London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry

1851

Of the Jew-Boy Street-Sellers.

I HAVE ascertained, and from sources where no ignorance on the subject could prevail, that there are now in the streets of London, rather more than Jew-boys engaged principally in fruit and cake-selling in the streets. Very few Jewesses are itinerant street-sellers. Most of the older Jews thus engaged have been street-sellers from their boyhood. The young Jews who ply in streetcallings, however, are all men in matters of traffic, almost before they cease, in years, to be children. In addition to the Jew-boy street-sellers above enumerated, there are from to , but usually about , who are occasional, or "casual" streettraders, vending for the most part cocoa-nuts and grapes, and confining their sales chiefly to the Sundays.

On the subject of the street-Jew boys, a Hebrew gentleman said to me: "When we speak of street- Jew boys, it should be understood, that the great majority of them are but little more conversant with or interested in the religion of their fathers, than are the costermonger boys of whom you have written. They are Jews by the accident of their birth, as others in the same way, with equal ignorance of the assumed faith, are Christians."

I received from a Jew boy the following account of his trading pursuits and individual aspirations. There was somewhat of a thickness in his utterance, otherwise his speech was but little distinguishable from that of an English street-boy. His physiognomy was decidedly Jewish, but not of the handsomer type. His hair was lightcoloured, but clean, and apparently well brushed, without being oiled, or, as I heard a street-boy style it, "greased"; it was long, and hesaid his aunt told him it "wanted cutting sadly;" but he "liked it that way;" indeed, he kept dashing his curls from his eyes, and back from his temples, as he was conversing, as if he were somewhat vain of doing so. He was dressed in a corduroy suit, old but not ragged, and wore a tolerably clean, very coarse, and altogether buttonless shirt, which he said "was made for bigger than me, sir." He had bought it for in , and accounted it a bargain, as its wear would be durable. He was selling sponges when I saw him, and of the commonest kind, offering a large piece for , which (he admitted) would be rubbed to bits in no time. This sponge, I should mention, is frequently "dressed" with sulphuric acid, and an eminent surgeon informed me that on his servant attempting to clean his black dress coat with a sponge that he had newly bought in the streets, the colour of the garment, to his horror, changed to a bright purple. The Jew boy said—

I believe I'm twelve. I've been to school, but it's long since, and my mother was very ill then, and I was forced to go out in the streets to have a chance. I never was kept to school. I can't read; I've forgot all about it. I'd rather now that I could read, but very likely I could soon learn if I could only spare time, but if I stay long in the house I feel sick; it's not healthy. O, no, sir, inside or out it would be all the same to me, just to make a living and keep my health. I can't say how long it is since I began to sell, it's a good long time; one must do some- thing. I could keep myself now, and do sometimes, but my father — I live with him (my mother's dead) is often laid up. Would you like to see him, sir? He knows a deal. No, he can't write, but he can read a little. Can I speak Hebrew? Well, I know what you mean. O, no, I can't. I don't go to synagogue; I haven't time. My father goes, but only sometimes; so he says, and he tells me to look out, for we must both go by-and-by." [I began to ask him what he knew of Joseph, and others recorded in the Old Testament, but he bristled up, and asked if I wanted to make a Meshumet (a convert) of him?] "I have sold all sorts of things," he continued, "oranges, and lemons, and sponges, and nuts, and sweets. I should like to have a real good gingerbeer fountain of my own; but I must wait, and there's many in the trade. I only go with boys of my own sort. I sell to all sorts of boys, but that's nothing. Very likely they're Christians, but that's nothing to me. I don't know what's the difference between a Jew and Christian, and I don't want to talk about it. The Meshumets are never any good. Anybody will tell you that. Yes, I like music and can sing a bit. I get to a penny and sometimes a two-penny concert. No, I haven't been to Sussex Hall—I know where it is—I shouldn't understand it. You get in for nothing, that's one thing. I've heard of Baron Rothschild. He has more money than I could count in shillings in a year. I don't know about his wanting to get into parliament, or what it means; but he's sure to do it or anything else, with his money. He's very charitable, I've heard. I don't know whether he's a German Jew, or a Portegee, or what. He's a cut above me, a precious sight. I only wish he was my uncle. I can't say what I should do if I had his money. Perhaps I should go a travelling, and see everything everywhere. I don't know how long the Jews have been in England; always perhaps. Yes, I know there's Jews in other countries. This sponge is Greek sponge, but I don't know where it's grown, only it's in foreign parts. Jerusalem! Yes, I've heard of it. I'm of no tribe that I know of. I buy what I eat about Petticoatlane. No, I don't like fish, but the stews, and the onions with them is beautiful for two-pence; you may get a pennor'th. The pickles—cowcumbers is best—are stunning. But they're plummiest with a bit of cheese or anything cold—that's my opinion, but you may think different. Pork! Ah! No, I never touched it; I'd as soon eat a cat; so would my father. No, sir, I don't think pork smells nice in a cook-shop, but some Jew boys, as I knows, thinks it does. I don't know why it shouldn't be eaten, only that it's wrong to eat it. No, I never touched a ham-sandwich, but other Jew boys have, and laughed at it, I know.

I don't know what I make in a week. I think I make as much on one thing as on another. I've sold strawberries, and cherries, and gooseberries, and nuts and walnuts in the season. O, as to what I make, that's nothing to nobody. Sometimes 6d. a day, sometimes 1s.; sometimes a little more, and sometimes nothing. No, I never sells inferior things if I can help it, but if one hasn't stock-money one must do as one can, but it isn't so easy to try it on. There was a boy beaten by a woman not long since for selling a big pottle of strawberries that was rubbish all under the toppers. It was all strawherry leaves, and crushed strawberries, and such like. She wanted to take back from him the two-pence she'd paid for it, and got hold of his pockets and there was a regular fight, but she didn't get a farthing back though she tried her very hardest, 'cause he slipped from her and hooked it. So you see it's dangerous to try it on." [This last remark was made gravely enough, but the lad told of the feat with such manifest glee, that I'm inclined to believe that he himself was the culprit in question.] "Yes, it was a Jew boy it happened to, but other boys in the streets is just the same. Do I like the streets? I can't say I do, there's too little to be made in them. No, I wouldn't like to go to school, nor to be in a shop, nor be anybody's servant but my own. O, I don't know what I shall be when I'm grown up. I shall take my chance like others.

 
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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