London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Powers and authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers.


IN the separate Commissions of Sewers were abolished, and the whole condensed, by the Government, into Commission, with the exception of the City, which seems to supply an exception in most public matters.

The Act does not fix the number of the Commissioners. To the Metropolitan Commissioners, City Commissioners are added (the Lord Mayor for the year being ); these have a right to act as members of the Metropolitan Board, but their powers in this capacity are loosely defined by the Act, and they rarely attend, or perhaps never attend, unless the business in some way or other affects their distinct jurisdiction.

The Commissioners (of whom form a quorum) are unpaid, with the exception of the chairman, Mr. E.Lawes, a barrister, who has a year. They are appointed for the term of years, revocable at pleasure.

The authority of the City Commission, as distinct from the Metropolitan, for there are separate Acts, seems to be more strongly defined than that of the others, but the principle is the same throughout. The Metropolitan Act bears date ; and the City Act, .

The Metropolitan Commissioners have the control over "the sewers, drains, watercourses, weirs, dams, banks, defences, gratings, pipes, conduits, culverts, sinks, vaults, cesspools, rivers, reservoirs, engines, sluices, penstocks, and other works and apparatus for the collection and discharge of rainwater, surplus land or spring-water, waste water, or filth, or fluid, or semi-fluid refuse of all descriptions, and for the protection of land from floods or inundation within the limits of the Commission." Ample as these powers seem to be, the Commissioners' authority does not extend over the Thames, which is in the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of London; and it appears childish to give men control over "rivers," and to empower them to take measures "for the protection of land from floods or inundation," while over the great metropolitan stream itself, from Yantlet Creek, below Gravesend, to Oxford, they have no power whatever.

The Commissioners (City as well as Metropolitan) are empowered to enforce proper housedrain- age wherever needed; to regulate the building of new houses, in respect of water-closets, cesspools, &c.; to order any street, staircase, or passage not effectually cleansed to be effectually cleansed; to remedy all nuisances having insanitary tendencies; to erect water-closets and urinals, free from any charge to the public; to order houses and rooms to be whitewashed; to erect places for depositing the bodies of poor persons deceased until interment; and to regulate the cleanliness, ventilation, and even accommodation of low lodginghouses.

The jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers extends over "all such places or parts in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Essex, and Kent, or any of them but not being within the City of London or the liberties thereof."

This, it must be confessed, is an exceedingly broad definition of the extent of the jurisdiction of the Commission, giving the Commissioners an extraordinary amount of

In our days there are many Londons. There is the London (or the metropolitan apportionment of the capital) as defined by the RegistrarGene- ral. This, as we have seen, has an area of square miles, and therefore may be said to comprise as nearly as possible all those places which are rather more than distant from the .

There is the as defined by the functionaries, or the limits assigned to what is termed the " District Post." This London District Post seems, however, to have different metropolises:—, there is the Central Metropolis, throughout which there is an hourly delivery of letters after mid-day, and which deliveries are said to be confined to "" Then there is the -delivery , or that throughout which the letters are despatched and received times per day; this is said to extend to such of the "environs" as are included within a circle of from the General . Then there is the with special privileges. And lastly, the which, being the extreme range of the District Post, may be said to constitute the metropolis of the General .

There is, again, the metropolis of the Metropolitan Commissioners of Police, before the region of rural police and country and parish constables is attained; a jurisdiction which covers square miles, as I have shown at pp. - of the present volume, and reaches—generally speaking—to such places as are included within a circle of from the General .



There is, moreover, the metropolis, as defined by the Hackney-Carriage Act, which comprises all such places as are within of the General .

And further, there is the Metropolis of the London City Mission, which extends to from the , and the Metropolis, again, of the London Ragged Schools, which reaches to about from the .

This, however, is not all, for there are divers districts for the registration and exercise of votes, parliamentary, or municipal; there are ecclesiastical and educational districts; there is a thorough complication of parochial, extra-parochial, and chartered districts; there is a world of subdivisions and of sub-subdivisions, so ramified here and so closely blended there, and often with such preposterous and arbitrary distinctions, that to describe them would occupy more than a whole Number.

My present business, however, is the extent of the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers, or rather to ascertain the boundaries of that over which the Metropolitan Commissioners are allowed to have sway.

