HC Deb 14 July 1863 vol 172 cc815-7

said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the treatment of the fellowship porters by the corporation of London. The fellowship porters were the remains of an ancient body in the City of London. They had their origin several centuries ago, in connection with the privileges of the corporation of London. The corporation claimed the right of measuring all goods that came by the river Thames into London. The fellowship porters were appointed to do the measurement; and the corporation directed that they should pay one penny out of every shilling they earned, which penny was to go to a fund devoted to the expenses of management and certain other purposes. The corporation had given up measuring, but still enjoyed a large revenue as measurers, while the fellowship porters, whom they had mulcted of a penny out of every shilling of their earnings to form a benefit fund, were left unprovided for. The only way in which the corporation could be influenced, was by appointing a Committee of that House to expose the way in which these poor people had been treated. For forty years they had been mulcted of one-twelfth of their daily earnings, and it was a shame that they should be left now in utter destitution, while the corporation spent tens of thousands of pounds upon dances for the pleasure of its members and their wives. The benefit fund was distributed in this way—£60 for table, £234 to the rulers, £138 for an office, £100 for a clerk. £10 for a servant, and only £117 for the relief of the fellowship of the porters. It was monstrous that there should be this extravagant waste, and he hoped that the House would inquire into the matter.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the treatment of the Fellowship Porters by the Corporation of London."—(Mr. Ayrton.)


said, he had no wish to suppress inquiry, nor was he instructed to ask for such suppression. He had however heard the speech of his hon. Friend, and he confessed he could not see on what ground he impeached the conduct of the corporation of the City. That was one of the opportunities of which his hon. Friend always availed himself, in season and out of season, for inveighing against the corporation of London. The fellowship porters were an old body connected with the City; and although the right of the corporation to make rules for them had been disputed, that right was confirmed. No doubt it would not be right to establish such a body at that day, but the corporation had no interest whatever in their existence. They were placed by immemorial usage, confirmed by a decision of the Queen's Bench more than a hundred years ago, under rules made by the corporation of the City. Their claims had been considered by competent members of the council; and the fact was, that out of some 600 working men who were affected more or less by the changes which had taken place in the mode of carrying on business, 400 had petitioned against the proposed inquiry as being wholly unnecessary. Those who had petitioned for inquiry were either old persons unfit for labour, or persons indisposed to work, and they wished to appropriate the accumulated fund, which amounted to about £3,000, and to see the fellowship wound up: but the majority of the body were perfectly content with the present state of things, and did not complain of the reduction in their wages. He hoped that the House would not institute any inquiry.


said, he thought hon. Members would be of opinion that the subject was not one which ought to be referred to a Select Committee of the House, especially at that period of the Session. The question was one of a quarrel between the corporation and its employés, and the better remedy would be that they should have recourse to a legal tribunal.


said, that the poor porters were unable to have recourse to a legal tribunal. The fact was, that the same duties were levied from them as were raised years ago, when the fellowship porters performed duties which they were no longer able to perform. These poor men had no other tribunal than the House of Commons. At the same time, he admitted that it was not a favourable period of the Session at which to bring forward the claims of these men. He trusted the corporation of London would take larger views with reference to public interests—a corporation which had only one merit, that of an ancient descent—an apostolical succession for anything he knew. No one would rejoice more than he (Sir John Shelley) to find an improvement in the conduct of the corporation in this respect.


hoped that between that time and the next Session the City of London would do justice to these men; and if not, he might feel it his duty to call attention to the subject during the next Session,

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.