London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the "Jet and Hose" System of Scavaging.


THERE appears at the present time a bent in the public mind for an improved system of scavagery. Until the ravages of the cholera in , and again in , roused the attention of Government and of the country, men seemed satisfied to dwell in dirty streets, and to congratulate themselves that the public ways were dirtier in the days of their fathers; a feeling or a spirit which has no doubt existed in all cities, from the days of those original scavagers, the vultures and hyenas of Africa and the East, the adjutants of Calcutta, and the hawks—the common glades or kites of this country—and which, we are told, in the days of Henry VIII. used to fly down among the passengers to remove the offal of the butchers and poulterers' stalls in the metropolitan markets, and in consideration of which services it was forbidden to kill them—down to the mechanical sweeping of the streets of London, and even to Mr. Cochrane's excellent street-orderlies.

Besides the plan suggested by Mr. Cochrane, whose orderlies cleanse the streets without wetting, and consequently without dirtying, the surface by the use of the watering-cart, there is the opposite method proposed by Mr. Lee, of Sheffield, and other gentlemen, who recommend streetcleansing by the hose and jet, that is to say, by flushing the streets with water at a high pressure, as the sewers are now flushed; and so, by rather than the dirt of the streets into the sewers, through the momentum of the stream of water, dispensing altogether with the scavager's broom, shovel, and cart.

In order to complete this account of the scavaging of the streets of London, I must, in conclusion, say a few words on this method, advocated as it is by the Board of Health, and sanctioned by scientific men. By the application of a hose, with a jet or water pipe attached to a fire-plug, the water being at high pressure, a stream of fluid is projected along the street's surface with force enough to away all before it into the sewers, while by the same apparatus it can be thrown over the fronts of the houses. This mode of street-cleansing prevails in some American cities, especially in Philadelphia, where the principal thoroughfares are said to be kept admirably clean by it; while the fronts of the houses are as bright as those in the towns of Holland, where they are washed, not by mechanical appliances, but by water thrown over them out of scoops by hand labour— of the instances of the minute and indefatigable industry of the Dutch.

It is stated in of the Reports of the Board of Health, that "unless cleansing be general and simultaneous, much of the dirt of district is carried by traffic into another. By the subdivision of the metropolis into small districts, the duty of cleansing the carriage-way is thrown upon a number of obscure and irresponsible authorities; while the duty of cleansing the footways, which are no less important, charged upon multitudes of private individuals." [The grammar


is the Board of Health's grammar.] "It is a false pecuniary economy, in the case of the poorest inhabitants of court or alley, who obtain their livelihood by any regular occupation, to charge upon each family the duty of cleansing the footway before their doors. The performance of this service daily, at a rate of per house or per family, would be an economy in soap and clothes to persons the average value of whose time is never less than per hour." [This is at the rate of a day; did this most innocent Board hear of work yielding a week? But the sanitary authorities seem to be as fond as teetotallers of "going to extremes."]

In another part of the same Report the process and results are described. It is also stated that for the success of this method of street purification the pavement must be good; for "a powerful jet, applied by the hose, would scoop out hollows in unpaved places, and also loosen and remove the stones in those that are badly paved." As every public place ought to be well-paved, this necessity of new and good pavement is no reasonable objection to the plan, though it certainly admits of a question as to the durability of the roads—the macadamized especially—under this continual soaking. Sir Henry Parnell, the great road authority, speaks of wet as the main destroyer of the highways.

It is stated in the Report, after the mention of experiments having been made by Mr. Lovick, Mr. Hale, and Mr. Lee (Mr. Lee being of the engineering inspectors of the Board), that

Mr. Lovick, at the instance of the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers, conducted his experiments with such jets as could be obtained from the water companies' mains in eligible places; but the pressure was low and insufficient. Nevertheless, it appeared that, taking the extra quantity of water required at the actual expense of pumping, the paved surfaces might be washed clean at one-half the price of the scavagers' manual labour in sweeping. Mr. Lee's trials were made at Sheffield, with the aid of a more powerful and suitable pressure, and he found that with such pressure as he obtained the cleansing might be effected in one-third the time, and at one-third the usual expense, of the scavagers' labour of sweeping the surface with the broom." [This expense varies, and the Board nowhere states at what rate it is computed; the scavagers' wages varying 100 per cent.]

