Jewish Labour and the London Poor in 1851

The year 1851 saw the publication of the first edition of Henry Mayhew’s masterpiece, London Labour and the London Poor. These extracts describe the working class section of the Jewish community at the time. I have added names and addresses of some mid-nineteenth century Jewish families which are relevant to the extracts.

Of the Orange and Nut Market

In Houndsditch there is a market supported principally by costermongers, who there purchase their oranges, lemons, and nuts. This market is entirely in the hands of the Jews; and although a few trademen may attend it to buy grapes, still it derives its chief custom from the street-dealers who say they can make far better bargains with the Israelites, (as they never refuse and offer), than they can with the Covent-garden salesmen, who generally cling to their prices. This market is known by the name of ‘Duke’s-place,’ although its proper title is St. James’s-place. The nearest road to it is through Duke’s-street, and the two titles have been so confounded that at length the mistake has grown into a custom.

Duke’s Place, Aldgate, Joseph Josephs, orange merchant (Robson’s Directory, 1830)
5 Duke’s Place, Aldgate, S. [Samuel – ed.] Levy, orange merchant (Robson’s Directory, 1823)
1 King Street, Isaac Isaacs, orange merchant (Watkins Directory, 1853)
2 King Street, Lazarus Isaacs, orange merchant (Watkins Directory, 1855)
5 King Street, David Levy, orange merchant (PO Directory, 1846)
7 King Street, Isaac Joel, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
8 King Street, Israel Isaacs, orange merchant (Watkins Directory, 1855)
21 King Street, Henry Isaacs, orange merchant (Watkins Directory,1852)
15 Mitre Street, Abraham Joel, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
15 Mitre Street, Barnett Hart, orange merchant (PO Directory 1849)
16 Mitre Street, Matthew Levy, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
16 Mitre Street, Nathan Levy, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
17 Mitre Street, Moses Levy, orange merchant (PO Directory, 1841)
17 Mitre Street, Samuel Levy, orange merchant (PO Directory, 1840)
18 Mitre Street, Samuel Isaacs, orange merchant (PO Directory 1849)
18 Mitre Street, Moss Emanuel, orange merchant (Watkins Directory 1855)
21 Mitre Street, Henry Isaacs, orange merchant (Watkin’s Directory, 1855)
23 Mitre Street, Samuel Levy, orange merchant (PO Directory, 1849)
24 Mitre Street, Angel Levy, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
25 Mitre Street, Isaac Martin, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
26 Mitre Street, Louis Harris, orange dealer (PO Directory 1866)
29 Mitre Street, Mrs. Ann Levy, orange dealer (Watkins Directory, 1852)
1 St. James’ Place, David Levy, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
1 St. James’ Place, widow [Leah – ed.] Cohen, orange merchant (Thompson’s Directory, 1844)
2 St. James’ Place, Joseph Josephs, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
2 St. James’ Place, Joseph Joseph, orange merchant (PO Directory, 1846)
5 St. James’ Place, Samuel Levy, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
5 St. James’ Place, Samuel Isaacs, orange merchant (Robson’s Directory, 1841)
7 St. James’ Place, Michael Isaacs, orange merchant (Pigot’s Directory 1836)

Duke’s-place - as the coster’s call it - is a large square yard, with the iron gates of a synagogue in one corner, a dead wall forming one entire side of the court, and a gas-lamp on a circular pavement in the centre. The place looks as if it were devoted to money-making - for it is quiet and dirty. Not a gilt letter is to be seen over a doorway; there is no display of gaudy colour, or sheets of plate-glass....

At a little distance the warehouses, with their low ceilings, open fronts, and black sides, seem like dark holes or coal-stores; and, but for the mahogany backs of chairs showing at the first floors, you would scarcely believe the houses to be inhabited, much more to be elegantly furnished as they are. One of the drawing-rooms that I entered here was warm and red with morocco leather, Spanish mahogany, and curtains and Turkey carpets; while the ormolu chandalier and the gilt frames of the looking-glass and pictures twinkled at every point in the fire-light.

