London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street-Sellers of Live Birds.

THE bird- in the streets are also the bird- in the fields, plains, heaths, and woods, which still surround the metropolis; and in compliance with established precedent it may be proper that I should give an account of the catching, before I proceed to any further statement of the procedures subsequent thereunto. The birdcatchers are precisely what I have described them in my introductory remarks. An intelligent man, versed in every part of the bird business, and well acquainted with the character of all engaged in it, said they might be represented as of "the fancy," in a small way, and always glad to run after, and full of admiration of, fighting men. The birdcatcher's life is essentially vagrant; a few gipsies pursue it, and they mix little in streettrades, except as regards tinkering; and the mass, not gipsies, who become bird-catchers, rarely leave it for any other avocation. They "catch" unto old age. During last winter men died in the parish of Clerken well, both turned , and both bird-catchers—a profession they had followed from the age of .

The mode of catching I will briefly describe. It is principally effected by means of nets. A bird-net is about yards square; it is spread flat upon the ground, to which it is secured by "stars." These are iron pins, which are inserted in the field, and hold the net, but so that the "wings," or "flaps," which are indeed the sides of the nets, are not confined by the stars. In the middle of the net is a cage with a fine wire roof, widely worked, containing the "call-bird." This bird is trained to sing loudly and cheerily, great care being bestowed upon its tuition, and its song attracts the wild birds. Sometimes a few stuffed birds are spread about the cage as if a flock were already assembling there. The birdcatcher lies flat and motionless on the ground, or yards distant from the edge of the net. As soon as he considers that a sufficiency of birds have congregated around his decoy, he rapidly draws towards him a line, called the "pull-line," of which he has kept hold. This is so looped and run within the edges of the net, that on being smartly pulled, the wings of the net collapse and fly together, the stars still keeping their hold, and the net encircles the cage of the call-bird, and incloses in its folds all the wild birds allured round it. In fact it then resembles a great cage of net-work. The captives are secured in cages— the call-bird continuing to sing as if in mockery of their struggles—or in hampers proper for the purpose, which are carried on the man's back to London.

The use of the call-bird as a means of decoy is very ancient. Sometimes—and more especially in the dark, as in the taking of nightingales—the bird-catcher imitates the notes of the birds to be captured. A small instrument has also been used for the purpose, and to this Chaucer, although figuratively, alludes: "So, the birde is begyled with the merry voice of the foulers' whistel, when it is closed in your nette."

Sometimes, in the pride of the season, a birdcatcher engages a costermonger's poney or donkey cart, and perhaps his boy, the better to convey the birds to town. The net and its apparatus cost The call-bird, if he have a good wild note—goldfinches and linnets being principally so used—is worth at the least.

The bird-cather's life has many, and to the constitution of some minds, irresistible charms. There is the excitement of "sport"—not the headlong excitement of the chase, where the blood is stirred by motion and exercise—but still sport surpassing that of the angler, who plies his finest art to capture fish at a time, while the birdcatcher despises an individual capture, but seeks to ensnare a flock at twitch of a line. There is, moreover, the attraction of idleness, at least for intervals, and sometimes long intervals—perhaps the great charm of fishing—and basking in the lazy sunshine, to watch the progress of the snares. Birds, however, and more especially linnets, are caught in the winter, when it is not quite such holiday work. A bird-dealer (not a street-seller) told me that the greatest number of birds he had ever heard of as having been caught at pull was nearly . My informant happened to be present on the occasion. "Pulls" of , , and are not very unfrequent when the young broods are all on the wing.

Of the bird-catchers, including all who reside in Woolwich, Greenwich, Hounslow, Isleworth, Barnet, Uxbridge, and places of similar distance, all working for the London market, there are about . The localities where these men "catch," are the neighbourhoods of the places I have mentioned as their residences, and at Holloway, Hampstead, Highgate, Finchley, Battersea, Blackheath, Putney, Mortlake, Chiswick, Richmond, Hampton, Kingston, Eltham, Carshalton, Streatham, the Tootings, Woodford, Epping, Snaresbrook, Walthamstow, Tottenham, Edmonton—wherever, in fine, are open fields, plains, or commons around the metropolis.

