London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The London Carmen


ARE of kinds, public and private. The private carmen approximate so closely to the character of servants, that I purpose dealing at present more particularly with the public conveyers of goods from part of the metropolis to another. The metropolitan public master-carmen are in number, of whom are licensed to ply on the stands in the city. The carmen here enumerated must be considered more in the light of the owners of vans and other vehicles for the removing of goods than working men. It is true that some drive their own vehicles; but many are large proprietors, and belong to the class of employers rather than operatives.

I shall begin my account of the London carmen with those appertaining to the unlicensed class, or those not resident in the city. The modern spring van is, as it were, the landau, or travelling carriage of the working classes. These carriages came into general use between and years ago, but were then chiefly employed by the great carriers for the more rapid delivery of the lighter bales of goods, especially of drapery and glass goods and of parcels. They came into more general use for the removal of furniture in , or thereabouts; and a year or after were fitted up for the conveyance of pleasureparties. The van is usually painted yellow, but some are a light brown or a dark blue picked out with red. They are feet in length on the average, and and a half feet in breadth, and usually made so as, by the adjustment of the shafts, to be suitable for the employment of , , , or horses, —the horse, when are used, being yoked in advance of the pair in the shafts. The seats are generally removable, and are ranged along the sides of the vehicle, across the top, and at the corners at the end, as the extremity of the van from the horses is called, the entrance being at the end, usually


by means of iron steps, and through a kind of gate which is secured by a strong latch. The driver sits on a box in front, and on some vans seems perched fearfully high. A wooden framework surmounts the body of the carriage, and over it is spread an awning, sometimes of strong chintz patterned, sometimes of plain whity-brown calico—the side portions being made to draw like curtains, so as to admit the air and exclude the sun and rain at pleasure. If there be a man in attendance besides the driver, he usually sits at the end of the vehicle close to the gate, or rides on the step or on a projection fixed behind. A new van costs from to The average price of a good vanhorse is from to The harness, new and good, costs from to for horses. The furniture-van of the latter end of the week is the pleasure-van of the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday—those being the days devoted to excursions, unless in the case of a club or society making their "annual excursion," and then any day of the week is selected except Sunday; but Sunday on the whole is the principal day. The removal of the seats and of the apparatus for the awning converts the pleasure into the furniture-van. The uses to which the same vehicle is put are thus many a time sadly in contrast. On the Saturday the van may have been used to convey to the brokers or the auctioneers the furniture seized in some wretched man"s dwelling, leaving behind bare walls and a wailing family; and on the Sunday it rings with the merriment of pleasure-seekers, who loudly proclaim that they have left their cares behind them.

The owners usually, perhaps, I might say always, unite some other calling along with the business of van-proprietorship; they are for the most part greengrocers, hay and corndealers, brokers, beershop-keepers, chandlers, rag--and--bottle shopkeepers, or dairymen. -sixths of them, however, are greengrocers, or connected with that trade. It is not unusual for these persons to announce that, besides their immediate calling of a greengrocer, they keep a furniture-van, go pleasureexcursions, beat carpets (if in the suburbs), and attend evening parties. Many of them have been gentlemen"s servants. They are nearly all married men or widowers with families, and are as a body not unprosperous. Their tastes are inexpensive, though some drink pretty freely; and their early rising necessitates carly going to bed, so there is little evening expenditure. I am told their chief enjoyments are a visit to Astley"s, and to the neighbouring horse-races. Their enjoyment of the turf, however, is generally made conducive to their profits, as they convey vans full to Hampton, Egham, and Epsom races. A few van-men, however, go rather further in turf-business, and bet a little; but these, I am assured, are the exceptions. The excursions are more frequently to than to any other place. The other favourite resorts are High Beach, Epping Forest, and Rye House, Hertfordshire. Windsor is but occasionally visited; and the shorter distances, such as Richmond, are hardly ever visited in pleasure-vans. Indeed the superior cheapness of the railway or the steamboat has confined the pleasure-excursions I am speaking of to the longer distances, and to places not so easily accessible by other means.

