Esoteric London

No. 400: Royal Hospital Road, SW3

Posted in London Labour, London Places, Parks, Wildlife by esotericlondon on September 9, 2011

Chelsea Physic Garden, Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3. Photo © Roger Dean 2010

Street Life in London – by J. Thomson and Adolphe Smith, 1877:

The Old Clothes Of St. Giles

But few articles change owners more frequently than clothes. They travel downwards from grade to grade in the social scale with remarkable regularity; and then, strange to say, spring up once more with new life, to be worn again by the wealthy. A coat, for instance, after it has been well worn, comes into the hands of an individual known in technical parlance as the “clobberer.” This person is a master in the art of patching. He has cunning admixtures of ammonia and other chemicals, which remove the grease stains, he can sew with such skill that the rents and tears are concealed with remarkable success, and thus old garments are made to look quite new. Ultimately, however, a stage is reached when the most skilful manipulation fails to redeem the tattered coat; and it is at this moment that the offices of the “translator” are requisitioned. This gentleman is skilled in the art of amputation. A coat in his hands may be put to many uses. The skirts, being the least worn, are readily converted into waistcoats or small jackets for children. From the other portions of the cloth pieces are selected, turned, and cut to make the caps sold to foreign workmen, and exported in great numbers. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these conversions, the original piece of cloth gradually wears out so completely as to become absolutely unfit for use by even the most ragged among the poor of Europe, and then it is that the hour of regeneration is near at hand. Merchant-princes now become the eager purchasers of these disgusting rags. They constitute the “devil’s dust” of the Yorkshire woollen manufacturer. The cast-off clothes of all Europe are imported to supply food for the mills of Leeds, Dewsbury, Batley, and other great industrial centres. Here they are torn into shreds by toothed wheels, animated with all the power of steam, till they are reduced to the condition of wool. They may then be mixed with a certain amount of new wool, and finally reappear as new cloth, woven according to the latest pattern, and resplendent in the dye of the most fashionable colours. Thus the cloth of our newest coat is, after all, probably made from the cast-off garment of some street beggar!

[The Worshipful Company of Dyers, one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, received its first Royal Charter in 1471. At that time Common Orange lichen, as pictured above, would have been used as a dye. Prepared with urine it would create a dye which initially turned cloth pink only turning it blue after exposure to the sun. R.D.]

Click here to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden website.

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