London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the London Dustmen, Nightmen, Sweeps, and Scavengers.
THESE men constitute a large body, and are a class who, all things considered, do their work silently and efficiently. Almost without the cognisance of the mass of the people, the refuse is removed from our streets and houses; and London, as if in the care of a tidy housewife, is being cleaned. Great as are the faults and absurdities of many parts of our system of public cleansing, nevertheless, when compared with the state of things in any continental capital, the superiority of the metropolis of Great is indisputable.
In all this matter there is little merit to be attributed to the workmen, except that they may be well drilled; for the majority of them are as much machines, apart from their animation, as are the cane and whalebone made to cleanse the chimney, or the clumsy-looking machine which, in its progress, is a vehicular scavenger, sweeping as it goes.
These public cleansers are to be thus classified:—
. Dustmen, or those who empty and remove the collection of ashes, bones, vegetables, &c., deposited in the dust-bins, or other refuse receptacles throughout the metropolis.
. Nightmen, or those who remove the contents of the cesspools.
. Sweeps, or those who remove the soot from the chimneys.
. Scavengers, or those who remove the dirt from the streets, roads, and markets.
Let me, however, before proceeding further with the subject, lay before the reader the following important return as to the extent and contents of this prodigious city: for this document I am indebted to the Commissioners of Police, gentlemen from whom I have derived the most valuable information since the commencement of my inquiries, and to whose courtesy and consideration I am anxious to acknowledge my many obligations.
The total here given can hardly be considered as the dimensions of the metropolis; though, where the capital begins and ends, it is difficult to say. If, however, London be regarded as concentring within the Inner Police District, then, adding the extent and contents of that district to those of the City, as above detailed, we have the subjoined statement as to the dimensions and inhabitants of the
But if the extent of even this "inner district" be so vast as almost to overpower the mind with its magnitude—if its population be greater than that of the entire kingdom of Hanover, and almost equal to that of the republic of Switzerland—if its houses be so numerous that placed side by side they would form continuous line of dwellings from its centre to Moscow—if its streets and roads be nearly equal in length to quarter of the diameter of the earth itself,—what a task must the cleansing of such a bricken wilderness be, and yet, assuredly, though it be by far the greatest, it is at the same time by far the cleanest city in the world.
The removal of the refuse of a large town is, perhaps, of the most important of social operations. Not only is it necessary for the wellbeing of a vast aggregation of people that the
|ordure should be removed from both within and around their dwellings as soon as it is generated, but nature, ever working in a circle and reproducing in the same ratio as she destroys, has made this same ordure not only the cause of present disease when allowed to remain within the city, but the means of future health and sustenance when removed to the fields.|
In a leading article in the , written about years since, I said—
In connection with this part of the subject, viz., the use of human refuse, I would here draw attention to those erroneous notions, as to the multiplication of the people, which teach us to look upon the increases of the population beyond certain limits as the greatest possible evil that can befall a community. Population, it is said, multiplies itself in a geometrical ratio, whereas the produce of the land is increased only in arithmetical proportion; that is to say, while the people are augumented after the rate of—
The cause of this is said to be that, after a certain stage in the cultivation of the soil, the increase of the produce from land is not in proportion to the increase of labour devoted to it; that is to say, doubling the labour does not double the crop; and hence it is asserted that the human race increasing at a quicker rate than the food, insufficient sustenance must be the necessary lot
|of a portion of the people in every denselypopu- lated community.|
That men of intelligence and education should have been persuaded by so plausible a doctrine at the time of its promulgation may be readily conceived, for then the notions concerning organic chemistry were vague in the extreme, and the great universal law of Waste and Supply remained to be fully developed; but that men pretending to the least scientific knowledge should in these days be found advocating the Population Theory is only another of the many proofs of the indisposition of even the strongest minds to abandon their pet prejudices. Assuredly Malthus and Liebig are incompatible. If the new notions as to the chemistry of vegetation be true, then must the old notions as to population be utterly unfounded. If what we excrete plants secrete—if what we exhale they inspire—if our refuse is their food—then it follows that to increase the population is to increase the quantity of manure, while to increase the manure is to augment the food of plants, and consequently the plants themselves. If the plants nourish us, we at least nourish them. It seems never to have occurred to the economists that plants themselves required sustenance, and consequently they never troubled themselves to inquire whence they derived the elements of their growth. Had they done this they would never have even expected that a double quantity of mere labour upon the soil should have doubled the produce; but they would rather have seen that it was utterly impossible for the produce to be doubled without the food in the soil being doubled likewise; that is to say, they would have perceived that plants could not, whatever the labour exerted upon their cultivation, extract the elements of their organization from the earth and air, unless those elements previously existed in the land and atmosphere in which they grew, and that such elements, moreover, could not exist there without some organic being to egest them.
