London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers.


As among the rubbish-carters in the unskilled, and the tailors and shoemakers of the skilled trades, the sweepers' trade also has its slackness and its briskness, and from the same cause—the difference in the The seasons affecting the sweepers' trade are, however, the seasons of the year, the recurring summer and winter, while the seasons influencing the employment of West-end tailors are the seasons of fashion.

The chimney-sweepers' season is in the winter, and especially at what may be in the respective households the periods of the resumption and discontinuance of sitting-room fires.

The sweepers' seasons of briskness and slackness, indeed, may be said then to be ruled by the thermometer, for the temperature causes the increase or diminution of the number of fires, and consequently of the production of soot. The thermometrical period for fires appears to be from October to the following April, both inclusive ( months), for during that season the temperature is below °. I have seen it stated, and I believe it is merely a statement of a fact, that at time, and even now in some houses, it was customary enough for what were called "great families" to have a fixed day (generally Michaelmas-day, ) on which to commence fires in the sitting-rooms, and another stated day (often May-day, ) on which to discontinue them, no matter what might be the mean temperature, whether too warm for the enjoyment of a fire, or too cold comfortably to dispense with it. Some wealthy persons now, I am told—such as call themselves "economists," while their servants and dependants apply the epithet "mean"—defer fires until the temperature descends to °, or from November to March, both inclusive, a season of only months.

As this question of the range of the thermometer evidently influences the seasons, and therefore, the casual labour of the sweepers, I will give the following interesting account of the changing temperature of the metropolis, month by month, the information being derived from the observations of years ( to ), by Mr. Luke Howard. The average temperature appears to be:—

 January . . 35.1 
 February . . 38.9 
 March . . 42.0 
 April . . 47.5 
 May . . 54.9 
 June . . 59.6 
 July . . 63.1 
 August . . 57.1 
 September . 50.1 
 October . . 42.4 
 November . . 41.9 
 December . . 38.3 

London, I may further state, is degrees warmer than the country, especially in winter, owing to the shelter of buildings and the multiplicity of the fires in the houses and factories. In the summer the metropolis is about degree hotter than the country, owing to want of free air in London, and to a cause little thought about —the reverberations from narrow streets. In spring and autumn, however, the temperature of both town and country is nearly equal.

In London, moreover, the nights are . degrees colder than the days; in the country they


are . degrees colder. The extreme ranges of the temperature in the day, in the capital, are from ° to °. The thermometer fallen below zero in the night time, but not frequently.

In London the hottest months are degrees warmer than the coldest; the temperature of July, which is the hottest month, being .; and that of January, the coldest month, . degrees.

The month in which there are the greatest number of extremes of heat and cold is January. In February and December there are (generally speaking) only such extreme variations, and in July; through the other months, however, the extremes are more diffused, and there are only spring and autumn months (April and June—September and November), which are not exposed to great differences of temperature.

The mean temperature assumes a rate of increase in the different months, which may be represented by a curve nearly equal and parallel with representing the progress of the sun in declination.

Hoar-frosts occur when the thermometer is about °, and the dense yellow fogs, so peculiar to London, are the most frequent in the months of November, December, and January, whilst the temperature ranges below °.

The busy season in the chimney-sweepers' trade commences at the beginning of November, and continues up to the month of May; during the remainder of the year the trade is "slack." When the slack season has set in nearly men are thrown out of employment. These, as well as many of the single-handed masters, resort to other kinds of employment. Some turn costermongers, others tinkers, knife-grinders, &c., and others migrate to the country and get a job at haymaking, or any other kind of unskilled labour. Even during the brisk season there are upwards of men out of employment; some of these occasionally contrive to get a machine of their own, and go about "knulling,"—getting a job where they can.

Many of the master sweepers employ in the summer months only journeymen, whereas they require in the winter months; but this, I am informed, is not the general average, and that it will be more correct to compute it for the whole trade, in the proportion of and a half to . We may, then, calculate that - of the entire trade is displaced during the slack season.

This, then, may be taken as the extent of casual labour, with all the sufferings it entails upon improvident, and even upon careful working-men.

A youth casually employed as a sweeper gave the following account:—"I jobs for the sweeps sometimes, sir, as I'd job for anybody else, and if you have any herrands to go, and will send me, I'll be unkimmon thankful. I haven't no father and don't remember , and mother might do well but for the ruin (gin). I calls it 'ruin' out of spite. No, I don't care for it myself. I like beer to a farthing to it. "She's a ironer, sir, a stunning good , but I don't like to talk about her, for she might yarn a hatful of browns— a day; and when she has pulled up for a month or more it's stunning is the difference. I'd rather not be asked more about that. Her great fault against me is as I won't settle. I was time put to a woman's shoemaker as worked for a ware'us. He was a relation, and I was to go prentice if it suited. But I couldn't stand his confining ways, and I'm sartain sure that he only wanted me for some tin mother said she'd spring if all was square. He was bad off, and we lived bad, but he always pretended he was going to be stunning busy. So I hooked it. I'd other places—a pot-boy's was , but no go. None suited.

Well, I can keep myself now by jobbing, leastways I can partly, for I have a crib in a corner of mother's room, and my rent's nothing, and when she's all right I'm all right, and she gets better as I grows bigger, I think. Well, I don't know what I'd like to be; something like a lamp-lighter, I think. Well, I look out for sweep jobs among others, and get them sometimes. I don't know how often. Sometimes three mornings a week for one week; then none for a month. Can any one live by jobbing that way for the sweeps? No, sir, nor get a quarter of a living; but it's a help. I know some very tidy sweeps now. I'm sure I don't know what they are in the way of trade. O, yes, now you ask that, I think they're masters. I've had 6d. and halfa- pint of beer for a morning's work, jobbing like. I carry soot for them, and I'm lent a sort of jacket, or a wrap about me, to keep it off my clothes—though a Jew wouldn't sometimes look at 'em—and there's worser people nor sweeps. Sometimes I'll get only 2d. or 3d. a day for helping that way, a carrying soot. I don't know nothing about weights or bushels, but I know I've found it —— heavy.

The way, you see, sir, is this here: I meets a sweep as knows me by sight, and he says, 'Come along, Tom's not at work, and I want you. I have to go it harder, so you carry the soot to our place to save my time, and join me again at No. 39.' That's just the ticket of it. Well, no; I wouldn't mind being a sweep for myself with my own machine; but I'd rather be a lamp-lighter. How many help sweeps as I do? I can't at all say. No, I don't know whether it's 10, or 20, or 100, or 1000. I'm no scholard, sir, that's one thing. But it's very seldom such as me's wanted by them. I can't tell what I get for jobbing for sweeps in a year. I can't guess at it, but it's not so much, I think, as from other kinds of jobbing. Yes, sir, I haven't no doubt that the t'others as jobs for sweeps is in the same way as me. I think I may do as much as any of 'em that way, quite as much.

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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