London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cacophony of sound in the Victorian streets was the chanting of the "Patterers", either moving or stationary. In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew devoted an entire chapter to an investigation of the artistry, lives and habits of these Londoners. In this extract we meet an example that very singular class, the running patterers. Our informant gives us a glimpse of this remarkable underworld of "cocks", "trumps" and "slums" that pervaded the streets of Victorian London.
A Street Patterer
Few of the residents in London -but chiefly those in the quieter streets -have not been aroused, and most frequently in the evening, by a hurly-burly on each side of the street. An attentive listening will not lead any one to an accurate knowledge of what the clamour is about. It is from a "mob" or "school" of the running patterers (for both those words are used), and consists of two, three, or four men. All these men state that the greater the noise they make, the better is the chance of sale, and better still when the noise is on each side of a street, for it appears as if the vendors were proclaiming such interesting or important intelligence, that they were vying with one another who should supply the demand which must ensue. It is not possible to ascertain with any certitude what the patterers are so anxious to sell, for only a few leading words are audible. One of the cleverest of running patterers repeated to me, in a subdued tone, his announcements of murders. The words "Murder," "Horrible," "Barbarous," "Love," " Mysterious," "Former Crimes," and the like, could only be caught by the ear, but there was no announcement of anything like "particulars." If, however, the "paper" relate to any well-known criminal, such as Rush, the name is given distinctly enough, and so is any new or pretended fact.
The running patterers describe, or profess to describe, the contents of their papers as they go rapidly along, and they seldom or ever stand still. They usually deal in murders, seductions, crimsons [crimes in which blood is spilled], explosions, alarming accidents, "assassinations," deaths of public characters, duels, and love-letters. But popular, or notorious, murders are the "great goes."
The running patterer cares less than other streetsellers for bad weather, for if he "work" on a wet and gloomy evening, and if the work be "a *****," which is a fictitious statement or even a pretended fictitious statement, there is the less chance of any one detecting the ruse. But of late years no new "cocks" have been printed, excepting for temporary purposes, such as I have specified as under its appropriate head in my account of "Death and Fire-Hunters." Among the old stereotyped "cocks" are love-letters. One is well known as "The Husband caught in a Trap," and being in an epistolary form subserves any purpose: whether it be the patterer's aim to sell the "Love Letters" of any well-known person, such as Lola Montes, or to fit them for a local (pretended) scandal, as the " Letters from a Lady in this neighbourhood to a Gentleman not 100 miles off."
Of running patterers there are now in London from 80 to 100. They reside -some in their own rooms, but the majority in lodging-houses -in or near Westminster, St. Giles's, Whitechapel, Stratford, Deptford, Wandsworth, and the Seven Dials. The "Dials," however, is their chief locality, being the residence of the longest-established printers, and is the "head meet" of the fraternity. It is not easy to specify with exactitude the number of running or flying patterers at any one time in London. Some of these men become, occasionally, standing patterers, chaunters, or ballad-singers -classes I shall subsequently describe -and all of them resort at intervals to country rounds. I heard, also, many complaints of boys having of late "taken to the running patter" when anything attractive was before the public, and of ignorant fellows -that wouldn't have thought of it at one time -"trying their hands at it."
Waiving these exceptional augmentations of the number, I will take the body of running patterers, generally employed in their peculiar craft in London, at 90. To ascertain their earnings presents about the same difficulties as to ascertain their number; for as all they earn is spent -no patterer ever saving money -they themselves are hardly able to tell their incomes. If any new and exciting fact be before the public, these men may each clear 20s. a week; when there is no such fact, they may not earn 5s. The profit is contingent, moreover, upon their being able to obtain 1d., or only 1/2d., for their paper. Some represented their average weekly earnings at 12s. 6d. the year through; some at 10s. 6d.; and others at less than half of 12s. 6d. Reckoning, however, that only 9s. weekly is an average profit per individual, and that 14s. be taken to realise that profit, we find 3,276 expended yearly on running patterers in London; but in that sum the takings of the chaunters must be included, as they are members of the same fraternity, and work with the patterers.
The capital required to commence as a running patterer is but the price of a few papers -from 2d. to 1s. The men have no distinctive dress: "our togs," said one of them, "is in the latest fashion of Petticoat-lane;" unless on the very rare occasions, when some character has to be personated, and then coloured papers and glazed calicoes are made available. But this is only a venture of the old hands.