This doctrine of the universal Compensation extending throughout the material world, and more especially through the animal and vegetable kingdom, is, perhaps, of the grandest and most consoling that science has yet revealed to us, making each mutually dependent on the other, and so contributing each to the other's support. Moreover it is the more comforting, as enabling us almost to demonstrate the falsity of a creed which is opposed to every generous impulse of our nature, and which is utterly irreconcilable with the attributes of the Creator.
"Thanks to organic chemistry," I said years ago in the , "we are beginning to wake up. Science has taught us that the removal of the ordure of towns to the fields is a question that concerns not only our health, but, what is a far more important consideration with us, our breeches pockets. What we, in our ignorance, had mistaken for refuse of the vilest kind, we have now learned to regard as being, with reference to its fertilizing virtues, 'a precious ore, running in rich veins beneath the surface of our streets.' Whereas, if allowed to reek and seethe in cesspools within scent of our very hearths, or to pollute the water that we use to quench our thirst and cook our food, it becomes, like all wealth badly applied, converted into 'poison:' as Romeo says of gold to the apothecary—
Formerly, in our cagerness to get rid of the pollution, we had literally not looked beyond our noses: hence our only care was to carry off the nuisance from the immediate vicinity of our own residences. It was no matter to us what became of it, so long as it did not taint the atmosphere around us. This the very instincts of our nature had made objectionable to us; so we laid down just as many drains and sewers as would carry our night-soil to the nearest stream; and thus, instead of poisoning the air that we breathed, we poisoned the water that we drank. Then, as the town extended—for cities, like mosaic work, are put together piecemeal—street being dovetailed to street, like county to county in our children's geographical puzzles—each new row of houses tailed on its drains to those of its neighbours, without any inquiry being made as to whether they were on the same level or not. The consequence of this is, that the sewers in many parts of our metropolis are subject to an ebb and flood like their central stream, so that the pollution which they remove at low-water, they regularly bring back at highwater to the very doors of the houses whence they carried it.
According to the average of the returns, from to , we are paying millions every year for guano, bone-dust, and other foreign fertilizers of our soil. In , we employed no fewer than ships to bring home tons of animal manure from Ichaboe alone; and yet we are every day emptying into the Thames tons of a substance which has been proved to be possessed of even greater fertilizing powers. With tons of the sewage that we are wont to regard as refuse, applied to the irrigation of acre of meadow land, crops, we are told, have been produced in the year, each of them worth from to ; so that, considering the produce to have been doubled by these means, we have an increase of upwards of per acre per annum effected by the application of that refuse to the surface of our fields. This return is at the rate of for every tons of sewage; and, since the total amount of refuse discharged into the Thames from the sewers of the metropolis is, in round numbers, tons per annum, it follows that, according to such estimate, we are positively wasting of money every year; or, rather, Or, granting that the fertilizing power of the metropolitan refuse is—as it is said to be—as great for arable as for pasturelands, then for every tons of manure that we now cast away, we might have an increase of at least bushels of corn per acre. Consequently the entire tons of sewage, if
|applied to fatten the land instead of to poison the water, would, at such a rate of increase, swell our produce to the extent of bushels of wheat per annum. Calculating then that each of these bushels would yield quartern loaves, it would follow that we fling into the Thames no less than lbs. of bread every year; or, still worse, by pouring into the river that which, if spread upon our fields, would enable thousands to live, we convert the elements of life and health into the germs of disease and death, changing into slow but certain poisons that which, in the subtle transmutation of organic nature, would become acres of life-sustaining grain." I shall have more to say subsequently on this waste and its consequences.|
These considerations show how vastly import- ant it is that in the best of all possible ways we should , and the scavengery and excrementitious matter of our streets and houses.
Now the removal of the refuse of London is no slight task, consisting, as it does, of the cleansing of miles of streets and roads; of collecting the dust from dust-bins; of emptying (according to the returns of the Board of Health) the same number of cesspools, and sweeping near upon chimneys.
A task so vast it might naturally be imagined would give employment to a number of hands, and yet, if we trusted the returns of the Occupation Abstract of , the whole of these stupendous operations are performed by a limited number of individuals.
