London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Omnibus Drivers.


THE driver is paid by the week. His remuneration is a-week on most of the lines. On others he receives and his box —that is, the allowance of a fare each journey for a seat outside, if a seat be so occupied. In fine weather this box plan is more remunerative to the driver than the fixed payment of ; but in wet weather he may receive nothing from the box. The average then the year through is only a-week; or, perhaps, rather more, as on some days in sultry weather the driver may make , "if the "bus do journeys," from his box.

The omnibus drivers have been butchers, farmers, horsebreakers, cheesemongers, old stage-coachmen, broken-down gentlemen, turfmen, gentlemen"s servants, grooms, and a very small sprinkling of mechanics. Nearly all can read and write, the exception being described to me as a singularity; but there are such exceptions, and all must have produced good characters before their appointment. The majority of them are married men with families; their residences being in all parts, and on both sides of the Thames. I did not hear of any of the wives of coachmen in regular employ working for the slop-tailors. "We can keep our wives too respectable for that," of them said, in answer to my inquiry. Their children, too, are generally sent to school; frequently to the national schools. Their work is exceedingly hard, their lives being almost literally spent on the coach-box. The most of them must enter "the yard" at a quarter to in the morning, and must see that the horses and carriages are in a proper condition for work; and at half-past they start on their long day"s labour. They perform (I speak of the most frequented lines), journeys during the day, and are so engaged until a quarter-past at night. Some are on their box till past midnight. During these hours of labour they have "stops;" half of and half of minutes" duration. They generally breakfast at home, or at a coffee-shop, if unmarried men, before they start; and dine at the inn, where the omnibus almost invariably stops, at or other of its destinations. If the driver be distant from his home at his dinner hour, or be unmarried, he arranges to dine at the public-house; if near, his wife, or of his children, brings him his dinner in a covered basin, some of them being provided with hot-water plates to keep the contents properly warm, and that is usually eaten at the public-house, with a pint of beer for the accompanying beverage. The relish with which a man who has been employed several hours in the open air enjoys his dinner can easily be understood. But if his dinner is brought to him on of his shorter trips, he often hears the cry before he has completed his meal, "Time"s up!" and he carries the remains of his repast to be consumed at his next resting-place. His tea, if brought to him by his family, he often drinks within the omnibus, if there be an opportunity. Some carry their dinners with them, and eat them cold. All these men live "well;" that is, they have sufficient dinners of animal food every day, with beer. They are strong and healthy men, for their calling requires both strength and health. Each driver, (as well as the timekeeper and conductor), is licensed, at a yearly cost to him of From a driver I had the following statement:—

I have been a driver fourteen years. I was brought up as a builder, but had friends that was using horses, and I sometimes assisted them in driving and grooming when I was out of work. I got to like that sort of work, and thought it would be better than my own business if I could get to be connected with a "bus; and I had friends, and first got cmployed as a time-keeper; but I"ve been a driver for fourteen years. I"m now paid by the week, and not by the box. It"s a fair payment, but we must live well. It"s hard work is mine; for I never have any rest but a few minutes, except every other Sunday, and then only two hours; that"s the time of a journey there and back. If I was to ask leave to go to church, and then go to work again, I know what answer there would be—"You can go to church as often as you like, and we can get a man who doesn"t want to go there." The cattle I drive are equal to gentlemen"s carriage-horses. One I"ve driven five years, and I believe she was worked five years before I drove her. It"s very hard work for the horses, but I don"t know that they are overworked in "busses. The starting after stopping is the hardest work for them; it"s such a terrible strain. I"ve felt for the poor things on a wet night, with a "bus full of big people. I think that it"s a pity that anybody uses a bearing rein. There"s not many uses it now. It bears up a horse"s head, and he can only go on pulling, pulling up a hill, one way. Take off his bearing rein, and he"ll relieve the strain on him by bearing down his head, and flinging his weight on the collar to help him pull. If a man had to carry a weight up a hill on his back, how would he like to have his head tied back? Perhaps you may have noticed Mr. ——"s horses pull the "bus up Holborn Hill. They"re tightly borne up; but then they are very fine animals, fat and fine: there"s no such cattle, perhaps, in a London "bus—leastways there"s none better—and they"re borne up for show. Now, a jib-horse won"t go in a bearing rein, and will without it. I"ve seen that myself; so what can be the use of it? It"s just teasing the poor things for a sort of fashion. I must keep exact time at every place where a time-keeper"s stationed. Not a minute"s excused—there"s a fine for the least delay. I can"t say that it"s often levied; but still we are liable to it. If I"ve been blocked, I must make up for the block by galloping; and if I"m seen to gallop, and anybody tells our people, I"m called over the coals. I must drive as quick with a thunder-rain pelting in my face, and the roads in a muddle, and the horses starting—I can"t call it shying, I have "em too well in hand,—at every flash, just as quick as if it was a fine hard road, and fine weather. It"s not easy to drive a "bus; but I can drive, and must drive, to an inch: yes, sir, to half an inch. I know if I can get my horses" heads through a space, I can get my splinter-bar through. I drive by my pole, making it my centre. If I keep it fair in the centre, a carriage must follow, unless it"s slippery weather, and then there"s no calculating. I saw the first "bus start in 1829. I heard the first "bus called a Punch-and-Judy carriage, "cause you could see the people inside without a frame. The shape was about the same as it is now, but bigger and heavier. A "bus changes horses four or five times a-day, according to the distance. There"s no cruelty to the horses, not a bit, it wouldn"t be allowed. I fancy that "busses now pay the proprietors well. The duty was 2 1/2d. a-mile, and now it"s 1 1/2d. Some companies save twelve guineas a-week by the doing away of toll-gates. The "stablishing the threepennies—the short uns —has put money in their pockets. I"m an unmarried man. A "bus driver never has time to look out for a wife. Every horse in our stables has one day"s rest in every four; but it"s no rest for the driver.

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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