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A History of the Cries of London by Hindley

Private shoeblacking became general


of them had a large, old tin-kettle, containing his apparatus, viz:--a capacious pipkin, or other large earthen-pot, containing the blacking, which was made of ivory-black, the coarsest moist sugar, and pure water with a little vinegar--a knife, two or three brushes, and an old wig. The old wig was an indispensable requisite to a shoeblack; it whisked away the dust, or thoroughly wiped off the wet dirt, which his knife and brushes could not entirely detach; a rag tied to the end of a stick smeared his viscid blacking on the shoe, and if the blacking was "real japan," it shone. The old experienced shoe-wearers preferred an oleaginous, lustreless blacking. A more liquid blacking, which took a polish from the brush, was of later use and invention. Nobody at that time wore boots except on horseback; and everybody wore breeches and stockings: pantaloons, or trousers, were unheard of. The old shoeblacks operated on the shoes while they were on the feet, and so dexterously as not to soil the fine white cotton stocking, which was at that time the extreme of fashion, or to smear the buckles, which were universally worn. Latterly, you were accommodated with an old pair of shoes to stand in, and the yesterday's paper to read, while your shoes were cleaning and polishing, and your buckles were whitened and brushed. When shoestrings first came into vogue, the Prince of Wales (Geo. IV.) appeared with them in his shoes, when immediately a deputation from the buckle-makers of Birmingham presented
a petition to his Royal Highness to resume the wearing of buckles, which was good-naturedly complied with. Yet, in a short time, shoestrings entirely superseded buckles. The first incursion on the shoeblacks was by the makers of "Patent Cake Blacking" on sticks formed with a handle, like a small battledoor; they suffered a more fearful invasion from the makers of liquid blacking in bottles. Soon afterwards, when "Day and Martin" manufactured the _ne plus ultra_ of blacking, private shoeblacking became general, public shoeblacks rapidly disappeared, and in [1827] they became extinct. The last shoeblack that I remember in London sat under the covered entrance of Red Lion-court, Fleet-street within the last six years. This unfortunate, "The Last of the London Shoeblacks"--was probably the "short, large headed son of Africa" alluded to by Charles Knight, under the heading of "Clean your honour's shoes," in his "History of London."

In 1851, some gentlemen connected with the Ragged Schools determined to revive the brotherhood of boot cleaners for the convenience of the foreign visitors to the Exhibition, and commenced the experiment by sending out five boys in the now well-known red uniform. The scheme succeeded beyond expection; the boys were patronized by natives as well as aliens, and the Shoeblack Society and its brigade were regularly organized. During the exhibition season, about twenty-five boys were constantly employed, and cleaned no less than 100,000 pairs of boots. The receipts of the brigade during its first year amounted to L656. Since that time, thanks to the combination of discipline and liberality, the Shoeblack Society has gone on and prospered, and proved the Parent of other Societies. Every district in London now has its corps of shoeblacks, in every variety of uniform, and while the number of boys has increased from tens to hundreds, their earnings have increased from hundreds to thousands. Numbers of London waifs and strays have been rescued from idleness and crime. The Ragged School Union, and Shoeblack Brigades, therefore hold a prominent place among the indirectly preventive agencies for the suppression of crime: for since ignorance is generally the parent of vice, any means of securing the benefits of education to those who are hopelessly deprived of it, must operate in favour of the well-being of society.

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