London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


THE transition from the artisan to the labourer is curious in many respects. In passing from the skilled operative of the westend to the unskilled workman of the eastern quarter of London, the moral and intellectual change is so great, that it seems as if we were in a new land, and among another race. The artisans are almost to a man red-hot politicians. They are sufficiently educated and thoughtful to have a sense of their importance in the State. It is true they may entertain exaggerated notions of their natural rank and position in the social scale, but at least they have read, and reflected, and argued upon the subject, and their opinions are entitled to consideration. The political character and sentiments of the working classes appear to me to be a distinctive feature of the age, and they are a necessary consequence of the dawning intelligence of the mass. As their minds expand, they are naturally led to take a more enlarged view of their calling, and to contemplate their labours in relation to the whole framework of society. They begin to view their class, not as a mere isolated body of workmen, but as an integral portion of the nation, contributing their quota to the general welfare. If property has its duties as well as its rights; labour, on the other hand, they say, has its rights as well as its duties. The artisans of London seem to be generally wellinformed upon these subjects. That they express their opinions violently, and often savagely, it is my duty to acknowledge; but that they are the unenlightened and unthinking body of people that they are generally considered by those who never go among them, and who see them only as "the dangerous classes," it is my duty also to deny. So far as my experience has gone, I am bound to confess, that I have found the skilled labourers of the metropolis the very reverse, both morally and intellectually, of what the popular prejudice imagines them.

The unskilled labourers are a different class of people. As yet they are as unpolitical as footmen, and instead of entertaining violent democratic opinions, they appear to have no political opinions whatever; or, if they do possess any, they rather lead towards the maintenance of "things as they are," than towards the ascendancy of the working people. I have lately been investigating the state of the coalwhippers, and these reflections are forced upon me by the marked difference in the character and sentiments of these people from those of the operative tailors. Among the latter class there appeared to be a general bias towards the points of the Charter; but the former were extremely proud of their having turned out to a man on the , and become special constables for the maintenance of law and order on the day of the great Chartist demonstration. As to which of these classes are the better members of the state, it is not for me to offer an opinion; I merely assert a social fact. The artisans of the metropolis are intelligent, and dissatisfied with their political position: the labourers of London appear to be the reverse; and in passing from class to the other, the change is so curious and striking, that the phenomenon deserves at least to be recorded in this place.

The labourers, in point of numbers, rank on the occupation-list of the metropolis. The domestic servants, as a body of people, have the numerical position, being as many , while the labourers are less than - that number, or strong. They, however, are nearly twice as many as the boot and shoemakers, who stand next upon the list, and muster individuals among them; and they are more than twice as many as the tailors and breeches-makers, who are in regard to their number, and count persons. After these come the milliners and dressmakers, who are in number.

According to the Criminal Returns of the metropolis (for a copy of which I am indebted to the courtesy of a gentleman who expresses himself most anxious to do all in his power to aid the inquiry), the labourers occupy a most unenviable pre-eminence in police history. in every labourers, according to these returns, has a predisposition for simple larceny: the average for the whole population of London is in every individuals;


so that the labourers may be said to be more than times as dishonest as the generality of people resident in the metropolis. In drunkenness they occupy the same prominent position. in every individuals of the labouring class was charged with being intoxicated in the year ; whereas the average number of drunkards in the whole population of London is in every individuals. Nor are they less pugnaciously inclined; in every having been charged with a common assault, of a more or less aggravated form. The labourers of London are, therefore, times as dishonest, times as drunken, and times as savage as the rest of the community. Of the state of their education as a body of people I have no similar means of judging at present; nor am I in a position to test their improvidence or their poverty in the same conclusive manner. Taking, however, the Government returns of the number of labourers located in the different unions throughout the country at the time of taking the last census, I find that in every of the class were paupers; while the average for all England and Wales was in every persons: so that, while the Government returns show the labourers generally to be extraordinarily dishonest, drunken, and pugnacious, their vices cannot be ascribed to the poverty of their calling; for, compared with other occupations, their avocation appears to produce fewer paupers than the generality of employments.

Of the moral and prudential qualities of the coalwhippers and coalporters, as a special portion of the labouring population, the crude, undigested, and essentially unscientific character of all the Government returns will not allow me to judge. Even the Census affords us little or no opportunity of estimating the numbers of the class. The only information to be obtained from that document—whose insufficiency is a national disgrace to us, for there the trading and working classes are all jumbled together in the most perplexing confusion, and the occupations classified in a manner that would shame the merest tyro in logic—is the following:—

 Of coal and colliery agents and factors there are in London . . . 16 
 Ditto dealers and merchants . . 1541 
 Ditto labourers, heavers, and porters 1700 
 Ditto meters . . . . . 136 
 Total in the coal trade in London . 3393 
 Deduct from this the number of merchants from the London Post Office Directory . . . . . 565 
 Hence the coal labourers in the metropolis amount to . . . 2828 

But this is far from being an accurate result. There are at present in London upwards of (say ) registered coalwhippers, and as many more coalbackers or porters. These altogether would give as many as coallabourers. Besides, there are meters; so that, altogether, it may be safely said that the number engaged in the whipping and porterage of coals in London is and odd.

