From Henry Mayhew, Journalist, and others

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Henry Mayhew ...
wrote his book "London Labour and the London Poor" during the 1850's. It's a wonderful account of people's lives largely in their own words.
For Example:
This picture shows a
Crossing Sweeper
. These boys, or sometimes men, often worked in gangs which they organised themselves. They kept open crossing places on roads, roads which in cities were normally a mess of mud and horse-droppings, so that people could cross without getting their clothes and shoes dirty.
It was not well-paid work, and you can see how tattered his clothes are.
Does the picture show the truth?

Mayhew describes how while he was talking to such a gang, one of the boys came into the room they were in. He'd just got a coat, for which he'd paid fivepence. (probably money Henry Mayhew gave him as a reward for talking!)
" 'It's a very good'un, it only wants taking up here and there, and this cuff putting to rights.' And as he spoke he pointed to tears large enough for a head to be thrust through."

But that's only a drawing - were boys really that ragged? - and barefoot?
ragged boy This boy appears in the background of a photograph of 1884. His clothes seem nearly as ragged as the drawing shows. And boots on his feet?
Officers and Gentlemen?
Pic LinkLink to more pictures of Victorian Officers

The sweepers told Mayhew how they preferred the weather not to be too dry, because then the streets became too clean. They would tumble - perform acrobatics - to earn money when it was too dry. Gentleman, especially army officers in uniform, might pay them well for this if they were with a lady - it impressed the lady.
One boy told how some officers offered him and his mates one shilling if they would knock a drunk over, then refused to give them the shilling until they had also swept mud over a lady. These fine gentlemen next took the boy into a bakery, where they bribed him with food to tumble on top of the tables, dirty feet and all.
"The lady of the shop she kept screaming, 'Go fetch me a police - take the dirty boy out,' [...] and the officers was a bursting their sides with laughing; and says they,'No, he sharn't stir.' "
He was frightened himself, knowing that if the police did come he'd be "taken up" but he was made to do catherine wheels from end to end of the shop by the gentlemen.

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Copyright ©: 2000, Richard York
Version/Revised: 1.0; Oct 2000
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