The van will hold from to grown persons. ", you see, sir," I was told, "is a very comfortable number, not reckoning a few little "uns over; but , oh, "s quite the other way." The usual charge per head for "a comfortable conveyance to and back," including all charges connected with the conveyance, is (children going for nothing, unless they are too big for knees, and then sometimes half price). Instead of perhaps the weekly-payment speculator receives or ; and if he can engage a low-priced van he may clear or per head, or about in all. On this subject and on that of under-selling, as it was described to me, I give the statement of a very intelligent man, a prosperous van-proprietor, who had the excellent characteristic of being proud of the kindly treatment, good feeding, and continued care of his horses, which are among the best employed in vans.

The behaviour of these excursionists is, from the concurrent testimony of the many van-proprietors and drivers whom I saw, most exemplary, and perhaps I shall best show this by at once giving the following statement from a very trustworthy man:—

I have been in the van-trade for twenty years, and have gone excursions for sixteen years. Hampton Court has the call for excursions in vans, because of free-trade in the palace: there"s nothing to pay for admission. A party makes up an excursion, and one of them bargains with me, say for 2l. It shouldn"t be a farthing less with such cattle as mine, and everything in agreement with it. Since I"ve known the trade, vans have increased greatly. I should say there"s five now where there was one sixteen years ago, and more. There"s a recommendable and a respectable behaviour amongst those that goes excursions. But now on an excursion there"s hardly any drunkenness, or if there is, it"s through the accident of a bad stomach, or something that way. The excursionists generally carry a fiddler with them, sometimes a trumpeter, or else some of them is master of an instrument as goes down. They generally sings, too, such songs as, "There"s a Good Time coming," and, "The Brave Old Oak." Sometimes a nigger-thing, but not so often. They carry always, I think, their own eatables and drinkables; and they take them on the grass very often. Last Whit-Monday I counted fifty vans at Hampton, and didn"t see anybody drunk there. I reckoned them earlyish, and perhaps ten came after, at least; and every van would have twenty and more." Sixty vans would, at this moderate computation, convey 1200 persons. "They walk through the Palace at Hampton, and sometimes dance on the grass after that, but not for long. It soon tires, dancing on the grass. A school often goes, or a club, or a society, or any party. I generally do Hampton Court in three hours with two horses. I reckon it"s fourteen miles, or near that, from my place. If I go to High Beach there"s the swings for the young ones, and the other merry-makings. At Rye House it"s country enjoyment—mere looking about the real country. The Derby day"s a great vanday. I"m sure I couldn"t guess to one hundred —not, perhaps, to twice that—how many pleasure-vans go to the Derby. It"s extra charge —3l. 10s. for the van to Epsom and back. It"s a long distance; but the Derby has a wonderful draw. I"ve taken all sorts of excursions, but it"s working-people that"s our great support. They often smoke as they come back, though it"s against my rules. They often takes a barrel of beer with them.

It is not easy to ascertain the number of vans used for pleasure-excursions, but the following is the best information to be obtained on the subject. There is not more than - of the greengrocers who have their own vans: some keep vans and carts, besides or trucks; others, vans and carts and trucks. These vans, carts, and trucks are principally used in the private transactions of their business. Sometimes they are employed in the removal of furniture. The number of vans employed in the metropolis is as follows:—

 Those kept by greengrocers, about 450 
 By others for excursions . . 1000 
 Total 1450 

The season for the excursion trips commences on Whit-Monday, and continues till the latter end of September.

Table showing the average number of pleasure-vans hired each week throughout the season, and the decrease since railway excursions.

     Before the Railway. Excursion trips. Since the Railway, Excursion trips. 
 Hampton Court, Sunday . 50 10 
 " Monday . 80 30 
 " Tuesday . 20 10 
 Rye House, weekly . . 35 12 
 High Beach " . . 40 20 
     --- -- 
     225 82 

From this it appears that before the railway trips there were pleasure-excursions by vans every week during months of the year (or such excursions in the course of the months), and only since that time. This is exclusive of those to Epsom-races, at which there were nearly more.