The following statistics, carefully collected from official returns, will furnish our readers with some idea of the amazing increase in the importation of coal:—

About 300 years ago (say about 1550) one or two ships were sufficient for the demand and supply of London. In 1615, about 200 were equal to its demand; in 1705, about 600 ships were engaged in the London coal-trade; in 1805, 4856 cargoes, containing about 1,350,000 tons; in 1820, 5884 cargoes, containing 1,692,992 tons; in 1830, 7108 cargoes, containing 2,079,275 tons; in 1840, 9132 cargoes, containing 2,566,899 tons; in 1845, 2695 ships were employed in carrying 11,987 cargoes, containing 3,403,320 tons; and during the year 1848, 2717 ships, making 12,267 voyages, and containing 3,418,340 tons. The increase in the importation from the year 1838 to 1848, when the respective importations were 2,518,085 tons and 3,418,340 tons, is upwards of 90 per cent. Now, by taking 2700 vessels as the actual number now employed, and by calculating such vessels to average 300 tons burden per ship, and giving to a vessel of that size a crew of eight men, it will appear that at the present time 21,600 seamen are employed in the carrying department of the London coal-trade.

Before visiting the district of , where the greater part of the coal labour is carried on, I applied to the Clerk and Registrar of the for the statistics connected with the body of which he is an officer. Such statistics—as to the extent of their great traffic, the weekly returns of sales, in short, the ramifications of an inquiry embracing maritime, mercantile, mining, and labouring interests, are surely the weekly routine of the business of the Registrar"s office. I was promised a series of returns by the gentleman in question, but I did not receive and could not obtain them. Another officer, the Secretary of the Meters" Office, when applied to, with the sanction of his co-officer, the Clerk and Registrar, required a written application which should be attended to! I do not allude to these gentlemen with the slightest inclination unduly to censure them. The truth is, with questions affecting labour and the poor they have little sympathy. The labourer, in their eyes, is but a machine; so many labourers are as so many horse-power. To deny, or withhold, or delay information required for the purposes of the present inquiry is, however, unavailing. The matter I have given in fulness and in precision, without any aid from the gentlemen referred to


shows that it was more through courtesy than through necessity that I applied to them in the instance.

Finding my time, therefore, only wasted in dancing attendance upon city coal officials, I made the best of my way down to the Coalwhippers" Office, to glean my information among the men themselves. The following is the result of my inquiries:—

The coal-vessels are principally moored in that part of the river called the Pool.

The Pool, rightly so called, extends from Ratcliffe-cross, near the Regent"s-canal, to Execution-dock, and is about a mile long, but the jurisdiction of the Coal Commissioners reaches from the Arsenal at Woolwich to London-bridge. The Pool is divided into the Upper and Lower Pool; it is more commonly called the North and , because the colliers are arranged on the Ratcliffe and side, in the Lower Pool, and on the Redriff and side, in the Upper. The Lower Pool consists of tiers, which generally contain each from to ships; these are moored stern to stern, and lie from to abreast. The Upper Pool contains about tiers. The tiers at Mill-hole are equally large with the tiers of the Lower Pool. Those of Church-hole, which are in number, are somewhat smaller; and those of the fast tiers, which are also in number, are single, and not double tiers like the rest. The fleet often consists of from to ships. In the winter it is the largest, many of the colliers in the summer season going foreign voyages. An easterly wind prevents the vessels making their way to London; and, if continuing for any length of time, will throw the whole of the coalwhippers out of work. In the winter, the coalwhipper is occupied about days out of , and about days out of in the summer; so that, taking it all the year round, he is only about half of his time employed. As soon as a collier arrives at Gravesend, the captain sends the ship"s papers up to the factor at the , informing him of the quality and quantity of coal in the ship. The captain then falls into some tier near Gravesend, and remains there until he is ordered nearer London by the harbourmaster. When the coal is sold and the ship supplied with the coal--meter, the captain receives orders from the harbour--master to come up into the Pool, and take his berth in a particular tier. The captain, when he has moored his ship into the Pool as directed, applies at the Coalwhippers" Office, and "the gang" next in rotation is sent to him.

There are upwards of gangs of coalwhippers. The class, supernumeraries included, numbers about individuals. The number of meters is ; the consequence is, that more than - of the gangs are unprovided with meters to work with them. Hence there are upwards of gangs (of men each) of coalwhippers, or altogether men more than there is any real occasion for. The consequence is, that each coalwhipper is necessarily thrown out of employ onequarter of his time by the excess of hands. The cause of this extra number of hands being kept on the books is, that when there is a glut of vessels in the river, the coal merchants may not be delayed in having their cargoes delivered from want of whippers. When such a glut occurs, the merchant has it in his power to employ a private meter; so that the to men are kept on the year through, merely to meet the particular exigency, and to promote the merchant"s convenience. Did any good arise from this system to the public, the evil might be overlooked; but since, owing to the combination of the coalfactors, no more coals can come into the market than are sufficient to meet the demand , it is clear that the extra or men are kept on and allowed to deprive their fellow-labourers of -quarter of their regular work as whippers, without any advantage to the public.

