London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Working Scavengers Under the Contractors.

I HAVE now to deal with what throughout the whole course of my inquiry into the state of London Labour and the London Poor I have considered the great object of investigation—the condition and characteristics of the working men; and what is more immediately the "labour question," the relation of the labourer to his employer, as to rates of payment, modes of payment, hiring of labourers, constancy or inconstancy of work, supply of hands, the many points concerning wages, perquisites, family work, and parochial or club relief.

, I shall give an account of the class employment, together with the labour season and earnings of the labourers, or "economical" part of the subject. I shall then pass to the social points, concerning their homes, general expenditure, &c., and then to the more moral and intellectual questions of education, literature, politics, religion,


marriage, and concubinage of the men and of their families. All this will refer, it should be remembered, only to the working scavagers in the honourable or better--paid trade; the cheaper labourers I shall treat separately as a distinct class; the details in both cases I shall illustrate with the statement of men of the class described.

The part of this multifarious subject appertains to the division of labour. This in the scavaging trade consists rather of that kind of "gang-work" which Mr. Wakefield styles "simple co-operation," or the working together of a number of people at the same thing, as opposed to "complex co-operation," or the working together of a number at of the same thing. Simple co-operation is of course the ruder kind; but even this, rude as it appears, is far from being barbaric. "The savages of New Holland," we are told, "never help each other even in the most simple operations; and their condition is hardly superior—in some respects it is inferior—to that of the wild animals which they now and then catch."

As an instance of the advantages of "simple co-operation," Mr. Wakefield tells us that "in a vast number of simple operations performed by human exertion, it is quite obvious that men working together will do more than , or times men, each of whom should work alone. In the lifting of heavy weights, for example, in the felling of trees, in the gathering of much hay and corn during a short period of fine weather, in draining a large extent of land during the short season when such a work may be properly conducted, in the pulling of ropes on board ship, in the rowing of large boats, in some mining operations, in the erection of a scaffolding for a building, and in the breaking of stones for the repair of a road, so that the whole road shall always be kept in good repair—in all these simple operations, and thousands more, it is absolutely necessary that many persons should work together at the same time, in the same place, and in the same way."

To the above instances of simple co-operation, or gang-working, as it may be briefly styled in Saxon English, Mr. Wakefield might have added dock labour and scavaging.

The principle of complex co-operation, however, is not entirely unknown in the public cleansing trade. This business consists of as many branches as there are distinct kinds of refuse, and these appear to be . There are () the wet and () the dry -refuse (or dust and night-soil), and () the wet and () the dry -refuse (or mud and rubbish); and in these different branches of the general trade the principle of complex co-operation is found commonly, though not invariably, to prevail.

The difference as to the class employments of the general body of public cleansers—the dustmen, street-sweepers, nightmen, and rubbish carters—seems to be this:—any nightman will work as a dustman or scavager; but it is not all the dustmen and scavagers who will work as nightmen. The reason is almost obvious. The avocations of the dustman and the nightman are in some degree hereditary. A rude man provides for the future maintenance of his sons in the way which is most patent to his notice; he makes the boy share in his own labour, and grow up unfit for anything else.

The regular working scavagers are then generally a distinct class from the working dustmen, and are all paid by the week, while the dustmen are paid by the load. In very wet weather, when there is a great quantity of "slop" in the streets, a dustman is often called upon to lend a helping hand, and sometimes when a working scavager is out of employ, in order to keep himself from want, he goes to a "job of dust work," but seldom from any other cause.

In a parish where there is a crowded population, the dustman's labours consume, on an average, from to hours a day. In scavagery, the average hours of daily work are (Sundays of course excepted), but they sometimes extended to , and even hours, in places of great business traffic; while in very fine dry weather, the hours may be abridged by , , , or even more. Thus it is manifest that the consumption of time alone prevents the same working men being simultaneously dustmen and scavagers. In the more remote and quiet parishes, however, and under the management of the smaller contractors, the opposite arrangement frequently exists; the operative is a scavager day, and a dustman the next. This is not the case in the busier districts, and with the large contractors, unless exceptionally, or on an emergency.

