London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
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.
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
|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.