Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Street Level Dog Men


From the 1861 publication, London Labor and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew which contains fascinating chapters on those who sold dogs, dog meat, and dog collars.

An interview with a leather dog collar vendor gives us this:

I made rope traces for the artillery; there's a good deal of leather-work about the traces, and stitching them, you see, puts me up to the making of dogs'-collars. I was always handy with my fingers, and can make shoes or anythink. I can work now as well as ever I could in my life, only my eyes isn't so good. Ain't it curious now, sir, that wot a man larns in his fingers he never forgets? Well being out o' work, I was knocking about for some time, and then I was adwised to apply for a board to carry at one of them cheap tailors, but I didn't get none; so I takes to hawking link buttons and key rings, and buys some brass dog-collars; it was them brass collars as made me bethought myself as I could make some leather ones. Altho' I had been better off I didn't think it any disgrace to get a honest living.

The leather collars is harder to make than the brass ones, only the brass ones wants more implements. There are about a dozen selling in the streets as makes brass-collars -- there's not much profit on the brass ones. People says there's nothing like leather, and I thinks they are right. Well, sir, as I was a telling you, I commences the leather-collar making, -- in course I didn't make 'em as well at first as I do now. It was werry hard lines at the best of times. I used to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning in the summer time, and make my collars; then I'd turn out about 9, and keep out until 7 or 8 at night. I seldom took more than 2s. per day. What profit did I get out of 2s.? Why, lor bless you, sir! if I hadn't made them myself, I shouldn't have
got no profit at all.


Earlier, we are told of the economics of the dog and cat meat business:

The cat and dogs'-meat dealers, or "carriers," as they call themselves, generally purchase the meat at the knackers' (horse-slaughterers') yards. There are upwards of twenty of such yards in London; three or four are in White Chapel, one in Wandsworth, two in Cow-cross -- one of the two last mentioned is the largest establishment in London -- and there are two about Bermondsey. The proprietors of these yards purchase live and dead horses. They contract for them with large firms, such as brewers, coal-merchants, and large cab and 'bus yards, giving so much per head for their old live and dead horses through the year. The price varies from 2l. to 50s. the carcass. The knackers also have contractors in the country ( harness-makers and others), who bring or send up to town for them the live and dead stock of those parts. The dead horses are brought to the yard -- two or three upon one cart, and sometimes five.

The live ones are tied to the tail of these carts, and behind the tail of each other. Occasionally a string of fourteen or fifteen are brought up, head to tail, at one time. The live horses are purchased merely for slaughtering.

If among the lot bought there should chance to be one that is young, but in bad condition, it is placed in the stable, fed up, and then put into the knacker's carts, or sold by them, or let on hire. Occasionally a fine horse has been rescued from death in this manner. One person is known to have bought an animal for 15s., for which he afterwards got 150. Frequently young horses that will not work in cabs -- such as "jibs" -- are sold to the horse-slaughterers as useless. They are kept in the yard, and after being well fed, often turn out good horses.

The live horses are slaughtered by the persons called "knackers." These men get upon an average 4s. a day. They begin work at twelve at night, because some of the flesh is required to be boiled before six in the morning; indeed, a great part of the meat is delivered to the carriers before that hour. The horse to be slaughtered has his mane clipped as short as possible (on account of the hair, which is valuable). It is then blinded with a piece of old apron smothered in blood, so that it may not see the slaughterman when about to strike. A pole-axe is used, and a cane, to put an immediate end to the animal's sufferings.

After the animal is slaughtered, the hide is taken off, and the flesh cut from the bones in large pieces. These pieces are termed, according to the part from which they are cut, hind-quarters, fore-quarters, cram-bones, throats, necks, briskets, backs, ribs, kidney pieces, hearts, tongues, liver and lights. The bones (called "racks" by the knackers) are chopped up and boiled, in order to extract the fat, which is used for greasing common harness, and the wheels of carts and drags....

At one yard alone near upon 100 carriers purchase meat, and there are, upon an average, 150 horses slaughtered there every week. Each slaughter-house may be said to do, one with another, 60 horses per week through-out the year, which, reckoning the London slaughter-houses at 12, gives a total of 720 horses killed every week in the metropolis, or, in round numbers, 37,500 in the course of the year.

The London cat and dogs'-meat carriers or sellers -- nearly all men -- number at the least 1,000.

And then, of course, there is the Street-Seller of Dogs.

There’s one advantage in my trade, we always has to do with the principals. There’s never a lady would let her favouritist maid choose her dog for her. Many of ‘em, I know dotes on a nice spaniel. Yes, and I’ve known gentleman buy dogs for their misses. I might be sent on with them and if it was a two guinea dog or so, I was told never to give a hint of the price to the servant or anybody. I know why. It’s easy for a gentleman that wants to please a lady, and not to lay out any great matter of tin, to say that what had really cost him two guineas, cost him twenty.”

More later from this gold mine of a book!

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