A. The Boy Crossing-Sweepers.
Boy Crossing-Sweepers and Tumblers.
A REMARKABLY intelligent lad, who, on being spoken to, at once consented to give all the information in his power, told me the following story of his life.
It will be seen from this boy's account, and the one or two following, that a kind of partnership exists among some of these young sweepers. They have associated themselves together, appropriated several crossings to their use, and appointed a captain over them. They have their forms of trial, and "jury-house" for the settlement of disputes; laws have been framed, which govern their commercial proceedings, and a kind of language adopted by the society for its better protection from its arch-enemy, the policeman.
I found the lad who first gave me an insight into the proceedings of the associated crossing-sweepers crouched on the stone steps of a door in Adelaide-street, Strand; and when I spoke to him he was preparing to settle down in a corner and go to sleep—his legs and body being curled round almost as closely as those of a cat on a hearth.
The moment he heard my voice he was upon his feet, asking me to "give a halfpenny to poor little Jack."
He was a good-looking lad, with a pair of large mild eyes, which he took good care to turn up with an expression of supplication as he moaned for his halfpenny.
A cap, or more properly a stuff bag, covered a crop of hair which had matted itself into the form of so many paint-brushes, while his face, from its roundness of feature and the complexion of dirt, had an almost Indian look about it; the colour of his hands, too, was such that you could imagine he had been shelling walnuts.
He ran before me, treading cautiously with his naked feet, until I reached a convenient spot to take down his statement, which was as follows:—
I've got no mother or father; mother has been dead for two years, and father's been gone more than that—more nigh five years— he died at Ipswich, in Suffolk. He was a perfumer by trade, and used to make hair-dye, and scent, and pomatum, and all kinds of scents. He didn't keep a shop himself, but he used to serve them as did; he didn't hawk his goods about, neether, but had regular customers, what used to send him a letter, and then he'd take them what they wanted. Yes, he used to serve some good shops: there was H——'s, of London Bridge, what's a large chemist's. He used to make a good deal of money, but he lost it betting; and so his
brother, my uncle, did all his. He used to go up to High Park, and then go round by the Hospital, and then turn up a yard, where all the men are who play for money [Tattersall's]; and there he'd lose his money, or sometimes win,—but that wasn't often. I remember he used to come home tipsy, and say he'd lost on this or that horse, naming wot one he'd laid on; and then mother would coax him to bed, and afterwards sit down and begin to cry.
I was not with father when he died (but I was when he was dying), for I was sent up along with eldest sister to London with a letter to uncle, who was head servant at a doctor's. In this letter, mother asked uncle to pay back some money wot he owed, and wot father lent him, and she asked him if he'd like to come down and see father before he died. I recollect I went back again to mother by the Orwell steamer. I was well dressed then, and had good clothes on, and I was given to the care of the captain—Mr. King his name was. But when I got back to Ipswich, father was dead.
Mother took on dreadful; she was ill for three months afterwards, confined to her bed. She hardly eat anything: only beaf-tea—I think they call it—and eggs. All the while she kept on crying.
Mother kept a servant; yes, sir, we always had a servant, as long as I can recollect; and she and the woman as was there—Anna they called her, an old lady—used to take care of me and sister. Sister was fourteen years old (she's married to a young man now, and they've gone to America; she went from a place in the East India Docks, and I saw her off). I used, when I was with mother, to go to school in the morning, and go at nine and come home at twelve to dinner, then go again at two and leave off at half-past four,—that is, if I behaved myself and did all my lessons right; for if I did not I was kept back till I did them so. Mother used to pay one shilling a-week, and extra for the copy-books and things. I can read and write—oh, yes, I mean read and write well—read anything, even old English; and I write pretty fair,—though I don't get much reading now, unless it's a penny paper— I've got one in my pocket now—it's the
London Journal—there's a tale in it now about two brothers, and one of them steals the child away and puts another in his place, and then he gets found out, and all that, and he's just been falling off a bridge now.
After mother got better, she sold all the furniture and goods and came up to London; —poor mother! She let a man of the name of Hayes have the greater part, and he left Ipswich soon after, and never gave mother the money. We came up to London, and mother took two rooms in Westminster, and I and sister lived along with her. She used to make hair-nets, and sister helped her, and used to take 'em to the hair-dressers to sell. She made these nets for two or three years,
though she was suffering with a bad breast; —she died of that—poor thing!—for she had what doctors calls cancer—perhaps you've heard of 'em, sir,—and they had to cut all round here (making motions with his hands from the shoulder to the bosom). Sister saw it, though I didn't.
Ah! she was a very good, kind mother, and very fond of both of us; though father wasn't, for he'd always have a noise with mother when he come home, only he was seldom with us when he was making his goods.
After mother died, sister still kept on making nets, and I lived with her for some time, until she told me she couldn't afford to keep me no longer, though she seemed to have a pretty good lot to do; but she would never let me go with her to the shops, though I could crochet, which she'd learned me, and used to run and get her all her silks and things what she wanted. But she was keeping company with a young man, and one day they went out, and came back and said they'd been and got married. It was him as got rid of me.
He was kind to me for the first two or three months, while he was keeping her company; but before he was married he got a little cross, and after he was married he begun to get more cross, and used to send me to play in the streets, and tell me not to come home again till night. One day he hit me, and I said I wouldn't be hit about by him, and then at tea that night sister gave me three shillings, and told me I must go and get my own living. So I bought a box and brushes (they cost me just the money) and went cleaning boots, and I done pretty well with them, till my box was stole from me by a boy where I was lodging. He's in prison now—got six calendar for picking pockets.
Sister kept all my clothes. When I asked her for 'em, she said they was disposed of along with all mother's goods; but she gave me some shirts and stockings, and such-like, and I had very good clothes, only they was all worn out. I saw sister after I left her, many times. I asked her many times to take me back, but she used to say, 'It was not her likes, but her husband's, or she'd have had me back;' and I think it was true, for until he came she was a kind-hearted girl; but he said he'd enough to do to look after his own living; he was a fancy-baker by trade.
I was fifteen the 24th of last May, sir, and I've been sweeping crossings now near upon two years. There's a party of six of us, and we have the crossings from St. Martin's Church as far as Pall Mall. I always go along with them as lodges in the same place as I do. In the daytime, if it's dry, we do anythink what we can—open cabs, or anythink; but if it's wet, we separate, and I and another gets a crossing—those who gets on it first, keeps it, —and we stand on each side and take our chance.
We do it in this way:—if I was to see two gentlemen coming, I should cry out, 'Two toffs!' and then they are mine; and whether they give me anythink or not they are mine, and my mate is bound not to follow them; for if he did he would get a hiding from the whole lot of us. If we both cry out together, then we share. If it's a lady and gentleman, then we cries, 'A toff and a doll!' Sometimes we are caught out in this way. Perhaps it is a lady and gentleman and a child; and if I was to see them, and only say, 'A toff and a doll,' and leave out the child, then my mate can add the child; and as he is right and I wrong, then it's his party.
If there's a policeman close at hand we mustn't ask for money; but we are always on the look-out for the policemen, and if we see one, then we calls out 'Phillup!' for that's our signal. One of the policemen at St. Martin's Church—Bandy, we calls him—knows what Phillup means, for he's up to us; so we had to change the word. (At the request of the young crossing-sweeper the present signal is omitted.)
