London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Street-Sweeping Machine, and the Street-Sweepers Employed With it.


UNTIL the introduction of the machines now seen in London, I believe that no mechanical contrivances for sweeping the streets had been attempted, all such work being executed by manual labour, and employing throughout the United Kingdom a great number of the poor. The streetsweeping machine, therefore, assumes an importance as another instance of the displacement, or attempted displacement, of the labour of man by the mechanism of an engine.

The street-sweeping machines were introduced into London about years ago, after having been previously used, under the management of a company, in Manchester, the inventor and maker being Mr. Whitworth, of that place. The novelty and ingenuity of the apparatus soon attracted public attention, and for the week or the vehicular street-sweeper was accompanied in its progress by a crowd of admiring and inquisitive pedestrians, so easily attracted together in the metropolis. In the instance the machines were driven through the streets merely to display their mode and power of work, and the drivers and attendants not unfrequently came into contact with the regular scavagers, when a brisk interchange of street wit took place, the populace often enough encouraging both sides. At present the street-sweeping machine proceeds on its line of operation as little noticed, except by visitors, and foreigners especially, as any other vehicle. The body of the sweeping machine, although the sizes may not all be uniform, is about feet in length, and feet inches or feet in width; the height is about feet inches or feet, and the form that of a covered cart, with a rounded top. The sides of the exterior are of cast iron, the top being of wood. At the hinder part of the cart is fixed the sweeping-machine itself, covered by sloping boards which descend from the top of the cart, projecting slightly behind the vehicle to the ground; under the sloping boards is an endless chain of brushes as wide as the cart, in number, placed at equal distances, and so arranged, that when made to revolve, each brush in turn passes over the ground, sweeping the mud along with it to the bottom sloping board, and so carrying it up to the interior of the cart. The chain of brushes is set in motion, over the surface of the pavement, by the agency of cog wheels of cast iron; these are worked by the rotation of the wheels of the cart, the cogs acting upon the spindles to which the brooms are attached. The spindles, brushes, and the sloped boards can be raised or lowered by the winding of an instrument called the broom winder; or the whole can be locked. The brooms are raised when any acclivity is to be swept, and lowered at a declivity. The vehicle must be water-tight, in order to contain the slop.

When full the machine holds about half a cart load or half a ton of dirt; this is emptied by letting down the back in the manner of a trap door. If the contents be solid, they have to be forked out; if more sloppy, they are "shot" out, as from a cart, the interior generally being roughly scraped to complete the emptying.

The districts which have as yet been cleansed by the machines are what may be considered a government domain, being the public thoroughfares under the control of the Commissioners of the Woods and Forests, running from to the Regent-circus in , and including Spring-gardens, Carlton-gardens, and a portion of the , where they were employed in London; they have been used also in parts of the City; and are at present employed by the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The company by whom the mechanical street-sweeping business is carried on employ machines, water carts, horses, and men. They have also the use, but not the sole use, of wharfs and barges at Whitefriars and . The machines altogether collect about cart-loads of street-dirt a day, which is equivalent to or bargeloads in a week, if all were boated. barges per week are usually sent to Rochester, the others up the river to Fulham, &c. The average price is to per barge load, but when the freight has been chiefly dung, as much as has been paid for it by a farmer.

The street-sweeping machine seems to have commanded the approbation of the General Board of Health, although the Board's expression of approval is not without qualification. "Even that efficient and economical implement," says of the Reports, "the street-sweeping machine, leaves. much filth between the interstices of the stones and some on the surface." might have imagined, however, that an efficient and economical implement would not have left this "much filth" in its course; but the Board, I presume, spoke comparatively.

The reason of the circumscribed adoption of the machine—I say it with some reluctance, but from concurrent testimony—appears to be that it does sweep sufficiently clean. It sweeps the surface, but only the surface; not cleansing what the scavagers call the "nicks" and "holes," and the Board of Health the "interstices," in the pavement.

man is obliged to go along with each machine, to sweep the ridge of dirt invariably left at the edge of the track of the vehicle into the line of the next machine, so that it may be "licked up." In fine weather this work is often light enough. It is also the occupation of the accompanying scavager to sweep the dirt from the sloping edges of the public ways into the direct course of the machine, for the brushes are of no service along such slopes; he must also sweep out the contents of any hole or hollow there may be in the streets, as is frequently the case when the pavement has been disturbed in the


relaying or repairing of the gas or water pipes. But for this arrangement, I was told, the brushes would pass "clean over" such places, or only disturb without clearing away the dirt. Indeed irregularities of any kind in the pavement are great obstructions to the efficiency of the streetsweeping machine.

