London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The Porters, &c.


I NOW approach the only remaining part of this subject, viz. the conveyance of goods and communications by means of the porters, messengers, and errand-boys of the metropolis. The number of individuals belonging to this class throughout Great in amounted to , of whom were located in England; in Scotland; in Wales; and in the British isles. Of the porters, messengers, and errandboys in Great , very nearly -, or , were lads under years of age. The number of individuals engaged in the same occupation in the metropolis was, in , no less than , or very nearly half the number of porters, &c. throughout Great . Of this number , or more than a of the class, may be considered to represent the errand-boys, these being lads under years of age.

At present, however, I purpose dealing solely with the public porters of the metropolis. Those belonging to private individuals appear to partake (as I said of the carmen"s assistants) more of the character of servants paid out of the profits of the trade than labourers whose wages form an integral portion of the prime cost of a commodity.

The metropolitan porters are, like the carmen, of classes; the ticketed, and unticketed. I shall begin with the former.

The privileged porters of the city of London were at period, and until within these years, a numerous, important, and tolerably prosperous class. Prescriptive right, and the laws and by-laws of the corporation of the city of London, have given to them the sole privilege of porterage of every description, provided it be carried on in the precincts of the city. The only exception to this exclusive right is, that any freeman may employ his own servants in the porterage of his own goods, and even that has been disputed. The mention of the privileged porters is in the early part of the century.

It is almost impossible to classify the especial functions of the different classes of porters; for they seem to have become especial functions through custom and prescriptive right, and they are not defined precisely in any legitimate or municipal enactment. Even at the present time, what constitutes the business of a fellowship-porter, what of a ticketporter, and on what an unprivileged porter (known as a foreigner, because a non-freeman) may be employed, are matters of dispute



A reference to city enactments, and the aid of a highly intelligent member of the fraternity of ticket-porters, enables me to give the following account, which is the more interesting, as it relates to a class of labourers whose numbers, with the exception of the fellowshipporters, have been limited since , and who must necessarily die out from want of renewal. In the earliest common council enactments () on the subject of porterage, the distinctions given, or rather intimated incidentally, are—"Tackle-house porter, porter-packer of the gooddes of English merchants, streete-porter, or porter to the packer for the said citie for strangers" goods." As regards the term ticket-porter, not mentioned in this enumeration, I have to observe that all porters are necessarily ticket-porters, which means that they can produce a ticket or a document, showing that they are duly qualified, and have been "admitted and allowed to use the feate of a porter," by being freemen of the city and members of a porter"s company or fellowship. In some of the older city documents tackle and ticket-porters are mentioned as if constituting class; and they did constitute class when their labour was identical, as to a great extent it was. In they are mentioned or indicated as body, although the clause of the common council enactment sets out that several controversies and quarrels have lately arisen between the tackle-house porters and the ticket-porters touching the labour or work to them respectively belonging, notwithstanding the several acts of this court heretofore made. As these acts were vague and contradictory, the controversies were a natural consequence.