Yesterday on the crossing I got threepence halfpenny, but when it's dry like to-day I do nothink, for I haven't got a penny yet. We never carries no pockets, for if the policemen find us we generally pass the money to our mates, for if money's found on us we have fourteen days in prison.
If I was to reckon all the year round, that is, one day with another, I think we make fourpence every day, and if we were to stick to it we should make more, for on a very muddy day we do better. One day, the best I ever had, from nine o'clock in the morning till seven o'clock at night, I made seven shillings and sixpence, and got not one bit of silver money among it. Every shilling I got I went and left at a shop near where my crossing is, for fear I might get into any harm. The shop's kept by a woman we deals with for what we wants—tea and butter, or sugar, or brooms— anythink we wants. Saturday night week I made two-and-sixpence; that's what I took altogether up to six o'clock.
When we see the rain we say together, 'Oh! there's a jolly good rain! we'll have a good day to-morrow.' If a shower comes on, and we are at our room, which we general are about three o'clock, to get somethink to eat— besides, we general go there to see how much each other's taken in the day—why, out we run with our brooms.
We're always sure to make money if there's mud—that's to say, if we look for our money, and ask; of course, if we stand still we don't. Now, there's Lord Fitzhardinge, he's a good gentleman, what lives in Spring-gardens, in a large house. He's got a lot of servants and carriages. Every time he crosses the Charingcross crossing he always gives the girl half a sovereign." (This statement was taken in June 1856.) "He doesn't cross often, be-
cause, hang it, he's got such a lot of carriages, but when he's on foot he always does. If they asks him he doesn't give nothink, but if they touches their caps he does. The housekeeper at his house is very kind to us. We run errands for her, and when she wants any of her own letters taken to the post then she calls, and if we are on the crossing we takes them for her. She's a very nice lady, and gives us broken victuals. I've got a share in that crossing,—there are three of us, and when he gives the half sovereign he always gives it to the girl, and those that are in it shares it. She would do us out of it if she could, but we all takes good care of that, for we are all cheats.
At night-time we tumbles—that is, if the policemen ain't nigh. We goes general to Waterloo-place when the Opera's on. We sends on one of us ahead, as a looker-out, to look for the policeman, and then we follows. It's no good tumbling to gentlemen going to the Opera; it's when they're coming back they gives us money. When they've got a young lady on their arm they laugh at us tumbling; some will give us a penny, others threepence, sometimes a sixpence or a shilling, and sometimes a halfpenny. We either do the cat'unwheel, or else we keep before the gentleman and lady, turning head-over-heels, putting our broom on the ground and then turning over it.
I work a good deal fetching cabs after the Opera is over; we general open the doors of those what draw up at the side of the pavement for people to get into as have walked a little down the Haymarket looking for a cab. We gets a month in prison if we touch the others by the columns. I once had half a sovereign give me by a gentleman; it was raining awful, and I run all about for a cab, and at last I got one. The gentleman knew it was half a sovereign, because he said—'Here, my little man, here's half a sovereign for your trouble.' He had three ladies with him, beautiful ones, with nothink on their heads, and only capes on their bare shoulders; and he had white kids on, and his regular Opera togs, too. I liked him very much, and as he was going to give me somethink the ladies says—'Oh, give him somethink extra!' It was pouring with rain, and they couldn't get a cab; they were all engaged, but I jumped on the box of one as was driving along the line. Last Saturday Opera night I made fifteen pence by the gentlemen coming from the Opera.
After the Opera we go into the Haymarket, where all the women are who walk the streets all night. They don't give us no money, but they tell the gentlemen to. Sometimes, when they are talking to the gentlemen, they say, 'Go away, you young rascal!' and if they are saucy, then we say to them, 'We're not talking to you, my doxy, we're talking to the gentleman,'—but that's only if they're rude, for if they speak civil we always goes. They knows what 'doxy' means. What is it? Why that
The Irish Crossing-Sweeper. [From a Photograph.]
they are no better than us! If we are on the crossing, and we says to them as they go by, 'Good luck to you!' they always give us somethink either that night or the next. There are two with bloomer bonnets, who always give us somethink if we says 'Good luck.' Sometimes a gentleman will tell us to go and get them a young lady, and then we goes, and they general gives us sixpence for that. If the gents is dressed finely we gets them a handsome girl; if they're dressed middling, then we gets them a middling-dressed one; but we usual prefers giving a turn to girls that have been kind to us, and they are sure to give us somethink the next night. If we don't find any girls walking, we knows where to get them in the houses in the streets round about.
We always meet at St. Martin's steps— the 'jury house,' we calls 'em—at three o'clock in the morning, that's always our hour. We reckons up what we've taken, but we don't divide. Sometimes, if we owe anythink where we lodge, the women of the house will be waiting on the steps for us: then, if we've got it, we pay them; if we haven't, why it can't be helped, and it goes on. We gets into debt, because sometimes the women where we live gets lushy; then we don't give them anythink, because they'd forget it, so we spends it ourselves. We can't lodge at what's called model lodging-houses, as our hours don't suit them folks. We pays threepence a-night for lodging. Food, if we get plenty of money, we buys for ourselves. We buys a pound of bread, that's twopence farthing—best seconds, and a farthing's worth of dripping—that's enough for a pound of bread—and we gets a ha'porth of tea and a ha'porth of sugar; or if we're hard up, we gets only a penn'orth of bread. We make our own tea at home; they lends us a kittle, teapot, and cups and saucers, and all that.
Once or twice a-week we gets meat. We all club together, and go into Newgate Market and gets some pieces cheap, and biles them at home. We tosses up who shall have the biggest bit, and we divide the broth, a cupful in each basin, until it's lasted out. If any of us has been unlucky we each gives the unlucky one one or two halfpence. Some of us is obliged at times to sleep out all night; and sometimes, if any of us gets nothink, then the others gives him a penny or two, and he does the same for us when we are out of luck.
Besides, there's our clothes: I'm paying for a pair of boots now. I paid a shilling off Saturday night.
When we gets home at half-past three in the morning, whoever cries out 'first wash' has it. First of all we washes our feet, and we all uses the same water. Then we washes our faces and hands, and necks, and whoever fetches the fresh water up has first wash; and if the second don't like to go and get fresh, why he uses the dirty. Whenever we come in the landlady makes us wash our feet. Very often the stones cuts our feet and makes them
bleed; then we bind a bit of rag round them. We like to put on boots and shoes in the daytime, but at night-time we can't, because it stops the tumbling.
On the Sunday we all have a clean shirt put on before we go out, and then we go and tumble after the omnibuses. Sometimes we do very well on a fine Sunday, when there's plenty of people out on the roofs of the busses. We never do anythink on a wet day, but only when it's been raining and then dried up. I have run after a Cremorne bus, when they've thrown us money, as far as from Charing-cross right up to Piccadilly, but if they don't throw us nothink we don't run very far. I should think we gets at that work, taking one Sunday with another, eightpence all the year round.
When there's snow on the ground we puts our money together, and goes and buys an old shovel, and then, about seven o'clock in the morning, we goes to the shops and asks them if we shall scrape the snow away. We general gets twopence every house, but some gives sixpence, for it's very hard to clean the snow away, particular when it's been on the ground some time. It's awful cold, and gives us chilblains on our feet; but we don't mind it when we're working, for we soon gets hot then.