If the scavagers or dustmen have completed their street and house labours in a shorter time than usual, there is generally some sort of employment for them in the yards or wharfs of the contractors, or they may sometimes avail themselves of their leisure to enjoy themselves in their own way. In many parts, indeed, as I have shown, the street-sweeping must be finished by noon, or earlier.

Concerning the , it may be said, that the principle of complex co-operation in the scavaging trade exists only in its rudest form, for the characteristics distinguishing the labour of the working scavagers are far from being of that complicated nature common to many other callings.

As regards the act of sweeping or scraping the streets, the labour is performed by the and his The gangsman usually loads the cart, and occasionally, when a number are employed in a district, acts as a foreman by superintending them, and giving directions; he is a working scavager, but has the office of overlooker confided to him, and receives a higher amount of wage than the others.

For the completion of the street-work there are the and the , who are also working scavagers, and so called from their having to load the carts drawn by or horses. These are the men who shovel into the cart the dirt swept or scraped to


side of the public way by the gang (some of it mere slop), and then drive the cart to its destination, which is generally their master's yard. Thus far only does the street-labour extend. The carmen have the care of the vehicles in cleaning them, greasing the wheels, and such like, but the horses are usually groomed by stablemen, who are not employed in the streets.

The division of labour, then, among the working scavagers, may be said to be as follows:—

. The , whose office it is to superintend the gang, and shovel the dirt into the cart.

. The gang, which consists of from to or men, who sweep in a row and collect the dirt in heaps ready for the ganger to shovel into the cart.

. The carman (-horse or -horse, as the case may be), who attends to the horse and cart, brushes the dirt into the ganger's shovel, and assists the ganger in wet sloppy weather in carting the dirt, and then takes the mud to the place where it is deposited.

There is only for the above labours pursued among the master scavagers, and that is by the week.

. The ganger receives a weekly salary of when working for an "honourable" master; with a "scurf," however, the ganger's pay is but a week.

. The gang receive in a large establishment each per week, but in a small they usually get from to a week. When working for a small master they have often, by working over hours, to "make days to the week instead of ."

. The -horse carman receives a week in a large, and in a small establishment.

. The -horse carman receives weekly, but is employed only by the larger masters.

On the opposite page I give a table on this point.

Some of these men are paid by the day, some by the week, and some on Wednesdays and Saturdays, perhaps in about equal proportions, the "casuals" being mostly paid by the day, and the regular hands (with some exceptions among the scurfs) once or twice a week. The chance hands are sometimes engaged for a half day, and, as I was told, "jump at a bob and a joey (), or at a bob." I heard of contractor who not unfrequently said to any foreman or gangsman who mentioned to him the applications for work, "O, give the poor devils a turn, if it's only for a day now and then."

, or, as the scavagers call it, "by the load," at time prevail, but not to any great extent. The prices varied, according to the nature and the state of the road, from to the load. The system of piece-work was never liked by the men; it seems to have been resorted to less as a system, or mode of labour, than to insure assiduity on the part of the working scavagers, when a rapid street-cleansing was desirable. It was rather in the favour of the working man's emoluments than otherwise, as may be shown in the following way. In Battle-bridge, men collect loads in dry, and men loads in wet weather. If the average piece hire be a load, it is for each of the men's day's work; if a load, it is (the regular wage, and an extra halfpenny); if , it is ; and if less (which has been paid), the day's wage is not lower than At the lowest rates, however, the men, I was informed, could not be induced to take the necessary pains, as they struggle to "make up half-a-crown;" while, if the streets were scavaged in a slovenly manner, the contractor was sure to hear from his friends of the parish that he was not acting up to his contract. I could not hear of any men now set to piece-work within the precincts of the places specified in the table. This extra work and scamping work are the great evils of the piece system.

