London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry

1851

Of a Dog-"Finder."—A "Lurker's" Career.

CONCERNING a dog-finder, I received the following account from who had received the education of a gentleman, but whom circumstances had driven to an association with the vagrant class, and who has written the dog-finder's biography from personal knowledge—a biography which shows the that often characterizes the career of the "lurker," or street-adventurer.

"If your readers," writes my informant, "have passed the Rubicon of ' years in the wilderness,' memory must bring back the time when the feet of their childish pilgrimage have trodden a beautiful grass-plot—now converted into ; when was a 'village out of town,' and the ' fields' of were fields indeed. To write the biography of a living character is always delicate, as to embrace all its particulars is difficult; but of the truthfulness of my account there is no question.

Probably about the year of the great frost (), a French Protestant refugee, named La Roche, sought asylum in this country, not from persecution, but from difficulties of a commercial character. He built for himself, in , a cottage of wood, nondescript in shape, but pleasant in locality, and with ample accommodations for himself and his son. Wife he had none. This little bazaar of mud and sticks was surrounded with a bench of rude construction, on which the Sunday visitors to Ranelagh used to sit and sip their curds and whey, while from the entrance— far removed in those days from competition—

There stood uprear'd, as ensign of the place,

Of blue and red and white, a checquer'd mace,

On which the paper lantern hung to tell

How cheap its owner shaved you, and how well.

Things went on smoothly for a dozen years, when the old Frenchman departed this life.

His boy carried on the business for a few months, when frequent complaints of 'Sunday gambling' on the premises, and loud whispers of suspicion relative to the concealment of stolen goods, induced 'Chelsea George'—the name the youth had acquired—to sell the good--will of the house, fixtures, and all, and at the eastern extremity of London to embark in business as a 'mush or mushroom-faker.' Independently of his appropriation of umbrellas, proper to the mushfaker's calling, Chelsea George was by no means scrupulous concerning other little matters within his reach, and if the proprietors of the 'swell cribs' within his 'beat' had no 'umbrellas to mend,' or 'old 'uns to sell,' he would ease the pegs in the passage of the incumbrance of a greatcoat, and telegraph the same out of sight (by a colleague), while the servant went in to make the desired inquiries. At last he was 'bowl'd out' in the very act of 'nailing a yack' (stealing a watch). He 'expiated,' as it is called, this offence by three months' exercise on the 'cockchafer' (tread-mill). Unaccustomed as yet to the novelty of the exercise, he fell through the wheel and broke one of his legs. He was, of course, permitted to finish his time in the infirmary of the prison, and on his liberation was presented with five pounds out of 'the Sheriffs' Fund.'

Although, as I have before stated, he had never been out of England since his childhood, he had some little hereditary knowledge of the French language, and by the kind and voluntary recommendation of one of the police-magistrates of the metropolis, he was engaged by an Irish gentleman proceeding to the Continent as a sort of supernumerary servant, to 'make himself generally useful.' As the gentleman was unmarried, and mostly stayed at hotels, George was to have permanent wages and 'find himself,' a condition he invariably fulfilled, if anything was left in his way. Frequent intemperance, neglect of duty, and unaccountable departures of property from the portmanteau of his master, led to his dismissal, and Chelsea George was left, without friends or character, to those resources which have supported him for some thirty years.

During his 'umbrella' enterprise he had lived in lodging-houses of the lowest kind, and of course mingled with the most depraved society, especially with the vast army of trading sturdy mendicants, male and female, young and old, who assume every guise of poverty, misfortune, and disease, which craft and ingenuity can devise or well-tutored hypocrisy can imitate. Thus initiated, Chelsea George could 'go upon any lurk,' could be in the last stage of consumption—actually in his dying hour—but now and then convalescent for years and years together. He could take fits and counterfeit blindness, be a respectable brokendown tradesman, or a soldier maimed in the service, and dismissed without a pension.

Thus qualified, no vicissitudes could be either very new or very perplexing, and he commenced operations without delay, and pursued them long without desertion. The 'first move' in his mendicant career was taking them on the fly; which means meeting the gentry on their walks, and beseeching or at times menacing them till something is given; something in general was given to get rid of the annoyance, and, till the 'game got stale,' an hour's work, morning and evening, produced a harvest of success, and ministered to an occasion of debauchery.

His less popular, but more upright father, had once been a dog-fancier, and George, after many years vicissitude, at length took a 'fancy' to the same profession, but not on any principles recognised by commercial laws. With what success he has practised, the ladies and gentlemen about the West-end have known, to their loss and disappointment, for more than fifteen years past.

Although the police have been and still are on the alert, George has, in every instance, hitherto escaped punishment, while numerous detections connected with escape have enabled the offender to hold these officials at defiance. The 'modus operandi' upon which George proceeds is to varnish his hands with a sort of gelatine, composed of the coarsest pieces of liver, fried, pulverised, and mixed up with tincture of myrrh." [This is the composition of which Inspector Shackell spoke before the Select Committee, but he did not seem to know of what the lure was concocted. My correspondent continues]: "Chelsea George caresses every animal who seems 'a likely spec,' and when his fingers have been rubbed over the dogs' noses they become easy and perhaps willing captives. A bag carried for the purpose, receives the victim, and away goes George, bag and all, to his printer's in Seven Dials. Two bills and no less—two and no more, for such is George's style of work—are issued to describe the animal that has thus been found, and which will be 'restored to its owner on payment of expenses.' One of these George puts in his pocket, the other he pastes up at a publichouse whose landlord is 'fly' to its meaning, and poor 'bow-wow' is sold to a 'dealer in dogs,' not very far from Sharp's alley. In course of time the dog is discovered; the possessor refers to the 'establishment' where he bought it; the 'dealer makes himself square,' by giving the address of 'the chap he bought 'un of,' and Chelsea George shows a copy of the advertisement, calls in the publican as a witness, and leaves the place 'without the slightest imputation on his character.' Of this man's earnings I cannot speak with precision: it is probable that in a 'good year' his clear income is 200l.; in a bad year but 100l., but, as he is very adroit, I am inclined to believe that the 'good' years somewhat predominate, and that the average income may therefore exceed 150l. yearly.

 
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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