Before winter comes, we general save up our money and buys a pair of shoes. Sometimes we makes a very big snowball and rolls it up to the hotels, and then the gentlemen laughs and throws us money; or else we pelt each other with snowballs, and then they scrambles money between us. We always go to Morley's Hotel, at Charing-cross. The police in winter times is kinder to us than in summer, and they only laughs at us;—p'rhaps it is because there is not so many of us about then,—only them as is obligated to find a living for themselves; for many of the boys has fathers and mothers as sends them out in summer, but keeps them at home in winter when it's piercing cold.
I have been to the station-house, because the police always takes us up if we are out at night; but we're only locked up till morning, —that is, if we behaves ourselves when we're taken before the gentleman. Mr. Hall, at Bow-street, only says, 'Poor boy, let him go.' But it's only when we've done nothink but stop out that he says that. He's a kind old gentleman; but mind, it's only when you have been before him two or three times he says so, because if it's a many times, he'll send you for fourteen days.
But we don't mind the police much at night-time, because we jumps over the walls round the place at Trafalgar-square, and they don't like to follow us at that game, and only stands looking at you over the parrypit. There was one tried to jump the wall, but he split his trousers all to bits, and now they're afraid. That was Old Bandy as bust his breeches; and we all hate him, as well as another we calls Black Diamond, what's general
along with the Red Liners, as we calls the Mendicity officers, who goes about in disguise as gentlemen, to take up poor boys caught begging.
When we are talking together we always talk in a kind of slang. Each policeman we gives a regular name—there's 'Bull's Head,' 'Bandy Shanks,' and 'Old Cherry Legs,' and 'Dot-and-carry-one;' they all knows their names as well as us. We never talks of crossings, but 'fakes.' We don't make no slang of our own, but uses the regular one.
A broom doesn't last us more than a week in wet weather, and they costs us twopence halfpenny each; but in dry weather they are good for a fortnight.
Young Mike's Statement.
The next lad I examined was called Mike. He was a short, stout-set youth, with a face like an old man's, for the features were hard and defined, and the hollows had got filled up with dirt till his countenance was brown as an old wood carving. I have seldom seen so dirty a face, for the boy had been in a perspiration, and then wiped his cheeks with his muddy hands, until they were marbled, like the covering to a copy-book.
The old lady of the house in which the boy lived seemed to be hurt by the unwashed appearance of her lodger. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself—and that's God's truth— not to go and sluice yourself afore spaking to the jintlemin," she cried, looking alternately at me and the lad, as if asking me to witness her indignation.
Mike wore no shoes, but his feet were as black as if cased in gloves with short fingers. His coat had been a man's, and the tails reached to his ankles; one of the sleeves was wanting, and a dirty rag had been wound round the arm in its stead. His hair spread about like a tuft of grass where a rabbit has been squatting.
He said, "I haven't got neither no father nor no mother,—never had, sir; for father's been dead these two year, and mother getting on for eight. They was both Irish people, please sir, and father was a bricklayer. When father was at work in the country, mother used to get work carrying loads at Coventgarden Market. I lived with father till he died, and that was from a complaint in his chest. After that I lived along with my big brother, what's 'listed in the Marines now. He used to sweep a crossing in Camden-town, opposite the Southampting Harms, near the toll-gate.
He did pretty well up there sometimes, such as on Christmas-day, where he has took as much as six shillings sometimes, and never less than one and sixpence. All the gentlements knowed him thereabouts, and one or two used to give him a shilling a-week regular.
It was he as first of all put me up to sweep a crossing, and I used to take my stand at St. Martin's Church.
I didn't see anybody working there, so I planted myself on it. After a time some other boys come up. They come up and wanted to turn me off, and began hitting me with their brooms,—they hit me regular hard with the old stumps; there was five or six of them; so I couldn't defend myself, but told the policeman, and he turned them all away except me, because he saw me on first, sir. Now we are all friends, and work together, and all that we earns ourself we has.
On a good day, when it's poured o' rain and then leave off sudden, and made it nice and muddy, I've took as much as ninepence; but it's too dry now, and we don't do more than fourpence.
At night, I go along with the others tumbling. I does the cat'en-wheel [probably a contraction of Catherine-wheel]; I throws myself over sideways on my hands with my legs in the air. I can't do it more than four times running, because it makes the blood to the head, and then all the things seems to turn round. Sometimes a chap will give me a lick with a stick just as I'm going over— sometimes a reg'lar good hard whack; but it ain't often, and we general gets a halfpenny or a penny by it.
The boys as runs after the busses was the first to do these here cat'en-wheels. I know the boy as was the very first to do it. His name is Gander, so we calls him the Goose.
There's about nine or ten of us in our gang, and as is reg'lar; we lodges at different places, and we has our reg'lar hours for meeting, but we all comes and goes when we likes, only we keeps together, so as not to let any others come on the crossings but ourselves.
If another boy tries to come on we cries out, 'Here's a Rooshian,' and then if he won't go away, we all sets on him and gives him a drubbing; and if he still comes down the next day, we pays him out twice as much, and harder.
There's never been one down there yet as can lick us all together.
If we sees one of our pals being pitched into by other boys, we goes up and helps him. Gander's the leader of our gang, 'cause he can tumble back'ards (no, that ain't the cat'enwheel, that's tumbling); so he gets more tin give him, and that's why we makes him cap'an.
After twelve at night we goes to the Regent's Circus, and we tumbles there to the gentlemen and ladies. The most I ever got was sixpence at a time. The French ladies never give us nothink, but they all says, 'Chit, chit, chit,' like hissing at us, for they can't understand us, and we're as bad off with them.
If it's a wet night we leaves off work about twelve o'clock, and don't bother with the Haymarket.
The first as gets to the crossing does the
sweeping away of the mud. Then they has in return all the halfpence they can take. When it's been wet every day, a broom gets down to stump in about four days. We either burns the old brooms, or, if we can, we sells 'em for a ha'penny to some other boy, if he's flat enough to buy 'em.
Gander—the "Captain" of the Boy Crossing-Sweepers.
GANDER, the captain of the gang of boy crossing-sweepers, was a big lad of sixteen, with a face devoid of all expression, until he laughed, when the cheeks, mouth, and forehead instantly became crumpled up with a wonderful quantity of lines and dimples. His hair was cut short, and stood up in all directions, like the bristles of a hearth-broom, and was a light dust tint, matching with the hue of his complexion, which also, from an absence of washing, had turned to a decided drab, or what house-painters term a stone-colour.
He spoke with a lisp, occasioned by the loss of two of his large front teeth, which allowed the tongue as he talked to appear through the opening in a round nob like a raspberry.
The boy's clothing was in a shocking condition. He had no coat, and his blue-striped shirt was as dirty as a French-polisher's rags, and so tattered, that the shoulder was completely bare, while the sleeve hung down over the hand like a big bag.
From the fish-scales on the sleeves of his coat, it had evidently once belonged to some coster in the herring line. The nap was all worn off, so that the lines of the web were showing like a coarse carpet; and instead of buttons, string had been passed through holes pierced at the side.
Of course he had no shoes on, and his black trousers, which, with the grease on them, were gradually assuming a tarpaulin look, were fastened over one shoulder by means of a brace and bits of string.
During his statement, he illustrated his account of the tumbling backwards—the "catenwheeling"—with different specimens of the art, throwing himself about on the floor with an ease and almost grace, and taking up so small a space of the ground for the performance, that his limbs seemed to bend as though his bones were flexible like cane.
