ORANGES AND LEMONS
AS we listen to the street-child, crying “fine Saint Michael’s, four a-penny!” how many of us have bestowed a single thought upon the many interests involved, the many energies brought into action, in the production and transport of these fruits from the south to our cold, dull countries of the north! How few of us have any conception of the vast tracts of land required to rear these pleasant products of the soil: of the hands employed in the culture: of the beautiful ships, of the noble steam-vessels engaged in transporting them from foreign lands to these shores: of the railway-trains employed at certain seasons, to whisk the cooling cargoes from Southampton to London, while their consumers are sleeping in. their beds: of the large piles of massive warehouses required to store, to sample, and to sell them by auction: of the mean squalor and desolation of the great retail orange-mart in Duke's Place: of the thousands of men, women, and children who draw a subsistence from their sale in the streets, in steamboats, at fairs, in theatres, or wherever people congregate. It may be well to know something of all this, and to learn how important a part is thus played in a densely peopled country, by articles apparently so insignificant as oranges and lemons, and moreover, how it is that this fruit, coming to us from enormous distances at a great cost, is sold in our streets at m cheaper rate than our own apples and pears.
The reader will scarcely need to be told that the trade in oranges is of much greater extent than that in lemons. In London alone it has teen computed that there are annually sold not fewer than one hundred millions of the former fruit and twenty millions of the latter: about one-fourth of the oranges being disposed of in the streets and theatres. This street business in fruit is a trade of some antiquity, dating back beyond the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and growing until at the present time there cannot be less than seven thousand persons thus occupied in the metropolis alone, and possibly not fewer than ten thousand persons so engaged throughout the country.
If we consult botanical authorities, we shall learn that the citrus family embrace within it the orange, the shaddock, the citron, the lemon, the lime, and the forbidden fruit. Of these there are many different species, all natives of tropical countries, where they flourish in great abundance. According to some authors, there are as many as seventy-five species of oranges, both bitter and sweet, forty-six of lemons, seventeen of citrons, eight of limes, six of shaddocks, and five of bergamots.
These varieties are now to be met with in all parts of the East and West Indies, Australia, Japan, the Cape Colony, in South America, the Azores, Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy. It may readily be imagined by those even who have never quitted Europe, how highly prized these juicy fruits are by the parched inhabitants of tropical countries; how eagerly a small cluster or grove of
Oranges or shaddocks is sought and tended by dwellers in oriental lands. So welcome, so highly esteemed are those fruits as the choicest gifts of a bountiful Providence, that on New Year's Day, on birthdays, at marriage feasts, and at other festivals, the most fitting present by which regard and esteem may be marked, is an elegant little basket full of oranges and limes.
In years gone by, when steam and electricity were slumbering agencies, our supplies of green fruit were necessarily drawn from those countries only which were near our shores. Our oranges and lemons in those days came from Spain and Portugal. Steam has, however, in this case as in many others, opened fresh sources of supply, and now-a-days our fresh-fruit market is well stored with the luscious productions of the most distant tropical regions. The West India islands furnish us with pine-apples, bananas, forbidden-fruit, and citrons. The Azores, Madeiras, Malta, Crete, as well as Spain and Portugal, send us oranges, while lemons are sent to us from several islands in the Mediterranean
Although we are less dependent upon these fruits as ailment than the inhabitants of warmer lands, we are still 1argely £indebted to them as tending to promote health, especially for the poorer classes; who have not access to more costly fruit. An unwise policy, however, had until very recently levied a customs duty upon fruit of all kinds, including even oranges and lemons, which were not competing with any of their kindred, grown in this country; where indeed they are never produced but as rare objects in the hot-houses of the wealthy; and even then, turn out to be flavorless and sickly. A wise policy has so lowered these fruit duties as to bring oranges within the reach of the poorest in the land. The tax which was formerly levied upon them at the rate of two shillings and sixpence or three shillings and ninepence per box of about two bushels each with a further five per cent added, is now no more than eight pence the bushel. The duty on nuts has been reduced one-half: grapes pay but two pence per bushel, and apples and pears threepence.
