Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Coal Whipper of Bromley

In the 1862 marriage register of Sts Peter and Paul Bromley the father of the bride one William Hunt is described as a coal whipper.
Coal Whippers were employed in the Port of London to discharge coal from vessels by carrying baskets from ship to barges. The manner in which they were recruited according to Gladstone's account given to the House of Commons in August 1843 (see Hansard coal-whippers Bill debate August 1843) was by publicans who profited greatly from the practice. Gang leaders were called basket men and relied in most cases on publicans to provide them with both baskets and labour. The conditions of coal whippers had long been a problem for Parliament and the City of London. In 1797 an application was made to parliament and in 1803 the Coal Whippers Act had attempted to prevent publicans from employing men but had been ineffective; in 1807 a strict monopoly placed hiring in the Court of Aldermen. Then in 1831 the House of Commons attempted to influence the publicans domination of working conditions but failed and in 1838 the Commons attempted to have men paid on board ship. After 5 years this had failed to influence conditions.
Gladstone as President of the Board of Trade quoted the number of coal ships unloaded in London by publican recruited labour as:
1841     3690
1842     4000
In 1843 the Coal Vendors Act established a central office of Employment ending the practice of the heaviest drinkers obtaining work from publicans and others. A contemporary description of the London Coal trade can be read here.
Sir Henry Mayhews account of the coal trade of London here also describes the period before the Act.
William Hunt  the coal whipper referred to in 1862 would have witnessed changes in the Pool of London as a result of these long awaited reforms to one of the hardest occupations in the capital.