London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


HAVING finished with the different classes of coal-labourers in London—the whippers, backers, pull-backs, trimmers, and waggoners —I purpose now dealing with the ballast-men, including the ballast-getters, the ballastlight- ermen, and the ballast-heavers of the metropolis. My reason for pasing from the coal to the ballast-labourers is, because the latter class of the work-people are suffering under the same iniquitous and pernicious system of employment as that from which the coallabourers have recently been emancipated, and the transition will serve to show not only the present condition of the class of men, but the past state of the other.

After treating of the ballast-labourers, I purpose inquiring into the condition and income of the stevedores, or men engaged in the stowing or unstowing of vessels; and of the lumpers and riggers, or those engaged in the rigging and unrigging of them. It is then my intention to pass to the corn-labourers, such as the corn-porters, corn-runners, and turners, touching incidentally upon the cornmeters. After this, I mean to devote my attention to the timber-labourers engaged at the different timber-docks—as, for instance, the Commercial, the , and the East Country Docks. Then, in due course, I shall come to the wharf-labourers and porters, or men engaged at the different wharfs in London; thence I shall digress to the bargemen and lightermen, or men engaged in the transit of the different cargoes from the ships to their several points of destination up or down the river; and finally, I shall treat of the watermen, the steamboat-men, and pier-men, or those engaged in the transit of passengers along the Thames. These, with the docklabourers, of whom I have before treated, will, I believe, exhaust the subject of the long-


shore labourers; and the whole will, I trust, form, when completed, such a body of facts and information, in connexion with this particular branch of labour, as has never before been collected. I am happy to say, that, with some few exceptions, I have received from the different official gentlemen not only every courtesy and consideration, but all the assistance and co-operation that it lay in their power to afford me. Every class seems to look upon the present inquiry as an important undertaking, and all, save the Clerk of the and the Deputy-Superintendent of the , have shown themselves not only willing, but anxious, to lend a hand towards expediting the result.

Before quitting the subject of the coalmarket, let me endeavour to arrive at an estimate as to the amount of wealth annually brought into the port of London by means of the colliers, and to set forth, as far as possible, the proportion in which it is distributed. I have already given some statistics, which, notwithstanding the objections of a coalmerchant, who, in a letter to a journal, stated that I had reckoned the number of ships at twice the real quantity, were obtained from such sources, and, I may add, with so much care and caution, as to render them the most accurate information capable of being procured at present on the subject. The statistics of the number of tons of coals brought into the port of London in the year , the number of vessels employed, of the voyages made by those vessels collectively, and of the seamen engaged in the traffic, were furnished by the Clerk of the at the time of the opening of the new building. Had the coal-merehant, therefore, made it his duty to devote the same time and care to the investigation of the truth of my statements that I have to the collection of them, he would not only have avoided committing the very errors he condemns, but would have displayed a more comprehensive knowledge of his business.

In there were imported into the London coal market tons of coal. These were sold to the public at an average rate all the year round of a ton. Hence the sum expended in the metropolis for coal in that year was

 There are 21,600 seamen engaged in the coal trade, and getting on an average 3l. 10s. per man per voyage. Each of these men makes between 4 and 5 voyages in the course of the year. Hence the average earnings of each man per year will be 15l. 18s., exclusive of his keep; calculating that at 5s. per week, or 13l. per year, we have 28l. 18s. for the expense of each of the seamen employed. Hence, as there are 21,600 sailors in the coal trade, the total yearly cost would be . £ 624,240 0 0 
 There are 170 coal-meters, earning, on an average, 2l. per week, or 104l. per year each man. This would make the total sum paid in the year to the coal-meters . . . 17,680 0 0 
 There are 2000 coal-whippers, earning 15s. 1 1/2d. each per week, or 39l. 6s. 6d. per man. Hence the total sum paid in the course of last year to the coal-whippers was . . 78,650 0 0 
 There are 3000 coal-porters earning, on an average, 1l. per week, or 52l. per year per man, so that they receive annually . . . . . 156,000 0 0 
 Hence the total amount paid per year to the working-men engaged in bringing and delivering coals in the London market is . . . . £ 876,570 0 0 

The area of all the coal-fields of Great has been roughly estimated at square miles. The produce is supposed to be about tons annually, of which tons are consumed in the iron-works, tons are shipped coastwise, tons are exported to foreign countries, and tons distributed inland for miscellaneous purposes. Near upon tons were brought to London by ships and otherwise in the year , and it is computed that about - part of this, or tons, were consumed by the gas-works.