I will enumerate the several birds sold in the streets, as well as the supply to the shops by the bird-catchers. I have had recourse to the best sources of information. Of the number of birds which I shall specify as "supplied," or "caught," it must be remembered that a notvery- small proportion die before they can be trained to song, or inured to a cage life. I shall also give the street prices. All the birds are caught by the nets with call-birds, excepting such as I shall notice. I take the singing birds .

The is the cheapest and among the most numerous of what may be called the London-caught birds, for it is caught in the nearer suburbs, such as Holloway. The linnet, however,—the brown linnet being the species—is not easily reared, and for some time ill brooks confinement. About onehalf of those birds die after having been caged a few days. The other evening a bird-catcher supplied fine linnets to a shopkeeper in , and next morning were dead. But in some of those bird shops, and bird chambers connected with the shops, the heat at the time


the new broods are caught and caged, is excessive; and the atmosphere, from the crowded and compulsory fellowship of pigeons, and all descriptions of small birds, with white rats, hedgehogs, guinea-pigs, and other creatures, is often very foul; so that the wonder is, not that so many die, but that so many survive.

Some bird-connoisseurs prefer the note of the linnet to that of the canary, but this is far from a general preference. The young birds are sold in the streets at and each; the older birds, which are accustomed to sing in their cages, from to The "catch" of linnets—none being imported—may be estimated, for London alone, at yearly. The mortality I have mentioned is confined chiefly to that year's brood. - of the catch is sold in the streets. Of the quality of the street-sold birds I shall speak hereafter.

The , which is bold, familiar, docile, and easily attached, is a favourite cage-bird among the Londoners; I speak of course as regards the body of the people. It is as readily sold in the streets as any other singing bird. Piping bullfinches are also a part of street-trade, but only to a small extent, and with bird-sellers who can carry them from their street pitches, or call on their rounds, at places where they are known, to exhibit the powers of the bird. The piping is taught to these finches when very young, and they must be brought up by their tutor, and be familiar with him. When little more than months old, they begin to whistle, and then their training as pipers must commence. This tuition, among professional bullfinch-trainers, is systematic. They have schools of birds, and teach in bird-classes of from to members in each, being a frequent number. These classes, when their education commences, are kept unfed for a longer time than they have been accustomed to, and they are placed in a darkened room. The bird is wakeful and attentive from the want of his food, and the tune he is to learn is played several times on an instrument made for the purpose, and known as a bird-organ, its notes resembling those of the bullfinch. For an hour or the young pupils mope silently, but they gradually begin to imitate the notes of the music played to them. When commences—and he is looked upon as the most likely to make a good piper—the others soon follow his example. The light is then admitted and a portion of food, but not a full meal, is given to the birds. Thus, by degrees, by the playing on the bird-organ (a flute is sometimes used), by the admission of light, which is always agreeable to the finch, and by the reward of more and more, and sometimes more relishable food, the pupil "practises" the notes he hears continuously. The birds are then given into the care of boys, who attend to them without intermission in a similar way, their original teacher still overlooking, praising, or rating his scholars, till they acquire a tune which they pipe as long as they live. It is said, however, that only per cent. of the number taught pipe in harmony. The bullfinch is often pettish in his piping, and will in many instances not pipe at all, unless in the presence of some who feeds it, or to whom it has become attached.

The system of training I have described is that practised by the Germans, who have for many years supplied this country with the best piping bullfinches. Some of the dealers will undertake to procure English-taught bullfinches which will pipe as well as the foreigners, but I am told that this is a prejudice, if not a trick, of trade. The mode of teaching in this country, by barbers, weavers, and bird-fanciers generally, who seek for a profit from their pains-taking, is somewhat similar to that which I have detailed, but with far less elaborateness. The price of a piping bullfinch is about guineas. These pipers are also reared and taught in Leicestershire and Norfolk, and sent to London, as are the singing bullfinches which do not "pipe."

