London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street-Sellers of Lucifer-Matches.


UNDER this head I shall speak only of those who the matches, apart from those who, in proffering lucifer boxes, mix up trade with mendicancy. The latter class I have spoken of, and shall treat of them more fully under the head of "the London Poor."

Until "lucifers" became cheap and in general use, the matches sold by the street-folks, and there were numbers in the trade, were usually prepared by themselves. The manufactures were simple enough. Wooden splints, twice or thrice the length of the lucifer matches now in use, were prepared, and dipped into brimstone, melted in an iron ladle. The matches were never, as now, self-igniting, or rather ignitable by rapid friction; but it was necessary to "strike a light" by the concussion of a flint and steel, the sparks from which were communicated to tinder kept in a "box."

The brimstone match-sellers were of all ages, but principally, I am told, old people. Many of them during, and for some years after the war, wore tattered regimentals, or some remains of military paraphernalia, and had been, or assumed to have been, soldiers, but not entitled to a pension; the same with seamen. I inquired of some of the present race of match-sellers what became of the "old brimstones," as I heard them called, but from them I could gain little information. An old groundsel-gatherer told me that some went into his trade. Others, I learned, "took to pins," and others to song or tract selling. Indeed the brimstone match-sellers not unfrequently carried a few songs to vend with their matches. It must be borne in mind that, years ago, those street trades, into which any who is master of a few pence can now embark, were less numerous. Others of the match-sellers, with rounds, or being known men, displaced their "brimstones" for "lucifers," and traded on as usual. I heard of old man, now dead, who made a living on brimstone-matches by selling a good quantity in Hackney, Stoke , and , and who long refused to sell lucifermatches; "they was new-fangled rubbish," he said, "and would soon have their day." He found his customers, however, fall off, and in apprehension of losing them all, he was compelled to move with the times.

"I believe, sir," said man, still a streetseller, but not having sold matches of any kind for years,—"I believe I was the who hawked 'Congreves,' or 'instantaneous lights;' they weren't called 'lucifers' for a good while after. I bought them at Mr. Jones's light-house in , and if I remember right, for it must be more than years ago, between and , Mr. Jones had a patent somehow about them. I bought them at a dozen boxes, and sold them at a box. I'm not sure how many matches was in a box, but I think it was . You'll get as much for a farthing now, as you would for a shilling then. The matches were lighted by being drawn quickly through sandpaper. I sold them for a twelvemonth, and had the trade all to myself. As far as I know, I had; for I never met with or heard of anybody else in it all that time. I did decent at it. I suppose I cleared my a week. The price kept the same while I was in the business. I sold them at city offices. I supplied the Phœnix in Lombardstreet, I remember, and the better sort of shops.


People liked them when they wanted to light a candle in a hurry, in places where there was no fire to seal a letter, or such like. There was no envelopes in them days. The penny-postage brought in. I was sometimes told not to carry such things there again as they didn't want the house set on fire by keeping such dangerous things in it. Now, I suppose, lucifers are in every house, and that there's not a tinder-box used in all London." Such appears to have been the beginning of the extensive street-trade in these chemical preparations now carried on. At the twelvemonth's end, my informant went into another line of business.

The "German Congreves" were soon after introduced, and were at sold wholesale at the "English and German" swag-shops in , at the dozen boxes, and were retailed at , , and sometimes as high as the box. These matches, I am told, "kept their hold" about years, when they ceased to be a portion of the street trade. The German Congreves were ignited by being drawn along a slip of sandpaper, at the bottom of the box, as is done at present; with some, however, a double piece of sand-paper was sold for purposes of igniting.

After this time cheaper and cheaper matches were introduced, and were sold in the streets immediately on their introduction. At , the cheaper matches had an unpleasant smell, and could hardly be kept in a bed-room, but that was obviated, and the trade progressed to its present extent.

The lucifer-match boxes, the most frequent in the street-trade, are bought by the poor persons selling them in the streets, at the manufacturers, or at oil-shops, for a number of oilmen buy largely of the manufacturers, and can "supply the trade" at the same rate as the manufacturer. The price is the dozen boxes, each box containing matches. Some of the boxes (German made) are round, and many used to be of tin, but these are rarely seen now. The prices are proportionate. The common price of a lucifer box in the streets is , but many buyers, I am told, insist upon and obtain a penny, which they do generally of some who supplies them regularly. The trade is chiefly itinerant.

feeble old man gave me the following account of his customers. He had been in the employ of market-gardeners, carmen, and others, whose business necessitated the use of carts and horses. In his old age he was unable to do any hard work; he was assisted, however, by his family, especially by son living in the country; he had a room in the house of a daughter, who was a widow, but his children were only working people, with families, he said, and so he sold a few lucifers "as a help," and to have the comfort of a bit of tobacco, and buy an old thing in the way of clothing without troubling any . Out of his earnings, too, he paid a week for the schooling of of his daughter's children.