The householders in Duke’s-place are all of the Jewish persuasion, and among the costers a saying has sprung up about it. When a man has been out of work some time, he is said to be ‘Cursed,, like a pig in Duke’s-place’

1 St James’ Place, Lewis Aarons, oil merchant (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
1 St James’ Place, Levy & Jonas Jacobs, grocers (PO Directory 1849)
1 St James’ Place, Mrs. Leah Cohen, fruit merchant (Watkin’s Directory,1853)
2 St James’ Place, Mrs. Rosenberg, bookseller (Advertisement in "Voice of Jacob", 1845)
2 St James’ Place, Hyam Barnett, foreign & Hebrew bookseller (PO Directory 1846)
2 St James’ Place, Isaac Goldsmid, fruit merchant (PO Directory, 1849)
3 St James’ Place, Isaac Solomon, Fishmonger’s Arms Public House (Thompson’s Directory, 1844)
3 St James’ Place, Lewis Pisman Capua, fruit and nut merchant (PO Directory 1846)
3 St James’ Place, Mordecai Capua, fruit and nut merchant (PO Directory 1846)
3 St James’ Place, Lewis Benjamin, Howard’s Coffee House (PO Directory, 1849)
3 St James’ Place, Levy Jonas, Fishmonger’s Arms Public House (Watkin’s Directory 1852)
3 St James’ Place, M [Michael – ed.] Isaacs & Son, fruiterers (Watkin’s Directory, 1855)
3 St James’ Place, Joseph Raphael, diamond merchant (PO Directory 1866)
3 St James’ Place, Joseph Raphael, Howard’s Coffee House & Hotel (PO Directory 1866)
4 St James’ Place, Israel Jacobs, grocer (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
4 St James’ Place, Isaac Solomons, Fishmonger’s Arms Public House (PO Directory 1849)
5 St James’ Place, Moses Mordecai, fruiterer (Watkin’s Directory 1855)
6 St James’ Place, Lewis Benjamin, Howard’s Coffee House (Pigot’s Directory 1836)
6 St James’ Place, Solomon Joseph, coffee house (PO Directory 1846)
7 St James’ Place, Michael Isaac, importer of foreign fruits (PO Directory, 1841)
7 St James’ Place, Samuel Isaacs, fruit merchant (PO Directory, 1841)
7 St James’ Place, Joseph S. Joseph, coffee house (Robson’s Directory, 1841)
8 St James’ Place, Hannah Levy, hairdresser (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
21 St James’ Place, Lewis Aaron, oilman (Pigot’s Directory 1832)

Of the street-sellers of sponge

This is one of the street-trades which has long been in the hands of the Jews, and, unlike the traffic in pencils, sealing wax, and other articles of which I have treated, it remains so principally still.

Joseph J. Cantor, sponge dealer, 6 Houndsditch (Thompson’s Directory, 1844)
Joshua Jacob Cantor, sponge dealer, 6 Houndsditch (PO Directory 1849)
Emanuel Cohen, sponge dealer, 49 Mansell Street (Watkin’s Directory, 1853)
Hyam Jacobs, 5 Middlesex Street, sponge merchant, (PO Dircetory 1846)
Simon Marks, sponge merchant, 10 Middlesex Street (Robson’s directory 1843)
Philip S. Phillips, sponge merchant, 23 Wormwood St., Bishopsgate, sponge merchant (PO Diretory, 1846)

Of the street-sellers of spectacles and eye-glasses

Twenty-five years ago the street-trade in spectacles was almost entirely in the hands of the Jews, who hawked them in their boxes of jewellery, and sold them in the streets and public-houses, carrying them in their hands, as is done now. The trade was then far more remunerative than it is at the present time to the street-folk carrying it on. ‘People had more money then,’ on old spectacle-seller, now vending sponges, said, ‘and there wasn’t so many forced to take to the streets, Irish particularly, and optician’s charges were hoigher than they are now, and those who wanted glasses though they were a take-in if they wasn’t charged a fair price.’

The spectacles in the street-trade are bought at swag-shops in Houndsditch.

