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Samuel Pepys
Elizabeth I
London's Underworld
Fleet Marriages.
The Cries of London

"Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odours seem to tell
What street they sail'd from, by their sight and smell ...
Sweepings from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drown'd puppies, shaking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood."

-- Jonathan Swift (describing the Fleet River)

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London's PeopleLondon's Costermongers: 1 - The Street Folk
Posted on Aug 04, 2008 - 09:22 PM by Bill McCann

In 1862, Henry Mayhew published his magnificent survey: London Labour and the London Poor. He opens the first volume with a detailed survey of the class of people who make their living on the streets of the metropolis, known as Costermongers. He then goes on to describe the varieties of people in each class. He begins with a general survey of the types of Street-Folk he encountered. He arranges them in six broad classes, which include Street-Sellers, Street-Finders and Working Pedlars. The Street sellers are the largest group, making up almost 75% of those who made their living on the streets. The range of items, or services, for sale is huge. Amongst the eatables we find sheep's trotters, hot green peas, and cat and dog meat! There were also marvels such as horses with six legs or two heads, industrious fleas or pig-faced ladies to be seen!


Of The London Street Folk

THOSE who obtain their living in the streets of the metropolis are a very large and varied class; indeed, the means resorted to in order "to pick up a crust," as the people call it, in the public thoroughfares (and such in many instances it literally is,) are so multifarious that the mind is long baffled in its attempts to reduce them to scientific order or classification.

It would appear, however, that the street- people may be all arranged under six distinct genera or kinds.

These are severally:

  1. Street-sellers
  2. Street-buyers
  3. Street-Finders
  4. Street-Performers, Artists, and Showmen
  5. Street-Artizans, or Working Pedlars
  6. Street-Labourers

The first of these divisions, the Street-Sellers, includes many varieties; viz.,

  1. The Street-sellers of Fish, etc., "wet," "dry,"and shell-fish, and poultry, game, and cheese.
  2. The Street-sellers of Vegetables, fruit (both) "green" and "dry"), flowers, trees, shrubs, seeds, and roots, and "green stuff" (as water-cresses, chickweed and grun'sel, and turf).
  3. The Street-sellers of Eatables and Drinkables, including the vendors of fried fish, hot eels, pickled whelks, sheep's trotters, ham sandwiches, peas'-soup, hot green peas, penny pies, plum "duff," meat-puddings, baked potatoes, spice- cakes, muffins and crumpets, Chelsea buns, sweetmeats, brandy-balls, cough drops, and cat and dog's meat, such constituting the principal eatables sold in the street; while under the head of street-drinkables may be specified tea and coffee, ginger-beer, lemonade, hot wine, new milk from the cow, asses milk, curds and whey, and occasionally water.
  4. The Street-sellers of Stationery, Literature, and the Fine Arts, among whom are comprised the flying stationers, or standing and running patterers; the long-song-sellers; the wall-song- sellers (or "pinners-up," as they are technically termed); the ballad sellers; the vendors of play-bills, second editions of newspapers, back numbers of periodicals and old books, almanacks, pocket books, memorandum books, note paper, sealing-wax, pens, pencils, stenographic cards, valentines, engravings, manuscript music, images, and gelatine poetry cards.
  5. The Street-sellers of Manufactured Articles, which class comprises a large number of individuals, as,
    1. The vendors of chemical articles of manufacture, viz., blacking, lucifers, corn- salves, grease-removing compositions, plating-balls, poison for rats, crackers, detonating-balls, and cigar-lights.
    2. The vendors of metal articles of manufacture, razors and pen-knives, tea-trays, dog-collars, and key-rings, hardware, bird-cages, small coins, medals, jewellery, tin-ware, tools, card-counters, red-herring-toasters, trivets, gridirons, and Dutch ovens.
    3. The vendors of china and stone articles of manufacture, as cups and saucers, jugs, vases, chimney ornaments, and stone fruit.
    4. The vendors of linen, cotton, and silken articles of manufacture, as sheeting, table-covers, cotton, tapes and thread, boot and stay-laces, haberdashery, pretended smuggled goods, shirt-buttons, etc., etc.; and
    5. the vendors of miscellaneous articles of manufacture, as cigars, pipes, and snuff-boxes, spectacles, combs, "lots," rhubarb, sponges, wash-leather, paper-hangings, dolls, Bristol toys, sawdust, and pin-cushions.

  6. The Street-sellers of Second-hand Articles, of whom there are again four separate classes; as (a) those who sell old metal articles, viz. old knives and forks, keys, tin-ware, tools, and marine stores generally; (b) those who sell old linen articles, as old sheeting for towels; (c) those who sell old glass and crockery, including bottles, old pans and pitchers, old looking glasses, etc.; and (d) those who sell old miscellaneous articles, as old shoes, old clothes, old saucepan lids, etc., etc.
  7. The Street-sellers of Live Animals, including the dealers in dogs, squirrels, birds, gold and silver fish, and tortoises.
  8. The Street-sellers of Mineral Productions and Curiosities, as red and white sand, silver sand, coals, coke, salt, spar ornaments, and shells.

These, so far as my experience goes, exhaust the whole class of street-sellers, and they appear to constitute nearly three-fourths of the entire number of individuals obtaining a subsistence in the streets of London.

