London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Boots and Shoes.


THE man who gave me the following account of this trade had been familiar with it a good many years, he believed, but was by no means certain. I saw at his lodgings a man who was finishing his day's work there, in cobbling and "translating." He was not in the employ of my informant, who had rooms, or rather a floor; he slept in and let the other to the "translator" who was a relation, he told me, and they went on very well together, as he (the streetseller) liked to sit and smoke his pipe of a night in the translator's room, which was much larger than his own; and sometimes, when times were "pretty bobbish," they clubbed together for a good supper of tripe, or had a "prime hot Jemmy a-piece," with a drop of good beer. A "Jemmy" is a baked sheep's head. The room was tidy enough, but had the strong odour of shoemaker's wax proper to the craft.

I've been in a good many street-trades, and others too," said my informant, "since you want to know, and for a good purpose as well as I can understand it. I was a 'prentice to a shoemaker in Northampton, with a lot more; why, it was more like a factory than anything else, was my master's, and the place we worked in was so confined and hot, and we couldn't open the window, that it was worse than the East Ingees. O, I know what they is. I've been there. I was so badly treated I ran away from my master, for I had only a father, and he cared nothing about me, and so I broke my indentures. After a good bit of knocking about and living as I could, and starving when I couldn't, but I never thought of going back to Northampton, I 'listed and was a good bit in the Ingees. Well, never mind, sir, how long, or what happened me when I was soldier. I did nothing wrong, and that ain't what you was asking about, and I'd rather say no more about it.

I have met with other street-folk, who had been soldiers, and who were fond of talking of their "service," often enough to grumble about it, so that I am almost tempted to think my informant had deserted, but I questioned him no further on the subject.

I had my ups and downs again, sir," he continued, "when I got back to England. God bless us all; I'm very fond of children, but I never married, and when I've been at the worst, I've been really glad that I hadn't no one depending on me. It's bad enough for oneself, but when there's others as you must love, what must it be then? I've smoked a pipe when I was troubled in mind, and couldn't get a meal, but could only get a pipe, and baccy's shamefully dear here; but if I'd had a young daughter now, what good would it have been my smoking a pipe to comfort her? I've seen that in people that's akin to me, and has been badly off, and with families. I had a friend or two in London, and I applied to them when I couldn't hold out no longer, and they gave me a bit of a rise, so I began as a costermonger. I was living among them as was in that line. Well, now, it's a pleasant life in fine weather. Why it was only this morning Joe (the translator) was reading the paper at breakfast time;—he gets it from the public-house, and if it's two, three, or four day's old, it's just as good for us;—and there was 10,000 pines had been received from the West Ingees. There's a chance for the costermongers, says I, if they don't go off too dear. Then cherries is in; and I was beginning to wish I was a costermonger myself still, but my present trade is surer. My boots and shoes 'll keep. They don't spoil in hot weather. Cherries and strawberries does, and if it comes thunder and wet, you can't sell. I worked a barrow, and sometimes had only a bit of a pitch, for a matter of two year, perhaps, and then I got into this trade, as I understood it. I sells all sorts, but not so much women's or children's.

Why, as to prices, there's two sorts of prices. You may sell as you buy, or you may sell new soled and heeled. They're never new welted for the streets. It wouldn't pay a bit. Not long since I had a pair of very good Oxonians that had been new welted, and the very first day I had them on sale—it was a dull drizzly day—a lad tried to prig them. I just caught him in time. Did I give him in charge? I hope I've more sense. I've been robbed before, and I've caught young rips in the act. If it's boots or shoes they've tried to prig, I gives them a stirruping with whichever it is, and a kick, and lets them go.

"Men's shoes, the regular sort, isn't a very good sale. I get from to a pair; but the high priced 'uns is either soled and heeled, and mudded well, or they've been real well-made things, and not much worn. I've had gentlemen's shooting-shoes sometimes, that's flung aside for the least thing. The plain shoes don't go off at all. I think people likes something to cover their stocking-feet more. For cloth button-boots I get from —that's the lowest I ever sold at— to The price is according to what condition the things is in, and what's been done to them, but there's no regular price. They're not such good sale as they would be, because they soon show worn. The black 'legs' gets to look very seamy, and it's a sort of boot that won't stand much knocking about, if it ain't right well made at . I've been selling Oxonian buttonovers ('Oxonian' shoes, which cover the instep, and are closed by being buttoned instead of being stringed through or holes) at and but they was really good, and soled and heeled; others I sell at to or Bluchers is from to Wellingtons from —yes, indeed, I've had them as low as , and perhaps they weren't very cheap at that, them very low-priced things never is, neither new nor old—from to ; but Wellingtons is more for the shops than the street. I do a little in children's boots and shoes. I sell them from to Yes, you can buy lower than , but I'm not in that way. They sell quite as quick, or quicker, than anything. I've sold children's boots to poor women that wanted shoeing far worse than the child; aye, many a time, sir. Top boots (they're called 'Jockeys' in the trade) isn't sold in the streets. I've never had any, and I don't see them with others in my line. O no, there's no such thing as Hessians or backstraps (a top-boot without the light-coloured top) in my trade now. Yes, I always have a seat handy where anybody can try on anything in the street; no, sir, no boot-hooks nor shoe-horn; shoehorns is rather going out, I think. If what we sell in the streets won't go on without them they won't be sold at all. A good many will buy if the thing's only big enough—they can't bear pinching, and don't much care for a fine fit.

Well, I suppose I take from 30s. to 40s. a week, 14s. is about my profit—that's as to the year through.

I sell little for women's wear, though I do sell their boots and shoes sometimes.

This object is in collection Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Title Page
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work