London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street-Sellers of Boot and Stay- Laces, &c.


LIKE many street-callings which can be started on


the smallest means, and without any previous knowledge of the article sold being necessary to the street-vendor, the boot and stay-lace trade has very many followers. I here speak of those who boot-laces, and subsist, or endeavour to subsist, by the sale, without mixing it up with begging. The majority, indeed the great majority, of these street traders are women advanced in years, and, perhaps, I may say the whole of them are very poor. An old woman said to me, "I just drag, on, sir, half-starving on a few boot-laces, rather than go into the workhouse, and I know numbers doing the same."

The laces are bought at the haberdashery swagshops I have spoken of, and amongst these old women I found the term "swag-shop" as common as among men who buy largely at such establishments. The usual price for boot-laces to be sold in the streets is a dozen. Each lace is tagged at both ends, sufficing for a pair of boots. The regular retail price is a penny, but the lace-sellers are not unfrequently compelled to give , or lose a customer. A better quality is sold at and a dozen, but these are seldom meddled with by the street lace-sellers. It is often a matter of strong endeavour for a poor woman to make herself mistress of , the whole of which she can devote to the purchase of boot-laces, as for she can procure a gross, so saving in dozen.

The stay-laces, which are bought at the same places, and usually sold by the same street-traders, are and the dozen. I am told that there are as many of the higher as of the lower priced stay-laces bought for street sale, "because," of the street-sellers told me "there's a great many servant girls, and others too, that's very particular about their stay-laces." The stay-laces are retailed at each.

These articles are vended at street-stalls, along with other things for female use; but the most numerous portion of the lace-sellers are itinerant, walking up and down a street market, or going on a round in the suburbs, calling at every house where they are known, or where, as woman expressed it, "we make bold to venture." Those frequenting the street-markets, or other streets or thoroughfares, usually carry the boot-laces in their hands, and the stay-laces round their necks, and offer them to the females passing. Their principal customers are the working-classes, the wives and daughters of small shop-keepers, and servant-maids. "Ladies, of course," said lace-seller, "won't buy of us." Another old woman whom I questioned on the subject, and who had sold laces for about years, gave me a similar account; but she added:—"I've sold to high--up people though. Only or weeks back, a finedressed servant maid stopped me and said, 'Here, I must have a dozen boot-laces for mistress, and she says, she'll only give for them, as it's a dozen at once. A mean cretur she is. It's grand doings before faces, and pinchings behind backs, at our house.'"

Among the lace-sellers having rounds in the suburbs are some who "have known better days." old woman had been companion and housekeeper to a lady, who died in her arms, and whose legacy to her companion-servant enabled her to furnish a house handsomely. This she let out in apartments at "high-figures," and anything like a regular payment by her lodgers would have supplied her with a comfortable maintenance. But fine gentlemen, and fine ladies too, went away in her debt; she became involved, her furniture was seized, and step by step she was reduced to boot-lace selling. Her appearance is still that of "the old school;" she wears a very large bonnet of faded black silk, a shawl of good material, but old and faded, and always a black gown. The poor woman told me that she never ventured to call even at the houses where she was best received if she saw any tax-gatherer go to or from the house: "I know very well what it is," she continued, "it's no use my calling; they're sure to be cross, and the servants will be cross too, because their masters or mistresses are cross with them. If the tax-gatherer's not paid, they're cross at being asked; if he is paid, they're cross at having had to part with their money. I've paid taxes myself."

The dress of the boot lace-sellers generally is that of poor elderly women, for the most part perhaps a black chip, or old straw bonnet (often broken) and a dark-coloured cotton gown. Their abodes are in the localities in all parts of the metropolis, which I have frequently specified as the abodes of the poor. They live most frequently in their own rooms, but the younger, and perhaps I may add, coarser, of the number, resort to lodging-houses. It is not very uncommon, I was told by of the class, for poor women, boot-lace sellers or in some similar line, "to join" in a room, so saving half the usual rent of for an unfurnished room. This arrangement, however, is often of short duration. There is always arising some question, I was told, about the use or wear of this utensil or the other, or about washing, or about wood and coals, if street-seller returned an hour or before her companion. This is not to be wondered at, when we bear in mind that to these people every farthing is of consequence. From all that I can learn, the boot-lace sellers (I speak of the women) are poor and honest, and that, as a body, they are little mixed up with dishonest characters and dishonest ways. The exceptions are, I understand, among some hale persons, such as I have alluded to as sojourning in the lodging-houses. Some of these traders receive a little parochial relief.

intelligent woman could count up persons depending chiefly upon the sale of boot and stay-laces, in what she called her own neighbourhood. This comprised , , Tottenham Court-road, the Hampstead-road, and all the adjacent streets. From the best data at my command, I believe there are not fewer than individuals these wares in London. Several lace-sellers agreed in stating that they sold a dozen boot-laces a-day, and a dozen stay-laces, and dozen extra on Saturday nights; but the drawbacks of bad weather, &c., reduce the average sale to not more than dozen a week, or


boot-laces in a year, at an outlay to the public of yearly; from a half to -fourths of the receipts being the profit of the street-sellers.

The same quantity of stay-laces sold at a dozen shows an outlay of , with about an equally proportional profit to the sellers.

Most of these traders sell tapes and other articles as well as laces. The tapes cost and the dozen, and are sold at a knot. A dozen in days is an average sale, but I have treated more expressly of those who depend principally upon boot-lace selling for their livelihood. Their average profits are about a week, on laces alone. The trade, I am told, was much more remunerative a few years back, and the decline was attributed "to so many getting into the trade, and the button boots becoming as fashionable as the Adelaides."

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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