I sell these lucifers, sir," he said, in answer to my inquiries, "I never beg with them: I'd scorn it. My children help me, as I've told you; I did my best for them when I was able, and so I have a just sort of claim on them. Well, indeed, then, sir, as you ask me, if I had only myself to depend upon, why I couldn't live. I must beg or go into the house, and I don't know which I should take to worst at 72. I've been selling lucifers about five years, for I was worn out with hard work and rheumatics when I was 65 or 66. I go regular rounds, about 2 miles in a day, or 2 1/2, or if it's fine 3 miles or more from where I live, and the same distance back, for I can sometimes walk middling if I can do nothing else. I carry my boxes tied up in a handkerchief, and hold 2 or 3 in my hand. I'm ashamed to hold them out on any rail where I aint known; and never do if there isn't a good-humoured looking person to be seen below, or through the kitchen window. But my eyesight aint good, and I make mistakes, and get snapped up very short at times. Yesterday, now, I was lucky in my small way. There's a gentleman, that if I can see him, I can always sell boxes to at 1d. a piece. That's his price, he says, and he takes no change if I offer it. I saw him yesterday at his own door, and says he, 'Well, old greybeard, I haven't seen you for a long time. Here's 1s., leave a dozen boxes.' I told him I had only 11 left; but he said, 'O, it's all the same,' and he told a boy that was crossing the hall to take them into the kitchen, and we soon could hear the housekeeper grumbling quite loud—perhaps she didn't know her master could hear—about being bothered with rubbish that people took in master with; and the gentleman shouts out, 'Some of you stop that old —— mouth, will you? She wants a profit out of them in her bills.' All was quiet then, and he says to me quite friendly, 'If she wasn't the best cook in London I'd have quitted her long since, by G—.'" The old man chuckled no little as he related this; he then went on, "He's a swearing man, but a good man, I'm sure, and I don't know why he's so kind to me. Perhaps he is to others. I'm ashamed to hold my boxes to the ary rails, 'cause so many does that to beg. I sell lucifers both to mistresses and maids. Some will have 3 for a 1d., and though it's a poor profit, I do it, for they say, 'O, if you come this way constant, we'll buy of you whenever we want. If you won't give 3 a penny, there's plenty will.' I sell, too, in some small streets, Lisson-grove way, to women that see me from their windows, and come down to the door. They're needle-workers I think. They say sometimes, 'I'm glad I've seen you, for it saves me the trouble of running out.'

Well, sir, I'm sure I hardly know how many boxes I sell. On a middling good day I sell 2 dozen, on a good day 3 dozen, on a bad day not a dozen, sometimes not half-a-dozen, and sometimes, but not often, not more than a couple. Then in bad weather I don't go out, and time hangs very heavy if it isn't a Monday; for every Monday I buy a threepenny paper of a newsman for 2d., and read it as well as I can with my old eyes and glasses, and get my daughter to read a bit to me in the evening, and next day I send the paper to my son in the country, and so save him buying one. As well as I can tell I sell about 9 dozen boxes a week, one week with another, and clear from 2s. to 2s. 6d. It's employment for me as well as a help.

It is not easy to estimate the precise number of persons who really sell lucifer matches as a means of subsistence, or as a principal means. There are many, especially girls and women, the majority being Irishwomen, who do not directly solicit charity, and do not even say, "Buy a box of lucifers from a poor creature, to get her a ha'porth of bread;" or, "please a bit of broken victuals, if it's only cold potatoes, for a box of the best lucifers." Yet these match-sellers look so imploringly down an area, or through a window, some "shouldering" a young child the while, and remain there so pertinaciously that a box is bought, or a halfpenny given, often merely to get rid of the applicant.

An intelligent man, a street-seller, and familiar with street-trading generally, whom I questioned on the subject, said: "It's really hard to tell, sir, but I should calculate this way. It's the real sellers you ask about; them as tries to live on their selling lucifers, or as their main support. I have worked London and the outside places—yes, I mean the suburbs—in rounds, or districts, but is better, for you can then go the same round the same day next week, and so get known. The real sellers, in my opinion, is old men and women out of employ, or past work, and to beg they are ashamed. I've read the Bible you see, sir, though I've had too much to do with gay persons even to go to church. I should say that in each of those rounds, or at any rate, splicing with another, was persons really selling lucifers. Yes, and depending a good deal upon them, for they're an easy carriage for an infirm body, and as ready a sale as most things. I don't reckon them as begs, or whines, or sticks to a house for an hour, but them as sells; in my opinion, they're , and no more. All the others dodges, in way or other, on pity and charity. There's lurk that's getting common now. A man well dressed, and very clean, and wearing gloves, knocks at a door, and asks to speak to the master or mistress. If he succeeds, he looks about him as if he was ashamed, and then he pulls out of his coat-pocket a lucifer box or , and asks, as a favour, to be allowed to sell , as reduced circumstances drive him to do so. He doesn't beg, but I don't reckon him a seller, for he has always some story or other to tell, that's all a fakement." Most dwellers in a suburb will have met with of these welldressed match-sellers.

Adopting my informant's calculation, and supposing that each of these traders take, on lucifers alone, but weekly, selling dozen (with a profit to the seller of from to ), we find expended in this way. The matches are sold also at stalls, with other articles, in the street markets, and elsewhere; but this traffic, I am told, becomes smaller, and only amounts to - of the amount I have specified as taken by itinerants. These street-sellers reside in all parts of town which I have before specified as the quarters of the poor.

View all images in this book
 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