Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Service Industry / General - Street Orderlies

HISTORY OF THE STREET-ORDERLY SYSTEM.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS

SIR, - The deep interest which the householders and tradesmen of the City of London, as well as the public generally, have taken in the recent demonstration of the method of cleansing the City by street orderlies induces me to hope that you will kindly grant a portion of your valuable space for the insertion of this communication. The demonstration commenced (with the permission of the commissioners of sewers) on the 9th of May last, and, after a duration of 20 weeks and 3 days, ended on the 29th Sept: It was made in Cheapside, Cornhill, Bishopsgate-street, King William-street, Upper and Lower Thames streets, New Bridge-street, and most of the leading thoroughfares; as well as is 110 intermediate streets, lanes, &c. The object in view was, to exhibit an improved system of street cleansing, for the consideration of and final adoption by the commissioners and other similar authorities. It is proper to explain what the street-orderly system is: it is a method of keeping the streets clean, by preventing them from becoming dirty. By the employment of men and lads through the day, it preserves them in an uniform and unvaried state of cleanliness. In stone, or wood-paved streets, this is effected by removing the cattle deposits so quickly, as to prevent them from being scattered about. Hand-shovels and brooms, with wheelbarrows, are used for this purpose ; and the collections are usually carted away from the district within two hours' time ; hereby proving that, in paved streets, mud and dust consist of manure only, and that, when the manure is removed, the great cause of mud and dust is removed.
    It possesses some domestic and moral characteristics : it imparts sound moral advice to the street orderlies, affords them religious and other instruction, conducts them to a place of worship on the Lord's-day, gives them gratuitously Bibles and Prayer-books, grants them the benefit of a weekly lecture from a clergyman, promotes their domestic comforts, and aids in the advancement of their general welfare.
    The orderlies were formed into three divisions: one worked between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. ; another, called "reliefs," between 12 and 3 and 6 and 10 p.m. ; and the third from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.—so that they were on the ground both day and night. The numbers employed were usually a hundred; and, when they worked in Cheapside and its vicinity, they collected, on the average, about 70 loads of horse-dung and straw weekly. As these are supposed to represent about one-seventh of the  faecal deposits within the City of London, the entire quantity during the year would amount to about 25,000 loads ; and, I think I may confidently say (after a careful inquiry on the subject of horse traffic), if the system were adopted throughout the metropolis, the number of loads would be 118,000 per annum; and if these were sold at the same price that similar collections by street orderlies in St. Giles's and St. George, Bloomsbury, were sold last year, it would realise the sum of 11,800l. The street orderlies had instructions to remove in their barrows, whenever required, garbage and offal from houses, which are usually thrown into dustbins. These may be computed to amount weekly, in the City of London, to from 200 to 300 cart- loads; 150 of which are, on the average, always decomposing in dust-bins ; from the usual delays in removing them, to the disgust and annoyance of householders and lodgers, and to the serious injury of their health. The wages of the orderlies were moderate—from 6s. to 8s. per week to the lads, and 12s. to the men. It will be admitted by all who observed them that they worked with industry and alacrity, and, I am happy to say, their conduct obtained for them the goodwill and sympathy of the public. The City police have given flattering evidence in their favour, and, with regard to their integrity, it is proper to state that property of much value was frequently found by them and restored, by means of advertisements, to its rightful owner. Measures were adopted during the demonstration to ascertain the opinions of the ratepayers. The whole of the 26 City wards signed requisitions in favour of this system ; also in favour of ward meetings to promote its adoption. Some meetings could not be convened ; others were adjourned before the householders assembled ; but of the 16 which were convened, one was neutral ; 15 passed resolutions in favour of the system; and 14 returned thanks to the association for making the demonstration ; urgent resolutions were also passed, calling on the commissioners to instruct Mr. Simon, their medical officer of health, to inquire into its sanitary tendency ; also, begging them to receive evidence to prove the serious evils and pecuniary losses arising from mud and dust. I am sorry to state that the inquiry of the commissioners appears, at