London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Second-Hand Sellers of Smithfield- Market.
No small part of the -hand trade of London is carried on in the market-place of , on the Friday afternoons. Here is a mart for almost everything which is required for the harnessing of beasts of draught, or is required for any means of propulsion or locomotion, either as a whole vehicle, or in its several parts, needed by street-traders: also of the machines, vessels, scales, weights, measures, baskets, stands, and all other appliances of street-trade.
The scene is animated and peculiar. Apart from the horse, ass, and goat trade (of which I shall give an account hereafter), it is a grand -hand Costermongers' Exchange. The trade is not confined to that large body, though they are the principal merchants, but includes greengrocers (often the costermonger in a shop), carmen, and others. It is, moreover, a favourite resort of the purveyors of street-provisions and beverages, of street dainties and luxuries. Of this class some of the most prosperous are those who are "well known in ."
The space devoted to this -hand commerce and its accompaniments, runs from St. Bartholomew's Hospital towards , but isolated peripatetic traders are found in all parts of the space not devoted to the exhibition of cattle or of horses. The crowd on the day of my visit was considerable, but from several I heard the not-always-very-veracious remarks of "Nothing doing" and "There's nobody at all here to-day." The weather was sultry, and at every few yards arose the cry from men and boys, "Ginger-beer, ha'penny a glass! Ha'penny a glass," or "Iced lemonade here! Iced raspberriade, as cold as ice, ha'penny a glass, only a ha'penny!" A boy was elevated on a board at the end of a splendid affair of this kind. It was a square built vehicle, the top being about feet by , and flat and surmounted by the lemonade fountain; long, narrow, champagne glasses, holding a raspberry coloured liquid, frothed up exceedingly, were ranged round, and the beverage dispensed by a woman, the mother or employer of the boy who was bawling. The sides of the machine, which stood on wheels, were a bright, shiny blue, and on them sprawled the lion and unicorn in gorgeous heraldry, yellow and gold, the artist being, according to a prominent announcement, a "herald painter." The apparatus was handsome, but with that exaggeration of handsomeness which attracts the high and low vulgar, who cannot distinguish between gaudiness and beauty. The sale was brisk. The ginger-beer sold in the market was generally dispensed from carts, and here I noticed, what occurs yearly in street-commerce, an innovation on the established system of the trade. Several sellers disposed of their ginger-beer in clear glass bottles, somewhat larger and fuller-necked than those introduced by M. Soyer for the sale of his "nectar," and the liquid was drank out of the bottle the moment the cork was undrawn, and so the necessity of a glass was obviated.
Near the herald-painter's work, of which I have just spoken, stood a very humble stall on which were loaves of bread, and round the loaves were pieces of fried fish and slices of bread on plates, all remarkably clean. "Oysters! Penny-a lot! Penny-a-lot, oysters!" was the cry, the most frequently heard after that of ginger-beer, &c. "Cherries! Twopence a-pound! Penny-a pound, cherries!" "Fruit-pies! Try my fruitpies!" The most famous dealer in all kinds of penny pies is, however, not a pedestrian, but an equestrian hawker. He drives a very smart, handsome pie-cart, sitting behind after the manner of the Hansom cabmen, the lifting up of a lid below his knees displaying his large stock of pies. His "drag" is whisked along rapidly by a brisk chestnut poney, well-harnessed. The "whole set out," I was informed, poney included, cost when new. The proprietor is a keen Chartist and teetotaller, and loses no opportunity to inculcate to his customers the excellence of teetotalism, as well as of his pies. "Milk! ha'penny a pint! ha'penny a pint, good milk!" is another cry. "Raspberry cream! Iced raspberry-cream, ha'penny a glass!" This street-seller had a capital trade. Street-ices, or rather ice-creams, were somewhat of a failure last year, more especially in Greenwichpark, but this year they seem likely to succeed. The man sold them in very small glasses, which he merely dipped into a vessel at his feet, and so filled them with the cream. The consumers had to use their fingers instead of a spoon, and no few seemed puzzled how to eat their ice, and were grievously troubled by its getting among their teeth. I heard drover mutter that he felt "as if it had snowed in his belly!" Perhaps at Smithfield-market on the Friday afternoons every street-trade in eatables and drinkables has its representative, with the exception of such things as sweet-stuff, curds and whey, &c., which are bought chiefly by women and children. There were plum-dough, plum-cake, pastry, pea-soup, whelks, periwinkles, ham-sandwiches, hot-eels, oranges, &c., &c., &c.
These things are the usual accompaniment of street-markets, and I now come to the subject matter of the work, the sale of -hand articles.
In this trade, since the introduction of a new arrangement months ago, there has been a great change. The vendors are not allowed to vend barrows in the market, unless indeed with a poney or donkey harnessed to them, or unless they are wheeled about by the owner, and they are not allowed to spread their wares on the ground. When it is considered of what those wares are composed, the awkwardness of the arrangement, to the sales-people, may be understood. They consist of -hand collars, pads, saddles, bridles, bits, traces, every description of worn harness, whole or in parts; the wheels, springs, axles, &c., of barrows and carts; the beams, chains, and bodies of scales;—these, perhaps, are the chief things which are sold separately, as parts of a whole. The traders have now no other option but to carry them as they best
|can, and offer them for sale. You saw men who really appear clad in harness. Portions were fastened round their bodies, collars slung on their arms, pads or small cart-saddles, with their shaftgear, were planted on their shoulders. Some carried merely a collar, or a harness bridle, or even a bit or a pair of spurs. It was the same with the springs, &c., of the barrows and small carts. They were carried under men's arms, or poised on their shoulders. The wheels and other things which are too heavy for such modes of transport had to be placed in some sort of vehicle, and in the vehicles might be seen trestles, &c.|
The complaints on the part of the -hand sellers were neither few nor mild: "If it had been a fat ox that had to be accommodated," said , "before he was roasted for an alderman, they'd have found some way to do it. But it don't matter for poor men; though why we shouldn't be suited with a market as well as richer people is not the ticket, that's the fact."
These arrangements are already beginning to be infringed, and will be more and more infringed, for such is always the case. The reason why they were adopted was that the ground was so littered, that there was not room for the donkey traffic and other requirements of the market. The donkeys, when "shown," under the old arrangement, often trod on boards of old metal, &c., spread on the ground, and tripped, sometimes to their injury, in consequence. Prior to the change, about persons used to come from , &c., and spread their old metal or other stores on the ground.
Of these there are now none. These Petticoatlaners, I was told by a frequenter, were men "who knew the price of old rags,"—a new phrase expressive of their knowingness and keenness in trade.
The statistics of this trade will be found under that head; the prices are often much higher and much lower. I speak of the regular trades. I have not included the sale of the superior butchers' carts, &c., as that is a traffic not in the hands of the regular -hand street-sellers. I have not thought it requisite to speak of the hawking of whips, sticks, wash-leathers, brushes, currycombs, &c., &c., of which I have already treated distinctively.
The accounts of the Capital and Income of the Street-Sellers of -Hand Articles I am obliged to defer till a future occasion.