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This gradual decay and disuse of the practice of leading
noble youths into captivity, and compelling them to ascend
chimneys, was a severe blow, if we may so speak, to the
romance of chimney-sweeping, and to the romance of spring
at the same time. But even this was not all, for some few
years ago the dancing on May-day began to decline ; small
sweeps were observed to congregate in twos or threes,
unsupported by a "green," with no "My Lord" to act as
master of the ceremonies, and no "My Lady" to preside
over the exchequer. Even in companies where there was a
"green" it an absolute nothing a mere sprout and
the instrumental accompaniments rarely extended beyond the
shovels and a set of Pan-pipes, better known to the many,
as a " mouth-organ."

These were signs of the times, portentous omens of a
coming change ; and what was the result which they
shadowed forth? Why, the master sweeps, influenced by
a restless spirit of innovation, actually interposed their
authority, in opposition to the dancing, and substituted a
dinner an anniversary dinner at White Conduit House
where clean faces appeared in lieu of black ones smeared
with rose pink ; and knee cords and tops superseded nankeen
drawers and resetted shoes.

Gentlemen who were in the habit of riding shy horses ;
and steady-going people who have no vagrancy in their souls,
lauded this alteration to the skies, and the conduct of the


master sweeps was described as beyond the reach of praise.
But how stands the real fact ? Let any man deny, if he can,
that when the cloth had been removed, fresh pots and pipes
laid upon the table, and the customary loyal and patriotic
toasts proposed, the celebrated Mr. Sluffen, of Adam-and-
Eve-court, whose authority not the most malignant of our
opponents can call in question, expressed himself in a manner
following: "That now he'd cotcht the cheerman"s hi, he
vished he might be jolly veil blessed, if he worn't a goin' to
have his innings, vich he vould say these here obserwashuns
that how some mischeevus coves as know'd nuffin about the
consarn, had tried to sit people agin the masV swips, and
take the shine out o' their bis'nes, and the bread out o' the
traps o' their preshus kids, by a makin' o' this here remark,
as chimblies could be as veil svept by 'sheenery as by boys;
and that the makin' use o' boys for that there purpuss vos
barbareous; vereas, he 'ad been a chummy he begged the
cheermans parding for usin' such a wulgar hexpression
more nor thirty year he might say he'd been born in a
chimbley and he know'd uncommon veil as 'sheenery vos vus
nor o' no use : and as to kerhewelty to the boys, everybody
in the chimbley line know'd as veil as he did, that they
liked the climbin' better nor nuffin as vos.' 1 From this day,
we date the total fall of the last lingering remnant of May-
day dancing, among the elite of the profession : and from this
period we commence a new era in that portion of our spring
associations which relates to the 1st of May.

We are aware that the unthinking part of the population
will meet us here, with the assertion, that dancing on May-
day still continues that "greens'" are annually seen to roll
along the streets that youths in the garb of clowns, precede
them, giving vent to the ebullitions of their sportive fancies ;
and that lords and ladies follow in their wake.

Granted. We are ready to acknowledge that in outward
show, these processions have greatly improved : we do not
deny the introduction of solos on the drum ; we will even go


so far as to admit an occasional fantasia on the triangle, but
here our admissions end. We positively deny that the sweeps
have art or part in these proceedings. We distinctly charge
the dustmen with throwing what they ought to clear away,
into the eyes of the public. We accuse scavengers, brick-
makers, and gentlemen who devote their energies to the
costermongering line, with obtaining money once a-year,
under false pretences. We cling with peculiar fondness to
the custom of days gone by, and have shut out conviction as
long as we could, but it has forced itself upon us ; and we
now proclaim to a deluded public, that the May -day dancers
are not sweeps. The size of them, alone, is sufficient to
repudiate the idea. It is a notorious fact that the widely-
spread taste for register-stoves has materially increased the
demand for small boys; whereas the men, who, under a
fictitious character, dance about the streets on the first of
May nowadays, would be a tight fit in a kitchen flue, to say
nothing of the parlour. This is strong presumptive evidence,
but we have positive proof the evidence of our own senses.
And here is our testimony.

