London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Jew Old-Clothes Men.


years ago the appearance of the street-Jews, engaged in the purchase of -hand clothes, was different to what it is at the present time. The Jew then had far more of the distinctive garb and aspect of a foreigner. He not unfrequently wore the gabardine, which is never seen now in the streets, but some of the long loose frock coats worn by the Jew clothes' buyers resemble it. At that period, too, the Jew's long beard was far more distinctive than it is in this hirsute generation.

In other respects the street-Jew is unchanged. Now, as during the last century, he traverses every street, square, and road, with the monotonous cry, sometimes like a bleat, of "Clo'! Clo'!" On this head, however, I have previously remarked, when describing the street Jew of a years ago.

In an inquiry into the condition of the oldclothes dealers a year and a half ago, a Jew gave me the following account. He told me, at the commencement of his statement, that he was of opinion that his people were far more speculative than the Gentiles, and therefore the English liked better to deal with them. "Our people," he said, "will be out all day in the wet, and begrudge themselves a bit of anything to eat till they go home, and then, may be, they'll gamble away their crown, just for the love of speculation." My informant, who could write or speak several languages, and had been years in the business, then said, "I am no bigot; indeed I do not care where I buy my meat, so long as I can get it. I often go into the and buy some, without looking to how it has been killed, or whether it has a seal on it or not."

He then gave me some account of the Jewish children, and the number of men in the trade, which I have embodied under the proper heads. The itinerant Jew clothes man, he told me, was generally the son of a former old-clothes man, but some were cigar-makers, or pencil-makers, taking to the clothes business when those trades were slack; but that out of had been born to it. If the parents of the Jew boy are poor, and the boy a sharp lad, he generally commences business at years of age, by selling lemons, or some trifle in the streets, and so, as he


expressed it, the boy "gets a round," or streetcon- nection, by becoming known to the neighbourhoods he visits. If he sees a servant, he will, when selling his lemons, ask if she have any old shoes or old clothes, and offer to be a purchaser. If the clothes should come to more than the Jew boy has in his pocket, he leaves what silver he has as "an earnest upon them," and then seeks some regular Jew clothes man, who will advance the purchase money. This the old Jew agrees to do upon the understanding that he is to have "half Rybeck," that is, a moiety of the profit, and then he will accompany the boy to the house, to pass his judgment on the goods, and satisfy himself that the stripling has not made a blind bargain, an error into which he very rarely falls. After this he goes with the lad to , and there they share whatever money the clothes may bring over and above what has been paid for them. By such means the Jew boy gets his knowledge of the old-clothes business; and so quick are these lads generally, that in the course of months they will acquire sufficient experience in connection with the trade to begin dealing on their own account. There are some, he told me, as sharp at as men of .

It is very seldom," my informant stated, "very seldom indeed, that a Jew clothes man takes away any of the property of the house he may be called into. In expect there's a good many of 'em," he continued, for he sometimes spoke of his co-traders, as if they were not of his own class, "is fond of cheating—that is, they won't mind giving only 2s. for a thing that's worth 5s. They are fond of money, and will do almost anything to get it. Jews are perhaps the most money-loving people in all England. There are certainly some old-clothes men who will buy articles at such a price that they must know them to have been stolen. Their rule, however, is to ask no questions, and to get as cheap an article as possible. A Jew clothes man is seldom or never seen in liquor. They gamble for money, either at their own homes or at public-houses. The favourite games are tossing, dominoes, and cards. I was informed, by one of the people, that he had seen as much as 30l. in silver and gold lying upon the ground when two parties had been playing at throwing three halfpence in the air. On a Saturday, some gamble away the morning and the greater part of the afternoon." [Saturday, I need hardly say, is the Hebrew Sabbath.] "They meet in some secret back place, about ten, and begin playing for 'one a time'—that is, tossing up three halfpence, and staking 1s. on the result. Other Jews, and a few Christians, will gather round and bet. Sometimes the bets laid by the Jew bystanders are as high as 2l. each; and on more than one occasion the old-clothes men have wagered as much as 50l., but only after great gains at gambling. Some, if they can, will cheat, by means of a halfpenny with a head or a tail on both sides, called a 'gray.' The play lasts till the Sabbath is nearly over, and then they go to business or the theatre. They seldom or never say a word while they are losing, but merely stamp on the ground; it is dangerous, though, to interfere when luck runs against them. The rule is, when a man is losing to let him alone. I have known them play for three hours together, and nothing be said all that time but 'head' or 'tail.' They seldom go to synagogue, and on a Sunday evening have card parties at their own houses. They seldom eat anything on their rounds. The reason is, not because they object to eat meat killed by a Christian, but because they are afraid of losing a 'deal,' or the chance of buying a lot of old clothes by delay. They are generally too lazy to light their own fires before they start of a morning, and nineteen out of twenty obtain their breakfasts at the coffee-shops about Houndsditch.

When they return from their day's work they have mostly some stew ready, prepared by their parents or wife. If they are not family men they go to an eating-house. This is sometimes a Jewish house, but if no one is looking they creep into a Christian 'cook-shop,' not being particular about eating 'tryfer'—that is, meat which has been killed by a Christian. Those that are single generally go to a neighbour and agree with him to be boarded on the Sabbath; and for this the charge is generally about 2s. 6d. On a Saturday there's cold fish for breakfast and supper; indeed, a Jew would pawn the shirt off his back sooner than go without fish then; and in holiday-time he will have it, if he has to get it out of the stones. It is not reckoned a holiday unless there's fish.

" years ago I have made as much as in a week by the purchase of old clothes in the streets," said a Jew informant. "Upon an average then, I could earn weekly about But now things are different. People are more wide awake. Every knows the value of an old coat nowa-days. The women know more than the men. The general average, I think, take the good weeks with the bad throughout the year, is about a week; some weeks we get , and some scarcely nothing."

