Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50; Henry Mayhew - Letter XX

[back to menu for this book]


Tuesday, December 25, 1849

I continue my inquiry into the state of the Coal Labourers of the Metropolis.
    The coalheavers, properly so called, are now no longer known in the trade. The class of coalheavers, according to the vulgar acceptation of the word, is divided into coalwhippers, or those who whip up or lift the coals rapidly from the hold - and the coal- backers, or those who carry them on their backs to the wharf, either from the hold of the ship moored alongside the wharf, or from the lighter into which the coals have been whipped from the collier moored in the middle of the river or "Pool." Formerly the coals were delivered from the holds of the ships by the labourers shovelling them on to a series of stages, raised one above the other, till they ultimately reached the deck. One or two men were on each stage, and hove the coals up to the stage immediately above them. The labourers engaged in this process were termed coal heavers. But now the coals are delivered at once from the hold, by means of a sudden jerk, which whips them on deck. This is the process of coalwhipping, and it is performed chiefly in the middle of the river, to fill the "rooms" of the barges that carry the coals from the ship to the wharf. Coals are occasionally delivered immediately from the ship on to the wharf, by means of the process of coal-backing, as it is called. This consists in the sacks being filled in the hold, and then carried on the men's backs up a ladder from the hold, and along planks from the ship to the wharf. By this means, it will be easily understood that the ordinary processes of whipping and lightering are avoided. By the process of coal-whipping the ship is delivered in the middle of the river, or the Pool, as it is called; and the coals are lightered, or carried to the wharf, by means of barges, whence they are transported to the wharf by the process of backing. But when the coals are backed out of the ship itself on to the wharf, the two preliminary processes are done away with. The ship is moored along side, and the coals are delivered directly from the ships to the premises of the wharfinger. By this means the wharfingers or coal merchants below bridge are enabled to have their coals delivered at a cheaper price than those above bridge, who must receive the cargoes by means of the barges. I am assured that the colliers, in being moored along side the wharfs, receive considerable damage and strain their timbers severely, from the swell of the steam-boats passing to and fro. Again the process of coal-backing appears to be of so extremely laborious a nature, that the health and indeed the lives of the men are both greatly injured by it. Moreover, the benefit remains solely with the merchant, and not with the consumer, for the price of the coals delivered below bridge is the same as those delivered above. The expense of delivering the ship is always borne by the ship-owner. This is at present 3d. per ton, and was originally intended to be given to the whippers. But the merchant, by the process of backing, has discovered the means of avoiding this process, and so he puts the money, which was originally paid by the ship-owner for whipping the coals, into his own pocket. For the consumer is not a commensurate gainer. Since the merchant below bridge charges the same price to the public for his coals as the merchant above, it is clear that he alone is benefited at the expense of the public, the coal-whippers. and even the coal-backers themselves; for on inquiry among this latter class, I find that they object as much as the whippers to the delivery of a ship from the hold-the mounting of the ladder from the hold being of a most laborious and injurious nature. I have been supplied by a gentleman who is intimately acquainted with the expenses of the two processes with the following comparative account: -

For whipping 360 tons, at 8d. per ton £12 0 0 
Lighterman's wages for one week engaged in lightering the said 360 tons from ship to wharf  1 10  0
Expenses of backing the said coals from craft to wharf, at 11d. per ton  16 17 6
[Total] £30  7  6
For backing a ship of 360 tons directly from the ship to the wharf £16 17 6

    By the above account it will be seen that if a collier of 360 tons is delivered in the Pool, the expense is £30 7s. 6d. But if delivered at the wharf-side, the expense is £16 17s. 6d.-the difference between the two processes being £13 10s. Hence, if the consumer were the gainer, the coals should be delivered below bridge 9d. a ton cheaper than they are above bridge. The nine coalwhippers ordinarily engaged in the whipping of the coals would have gained £1  6s. 8d. each man if they had not been "backed out of the ship. But as the coals delivered by backing below bridge are not cheaper, and the whippers have not received any money, it follows that the £12 which has been paid by the ship-owner to the merchant for the expense of whipping has been pocketed by the merchant, and the expense of lightering, £1 10s., saved by him, making a total profit of £13 10s-not to mention the cost of wear and tear, and interest of capital sunk in barges. This sum of money is made at the expense of the coal-backers themselves, who are seldom able to continue the labour (so extreme is it) for more than twenty years at the outside, the average duration of the labourers being only twelve years. After this period the men, from having been overstrained by their violent exertion, are unable to pursue any other calling; and yet the merchants, I am sorry to say, have not even encouraged them to form either a benefit society, a superannuation fund, or a school for their children.
    Wishing to perfect the inquiry, I thought it better to see one of the seamen engaged in the trade. Accordingly I went off to some of the colliers lying in Mill-hole, and found an intelligent man ready to give me the information I sought. His statement was, that he had been at sea between 26 and 27 years altogether. "Out of that time," he said, "I've had nine or ten years' experience at the coal trade. I've been to the East Indies and West Indies, and served my apprenticeship in a whaler. I have been in the Mediterranean, and to several parts of France. I think that, take the general run, the living and treatment of the men in the coal trade is better than in any other going. It's difficult to tell how many ships I've been in, and how many owners I've served under. I have been in the same ship for three or four years, and I have been only one voyage in one ship. You see we are obliged to study our own interest as much as we can. Of course, the masters won't do it for us. Speaking generally of the different ships and different owners I've served under, I think the men are generally well served. I have been in some that have been very badly victualled - the small stores in particular, such as tea, sugar, and coffee, have been very bad. They, in general, nip us very short. There is a regular allowance fixed by act of Parliament, but it's too little for a man to go by. Some owners go strictly by the act, and some give more; but I don't know one that gives under. Indeed, as a general rule, I think the men in the trade have nothing to complain of. The only thing is, the wages are generally small, and the ships are badly manned. In bad weather there is not hands enough to take the sail off her, or else there wouldn't be so many accidents as there are. The average tonnage of a coal-ship is from 60 up to about 250 tons. There are sometimes ships as much as 400 tons, but they come seldom, and when they do they carry but part coal cargo. They only load sufficient coals so that they can come across the bar harbours in the north. If they were loaded altogether with coals they couldn't get over the bar; they would draw too much water. For a ship of about from 100 to 130 tons the usual complement is generally from five to six hands, boys, captain, and men all included together. There might be two men before the mast, a master, a mate, and a boy. This is sadly too little. A ship of this sort shouldn't, to my mind, have less than seven hands. That is the least, to be safe. In rough weather, you see, perhaps the ship is letting water; the master, takes the 'bellum;' one hand in general stops on deck to work the pumps, and three goes aloft. Most likely one of the boys has only been to sea one or two voyages. and if there six hands to such a ship, two of them is sure to be 'green boys,' just fresh from the shore, and of little or no use to us. We haven't help enough to get the sail off the yards in time. There's no one on deck look-out-it may be thick weather, and of course its properly dangerous. About half the accidents at sea occur from the ships being badly manned. The ships generally throughout the coal trade have one hand in six too little. The colliers mostly carry double the registered tonnage: a ship of 250 tons carrying 500 will only have ten hands, when she ought to have twelve or thirteen, and out of the ten that she does have, perhaps four of them is boys. All sailors in the coal trade are paid by the voyage. They vary from £3 10s. up to £4 for able-bodied seamen. The ships from the same port in the north give all alike for a London Journey. In the height of summer the wages is from £3 5s. to £3 15s., and in the winter they are £4. Them's the highest wages given this winter. The wages are increased in the winter, because the work's harder and the weather's colder. Some of the ships lay up, and there's a greater demand for those that are in the trade. It's true the seamen of those that are laying up are out of employ; but I can't say why it is the wages don't come down in consequence; all l know is they go up in the winter. This is sadly too little pay - this £4 a journey. Probably in the winter a man may make only two voyages in four months, and if he's got a wife and family his expenses is going on at home all the while. The voyage I consider to last from the time of sailing from the north port to the time of entering the north port again. The average time of coming from the north port to London is from ten to eleven days. Sometimes the passage has been done in six; but I'm speaking of the average. We are generally about twenty-two days at sea, making the voyage from the north and back. The rest of the time we are discharging cargo, or lying idle in the Pool. On making the port of London we have to remain in "the Section" till the cargo is sold. "The Section" is between Woolwich and Gravesend. I have remained there as much as five weeks. I have been there too only one market day-that is three days. It is very seldom this occurs. The average time that we remain in "the Section" is from two to three weeks. The cause of this delay arises