3 Other (Legal) Ways for Holmes’ Irregulars to Earn a Shilling in the 1890’s
The Crossing Sweeper
Opinions varied on sweeping, even amongst the sweepers. On the plus side? If you’ve got a broom and a crossing, you’re set. Thousands of horses and fashionable hem lengths put you in demand. The streets bring the sweepable filth, without fail. You’re your own boss. Cons? You work for tips. The best crossings, or “pitches,” are worth fighting over, and it happens. If you don’t show up, someone else will take your place; it pays to be a known, trusted, quantity. If you’re in a better part of the city, tips are better, too, and other errands (horse holding, message bearing, parcel carrying) come your way. One fellow interviewed in The London IllustratedNews claimed customers’ tips on upcoming horse races did more for his pocket than the sweeping.
There are no gymnastics schools in London, at least according to The Strand Magazine‘s 1891 article, “The Child Workers of London.” If you want training, you hope to join one of the many troupes, beginning at age eight. The trainer, known as “the father,” arranges to take in recruits for a certain number of years. He is responsible for teaching, but also feeding and clothing them. (Remind anyone of Dickens’ Fagin?) Good troupes travel, performing at festivals and in theaters, as well as on the street. The best cross the Channel to France and Germany.
A troupe made £70 – £80 a day, a fully trained acrobat, £20 – £25 a week. Interviewed by The Strand, troupe father Mr. Bale said that healthy diet and strength training are virtues of the training. Temperance is another merit, he adds. “Directly an acrobat takes to drinking, he is done for.”
The Lodging House Servant
“Nothing can be harder or drearier,” The Strand says, referring to the lives of young servants, especially at lodging houses. “They are on their feet, at everyone’s beck and call, never expected to tire.” Their work is demanding, their meals poor, their sleeping arrangements, “disgraceful.” Mrs. Hudson’s page, Billy, belonged to this set, though with and only three adults to serve (as far as we know) he may have had it easier.
Wages vary, hovering around £10 – £12 a year. Time off varied as well, Sunday afternoons for some, but one Sunday a month for others. According to “Child Workers of London,” young servants might change jobs often. One girl interviewed, aged 15, said she had been to six places. The interviewer asked, “Are you so fond of change?”
“Tain’t that so much,” returned the young lady; “but I can’t put up with cheek, and some of my missuses do go on awful. I says, ‘Ave yer jaw, and ‘ave done with it!'”