London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Trades and Localities of the Street-Jews.
THE trades which the Jews most affect, I was told by of themselves, are those in which, as they describe it, "there's a chance;" that is, they prefer a trade in such commodity as is not subjected to a fixed price, so that there may be abundant scope for speculation, and something like a gambler's chance for profit or loss. In this way, Sir Walter Scott has said, trade has "all the fascination of gambling, without the moral guilt;" but the absence of moral guilt in connection with such trading is certainly dubious.
The wholesale trades in foreign commodities which are now principally or solely in the hands of the Jews, often as importers and exporters, are, watches and jewels, sponges—fruits, especially green fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapes, walnuts, cocoa-nuts, &c., and dates among dried fruits— shells, tortoises, parrots and foreign birds, curiosities, ostrich feathers, snuffs, cigars, and pipes; but cigars far more extensively at time.
The localities in which these wholesale and retail traders reside are mostly at the East-end—indeed the Jews of London, as a congregated body, have been, from the times when their numbers were sufficient to institute a "settlement" or "colony," peculiar to themselves, always resident in the eastern quarter of the metropolis.
Of course a wealthy Jew millionaire—merchant, stock-jobber, or stock-broker—resides where he pleases—in a villa near the Marquis of Hertford's in the Regent's-park, a mansion near the Duke of Wellington's in , a house and grounds at Clapham or Stamford-hill; but these are exceptions. The quarters of the Jews are not difficult to describe. The trading-class in the capacity of shopkeepers, warehousemen, or manufacturers, are the thickest in , , and the , more especially as regards the "swagshops" and the manufacture and sale of wearing apparel. The wholesale dealers in fruit are in Duke's-place and (), but the superior retail Jew fruiterers—some of whose shops are remarkable for the beauty of their fruit—are in , , , and most of all in Covent-garden market. The inferior jewellers (some of whom deal with the shops) are also at the East-end, about Whitechapel, Bevis-marks, and ; the wealthier goldsmiths and watchmakers having, like other tradesmen of the class, their shops in the superior thoroughfares. The great congregation of working watchmakers is in Clerkenwell, but in that locality there are only a few Jews. The Hebrew dealers in -hand garments, and -hand wares generally, are located about , the peculiarities of which place I have lately described. The manufacturers of such things as cigars, pencils, and sealing-wax; the wholesale importers of sponge, bristles and toys, the dealers in quills and in "lookingglasses," reside in large private-looking houses, when display is not needed for purposes of business, in such parts as Maunsell-street, Great Prescott-street, Great Ailie-street, , and other parts of the eastern quarter known as Goodman's-fields. The wholesale dealers in foreign birds and shells, and in the many foreign things known as "curiosities," reside in , Ratcliffe-highway, (), or in some of the parts adjacent to the Thames. In the long range of river-side streets, stretching from the Tower to Poplar and , are Jews, who fulfil the many capacities of slop-sellers, &c., called into exercise by the requirements of seafaring people on their return from or commencement of a voyage. A few Jews keep boarding-houses for sailors in and . Of the localities and abodes of the poorest of the Jews I shall speak hereafter.
Concerning the street-trades pursued by the Jews, I believe there is not at present a single of which they can be said to have a monopoly; nor in any branch of the street-traffic are there so many of the Jew traders as there were a few years back.
This remarkable change is thus to be accounted for. Strange as the fact may appear, the Jew has been undersold in the streets, and he has been beaten on what might be called his own ground —the buying of old clothes. The Jew boys, and the feebler and elder Jews, had, until some or years back, almost the monopoly of orange and lemon street-selling, or streethawk- ing. The costermonger class had possession of the theatre doors and the approaches to the theatres; they had, too, occasionally their barrows full of oranges; but the Jews were the daily, assiduous, and itinerant street-sellers of this most popular of foreign, and perhaps of all, fruits. In their hopes of sale they followed any a mile if encouraged, even by a few approving glances. The great theatre of this traffic was in the stagecoach yards in such inns as the Bull and Mouth, (St. Martin's-le-Grand), the Belle Sauvage (), the Saracen's Head (), the Bull (), the Swan-with--Necks (Ladlane, City), the George and Blue Boar (), the White Horse (), and other such places. They were seen too, "with all their eyes about them," as informant expressed it, outside the inns where the coaches stopped to take up passengers—at the White Horse Cellar in , for instance, and the Angel and the (now defunct) Peacock in . A commercial traveller told me that he could never leave town by any "mail" or "stage," without being besieged by a small army of Jew boys, who most pertinaciously offered him oranges, lemons, sponges, combs, pocket-books, pencils, sealing-wax, paper, many-bladed pen-knives, razors, pocket-mirrors, and shaving-boxes—as if a man could not possibly quit the metropolis without requiring a stock of such commodities. In the whole of these trades, unless in some degree in sponges and blackleadpencils, the Jew is now out-numbered or displaced.