The effect of this mode of cleansing in close courts and streets," it is further stated, "was found to be peculiarly grateful in hot weather. The water was first thrown up and diffused in a thin sheet, it was then applied rapidly to cleansing the surface and the side walls, as well as the pavements." Mr. Lovick states that the immediate effect of this operation was to lower the temperature, and to produce a sense of freshness, similar to that experienced after a heavy thunder-shower in hot weather. But there is nothing said as to the probable effect of this state of things in winter—a hard frost for instance. The same expedient was resorted to for cooling the yards and outer courts of hospitals, and the shower thrown on the windows of the wards afforded great relief. Mr. Lovick, in his Report on the trial works for cleansing courts, states:—

The importance of water as an agent in the improvement and preservation of health being in proportion to the unhealthiness or depressed condition of districts, its application to close courts and densely-populated localities, in which a low sanitary condition must obtain, is of primary importance. Having shown the practicability of applying this system (cleansing by jets of water) to the general cleansing of the streets, my further labours have been, and are now, directed to this end.

For the purpose of ascertaining the effect produced by operations of this nature upon the atmosphere, two courts were selected: Churchpassage, New Compton-street, open at both ends, with a carriage-way in the centre, and footway on each side; and Lloyd's-court, Crown-street, St. Giles's, a close court, with, at one entrance, a covered passage about 40 feet in length: both courts were in a very filthy condition; in Churchpassage there were dead decaying cats and fish, with offal, straw, and refuse scattered over the surface; at one end an entrance to a private yard was used as a urinal; in every part there were most offensive smells.

Lloyd's-court was in a somewhat similar condition, the covered entrance being used as a general urinal, presenting a disgusting appearance; the whole atmosphere of the court was loaded with highly-offensive effluvia; in the covered entrance this was more particularly discernible.

The property of water, as an absorbent, was rendered strikingly apparent in the immediate and marked effects of its application, a purity and freshness remarkably contrasted to the former close and foul condition prevailing throughout. A test of this, striking and unexpected, was the change at different periods in the relative condition of atmosphere of the courts and of the contiguous streets. In their ordinary condition, as might have been expected, the atmosphere was purer in the streets than in the courts; it was to be inferred that the cleansing would have more nearly assimilated these conditions. This was not only the case, but it was found to have effected a complete change; the atmosphere of the courts at the close of the operations being far fresher and purer than the atmosphere of the streets. The effect produced was in every respect satisfactory and complete; and was the theme of conversation with the lookers-on, and with the men who conducted the operations.

The expense of these operations, including water, would be, for—

Church-passage (time, five minutes), 1 1/2d.

Lloyd's-court (time, ten minutes), 3 1/4d.

Mr. Hale, another officer, gave a similar statement.

Other experiments are thus detailed:—

Lascelles-court, Broad-street, St. Giles's. This court was pointed out to me as one of the worst in London. Before cleansing it smelt intolerable," [sic] "and looked disgusting. Besides an abun- dance of ordinary filth arising from the exposure of refuse, the surface of the court contained heaps of human excrement, there being only one privy to the whole court, and that not in a state to be publicly used. . . . . . The cleansing operations were commenced by sprinkling the court with deodorising fluid, mixed with 20 times its volume of water; a great change, from a very pungent odour to an imperceptible smell, was immediately effected; after which the refuse of the court was washed away, and the pavement thoroughly cleansed by the hose and jet; and now this place, which before was in a state almost indescribable, presented an appearance of comparative comfort and respectability.

It is stated as the result of another experiment in "an ordinary wide street with plenty of traffic," that "water-carts and ordinary rains only create the mud which the jet entirely removes, giving to the pavement the appearance of having been as thoroughly cleansed as the private stone steps in front of the houses."

