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The Street Card-Sellers III
Posted on Oct 29, 2006 - 07:24 PM by Bill McCann

London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cachophony 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 the next of our extracts we meet the sellers of race cards and lists including Gentleman Jerry and Captain Carrot. We hear too that the ladies specialise in the sale of "improper publications!"


This trade is not carried on in town; but at the neighbouring races of Epsom and Ascot Heath, and, though less numerously, at Goodwood, it is pursued by persons concerned in the street paper-trade of London.

At Epsom I may state that the race-card sale is in the hands of two classes (the paper or sheet-lists sale being carried on by the same parties) -viz. those who confine themselves to "working" the races, and those who only resort to such work occasionally. The firstmentioned sellers usually live in the country, and the second in town,

Between these two classes, there is rather a strong distinction. The country race-card sellers are not unfrequently "sporting characters." The town professor of the same calling feels little interest in the intrigues or great "events" of the turf. Of the country traders in this line some act also as touters, or touts; they are for the most part men, who having been in some capacity or other, connected with racing or with race-horses, and having fallen from their position or lost their employment, resort to the selling of race-cards as one means of a livelihood, and to touting, or watching race-horses, and reporting anything concerning them to those interested, as another means. These men, I am assured, usually "make a book" (a record and calculation of their bets) with grooms, or such gentlemen's servants, as will bet with them, and sometimes one with another.

The most notorious of the race-card selling fraternity is known as Captain Carrot. He is the successor, I am told, of Gentleman Jerry, who was killed some time back at Goodwood races -having been run over. Gentleman Jerry's attire, twenty-five to thirty-five years ago, was an exaggeration of what was then accounted a gentleman's style. He wore a light snuff coloured coat, a "washing" waistcoat of any colour, cloth trowsers, usually the same colour as his coat, and a white, or yellow white, and ample cravat of many folds. His successor wears a military uniform, always with a scarlet coat, Hessian boots, an old umbrella, and a tin eye-glass. Upon the card-sellers, however, who confine their traffic to races, I need not dwell, but proceed to the metropolitan dealers, who are often patterers when in town.

It is common, for the smarter traders in these cards to be liberal of titles, especially to those whom they address on the race-ground.

"This is the sort of style, sir," said one race card-seller to me, "and it tells best with cockneys from their shops.
'Ah, my lord. I hope your lordship's well. I've backed your horse, my lord. He'll win, he'll win. Card, my lord, correct card, only 6d. I'll drink your lordship's health after the race.'
Perhaps this here 'my lord,' may be a barber, you see, sir, and never had so much as a donkey in his life, and he forks out a bob; but before he can get his change, there always is somebody or other to call for a man like me from a little distance, so I'm forced to run off and cry,
'Coming, sir, coming. Coming, your honour, coming.'"

The mass of these sellers, however, content themselves with the customary cry: "Here's Dorling's Correct Card of the Races. -Names, weights, and colours of the Riders. -Length of Bridle, and Weight of Saddle."

One intelligent man computed that there were 500 men, women, and children, of all descriptions of street-callings, who on a "Derby day" left London for Epsom. Another considered that there could not be fewer than 600, at the very lowest calculation. Of these, I am informed, the female sellers may number something short of a twentieth part from London, while a twelfth of the whole number of regular street-sellers attending the races vend at the races cards. But card selling is often a cloak, for the females - and especially those connected with men who depend solely on the races - vend improper publications (usually at 6d.), making the sale of cards or lists a pretext for the more profitable traffic.

If a man sell from ten to twelve dozen cards on the "Derby day," it is accounted "a good day;" and so is the sale of three-fourths of that quantity on the Oaks day. On the other, or "off" days, 2s. is an average earnig.

The cards are all bought of Mr. Dorling, the printer, at 2s. 6d. a dozen. The price asked is always 6d. each.

"But those fourpenny bits," said one card-seller, "is the ruination of every thing. And now that they say that the threepenny bits is coming in more, things will be wuss and wuss."
The lists vary from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. the dozen, according to size. To clear 10s. and 8s. on the two great days is accounted "tidy doings," but that is earned only by those who devote themselves to the sale of the race-cards, which all the sellers do not. Some, for instance, are ballad-singers, who sell cards immediately before a race comes off, as at that time they could obtain no auditory for their melodies. Ascot-heath races, I am told, are rather better for the card seller than Epsom, as "there's more of the nobs there," and fewer of the London vendors of cards. The sale of the "lists" is less than one-eighth that of the sale of cards. They are chiefly "return lists," (lists with a specification of the winning horses, etc., "returned" as they acquitted themselves in each race), and are sold in the evening, or immediately after the conclusion of the "sport," for the purpose of being posted or kept.

Links to the other articles in the series.

The London Street Patterers

The Origins of Patterers
The Morals of Patterers
The Patterers' Street Literature
Long Song-Sellers
The Running Patterer
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Second Edition
The Standing Patterers: I
Pattering Religious and Political Dialogues
Of Cocks
Of Strawing
The sham of Indecent Street Trade
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part I
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part II
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part III
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part IV
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part V
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part VI
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part VII
The Street Card Sellers I
The Street Card Sellers I

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The complete text of London Labour and the London Poor can be found on-line as part of the Perseus Project.


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