HENRY MAYHEW: “OF CATS’ AND DOGS’ MEAT DEALERS” (1851)
London Labour and the London Poor: A cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work, Vol. III by Henry Mayhew) 1851.
Note on British weights and measures in the 1860s:
12d (pennies) = 1 s (shilling); 5 s = 1 crown; 20 s = 1 l (pound; “l” is an abbreviation of livres)
16 oz = 1 lb; 14 lb = 1 stone; 8 stone (112 lbs) = 1 hundredweight (cwt); 20 cwt = 1 ton
I have written many of the units in full, differentiating between pounds weight and pounds sterling where necessary.
P6. . . . still the caster-mongers are only a portion of the street-folk. besides these, there are, as we have seen, many other large classes obtaining their livelihood in the streets. The street musicians, for instance, are said to number 1,000, and the old clothes-men the same. There are supposed to be at the least 500 sellers of water-cresses; 200 coffee-stalls; 300 cats-meat men; 250 ballad-singers; 200 play-bill sellers; from 800 to 1,000 bone-grubbers and mud-larks . . .
pp 181. OF CATS’ AND DOGS’ MEAT DEALERS.
THE supply of food for cats and dogs is far greater than may be generally thought. “Vy, sir,” said one of the dealers to me, “can you tell me ‘ow many people’s in London?” On my replying, upwards of two millions; “I don’t know nothing vatever,” said my informant, “about millions, but I think there’s a cat to every ten people, aye, and more than that; and so, sire, you can reckon.” (I told him this gave a total of 200,000 cats in London; but the number of inhabited houses in the metropolis was 100, more than this, and though there was not a cat to every house, still as many lodger as well as householders kept cats, I added that I though the total number of cats in London might be taken at the same number as the inhabited houses, or 300,000 in all.) “There’s not near half so many dogs as cats. I must know, for they all knows me, and I sarves about 200 cats and 70 dogs. Mine’s a middling trade, but some does far better. Some cats has a hap’orth a day, some every other day; werry few can afford a penn’orth, but times is inferior. Dogs is better pay when you’ve a connection among ‘em.”
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 Whitechapel, 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 larger firms, such as brewers. Coal-merchants, and large cab and ‘bus yard; giving so much per head for their old live and dead horses through the year. The price varies from 2 pounds (sterling) to 50 shillings 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 horses 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 and animal for 15 shillings, for which he afterwards got 150 pounds (sterling). Frequently young horses that will not work in cabs -known 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 average 4 shillings a day. They begin work at twelve at night, because some of the flesh is required to b 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 ii blood, so that it may not see the slaughterman when about the 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, throat 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 &c. The bones themselves are sold for manure.
The pieces of flesh are thrown into larger coppers or pans, about nine feet in diameter and four feet deep. Each of these pans will hold about three good-sized horses. Sometimes two large brewers’ horses will fill them, and sometimes as many as four “poor” cab-horses may be put into them. The flesh is boiled about an hour and 20 minutes for a “killed” horse, and from two hours and 20 minutes for a dead horse (a horse dying from age or disease). The flesh, when boiled, is taken from the coppers, laid on the stones, and sprinkled with water to cool it. It is then weighed out in pieces 112, 56, 28, 21,14, 7, and 3-and-a-half lbs weight. These are either taken round in a cart to the “carriers,” or, at about five, the carriers call at the yard to purchase, and continue doing so till twelve in the day. The price is 14 shillings per cwt in winter, and 16 shillings in summer. The tripe is served out at 12 lb for 6d. All this is for cats and dogs.
The carriers then take the meat round town, wherever their “walk” may lie. The sell it to the public at the rate of 2-and-a-half pence per lb, and in small pieces, on skewers, at a farthing, a halfpenny and penny each. Some carriers will sell as much as a hundred-weight in a day and about half a hundred-weight is the average quantity disposed of by the carriers in London. Some sell much cheaper than others. These dealers will frequently knock at the doors of persons whom they have seen served by another on the previous day, and show them that they can let them have a larger quantity of meat for the same money.
The class of persons belonging to the business are mostly those who have been unable to obtain employment at their trade. Occasionally a person in bred to it, having been engaged as a lad by some carrier to go round with the barrow and assist him in his business. The boys will, after a time, find a “walk” for themselves, beginning first with a basket and ultimately rising to a barrow. Many of the carriers give light weight to the extent of 2 oz and 4 oz in the pound (weight).
