London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day.
THE chimney-sweepers of the present day are distinguished from those of old by the use of machines instead of climbing boys, for the purpose of removing the soot from the flues of houses.
The chimney-sweeping machines were used in this country in the year . They were the invention of Mr. Smart, a carpenter, residing at the foot of Westminster-bridge, Surrey. On the earlier trials of the machine (which was similar to that used at present, and which I shall shortly describe), it was pronounced successful in cases out of , according to some accounts, but failing where sharp angles occurred in the flue, which arrested its progress.
The society for the supersedence of the labour of climbing boys promoted the adoption of the machines by all the means in their power, presenting the new instrument gratuitously to several master sweepers who were too poor to purchase it. Experiments were made and duly published as to the effectual manner in which the chimneys at , the , the then new , Dulwich College, and in other public edifices, had been cleansed by the machine. But these statements seem to have produced little effect. People thought, perhaps, that the mechanical means which might very well cleanse the chimneys of large public buildings—and it was said that the chimneys of the were built with a view to the use of the machine— might not be so serviceable for the same purposes in small private dwellings. Experiments continued to be made, often in the presence of architects, of the more respectable sweepers, and of ladies and gentlemen who took a philanthropic interest in the question, between the years and , but with little influence upon the general public, for in Mr. Smart supposed that there were but or machines in general use in the metropolis, and those, it appeared from the evidence of several master sweepers, were used chiefly in gentlemen's houses, many of those gentlemen having to be authoritative with their servants, who, if not controlled, always preferred the services of the climbing boys. Most servants had perquisites from the master sweepers, in the largest and most profitable ways of business, and they seemed to fear the loss of those perquisites if any change took place.
The opposition in Parliament, and in the general indifference of the people, to the efforts of "the friends of the climbing boy" to supersede his painful labours by the use of machinery, was formidable enough, but that of the servants appears to have been more formidable still. Mr. Smart showed this in his explanations to the Committee. The whole result of his experience was that servants set their faces against the introduction of the machine, grumbling if there were not even the appearance of dirt on the furniture after its use. "The winter I went out with this machine," said Mr. Smart, "I went to Mr. Burke's in , who was a friend of mine, with a man to sweep the chimneys, and after waiting above an hour in a cold morning, the housekeeper came down quite in a rage, that we should presume to ring the bell or knock at the door; and when we got admittance, she swore she wished the machine and the inventor at the devil; she did not know me. We swept all the chimneys, and when we had done I asked her what objection she had to it now; she said, a very serious , that if there was a thing by which a servant could get any emolument, some d——d invention was sure to take it away from them, for that she received perquisites."
This avowal of Mr. Burke's housekeeper, as brusque as it was honest, is typical of the feelings of the whole class of servants.
The opposition in Parliament, as I have intimated, continued. noble lord informed the House of Peers that he had been indisposed of late and had sought the aid of calomel, the curative influence of which had pervaded every portion of his frame; and that it as far surpassed the less searching powers of other medicines, as the brush of the climbing boy in cleansing every nook and corner of the chimney, surpassed all the power of the machinery, which left the soot unpurged from those nooks and corners.
The , however, had expressed its conviction that as long as master chimneysweepers were permitted to employ climbing boys, the natural result of that permission would be the continuance of those miseries which the Legislature had sought, but which it had failed, to put an end to; and they therefore recommended that the use of climbing boys should be prohibited altogether; and that the age at which the apprenticeship should commence should be extended from to , putting this trade upon the same footing as others which took apprentices at that age.
This resolution became law in . The employment of climbing boys in any manner in the interior of chimneys was prohibited under penalties of fine and imprisonment; and it was enacted that the new measure should be carried into effect in years, so giving the master sweepers that period of time to complete their arrangements. During the course of the experiments and inquiry, the sweepers, as a body, seem to have thrown no obstacles, or very few and slight obstacles, in the way of the "Committee to promote the Superseding of the Labour of Climbing Boys;" while the most respectable of the class, or the majority of the respectable, aided the efforts of the Committee.
