London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
I NOW come to the class called Coalmeters. These, though belonging to the class of "clerks," rather than labourers, still form so important a link in the chain, that I think it best to give a description of their duty here.
The coalmeters weigh the coals on board ship. They are employed by a committee of coalfactors and coalmerchants— factors and merchants forming such committee. The committee is elected by the trade. They go out every year, and consequently new members are elected annually. They have the entire patronage of the meter"s office. No person can be an official coalmeter without being appointed by the coal-committee. There were formerly several bye-meters, chosen by the merchants from among their own men, as they pleased. This practice has been greatly diminished since April last. The office of the coalmeter is to weigh out the ship"s cargo, as a middle--man between the factor and the merchant. The cargo is consigned by the pitowner or the shipowner to the coalfactor. The number of coalfactors is about twentyfive. These men dispose of all the coals that are sold in London. As soon as the ship arrives at Gravesend, her papers are transmitted to an office appointed for that purpose, and the factor then proceeds to the to sell them. Here the merchants and the factors assemble times a-week. The purchasers are divided into large and small buyers. Large buyers consist of the higher class coalmerchants, and they will sometimes buy as many as or tons in a-day. The small buyers only purchase by multiples of —either , , or tons, as they please. The rule of the market is, that the buyers pay half of the purchase-money the et-day after the ship is cleared, and for the remainder a bill at weeks is given. After the ship is sold she is admitted from the Section into the Pool, and a meter is appointed to her from the coalmeter"s office. This office is maintained by the committee of factors and merchants, and the masters appointed by them are registered there. According as a fresh ship is sold, the next meter in rotation is sent down to her. There are in all official meters, divided into classes, called respectively "placemen," "extra men," and "supernu-
|meraries." The placeman has the preference of the work. If there is more than the placeman can do the extra man takes it, and if both classes are occupied then the supernumerary steps in. Should the earnings of the latter class not amount to weekly, that sum is made up to them. Before "breaking bulk," that is, before beginning to work the cargo of the ship, the City dues must, under a penalty, be paid by the factor. These amount to per ton. The goes to the City, and the to the Government. Formerly the whole of the dues went to the City, but within a short period the odd has been claimed by Government. The coal dues form of the principal revenues of the city. The dues are collected by the clerk of the . All the harbour dues and light dues are paid by the shipowner. After the City dues have been paid, the meter receives his papers and goes on board to deliver the cargo, and see that each buyer registered on the paper gets his proper complement. The meter"s hours of attendance are from to in winter, and from to in summer. The meter has to wait on board the ship until such time as the purchasers send craft to receive their coals. He then weighs them previously to their delivery into the barge. There are weighs to the ton. The rate of payment to the meter is per ton, and the merchant is compelled to deliver the cargo at the rate of tons per day, making the meter"s wages amount to per day. If there is a necessity or demand for more coals, we can do double that amount of work. On the shortest day in the year we can do tons." whom I saw said, "I myself have done tons to-day. That would make my earnings to-day , but as I did nothing on Saturday, of course that reduces them half."|
Upon an average, a place-meter is employed about days in the week. An extra meter is employed about days in the week, and a supernumerary about half his time, but he has always his weekly secured to him, whether employed or not. aweek would be a very fair average for the wages of a place-meter, since the reduction on the . Many declare they don"t earn a-week, but many do more. The extra man gets very nearly the same money as the place-man, under the present arrangement. The supernumerary generally makes his weekly. As the system at present stands, the earnings of the meters generally are not so much as those of superior mechanics. It is an office requiring interest to obtain it: a man must be of known integrity; thousands and thousands of pounds of property pass through his hands, and he is the man appointed to see justice between factor and merchant. Before the Act directing all coals to be sold by weight, the meter measured them in a vat, holding a quarter of a chaldron. In those days a -class meter could reckon upon an income of from to a-year, and the lowest salary was not under per annum. The meter"s office was then entirely a city appointment, and none but those of considerable influence could obtain it. This system was altered eighteen years ago, when the meter"s office was placed in the hands of a committee of coalfactors and coalmerchants. Immediately after this time the salaries decreased. The committee agreed to pay the meters at the rate of per ton, undertaking that that sum should produce the place-meter an income of gentleman assured me that he never exceeded , but then he was of the juniors. Under the old system the meters were paid at a rate that would have been equivalent to a ton under the present . In the year the salary was reduced to , and on the in the present year, the payment has again been cut down to per ton. Besides this, the certificate money, which was per ship, and generally amounted to per quarter, was entirely disallowed, making the total last reduction of their wages amount to full per cent. No corresponding reduction has taken place in the price of coals to the consumer. At the same time the price of whipping has been reduced per ton, so that, within the last year, the combined factors and merchants have lowered the price of delivery per ton, and they (the merchants and factors) have been the sole gainers thereby. This has been done, too, while the demand for coals has been increasing every year. Now, according to the returns of the clerk of the , there were tons of coals delivered in the port of London in the year , and assuming the amount to have remained the same in the present year, it follows that the factors and merchants have gained no less than per annum, and that out of the earnings of the meters and the whippers.
The coalwhippers, already described, whip the coals by means of a basket and tackle from the hold to the deck of the ship. The coalmeters weigh the coals when so whipped from the hold, previously to their being delivered into the barge alongside. The "coalbacker" properly carries the coals in sacks upon his back from the barges, when they have reached the premises of the coalmer- chants, on to the wharfs.
I will now proceed to speak of