London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry


Of the "Swag-Barrowmen," and "Lot- Sellers."


THE "swag" (miscellaneous) barrow is of the objects in the streets which attracts, perhaps more readily than any other, the regards of the passer-by. There are so many articles and of such various uses; they are often so closely packed, so new and clean looking, and every here and there so tastefully arranged, that this street-trader's barrow really repays an examination. Here are spread on the flat part of the barrow, peppercruets or boxes, tea-caddies, nutmeg-graters, vinegar-cruets, pen-cases, glass or china-handled pens, pot ornaments, beads, ear-rings, finger-rings (plain or with "stones"), cases of scent-bottles, dolls, needle-cases, pincushions, Exhibition medals and "frames" (framed pictures), watches, shawlpins, extinguishers, trumpets and other toys, kaleidoscopes, seals, combs, lockets, thimbles, bone tooth-picks, small playing-cards, teetotums, shuttle-cocks, key-rings, shirt-studs or buttons, hooks and eyes, coat-studs, money-boxes, spoons, boxes of toys, earthenware-mugs, and glass articles, such as salt-cellars and smelling-bottles. On barrow were articles.

At the back and sides of the swag-barrow are generally articles which are best displayed in an erect position. These are children's wooden swords, whips, climbing monkeys, and tumblers, jointed snakes twisting to the wind from the top of a stick, kites, and such things as tin eggholders.

Perhaps on very few barrows or stalls are to be seen the articles I have enumerated, but they are all "in the trade," and, if not found in this man's stock, may be found in his neighbour's. Things which attain only a temporary sale, such as galvanic rings, the Lord's Prayer in the compass of a sixpence, gutta-percha heads, &c., are also to be found, during the popular demand, in the miscellaneous trader's stock.

Each of the articles enumerated is retailed at "Only a penny!" is the cry, "pick 'em out anywhere; wherever your taste lies; only a penny, a penny, a penny!" But on a few other barrows are goods, mixed with the "penny" wares, of a higher price; such as knives and forks, mustard pots, sham beer glasses (the glasses which appear to hold beer frothing to the brim), higher-priced articles of jewellery, skipping-ropes, drums, china ornaments, &c. At these barrows the prices run from to

The practice of selling by commission, the same as I have shown to prevail among the costers, exists among the miscellaneous dealers of whom I am treating, who are known among streetfolk as "swag-barrowmen," or, in the popular ellipsis, "penny swags;" the word "swag" meaning, as I before showed, a collection—a lot.

The "swag-men" are often confounded with the "lot-sellers"; so that I proceed to show the difference.

The proper, are those who vend a variety of small articles, or "a lot," all for A "lot" frequently consists of a sheet of songs, a Chinese puzzle, a note (Bank of Elegance), an Exhibition snuff-box (containing spoons), a half jack (half sovereign), a gold ring, a silver ring, and a chased keeper with rose, thistle, and shamrock on it. The lots are diversified with packs of a few cards, little pewter ornaments, boxes of small wooden toys, shirt-buttons, baby thimbles, beads, tiny scent bottles, and such like.

The "penny apiece" or "swag" trade, as contradistinguished from the "penny lots" vended by the lot-sellers, was originated by a man who, some years ago, sold a variety of trifles from a teatray in . My informant had heard him say—for the original "penny apiece" died years ago—that he did it to get rid of the odds and ends of his stock. The system, however, at once attracted popularity, and the fortunate streetseller prospered and "died worth money." At that period penny goods (excepting such things as sweet-stuffs, pastry, &c.) were far less numerous in the streets, and yet I have never met with an old street-trader (a statement fully borne out by old and intelligent mechanics) who did not pronounce spare pennies to be far more abundant in those days among the poorer and even middle classes. There were, moreover, far fewer street chapmen, so that this novel mode of business had every chance to thrive.

The origin of "lot-selling," or selling "penny lots" instead of penny articles, was more curious. It was commenced by an ingenious Swiss (?)


(about a year after the "penny apiece" trade), known in the street circles as "Swede." He was a refugee, a Roman Catholic, and a hot politician. He spoke and understood English well, but had no sympathy with the liberal parties in this country. "He was a republican," he would say, "and the Chartists were only milk and water." When he established his lot-selling he used to place to his mouth an instrument, which was described to me as "like a doubled card," and play upon it very finely. This would attract a crowd, and he would then address them in good English, but with a slight foreign accent: "My frents; come to me, and I will show you my musical instruments, which will play Italian, Swiss, French, Scotch, Irish, or any tunes. And here you see beautiful cheap lots of useful tings, and elegant tings. A penny a lot, a penny a lot!" The arrangement of the "lots" was similar to what it is at present, but the components of the pennyworth were far less numerous. This man carried on a good trade in London for or years, and then applied his industry to a country more than a town career. He died about or years ago, at his abode in , Spitalfields, "worth money." At the time of his decease he was the proprietor of lodging-houses; in Spitalfields, the other in Birmingham, both I am told, well conducted; the charge was a night. He did not reside in either, but employed "deputies." I may observe that he sold his "musical instruments," also, at each, but the sale was insignificant. "Only himself seemed master of 'em," said man; "with other people they were no better nor a Jew's-harp."

