## London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1

Mayhew, Henry

1861

###### Of the Capital and income of the Costermongers.

I shall now pass, from the consideration of the individual earnings, to the income and capital of the entire body. Great pains have been taken to ensure exactitude on these points, and the following calculations are certainly below the mark. In order to be within due bounds, I will take the costermongers, exclusive of their wives and families, at , whereas it

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would appear that their numbers are upwards of .
1,000 carts, at 3l. 3s. each. . . . . £ 3,150
[Donkeys, and occasionally ponies, are harnessed to barrows.]
5,000 barrows, at 2l. each . . . 10,000
1,500 donkeys, at 1l. 5s. each . . . 1,875
[One intelligent man thought there were 2,000 donkeys, but I account that in excess.]
200 ponies, at 5l. each . . . . . . 1,000
[Some of these ponies, among the very first-class men, are worth 20l.: one was sold by a coster for 30l.]
1,700 sets of harness, at 5s. each . . 425
[All calculated as worn and second-hand.]
4,000 baskets (or shallows), at 1s. each 200
3,500 stalls or standings, at 5s. each . 875
[The stall and barrow men have generally baskets to be used when required.]
10,000 weights, scales, and measures, at 2s. 6d. each . . . . . . . 1,250
[It is difficult to estimate this item with exactitude. Many averaged the value at 3s. 4d.]
Stock-money for 10,000 costers, at 10s. each . . . . . . . . . 5,000
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Total capital . . . £ 24,775
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Very nearly of , then, at the most moderate computation, represents the value of the animals, vehicles, and stock, belonging to the costermongers in the streets of London.

The keep of the donkeys is not here mixed up with their value, and I have elsewhere spoken of it.

The whole course of my narrative shows that the bulk of the property in the street goods, and in the appliances for their sale, is in the hands of usurers as well as of the costers. The following account shows the sum paid yearly by the London costermongers for the hire, rent, or interest (I have heard each word applied) of their barrows, weights, baskets, and stock:

Hire of 3,000 barrows, at 1s. 3d. a week £ 9,750
Hire of 600 weights, scales, &c., at 1s. 6d. a week for 2, and 6d. a week for 10 months . . . . . . 1,020
Hire of 100 baskets, &c., at 6d. a week 130
Interest on 2,500l. stock-money, at 125l. per week . . . . . . . 6,500
[Calculating at 1s. interest weekly for 20s.]
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Total paid for hire and interest £ 17,400
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Concerning the income of the entire body of costermongers in the metropolis, I estimate the earnings of the costermongers, taking the average of the year, at weekly. My own observation, the result of my inquiries, confirmed by the opinion of some of the most intelligent of the costermongers, induce me to adopt this amount. It must be remembered, that if some costermongers do make a week through the year, others will not earn a of it, and hence many of the complaints and sufferings of the class. Then there is the draw- back in the sum paid for "hire," "interest," &c., by numbers of these people; so that it appears to me, that if we assume the income of the entire body—including Irish and English— to be a week per head in the summer, and a week each in the winter, as the extremes, or a mean of a week all the year through, we shall not be far out either way. The aggregate earnings of the London costermongers, at this rate, are per week, or yearly. Reckoning that individuals have to be supported out of this sum, it gives an average of a week per head.

But it is important to ascertain not only the earnings or aggregate amount of profit made by the London costermongers in the course of the year, but likewise their receipts, or aggregate amount of "takings," and thus to arrive at the gross sum of money annually laid out by the poorer classes of the metropolis in the matter of fish, fruit, and vegetables alone. Assuming that the average profits of the costermongers are at the rate of per cent. (and this, I am satisfied, is a high estimate — for we should remember, that though cent. per cent. may be frequently obtained, still their "goods," being of a "perishable" nature, are as frequently lost or sold off at a "tremendous sacrifice"); assuming then, I say, that the profits of the entire individuals are per cent on the costprice of their stock, and that the aggregate amount of their profits or earnings is upwards of , it follows that the gross sum of money laid out with the London costers in the course of the twelvemonth is sterling—a sum so enormous as almost to make us believe that the tales of individual want are matters of pure fiction. Large, however, as the amount appears in the mass, still, if distributed among the families of the working men and the poorer class of Londoners, it will be found that it allows but the merest pittance per head per week for the consumption of those articles, which may be fairly said to constitute the staple commodities of the dinners and "desserts!" of the poor.