The bullfinches netted near London are caught more numerously about Hounslow than elsewhere. In hard winters they are abundant in the outskirts of the metropolis. The yearly supply, including those sent from Norfolk, &c., is about . The bullfinch is "hearty compared to the linnet," I was told, but of the amount which are the objects of trade, not more than -thirds live many weeks. The price of a good young bullfinch is and They are often sold in the streets for The hawking or street trade comprises about a of the whole.

The sale of piping bullfinches is, of course, small, as only the rich can afford to buy them. A dealer estimated it at about yearly.

The is also in demand by street customers, and is a favourite from its liveliness, beauty, and sometimes sagacity. It is, moreover, the longest lived of our caged small birds, and will frequently live to the age of or years. A goldfinch has been known to exist years in a cage. Small birds, generally, rarely live more than years. This finch is also in demand because it most readily of any bird pairs with the canary, the produce being known as a "mule," which, from its prettiness and powers of song, is often highly valued.

Goldfinches are sold in the streets at from to each, and when there is an extra catch, and they are nearly all caught about London, and the shops are fully stocked, at and each. The yearly catch is about the same as that of the linnet, or , the mortality being perhaps per cent. If any casts his eye over the stock of hopping, chirping little creatures in the window of a bird-shop, or in the close array of small cages hung outside, or at the stock of a street-seller, he will be struck by the preponderating number of goldfinches. No doubt the dealer, like any other shopkeeper, dresses his window to the best advantage, putting forward his smartest and prettiest birds. The demand for the goldfinch, especially among women, is steady and regular. The streetsale is a of the whole.

The is in less request than either of its congeners, the bullfinch or the goldfinch, but the catch is about half that of the bullfinch, and


with the same rate of mortality. The prices are also the same.

(called , or sometimes , in the streets) are in still smaller request than are chaffinches, and that to about -half. Even this smaller stock is little saleable, as the bird is regarded as "only a middling singer." They are sold in the open air, at and each, but a good "green bird" is worth

are of good sale and regular supply, being perhaps more readily caught than other birds, as in winter they congregate in large quantities. It may be thought, to witness the restless throwing up of the head of the caged sky-lark, as if he were longing for a soar in the air, that he was very impatient of restraint. This does not appear to be so much the fact, as the lark adapts himself to the poor confines of his prison—poor indeed for a bird who soars higher and longer than any of his class—more rapidly than other wild birds, like the linnet, &c. The mortality of larks, however, approaches -.

The yearly "take" of larks is . This includes sky-larks, wood-larks, tit-larks, and mudlarks. The sky-lark is in far better demand than any of the others for his "stoutness of song," but some prefer the tit-lark, from the very absence of such stoutness. "Fresh-catched" larks are vended in the streets at and , but a seasoned bird is worth - is the street-sale.

The larks for the supply of fashionable tables are never provided by the London bird-catchers, who catch only "singing larks," for the shop and street-traffic. The edible larks used to be highly esteemed in pies, but they are now generally roasted for consumption. They are principally the produce of Cambridgeshire, with some from Bedfordshire, and are sent direct (killed) to Leadenhall-market, where about are sold yearly, being nearly -thirds of the gross London consumption.

It is only within these or years that the London dealers have cared to trade to any extent in , but they are now a part of the stock of every bird-shop of the more flourishing class. Before that they were merely exceptional as cage-birds. As it is, the "domestication," if the word be allowable with reference to the nightingale, is but partial. Like all migratory birds, when the season for migration approaches, the caged nightingale shows symptoms of great uneasiness, dashing himself against the wires of his cage or his aviary, and sometimes dying in a few days. Many of the nightingales, however, let the season pass away without showing any consciousness that it was, with the race of birds to which they belonged, for a change of place. To induce the nightingale to sing in the daylight, a paper cover is often placed over the cage, which may be gradually and gradually withdrawn until it can be dispensed with. This is to induce the appearance of twilight or night. On the subject of this night-singing, however, I will cite a short passage.

