London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


THE "Lumpers" are, if possible, in a more degraded state than the ballast-heavers; they are not, it is true, under the same amount of oppression from the publican, but still they are so besotted with the drink which they are tempted to obtain from the publicans who employ them, as to look upon the man who tricks them out of their earnings rather as a friend than an enemy.

The lumpers make, I am informed, during months in the year, as much as ; and during the other months they have nothing to do. Of the that they earn in their busy time, it will be seen is spent in the public-house. masterlumper, who is a publican, employs as many as men. This information I have, not only from the men themselves, but from the managers of the , where the greater number of the lumpers are engaged. The men in the publican"s employ, as will be seen from the evidence of the wives, spend upon an average a-week in the house, taking generally but home to their wives and families: so that no less a sum than a-week is squandered in the publican-contractor"s house by the working men in drink. There is not only a pay-night, but "draw-nights" are appointed in the week, as a means of inveigling the men to their master"s tap-room; and indeed the same system, which gives the greatest drunkard the best chance of work, prevails among the lumpers as among the ballast-heavers. The effect of this is, that the lumpers are the most drunken, debased, and poverty-stricken of all the classes of labouring men that I have yet seen; for, earning more than the ballast-heavers, they of course have more to spend in the publichouse.

I made it a point of looking more minutely into the state of these men on the Sunday, for I have found that on that day it is easy to tell the habits of men by their external appearance. The greater part that I saw were either intoxicated, or else reeking of liquor as early as o"clock on the Sunday morning. foreman was decently dressed, it was true; but then he was sent to me, I was credibly informed, by the masterpublican, who had heard of my previous investigations, to give me a false impression as to the state of the labourers; the rest of the men that I saw were unwashed and unshaven, even up to and in the afternoon of that day. Their clothes were the same tattered and greasy garments that I had seen them in the day before; indeed the wives of the lumpers appeared to be alone alive to the degradation of their husbands. At house that I visited late on the Sunday evening, I found of the children in corner of the small close room on the bare boards, covered with a piece


of old carpet, and more boys and girls stowed away at the top and bottom of the bed in which the rest of the family slept. Dirty wet clothes were hanging to dry on lines across the room; and the face of the wife, who was alone, in all her squalid misery, was black and gashed with cuts and bruises. Not a step I took but I was dogged by some foreman or other, in the hopes of putting me on the wrong scent. I had arranged with the men on Saturday morning to have a meeting with them on that night after their labour, but on going to the appointed place I found not labouring man there; and I learnt the next day that the publican had purposely deferred paying them till a late hour, so that they might have no chance of meeting me. On Monday morning, while at the office of the Superintendent of the Commercial Dock Company, of the lumpers staggered drunk into the room, intent upon making some insolent demand or other. That this drunkenness, with all its attendant vices, is not the fault of the lumpers, but the necessary consequence of the system under which they are employed, no man who has seen the marked difference between the coalwhippers and that class of labourers who still work out of the public-house, can for a moment doubt. The sins of the labouring man, so far as I have seen, are, in this instance, most indisputably the sins of his employer. If he is drunken, it is his master who makes him so: if he is poor, his house bare, his wife ragged, his children half-clothed, half-fed, and wholly uneducated, it is mainly because his master tricks him out of his earnings at the public-house.

Let me now give a description of the lumpers" labour, and then of their earnings. The timber-trade is divided by the custom of the trade into classes, called timber and deals. By "timber" is meant what is brought in uncut logs; this is American red pine, yellow pine, elm, ash, oak, and birch. The teak-trade is more recent, and seems to be an exception to the classification I have mentioned: it is generally described as teak; mahogany and dye-woods again are not styled timber. The deals are all sawn ready for the carpenter or joiner"s use. At the Customhouse the distinctions are, hewn and sawn woods; that is, timber and deals. On timber there is now a duty of per load (a load being cubic feet) and on deals of The deals are sawn in Canada, where immense steam-mills have been erected for the purpose. The advantage to the trader in having this process effected in Canada rather than in this country, seems to be this: the deals brought over prepared, as I have described, of different lengths, varying from feet to , while inches is a usual thickness, are ready for the workman"s purpose, and no refusematter forms a part of them. Were the pine brought in logs, the bark and the unevenness of the tree would add to the freight for what was only valueless. Timber and deals require about the same time for their discharge. The largest vessels that enter into this trade in the port of London are to be found in the West India South Dock, formerly the City Canal. On occasion in this dock a vessel of tons, containing deals and ends, was discharged in working hours—fortyfive men being employed. I am informed that men would discharge a ship of tons of timber and deals in days. men will do it in days. In order to become acquainted with the system of lumping, I went on board a vessel in the river where a gang of men were at work. She was a vessel of tons, from Quebec. She lay alongside the Flora, a Norwegian vessel—the timber-ship that had reached the port of London since the change in the Navigation Laws had come into operation. The Flora"s cargo was pieces of timber, which would be discharged by her crew, as the lumpers are only employed in British vessels. The vessel that I visited, and which lay next the Flora, had her hold and the between-decks (which might be yards in length) packed closely with deals. She held between and deals. She was being lightened in the river before going into dock; men were at work in barges, well moored alongside, close to portholes in the stern of the ship. There were men in each barge who received and packed the deals into the barge as they were thrust out of the portholes; the larger deals were carried along by men as soon as a sufficient clearance had been made to enable them to run along—at , bent half-double. The men who carried the deals ran along in a sort of jog-trot motion, keeping time, so that the motion relieved the pressure of the weight; the men all said it was easier to run than to walk with the deals: the shorter deals (ends) were carried, by each man, who trotted on in the same measured steps,—each man, or each men employed, delivering his or their deal to especial man in the barge, so that a constant communication from the ship to the barge was kept up, and the work went on without hitch or stoppage. This same vessel, on a former occasion, was discharged in hours, which shows (as there were between and carryings and deliverings of the deals) how rapidly the work is conducted. The timber is all dragged from the holds or the between-decks of the ship by machines; the lumpers house it from its place in the ship by means of winches, tackles, and dogs— which latter are iron links to lay hold of the logs. of these winches and tackles are stationed at equal distances on each side of a large ship, and thus with the aid of crowbars the several pieces of timber are dragged along the hold and then dropped gently into the water, either in the dock or in the river, and floated in rafts to its destination. All "timber"


