London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Several Modes and Characteristics of Street-Cleansing.


WE here come to the practical part of this complex subject. We have ascertained the length of the streets of London—we have estimated the amount of daily, weekly, and yearly traffic—calculated the quantity of mud, dung, "mac," dust, and surface-water formed and collected annually throughout the metropolis—we have endeavoured to arrive at some notion as to the injury done by all this vast amount of filth owing to what the Board of Health has termed "imperfect scavenging,"—and we now come to treat of the means by which the loads of street refuse—the loads of dust—loads of "mac" and mud, and the tons of dung, are severally and collectively removed throughout the year.

There are distinct, and, in a measure, diametrically opposed, methods of street-cleansing at present in operation.

. That which consists in cleaning the streets when dirtied.

. That which consists in cleaning them and them clean.

These modes of scavenging may not appear, to those who have paid but little attention to the matter, to be widely different means of effecting the same object. The , however, removes the refuse from the streets (sooner or later) , whereas the other removes it By the latter method the streets are never allowed to get dirty —by the former they must be dirty before they are cleansed.

The plan of street-cleansing dirtied, or the pre-scavenging system, is of recent introduction, being the mode adopted by the "street-orderlies;" that of cleansing after having dirtied, or the postscavenging system, is (so far as the more or common method is concerned) the same as that pursued centuries ago. I shall speak of each of these modes in due course, beginning with that last mentioned.

By the ordinary method of scavenging, the dirt is still swept or scraped to side of the public way, then shovelled into a cart and conveyed to the place of deposit. In wet weather the dirt swept or scraped to side is so liquified that it is known as "slop," and is "lifted" into the cart in shovels hollowed like sugar-spoons. The only change of which I have heard in this mode of scavenging was in of the tools. Until about years ago birch, or occasionally heather, brooms or besoms were used by the street-sweepers, but they soon became clogged in dirty weather, and then, as working scavenger explained it to me, "they scattered and drove the dirt to the sides 'stead of making it go right ahead as you wants it." The material now used for the street-sweeper's broom is known as "bass," and consists of the stems or branches of a New Zealand plant, a substance which has considerable strength and elasticity of fibre, and both "sweeps" and "scrapes" in the process of scavenging. The broom itself, too, is differently constructed, having divisions between the several insertions of bass in the wooden block of the head, so that clogging is less frequent, and cleaning easier, whereas the birch broom consisted of a close mass of twigs, and thus scattered while it swept the dirt. There was, of course, some outcry on the part of the "established-order-of-things" gentry among scavengers, against the innovation, but it is now general. As all the scavengers, no matter how they vary in other respects, work with the brooms described, this mention of the change will suffice. No doubt the cleansing of the streets is accomplished with greater efficiency and with greater celerity than it was, but the mere process of manual toil is little altered.

In a work like the present, however, we have more particularly to deal with the labourers engaged; and, viewing the subject in this light, we may arrange the several modes of street-cleansing into the following divisions:—

. By paid manual-labourers, or men employed by the contractors, and paid in the ordinary ways of wages.

. By paid "Machine"--labourers, differing from the only or mainly in the means by which they attain their end.

. By pauper labourers, or men employed by the parishes in which they are set to work, and either paid in money or in food, or maintained in the workhouses.

. By street-orderlies, or men employed by philanthropists—a body of workmen with particular regulations and more organized than other scavengers.

By or other of these modes of scavengery all the public ways of the metropolis are cleansed; and the subject is most peculiar, as including within itself all the several varieties of labour, if we except that of women and children—viz., manual labour, mechanical labour, pauper labour, and philanthropic labour.

