London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of Street "Mac" and Other Mud.


of that kind of mud known by the name of "mac."

The scavengers call mud all that is from the granite or wood pavements, in contradistinction


to "mac," which is both and swept on the macadamized roads. The mud is usually carted apart from the "mac," but some contractors cause their men to shovel every kind of dirt they meet with into the same cart.

The introduction of Mac Adam's system of roadmaking into the streets of London called into existence a new element in what is accounted street refuse. Until of late years little attention was paid to "Mac," for it was considered in no way distinct from other kinds of street-dirt, nor as being likely to possess properties which might adapt it for any other use than that of a component part of agricultural manure.

"Mac" is found principally on the roads from which it derives its name, and is, indeed, the grinding and pounding of the imbedded pieces of granite, which are the staple of those roads. It is, perhaps, the most adhesive street-dirt known, as respects the London specimen of it; for the exceeding traffic works and kneads it into a paste which it is difficult to remove from the texture of any garment splashed or soiled with it.

Mac" is carted away by the scavengers in great quantities, being shovelled, in a state of more or less fluidity or solidity, according to the weather, from the road-side into their carts. Quantities are also swept with the rain into the drains of the streets, and not unfrequently quantities are found deposited in the sewers.

The following passage from "Sanatory Progress," a work before alluded to, cites the opinion of Lord Congleton as to the necessity of continually removing the mud from roads. I may add that Lord Congleton's work on road-making is of high authority, and has frequently been appealed to in parliamentary discussions, inquiries, and reports on the subject.

The late Lord Congleton (Sir Henry Parnell) stated before a Committee of the House of Commons, in June, 1838, 'a road should be cleansed from time to time, so as never to have half an inch of mud upon it; and this is particularly necessary to be attended to where the materials are weak; for, if the surface be not kept clean, so as to admit of its becoming dry in the intervals between showers of rain, it will be rapidly worn away.' How truly," adds the Report, "is his Lordship's opinion verified every day on the macadamized roads in and around London! * * * * * * The horse-manure and other filth are there allowed to accumulate, and to be carried about by the horses and carriage-wheels; the road is formed into cavities and mud-hollows, which, being wetted by the rain and the constantly plying watering-carts, retain the same. Thus, not only are vast quantities of offensive mud formed, but puddles and pools of water also; which water, not being allowed to run off to the side gutter, by declivity, owing to the mud embankments which surround it, naturally percolates through the surface of the road, dissolving and loosening the soft earthy matrix by which the broken granite is surrounded and fixed.

The quantity of "mac" produced is the next consideration, and in endeavouring to ascertain this there are no specific data, though there are what, under other circumstances, might be called circumstantial or inferential evidence.

I have shown both the length of the streets and roads and the proportion which might be pronounced macadamized ways in the Metropolis Proper. But as in the macadamized proportion many thoroughfares cannot be strictly considered as yielding "mac," I will assume that the roads and streets producing this kind of dirt, more or less fully, are miles in length.

On the busier macadamized roads in the vicinity of what may be called the interior of London, it is common, I was told by experienced men, in average weather, to collect daily cart-loads of what is called mac, from every mile of road. The mass of such road-produce, however, is mixed, though the "mac" unquestionably predominates. It was described to me as mac, general dirt, and droppings, more than the half being "mac." In wet weather there is at least times more "mac" than dung scavenged; but in dry weather the dung and other street-refuse constitute, perhaps, somewhat less than -fourths of each cartload. The "mac" in dry weather is derived chiefly from the fluid from the watering carts mixing with the dust, and so forming a paste capable of being removed by the scraper of the scavenger.

It may be fair to assume that every mile of the roads in question, some of them being of considerable width, yields at least cart-load of "mac," as a daily average, Sunday of course excepted. An intelligent man, who had the management of the "mac" and other street collections in a contractor's wharf, told me that in a load of "mac" carted from the road to any place of deposit, there was (I now use his own words) "a good deal of water; for there's great difference," he added, "in the of the "mac" on different roads, that seem very much the same to look at. But that don't signify a halfpenny-piece," he said, "for if the 'mac' is wanted for any purpose, and let be for a little time, you see, sir, the water will dry up, and leave the proper stuff. I haven't any doubt whatever that loads a mile are collected in the way you've been told, and that a load and a quarter of the is 'mac,' though after the water is dried up out of it there mightn't be much more than a load. So if you want to calculate what the quantity of 'mac' is by itself, I think you had best say load a mile."

