London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels.


The sweeping of the flues in the boilers of steamboats, in the Port of London, and also of land boilers in manufactories, is altogether a distinct process, as the machine cannot be used until such time as the parties who are engaged in this business travel a long way through the flues, and reach the lower part of the chimney or funnel where it communicates with the boilers and receives the smoke in its passage to the upper air. The boilers in the large sea-going steamers are of curious construction; in some large steamers there are separate boilers with furnaces


in each, the flues of each boiler uniting in beneath the funnel; immediately beyond the end of the furnace, which is marked by a little wall constructed of firebrick to prevent the coals and fire from running off the firebars, there is a large open space very high and wide, and which space after a month's steaming is generally filled up with soot, somewhat resembling a snow drift collected in a hollow, were it not for its colour and the fact that it is sometimes in a state of ignition; it is, at times, so deep, that a man sinks to his middle in it the moment he steps across the firebridge. Above his head, and immediately over the end of the furnace, he may perceive an opening in what otherwise would appear to be a solid mass of iron; up to this opening, which resembles a doorway, the sweeper must clamber the best way he can, and when he succeeds in this he finds himself in a narrow passage completely dark, but with so strong a current of air rushing through it from the furnaces beneath towards the funnel overhead that it is with difficulty the wick lamp which he carries in his hand can be kept burning. This passage, between the iron walls on either side, is lofty enough for a tall man to stand upright in, but does not seem at of any great extent; as he goes on, however, to what appears the end, he finds out his mistake, by coming to a sharp turn which conducts him back again towards the open space in the centre of the boiler, but which is now hid from him by the hollow iron walls which on every side surround him, and within which the waters boil and seethe as the living flames issuing from the furnaces rush and roar through these winding passages; another sharp turn leads back to the front of the boilers, and so on for or turns, backwards and forwards, like the windings in a maze, till at the last turn a light suddenly breaks upon him, and, looking up, he perceives the hollow tube of the funnel, black and ragged with the adhering soot.

Here, then, the labour of the sweeper commences: he is armed with a brush and shovel, and laying down his lamp in a space from which he has previously shovelled away the soot, which in many parts of the passage is knee deep, he brushes down the soot from the sides and roof of the passage, which being done he shovels it before him into the next winding; this process he repeats till he reaches, by degrees, the opening where he ascended. Whenever the accumulation of soot is so great that it is likely to block up the passage in the progress of his work, he wades through and shovels as much as he thinks necessary out of the opening into the large space behind the furnaces, then resumes his work, brushing and shovelling by turns, till the flues are cleared; when this is accomplished, he descends, and the fire bars being previously removed, he shovels the soot, now all collected together, over the firebridge and into the ashpit of the furnace; other persons stand ready in the stoke-hole armed with long iron rakes, with which they drag out the soot from the ashpits; and others shovel it into sacks, which they make fast to tackle secured to the upper deck, by which they "bowse" it up out of the engine-room, and either discharge it overboard or put it into boats preparatory to being taken ashore. In this manner an immense quantity of soot is removed from the boilers of a large foreign-going steamer when she gets into port, after a month or weeks' steaming, having burned in that time perhaps or tons of coal: this work is always performed by the stokers and coal-trimmers in the foreign ports, who seldom, if ever, get anything extra for it, although it is no uncommon thing for some of them to be ill for a week after it.

In the port of London, however, the sweeper comes into requisition, who, besides going through the process already described, brings his machine with him, and is thus enabled to cleanse the funnel, and to increase the quantity of soot. Some of the master sweepers, who have the cleansing of the steam-boats in the river, and the sweeping of boiler flues are obliged to employ a good many men, and make a great deal of money by their business. The use of anthracite coals, however, and some modern improvements, by which air at a certain temperature is admitted to certain parts of the furnace, have in many instances greatly lessened, if they have not altogether prevented, the accumulation of soot, by the prevention of smoke; and it seems quite possible, from the statements made by many eminent scientific and practical men who were examined before a select committee of the , presided over by Mr. Mackinnon, in , that by having properlyconstructed stoves, and a sufficient quantity of pure air properly admitted, not only less fuel might be burned, and produce a greater amount of heat, but soot would cease to accumulate, so that the necessity for sweepers would be no longer felt, and there would be no fear of fires from the ignition of soot in the flues of chimneys; blacks and smoke, moreover, would take their departure together; and with them the celebrated London fog might also, in a great measure, disappear.

The funnels of steamers are generally swept at from to per funnel. The steamers are swept by Mr. Allbrook, of ; the Continental, by Mr. Hawsey, of Rosemarylane; and the Irish and Scotch steamers, by Mr. Tuff, who resides in the East London district.

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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