from the factors not disposing of the coals, in order to keep up the prices. If a large fleet comes, the factors will not sell immediately, because the prices would go down; so we are kept in "the Section" for their convenience, without no more wages. When the cargo is sold we drop down into the Pool, and there we remain about two days more than we ought, for want of a meter. We are often kept also a day over the day of delivery. This we call "a baulk day." The owners of the ship receive a certain compensation for every one of these baulk days. This is expressed in the charter party, or ship's contract. The whippers and meters too receive a certain sum for these baulk days, the same as if they were working, but the seamen of the colliers are only the parties who receive nothing. The delay arises entirely through the merchant, and he ought to pay us for it. The coal trade is the only trade that pays by the voyage-all others paying by the month-and the seamen feel it as a great grievance, this detention not being paid for. Very often, while I have been laying in Section, because the coal factor would not sell, other seamen that entered the port of London with me have made another voyage and been back again whilst I was stopping idle, and been £3 10s. or £4 the better for it. Four or five years since the voyage was £1 or £2 better paid for. I have had myself as much as £6 the voyage, and been detained much less. Within the last three years our wages have decreased 30 per cent., whilst the demand for coals and for colliers has increased considerably. I never heard of such a thing as supply and demand, but it does seem to me a very queer thing that whilst there's a greater quantity of coals sold, and more colliers employed, we poor seamen should be paid worse. In all the ships that I have been in I've in general been pretty well fed; but I have been aboard some ships and heard of a great many more where the food is very bad, and the men are very badly used. On the passage, the general rule is to feed the men upon the salt meat. The pork they in general use is Kentucky, Russian, Irish, and, indeed, a mixture of all nations. Any kind of offal goes aboard some ships, but the one I'm on now there's as good meat as ever went aboard; aye, and plenty of it - no stint."
    A basket-man, who was present whilst I was taking the above statement, told me that the foreman of the coalwhippers had more chances of judging of the state of the provisions supplied to the colliers than the men had themselves, for the basket-men delivered many different ships, and it was the general rule for them to get their dinner aboard among the sailors. The basket-man here referred to told me he had been a butcher, and was consequently well able to judge of the quality of the meat. "I have no hesitation," said he, "in stating that one-half the meat supplied to the seamen is unfit for human consumption. I speak of the pork in particular. Frequently the men throw it overboard to get it out of the way. Many a time, when I've been dining with the men, I wouldn't touch it. It fairly and regularly stinks as they takes it out of the coppers."
    I now come to the class termed Coal Meters. These, though belonging to the class of "clerks," rather than labourers, still form so important a link in the chain, that I think it best to give a description of their duty here.
    The coal-meters weigh the coals on board ship. They are employed by a committee of coal factors and coal merchants-nine factors and nine merchants forming such committee. The committee is elected by the trade. Two go out every year, and consequently two new members are elected annually. They have the entire patronage of the meters' office. No person can be an official coal-meter without being appointed by the coal committee. There were formerly several bye meters chosen by the merchants from among their own men, as they pleased. This practice has been greatly diminished since April last. The office of the coal-meter is to weigh out the ship's cargo, as a middle man between the factor and the merchant. The cargo is consigned by the pit-owner or the ship-owner to the coal-factor. The number of coal-factors is about 25. These men dispose of all the coals that are sold in London. As soon as the ship arrives at Gravesend her papers are transmitted to an office appointed for that purpose, and the factor then proceeds to the Coal-Exchange to sell them. Here the merchants and the factors assemble three times a week. The purchasers are divided into large and small buyers. The large buyers consist of the higher class coal merchants, and they will sometimes buy as many as 3 or 4,000 tons in a day. The small buyers only purchase by multiples of 7 - either 14, 21 or 28 tons as they please. The rule of the market is, that the buyers pay one-half of the purchase-money the first market day after the ship is cleared, and for the remainder a bill at six weeks is given. After the ship is sold she is admitted from the Section into the Pool, and a meter is appointed to her from the Coal Meters'-office. This office is maintained