London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Contractors For Scavengery.


THE scavenging of the streets of the metropolis is performed or by the authorities of the several parishes "without the City," who have the power to levy rates for the cleansing of the various districts; within the City, however, the office is executed under the direction of the Court of Sewers.

When the cleansing of the streets is performed indirectly by either the parochial or civic authorities, it is effected by contractors, that is to say, by traders who undertake for a certain sum to remove the street-refuse at stated intervals and under express conditions, and who employ paid servants to execute the work for them. When it is performed , the authorities employ labourers, generally from the workhouse, and usually enter into an agreement with some contractor for the use of his carts and appliances, together with the right to deposit in his wharf or yard the refuse removed from the streets.

I shall treat of the mode of scavenging—that is to say, of cleansing the streets by contract—beginning with the contractors, setting forth, as near as possible, the receipts and expenditure in connection with the trade, and then proceeding in due order to treat of the labourers employed by them in the performance of the task.

Some of the contractors agree with the parochial


or district authorities to remove the dust from the house-bins as well as the dirt from the streets under and the same contract; some undertake to execute these offices under separate contracts; and some to perform only of them. It is most customary, however, for the same contractor to serve the parish, especially the larger parishes, in both capacities.

There is no established or legally required of agreement between a contractor and his principals; it is a bargain in which each side strives to get the best of it, but in which the parish representatives have often to contend against something looking like a monopoly; a very common occurrence in our day when capitalists choose to combine, which legal, or unnoticed, but very heinous on the part of the working men, whose capital is only in their strength or skill. contractor, on being questioned by a gentleman officially connected with a large district, as to the existence of combination, laughed at such a notion, but said there might be "a sort of understanding among another," as among people who "must look to their own interests, and see which way the cat jumped;" concluding with the undeniable assertion that "no man ought reasonably to be expected to ruin himself for a parish."

There does not appear, however, to have been any countervailing qualities on the part of the parishes to this understanding among the contractors; for some of the authorities have found themselves, when a new or a renewed contract was in question, suddenly "on the other side of the hedge." Thus, in the south-west district of , the contractor, or years ago, paid per annum for the removal and possession of the street-dirt, &c.; but the following year the district authorities had to pay him for the same labour and with the same privileges! Other changes took place, and in - a contractor again paid the district I have shown, too, that in the dust-contractor now per annum, whereas he formerly To prove, however, that a spirit of combination does exist among these contractors, I may cite the following minute from of the parish books.

Commissioner's Office, , , .

REPORT of the Paving Committee to the General Board, relating to the watering the district for the past year. our Committee beg leave to report that for the past years the sums paid by contract for watering were respectively:—

 For 1836 . . . . . £ 230 
 1837 . . . . . 220 
 1838 . . . . . 200 

That in the month of February in the present year the Board advertised in the usual manner for tenders to water the distriot, when the following were received, viz.:—

 Mr. Darke . . . . . £ 315 
 Gore . . . . . 318 
 Nicholls . . . . 312 
 Starkey . . . . . 285 
which was the lowest.

Your Committee, anxious to prevent any increase in the watering-rate from being levied, and considering the amount required by the contractors for this service as excessive and exorbitant, and even evincing a spirit of combination, resolved to make an inroad upon this system, and after much trouble and attention adopted other measures for watering the district, the results of which they have great pleasure in presenting to the Board, by which it will be seen that a saving over the very lowest of the above tenders of has been effected; the sum of has been paid for pauper labour at the same time. Your Committee regret that, notwithstanding the efforts of themselves and their officers, the state of insubordination and insult of most of the paupers (in spite of all encouragement to industry) was such, that the Committee, on the last, were reluctantly compelled to discontinue their services. The Committee cannot but congratulate the Board upon the result of their experiment, which will have the effect of breaking up a spirit of combination highly dangerous to the community at large, at the same time that their labours have caused a very considerable saving to the ratepayers; and they trust the work, considering all the numerous disadvantages under which they have laboured, has been performed in a satisfactory manner.

The following regulations sufficiently show the nature of the agreements made between the contractors and the authorities as to the cleansing of the more important thoroughfares especially. It will be seen that in the regulations I quote every street, court, or alley, must now be swept , a practice which has only been adopted within these few years in the City.



[] The reader will remember that in the historical sketch given of the progress of public scavengery, the word "Rakers" occurred in connection with the sworn master scavengers, &c., &c.; the word is now unknown to the trade, except that it appears on city documents.

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 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