From a running patterer, who has been familiar with the trade for many years, I received, upwards of a twelvemonth ago, the following statement. He is well known for his humour, and is a leading man in his fraternity. After some conversation about "cocks," the most popular of which, my informant said, was the murder at Chigwell-row, he continued:
"That's a trump, to the present day. Why, I'd go out now, sir, with a dozen of Chigwell-rows, and earn my supper in half an hour off of 'em. The murder of Sarah Holmes at Lincoln is good, too -that there has been worked for the last five year successively every winter. Poor Sarah Holmes! Bless her! she has saved me from walking the streets all night many a time. Some of the best of these have been in work twenty years -the Scarborough murder has full twenty years. It's called 'The Scarborough Tragedy.' I've worked it myself. It's about a noble and rich young naval officer seducing a poor clergyman's daughter. She is confined in a ditch, and destroys the child. She is taken up for it, tried, and executed. This has had a great run. It sells all round the country places, and would sell now if they had it out.My informant, who had been upwards of 20 years in the running patter line, told me that he commenced his career with the "Last Dying Speech and Full Confession of William Corder." He was sixteen years of age, and had run away from his parents.
Mostly all our customers is females. They are the chief dependence we have. The Scarborough Tragedy is very attractive. It draws tears to the women's eyes to think that a poor clergyman's daughter, who is remarkably beautiful, should murder her own child; it's very touching to every feeling heart. There's a copy of verses with it, too.
Then there's the Liverpool Tragedy -that's very attractive. It's a mother murdering her own son, through gold. He had come from the East Indies, and married a rich planter's daughter. He came back to England to see his parents after an absence of thirty years. They kept a lodging-house in Liverpool for sailors; the son went there to lodge, and meant to tell his parents who he was in the morning. His mother saw the gold he had got in his boxes, and cut his throat -severed his head from his body; the old man, upwards of seventy years of age, holding the candle. They had put a washing-tub under the bed to catch his blood. The morning after the murder, the old man's daughter calls and inquires for a young man. The old man denies that they have had any such person in the house. She says he had a mole on his arm, in the shape of a strawberry. The old couple go up-stairs to examine the corpse, and find they have murdered their own son, and then they both put an end to their existence. This is a deeper tragedy than the Scarborough Murder. That suits young people better; they like to hear about the young woman being seduced by the naval officer; but the mothers take more to the Liverpool Tragedy - it suits them better.
Some of the `cocks' were in existence long before ever I was born or thought of. The 'Great and important battle between the two [unclear:] ladies of fortune,' is what we calls 'a ripper.' I should like to have that there put down correct," he added, "'cause I've taken a tidy lot of money out of it."
"I worked that there," he said, "down in the very town (at Bury) where he was executed. I got a whole hatful of halfpence at that. Why, I wouldn't even give 'em seven for sixpence -no, that I wouldn't. A gentleman's servant come out and wanted half a dozen for his master and one for himself in, and I wouldn't let him have no such thing. We often sells more than that at once. Why, I sold six at one go to the railway clerks at Norwich about the Manning affair, only a fortnight back.From the same man I had the following account of his vocation up to the present time:
But Steinburgh's little job -you know he murdered his wife and family, and committed suicide after -that sold as well as any 'die.' Pegsworth was an out-and-out lot. I did tremendous with him, because it happened in London, down Ratcliff-highway -that's a splendid quarter for working -there's plenty of feelings -but, bless you, some places you go to you can't move no how, they've hearts like paving-stones. They wouldn't have 'the papers' if you'd give them to 'em -especially when they knows you.
Greenacre didn't sell so well as might have been expected, for such a diabolical out-and-out crime as he committed; but you see he came close after Pegsworth, and that took the beauty off him. Two murderers together is never no good to nobody. Why there was Wilson Gleeson, as great a villain as ever lived -went and murdered a whole family at noon-day -but Rush coopered him -and likewise that girl at Bristol -made it no draw to any one. Daniel Good, though, was a first-rater; and would have been much better if it hadn't been for that there Madam Toosow. You see, she went down to Roehampton, and guv 2 for the werry clogs as he used to wash his master's carriage in; so, in course, when the harristocracy could go and see the real things -the werry identical clogs -in the Chamber of 'Orrors, why the people wouldn't look at our authentic portraits of the fiend in human form.