by the committee of factors and merchants, and the meters appointed by them are registered there. According as a fresh ship is sold the next meter in rotation is sent down to her. There are in all one hundred and seventy official meters, divided into three classes, called respectively "placemen," "extra men," and "supernumeraries." The placeman has the preference of the work. If there is more than the placeman can do, the extra man takes it, and if both classes are occupied, then the supernumerary steps in. Should the earnings of the latter class not amount to 25s. weekly, that sum is made up to them. Before "breaking bulk," that is, before beginning to work the cargo of the ship, the City dues must, under a penalty, be paid by the factor. These amount to ls. ld. per ton. The 1s. goes to the City, and the ld. to the Government. Formerly the whole of the dues went to the City, but within a short period the odd 1d. has been claimed by Government. The coal dues form one of the principal revenues of the City. The dues are collected by the clerk of the Coal Exchange. All the harbour dues and light dues are paid by the shipowner. After the City dues have been paid, the meter receives his papers, and goes on board to deliver the cargo, and sees that each buyer registered on the paper gets his proper complement. The meter's hours of attendance are from seven to four in winter, and from seven to five in summer. The meter has to wait on board the ship until such time as the purchasers send craft to receive their coals. He then weighs them previously to their delivery into the barge. There are eight weighs to the ton. The rate of payment to the meter is ld. per ton, and the merchant is compelled to deliver the cargo at the rate of 49 tons per day, making the meter's wages amount to 6s. 1d. a day. "If there is a necessity or demand for more coals, we can do double that amount of work. On the shortest day in the year we can do 98 tons. One whom I saw said: "I myself have done 112 tons to-day. That would make my earnings to-day 15s., but as I did nothing on Saturday, of course that reduces them one-half." Upon an average, a place-meter is employed about five days in the week. An extra meter is employed about four days in the week, and a supernumerary about half his time, but he has always his 25s. weekly secured to him whether employed or not. Two pounds a week would be a very fair average for the wages of a place-meter since the reduction on the 1st of April. Many declare they do not earn 36s. a week, but many do more. The extra-man gets very nearly the same money as the place-man under the present arrangement. The supernumerary generally makes his 30s. weekly. As the system at present stands. the earnings of the meters generally are not so much as those of superior mechanics. It is an office requiring interest to obtain it~ a man must be of known integrity, thousands and thousands of pounds of property pass through his hands, and he is the man appointed to see justice between factor and merchant. Before the act directing all coals to be sold by weight, the meter measured them in a vat holding a quarter of a chaldron. In those days a first class meter could reckon upon an income of from £400 to £500 a year. and the lowest salary was not under £300 per annum. The meter's office was then entirely a City appointment, and none but those of considerable influence could obtain it. This system was altered eighteen years ago, when the meter's office was placed in the hands of a committee of coal factors and coal merchants. Immediately after this time the salaries decreased. The committee first agreed to pay the meters at the rate of 2d. per ton, undertaking that that sum should produce the place-meter an income of £120. One gentleman assured me that he never exceeded £114, but then he was one of the juniors. Under the old system, the meters were paid at a rate that would have been equivalent to 3d. a ton under the present one. In the year 1831, the salary was reduced to 2d.. and on the 1st of April in the present year, the payment has again been cut down to ld. per ton. Besides this the certificate money. which was 2s. per ship, and generally amounted to 30s. per quarter. was entirely disallowed-making the total last reduction of their wages amount to full 30 per cent. No corresponding reduction has taken place in the price of coals to the consumer. At the same time the price of whipping has been reduced ld. per ton, so that. within the last year, the combined factors and merchants have lowered the price of delivery 1d., per ton, and they (the merchants and factors) have been the sole gainers thereby. This has been done, too, while the demand for coals has been increasing every year. Now, according to the returns of the clerk of the Coal Exchange, there were 3,418,340 tons of coals delivered in the port of London in the year 1848, and assuming the amount to have remained the same in the present year, it follows that the factors and merchants have gained no less than £21,364 12s. 6d. per annum, and that out of the earnings of the meters and the whippers.
