London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


The live animals sold in the streets include beasts, birds, fish, and reptiles, all sold in the streets of London.

The class of men carrying on this business—for they are nearly all men—is mixed; but the majority are of a half-sporting and half-vagrant kind. informant told me that the bird-catchers, for instance, when young, as more than -fourths of them are, were those who "liked to be after a loose end," catching their birds, as a sort of sporting business, and then sometimes selling them in the streets, but far more frequently disposing of them in the bird-shops. "Some of these boys," a bird-seller in a large way of business said to me, "used to become rat-catchers or dog-sellers, but there's not such great openings in the rat and dog line now. As far as I know, they're the same lads, or just the same sort of lads, anyhow, as you may see 'helping,' holding horses, or things like that, at concerns like them small races at Peckham or Chalk Farm, or helping any way at the foot-races at Camberwell." There is in this birdcatching a strong manifestation of the vagrant spirit. To rise long before daybreak; to walk some miles before daybreak; from the earliest dawn to wait in some field, or common, or wood, watching the capture of the birds; then a long trudge to town to dispose of the fluttering captives; all this is done cheerfully, because there are about it the irresistible charms, to this class, of excitement, variety, and free and open-air life. Nor do these charms appear whit weakened when, as happens often enough, all this early morn business is carried on fasting.

The old men in the bird-catching business are not to be ranked as to their enjoyment of it with the juveniles, for these old men are sometimes infirm, and can but, as of them said to me some time ago, "hobble about it." But they have the same spirit, or the sparks of it. And in this part of the trade is of the curious characteristics of a street-life, or rather of an open-air pursuit for the requirements of a street-trade. A man, worn out for other purposes, incapable of anything but a passive, or sort of lazy labour— such as lying in a field and watching the action of his trap-cages—will yet in a summer's morning, decrepid as he may be, possess himself of a dozen or even a score of the very freest and most aspiring of all our English small birds, a creature of the air beyond other birds of his "order"—to use an ornithological term—of sky-larks.

The dog-sellers are of a sporting, trading, idling class. Their sport is now the rat-hunt, or the ferret-match, or the dog-fight; as it was with the predecessors of their stamp, the cock-fight; the bull, bear, and badger bait; the shrove-tide cock-shy, or the duck hunt. Their trading spirit is akin to that of the higher-class sporting fraternity, the trading members of the turf. They love to sell and to bargain, always with a quiet exultation at the time—a matter of loud tavern boast afterwards, perhaps, as respects the street-folk— how they "do" a customer, or "do" another. "It's not cheating," was the remark and apology of a very famous jockey of the old times, touching such measures; "it's not cheating, it's outwitting." Perhaps this expresses the code of honesty


of such traders; not to cheat, but to outwit or over-reach. Mixed with such traders, however, are found a few quiet, plodding, fair-dealing men, whom it is difficult to classify, otherwise than that they are "in the line, just because they likes it." The idling of these street-sellers is a part of their business. To walk by the hour up and down a street, and with no manual labour except to clean their dogs' kennels, and to carry them in their arms, is but an idleness, although, as some of these men will tell you, "they work hard at it."

Under the respective heads of dog and birdsellers, I shall give more detailed characteristics of the class, as well as of the varying qualities and inducements of the buyers.

The street-sellers of foreign birds, such as parrots, parroquets, and cockatoos; of gold and silver fish; of goats, tortoises, rabbits, leverets, hedgehogs; and the collectors of snails, worms, frogs, and toads, are also a mixed body. Foreigners, Jews, seamen, countrymen, costermongers, and boys form a part, and of them I shall give a description under the several heads. The prominently-characterized street-sellers are the traders in dogs and birds.

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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