Of the "penny apiece" street-vendors, there are about in London; having barrows, and stalls or pitches on the ground. Some even sell at "a halfpenny apiece," but chiefly to get rid of inferior wares, or when "cracked up," and unable to "spring" a better stock. The barrows are feet by ; are well built in general, and cost each. These barrows, when fully stocked, are very heavy (about cwt.), so that it requires a strong man to propel any distance, and though occasionally the man's wife officiates as the saleswoman, there is always a man connected with the business. In my description of a stock of penny goods, I have mentioned that there were articles; these were counted on a barrow in a street near the Brill—but probably on another occasion (when there appeared a better chance of selling) there might be articles, such things as rings and the like admitting of being stowed by the in very small compass. The great display, however, is only on the occasion of holidays, or "when a man starts and wants to stun you with a show." At Maidstone Fair the other day, a London street-seller, rather well to do, sold his entire stock of penny articles to a shopkeeper of the town, and when counted there were exactly gross, or "pieces" as they are sometimes called. These, vended at each, would realize just , and would cost, wholesale, about , or for ready money, at the swag-shops, where they may be bought, from to less, according to the bargaining powers of the buyer. The man's reason for selling was that the Fair was "no good;" that is to say, the farmers had no money, and their labourers received only a week, so there was no demand; the swag-seller, therefore, rather than incur the trouble and expense of having to carry his wares back to London, sold at a loss to a shopkeeper in Maidstone, who wanted a stock.

The swag-barrowmen selling on commission have in every worth of goods that they sell. The commission may average from to a week in tolerable weather, but as in bad, and especially in foggy weather, the trade cannot be prosecuted at all, may be the highest average, or the year through.

The character of the penny swag-men belongs more to that of the costermongers than to any other class of street-folk. Many of them drink as freely as their means will permit. I was told of a match between a teetotaller and a beer-drinker, about years ago. It was for a side, and the "Championship." Each man started with an equal stock, alike in all respects, but my informant had forgotten the precise number of articles. They pattered, yards apart from another, hours in , Coventgarden; hours in the Blackfriars-road; and hours in Deptford. The teetotaller was "sold out" in -and-a-half hours; while his opponent—and the contest seems to have been carried on very good-humouredly—at the hours' end, had dozen articles left, and was rather exhausted, or, as it was described to me, "told out." The result, albeit, was not looked upon, I was assured, as anything very decisive of the relative merits of beer or water, as the source of strength or inspiration of "patter." The teetotaller was the smarter, though he did not appear the stronger, man; he abandoned the championship, and went into another trade years ago. The patter of the swag-men has nothing of the humour of the paper-workers; it is merely declaratory that the extensive stock offered on such liberal terms to the public would furnish a wholesale shop; that such another opportunity for cheap pennyworths could never by any possibility occur again, and that it was a duty on all who heard the patterer to buy at once.

The men having their own barrows or stalls (but the stall-trade is small) buy their goods as they find their stock needs replenishment at the swag-shops. "It was a good trade at , sir," said man, "and for its not being a good trade now, we may partly blame another. There was a cutting down trade among us. Black earrings were bought at the dozen, and sold at a loss at each. So were children's trap-bats, and monkeys up sticks, but they are now a dozen. Sometimes, sir, as I know, the master of a swag-barrow gets served out. You see, a man may once on a time have a good day, and take as much as Well, next day he'll use part of that money, and go as a penny swag on his own account; or else he'll buy things he is sold out of, and work them on his own account on


his master's barrow. All right, sir; his master makes him a convenience for his own pocket, and so his master may be made a convenience for the man's. When he takes the barrow back at the week's end, if he's been doing a little on his own dodge, there's the stock, and there's the money. It's all right between a rich man and a poor man that way; turn and turn about's fair play."

The lot-sellers are, when the whole body are in London, about in number; but they are times as itinerant into the country as are the traders in the heavier and little portable swagbarrows. The lot-sellers nearly all vend their goods from trays slung from their shoulders. The best localities for the lot-sellers are Ratcliffehigh- way, Commercial-road, Whitechapel, , , , Newington-causeway, , Blackfriars and Westminster-roads, Long-acre, , and . To this list may be added the Brill, Tottenham-court-road, and the other street-markets, on Saturday evenings, when some of these places are almost impassable. The best places for the swag-barrow trade are also those I have specified. Their customers, alike for the useful and fancy articles, are the working-classes, and the chief sale is on Saturdays and Mondays. swag-man told me that he thought he could sell better if he had a less crowded barrow, but his master was so keen of money that he make him try everything. It made selling more tiresome, too, he said, for a poor couple who had a penny or to lay out would fix on half the things they saw, and change them for others, before they parted with their money.

Of the penny-a-piece sellers trading on their own account, the receipts may be smaller than those of the men who work the huge swag-barrows on commission, but their profits are greater. Calculating that of these traders are, the year round, in London (some are absent all the summer at country fairs, and on any favourable opportunity, while a number of swag-barrowmen leave that employment for costermongering on their own account), and that each takes weekly, we find no less than thus expended in the streets of London in a year.

The lot-sellers also resort largely to the country, and frequently try other callings, such as the sale of fruit, medals, &c. Some also sell lots only on Saturday and Monday nights. Taking these deductions into consideration, it may be estimated that only men (there is but female lotseller on her own account) carry on the trade, presuming it to be spread over the days of the week. Each of them may take weekly (with a profit of ), so showing the street outlay to be The "lots" are bought at the German and English swag-shops; the principal supply, however, is procured from Black Tom in Clerkenwell.

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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