he wages paid to workingmen on the Thames Embankment varied slightly from year to year, or from project to project, but the difference between skilled and unskilled was very clear. For the first section of the Victoria Embankment, the MBW [Metropolitan Board of Works] specified that bricklayers, masons, carpenters, and smiths should be paid 6s. 6d. for a ten-hour day, and engineers 7s. 6d. Excavators wearing their own "long water boots" earned 4s. 6d. and common laborers 3s. ad. The same wages obtained in the 1865 contracts for the Albert Embankment, and in the 1871 contracts for the Chelsea Embankment, except that day laborers earned 3s. 6d. in 1865, and bricklayers got 7s. 6d. in l87l. If an engineer worked a ten-hour day (and not the eleven-and-a-half-hour day common among builders before the 1860 strikes) six days a week, with the usual lapses for illness or weather, he could earn about £110 per year, equalling the wages of a young civil engineering clerk of the white-collar variety. Imagine the trials of a newly minted "clerk of the works" sent out by the MBW to supervise a sewer or Embankment construction site, when he encountered his unionized and experienced "engineer" counterpart, who not only knew more about the practice of construction than he did, but earned higher wages.
Dale H. Porter, The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London. Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 1998.
Last modified 1999