But it is only in the more frequented approaches to the City or the West-end, such as the Knightsbridge-road, the New-road, the Old Kentroad, and thoroughfares of similar character as regards the extent of traffic, that loads of refuse are daily collected. On the more distant roads, beyond the bounds traversed by the omnibuses for instance, or beyond the roads resorted to by the market gardeners on their way to the metropolitan "green" markets, the supply of streetre- fuse is hardly a quarter as great; man thought it was a , and another only a of a load a day in quiet places.

Calculating then, in order to be within the mark,


that the macadamized roads afford daily loads of dirt per mile, and reckoning the great macadamized streets at miles in length, we have the following results:—


 100 miles, 2 loads per day . . . 200 
 " Weekly amount . . . 1,200 
 " Yearly amount . . . 62,400 

Proportion of "Mac" in the above.
 100 miles, 1 load per day . . . . 100 
 " Weekly . . . . . . 600 
 " Yearly . . . . . . 31,200 

To this amount must be added the quantity supplied by the more distant and less frequented roads situate within the precincts of the Metropolis Proper. These I will estimate at - less than that of the roads of greater traffic. Some of the more quiet thoroughfares, I should add, are not scavenged more than once a week, and some less frequently; but on some there is considerable traffic.


 1100 miles, 1/4 load per day . . . 275 
 " Weekly . . . . . 1,650 
 " Yearly . . . . . . 85,800 

The proportion of mac to the gross dirt collected is greater in the more distant roads than what I have already described, but to be safe I will adopt the same ratio.

Proportion of "Mac."
 1100 miles of road, 1/8 load per day . 137 
 " Weekly . . . 825 
 " Yearly . . . 42,900 


   Street Refuse. "Mac." 
   Cart-loads. Loads. 
 100 miles of macadamized roads . . . . . . 62,400 31,200 
 1100 miles ditto ditto 85,800 42,900 
   148,200 74,100 

Thus upwards of cart-loads of "mac" are, at a low computation, annually scraped and swept from the metropolitan thoroughfares.

So far as to the of "mac" collected, and now as to its

'Mac,' or Macadam," says one of Mr. Cochrane's Reports, "is a grand prize to the scavenging contractor, who finds ready vend and a high price for it among the builders and brick- makers. Those who paid for the road—and their surveyors, possibly—know nothing of its value, or of their own loss by its removal from the road; they consider it in the light of dirt— offensive dirt—and are glad to pay the scavenger for carrying it away! When the broom comes, the scavenger's men take care to go deep enough; and many of them are, moreover, instructed to keep the 'mac' as free from admixture with foreign substances as possible; for, though cattledung be valuable enough in itself, the 'mac' loses its value to the builder and brickmaker by being mixed with it. Indeed, both are valuable for their respective uses if kept separate, not otherwise.

On my making inquiries as to the uses and value of "mac," I was frequently told that it was utterly valueless, and that great trouble and expense were incurred in merely getting rid of it. That this is the case with many contractors is, doubtlessly, the fact; for now, unless the "mac," or, rather, the general road-dirt, be ordered, or a market for it be assured, it must be got rid of without a remuneration. Even when the contractor can shoot the "mac" in his own yard, and keep it there for a customer, there is the cost of re-loading and re-carting; a cost which a customer requiring to use it at any distance may not choose to incur. Great quantities of "mac," therefore, are wasted; and more would be wasted, were there places to waste it in.

Let me, therefore, before speaking of the uses and sale of it, point out some of the reasons for this wasting of the "mac" with other street-dirt. In the place, the weight of a cart-load of streetrefuse of any kind is usually estimated at a ton; but I am assured that the weight of a cart-load of "stiff mac" is a ton and a quarter at the least; and this weight becomes so trying to a scavenger's horse, as the day's work advances, that the contractor, to spare the animal, is often glad to get rid of the "mac" in any manner and without any remuneration. Thousands of loads of "mac," or rather of mixed street-dirt, have for this, and other reasons, been thrown away; and no small quantity has been thrown down the gulley-holes, to find its way into that main metropolitan sewer, the Thames. Of this matter, however, I shall have to speak hereafter.