    The coal-whippers, described in my last letter, whip the coals by means of a basket and tackle from the hold to the deck of the ship. The coal-meters weigh the coals when so whipped from the hold, previously to their being delivered into the barge alongside. The coal-backer properly carries the coals in sacks upon his back from the barges, when they have reached the premises of the coal- merchants, on to the wharfs; and I now proceed to speak of the coal porters:- Coal porters are employed in filling the waggons of the merchants at their respective wharfs, and in conveying and delivering the coal at the residence of the customers. Their distinguishing dress is a fantail hat and an outer garment-half smock-frock and half jacket-heavy and black with coal-dust; this garment is often left open at the breast, especially, I am told, on a Monday, when the porter has generally a clean shirt to display. The narrative I give will show how the labour of these men is divided. The men themselves have many terms for the same employment. The man who drives the waggon I heard styled indifferently, the waggoner, carman, or shooter. The man who accompanies him to aid in the delivery of the coals was described to me as the trimmer, trouncer, or pull-back. There are also the scurfs and the sifters, of whom a description will be given presently. The coal porters form a rude class - not, perhaps, from their manners being ruder than those of other classes of labourers whose labour cannot be specified under the description of "skilled" (it is, indeed, but the exertion of animal strength-the work of thew and muscle) - but from their being less educated. I was informed that not one man in six - the manager in a very large house in the coal-trade estimated it at but one in eight - could read or write however imperfectly. As a body they have no fellowship or "union" among themselves, no general sick fund, no organization, no rules for their guidance as an important branch (numerically) of an important traffic; indeed, as it was described to me by one of the class- no nothing. The coal porters thus present a striking contrast to the coal-whippers, who, out of means not exceeding those of the porters, have done so much for the sick among them, and for the instruction of their children. The number of men belonging to the Benefit Society of Coalwhippers is 436; and there are about 200 coalwhippers belonging to another society that was instituted before the new office. There are 200 more in connection with other offices. There were 130 sick men relieved by the Coalwhippers' Society last year. There were 14 deaths out of the 436 members. Each sick man receives 10s. a week, and on death there is a payment of £5 a man and £3 in the case of a wife. The amount of subscription to the fund is 3d. per week under 40 years of age, 4d. to 50, 5d. to 60, and above that 6d. On account of the want of any organization among the coal porters, it is not easy to get at their numbers with accuracy. No apprencticeship is necessary for the coal porter-no instruction even; so long as he can handle a shovel, or lift a sack of coals with tolerable celerity, he is perfect in his calling. The concurrent testimony of the best informed parties gave me the number of the porters (exclusive of those known as sifters, or scurfs, or odd men). as 1,500; that is, 1,500 men employed thus:- In large establishments on "the water-side" - five men are employed as backers and fillers; two to fill the sacks, and three to carry them on their backs from the barge to the waggon (in smaller establishments there are only two to carry). There are two more then employed to conduct the load of coal to the residence of the purchaser - the waggoner (or carman), and the trimmer (or trouncer). Of these the waggoner is considered the picked man, for he is expected to be able to write his name. Sometimes he can write nothing else, and more frequently not even so much, carrying his name on the customers ticket ready written; and he has the care of the horses as driver, and frequently as groom. 
    At one time, when their earnings were considerable, these coal porters spent large sums in drink. Now their means are limited. and their drunkenness is not in excess. The men, as I have said, are ill-informed. They have all a preconceived notion that beer, sometimes in large quantities (one porter said he limited himself to a pint an hour when at work), is necessary to them "for support." Even if facts were brought conclusively to bear upon the subject to prove that so much beer, or any allowance of beer, was injurious, it would, I think, be difficult to convince the porters, for an ignorant man will not part with a preconceived notion. I heard from one man, more intelligent than his fellows, that a temperance lecturer once went among a body of the coal porters. and talked about "alcohol" and "fermentation," and the like, until he was pronounced either mad or a Frenchman!
    The question arises, Why is this ignorance allowed to continue as a reproach to the men, to their employers, and to the community? Of the kindness of masters to men, of the discouragement of drunkenness, of persuasions to the men to care for the education of their children, I had the gratification of hearing frequently. But of any attempt to establish schools for the general instruction of the coal porters' children - of any talk of almshouses for the reception of the worn-out labourer - of any other provision for his old age, which is always premature through hard work-of any movement for the amelioration of this class I did not hear. Rude as these porters may be, machines as they may be accounted. they are the means of wealth to their employers, and deserve at least some care and regard on their part.