The price of coals as quoted in the London market is the price up to the time when the coals are whipped from the ships to the merchants" barges. It includes, . the value of the coals; the expense of transit from the pit to the ship; the freight of the ship to London; . the Thames" dues; and . the whipping. The difference between the market price and that paid by the consumer is made up of the expense incurred by the coalmer- chant for barges, wharfs, waggons, horses, wages, coal-porters, &c., to his profit and risk. In the expenses incurred by the merchant from the time he bought a ship-load of coals to the deposition of them in the cellars of his customers amounted, on an average, it was said, to a ton. These expenses comprise commission, lighterage, porterage, cartage, shooting, metage, market-dues, landmetage, and other items. At the present time the expenses must be considerably lower, the wages of the labourers and the meters having been lowered full per cent, though the demand for and consumption of coal has increased at nearly the same rate; indeed the law of the coal-market appears to be, that in


proportion as the demand for the article rises, so do the wages of the men engaged in the supply of it fall.

As the ballast-heavers are under the thraldom of the same demoralising and oppressive system as that which the coal-whippers recently suffered under, it may be as well, before going further, to lay before the reader the following concise account of the terms on which the latter were engaged before the Coalwhip- pers" Office was established.

Until the last few years the coal-whippers suffered themselves to be duped in an extraordinary way by publicans and petty shopkeepers on shore. The custom was, for the captain of a coal-ship, when he required a cargo to be whipped, to apply to of these publicans for a gang; and a gang was accordingly sent from the public-house. There was no professed or pre-arranged deduction from the price paid for the work; the captain paid the publican, and the publican paid the coalwhippers; but the middleman had his profit another way. The coal-whipper was expected to come to the public-house in the morning; to drink while waiting for work, to take drink with him to the ship, to drink again when the day"s work was over, and to linger about and in the public-house until almost bed-time before his day"s wages were paid. The consequence was, that an enormous ratio of his earnings went every week to the publican. The publicans were wont to divide their dependants into classes—the constant men and the stragglers, of whom the former were served whenever a cargo was to be whipped; in return for this they were expected to spend almost the whole of their spare time in the public-house, and even to take up their lodgings there.

The captains preferred applying to the publicans to engaging the men themselves, because it saved them trouble; and because (as was pretty well understood) the publicans curried favour with them by indirect means; grocers and small shopkeepers did the same, and the coal-whippers had then to buy bad and dear groceries instead of bad and dear beer and gin. The Legislature tried by various means to protect the coal-whippers, but the publicans contrived means to evade the law. At length, in , an Act was passed, which has placed the coal-whippers in a far more advantageous position.

The transition from coal-labour to ballastlabour is gradual and easy, and would be even if the labourers were not kindred in suffering.

The coal-ships, when discharged by the whippers, must get back to the north; and as there are not cargoes enough from London to freight them, they must take in ballast to make the ships heavy enough to sail in safety. This ballast is chiefly ballast or sand, dredged up from the bed of the Thames at and near Woolwich Reach. The Trinity House takes upon itself this duty. The captain, when he requires to sail, applies to the Ballast Office, and the required weight of ballast is sent to the ship in lighters belonging to the Trinity House, the captain paying so much a ton for it. About tons on an average are required for each vessel, and the quantity thus supplied by the Trinity House is about tons per week. Some of the ships are ballasted with chalk taken from Purfleet; all ballast taken from higher up the river than that point must be supplied by the Trinity House. When the ship reaches the Tyne, the ballast is of no further use, but it must not be emptied into that river; it has, therefore, to be deposited on the banks, where huge mounds are now collected or feet high.

New places on the banks of the river have to be discovered for this deposit as the ballast mounds keep increasing, for it must be recollected that the vessels leave these ports—no matter for what destination—with coal, and may return in ballast. Indeed a railway has been formed from the vicinity of South Shields to a waste place on the sea-shore, hard by the mouth of the Tyne, where the ballast may be conveyed at small cost, its further accumulation on the river bank being found an incumbrance. "It is really something more than a metaphor," it has been said, "to designate this a transfer of the bed of the Thames to the banks of the Tyne." We may add as another characteristic, that some of the older ballast mounds are overgrown with herbage. As the vessels from foreign ports returning to the coal-ports in ballast, have not unfrequently to take soil on board for ballast, in which roots and seeds are contained, some of there struggle into vegetation, so that Italian flowers not unfrequently attempt to bloom in Durham, Yorkshire, or Northumberland, while some have survived the climate and have spread around; and thus it is that botanists trace the history of plants which are called indigenous to the ballast-hills.

Before treating of the ballast labourers themselves I shall give a brief history of the ballast laws.

