London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Contractors' (or Employers') Premises, &c.
AT page of the present volume I have described of the yards devoted to the trade in house-dust, and I have little to say in addition regarding the premises of the contracting or employing scavengers. They are the same places, and the industrious pursuits carried on there, and the division and subdivision of labour, relate far more to the dustmen's department than to the scavengers'. When the produce of the sweeping of the streets has been thrown into the cart, it is so far ready for use that it has not to be sifted or prepared, as has the house-dust, for the formation of brieze, &c., the "mac" being sifted by the purchaser.
These yards or wharfs are far less numerous and better conducted now than they were years ago. They are at present fast disappearing from the banks of the Thames (there is, however, still at Whitefriars and at Milbank). They are chiefly to be found on the banks of the canals. Some of the principal wharfs near , , are to be found among unpaven, or ill-paved, or imperfectly macadamized roads, along which run rows of what were once evidently pleasant suburban cottages, with their green porches and their trained woodbine, clematis, jasmine, or monthly roses; these tenements, however, are now occupied chiefly by the labourers at the adjacent stone, coal, lime, timber, dust, and general wharfs. Some of the cottages still presented, on my visits, a blooming display of dahlias and other autumnal flowers; and in corner of a very large and very black-looking dust-yard, in which rose a huge mound of dirt, was the cottage residence of the man who remained in charge of the wharf all night, and whose comfortablelook- ing abode was embedded in flowers, blooming luxuriantly. The gay-tinted holly-hocks and dahlias are in striking contrast with the dinginess of the dust-yards, while the canal flows along, dark, sluggish, and muddy, as if to be in keeping with the wharf it washes.
The dust-yards must not be confounded with the "night-yards," or the places where the contents of the cess-pools are deposited, places which, since the passing of the Sanatory Act, are rapidly disappearing.
Upon entering a dust-yard there is generally found a heavy oppressive sort of atmosphere, more especially in wet or damp weather. This is owing to the tendency of charcoal to absorb gases, and to part with them on being saturated with moisture. The cinder-heaps of the several dustyards, with their million pores, are so many huge gasometers retaining all the offensive gases arising from the putrefying organic matters which usually accompany them, and parting with such gases immediately on a fall of rain. It would be a curious calculation to estimate the quantity of deleterious gas thus poured into the atmosphere after a slight shower.
The question has been raised as to the propriety of devoting some special locality to the purposes of dust-yards, and it is certainly a question deserving public attention.
The chief disposal of the street manure is from barges, sent by the Thames or along the canals, and sold to farmers and gardeners. In the larger wharfs, and in those considered removed from the imputation of "scurfdom," men, and often but , are employed to load a barge which contains from to tons. In such cases the dust-yard and the wharf are and the same place. The contents of these barges are mixed, about - being "mac," the rest street-mud and dung. This admixture, on board the vessel, is called by the bargemen and the contractors' servants at the wharfs Leicester (properly Læsta, a load). We have the same term at the end of our word bal-
I am assured by a wharfinger, who has every means of forming a correct judgment, it may be estimated that there are dispatched from the contractors' wharfs barges daily, freighted with street-manure. This is independent of the house-dust barged to the country brick-fields. The weight of the cargo of a barge of manure is about tons; tons being a low average. This gives barge-loads, or tons, or loads, yearly; for it must be recollected that the dirt gathered by pauper labour is dispatched from the contractors' yards or wharfs, as well as that collected by the immediate servants of the contractors. The price per barge-load at the canal, basin, or wharf, in the country parts where agriculture flourishes, is from to , making a total of The difference of that sum, and the total given in the table () may be accounted for on the supposition that the remainder is sold in the yards and carted away thence. The slop and valueless dirt is not included in this calculation.