The coalwhippers, previous to the passing of the Act of Parliament in , were employed and paid by the publicans in the neighbourhood of the river, from to . Under this system, none but the most dissolute and intemperate obtained employment; in fact, the more intemperate they were the more readily they found work. The publicans were the relatives of the northern shipowners; they mostly had come to London penniless, and being placed in a tavern by their relatives, soon became shipowners themselves. There were at that time taverns on the north side of the Thames, below bridge, employing coalwhippers, and all of the landlords making fortunes out of the earnings of the people. When a ship came to be "made up," that is, for the hands to be hired, the men assembled round the bar in crowds and began calling for drink, and outbidding each other in the extent of their orders, so as to induce the landlord to give them employment. If called for beer, the next would be sure to give an order for rum; for he who spent most at the public-house had the greatest chance of employment. After being "taken on," their care was to put up a score at the public-house, so as to please their employer, the publican. In the morning before going to their work, they would invariably call at the house for a quartern of gin or rum; and they were obliged to take off with them to the ship "a bottle," holding pots of beer, and that of the worst description, for it was the invariable practice among the publicans to supply the coalwhippers with the very worst articles at the highest prices. When the men returned from their work they went back to the public-house, and there remained drinking the greater part of the night. He must have been a very steady man indeed, I


am told, who could manage to return home sober to his wife and family. The consequence of this was, the men used to pass their days, and chief part of their nights, drinking in the public-house; and I am credibly informed that frequently, on the publican settling with them after leaving the ship, instead of having anything to receive they were brought in several shillings in debt; this remained as a score for the next ship: in fact, it was only those who were in debt to the publican who were sure of employment on the next occasion. publican had as many as ships; another had even more; and there was scarcely of them without his or colliers. The children of the coalwhippers were almost reared in the taproom, and a person who has had great experience in the trade, tells me he knew as many as youths who were transported, and as many more who met with an untimely death. At house there were young robust men employed, about years ago, and of these there are only living at present. My informant tells me that he has frequently seen as many as men at time fighting pell-mell at King James"s-stairs, and the publican standing by to see fair play. The average money spent in drink by each man was about to each ship. There were about ships entered the Pool each year, and men were required to clear each ship. This made the annual expenditure of the coalwhippers in drink, , or ayear per man. This is considered an extremely low average. The wives and families of the men at this time were in the greatest destitution, the daughters invariably became prostitutes, and the mothers ultimately went to swell the number of paupers at the union. This state of things continued till , when, by the efforts of of the coalwhippers, the Legislature was induced to pass an Act forbidding the system, and appointing Commissioners for the registration and regulation of coalwhippers in the port of London, and so establishing an office where the men were in future employed and paid. Under this Act, every man then following the calling of a coalwhipper was to be registered. For this registration was to be paid; and every man desirous of entering upon the same business had to pay the same sum, and to have his name registered. The employment is open to any labouring man; but every new hand, after registering himself, must work for days on half-pay before he is considered to be "broken in," and entitled to take rank and receive pay as a regular coalwhipper.

All the coalwhippers are arranged in gangs of whippers, with a basket-man or foreman. These gangs are numbered from up to , which is the highest number at the present time. The basket-men, or foremen, enter their names in a rotation-book kept in the office, and as their names stand in that book so do they take their turn to clear the ship that is offered. On a ship being offered, a printed form of application, kept in the office, is filled up by the captain, in which he states the number of tons, the price, and time in which she is to be delivered. If the gang whose turn of work it is refuse the ship at the price offered, then it is offered to all the gangs, and if accepted by any other gang, the next in rotation may claim it as their right, before all others. In connexion with the office there is a long hall, extending from the street to the water-side, where the men wait to take their turn. There is also a room called the basket-men"s room, where the foremen of the gang remain in attendance. There is likewise a floating pier called a dépôt, which is used as a receptacle for the tackle with which the colliers are unloaded. This floating pier is fitted up with seats, where the men wait in the summer. The usual price at present for delivering the colliers is per ton; but in case of a less price being offered, and the gangs all refusing it, then the captain is at liberty to employ any hands he pleases. According to the Act, however, the owner or purchaser of the coals is at liberty to employ his own servants, provided they have been in his service clear days previous, and so have become what the Act terms servants. This is very often taken advantage of, for the purpose of obtaining labourers at a less price. lighterman, who is employed by the gas companies to "lighter" their coals to their various destinations, makes a practice of employing parties whom he calls the servants of the gas companies, to deliver the coals at a penny per ton less than the regular price. Besides this, he takes man"s pay to himself, and so stops - of the whole proceeds, thereby realizing, as he boasts, the sum of per annum. Added to this, a relative of his keeps a beer-shop, where the " servants" spend the chief part of their earnings, thereby bringing back the old system, which was the cause of so much misery and destitution to the work-people.

According to the custom of the trade, the rate at which a ship is to be delivered is tons per day, and if the ship cannot be delivered at that rate, owing to the merchant failing to send craft to receive the coals, then the coalwhippers are entitled to receive pay at the rate of tons per day, for each day they are kept in the ship over and above the time allowed by the custom of the trade for the delivery of the coals. The merchants, however, if they should have failed to send craft, and so keep the men idle on the days of the contract, can, by the by-laws of the Commissioners, compel the coalwhippers to deliver the ship at the rate of tons per day: the merchants surely should be made to pay for the loss of time to the men at the


same rate. The wrong done by this practice is rendered more apparent by the conduct of the merchants during the brisk and slack periods. When there is a slack, the merchants are all anxious to get their vessels delivered as fast as they can, because coals are wanting, and are consequently at a high price; then the men are taxed beyond their power, and are frequently made to deliver to tons per day, or to do days" work in . On the contrary, when there is a glut of ships, and the merchants are not particularly anxious about the delivery of the coals, the men are left to idle away their time upon the decks for the or days of the contract, and then forced to the same extra exertion for the last or days, in order to make up for the lost time of the merchant, and so save him from being put to extra expense by his own neglect. The cause of the injustice of these by-laws may be fairly traced to the fact of there being several coal-merchants among the Commissioners, who are entrusted with the formation of bye-laws and regulations of the trade. The coalfactors are generally shipowners, and occasionally pit-owners; and when a glut of ships come in they combine together to keep up the prices, especially in the winter time, for they keep back the cargoes, and only offer such a number of ships as will not influence the market. Since the passing of the Act, establishing the Coalwhippers" Office, and thus taking the employment and pay of the men out of the hands of the publicans, so visible has been the improvement in the whole character of the labourers, that they have raised themselves in the respect of all who know them.