I am informed by persons in the trade that the "females" here mentioned as chimney-sweepers, and scavengers, and nightmen, must be such widows or daughters of sweeps and nightmen as have succeeded to their businesses, for that no women at such trades; excepting, perhaps, in the management and care of the soot, in assisting to empty and fill the bags. Many females, however, are employed in sifting dust, but the calling of the dustman and dustwoman is not so much as noticed in the population returns.
According to the occupation abstract of the previous decennial period, the number of males of years and upwards (for none others were mentioned) pursuing the same callings in the metropolis in , were as follows:—
Hence the increase in the adult male operatives belonging to these trades, between and , was, for Chimney-sweeps, ; and Scavengers and Nightmen, .
But these returns are preposterously incorrect. In the place it was not until that the parliamentary enactment prohibiting the further employment of climbing-boys for the purpose of sweeping chimneys came into operation. At that time the number of inhabited houses in the metropolis was in round numbers , and calculating these to have contained only rooms each, there would have been at the least chimneys to sweep. Now, according to the government returns above cited—the London climbing-boys (for the masters did not and could not climb) in numbered only ; at which rate there would have been but boy to no less than chimneys! Pursuing the same mode of testing the validity of the "official" statements, we find, as the nightmen generally work in gangs of , that each of the , or say , gangs comprised in the census returns, would have had cesspools to empty of their contents; while, working both as scavengers and nightmen (for, according to the census, they were the individuals following those occupations in London), they would after their nocturnal labours have had about miles of streets and roads to cleanse—a feat which would certainly have thrown the scavengering prowess of Hercules into the shade.
Under the respective heads of the dustmen, nightmen, sweeps, and scavengers, I shall give an account of the numbers, &c., employed, and a resumá of the whole. It will be sufficient here to mention that my investigations lead to the conclusion that, of men working as dustmen (a portion of whom are employed as nightmen and scavengers) there are at present about in the metropolis. The census of , as I have pointed out, mentions no dustman whatever!
But I have so often had instances of the defects of this national numbering of the people that I have long since ceased to place much faith in its returns connected with the humbler grades of labour. The costermongers, for example, I estimate at about , whereas the government reports, as has been before mentioned, ignore the very existence of such a class of people, and make the entire hawkers, hucksters, and pedlars of the metropolis to amount to no more than . Again, the London "coal labourers, heavers, and porters" are said, in the census of , to be
|only in number; I find, however, that there are no less than "registered" coal-whippers, and as many coal porters; so that I am in no way inclined to give great credence to the "official enumerations." The difficulties which beset the perfection of such a document are almost insuperable, and I have already heard of returns for the forthcoming document, made by ignorant people as to their occupations, which already go far to nullify the facts in connection with the employment of the ignorant and profligate classes of the metropolis.|
Before quitting this part of the subject, viz., the extent of surface, the length of streets, and the number of houses throughout the metropolis requiring to be continually cleansed of their refuse, as well as the number of people as continually engaged in so cleansing them, let me here append the last returns of the Registrar General, copied from the census of , as to the dimensions and contents of the metropolis according to that functionary, so that they may be compared with those of the metropolitan police before given.
In Weale's "," which is by far the most comprehensive description of the metropolis that I have seen, it is stated that it is "only possible to adopt a general idea of the giant city," as its precise boundaries and extent cannot be defined. On the north of the Thames, we are told, London extends to Edmonton and Finchley; on the west it stretches to Acton and Hammersmith; on the east it reaches Leyton and Ham; while on the south of the Thames the metropolis is said to embrace Wandsworth, Streatham, Lewisham, Woolwich, and Plumstead. "To each of these points," says Mr. Weale, but upon what authority he does not inform us, "continuous streets of houses reach; but the solid mass of houses lies within narrow bounds—with these several long arms extending from it. The greatest length of street, from east to west," he adds, "is about miles, and from north to south about miles. The solid mass is about miles by miles, so that the ground covered with houses is not less than square miles."
Mr. McCulloch, in his "-," has a passage to the same effect. He says, "The continued and rapid increase of buildings renders it difficult to ascertain the extent of the metropolis at any particular period. If we include in it those parts only that present a solid mass of houses, its length from east to west may be taken at miles, and its breadth from north to south at about miles and a half. There is, however, a nearly continuous line of houses from to , a distance of about miles, and from to Holloway, of and a half miles. The extent of surface covered by buildings is estimated at about square miles, or above acres, so that M. Say, the celebrated French economist, did not really indulge in hyperbole when he said, '' (London is no longer a town: it is a province covered with houses)."
