London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers.
THERE are many reasons why the chimneysweepers have ever been a distinct and peculiar class. They have long been looked down upon as the lowest order of workers, and treated with contumely by those who were but little better than themselves. The peculiar nature of their work giving them not only a filthy appearance, but an offensive smell, of itself, in a manner, prohibited them from associating with other working men; and the natural effect of such proscrip-
NOTE.—b means board and lodging as well as money, or part money and part kind; stands for everything found or paid all in kind.
These returns have been collected by personal visits to each district:—the name of each master throughout London, together with the number of Foremen, Journeymen, and Under Journeymen employed, and the Wages received by each, as well as the quantity of soot collected, have been likewise obtained; but the names of the masters are here omitted for want of space, and the results alone are given.
|tion has been to compel them to herd together apart from others, and to acquire habits and peculiarities of their own widely differing from the characteristics of the rest of the labouring classes.|
Sweepers, however, have not from this cause generally been an hereditary race—that is, they have not become sweepers from father to son for many generations. Their numbers were, in the days of the climbing boys, in most intances increased by parish apprentices, the parishes usually adopting that mode as the cheapest and easiest of freeing themselves from a part of the burden of juvenile pauperism. The climbing boys, but more especially the unfortunate parish apprentices, were almost always cruelly used, starved, beaten, and over-worked by their masters, and treated as outcasts by all with whom they came in contact: there can be no wonder, then, that, driven in this manner from all other society, they gladly availed themselves of the companionship of their fellow-sufferers; quickly imbibed all their habits and peculiarities; and, perhaps, ended by becoming themselves the most tyrannical masters to those who might happen to be placed under their charge.
Notwithstanding the disrepute in which sweepers have ever been held, there are many classes of workers beneath them in intelligence. All the tribe of finders and collectors (with the exception of the dredgermen, who are an observant race, and the sewer-hunters, who, from the danger of their employment, are compelled to exercise their intellects) are far inferior to them in this respect; and they are clever fellows compared to many of the dustmen and scavagers. The great mass of the agricultural labourers are known to be almost as ignorant as the beasts they drive; but the sweepers, from whatever cause it may arise, are known, in many instances, to be shrewd, intelligent, and active.
But there is much room for improvement among the operative chimney-sweepers. Speaking of the men generally, I am assured that there is scarcely out of who can either read or write. man in informed me that some ladies, in connection with the Rev. Mr. Cadman's church, made an attempt to instruct the sweepers of the neighbourhood in reading and writing; but the master sweepers grew jealous, and became afraid lest their men should get too knowing for them. When the time came, therefore, for the men to prepare for the school, the masters always managed to find out some job which prevented them from attending at the appointed time, and the consequence was that the benevolent designs of the ladies were frustrated.
The sweepers, as a class, in almost all their habits, bear a strong resemblance to the costermongers. The habit of going about in search of their employment has, of itself, implanted in many of them the wandering propensity peculiar to street people. Many of the better-class costermongers have risen into coal-shed men and greengrocers, and become settled in life; in like manner the better-class sweepers have risen to be masters, and, becoming settled in a locality, have gradually obtained the trade of the neighbourhood; then, as their circumstances improved, they have been able to get horses and carts, and become nightmen; and there are many of them at this moment men of wealth, comparatively speaking. The great body of them, however, retain in all their force their original characteristics; the masters themselves, although shrewd and sensible men, often betray their want of education, and are in no way particular as to their expressions, their language being made up, in a great measure, of the terms peculiar to the costermongers, especially the denominations of the various sorts of money. I met with some sweepers, however, whose language was that in ordinary use, and their manners not vulgar. I might specify , who, although a workhouse orphan and apprentice, a harshlytreated climbing-boy, is now prospering as a sweeper and nightman, is a regular attendant at all meetings to promote the good of the poor, and a zealous ragged-school teacher, and teetotaller.