I was told by a Jewish professional gentleman that the account of the of gambling prevalent among his people was correct, but the amounts said to be staked, he thought, rare or exaggerated.

The Jew old-clothes men are generally far more cleanly in their habits than the poorer classes of English people. Their hands they always wash before their meals, and this is done whether the party be a strict Jew or "Meshumet," a convert, or apostate from Judaism. Neither will the Israelite ever use the same knife to cut his meat that he previously used to spread his butter, and he will not even put his meat on a plate that has had butter on it; nor will he use for his soup the spoon that has had melted butter in it. This objection to mix butter with meat is carried so far, that, after partaking of the , Jews will not eat of the other for the space of hours. The Jews are generally, when married, most exemplary family men. There are few fonder fathers than they are, and they will starve themselves sooner than their wives and children should want. Whatever their faults may be, they are good


fathers, husbands, and sons. Their principal characteristic is their extreme love of money; and, though the strict Jew does not trade himself on the Sabbath, he may not object to employ either of his tribe, or a Gentile, to do so for him.

The capital required for commencing in the old-clothes line is generally about This the Jew frequently borrows, especially after holidaytime, for then he has generally spent all his earnings, unless he be a provident man. When his stock-money is exhausted, he goes either to a neighbour or to a publican in the vicinity, and borrows on the Monday morning, "to strike a light with," as he calls it, and agrees to return it on the Friday evening, with interest for the loan. This he always pays back. If he was to sell the coat off his back he would do this, I am told, because to fail in so doing would be to prevent his obtaining any stock-money for the future. With this capital he starts on his rounds about in the morning, and I am assured he will frequently begin his work without tasting food, rather than break into the borrowed stock-money. Each man has his particular walk, and never interferes with that of his neighbour; indeed, while upon another's beat he will seldom cry for clothes. Sometimes they go half "Rybeck" together— that is, they will share the profits of the day's business, and when they agree to do this the will take street, and the other another. The lower the neighbourhood the more old clothes are there for sale. At the east end of the town they like the neighbourhoods frequented by sailors, and there they purchase of the girls and the women the sailors' jackets and trowsers. But they buy most of the , the Old-Clothes Exchange, and the marine-store dealers; for as the Jew clothes man never travels the streets by night-time, the parties who then have old clothes to dispose of usually sell them to the marine-store or secondhand dealers over-night, and the Jew buys them in the morning. The thing that he does on his rounds is to seek out these shops, and see what he can pick up there. A very great amount of business is done by the Jew clothes man at the marine-store shops at the west as well as at the east end of London.

At the West-end the itinerant clothes men prefer the mews at the back of gentlemen's houses to all other places, or else the streets where the little tradesmen and small genteel families reside. My informant assured me that he had once bought a Bishop's hat of his lordship's servant for on a Sunday morning.

These traders, as I have elsewhere stated, live at the East-end of the town. The greater number of them reside in Portsoken Ward, ; and their favourite localities in this district are either Cobb's-yard, Roper's-building, or . They mostly occupy small houses, about a week rent, and live with their families. They are generally sober men. It is seldom that a Jew leaves his house and owes his landlord money; and if his goods should be seized the rest of his tribe will go round and collect what is owing.

The rooms occupied by the old-clothes men are far from being so comfortable as those of the English artizans whose earnings are not superior to the gains of these clothes men. Those which I saw had all a littered look; the furniture was old and scant, and the apartment seemed neither shop, parlour, nor bed-room. For domestic and family men, as some of the Jew old-clothes men are, they seem very indifferent to the comforts of a home.

I have spoken of "Tryfer," or meat killed in the Christian fashion. Now, the meat killed according to the Jewish law is known as "Coshar," and a strict Jew will eat none other. In of my letters in the on the meat markets of London, there appeared the following statement, respecting the Jew butchers in Whitechapel-market.

"To a portion of the meat here exposed for sale, may be seen attached the peculiar seal which shows that the animal was killed conformably to the Jewish rites. According to the injunctions of this religion the beast must die from its throat being cut, instead of being knocked on the head. The slaughterer of the cattle for Jewish consumption, moreover, must be a Jew. slaughterers are appointed by the Jewish authorities of the synagogue, and they can employ others, who must be likewise Jews, as assistants. The slaughterers I saw were quiet-looking and quiet-mannered men. When the animal is slaughtered and skinned, an examiner (also appointed by the synagogue) carefully inspects the 'inside.' 'If the lights be grown to the ribs,' said my informant, who had had many years' experience in this branch of the meat trade, 'or if the lungs have any disease, or if there be any disease anywhere, the meat is pronounced unfit for the food of the Jews, and is sent entire to a carcase butcher to be sold to the Christians. This, however, does not happen once in times.' To the parts exposed for sale, when the slaughtering has been according to the Jewish law, there is attached a leaden seal, stamped in Hebrew characters with the name of the examining party sealing. In this way, as I ascertained from the slaughterers, are killed weekly from to bullocks, from to sheep and lambs, and about calves. All the parts of the animal thus slaughtered may be and are eaten by the Jews, but -fourths of the purchase of this meat is confined, as regards the Jews, to the fore-quarters of the respective animals; the hind-quarters, being the choicer parts, are sent to Newgate or Leadenhall-markets for sale on commission." The Hebrew butchers consider that the Christian mode of slaughter is a far less painful death to the ox than was the Jewish.

I am informed that of the Jew Old-Clothes Men there are now only from to in London; at time there might have been . Their average earnings may be something short of a week in -hand clothes alone; but the gains are difficult to estimate.

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 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