PETTICOAT LANE has been figuring in Parliament. It has been shown that vast numbers of persons congregate here every Sunday morning, partly to traffic and partly for plunder. The Lord Mayor confirmed what had been stated, and said he had been astonished to find that this was the case. The readers of the Builder will not be astonished, because they were told something of the place years ago. The Lord Mayor said he had communicated with Sir R. Mayne upon the subject, with the view of seeing whether the evil could not be abated. But the House was probably not aware that Petticoat-lane was peculiarly situated. It was a very long street, one half of which was in Middlesex and the other half in London and, unless the police on both sides agreed upon one plan of action, the nuisance could not be effectually dealt with. Booths of all descriptions were erected, and a complete fair was held in that locality regularly every Sunday, and attended by between 12,000 and 15,000 persons. It is another example of those debatable lands to which we have lately drawn attention.
Petticoat-lane, our readers will recollect is famous for its market of second-hand clothes from those of the richest in the land to the tattered garments of poverty. It must be seen in order to be properly understood. Such adventurous traveller as may wish to examine this large colony of an ancient and unchanged people, would do well to turn into Houndsditch from Bishopsgate-street, and then to the left along Cutler-street, and he will soon reach a large market, in which many of the most substantial of the dealers, male and female, have stalls and other accommodation. It is not a very easy matter, however, to reach this centre, for at certain times the approaches are densely crowded by Jew dealing with Jew, and the "tug of war," in the shape of loud words and energetic action, is startling. The contents of bags are turned out, and one piece of costume, after due eloquence has been used on each side, is exchanged for another, boots and shoes for hats, or coats for trowsers.
There are parts of this marvellous metropolis where no clothes' man would think it worth while to enter: even the exchangers of crockery and glass would not trouble themselves to call; but in these places "dolly shops" illegally advance money on such matters as pawnbrokers would not meddle with; and great is the interest paid for advances by the very poorest of the community. For the smallest sum up to one shilling, a halfpenny a month is charged, so that for the loan of sixpence they pay sixpence at the end of the year. From such shops as these, and from rag shops, goods are brought to Petticoat-lane: even the articles which have been thrown out as useless, and are gathered in the streets by the bone-seeker, find consideration in this neighbourhood: the upper parts of shoes, though the soles may be in a hopeless state; the soles or heels of others, from which the upper leathers have departed, - are sold to those who know how to dispose of them to skilful artists, who, by joining many parts together, will, if he may be believed, "make them better as new." Garments which in the eyes of most persons, would seem to be quite useless, are eagerly purchased by other artists, who, with marvellous powers and chemical knowledge, turn, patch, and cleanse these cast-off habiliments, and put upon them a gloss which gives them a charm in the eyes of a future purchaser. Oh, strange and composite world!
In advancing to the central mart, the visitor will pass, as well as he can, through the crowd, without meeting with much notice, for all are too busy with their own pursuits. He will be surprised at the spirit of trading which is shown on all sides of him: an old hat is disputed about as if it were a matter of life and death. In the interior of the market a stranger attracts immediate attention; and if well dressed, has numerous communications made to him: the seemingly in want of a coat is, however, the most attractive; and those who have experienced the rush of touters and porters at some foreign steam-boat station, may form some idea of the manner in which his attention is divided by the numerous offers. A man must either have an empty purse or great firmness, to avoid making a purchase.
The immense quantities of goods here, suitable for markets at home and abroad, suggest that in London there is a greatness even in the sale of old clothes. The busiest time is in the afternoon, from two to five o'clock. Past this exchange, Petticoat-lane stretches in a long line, and this is generally thronged with dealers, some of whom carry on their business in shops, while in front of them others pitch their goods on the ground.
Being lately in this district on a Saturday evening, near the close of the Jews' Sabbath, we were tempted to another examination of the old houses which, on the east side of Houndsditch, differ so much from the more modern buildings, and mark the margin of the Great Fire. Looking up Cutler-street, the silence which prevailed, recollecting the place on other days, was striking. The shops were closed. Jewesses, many of them richly dressed, formed gossiping groups. In Petticoat-lane the same observance of the day was general, and shows, to some extent at least, the respect of this people for their Sabbath, in spite of their love of gain.
Although the places of business (even some of the public-houses) were nearly all closed, the place was thronged by such a multitude, all in their gala costume, that some idea might be formed of the dense population whieh occupies the surrounding neighbourhood. The artistic observer will notice amongst the young girls faces of great beauty, of that peculiar cast which has been transmitted from generation to generation since the days of Moses.
We have before referred to this neighbourhood, but may again mention that Petticoat-lane is a narrow thoroughfare, from which branch off numerous alleys and courts: most of the latter are reached by gateways, some of which are of very circumscribed width, and are generally built up at the extremity. The houses are small, the population is very large, and sanitary supervision is here required: some of the pavements are in a miserable condition, and the drainage seems to be very defective. Hebrew-court appears to be in as bad a condition in this respect as it was half-a-dozen years ago; and here in the summer-time the refuse water must remain in stagnant pools, much to the danger of the inhabitants. In addition to that, some of the trapped gully-holes in Petticoat-lane are stopped up. Mulberry-court is very badly situated: the entrance is dark and narrow: beyond are thirteen or fourteen houses, and narrow avenues pass here and there, not so regular, but in something of the same manner, as the cells of the honey-comb, and every part is swarming with life. There is a nuisance here of the most pestilential kind, but we prefer to pass it over. While examining these back places as the darkness began to close in, and the gaslight and the stars to glitter, the noise rapidly increased. A change had in the course of a few minutes come over Petticoat-lane: the shutters have been taken down, the windows lighted up, busy hands are at work displaying the merchandise: costermongers with fruit and fish bring in their barrows: from all sides throngs of working-men and others come in search of bargains; and until a late hour of the night time busy exchange goes on. The scene is marvellous, and it might be useful if those who have the making of laws would visit such places, to glance at the vast thousands who are crushed together, and study the circumstances under which they are placed. There is something in the sight which suggests the necessity of sanitary measures.
On the Sunday morning the market again opens, and, if anything, the confusion is greater: it reigns until the streets are forcibly cleared of dealers by the police; and it is the recent "discovery" of this fact by our legislators that has brought Petticoat-lane at this moment before the public.