In their payments to their men the contractors show a superiority to the practices of some traders, and even of some dock-companies—the men are never paid at public-houses; the payment, moreover, is always in money. contractor told me that he would like all his men to be teetotallers, if he could get them, though he was not himself.

But these remarks refer only to the wages of the scavagers; and I find the nominal wages of operatives in many cases are widely different (either from some additions by way of perquisites, &c., or deductions by way of fines, &c., but oftener the latter) from the wages received by them. Again, the average wages, or gross yearly income of the casuallyemployed men, are very different from those of the constant hands; so are the gains of a particular individual often no criterion of the general or average earnings of the trade. Indeed I find that the several varieties of wages may be classified as follows:—

. —Those said to be paid in a trade.

. —Those received, and which are equal to the nominal wages, the additions to, or the deductions from, them.

. —The earnings of the men who are only occasionally employed.

. —Those obtained throughout the year by such as are either occasionally or regularly employed.

. —Those of particular hands, whether belonging to the scurf or honourable trade, whether working long or short hours, whether partially or fully employed, and the like.

. —Or the wages of the whole trade, constant or casual, fully or partially employed, honourable or scurf, long and short hour men, &c., &c., all lumped together and the mean taken of the whole.

Now in the preceding account of the working scavagers' mode and rate of payment I have spoken only of the nominal wages; and in order to arrive at their actual wages we must, as we have seen, ascertain what additions and what deductions are generally made to and from this


 OPERATIVE SCAVAGERS. Mode of Payment. Rates of Payment. Nature of Work performed. Time unemployed during the Year. Average casual (or constant) gains throughout the Year. 
 I. Manual Labourers.                 
 A. Better Paid.                 
 Ganger .................... By the day. 18s. weekly, and 2s. allowance. To load the cart and superintend the men. Not two days during the year. 20s. per week. 
 Carman (2 horse) .......... " " 18s. weekly, and 2s. allowance. To take care of the horses, help to load the cart, and take the dirt and slop to the dustyard. Seldom or never out of employment. 20s. " 
 Ditto (1 horse) .......... " " 16s. weekly, and 2s. allowance. Ditto. ditto. ditto. Ditto. ditto. 18s. " 
 Sweepers .................. " " 16s. weekly, and 2s. allowance. To sweep the district to which they are sent, and collect the dirt or slop ready for carting away. About three months during the year. 13s. 6d. " 
 B. Worse Paid.                 
 Ganger .................... " " 16s. weekly, and 1s. allowance. To load the cart and superintend the men. Three months during the year. 12s. 9d. " 
 Carman.................... " " 15s. weekly, and 1s. allowance. To take charge of the horse and cart, help to load the cart, and take the dirt or slop to the dustyard. Ditto. ditto. 12s. " 
 Sweepers .................. " " 15s. weekly, and 1s. allowance. To sweep the district, collect the dirt or slop ready for carting off, work in the yard, and load the barge. Ditto. ditto. 12s. " 
 II. Machine Men.                 
 Carman.................... " " 16s. weekly. To take charge of the horse and machine, collect the dirt and take it to the yard. Ditto. ditto. 12s. " 
 Sweepers .................. " " 16s. weekly. To sweep where the machine cannot touch, work in the yard, and load the barges. Ditto. ditto. 12s. " 
 III. Parish Men.                 
 A. Out-door Paupers.                 
 1. Paid in Money.                 
 Married men .............. " " 9s. weekly. Sweep the streets and courts belonging to the parish, and collect the dirt or slop ready for carting away. Six months during the year. 4s. 6d. " 
 Single men ................ " " 6s. weekly. Ditto. ditto. ditto. Ditto. ditto. 3s. " 
 2. Paid part in kind.                 
 Married men .............. " " 6s. 9d. weekly, and 3 quartern loaves. Ditto. ditto. ditto. Ditto. ditto. 3s. 4 1/2d. and 3 quartern loaves weekly. 
 Single men ................ " " 5s. and 3 halfquar- tern loaves. Ditto. ditto. ditto. Ditto. ditto. 2s. 6d. and 3 half-quartern loaves weekly. 
 B. In-door Paupers ............ All in kind. Food, lodging, and clothes. Ditto. ditto. ditto. ...................... Food, lodging, and clothes. 
 IV. Street-Orderlies.                 
 Foreman or Ganger ........ By the day. 15s. weekly. Superintend the men and see that their work is done well.       
 Sweepers .................... " " 12s. weekly. Collect the dirt or slop ready for carting away.       
 Barrow men ................ " " ............ Collect the short dung as it gathers in the district to which they are appointed.       
 Barrow boys ................. " " ............ Ditto. ditto. ditto.       