The varieties of oranges most commonly met with in this country are the Saint Michael, the Lisbon, the Seville, and the Maltese. The first named are in greatest repute amongst us on account of the richness and delicacy of their flavour and may be readily known by the smoothness and thinness of their skins. They are cultivated, as their name indicates, at the island of Saint Michael, one of the Azores or Western Islands, and also at Terceira and in Saint Mary’s of the same group. The China orange is grown abundantly in Lisbon, Spain Malta, and the Azores: the proper Maltese orange, however, is a distinct species, having a pulp of a deep blood red colour. The Seville orange, coming only from Spain, possesses a bitter flavour and thicker rind, and is chiefly employed in the manufacture of wine, shrub, and marmalade. Since the reduction of duty it is computed that the total quantity of oranges imported into the United Kingdom cannot be less than three hundred millions in round numbers, of which one-third, as we have already stated, find their way to London.
The cultivation of oranges in the Western Islands was introduced from Portugal; and so genial were the soil and climate found for them, that they have now taken the place of nearly all other produce, and have become a most important article of trade from those islands. Saint Michael annually exports two hundred cargoes of the fruit, amounting to about two hundred thousand boxes of a thousand oranges each. Terceira ships twenty or thirty cargoes. Saint Mary’s and Fayal, however, have not nearly so large an export. The culture oranges in all these islands is now as essential to the well-being of the inhabitants, as is the growth of rice to Hindoos, the produce of the vine to the people of southern France, or the yield of apples to our countrymen in Devonshire. Every family however poor has its quinta, as an orange garden is termed, which may number from a dozen to a thousand trees. The marriage-portion of a bride of Saint Michael consists not of money nor of jewels, but of a certain number of orange trees in full bearing; and that villager considers himself fortunate who can bestow a score of such trees on each of his daughters.
These quintas are prettily laid out; the trees being planted in regular rows, with tall shady hedges about them of some quick-growing plants, which serve to break the force of the wind, and so protect the delicate blossom and tender young fruit during the equinoxes. They require seven years to arrive at maturity, during which time green crops of various kinds are taken from the ground, but seldom after the trees are in full bearing, unless by the very poor. They are planted twenty-five or thirty feet apart, and soon attain a height of thirty feet. Great pains are taken to keep them thoroughly free from the attacks of insects and also well pruned; an operation which is performed every year. The cultivator in short devotes the whole of his working hours and all his best energies to the care of his quinta, not only during its early growth, but when it has arrived at maturity; for, upon its produce, his main dependence is placed quite as much indeed as that of the Irish cottier upon his potato-field. The orange is his staff of life.
The cost of sheltering one acre of orange trees amounts to fifteen pounds sterling; eight pounds for the plants, and a further sum of about two pounds for placing them in the ground. For seven years they give no yield; during the next three years they produce a half crop, and at the end of that time may be said to be in full production. Some of these trees attain a great age and an enormous size; more than one we have heard of as measuring seven feet round the base of the stem. Their yield is also great reaching in favourable positions and in good seasons to so much as twenty boxes, of a thousand oranges each, from one tree; as many as twenty-six thousand fruit have been known to be gathered from one of these prolific trees, and it may therefore be readily believed that during the ripening season, large supports have to be placed beneath the branches to prevent the great weight of fruit from breaking them away from the trunk.