"The Nightingale is usually supposed to withhold his notes till the sun has set, and then to be the only songster left. This is, however, not quite true, for he sings in the day, often as sweetly and as powerfully as at night; but amidst the general chorus of other singing birds, his efforts are little noticed. Neither is he by any means the only feathered musician of the night. The Wood-lark will, to a very late hour, pour forth its rich notes, flying in circles round the female, when sitting on her nest. The Sky-lark, too, may frequently be heard till near midnight high in the air, soaring as if in the brightness of a summer's morning. Again we have listened with pleasure long after dark to the warblings of a Thrush, and been awakened at in the morning by its sweet serenade." It appears, however, that this night-singing, as regards England, is on fine summer nights when the darkness is never very dense. In far northern climates larks sing all night.

I am inclined to believe that the mortality among nightingales, before they are reconciled to their new life, is higher than that of any other bird, and much exceeding -half. The dealers may be unwilling to admit this; but such mortality is, I have been assured on good authority, the case; besides that, the habits of the nightingale unfit him for a cage existence.

The capture of the nightingale is among the most difficult achievements of the profession. None are caught nearer than Epping, and the catchers travel considerable distances before they have a chance of success. These birds are caught at night, and more often by their captor's imitation of the nightingale's note, than with the aid of the callbird. Perhaps nightingales are reared yearly in London, of which -fourths may be, more or less, songsters. The inferior birds are sold at about each, the street-sale not reaching , but the birds, "caged and singing," are worth each, when of the best; and and each when approaching the best. The mortality I have estimated.

are a portion of the street-sold birds, but the catch is not large, not exceeding , with a mortality of about a . Even this number, small as it is, when compared with the numbers of other singing birds sold, is got rid of with difficulty. There is a popular feeling repugnant to the imprisonment, or coercion in any way, of "a robin," and this, no doubt has its influence in moderating the demand. The redbreast is sold, when young, both in the shops and streets for , when caged and singing, sometimes for These birds are considered to sing best by candlelight. The street-sale is a , or sometimes a quarter, all young birds, or with the rarest exceptions.

The , or (in Scottish poetry) , is of good sale. It is reared by hand, for the London market, in many of the villages and small towns at no great distance, the nests being robbed of the young, wherever they can be found. The nestling food of the infant thrush is grubs, worms, and snails, with an occasional moth or butterfly. On this kind of diet the young thrushes are reared until they are old enough for sale to the shopkeeper, or to any private patron. Thrushes are also netted, but


those reared by hand are much the best, as such a rearing disposes the bird the more to enjoy his cage life, as he has never experienced the delights of the free hedges and thickets. This process the catchers call "rising" from the nest. A throstle thus "rose" soon becomes familiar with his owner—always supposing that he be properly fed and his cage duly cleaned, for all birds detest dirt—and among the working-men of England no bird is a greater favourite than the thrush; indeed few other birds are held in such liking by the artisan class. About a of the thrushes supplied to the metropolitan traders have been thus "rose," and as they must be sufficiently grown before they will be received by the dealers, the mortality among them, when once able to feed themselves, in their wicker-work cages, is but small. Perhaps somewhere about a perish in this hand-rearing, and some men, the aristocrats of the trade, let a number go when they have ascertained that they are hens, as these men exert themselves to bring up thrushes to sing well, and then they command good prices. Often enough, however, the hens are sold cheap in the streets. Among the catch supplied by netting, there is a mortality of perhaps more than a . The whole take is about . Of the sale the streets have a proportion. The prices run from and for the "fresh-caught," and , , and as much as for a seasoned throstle in high song. Indeed I may observe that for any singing bird, which is considered greatly to excel its mates, a high price is obtainable.

appear to be less prized in London than thrushes, for, though with a mellower note, the blackbird is not so free a singer in captivity. They are "rose" and netted in the same manner as the thrush, but the supply is less by -. The prices, mortality, street-sale, &c., are in the same ratio.