This manifestation of public feeling probably modified the opposition of the sweepers, and unquestionably influenced the votes of members of Parliament. The change in the operations of the chimney-sweeping business took place in , as quietly and unnoticedly as if it were no change at all.
The machine now in use differs little from that invented by Mr. Smart, the introduced, but lighter materials are now used in its manufacture. It has not been found necessary, however, to complicate its use with the jack-chain and pulley, and bullet with a brush attached, and the iron shutters or registers in the roof or cockloft, of which Mr. Tooke spoke.
The machine is formed of a series of hollow rods, made of a supple cane, bending and not breaking in any sinuosity of the flues. This cane is made of the same material as gentlemen's walking-sticks. The machines were made of wood, and were liable to be broken; and to enable the sweeps on such occasions to recover the broken part, a strong line ran from bottom to top through the centre of the sticks, which were bored for the purpose, and strung on this cord. The cane machine, however, speedily and effectually superseded these imperfect instruments; and there are now none of them to be met with. To
|the top tube of the machine is attached the "brush," called technically "the head," of elastic whalebone spikes, which "give" and bend, in accordance with the up or down motion communicated by the man working the machine, so sweeping what was described to me as "both ways," up and down.|
Some of these rods, which fit into another by means of brass screws, are feet inches long, and diminish in diameter to suit their adjustment. Some rods are but feet inches long, and feet is the full average length; while the average price at the machine maker's is a rod, if bought separately. The head costs , on an average, if bought separately. It is seldom that a machine is required to number beyond rods (extending feet), and the better class of sweepers are generally provided with rods. The cost of the entire machine, for every kind of chimney-work, when purchased new, as a whole, is, when of good quality, from to , according to the number of rods, duplicate rods, &c. Mr. Smart stated, in , that the average price of of his machines was then
The sweepers who labour chiefly in the poorer localities—and several told me how indifferent many people in those parts were as to their chimneys being swept at all—rarely use a machine to extend beyond feet, or composed of or rods; but some of the inferior class of sweepers buy of those in a superior way of trade worn machines, at from a to a half of the prime cost. These machines they trim up themselves. portion of the work, however, they cannot repair or renew—the broken or worn-out brass screws of the rods, which they call the "ferules." These, when new, are each. There were, when the machine-work was novel, I was informed, street-artizans who went about repairing these screws or ferules; but their work did not please the chimney-sweepers, and this street-trade did not last above a year or .
The rods of the machine, when carefully attended to, last a long time. man told me that he was still working some rods which he had worked since ( years), with occasional renewal of the ferules. The head is either injured or worn down in about years; if not well made at , in a year. The diameter of this head or brush is, on the average, inches. of my informants had himself swept a chimney of feet, and of his fellow-workers had said that he once swept a chimney of feet high; in both cases by means of the machine. My informant, however, thought such a feat as the -feet sweep was hardly possible, as only man's strength can be applied to the machine; and he was of opinion that no man's muscular powers would be sufficient to work a machine at a height of feet. The labour is sometimes very severe; "enough," stronglybuilt man told me, "to make your arms, head, and heart ache."
The old-fashioned chimneys are generally by inches in their dimensions in the interior; and for the thorough sweeping of such chimneys— the opinion of all the sweepers I saw according on the subject—a head (it is rarely called brush in the trade) of inches diameter is insufficient, yet they are seldom used larger. intelligent master sweeper, speaking from his own knowledge, told me that in the neighbourhood where he worked numbers of houses had been built since the introduction of the machines, and the chimneys were only inches square, as regards the interior; the smaller flues are sometimes but . These -inch chimneys, he told me, were frequent in "scamped" houses, houses got up at the lowest possible rate by speculating builders. This was done because the brickwork of the chimneys costs more than the other portions of the masonry, and so the smaller the dimensions of the chimneys the less the cost of the edifice. The machines are sometimes as much crippled in this circumscribed space as they are found of insufficient dimensions in the old-fashioned chimneys; and so the "scamped" chimney, unless by a master having many "heads," is not so cleanly swept as it might be. Chimneys not built in this manner are now usually inches by .