The appearance of the many quintas throughout the undulating face of Saint Michael, half hidden amongst dense shades of deep green foliage is extremely picturesque. Some have their little cottage and patch of garden~stuff; others of ampler dimensions have their “casinhos,” and their rich pleasure-grounds and ornamental work; but all are surmounted by a tower of wood and a little flag-staff, whence on saint-days, and Sundays, and festivals, pennants and flags wave gaily in the sunny breeze, aping the fun and frolic that is going on below. On these occasions, be the occupants rich or poor, work is attempted. Picnics, tea-parties of all kinds, with singing and dancing and love-making on the soft green sward and under the shade of heavily laden fruit trees, whose golden treasures dance in the summer sea-wind, are the only occupation of the people at those times. In. those cool, pleasant retreats, the maiden and her lover, the priest, the peasant, the noble, the trader, the busy townsman, all congregate, and, with the bright blue sky above, the rich green turf below, the merry sound of pipe and tabor, the song of birds of gorgeous plumage, the laugh of children around and about, the fragrant perfume of orange, and citron, and myrtle blossoms, floating in the air, - there amidst all this grow to maturity the ripe, rich fruit that within but one short week by the potent aid of wind and steam, shall be after some tossing and tumbling, thrust into London faces in London thoroughfares, with the London cry of "only four a-penny — fine Saint Michael's!"
In the quintas of' the Azores, the orange trees blossom in March and April, when copious showers, added to the growing warmth of the sun, give new life vegetation. In the best situations the fruit will begin to ripen by October, and in the following month a gathering may be made of small quantities for the London market, where the arrivals of the season always command high prices and ready sales. They are, however not in full profusion until January, before which time the Portuguese seldom taste any. By the end of February the whole crop will be off the trees, and the greater portion away from the islands. In this way the trees have not a very long respite between the gathering and the blossoming; they may in fact be said to be producing all the year round. A variety of other fruits will be frequently grown in these quintas; such as limes, guavas, citrons, lemons, &c; but only for the local consumption, oranges being the sole article of export.
In Spain and Portugal the orange trees are planted and cultivated much in the same manner as in the islands, but without the necessity for shading by high fences. The Porto and Seville orange trees do not attain a similar size to those of the China and Saint Michael's, nor do they produce nearly as abundantly. The usual annual yield of a Seville tree will be eight thousand. Previous to the reduction of the duty on foreign fruit the importers were exceedingly particular in regard to the size of the oranges received from Spain and Portugal. None beyond a certain dimension were shipped to our market; and, to enable the packers of the fruit to determine which should go and which be rejected, it was usual for them to have a metal ring in their hands with which they rapidly gauged the fruit as they received it from the country boats. Such oranges as passed through the ring wereleft for packing; those which were found too large were flung into the river; and we have been assured by a traveler that during the gathering season he has seen the Douro completely covered by the rejected fruit. Thus we see one of the destructive effects of protective duties. The waste they occasioned in this way of all sorts of foreign produce was enormous. But happily, no such waste takes place now. Under the present system of low duties, oranges of all sizes are brought to market, and can now be afforded at a price equal to that of our own home-grown apples.
Lemons are brought in large quantities from Sicily, where they are cultivated on precisely the same principles as the orange in the Western Islands. They are received, however, rather later in the season, and are packed in square cases, instead of the peculiar long boxes in which oranges arrive. A large proportion of the importation of lemons is used for confectionary purposes, whilst the juice is in great demand the royal and mercantile tile navy for the prevention or removal of scurvy; it is also used for manufacturing and chemical purposes.
The transport of the three hundred millions of oranges annually consumed in this country gives employment to not fewer than two hundred and twenty clipper-built schooners. These smart vessels may be seen any day between December and May discharging their cargoes at the various wharves of Lower Thames Street, opposite the great heart of the British orange world - Botolph and Pudding Lanes, London. Files of Corporation fruit-porters (among the sturdiest and longest-lived samples of vested rights and protected labour, fostered by the behind-the-age Municipality of London), staggering under long cases squeezed in at the middle, issue from one of those trim schooners, up tall, dangerous ladders; along wet slippery wharves; under dark gateways, across crowded muddy Thames Street; through the mazes of Botolph and Pudding Lanes, in at a wide portal, and finally are lost to sight above a huge wooden sloping grating, not unlike a gigantic platerack.
It is truly wonderful to see how those heavily laden porters contrive to pass through life and Botolph Lane without dislocating a few of their necks, or deranging the economy of their joints. They appear to be at it all day long like a busy nest of ants, or a bustling hive of bees; and one can but wonder what becomes of such myriads of orange; and how many fairs and races they go to, how many bottles of ginger-beer and bills of the play will be disposed of in their society; and finally, how many falls on the pavement their rinds will occasion.