The street-sale of is not large; not so large, I am assured by men in the trade, as it was or years ago, more especially as regarded the higher-priced birds of this open-air traffic. Canaries are now never brought from the group of islands, in number, situate in the North Atlantic and near the African coast, and from which they derive their name. To these islands and to these alone (as far as is known to ornithologists) are they indigenous. The canary is a slow flyer and soon wearied; this is reason no doubt for its not migrating. This delightful songster was brought into England in the reign of Elizabeth, at the era when so many foreign luxuries (as they were then considered, and stigmatised accordingly) were introduced; of these were potatoes, tobacco, turkeys, nectarines, and canaries. I have seen no account of what was the cost of a canary-bird when imported, but there is no doubt that they were very dear, as they were found only in the abodes of the wealthy. This bird-trade seems, moreover, to have been so profitable to the Spaniards, then and now the possessors of the isles, that a government order for the killing or setting at liberty of all hen canaries, caught with the males, was issued in order that the breed might be confined to its native country; a decree not attended with successful results as regards the intention of the then ruling powers.

The foreign supply to this country is now principally from Holland and Germany, where canaries are reared in great numbers, with that care which the Dutch in especial bestow upon everything on which money-making depends, and whence they are sent or brought over in the spring of every year, when from to months old. years ago, the Tyrolese were the principal breeders and purveyors of canaries for the London market. From about the era of the peace of , on the abdication of Napoleon, for or years they brought over about birds yearly. They travelled the whole way on foot, carrying the birds in cages on their backs, until they reached whatever port in France or the Netherlands (as Belgium then was) they might be bound for. The price of a canary of an average quality was then from to , and a fair proportion were street-sold. At that period, I was told, the principal open-air sale for canaries (and it is only of that I now write) was in Whitechapel and Bethnal-green. All who are familiar with those localities may smile to think that the birds chirping and singing in these especially urban places, were bred for such street-traffic in the valleys of the Rhætian Alps! I presume that it was the greater rapidity of communication, and the consequent diminished cost of carriage, between England, Holland, and Germany, that caused the Tyrolese to abandon the trade as unremunerative—even to men who will live on bread, onions, and water.

I have, perhaps, dwelt somewhat at length on this portion of the subject, but it is the most curious portion of all, for the canary is the only of all our singing-birds which is a household thing. Linnets, finches, larks, nightingales, thrushes, and blackbirds, are all free denizens of the open air, as well as prisoners in our rooms, but the canary with us is unknown in a wild state. "Though not very handy," wrote, in , a very observant naturalist, the late Dr. Stanley, Bishop of Norwich, "canaries might possibly be naturalized in our country, by putting their eggs in the nests of sparrows, chaffinches, or other similar birds. The experiment has been partially tried in Berkshire, where a person for years kept them in an exposed aviary out of doors, and where they seemed to suffer no inconvenience from the severest weather."

The breeding of canaries in this country for the London supply has greatly increased. They are bred in Leicester and Norwich, weavers being generally fond of birds. In London itself, also, they are bred to a greater extent than used to be the case, barbers being among the most assiduous rearers of the canary. A dealer who trades in both foreign and home-bred birds thought that the supply from the country, and from the Continent, was about the same, to each, not including what were sold by the barbers, who are regarded as "fanciers," not to say interlopers,


by the dealers. No species of birds are ever bred by the shop-dealers. The price of a brisk canary is or ; but they are sold in the streets as low as each, a small cage worth being sometimes included. These, however, are hens. As in the life of a canary there is no transition from freedom to enthralment, for they are in a cage in the egg, and all their lives afterwards, they are subject to a far lower rate of mortality than other street-sold birds. A of the number above stated as forming the gross supply are sold in the streets.

The foregoing enumeration includes all the singing-birds of street-traffic and street-folk's supply. The trade I have thus sketched is certainly highly curious. We find that there is round London a perfect belt of men, employed from the blush of a summer's dawn, through the heats of noon, in many instances during the night, and in the chills of winter; and all labouring to give to city-pent men of humble means of the peculiar pleasures of the country—the song of the birds. It must not be supposed that I would intimate that the bird-catcher's life, as regards his field and wood pursuits, is of hardship. On the contrary, it seems to me to be the very which, perhaps unsuspected by himself, is best suited to his tastes and inclinations. Nor can we think similar pursuits partake much of hardship when we find independent men follow them for mere sport, to be rid of lassitude.