With respect to Mr. Lee's experiments in Sheffield, I find that Messrs. Guest, of Rotherham, are patentees of a tap for the discharge of water at high pressures, and that they had adapted their invention to the purpose of a fireplug and stand pipe suitable for street-cleansing by the hose and jet. , of the principal thoroughfares, was experimentally cleansed by this process: "The carriage-way is from to feet wide, and about yards long. It was washed almost as clean as a house-floor in minutes." Mr. Lee expresses his conviction that, by the agency of the hose and jet, every street in that populous borough might be cleansed at about per annum for each house. "The principal thoroughfares," he states, "could be thus made perfectly clean, times every week, before business hours, and the minor streets and lanes twice, or once per week, at later hours in the day, by the agency of an abundant supply of water, at of an equal quantity of refuse in a solid or semi-fluid condition."

The highways most frequented in Sheffield constitute about -half of the whole extent of the streets and roads in the borough, measuring miles. This length, Mr. Lee computes, might be effectually cleansed with the hose and jet, miles of it times a week, miles twice a week, and miles once a week, a total of miles weekly, or miles yearly. The quantity of Water required would be gallons a mile, or a yearly total of gallons. This water might be supplied, Mr. Lee opines, at per gallons ( per annum), although the price obtained by the Water-works Company was per gallons ( per annum). "I now proceed," he says, "to the cost of labour: miles per annum is equal to / miles for each working day, or to sets of men cleansing miles per day each set. To these must be added horses and carts, and carters, for the removal of such as cannot be washed away and for such parts of the town as cannot be cleansed by this system, making a total of men. Their wages I would fix at per annum each. The estimate is as follows:—

 "Annual interest upon the first cost of hose and pipes, three horses and carts . . . . . . 30 
 Fifteen men's wages . . . . 750 
 Three horses' provender . . . 150 
 Wear, tear, and depreciation of hose, &c. 250 
 Management and incidentals, say . . 120 
   £ 1300." 

The estimate, it will be seen, is based on the supposition that , and not a specific charge for the purposes of street-cleansing.

The miles of highway of Sheffield is but miles less than those of the city of London, the cost of cleansing which is, according to the estimate before given, no less than

The Sheffield account is divested of all calculations as to house-dust and ashes, and the charge for watering-carts; but, taking merely the sum paid to scavaging contractors, and assigning (out of the ), as the proportion of salaries, &c., under the department of scavagery in the management of the City Commissioners, we find that while the expense of street-cleansing by the Sheffield hose and jet was little more than , in London, by the ordinary mode, it was upwards of per mile, or more than times as much. The hose and jet system is said to have washed the streets of Sheffield as clean as a house-floor, which could not be said of it in London. The streets of the City, it should also be borne in mind, are now swept daily; Mr. Lee proposes only a periodical cleaning for Sheffield, or once, twice, and thrice a week. Of the cost of the experiments made in London with the hose and jet, in Lascelles-court, &c., nothing is said.

Street-cleansing by the hose and jet is, then, as yet but an experiment. It has not, like the streetorderly mode, been tested continuously or systematically; but the experiments are so curious and sometimes so startling in their results that it was necessary to give a brief account of them here, in order to render this account of the cleansing of the streets of the metropolis as comprehensive as possible. For my own part, I must confess the street-orderly system appears to excel all other modes of scavagery, producing at once the greatest cleanliness with the greatest employment to the poor. Nor am I so convinced as the theoretic and crotchety Board of Health as to the healthfulness of dampness, or the daily evaporation of a sheet of even clean water equal in extent to the entire surface of the London streets. It is certainly , to say the least, whether so much additional moisture might the public health, which the Board are instituted to protect; rain certainly contributes to cleanliness, and yet no would advocate continued wet weather as a source of general convalescence.

I shall conclude this account of the scavaging


of London, with the following brief statement as to the mode in which these matters are conducted abroad.

In Paris, where our system of parochial legislation and management is unknown, the scavaging of the streets—so frequently matters of private speculation with us—is under the immediate direction of the municipality, and the Government publish the returns, as they do of the revenue of their capital from the abattoirs, the interments, and other sources.

In the for , it is stated that the refuse of the streets of Paris sells for francs (), when sold by auction in the mass; and francs (equal to ) when, after having lain in the proper receptacles, until fit for manure, it is sold by the cubic foot. In , the streets of Paris were leased for francs () per annum in the value was francs (); and since the price has risen to the sum named, viz., francs (); from which, however, is to be deducted the expense of cleansing, &c. I may add, that the receptacles alluded to are large places provided by Government, where the manure is deposited and left to ferment for or eighteen months.

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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