The tackle-porters were employed in the weighing of goods for any purpose of shipping, duty, or sale, which was formerly carried on in public in the city. But there was a city officer known as the master-weigher, styled "Mr. Weigher," in the old acts, and the profits of the weighing thus carried on publicly in the city went to the hospitals. In it was enacted (I give the old orthography, with its many contractions), "that no p"son or p"sons usinge the feate of a porter, or being a forreynor, inholder, wharfinger, or keyekeeper, where any merchaunts" gooddes are to bee landed or laidd, or such-like, shall at any time after the making and publishing of this acte, have, use, keepe, or use within the said citie or l"b"ties thereof, any manner triangle, with beams, scales, and weightes, or any other balance, in any sorte, to weigh any the goods, wares, or merchandize, of any merchant or merchants, p"son or p"sons whatsoever, within the said citie or lib"ties thereof, whereby the proffyte cominge and growinge to the hospitals of the said cytie, by weighinge at the yron beams or at the great beame at the weigh-house, or the proffytes of the Mr. Weigher and porters of the same weigh- house, may in anywise be impeached, hindered, or diminished." The privilege of "weighinge" fell gradually into desuetude; but there is no record of the precise periods. However, a vestige of it still remains; as I shall show in my account of the markets, as it properly comes under that head. There were tackle-porters appointed; each of the great city companies appointing . These companies are — the Mercers", Grocers", Drapers", Fishmongers", Goldsmiths", Skinners", Ironmongers", Vintners", and Clothworkers". The appointed porters were known, it appears, as "maister-porters;" but as it was impossible that they could do all the work required, they called to them the aid of "fellowes," freemen of the city, and members of their society, who in time seem to have been known simply as ticket-porters. If a sufficiency of these fellows, or ticketporters, could not be made available on any emergency, the maisters could employ any "foreign porter not free of this cyttie, using the feate of a porter-packer of the goods of English merchants, or the feate of a streeteporter, at the tyme of the making of this acte (), and which at this present is commemorante in the same citye or suburbes thereof, charged with familye, or, being a single man, bringing a good certificate in the wryting, under the handes of the churchwardens of the parish where he is resident, or other substantiall neighbours, to the number of fower, of his good conversacon and demeanor." This employment, however, was not to be to the prejudice of the privileged porters; and that the employment of foreigners was resorted to jealously, and only through actual necessity, is sufficiently shown by the whole tenor of the enactments on the subject. The very act which I have just cited, as permitting the employment of foreigners, contains a complaint in its preamble that the toleration of these men caused many "of badd and lewde condition daylie to resorte from the most parte of this realme to the said cytie, suburbs and places adjoining, procuring themselves small habytacons, namely, chamber-roome for a poor foreignere and his familye in a small cottage, with some other as poore as himself, to the great increase and pestringe of this cyttie with poor people; many of them provinge shifters, lyvinge by cozeninge, stealinge and imbeazellinge men"s goods, as opportunity may serve them." A somewhat curious precedent as regards the character of the dwellings, being in " chamber-roome," &c., for the abodes of the workmen, for the slop-tailors and others in our day, as I have shown in my previous letters.

The ticket-porters in are described as persons and upwards, which sufficiently shows their importance; and in a Common Council enactment provides that they shall have and enjoy the work or labour of


unshipping, landing, carrying and housing of pitch, tar, soap, ashes, clapboards, wainscot, fir-poles, masts, deals, oars, chests, tables, flax and hemp, brought hither from Dantzic, Melvyn, or any other part or place of the countries commonly called the east countries. Also of the imports from Ireland, "from any of the plantations belonging to Great , and of all manner of coast-goods, (except lead)." The tackle-house porters were, by the same enactment, to "have and enjoy the work and labour of the shipping and all goods imported and belonging to the South Sea Company, or to the Company of Merchants trading to the East Indies, and of all other goods and merchandizes coming from other ports not before mentioned. The functions of the tackle-house and ticket-porters are by this regulation in made identical as to labour, with merely the distinction as to the place from which the goods were received: and as the number of tackle-house porters was properly , with them must be included, I presume, all such ticket-porters, but not to the full number; nor is it likely that they will be renewed in case of death. The tacklehouse porters that are still in existence, I was told, are gentlemen. is a wharfinger, and claims and enjoys the monopoly of labour on his own wharf. "The tackle-house porters, or most of them, were labourers within these years." The tackle-house and ticketporters still enjoy, by law, the right to man the work, wherever porterage is required; or, in other words, to execute the labour themselves, or to engage men to do it, no matter whether the work relate to shipping, to the markets, or to mere street-porterage, such as the conveyance of parcels for hire by men"s labour. The number of the ticket-porters was, years ago, about . At that time to become free of the company, which has no hall but assembles at , cost upwards of , but soon afterwards the expense was reduced to By a resolution of the Common Council, no new ticket-porters have been appointed since . Previously to becoming a ticket-porter a man must have taken up his freedom, no matter in what character, and must produce certificates of good character and security of freemen, householders of good credit, each in , so that the owner of any articles entrusted to the ticket--porter may be indemnified in case of loss. The ticket-porters are not the mere labourers people generally imagine they are, but are, or were, for their number does now not exceed , decayed tradesmen, who resorted to this means of livelihood when others had failed. They are also the sons of ticketporters. Any freeman of the city, by becoming a member of the Tackle-House and Ticket- Porters" Company, was entitled to act as a ticket-porter. They are still recognised at the markets and the wharfs, but their privileges are constantly, and more and more infringed. From a highly intelligent member of their body I had the following statement:—