Upon the morning of the second of the merry month of
May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred
and thirty-six, we went out for a stroll, with a kind of
forlorn hope of seeing something or other which might induce
us to believe that it was really spring, and not Christmas.
After wandering as far as Copenhagen House, without meet-
ing anything calculated to dispel our impression that there
was a mistake in the almanacks, we turned back down
Maiden-lane, with the intention of passing through the
extensive colony lying between it and Battle-bridge, which is
inhabited by proprietors of donkey-carts, boilers of horse-
flesh, makers of tiles, and sifters of cinders ; through which
colony we should have passed, without stoppage or inter-
ruption, if a little crowd gathered round a shed had not
attracted our attention, and induced us to pause.

When we say a "shed," we do not mean the conservatory


sort of building, which, according to the old song, Love
tenanted when he was a young man, but a wooden house
with windows stuffed with rags and paper, and a small yard
at the side, with one dust-cart, two baskets, a few shovels,
and little heaps of cinders, and fragments of china and tiles,
scattered about it. Before this inviting spot we paused ; and
the longer we looked, the more we wondered what exciting
circumstance it could be, that induced the foremost members
of the crowd to flatten their noses against the parlour
window, in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of what was
going on inside. After staring vacantly about us for some
minutes, we appealed, touching the cause of this assemblage,
to a gentleman in a suit of tarpaulin, who was smoking his
pipe on our right hand ; but as the only answer we obtained
was a playful inquiry whether our mother had disposed of
her mangle, we determined to await the issue in silence.

Judge of our virtuous indignation, when the street-door
of the shed opened, and a party emerged therefrom, clad in
the costume and emulating the appearance, of May-day
sweeps !

The first person who appeared was " my lord," habited in
a blue coat and bright buttons, with gilt paper tacked over
the seams, yellow knee-breeches, pink cotton stockings, and
shoes ; a cocked hat, ornamented with shreds of various-
coloured paper, on his head, a bouquet the size of a prize
cauliflower in his button-hole, a long Belcher handkerchief
in his right hand, and a thin cane in his left. A murmur of
applause ran through the crowd (which was chiefly composed
of his lordship's personal friends), when this graceful figure
made his appearance, which swelled into a burst of applause
as his fair partner in the dance bounded forth to join him.
Her ladyship was attired in pink crape over bed-furniture,
with a low body and short sleeves. The symmetry of her
ankles was partially concealed by a very perceptible pair
of frilled trousers ; and the inconvenience which might have
resulted from the circumstance of her white satin shoes being


a few sizes too large, was obviated by their being firmly
attached to her legs with strong tape sandals.

Her head was ornamented with a profusion of artificial
flowers ; and in her hand she bore a large brass ladle, wherein
to receive what she figuratively denominated " the tin." The
other characters were a young gentleman in girl's clothes and
a widow's cap ; two clowns who walked upon their hands in
the mud, to the immeasurable delight of all the spectators ;
a man with a drum ; another man with a flageolet ; a dirty
woman in a large shawl, with a box under her arm for the
money, and last, though not least, the "green," animated
by no less a personage than our identical friend in the tar-
paulin suit.

The man hammered away at the drum, the flageolet
squeaked, the shovels rattled, the "green" rolled about,
pitching first on one side and then on the other ; my lady
threw her right foot over her left ankle, and her left foot
over her right ankle, alternately ; my lord ran a few paces
forward, and butted at the "green," and then a few paces
backward upon the toes of the crowd, and then went to the
right, and then to the left, and then dodged my lady round
the " green ; " and finally drew her arm through his, and called
upon the boys to shout, which they did lustily for this was
the dancing.

We passed the same group, accidentally, in the evening.
We never saw a "green" so drunk, a lord so quarrelsome
(no : not even in the house of peers after dinner), a pair of
clowns so melancholy, a lady so muddy, or a party so

How has May-day decayed !