There are some places, moreover, wholly unsweepable by the machine; in many parts of St. Martin's parish, for instance, there are localities where the machine cannot be introduced; such are—St. Martin's-court; the flagged ways about the ; and the approach, alongside the church, to the ; the pavement surrounding the fountains which adorn the "noblest site in Europe;" and a variety of alleys, passages, yards, and minor streets, which must be cleansed by manual labour.

In fair weather, again, water carts are indispensable before machine sweeping, for if the ground be merely dry and dusty, the set of brooms will not "bite."

We now come to estimate the The average progress of the street-sweeping machine, in the execution of the scavagers' work, is about miles an hour. It must not be supposed, however, that streets each a mile in length, could be swept in hour; for to do this the vehicle would have to travel up and down those streets as many times as the streets are wider than the machine. The machines, sometimes , sometimes or , follow alongside each other's tracks in sweeping a street, so as to leave no part unswept. Thus, supposing a street half a mile long and yards wide, and that each machine swept a breadth of a yard, then such machines, driven once up, and once again down, and once more up such a street, would cleanse it in quarters of an hour. To do this by manual labour in the same or nearly the same time, would require the exertions of men. Each machine has been computed to have mechanical power equal to the industry of street-sweepers; and such, from the above computation, would appear to be the fact. I do not include the drivers in this enumeration, as of course the horse in the scavagers' cart, and in the machine require alike the care of a man, and there is to each vehicle (whether mechanical or not) hand (besides the carman) to sweep after the ordinary work. Hence every men with the machine do the work of men by hand.

Having, then, ascertained the relative values of the forces employed in cleansing the streets, let me now proceed to set forth what is "the economy of labour" resulting from the use of the sweeping machine. In the following table are given the number of men at present engaged by the machine company in the cleansing of those districts where the machine is in operation, as well as the annual amount of wages paid to the machine labourers; these facts are then collocated with the number of manual labourers that would be required to do the same work under the ordinary contract system (assuming every labourers with the machine to do the work of labourers by hand), as well as the amount of wages that would be paid to such manual labourers; and finally, the number of men and amount of wages under the system of street-cleansing is subtracted from the other, in order to arrive at the number of street-sweepers at present displaced by machine labour, and the annual loss in wages to the men so displaced; or, to speak economically, the last column represents the amount by which the Wage Fund of the street-sweepers is diminished by the employment of the machine.

 DISTRICTS. Machine Labour. Manual Labour. Difference. 
 Number of Men employed to attend Machines. Annual Wages received by Machine Men, at 16s. a Week. Number of men that would be required to sweep the Streets by Manual labour. Annual Wages that would be received by Manual Labourers, at 15s. a Week. Number of Men displaced by Machinework. Annual Loss in Wages to Manual Labourers by Machinework. 
     £ s.   £ s.   £ s. 
 St. Martin's-in-the Fields . . . . 8 332 16 28 1092 0 20 759 4 
 Regent-street and Pall-mall (see table, p. 214) . 12 499 4 42 1638 0 30 1138 16 
 Other places, connected with Woods and Forests . . 4 166 8 14 546 0 10 379 12 
 Total. . . 24 998 8 84 3276 0 60 2277 12 



Hence, we perceive that no less than streetsweepers are deprived of work by the streetsweep- ing machine, and that the gross Wage Fund of the men is diminished by the employment of mechanical labour no less than per annum.

But let us suppose the street-sweeping machine to come into general use, and all the men who are at present employed by the contractors, both large and small, to sweep the street by hand to be superseded by it, what would be the result? how much money would the manual labourers be deprived of per annum, and how many self-supporting labourers would be pauperized thereby? The following table will show us: in the compartment given below we have the number of manual labourers employed throughout London by the large and small contractors, and the amount of wages annually received by them; in the compartment is given the number of men that would be required to sweep the same districts by the machine, and the amount of wages that would be received by them at the present rate; and the and last compartment shows the gross number of hands that would be displaced, and the annual loss that would accrue to the operatives by the substitution of mechanical for manual labour in the sweeping of the streets.

