Monday, December 6, 2010

Ticket porters

Monday, December 6, 2010
Loretta reports:

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. 
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.


DanielleThorne said...

Excellent, enjoyable post.

Jane O said...

Are their descendants the bicycle messengers who run people down on the streets of New York? I assume the Victorian ticket porters were less of a hazard to pedestrians.

Darlene said...

You've helped me choose The Chimes as my Christmas read from a wonderful compilation!

Sylvan Lady said...

How interesting! Because you recommended it, I'll have to look for THE CHIMES. The two new Oprah Book Club books are GREAT EXPECTATIONS & TALE OF TWO CITIES so maybe the whole country is going to have a Dickens moment together!

Shannon said...

Wow! That's a really cool little fact that I might be able to find a use for in my novel. It's always amazing to learn how different the times were, even only a century and a half ago. You start to think you have a good view of the whole picture and again you get a little surprise.

Thank you for all the little surprises!

LorettaChase said...

Thanks, Danielle. Jane O, from what others wrote about them, I think they, too, might have been a hazard to pedestrians.__ Darlene & Sylvan Lady:I'm always happy to introduce people to lesser-known Dickens works. Nothing IMO is at the level of A Christmas Carol, but it is interesting that the Victorians associated Christmas with ghost stories. Got to look that up. I'll bet it's explained somewhere.___Shannon, it's amazing, once you start noticing, how often ticket porters appear in novels and stories of the 19th century.

Richard Foster said...

Perhaps I am reading the inset chart incorrectly, but is it true that ticket porters could be expected to carry a parcel weighing over a hundred pounds? That's a far cry from a Priority Mail envelope.

Susie Felber said...

Love it! Blogged it. I like when I can do upscale on my day blog. Takes some spin, but do-able!

Susie Felber said...

Forgot --
There's the link!

LorettaChase said...

Richard Foster, the chart made my jaw drop. I had associated ticket porters with the carrying of letters and documents, yes, like a Priority Mail or Express Mail envelope. But I found a picture of one with a large basket, which might have been carried on the shoulder??? So the Trotty Veck image doesn't seem to fit them all, and maybe we ought to picture a big, muscular fellow, like a coal heaver or longshoreman. Mayhew does note that there was a wide variety of ticket porters, and admitted that it was hard to work out the complex system of who did what. I have to conclude that the Trotty Vecks carried small items while there were bruisers who handled the heavy parcels.

Jan said...


Not just the Victorians! Telling ghost stories at Christmas time is a long-standing British habit that continues to this day. Along with having special Xmas episodes of most TV series--which seems to be more of a big deal than holiday-themed eps of shows here in the US--and the annual rite of deciding that year's top Xmas pop hit, a contest seemingly absent from the States.

One of the most popular ghost stories told at Xmas (if Michael Chabon can be believed) is M.R. James's "Oh Whistle, and I'll Come To You, My Lad", which is seeing a new BBC TV production this year.

LorettaChase said...

Susie, thank you for making us look smart!__Jan, I didn't realize this! Now inquiring Nerdy minds need to know how long this has been going on, and where it started. I see research ahead.

Charles Bazalgette said...

Looking at the weights involved, they must surely have had handcarts for the heavier loads?

Charles Bazalgette said...

Ah, yes, there is a reference to a ticket porter's barrow here:

It looks as if the barrow was also referred to as a 'truck'.

Martin Davies said...

Thank you, Loretta. A cousin recently gave me a gemlike miniature of "The Chimes" published in 1904 by Henry Frowde of London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York and Toronto (reads like a roll-call of Anglo-Celtic civilisation) and curiosity about the exotic-sounding profession brought me to your page.
The printing technology of 100 years ago is staggering. This book could be neither (a) manufactured or (b) financially viable in our times. Despite my failing eyesight, the tiny print is perfectly legible, and all 368 pages (an astonishing 5mm spine width) are in mint condition. The binding (and fore edge gilding) is immaculate. How many books of our times will stand up to a century of use?
And, yes - I love your byline!
Martin Davies, Barbary Press, Ibiza

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket