London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose.


HAVING now ascertained the quantity of wet house-refuse annually deposited in the cesspools of the metropolis, the next step is to show the means by which these cubic feet of cesspoolage are removed, and whence they are conveyed, as well as the condition of the labourers engaged in the business.

There are methods of removing the soil from the tanks:—

. By pump and hose, or the hydraulic method;

. By shovel and tube, or manual labour.

The of these is the new French mode, and the other the old English method of performing the work. The distinctive feature between the is, that in the case the refuse is discharged by means of pipes into the sewers, and in the other that it is conveyed by means of carts to some distant night-yard.

According to the French method, therefore, the cesspoolage ultimately becomes sewage, the refuse being deposited in a cesspool for a greater or a less space of time, and finally discharged into the sewers; so that it is a kind of intermediate process between the cesspool system and the sewer system of defecating a town, being, as it were, a compound of the .

The great advantage of the sewer system, as contradistinguished from the cesspool system of defecation, is, that it admits of the wet refuse being removed from the neighbourhood of the house as soon as it is produced; while the advantage of the cesspool system, as contradistinguished from the sewer system, is, that it prevents the contamination of the river whence the town draws its principal supply of water. The cesspool system of defecation remedies the main evil of the sewer system, and the sewer system the main evil of the cesspool system. The French mode of emptying cesspools, however, appears to have the peculiar property of combining the ill effects of both systems without the advantages of either. The refuse of the house not only remains rotting and seething for months under the noses of the household, but it is ultimately—that is, after more than a year's decomposition—washed into the stream from which the inhabitants are supplied with water, and so returned to them diluted in the form of , for washing, cooking, or drinking. The sole benefit accruing from the French mode of nightmanship is, that it performs a noisome operation in a comparatively cleanly manner; but surely this is a small compensation for the evils attendant upon it. The noses of those who prefer stagnant cesspools to rapid sewers cannot be so particularly sensitive, that for the sake of avoiding the smell of the nightman's cart they would rather that its contents should be discharged into the water that they use for household purposes.

The hydraulic or pump-and hose method of emptying the cesspools is now practised by the Court of Sewers, who introduced the process into London in the winter of . The apparatus used in this country consists of an hydraulic pump, which is generally placed or feet distant from, but sometimes close to, the cesspool—indeed, on its edge. It is worked by men, "just up and down," as of the labourers described it to me, "like a fire-engine." A suction-pipe, with an iron nozzle, is placed in the cesspool, into which is introduced a deodorising fluid, in the proportion, as well as can be estimated, of a pint to a square yard of matter, and diluted with water from the fire-plugs.

The pipes are of leather, the suction-pipes being wrapped with spring-iron wire at the joints. India-rubber pipes were used, and "answered very tidy," of the gangers told me, but they were too expensive, the material being soon worn out: they were only tried or months. The pipes now employed differ in no respect of size or appearance from the leathern fire-engine pipes; and as the work is always done in the daytime, and no smell arises from it, the neighbourhood is often alarmed, and people begin to ask where the fire is. outsideman said, "Why, that's always asked. I've been asked—ay, I dare say a times in a day—'Where's the fire? where's the fire?'" A cesspool, by this process, has been


emptied into a sewer at yards distant. The pipe is placed within the nearest gullyhole, down which the matter is washed into the sewer. When the cesspool is emptied, it is well sluiced with water; the water is pumped into the sewer, and then the work is complete.

The pumping is occasionally very hard work, making the shoulders and back ache grievously; indeed, some cesspools have been found so long neglected, and so choked with rags and rubbish, that manual labour had to be resorted to, and the matter dug and tubbed out, after the old mode of the nightmen. A square yard of cesspoolage is cleared out, under ordinary circumstances, in an hour; while an average duration of time for the cleansing of a regularlysized cesspool is from to hours.

A pneumatic pump, with an iron cart, drawn by horses (similar to the French invention), was tried as an experiment, but discontinued in a fortnight.

For the hydraulic method of emptying cesspools, a gang of men, under the direction of a ganger, who makes a , is required.

The is as follows:—

. The pumpmen, who, as their name implies, work the engine or pumps.

. The holeman, who goes into the cesspool and stirs up the matter, so as to make it as fluid as possible.

. The outsideman, whose business it is to attend to the pipe, which reaches from the cesspool, along the surface of the street, or other place, to the gullyhole.

