London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The Watermen.


THE Waterman is an important officer at the cab-stand. He is indeed the master of the rank. At some of the larger stands, such as that at the London and Birmingham Railway terminus, there are watermen, being always on duty day and night, hours by day and by night, the day-waterman becoming the night-waterman the following week. On the smaller stands men do this work, changing their day and night labour in the same way. The waterman must see that there is no "fouling" in the rank, that there is no straggling or crowding, but that each cab maintains its proper place. He is also bound to keep the best order he can among the cabmen, and to restrain any ill-usage of the horses. The waterman"s remuneration consists in the receipt of from every cabman who joins his rank, for which the cabman is supplied with water for his horse, and for every cabman who is hired off the rank. There are now odd watermen, and they must be known as trusty men, a rigid inquiry being instituted, and unexceptional references demanded before an appointment to the office takes place. At some stands the supply of water costs these officers a-year, at others the trustees of the waterworks, or the parishes, supply it gratuitously. All the watermen, I am informed, on good authority, have been connected with the working part of it. They must all be able to read and write, for as of them said to me, "We"re expected to understand Acts of Parliament." They are generally strong, big-boned, red-faced men, civil and honest, married (with very few exceptions), and bringing up families. They are great readers of newspapers, and in these they devote themselves of all to the police reports.

of the body said, "I have been a good many years a waterman, but was brought up a coachbuilder in a London firm. I then got into the cab-trade, and am now a waterman. I make my a-week the year through: but there"s stands to my knowledge where the waterman doesn"t make more than half as much; and that for a man that"s expected to be respectable. He can give his children a good schooling— can"t he, sir?—on a-week, and the best of keep, to be sure. Why, my comings-in—it"s a hard fight for me to do as much. I have children, sir. I pay a year for tidy rooms in a mews—that"s rather more than a-week; but I have the carriage place


below, and that brings me in a little. of my children don"t earn a halfpenny now. My eldest daughter, she"s , earns a-day from a slop-tailor. I hate to see her work, work, work away, poor lass! but it"s a help, and it gets them bits of clothes. Another boy earns a-day from a coach-builder, and lives with me. Another daughter would try her hand at shirtmaking, and got work from a shirtmaker near ; and in days and a half she made bodies, and they came to ; and out of that she had to pay for her thread and that, and so there was for her hard work; but they gave satisfaction, her employer said, as if that was a grand comfort to her mother and me. But I soon put a stop to that. I said, "Come, come, I"ll keep you at home, and manage somehow or anyhow, rather than you shall pull your eyes out of your head for a-day, and less; so it"s no more shirts." Why, sir, the last time bread was dear—, was it?—I paid and a-week for bread: it"s now about half what it was then; rather more, though. But there"s thing"s a grand thing for poor men, and that"s such prime and such cheap fish. The railways have done that. In Tottenhamcourt-road my wife can buy good soles, as many pairs for of a night, as would have been before railways. That"s a great luxury for a poor man like me, that"s fonder of fish than meat. They are a queer set we have to do with in the ranks. The "pounceys," (the class I have alluded to as fancy-men, called "pounceys" by my present informant), are far the worst. They sometimes try to bilk me, and it"s always hard to get your dues from contractors. That"s the men what sign for heavy figures. Credit them once, and you"re never paid—never. None signs for so much as the pounceys. They"d sign for Why, if a pouncey"s girl, or a girl he knows, seems in luck, as they call it—that is, if she picks up a gentleman, partickler if he"s drunk, the pouncey—I"ve seen it many a time—jumps out of the ranks, for he keeps a look-out for the spoil, and he drives to her. It"s the pounceys, too, that mostly go gagging where the girls walk. It"s such a set we have to deal with. Only yesterday an out-and-out pouncey called me such names about nothing. Why, it"s shocking for any female that may be passing. Aye, and of a busy night in the Market (), when it"s an operanight and a play-night, the gentlemen"s coachmen"s as bad for bad language as the cabmen; and some gentlemen"s very clever at that sort of language, too. It"s not as it was in Lord ——"s days. Swells now think as much of as they did of then. But there"s some swells left still. young swell brings quarts of gin out of a publichouse in a pail, and the cabmen must drink it out of pint pots. He"s quite master of bad language if they don"t drink fairly. Another swell gets a gallon of gin always from Carter"s, and cabmen must drink it out of quart pots— no other way. It makes some of them mad drunk, and makes them drive like mad; for they might be half drunk to begin with. Thank God, no man can say he"s seen me incapable from liquor for -and- years. There"s no racketier place in the world than the Market. Houses open all night, and people going there after and them places. After a masquerade at I"ve seen cabmen drinking with lords and gentlemen—but such lords get fewer every day; and cockney tars that was handy with their fists wanting to fight Highlanders that wasn"t; and the girls in all sorts of dresses here and there and everywhere among them, the paint off and their dresses torn. Sometimes cabmen assaults us. My mates have been twice whipped lately. I haven"t, because I know how to humour their liquor. I give them fair play; and more than that, perhaps, as I get my living out of them. Any customer can pick his own cab; but if I"m told to call , or none"s picked, the on the rank, that"s the rule, gets the fare. I take my meals at a coffeeshop; and my mate takes a turn for me when I"m at dinner, and so do I for him. My coffeeshop cuts up lbs. a-meat a-day, chiefly for cabmen. A dinner is without beer: meat , bread , vegetables , and waiter ; at least I give him a halfpenny. At ——"s public-house I can dine capitally for , and that includes a pint of beer. On Sundays there"s a dessert of puddings, and then it"s A waterman"s berth when it"s of the best isn"t so good, I fancy, as a privileged cabman"s."

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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