London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Omnibus Proprietors.


THE "labourers" immediately connected with the trade in omnibuses are the proprietors, drivers, conductors, and time-keepers. Those less immediately but still in connexion with the trade are the "odd men" and the horsekeepers.

The earlier history of omnibus proprietors presents but a series of struggles and ruinous lawsuits, proprietor with another, until many were ruined; and then several opposed companies or individuals coalesced or agreed; and these proprietaries now present a united, and, I believe, a prosperous body. They possess in reality a monopoly in omnibus conveyance; but I am assured it would not be easy under any other plan to serve the public better. All the proprietors of omnibuses may


be said to be in union, as they act systematically and by arrangement, proprietary with another. Their profits are, of course, apportioned, like those of other joint-stock companies, according to the number of shares held by individual members. On each route member of the proprietary is appointed ("directed") by his co-proprietors. The directory may be classed as the "executive department" of the body. The director can displace a driver on a week"s notice: but by some directors, who pride themselves on dealing summarily, it seems that the week"s notice is now and then dispensed with. The conductor he can displace at a day"s notice. The "odd men" sometimes supply the places of the officials so discharged until a meeting of the proprietary, held monthly for the most part, when new officers are appointed; there being always an abundance of applicants, who send or carry in testimonials of their fitness from persons known to the proprietors, or known to reside on the line of the route. The director may indeed appoint either driver or conductor at his discretion, if he see good reason to do so. The driver, however, is generally appointed and paid by the proprietor, while the conductor is more particularly the servant of the association. The proprietaries have so far a monopoly of the road, that they allow no new omnibuses to be started upon it. If a speculator should be bold enough to start new conveyances, the pre-existing proprietaries put a greater number of conveyances on the route, so that none are well filled; and of the old proprietaries" vehicles immediately precedes the omnibus of the speculator, and another immediately follows it; and thus vehicles are on the ground, which may yield only customers for : hence, as the whole number on the route has been largely increased, not omnibus is well filled, and the speculator must in all probability be ruined, while the associated proprietors suffer but a temporary loss. So well is this now understood, that no seems to think of embarking his money in the omnibus trade unless he "buys his times," that is to say, unless he arranges by purchase; and a "new man" will often pay or for his "times," to have the privilege of running his vehicles on a given route, and at given periods; in other words, for the privilege of becoming a recognised proprietor.

The proprietors pay their servants fairly, as a general rule; while, as a universal rule, they rigidly exact sobriety, punctuality, and cleanliness. Their great difficulty, all of them concur in stating, is to ensure honesty. Every proprietor insists upon the excessive difficulty of trusting men with uncounted money, if the men feel there is no efficient check to ensure to their employers a knowledge of the exact amount of their daily receipts. Several plans have been resorted to in order to obtain the desired check. Mr. Shillibeer"s I have already given. plan now in practice is to engage a well-dressed woman, sometimes accompanied by a child, and she travels by the omnibus; and immediately on leaving it, fills up a paper for the proprietor, showing the number of insides and outs, of short and long fares. This method, however, does not ensure a thorough accuracy. It is difficult for a woman, who must take such a place in the vehicle as she can get, to ascertain the precise number of outsides and their respective fares. So difficult, that I am assured such a person has returned a number than was actually conveyed. gentleman who was formerly an omnibus proprietor, told me he employed a "ladylike," and, as he believed, trusty woman, as a "check;" but by some means the conductors found out the calling of the "ladylike" woman, treated her, and she made very favourable returns for the conductors. Another lady was observed by a conductor, who bears an excellent character, and who mentioned the circumstance to me, to carry a small bag, from which, whenever a passenger got out, she drew, not very deftly it would seem, a bean, and placed it in glove, as ladies carry their sixpences for the fare, or a pea, and placed it in the other. This process, the conductor felt assured, was "a check;" that the beans indicated the "long uns," and the peas the "short uns:" so, when the unhappy woman desired to be put down at the bottom of on a wintry evening, he contrived to land her in the very thickest of the mud, handing her out with great politeness. I may here observe, before I enter upon the subject, that the men who have maintained a character for integrity regard the checks with great bitterness, as they naturally feel more annoyed at being suspected than men who may be dishonestly inclined. Another conductor once found a memorandum-book in his omnibus, in which were regularly entered the "longs" and "shorts."

proprietor told me he had once employed religious men as conductors; "but," said he, "they grew into thieves. A Methodist parson engaged of his sons to me— it"s a good while ago—and was quite indignant that I ever made any question about the young man"s honesty, as he was strictly and religiously brought up; but he turned out of the worst of the whole batch of them." check resorted to, as a conductor informed me, was found out by them. A lady entered the omnibus carrying a brown-paper parcel, loosely tied, and making a tear on the edge of the paper for every "short" passenger, and a deeper tear for every "long." This difficulty in finding a check where an indefinite amount of money passes through a man"s hands—and I am by no means disposed to undervalue the difficulty—has led to a summary course of procedure, not unattended by serious evils. It appears that men are now discharged suddenly, at a moment"s notice, and with no


reason assigned. If a reason be demanded, the answer is, "You are not wanted any longer." Probably, the discharge is on account of the man"s honesty being suspected. But whether the suspicion be well founded or unfounded, the consequences are equally serious to the individual discharged; for it is a rule observed by the proprietors not to employ any man discharged from another line. He will not be employed, I am assured, if he can produce a good character; and even if the ""bus he worked" had been discontinued as no longer required on that route. New men, who are considered unconnected with all versed in omnibus tricks, are appointed; and this course, it was intimated to me very strongly, was agreeable to the proprietors for reasons—as widely extending their patronage, and as always placing at their command a large body of unemployed men, whose services can at any time be called into requisition at reduced wages, should "slop-drivers" be desirable. It is next to impossible, I was further assured, for a man discharged from an omnibus to obtain other employ. If the director goes so far as to admit that he has nothing to allege against the man"s character, he will yet give no reason for his discharge; and an inquirer naturally imputes the withholding of a reason to the mercy of the director.

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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