To tell you the blessed truth, I can't say the last shilling I handled.
"Don't you go a-believing on him," whispered another lad in my ear, whilst Gander's head was turned: "he took thirteenpence last night, he did."
It was perfectly impossible to obtain from this lad any account of his average earnings. The other boys in the gang told me that he made more than any of them. But Gander, who is a thorough street-beggar, and speaks with a peculiar whine, and who, directly you look at him, puts on an expression of deep
distress, seemed to have made up his mind, that if he made himself out to be in great want I should most likely relieve him—so he would not budge an inch from his twopence a-day, declaring it to be the maximum of his daily earnings.
Ah," he continued, with a persecuted tone of voice, "if I had only got a little money, I'd be a bright youth! The first chance as I get of earning a few halfpence, I'll buy myself a coat, and be off to the country, and I'll lay something I'd soon be a gentleman then, and come home with a couple of pounds in my pocket, instead of never having ne'er a farthing, as now.
One of the other lads here exclaimed, "Don't go on like that there, Goose; you're making us out all liars to the gentleman."
The old woman also interfered. She lost all patience with Gander, and reproached him for making a false return of his income. She tried to shame him into truthfulness, by saying,—
Look at my Johnny—my grandson, sir, he's not a quarther the Goose's size, and yet he'll bring me home his shilling, or perhaps eighteenpence or two shillings—for shame on you, Gander! Now, did you make six shillings last week?—now, speak God's truth!
"What! six shillings?" cried the Goose— "six shillings!" and he began to look up at the ceiling, and shake his hands. "Why, I never heard of sich a sum. I did once see a halfcrown; but I don't know as I ever touched e'er a one."
"Thin," added the old woman, indignantly, "it's because you're idle, Gander, and you don't study when you're on the crossing; but lets the gintlefolk go by without ever a word. That's what it is, sir."
The Goose seemed to feel the truth of this reproach, for he said with a sigh, "I knows I am fickle-minded."
He then continued his statement,—
I can't tell how many brooms I use; for as fast as I gets one, it is took from me. God help me! They watch me put it away, and then up they comes and takes it. What kinds of brooms is the best? Why, as far as I am concerned, I would sooner have a stump on a dry day—it's lighter and handier to carry; but on a wet day, give me a new un.
I'm sixteen, your honour, and my name's George Gandea, and the boys calls me 'the Goose' in consequence; for it's a nickname they gives me, though my name ain't spelt with a har at the end, but with a h'ay, so that I ain't Gander after all, but Gandea, which is a sell for 'em.
God knows what I am—whether I'm h'Irish or h'Italian, or what; but I was christened here in London, and that's all about it.
Father was a bookbinder. I'm sixteen now, and father turned me away when I was nine year old, for mother had been dead before that. I was told my right name by my brother-
in-law, who had my register. He's a sweep, sir, by trade, and I wanted to know about my real name when I was going down to the
Waterloo—that's a ship as I wanted to get aboard as a cabin-boy.
I remember the fust night I slept out after father got rid of me. I slept on a gentleman's door-step, in the winter, on the 15th January. I packed my shirt and coat, which was a pretty good one, right over my ears, and then scruntched myself into a doorway, and the policeman passed by four or five times without seeing on me.
I had a mother-in-law at the time; but father used to drink, or else I should never have been as I am; and he came home one night, and says he, 'Go out and get me a few ha'pence for breakfast,' and I said I had never been in the streets in my life, and couldn't; and, says he, 'Go out, and never let me see you no more,' and I took him to his word, and have never been near him since.
Father lived in Barbican at that time, and after leaving him, I used to go to the Royal Exchange, and there I met a boy of the name of Michael, and he first learnt me to beg, and made me run after people, saying, 'Poor boy, sir—please give us a ha'penny to get a mossel of bread.' But as fast as I got anythink, he used to take it away, and knock me about shameful; so I left him, and then I picked up with a chap as taught me tumbling. I soon larnt how to do it, and then I used to go tumbling after busses. That was my notion all along, and I hadn't picked up the way of doing it half an hour before I was after that game.
I took to crossings about eight year ago, and the very fust person as I asked, I had a fourpenny-piece give to me. I said to him, 'Poor little Jack, yer honour,' and, fust of all, says he, 'I haven't got no coppers,' and then he turns back and give me a fourpenny-bit. I thought I was made for life when I got that.
I wasn't working in a gang then, but all by myself, and I used to do well, making about a shilling orninepence a-day. Ilodged in Churchlane at that time.
It was at the time of the Shibition year (1851) as these gangs come up. There was lots of boys that came out sweeping, and that's how they picked up the tumbling off me, seeing me do it up in the Park, going along to the Shibition.
The crossing at St. Martin's Church was mine fust of all; and when the other lads come to it I didn't take no heed of 'em—only for that I'd have been a bright boy by now, but they carnied me over like; for when I tried to turn 'em off they'd say, in a carnying way, 'Oh, let us stay on,' so I never took no heed of 'em.
There was about thirteen of 'em in my gang at that time.
They made me cap'an over the lot—I suppose because they thought I was the best
tumbler of 'em. They obeyed me a little. If I told 'em not to go to any gentleman, they wouldn't, and leave him to me. There was only one feller as used to give me a share of his money, and that was for larning him to tumble—he'd give a penny or twopence, just as he yearnt a little or a lot. I taught 'em all to tumble, and we used to do it near the crossing, and at night along the streets.
We used to be sometimes together of a day, some a-running after one gentleman, and some after another; but we seldom kept together more than three or four at a time.
I was the fust to introduce tumbling backards, and I'm proud of it—yes, sir, I'm proud of it. There's another little chap as I'm larning to do it; but he ain't got strength enough in his arms like. ('Ah!' exclaimed a lad in the room, 'he is a one to tumble, is Johnny— go along the streets like anythink.')
He is the King of the Tumblers," continued Gander—"King, and I'm Cap'an.
The old grandmother here joined in. "He was taught by a furreign gintleman, sir, whose wife rode at a circus. He used to come here twice a-day and give him lessons in this here very room, sir. That's how he got it, sir."
"Ah," added another lad, in an admiring tone, "see him and the Goose have a race! Away they goes, but Jacky will leave him a mile behind."
The history then continued:—"People liked the tumbling backards and forards, and it got a good bit of money at fust, but they is getting tired with it, and I'm growing too hold, I fancy. It hurt me awful at fust. I tried it fust under a railway arch of the Blackwall Railway; and when I goes backards, I thought it'd cut my head open. It hurts me if I've got a thin cap on.
The man as taught me tumbling has gone on the stage. Fust he went about with swords, fencing, in public-houses, and then he got engaged. Me and him once tumbled all round the circus at the Rotunda one night wot was a benefit, and got one-and-eightpence a-piece, and all for only five hours and a half—from six to half-past eleven, and we acting and tumbling, and all that. We had plenty of beer, too. We was wery much applauded when we did it.
