London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


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.

I've been in the streets, sir," he said, "helping my father, until I was old enough to sell on my own account, since I was six years old. Yes, I like a street life, I'll tell you the plain truth, for I was put by my father to a paperstainer, and found I couldn't bear to stay in doors. It would have killed me. Gold fish are as good a thing to sell as anything else, perhaps, but I've been a costermonger as well, and have sold both fruit and good fish—salmon and fine soles. Gold fish are not good for eating. I tried one once, just out of curiosity, and it tasted very bitter indeed; I tasted it boiled. I've worked both town and country on gold fish. I've served both Brighton and Hastings. The fish were sent to me by rail, in vessels with air-holes, when I wanted more. I never stopped at lodging-houses, but at respectable public-houses, where I could be well suited in the care of my fish. It's an expense, but there's no help for it." [A costermonger, when I questioned him on the subject, told me that he had sometimes sold gold fish in the country, and though he had often enough slept in common lodging-houses, he never could carry his fish there, for he felt satisfied, although he had never tested the fact, that in nine out of ten such places, the fish, in the summer season, would half of them die during the night from the foul air.] "Gold fish sell better in the country than town," the street-dealer continued; "much better. They're more thought of in the country. My father's sold them all over the world, as the saying is. I've sold both foreign and English fish. I prefer English. They're the hardiest; Essex fish. The foreign—I don't just know what part—are bred in milk ponds; kept fresh and sweet, of course; and when they're brought here, and come to be put in cold water, they soon die. In Essex they're bred in cold water. They live about three years; that's their lifetime if they're properly seen to. I don't know what kind of fish gold fish are. I've heard that they first came from China. No, I can't read, and I'm very sorry for it. If I have time next winter I'll get taught. Gentlemen sometimes ask me to sit down, and talk to me about fish, and their history (natural history), and I'm often ata loss, which I mightn't be if I could read. If I have fish left after my day's work, I never let them stay in the globe I've hawked them in, but put them into a large pan, a tub sometimes, three-parts full of water, where they have room. My customers are ladies and gentlemen, but I have sold to shopkeepers, such as buttermen, that often show gold fish and flowers in their shops. The fish don't live long in the very small globes, but they're put in them sometimes just to satisfy children. I've sold as many as two dozen at a time to stock a pond in a gentleman's garden. It's the best sale a little way out of town, in any direction. I sell six dozen a week, I think, one week with another; they'll run as to price at 1s. apiece. That six dozen includes what I sell both in town and country. Perhaps I sell them nearly three-parts of the year. Some hawk all the year, but it's a poor winter trade. Yes, I make a very fair living; 2s. 6d. or 3s. or so, a day, perhaps, on gold fish, when the weather suits.

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.

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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