A very old trade - a Livery Company was established in the City of
London in medieval times. By the nineteenth century the trade of
Carman was largely unregulated.
The same Charles Booth who wrote about Hoop Benders also wrote about
Carmen and their work in his Life and Labour of the People of London
"...43,801* Carmen, Carters, Van Boys etc employed in driving or
taking charge of merchandise" (* figures for London) and
distinguished them from those who drive or take charge of vehicles
conveying passengers... A large proportion of the Carmen attend to
their own horses.
vans driven and attended to by these men include an immense variety
of vehicles, ranging from the iron trolley used to move heavy pieces
of machinery and drawn by six or even eight horses, to the little
spring cart and pony which is but one remove from a costermongerís
barrow. They include also a vast number of tradesmen's hooded carts
and those mere boxes on wheels, which are used when speed is the
principal object, as in the distribution of letters and newspapers.
With heavy traffic the pay and position of the driver primarily
depends on whether he drives one horse or two. Beyond this the
conditions of employment depend mainly on whether the employing firm
has few or many carts. ... the great bulk (of the trade) consists in
the handling of vans and carts belonging to a multitude of
businessmen in every part of London. Some trades require carts of a
peculiar shape, as for example those used by brewers, specially
suited to the carriage of barrels, or for the transport of the light
mass of reeking 'grains', or again such as the hearse- like vehicles
arranged to carry pianos.
In other cases, as for instance with dealers in furniture or
ironmongery, the goods to be moved are not packed, or hardly packed,
and special carts and men are required to affect the delivery
safely. Beyond this, even with those whose goods might be equally
well carried by a parcel's delivery company, an advantage is found
in the value of the van as a moving advertisement; and finally, if
other considerations are nearly balanced, a tradesman likes to have
his own cart and horse and his own man, for it is convenient in a
hundred ways, besides being a source of pleasure at times on Sundays
... Competition as to rates of wages is practically absent. It is
probable that the hours are long, and in some cases very long, but
as a rule the work is not exhausting, nor such as to divorce the men
from home life.
Hours of Work: The main grievance in this trade concerns the length
of the working day. There is no doubt those very long hours prevail.
A week's work, inclusive of time occupied in the stable, will
average from 96 to 100 hours. No overtime is paid in any systematic
way, but 1s (ie 5p) may be allowed for an extra load. If, for
instance, a man is ordered out at 3am in place of 6am he will
usually get 1s (5p) or 1s 3d (6p) extra; and for starting at
midnight and working on through the day an additional 2s (10p) may
be paid; but some employers do not give as much as this. On Sundays
the horses have to be attended to.
The vans are usually out all day, and every day during the week,
except when laid up for repairs, or unless trade be very slack. The
work, however, is seldom strenuous, and always involves more or less
waiting. These intervals, which may be between jobs or when waiting
in turn for a load, are of uncertain duration, from a few minutes to
one or two hours. One informant says that about three hours is the
average time occupied in "standing', and that this includes meal
times, for which no regular provision is made.
At times a man may 'put the nosebag on his horse' and go to sleep
him self, but such occasions are said to be rare, and that on the
whole the hours occupied are hours of work. The horses work the same
length of time as the men. There is no change of team. This in
itself would seem to be some guarantee that the number of hours of
standing must be a considerable portion of the whole. Except with
the railway companies and a few of the large contractors, the men
have to clean and water their horses. Horse-keepers are employed to
Wages: For such long hours as prevail, the pay is low. There is
perhaps no man's employment, which yields so small a return per
hour. To drive a cart demands but little skill, nor any exceptional
intelligence, and there is nothing like the physical exhaustion,
which puts a natural limit to hours of work in many trades.
Moreover, the hours in which goods are moved by road extend almost
necessarily early and late, preceding or following the work of
For one-horse vans men's wages vary from 18s (9Op) to 24s (£1.2O),
and boys are often employed at lower rates. Some of the heaviest
work is paid no more than 18s (90p). For two-horse vans the pay
varies from 22s (£1.10) to 26s ( £1.3O) with a few at 28s (£1.40).
For three or four horses no particular difference is made; 3Os
(£1.50) per week is the maximum rate, and few employers pay as much.
. At one time tips were almost a system, but are no longer usual,
excepting perhaps with the men engaged in parcels delivery, who may
still substantially augment their wages in this way. Drink is given
more often than money, and what money is received most frequently
goes to the public - house. It is admitted that Carmen are largely
addicted to strong drink, but it is not supposed that it plays any
considerable part in their sickness and mortality."
"The men suffer from rheumatism and bronchitis, and such illnesses
are the most prevalent and dangerous, as on the whole the men are
ill provided with warm clothes, presenting in this respect a
striking contrast to cab and 'busmen. Old bags are a common
makeshift for an overcoat. The railway companies and large private
firms almost invariably supply aprons or rugs, but in many cases the
men have to find their own, and then they are usually not provided
at all. Some firms even refuse to provide cloths for the horses, on
the grounds that, if they did, the men would use them!"
"If not incapacitated by actual illness or removed by death, men may
continue long at this work. Men of seventy years of age may be found
driving vans, and they have been known to work to within a few days
of death. With Carmen there is no such thing as partial loss of
capacity affecting wages, but at sixty a man would find difficulty
in getting a job if thrown out of work."
Social Condition: Of the 33,519* adult men (figures from the 1891
Census return) employed in these trades, about 23,850 are head of
families. Comparing the earnings as indicated in the combined return
with the scale of social conditions, we have 61% earning under 25s
(£1.25) a week compared with 58% living in a more or less crowded
condition (3 or more in each room). 29.5% earning from 25s (£ 1.25)
to 35s (£1.75).... living one and less than two persons to a room
and 9.5% earning over 35s (£1.75) with less than one person to a
room." (* figures for London).