Hocker wasn't any particular great shakes. There was a deal expected from him, but he didn't turn out well. Courvoisier was much better; he sold wery well, but nothing to Blakesley. Why I worked him for six weeks. The wife of the murdered man kept the King's Head that he was landlord on open on the morning of the execution, and the place was like a fair. I even went and sold papers outside the door myself. I thought if she war'n't ashamed, why should I be? After that we had a fine 'fake' -that was the fire of the Tower of London -it sold rattling. Why we had about forty apprehended for that -first we said two soldiers was taken up that couldn't obtain their discharge, and then we declared it was a well known sporting nobleman who did it for a spree.
The boy Jones in the Palace wasn't much of an affair for the running patterers; the ballad singers -or street screamers, as we calls 'em -had the pull out of that. The patter wouldn't take; they had read it all in the newspapers before. Oxford, and Francis, and Bean were a little better, but nothing to crack about. The people doesn't care about such things as them. There's nothing beats a stunning good murder, after all. Why there was Rush -I lived on him for a month or more. When I commenced with Rush, I was 14s. in debt for rent, and in less than fourteen days I astonished the wise men in the east by paying my landlord all I owed him. Since Dan'el Good there had been little or nothing doing in the murder line -no one could cap him -till Rush turned up a regular trump for us. Why I went down to Norwich expressly to work the execution. I worked my way down there with 'a sorrowful lamentation' of his own composing, which I'd got written by the blind man expressly for the occasion. On the morning of the execution we beat all the regular newspapers out of the field; for we had the full, true, and particular account down, you see, by our own express, and that can beat anything that ever they can publish; for we gets it printed several days afore it comes off, and goes and stands with it right under the drop; and many's the penny I've turned away when I've been asked for an account of the whole business before it happened. So you see, for herly and correct hinformation, we can beat the Sun -aye, or the moon either, for the matter of that. Irish Jem, the Ambassador, never goes to bed but he blesses Rush the farmer; and many's the time he's told me we should never have such another windfall as that.
But I told him not to despair; there's good time coming, boys, says I, and, sure enough, up comes the Bermondsey tragedy. We might have done very well, indeed, out of the Mannings, but there was too many examinations for it to be any great account to us. I've been away with the Mannings in the country ever since. I've been through Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Suffolk, along with George Frederick Manning and his wife - travelled from 800 to 1,000 miles with 'em, but I could have done much better if I had stopped in London. Every day I was anxiously looking for a confession from Mrs. Manning. All I wanted was for her to clear her conscience afore she left this here whale of tears (that's what I always calls it in the patter), and when I read in the papers (mind they was none of my own) that her last words on the brink of heternity was, 'I've nothing to say to you, Mr. Rowe, but to thank you for your kindness,' I guv her up entirely -had completely done with her. In course the public looks to us for the last words of all monsters in human form, and as for Mrs. Manning's, they were not worth the printing."
"Well, sir," he said, "I think, take them altogether, things hasn't been so good this last year as the year before. But the Pope, God bless him! he's been the best friend I've had since Rush, but Rush licked his Holiness. You see, the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman is a one-sided affair; of course the Catholics won't buy anything against the Pope, but all religions could go for Rush. Our mob once thought of starting a cardinal's dress, and I thought of wearing a red hat myself. I did wear a shovel hat when the Bishop of London was our racket; but I thought the hat began to feel too hot, so I shovelled it off. There was plenty of paper that would have suited to work with a cardinal's hat. There was one, -'Cardinal Wiseman's Lament,' -and it was giving his own words like, and a red hat would have capped it. It used to make the people roar when it came to snivelling, and grumbling at little Jack Russell -by Wiseman, in course; and when it comes to this part -which alludes to that 'ere thundering letter to the Bishop of Durham -the people was stunned: 'He called me a buffalo, bull, and a monkey, What my informant said further of the Pope, I give under the head of the Chaunter.
And then with a soldier called Old Arthur conkey
Declared they would buy me a ninepenny donkey,
And send me to Rome to the Pope.'
"They shod me, sir. Who's they? Why, the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman. I call my clothes after them I earn money by to buy them with. My shoes I call Pope Pius; my trowsers and braces, Calcraft; my waistcoat and shirt, Jael Denny; and my coat, Love Letters. A man must show a sense of gratitude in the best way he can. But I didn't start the cardinal's hat; I thought it might prove disagreeable to Sir Robert Peel's dress lodgers."