Within the last few years they have established a Benefit Society, and they expended in the year , according to the last account, odd, in the relief of the sick and the burial of the dead. They have also established a superannuation fund, out of which they allow per week to each member who is incapacitated from old age or accident. They are, at the present time, paying such pensions to members. At the time of the celebrated Chartist demonstration, on the , the coalwhippers were, I believe, the class of persons who spontaneously offered their services as special constables.

Further than this they have established a school, with accommodation for scholars, out of their small earnings. On occasion as much as was collected among the men for the erection of this institution.

The men are liable to many accidents; some fall off the plank into the hold of the vessel, and are killed; others are injured by large lumps of coal falling on them; and, indeed, so frequent are these disasters, that the Commissioners have directed that the indivisible fraction which remains, after dividing the earnings of the men into equal parts, should be applied to the relief of the injured; and although the fund raised by these insignificant means amounts in the course of the year to or , the whole is absorbed by the calamities.

Furnished with this information as to the general character and regulations of the calling, I then proceeded to visit of the vessels in the river, so that I might see the nature of the labour performed. No on board the vessel (the ——, of Newcastle) was previously aware of my visit or its object. I need not describe the vessel, as my business is with the London labourers in the coal trade. It is necessary, however, in order to show the nature of the labour of coal-whipping, that I should state that the average depth of coal in the hold of a collier, from ceiling to combing, is feet, while there is an additional feet to be reckoned for the basketman"s "boom," which makes the height that the coals have to be raised by the whippers from to feet. The complement of a gang of coalwhippers is about . In the hold are men, who relieve each other in filling a basket—only basket being in use with coal. The labour of these men is arduous: so exhausting is it in hot weather that their usual attire is found to be cumbrous, and they have often to work merely in their trousers or drawers. As fast as these men in the hold fill the basket, which holds cwt., whippers draw it up. This is effected in a peculiar and, to a person unused to the contemplation of the process, really an impressive manner. The whippers stand on the deck, at the foot of what is called "a way." This way resembles a short rude ladder: it is formed of broken oars lashed lengthways, from to feet in height (giving a step from oar to oar of more than a foot), while the upright spars to which they are attached are called "a derrick." At the top of this "derrick" is a "gin," which is a revolving wheel, to which the ropes holding the basket, "filled" and "whipped," are attached. The process is thus of manual labour with mechanical aid. The basket having been filled in the hold, the whippers correctly guessing the time for the filling—for they never look down into the hold—skip up the "way," holding the ropes attached to the basket and the gin, and pulling the ropes at skips, simultaneously, as they ascend. They thus hoist the loaded basket some height out of the hold, and, when hoisted so far, jump down, keeping exact time in their jump, from the topmost beam of the way on to the deck, so giving the momentum of their bodily weight to the motion communicated to the basket. While the basket is influenced by this motion and momentum, the basketman, who is stationed on a plank flung across the hold, seizes the basket, runs on with it (the gin revolving) to "the boom," and shoots the contents into the weighing-machine. The boom is formed of upright poles, with a


cross-pole attached by way of step, on to which the basket-man vaults, and rapidly reversing the basket, empties it. This process is very quickly effected, for if the basket-man did not avail himself of the swing of the basket, the feat would be almost beyond a man"s strength, or, at least, he would soon be exhausted by it.

The machine is a large coal-scuttle or wooden box, attached to a scale connected with cwt. When the weight is raised by deposits in the machine, which hangs over the side of the ship, it discharges it, by pulling a rope connected with it down a sliding wooden plane into the barge below. The machine holds cwt., and so the meter registers the weight of coal unladen. This process is not only remarkable for its celerity but for another characteristic. Sailors, when they have to "pull away" together, generally time their pulling to some rude chant; their "Yo, heave, yo," is thought not only to regulate but to mitigate the weight of their labour. The coalwhippers do their work in perfect silence: they do it indeed like work, and hard work, too. The basket-man and the meter are equally silent, so that nothing is heard but the friction of the ropes, the discharge of the coal from the basket into the machine, and from the machine into the barge. The usual amount of work done by the whippers in a day (but not as an average, day with another) is to unload, or whip, tons! To whip ton, basketfuls are required; so that to whip a single ton these men jump up and down feet: for a day"s work of ninetyeight tons, they jump up and down feet, more in some instances; for in the largest ship the way has steps, and men are employed. The coalwhippers, therefore, raise cwt. very nearly miles high, or twice as high as a balloon ordinarily mounts in the air: and, in addition to this, the coalwhippers themselves ascend very nearly mile perpendicularly in the course of the day. On some days they whip upwards of tons — have been whipped, when double this labour must be gone through. The ninetyeight tons take about hours. The basket-man"s work is the most critical, and accidents, from his falling into the hold, are not very unfrequent. The complement of men for the unlading of a vessel is, as I have said, : in the hold, whippers, and the basket-man—the meter forms a , but he acts independently of the others. They seldom work by candlelight, and, whenever possible, avoid working in very bad weather; but the merchant, as I have shown, has great power in regulating their labour for his own convenience. The following statement was given to me by a coalwhipper on board this vessel:—

We should like better wages, but then we have enemies. Now suppose you, sir, are a coalmerchant, and this gentleman here freights a ship of the captain—you understand me? The man who freights the ships that way is paid, by the captain, ninepence a-ton, for a gang of nine men, such as you"ve seen—nine coalwhippers—but these nine men, you understand me, are paid by the merchant (or buyer) only eightpence a ton; so that by every ton he clears a penny, without any labour or trouble whatsomever. I and my fellows is dissatisfied, but can"t help ourselves. This merchant, too, you understand me, finds there"s rather an opening in the Act of Parliament about whippers. By employing a man as his servant on his premises for fourteen days, he"s entitled to work as a coalwhipper. We call such made whipper "boneyfides." There"s lots of them, and plenty more would be made if we was to turn rusty. I"ve heard, you understand me, of driving a coach through an Act of Parliament, but here they drive a whole fleet through it.

