London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Casual Labourers among the Rubbish-Carters.


THE casual labour of so large a body of men as the rubbish-carters is a question of high importance, for it affects the whole unskilled labour market. And this is of the circumstances distinguishing unskilled from skilled labour. Unemployed cabinet-makers, for instance, do not apply for work to a tailor; so that, with skilled labourers, only trade is affected in the slack season by the scarcity of employment among its operatives. With unskilled labourers it is otherwise. If in the course of next week rubbish-carters were from any cause to be thrown out of employment, and found an impossibility to obtain work at rubbish-carting, there would be fresh applicants for employment among the bricklayer's-labourers, scavagers, nightmen, sewermen, dock-workers, lumpers, &c. Many of the thus unemployed would, of course, be willing to work at reduced wages merely that they might subsist; and thus the hands employed by the regular and "honourable" part of those trades are exposed to the risk of being underworked, as regards wages, from the surplusage of labour in other unskilled occupations.

The employment of the rubbish-carters depends, in the instance, upon the The services of the men are called into requisition when houses are being built or removed. In the case, the rubbish-carters cart away the refuse earth; in the other they remove the old materials. The for the builders, and consequently for the rubbish-carters, is, as I heard several of them express it, "when days are long." From about the middle of April to the middle of October is the season of the rubbish-carters, for during those months more buildings are erected than in the winter half of the year. There is an advantage in fine weather in the masonry becoming and efforts are generally made to complete at least the carcase of a house before the end of October, at the latest.

I am informed that the difference in the employment of labourers about buildings is per cent.— builder estimated it at per cent.— less in winter than in summer, from the circumstance of fewer buildings being then in the course of erection. It may be thought that, as rubbishcarters are employed frequently on the foundation of buildings, their business would not be greatly affected by the season or the weather. But the work is often more difficult in wet weather, the ground being heavier, so that a smaller extent of work only can be accomplished, compared to what can be done in fine weather; and an employer may decline to pay days' wages for work in winter, which he might get done in days in summer. If the men work by the piece or the load the result is the same; the rubbishcarter's employer has a smaller return, for there is less work to be charged to the customer, while the cost in keeping the horses is the same.

Thus it appears that under the most favourable circumstances about of the rubbishcarters, even in the honourable trade, may be exposed to the evils of non-employment merely from the state of the weather influencing, more or less, the custom of the trade, and this even during months' employment out of the year; after which the men must find some other means of earning a livelihood.

There are, in round numbers, operative rubbish-carters employed in the brisk season throughout the metropolis; hence men, at this calculation, would be regularly deprived of work every year for months out of the . It will be seen, however, on reference to the table here given, that the average number of weeks each of the rubbish-carters is employed throughout the months is far below ; indeed many have but and weeks work out of the .

By an analysis of the returns I have collected on this subject I find the following to have been the actual term of employment for the several rubbish-carters in the course of last year:—

 Employment in the 
 Men.   Year.     
 9 had 39 weeks, or 9 months. 
 214 " 26 " 6 " 
 4 " 20 " 5 " 
 10 " 18 "     
 28 " 16 " 4 " 
 8 " 14 "     
 353 " 13 " 3 " 
 4 " 12 "     
 34 " 10 "     
 29 " 9 "     
 38 " 8 " 2 " 
 38 " 6 "     
 27 " 5 "     
 45 " 4 " 1 " 
 15 " 3 "     



Hence about - of the trade appear to have been employed for months, while upwards of -half had work for only months or less throughout the year—many being at work only days in the week during that time.

The rubbish-carter is exposed to another casualty over which he can no more exercise control than he can over the weather; I mean to what is generally called , or a rage for building. This is evoked by the state of the money market, and other causes upon which I need not dilate; but the effect of it upon the labourers I am describing is this: capitalists may in year embark sufficient means in building speculations to erect, say new houses, in any particular district. In the following year they may not erect more than (if any), and thus, as there is the same extent of unskilled labour in the market, the number of hands required is, if the trade be generally less speculative, less in year than in its predecessor by the number of rubbish-carters required to work at the foundations of houses. Such a cause may be exceptional; but during the last years the inhabited houses in the districts of the Registrar-General have increased to the extent of , or from in , to in . It appears, then, that the annual increase of our metropolitan houses, concluding that they increase in a regular yearly ratio, is . Last year, however, as I am informed by an experienced builder, there were rather fewer buildings erected (he spoke only from his own observations and personal knowledge of the business) than the yearly average of the decennial term.

The casual and constant wages of the rubbishcarters may be thus detailed. The whole system of the labour, I may again state, must be regarded as , or—as the word imports in its derivation from the Latin , a chance—the labour of men who are occasionally employed. Some of the most respectable and industrious rubbish-carters with whom I met, told me they generally might make up their minds, though they might have excellent masters, to be months of the year unemployed at rubbish-carting; this, too, is less than the average of this chance employment.

Calculating, then, the rubbish-carter's receipt of at , and his at in the honourable trade, I find the following amount to be paid.

By nominal wages, I have before explained, I mean what a man is to receive, or has been that he shall be paid weekly. Actual wages, on the other hand, are what a man positively , there being sometimes additions in the form of perquisites or allowances; sometimes deductions in the way of fines and stoppages; the additions in the rubbish-carting trade appear to average about a week. But these are received only so long as the men are employed, that is to say, they are the rather than the earnings of the men working at a trade, which is essentially of an occasional or temporary character; the average employment at rubbish-carting being only months in the year.

Let us see, therefore, what would be the constant earnings or income of the men working at the better-paid portion of the trade.

   £ s. d. 
 The gross actual wages of ten rubbish-carters, casually employed for 39 weeks, at 20s. per week, amount to . . . . . 390 0 0 
 The gross actual wages of 250 rubbish-carters, casually employed for 26 weeks, at 20s. per week . 6500 0 0 
 The gross actual wages of 360 rubbish-carters, casually employed for 13 weeks, at 20s. per week . 4600 0 0 
 Total gross actual wages of 620 of the better-paid rubbish-carters . 11,490 0 0 

But this, as I said before, represents only the wages of the better-paid operatives—that is to say, it shows the amount of money or money's worth that is positively received by the men while they are in employment. To understand what are the wages of these men, we must divide their gross casual earnings by , the number of weeks in the year: thus we find that the constant wages of the men who were employed for weeks, were instead of per week—that is to say, their wages, equally divided throughout the year, would have yielded that constant weekly income. By the same reasoning, the per week casual wages of the men employed for weeks out of the , were equal to only constant weekly wages; and so the men, who had per week casually for only months in the year, had but a week throughout the whole year. Hence we see the enormous difference there may be between a man's casual and his constant earnings at a given trade.

The next question that forces itself on the mind is, how do the rubbish-carters live when no longer employed at this kind of work?

When the slack season among rubbish-carters commences, nearly - of the operatives are discharged. These take to scavaging or dustman's work, as well as that of navigators, or, indeed, any form of unskilled labour, some obtaining full employ, but the greater part being able to "get a job only now and then." Those masters who keep their men on throughout the year are some of them large dust contractors, some carmen, some dairymen, and (in or instances in the suburbs, as at Hackney) small farmers. The dustcontractors and carmen, who are by far the more numerous, find employment for the men employed by them as rubbish-carters in the season, either at the dust-yard or carrying sand, or, indeed, carting any materials they may have to move—the wages to the men remaining the same; indeed such is the transient character of the rubbish-carting trade, that there are no masters or operatives who devote themselves solely to the business.

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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