London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Omnibus Timekeepers.


ANOTHER class employed in the omnibus trade are the timekeepers. On some routes there are of these men, on others . The timekeeper"s duty is to start the omnibus at the exact moment appointed by the proprietors, and to report any delay or irregularity in the arrival of the vehicle. His hours are the same as those of the drivers and conductors, but as he is stationary his work is not so fatiguing. His remuneration is generally a week, but on some stations more. He must never leave the spot. A timekeeper on Common has a week. He is employed hours daily, and has a box to shelter him from the weather when it is foul. He has to keep time for "busses. The men who may be seen in the great thoroughfares noting every omnibus that passes, are not timekeepers; they are employed by Government, so that no omnibus may run on the line without paying the duty.

A timekeeper made the following statement to me:—

I was a grocer"s assistant, but was out of place and had a friend who got me a timekeeper"s office. I have 21s. a week. Mine"s not hard work, but it"s very tiring. You hardly ever have a moment to call your own. If we only had our Sundays, like other workingmen, it would be a grand relief. It would be very easy to get an odd man to work every other Sunday, but masters care nothing about Sundays. Some "busses do stop running from 11 to 1, but plenty keep running. Sometimes I am so tired of a night that I dare hardly sit down, for fear I should fall asleep and lose my own time, and that would be to lose my place. I think timekeepers continue longer in their places than the others. We have nothing to do with money-taking. I"m a single man, and get all my meals at the —— Inn. I dress my own dinners in the tap-room. I have my tea brought to me from a coffeeshop. I can"t be said to have any home—just a bed to sleep in, as I"m never ten minutes awake in the house where I lodge.

The "odd men" are, as their name imports, the men who are employed occasionally, or, as they term it, "get odd jobs." These form a considerable portion of the unemployed. If a driver be ill, or absent to attend a summons, or on any temporary occasion, the odd man is called upon to do the work. For this the odd man receives a journey, to and fro. of them gave me the following account:— "I was brought up to a stable life, and had to shift for myself when I was , as my parents died then. It"s years ago. For or years, till this few months, I drove a "bus. I was discharged with a week"s notice, and


don"t know for what—it"s no use asking for a reason: I wasn"t wanted. I"ve been put to shifts since then, and almost everything"s pledged that could be pledged. I had a decent stock of clothes, but they"re all at my uncle"s. Last week I earned , the week before , but this week I shall do better, say I have to pay a week for my garret. Im"a single man, and have nothing but a bed left in it now. I did live in a better place. If I didn"t get a bite and sup now and then with some of my old mates I think I couldn"t live at all. Mine"s a wretched life, and a very bad trade."

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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