"There was very little doing," he continued, "for some time after I gave you an account before; hardly a slum worth a crust and a pipe of tobacco to us. A slum's a paper fake, -make a foot-note of that, sir. I think Adelaide was the first thing I worked after I told you of my tomfooleries. Yes it was, -her helegy. She weren't of no account whatsoever, and Cambridge was no better nor Adelaide. But there was poor Sir Robert Peel, -he was some good; indeed, I think he was as good as 5s. a day to me for the four or five days when he was freshest. Browns were thrown out of the windows to us, and one copper cartridge was sent flying at us with 1s 3 1/2d. in it, all copper, as if it had been collected. I worked Sir Robert at the West End, and in the quiet streets and squares. Certainly we had a most beautiful helegy.My informant then gave me an account of his sale of papers relating to the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman, but as he was then a chaunter, rather than a patterer (the distinction is shown under another head), I give his characteristic account, as the statement of a chaunter. He proceeded after having finished his recital of the street business relating to the Pope, etc.:
Well, poor gentleman, what we earned on him was some set-off to us for his starting his new regiment of the Blues -the Cook's Own. Not that they've troubled me much. I was once before Alderman Kelly, when he was Lord Mayor, charged with obstructing, or some humbug of that sort. 'What are you, my man?' says he quietly, and like a gentleman. 'In the same line as yourself, my lord,' says I. 'How's that?' says he. 'I'm a paper-worker for my living, my lord,' says I. I was soon discharged; and there was such fun and laughing, that if I'd had a few slums in my pocket, I believe I could have sold them all in the justice-room.
"Haynau was a stunner, and the drayman came their caper just in the critical time for us, as things was growing very taper. But I did best with him in chaunting; and so, as you want to hear about chaunting, I'll tell you after. We're forced to change our patter -first running, then chaunting, and then standing - oftener than we used to.
"Then Calcraft was pretty tidy browns. He was up for starving his mother, -and what better can you expect of a hangman? Me and my mate worked him down at Hatfield, in Essex, where his mother lives. It's his native, I believe. We sold her one. She's a limping old body. I saw the people look at her, and they told me arterards who she was. 'How much?' says she. 'A penny, marm,' say I. 'Sarve him right,' says she. We worked it, too, in the street in Hoxton where he lives, and he sent out for two, which shows he's a sensible sort of character in some points, after all. Then we had a 'Woice from the Gaol! or the Horrors -of the Condemned Cell! Being the Life of William Calcraft, the present Hangman.' It's written in the high style, and parts of it will have astonished the hangman's nerves before this. Here's a bit of the patter, now:
"Let us look at William Calcraft," says the eminent author, "in his earliest days. He was born about the year 1801, of humble but industrious parents, at a little village in Essex. His infant ears often listened to the children belonging to the Sunday schools of his native place, singing the well-known words of Watt's beautiful hymn, 'When e'er I take my walks abroad, How many poor I see, etc.' But alas for the poor farmer's boy, he never had the opportunity of going to that school to be taught how to shun 'the broad way leading to destruction.' To seek a chance fortune he travelled up to London where his ignorance and folorn condition shortly enabled that fell demon which ever haunts the footsteps of the wretched, to mark him for her own."
"Isn't that stunning, sir? Here it is in print for you. 'Mark him for her own!' Then, poor dear, he's so sorry to hang anybody. Here's another bit:
'But in vain he repents, he has no real friend in the world but his wife, to whom he can communicate his private thoughts, and in return receive consolation, can any lot be harder than this? Hence his nervous system is fast breaking down, every day rendering him less able to endure the excruciating and agonizing torments he is hourly suffering, he is haunted by remorse heaped upon remorse, every fresh victim he is required to strangle being so much additional fuel thrown upon that mental flame which is scorching him.'
"You may believe me, sir, and I can prove the fact -the author of that beautiful writing ain't in parliament! Think of the mental flame, sir! O, dear. Sirrell was no good either. Not salt to a herring. Though we worked him in his own neighbourhood, and pattered about gold and silver all in a row. 'Ah!' says one old woman, 'he was a 'spectable man.' 'Werry, marm,' says I.
