarious state, but at the end of seven weeks was recovered sufficiently to walk about. I was then discharged; but on going towards the Abbey in Westminster I fainted, and on recovery found myself surrounded by a number of persons. I was advised to return to the house; I did so, and was admitted for a short time, after which I was again discharged, but I received out-door relief twice a week; and for some time a small portion of bread and cheese as well. I had now lost not only all hope, but even desire of bettering my condition; during these trials I made none acquainted with my privations, save those situated as I was. I now altered my condition as regards sleeping; I walked about during the night, and slept a portion of the day on a heap of sand near Westminster-bridge. I then remembered to have a poor relative in Kensington; I did not plead distress, but merely asked whether she knew where I might procure employment. I had a cup of tea, the first I had tasted since I was in the workhouse, a period of five weeks. Being asked some question by my relative, I could not help making reference to some of my sufferings. At this place I found a young man of whom I had had a previous acquaintance; I told him of my inability to procure a lodging, and he allowed me without the knowledge of his parents to sleep in the stable-loft; the bed was hard, but the coal sacks kept me warm. Here I had many opportunities of earning a few pence, and I began to regain my spirits. On one occasion, seeing a lad illtreated by a young man who was much his superior in size and strength, I interposed, and it may be conjectured in what manner. This circumstance procured me a friend, for, with the assistance of the lad I had protected, I was enabled to live tolerably well, and after a short while I got a situation at a coal-shed at 10s. a week. I continued in this place eighteen months, but, my master giving up the business, I was again cast on the world. I then began to think seriously of some way of living, and for the first time asked for the loan of 15s. With this I purchased a few articles of furniture, laid out 7s. 6d. for two hundred of oranges, with which I walked and hawked about two days, taking but 4d. during the time. I disposed of the remainder of my stock, wholesale, for 6s.; with this I purchased a small tin saucepan, a piece of marble slab, and commenced sugar-boiling. I retailed my manufacture in the streets. By dint of perseverance and economy I managed to live this way through the winter and a portion of the spring; but summer being now come, people needed none of my compounds to warm their mouths, so it was necessary for me to change my hand. What should I do? Thoughts came and vanished at their births. I recollected having seen a person selling rings at a penny each; I made up my mind to try the same. I laid out 5s. in a tray and stock; after arranging the goods to the best advantage I sallied into the streets. The glittering baubles took for a while, but when discoloured were useless. Having once a considerable stock of these soiled rings, I was prompted to begin "lot selling." After calculating the profits, I commenced selling in that line. As this continued for seven weeks I managed to get a living. The system then became general; every street in the metropolis contained a lot seller, so I was determined to change my hand. One day in the street I saw a girl with a bundle of old umbrellas going towards a marine store shop; I asked if the umbrellas were for sale; she replied in the affirmative; the price she asked was 4d.; I became a purchaser. With these old umbrellas I commenced a new life. I bought some trifling tools necessary for repairing umbrellas, and, after viewing well the construction of the articles, I commenced operations. I succeeded, and in a little time could not only mend an old umbrella, but make a new one. This way of living I followed three years. In one of my walks through the streets crying old umbrellas to sell, I saw a street tinker repairing a saucepan; he seemed so very comfortable with his fire-pan before him, that I resolved from that moment to become a tinker, and for that purpose I bought a few tools, prepared a budget, and sallied into the streets with as much indifference as if I had been at the business since my birth. After a little practice I fancied I was fit for better things than mending old saucepans, and flattered myself that I was able to make a new one. This I resolved to attempt, and succeeded so well, that I at once abandoned the rainy-day system, and commenced manufacturing articles in tin-ware, such as are now sold in the streets, namely funnels, nutmeg-graters, penny mugs, extinguishers, slices, savealls, &c. I soon became known to the street-sellers and swagshop proprietors. The prices I get are low, and I am deficient in some of the tools necessary to forward the work, with the required speed to procure returns adequate to my expenses; but thanks to the Lord I am better off than ever I expected to be, with the difference only of a somewhat shattered constitution. There are many at the present day suffering as I have done, and they may be found in and about the different markets of the metropolis.

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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