Ships are technically said to be in ballast when they sail without a cargo, having on board only the stores and other articles requisite for the use of the vessel and crew, as well as of any passengers who may be proceeding with her upon the voyage. In favour of vessels thus circumstanced it is usual to dispense with many formalities at the custom-houses of the ports, and to remit the payment of the dues and charges levied upon ships having cargoes on board. A foreign vessel proceeding from a British port may take chalk on board as ballast. Regulations have at various times been made in different ports and countries, determining the modes in which ships may be supplied with ballast, and in what manner they may discharge the same, such regulations being necessary to prevent injury to harbours.


Charles I. published a proclamation in , ordering that none shall buy any ballast out of the river Thames but a person appointed by him for that purpose. And this appointment was sold for the king"s profit. Since then the soil of the river Thames has been vested in the corporation of the Trinity House, and a fine of may be recovered for every ton of ballast taken out of the river without the authority of the corporation. Ships may take on board land-ballast from any quarries or pits east of Woolwich by paying per ton to the Trinity House. For river-ballast the corporation are authorized by Act of Parliament to make other charges. The receipts of the Trinity House from this source were in the year , and their expenses were , leaving a clear profit of The ballast of all ships or vessels coming into the Thames must be unladen into a lighter, and if any ballast be thrown into the river the master of the vessel whence it is thrown is liable to a fine of Some such regulation is usually enforced at every port.

Before proceeding further with my present subject, it is proper that I should express my acknowledgments of the ready courtesy with which the official information necessary for the full elucidation of my subject was supplied to me by the Secretary of the principal Ballast Office at Trinity House, . I have always observed, that when the heads of a department willingly supply information to go before the public, I find in the further course of my investigations that under such departments the claims of the labourer are not only acknowledged but practically allowed. On the other hand, if official gentlemen neglect (which is to refuse) to supply the returns and other information, it is because the inquiry is unpalatable to them, as the public may find that in their departments the fair claims of the labourers are allowed. Were the poor ballast-heavers taken under the protection of the corporation of the Trinity House (something in the same way that Parliament has placed the coal-whippers under the guardianship of a board of commissioners) the good done would be great indeed, and the injury would be none: for it cannot be called an injury to prevent a publican forcing a man to buy and swallow bad drink.

By charter of Queen Elizabeth in the year of her reign, the lastage and ballastage, and office of lastage and ballastage, of all ships and other vessels betwixt the bridge of the city of London and the main sea, I am informed by the Secretary of the Trinity Company, was granted to the Master Wardens and Assistants of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond. This was renewed, and the gravel, sand, and soil of the river Thames granted to the said master wardens, &c. for the ballasting of ships and vessels in the year of Charles II., and again in the year of the reign of that monarch. This last-named charter remains in force, and has been confirmed by Acts of Parliament at different times; by which Acts also various regulations in relation to the conduct of the ballast service, the control of the persons employed therein, and the prices of the ballast supplied, have been established. The Act now in force is the and Vict. cap. .

The number of men employed in lighters as ballast-getters, or in barges conveying it from the dredgers, is , who are paid by the ton raised.

The number of vessels entered for ballast in the year was:

 Colliers . . . . 6,480 
 British merchant vessels . 3,690 
 Aliens . . . . 1,054 
 Total vessels . 11,224 

The total quantity of ballast supplied to shipping in the year was tons, or thereabouts; such ballast being gravel raised from the bed of the river Thames and delivered alongside of vessels, either lying in the different docks or being afloat in the stream between London-bridge and Woolwich.

The number of vessels employed in this service is , viz:—

 3 steam dredging-vessels, having 8 men in each . . . 24 
 43 lighters, having 4 men in each . 172 
 9 lighters, having 5 men in each . 45 
 14 barges, having 2 men in each . 28 
 --   ---- 
 69 Total 269 

The ballast is delivered into the vessels from the lighters and barges by men called ballastheavers, who are employed by the vessel, and are not in the service of the Trinity House.

I now come to the nature of the ballast labour itself. This is divisible into classes: that performed by the ballastget- ters, or those who are engaged in raising it from the bed of the Thames; by the ballast-lighters, or those who are engaged in carrying it from the getters to the ships requiring it; and by the ballast-heavers, or those who are engaged in putting it on board of such ships. The and of these classes have, according to their own account, "nothing to complain of," being employed by gentlemen who, judging by the wanton neglect of labouring men by their masters, so general in London, certainly exhibit a most extraordinary consideration and regard for their work-people; and the change from the indifference and callousness of the coalmerchants to the kindness of the corporation of the Trinity House is most gratifying. The ballast-heavers constitute an entirely different class. They have every , to a man, deep and atrocious wrongs to complain of, such as I am sure are unknown, and which, when once


made public, will at once demand some remedy.

I must, however, deal with

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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