    The way in which the barges are unladen to fill the waggons is the same in the river as in the canals. Two men, standing in the barge, fill the sacks, and three (or two) carry them along planks, if the barge be not moored close ashore, to the waggon, which is placed as near the water as possible. In the canals this work is carried on most regularly, as the water is not influenced by the tide, and the work can go on all day long. I will describe, therefore, what I saw in the City Basin, Regent's Canal. This canal has been opened about twenty years. It commences at the Grand Junction at Paddington, and falls into the Thames above the Lime- house Dock. Its course is circuitous, and in it are two tunnels - one at Islington, three-quarters of a mile long; the other at the Harrow-road, a quarter of a mile long. If a merchant in the Regent's Canal has purchased the cargo of a collier, such cargo is whipped into the barge. For the conducting of this laden barge to the Limehouse Basin of the canal the merchant has to employ licensed lightermen, members of the Watermen's Company, as none else are privileged to work on the river. The canal attained, the barge is taken into charge by two men, who not being regular "watermen," confine their labours to the canal. These men (a steerer and a driver) convey the barge, suppose, to the City Basin, Islington, which, as it is about midway, gives a criterion as to the charge and the time, when other distances are concerned. They go hack with an empty barge. Each of these bargemen has 2s. a barge for conveyance to the City Basin. The conveyance of the loaded barge occupies three hours, 64 tons of coal being an average cargo. Two barges a day, in fine weather, can be thus conducted, giving a weekly earning to each man in full work of 24s. This is subject to casualties and deductions, but it is not my intention in this letter to give the condition of these bargemen. I reserve this for a future and more fitting occasion. In frosty weather, when the ice has caused many delays, as much as 6s. a barge, per man, has been paid, and I was told, hard-earned money too. A barge, at such times, has not been got into the City Basin in less than 48 hours. The crowded state of the Canal at the wharfs, at this time of the year, gives it the appearance of a crowded thoroughfare, there being but just room for one vessel to get along.
    From the statement with which I was favoured by a house carrying on a very extensive business, it appears that the average earnings of the men in their employ was, the year through, upwards of 28s. I give the payments to twelve men regularly employed as the criterion of their earnings, on the best paid description of coal porter's labour, for four weeks at the busiest time:-
    December 22 . . . £21 5 5
    " 15 . . .  21 17 3
    " 8 . . .  22 10  1
    November 17 . . . 28  8  0
This gives an average of more than £1 19s. per man a week for this period; but the slackness of trade in the summer, when coal is in smaller demand, reduces the average to the amount I have stated. In the two weeks omitted in the above statement, viz., those ending December 1st and November 24th, fourteen men had to be employed on account of the briskness of trade. Their joint earnings were £39 12s. 5d. one week, and £33  6s. 7d. the other. By this firm each waggoner is paid £1 a week, and 6s. extra if he "do" 100 tons, that is, 6s. between him and the trimmer. For every ton above 100 carried out by their waggoner and trimmer, 1d. extra is paid, and sometimes 130 are carried out, but only at a busy time; 142 have been carried out, but that only was remembered as the greatest amount at the wharf in question. For each waggon sent out, the waggoner and the trimmer together receive 4d. for "beer money" from their employers. They frequently receive money (if not drink) from the customers, and so the average of 28s. and upwards is made up. I saw two waggoners fully employed, and they fully corroborated this statement. Such payment, however, is not the rule. Many give the waggoner 21s. a week, and employ him in doing whatsoever work may be required. A waggoner, at what he called "poor work," three or four days a week, told me he earned about 13s. on the average.
    The scurfs are looked upon as, in many respects, the refuse of the trade. They are the men always hanging about the wharfs, waiting for any "odd job". They are generally coal-porters who cannot be trusted with full and regular work, who were described to me as "tonguey or drunken;" anxious to get a job just to supply any pressing need, either for drink or meat, and careless of other consequences. Among them, however, are coal-porters seeking employment, some with good characters. These scurfs, with the sitters, number, I understand, more than 500, thus altogether making, with the coal-backers and other classes of coal-porters, a body of more than 2,000.