is floated, as a rule. Sometimes when the ship is discharged in dock, timber or deals are let down a slide on to a platform, and so carried to the pile or the waggon. Contractors are employed by the ship-owners in the , as they will do some ships cheaper by than the company could afford to do it. The ship-owners bear the expense of discharging the ship.

The following evidence of a lumper was given unwillingly, indeed it was only by a series of cross-questionings that any approximation to the truth could be extracted from him. He was evidently in fear of losing his work; and the tavern to which I had gone to take his statement was filled with foremen watching and intimidating him. He said:

I am a working lumper, or labourer at discharging timber or deal-ships. I have been sixteen years at the work. I should think that there are more than two hundred men at Deptford who are constantly engaged at the work: there are a great many more working lumpers living at Limehouse, Poplar, and Blackwall. These do the work principally of the West India Docks; and when the work is slack there and brisk at the Commercial, East Country, or Grand Surrey Canal Docks, the men cross the water and get a job on the Surrey side of the river. In the summer a great many Irish labourers seek for work as lumpers. They come over from Ireland in the Cork boats. I should say there are altogether upwards of 500 regular working lumpers; but in the summer there are at least 200 more, owing to the number of Irish who come to England to look for work at that time of the year. The wages of the regular lumpers are not less when the Irish come over in the summer, nor do the men get a less quantity of work to do. There are more timber and deal-ships arriving at that season, so more hands are required to discharge them. The ships begin to arriye in July, and they continue coming in till January. After that time they lay up till March, when they sail for the foreign ports. Between January and July the regular working lumpers have little or nothing to do. During that time there are scarcely any timber or deal ships coming in; and the working lumpers then try to fall in with anything they can, either ballasting a ship, or carrying a few deals to load a timbercarriage, or doing a little "tide work." Between July and January the work is very brisk. We are generally employed every day for those six months. Sometimes we lose a day after lightening a ship in the river, while the vessel is going into dock. We call it lightening a ship when she is laden too heavy, and draws too much water to enter the docks. In such a case we generally begin discharging the timber or deals in the river, either off Deptford or Blackwall, according as the ship may be for the docks on the Middlesex or Surrey side. In the river we discharge the deals into lighters, whereas when the ship is in the dock we generally discharge along a stage on to the shore. Timber we put overboard in both cases, and leave it for the raftsmen to put together into rafts, and float into the timberponds of the different docks. The deals we merely land. It is our duty to put them ashore and nothing more. After that the deal-porters take them and sort them, and pile them. They sort the white from the yellow deals, and each kind into different lengths, and then arrange them in piles all along the dock.

Our usual time of working is from six to six in the summer time and from daylight to dark in the winter. We always work under a foreman. There are two foremen lumpers to almost every ship that we discharge; and they engage the men, who work in gangs under them. Each gang consists of from 4 to 12 men, according as the size of the ship is large, or she is wanted to be discharged quickly. I have known as many as 30 lumpers engaged on one ship; she was 1000 tons, and wanted to be got out quick, so that she might make another voyage before the winter set in abroad.

The foreman and men are employed by the master-lumper. Some of the masterlumpers are publicans; some others keep chandlers" shops, and others do nothing else that I know of. The master pays the working men 3s. 6d. a-day, and the foreman 1s. extra. We are settled with every Saturday night. We have two draw-nights in each week; that is, the master advances either a part or the whole of our earnings, if we please, on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I work under a publican. My master has only gone into the public line very lately. I don"t think he"s been at it more than eighteen months. He has been a master-lumper I should say for these 10 or 12 years past. I worked under him before he had a public-house. Then he paid every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, at the same house he is now proprietor of. The master-lumper always pays the men he employs at the public-house, whether they are publicans or not.