The many discrepancies and differences I have explained make it difficult to any district for the London sewerage; and in the Reports, &c., which are presented to Parliament, or prepared by public bodies, little or no care seems to be taken to observe any distinctiveness in this respect.

For instance: The jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, which is said to extend to all such places as are not more than miles distant in a straight line from St. Paul's Cathedral, in the City of London, comprises an area of square miles; the metropolis, that of the Registrar- General, presenting a radius of miles (with a fractional addition), contains square miles; yet in official documents square miles, or a circle of about miles radius, are given as the extent of the sewered by the Metropolitan Commission. By what calculations this miles are arrived at, whether it has been the of the authorities to consider the sewers, &c., as occupying of the area of the Registrar-General's metropolis, or what other reason has induced the computation, I am unable to say.

The boundaries of the several metropolises may be indicated as follows:—

The includes Camberwell; skirts Peckham; seems to divide Deptford (irregularly); touches the West India Dock; includes portions of , Stepney, , Stratford-le-Bow, and about the half of Victoria-park, Hackney. It likewise comprises a part of Lower Clapton, Dalston, and a portion of Stoke ; and closely touching upon or containing small portions of Lower Holloway, and Kentishtown, sweeps through the Regent's and Hyde parks, includes a moiety of , and crossing the river at the Red-house, Battersea, completes the circle. This is the -delivery district of the General .

In this -mile district are chiefly condensed the population, commerce, and wealth of the greatest and richest city in the world.

The runs from Streatham (on the south); just excludes Sydenham; contains within its exterior line Lewisham, Greenwich, and a part of Woolwich; also, wholly or partially, East Ham, Laytonstone, Walthamstow, Tottenham, Hornsey, Highgate, Hampstead, Kensallgreen, Hammersmith, Fulham, Wandsworth, and Upper Tooting. The portion without the threemile circle, and within the , is the portion or the immediate environs of the metropolis, and still presents rural and woodland beauties in different localities. This may be termed the metropolis of the Registrar-General and Commissioners of Metropolitan Police.

The , or the extent of the jurisdiction of the Commissioners of Sewers, as well as the " District Post," includes Croydon, Wickham, Paul's Cray, Foot's Cray, North Cray, and Bexley; crosses the river at the Erith-reach; proceeds across the Rainham-marshes; comprises Dagenham; skirts Romford; includes Henhault-forest and the greater portion of Eppingforest; touches Waltham-abbey and Cheshunt; comprehends Enfield and Chipping-Barnet; runs through Elstre and Stanmore; comprehends Harrow-on-the-Hill, Norwood, and Hounslow; embraces Twickenham and Teddington; seems to divide somewhat equally the domains of Busheypark and of Hampton-court Palace; then, crossing the river about midway between Thames Ditton and Kingston, the boundary line passes between Cheam and Ewell, and completes the circuit.

Over this large district, then, the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers is said to extend, and of the outlets of the sewers has already been spoken of as being situate at Hampton. The district yielding the amount of sewage which is assumed as being the gross wet house-refuse of the metropolis is, as we have seen, taken at square miles, and is comprised within a circle of about miles radius; this reaches only to Brixton, Dulwich, Greenwich, , Layton, Highgate, Hampstead, Bayswater, Kensington, Brompton, and Battersea. The actual jurisdiction of the Commissioners is, then, nearly times larger than the portion to which the estimated amount of the sewage of the metropolis refers.

The metropolitan district is still distinguished by the old divisions of the Tower Hamlets, Poplar and , and Finsbury, , &c.; but many of these divisions are now incorporated into district; of which there would appear to be but at present; or , inclusive of the City.

These are as follows:—

. Fulham and Hammersmith, Counter's Creek and Ranelagh districts.

. (Eastern and Western), , and .

. Finsbury, Tower Hamlets, Poplar, and .

. Districts south of the Thames, Eastern and Western.

. City.

The practical part or working of the Commis-


sion of Sewers is much less complicated at present than it was in the times of the independent districts and independent commissions.

The orders for all work to be done emanate from the court in , but the several surveyors, &c. (whose salaries, numbers, &c., are given below), can and do order on their responsibility any repair of a temporary character which is evidently pressing, and report it at the next court day. The Court meets weekly and monthly, and what may be styled the heavier portion of the business, as regards expenditure on great works, is more usually transacted at the monthly meetings, when the attendance is generally fuller; but the Court can, and sometimes does, meet much more frequently, and sometimes has adjourned from day to day.