When such men are met with, perhaps the class cannot be looked upon as utterly cast away, although the need of reformation in the habits of the working sweepers is extreme, and especially in respect of drinking, gambling, and dirt. The journeymen (who have often a good deal of leisure) and the single-handed men are—in the great majority of cases at least—addicted to drinking, beer being their favourite beverage, either because it is the cheapest or that they fancy it the most suitable for washing away the sooty particles which find their way to their throats. These men gamble also, but with this proviso—they seldom play for money; but when they meet in their usual houses of resort— famous ones are in Back C—— lane and S—— street, Whitechapel—they spend their time and what money they may have in tossing for beer, till they are either drunk or penniless. Such men present the appearance of having just come out of a chimney. There seems never to have been any attempt made by them to wash the soot off their faces. I am informed that there is scarcely of them who has a shirt or any change of clothes, and that they wear their garments night and day till they literally rot, and drop in fragments from their backs. Those who are not employed as journeymen by the masters are frequently whole days without food, especially in summer, when the work is slack; and it usually happens that those who are what is called "knocking about on their own account" seldom or never have a farthing in their pockets in the morning, and may, perhaps, have to travel till evening before they get a threepenny or sixpenny chimney to sweep. When night comes, and they meet their companions, the tossing and drinking again commences; they again get drunk; roll home to wherever it may be, to go through the same routine on the morrow; and this is the usual tenour of their lives, whether earning or a week.
The chimney-sweepers generally are fond of drink; indeed their calling, like that of dustmen, is of those which naturally lead to it. The
|men declare they are ordered to drink gin and smoke as much as they can, in order to rid the stomach of the soot they may have swallowed during their work.|
among chimney-sweepers seems to be much more frequent than it was. In the evidence before Parliament it was stated that some of the climbing-boys were washed once in months, some once a week, some once in or months. I do not find it anywhere stated that any of these children were never washed at all; but from the tenour of the evidence it may be reasonably concluded that such was the case.
A master sweeper, who was in the habit of bathing at the Marylebone baths once and sometimes twice a week, assured me that, although many now eat and drink and sleep sooty, washing is more common among his class than when he himself was a climbing-boy. He used then to be stripped, and compelled to step into a tub, and into water sometimes too hot and sometimes too cold, while his mistress, to use his own word, him. Judging from what he had seen and heard, my informant was satisfied that, from to years ago, climbing-boys, with a very few exceptions, were but seldom washed; and then it was looked upon by them as a most disagreeable operation, often, indeed, as a species of punishment. Some of the climbing-boys used to be taken by their masters to bathe in the Serpentine many years ago; but boy was unfortunately drowned, so that the children could hardly be coerced to go into the water afterwards.
The washing among the chimney-sweepers of the present day, when there are scarcely any climbing-boys, is so much an individual matter that it is not possible to speak with any great degree of certainty on the subject, but that it increases may be concluded from the fact that the number of sweeps who resort to the public baths increases.
The public baths and washhouses opened in London were in the "north-west district," and situated in , , near the Hampstead-road. This establishment was founded by voluntary contribution in , and is now self-supporting.
There are more public baths: in Goulston-street, Whitechapel (on the same principle as that established); another in St. Martin's, near the , which are parochial; and the last in Marylebone, near the Yorkshire Stingo tavern, New-road, also parochial. The charge for a cold bath, each being secluded from the others, is , with the use of a towel; a warm bath is in the class. The following is the return of the number of bathers at the north-west district baths, the establishment most frequented:—
I endeavoured to ascertain the proportion of sweepers, with other working men, who availed themselves of these baths; but there are unfortunately no data for instituting a comparison as to the relative cleanliness of the several trades. When the baths were opened an endeavour was made to obtain such a return; but it was found to be distasteful to the bathers, and so was discontinued. We find, then, that in years there have been bathers. The following gives the proportion between the sexes, a portion of being included:—
The falling off in the number of bathers at this establishment is, I am told, attributable to the opening of new baths, the people, of course, resorting to the nearest.
I have given the return of washers, &c., as I endeavoured to ascertain the proportion of washing by the chimney-sweeper's wives; but there is no specification of the trades of the persons using this branch of the establishment any more than there is of those frequenting the baths, and for the same reason as prevented its being done among the bathers. of the attendants at these washhouses told me that he had no doubt the sweepers' wives did wash there, for he had more than once seen a sweeper waiting to carry home the clothes his wife had cleansed. As no questions concerning their situation in life are asked of the poor women who resort to these very excellent institutions (for such they appear to be on a cursory glance) of course no data can be supplied. This is to be somewhat regretted; but a regard to the feelings, and in some respects to the small prejudices, of the industrious poor is to be commended rather than otherwise, and the managers of these baths certainly seem to have manifested such a regard.
I am informed, however, by the secretary of the north-west district institution, that in some weeks of the summer chimney-sweepers bathed there; always having, he believed, warm baths, which are more effective in removing soot or dirt from the skin than cold. Summer, it must be remembered, is the sweep's "brisk" season. In a winter week as few as or have bathed, but the weekly average of sweeper-bathers, the year through, is about ; and the number of sweeper-bathers, he thought, had increased since the opening of the baths about per cent. yearly. As in the average number of bathers of all classes did not exceed per week, the proportion of sweepers, , is high. The number of female bathers is about -, so that the males would be about ; and the sweepers a week constitute about a thirtieth part of the whole of the -class bathers. The number of sweep-bathers was known because a sweep is known by his appearance.
I was told by the secretary that the sweepers, the majority bathing on Saturday nights, usually
|carried a bundle to the bath; this contained their "clean things." After bathing they assumed their "Sunday clothes;" and from the change in their appearance between ingress and egress, they were hardly recognisable as the same individuals.|
In the other baths, where also there is no specification of the bathers, I am told, that of sweepers bathing the number (on computation) is at Marylebone, at Goulston-street, and (at the least) at St. Martin's, as a weekly average. In all, sweepers bathe weekly, or about a of the entire working body. The increase at the baths last mentioned, in sweepers bathing, is from to per cent.
Among the lower-class sweepers there are but few who wash themselves even once throughout the year. They eat, drink, and sleep in the same state of filth and dirt as when engaged in their daily avocation. Others, however, among the better class are more cleanly in their habits, and wash themselves every night.
Between in the streets at the present time and before the abolition of the system of climbing there is a marked difference. Charles Lamb said (in ):—
Throughout his essay, Elia throws the halo of poetry over the child-sweepers, calling them "dim specks," "poor blots," "innocent blacknesses," "young Africans of our own growth;" the natural kindliness of the writer shines out through all. He counsels his reader to give the young innocent , or, if the weather were starving, "let the demand on thy humanity rise to a tester" ().
The appearance of the little children-sweepers, as they trotted along at the master's or the journeyman's heels, or waited at "rich men's doors" on a cold morning, was pitiable in the extreme. If it snowed, there was a strange contrast between the black sootiness of the sweeper's dress and the white flakes of snow which adhered to it. The boy-sweeper trotted listlessly along; a sack to contain the soot thrown over his shoulder, or disposed round his neck, like a cape or shawl. master sweeper tells me that in his apprenticeship days he had to wait at the great mansions in and about , on some bitter wintry mornings, until he felt as if his feet, although he had both stockings and shoes—and many young climbers were barefoot—felt as if frozen to the pavement. When the door was opened, he told me, the matter was not really mended. The rooms were often large and cold, and being lighted only with a candle or , no doubt looked very dreary, while there was not a fire in the whole house, and no up but a yawning servant or , often very cross at having been disturbed. The servants, however, in noblemen's houses, he also told me, were frequently kind to him, giving him bread and butter, and sometimes bread and jam; and as his master generally had a glass of raw spirit handed to him, the boy usually had a sip when his employer had "knocked off his glass." His employer, indeed, sometimes said, "O, better without it; it'll only larn him to drink, like it did me;" but the servant usually answered, "O, here, just a thimblefull for him."
The usual dress of the climbing-boy—as I have learned from those who had worn it themselves, and, when masters, had provided it for their boys—was made of a sort of strong flannel, which many years ago was called chimney-sweepers' cloth; but my informant was not certain whether this was a common name for it or not, he only remembered having heard it called so. He remembered, also, accompanying his master to do something to the flues in a church, then () hung with black cloth, as a part of the national mourning for the Princess Charlotte of Wales, and he thought it seemed very like the chimneysweepers' cloth, which was dark coloured when new. The child-sweep wore a pair of cloth trowsers, and over that a sort of tunic, or tight fitting shirt with sleeves; sometimes a little waistcoat and jacket. This, it must be borne in mind, was only the practice among the best masters (who always had to find their apprentices in clothes); and was the practice among them more and more in the later period of the climbing process, for householders began to inquire as to what sort of trim the boys employed on their premises appeared in. The poorer or the less well-disposed masters clad the urchins who climbed for them in any old rags which their wives could piece together, or in any low-priced garment "picked up" in such places as Rosemarylane. The fit was no object at all. These ill-clad lads were, moreover, at time the great majority. The clothes were usually made "at home" by the women, and in the same style, as regarded the seams, &c., as the sacks for soot; but sometimes the work was beyond the art of the sweeper's wife, and then the aid of some poor neighbour better skilled in the use of her scissors and needle, or of some poor tailor, was called in, on the wellknown terms of "a shilling (or ) a day, and the grub."