   Manual Labour. Machine Labour. Difference. 
   Number of Men at present employed by Contractors to sweep the streets. Annual Wages received by Contractors' Men for sweeping the Streets, at 15s. a Week. Number of Machine Men that would be required to attend the Streetsweep- ing Machines. Annual Wages that would be received by Machine Men, at 16s. a Week. Number of Men that would be displaced by Machinework. Annual Loss that would accrue to Manual Labourers by Machinework. 
     £ s.   £ s.   £ s. 
 Districts at present swept by large contractors (see table, p. 214) . 262 10,218 0 75 3120 0 187 7098 0 
 Districts swept by small contractors. 13 507 0 4 166 8 9 340 12 
 Total. . . 275 10,725 0 79 3286 8 196 7438 12 

Here we find that nearly men would be pauperized, losing upwards of per annum, if the street-sweeping machine came into general use throughout London. But, before the introduction of machines, the thoroughfares of St. Martin's parish were swept only once a week in dry weather, and times a week in sloppy weather, and since the introduction of the machines they have been swept daily; allowing, therefore, the extra cleansing to have arisen from the extra cheapness of the machine work—though it seems to have been the result of improved sanatory regulations, for in parts where the machine has not been used the same alteration has taken place— making such allowance, however, it may, perhaps, be fair to say, that the same increase of cleansing would take place throughout London; that is to say, that the streets would be swept by the machines, were they generally used, twice as often as they are at present by hand. At this rate machine men, instead of as above calculated, would be required for the work; so that, reckoning for the increased employment which might arise from the increased cheapness of the work, we see that, were the street-sweeping ma- chines used throughout the metropolis, nearly of the manual labourers now employed at scavaging by the large and small contractors, would be thrown out of work, and deprived of no less a sum than per annum.

This amount, of course, the parishes would pocket, minus the sum that it would cost them to keep the displaced scavagers as paupers, so that in this instance, at least, we perceive that, however great a benefit cheapness may be to the wealthy classes, to the poorer classes it is far from being of the same advantageous character; for, just as much as the rate-payers are the gainers in the matter of streetcleansing must the labourers be the losers—the economy of labour in a trade where there are too many labourers already, and where the quantity of work does not admit of indefinite increase, meaning simply the increase of pauperism.



The "" as connected with the sweeping-machine work, requires but a brief detail, as it presents no new features. The majority of the machine men may be described as having been "general (unskilled) labourers" before they embarked in their present pursuits: labourers for builders, brick-makers, rubbish-carters, the docks, &c.

Among them there is but who was brought up as a mechanic; the others have all been labourers, brick-makers, and what I heard called "barrow-workers" on railways, the latter being the most numerous.

Employment is obtained by application at the wharfs. There is nothing of the character of a trade society among the machine-men; nothing in the way of benefit or sick clubs, unless the men choose to enrol themselves in a general benefit society, of which I did not hear instance.

The payment is by the week, and without drawback in the guise or disguise of fines, or similar inflictions for the use of tools, &c.; the payment, moreover, is always in money.

The only perquisite is in the case of anything being found in the streets; but the rule as to perquisites seems to be altogether an understanding among the men. The disposal of what may be picked up in the streets appears, moreover, to be very much in the discretion of the picker up. If anything be found in the contents of the vehicle, when emptied, it is the perquisite of the driver, who is also the unloader; he, however, is expected to treat the men "on the same beat" out of any such "treasure trove," when the said treasure is considerable enough to justify such bounty. Odd sixpences, shillings, or copper coin, I was informed, were found almost every week, but I could ascertain no general average. man, some time ago, found a purse inside the vehicle containing , and "spent it out and out all on hisself," in a carouse of days. He lost his situation in consequence.