In cleansing a chimney with the machine the sweep stands by, or rather in, the fire-place, having attached a sort of curtain to the mantle to confine the soot to spot, the operator standing inside this curtain. He introduces the "head," attached to its proper rod, into the chimney, "driving" it forward, then screws on the next rod, and so on, until the head has been driven to the top of the chimney. The soot which has fallen upon the hearth, within the curtain, is collected into a sack or sacks, and is carried away on the men's backs, and occasionally in carts. The whalebone spikes of the head are made to extend in every direction, so that when it is moved no part of the chimney, if the surface be even, escapes contact with these spikes, if the work be carefully done, as indeed it generally is; for the cleaner the chimney is swept of course the greater amount of soot adds to the profit of the sweeper. man told me that he thought he had seen in some old big chimneys, a long time unswept, more soot brought down by the machine than, under similar circumstances as to the time the chimney had remained uncleansed, would have been done by the climbing boy.
All the master sweepers I saw concurred in the opinion that the machine was in all respects so effective a sweeper as the climbing boy, as it does not reach the recesses, nooks, crannies, or holes in the chimney, where the soot remains little disturbed by the present process. This want is felt the most in the cleansing of the old-fashioned chimneys, especially in the country.
Mr. Cook, in , stated to the Committee that the cleansing of a chimney by a boy or by a machine occupied the same space of time; but I find the general opinion of the sweepers now to be that it is only the small and straight chimneys which can be swept with as great celerity by a machine as by a climber; in all others the lad was quicker by about minutes in , or in that proportion.
I heard sweepers represent that the passing of the Act of Parliament not only deprived them in many instances of the unexpired term of a boy's apprenticeship in his services as a climber, but "threw open the business to any ." The business, however, it seems, was always "open to any ." There was no art nor mystery in it, as regarded the functions of the master; any could send a boy up a chimney, and collect and carry away the soot he brought down, quite as readily and far more easily than he can work a machine. Nevertheless, men under the old system could hardly (and some say they were forbidden to) embark in this trade unless they had been apprenticed to it; for they were at a loss how to possess themselves of climbing boys, and how to make a connection. When the machines were introduced, however, a good many persons who were able to "raise the price" of started in the line on their own account. These men have been called by the old hands "leeks" or "green 'uns," to distinguish them from the regularly-trained men, who pride themselves not a little on the fact of their having served or years, "duly and truly," as they never fail to express it. This increase of fresh hands tended to lower the earnings of the class; and some masters, who were described to me as formerly very "comfortable," and some, comparatively speaking, rich, were considerably reduced by it. The number of "leeks" in I heard stated, with the exaggeration to which I have been accustomed when uninformed men, ignorant of the relative value of numbers, have expressed their opinions, as !
The several classes in the chimney-sweeping trade may be arranged as follows:—
The , called sometimes "Governors" by the journeymen, are divisible into kinds:—
The "large" or "high masters," who employ from to men and boys, and keep sometimes horses and a cart, not particularly for the conveyance of the soot, but to go into the country to a gentleman's house to fulfil orders.
The "small" or "low masters," who employ, on an average, men, and sometimes but man and a boy, without either horse or cart.
The "single-handed master-men," who employ neither men nor boys, but do all the work themselves.
Of these classes of masters there are subdivisions.
The "leeks" or "green-uns," that is to say, those who have not regularly served their time to the trade.
The "knullers" or "queriers," that is to say, those who solicit custom in an irregular manner, by knocking at the doors of houses and such like.
Of the competition of capitalists in this trade there are, I am told, no instances. "We have our own stations," master sweeper said, "and if I contract to sweep a genelman's house, here in Pancras, for a year, or , or anythink, my nearest neighbour, as has men and machines fit, is in Marrybun; and it wouldn't pay to send his men a mile and a half, or on to mile, and work at what I can—let alone less. No, sir, I've known bisness nigh year, and there's nothink in the way of that underworking. The poor creeturs as keeps theirselves with a machine, and nothing to give them a lift beyond it, undertake work at any figure, but nobody employs or can trust to them, but on chance." The contracts, I am told, for a year's chimney-sweeping in any mansion are on the same terms with master as with another.
