7
THE POOR

Early morning belonged to the poor. In all seasons, hours before the clerks and shopmen were at their desks or behind their counters, and well before the rich had emerged from their homes, great masses of men and women were on the move, trudging to their places of work. Those who had no work would also be about, beginning the day’s task of feeding themselves with whatever they could scavenge or beg. Henry Mayhew observed that:

As the streets grow blue with the coming light, and the church
spires and roof-tops stand out against the clear sky with a sharpness
of outline that is seen only in London before its million chimneys
cover the town with their smoke – then come sauntering forth the
unwashed poor; some with greasy wallets on their backs to hunt over
each dust-heap, and eke out life by seeking refuse bones, or stray
rags and pieces of old iron; others, whilst on their way to their work,
are gathered at the corner of some street round the early breakfast-
stall, and blowing saucers of steaming coffee, drawn from tall tin
cans that have the red-hot charcoal shining crimson through the
holes in the fire-pan beneath them
.

Dickens, who liked to experience the life of London at all hours of day and night, remarked on the daily procession, just after dawn, of shawl-clad figures along the south side of Piccadilly. Most were market women, on their way to Covent Garden. Men and boys who worked hauling meat, fish, or vegetables in the other London markets – Newgate, Clare, Hungerford, Oxford, Farringdon, Billingsgate – would similarly be on their way. The countrymen and gardeners who brought produce to these places would

-216-

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Inside Dickens' London
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 6
  • 1 - The Place 13
  • 2 - The People 36
  • 3 - Shops and Shopping 66
  • 4 - City and Clerk 95
  • 5 - Transport and Travel 120
  • 6 - Entertainment 148
  • 7 - The Poor 216
  • 8 - Crime and Punishment 261
  • 9 - The Respectable 296
  • Gazetteer 335
  • Chronology 339
  • Index 341
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