London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Old Wood Gatherers.
ALL that has been said of the cigar-end finders may, in a great measure, apply to the woodgatherers. No can make a living exclusively by the gathering of wood, and those who gather it, gather as well rags, bones, and bits of metal. They gather it, indeed, as an adjunct to their other findings, on the principle that "every little helps." Those, however, who most frequently look for wood are the very old and feeble, and the very young, who are both unable to travel far, or to carry a heavy burden, and they may occasionally be seen crawling about in the neighbourhood of any new buildings in the course of construction, or old ones in the course of demolition, and picking up small odds and ends of wood and chips swept out amongst dirt and shavings; these they deposit in a bag or basket which they carry for that purpose. Should there happen to be what they call "pulling-down work," that is, taking down old houses, or palings, the place is immediately beset by a number of wood-gatherers, young and old, and in general all the poor people of the locality join with them, to obtain their share of the spoil. What the poor get they take home and burn, but the wood-gatherers sell all they procure for some small trifle.
Some short time ago a portion of the woodpave- ment in the city was being removed; a large number of the old blocks, which were much worn and of no further use, were thrown aside, and became the perquisite of the wood-gatherers. During the repair of the street, the spot was constantly besieged by a motley mob of men, women, and children, who, in many instances, struggled and fought for the wood rejected as worthless. This wood they either sold for a trifle as they got it, or took home and split, and made into bundles for sale as firewood.
All the mudlarks (of whom I shall treat specially) pick up wood and chips on the bank of the river; these they sell to poor people in their own neighbourhood. They sometimes "find" large pieces of a greater weight than they can carry; in such cases they get some other mudlark to help them with the load, and the "go halves" in the produce. The only parties among the street-finders who do not pick up wood are the Pure-collectors and the sewer-hunters, or, as they call themselves, shore-workers, both of whom pass it by as of no value.
It is impossible to estimate the quantity of wood which is thus gathered, or what the amount may be which the collector realizes in the course of the year.