The coalwhippers all present the same aspect —they are all black. In summer, when the men strip more to their work, perspiration causes the coal-dust to adhere to the skin, and blackness is more than ever the rule. All about the ship partakes of the grimness of the prevailing hue, The sails are black; the gilding on the figurehead of the vessel becomes blackened, and the very visitor feels his complexion soon grow sable. The dress of the whippers is of every description; some have fustian jackets, some have sailors" jackets, some loose great coats, some Guernsey frocks. Many of them work in strong shirts, which once were white with a blue stripe: loose cotton neckerchiefs are generally worn by the whippers. All have black hair and black whiskers—no matter what the original hue; to the more stubbly beards and moustachios the coal-dust adheres freely between the bristles, and may even be seen, now and then, to glitter in the light amidst the hair. The barber, of these men told me, charged nothing extra for shaving him, although the coal-dust must be a formidable thing to the best-tempered razor. In approaching a coal-ship in the river, the side has to be gained over barges lying alongside—the coal crackling under the visitor"s feet. He must cross them to reach a ladder of very primitive construction, up which the deck is to be reached. It is a jest among the Yorkshire seamen that every thing is black in a collier, especially the soup. When the men are at work in whipping or filling, the only spot of white discernible on their hands is a portion of the nails.

There are no specific hours for the payment of these men: they are entitled to their money as soon as their work is reported to be completed. Nothing can be better than the way in which the whippers are now paid. The basket-man enters the office of the payclerk of the coal commission at door, and hands over an adjoining counter an amount of money he has received from the captain. The pay-clerk ascertains that the amount is correct. He then divides the sum into


portions, and, touching a spring to open a door, he cries out for "Gang such a number." The men, who, with many others, are in attendance in rooms provided for them adjacent to the pay-office, appear immediately, and are paid off. I was present when whippers were paid for the discharge of tons. The following was the work done and the remuneration received:—
     Day. Tons. 
 Dec. 14th ........ 1st .......... 35 
 " 15th ........ 2nd .......... 56 
 Sunday intervenes. 
 " 17th ........ 3rd .......... 84 
 " 18th ........ 4th .......... 98 
 " 19th ........ 5th .......... 90 1/2 
       363 1/2 

These tons, at per ton, realized to each man, for days" work, ; of which had been paid to each as subsistence money during the progress of the work. In addition to the work so paid to each, there was deducted a farthing in every shilling as office fees, to defray the expenses of the office. From this farthing reduction, moreover, the basket-man is paid in the pound, as commission for bringing the money from the captain. Out of the sum to be divided on the occasion I specify there was an indivisible fraction of This, as it cannot be shared among men, goes to what is called "The Fraction Fund," which is established for the relief of persons suffering from accidents on board coal-ships. These indivisible fractions realize between and yearly.

Connected with the calling of the whippers I may mention the existence of the Purlmen. These are men who carry kegs of malt liquor in boats, and retail it afloat, having a license from the Waterman"s Company to do so. In each boat is a small iron grating, containing a fire, so that any customer can have the chill off, should he require that luxury. The purlman, rings a bell to announce his visit to the men on board. There are several purlmen, who keep rowing all day about the coal fleet; they are not allowed to sell spirits. In a fog the glaring of the fire in the purlmen"s boats, discernible on the river, has a curious effect, nothing but the fire being visible.

I was now desirous of obtaining some information from the men collectively. Accordingly I entered the basket-men"s waitingroom, where a large number of them were "biding their turn;" and no sooner had I made my appearance in the hall, and my object became known to the men, than a rush was made from without, and the door was obliged to be bolted to prevent the overcrowding of the room. As it was, the place was crammed so full, that the light was completely blocked by the men piled up on the seats and lockers, and standing before the windows. The room was thus rendered so dark that I was obliged to have the gas lighted, in order to see to take my notes; I myself was obliged to mount the opposite locker to take the statistics of the meeting.