By these several varieties of labour the highways and by-ways of the entire metropolis are cleansed, with exception—the Mews, concerning which a few words here may not be out of place. these localities, whether they be what are styled Private or Gentlemen's Mews, or Public Mews, where stables, coach-houses, and dwelling-rooms above them, may be taken by any (a good many of such places being, moreover, public or partial thoroughfares); or whether they be job-masters' or cab-proprietors' mews; are scavenged by the occupants, for the manure is valuable. The mews of London, indeed, constitute a world of their own. They are tenanted by class— coachmen and grooms, with their wives and families—men who are devoted to pursuit, the care of horses and carriages; who live and asso-


ciate among another; whose talk is of horses (with something about masters and mistresses) as if to ride or to drive were the great ends of human existence, and who thus live as much together as the Jews in their compulsory quarters in Rome. The mews are also the "chambers" of unemployed coachmen and grooms, and I am told that the very sicknesses known in such places have their own peculiarities. These, however, form matter for inquiry.

Concerning the private scavenging of the metropolitan mews, the , of , contains a letter from Mr. C. Cochrane, in which that gentleman says:—

It will be found, that in all the mews throughout the metropolis, the manure produced from each stable is packed up in a separate stack, until there is sufficient for a load for some market-gardener or farmer to remove. The groom or stable-man makes an arrangement, or agreement as it is called, with the market-gardener, to remove it at his convenience, and a gratuity of 1s. or 1s. 6d. per load is usually presented to the stable-man. In some places there are dung-pits containing the collectings of a fortnight's dung, which, when disturbed for removal, casts out an offensive effluvium, as sickening as it is disgusting to the whole neighbourhood. In consequence of the arrangement in question, if a third party wished to buy some of this manure, he could not get it; and if he wished to get rid of any by giving it away, the stableman would not receive it, as it would not be removed sufficiently quick by the farmer. The result is, that whilst the air is rendered offensive and insalubrious, manure becomes difficult to be removed or disposed of, and frequently is washed away into the sewer.

Of this manure there are always (at a moderate computation) remaining daily, in the mews and stable-yards of the metropolis, at least 2000 cart-loads.

To remedy these evils, I would suggest that a brief Act of Parliament should be passed, giving municipal and parochial authorities the same complete control over the manure as they have over the 'ashes,' with the provision, that owners should have the right of removing it themselves for their own use; but if they did not do so daily, then the control to return to the above authorities, who should have the right of selling it, and placing the proceeds in the parish funds. By this simple means immense quantities of valuable manure would be saved for the purposes of agriculture—food would be rendered cheaper and more abundant—more people would be employed—whilst the metropolis would be rendered clean, sweet, and healthy.

I may dismiss this part of the subject with the remark, that I was informed that the mews' manure was in regular demand and of ready sale, being removed by the market-gardeners with greater facility than can street-dirt, which the contractors with the parishes prefer to vend by the barge-load.

Having enumerated the several modes of street-cleansing, I will now proceed to point out briefly the characteristics of each class of cleansing. This will also denote the quality of the employers and the nature of the employment.

. constitute the bulk of those engaged in scavenging, and the chief pay-masters are the contractors. Many of these labourers consider themselves the only "regular hands," having been "brought up to the business;" but unemployed or destitute labourers or mechanics, or reduced tradesmen, will often endeavour to obtain employment in streetsweep- ing; this is the necessary evil of all labour, for since every can do it (without previous apprenticeship), it follows that the beatenout artisans or discarded trade assistants, beggared tradesmen, or reduced gentlemen, must necessarily resort to it as their only means of independent support; and hence the reason why dock labour and street labour, and indeed all the several forms of unskilled work, have a tendency to be overstocked with hands—the occupations being, as it were, the sink for all the refuse labour and beggared industry of the country.

The "contractors," like other employers, are separated by their men into classes—such as, in more refined callings, are often designated the "honourable" and "dishonourable" traders—according as they pay or do not pay what is reputed "fair wages."

I cannot say that I heard any especial appellation given by the working scavengers to the better-paying class of employers, unless it were the expressive style of "good-'uns." The inferior paying class, however, are very generally known among their work-people as "scurfs."

