London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Buyers of Kitchen-Stuff, Grease, and Dripping.
THIS body of traders cannot be classed as streetbuyers, so that only a brief account is here necessary. The buyers are not now chance people, itinerant on any round, as at period they were to a great extent, but they are the proprietors of the rag and bottle and marine-store shops, or those they employ.
In this business there has been a considerable change. Until of late years women, often wearing suspiciously large cloaks and carrying baskets, ventured into perhaps every area in London, and asked for the cook at every house where they thought a cook might be kept, and this often at early morning. If the well-cloaked woman was known, business could be transacted without delay: if she were a stranger, she recommended herself by offering very liberal terms for "kitchenstuff." The cook's, or kitchen-maid's, or servantof-all-work's "perquisites," were then generally disposed of to these collectors, some of whom were charwomen in the houses they resorted to for the purchase of the kitchen-stuff. They were often satisfied to purchase the dripping, &c., by the lump, estimating the weight and the value by the eye. In this traffic was frequently mixed up a good deal of pilfering, directly or indirectly. Silver spoons were thus disposed of. Candles, purposely broken and crushed, were often part of the grease; in the dripping, butter occasionally added to the weight; in the "stock" (the remains of meat boiled down for the making of soup) were sometimes portions of excellent meat fresh from the joints which had been carved at table; and among the broken bread, might be frequently seen small loaves, unbroken.
There is no doubt that this mode of traffic by itinerant charwomen, &c., is still carried on, but to a much smaller extent than formerly. The cook's perquisites are in many cases sold under the inspection of the mistress, according to agreement; or taken to the shop by the cook or some fellow-servant; or else sent for by the shopkeeper. This is done to check the confidential, direct, and immediate trade-intercourse between merely individuals, the buyer and seller, by making the transaction more open and regular. I did not hear of any persons who merely purchase the kitchenstuff, as street-buyers, and sell it at once to the tallow-melter or the soap-boiler; it appears all to find its way to the shops I have described, even when bought by charwomen; while the shopkeepers send for it or receive it in the way I have stated, so that there is but little of street traffic in the matter.
of these shopkeepers told me that in this trading, as far as his own opinion went, there was as much trickery as ever, and that many gentlefolk quietly made up their minds to submit to it, while others, he said, "kept the house in hot water" by resisting it. I found, however, the general opinion to be, that when servants could only dispose of these things to known people, the responsibility of the buyer as well as the seller was increased, and acted as a preventive check.
The price for kitchen-stuff is and the pound; for dripping—used by the poor as a substitute for butter— to