There are sometimes 100 men, the half of whom are Jews and Irishmen in equal proportions, now selling spectacles and eye-glasses.

Of the street-sellers of second-hand metal articles

The second-hand metal sellers are to be seen in all the street-markets, especially on the Saturday Petticoat-lane. A person unacquainted with the last-named locality may have formed an opinion that Petticoat-lane is merely a lane or street. But Pettycoat-lane has given its name to a little district. It embraces Sandy’s-row, Artillery-passage, Artillery-lane, Frying-pan-alley, Catherine Wheel-alley, Tripe-yard, Fisher’s-alley, Wentworth-street, Harper’s-alley, Marlborough-court, Broad-place, Providence-place, Ellison-street, Swan-court, Little Love-court, Hutchinson-street, Little Middlesex-street, Hebrew-place, Boar’s-head-yard, Black-horse-yard, Middlesex-street, Stoney-lane, Meeting house-yard, Gravel-lane, White-street, Cutler-street, and Borer’s-lane, until the wayfarer emerges into what appears to be the repose and spaciousness of Devonshire-square, Bishopsgate-street, up Borer’s-lane, or into what in the contrast really looks like the aristocratic thoroughfare of the Aldgate High-street, down Middlesex-street; or into Houndsditch through the halls of the Old Clothes Exchange.

1 Sandy’s Row, Lewis Emanuel Lazarus, ironmonger (Watkin’s directory 1855)
2 Sandy’s Row, Sampson Cohen, furniture broker (PO Directory 1849)
3 Sandy’s Row, Simon Jacobs, clothier (PO Directory 1849)
3 Sandy’s Row, Saul Valentine, gold and silver refiner (Thompson’s Directory,1844)
3 Sandy’s Row, Samuel Valentine, refiner (PO Directory 1849)
4 Sandy’s Row, Michael Cohen, clothes dealer (PO Directory 1849)
5 Sandy’s Row, Henry Isaacs, dealer in marine stores (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
6 Sandy’s Row, Benjamin Woolf, furniture broker (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
7 Sandy’s Row, Isaac Isaacs, furniture broker (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
8 Sandy’s Row, Ephraim Jacobs, White Horse Public House (PO Directory 1849)
8 Sandy’s Row, Isaac Isaacs, clothes salesman (Watkin’s Directory, 1855)
9 Sandy’s Row, Woolf Levy, furniture broker (PO Directory 1849)
14 Sandy’s Row, Henry Goldsmith, jeweller (PO Directory 1849)
14 Sandy’s Row, Lewis Van Praagh, general dealer (PO Directory 1849)
15 Sandy’s Row, Moses Cohen, furniture broker (PO Directory, 1849)
16 Sandy’s Row, Solomon Joel, furniture broker (PO Directory 1849)
20 Sandy’s Row, Solomon Cohen, furniture broker (Watkin’s Directory 1853)
21 Sandy’s Row, Michael Cohen, furniture broker (PO Directory 1849)
23 Sandy’s Row, Aaron Cohen, furniture broker (PO Directory 1849)
25 Sandy’s Row, David Levy, furniture & tool broker (Pigot’s Directory 1836)
25 Sandy’s Row, David Levy, dealer in unredeemed pledges (Watkin’s Directory 1852)
26 Sandy’s Row, Nathan Levy, poulterer and furniture broker [! – ed.] (Pigot’s Directory 1836)
29 Sandy’s Row, Barnett Cohen, furniture broker, (PO Directory 1849)
30 Sandy’s Row, Francis Woolf, furniture broker (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)
31 Sandy’s Row, Isaac Joel, furniture broker (Pigot’s Directory, 1836)

All these narrow streets, lanes, rows, passages, alleys, yards, courts, and places, are the sites of the street-trade carried on in this quarter. The whole neighbourhood rings with street cries, many uttered in those strange east-end Jewish tones which do not sound like English.... The savour of the place is moreover peculiar. there is fresh fish, and dried fish, and fish being fried in a style peculiar to the Jews; there is the fustiness of old clothes; there is odour from the pans on which (still in the Jewish fashion) frizzle and hiss pieces of meat and onions; puddings are boiling and enveloped in steam; cakes with strange names are hot from the oven; tubs of big pickled cucumbers or of onions give a sort of acidity to the atmosphere; lemons and oranges abound; and altogether the scene is not only such as can be seen in London, but only such as can be seen in this one part of the metropolis.