The cost of a climbing-boy's dress, I was informed, varied, when new, according to the material of which it was made, from to independently of the cost of making, which, in the hands of a tailor who "whipped the cat" (or went out to work at his customer's houses), would occupy a day, at easy labour, at a cost of (or less) in money, and the "whip-cat's" meals, perhaps another , beer included. As to the cost of a sweeper's -hand clothing it is useless to inquire; but I was informed by a now
|thriving master, that when he was about years old his mistress bought him a "werry tidy jacket, as seemed made for a gen'leman's son," in , Sunday morning, for ; while other things, he said, were "in proportionate." Shoes and stockings are not included in the cost of the little sweeper's apparel; and they were, perhaps, always bought -hand. A few of the best masters (or of those wishing to stand best in their customers' regards), who sent their boys to church or to Sunday schools, had then a non-working attire for them; either a sweeper's dress of jacket and trowsers, unsoiled by soot, or the ordinary dress of a poor lad.|
The street appearance of the present race of sweepers, all adults, may every here and there bear out Charles Lamb's dictum, that grown sweepers are by no means attractive. Some of them are broad-shouldered and strongly-built men, who, as they traverse the streets, sometimes look as grim as they are dingy. The chimney-scavager carries the implement of his calling propped on his shoulder, in the way shown in the daguerreotype which I have given. His dress is usually a jacket, waistcoat, and trowsers of dark-coloured corduroy; or instead of a jacket a waistcoat with sleeves. Over this when at work the sweeper often wears a sort of blouse or short smock-frock of coarse strong calico or canvas, which protects the corduroy suit from the soot. In this description of the sweeper's garb I can but speak of those whose means enable them to attain the comfort of warm apparel in the winter; the poorer part of the trade often shiver shirtless under a blouse which half covers a pair of threadbare trowsers. The cost of the corduroy suit I have mentioned varies, I was told by a sweeper, who put it tersely enough, "from , to " The average runs, I believe, from to , as regards the better class of the sweepers.
The , and sometimes of their working employer, was described to me as generally after the following fashion. My informant, a journeyman, calculated what his food "stood his master," as he had once "kept hisself."
On Sundays the fare was better. They then sometimes had a bit of "prime fat mutton" taken to the oven, with "taturs to bake along with it;" or a "fry of liver, if the old 'oman was in a good humour," and always a pint of beer apiece. Hence, as some give their men beer, the average amount of or weekly, which I have given as the cost of the "board" to the masters, is made up. The drunken single-handed mastermen, I am told, live on beer and "a bite of anything they can get." I believe there are few complaints of inefficient food.
The food provided by the large or high master sweepers is generally of the same kind as the master and his family partake of; among this class the journeymen are tolerably well provided for.
In the lower-class sweepers, however, the food is not so plentiful nor so good in kind as that provided by the high master sweepers. The expense of keeping a man employed by a large master sometimes ranges as high as a week, but the average, I am told, is about per week; while those employed by the low-class sweepers average about a week. The cost of their lodging may be taken at from to a week extra.
The sweepers in general are, I am assured, fond of oleaginous food; fat broth, fagots, and what is often called "greasy" meat.
They are considered , and among the journeymen, the masters "on their own hook," &c., few old men are to be met with. In of the reports of the Board of Health, out of deaths among males, of the age of and upwards, the mortality among the sweepers, masters and men, was , or in of the whole trade. As the calculation was formed, however, from data supplied by the census of , and on the Directory, it supplies no reliable information, as I shall show when I come to treat of the nightmen. Many of these men still suffer, I am told, from the chimney-sweeper's cancer, which is said to arise mainly from uncleanly habits. Some sweepers assure me that they have vomited balls of soot.
, I can supply the following account of . The soot, I should observe, is seldom kept long, rarely a month, on the premises of a sweeper, and is in the best "concerns" kept in cellars.
The localities in which many of the sweepers reside are the "lowest" places in the district. Many of the houses in which I found the lower class of sweepers were in a ruinous and filthy condition. The "high-class" sweepers, on the other hand, live in respectable localities, often having back premises sufficiently large to stow away their soot.
