Monday, December 6, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
Susan’s post about link boys reminded me of another vanished figure of the London streets: the ticket porter.
I first encountered the breed in Dickens, in David Copperfield. But more memorable is the ticket porter named Trotty Veck, the hero of Dickens’s 1844 Christmas story, The Chimes.
They were something like today's messengers, but not quite. They were cheaper, they carried just about anything, and they waited on the streets at "stands," rather like cabs.
Those of us living in the world of historical romance are accustomed to the lives of the privileged, who send their servants to do the fetching and carrying. But from the 17th through the 19th century ticket-porters served the rest of the public. They were licensed to carry messages, documents, and goods for predetermined fees. They were called ticket-porters because “they can produce a ticket or a document, showing that they are duly qualified, and have been ‘admitted and allowed to use the feate of a porter,’ by being freemen of the city and members of a porter's company or fellowship,” according to Thomas Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.
Most of them wore their tickets as badges, carried a cane, and wore white aprons.
TICKET PORTER'S RATES.
SETTLED BY ACT OF COMMON COUNCIL, SEPTEMBER 25TH, 1823.
For the porterage or delivery of any letter, message, packet, box, package, parcel, truss, or other thing whatsoever.
N.B. When any ticket porter shall carry and deliver any letter, message, or parcel, not exceeding fourteen pounds weight, and to return and bring any other letter, message, or parcel, not exceeding fourteen pounds weight, for such last mentioned letter, message, or parcel, one half of the above sum authorised to be taken. —From Cruchley's picture of London, 1834
“We are told that by the custom of the City, no parcel, however small, can be carried for hire from one part of the City to another except by a ticket porter, but the rule is of course continually evaded.” —From The Westminster review, Volumes 39-40, 1843
According to the Morning Post of 23 December 1844, Trotty Veck isn't typical: "[He has] no monopoly to carry goods at fixed high prices [nor] impunity to knock down all living obstructions to his way...instead of being 'up to a thing or two,' poor Toby Veck is ready to do anything for anybody at anybody's price." —from my no-longer-available Penguin edition of Charles Dickens's The Christmas Books Volume 1.