The huge warehouses in Botolph and Pudding Lanes are the great fruit emporiums of our metropolis. There floor upon floor, story upon story, may be seen piled and heaped and blocked up with chests, boxes sacks, baskets, barrels, all bursting with their rich fruitiness. In cold dark stone cellars, in lofty ground floors, in topmost cock-loft, not a foot of space is wasted; every square yard is economized, and made to perform its utmost functions. Grapes, chestnuts, pine-apples, pears, citrons, hazelnuts, oranges and lemons, all are there in overwhelming abundance in wagon-loads, in heaped-up piles, in towering pyramids.
A busier and a noisier scene is going on in another part of the great “orange territory.” In Monument Yard is one of the largest fruit firms in this metropolis – in the world. They are the brokers who, almost daily during the season, hold auctions of the fruits they have on hand. In a long, not over cleanly room, looking out upon the great stone Monument, are some desks, a solid table, and rows of benches, on which, in all sorts of attitudes, are to be seen all sorts of fruit buyers. When pine-apples, grapes, and French and Dutch soft fruit are on sale, the assembly will be rather more select, but for the orange and lemon business the company comprises several West-end buyers, with a motley crew of noisy greasy folks from the purlieus of Duke’s Place, Covent Garden and Spitalfields. Those men it is who, buying the fruit in lots of eight cases, retail them out at a good profit to costermongers and small shopkeepers.
We have said before that the earliest oranges brought to the market command a high fancy price, and are eagerly bought up. Besides this inducement there is not a little spirit of rivalry amongst the different fruit brokers, and it is always a great point to be the first in the market with new fruit. To attain this great efforts are made. Steamers are now used to bring the first parcels of oranges from Portugal, whilst the fastest sailing clipper schooners are engaged for the first shipments the Saint Michael crop. Here we find the railway stepping in and accomplishing what was never before thought of. The London and South-Western Railway keeps up a continuous stream of traffic between the Southampton waters and the Thames. So much energy indeed, has lately been thrown into this line, that Southampton is thought by many to bid fair at no very distant day to become a huge London Dock and bonded warehouse.
Let us see what this company does for the orange for the dealers of London.
The fruit sales in Monument Yard have not yet come on; the noisy room is empty; a dozen clerks have totaled up the day’s work. The principals are about to leave their desks, when lo! a telegraphic message from Southampton gives them notice that one of their orange clippers is in sight off the port. All is bustle in the office at Monument Yard, and in a few minutes circulars are conveyed by messengers to the buyers north, south, east and west of the metropolis informing them that by ten o'clock on the following morning their first parcel of the new Saint Michael crop will be on view in their ware-rooms. The orange clipper reaches the Southampton Docks before night. By an arrangement made with the Custom-House authorities, a portion of the cargo is lauded "under bond," and in that state loaded in the covered wagons of the railway company. Steam soon wafts them to London. They are safely housed in the company’s depot at Nine Elms. Before break of day next morning they are loaded in a barge. A deep fog comes on, promising to disappoint the fruit buyers equally with the brokers. The fog clears up, but the tide has turned dead against the barge bound to Nicholson's wharf. Once more steam comes to the rescue. A spare "Bachelor" or" Wedding-ring," or "Citizen A," is hired to tug it up against wind and tide, and all is safe. The wharf is reached, the boxes of new fruit are landed, and in a few minutes more the oranges which, on the previous evening were skimming the British Channel, will be tasted in the show-room in Monument Yard.