When employed in the removal of furniture the average weight carried by these vans is about tons, and they usually obtain about loads on an average per week. The party engaged to take charge of the van is generally a man employed by the owner, in the capacity of a servant. The average weekly salary of these servants is about Some vanpro- prietors will employ man, and some as many as or . These men look after the horses and stables of their employers. A van proprietor takes out a post-horse license, which is a-year; and for excursions he is also obliged to take out a stage-carriage license for each van that goes out with pleasure-parties. Such license costs per year; and besides this they have to pay to the excise per mile for each excursion they take. The van-horses number about to each van, so that for the whole vans as many as horses are kept.

Calculating the pleasure-excursions by van in the course of the year at from to —and that persons is the complement carried on each occasion—we have a pleasureexcursion party of between and persons annually: and supposing that each excursionist spends , the sum spent every year by the working-classes in pleasureexcursions by spring-vans alone will amount to very nearly

The above account relates only to the conveyance of persons by means of the London vans. Concerning the removal of goods by the same means, I obtained the following information from the most trustworthy and experienced members of the trade.

The charge for the use of spring-vans for the conveyance of furniture and other damageable commodities is 1s. 6d. an hour, when one man is employed assisting in packing, unpacking, conveying the furniture into its place of destination, and sometimes helping to fix it. If two men are employed in this labour, 2s. an hour is the charge. If the furniture is conveyed a considerable distance the carman"s employer may at his option pay 6d. a mile instead of 1s. 6d. an hour, but the engagement by the hour ensues in nine cases out of ten.

The conveyance of people on pleasure excursions and the removal of furniture constitute the principal business of the west-end and suburb carmen. The city carmen, however, constitute a distinct class. They are the licensed carmen, and none others are allowed by the city authorities to take up in the precincts of the city of London, though any can put down therein; that is to say, the unlicensed carman may convey a houseful of furniture from the Strand to , but he may not legally carry an empty box from Fleetstreet to the Strand. The city carmen, as I have said, must be licensed, and the law sanctions the following rates of payment for carriage.



By order of Quarter Sessions, held at Guildhall, Midsummer, 49th George III., all goods, wares, and merchandise whatsoever, weighing 14 cwt. or under, shall be deemed half a load; and from 14 cwt. to 26 cwt. shall be deemed a load; from any part of the city of London the rates for carrying thereof shall be as follow. For any place within and to the extension of half a mile, for half a load and under, 2s. 7d.; above half a load and not exceeding a load, 4s. 2d.; from half a mile to a mile, for half a load or under, 3s. 4d.; for above half a load and not exceeding a load, 5s. 2d.; a mile, to one mile and a half, for half a load or under, 4s. 2d.; for above half a load and not exceeding a load, 5s. 11d.; and so on, according to distance.

The other distances and weights are in relative proportion. These regulations, however, are altogether disregarded; as are those which limit the cartage for hire within the city to the carmen licensed by the city, who must be freemen of the Carmen"s Company, the only company in London whose members are all of the trade incorporated. Instead of the prices I have cited, the matter is now of bargain. Average charges are an hour for vans, and for carts, or and per ton from the to any part of the city; and in like proportion from the other docks and localities. The infringers of the city carmen"s privileges are sometimes called pirates; but within these or years no strenuous attempts have been made to check them. carman told me that he had complained to the City Chamberlain, who told him to punish the offenders; but as it was left to individual efforts nothing was done, and the privileges, except as regards standings, are almost or altogether a dead letter. years ago it cost to become free of the Carmen"s Company. years ago it cost odd; and within these years the cost has been reduced to The carmen who resort to the stands pay yearly for that privilege. The others are not required to do so; but every year they have to register the names of their servants, with a bond of security, who are employed on goods "under bond;" and it is customary on these occasions to give the toll-keeper , which is equal to a renewal of the license. Until years ago there were only of these conveyances licensed in the city. The figures called "carroons" ran from to ; and were sold by their possessors, on a disposal of their property and privilege, as if freehold property, being worth about a carroon. No compensation was accorded when the restriction as to numbers was abolished. The principal standings are in , , , , , and . The charges do not differ from those I have given; but some of the employers of these carmen drive very hard bargains. A car of the best build costs from to The best horses cost ; the average price being at the least. The wages of the carmen"s servants vary from to aweek, under the best masters; and from to under the inferior. These men are for the most part from the country.

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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