WHEN we affirm that brokers 1 shops are strange places, and
that if an authentic history of their contents could be procured,
it would furnish many a page of amusement, and many a
melancholy tale, it is necessary to explain the class of shops
to which we allude. Perhaps when we make use of the term
"Brokers 1 Shop, 11 the minds of our readers will at once
picture large, handsome Avarehouses, exhibiting a long per-
spective of French-polished dining-tables, rosewood chiffoniers,
and mahogany wash-hand-stands, with an occasional vista of
a four-post bedstead and hangings, and an appropriate fore-
ground of dining-room chairs. Perhaps they will imagine
that we mean an humble class of second-hand furniture
repositories. Their imagination will then naturally lead them
to that street at the back of Long-acre, which is composed
almost entirely of brokers 1 shops; where you walk through
groves of deceitful, showy-looking furniture, and where the
prospect is occasionally enlivened by a bright red, blue, and
yellow hearth-rug, embellished with the pleasing device of a
mail-coach at full speed, or a strange animal, supposed to
have been originally intended for a dog, with a mass of
worsted-work in his mouth, which conjecture has likened to
a basket of flowers.

This, by-the-bye, is a tempting article to young wives in
the humbler ranks of life, who have a first-floor front to


furnish they are lost in admiration, and hardly know which
to admire most. The dog is very beautiful, but they have
a dog already on the best tea-tray, and two more on the
mantel-piece. Then, there is something so genteel about that
mail-coach ; and the passengers outside (who are all hat)
give it such an air of reality !

The goods here are adapted to the taste, or rather to the
means, of cheap purchasers. There are some of the most
beautiful looking Pembroke tables that were ever beheld :
the wood as green as the trees in the Park, and the leaves
almost as certain to fall off in the course of a year. There
is also a most extensive assortment of tent and turn-up
bedsteads, made of stained wood, and innumerable specimens
of that base imposition on society a sofa bedstead.

A turn-up bedstead is a blunt, honest piece of furniture ;
it may be slightly disguised with a sham drawer; and some-
times a mad attempt is even made to pass it off for a book-
case ; ornament it as you will, however, the turn-up bedstead
seems to defy disguise, and to insist on having it distinctly
understood that he is a turn-up bedstead, and nothing else
that he is indispensably necessary, and that being so useful,
he disdains to be ornamental.

How different is the demeanour of a sofa bedstead !
Ashamed of its real use, it strives to apgear an article of
luxury and gentility an attempt in which it miserably fails.
It has neither the respectability of a sofa, nor the virtues of
a bed; every man who keeps a sofa bedstead in his house,
becomes a party to a wilful and designing fraud we question
whether you could insult him more, than by insinuating that
you entertain the least suspicion of its real use.

To return from this digression, we beg to say, that neither
of these classes of brokers' 1 shops, forms the subject of this
sketch. The shops to which we advert, are immeasurably
inferior to those on whose outward appearance we have slightly
touched. Our readers must often have observed in some by-
street, in a poor neighbourhood, a small dirty shop, exposing


for sale the most extraordinary and confused jumble of old,
worn-out, wretched articles, that can well be imagined. Our
wonder at their ever having been bought, is only to be
equalled by our astonishment at the idea of their ever being
sold again. On a board, at the side of the door, are placed
about twenty books all odd volumes ; and as many wine-
glasses all different patterns ; several locks, an old earthen-
ware pan, full of rusty keys ; two or three gaudy chimney-
ornaments cracked, of course ; the remains of a lustre,
without any drops ; a round frame like a capital O, which
has once held a mirror ; a flute, complete with the exception
of the middle joint ; a pair of curling-irons ; and a tinder-box.
In front of the shop-window, are ranged some half-dozen
high-backed chairs, with spinal complaints and wasted legs ;
a corner cupboard ; two or three very dark mahogany tables
with flaps like mathematical problems; some pickle-jars, some
surgeons 1 ditto, with gilt labels and without stoppers ; an
unframed portrait of some lady who flourished about the
beginning of the thirteenth century, by an artist who never
flourished at all ; an incalculable host of miscellanies of every
description, including bottles and cabinets, rags and bones,
fenders and street-door knockers, fire-irons, wearing apparel
and bedding, a hall-lamp, and a room-door. Imagine, in
addition to this incongruous mass, a black doll in a white
frock, with two faces one looking up the street, and the
other looking down, swinging over the door ; a board with
the squeezed-up inscription "Dealer in marine stores," in
lanky white letters, whose height is strangely out of pro-
portion to their width ; and you have before you precisely
the kind of shop to which we wish to direct your attention.
Although the same heterogeneous mixture of things will
be found at all these places, it is curious to observe how
truly and accurately some of the minor articles which are
exposed for sale articles of wearing apparel, for instance
mark the character of the neighbourhood. Take Drury-lane
and Covent-garden for example.


