August 22nd 1843. Whipping in the Coal.

The Coal Whippers’ Act of 1843, ‘was in principle the most socialist Act of the last half century’, said William Gladstone in 1883 remarking on his promotion of the Bill when President of the Board of Trade under Robert Peel.(1)

However in true tradition of 19thc Laissez-faire the Act lapsed in 1856 requiring other agencies to carry on the fight for these workers at the bottom of the trade in coal.

Coal Exchange, City, London c 1844.

Coal Exchange, City, London c 1844.

It was Today in August 1843 that The Coal Whippers’ Act received its Royal Assent, being an attempt to remedy abuses around the London Docks of those who ‘whipped’ in the coal from the colliers to the lighters.

Coal Whippers discharging collier. by WL Wyllie

Coal Whippers discharging a collier by W.L. Wyllie.

The Gangs were sometimes employed by a leader-the Basket Man-but mainly by beer house keepers around Commercial Road Docks of Whitechapel and only those with a good ‘score’ of drinking were employed, the ‘Stragglers’ being ignored.

Not surprisingly drunkenness was a problem as the publicans increased business by furnishing men with the ‘implements of their calling’ and these tended to be the biggest drinkers, but at a price as their wages were reduced by 40-50% to pay for the beer.(2)

One result of the 1843 Legislation was the establishment of a Central Office by the Rev. Champneys where workers could be legally employed away from the clutches of the ale-house.

After the lapse of the Act the House of Lords set up another Select Committee in 1857, despite which many were thrown back on the publicans. Then The Temperance Movement became involved publicising the system’s iniquities and notably Rev. Sangar of Shadwell took up the Whippers’ cause, resulting in some measure of amelioration.

Britain at that time was ‘surrounded by sea but built on coal’, a trade divided hierarchically. Starting with the Whippers hauling from the colliers to merchants’ lighters; taken ashore by Backers; sorted by Sifters; then into sacks by Fillers. Finally transported by Waggoners and delivered by Trimmers.

When we talk about class and hierarchy the working class could be just as snobby as others as any examination of those behind the baize doors of the country house would know.

(1) On 1st August 1843 in a Commons Debate on ‘coal-whippers’ Gladstone admitted, ‘as a general principle legislation should not interfere with labour, though the true facts had been proved before Committees of both Houses in 1828. The matter had been raised in Parliament back in 1797 and an 1803 Act had been a dead letter’.

(2) Wages varied from 15-16 shillings a week.


In 670.s Saxon England, a royal document described London docks: ‘The Place where the ships land’ and in the 8thc Lundvic was described as : ‘Trading centre for many nations who visit by land and sea’.

By 19thc London Docks comprised: West Indies 1802, London Docks 1805, East India 1806, St. Katherines 1828, Victoria 1855, Milwall 1868, and Tilbury 1886.

References: by Wyllie.

Dirty Old London.Lee Jackson. Yale 2014. (London)/Pic from Moggs New Pics of London.






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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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