There were present. To show how many had no employment whatever last week, hands were held up. had had no employment for a fortnight; twentyfour no work for days. Of those who had worked during the previous week, had received ; between and between and ; between and ; had received under ; had received nothing. The average of employment as to time is this:—None are employed for weeks during the year; all for weeks or upwards, realizing perhaps, yearly, per week—so many of the men said; but the office returns show per day as the average for the last months. "Waterage" costs the whipper an average of a-week the year through. "Waterage" means the conveyance from the vessels to the shore. of the men had wives or daughters who work at slop needlework, the husbands being unable to maintain the family by their own labour. A coalwhipper stated that there were more of the wives of the coalwhippers idle, because they couldn"t get work, than were at work. All the wives and daughters would have worked if they could have got it. "Why, your honour," man said, "we are better off in this office than under the old system. We were then compulsory drunkards, and often in debt to a publican after clearing the ship." The men employed generally spent to a-week. Those unemployed had abundant credit at the publican"s. man said, "I worked for a publican who was also a butcher; week I had to pay for drink, and for meat, and he said I hadn"t spent sufficient. I was of his constant men." At the time a ship was cleared, the whipper had often nothing to take home. "Nothing but sorrow," said . The publican swept all; and some publicans would advance towards the next job, to allow a man to live. Many of the whippers now do not drink at all. The average of the drinking among the men, when at hard work, does not exceed half-pints a-day. The grievances that once afflicted the coalwhipper, are still felt by the ballast-men. The men all stated the fact as to the allowed, and the per ton paid for whipping. They all represented that a lighterman, engaged by the gas companies, was doing them great injury, by employing a number of "bonafides," and taking the best ships away from the regular office, and giving them to the "bonafides" who "whip" the vessel at a lower rate of wages—about a-ton. He is connected with a beer-shop, and the men are expected to buy his beer.


If this man gets on with his system, (all this the men concurred in stating,) the bad state of things prevailing under the publican"s management might be brought back. years ago each whipper received per ton, prices steady, and the men in union. "If it wasn"t for this office," man said, "not man who worked years ago would be alive now." The Union was broken up about years ago, and prices fell and fluctuated down as low as , and even , sometimes rising and falling a-week. The prices continued fluctuating until the present office was established, in . The shipowners and merchants agreed, at the commencement of the office, to give the whippers a-ton, and in months reduced it to The publicans, it was stated, formed themselves into a compact body for the purpose of breaking down the present system, and they introduced hundreds of fresh hands to undersell the regular workers. In wages rose again to ; the whippers appealing to the trade, urging the high price of provisions, and their appeal being allowed. This a-ton continued until the last. At that time the "bonafides" were generally introduced, and greatly increased, and getting times the work the regular men did, they (the regular men) consented again to lower the prices. The "bonafides" are no better off than the regular hands; for though they have much more work they have less per ton, and have to spend more in drink. The coalwhippers represented themselves as benefited by the cheapness of provisions. With dear provisions they couldn"t, at their present earnings, live at all. The removal of the backing system had greatly benefited the whippers. On being asked how many had things in pawn, there was a general laugh, and a cry of "All of us." It is common to pawn a coat on Monday and take it out on Saturday night, paying a month"s interest. man said, "I have now in pawn articles, all wearing apparel, my wife"s or my own, from down to " had in pawn goods to the amount of and upwards; to ; to ; to ; to ; under ; had nothing in pawn. When asked if all made a practice of pawning their coats during the week, there was a general assent. Some could not redeem them in time to attend church or chapel on a Sunday. man said, that if all his effects were burnt in his absence, he would lose no wearing apparel. "Our children, under the old system, were totally neglected," they said; "the publichouse absorbed everything." Under that system as many as of the children of coalwhippers were transported; now that has entirely ceased; those charged with crime now were reared under the old system. "The legislature never did a better thing than to emancipate us," said the man; "they have the blessing and prayers of ourselves, our wives, and children."

After the meeting I was furnished with the following accounts of a basket-man, of which I have calculated the averages:—

 First Quarter.—January 2, 1849, to March 28. 
 Employed . . . . . . 50 days 
 Delivered . . . . . 2570 1/4 tons 
 Amount earned at 9d. per ton . £ 10 15 2 1/2 
 Deduct expenses of office 4s. 6d. 0 12 10 
 Ditto waterage . . 8s. 4d. 
       £ 10 2 4 1/2 
 Average weekly earnings about . 0 16 6 
 Second Quarter.—April 7 to June 30. 
 Employed . . . . .   44 days 
 Delivered . . . . . 2609 tons 
 Amount earned at 9d. per ton £ 10 10 8 
 Deduct waterage . . 7s. 4d. 0 11 8 
 Office expenses . . 4s. 4d. 
       £ 9 19 0 
 Average weekly earnings . 0 15 3 1/2 
 Third Quarter—July 4 to September 24. 
 Employed . . . . .   42 days 
 Delivered . . . . . 2485 tons 
 Amount earned at 8d. per ton . £ 9 4 4 3/4 
 Deduct waterage . 7s. 0d. £ 0 10 10 1/4 
 Office expenses . 3s. 10 1/4d. 
       £ 8 13 6 1/2 
 Average weekly earnings . 0 14 2 
 Fourth Quarter—Oct. 4 to Dec. 20. 
 Employed . . . . . .   49 days 
 Delivered . . . . 2858 1/2 tons 
 Amount earned at 8d. per ton . £ 9 16 4 3/4 
 Deduct waterage . . 8s. 2d. 0 12 3 3/4 
 Office expenses . . 4s. 1 3/4d. 
       £ 9 4 1 
 Average weekly earnings . 0 14 1 3/4 
 First Quarter . . . . £ 10 2 4 1/4 
 Second Quarter . . . . 9 19 0 
 Third Quarter . . . . 8 13 6 1/2 
 Fourth Quarter . . . . 9 4 1 
       £ 37 19 0 
 Average weekly earnings . 0 14 6 
 Employed—First Quarter . . 50 days. 
 Second Quarter . 44 " 
 Third Quarter . 42 " 
 Fourth Quarter . 49 " 
   185 days. 
 Idle . . 180 days. 


