London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The Ballast-Lightermen.


THESE are men engaged by the Trinity Company to carry the ballast in the company"s barges and lighters from the steam dredgingengines to the ship"s side. The corporation has lighters and barges, all -ton craft. Each lighter carries men, and there are men in each barge; so that altogether lightermen and bargemen are employed in bringing the ballast from the engines. These men are not required to have a license from the Waterman"s Company, like other lightermen and bargemen on the Thames, and that is of the reasons for my dealing with them at present. They form a class of labourers by themselves, and I treat of them here because it appears the fittest place for a statement of their condition and earnings. Besides the lightermen and bargemen engaged in carrying the ballast from the steam dredging-machines, there are others employed on board what are called the working-lighters; these are vessels in which ballast is got up from the bed of the river by muscular labour. There are of these working-lighters, and men engaged in each, or in all men employed in raising ballast by such means. There are steam dredging-engines employing each men, or in all; so that there are altogether labouring men engaged in the ballast service of the Trinity Company. Each of the carrying lighters has a staffsman or master and men. The lighters all carry tons of ballast, and make upon an average between and voyages a-week, or about in the fortnight. There is no place of deposit for the ballast brought up the river from the engines; it is left in the lighter until required. The ballast chiefly consists of gravel; indeed the ships will mostly refuse anything else. When there is a plentiful supply of ballast they will refuse clay in particular. Clayey ballast is what is termed bad ballast. Upon an average there are loads, or tons of ballast, brought up by the lighters every day from the engines. In the course of the year there are between and tons of ballast supplied by the steam dredging-machines. "It is about -and- years since the steam dredging-engine came out," said the party who gave me the above information. "For the last years I should think the company have been raising about tons of gravel from the bed of the river. years ago I thought the ballast would soon be out, but there appears to be little or no difference; and yet the shoals do not fill up again after being once taken away. In Barking Reach I am sure there is feet more water now than there was years ago; there was at that time a large shoal in that part of the river, called Barking Shelf; it was certainly a mile long and half a mile wide. The vessels would ground upon it long before low water. At some tides it used to strip dry, and at low tide generally there was about foot of water over it. That part of the river is now the deepest about Barking, and as deep as the best of places in the Thames. When I came to London we were prevented from getting the ballast from anywhere else than Barking, on account of the great shoals there; but now the great ballast-bed is between and miles lower down. The river has been very nearly cleared of shoals by the dredgingen- gines, from to the bottom of Half Reach. The only shoal in the way of the navigation below the Pool is what is called Woolwich Shelf: there is indeed another shoal, but this consists of stiff clay or conglomerate, and the engines cannot work through it. The men on board the carrying-lighters are paid a-ton for bringing the ballast from the dredging-engines to the ships; this is equally divided among the men. The staffsman, in addition to his share, receives a-year for his extra duties; but out of this he has to buy oars for the boat and lighter, locks, fenders, and shovels. Upon an average the cost of these will be about a-year. Each man"s share of the -ton load is ; and there are about loads brought up by each lighter in the fortnight. Some weeks the men can earn as much as , but at others they cannot get more than "I did myself only load last week," said my informant. "When there is little or no "vent," as we call it, for the ballast—that is, but a slight demand for it—we have but little work. Upon an average, each lighterman makes from to a-week. At the time of the strike among the pitmen in the North, the lightermen, generally, only did about load a-week throughout the year; but then the following year we had as much as we could do. The Trinity Company, whom I serve, and have served for years, are excellent masters to us when we are sick or well. The corporation of the Trinity House allow the married lightermen in their service and the single ones a-week, as long as they are ill. I have known the allowance given to men for years, and for this we pay nothing to any benefit society or provident fund. If we belong to any such society we have our sick money from them independent of that. The superannuation money is now a-year; but I understand," continued the man, "that the company intend increasing it next Tuesday. Some of the old men were ordered up to the house a little while ago, and were asked what they could live comfortably upon, and of the gentlemen there promised them that no more of us should go to the workhouse. They do not provide any school for our children; a great many of the lightermen neither read nor write. I never heard any talk of the company


erecting a school, either for the instruction of their men or their men"s families. All I can say is, that in all my dealings with the Trinity Corporation I have found them very kind and considerate masters. They are always ready to listen to the men, and they have hospitals for the sick in their employ and midwives for the wives of the labourers; and they bury, free of expense, most of the men that die in their service. To the widows of their deceased servants they allow a-year; and if there be any children, they give a-month to each under years old. I never knew them to reduce the lightermen"s wages; they have rather increased than lowered them. After the introduction of the steam-dredging machines we were better off than we were before. Previous to that time the lightermen were getters as well, and then the labour was so hard that the expenses of the men for living were more than they are now."

I now come in due order to

This object is in collection Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 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