    I now come to the following statement made by a gentleman who for more than thirty years has been familiar with all matters connected with the coal-merchants' trade.- I cannot say, he began, that the condition of the coal-porter (not referring to his earnings, but to his moral and intellectual improvement) is much amended now, for he is about the same sort of man that he was thirty years ago. There may be, and I have no doubt is, a greater degree of sobriety, but I fear chiefly on account of the men's earnings being now smaller and their having less means at their command. Thirty-five years ago, before the general peace, labourers were scarce, and the coal-porters then had full and ready employment, earning from £2 to £3 a week. I have heard a coal-porter say that one week he earned £5; indeed, I have heard several say so. After the peace, the supply of labour for the coal trade greatly increased, and the coal porters' earnings fell gradually. The men employed in a good establishment, thirty years ago, judging from the payments in our own establishment as a fair criterion, were in the receipt of nearly £3 a week on the average. At that time coal was delivered by the chaldron. A chaldron was composed of 12 sacks, containing 36 bushels, and weighing about 25 cwt. (a ton and a quarter). For the loading of the waggons a gang of four men, called fillers, was and is employed. They were paid 1s. 4d. per chaldron - that is 4d. per man. This was for measuring the coal, putting it into sacks, and putting the sacks into the waggon. The men in this gang had nothing to do with the conveyance of the coal to the customer: for that purpose two other men were employed, a waggoner, and a man known as a trimmer or trouncer, who accompanied the waggoner, and aided him in carrying the sacks from the waggon to the customer's coal-cellar, and in arranging the coal when delivered so as properly to assort the small with the large, or indeed in making any arrangement with them required by the purchaser. The waggoner and the trimmer were paid 1s. 3d. each per chaldron for delivery; but when the coal had to be carried up or down stairs any distance, their charge was an extra shilling - 2s. 3d. Many of the men have at that time, when work was brisk, filled and delivered fifteen chaldrons day by day, provided the distance for delivery was not very far. Drink was sometimes given by the customers to the waggoner and trimmer who had charge of the coal sent to their houses-perhaps generally given; and I believe it was always asked for, unless it happened to be given without asking. At that time I did not know one teetotaller. I do not know one personally among those parties now. Some took the pledge, but I believe none kept it. In this establishment we discourage drunkenness all that we possibly can. In 1832, wages having varied from the time of the peace until then, a great change took place. Previous to that time, a reduction of 4d. per ton had been made in the payment of the men who filled the waggon (the fillers), but not in that of the waggoner or the trimmer. The change I allude to was that established by act of Parliament, providing for the sale of all coal by the merchant being by weight instead of by measure. This change, it was believed, would benefit the public by ensuring them the full quantity for which they bargained. I think it has benefited them. Coal was, under the former system, measured by the bushel, and there were frequently objections as to the way in which the bushel was filled; some dealers were accused of packing the measure, so as to block it up with large pieces of coal, preventing the full space being filled with the coal. The then act provided that the bushel measure should be heaped up with the coal so as to form a cone, six inches above the rim of the measure. When the new act came into operation the coal-porters were paid 10d. a ton (among the gang of four fillers), and the same to the waggoner and trimmer. Before two years this became reduced generally to 9d. The gang could load 25 tons a day, without extra toil; 40 tons, and perhaps more, have been loaded by a gang, but such labour continued would exhaust strong men. With extra work there was always extra drink, for the men fancy that their work requires beer 'for support.' My opinion is, that a moderate allowance of good malt liquor, say three pints a day, when work is going on all day, is of advantage to a coal-porter. In the winter they fancy it necessary to drink gin to warm them. At one time all the men drank more than now. I estimate the average earnings of a coal- porter fully employed now, at £1 a week. There are far more employed at present than when I first knew the trade, and the trade itself has been greatly extended by the new wharfs on the Regent's canal, and up and down the river.
    I had heard from so many quarters that "beer" was a necessity of the coal-labourer's work, that finding the coal-whippers the most intelligent of the whole class, I thought it best to call the men together, and to take their opinion generally on the subject. Accordingly I returned to the basket-men's waiting-room at the Coalwhippers' Office, and, as before, it was soon crowded. There were eighty present. Wishing to know whether the coal-backer's statement, given in my last letter, that the drinking of beer was a necessity of hard labour, was a correct one, I put the question to the men there assembled- "Is the drinking of fermented liquors necessary for performing hard work? How many present believe that you can work without beer?" Those who were of opinion that it was necessary for the performance of their labour were requested to hold up their hands, and four out of the eighty did so.