I was the fust boy as ever did ornamental work in the mud of my crossings. I used to be at the crossing at the corner of Regentsuckus; and that's the wery place where I fust did it. The wery fust thing as I did was a hanker (anchor)—a regular one, with turnup sides and a rope down the centre, and all. I sweeped it away clean in the mud in the shape of the drawing I'd seen. It paid well, for I took one-and-ninepence on it. The next thing I tried was writing 'God save the Queen;' and that, too, paid capital, for I think I got two bob. After that I tried We Har (V. R.) and a star, and that was a sweep too. I never did no flowers, but I've done imitations of
laurels, and put them all round the crossing, and very pretty it looked, too, at night. I'd buy a farthing candle and stick it over it, and make it nice and comfortable, so that the people could look at it easy. Whenever I see a carriage coming I used to douse the glim and run away with it, but the wheels would regularly spile the drawings, and then we'd have all the trouble to put it to rights again, and that we used to do with our hands.
I fust learnt drawing in the mud from a man in Adelaide-street, Strand; he kept a crossing, but he only used to draw 'em close to the kerb-stone. He used to keep some soft mud there, and when a carriage come up to the Lowther Arcade, after he'd opened the door and let the lady out, he would set to work, and by the time she come back he'd have some flowers, or a We Har, or whatever he liked, done in the mud, and underneath he'd write, 'Please to remember honnest hindustry.'
I used to stand by and see him do it, until I'd learnt, and when I knowed, I went off and did it at my crossing.
I was the fust to light up at night though, and now I wish I'd never done it, for it was that which got me turned off my crossing, and a capital one it was. I thought the gentlemen coming from the play would like it, for it looked very pretty. The policeman said I was destructing (obstructing) the thoroughfare, and making too much row there, for the people used to stop in the crossing to look, it were so pretty. He took me in charge three times on one night, cause I wouldn't go away; but he let me go again, till at last I thought he would lock me up for the night, so I hooked it.
It was after this as I went to St. Martin's Church, and I haven't done half as well there. Last night I took three-ha'pence; but I was larking, or I might have had more.
As a proof of the very small expense which is required for the toilette of a crossingsweeper, I may mention, that within a few minutes after Master Gander had finished his statement, he was in possession of a coat, for which he had paid the sum of fivepence.
When he brought it into the room, all the boys and the women crowded round to see the purchase.
It's a very good un," said the Goose. "It only wants just taking up here and there; and this cuff putting to rights." And as he spoke he pointed to tears large enough for a head to be thrust through.
I've seen that coat before, sum'ares," said one of the women; "where did you get it?
"At the chandly-shop," answered the Goose.
The "King" of the Tumbling-Boy Crossing-Sweepers.
THE young sweeper who had been styled by his companions the "King" was a prettylooking boy, only tall enough to rest his
chin comfortably on the mantel-piece as he talked to me, and with a pair of grey eyes that were as bright and clear as drops of sea-water. He was clad in a style in no way agreeing with his royal title; for he had on a kind of dirtcoloured shooting-coat of tweed, which was fraying into a kind of cobweb at the edges and elbows. His trousers too, were rather faulty, for there was a pink-wrinkled dot of flesh at one of the knees; while their length was too great for his majesty's short legs, so that they had to be rolled up at the end like a washerwoman's sleeves.
His royal highness was of a restless disposition, and, whilst talking, lifted up, one after another, the different ornaments on the mantel-piece, frowning and looking at them sideways, as he pondered over the replies he should make to my questions.
When I arrived at the grandmother's apartment the "king" was absent, his majesty having been sent with a pitcher to fetch some spring-water.
The "king" also was kind enough to favour me with samples of his wondrous tumbling powers. He could bend his little legs round till they curved like the long German sausages we see in the ham-and-beef shops; and when he turned head over heels, he curled up his tiny body as closely as a wood-louse, and then rolled along, wabbling like an egg.
The boys call me Johnny," he said; "and I'm getting on for eleven, and I goes along with the Goose and Harry, a-sweeping at St. Martin's Church, and about there. I used, too, to go to the crossing where the statute is, sir, at the bottom of the Haymarket. I went along with the others; sometimes there were three or four of us, or sometimes one, sir. I never used to sweep unless it was wet. I don't go out not before twelve or one in the day; it ain't no use going before that; and beside, I couldn't get up before that, I'm too sleepy. I don't stop out so late as the other boys; they sometimes stop all night, but I don't like that. The Goose was out all night along with Martin; they went all along up Piccirilly, and there they climbed over the Park railings and went a birding all by themselves, and then they went to sleep for an hour on the grass— so they says. I likes better to come home to my bed. It kills me for the next day when I do stop out all night. The Goose is always out all night; he likes it.
Neither father nor mother's alive, sir, but I lives along with grandmother and aunt, as owns this room, and I always gives them all I gets.
Sometimes I makes a shilling, sometimes sixpence, and sometimes less. I can never take nothink of a day, only of a night, because I can't tumble of a day, and I can of a night.
The Gander taught me tumbling, and he was the first as did it along the crossings. I can tumble quite as well as the Goose; I can turn a caten-wheel, and he can't, and I can go
further on forards than him, but I can't tumble backards as he can. I can't do a handspring, though. Why, a handspring's pitching yourself forards on both hands, turning over in front, and lighting on your feet; that's very difficult, and very few can do it. There's one little chap, but he's very clever, and can tie himself up in a knot a'most. I'm best at caten-wheels; I can do 'em twelve or fourteen times running —keep on at it. It just does tire you, that's all. When I gets up I feels quite giddy. I can tumble about forty times over head and heels. I does the most of that, and I thinks it's the most difficult, but I can't say which gentlemen likes best. You see they are anigh sick of the head-and-heels tumbling, and then werry few of the boys can do caten-wheels on the crossings—only two or three besides me.
When I see anybody coming, I says, 'Please, sir, give me a halfpenny,' and touches my hair, and then I throws a caten-wheel, and has a look at 'em, and if I sees they are laughing, then I goes on and throws more of 'em. Perhaps one in ten will give a chap something. Some of 'em will give you a threepenny-bit or p'rhaps sixpence, and others only give you a kick. Well, sir, I should say they likes tumbling over head and heels; if you can keep it up twenty times then they begins laughing, but if you only does it once, some of 'em will say, 'Oh, I could do that myself,' and then they don't give nothink.
I know they calls me the King of Tumblers, and I think I can tumble the best of them; none of them is so good as me, only the Goose at tumbling backards.
We don't crab one another when we are sweeping; if we was to crab one another, we'd get to fighting and giving slaps of the jaw to one another. So when we sees anybody coming, we cries, 'My gentleman and lady coming here;' 'My lady;' 'My two gentlemens;' and if any other chap gets the money, then we says, 'I named them, now I'll have halves.' And if he won't give it, then we'll smug his broom or his cap. I'm the littlest chap among our lot, but if a fellow like the Goose was to take my naming then I'd smug somethink. I shouldn't mind his licking me, I'd smug his money and get his halfpence or somethink. If a chap as can't tumble sees a sporting gent coming and names him, he says to one of us tumblers, 'Now, then, who'll give us halves?' and then we goes and tumbles and shares. The sporting gentlemens likes tumbling; they kicks up more row laughing than a dozen others.
Sometimes at night we goes down to Covent Garden, to where Hevans's is, but not till all the plays is over, cause Hevans's don't shut afore two or three. When the people comes out we gets tumbling afore them. Some of the drunken gentlemens is shocking spiteful, and runs after a chap and gives us a cut with the cane; some of the others will give us money, and some will buy our broom off us for sixpence. Me and Jemmy sold the two of
our brooms for a shilling to two drunken gentlemens, and they began kicking up a row, and going before other gentlemens and pretending to sweep, and taking off their hats begging, like a mocking of us. They danced about with the brooms, flourishing 'em in the air, and knocking off people's hats; and at last they got into a cab, and chucked the brooms away. The drunken gentlemens is always either jolly or spiteful.