But the detail of the birds captured for the Londoners by no means ends here. I have yet to describe those which are not songsters, and which are a staple of street-traffic to a greater degree than birds of song. Of these my notice may be brief.

The trade in is almost exclusively a street-trade and, numerically considered, not an inconsiderable . They are netted in quantities in every open place near London, and in many places in London. It is common enough for a bird-catcher to obtain leave to catch sparrows in a wood-yard, a brick-field, or places where is an open space certain to be frequented by these bold and familiar birds. The sparrows are sold in the streets generally at each, sometimes halfpenny, and sometimes , and for no purpose of enjoyment (as in the case of the cheap song birds), but merely as playthings for children; in other words, for creatures wilfully or ignorantly to be tortured. Strings are tied to their legs and so they have a certain degree of freedom, but when they offer to fly away they are checked, and kept fluttering in the air as a child will flutter a kite. man told me that he had sometimes sold as many as sparrows in the back streets about on a fine Sunday. These birds are not kept in cages, and so they can only be bought for a plaything. They oft enough escape from their persecutors.

But it is not merely for the sport of children that sparrows are purveyed, but for that of grown men, or—as Charles Lamb, if I remember rightly, qualifies it, when he draws a sportsman with a little shrubbery for his preserve—for grown cockneys. The birds for adult recreation are shot in sparrow-matches; the gentleman slaughtering the most being, of course, the hero of a sparrow "battue." dealer told me that he had frequently supplied dozens of sparrows for these matches, at the dozen, but they were required to be fine bold birds! dealer thought that during the summer months there were as many sparrows caught close to and within London as there were goldfinches in the less urban districts. These birds are sold direct from the hands of the catcher, so that it is less easy to arrive at statistics than when there is the intervention of dealers who know the extent of the trade carried on. I was told by several, who had no desire to exaggerate, that to estimate this sparrow-sale at yearly, sold to children and idlers in the streets, was too low, but at that estimate, the outlay, at a sparrow, would be The adult sportsmen may slaughter half that number yearly in addition. The sporting sparrows are derived from the shopkeepers, who, when they receive the order, instruct the catchers to go to work.

used to be sold in very great quantities in the streets, but the trade is now but the shadow of its former state. The starling, too, is far less numerous than it was, and has lost much of its popularity. It is now seldom seen in flocks of more than , and it is rare to see a flock at all, although these birds at period mustered in congregations of hundreds and even thousands. Ruins, and the roofs of ancient houses and barns—for they love the old and decaying buildings—were once covered with them. The starling was moreover the poor man's and the peasant's parrot. He was taught to speak, and sometimes to swear. But now the starling, save as regards his own note, is mute. He is seldom tamed or domesticated and taught tricks. It is true starlings may be seen carried on sticks in the street as if the tamest of the tame, but they are "braced." Tapes are passed round their bodies, and so managed that the bird cannot escape from the stick, while his fetters are concealed by his feathers, the street-seller of course objecting to allow his birds to be handled.

Starlings are caught chiefly Ilford way, I was told, and about Turnham-green. Some are "rose" from the nest. The price is from to each. About are sold annually, half in the streets. After having been braced, or ill-used, the starling, if kept as a solitary bird, will often mope and die.

and are in less demand than might be expected from their vivacity. Many of the other birds are supplied the year round, but daws and pies for only about months, from the middle of June to the middle of August. The price is from to and about are thus disposed of, in equal quantities, -half in the streets. These birds are for the most part reared from the nest, but little pains appear to be taken with them.



The is rather a favourite bird among street-buyers, especially where children are allowed to choose birds from a stock. I am told that they most frequently select a goldfinch or a redpole. These birds are supplied for about months. About or is the extent of the take. The mortality and prices are the same as with the goldfinch, but a goldfinch in high song is worth twice as much as the best redpole. About a of the sale of the redpole is in the streets.

There are also or sold annually in the open air, at from to each.

These are the chief birds, then, that constitute the trade of the streets, with the addition of an occasional yellow-hammer, wren, jay, or even cuckoo. They also, with the addition of pigeons, form the stock of the bird-shops.