amount. The deductions in the honourable trade are, as usual, inconsiderable.

All the used by operative scavagers are supplied to them by their employers—the tools being only brooms and shovels; and for this supply there are to cover the expense.

Neither by nor by way of are the men's wages reduced.

The , moreover, is unknown, and has never prevailed in the trade. I heard of only instance of an approach to it. A yard foreman, some years ago, who had a great deal of influence with his employer, had a chandler'sshop, managed by his wife, and it was broadly intimated to the men that they must make their purchases there. Complaints, however, were made to the contractor, and the foreman dismissed. man of whom I inquired did not even know what the "truck system" meant; and when informed, thought they were "pretty safe" from it, as the contractor had nothing which he truck with the men, and if "he polls us hisself," the man said, "he's not likely to let anybody else do it."

There are, moreover, no trade-payments to which the men are subjected; there are no trade-societies among the working men, no benefit nor sick clubs; neither do parochial relief and family labour characterize the regular hands in the honourable trade, although in sickness they may have no other resource.

Indeed, the working scavagers employed by the more honourable portion of the trade, instead of having any deductions made from their nominal wages, have rather additions to them in the form of perquisites coming from the public. These perquisites consist of allowances of beer-money, obtained in the same manner as the dustmen—not through the medium of their employers (though, to say the least, through their sufferance), but from the householders of the parish in which their labours are prosecuted.

The scavagers, it seems, are not required to sweep any places considered "private," nor even to sweep the public foot-paths; and when they sweep or carry away the refuse of a butcher's premises, for instance—for, by law, the butcher is required to do so himself—they receive a gratuity. In the contract entered into by the city scavagers, it is expressly covenanted that no men employed shall accept gratuities from the householders; a condition little or not at all regarded, though I am told that these gratuities become less every year. I am informed also by an experienced butcher, who had at time a private slaughter-house in the Borough, that, until within these or years, he thought the scavagers, and even the dustmen, would carry away entrails, &c., in the carts, from the butcher's and the knacker's premises, for an allowance.

I cannot learn that the contractors, whether of the honourable or scurf trade, take any advantage of these "allowances." A working scavager receives the same wage, when he enjoys what I heard called in another trade "the height of perquisites," or is employed in a locality where there are no such additions to his wages. I believe, however, that the contracting scavagers let their best and steadiest hands have the best perquisited work.

These perquisites, I am assured, average from to a week, but butcher told me he thought might be rather too high an average, for a pint of beer () was the customary sum given, and that was, or ought to be, divided among the gang. "In my opinion," he said, "there 'll be no allowances in a year or ." By the amount of these perquisites, then, the scavagers' gains are so far enhanced.

The wages, therefore, of an operative scavager in full employ, and working for the "honourable" portion of the trade, may be thus expressed:—

 Nominal weekly wages . . . . 16s. 
 Perquisites in the form of allowances .   
 for beer from the public . . . . 2s. 
 Actual weekly wages . . . . 18s. 

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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