 Employed . . . . 193 days 
 Delivered . . . . 11,573 3/4 tons 
 Amount earned at 9d. per ton . £ 46 15 10 1/4 
 Deduct waterage . . . 1 12 2 
   £ 45 3 8 1/4 
 Average weekly earnings . 0 17 4 1/2 
 Employed . . . . 168 days 
 Delivered . . . . . 9874 1/2 tons 
 Amount earned . . . . £ 37 19 0 
 Deduct waterage . . . 1 8 0 
 Gross earnings . . £ 36 11 0 
 Average weekly earnings . 0 14 0 1/2 

The above accounts are rather above than under the average.

I then proceeded to take the statement of some of the different classes of the men. The was a coalwhipper, whom the men had selected as knowing more about their calling than the generality. He told me as follows:—

I am about forty, and am a married man with a family of six children. I worked under the old system, and that to my sorrow. If I had been paid in money, according to the work I then did, I could have averaged 30s. a-week. Instead of receiving that amount in money, I was compelled to spend in drink 15s. to 18s. per week, when work was good; and the publican even then gave me the residue very grudgingly, and often kept me from eleven to twelve on Saturday night, before he would pay me. The consequences of this system were, that I had a miserable home to go to: I would often have faced Newgate as soon. My health didn"t suffer, because I didn"t drink the liquor I was forced to pay for. I gave most of it away. The liquors were beer, rum, and gin, all prepared the night before, adulterated shamefully for our consumption, as we dursn"t refuse it,—dursn"t even grumble. The condition of my poor wife and children was then most wretched. Now the thing is materially altered, thank God; my wife and children can go to chapel at certain times, when work is pretty good, and our things are not in pawn. By the strictest economy, I can do middling well—very well when compared with what things were. When the new system first came into operation, I felt almost in a new world. I felt myself a free man; I wasn"t compelled to drink; my home assumed a better aspect, and keeps it still. Last Monday night I received 19s. 7d. for my work (five days) in the previous week. I shall now (Thursday) have to wait until Monday next before I can get to work at my business. Sometimes I get a job in idle times at the docks, or otherwise, and wish I could get more. I may make, one week with another, by odd jobs, 1s. a-week. Perhaps for months I can"t get a job. All that time I have no choice but to be idle. One week with another, the year through (at 8d. per ton), I may earn 14s. The great evil is the uncertainty of the work. We have all to take our rotation. This uncertainty has this effect upon many of the men— they are compelled to live on credit. One day a man may receive 19s., and be idle for eight days after. Consequently, we go to the dealer where we have credit. The chandler supplies me with bread, to be paid for next pay-day, charging me a halfpenny a loaf more. A man with a wife and family of six children, as I have, will consume sixteen or seventeen quartern loaves a-week; consequently, he has to pay 8d. a-week extra on account of the irregularity or uncertainty. My rotation would come much oftener but for the backing system and the "bonafides." I also pay the butcher from a halfpenny to a penny per pound extra for credit when my family requires meat, sometimes a bit of mutton, sometimes a bit of beef. I leave that to the wife, who does it with economy. I this way pay the butcher 6d. a-week extra. The additional cost to me of the other articles, cheese, butter, soap, &c., which I get on credit, will be 6d. a-week. Altogether that will be 3l. 18s. a-year. My rent for a little house with two nice little rooms is 3s. per week; so that the extra charge for credit would just pay my rent. Many coalwhippers deal with tallymen for their wearing apparel, and have to pay enormous prices. I have had dealings with a tallyman, and suffered for it, but for all that I must make application for a supply of blankets from him for my family this winter. I paid him 45s. for wearing apparel—a shawl for my wife, some dresses for the children, a blanket, and other things. Their intrinsic value was 30s. Many of us— indeed most of us, if not all of us—are always putting things in and out of the pawnshops. I know I have myself paid more than 10s. a-year for interest to the pawnbroker. I know some of my fellow-workmen who pay nearly 5l. a-year. I once put in a coat that cost me 3l. 12s. I could only get 30s. on it. I was never able to redeem it, and lost it. The articles lost by the coalwhippers pledged at the pawnshop are three out of four. There are 2000 coalwhippers, and I am sure that each has 50s. in pawn, making 5000l. in a-year. Interest may be paid on one half this amount, 2500l. The other half of the property, at least, is lost. As the pawnbroker only advances one-third of the value, the loss in the forfeiture of the property is 7500l., and in interest 2500l., making a total of 10,000l. lost every year, greatly through the uncertainty of labour. A coalwhipper"s life is one of debt and struggles—it is a round of relieving, paying, and credit. We very rarely have a half- penny in the pocket when we meet our credit. If any system could possibly be discovered which would render our work and our earnings more certain, and our payments more frequent, it would benefit us as much as we have been benefited by the establishment of the office.

I visited this man"s cottage, and found it neat and tidy. His children looked healthy. The walls of the lower room were covered with some cheap prints; a few old books, well worn, as if well used, were to be seen; and everything evinced a man who was struggling bravely to rear a large family well on small means. I took the family at a disadvantage, moreover, as washing was going on.