There is no doubt that it is common for contractors to represent the "mac" they collect as being utterly valueless, and indeed an incumbrance. The "mixed mac," as I have said, may be so. Some contractors urge, especially in their bargains with the parish board, that all kinds of street dirt are not only worthless, but expensive to be got rid of. or years ago, this was urged very strenuously, for then there was what was accounted a combination among the contractors. The south-west district of , until within the last years, from the contractor for the public scavengery, for the year's aggregation of street and house dirt. Since then, however, they have had to pay him for removing it.

Notwithstanding the reluctance of some of the


contractors to give information on this, or indeed any subject connected with their trade, I have ascertained from indubitable authority, that "mac" is disposed of in the following manner. Some, but this is mostly the mixed kind, is got rid of in manner; it has even been diluted with water so as to be driven down the drains. Some is mixed with the general street ordure—about a quarter of "mac," I was told, to -quarters of dung and street mud—and shipped off in barges as manure. Some is given to builders, when they require it for the foundations of any edifices that are "handy," or rather it is carted thither for a nominal price, such as a trifle as beer-money for the men. Some, however, is for the same purpose, the contractors alleging that the charge is merely for cartage. Some, again, is given away or sold (with the like allegation) for purposes of levelling, of filling up cavities, or repairing unevennesses in any ground where improvements are being carried on; and, finally, some is sold to masons, plasterers, and brickmakers, for the purposes of their trade.

Even for such purposes as "filling up," there must be in the "mixed mac" supplied, at least a considerable preponderance of the pure material, or there would not be, as I heard it expressed, a sufficient "setting" for what was required.

As a set-off to what is sold, however, I may here state that has been paid for the privilege of depositing a barge-load of mixed street dirt in Battersea-fields, merely to get rid of it.

The principal use of the unmixed "mac" is as a component part of the mortar, or lime, of the mason in the exterior, and of the plasterer in the interior, construction of buildings, and as an ingredient of the mill in brick-grounds.

The accounts I received of the properties of "mac" from the vendors of it, were very contradictory. man, until lately connected with its sale, informed me that as far as his own experience extended, "mac" was most in demand among scamping builders, and slop brickmakers, who looked only to what was cheap. To a notorious "scamper," he morning sent cart-loads of "mac" at a load, all to be used in the erection of the skeleton of not very large house; and he believed that when it was used instead of sand with lime, it was for inferior work only, and was mixed, either for masons' or plasterers' work, with bad, low-priced mortar. Another man, with equal knowledge of the trade, however, represented "mac" as a most valuable article for the builder's purposes, it was "so ," and this he repeated emphatically. A working builder told me that "mac" was as good as the best sand; it made the mortar "hang," and without either that or sand, the lime would "brittle" away.

"Mac" may be said to be composed of pulverised granite and rain water. Granite is composed of quartz, felspar, and mica, each in granular crystals. Hence, alumina being clay, and silex a substance which has a strong tendency to enter into combination with the lime of the mortar, the pulverizing of granite tends to produce a substance which has necessarily great binding and indurating properties.

From this reduction of "mac" to its elements, it is manifest that it possesses qualities highly valuable in promoting the cohesive property of mortar, so that, were greater attention paid to its collection by the scavenger, there would, in all probability, be an improved demand for the article, for I find that it is already used in the prosecution of some of the best masons' work. On this head I can cite the authority of a gentleman, at once a scientific and practical architect, who said to me—

'Mac' is used by many respectable builders for making mortar. The objection to it is, that it usually contains much extraneous decaying matter.

Increased care in the collection of the material would, perhaps, remove this cause of complaint.

I heard of West-end builder, employing many hands, however, who had totally or partially discontinued the use of "mac," as he had met with some which he considered showed itself in the plastering of walls.

"Mac," is pounded, and sometimes sifted, when required for use, and is then mixed and "worked up" with the lime for mortar, in the same way as sand. By the brickmakers it is mixed with the clay, ground, and formed into bricks in a similar manner.

Of the proportion sold to builders, plasterers, and brickmakers, severally, I could learn no precise particulars. The general opinion appears to be, that "mac" is sold most to brickmakers, and that it would find even a greater sale with them, were not brick-fields becoming more and more remote. I moreover found it universally admitted, that "mac" was in less demand—some said by onehalf—than it was or years back.