This is essentially a theatrical neighbourhood. There is
not a potboy in the vicinity who is not, to a greater or less
extent, a dramatic character. The errand-boys and chandlerV
shop-keepers'' sons, are all stage-struck : they " gets up " plays
in back kitchens hired for the purpose, and will stand before
a shop-window for hours, contemplating a great staring
portrait of Mr. Somebody or other, of the Royal Coburg
Theatre, "as he appeared in the character of Tongo the
Denounced." The consequence is, that there is not a marine-
store shop in the neighbourhood, which does not exhibit for
sale some faded articles of dramatic finery, such as three or
four pairs of soiled buft' boots with turn-over red tops, here-
tofore worn by a " fourth robber," or " fifth mob ; " a pair of
rusty broadswords, a few gauntlets, and certain resplendent
ornaments, which, if they were yellow instead of white, might
be taken for insurance plates of the Sun Fire-office. There
are several of these shops in the narrow streets and dirty
courts, of which there are so many near the national theatres,
and they all have tempting goods of this description, with the
addition, perhaps, of a lady's pink dress covered with spangles ;
white wreaths, stage shoes, and a tiara like a tin lamp reflector.
They have been purchased of some wretched supernumeraries,
or sixth-rate actors, and are now offered for the benefit of the
rising generation, who, on condition of making certain weekly
payments, amounting in the whole to about ten times their
value, may avail themselves of such desirable bargains.

Let us take a very different quarter, and apply it to the
same test. Look at a marine-store dealer's, in that reservoir
of dirt, drunkenness, and drabs : thieves, oysters, baked
potatoes, and pickled salmon Ratcliff-highway. Here, the
wearing apparel is all nautical. Rough blue jackets, with
mother-of-pearl buttons, oil-skin hats, coarse checked shirts,
and large canvas trousers that look as if they were made for
a pair of bodies instead of a pair of legs, are the staple com-
modities. Then, there are large bunches of cotton pocket-
handkerchiefs, in colour and pattern unlike any, one ever

VOL. i. P


saw before, with the exception of those on the backs of the
three young ladies without bonnets who passed just now. The
furniture is much the same as elsewhere, with the addition of
one or two models of ships, and some old prints of naval
engagements in still older frames. In the window, are a few
compasses, a small tray containing silver watches in clumsy
thick cases ; and tobacco-boxes, the lid of each ornamented
with a ship, or an anchor, or some such trophy. A sailor
generally pawns or sells all he .has before he has been long
ashore, and if he does not, some favoured companion kindly
saves him the trouble. In either case, it is an even chance
that he afterwards unconsciously repurchases the same things
at a higher price than he gave for them at first.

Again : pay a visit with a similar object, to a part of
London, as unlike both of these as they are to each other.
Cross over to the Surrey side, and look at such shops of this
description as are to be found near the King's Bench prison,
and in "the Rules." How different, and how strikingly
illustrative of the decay of some of the unfortunate residents
in this part of the metropolis ! Imprisonment and neglect
have done their work. There is contamination in the
profligate denizens of a debtor's prison; old friends have
fallen off; the recollection of former prosperity has passed
away; and with it all thoughts for the past, all care for the
future. First, watches and rings, then cloaks, coats, and all
the more expensive articles of dress, have found their way to
the pawnbroker's. That miserable resource has failed at last,
and the sale of some trifling article at one of these shops,
has been the only mode left of raising a shilling or two, to
meet the urgent demands of the moment. Dressing-cases
and writing-desks, too old to pawn but too good to keep ;
guns, fishing-rods, musical instruments, all in the same con-
dition ; have first been sold, and the sacrifice has been but
slightly felt. But hunger must be allayed, and what has
already become a habit, is easily resorted to, when an
emergency arises, Light articles of clothing, first of the


ruined man, then of his wife, at last of their children, even
of the youngest, have been parted with, piecemeal. There
they are, thrown carelessly together until a purchaser presents
himself, old, and patched and repaired, it is true; but the
make and materials tell of better days ; and the older they
are, the greater the misery and destitution of those whom
they once adorned.