Hearing that accidents were frequent among the class, I was anxious to see a person who had suffered by the danger of the calling. A man was brought to me with his hand bound up in a handkerchief. The sleeve of his coat was ripped open and dangled down beside his injured arm. He walked lame; and on my inquiring whether his leg was hurt, he began pulling up his trousers and unlacing his boot, to show me that it had not been properly set. He had evidently once been a strong, muscular man, but little now remained as evidence of his physical power but the size of his bones. He furnished me with the following statement:—

I was a coalwhipper. I had a wife and two children. Four months ago, coming off my day"s work, my foot slipped, and I fell and broke my leg. I was taken to the hospital, and remained there ten weeks. At the time of my accident I had no money at all by me, but was in debt to the amount of 10s. to my landlord. I had a little furniture, and a few clothes of myself and wife. While I was in the hospital, I did not receive anything from our benefit society, because I had not been able to keep up my subscription. My wife and children lived while I was in the hospital by pawning my things, and going from door to door to every one she knowed to give her a bit. The men who worked in the same gang as myself, made up 4s. 6d. for me, and that, with two loaves of bread that they had from the relieving officer, was all they got. While I was in the hospital the landlord seized for rent the few things that my wife had not pawned, and turned her and my two little children into the street. One was a boy three years old, and the other a baby just turned ten months. My wife went to her mother, and she kept her and my little ones for three weeks, till she could do so no longer. My mother, poor old woman, was most as bad off as we were. My mother only works on the ground, out in the country, at gardening. She makes about 7s. a-week in the summer, and in the winter she has only 9d. a-day to live upon; but she had at least a shelter for her child, and she willingly shared that with her daughter and her daughter"s children. She pawned all the clothes she had, to keep them from starving; but at last everything was gone from the poor old woman, and then I got my brother to take my family in. My brother worked at garden-work, the same as my mother-in-law did. He made about 15s. a-week in the summer, and about half that in the winter time. He had a wife and two children of his own, and found it hard enough to keep them, as times go. But still he took us all in, and shared what he had with us, rather than let us go to the workhouse. When I was told to leave the hospital—which I was forced to do upon my crutches, for my leg was very bad still—my brother took me in too. He had only one room, but he got in a bundle of straw for me, and we lived and slept there for seven weeks. He got credit for more than a pound"s worth of bread, and tea, and sugar for us; and now he can"t pay, and the man threatens to summon him for it. After I left my brother"s, I came to live in the neighbourhood of Wapping, for I thought I might manage to do a day"s work at coalwhipping, and I couldn"t bear to live upon his little earnings any longer—he could scarcely keep himself then. At last I got a ship to deliver; but I was too weak to do the work, and in pulling at the ropes my hands got sore, and festered for want of nourishment." [He took the handkerchief off and showed that it was covered with plaster. It was almost white from deficient circulation.] "After this I was obliged to lay up again, and that"s the only job of work I"ve been able to do for these last four months. My wife can"t do anything; she is a delicate, sickly little woman as well, and has the two little children to mind, and to look after me likewise. I had one pennyworth of bread this morning. We altogether had half-a-quartern loaf among the four of us, but no tea nor coffee. Yesterday we had some bread, and tea, and butter; but wherever my wife got it from I don"t know. I was three days but a short time back without a taste of food." [Here he burst out crying.] "I had nothing but water that passed my lips. I had merely a little at home, and that my wife and children had. I would rather starve myself than let them do so: indeed, I"ve done it over and over again. I never begged: I"ll die in the streets first. I never told nobody of my life. The foreman of my gang was the only one besides God that knew of my misery; and his wife came to me and brought me money and brought me food, and himself, too, many a time." ["I had a wife and five children of my own to maintain, and it grieved me to my heart," said the man who sat by, "to see them want, and I unable to do more for them."] "If any accident occurs to any of us who are not upon the society, they must be as bad off as I am. If I only had a little nourishment to strengthen me, I could do my work again; but, poor as I am, I can"t get strength to do it, and not being totally incapacitated from ever resuming my labour, I cannot get any assistance from the superannuation fund of our men.

I told the man I wished to see him at his own home, and he and the foreman who had brought him to me, and who gave him a most excellent character, led me into a small house in a court near the entrance to the . When I reached the place I found the room almost bare of furniture. A baby lay sprawling on its back on a few rags beside the handful of fire. A little shoeless boy, with only a light washed-out frock to cover him, ran shyly into a corner of the room as we entered. There was only chair in the room, and that had been borrowed down stairs. Over the chimney hung to dry a few ragged infant"s chemises that had been newly washed. In front of the fire, on a stool, sat the thinly-clad wife; and in the corner of the apartment stood a few old tubs. On a line above these were tattered men"s shirts, hanging to dry, and a bed was thrown on some boxes. On a shelf stood a physic-bottle that the man had got from the parish doctor, and in the empty cupboard was a slice of bread—all the food, they said, they had in the world, and they knew not where on earth to look for more.

I next wished to see of the improvident men, and was taken to the lodging of who made the following statement:—

I have been a coalwhipper for twenty years. I worked under the old publican"s system, when the men were compelled to drink. In those days 18s. didn"t keep me in drink. I have now been a teetotaler for five years. I have the bit of grub now more regular than I had. I earn less than 13s. a-week. I have four children, and have buried four. My rent is 1s. 6d." ["To-night," interrupted the wife, "if he won"t part with his coat or boots, he must go without his supper."] "My wife," the man continued, "works at bespoke work—stay-making, but gets very little work, and so earns very little—perhaps 1s. 6d. a week.

This family resided in a wretched part of , called, appropriately enough, "the Ruins." Some houses have been pulled down, and so an open space is formed at the end of a narrow airless alley. The wet stood on the pavement of the alley, and the cottage in which the whipper I visited lived, seemed with another to have escaped when the other houses were pulled down. The man is very tall, and almost touched the ceiling of his room when he stood upright in it. The ceiling was as wet as a newly-washed floor. The grate was fireless, the children barefoot, and the bedstead (for there was a bedstead) was bedless, and all showed cheerless poverty. The dwelling was in strong contrast with that of the provident whipper whom I have described.

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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