I had occasion to visit the house of of the persons from whom I obtained much information. He is a master in a small way, a sensible man, and was of the few who are teetotallers. His habitation, though small—being a low house only story high—was substantially furnished with massive mahogany chairs, table, chests of drawers, &c., while on each side of the fire-place, which was distinctly visible from the street over a hall door, were buffets, with glass doors, well filled with glass and china vessels. It was a wet night, and a fire burned brightly in the stove, by the light of which might be seen the master of the establishment sitting on side, while his
|wife and daughter occupied the other; a neighbour sat before the fire with his back to the door, and altogether it struck me as a comfortable-looking evening party. They were resting and chatting quietly together after the labour of the day, and everything betokened the comfortable circumstances in which the man, by sobriety and industry, had been able to place himself. Yet this man had been a climbing-boy, and of the unfortunates who had lost his parents when a child, and was apprenticed by the parish to this business. From him I learned that his was not a solitary instance of teetotalism (I have before spoken of another); that, in fact, there were some more, and in particular, named Brown, who was a good speaker, and devoted himself during his leisure hours at night in advocating the principles which by experience he had found to effect such great good to himself; but he also informed me that the majority of the others were a drunken and dissipated crew, sunk to the lowest degree of misery, yet recklessly spending every farthing they could earn in the public-house.|
Different in every respect was another house which I visited in the course of my inquiries, in the neighbourhood of H—street, Bethnal-green. The house was rented by a sweeper, a master on his own account, and every room in the place was let to sweepers and their wives or women, which, with these men, often signify and the same thing. The inside of the house looked as dark as a coalpit; there was an insufferable smell of soot, always offensive to those unaccustomed to it; and every person and every thing which met the eye, even to the caps and gowns of the women, seemed as if they had just been steeped in Indian ink. In room was a sweep and his woman quarrelling. As I opened the door I caught the words, "I'm d——d if I has it any longer. I'd see you b——y well d——d , and you knows it." The savage was intoxicated, for his red eyes flashed through his sooty mask with drunken excitement, and his matted hair, which looked as if it had never known a comb, stood out from his head like the whalebone ribs of his own machine. "B——y Bet," as he called her, did not seem a whit more sober than her man; and the shrill treble of her voice was distinctly audible till I turned the corner of the street, whither I was accompanied by the master of the house, to whom I had been recommended by of the fraternity as an intelligent man, and who knew "a thing or ." "You see," he said, as we turned the corner, "there isn't no use a talkin' to them ere fellows— they're all tosticated now, and they doesn't care nothink for nobody; but they'll be quiet enough to-morrow, 'cept they yarns somethink, and if they do then they'll be just as bad to-morrow night. They're a awful lot, and nobody ill niver do anythink with them." This man was not by any means in such easy circumstances as the master mentioned. He was merely a man working for himself, and unable to employ any else in the business; as is customary with some of these people, he had taken the house he had shown me to let to lodgers of his own class, making something by so doing; though, if his own account be correct, I'm at a loss to imagine how he contrived even to get his rent. From him I obtained the following statement:—
"Yes, I was a climbing-boy, and sarved a rigler printiceship for years. I was out on my printiceship when I was . Father was a silk-weaver, and did all he knew to keep me from being a sweep, but I would be a sweep, and nothink else." [This is not so very uncommon a predilection, strange as it may seem.] "So father, when he saw it was no use, got me bound printice. Father's alive now, and near years of age. I don't know why I wished to be a sweep, 'cept it was this—there was sweeps always lived about here, and I used to see the boys with lots of money a tossin' and gamblin', and wished to have money too. You see they got money where they swept the chimneys; they used to get or for theirselves in a day, and sometimes from the people of the house, and that's the way they always had plenty of money. I niver thought anythink of the climbing; it wasn't so bad at all as some people would make you believe. There are or ways of climbing. In wide flues you climb with your elbows and your legs spread out, your feet pressing against the sides of the flue; but in narrow flues, such as -inch ones, you must slant it; you must have your sides in the angles, it's wider there, and go up just that way." [Here he threw himself into position—placing arm close to his side, with the palm of the hand turned outwards, as if pressing the side of the flue, and extending the other arm high above his head, the hand apparently pressing in the same manner.] "There," he continued, "that's slantin'. You just put yourself in that way, and see how small you make yourself. I niver got to say stuck myself, but a many of them did; yes, and were taken out dead. They were smothered for want of air, and the fright, and a stayin' so long in the flue; you see the waistband of their trowsers sometimes got turned down in the climbing, and in narrow flues, when not able to get it up, then they stuck. I had a boy once—we were called to sweep a chimney down at Poplar. When we went in he looked up the flues, 'Well, what is it like?' I said. 