London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Packmen, or Hawkers of Soft Wares.


THE packman, as he is termed, derives his name from carrying his merchandise or pack upon his back. These itinerant distributors are far less numerous than they were or years since. A few years since, they were mostly Irishmen, and their principal merchandise, Irish linens—a fabric not so generally worn now as it was formerly.

The packmen are sometimes called Manchestermen. These are the men whom I have described as the sellers of shirtings, sheetings, &c. man, who was lately an assistant in the trade, could reckon men who were possessed of good stocks, good connections, and who had saved money. They traded in an honourable manner, were well known, and much respected. The majority of them were natives of the north of Ireland, and had been linen manufacturers. It is common, indeed, for all the Irishmen in this trade to represent themselves as having been connected with the linen manufacture in Belfast.

This trade is now becoming almost entirely a country trade. There are at present, I am told, only pursuing it in London, none of them having a very extensive connection, so that only a brief notice is necessary. Their sale is of both cottons and linens for shirts. They carry them in rolls of yards, or in smaller rolls, each of a dozen yards, and purchase them at the haberdashery swag-shops, at from to a yard. I now speak of good articles. Their profits are not very large—as for the dozen yards, which cost them , they often have a difficulty in getting —while in street-sale, or in hawking from house to house, there is great delay. A wellfurnished pack weighs about cwt., and so necessitates frequent stoppages. Cotton, for sheetings, is sold in the same manner, costing the vendors from to a yard.

Of the tricks of the trade, and of the tally system of of these chapmen, I had the following account from a man who had been, both as principal and assistant, a travelling packman, but was best acquainted with the trade in and about London.

My master," he said, "was an Irishman, and told everybody he had been a manager of a linen factory in Belfast. I believe he was brought up to be a shoemaker, and was never in the north of Ireland. Anyhow, he was very shy of talking about Irish factories to Irish gentlemen. I heard one say to him, 'Don't tell me, you have the Cork brogue.' I know he'd got some knowledge of linen weaving at Dundee, and could talk about it very clever; indeed he was a clever fellow. Sometimes, to hear him talk, you'd think he was quite a religious man, and at others that he was a big blackguard. It wasn't drink that made the difference, for he was no drinker. It's a great thing on a round to get a man or woman into a cheerful talk, and put in a joke or two; and that he could do, to rights. I had 12s. a week, standing wages, from him, and bits of commissions on sales that brought me from 3s. to 5s. more. He was a buyer of damaged goods, and we used to 'doctor' them. In some there was perhaps damages by two or three threads being out all the way, so the manufacturers wouldn't send them to their regular customers. My master pretended it was a secret where he got them, but, lord, I knew; it was at a swag-shop. We used to cut up these in twelves (twelve yards), sometimes less if they was very bad, and take a Congreve, and just scorch them here and there, where the flaws was worst, and plaster over other flaws with a little flour and dust, to look like a stain from street water from the fire-engine. Then they were from the stock of Mr. Anybody, the great draper, that had his premises burnt down—in Manchester or Glasgow, or London—if there'd been a good fire at a draper's—or anywhere; we wasn't particular. They was fine or strong shirtings, he'd say—and so they was, the sound parts of them—and he'd sell as cheap as common calico. I've heard him say, 'Why, marm, sure marm, with your eyes and scissors and needle, them burns—ah! fire's a dreadful judgment on a man—isn't the least morsel of matter in life. The stains is cured in a wash-tub in no time. It's only touched by the fire, and you can humour it, I know, in cutting out as a shirt ought to be cut; it should be as carefully done as a coat.' Then we had an Irish linen, an imitation, you know, a kind of 'Union,' which we call double twist. It is made, I believe, in Manchester, and is a mixture of linen and cotton. Some of it's so good that it takes a judge to tell the difference between it and real Irish. He got some beautiful stuff at one time, and once sold to a fine-dressed young woman in Brompton, a dozen yards, at 2s. 6d. a yard, and the dozen only cost him 14s. Then we did something on tally, but he was dropping that trade. The shopkeepers undersold him. 'If you get 60l. out of 100l., in tally scores,' he often said, 'it's good money, and a fair living profit; but he got far more than that. What was worth 8s. was 18s. on tally, pay 1s. a week. He did most that way with the masters of coffee-shops and the landlords of little publichouses. Sometimes, if they couldn't pay, we'd have dinner, and that went to account, and he'd quarrel with me after it for what was my share. There's not much of this sort of trade now, sir. I believe my old master got his money together and emigrated.