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 throughout the year, which, reckoning the London slaughterhouses 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 seller - nearly all are men - number at the least 1,000. The slaughtermen are said to reap large fortunes very rapidly - indeed, the carriers say they coin the money. Many of them retire after a few years, and take larger farms. One, after 12 years’ business, retired with several thousand pounds (sterling), and has now three large farms. The carriers are men, women, and boys. Very few women do as well as the men at it. The carriers “are generally sad drunkard.” Out of five hundred, it is said that three hundred at least spend 1 pound (sterling) a week in drink. One party in the trade told me that he knew a carrier who would often spend 10 shillings in liquor at one sitting. The profit carriers make upon the meat is at present only a penny per pound (weight). In the summer time the profit per pound (sterling) is reduced to a half-penny, owing to the meat being dearer on account of its scarcity. The carriers give a great deal of credit - indeed they take but little ready money. On some days they do not come home with more than 2 shillings. One with a middling walk pays for his meat 7s 6d per day. For this he has a hundred-weight. This produces him as much as us 6d, so that his profit is 4 shillings; which, I am assured, is about a fair average of the earnings of the trade. One carrier is said to have amassed 1,000 pounds (sterling) at the business. He usually sold from one-and-a-half to 2 cwt every morning, so that his profits were generally from 16 shillings to 1 pound (sterling) per day. But the trade is much worse now. There are so many at it, they say, that there is barely a living for any. A carrier assured me that he seldom went less than 30, and frequently 40 miles, through the streets every day. The best districts are among the houses of tradesmen, mechanics, and labourers. The coachmen in the mews at the back of the squares are very good customers. “The work lays thicker there,” said my informant. Old maids are bad, though very plentiful, customers. They cheapen the carriers down so that they can scarcely live at the business. “They will pay one halfpenny and owe another, and forget that after a day or two.” The cats’ meat dealers generally complain of their losses from bad debts. Their customers require credit frequently to the extent of 1 pound (sterling). “one party owes me 15s now,” said a carrier to me, “and many 10s; in fact, very few people pay ready money for the meat.”
The carriers frequently serve as much as ten pennyworths to one person in a day. One gentleman has as much as 4lbs of meat each morning for two Newfoundland dogs; and there was one woman - a black - who used to have as much as 16 pennyworths each day. This person used to go out on the roof of the house and throw it to the cats on the tiles. By this she brought so many stray cats round about the neighbourhood, that the parties in the vicinity complained; it was quite a nuisance. She would have the meat always brought to her before ten in the morning, or else she would send to a shop for it, and between ten and eleven in the morning the noise and cries of the hundreds of stray cats attracted to the spot was “terrible to hear.” When ‘the meat was thrown to the cats on the roof, the riot, and confusion, and fighting, was beyond description. “A beer-shop man,” I was told, “was obliged to keep five or six dogs to drive the cats from his walls.” There was also a mad woman in Islington, who used to have 14 lbs of meat a day. The party who supplied her had his money often at 2 pounds and 3 pounds (sterling) at a time. She had as many as thirty cats at times in her house. Every stray one that came she would take in and support. The stench was so great that she was obliged to be ejected. The best days for the cats’ meat business are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays. A double quantity of meat is sold on the Saturday; and on that day and Monday and Tuesday the weekly customers generally pay.
“My father was a baker by trade,” said a carrier to me, “but through an enlargement of the heart he was obliged to give up working at his trade; leaning over the trough increased his complaint so severely that he used to fall down, and he obliged to be brought home. This made him take to the cats’ and dogs’ meat trade, and he brought me up to it. I do pretty comfortably. I have a very good business, having been all my life at it. If it wasn’t for the bad debts I should do much better; but some of the people I trust leave the houses, and actually take in a double quantity of meat the day before. I suppose there is at the present moment as much as 20 pounds (sterling) owing to me that I never expect to see a farthing of.”
The generality of the dealers wear a shiny hat, black, plush waistcoat and sleeves, a blue apron, corduroy trousers, and a blue and white spotted handkerchief round their necks. Some indeed, will wear two and three handkerchiefs round their necks, this being fashionable among them. A great many meet every Friday afternoon in the donkey-market, Smithfield, and retire to a public-house adjoining, to spend the evening.
A “cats’ meat carrier” who supplied me with information was more comfortably situated than any of the poorer classes that I have yet seen. he lived in the front room of a second floor, in an open and respectable quarter of the town, and his lodgings were the perfection of comfort and cleanliness in an humble sphere. It was late in the evening when I reached the house. I found the “carrier” and his family preparing for supper. In a large morocco leather easy chair sat the cats’ meat carrier himself; his “blue apron and black shiny hat” had disappeared, and he wore a dress coat and a black satin waistcoat instead. His wife, who was a remarkably pretty woman, and of very attractive manners, wore a “Dolly Varden” cap, placed jauntily at the back of her head, and a drab merino dress. The room was cosily carpeted, and in one corner stood a mahogany “crib” with cane-work sides, in which one of the children was asleep. On the table was a clean white table-cloth, and the room was savoury with the steaks, and mashed potatoes that were cooking on the fire. Indeed, I have never yet seen greater comfort in the abodes of the poor. The cleanliness and wholesomeness of the apartment were the more striking from the unpleasant associations connected with the calling.