When I treat of the street-Jews, I shall have information highly curious to communicate...I shall more particularly describe Petticoat-lane as the head-quarters of the second-hand clothes business.

Of the street-sellers of second-hand telescopes and pocket glasses

In the sale of second-hand telescopes only one man is now engaged in any extensive way...There are, in addition to this street-seller, six and sometimes eight others, who offer telescopes around the docks or wharfs, who may be going some voyage. This, however, is a Jewish trade...

Of the old clothes exchange

The trade in second-hand apparel is one of the most ancient of callings, and is known in almost every country, but anything like the Old Clothes exchange of the Jewish quarter of London, in the extent and order of its business, is unequalled in the world.

...until the last few years, the trade in old clothes used to be carried on entirely in the open air, and this in the localities which I have pointed out in my account of the trade in old metal as comprising the Petticoat-lane district. The old clothes trade was also pursued in Rosemary-lane, but then - and so indeed it is now - this was but a branch of the more centralized commerce of Petticoat-lane, The head-quarters of the traffic at that time were confined to a space not more than ten square yards, adjoining Cutler-street. The chief traffic elsewhere was originally in Cutler-street, White-street, Carter-street, and in Harrow-alley - the districts of the celebrated Rag-fair.

Mr. L. Isaac, the present proprietor, purchased the houses which then filled up the back of Phil’s-buildings, and formed the present Old Clothes Exchange. This was eight years ago.

Of Old Clothes Exchanges there are now two, both adjacent, the first one opened by Mr. Isaac being the most important. This is 100 feet by 70, and is the mart to which the collectors of the cast-off apparel of the metropolis bring their goods for sale. The goods are sold wholesale and retail, for an old clothes merchant will buy either a single hat, or an entire wardrobe, or a sackful of shoes, - I need not say pairs, for odd shoes are not rejected. In one department of ‘Isaac’s Exchange’, however, the goods are not sold to parties who buy for their own wearing, but to the old clothes merchant, who buys to sell again. In this portion of the mart are 90 stalls, averaging about six square feet each.

In another department, which communicates with the first, and is two-thirds of the size, are assembled such traders as buy the old garments to dispose of them, either after a process of cleaning, or when they have been repaired and renovated. These buyers are generally shopkeepers, residing in the old clothes districts of Marylebone-lane, Holywell-street, Monmouth-street, Union-street (Borough), Saffron-hill (Field-lane), Drury-lane, Shoreditch, the Waterloo-road, and other places...

The difference between the first and second class of buyers above mentioned, is really that of the merchant and the retail shopkeeper. The one buys literally anything presented to him which is vendable, and in any quantity, for the supply of the wholesale dealers from distant parts, or for exportation, or for the general trade of London. The other purchases what suits his individual trade, and is likely to suit regular or promiscuous customers.

In another part of the same market is carried on the retail old clothes trade to any one - shop-keeper, artisan, clerk, costermonger, or gentlemen. This indeed, is partially the case in the other parts. ‘Yesh, inteet,’ said a Jewish trader, whom I conversed with on the subject, ‘I shall be clad to shell you one coat, sir. Dish von is shust your shize; it is verra sheep, and vosh made by one tip-top shnip.’

The second Exchange, which is a few yards apart from the other is known as Simmons and Levy’s Clothes Exchange, and is unemployed, for its more essential business purposes, except in the mornings. The commerce is then wholesale, for here are sold collections of unredeemed pledges in wearing apparel, consigned there by the pawnbrokers, or the buyers at the auctions of unredeemed goods; as well as draughts from the stocks of the wardrobe dealers; a quantity of military or naval stores, and such articles. In the afternoon the stalls are occupied by retail dealers. The ground is about as large as the first-mentioned exchange, but is longer and narrower.