My master employs, I should say, in the spring season, from 80 to 100 hands regularly: and most of these meet at his house on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and all of them on Saturday night, either to be settled with in full or have a part of their wages advanced. We are usually paid at 7 o"clock in the evening. I have been paid as late as 3 o"clock on Sunday morning; but that was some years ago, and I was all that time in the public-house. We go straight to the public-house after we have done our work.

At this time of the year we knock off work at dark, that is, at five [I am informed at the Commercial Docks that the usual hour is four] o"clock, and we remain at our master"s until pay-time, that is 7 o"clock. This we do for three nights a-week certain; and after our work at other nights we mostly meet at our master"s public-house. The men generally draw from 2s. to 4s., and on a Thursday night the same sum is advanced to them. The men are not enforced to spend anything in the house. Each man has a little beer while the master is getting ready to pay him on the draw-nights; and he generally remains in the house after he has received his money some time, as he thinks proper. On a draw-night in the brisk season many out of the hundred he employs will stop drinking till 10 o"clock. Some go away immediately after they have drawn their money. At least half stop for some time, that is, till 10 o"clock. Some sit there and spend all they draw. All the beer that the lumpers have on board ship is supplied by the master. He supplies any quantity that is wanted. The reason why he keeps the public-house is to have the right of supplying the men with beer. He wouldn"t, of course, like to see us take beer from any other house than his; if we did he would give us the sack. Every master-lumper works out of a publichouse, and the men must have their beer from the house that he works out of; and if they don"t, why they ain"t wanted. We generally take about two pots per man a-day from the house when we go to our work in the morning. On a Saturday night we mostly stop longer than on the draw-nights. Upon an average, the working lumpers I should say spend about 2s. a-day in the season in the public-house. [It will have been seen, that the lumpers" wives whom I saw declare that the men spend 20s. out of every 24s.] After a hard week"s work I think they have generally 8s. or 9s. out of the 1l. 4s. that they earn at the busiest time of the year. I myself have taken home as little as 5s. [According to this statement, assuming that there are 100 hands—many say that there are more—regularly employed out of this public-house in the spring season, and spending each upon an average from 12s. to 20s., or say 16s. a-week, as much as 80l. aweek is squandered in beer.] I should say, taking all the year round, the men make 10s. 6d. a-week. For at least four months in the year there is no work at all; and for two months more it is very slack. I am a married man with one child: when I am in full work I take home 5s. a-week at the least. My wife and child has to suffer for it all.

Let me now cite the following table, which I have been at considerable trouble in obtaining, as the only means of arriving at a correct estimate as to the collective earnings of the "journeymen lumpers," or men generally engaged in discharging the cargoes of the British timber and deal ships. The information has in the principal instances been derived directly from the books of the Dock Companies, through the courtesy and consideration of the superintendents and directors, to whom I am greatly indebted.

   By the Dock Company. By Lumpers. By Crews. Total. 
   Ships. Tonnage. Ships. Tonnage. Ships. Tonnage. Ships. Tonnage. 
 West India Docks . . 36 22,556 69 24,347 24 6,796 129 53,699 
 Commercial Docks . . 2 1,186 154 63,213 259 75,096 415 139,495 
 Grand Surrey Canal . . .. .. 153 45,900 59 17,000 212 62,900 
 East Country Docks . . .. .. 11 3,400 64 19,091 75 22,500 
 Regent"s Canal . . . .. .. 2 600 .. .. 2 600 
   --- ---- --- ---- --- ---- --- ---- 
   38 23,742 389 137,469 406 117,983 833 279,194 

By the above returns it will be seen, that in the course of that year timber and deal ships, of tons burthen collectively, were discharged by lumpers. This at per ton, which is the price usually given by the Dock Companies, would give as the gross amount paid to the contractors. The master-lumper derives little or no profit out of this sum directly. This will be evident from the subjoined statement. A gentleman at the , who has been all his life connected with the timber trade, informs us that men will discharge a wood-laden ship in days. Now,—

 20 men at 3s. 6d. per day for seven days, comes to . . £ 24 10 0 
 And 600 tons at 9d. per ton, to 22 10 0 
 So that the master-lumper, by this account, would lose by the job at the very least . £ 2 0 0 

This statement is fully borne out by the fact that the master-lumpers will often agree to discharge a ship for less than the company could possibly afford to do it for with their own men. The question then arises, How is it that the master-lumper is enabled to do this


and live? This is easily answered. He is generally either a publican himself or connected with , and the journeymen in his employ spend at his public-house, according to the account of the wives, -sixths of their wages in drink, or out of every they earn. Say, however, that only -fifths of the gross earnings are thus consumed, then and odd out of the will go to the publican, and and odd pounds to the men.

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men