Esoteric London

No. 843: Greek Street, W1

Posted in Eating places, Public Art by esotericlondon on May 22, 2013

L’Escargot, Greek Street, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

London Labour and the London Poor, Volume II – Henry Mayhew, 1851:

An old woman, who had “seen better days,” but had been reduced to keep an oyster stall, gave me the following account of her customers. She showed much shrewdness in her conversation, but having known better days, she declined to enter upon any conversation concerning her former life: –

“As to my customers, sir,” she said, “why, indeed, they’re all sorts. It’s not a very few times that gentlemen (I call them so because they’re mostly so civil) will stop just as it’s getting darkish, perhaps, and look about them, and then come to me and say very quick: ‘Two penn’orth for a whet.’ Ah! some of ’em will look, may be, like poor parsons down upon their luck, and swallow their oysters as if they was taking poison in a hurry. They’ll not touch the bread or butter once in twenty times, but they’ll be free with the pepper and vinegar, or, mayhap, they’ll say quick and short, ‘A crust off that.’ I many a time think that two penn’orth is a poor gentleman’s dinner. It’s the same often, but only half as often, or not half, with a poor lady, with a veil that once was black, over a bonnet to match, and shivering through her shawl. She’ll have the same. About two penn’orth is the mark still, it’s mostly two penn’orth. My son says, it’s because that’s the price of a glass of gin, and some persons buy oysters instead but that’s only his joke, sir. It’s not the vulgar poor that’s our chief customers. There’s many of them won’t touch oysters, and I’ve heard some of them say: ‘The sight on ’em makes me sick; it’s like eating snails.’