I have shown the number of birds caught, the number which survive for sale, and the cost; and, as usual, under the head of "Statistics," will be shown the whole annual expenditure. This, however, is but a portion of the London outlay on birds. There is, in addition, the cost of their cages and of their daily food. The commonest and smallest cage costs , a frequent price being A thrush's basket-cage cannot be bought, unless rubbish, under I have previously shown the amount paid for the green food of birds, and for their turfs, &c., for these are all branches of street-commerce. Of their other food, such as rape and canary-seed, German paste, chopped eggs, biscuit, &c., I need but intimate the extent by showing what birds will consume, as it is not a portion of street-trade.

A goldfinch, it has been proved by experimentalising ornithologists, will consume grains, in weight, of canary-seed in hours. A greenfinch, for whose use grains of wheat were weighed out, ate of them in hours; and, on another occasion ate, in the same space of time, grains of a paste of eggs and flour. canaries consumed grains' weight of food, each bird, in hours. The amount of provision thus eaten was about - of the full weight of the bird's body, or an equivalent, were a man to swallow victuals in the same proportion, of lbs. in hours. I may remark, moreover, that the destruction of caterpillars, insects, worms, &c., by the small birds, is enormous, especially during the infancy of their nestlings. A pair of sparrows fed their brood times an hour for hours of a long spring day, and, it was calculated, administered to them in week caterpillars. A pair of chaffinches, also, carried nearly as great a number of caterpillars for the maintenance of their young.

The singing-birds sold in the street are offered either singly in small cages, when the cage is sold with the bird, or they are displayed in a little flock in a long cage, the buyer selecting any he prefers. They always appear lively in the streets, or indeed a sale would be hopeless, for no would buy a dull or sick bird. The captives are seen to hop and heard to chirp, but they are not often heard to sing when thus offered to the public, and it requires some little attention to judge what is but an impatient flutter, and what is the fruit of mere hilarity.

The places where the street-sellers more especially offer their birds are—, Clerkenwell-green, Lisson-grove, the City and New roads, Shepherdess-walk, Old Street-road, , Spitalfields, Whitechapel, , Ratcliffehighway, Commercial-road East, Poplar, , , Covent-garden, Blackfriars-road, (mostly about ), and in the neighbourhood of the Borough Market. The street-sellers are also itinerant, carrying the birds in cages, holding them up to tempt the notice of people whom they see at the windows, or calling at the houses. The sale used to be very considerable in the "Cut" and Lambeth-walk. Sometimes the cages with their inmates are fastened to any contiguous rail; sometimes they are placed on a bench or stall; and occasionally in cages on the ground.

To say nothing, in this place, of the rogueries of the bird-trade, I will proceed to show how the street-sold birds are frequently inferior to those in the shops. The catcher, as I have stated, is also the street-seller. He may reach the Dials, or whatever quarter the dealer he supplies may reside in, with perhaps linnets and as many goldfinches. The dealer selects of each, refusing the remaining dozen, on account of their being hens, or hurt, or weakly birds. The man then resorts to the street to effect a sale of that dozen, and thus the streets have the refuse of the shops. On the other hand, however, when the season is at its height, and the take of birds is the largest, as at this time of year, the shops are "stocked." The cages and recesses are full, and the dealer's anxiety is to sell before he purchases more birds. The catchers proceed in their avocation; they must dispose of their stock; the shopkeeper will not buy "at any figure," and so the streets are again resorted to, and in this way fine birds are often sold very cheap. Both these liabilities prevail the year through, but most in the summer, and keep up a sort of poise; but I apprehend that the majority, perhaps the great majority, of the street-sold birds, are of an inferior sort, but then the price is much lower. On occasions when the bird-trade is overdone, the catchers will sell a few squirrels, or gather snails for the shops.