Such are the of "mac," and we now come to the question of its

The price of the purer "mac" seems, from the best information I can procure, to have varied considerably. It is now generally cheap. I did not hear any very sufficing reason advanced to account for the depreciation, but of the contractors expressed an opinion that this was owing to the "disturbed" state of the trade. Since the passing of the Sanitary Bill, the contractors for the public scavengery have been prevented "shooting" any valueless street-dirt, or dirt "not worth carriage" in convenient waste-places, as they were once in the habit of doing. Their yards and wharfs are generally full, so that, to avoid committing a nuisance, the contractor will not unfrequently sell his "mac" at reduced rates, and be glad thus to get rid of it. To this cause especially Mr. —— attributed the deterioration in the price of "mac," but if he had convenience, he told me, and any change was made in the present arrangements, he would not scruple to store loads for the demands of next summer, as a speculation. I am of opinion, moreover, notwithstanding what seemed something very like unanimity of opinion on the part of the sellers of "mac," that what is given or thrown away is usually, if not always, or inferior "mac," and that what is sold at the


lowest rate is only a degree or better; unless, indeed, it be under the immediate pressure of some of the circumstances I have pointed out, as want of room, &c.

On inquiring the price of "mac," I believe the answer of a vendor will almost invariably be found to be "a shilling a load;" a little further inquiry, however, shows that an extra sum may have to be paid. A builder, who gave me the information, asked a parish contractor the price of "mac." The contractor at once offered to supply him with loads at a load, if the "mac" were ordered beforehand, and could be shot at once; but it would be a mile extra if delivered a mile out of the mac-seller's parish circuit, or more than a mile from his yard; while, if extra care were to be taken in the collection of the "mac," it would be , , , or a load higher. This, it must be understood, was the price of " mac."

Good " mac," that is to say, "mac" ready for use, is sold to the builder or the brickmaker at from to the load; , or something very near it, being now about an average price. It is dried in the contractor's yard by being exposed to the sun, or it is sometimes protected from the weather by a shed, while being dried. More wet "mac" would be shot for the trade, and kept until dry, but for want of room in the contractors' yards and wharfs; for "mac" must give way to the more valuable dung, and the dust and ashes from the bins. The best "mac" is sometimes described as "country mac," that is to say, it is collected from those suburban roads where it is likely to be little mixed with dung, &c.

A contractor told me that during the last months he had sold loads of "mac;" he had no account of what he had given away, to be rid of it, or of what he had sold at nominal prices. Another contractor, I was told by his managing man, sold last year about loads. But both these parties are "in a large way," and do not supply the data upon which to found a calculation as to an average yearly sale; for though in the metropolis there are, according to the list I have given in p. of the present volume, contracts, for cleansing the metropolis, without including the more remote suburbs, such as Greenwich, Lewisham, Tooting, Streatham, Ealing, Brentford, and others—still some of the districts contracted for yield no "mac" at all.

From what I consider good authority, I may venture upon the following moderate computation as to the quantity of "mac" sold last year.

Estimating the number of contracts for cleansing the more central parishes at , and adding for all the outlying parishes of the metropolis— in some of which the supply of road "mac" is very fine, and by no means scarce—it may be accurate enough to state that, out of the individual contracts, loads of "mac" were sold by each in the course of last year. This gives loads of "mac" disposed of per annum. It may, moreover, be a reasonable estimate to consider this "mac," wet and dry together, as fetching a load, so that we have for the sum realized the following result:—

 16,500 loads of "mac," at 1s. 6d. per load . . . . . £ 1237 10 

It may probably be considered by the contractors that is too high an average of price per load: if the price be minimized the result will be—

 16,500 loads of "mac," at 1s. per load . . . . . . £ 825 

Then if we divide the estimate among the contractors, we find that they receive upwards of each; the estimate gives nearly each.

I repeat, that in this inquiry I can but approximate. gentleman told me he thought the quantity of "mac" thus sold in the year was twice loads; another asserted that it was not . I am assured, however, that my calculation does not exceed the truth.

I have given the full quantity of "mac," as nearly, I believe, as it can be computed, to be yielded by the metropolitan thoroughfares; the surplusage, after deducting the loads sold, must be regarded as consisting of mixed, and therefore useless, "mac;" that is to say, "mac" rendered so by continuous wet weather, that it is little worth; "mac" wasted because it is not storeable in the contractor's yard; and "mac" used as a component part of a barge-load of manure.

In the course of my inquiries I heard it very generally stated that until or years ago might be considered a regular price for a load of "mac," while , , or even have been paid to contractor, according to his own account, for the better kind of this commodity.

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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