Of the street-sellers of Petticoat and Rosemary lanes

Immediately connected with the trade of the central mart for old clothes are the adjoining streets of Petticoat-lane, and those of the not very distant Rosemary-lane. In these localities it is a second-hand garment-seller at almost every step, but the whole stock of these traders, decent, froway, half-rotten, or smart and good habiliments, has first passed through the channel of the Exchange. The men who sell these goods have all bought them at the Exchange - the exceptions being insignificant - so that this street-sale is but an extension of the trade of the central mart, with the addition that the wares have been made ready for use.

In one off-street, where on Sunday there is a considerable demand for Jewish sweet-meats by Christian boys, and a little sly, an dperhaps not very successful gambling on the part of the ingenous youth to possess themselves of these confectionaries at the easiest rate, there are some mounds of builder’s rubbish upon which, if an inquisitive person ascended, he could command the details of the upper rooms, probably the bed chambers - if in their crowded apartments these traders can find spaces for beds.

Of the street-Jews

Although my present inquirey relates to London life in London streets, it is necessary that I should briefly treat of the Jews generally, as an integral, but distinct and peculiar part of street-life.

During the eighteenth century the popular feeling ran very high against the Jews, although to the masses they were almost strangers, except as men employed in not-very-formidable occupations of collecting and vending second-hand clothes. The old feeling against them seems to have lingered among the English people, and their own greed in many instances enfendered other and lawful causes of dislike, by their resorting to unlawful and debasing pursuits. They were considered - with that exaggeration of belief dear to any ignorant community - as an entire people of misers, userers, extortioners, receivers of stolen goods, cheats, brothel-keepers, sheriff’s-officers, clippers and sweaters of the coin of the realm, gaming-house keepers; in fine, the charges, or rather the accusations, of carying on every disreputable trade, and non eelse, were ‘bundled at their doors.’ That there was too much foundation for many of these accusations, and still is, no reasonable Jew can now deny; that the wholesale prejudice against them was absurd, is equally indisputable.

The number of Jews now in England is computed at 35,000. this is the result at which the Chief Rabbi arrived a few years ago, after collecting all the statistical information at his command. Of these 35000, more than one-half, or about 18,000 reside in London. I am informed that there may now be a small increase in this population, but only small, for many Jews have emigrated - some ot California. A few years ago - a circumstance mentioned in my account of the Street-Sellers of Jewellery - there were a number of Jews known as ‘hawkers,’ or ‘travellers,’ who traversed every part of England selling watches, gold and silver pencil cases, eye-glasses, and all the more portable descriptions of jewellery, as well as thermometers, barometers, telescopes and microscopes. This trade is now little pursued, except bu stationery dealers; and the Jews who carried it on, and who were chiefly foreign Jews, have emigrated to America. The foreign Jews, who, though a fluctuating body, are always numerous in London, are included in the computation of 18,000; of this population two-thirds reside in the city, or the streets adjacent to the eastern boundaries of the city.

Of the trades and localities of the street-Jews

The trades which the Jews most affect, I was told by one of themselves, are those in which, as they describe it, ‘there’s a chance’; that is, they prefer a trade in such commodity as is not subjected to a fixed price, so that there may be abundant scope for speculation, and something like a gambler’s chance for profit or loss.

The wholesale trades in foreign commodities which are now principally or solely in the hands of the Jews, often as importers and exporters, are, watches and jewels, sponges - fruits, especially green fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapes, walnuts, cocoa-nuts, &c., and dates among dried fruits - shells, tortoises, parrots and foreign birds, curiosities, ostrich feathers, snuff, cigars, and pipes; but cigars far more extensively at one time.

The localities in which these wholesale and retail traders reside are mostly at the East-end - indeed the Jews of London as a congregated body, have been, from the times when their numbers were sufficient to institute a ‘settlement’ or ‘colony,’ peculiar to themselves, always resident in the eastern quarter of the metropolis.