The buyers of singing-birds are eminently the working people, along with the class of tradesmen whose means and disposition are of the same character as those of the artisan. Grooms and coachmen are frequently fond of birds; many are kept in the several mews, and often the larger singing-birds, such as blackbirds and thrushes. The fondness of a whole body of artificers for any particular bird, animal, or flower, is remarkable. No better instance need be cited than that of the Spitalfields weavers. In the days of their prosperity they were the cultivators of choice tulips, afterwards, though not in so full a degree, of dahlias, and their pigeons were the best "fliers" in England. These things were


accomplished with little cost, comparatively, for the weavers were engaged in tasks, grateful and natural to their tastes and habitudes; and what was expense in the garden or aviary of the rich, was an exercise of skill and industry on the part of the silk-weaver. The humanising and even refining influence of such pursuits is very great, and as regards these pure pleasures it is not seldom that the refinement which can appreciate them has proceeded not to but the artisans. The operatives have often been in the van of those who have led the public taste from delighting in the cruelty and barbarity of bear and bull-baiting and of cock-fighting—among the worst of all possible schools, and very influential those schools were— to the delight in some of the most beautiful works of nature. It is easy to picture the difference of mood between a man going home from a dog-fight at night, or going home from a visit to his flowers, or from an examination to satisfy himself that his birds were "all right." The families of the men felt the difference. Many of the rich appear to remain mere savages in their tastes and sports. Battues, lion and hippopotamus hunting, &c.,—all are mere civilized barbarisms. When shall we learn, as Wordsworth says,

Never to blend our pleasure or our pride

With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.

But the change in Spitalfields is great. Since the prevalence of low wages the weaver's garden has disappeared, and his pigeon-cote, even if its timbers have not rotted away, is no longer stocked with carriers, dragoons, horsemen, jacobins, monks, poulters, turtles, tumblers, fantails, and the many varieties of what is in itself a variety—the fancypigeon. A thrush, or a linnet, may still sing to the clatter of the loom, but that is all. The culture of the tulip, the dahlia, and (sometimes) of the fuchsia, was attended, as I have said, with small cost, still it cost, and the weaver, as wages grew lower, could not afford either the outlay or the loss of time. To cultivate flowers, or rear doves, so as to make them a means of subsistence, requires a man's whole time, and to such things the Spitalfields man did not devote his time, but his leisure.

The readers who have perused this work from its appearance will have noticed how frequently I have had to comment on the always realized indication of good conduct, and of a superior taste and generally a superior intelligence, when I have found the rooms of working people contain flowers and birds. I could adduce many instances. I have seen and heard birds in the rooms of tailors, shoemakers, coopers, cabinetmakers, hatters, dressmakers, curriers, and streetsellers,—all people of the best class. of the most striking, indeed, was the room of a streetconfectioner. His family attended to the sale of the sweets, and he was greatly occupied at home in their manufacture, and worked away at his peppermint-rock, in the very heart of of the thickliest populated parts of London, surrounded by the song of thrushes, linnets, and goldfinches, all kept, not for profit, but because he "loved" to have them about him. I have seldom met a man who impressed me more favourably.

The flowers in the room are more attributable to the superintending taste of a wife or daughter, and are found in the apartments of the same class of people.

There is a marked difference between the buyers or keepers of birds and of dogs in the working classes, especially when the dog is of a sporting or "varmint" sort. Such a dog-keeper is often abroad and so his home becomes neglected; he is interested about rat-hunts, knows the odds on or against the dog's chance to dispatch his rats in the time allotted, loses much time and customers, his employers grumbling that the work is so slowly executed, and so custom or work falls off. The bird-lover, on the other hand, is generally a more domestic, and, perhaps consequently, a more prosperous and contented man. It is curious to mark the refining qualities of particular trades. I do not remember seeing a bulldog in the possession of any of the Spitalfields silk-weavers: with them all was flowers and birds. The same I observed with the tailors and other kindred occupations. With slaughterers, however, and drovers, and Billingsgatemen, and coachmen, and cabmen, whose callings naturally tend to blunt the sympathy with suffering, the gentler tastes are comparatively unknown. The dogs are almost all of the "varmint" kind, kept either for rat-killing, fighting, or else for their ugliness. For "pet" or "fancy" dogs they have no feeling, and in singing birds they find little or no delight.

This object is in collection Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
DCA Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 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