When horses drew every imaginable wagon in London, crossing sweepers were a common sight. In some areas of town they were regarded a nuisance, for often young boys would pester a pedestrian and sweep a clear path whether that person wanted their help or not. The practice of using crossing sweepers to clean the streets of horse manure, dust, and clinging mud lasted into the early 20th century. In the mid-19th century, Henry Mayhew chronicled the lives of working people in a series of volumes entitled London Labour and the London Poor. Mayhew described a system of cleaning streets, introduced by Charles Cochrane in 1843, that instituted a more orderly system than crossing sweepers, and in which former paupers were hired so that they could support themselves.
The first demonstration or display of the street orderly system took place in Regent street between the Quadrant and the Regent circus and in Oxford street between Vert street and Charles street The streets were thoroughly swept in the morning and then each man or boy provided with a hand broom and dust pan removed any dirt as soon as it was deposited The demonstration was pronounced highly successful and the system effective in the opinion of eighteen influential inhabitants of the locality who acted as a committee and who publicly and with the authority of their names testified their conviction that the most efficient means of keeping streets clean and more especially great thoroughfares was to prevent the accumulation of dirt by removing the manure within a few minutes after it has been deposited by the passing cattle the same having hitherto remained during several days. – London Labour and the London Poor, p. 259
The groups of orderlies not only swept the street and removed dirt in a particular area of London (500 linear yards of a busy street, 2,000 yards of a quieter section, and 9 men in a busy intersection, like Cheapside), but they also acted as “the watchman of house property shop goods, the guardian of reticule,s pocket books, purses and watch pockets, the experienced observer and detector of pickpockets … more, he is always at hand to render assistance to both equestrian and pedestrian.” The report concluded that the street-orderly system would keep the streets of London and Westminster clean in a most satisfactory way. In return, the street-orderlies would earn a wage of 12s. Although this was a lower living wage than other workmen earned, the money lifted them out of their lives of squalor.
The system did not entirely replace the crossing sweepers, many of whom were depicted in caricatures as hounding pedestrians for services rendered. Read my article on Crossing Sweepers at this link.