Of course, a wealthy Jew millionaire - merchant, stock-jobber, or stock-broker - resides where he pleases - in a villa near the Marquis of Hertford’s in the Regent’s-park, a mansion near the Duke of Wellington’s in Piccadilly, a house and grounds at Clapham or Stamford-hill; but these are the exceptions. The quarters of the Jews are not difficult to describe. The trading-class in the capacity of shopkeepers, warehousemen, or manufacturers, are the thickest in Houndsditch, Aldgate and the Minories, more especially as regards the ‘swag-shops’ and the manufacture and sale of wearing apparel. The wholesale dealers in fruit are in Duke’s-place and Pudding-lane (Thames-street), but the superior retail Jew fruiterers - some of whose shops are remarkable for the beauty of their fruit - are in Cheapside, Oxford-street, Piccadilly, and most of all in Covent-garden market. The inferior jewellers (someof whom deal with the first shops) are also at the East-end, about Whitechapel, Bevis-marks and Houndsditch; the qwealthier goldsmiths and watchmakers having like other tradesmen of their class, their shops in the superior thoroughfares. The graet congregation of working watchmakers is in Clerkenwell, but in that locality there are only a few Jews. The Hebrew deakers in second-hand garments, and second-hand wares generally, are located about Petticoat-lane. The manufacturers of such things as cigars, pecils, and sealing wax; the wholesale importers of sponge, bristles and toys, the dealers in quills and in ‘looking-glasses,’ reside in large private-looking houses, when display is not needed for the purpose of business, in such parts as Mansell-street, Great Prescott-street, Great Ailie-street, Leman-street, and other parts of the eastern quarter known as Goodman’s-fields. The wholesale dealers in foreign birds and shells, and in the many foreign things known as ‘curiosities,’ reside in East Smithfield, Ratcliffe-highway, High-street (Shadwell), or in some of the parts adjacent to the Thames. In the long range of river-side streets, stretching from the Tower to Poplar and Blackwall, are Jews, who fulfil the many capacities of slop-sellers, &c., called into exercise by the requirements of seafaring people on their retuirn from or commencement of a voyage. A few Jews keep boarding-houses for sailors in Shadwell and Wapping.

Concerning the street trades pursued by the Jews, I believe that there is not at present a single one of which they can be said to have a monopoly; nor in any one branch of the street-traffic are there so many of the Jew traders as there were a few years back.

This remarkable change is thus to be accounted for. Strange as the fact may appear, the Jew has been undersold in the streets, and he has been beaten on what might be called his own ground - the buying of old clothes. The Jew boys, and the feebler and elder Jews, had, until some twelve or fifteen years back, almost the monopoly of orange and lemon street-selling, or street-hawking. The costermonger class had possession of the theatre doors and the approaches to theatres; they had too, occasionally their barrows full of oranges; but the Jews were the daily, assiduous, and itinerant street-sellers of this most popular of foreign, and perhaps of all, fruits. In their hopes of sale they followed any one a mile if encouraged, even by a few approving glances. The great theatre of this traffic was in the stagecoach yards in such inns as the Bull and Mouth (St. Martin’s-le-Grand), the Belle Sauvage (Ludgate-hill), the Saracen’s Head (Snow-hill), The Bull (Aldgate), the Swan -with -two-Necks (Lad-lane, City), the George and Blue Boar (Holborn), the White Horse (Fetter-lane), and other such places. They were seen too, ‘with all their eyes about them,’ as one informant expressed it, outside the inns where the coaches stopped to take up passengers - at the White Horse Cellar in Piccadilly, for instance, and the Angel and the (now defunct) Peacock in Islington. A commercial traveller told me that he could never leave town by any ‘mail’ or ‘stage’ without being besieged by a small army of Jew boys, who most pertinaceously offered him oranges, lemons, sponges, combs, pocket-books, pencils, sealing-wax, paper, many-bladed pen-knoves, razors, pocket mirrors, and shaving boxes - as if a man could not possibly quitthe metropolis without requiring a stock of such commodities. In the whole of these trades, unless in some degree in sponges and blacklead-pencils, the Jew is now out-numbered or displaced.

Of the Jew old-cloths men

Fifty years ago the appearance of the street-Jews, engaged in the purchase of second-hand clothes, was different from what it is at the present time. The Jew then had far more of the distinctive garb and aspect of a foreigner. He not infrequently 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 hundred years ago.

