London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the inferior Chimney-Sweepers—the "Knullers" and "Queriers."


THE majority of occupations in all civilized communities are divisible into distinct classes, the employers and the employed. The employers are necessarily capitalists to a greater or less extent, providing generally the materials and implements necessary for the work, as well as the subsistence of the workmen, in the form of wages and appropriating the proceeds of the labour, while the employed are those who, for the sake of the present subsistence supplied to them, undertake to do the requisite work for the employer. In some few trades these functions are found to be united in the same individuals. The class known as peasant proprietors among the cultivators of the soil are at once the labourers and the owners of the land and stock. The cottiers, on the other hand, though renting the land of the proprietor, are, so to speak, peasant farmers, tilling the land for themselves rather than doing so at wages for some capitalist tenant. In handicrafts and manufactures the same combination of functions is found to prevail. In the clothing districts the domestic workers are generally their own masters, and so again in many other branches of production. These trading operatives are known by different names in different trades. In the shoe trade, for instance, they are called "chamber-masters," in the "cabinet trade" they are termed "garret-masters," and in "the cooper's trade" the name for them is "small tradingmasters." Some style them "master-men," and others, "single-handed masters." In all occupations, however, the master-men are found to be especially injurious to the interests of the entire body of both capitalists and operatives, for, owing to the limited extent of their resources, they are obliged to find a market for their work, no matter at what the sacrifice, and hence by their excessive competitions they serve to lower the prices of the trade to a most unprecedented extent. I have as yet met with no occupation in which the existence of a class of master-men has worked well for the interest of the trade, and I have found many which they have reduced to a state of abject wretchedness. It is a peculiar circumstance in connection with the master-men that they abound only in those callings which require a small amount of capital, and which, consequently, render it easy for the operative immediately on the least disagreement between him and his employer to pass from the condition of an operative into that of a trading workmen. When among the fancy cabinetmakers I had a statement from a gentleman, in , who supplied the materials to these men, that a fancy cabinet-maker, the manufacturer of writing-desks, tea-caddies, ladies' workboxes, &c., could begin, and did begin, business on less than A youth had just then bought materials of him for to "begin on a small desk," stepping at once out of the trammels of apprenticeship into the character of a master-man. Now this facility to commence business on a man's own account is far greater in the chimney-sweepers' trade than even in the desk-makers,' for the needs no previous training, while the other does.

Thus when other trades, skilled or unskilled, are depressed, when casual labour is with a mass of workpeople more general than constant labour, they naturally inquire if they "cannot do better at something else," and often resort to such trades as the chimney-sweepers'. It is open to


all, skilled and unskilled alike. Distress, a desire of change, a vagabond spirit, a hope to "better themselves," all tend to swell the ranks of the single-handed master chimney-sweepers; even though these men, from the casualties of the trade in the way of "seasons," &c., are often exposed to great privations.

There are in all single-handed masters, who are thus distributed throughout the metropolis:—

(), (), Marylebone, , and Whitechapel (each ), Hackney, Stepney, and (each ), St. George'sin- the-East (), (), St. Giles' and East London (each ), Bethnal-green, , Camberwell, and Clapham (each ), , , , and Greenwich (each ), St. James's (), , Clerkenwell, St. Luke's, Poplar, , West London, City, Wandsworth, and Woolwich (each ); in all, .

Thus we perceive, that the single-handed masters abound in the suburbs and poorer districts; and it is generally in those parts where the lower rate of wages is paid that these men are found to prevail. Their existence appears to be at once the cause and the consequence of the depreciation of the labour.

Of the single-handed masters there is a sub-class known by the name of "knullers" or "queriers."

The were formerly, it is probable, known as knellers. The Saxon word is to knell (to knull properly), or sound a bell, and the name "knuller" accordingly implies the sounder of a bell, which has been done, there can be no doubt, by the London chimney-sweepers as well as the dustmen, to announce their presence, and as still done in some country parts. informant has known this to be the practice at the town of Hungerford in Berkshire. The bell was in size between that of the muffin-man and the dustman.

The knuller is also styled a "," a name derived from his making at the doors of the houses as to whether his services are required or are likely to be soon required, calling even where they know that a regular resident chimneysweeper is employed. The men go along calling "sweep," more especially in the suburbs, and if asked "Are you Mr. So-and-So's man?" answer in the affirmative, and may then be called in to sweep the chimneys, or instructed to come in the morning. Thus they receive the full charge of an established master, who, for the sake of his character and the continuance of his custom, must do his work properly; while if such work be done by the knuller, it will be hurriedly and therefore badly done, as all work is, in a general way, when done under false pretences.

Some of the sharpest of these men, I am told, have been reared up as sweepers; but it appears, although it is a matter difficult to ascertain with precision, the majority have been brought up to some generally unskilled calling, as scavagers, costermongers, tinkers, bricklayers' labourers, soldiers, &c. The knullers or queriers are almost all to be found among the lower class chimneysweepers. There are, from the best information to be obtained, from to of them. Not only do they scheme for employment in the way I have deseribed, but some of them call at the houses of both rich and poor, boldly stating that they had been by Mr. —— to sweep the flues. I was informed by several of the master sweepers, that many of the fires which happen in the metropolis are owing to persons employing these "knullers," "for," say the high masters, "they scamp the work, and leave a quantity of soot lodged in the chimney, which, in the event of a large fire being kept in the range or grate, ignites." This opinion as to the fires in the chimneys being caused by the scamped work of the knullers must be taken with some allowance. Tradesmen, whose established business is thus, as they account it, usurped, are naturally angry with the usurpers.

There is another evil, so say the regular masters, resulting from the employment of the knullers—the losses accruing to persons employing them, as "they take anything they can lay their hands upon."