The directors of the South-Western Railway are not content with what they have already achieved. One triumph leads to another, and having succeeded, as thus shown, in placing the Channel and the Thames wharves next door to each other they are now intent upon erecting such a commodious range of warehouses at the Nine Elms terminus as shall serve as bonded store rooms, where, if they choose, the importers of goods may expose their produce to their customers, and where bargains may be made without the necessity for dispatching cargoes to the city. The company have purchased an extensive tract of river frontage for the purpose, and are now at work upon this huge pile. It is certain that any arrangement which may tend to relieve the great metropolis of some of its redundant traffic, to lessen the dense crush in the too-thronged streets, will prove a boon that should not be too lightly thought of, provided the interests and requirements of commerce are equally cared for.
Our picture of “Oranges and Lemons” will scarcely be complete without a passing notice of the great Hebrew fruit mart in Duke's Place. The correct name of this locality is Saint James’s Place, and it is supposed that its more popular title had its origin in a certain “Duke's Palace” which stood upon the spot when London’s wealthy citizens congregated about Tower Hill, the London Wall, and Bishop s Gate. At the present time there is small vestige of anything ducal about the spot. It has not its like anywhere about the metropo1is, and to be thoroughly understood must be seen. It is true that Duke's Place is dirty and rickety; yet, in spite of this there is an air of Orientalism, of Eastern independence, which gives a charm even to the dingy wares and the empty packages. The open-air shops, piled up with ripe, luscious, radiant fruit, are duplicates of the Indian bazaars we have walked through in our Eastern travels, though without their sunshine. The handsome nut-brown, dark-haired daughters of Israel, jeweled and ribboned, and smiling, seen dimly amidst the shadows of those murky spots, appear like breathing pictures of a master hand.
All day and every day, Saturdays alone excepted, these busy "fruit-wives" ply their avocations whilst their lords and masters are out on weighty matters, attending fruit sales at the broker’s, inspecting and valuing cargoes of newly-landed oranges and nuts, or gathering information, or bartering, or a thousand other things by which they may “put money in their purse.” If we credit the words of the dark-haired maid of Judah who is counting out a hundred of oranges into a retailer's basket - and gallantry bids us not doubt her - he is selling her fruit at precisely the price it cost; a marvelous proceeding truly, and which induces astonishment that all Duke's Place has not been forced through the Insolvent Court years ago! We could not avoid asking ourself, if this be so, whence come the glittering rings and gay ear-rings worn by our bright-eyed informant? and whence too the rich furniture and costly fittings that peer at us through the thick atmosphere from first-floor windows? Aladdin, we are told, had his precious stores of jeweled wealth in marvelous gardens far underground; the magicians of Duke s Place cultivate their trees of precious stones on the first and second floors.
Fridays and Sunday mornings are the great fair days of orange and nut dealing in this quarter. At such times it presents a busy aspect with the motley crowd of men, boys and women from all parts of the metropolis, - the “costers” of London, and who are said to number about four thousand. Carts, hand-barrows, flats, baskets, sacks, all are ready for their destined loads; and so active are these people, that in a few hours all will be again quiet; the business of the day is done, and it is not an unusual thing for one of these Duke's Place merchants to handle between one and two hundred pounds within a very brief space of time.
There are features of this trade which it may be well not to overlook in our brief notice, for though not apparent at first sight they are important in their results. One of them is the encouragement which the increasing trade in oranges and lemons gives to the building and navigating of clipper ships. Fruits so perishable as these demand a rapid transit; and hence, although steam does much, there has, with the expanding trade grown up a large class of fast-sailing, well-manned schooners, equal in most respects to any gentleman s yacht affording an admirable training for efficient sailors and masters.
The part played by oranges and lemons in improving the health of our large town populations, is not less important; vast members of the poorer classes would be otherwise debarred from the use of any anti-scorbutic during the spring and early summer, a period when the absence of vegetables and home-grown fruits renders such things as oranges doubly valuable.
The juice of lemons, or “lime-juice,” as it is called, is equally valuable during long voyages at sea, where of necessity access to vegetables and fruit is out of the question and where a more than usual quantity of salt meat must be consumed It is not too much to say that thousands of lives have been saved by the use of lime-juice on board ship, whilst millions of lives on shore have been prolonged and rendered more enjoyable by the eating of oranges.
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