London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Omnibus Conductors.


THE conductor, who is vulgarly known as the "cad," stands on a small projection at the end of the omnibus; and it is his office to admit and set down every passenger, and to receive the amount of fare, for which amount he is, of course, responsible to his employers. He is paid a-day, which he is allowed to stop out of the monies he receives. He fills up a waybill each journey, with the number of passengers. I find that nearly all classes have given a quota of their number to the list of conductors. Among them are grocers, drapers, shopmen, barmen, printers, tailors, shoemakers, clerks, joiners, saddlers, coachbuild- ers, porters, town-travellers, carriers, and fishmongers. Unlike the drivers, the majority of the conductors are unmarried men; but, perhaps, only a mere majority. As a matter of necessity, every conductor must be able to read and write. They are discharged more frequently than the drivers; but they require good characters before their appointment. From of them, a very intelligent man, I had the following statement:—

I am 35 or 36, and have been a conductor for six years. Before that I was a lawyer"s clerk, and then a picture-dealer; but didn"t get on, though I maintained a good character. I"m a conductor now, but wouldn"t be long behind a "bus if it wasn"t from necessity. It"s hard to get anything else to do that you can keep a wife and family on, for people won"t have you from off a "bus. The worst part of my business is its uncertainty, I may be discharged any day, and not know for what. If I did, and I was accused unjustly, I might bring my action; but it"s merely, "You"re not wanted." I think I"ve done better as a conductor in hot weather, or fine weather, than in wet; though I"ve got a good journey when it"s come on showery, as people was starting for or starting from the City. I had one master, who, when his "bus came in full in the wet, used to say, "This is prime. Them"s God Almighty"s customers; he sent them." I"ve heard him say so many a time. We get far more ladies and children, too, on a fine day; they go more a-shopping then, and of an evening they go more to public places. I pay over my money every night. It runs from 40s. to 4l. 4s., or a little more on extraordinary occasions. I have taken more money since the short uns were established. One day before that I took only 18s. There"s three riders and more now, where there was two formerly at the higher rate. I never get to a public place, whether it"s a chapel or a playhouse, unless, indeed, I get a holiday, and that is once in two years. I"ve asked for a day"s holiday and been refused. I was told I might take a week"s holiday, if I liked, or as long as I lived. I"m quite ignorant of what"s passing in the world, my time"s so taken up. We only know what"s going on from hearing people talk in the "bus. I never care to read the paper now, though I used to like it. If I have two minutes to spare, I"d rather take a nap than anything else. We know no more politics than the backwoodsmen of America, because we haven"t time to care about it. I"ve fallen asleep on my step as the "bus was going on, and almost fallen off. I have often to put up with insolence from vulgar fellows, who think it fun to chaff a cad, as they call it. There"s no help for it. Our masters won"t listen to complaints: if we are not satisfied we can go. Conductors are a sober set of men. We must be sober. It takes every farthing of our wages to live well enough, and keep a wife and family. I never knew but one teetotaller on the road. He"s gone off it now, and he looked as if he was going off altogether. The other day a teetotaller on the "bus saw me take a drink of beer, and he began to talk to me about its being wrong; but I drove him mad with argument, and the passengers took part with me. I live one and a half mile off the place I start from. In summer I sometimes breakfast before I start. In winter, I never see my three children, only as they"re in bed; and I never hear their voices, if they don"t wake up early. If they cry at night it don"t disturb me; I sleep so heavy after fifteen hours" work out in the air. My wife doesn"t do anything but mind the family, and that"s plenty to do with young children. My business is so uncertain. Why, I knew a conductor who found he had paid 6d. short—he had left it in a corner of his pocket; and he handed it over next morning, and was discharged for that—he was reckoned a fool. They say the sharper the man the better the "busman. There"s a great deal in understanding the business, in keeping a sharp look-out for people"s hailing, and in working the time properly. If the conductor"s slow the driver can"t get along; and if the driver isn"t up to the mark the conductor"s bothered. I"ve always kept time except once, and that was in such a fog, that I had to walk by the horses" heads with a link, and could hardly see my hand that held the link; and after all I lost my "bus, but it was all safe and right in the end. We"re licensed now in Scotland-yard. They"re far civiller there than in Lancasterplace. I hope, too, they"ll be more particular in granting licenses. They used to grant them day after day, and I believe made no inquiry. It"ll be better now. I"ve never been fined: if I had I should have to pay it out of my own pocket. If you plead guilty it"s 5s. If not, and it"s very hard to prove that you did display your badge properly if the City policeman— there"s always one on the look-out for us— swears you didn"t, and summons you for that: or, if you plead not guilty, because you weren"t guilty, you may pay 1l. I don"t know of the checks now; but I know there are such people. A man was discharged the other day because he was accused of having returned three out of thirteen short. He offered to make oath he was correct; but it was of no use—he went.

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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