Hollest weren't no good either, 'cause the wictim was a parson. If it had happened a little later, we'd have had it to rights; the newspapers didn't make much of it. We'd have shown it was the 'Commencement of a Most Horrid and Barbarious Plot got up by the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman for-r the Mas-ser-cree-ing of all good Protestant Ministers.' That would have been the dodge, sir! A beautiful idear, now, isn't it? But the murder came off badly, and you can't expect fellows like them murderers to have any regard for the interest of art and literature. Then there's so long to wait between the murder and the trial, that unless the fiend in human form keeps writing beautiful love letters, the excitement can't be kept up. We can write the love-letters for the fiend in human? That's quite true, and we once had a great pull that way over the newspapers.
But Lord love you, there's plenty of 'em gets more and more into our line. They treads in our footsteps, sir; they follows our bright example. O! isn't there a nice rubbing and polishing up. This here copy won't do. This must be left out, and that put in; 'cause it suits the walk of the paper. Why, you must know, sir. I know. Don't tell me. You can't have been on the Morning Chronicle for nothing.
"Then there was the 'Horrid and Inhuman Murder, Committed by T. Drory, on the Body of Jael Denny, at Donninghurst, a Village in Essex.' We worked it in every way. Drory had every chance given to him. We had halfsheets, and copies of werses, and books. A very tidy book it was, setting off with showing how 'The secluded village of Donninghurst has been the scene of a most determined and diabolical murder, the discovery of which early on Sunday, the 12th, in the morning has thrown the whole of this part of the country into a painful state of excitement.' Well, sir, well -very well; that bit was taken from a newspaper. Oh, we're not above acknowledging when we condescends to borrow from any of 'em.
If you remember, when I saw you about the time, I told you I thought Jael Denny would turn out as good as Maria Martin. And without any joke or nonsense, sir, it really is a most shocking thing. But she didn't. The weather coopered her, poor lass! There was money in sight, and we couldn't touch it; it seemed washed away from us, for you may remember how wet it was. I made a little by her, though.
For all that, I haven't done with Master Drory yet. If God spares my life, he shall make it up to me. Why, now, sir, is it reasonable, that a poor man like me should take so much pains to make Drory's name known all over the country, and walk miles and miles in the rain to do it, and get only a few bob for my labour? It can't be thought on. When the Wile and Inhuman Seducer takes his trial, he must pay up my just claims. I'm not going to take all that trouble on his account, and let him off so easy."
"My last paying caper was the Sloanes. They beat Haynau. I declare to you, sir, the knowingest among us couldn't have invented a ***** to equal the conduct of them Sloanes. Why, it's disgusting to come near the plain truth about them. I think, take it altogether, Sloane was as good as the Pope, but he had a stopper like Pius the Ninth, for that was a one-sided affair, and the Catholics wouldn't buy; and Sloane was too disgusting for the gentry, or better sort, to buy him. But I've been in little streets where some of the windows was without sashes, and some that had sashes had stockings thrust between the frames, and I've taken half a bob in ha'pennies. Oh! you should have heard what poor women said about him, for it was women that bought him most They was more savage against him than against her.
Why, they had fifty deaths for him. Rolling in a barrel, with lots of sharp nails inside, down Primrose-hill, and turned out to the women on Kennington-common, and boiled alive in oil or stuff that can't be mentioned, or hung over a slow fire. 'O, the poor dear girl,' says they, 'what she's suffered.' We had accounts of Mistress Sloane's apprehension before the papers. We had it at Jersey, and they had it at Boulogne, but we were first. Then we discovered, because we must be in advance of the papers, that Miss Devaux was Sloane's daughter by a former wife, and Jane Wilbred was Mrs. Sloane's daughter by a former husband, and was entitled to 1,000 by rights. Haynau was a fool to Sloane.
" I don't know of anything fresh that's in hand, sir. One of our authors is coming out with something spicy, against Lord John [Russell, the Prime Minister], for doing nothing about Wiseman; 'cause he says as no one thing that he's written for Lord John ever sold well, something against him may."
Notes:1 Marshall Haynau: A reference to a great cause celebre in London in 1850. Haynau was an Austrian General who had female spies flogged to death in the Siege of Brescia. See our article Shakespeare, Dr Johnson, the Brewery and the Hyena of Brescia for the details of his London experience.] Back
Links to the other articles in the series.
The London Street Patterers
The Origins of Patterers
The Morals of Patterers
The Patterers' Street Literature
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Second Edition
The Standing Patterers: I
Pattering Religious and Political Dialogues