In an inquiry into the condition of the old-clothes 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 until 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 50 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 Minories 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 nineteen out of twenty 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 ten years of age, by selling lemons, or some trifle in the streets, and so, as he expressed it, the boy ‘gets a round,’ or street connection, by becoming known to the neighbourhood 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 judgement 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 Petticoat-lane, 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 two 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 15 as men of 50.

‘It is 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. I 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 favorite 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 tail on both sides, called a "gray." The play lasts until the Sabbath is nearly over, and then they go to business or the theatre. They seldom or never say a word when they are losing, but merely stamp on the ground; it is dangerous, though, to interfere when luck runs agains them. The rule is, when a man is losing, leave him alone. I have known them play for threehours 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 thay 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 a cold fish for breakfast and supper; indeed the 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.’

‘Forty years ago I have made as much as 5l. 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 2l. But now things are different. People are more wide a wake. Every one knows the value of an old coat now-a-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 1l. a week; some weeks we get 2l., and some scarcely nothing.’

I am informed that of the Jew Old-Clothes Men there are now only from 500 to 600 in London; at one time there might have been 1,000. Their average earnings may be something short of 20s. a week in second-hand clothes alone; but the gains are difficult to estimate.

Of a Jew street-seller

An elderly man, who at the time I saw him, was vending spectacles, or bartering them for old clothes, old books, or any second-hand articles, gave me an account of his street-life....

He had been in every street-trade, and had on four occasions travelled all over England, selling quills, sealing-wax, pencils, sponges, braces, cheap or superior jewellery, thermometers, and pictures. He had sold barometers in the mountaneous parts of Cumberland...been twice to Ireland, and sold a good many quills in Dublin. ‘Quills and wax were a great trade with us once; now it’s quite different. I’ve had as much as 60l. Of my own, and that more than half-a-dozen times, but all of it went in speculations. Yes, some went in gambling.

‘I got married...and took a shop in the second-hand clothes line in Bristil, but my wife died in child-bed in less than a year, and the shop didn’t answer; so I got sick of it and at last got rid of it.

‘I lodge with a relation, and sometimes live with his family. No, I never touch any meat but "Coshar." I suppose my meat now costs me 6d. or 7d. a day, but it has cost me ten times that - and 2d. for beer in addition.’

I am informed that there are about 50 adult Jews (besides old-clothes men) in the streets selling fruit, cakes, pencils, spectacles, sponge, accordians, drugs, &c.

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 100 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 the street-callings however, are all men in matters of traffic, almost before they cease, in years, to be children. In addition to the Jew-boy streetsellers above enumerated, there are from 50 to 100, but usually about 50, who are occasional, or ‘casual’ street-traders, vending for the most part cocoa-nuts and grapes, and confining their sales chiefly to the Sundays.

I received from a Jew boy the following account of his trading pursuits and individual aspirations. There was something of a thickness in his utterance, otherwise his speech was but little distinguished from that of an English street-boy. His physiognomy was decidedly Jewish, but not of the handsomer type. His hair was light coloured, but clean, and apparently well brushed, without being oiled, or, as I hear a street-bot style it, ‘greased’; it was long, and he said 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 corderoy suit, old but not ragged, and wore a tolerably clean, very coarse, and altogether buttonless shirt, which he said ‘was made for one bigger than me, sir.’ He had bought it for 9 1/2d. in Petticoat Lane, 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 3d., which (he admitted) would be rubbed to bits in no time..... 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 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...I could keep myself now, and do sometimes, but my father - I live with him (my mother’s dead) - is often laid up..... 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... I buy what I eat about Petticoat-lane. 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..... Pork! Ah! No, I never touched it; I’d as soon eat a cat; so would my father.... I don’t know why it shouldn’t be eaten, only that it’s wrong to eat it. N, I never touched a ham-sandwich, but other Jew boys have, and laughed at it, I know...’