Any private individual or any public body may make a communication or suggestion to the Court of Sewers, which, if it be in accordance with their functions, is taken into consideration at the next accruing court day, or as soon after as convenient. The Court in these cases either comes to a decision of adoption or rejection of any proposition, or refers it to of their engineers or surveyors for a report, or to a committee of the Commissioners, appointed by the Court; if the proposition be professional, as to defects, or alleged and recommended improvements in the local sewers, &c., it is referred to a professional gentleman for his opinion; if it be more general, as to the extension of sewerage to some new undertaking or meditated undertaking in the way of building new markets, streets, or any places, large and public; or in applications for the use and appropriation by enterprising men of sewage manure, it is referred to a committee.

On receiving such reports the Court makes an order according to its discretion. If the work to be done be extensive, it is entrusted to the chief engineer, and perhaps to a principal surveyor acting in accordance with him; if the work be more local, it is consigned to a surveyor. or other of these officers provides, or causes to be prepared, a plan and a description of the work to be done, and instructs the clerk of the works to procure estimates of the cost at which a contractor will undertake to execute this work, or, as it is often called by the labouring class, to "complete the " (a word at time singularly applicable). The estimates are sent by the competing builders, architects, general speculators, or by any wishing to contract, to the court house (without the intervention of any person, officially or otherwise) and they are submitted to the Board by their clerk. The lowest contract, as the sum total of the work, is most generally adopted, and when a contract has been accepted, the matter seems settled and done with, as regards the management of the Commissioners; for the contractor at once becomes responsible for the fulfilment of his contract, and may and does employ whom he pleases , without fear of any control or interference from the Court. The work, however, is superintended by the sur- veyors, to ensure its execution according to the provisions of the agreement. The contractor is paid by direct order of the Court.

The surveyors and clerks of works are mostly limited as to their labours to the several districts; but the superior officers are employed in all parts, and so, if necessary, are the subordinate officers when the work requires an extra staff.

According to the Returns, the following functionaries appear to be connected with the undermentioned districts:—

 Fulham, Hammersmith, Counter's Creek, and Ranelagh. Finsbury. 
 1 Clerk of the Works. 
 1 Inspector of Flushing. 
 1 Surveyor.   
 3 Clerks of the Works. Tower Hamlets, and Poplar and Blackwall. 
 1 Inspector of Flushing. 
 Eastern and Western Divisions of Westminster and Regent-street. 1 Surveyor, who has also the Finsbury division included in his district. 
 2 Clerks of the Works. 
 1 Surveyor, who has also the Holborn division to attend to. 2 Inspectors of Flushing. 
 2 Clerks of the Works. South of the Thames. Western Districts. 
 6 Flap and Sluice keepers. 1 Surveyor. 
   2 Clerks of the Works. 
 Holborn. 2 Inspectors of Flushing. 
 2 Clerks of the Works.   
 1 Inspector of Flushing. Eastern Districts. 
   1 Surveyor. 
   2 Clerks of the Works. 
   2 Inspectors of Flushing. 

What may be called the working staff of the Metropolitan Commissioners consists of the following functionaries, receiving the following salaries:—