As regards the there are also kinds:—
The "foreman" or " journeyman" sweeper, who accompanies the men to their work, superintends their labours, and receives the money, when paid immediately after sweeping.
The "journeyman" sweeper, whose duty it is to work the machine, and (where no underjourney- man, or boy, is kept) to carry the machine and take home the soot.
The "under-journeyman" or "boy," who has to carry the machine, take home the soot, and work the machine up the lower-class flues.
There are, besides these, some climbing men, who ascend such flues as the machines cannot cleanse effectually, and, it must, I regret to say, be added, some to climbing boys, mostly under years of age, who are still used for the same purpose "on the sly." Many of the masters, indeed, lament the change to machinesweeping, saying that their children, who are now useless, would, in "the good old times," have been worth a pound a week to them. It is in the suburbs that these climbing children are mostly employed.
The are from the earliest morning till about midday, and sometimes later.
There are , trade societies, or regulations among these operatives, but there are low public-houses to which they resort, and where they can always be heard of.
When a chimney-sweeper is out of work he merely inquires of others in the same line of business, who, if they know of any that wants a journeyman, direct their brother sweeper to call and see the master; but though the chimneysweepers have no trade societies, some of the better class belong to sick, and others to burial, funds. The lower class of sweepers, however, seem to have no resource in sickness, or in their utmost need, but the parish. There are sweepers, I am told, in every workhouse in London.
There are among the sweepers:—
, in money;
, partly in money and partly in kind; and
, by perquisites.
The great majority of the masters pay the men they employ from to , and a few and per week, together with their board and lodging. It may seem that per week is a small sum, but it was remarked to me that there are few working men who, after supporting themselves, are able to save that sum weekly, while the sweepers have many perquisites of sort or
|other, which sometimes bring them in , , , , and occasionally or , a week additional —a sufficient sum to pay for clothes and washing. The journeymen, when lodged in the house of the master, are single men, and if constantly employed might, perhaps, do well, but they are often unemployed, especially in the summer, when there are not so many fires kept burning. As soon as of them gets married, or what among them is synonymous, "takes up with a woman," which they commonly do when they are able to purchase some sort of a machine, they set up for themselves, and thus a great number of the men get to be masters on their own account, without being able to employ any extra hands. These are generally reckoned among the "knullers;" they do but little business at , for the masters long established in a neighbourhood, who are known to the people, and have some standing, are almost always preferred to those who are strangers or mere beginners.|
It was very common, but perhaps more common in country towns than in London, for the journeymen, as well as apprentices, in this and many other trades to live at the master's table. But the board and lodging supplied, in lieu of money-wages, to the journeymen sweepers, seems to be of the few existing instances of such a practice in London. Among slop-working tailors and shoemakers, some unfortunate workmen are boarded and lodged by their employers, but these employers are merely middlemen, who gain their living by serving such masters as "do not like to drive their negroes themselves." But among the sweepers there are no middlemen.
It is not all the journeymen sweepers, however, who are remunerated after this manner, for many receive , and some , and not a few weekly, besides perquisites, but reside at their own homes.
is now not at all common among the sweepers, as no training to the business is needed. Lord Shaftesbury, however, in July last, gave notice of his intention to bring in a bill to prevent persons who had not been duly apprenticed to the business establishing themselves as sweepers.
of the journeymen sweepers are for measuring, arranging, and putting the soot sold into the purchasers' sacks, or carts; for this is considered extra work. The payment of this perquisite seems to be on no fixed scale, some having for , and some for bushels. When a chimney is on fire and a journeyman sweeper is employed to extinguish it, he receives from to according to the extent of time consumed and the risk of being injured. "Chance sweeping," or the sweeping of a chimney not belonging to a customer, when a journeyman has completed his regular round, ensures him in some employments, but in fewer than was once the case. The beer-money given by any customer to a journeyman is also his perquisite. Where a foreman is kept, the "brieze," or cinders collected from the grate, belong to him, and the ashes belong to the journeyman; but where there is no foreman, the brieze and ashes belong to the journeyman solely. These they sell to the poor at the rate of a bushel. I am told by experienced men that, all these matters considered, it may be stated that -half of the journeymen in London have perquisites of , the other half of a week.
to the journeymen, then, are from to weekly, without board and lodging, or from to in money, with board and lodging, represented as equal to
are a week more in the form of perquisites, and perhaps daily in beer or gin.
