London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Gold and Silver Fish.
OF these dealers, residents in London, there are about ; but during my inquiry (at the beginning of July) there were not in town. of their body knew of who were at work livefish selling, and there might be as many more, he thought, "working" the remoter suburbs of Blackheath, Croydon, Richmond, Twickenham, Isleworth, or wherever there are villa residences of the wealthy. This is the season when the gold and silver fish-sellers, who are altogether a distinct class from the bird-sellers of the streets, resort to the country, to vend their glass globes, with the glittering fish swimming ceaselessly round and round. The gold fish-hawkers are, for the most part, of the very best class of the street-sellers. of the principal fish-sellers is in winter a street-vendor of cough drops, horehound candy, coltsfoot-sticks, and other medicinal confectionaries, which he himself manufactures. Another leading gold-fish seller is a costermonger now "on pine-apples." A , "with a good connection among the innkeepers," is in the autumn and winter a hawker of game and poultry.
There are in London wholesale dealers in gold and silver fish; of whom— in the Kingsland-road and the other close by Billingsgate—supply more especially the street-sellers, and the street-traffic is considerable. Gold fish is of the things which people buy when brought to their doors, but which they seldom care to "order." The importunity of children when a man unexpectedly tempts them with a display of such brilliant creatures as gold fish, is another great promotive of the street-trade; and the street-traders are the best customers of the wholesale purveyors, buying somewhere about -fourths of their whole stock. The dealers keep their fish in tanks suited to the purpose, but goldfish are never bred in London. The Englishreared gold fish are "raised" for the most part, as respects the London market, in several places in Essex. In some parts they are bred in warm ponds, the water being heated by the steam from adjacent machinery, and in some places they are found to thrive well. Some are imported from France, Holland, and Belgium; some are brought from the Indies, and are usually sold to the dealers to improve their breed, which every now and then, I was told, "required a foreign mixture, or they didn't keep up their colour." The Indian and foreign fish, however, are also sold in the streets; the dealers, or rather the Essex breeders, who are often in London, have "just the pick of them," usually through the agency of their town customers. The Englishreared gold fish are not much short of threefourths of the whole supply, as the importation of these fishes is troublesome; and unless they are sent under the care of a competent person, or unless the master or steward of a vessel is made to incur a share in the venture, by being paid so much freight-money for as many gold and silver fishes as are landed in good health, and nothing for the dead or dying, it is very hazardous sending them on shipboard at all, as in case of neglect they may all die during the voyage.
The gold and silver fish are of the carp species, and are natives of China, but they were introduced into this country from Portugal about . Some are still brought from Portugal. They have been common in England for about years.
These fish are known in the street-trade as "globe" and "pond" fish. The distinction is not of species, nor even of the "variety" of a species, but merely a distinction of size. The larger fish are "pond;" the smaller, "globe." But the difference on which the street-sellers principally dwell is that the pond fish are far more troublesome to keep by them in a "slack time," as they must be fed and tended most sedulously. Their food is stale bread or biscuit. The "globe" fish are not fed at all by the streetdealer, as the animalcules and the minute insects in the water suffice for their food. Soft, rain, or sometimes Thames water, is used for the filling of the globe containing a street-seller's gold fish, the water being changed twice a day, at a publichouse or elsewhere, when the hawker is on a round. Spring-water is usually rejected, as the soft water contains "more feed." man, however, told me he had recourse to the street-pumps for a renewal of water, twice, or occasionally thrice a day, when the weather was sultry; but spring or well water "wouldn't do at all." He was quite unconscious that he was using it from the pump.
The wholesale price of these fish ranges from to per dozen, with a higher charge for "picked fish," when high prices must be paid. The cost of "large silvers," for instance, which are scarcer than "large golds," so I heard them called, is sometimes apiece, even to a retailer, and rarely less than The most frequent price, retail from the hawker—for almost all the fish are hawked, but only there, I presume, for a temporary purpose—is the pair. The gold fish are now always hawked in glass globes, containing about a dozen occupants, within a diameter of inches. These globes are sold by the hawker, or, if ordered, supplied by him on his next round that way, the price being about Glass globes, for the display of gold fish, are indeed manufactured at from to each, but or is the usual limit to the price of those vended in the street. The fish are lifted out of the water in the globe to consign to a purchaser, by being caught in a neat net, of fine and different-coloured cordage, always carried by the hawker, and manufactured for the trade at the dozen. Neat handles for these nets, of stained or plain wood, are the dozen. The dealers avoid touching the fish with their hands. Both gold fish and glass globes are much cheaper than they were years ago; the globes are cheaper, of course, since the alteration in the
|tax on glass, and the street-sellers are, numerically, nearly double what they were.
From a well-looking and well-spoken youth of or , I had the following account. He was the son, and grandson, of costermongers, but was —perhaps, in consequence of his gold-fish selling lying among a class not usually the costermongers' customers—of more refined manners than the generality of the costers' children.
A man, to whom I was referred as an experienced gold fish-seller, had just returned, when I saw him, from the sale of a stock of new potatoes, peas, &c., which he "worked" in a donkey cart. He had not this season, he said, started in the gold-fish line, and did very little last year in it, as his costermongering trade kept steady, but his wife thought gold fish-selling was a better trade, and she always accompanied him in his street rounds; so he might take to it again. In his youth he was in the service of an old lady who had several pets, and among them were gold fish, of which she was very proud, always endeavouring to procure the finest, a street-seller being sure of her as a customer if he had fish larger or deeper or brighter-coloured than usual. She kept them both in stone cisterns, or small ponds, in her garden, and in glass globes in the house. Of these fish my informant had the care, and was often commended for his good management of them. After his mistress's death he was very unlucky, he said, in his places. His last master having been implicated, he believed, in some gambling and billdiscount- ing transactions, left the kingdom suddenly, and my informant was without a character, for the master he served previously to the who went off so abruptly was dead, and a character years back was of no use, for people said, "But where have you been living since? Let me know all about that." The man did not know what to do, for his money was soon exhausted: "I had nothing left," he said, "which I could turn into money except a very good great coat, which had belonged to my last master, and which was given to me because he went off without paying me my wages. I thought of 'listing, for I was tired of a footman's life, , but I was too old, I feared, and if I could have got over that I knew I should be rejected because I was getting bald. I was sitting thinking whatever could be done—I wasn't married then—and had nobody to consult with; when I heard the very man as used to serve my old lady crying gold fish in the street. It struck me all of a heap, and I wonder I hadn't thought of it before, when I recollected how well I'd managed the fish, that I'd sell gold fish too, and hawk it as he did, as it didn't seem such a bad trade. So I asked the man all about it, and he told me, and I raised a sovereign on my great coat, and that was my start in the streets. I was nervous, and a little 'shamed at , but I soon got over that, and in time turned my hand to fruit and other things. Gold fish saved my life, sir; I do believe that, for I might have pined into a consumption if I'd been
|without something to do, and something to eat much longer."
If we calculate, in order to allow for the cessation of the trade during the winter, and often in the summer when costermongering is at its best, that but half the above-mentioned number of gold-fish sellers hawk in the streets and that for but half a year, each selling dozen weekly at the dozen, we find fish sold, at an outlay of As the country is also "worked" by the London street-sellers, and the supply is derived from London, the number and amount may be doubled to include this traffic, or fish sold, and expended.