London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry

1851

Of the "Rag-and-Bottle," and the "Marine- Store," Shops.

The principal purchasers of any refuse or worn-out articles are the proprietors of the ragand-bottle-shops. Some of these men make a good deal of money, and not unfrequently unite with the business the letting out of vans for the conveyance of furniture, or for pleasure excursions, to such places as . The stench in these shops is positively sickening. Here in a small apartment may be a pile of rags, a sack-full of bones, the many varieties of grease and "kitchen-stuff," corrupting an atmosphere which, even without such accompaniments, would be too close. The windows are often crowded with bottles, which exclude the light; while the floor and shelves are thick with grease and dirt. The inmates seem unconscious of this foulness,—and comparatively wealthy man, who showed me his horses, the stable being like a drawing-room compared to his shop, in speaking of the many deaths among his children, could not conjecture to what cause it could be owing. This indifference to dirt and stench is the more remarkable, as many of the shopkeepers have been gentlemen's servants, and were therefore once accustomed to cleanliness and order. The door-posts and windows of the rag-and-bottle-shops are often closely placarded, and the front of the house is sometimes glaring colour, blue or red; so that the place may be at once recognised, even by the illiterate, as the "red house," or the "blue house." If these men are not exactly street-buyers, they are street-billers, continually distributing hand-bills, but more especially before Christmas. The more aristocratic, however, now send round cards, and to the following purport:—

 No.-- No.-- 

THE —— HOUSE IS ——'S RAG, BOTTLE, AND KITCHEN STUFF WAREHOUSE, —— STREET, —— TOWN, Where you can obtain Gold and Silver to any amount. ESTABLISHED ——. THE HIGHEST PRICE GIVEN For all the undermentioned articles, viz:—

 Wax and Sperm Pieces Old Copper, Brass, Pewter, &c. 
 Kitchen Stuff, &c.   
 Wine & Beer Bottles Lead, Iron, Zinc, Steel, &c., &c. 
 Eau de Cologne, Soda Water Old Horse Hair, Mattresses, &c. 
 Doctors' Bottles, &c.   
 White Linen Rags Old Books, Waste Paper, &c. 
 Bones, Phials, & Broken Flint Glass All kinds of Coloured Rags 

The utmost value given for all kinds of Wearing Apparel.

Furniture and Lumber of every description bought, and full value given at his Miscellaneous Warehouse. Articles sent for.

Some content themselves with sending handbills to the houses in their neighbourhood, which many of the cheap printers keep in type, so that an alteration in the name and address is all which is necessary for any customer.

I heard that suspicions were entertained that it was to some of these traders that the facilities with which servants could dispose of their pilferings might be attributed, and that a stray silver spoon might enhance the weight and price of kitchen-stuff. It is not pertaining to my present subject to enter into the consideration of such a matter; and I might not have alluded to it, had not I found the regular street-buyers fond of expressing an opinion of the indifferent honesty of this body of traders; but my readers may have remarked how readily the street-people have, on several occasions, justified (as they seem to think) their own delinquencies by quoting what they declared were as great and as frequent delinquencies on the part of shopkeepers: "I know very well," said an intelligent street-seller on occasion, "that wrongs can never make a right; but tricks that shopkeepers practise to grow rich upon we must practise, just as they do, to live at all. As long as they give short weight and short measure, the streets can't help doing the same."

The and the are in many instances but different names for the same description of business. The chief distinction appears to be this: the marine-store shopkeepers (proper) do not meddle with what is a very principal object of traffic with the rag-and-bottle man, the purchase of dripping, as well as of every kind of refuse in the way of fat or grease. The marinestore man, too, is more miscellaneous in his wares than his contemporary of the ragand-bottle- store, as the former will purchase any of the smaller articles of household furniture, old teacaddies, knife-boxes, fire-irons, books, pictures, draughts and backgammon boards, bird-cages, Dutch clocks, cups and saucers, tools and brushes. The-rag-and-bottle tradesman will readily purchase any of these things to be disposed of as old metal or waste-paper, but his brother tradesman buys them to be re-sold and re-used for the purposes for which they were originally manufactured. When furniture, however, is the staple of of these -hand storehouses, the proprietor is a furniture-broker, and not a marinestore dealer. If, again, the dealer in these stores confine his business to the purchase of old metals, for instance, he is classed as an old metal dealer, collecting it or buying it of collectors, for sale to iron-founders, coppersmiths, brass-founders, and plumbers. In perhaps the majority of instances there is little or no distinction between the establishments I have spoken of. The business is common to both, but most common to the marinestore dealer, and of it I shall speak afterwards.

These shops are exceedingly numerous. Perhaps in the poorer and smaller streets they are more numerous even than the chandlers' or the beer-sellers' places. At the corner of a small

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street, both in town and the nearer suburbs, will frequently be found the chandler's shop, for the sale of small quantities of cheese, bacon, groceries, &c., to the poor. Lower down may be seen the beer-seller's; and in the same street there is certain to be rag-and-bottle or marine-store shop, very often , and not unfrequently another in some adjacent court.

