London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry

1851

Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Linen, &c.

I NOW come to the variety of the several kinds of street-sellers of -hand articles. The accounts of the street-trade in -hand linens, however, need be but brief; for none of the callings I have now to notice supply a mode of subsistence to the street-sellers independently of other pursuits. They are resorted to whenever an opportunity or a prospect of remuneration presents itself by the class of general street-sellers, women as well as men—the women being the most numerous. The sale of these articles is on the Saturday and Monday nights, in the streetmarkets, and daily in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes.

of the most saleable of all the -hand textile commodities of the streets, is an article the demand for which is certainly creditable to the poorer and the working-classes of London— The principal supply of this streettowel- ling is obtained from the several barracks in and near London. They are a portion of what were the sheets (of strong linen) of the soldiers' beds, which are periodically renewed, and the old sheeting is then sold to a contractor, of whom the street-folk buy it, and wash and prepare it for market. It is sold to the street-traders at per pound, lb. making penny towels; some (inferior) is as low as The principal demand is by the working-classes.

Why, for one time, sir," said a street-seller to me, "there wasn't much towelling in the streets, and I got a tidy lot, just when I knew it would go off, like a thief round a corner. I pitched in Whitecross-street, and not far from a woman that was making a great noise, and had a good lot of people about her, for cheap mackarel weren't so very plenty then as they are now. 'Here's your cheap mack'rel,' shouts she, 'cheap, cheap, cheap mac-mac-mac-mack'rel. Then I begins: 'Here's your cheap towelling; cheap, cheap, cheap, tow-tow-tow-tow-ellings. Here's towels a penny a piece, and two for twopence, or a double family towel for twopence.' I soon had a greater crowd than she had. O, yes! I gives 'em a good history of what I has to sell; patters, as you call it; a man that can't isn't fit for the streets. 'Here's what every wife should buy for her husband, and every husband for his wife,' I goes on. 'Domestic happiness is then secured. If a husband licks his wife, or a wife licks her husband, a towel is the handiest and most innocent thing it can be done with, and if it's wet it gives you a strong clipper on the cheek, as every respectable married person knows as well as I do. A clipper that way always does me good, and I'm satisfied it does more good to a gentleman than a lady.' Always patter for the women, sir, if you wants to sell. Yes, towels is good sale in London, but I prefer country business. I'm three times as much in the country as in town, and I'm just off to Ascot to sell cards, and do a little singing, and then I'll perhaps take a round to Bath and Bristol, but Bath's not what it was once.

Another street-seller told me that, as far as his experience went, Monday night was a better time for the sale of -hand sheetings, &c., than Saturday, as on Monday the wives of the workingclasses who sought to buy cheaply what was needed for household use, usually went out to make their purchases. The Saturday-night's mart is more for immediate necessities, either for the Sunday's dinner or the Sunday's wear. It appears to me that in all these little distinctions—of which street-folk tell you, quite unconscious that they tell anything new—there is something of the history of the character of a people.

"Wrappers," or "bale-stuff," as it is sometimes styled, are also sold in the streets as -hand goods. These are what have formed the covers of the packages of manufactures, and are bought (most frequently by the Jews) at the wholesale warehouses or the larger retail shops, and re-sold to the street-people, usually at and per pound. These goods are sometimes sold entire, but are far more often cut into suitable sizes for towels, strong aprons, &c. They soon get "bleached," I was told, by washing and wear.

is also sold in the streets as a -hand article. On the occasion of a fire at any tradesman's, whose stock of drapery had been injured, the damaged wares are bought by the Jewish or other keepers of the haberdashery swag-shops. Some of these are sold by the secondhand street dealers, but the traffic for such articles is greater among the hawkers. Of this I have already given an account. The street-sale of these burnt (and sometimes burnt) wares is in pieces, generally from to each, or in yards, frequently at per yard, but of course the price varies with the quality.

I believe that no are sold in the streets as sheets, for when tolerably good they are received at the pawn-shops, and if indifferent, at the dolly-shops, or illegal pawn-shops. Street folk have told me of sheets being sold in the streetmarkets, but so rarely as merely to supply an exception. In , indeed, they are sold, but it is mostly by the Jew shopkeepers, who also expose their goods in the streets, and they are sold by them very often to street-traders, who convert them into other purposes.

The statistics of this trade present great difficulties. The -hand linen, &c., is not a regular street traffic. It may be offered to the public days or nights in a month, or not . If a "job-lot" have been secured, the -hand street-seller may confine himself to that especial

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stock. If his means compel him to offer only a paucity of -hand goods, he may sell but kind. Generally, however, the same man or woman trades in , , or more of the secondhand textile productions which I have specified, and it is hardly street-seller out of , who if he have cleared his in a given time, by vending different articles, can tell the relative amount he cleared on each. The trade is, therefore, irregular, and is but a consequence, or—as street-seller very well expressed it—a "tail" of other trades. For instance, if there has been a great auction of any corn-merchant's effects, there will be more sacking than usual in the street-markets; if there have been sales, beyond the average extent, of old household furniture, there will be a more ample street stock of curtains, carpeting, fringes, &c. Of the articles I have enumerated the sale of secondhand linen, more especially that from the barrackstores, is the largest of any.

The most intelligent man whom I met with in this trade calculated that there were of these -hand street-folk plying their trade nights in the week; that they took each weekly, about half of it being profit; thus the street expenditure would be per annum.

 
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 Title Page
 INTRODUCTION
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
Crossing-Sweepers