. — Of the men employed as "attendant" scavengers, for so they may be termed, in connection with these mechanical and vehicular street-sweepers, little need here be said, for they are generally of the class of ordinary scavengers. It may, however, be necessary to explain that each of those machines must have the street refuse, for the "lick-in" of the machine, swept into a straight line wherever there is the slightest slope at the sides of a street towards the foot-path; the same, too, must sometimes be done, if the pavement be at all broken, even when the progress of the machine is, what I heard, not very appropriately, termed "plain sailing." Sometimes, also, men follow the course of the street-sweeping machine, to "sweep up" any dirt missed or scattered, as the vehicle proceeds on a straightforward course, for at all to diverge would be to make the labour, where the machine alone is used, almost double.

. present characteristics peculiarly their own, as regards open-air labour in London. They are employed less to cleanse the streets, than to prevent their being chargeable to the poor's rate as outdoor recipients, or as inmates of the workhouses. When paid, they receive a lower amount of wages than any other scavengers, and they are sometimes paid in food as well as in money, while a difference may be made between the wages of the


married and of the unmarried men, and even between the married men who have and have not children; some, again, are employed in scavenging without any money receipt, their maintenance in the workhouse being considered a sufficient return for the fruits of their toil.

Some of these men are feeble, some are unskilful (even in tasks in which skill is but little of an element), and most of them are dissatisfied workmen. Their ranks comprise, or may comprise, men who have filled very different situations in life. It is mentioned in the edition of of the publications of the National Philanthropic Association, "Sanatory Progress" (), "that the once high-salaried cashier of a West-end bank died lately in St. Pancrasworkhouse;—that the architect of several of the most fashionable West-end club-houses is now an inmate of St. James's-workhouse;—and that the architect of St. Pancras' New Church lately died in a back garret in Somers-town. "These recent instances (a few out of many)" says the writer, "prove that 'wealth has wings,' and that Genius and Industry have but leaden feet, when overtaken by Adversity. A late number of the newspaper states that, 'among the police constables on the Great Western Railway, there are at present members of the Royal , and solicitors;'—and the , a few weeks ago, announced the fact, that 'a gentlewoman is now an inmate of the workhouse of that city, whose husband, a few years ago, filled the office of High Sheriff of the county.'"

I do not know that either the cashier or the architect in the workhouses in question was employed as a street-sweeper.

This class, then, are situated differently to the paid street-sweepers (or No. of the present division), who may be considered, more or less, independent or self-supporting labourers, while the paupers are, of course, dependent.

. —These men present another distinct body. They are not merely in the employment, but many of them are under the care, of the National Philanthropic Association, which was founded by, and is now under the presidency of, Mr. Cochrane. The objects of this society, as far as regards the street orderlies' existence as a class of scavengers, are sufficiently indicated in its title, which declares it to be "For the Promotion of Street Cleanliness and the Employment of the Poor; so that able-bodied men may be prevented from burthening the parish rates, and preserved independent of workhouse alms and degradation. Supported by the contributions of the benevolent."

The street orderlies, men and boys, are paid a fixed weekly wage, a certain sum being stopped from those single men who reside in houses rented for them by the association, where their meals, washing, &c., are provided. Among them are men of many callings, and some educated and accomplished persons.

The system of street orderlyism is, moreover, distinguished by attribute unknown to any other mode; it is an effort, persevered in, despite of many hindrances and difficulties, to amend our street scavengery, indeed to reform it altogether; so that dust and dirt may be checked in their very origination.

The corporation, if I may so describe it, of the street orderlies, presents characteristics, again, varying from the other orders of what can only be looked upon either as the self-supporting or pauper workers.

These, then, are the several modes or methods of street-scavengery, and they show the following:—

Under the head of "Traders" are the contractors with the parishes, &c., and the proprietors of the sweeping-machines, who are in the same capacity as the "regular contractors" respecting their dealings with labourers, but who substitute mechanical for manual operations.

Of these several classes of masters engaged in the scavengery of the metropolis I have much to say, and, for the clearer saying of it, I shall treat each of the several varieties of labour separately.

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
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work