Of the pursuits, dwellings, traffic &c., of the Jew-boy street-sellers

To speak of the street Jew-boys as regard their traffic, manners, haunts. And associations, is to speak of the same class of boys who may not be employed regularly in street-sale, but ar ethe comrades of those who are; a class, who, on any cessation of their employment in cigar manufactories, or indeed any capacity, will apply themselves temporarily to street-selling...

These youths, controlled or uncontrollable by their parents ( who are of the lowest class of the Jews....) frequently in the evenings, after their day’s work, resort to coffee-shops, in preference for even a cheap concert-room. In these places they amuse themselves as men might do in a tavern where the landlord leaves his guests to their own caprices. Sometimes one of them reads aloud from some exciting or degrading book, the lads who are unable to read listening with all the intentness with which many of the uneducated attend to anyone reading..... .......the most approved way of passing the evening, among the Jew boys, is to play at draughts, dominoes, or cribbage, and to bet on the play.

The dwellings of boys such as boys such as these are among the worst in London, as regards ventilation, comfort or cleanliness. They reside in the courts and recesses about Whitechapel and Petticoat-lane, and generally in a garret. If not orphans they usually dwell with their father. I am told that the care of a mother is almost indispensable to a poor Jew boy, and having that care he seldom becomes an outcast. The Jewesses and Jew girls are rarely itinerant street-sellers - not in the proportion of one to twelve, compared with the men and boys; in this respect therefore the street Jews differ widely from the English costermongers and the street Irish, nor are the Hebrew females even stall-keepers in the same proportion.


The callings of which the Jew boys have the monopoly are not connected with the sale of any especial article, but rather with such things as present a variety from those ordinarily offered in the streets, such as cakes, sweetmeats, fried fish, and (in the winter) alder wine. The cakes known as ‘boolers’ - a mixture of egg, flour, and candied orange or lemon peel, cut very thin, and with a slight colouring from saffron or something similar - are now sold principally, and used to be sold exclusively, by the Jew boys. Almond cakes (little round cakes of crushed almonds) are at present vended by the Jew boys, and their sponge biscuits are in demand. All these dainties are bought by the street-lads of the Jew pastry-cooks. The differences in these cakes, in their sweetmeats, and their elder wine, is that there is a dash of spice about them not ordinarily met with. It is the same with the fried fish, a little spice or pepper being blended with the oil. In the street-sale of pickles the Jews have also the monopoly; these, however, are seldom hawked, but generally sold from windows and door-steads. The pickles are cucumbers or gherkins, and onions - a large cucumber being 2d., and the smaller 1d. and 1/2d.

Of the street Jewesses and street Jew-girls

I have mentioned that the Jewesses and the young Jew girls, compares with the adult Jews and Jew boys, are not street traders in anything like the proportion which the females were found to bear to the males among the Irish street-folk and the English costermongers. There are, however, a few Jewish females who are itinerant street-sellers as well as stall keepers, in the proportion, perhaps, of one female to seven or eight males. The majority of the street Jew-girls whom I saw on a round were accompanied by boys who were represented to be their brothers, and I have little doubt such were the facts, for these young Jewesses, although often pert and ignorant, are not unchaste....

Fruit is generally sold by these boys and girls together, the lad driving the barrow, and the girl inviting custom and handling purchases to the buyers... The stalls, with a few old knives or scissors, or odds and ends of laces, that are tended by the Jew girls in the streets in the Jewish quarters (I am told there are not above a dozen of them) are generally near the shops and within sight of their parents or friends. One little Jewess, with whom I had some conversation, had not even heard the name of the Chief Rabbi, the Rev. Dr. Adler, and knew nothing of any distinction between German and Portuguese Jews; she had, I am inclined to believe, never heard of either... One Jew told me he thought that the young female members of his tribe did not tramp with the juveniles of the other sex - no, not in the proportion of one in a hundred in comparison, he said with a laugh, with ‘young women of the Christian persuasion.’... A wire-worker... told me that he could not remember a single instance of his having seen a young Jewess ‘travelling’ with a boy.

Return to Index

Ango-Jewish Miscellanies is copyright Jeffrey Maynard, 2000.