The next class are the Street-Buyers, under which denomination come the purchasers of hare-skins, old clothes, old umbrellas, bottles, glass, broken metal, rags, waste paper, and dripping.

After these we have the Street-Finders, or those who, as I said before, literally "pick up" their living in the public thoroughfares. They are the "pure" pickers, or those who live by gathering dogs' dung; the cigar-end finders, or "hard- ups," as they are called, who collect the refuse pieces of smoked cigars from the gutters, and having dried them, sell them as tobacco to the very poor; the dredgermen or coal-finders; the mud-larks, the bone-grubbers; and the sewer-hunters.

Under the fourth division, or that of the Street-Performers, Artists, and Showmen, are likewise many distinct callings.

1. The Street-Performers, who admit of being classified into (a) mountebanks - or those who enact puppet-shows, as Punch and Judy, the fantoccini, and the Chinese shades. (b) The street- performers of feats of strength and dexterity - as "acrobats" or posturers, "equilibrists" or balancers, stiff and bending tumblers, jugglers, conjurors, sword-swallowers, "salamanders" or fire-eaters, swordsmen, etc. (c) The street- performers with trained animals - as dancing dogs, performing monkeys, trained birds and mice, cats and hares, sapient pigs, dancing bears, and tame camels. (d) The street-actors - as clowns, "Billy Barlows," "Jim Crows," and others.

2. The Street Showmen, including shows of (a) extraordinary persons - as giants, dwarfs, Albinoes, spotted boys, and pig-faced ladies. (b) Extraordinary animals - as alligators, calves, horses and pigs with six legs or two heads, industrious fleas, and happy families. (c) Philosophic instruments - as the microscope, telescope, thaumascope. (d) Measuring-machines - as weighing, lifting, measuring, and striking machines; and (e) miscellaneous shows - such as peep-shows, glass ships, mechanical figures, wax-work shows, pugilistic shows, and fortune-telling apparatus.

3. The Street-Artists - as black profile-cutters, blind paper-cutters, "screevers" or draughtsmen in coloured chalks on the pavement, writers without hands, and readers without eyes.

4. The Street Dancers - as street Scotch girls, sailors, slack and tight rope dancers, dancers on stilts, and comic dancers.

5. The Street Musicians - as the street bands (English and German), players of the guitar, harp, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, dulcimer, musical bells, cornet, tom-tom, etc.

6. The Street Singers, as the singers of glees, ballads, comic songs, nigger melodies, psalms, serenaders, reciters, and improvisatori.

7. The Proprietors of Street Games, as swings, highflyers, roundabouts, puff-and-darts, rifle shooting, down the dolly, spin-'em-rounds, prick the garter, thimble-rig, etc.

Then comes the Fifth Division of the Street- Folk, viz., the Street-Artizans, or Working Pedlars;

These may be severally arranged into three distinct groups - (1) Those who make things in the streets; (2) Those who mend things in the streets; and (3) Those who make things at home and sell them in the streets.

1. Of those who make things in the streets there are the following varieties: (a) the metal workers - such as toasting-fork makers, pin makers, engravers, tobacco-stopper makers. (b) The textile-workers - stocking-weavers, cabbadge -net makers, night-cap knitters, doll-dress knitters. (c) The miscellaneous workers, - the wooden spoon makers, the leather brace and garter makers, the printers, and the glass-blowers.

2. Those who mend things in the streets, consist of broken china and glass menders, clock menders, umbrella menders, kettle menders, chair menders, grease removers, hat cleaners, razor and knife grinders, glaziers, travelling bell hangers, and knife cleaners.

3. Those who make things at home and sell them in the streets, are

  1. The wood workers - as the makers of clothes-pegs, clothes-props, skewers, needle-cases, foot-stools and clothes-horses, chairs and tables, tea-caddies, writing-desks, drawers, work-boxes, dressing-cases, pails and tubs.
  2. The trunk, hat, and bonnet-box makers, and the cane and rush basket makers.
  3. The toy makers - such as Chinese roarers, children's windmills, flying birds and fishes, feathered cocks, black velvet cats and sweeps, paper houses, cardboard carriages, little copper pans and kettles, tiny tin fireplaces, children's watches, Dutch dolls, buy-a-brooms, and gutta- percha heads.
  4. The apparel makers - viz., the makers of women's caps, boys and men's cloth caps, night-caps, straw bonnets, children's dresses, watch-pockets, bonnet shapes, silk bonnets, and gaiters.
  5. The metal workers, - as the makers of fire-guards, bird-cages, the wire workers.
  6. The miscellaneous workers - or makers of ornaments for stoves, chimney ornaments, artificial flowers in pots and in nose- gays, plaster-of-Paris night-shades, brooms, brushes, mats, rugs, hearthstones, firewood, rush matting, and hassocks.

Of the last division, or Street-Labourers, there are four classes:

1. The Cleansers - such as scavengers, night-men, flushermen, chimney-sweeps, dustmen, crossing-sweepers, "street-orderlies," labourers to sweeping-machines and to watering-carts.
2. The Lighters and Waterers - or the turn-cocks and the lamplighters.
3. The Street-Advertisers - viz., the bill-stickers, bill-deliverers, boardmen, men to advertising vans, and wall and pavement stencillers.
4. The Street-Servants - as horse holders, link- men, coach-hirers, street-porters, shoe-blacks.


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