IT is a remarkable circumstance, that different trades appear
to partake of the disease to which elephants and dogs are
especially liable, and to run stark, staring, raving mad,
periodically. The great distinction between the animals and
the trades, is, that the former run mad with a certain degree
of propriety they are very regular in their irregularities.
We know the period at which the emergency will arise, and
provide against it accordingly. If an elephant run mad, we
are all ready for him kill or cure pills or bullets, calomel
in conserve of roses, or lead in a musket-barrel. If a dog
happen to look unpleasantly warm in the summer months,
and to trot about the shady side of the streets with a quarter
of a yard of tongue hanging out of his mouth, a thick
leather muzzle, which has been previously prepared in com-
pliance with the thoughtful injunctions of the Legislature, is
instantly clapped over his head, by way of making him cooler,
and he either looks remarkably unhappy for the next six
weeks, or becomes legally insane, and goes mad, as it were,
by Act of Parliament. But these trades are as eccentric as
comets ; nay, worse, for no one can calculate on the recurrence
of the strange appearances which betoken the disease. More-
over, the contagion is general, and the quickness with which
it diffuses itself, almost incredible.

We will cite two or three cases in illustration of our


meaning. Six or eight years ago, the epidemic began to
display itself among the linen-drapers and haberdashers.
The primary symptoms were an inordinate love of plate-
glass, and a passion for gas-lights and gilding. The disease
gradually progressed, and at last attained a fearful height.
Quiet dusty old shops in different parts of town, were pulled
down ; spacious premises with stuccoed fronts and gold letters,
were erected instead ; floors, were covered with Turkey carpets ;
roofs, supported by massive pillars ; doors, knocked into
windows ; a dozen squares of glass into one ; one shopman into
a dozen ; and there is no knowing what would have been
done, if it had not been fortunately discovered, just in time,
that the Commissioners of Bankruptcy were as competent to
decide such cases as the Commissioners of Lunacy, and that
a little confinement and gentle examination did wonders.
The disease abated. It died away. A year or two of com-
parative tranquillity ensued. Suddenly it burst out again
amongst the chemists ; the symptoms were the same, with
the addition of a strong desire to stick the royal arms over
the shop-door, and a great rage for mahogany, varnish, and
expensive floor-cloth. Then, the hosiers were infected, and
began to pull down their shop-fronts with frantic recklessness.
The mania again died away, and the public began to con-
gratulate themselves on its entire disappearance, when it
burst forth with tenfold violence among the publicans, and
keepers of " wine vaults." From that moment it has spread
among them with unprecedented rapidity, exhibiting a con-
catenation of all the previous symptoms ; onward it has
rushed to every part of town, knocking down all the old
public-houses, and depositing splendid mansions, stone balus-
trades, rosewood fittings, immense lamps, and illuminated
clocks, at the corner of every street.

The extensive scale on which these places are established,
and the ostentatious manner in which the business of even
the smallest among them is divided into branches, is amusing.
A handsome plate of ground glass in one door directs you


" To the Counting-house ; " another to the " Bottle Depart,
ment ; " a third to the " Wholesale Department ; " a fourth,
to "The Wine Prom-enade ; " and so forth, until we are in
daily expectation of meeting with a "Brandy Bell," or a
"Whiskey Entrance." Then, ingenuity is exhausted in
devising attractive titles for the different descriptions of gin ;
and the dram-drinking portion of the community as they
gaze upon the gigantic black and white announcements, which
are only to be equalled in size by the figures beneath them,
are left in a state of pleasing hesitation between " The Cream
of the Valley," "The Out and Out," "The No Mistake,"
" The Good for Mixing," " The real Knock-me-down," " The
celebrated Butter Gin," " The regular Flare-up," and a dozen
other, equally inviting and wholesome liqueurs. Although
places of this description are to be met with in every second
street, they are invariably numerous and splendid in precise
proportion to the dirt and poverty of the surrounding neigh-
bourhood. The gin-shops in and near Drury-lane, Holborn,
St. Giles's, Covent-garden, and Clare-market, are the hand-
somest in London. There is more of filth and squalid misery
near those great thoroughfares than in any part of this

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 17 of 31)