'Very narrow,' says he, 'don't think I can get up there;' so after some time we gets on top of the house, and takes off the chimney-pot, and has a look down—it was wider a' top, and I thought as how he could go down. 'You had better buff it, Jim,' says I. I suppose you know what that means; but Jim wouldn't do it, and kept his trowsers on. So down he goes, and gets on very well till he comes to the shoulder of the flue, and then he couldn't stir. He shouts down, 'I'm stuck.' I shouts up and tells him what to do. 'Can't move,' says he, 'I'm stuck hard and fast.' Well, the people of the house got fretted like, but I says to them, 'Now my boy's stuck, but for Heaven's sake don't make a word of noise; don't say a word, good or bad, and I'll
|see what I can do.' So I locks the door, and buffs it, and forces myself up till I could reach him with my hand, and as soon as he got his foot on my hand he begins to prize himself up, and gets loosened, and comes out at the top again. I was stuck myself, but I was stronger nor he, and I manages to get out again. Now I'll be bound to say if there was another master there as would kick up a row and a-worrited, that ere boy 'ud a niver come out o' that ere flue alive. There was a many o' them lost their lives in that way. Most all the printices used to come from the 'House' (workhouse.) There was nobody to care for them, and some masters used them very bad. I was out of my time at , and began to get too stout to go up the flues; so after knockin' about for a year or so, as I could do nothink else, I goes to sea on board a man-o'--war, and was away year. Many of the boys, when they got too big and useless, used to go to sea in them days—they couldn't do nothink else. Yes, many of them went for sodgers; and I know some who went for Gipsies, and others who went for play-actors, and a many who got on to be swellmobsmen, and thieves, and housebreakers, and the like o' that ere. There ain't nothink o' that sort a-goin' on now since the Ack of Parliament. When I got back from sea father asked me to larn his business; so I takes to the silk-weaving and larned it, and then married a weaveress, and worked with father for a long time. Father was very well off—well off and comfortable for a poor man—but trade was good then. But it got bad afterwards, and none on us was able to live at it; so I takes to the chimney-sweeping again. It was the furrin silks as beat us all up, that's the whole truth. Yet they tells us as how they was a-doin' the country good; but they may tell that to the marines—the sailors won't believe it—not a word on it. I've stuck to the sweeping ever since, and sometimes done very fair at it; but since the Ack there's so many leeks come to it that I don't know how they live—they must be eatin' another up.|
Well, since you ask then, I can tell you that our people don't care much about law; they don't understand anythink about politics much; they don't mind things o' that ere kind. They only minds to get drunk when they can. Some on them fellows as you seed in there niver cleans theirselves from year's end to the other. They 'll kick up a row soon enough, with Chartists or anybody else. I thinks them Chartists are a weak-minded set; they was too much a frightened at nothink,—a o' them would run away from blue-coat, and that wasn't like men. I was often at Chartist meetings, and if they'd only do all they said there was a plenty to stick to them, for there's a somethink wants to be done very bad, for everythink is a-gettin' worser and worser every day. I used to do a good trade, but now I don't yarn a shilling a day all through the year (?). I may walk at this time or miles and not get a chimney to sweep, and then get only a sixpence or threepence, and sometimes nothink. It's a starvin', that's what it is; there's so much 'querying' a-goin' on. Querying? that's what we calls under-working. If they'd all fix a riglar price we might do very well still. I'm years of age, or thereabouts. I don't know much about the story of Mrs. Montague; it was afore my time. I heard of it though. I heard my mother talk about it; she used to read it out of books; she was a great reader—none on 'em could stand afore her for that. I was often at the dinner—the masters' dinner—that was for the boys; but that's all done away long ago, since the Ack of Parliament. I can't tell how many there was at it, but there's such a lot it's impossible to tell. How could any tell all the sweeps as is in London? I'm sure I can't, and I'm sure nobody else can."
Some years back the sweepers' houses were often indicated by an elaborate sign, highly coloured. A sweeper, accompanied by a "chummy" (once a common name for the climbingboy, being a corruption of chimney), was depicted on his way to a red brick house, from the chimneys of which bright yellow flames were streaming. Below was the detail of the things undertaken by the sweep, such as the extinction of fires in chimneys, the cleaning of smoke-jacks, &c., &c. A few of these signs, greatly faded, may be seen still. A sweeper, who is settled in what is accounted a "genteel neighbourhood," has now another way of making his calling known. He leaves a card whenever he hears of a new comer, a tape being attached, so that it can be hung up in the kitchen, and thus the servants are always in possession of his address. The following is a customary style:—
At the top of this card is an engraving of the machine; at the foot a rude sketch of a nightman's cart, with men at work. All the cards I saw reiterated the address, so that no mistake might lead the customer to a rival tradesman.