But I goes only to the Haymarket, and about Pall Mall, now. I used to be going up to Hevans's every night, but I can't take my money up there now. I stands at the top of the Haymarket by Windmill-street, and when I sees a lady and gentleman coming out of the Argyle, then I begs of them as they comes across. I says—'Can't you give me a ha'penny, sir, poor little Jack? I'll stand on my nose for a penny;'—and then they laughs at that.
Goose can stand on his nose as well as me; we puts the face flat down on the ground, instead of standing on our heads. There's Duckey Dunnovan, and the Stuttering Baboon, too, and two others as well, as can do it; but the Stuttering Baboon's getting too big and fat to do it well; he's a very awkward tumbler. It don't hurt, only at larning; cos you bears more on your hands than your nose.
Sometimes they says—'Well, let us see you do it,' and then p'raps they'll search in their pockets, and say—'O, I haven't got any coppers:' so then we'll force 'em, and p'raps they'll pull out their purse and gives us a little bit of silver.
Ah, we works hard for what we gets, and then there's the policemen birching us. Some of 'em is so spiteful, they takes up their belt what they uses round the waist to keep their coat tight, and 'll hit us with the buckle; but we generally gives 'em the lucky dodge and gets out of their way.
One night, two gentlemen, officers they was, was standing in the Haymarket, and a drunken man passed by. There was snow on the ground, and we'd been begging of 'em, and says one of them—'I'll give you a shilling if you'll knock that drunken man over.' We was three of us; so we set on him, and soon had him down. After he got up he went and told the policemen, but we all cut round different ways and got off, and then met again. We didn't get the shilling, though, cos a boy crabbed us. He went up to the gentleman, and says he—'Give it me, sir, I'm the boy;' and then we says—'No, sir, it's us.' So, says the officer—'I sharn't give it to none of you,' and puts it back again in his pockets. We broke a broom over the boy as crabbed us, and then we cut down Waterloo-place, and afterwards we come up to the Haymarket again, and there we met the officers again. I did a caten-wheel, and then says I—'Then won't you give me un now?' and they says—'Go and sweep some mud on that woman.' So I went and did it, and then they takes me in a
pastry-shop at the corner, and they tells me to tumble on the tables in the shop. I nearly broke one of 'em, they were so delicate. They gived me a fourpenny meat-pie and two penny sponge-cakes, which I puts in my pocket, cos there was another sharing with me. The lady of the shop kept on screaming—'Go and fetch me a police—take the dirty boy out,' cos I was standing on the tables in my muddy feet, and the officers was a bursting their sides with laughing; and says they, 'No, he sharn't stir.'
I was frightened, cos if the police had come they'd been safe and sure to have took me. They made me tumble from the door to the end of the shop, and back again, and then I turned 'em a caten-wheel, and was near knocking down all the things as was on the counter.
They didn't give me no money, only pies; but I got a shilling another time for tumbling to some French ladies and gentlemen in a pastry-cook's shop under the Colonnade. I often goes into a shop like that; I've done it a good many times.
There was a gentleman once as belonged to a 'suckus,' (circus) as wanted to take me with him abroad, and teach me tumbling. He had a little mustache, and used to belong to Drurylane play-house, riding on horses. I went to his place, and stopped there some time. He taught me to put my leg round my neck, and I was just getting along nicely with the splits (going down on the ground with both legs extended), when I left him. They (the splits) used to hurt worst of all; very bad for the thighs. I used, too, to hang with my leg round his neck. When I did anythink he liked, he used to be clapping me on the back. He wasn't so very stunning well off, for he never had what I calls a good dinner—grandmother used to have a better dinner than he,—perhaps only a bit of scrag of mutton between three of us. I don't like meat nor butter, but I likes dripping, and they never had none there. The wife used to drink—ay, very much, on the sly. She used when he was out to send me round with a bottle and sixpence to get a quartern of gin for her, and she'd take it with three or four oysters. Grandmother didn't like the notion of my going away, so she went down one day, and says she—'I wants my child;' and the wife says—'That's according to the master's likings;' and then grandmother says—'What, not my own child?' And then grandmother began talking, and at last, when the master come home, he says to me—'Which will you do, stop here, or go home with your grandmother?' So I come along with her.
I've been sweeping the crossings getting on for two years. Before that I used to go caten-wheeling after the busses. I don't like the sweeping, and I don't think there's e'er a one of us wot likes it. In the winter we has to be out in the cold, and then in summer we
have to sleep out all night, or go asleep on the church-steps, reg'lar tired out.
One of us 'll say at night—'Oh, I'm sleepy now, who's game for a doss? I'm for a doss;' —and then we go eight or ten of us into a doorway of the church, where they keep the dead in a kind of airy-like underneath, and there we go to sleep. The most of the boys has got no homes. Perhaps they've got the price of a lodging, but they're hungry, and they eats the money, and then they must lay out. There's some of 'em will stop out in the wet for perhaps the sake of a halfpenny, and get themselves sopping wet. I think all our chaps would like to get out of the work if they could; I'm sure Goose would, and so would I.
All the boys call me the King, because I tumbles so well, and some calls me 'Pluck,' and some 'Judy.' I'm called 'Pluck,' cause I'm so plucked a going at the gentlemen! Tommy Dunnovan—'Tipperty Tight'—we calls him, cos his trousers is so tight he can hardly move in them sometimes,—he was the first as called me 'Judy.' Dunnovan once swallowed a pill for a shilling. A gentleman in the Haymarket says—'If you'll swallow this here pill I'll give you a shilling;' and Jimmy says, 'All right, sir;' and he puts it in his mouth, and went to the water-pails near the cab-stand and swallowed it.
All the chaps in our gang likes me, and we all likes one another. We always shows what we gets given to us to eat.
Sometimes we gets one another up wild, and then that fetches up a fight, but that isn't often. When two of us fights, the others stands round and sees fair play. There was a fight last night between 'Broke his Bones'—as we calls Antony Hones—and Neddy Hall—the 'Sparrow,' or 'Spider,' we calls him,—something about the root of a pineapple, as we was aiming with at one another, and that called up a fight. We all stood round and saw them at it, but neither of 'em licked, for they gived in for to-day, and they're to finish it to-night. We makes 'em fight fair. We all of us likes to see a fight, but not to fight ourselves. Hones is sure to beat, as Spider is as thin as a wafer, and all bones. I can lick the Spider, though he's twice my size.
The Street Where the Boy-Sweepers Lodged.
I WAS anxious to see the room in which the gang of boy crossing-sweepers lived, so that I might judge of their peculiar style of housekeeping, and form some notion of their principles of domestic economy.
I asked young Harry and "the Goose" to conduct me to their lodgings, and they at once consented, "the Goose" prefacing his compliance with the remark, that "it wern't such as genilmen had been accustomed to, but then I must take 'em as they was."
The boys led me in the direction of Drurylane; and before entering one of the narrow streets which branch off like the side-bones of a fish's spine from that long thoroughfare, they thought fit to caution me that I was not to be frightened, as nobody would touch me, for all was very civil.