The wages to the boys are mostly a week, but many masters pay to , with board and lodging. These boys have no perquisites, except such bits of broken victuals as are given to them at houses where they go to sweep.
The wages of the foreman are generally per week, but some receive and some without board and lodging. In case, where the foreman is kept by the master, only in money is given to him weekly. The perquisites of these men average from to a week.
The sweepers whose circumstances enable them to employ journeymen send them on regular rounds, and do not engage "chance" hands. If business is brisk, the men and the master, when a working man himself, work later than ordinary, and sometimes another hand is put on and paid the customary amount, by the week, until the briskness ceases; but this is a rare occurrence. There are, however, strong lads, or journeymen out of work, who are employed in "," helping to carry the soot and such like.
The labour of the journeymen, as regards the payment by their masters, is , but the men are often discharged for drunkenness, or for endeavouring to "form a connection of their own" among their employers' customers, and new hands are then put on. "Chimneys won't wait, you know, sir," was said to me, "and if I quit a hand this week, there's another in his place next. If I discharge a hand for months in a slack time, I have on when it's a busy time." Perhaps the average employment of the whole body of operatives may be taken at months' work in the year. When out of employment the chief resource of these men is in night-work; some turn street-sellers and bricklayers' labourers.
I am told that a considerable sum of money was left for the purpose of supplying every climbing-boy who called on the at a certain place, with a shilling and some refreshment, but I have not been able to ascertain by whom it was left, or where it was distributed; none of the sweepers with whom I conversed knew anything about it. I also heard, that since the passing of the Act, the money has been invested in some securities or other, and is now accumulating, but to what purpose it is intended to be applied I have no means of learning.
Let us now endeavour to estimate the gross yearly income of the operative sweepers.
There are, then, men employed as journeymen, and of them receive a money wage weekly from their masters, and reside with their parents or at their own places. The remaining are boarded and lodged. This board and lodging are generally computed, as under the old system, to represent , being a day for board and a week for lodging. But, on the average, the board does not cost the masters a week, but, as I shall afterwards show, barely
The men and boys may be said to be all fully employed for months in the year; some, of course, are at work all the year through, but others get only months' employment in the months; so that taking months as the average, we have the following table of
Thus we find that the or wages of the several classes of operative chimneysweepers may be taken as follows:—
The wages of the trade, including foreman, journeymen, and boys, and calculating the perquisites to average weekly, will be a week, the same as the cotton factory operatives.
But if be the income of the operatives, what do the employers receive who have to pay this sum?
The charge for sweeping of the lofty chimneys in the public and official edifices, and in the great houses in the aristocratic streets and squares, is and
The chimneys of moderate-sized houses are swept at to each, and those of the poorer classes are charged generally ; some, however, are swept at and ; and when soot realized a higher price (some of the present master sweepers sold it at a bushel), the chimneys of poor persons were swept by the poorer class of sweeps merely for the perquisite of the soot. This is sometimes done even now, but to a very small extent, by a sweeper, "on his own hook," and in want of a job, but generally with an injunction to the person whose chimney has been cleansed on such easy terms, not to mention it, as it "couldn't be made a practice on."
Estimating the number of houses belonging to the wealthy classes of society to be , and these to be swept times a year, and the charge for sweeping to be each time; and the number of houses belonging to the middle classes to be , and each to be swept times a year, at each time; and the dwellings of the poor and labouring classes to be swept once a year at each time, and the number of such dwellings to be , we find that the total sum paid to the master chimney-sweepers of London is, in round numbers,
The sum obtained for bushels of soot collected by the master-sweepers from the houses of London, at per bushel, is
Thus the total annual income of the mastersweepers of London is
Out of this per annum, the expenses of the masters would appear to be as follows:—
The rent here given may seem low at a year, but many of the chimney-sweepers live in parlours, with cellars below, in old out-of-the-way places, at a low rental, in Stepney, , , Bethnal-green, , Lock's-fields, , , , Somers-town, Paddington, &c. The better sort of mastersweep- ers at the West-end often live in a mews.