. The ganger, who is the superintendent of the whole, and is only sometimes present at the operation; he is not unfrequently engaged, while cesspool is being emptied, in making an examination or any necessary arrangement for the opening of another. He also gives notice (acting under the instruction of the clerk of the works) to the water company of the district, that the pumps will be at work in this or that place, a notice generally given a day in advance, and the water is supplied gratuitously, from a street fire-plug, and used at discretion, some cesspool contents requiring times more water than others to liquefy them sufficient for pumping.

The cesspool-pumping gangs are in number, each consisting of men, although the "outsideman" is sometimes a strong youth of or eighteen. The whole work is done by a contractor, who makes an agreement with the Court of Sewers, and finds the necessary apparatus, appointing his own labourers. All the present labourers, however, have been selected as trusty men from among the flushermen, the contractor concurring in the recommendation of the clerk of the works, or the inspector. The cesspool-sewermen work in districts. divisions (east and west) of ; Finsbury and ; Surrey and Kent; Tower Hamlets (now including Poplar); and the City. The districts vary in size, but there is usually a gang devoted to each: in case of emergency, however, a gang from another district (as among the flushermen) is sent to expedite any pressing work. All the men are paid by the job, the payment being each per job, to the pumpmen and holeman, and to the ganger; but in addition to the per job, the holeman has a-day extra; and the outsideman has a-day from the he would earn in jobs, which is a frequent day's work. The men told me that they had or and a-half days' work (or or jobs) every week; but such was the case more particularly when the householders were less cognizant of the work, and did not think of resorting to it; now, I am assured, the men's average employment may be put at days a week, or jobs.

The perquisites of these workmen are none, except the householder sends them some refreshment on his own accord. There may be a perquisite, but very rarely, occurring to the holeman, should he find anything in the soil; but the finding is far less common than among the nightmen, with whom the process goes through different stages. I did not hear among cesspool-sewermen of anything being found by them or by their comrades; of course, when the soil is once absorbed into the pipe, it is unseen on its course of deposit down the gullyhole.

The men have no trade societies, and no arrangements of any equivalent nature; no benefit clubs or sick clubs, for which their number, indeed, is too small; or, as my informant sometimes wound up in a climax, "No, nothing that way, sir." They are sober and industrious men, chiefly married, and with families. Into further statistics, however, of diet, rent, &c., I need not enter, concerning so small a body; they are the same as among other well-conducted labourers.

The men find their own dresses, which are of the same cost, form, and material as I have described to pertain to the flushermen; also their own "picks" and shovels, costing respectively and each.

cesspool-sewerman told me, that when he was a member of of those gangs he was "awful abused" by the "regular nightmen," if he came across any of them "as was beery, poor fellows;" but that had all passed over now.

The total sum paid to the gangs of labourers in the course of the year would, at the rate of cesspools emptied per week, amount to the following:—

   Yearly Total. 
 12 pumpmen, 10 jobs a-week each, 20s. per week, or 52l. per year, each . £ 624 
 6 holemen, ditto, ditto, with 2s. 6d. a-week extra . . . . . 351 
 6 outsidemen, 20s. a-week, less by 6d. a-day, or 2s. 6d. a-week, 45l. 10s. a-year . . . . . . 296 
 Carried forward . . £ 1271 
 Brought forward . . . £ 1271 
 6 gangers, 30s. a-week each, or 78l. per year . . . . . . 468 
   £ 1739 



Any householder, &c., who applies to the Court of Sewers, or to any officer of the court whom he may know, has his cesspool cleansed by the hydraulic method, in the same way as he might employ any tradesman to do any description of work proper to his calling. The charge (by the Court of Sewers) is or per square yard, according to pipeage, &c. required; a cesspool emptied by this system costs from to The charges of the nightmen, who have to employ horses, &c., are necessarily higher.

 Estimating that throughout London 60 cesspools are emptied by the hydraulic method every week, or 3120 every year, and the charge for each to be on an average 25s., we have for the gross receipts . . 3120 X 25s. = £ 3900 
 And deducting from this the sum paid for labour . . . . . 1739 
 It shows a profit of . . . . £ 2161 

This is upwards of per cent; but out of this, interest on capital and wear and tear of machinery have to be paid.

During the year , I am credibly informed that as many as sewers were emptied by the hydraulic process; and calculating each to have contained the average quantity of refuse, viz. tons or loads, or about cubic feet, we have an aggregate of cubic feet of cesspoolage ultimately carried off by the sewers. This, however, is only a of the entire quantity.

The sum paid in wages to the men engaged in emptying these cesspools by the hydraulic process would, at the rate of per man to the members of the gang, and to the ganger, or in all for each cesspool, amount to , which is and cesspools less than the amount above given.

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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