       £ s. 
 Chairman, with a yearly salary of 1,000 0 
 Secretary, with a yearly salary of (besides an allowance of £ 100, in lieu of apartments) ........ 800 0 
 Clerk of minutes 350 0 
 Two clerks of do., (each with a salary of £ 150) .. 300 0 
 One do., with a salary of........ 120 0 
 One do. do. 105 0 
 One do. do. 95 0 
 One do. do. 90 0 
 Accountant do. 350 0 
 Accountant's clerk do. .......... 150 0 
 Do   do. 80 0 
 Clerk of surveyors' and contractors' accounts .. 200 0 
 Do.   do. 125 0 
 Do.   do. 110 0 
 Clerk of rates.... 250 0 
 Another do....... 180 0 
 Do. do....... 110 0 
 Do. do....... 90 0 
 Engineer ........ 1,000 0 
 For travelling expenses .......... 200 0 
 Surveyor for Fulham and Hammersmith, Counter's Creek, and Ranelagh districts .......... 350 0 
 Clerk of works (Hammers mith) 150 0 
 Do. (Counter's Creek).......... 150 0 
 Do. (Ranelagh).. 150 0 
 Inspector of flushing ........ 80 0 
 Surveyor of eastern and western divisions of Westminster, and of Regent-st. and Holborn divisions............ 300 0 
 Two clerks of works (eastern and western and Regent--street), with a salary of £ 300 each ...... 600 0 
 Two do. (Holborn), with a salary of £ 150 each............ 300 0 
 Inspector of flushing ........ 80 0 
 Surveyor of Finsbury, Tower Hamlets, and Poplar and Blackwall ...... 300 0 
 Clerk of works (Finsbury)...... 150 0 
 Inspector of flushing ........ 80 0 
 Two clerks of works (Tower Hamlets, and Poplar and Blackwall), with a salary of £ 150 each .......... 300 0 
 Two inspectors of flushings with a salary of £ 80 each ...... 160 0 
 One marsh bailiff 65 0 
 Surveyor of the western districts south of the Thames ........ 300 0 
 Do., eastern do. 250 0 
 Clerk of works (eastern portion) 164 0 
 Two inspectors of flushing, £ 80 each............ 160 0 
 One wallreeve .. 22 8 
 Clerk of works (western portion) 164 0 
 Do. do. 150 0 
 Two inspectors of flushing, with a salary of £ 80 each............ 160 0 
 Two engineer's clerks, with a salary of £ 150 each............ 300 0 
 One do. 150 0 
 One do. 100 0 
 One do. 80 0 
 One by-law clerk 150 0 
 Twenty-two flap and sluice keepers ........ 892 12 
 Surveyor (of the surveying and drawing staff) .. 250 0 
 Drawing clerk .. 150 0 
 Two do., with a salary of £ 130 each .......... 260 0 
 Five do., with a salary of £ 105 each .......... 525 0 
 One do.......... 50 0 
 Six surveyors, with a salary of £ 100 each ...... 600 0 
 Six chainmen, 18s. a week each .... 280 0 
 Office-keeper and crier (general service) ........ 120 0 
 Bailiff, &c...... 100 0 
 Strong-room keeper .............. 80 0 
 One messenger .. 70 0 
 Two do., £ 40 each 80 0 
 Three errandboys, £ 32 each.. 96 0 
 Housekeeper .... 150 0 
 Yearly total £ 13,874 0 



This is called a "reduced" staff, and the reduction of salaries is certainly very considerable.

If we consider the yearly emoluments of tradesmen in businesses requiring no great extent of education or general intelligence, the salaries of the surveyors, clerk of the works, &c., must appear very far from extravagant; and when we consider their responsibility and what may be called their removability, some of the salaries may be pronounced mean; for I think it must be generally admitted by all, except the narrowminded, who look merely at the immediate outlay as the be-all and the end-all of every expenditure, that if the surveyors, clerks of works, inspectors of flushing, &c., be the best men who could be procured (as they ought to be), or at any rate be thorough masters of their craft, they are rather underpaid than overpaid.

The above statement may be analysed in the following manner:—

   £ s. £ 
 Chairman . . .     1,000 
 Secretary and 7 clerks . 1860 0   
 Accountant and 5 clerks . 1015 0   
 Clerk of rates and 3 clerks . . . . 630 0   
   ------ 3,505 
 Engineer and 5 clerks . 1830 0   
 7 surveyors, of surveying and drawing staff, with 6 chainmen and 9 drawing clerks . . . . 2125 0   
 5 district surveyors . 1500 0   
 12 clerks of works . 2278 0   
 9 inspectors of flushing 720 0   
 22 flap and sluice keepers . . . . 892 12   
 Bailiff, marsh-bailliff, and wallreeve . . . 187 8   
   -------- 9,533 
 Office keeper, strong-room keeper, and housekeeper . 350 0   
 3 messengers and 3 errand-boys . . . 246 0   
   ------ 596 
       £ 14,634 

The cost of rent, taxes, stationery, and office incidentals, is now , which makes the total yearly outlay amount to upwards of The annual cost of the staff in the secretary's department is said to have been reduced from to ; in the engineers' department from to In the general service there has been an increase from to

A deputation who waited lately upon Lord John Russell is said to have declared the expenses of the Commissioners' office to be at the rate of from to per cent. on the amount of rate collected. The sum collected in the year averaged The cost of management in that year was ; this, it will be seen, is per cent of the gross income.