I was referred to the owner of a marine-store shop, as to a respectable man, keeping a store of the best class. Here the counter, or table, or whatever it is to be called, for it was somewhat nondescript, by an ingenious contrivance could be pushed out into the street, so that in bad weather the goods which were at other times exposed in the street could be drawn inside without trouble. The glass frames of the window were removable, and were placed on side in the shop, for in the summer an open casement seemed to be preferred. This is of the remaining old trade customs still seen in London; for previously to the great fire in , and the subsequent rebuilding of the city, shops with open casements, and protected from the weather by overhanging eaves, or by a sloping wooden roof, were general.

The house I visited was an old , and abounded in closets and recesses. The fire-place, which apparently had been large, was removed, and the space was occupied with a mass of old iron of every kind; all this was destined for the furnace of the iron-founder, wrought iron being preferred for several of the requirements of that trade. A chest or range of very old drawers, with defaced or worn-out labels—once a grocer's or a chemist's —was stuffed, in every drawer, with old horseshoe nails (valuable for steel manufacturers), and horse and donkey shoes; brass knobs; glass stoppers; small bottles (among them a number of the cheap cast "hartshorn bottles"); broken pieces of brass and copper; small tools (such as shoemakers' and harness-makers' awls), punches, gimlets, plane-irons, hammer heads, &c.; odd dominoes, dice, and backgammon-men; lock escutcheons, keys, and the smaller sort of locks, especially padlocks; in fine, any small thing which could be stowed away in such a place.

In corner of the shop had been thrown, the evening before, a mass of old iron, then just bought. It consisted of a number of screws of different lengths and substance; of broken bars and rails; of the odds and ends of the cogged wheels of machinery, broken up or worn out; of odd-looking spikes, and rings, and links; all heaped together and scarcely distinguishable. These things had all to be assorted; some to be sold for re-use in their then form; the others to be sold that they might be melted and cast into other forms. The floor was intricate with hampers of bottles; heaps of old boots and shoes; old desks and work-boxes; pictures (all modern) with and without frames; waste-paper, the most of it of quarto, and some larger sized, soiled or torn, and strung closely together in weights of from to lbs.; and a fire-proof safe, stuffed with old fringes, tassels, and other upholstery goods, worn and discoloured. The miscellaneous wares were carried out into the street, and ranged by the door-posts as well as in front of the house. In some small out houses in the yard were piles of old iron and tin pans, and of the broken or separate parts of harness.

From the proprietor of this establishment I had the following account:—

I've been in the business more than a dozen years. Before that, I was an auctioneer's, and then a furniture broker's, porter. I wasn't brought up to any regular trade, but just to jobbing about, and a bad trade it is, as all trades is that ain't regular employ for a man. I had some money when my father died—he kept a chandler's shop—and I bought a marine." [An elliptical form of speech among these traders.] "I gave 10l. for the stock, and 5l. for entrance and good-will, and agreed to pay what rents and rates was due. It was a smallish stock then, for the business had been neglected, but I have no reason to be sorry for my bargain, though it might have been better. There's lots taken in about good-wills, but perhaps not so many in my way of business, because we're rather 'fly to a dodge.' It's a confined sort of life, but there's no help for that. Why, as to my way of trade, you 'd be surprised, what different sorts of people come to my shop. I don't mean the regular hands; but the chance comers. I've had men dressed like gentlemen —and no doubt they was respectable when they was sober—bring two or three books, or a nice cigar case, or anythink that don't show in their pockets, and say, when as drunk as blazes, 'Give me what you can for this; I want it sold for a particular purpose.' That particular purpose was more drink, I should say; and I've known the same men come back in less than a week, and buy what they 'd sold me at a little extra, and be glad if I had it by me still. O, we sees a deal of things in this way of life. Yes, poor people run to such as me. I've known them come with such things as teapots, and old hair mattresses, and flock beds, and then I'm sure they're hard up—reduced for a meal. I don't like buying big things like mattresses, though I do purchase 'em sometimes. Some of these sellers are as keen as Jews at a bargain; others seem only anxious to get rid of the things and have hold of some bit of money anyhow. Yes, sir, I've known their hands tremble to receive the money, and mostly the women's. They haven't been used to it, I know, when that's the case. Perhaps they comes to sell to me what the pawns won't take in, and what they wouldn't like to be seen selling to any of the men that goes about buying things in the street.