present, limited to the cost of carrying out this system. I feel assured that it will be hereafter discovered, that clean and dry streets are very favourable to the public health, and that much sickness and disease are traceable to putrifying animal and vegetable matter in dust bins. I am happy, however, to say that the Epidemiological Society is investigating these points with care and attention. With regard to the pecuniary losses arising from mud and dust, I feel there would be no difficulty in proving that the householders, shopkeepers, and inhabitants of the City of London, alone, annually lose a quarter of a million sterling. Local authorities have also overlooked the consideration of the moral and spiritual advantages connected with the system. When it is borne in mind that there is much angry contention abroad on points of faith, that the protestant religion is not without its enemies, a measure which embraces the mild but certain discipline of bringing the working classes to attend Divine service in the established church of our country can scarcely be regarded as unimportant, or unworthy of consideration and inquiry. Some of the most eminent clergymen of the metropolis could afford valuable evidence as to its practical working.
    Among the many advantages attendant on the street orderly system, I will just add one more, namely, the security which it affords to public property, both night and day. The period when the system shall be properly and efficiently carried out, will, in my opinion, precede the close of the career of the housebreaker and pickpocket.
    The comparative expense of the two systems of street cleansing appears to be as follows:
    The street orderly system, about 8,000l. per annum; a price at which, it is considered, the present contractors might be induced to carry it out, and the method, now in use — on the evidence of Mr. Daw, the clerk to the commissioners—has been, on the last five years' average, 7,188l. per annum. With regard to the value of ashes (called dust) and manure local authorities entertain various opinions. By some they  are considered valueless: others are not wanting in knowledge regarding their real worth. The dust contractor in St. James's parish is paid for removing the ashes.  The same contractor pays for permission to remove them in a neighbouring parish. In 1847 the ashes were sold is the City of London for 4,455l., and I cannot help feeling, as the duty is removed from bricks, that they would now sell for a considerable sum, and that the manure collected by street orderlies would, when sold, diminish the expense of its collection.
    The outlay incurred by this association, in making this demonstration, has been 1,270. 6s. The subscriptions received from the public have been 627. 11s. 6d.; and the balance of 642l. 14s. 6d. has been advanced by myself. This brings me to a point on which I must crave your further indulgence, whilst offering one or two explanations. Many persons regard my conduct as enigmatical. They wonder what the incentives to action can be. Some imagine I have a great financial speculation on hand ; others, that  I am guided by political calculations. Some say 'tis sheer vanity. Many have told me it was my hobby, and some have said, " 'Tis well I have nothing to do, and that I can find time for such objects." It will be seen that this enterprise is as variously regarded as is my conduct. On my part, I beg to say, I have not referred much to my motives. I have not stated that I act altogether disinterestedly, and am not guided by some worldly considerations. That difficulty of knowing oneself has induced caution in these respects; but I think I may confidently state that I am not actuated by most of the motives imputed to me, and certainly not to their extent.
    I pursue my present course, because I entertain strong convictions regarding the street-orderly system ; and attach a very high value to it. I consider it one of the most important discoveries connected with civilised life; and, if it were possible, that the offer of a dukedom, with fifty thousand a year, could be made to me on condition that I would cease to endeavour to establish that system of street-cleansing, I assure you, sir, on the word and honour of a gentleman, that I would decline such an offer. Having said this much, the public is in a position to judge of my motives just as well, if not better, than I can myself.
    With the above explanations I think I may now reasonably hope to obtain from the commissioners of sewers information on the three following points:
    1. Do they consider that the street-orderly system maintains the streets cleaner, than the one is use by themselves?
    2. Do they desire to adopt it until a better is devised, if attainable on moderate terms?
    3. What will they pay for it?
    With great regret at trespassing so largely on your valuable space, I have the honour to be, Sir,
        Your obedient servant,
            CHARLES COCHRANE, President. National Philanthropic Association, Oct. 7,1850. [date, sic]

Daily News, October 11 1851