It may be true, or it may not, that ticketporters are not wanted now; but 15 or 16 years ago a committee of the Common Council, the Market Committee I believe it was, resolved that the ticket-porters ought to be upheld, and that 50l. should be awarded to us; but we never got it, it was stopped by some afterresolution. Put it this way, sir. To get bread for myself and my children I became a ticket-porter, having incurred great expense in taking up my freedom and all that. Well, for this expense I enjoyed certain privileges, and enjoy them still to some extent; but that"s only because I"m well known, and have had great experience in porterage, and quickness, as it is as much art as strength. But, supposing that railways have changed the whole business of the times, are the privileges I have secured with my own money, and under the sanction of all the old laws of the city, to be taken from me? If the privileges, though they may not be many, of the rich city companies are not to be touched, why are mine? Every day they are infringed. A railwaywaggon, for instance, carries a load of meat to Newgate Market. Ticket-porters have the undoubted right to unload the meat and carry it to its place of sale; but the railway servants do that, though only freemen employ their own servants in porterage, and that only with their own goods, or goods they are concerned in. I fancy that railway companies are not freemen, and don"t carry their own property to market for sale. If we complain to the authorities, we are recommended to take the law of the offenders, and we can only take it of the person committing the actual offence. And so we may sue a beggar, whom his employers may send down their line an hour after to Hull or Halifax, as the saying is. If we are of no further use, don"t sacrifice, but compensate us, and let us make the best of it, though we are none of us so young as we were; some are very old, and none are under 40, because no new members have been made for some years. If a man"s house be a hindrance to public business, he must be paid a proper price for it before it can be removed, and so ought we. The Palace Court people were compensated, and ought not we, who work hard for an honest living, and have bought the right to work in our portering, according to the laws of the city, that secure the goldsmiths in their right of assaying, and all the rich companies in possession of their lands and possessions? and so it ought to be with our labour.

The porter-packers have been unknown in the business of the city for some years; their avocation "in the packinge and shippinge of strangers" gooddes," having barely survived the expiring of the East India Company"s charter in .

The street porters, or men who occupy, or


rather did occupy (for they are not now always to be found there,) the principal business parts of the city, are of course ticketporters, and by the law have exclusive right of all porterage by hire from "aliens or foreigners" in the streets, (a freeman may employ his own servant), even to the carrying of a parcel of the burden of which any may wish to relieve himself. They usually, but not always, wear white aprons, and display their tickets as badges. They do not confine themselves to the streets, but resort to the wharfs in the fruit or any busy season, and to the meat and fish-markets, whenever they think there is the chance of a job, and the preference, as is not unfrequently the case, likely to fall to them, for they are known to be trusty and experienced men. This shifting of labour from place to another renders it impossible to give the number of ticket-porters working in any particular locality.

The fellowship-porters seem to have sprung into existence in consequence of the misunderstandings of the tackle and ticket-porters, and in this way, fellowships, or gangs of porters, were confined, or confined themselves, to the porterage of coal, corn, malt and indeed, all grain, salt, fruit, and wet fish (conceded to them after many disputes by the ticket-porters of ), and their privileges are not infringed to any such extent as those of the ticket-porters.

The payments of ticket-porters were settled in .

To or from any of the quays, wharfs, stairs, lanes, or alleys at the waterside, between the Tower and to any part of , , , , St. Dunstan"s-hill, St. Mary-hill, , , , and Fish-street-hill:

For any load or parcel by knot or hand —

 Not exceeding 1/2 cwt . . . 0s. 4d. 
 " 1 " . . 0 6 
 " 1 1/2 " . . 0 9 
 " 2 " . . 1 0 

For the like weights, and not exceeding Poplar, Bow-church, Bishop Bonner"s Farm, Kingsland-turnpike, Highbury-place, (Old) Pancras-church, , Grosvenorsquare, Hyde-park-corner, Buckingham-gate, Infirmary, Tothill-fields , Strutton-ground, , , Walworth-turnpike, and places of the like distance—

 Not exceeding 1/2 cwt . . . 2s. 9d. 
 " 1 " . . 3 3 
 " 1 1/2 " . . 3 9 
 " 2 " . . 5 0 

I cite these regulations to show the distances to which porters were sent half a century ago, and the charges. These charges, however, were not always paid, as the persons employing parties often made bargains with them, and some years ago the legalised charges were reduced in every The street-porters complain that any may now, or at all events does now, ply for hire in the city, and get higher prices than them.

All ticket-porters pay yearly towards the funds of their society, which is called quarterage. Out of this a few small pensions are granted to old women, the widows of ticketporters.

The difference of the functions of the ticket and fellowship-porters seems to be this—that the ticket-porters carry dry goods, or those classed by weight or bulk, the fellowshipporters carry measured goods.

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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