The annual statement of the receipts and expenditure under the Commission for the year has just been published, but not from this it appears that in —

   £ s. d. 
 The balance of cash in hand was . . . . . 5,750 9 11 
 The total receipts during the year have amounted to . . 129,000 0 9 
 Making together . . . 134,750 10 8 

The expenditure, as returned under the general head, is—

 For work . . . . £ 95,539 19 3 
 (This item includes the cost of supervision and compensation for damages.)       
 The cost of surveys has been 6,332 19 9 
 Management . . . 16,430 9 2 
 Loans . . . . 10,442 10 2 
 Contingencies . . . 2,749 1 1 
 Total payments . . . 131,494 19 5 
 Balance in hand . . £ 3,355 11 3 

As an instance of the mismanagement of the sewers work of the metropolis, it is but right that the subjoined document should be published.

I need not offer any comment on the following "Return to an Address of the Honourable the , dated ," except that I was told early in January, on good authority, that the matter was now worse than it was when reported as follows:—

With reference to the orders of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Woods, &c., I have the honour to state that, since the (when I last sent in a memorandum), I have frequently visited the several Crown buildings affected by the building of the main public sewer


for draining ; viz., the Earl of Malmsbury's, the Exchequer Bill Office, the United Service Museum, Lord Liverpool's, Mr. Vertue's, Mr. Alderman Thompson's, and Messrs. Dalgleish's.

All these buildings have been more or less damaged by the construction of the sewer; the Exchequer Bill Office, the United Service Museum, and Mr. Vertue's, in a manner that, in my opinion, can

At Lord Malmsbury's, the party wall next to the Exchequer Bill Office has , as shown by some cracks in the staircase; but for this house it may not be necessary to require more to be done than stopping and painting.

At the Exchequer Bill Office, the old Gothic groins have been cracked in several places, and several settlements have taken place in the walls over and near to where the sewer passes under the building. The shores are still standing against this building, but it would now be better to remove them; the cracks in the groins and walls to render the building so substantial as it was before. The cracks in the basement still from month to month show a very slight movement; those in the staircase and roof also appear to increase. As respects this building, I would submit to the Commissioners of Woods that it but I would suggest that a careful survey be made by surveyors appointed respectively by the Board of Woods and the Commissioners of Sewers, and that a thorough repair of the building be made (so far as it is susceptible of repair), under the Board of Woods; the Commissioners of Sewers paying such proportion of the cost thereof as may fairly be deemed to have been occasioned by their proceedings.

At the United Service Museum, the settlements on the side next the sewer appear to me very serious.

The house occupied by Lord Liverpool, as also Mr. Vertue's house, of which his Lordship is Crown lessee, were both affected, the former to some extent, but not seriously; of the latter, the west front sunk, and pulled over the whole house with it; but as respects these houses the interference of the Board is, I believe, unnecessary, Mr. Hardwicke ( of the Sewer Commissioners) having, as architect for Lord Liverpool, caused both to be repaired.

A like repair has also been made in the kitchen offices of Mr. Alderman Thompson's house, where alone any cracks appeared.

At Messrs. Dalgleish and Taylor's, very serious injury has been done to both their buildings and their trade. The Commissioners of Sewers have a steam-engine still at work on those premises, and have not yet concluded their operations there. Some of the sheds which entirely fell down they have rebuilt; and others, which appear in a very defective if not dangerous state, it is understood they propose to repair or rebuild; but as eventually Messrs. Dalgleish and Taylor will have a very heavy claim against them for interference with business, and as the extent of damage to the buildings which has been done, or may hereafter arise, cannot at present be fully ascertained, it would probably be advisable to postpone this part of the subject, giving notice, however, to the Commissionors of Sewers that it must hereafter come under consideration.

(Signed) . .

"Under the order of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Woods, &c., of yesterday's date, endorsed on a letter from Mr. Tonna, I have inspected the United Service Institution in Yard, and find most of the cracks have moved.

The movement, though slight, and not showing immediate danger, is more than I had anticipated would occur within so short a period when I reported on the instant. It tends to confirm the opinion therein given, and shows the necessity for immediate precaution, and for a thorough repair.

(Signed) . .

 SEYMOUR, Commissioners of Her Majesty's Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works, and Buildings. 
 Charles Gore, 

Office of Woods, &c. .

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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