I have before alluded to the underselling of the Jew boy by the Irish boy in the street-orange trade; but the characteristics of the change are so peculiar, that a further notice is necessary. It is curious to observe that the most assiduous, and hitherto the most successful of street-traders, were supplanted, not by a more persevering or more skilful body of street-sellers, but simply by a more body.
Some few years since poor Irish people, and chiefly those connected with the culture of the land, "came over" to this country in great numbers, actuated either by vague hopes of "bettering themselves" by emigration, or working on the railways, or else influenced by the restlessness common to an impoverished people. These men, when unable to obtain em-
|ployment, without scruple became street-sellers. Not only did the adults resort to street-traffic, generally in its simplest forms, such as hawking fruit, but the children, by whom they were accompanied from Ireland, in great numbers, were put into the trade; and if or children earned a day each, and their parents or each, or even , the subsistence of the family was better than they could obtain in the midst of the miseries of the southern and western part of the Sister Isle. An Irish boy of , having to support himself by street-trade, as was often the case, owing to the death of parents and to divers casualties, would undersell the Jew boys similarly circumstanced.
The Irish boy could live than the Jew— often in his own country he subsisted on a stolen turnip a day; he could lodge harder—lodge for a night in any noisome den, or sleep in the open air, which is seldom done by the Jew boy; he could dispense with the use of shoes and stockings—a dispensation at which his rival in trade revolted; he drank only water, or if he took tea or coffee, it was as a meal, and not merely as a beverage; to crown the whole, the city-bred Jew boy required some evening recreation, the penny or twopenny concert, or a game at draughts or dominoes; but this the Irish boy, country bred, never thought of, for sole luxury was a deep sleep, and, being regardless or ignorant of all such recreations, he worked longer hours, and so sold more oranges, than his Hebrew competitor. Thus, as the Munster or Connaught lad could live on less than the young denizen of , he could sell at smaller profit, and did so sell, until gradually the Hebrew youths were displaced by the Irish in the street orange trade.
It is the same, or the same in a degree, with other street-trades, which were at time all but monopolised by the Jew adults. Among these were the street-sale of spectacles and sponges. The prevalence of slop-work and slop-wages, and the frequent difficulty of obtaining properlyre- munerated employment—the pinch of want, in short—have driven many mechanics to streettraffic; so that the numbers of street-traffickers have been augmented, while no small portion of the new comers have adopted the more knowing street avocations, formerly pursued only by the Jews.
Of the other class of street-traders who have interfered largely with the old-clothes trade, which, at time, people seemed to consider a sort of birthright among the Jews, I have already spoken, when treating of the dealings of the crockmen in bartering glass and crockery-ware for -hand apparel. These traders now obtain as many old clothes as the Jew clothes men themselves; for, with a great number of "ladies," the offer of an ornament of glass or spar, or of a beautiful and fragrant plant, is more attractive than the offer of a small sum of money, for the purchase of the left-off garments of the family.
The crockmen are usually strong and in the prime of youth or manhood, and are capable of carrying heavy burdens of glass or china-wares, for which the Jews are either incompetent or disinclined.
Some of the Jews which have been thus displaced from the street-traffic have emigrated to America, with the assistance of their brethren.
The principal street-trades of the Jews are now in sponges, spectacles, combs, pencils, accordions, cakes, sweetmeats, drugs, and fruits of all kinds; but, in all these trades, unless perhaps in drugs, they are in a minority compared with the "Christian" street-sellers.
There is not among the Jew street-sellers generally anything of the concubinage or cohabitation common among the costermongers. Marriage is the rule.