It is believed by one who has been engaged in the business for 25 years, that there are from 900 to 1,000 horses, averaging 2 cwt of meat each - little and big - boiled down every week; so that the quantity of cats’ and dogs’ meat used throughout London is about 200,000 lbs per week, and this, sold at the rate of 2 and-a-half pence per lb, gives 2,000 pounds (sterling) a week for the money spent in cats’ and dogs’ meat, or upwards of 1000,000 pounds (sterling) a year, which is at the rate of 100 pounds sterling worth sold annually by each carrier. The profits of the carriers may be estimated at about 50 pounds (sterling) each per annum.
The capital required to start in this business varies from 1 pound sterling to 2 pounds (sterling). The stock-money needed is between 5 shillings and 10 shillings. The barrow and basket, weights and scales, knife and steel, or black-stone, cost around 2 pounds sterling when new, and from 15 shillings to 4 shillings second-hand.
Mayhew totalled up the capital value of these street-vendors, based on there being 500 with harrows and 500 with baskets.
p 209. Street-sellers of Cats’ and Dogs’ -meat.
500 barrows, 18 shillings each; 1,000 baskets, 1 shilling and sixpence each; 500 sets of weights and scales, 4 shillings each; 1,000 knives, 8 pence each; 1,000 steels, 1. shilling each; stock money of 1,500 vendors, 7 shillings and sixpence per head.... 1,083 pounds (sterling) 6 shillings and 8 pence total.
Mayhew also calculated the annual worth of the trade based on 46,800 - 52,000 horse rendered for meat each year (37,500 slaughtered within London; the rest being collection of dead horses and the carcasses brought into London from elsewhere).
There are 300,000 cats in the metropolis, and from 900 to 1,000 horses averaging 2 cwt of meat each, boiled down every week; the quantity of cats’ and dogs’ meat used throughout London is about 200,000 lbs per week, and this, sold at the rate of two-and-a-half-pence per pound (weight) gives 2,000 pounds (sterling) a week for the money spent in cats’ and dogs’ meat, or per year upwards of.... 100,000 pounds (sterling)
SOME CONTEXT FOR THE MODERN READER.
Just as the modern economy is largely based on oil, the economy of the 1860s was based on horses (i.e. the economy has always been based on horsepower): riding horses for hire or private owners; hackneys and light horses for cabs; light draught horses for drags (private carriages), stage-carriages, trade carts and costermongers carts; draft horses for brewers’ drays, coal-merchants, omnibuses, heavy waggons and in the railway goods yards. The poorer classes, unable to afford the upkeep of a horse, might use a donkey-cart or dog-cart. Many of the cab and carriage horses were hired from stables. The competitive nature of cab-work could quickly wear out horses. The stop-start work of drays, waggons and railway horses wore out a heavy horse in less than 2 years. However well they were cared for, city work took a huge toll on working horses.
A knacker rendered (processed into meat and byproducts) animals that were unfit for human consumption. In strict terms, a slaughter-house dispatched animals for human consumption, but Mayhew mostly used the latter term which was considered more respectable. The knacker processed dead and worn-out horses, ponies and donkeys (hence the term “knackered” meaning “worn out”) as well as dead or diseased farm livestock. The meat was boiled down and sold for pet food or, in rural areas, might go to the kennels of the local hunt.
A fellmonger was a dealer in hides or skins who might also prepare skins for tanning (fell is an old word for “hide”). While modern fellmongers remove the hair from hides, in Mayhew’s time they might be contracted to collect worn-out horses and convey them, tied single file to the tail of the fellmonger’s cart to the knacker’s yard.
Other urban poorer class trades relied on knackers’ yards for their raw materials. The inedible parts were further processed for use in a other industries. Horse hair was used in upholstery stuffing, some textiles and theatrical wigs. The hide went to tanneries to be made into harness leather for which there was huge demand; a cab-horse might be wearing harness made from his predecessor. Hooves and bones were taken for further processing and use in glue, the paper industry, blood-and-bone fertiliser etc. Little was wasted.
In simple terms, a poleaxe was a long-shafted mallet; one end of the mallet-head was was a spike. It was swung so that the spike struck the animal in the forehead, dropping it immediately and, if not killing it outright, rendering it insensible to what followed. The name was derived from the pollaxe, a type of pole-arm used in battle. Though it sounds barbaric, if used correctly, it had the same effect as a captive bolt pistol.
Henry Mayhew (1812 — 1887) was an English journalist and playwright who is best remembered as a social researcher. He published an extensive series of newspaper articles in the Morning Chronicle that was later compiled into the 3 (later 4) volume “London Labour and the London Poor (1851)”. In 1835, Mayhew fell into debt and fled to Paris where he remained for around 10 years. He was a co-founder of the satirical “Punch” magazine (1841), and a contributor to the “Illustrated Times” (1842) but his “Iron Times” railway magazine cost him so much money that he was forced to appear in a Court of Bankrupcy in 1846. His detailed accounts of the condition of the Victorian poor were initially collected in the three volumes of “London Labour and the London Poor” in 1851. In 1861 a co-authored fourth volume was added, covering London’s underworld.