Why, I've bought everythink; at sales by auction there's often 'lots' made up of different things, and they goes for very little. I buy of people, too, that come to me, and of the regular hands that supply such shops as mine. I sell retail, and I sell to hawkers. I sell to anybody, for gentlemen'll come into my shop to buy anythink that's took their fancy in passing. Yes, I 've bought old oil paintings. I 've heard of some being bought by people in my way as have turned out stunners, and was sold for a hundred pounds or more, and cost, perhaps, halfa-crown or only a shilling. I never experienced such a thing myself. There's a good deal of gammon about it. Well, it's hardly possible to say anything about a scale of prices. I give 2d. for an old tin or metal teapot, or an old saucepan, and sometimes, two days after I've bought such a thing, I've sold it for 3d. to the man or woman I've bought it of. I'll sell cheaper to them than to anybody else, because they come to me in two ways— both as sellers and buyers. For pictures I've given from 3d. to 1s. I fancy they're among the last things some sorts of poor people, which is a bit fanciful, parts with. I've bought them of hawkers, but often I refuse them, as they've given more than I could get. Pictures requires a judge. Some brought to me was published by newspapers and them sort of people. Waste-paper I buy as it comes. I can't read very much, and don't understand about books. I take the backs off and weighs them, and gives 1d., and 1 1/2d., and 2d. a pound, and there's an end. I sell them at about 1/4d. a pound profit, or sometimes less, to men as we calls 'waste' men. It's a poor part of our business, but the books and paper takes up little room, and then it's clean and can be stowed anywhere, and is a sure sale. Well, the people as sells 'waste' to me is not such as can read, I think; I don't know what they is; perhaps they're such as obtains possession of the books and whatnot after the death of old folks, and gets them out of the way as quick as they can. I know nothink about what they are. Last week, a man in black—he didn't seem rich—came into my shop and looked at some old books, and said 'Have you any black lead?' He didn't speak plain, and I could hardly catch him. I said, 'No, sir, I don't sell black lead, but you'll get it at No. 27,' but he answered, 'Not black lead, but black letter,' speaking very pointed. I said, 'No,' and I haven't a notion what he meant.

Metal (copper) that I give 5d. or 5 1/2d. for, I can sell to the merchants from 6 1/2d. to 8d. the pound. It's no great trade, for they'll often throw things out of the lot and say they're not metal. Sometimes, it would hardly be a farthing in a shilling, if it war'n't for the draught in the scales. When we buys metal, we don't notice the quarters of the pounds; all under a quarter goes for nothink. When we buys iron, all under half pounds counts nothink. So when we buys by the pound, and sells by the hundredweight, there's a little help from this, which we calls the draught.

Glass bottles of all qualities I buys at three for a halfpenny, and sometimes four, up to 2d. apiece for 'good stouts' (bottled-porter vessels), but very seldom indeed 2d., unless it's something very prime and big like the old quarts (quart bottles). I seldom meddles with decanters. It's very few decanters as is offered to me, either little or big, and I'm shy of them when they are. There's such a change in glass. Them as buys in the streets brings me next to nothing now to buy; they both brought and bought a lot ten year back and later. I never was in the street-trade in second-hand, but it's not what it was. I sell in the streets, when I put things outside, and know all about the trade.

It ain't a fortnight back since a smart female servant, in slap--up black, sold me a basket-full of doctor's bottles. I knew her master, and he hadn't been buried a week before she come to me, and she said, 'missus is glad to get rid of them, for they makes her cry.' They often say their missusses sends things, and that they're not on no account to take less than so much. That's true at times, and at times it ain't. I gives from 1 1/2d. to 3d. a dozen for good new bottles. I'm sure I can't say what I give for other odds and ends; just as they're good, bad, or indifferent. It's a queer trade. Well, I pay my way, but I don't know what I clear a week—about 2l. I dare say, but then there's rent, rates, and taxes to pay, and other expenses.

The system is peculiar to the ragand-bottle man, as well as to the marine-store dealer. The name is derived from the black wooden doll, in white apparel, which generally hangs dangling over the door of the marine-store shops, or of the "rag-and-bottles," but more frequently the last-mentioned. This type of the business is sometimes swung above their doors by those who are not dolly-shop keepers. The dollyshops are essentially pawn-shops, and pawn-shops for the very poorest. There are many articles which the regular pawnbrokers decline to accept as pledges. Among these things are blankets, rugs, clocks, flock-beds, common pictures, "translated" boots, mended trowsers, kettles, saucepans, trays, &c. Such things are usually styled "lumber." A poor person driven to the necessity of raising a few pence, and unwilling to part finally with his lumber, goes to the dolly-man, and for the merest trifle advanced, deposits or other of the articles I have mentioned, or something similar. For an advance of or , a halfpenny a week is charged, but the charge is the same if the pledge be redeemed next day. If the interest be paid at the week's end, another is occasionally advanced, and no extra charge exacted for interest. If the interest be not paid at the week or fortnight's end, the article is forfeited, and is sold at a large profit by the dolly-shop man. For or advanced, the weekly interest is ; for it is ; for it is , and on each up to , beyond which sum the "dolly" will rarely go; in fact, he will rarely advance as much. poor Irish flower girls, whom I saw in the course of my inquiry into that part of street-traffic, had in the winter very often to pledge the rug under which they slept at a dolly-shop in the morning for , in order to provide themselves with stock-money to buy forced violets, and had to redeem it on their return in the evening, when they could, for Thus a week was sometimes paid for a daily advance of that sum. Some of these pawnbrokers even give tickets.

This incidental mention of what is really an immense trade, as regards the number of pledges, is all that is necessary under the present head of inquiry, but I purpose entering into this branch of the subject fully and minutely when I come to treat of the class of "distributors."

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The to which the poor are subject are positively monstrous. A halfpenny a day interest on a loan of is at the rate of

 
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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