The gains, then, of the master sweepers are as under:—
This amount of profit, divided among masters, gives about per annum to each individual; it is only by a few, however, that such a sum is realized, as in the paid by the London public to the sweepers' trade, is included the sum received by the men who work single-handed, "on their own hook," as they say, employing no journeymen. Of these men's earnings, the accounts I heard from themselves and the other master sweepers were all accordant, that they barely made journeymen's wages. They have the very worst-paid portion of the trade, receiving neither for their sweeping nor their soot the prices obtained by the better masters; indeed they very frequently sell their soot to their more prosperous brethren. Their general statement is, that they make "eighteen pence a day, and all told." Their receipts then, and they have no perquisites as have the journeymen, are, in a slack time, about a day (and some days they do not get a job); but in the winter they are busier, as it is then that sweepers are employed by the poor; and at that period the "master-men" may make from to a week each; so that, I am assured, the average of their weekly takings may be estimated at
Now, deducting the expenditure from the receipts of (for sweeping and soot), the balance, as we have seen, is , an amount of profit which, if equally divided among the classes of the trade, will give the following sums:—
Nor is this estimate of the masters' profits, I
|am assured, extravagant. of the smaller sweepers, but a prosperous man in his way, told me that he knew a master sweeper who was "as rich as Crœser, had bought houses, and could, not write his own name."|
We have now but to estimate the amount of capital invested in the chimney-sweepers' trade, and then to proceed to the characteristics of the men.
It may be thought that the sweepers will require the services of more than horses, but I am assured that such is not the case as regards the soot business, for the soot is carted away from the sweepers' premises by the farmer or other purchaser.
It would appear, then, that the facts of the chimney-sweepers' trade are briefly as under:—
The gross quantity of soot collected yearly throughout London is bushels. The value of this, sold as manure, at per bushel, is
There are to people employed in the trade, of whom are masters employing journeymen, single-handed master-men, and journeymen and under journeymen.
The annual income of the entire number of journeymen is without perquisites, or with, which gives an average weekly wage to the operatives of
The annual income of the masters and leeks is, for sweeping and soot,
The annual expenditure of the masters for rent, keep of horses, wear and tear, and wages, is
The gross annual profit of the masters is , which is at the rate of about per annum to each of the single-handed men, to each of the smaller masters employing journeymen, and to each of the larger masters.
The capital of the trade is about
by the "high master sweepers" for cleaning the flues of a house rented at a year and upwards, is from to (the higher price being paid for sweeping those chimneys which have a hot plate affixed). A small master, on the other hand, will charge from to for the same kind of work, while a single-handed man seldom gets above "a job," and that not very often. The charge for sweeping the flues of a house rented at from to a year, is from to by a large master, and from to by a small master, while a singlehanded man will take the job at from to The price charged per flue for a house rented at from a year up to a year, will average a flue, charged by large masters, by small masters, and from to by the single-handed sweepers in some cases; indeed, the poorest class will sweep a flue for the soot only. But the prices charged for sweeping chimneys differ in the different parts of the metropolis. I subjoin a list of the maximum and minimum charge for the several districts.
N.B.—The single-handed and the knullers generally charge a penny less than the prices above given.
—the best is produced purely from coal; the next in value is that which proceeds from the combustion of vegetable refuse along with the coal, as in cases where potato peelings, cabbage leaves, and the like, are burnt in the fires of the poorer classes; while the soot produced from wood fires is, I am told, scarcely worth carriage. Woodsoot, however, is generally mixed with that from coal, and sold as the superior kind.
Not only is there a difference in value in the various kinds of soot, but there is also a vast difference in the weight. A bushel of pure coal soot will not weigh above ; that produced from the combustion of coal and vegetable refuse will weigh nearly thrice as much; while that from wood fires is, I am assured, nearly times heavier than from coal.
I have not heard that the introduction of free trade has had any influence on the value of soot, or in reducing the wages of the operatives. The same wages are paid to the operatives whether soot sells at a high or low price.