This, also, is a charge easy to make, but not easy to refute, or even to sift. master chimney-sweeper told me that when chimneys are swept in rich men's houses there is almost always some servant in attendance to watch the sweepers. If the rich, I am told, be watchful under these circumstances, the poor are more vigilant.

The distribution of the knullers or queriers is as follows:— (), and St. Giles' ( each), and Whitechapel ( each), (), Marylebone, Stepney and ( each), St. George's in the East and Woolwich ( each), and Hackney ( each), East London, , and Greenwich ( each), Paddington, , East London, Retherhithe and Greenwich ( each), Paddington, , , , and Clapham ( each), , St. Martin's, , St. Luke's, West London, Poplar, and Camberwell ( each); St. James's (), Clerkenwell, City of London, and Wandsworth ( each), Kensington (); in all, .

Like the single-handed men the knullers abound in the suburbs. I endeavoured to find a knuller who had been a skilled labourer, and was referred to who, I was told, had been a working plumber, and a "good hand at spouts." I found him a doggedly ignorant man; he saw no good, he said, in books or newspapers, and "wouldn't say nothing to me, as I'd told him it would be printed. He wasn't a going to make a holyshow [so I understood him] of -self."

Another knuller (to whom I was referred by a master who occasionally employed him as a journeyman) gave me the following account. He was "doing just middling" when I saw him, he said, but his look was that of a man who had known privations, and the soot actually seemed to bring out his wrinkles more fully, although he told me he was only between and years old; he believed he was not .



I was hard brought up, sir," he said; "ay, them as'll read your book—I mean them readers as is well to do—cannot fancy how hard. Mother was a widow; father was nobody knew where; and, poor woman, she was sometimes distracted that a daughter she had before her marriage, went all wrong. She was a washerwoman, and slaved herself to death. She died in the house [workhouse] in Birmingham. I can read and write a little. I was sent to a charity school, and when I was big enough I was put 'prentice to a gunsmith at Birmingham. I'm master of the business generally, but my perticler part is a gun lock-filer. No, sir, I can't say as ever I liked it; nothing but file file all day. I used to wish I was like the free bits o' boys that used to beg steel filings of me for their fifth of November fireworks. I never could bear confinement. It's made me look older than I ought, I know, but what can a poor man do? No, I never cared much about drinking. I worked in an iron-foundry when I was out of my time. I had a relation that was foreman there. Perhaps it might be that, among all the dust and heat and smoke and stuff, that made me a sweep at last, for I was then almost or quite as black as a sweep.

Then I come up to London; ay, that must be more nor 20 years back. O, I came up to better myself, but I couldn't get work either at the gun-makers—and I fancy the London masters don't like Birmingham hands—nor at the ironfoundries, and the iron-foundries is nothing in London to what they is in Staffordshire and Warwickshire; nothing at all, they may say what they like. Well, sir, I soon got very bad off. My togs was hardly to call togs. One night—and it was a coldish night, too—I slept in the park, and was all stiff and shivery next morning. As I was wandering about near the park, I walked up a street near the Abbey—King-street, I think it is—and there was a picture outside a publichouse, and a writing of men wanted for the East India Company's Service. I went there again in the evening, and there was soldiers smoking and drinking up and down, and I 'listed at once. I was to have my full bounty when I got to the depôt—Southampton I think they called it. Somehow I began to rue what I'd done. Well, I hardly can tell you why. O, no; I don't say I was badly used; not at all. But I had heard of snakes and things in the parts I was going to, and I gently hooked it. I was a navvy on different rails after that, but I never was strong enough for that there work, and at last I couldn't get any more work to do. I came back to London; well, sir, I can't say, as you ask, why I came to London 'stead of Birmingham. I seemed to go natural like. I could get nothing to do, and Lord! what I suffered! I once fell down in the Cut from hunger, and I was lifted into Watchorn's, and he said to his men, 'Give the poor fellow a little drop of brandy, and after that a biscuit; the best things he can have.' He saved my life, sir. The people at the bar—they see'd it was no humbug— gathered 7 1/2d. for me. A penny a-piece from some of Maudslay's men, and a halfpenny from a gent that hadn't no other change, and a poor woman as I was going away slipt a couple of trotters into my hand.

I slept at a lodging-house, then, in Baldwin'sgardens when I had money, and one day in Gray's inn-lane I picked up an old gent that fell in the middle of the street, and might have been run over. After he'd felt in all his pockets, and found he was all right, he gave me 5s. I knew a sweep, for I sometimes slept in the same house, in King-street, Drury-lane; and he was sick, and was going to the big house. And he told me all about his machines, that's six or seven years back, and said if I'd pay 2s. 6d. down, and 2s. 6d. a week, if I couldn't pay more, I might have his machine for 20s. I took it at 17s. 6d., and paid him every farthing. That just kept him out of the house, but he died soon after.

Yes, I've been a sweep ever since. I've had to shift as well as I could I don't know that I I'm what you call a Nuller, or a Querier. Well, if I'm asked if I'm anybody's man, I don't like to say 'no,' and I don't like to say 'yes;' so I says nothing if I can help it. Yes, I call at houses to ask if anything's wanted. I've got a job that way sometimes. If they took me for anybody's man, I can't help that. I lodge with another sweep which is better off nor I am, and pay him 2s. 9d. a week for a little stair-head place with a bed in it. I think I clear 7s. a week, one week with another, but that's the outside. I never go to church or chapel. I've never got into the way of it. Besides, I wouldn't be let in, I s'pose, in my togs. I've only myself. I can't say I much like what I'm doing, but what can a poor man do?

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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