London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street-Sellers of Women's Second- Hand apparel.


THIS trade, as regards the sale to retail customers in the streets, is almost entirely in the hands of women, -eighths of whom are the wives, relatives, or connections of the men who deal in -hand male apparel. But gowns, cloaks, bonnets, &c., are collected more largely by men than by women, and the wholesale old clothes' merchants of course deal in every sort of habiliment. Petticoat and Rosemary-lanes are the grand marts for this street-sale, but in Whitecrossstreet, , (St. Luke's), and some similar Saturday-night markets in poor neighbourhoods, women's -hand apparel is sometimes offered. "It is often of little use offering it in the latter places," I was told by a laceseller who had sometimes tried to do business in -hand shawls and cloaks, "because you are sure to hear, 'Oh, we can get them far cheaper in , when we like to go as far.'"

The different portions of female dress are shown and sold in the street, as I have described in my account of , and of the trading of the men selling -hand male apparel. There is not so much attention paid to "set off" gowns that there is to set off coats. "If the gown be a washing gown," I was informed, "it is sure to have to be washed before it can be worn, and so it is no use bothering with it, and paying for soap and labour beforehand. If it be woollen, or some stuff that wont wash, it has almost always to be altered before it is worn, and so it is no use doing it up perhaps to be altered again." Silk goods, however, are carefully enough reglossed and repaired. Most of the others "just take their chance."

A good-looking Irishwoman gave me the following account. She had come to London and had been a few years in service, where she saved a little money, when she married a cousin, but in what degree of cousinship she did not know. She then took part in his avocation as a crockman, and subsequently as a street-seller of -hand clothes.

Why, yis, thin and indeed, sir," she said, "I did feel rather quare in my new trade, going about from house to house, the Commercial-road and Stepney way, but I soon got not to mind, and indeed thin it don't matter much what way one gets one's living, so long as it's honest. O, yis, I know there's goings on in old clothes that isn't always honest, but my husband's a fair dealing man. I felt quarer, too, whin I had to sell in the strate, but I soon got used to that, too; and it's not such slavish work as the 'crocks.' But we sometimes 'crocks' in the mornings a little still, and sells in the evenings. No, not what we've collected—for that goes to Mr. Isaac's market almost always—but stock that's ready for wear.

For Cotton Gowns I've got from 9d. to 2s. 3d. O, yis, and indeed thin, there's gowns chaper, 4d. and 6d., but there's nothing to be got out of them, and we don't sell them. From 9d. to 18d. is the commonest price. It's poor people as buys: O, yis, and indeed thin it is, thim as has families, and must look about thim. Many's the poor woman that's said to me, 'Well, and indeed, marm, it isn't my inclination to chapen anybody as I thinks is fair, and I was brought up quite different to buying old gowns, I assure you' —yis, that's often said; no, sir, it isn't my countrywomen that says it (laughing), it's yours. 'I wouldn't think,' says she, 'of offering you 1d. less than 1s., marm, for that frock for my daughter, marm, but it's such a hard fight to live.' Och, thin, and it is indeed; but to hear some of them talk you'd think they was born ladies. Stuffgowns is from 2d. to 8d. higher than cotton, but they don't sell near so well. I hardly know why. Cotton washes, and if a dacent woman gets a chape second-hand cotton, she washes and does it up, and it seems to come to her fresh and new. That can't be done with stuff. Silk is very little in my way, but silk gowns sell from 3s. 6d. to 4s. Of satin and velvet gowns I can tell you nothing; they're never in the streets.

Second-hand Bonnets is a very poor sale— very. The milliners, poor craitchers, as makes them up and sells them in the strate, has the greatest sale, but they makes very little by it. Their bonnets looks new, you see, sir, and close and nice for poor women. I've sold bonnets from 6d. to 3s. 6d., and some of them cost 3l. But whin they git faded and out of fashion, they're of no vally at all at all. Shawls is a very little sale; very little. I've got from 6d. to 2s. 6d. for them. Plaid shawls is as good as any, at about 1s. 6d.; but they're a winter trade. Cloaks (they are what in the dress-making trade are called mantles) isn't much of a call. I've had them from 1s. 6d. as high as 7s.—but only once 7s., and it was good silk. They're not a sort of wear that suits poor people. Will and indeed thin, I hardly know who buys them second-hand. Perhaps bad women buys a few, or they get men to buy them for them. I think your misses don't buy much second-hand thin in gineral; the less the better, the likes of them; yis, indeed, sir. Stays I don't sell, but you can buy them from 3d. to 15d.; it's a small trade. And I don't sell Under Clothing, or only now and thin, except Children's. Dear me, I can hardly tell the prices I get for the poor little things' dress—I've a little girl myself—the prices vary so, just as the frocks and other things is made for big children or little, and what they're made of. I've sold frocks—they sell best on Saturday and The Street Dog-Seller. Monday nights—from 2d. to 1s. 6d. Little petticoats is 1d. to 3d.; shifts is 1d. and 2d., and so is little shirts. If they wasn't so low there would be more rags than there is, and sure there's plinty.

Will, thin and indeed, I don't know what we make in a week, and if I did, why should I tell? O, yes, sir, I know from the gentleman that sent you to me that you're asking for a good purpose: yis, indeed, thin; but I ralely can't say. We do pritty well, God's name be praised! Perhaps a good second-hand gown trade and such like is worth from 10s. to 15s. a week, and nearer 15s. than 10s. ivery week; but that's a good secondhand trade you understand, sir. A poor trade's about half that, perhaps. But thin my husband sells men's wear as well. Yis, indeed, and I find time to go to mass, and I soon got my husband to go after we was married, for he'd got to neglect it, God be praised; and what's all you can get here compared to making your sowl" [saving your soul —making your soul is not an uncommon phrase among some of the Irish people]. "Och, and indeed thin, sir, if you've met Father ——, you've met a good gintleman.

Of the street-selling of , I need say but little, as they form part of the stock of the men's ware, and are sold by the same men, not unfrequently assisted by their wives. The best sale is for black , whether laced or buttoned, but the prices run only from to If the "legs" of a -hand pair be good, they are worth , no matter what the leather portion, including the soles, may be. Coloured boots sell very indifferently. Children's boots and shoes are sold from to

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 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