The number of men employed by the company in this trade is , and these perform all the work required in the driving and attendance upon the machines in the street, in loading the barges, grooming the horses, &c. There is, indeed, a man, but he is a blacksmith, and his wages of weekly are included in the estimate as to wear and tear given below, for he shoes the horses and repairs the machines.

The rate of wages paid by the machine company is a week, so that the full amount of wages is paid to the men.

But though the company cannot be ranked among the grinders of the scavaging trade, they be placed among "the drivers."

I am assured, by those who are familiar with such labour, that the men employed by the machine masters do the work of upwards of in the honourable trade, with a corresponding saving to their employers, from an adherence to the main point of the scurf system, the overworking of the men without extra payment.

It has been before stated that, in dry weather, the roads require to be watered before being swept, so that the brushes may In summer the machine-men sometimes commence this part of their business at in the morning; and at the other periods of the year, sometimes at early morning, when moonlight. In summer the hours of labour in the streets are from , , , or in the morning, to half-past in the afternoon; in winter, from light to light, and after street there may be yard and barge work.

The saving by this scurf system, then, is:—

 30 men (honourable trade), 16s. weekly . . . . . . £ 1248 yearly. 
 24 men (scurf-trade) doing same work), 16s. weekly. . 998 " 
 Saving to capitalist and loss to labourer . . . . . £ 250 " 

It now but remains to sum up the capital, income, and expenditure of the machine-scavaging trade.

The cost of a street-sweeping machine is to , with an additional for the set of brooms. The wear and tear of these machines are very considerable. A man who had the care of told me that when there was a heavy stress on it he had known the iron cogs of the inner wheels "go rattle, rattle, snap, snap," until it became difficult to proceed with the work. The brooms, too, in hard work and "cloggy" weather, are apt to snap short, and in the regular course of wear have to be renewed every or weeks. The sets of brooms are of bass, worked strongly with copper wire. The whole apparatus can be unscrewed and taken to pieces, to be cleaned or repaired. The repairs, independently of the renewal of the brooms, have been calculated at yearly each machine. The capital invested, then, in street-sweeping machines, in the horses, and what may be considered the appurtenances of the trade, together with the yearly expenditure, may be thus calculated:—

 12 machines, 60l. each. . . . . £ 720 
 12 sets of brooms, 5l. 5s. each set . 63 
 19 horses, 25l. each . . . . . 475 
 4 water-carts, 20l. each . . . . 80 
 19 sets of harness (new), 7l. each set 133 
 4 barges, 50l. each . . . . . . 200 
   £ 1671 


 24 men, 16s. weekly . . . . . £ 998 
 120 sets of brooms for 12 machines, 4l. per set . . . . . . . . . 480 
 Wear and tear, &c. (15 per cent.) . 255 
 Keep of 19 horses, 10s. each weekly 494 
 Rent (say) . . . . . . . . 150 
 Clerk (say) . . . . . . . . 100 
 Interest on capital, at 10 per cent. . 179 
   £ 2674 

In this calculation I have included wear and tear of the whole of the implements of the stockin-trade, &c., taking that of the brooms on the most moderate estimate. According to the scale of payment by the parish of St. Martin (which is now per annum) the probable receipts of a single year will be:—

   £ s. d. 
 For hire of 12 machines . . 2500 0 0 
 200 barge-loads of manure, 5l. 15s. per barge . . . . . 1150 10 0 
   3650 10 0 
 Yearly expenditure . 2674 0 0 
 Profit . . . . . . 976 10 0 


[] I have estimated the whole at 15s. a week the year through, gangers, "honourable men," regular hands and all, so as to allow for the diminished receipts of the casual hands.

[] The usual argument in favour of machinery, viz., that "by reducing prices it extends the market, and so, causing a greater demand for the commodities, induces a greater quantity of employment," would also be an argument in favour of over population, since this, by cheapening, labour must have the same effect as machinery on prices, and, consequently (according to the above logic), induce a greater quantity of employment! But granting that machinery really does benefit the labourer in cases where the market, and therefore the quantity of work, is largely extensible, surely it cannot but be an injury in those callings where the quantity of work is fixed. Such is the fact with the sawing of wood, the reaping of corn, the threshing of corn, the sweeping of the streets, &c., and hence the evil of mechanical labour applied to such trades.

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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