    A basket-man, who had been working at the business for four years, and for two of those years had been a whipper, and so doing the heaviest labour, said that in the course of the day he had been one of a gang who had delivered as much as 189 tons. For this he had required no drink at all. Cocoa was all he bad taken. Three men in the room had likewise done without beer at the heaviest work. One was a coal-whipper, and had abstained for six years. Some difference of opinion seemed to exist as to the number in the trade that worked without beer. Some said 250, others not 150. One man stated that it was impossible to do without malt liquor. "One shilling a day, properly spent in drink, would prolong life full ten years," he said. This was received with applause. Many present declared that they had tried to do without beer, and had injured themselves greatly by the attempt. Out of the eighty present fourteen had tried teetotalism, and had thrown it up after a time, on account of its injuring their health. One man, on the other hand, said he had given the total abstinence principle a fair trial for seven months, and had never found himself in such good health before. Another man stated, that to do a day's work of 98 turns, three pints of beer were requisite. All but three believed this. The three pints were declared to be requisite in winter time, and four pints or two pots were considered to be not too much in a hot summer's day. Before the present office was instituted, each man, they told me, drank half a pint of gin and six pots of beer daily. That was the average; many drank more. Then they could not do their work so well. They were weaker from not having so much food. The money went for drink instead of meat. They were always quarrelling on board a ship. Drunken men could never agree. A portion of beer is good, but too much is worse than none at all. This was the unanimous declaration. 
    Since this meeting I have been at considerable pains to collect a large amount of evidence in connection with this most important question. The opinion of the most intelligent of the class seems to be, that no kind of fermented drink is necessary for the performance of the hardest labour; but I have sought for and obtained the sentiments of all classes, temperate and intemperate, with the view of fairly discussing the subject. These statements I must reserve till my next letter. At present I shall conclude with the following story of the sufferings of the wife of one of the intemperate class:- 
    "I have been married 19 or 20 years. I was married at Penton, in Oxfordshire. We came to London fifteen years ago. My husband first worked as a sawyer. For eleven years he was in the coal trade. He was in all sorts of work, and for the last six months he was a scurf. What he earned all the time I never knew. He gave me what he liked-sometimes nothing at all. In May last he only gave me 2s. 8d. for the whole month for myself and two children. I buried four children. I can't tell how we lived then. I can't express what I've suffered, all through drink. He gave me twenty years of misery through drink. [This she repeated four or five times.] Some days that May we had neither bit nor sup. The water was too bad to drink cold, and I had to live on water put through a few leaves in the teapot-old leaves. Poor people, you know, sir, helps poor people, and but for the poor neighbours we might have been found dead some day. He cared nothing. Many a time I've gone without bread to give it to the children. Was he ever kind to them, do you say, sir? No; they trembled when they heard his step; they were afraid of their very lives, he knocked them about so; drink made him a savage: drink took the father out of him. This was said with a flush, and a rapid tone, in strong contrast with the poor woman's generally subdued demeanour. She resumed: "Twenty miserable years through drink! I've often gone to bring him from the public-house, but he seldom would come. He would abuse me, and would drink more because I'd gone for him. I've often whispered to him that his children were starving, but I dursn't say that aloud when his mates was by. We seldom had a fire. He often beat me. I've 9s. in pawn now. Since we came to London I've lost £20 in the pawn-shop." This man died a fortnight ago, having ruptured a blood-vessel. He lay ill six days. The parish doctor attended him. His comrades "gathered" for his burial, but the widow has still some funeral expenses to pay by instalments. The room they occupied was the same as in the husband's lifetime. There was about the room a cold damp smell, arising from bad ventilation and the chilliness of the weather. Two wretched beds almost filled the place. No article was worth a penny, if a penny had to be realized on it at a sale or a pawnshop. The woman was cleanly clad, but looked sadly pinched, miserable, and feeble. She earns a little as a washerwoman, and did earn it while her husband lived. She bears an excellent character. Her repetition of the words, "twenty years of misery through drink," was very pitiful. I refrained from a prolonged questioning, as it seemed to excite her in her weak state.
    In my next letter, I repeat, I purpose going into this question fully.

Henry Mayhew, letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1849-1850