, the sweepers are somewhat
|similar to the dustmen and costermongers. A fixed hatred to all constituted authority, which they appear to regard as the police and the "beaks," seems to be the sum total of their principles. Indeed, it almost assumes the character of a fixed law, that persons and classes of persons who are themselves disorderly, and to a certain extent lawless, always manifest the most supreme contempt for the conservators of law and order in every degree. The police are therefore hated heartily, magistrates are feared and abominated, and Queen, Lords, and Commons, and every in authority, if known anything about, are considered as natural enemies. A costermonger who happened to be present while I was making inquiries on this subject, broke in with this remark, "The costers is the chaps—the government can't do nothink with them—they allus licks the government." The sweepers have a sovereign contempt for all Acts of Parliament, because the only Act that had any reference to themselves "threw open," as they call it, their business to all who were needy enough and who had the capability of availing themselves of it. Like the "dusties" they are, I am informed, in their proper element in times of riot and confusion; but, unlike them, they are, to a man, Chartists, understanding it too, and approving of it, not because it would be calculated to establish a new order of things, but in the hope that, in the transition from system to the other, there might be plenty of noise and riot, and in the vague idea that in some indefinable manner good must necessarily accrue to themselves from any change that might take place. This I believe to be in perfect keeping with the sentiments of similar classes of people in every country in the world.|
The journeymen lay by no money when in work, as a fund to keep them when incapacitated by sickness, accident, or old age. There are, however, a few exceptions to the general improvidence of the class; some few belong to sick and benefit societies, others are members of burial clubs. Where, however, this is not the case, and a sweeper becomes unable, through illness, to continue his work, the mode usually adopted is to make a raffle for the benefit of the sufferer; the same means are resorted to at the death of a member of the trade. When a chimney-sweeper becomes infirm through age, he has mostly, if not invariably, no refuge but the workhouse.
, and when they do live with a woman it is in a state of concubinage. These women are always among the lowest of the street-girls—such as lucifer-match and orange girls, some of the very poorest of the coster girls, and girls brought up among the sweepers. They are treated badly by them, and often enough left without any remorse. The women are equally as careless in these matters as the men, and exchange paramour for another with the same levity, so that there is a promiscuous intercourse continually going on among them. I am informed that, among the worst class of sweepers living with women, not in is married. To these couples very few children are born; but I am not able to state the proportion as compared with other classes.
which deserve notice. Their Mayday festival is among the best known. The most intelligent of the masters tell me that they have taken this "from the milkmen's garland" (of which an engraving has been given). Formerly, say they, on the the milkmen of London went through the streets, performing a sort of dance, for which they received gratuities from their customers. The music to which they danced was simply brass plates mounted on poles, from the circumference of which plates depended numerous bells of different tones, according to size; these poles were adorned with leaves and flowers, indicative of the season, and may have been a relic of of the ancient pageants or mummeries.
The sweepers, however, by adapting themselves more to the rude taste of the people, appear to have completely supplanted the milkmen, who are now never seen in pageantry. In Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes of the People of England," I find the following with reference to the milk-people:—
With reference to the May-day festival of the sweepers the same author says:—"The chimneysweepers of London have also singled out the for their festival, at which time they parade the streets in companies, disguised in various manners. Their dresses are usually deco-
|rated with gilt paper and other mock fineries; they have their shovels and brushes in their hands, which they rattle upon the other; and to this rough music they jump about in imitation of dancing. Some of the larger companies have a fiddler with them, and a Jack in the Green, as well as a Lord and Lady of the May, who follow the minstrel with great stateliness, and dance as occasion requires. The Jack in the Green is a piece of pageantry consisting of a hollow frame of wood or wicker-work, made in the form of a sugar-loaf, but open at the bottom, and sufficiently large and high to receive a man. The frame is covered with green leaves and bunches of flowers, interwoven with each other, so that the man within may be completely concealed, who dances with his companions; and the populace are mightily pleased with the oddity of the moving pyramid."|
Since the date of the above, the sweepers have greatly improved on their pageant, substituting for the fiddle the more noisy and appropriate music of the street-showman's drum and pipes, and adding to their party several diminutive imps, no doubt as representatives of the climbing-boys, clothed in caps, jackets, and trowsers, thickly covered with party-coloured shreds. These still make a show of rattling their shovels and brushes, but the clatter is unheard alongside the thunders of the drum. In this manner they go through the various streets for days, obtaining money at various places, and on the night hold a feast at of their favourite public-houses, where all the sooty tribes resort, and, in company with their wives or girls, keep up their festivity till the next morning. I find that this festival is beginning to disappear in many parts of London, but it still holds its ground, and is as highly enjoyed as ever, in all the eastern localities of the metropolis.
It is but seldom that any of the large masters go out on May-day; this custom is generally confined to the little masters and their men. The time usually spent on these occasions is days, during which as much as from to a day is collected; the sums obtained on the days are divided according to the several kinds of work performed. But the proceeds of the day are devoted to a supper. The average gains of the several performers on these occasions are as follows:—
The share accruing to the boys is often spent in purchasing some article of clothing for them, but the money got by the other individuals is mostly spent in drink.
