London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Buyers of Hare and Rabbit Skins.
THESE buyers are for the most part poor, old, or infirm people, and I am informed that the majority have been in some street business, and often as buyers, all their lives. Besides having derived this information from well-informed persons, I may point out that this is but a reasonable view of the case. If a mechanic, a labourer, or a gentleman's servant, resorts to the streets for his bread, or because he is of a vagrant "turn," he does not become a , but a Street-selling is the easier process. It is easy for a man to ascertain that oysters, for example, are sold wholesale at , and if he buy a bushel (as in the present summer) for , it is not difficult to find out how many he can afford for "a penny a lot." But the street-buyer must not only know what to , for hare-skins for instance, but what he can depend upon from the hatmanu- facturers, or hat-furriers, and upon having a regular market. Thus a double street-trade knowledge is necessary, and a novice will not care to meddle with any form of open-air traffic but the simplest. Neither is street-buying (old clothes excepted) generally cared for by adults who have health and strength.
In the course of a former inquiry I received an account of hareskin-buying from a woman, upwards of , who had been in the trade, she told me, from childhood, "as was her mother before her." The husband, who was lame, and older than his wife, had been all life a field-catcher of birds, and a street-seller of hearth-stones. They had been married years, and resided in a garret of a house, in a street off Drury-lane—a small room, with a close smell about it. The room was not unfurnished—it was, in fact, crowded. There were bird-cages, with and without birds, over what once a bed; for the bed, just prior to my visit, had been sold to pay the rent, and a month's rent was again in arrear; and there were bird-cages on the wall by the door, and bird-cages over the mantelshelf. There was furniture, too, and crockery; and a vile oil painting of "still life;" but an eye used to the furniture in the rooms of the poor could at once perceive that there was not article which could be sold to a broker or marine-store dealer, or pledged at a pawn-shop. I was told the man and woman both drank hard. The woman said:—
These buyers go regular rounds, carrying the skins in their hands, and crying, "Any hareskins, cook? Hareskins." It is for the most part a winter trade; but some collect the skins all the year round, as the hares are now vended the year through; but by far the most are gathered in the winter. Grouse may not be killed excepting from the , and black-game from the to the ; partridges from the to the ; while the pheasant suffers a shorter season of slaughter, from the to the ; but there is no time restriction as to the killing of hares or of rabbits, though custom causes a cessation for a few months.
A lame man, apparently between and , with a knowing look, gave me the following account. When I saw him he was carrying a few tins, chiefly small dripping-pans, under his arm, which he offered for sale as he went his round collecting hare and rabbit skins, of which he carried but . He had been in the streets all his life, as his mother—he never knew any father—was a rag-gatherer, and at the same time a street-seller of the old brimstone matches and papers of pins. My informant assisted his mother to make and then to sell the matches. On her last illness she was received into St. Giles's workhouse, her son supporting himself out of it; she had been dead many years. He could not read, and had never been in a church or chapel in his life. "He had been married," he said, "for about a dozen years, and had a very good wife, who was also a streettrader until her death; but "we didn't go to church or anywhere to be married," he told me, in reply to my question, "for we really couldn't afford to pay the parson, and so we took another's words. If it's so good to go to church for being married, it oughtn't to cost a poor man nothing; he shouldn't be charged for being good. I doesn't do any business in town, but has my regular rounds. This is my Kentish and Camden-town day. I buys most from the servants at the bettermost houses, and I'd rather buy of them than the missusses, for some missusses sells their own skins, and they often want a deal for 'em. Why, just arter last Christmas, a young lady in that there house (pointing to it), after ordering me round to the back-door, came to me with hareskins. They certainly was fine skins—werry fine. I said I'd give 'Come now, my good man,' says she," and the man mimicked her voice, "'let me have no nonsense. I can't be deceived any longer, either by you or my servants; so give me , and go about your business.' Well, I went about my business; and a woman called to buy them, and offered for the , and the lady was so wild, the servant told me arter; howsomever she only got at last. She's a regular screw, but a fine-dressed . I don't know that there's been any change in my business since hares was sold in the shops. If there's more skins to sell, there's more poor people to buy. I never tasted hares' flesh in my life, though I've gathered so many of their skins. I've smelt it when they've been roasting them where I've called, but don't think I could eat any. I live on bread and butter and tea, or milk sometimes in hot weather, and get a bite of fried fish or anything when I'm out, and a drop of beer and a smoke when I get home, if I can afford it. I don't smoke in my own place, I uses a beer-shop. I pay a week for a small room; I want little but a bed in it, and have my own. I owe weeks' rent now; but I do best both with tins and hareskins in the cold weather. Monday's my best day. O, as to rabbit-skins, I do werry little in them. Them as sells them gets the skins. Still there a few to be picked up; such as them as has been sent as presents from the country. Good rabbit-skins is about the same price as hares, or perhaps a halfpenny lower, take them all through. I generally clears a dozen on my hare and rabbit-skins, and sometimes Yes, I should say that for about months I gathers dozen every week, often dozen. I suppose I make or a week all the year, with thing or other, and a lame man can't do wonders. I never begged in my life, but I've twice had help from the parish, and that only when I was very bad (ill). O, I suppose I shall end in the great house."
There are, as closely as I can ascertain, at least persons buying skins in the street; and calculating that each collects skins weekly for weeks of the year, we find to be the total. This is a reasonable computation, for there are upwards of hares consigned yearly to Newgate and Leadenhall markets; while the rabbits sold yearly in London amount to about
|; but, as I have shown, very few of their skins are disposed of to street-buyers.|