The Government authorities, however, appear to have very different notions from either of the above gentlemen as to the extent of the metropolis.
The limits of London, as at present laid down by the Registrar General, include parishes, besides several precincts, liberties, and extraparo- chial places, comprising altogether about square miles. According to the old bills of mortality, London formerly included only parishes, which were located as follows:—
The parishes which have been annexed to the above at different periods since the commencement of the present century are:—
The extent of London, according to the limits assigned to it at the several periods above mentioned, was—
"London," observes Mr. Weale, "has now swallowed up many cities, towns, villages, and separate jurisdictions. The commonwealths, or kingdoms, of the Middle Saxons, East Saxons, the South Rick, and the Kentwaras, once ruled over
|its surface. It now embraces the episcopal cities of London and , the towns of Woolwich, Deptford, and Wandsworth, the watering places of Hampstead, Highgate, , Acton, and Kilburn, the fishing town of Barking, the once secluded and ancient villages of Ham, Hornsey, Sydenham, Lee, Kensington, Fulham, , Clapham, Paddington, Hackney, , Stoke , , Plumstead, and many others.|
The parishes now included by the Registrar General within the boundaries of the metropolis, are arranged by him into districts, of which the areas, population, and number of inhabited houses were on the , as undermentioned:—
In order to be able to compare the average density of the population in the various parts of London, I have made a calculation as to the number of persons and houses to the acre, as well as the number of inhabitants to each house. I have also computed the annual rate of increase of the population from -, in the several localities here mentioned, and append the result. It will be seen that, while what are popularly known as the suburbs have increased, both in houses and population, at a considerable rate, some of the more central parts of London, on the contrary, have decreased not only in the number of people, but in the number of dwellings as well. This has been the case in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, St. James's, , St. Giles's, and the City of London.
By the above table we perceive that St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, St. James's, , St. Giles's, the Strand, and the City have all decreased both in population and houses since . The population has diminished most of all in St. James's, and the houses the most in the City. The suburban districts, however, such as , Marylebone, , , Hackney, , Bethnal-green, Stepney, Poplar, , , , Wandsworth, Camberwell, Greenwich, and Lewisham, have all increased greatly within the last years, both in dwellings and people. The greatest increase of the population, as well as houses, has been in Kensington, where the yearly addition has been people, and houses.
The more densely-populated districts are, St. James's, , St. Giles's, the Strand, , Clerkenwell, St. Luke, Whitechapel, and St. George's-in-the-East, in all of which places there are upwards of people to the acre, while in East and West London, in which the population is the most dense of all, the number of people exceeds to the acre. The least densely populated districts are Hampstead, Wandsworth, and Lewisham, where the people are not more than , and as few as to the acre.
The districts in which there are the greatest number of houses to a given space, are St. James's, , the Strand, , Clerkenwell, St. Luke's, , and St. George's-in-the-East, in all of which localities there are upwards of dwellings to each acre of ground, while in East and West London, which is the most closely built over of all, the number of houses to each acre are as many as . Hampstead and Lewisham appear to be the most open districts; for there the houses are not more than and to every acres of ground.
The localities in which the houses are the most crowded with inmates are the Strand and St. Giles's, where there are more than people to each house, and St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and St. James's, , and , where each house has on an average inmates, while in Lewisham and Wandsworth the houses are the least crowded, for there we find only people to every house.
Now, comparing this return with that of the metropolitan police, we have the following results as to the extent and contents of the Metropolis Proper:—
Hence it will be seen that both the extent and contents of these returns differ most materially.
. The superficies of the Registrar General's metropolis is very nearly square miles, or statute acres, greater than the metropolis of the police commissioners.
. The number of inhabited houses is more in the than in the other.
. The population of London, according to the Registrar General's limits, is , or a quarter of a million, more than it is according to the limits of the metropolitan police.
It were much to be desired that some more definite and scientific mode, not only of limiting, but of dividing the metropolis, were to be adopted. At present there are, perhaps, as many different metropolises, so to speak, and as many different modes of apportioning the several parts of the whole into districts, as there are public bodies whose operations are specially confined to the capital. The Registrar General has, as we have seen, metropolis divided into western, northern, central, eastern, and southern districts. The metropolitan police commissioners have another metropolis apportioned into its A divisions, B divisions, and so forth; and the has a metropolis parcelled out in a totally different manner; while the London City Mission, the Scripture Readers, the Ragged Schools, and the many other similar metropolitan institutions, all seem to delight in creating a distinct metropolis for themselves, thus tending to make the statistical "confusion worse confounded."