The sweepers, however, not only go out on May-day, but likewise on the . On the last Guy-Fawkes day, I am informed, some of them received not only pence from the public, but silver and gold. "It was quite a harvest," they say. of this class, who got up a gigantic Guy Fawkes and figure of the Pope on the , cleared, I am informed, over and above all expenses.
For many years, also, the sweepers were in the habit of partaking of a public dinner on the , provided for every climbing-boy who thought proper to attend, at the expense of the Hon. Mrs. Montagu. The romantic origin of this custom, from all I could learn on the subject, is this:—The lady referred to, at the time a widow, lost her son, then a boy of tender years. Inquiries were set on foot, and all London heard of the mysterious disappearance of the child, but no clue could be found to trace him out. It was supposed that he was kidnapped, and the search at length was given up in despair. A long time afterwards a sweeper was employed to cleanse the chimneys of Mrs. Montagu's house, by Portmansquare, and for this purpose, as was usual at the time, sent a climbing-boy up the chimney, who from that moment was lost to him. The child did not return the way he went up, but it is supposed that in his descent he got into a wrong flue, and found himself, on getting out of the chimney, in of the bedrooms. Wearied with his labour, it is said that he mechanically crept between the sheets, all black and sooty as he was. In this state he was found fast asleep by the housekeeper. The delicacy of his features and the soft tones of his voice interested the woman. She acquainted the family with the strange circumstance, and, when introduced to them with a clean face, his voice and appearance reminded them of their lost child. It may have been that the hardships he endured at so early an age had impaired his memory, for he could give no account of himself; but it was evident, from his manners and from the ease which he exhibited, that he was no stranger to such places, and at length, it is said, the Hon. Mrs. Montagu recognised in him her long-lost son. The identity, it was understood, was proved beyond doubt. He was restored to his rank in society, and in order the better to commemorate this singular restoration, and the fact of his having been a climbing-boy, his mother annually provided an entertainment on the , at White Conduit House, for all the climbing-boys of London who thought proper to partake of it. This annual feast was kept up during the lifetime of the lady, and, as might be expected, was numerously attended, for since there were no question asked and no document required to prove any of the guests to be climbing-boys, very many of the precocious urchins of the metropolis used to blacken their faces for this special occasion. This annual feast continued, as I have said, as long as the lady lived. Her son continued it
|only for or years afterwards, and then, I am told, left the country, and paid no further attention to the matter.|
Of the story of the young Montagu, Charles Lamb has given the following account:—
There is a strong strain of romance throughout the stories of the lost and found young Montagu. I conversed with some sweepers on the subject. The majority had not so much as heard of the occurrence, but who had heard of it—both climbing-boys in their childhood—had heard that the little fellow was found in his mother's house. In a small work, the "Chimney-Sweepers' Friend," got up in aid of the Society for the Supersedence of Climbing Boys, by some benevolent Quaker ladies and others (the Quakers having been among the warmest supporters of the suppression of climbers), and "arranged" (the word "edited" not being used) by J. Montgomery, the case of the little Montagu is not mentioned, excepting in or vague poetical allusions.
The account given by Lamb (although pronounced apocryphal by some) appears to be the more probable version; and to the minds of many is shown to be conclusively authentic, as I understand that, when Arundel Castle is shown to visitors, the bed in which the child was found is pointed out; nor is it likely that in such a place the story of the ducal bed and the little climbingboy would be
The following account was given by the wife of a respectable man (now a middle-aged woman) and she had often heard it from her mother, who passed a long life in the neighbourhood of Mrs. Montagu's residence:—
The annual feast at "White Condick," so agreeable to the black fraternity, was afterwards continued in another form, and was the origin of a well-known society among the master sweepers, which continued in existence till the abolition of the climbing-boys by Act of Parliament. The masters and the better class of men paid a certain sum yearly, for the purpose of binding the children of the contributors to other trades. In order to increase the funds of this institution, as the dinner to the boys at White Conduit House was an established thing, the masters continued it, and the boys of every master who belonged to the society went in a sort of state to the usual place of entertainment every , where they were regaled as formerly. Many persons were in the habit of flocking on this day to White Conduit House to witness the festivities of the sweepers on this occasion, and usually contributed something towards the society. As soon, however, as the Act passed, this also was discontinued, and it is now of the legends connected with the class.
 Querying means literally inquiring or asking for work at the different houses. The "queriers" among the sweeps are a kind of pedlar operatives.