"Do you want any ginuine Irish linin, ma'am?" uttered in unmistakable brogue, seemed to authenticate the fact, that the inquirer (being an Irishman) in all likelihood possessed the legitimate article; but as to their obtaining their goods from Coleraine and other places in the Emerald Isle, famed for the manufacture of linen, it was and is as pure fiction as the Travels of Baron Munchausen.

The majority of these packmen have discontinued dealing in linens exclusively, and have added silks, ladies' dresses, shawls and various articles connected with the drapery business. The country, and small towns and villages, remote from the neighbourhood of large and showy shops, are the likeliest markets for the sale of their goods. In London the Irish packmen have been completely driven out by the Scotch tallymen, who indeed are the only class of packmen likely to succeed in London. If the persevering Scotch tallyman can but set foot in a decent-looking residence, and be permitted to display his tempting finery to the "lady of the house," he generally manages to talk her into purchasing articles that perhaps she has no great occasion for, and which serve often to involve her in difficulties for a considerable period—causing her no little perplexity, and requiring much artifice to keep the tallyman's weekly visits a secret from her husband—to say nothing of paying an enormous price for the goods; for the many risks which the tallyman incurs, necessitates of course an exorbitant rate of profit.

"The number of packmen or hawkers of shawls, silks, &c., I think" (says of their own body) "must have decreased full -half within the last few years. The itinerant haberdashery trade is far from the profitable business that it used to be, and not unfrequently do I travel a whole day without taking a shilling: still, perhaps, day's good work will make up for half a dozen bad ones. All the packmen have hawkers' licences, as they have mostly too valuable a stock to incur the risk of losing it for want of such a privilege. Some of the fraternity" (says my informant) "do not always deal 'upon the square;' they profess to have just come from India or China, and to have invested all their capital in silks of a superior description manufactured in those countries, and to have got them on shore 'unbeknown to the Customhouse authorities.' This is told in confidence to the servant-man or woman who opens the door— 'be so good as tell the lady as much,' says the hawker, 'for really I'm afraid to carry the goods much longer, and I have already sold enough to pay me well enough for my spec—go, there's a good girl, tell your missus I have splendid goods, and am willing almost to give them away, and if we makes a deal of it, why I don't mind giving you a handsome present for yourself.'" This is a bait not to be resisted. Should the salesman succeed with the mistress, he carries out his promise to the maid by presenting her with a cap ribbon, or a cheap neckerchief.

The most primitive kind of packmen, or hawkers of soft-wares, who still form part of the distributing machinery of the country, traverse the highlands of Scotland. They have their regular rounds, and regular days of visiting their customers; their arrival is looked for with interest by the country people; and the inmates of the farm-house where they locate for the night consider themselves fortunate in having to entertain the packman; for he is their newsmonger, their story-teller, their friend, and their acquaintance, and is always made welcome. His wares consist of hose—linsey wolsey, for making petticoats—muslins for caps—ribbons —an assortment of needles, pins, and netting-pins —and all sorts of small wares. He always travels on foot. It is suspected that he likewise does a little in the "jigger line," for many of these


Highlanders have, or are supposed to have, their illicit distilleries; and the packmen are suspected of trafficking without excise interference. Glasgow, Dundee, Galashiels, and Harwick are the principal manufacturing towns where the packman replenishes his stock. "My own opinion," says an informant of considerable experience, "is that these men seldom grow rich; but the prevailing idea in the country part of Scotland is, that the pedlar has an unco lang stockin wi' an awfu' amount o goden guineas in it, and that his pocket buik is plumped out wi' a thick roll of bank notes. Indeed there are many instances upon record of poor packmen having been murdered— the assassins, doubtlessly, expecting a rich booty." It scarcely ever costs the packman of Scotland anything for his bed and board. The Highlanders are a most hospitable people with acquaintances— although with strangers at they are invariably shy and distant. In Ireland there is also the travelling pedlar, whose habits and style of doing business are nearly similar to that of the Scotchman. Some of the packmen of Scotland have risen to eminence and distinction. A quondam lord provost of Glasgow, a gentleman still living, and upon whom the honour of knighthood has been conferred, was, according to common report, in his earlier days a packman; and rumour also does the gentleman the credit to acknowledge that he is not ashamed to own it.

I am told by a London hawker of soft goods, or packman, that the number of his craft, hawking London and its vicinity, as far as he can judge, is about (the census of makes the London hawkers, hucksters and pedlars amount to ). In the are included the Irish linen hawkers. I am also informed that the fair trader's profits amount to about per cent., while those of the not overparticular trader range from to per cent. In a fair way of business it is said the hawker's taking will amount, upon an average, to or per week; whereas the receipts of the "duffer," or unfair hawker, will sometimes reach to per week. Many, however, travel days, and do not turn a penny.

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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