The locality consisted of one of those narrow streets which, were it not for the paved cartway in the centre would be called a court. Seated on the pavement at each side of the entrance was a costerwoman with her basket before her, and her legs tucked up mysteriously under her gown into a round ball, so that her figure resembled in shape the plaster tumblers sold by the Italians. These women remained as inanimate as if they had been carved images, and it was only when a passenger went by that they gave signs of life, by calling out in a low voice, like talking to themselves, "Two for three haarpence—herrens,"—"Fine hinguns."
The street itself is like the description given of thoroughfares in the East. Opposite neighbours could not exactly shake hands out of window, but they could talk together very comfortably; and, indeed, as I passed along, I observed several women with their arms folded up like a cat's paws on the sill, and chatting with their friends over the way.
Nearly all the inhabitants were costermongers, and, indeed, the narrow cartway seemed to have been made just wide enough for a truck to wheel down it. A beershop and a general store, together with a couple of sweeps,— whose residences were distinguished by a broom over the door,—formed the only exceptions to the street-selling class of inhabitants.
As I entered the place, it gave me the notion that it belonged to a distinct coster colony, and formed one large hawkers' home; for everybody seemed to be doing just as he liked, and I was stared at as if condered an intruder. Women were seated on the pavement, knitting, and repairing their linen; the doorways were filled up with bonnetless girls, who wore their shawls over their head, as the Spanish women do their mantillas; and the youths in corduroy and brass buttons, who were chatting with them, leant against the walls as they smoked their pipes, and blocked up the pavement, as if they were the proprietors of the place. Little children formed a convenient bench out of the kerbstone; and a party of four men were seated on the footway, playing with cards which had turned to the colour of brown paper from long usage, and marking the points with chalk upon the flags.
The parlour-windows of the houses had all of them wooden shutters, as thick and clumsy-looking as a kitchen flap-table, the paint of which had turned to the dull dirtcolour of an old slate. Some of these shutters were evidently never used as a security for the
dwelling, but served only as tables on which to chalk the accounts of the day's sales.
Before most of the doors were costermongers' trucks—some standing ready to be wheeled off, and others stained and muddy with the day's work. A few of the costers were dressing up their barrows, arranging the sieves of waxy-looking potatoes—and others taking the stiff herrings, browned like a meerschaum with the smoke they had been dried in, from the barrels beside them, and spacing them out in pennyworths on their trays.
You might guess what each costermonger had taken out that day by the heap of refuse swept into the street before the doors. One house had a blue mound of mussel-shells in front of it—another, a pile of the outside leaves of broccoli and cabbages, turning yellow and slimy with bruises and moisture.
Hanging up beside some of the doors were bundles of old strawberry pottles, stained red with the fruit. Over the trap-doors to the cellars were piles of market-gardeners' sieves, ruddled like a sheep's back with big red letters. In fact, everything that met the eye seemed to be in some way connected with the coster's trade.
From the windows poles stretched out, on which blankets, petticoats, and linen were drying; and so numerous were they, that they reminded me of the flags hung out at a Paris fête. Some of the sheets had patches as big as trap-doors let into their centres; and the blankets were—many of them—as full of holes as a pigeon-house.
As I entered the court, a "row" was going on; and from a first-floor window a lady, whose hair sadly wanted brushing, was haranguing a crowd beneath, throwing her arms about like a drowning man, and in her excitement thrusting her body half out of her temporary rostrum as energetically as I have seen Punch lean over his theatre.
The willin dragged her," she shouted, "by the hair of her head, at least three yards into the court—the willin! and then he kicked her, and the blood was on his boot.
It was a sweep who had been behaving in this cowardly manner; but still he had his defenders in the women around him. One with very shiny hair, and an Indian kerchief round her neck, answered the lady in the window, by calling her a "d——d old cat;" whilst the sweep's wife rushed about, clapping her hands together as quickly as if she was applauding at a theatre, and styled somebody or other "an old wagabones as she wouldn't dirty her hands to fight with."
This "row" had the effect of drawing all the lodgers to the windows—their heads popping out as suddenly as dogs from their kennels in a fancier's yard.
The Boy-Sweepers' Room.
THE room where the boys lodged was scarcely bigger than a coach-house; and so low was
the ceiling, that a fly-paper suspended from a clothes-line was on a level with my head, and had to be carefully avoided when I moved about.
One corner of the apartment was completely filled up by a big four-post bedstead, which fitted into a kind of recess as perfectly as if it had been built to order.
The old woman who kept this lodging had endeavoured to give it a homely look of comfort, by hanging little black-framed pictures, scarcely bigger than pocket-books, on the walls. Most of these were sacred subjects, with large yellow glories round the heads; though between the drawing representing the bleeding heart of Christ, and the Saviour bearing the Cross, was an illustration of a red-waistcoated sailor smoking his pipe. The Adoration of the Shepherds, again, was matched on the other side of the fireplace by a portrait of Daniel O'Connell.
A chest of drawers was covered over with a green baize cloth, on which books, shelves, and clean glasses were tidily set out.
Where so many persons (for there were about eight of them, including the landlady, her daughter, and grandson) could all sleep, puzzled me extremely.
The landlady wore a frilled nightcap, which fitted so closely to the skull, that it was evident she had lost her hair. One of her eyes was slowly recovering from a blow, which, to use her own words, "a blackgeyard gave her." Her lip, too, had suffered in the encounter, for it was swollen and cut.
I've a nice flock-bid for the boys," she said, when I inquired into the accommodation of her lodging-house, "where three of them can slape aisy and comfortable.
"It's a large bed, sir," said one of the boys, "and a warm covering over us; and you see it's better than a regular lodging-house; for, if you want a knife or a cup, you don't have to leave something on it till it's returned."
The old woman spoke up for her lodgers, telling me that they were good boys, and very honest; "for," she added, "they pays me rig'lar ivery night, which is threepence."
The only youth as to whose morals she seemed to be at all doubtful was "the Goose," "for he kept late hours, and sometimes came home without a penny in his pocket."
B. The Girl Crossing-Sweepers.
The Girl Crossing-Sweeper Sent Out by Her Father.
A LITTLE girl, who worked by herself at her own crossing, gave me some curious information on the subject.
This child had a peculiarly flat face, with a button of a nose, while her mouth was scarcely larger than a button-hole. When she spoke, there was not the slightest expression visible in her features; indeed, one might have fancied she wore a mask and was talking
behind it; but her eyes were shining the while as brightly as those of a person in a fever, and kept moving about, restless with her timidity. The green frock she wore was fastened close to the neck, and was turning into a kind of mouldy tint; she also wore a black stuff apron, stained with big patches of gruel, "from feeding baby at home, as she said." Her hair was tidily dressed, being drawn tightly back from the forehead, like the buya- broom girls; and as she stood with her hands thrust up her sleeves, she curtseyed each time before answering, bobbing down like a float, as though the floor under her had suddenly given way.
I'm twelve years old, please sir, and my name is Margaret R——, and I sweep a crossing in New Oxford-street, by Dunn's-passage, just facing Moses and Sons', sir; by the Catholic school, sir. Mother's been dead these two year, sir, and father's a working cutler, sir; and I lives with him, but he don't get much to do, and so I'm obligated to help him, doing what I can, sir. Since mother's been dead, I've had to mind my little brother and sister, so that I haven't been to school; but when I goes a crossing-sweeping I takes them along with me, and they sits on the steps close by, sir. If it's wet I has to stop at home and take care of them, for father depends upon me for looking after them. Sister's three and a-half year old, and brother's five year, so he's just beginning to help me, sir. I hope he'll get something better than a crossing when he grows up.
