Rathbone Place, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2013
The Little World of London; or, Pictures in Little of London Life – Charles Manby Smith, 1857:
“The first and foremost man of all the world” – the world of Crocodile Court – and the most formidable crocodile of the whole brood, is undoubtedly, Mr. Brassy, the marine-store-man. Brassy is a man who has seen nearly three-score summers, during the whole of which time he and his unhappy parent (who in ’41 went to Australia, and there died) have kept the rubbishy shop in which he is content to sit from morning to night, waiting the arrival of customers who come to buy and to sell. Brassy’s shop is a museum of everything that is worth little or nothing – of old iron, old copper, old brass, old tools, old panels of oak and mahogany, old cranks and cogwheels and fragments of incomprehensible machines, to which you may add the rusty keys of forty thousand perished locks, and coils of rope and shreds of broadcloth strung together in huge mops upon wires. Nobody would imagine, from the contemplation of Brassy’s stock, or from his face, which is just as hard and impenetrable and rusty, or from his garb, for which Monmouth Street would hardly make room – that he could possibly do anything better than live from dirty hand to dirtier mouth, without being able to afford the luxury of soap. And yet the fact is, that Brassy is a man of substance, the owner of half the houses in the court which are worth having and in decent repair. It is whispered by those who dare not speak out, that he has an extensive connexion among that class of society who excel in secret appropriation, among whom he bears the soubriquet of captain of the fencibles – and that the police always have their eye upon him. If so, we can only say that the police do not enjoy a very pleasant prospect, for Brassy is an ill-looking fellow, and, as if conscious of the fact, loves to lurk unseen in the darkest recess of his den.