First of all I used to go singing songs in the streets, sir. It was when father had no work, so he stopped at home and looked after the children. I used to sing the 'Red, White, and Blue,' and 'Mother, is the Battle over?' and 'The Gipsy Girl,' and sometimes I'd get fourpence or fivepence, and sometimes I'd have a chance of making ninepence, sir. Sometimes, though, I'd take a shilling of a Saturday night in the markets.
At last the songs grew so stale people wouldn't listen to them, and, as I carn't read, I couldn't learn any more, sir. My big brother and father used to learn me some, but I never could get enough out of them for the streets; besides, father was out of work still, and we couldn't get money enough to buy ballads with, and it's no good singing without having them to sell. We live over there, sir, (pointing to a window on the other side of the narrow street).
The notion come into my head all of itself to sweep crossings, sir. As I used to go up Regent-street I used to see men and women, and girls and boys, sweeping, and the people giving them money, so I thought I'd do the same thing. That's how it come about. Just now the weather is so dry, I don't go to my crossing, but goes out singing. I've learnt some new songs, such as 'The Queen of the Navy for ever,' and 'The Widow's Last
Prayer,' which is about the wars. I only go sweeping in wet weather, because then's the best time. When I am there, there's some ladies and gentlemen as gives to me regular. I knows them by sight; and there's a beershop where they give me some bread and cheese whenever I go.
I generally takes about sixpence, or sevenpence, or eightpence on the crossing, from about nine o'clock in the morning till four in the evening, when I come home. I don't stop out at nights because father won't let me, and I'm got to be home to see to baby.
My broom costs me twopence ha'penny, and in wet weather it lasts a week, but in dry weather we seldom uses it.
When I sees the busses and carriages coming I stands on the side, for I'm afeard of being runned over. In winter I goes out and cleans ladies' doors, general about Lincoln'sinn, for the housekeepers. I gets twopence a door, but it takes a long time when the ice is hardened, so that I carn't do only about two or three.
I carn't tell whether I shall always stop at sweeping, but I've no clothes, and so I carn't get a situation; for, though I'm small and young, yet I could do housework, such as cleaning.
No, sir, there's no gang on my crossing— I'm all alone. If another girl or a boy was to come and take it when I'm not there, I should stop on it as well as him or her, and go shares with 'em.
I WAS told that a little girl formed one of the association of young sweepers, and at my request one of the boys went to fetch her.
She was a clean-washed little thing, with a pretty, expressive countenance, and each time she was asked a question she frowned, like a baby in its sleep, while thinking of the answer. In her ears she wore instead of rings loops of string, "which the doctor had put there because her sight was wrong." A cotton velvet bonnet, scarcely larger than the sun-shades worn at the sea-side, hung on her shoulders, leaving exposed her head, with the hair as rough as tow. Her green stuff gown was hanging in tatters, with long three-cornered rents as large as penny kites, showing the grey lining underneath; and her mantle was separated into so many pieces, that it was only held together by the braiding at the edge.
As she conversed with me, she played with the strings of her bonnet, rolling them up as if curling them, on her singularly small and also singularly dirty fingers.
I'll be fourteen, sir, a fortnight before next Christmas. I was born in Liquorpond-street, Gray's Inn-lane. Father come over from Ireland, and was a bricklayer. He had pains in his limbs and wasn't strong enough, so he give it over. He's dead now—been dead a long
time, sir. I was a littler girl then that I am now, for I wasn't above eleven at that time. I lived with mother after father died. She used to sell things in the streets—yes, sir, she was a coster. About a twelvemonth after father's death, mother was taken bad with the cholera, and died. I then went along with both grandmother and grandfather, who was a porter in Newgate Market; I stopped there until I got a place as servant of all-work. I was only turned, just turned, eleven then. I worked along with a French lady and gentleman in Hatton Garden, who used to give me a shilling a-week and my tea. I used to go home to grandmother's to dinner every day. I hadn't to do any work, only just to clean the room and nuss the child. It was a nice little thing. I couldn't understand what the French people used to say, but there was a boy working there, and he used to explain to me what they meant.
I left them because they was going to a place called Italy—perhaps you may have heerd tell of it, sir. Well, I suppose they must have been Italians, but we calls everybody, whose talk we don't understand, French. I went back to grandmother's, but, after grandfather died, she couldn't keep me, and so I went out begging—she sent me. I carried lucifer-matches and stay-laces fust. I used to carry about a dozen laces, and perhaps I'd sell six out of them. I suppose I used to make about sixpence a-day, and I used to take it home to grandmother, who kept and fed me.
At last, finding I didn't get much at begging, I thought I'd go crossing-sweeping. I saw other children doing it. I says to myself, 'I'll go and buy a broom,' and I spoke to another little girl, who was sweeping up Holborn, who told me what I was to do. 'But,' says she, 'don't come and cut up me.'
I went fust to Holborn, near to home, at the end of Red Lion-street. Then I was frightened of the cabs and carriages, but I'd get there early, about eight o'clock, and sweep the crossing clean, and I'd stand at the side on the pavement, and speak to the gentlemen and ladies before they crossed.
There was a couple of boys, sweepers at the same crossing before I went there. I went to them and asked if I might come and sweep there too, and they said Yes, if I would give them some of the halfpence I got. These was boys about as old as I was, and they said, if I earned sixpence, I was to give them twopence a-piece; but they never give me nothink of theirs. I never took more than sixpence, and out of that I had to give fourpence, so that I did not do so well as with the laces.
The crossings made my hands sore with the sweeping, and, as I got so little, I thought I'd try somewhere else. Then I got right down to the Fountings in Trafalgar-square, by the crossing at the statey on 'orseback. There were a good many boys and girls on that crossing at the time—five of them; so I went along
with them. When I fust went they said, 'Here's another fresh 'un.' They come up to me and says, 'Are you going to sweep here?' and I says, 'Yes;' and they says, 'You mustn't come here, there's too many;' and I says, 'They're different ones every day,'—for they're not regular there, but shift about, sometimes one lot of boys and girls, and the next day another. They didn't say another word to me, and so I stopped.
It's a capital crossing, but there's so many of us, it spiles it. I seldom gets more than sevenpence a-day, which I always takes home to grandmother.
I've been on that crossing about three months. They always calls me Ellen, my regular name, and behaves very well to me. If I see anybody coming, I call them out as the boys does, and then they are mine.
There's a boy and myself, and another strange girl, works on our side of the statey, and another lot of boys and girls on the other.
I like Saturdays the best day of the week, because that's the time as gentlemen as has been at work has their money, and then they are more generous. I gets more then, perhaps ninepence, but not quite a shilling, on the Saturday.
I've had a threepenny-bit give to me, but never sixpence. It was a gentleman, and I should know him again. Ladies gives me less than gentlemen. I foller 'em, saying, 'If you please, sir, give a poor girl a halfpenny;' but if the police are looking, I stop still.
I never goes out on Sunday, but stops at home with grandmother. I don't stop out at nights like the boys, but I gets home by ten at latest.
END OF VOL. II.
LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET, AND CHARING CROSS.