London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Horse-Dung of the Streets of London.


FAMILIARITY with streets of crowded traffic deadens the senses to the perception of their actual condition. Strangers coming from the country frequently describe the streets of London as smelling of dung like a stable-yard.

Such is of the statements in a Report submitted to Parliament, and there is no reason to doubt the fact. Every English visitor to a French city, for instance, must have detected street-odours of which the inhabitants were utterly unconscious. In a work which between and years ago was deservedly popular, Mathews's "Diary of an Invalid," it is mentioned that an English lady complaining of the villanous rankness of the air in the French town she entered—Calais, if I remember rightly—received the comfortable assurance, "It is the smell of the Continent, ma'am." Even in Cologne itself, the "most stinking city of Europe," as it has been termed, the citizens are insensible to the foul airs of their streets, and yet possess great skill in manufacturing perfumed and distilled waters for the toilet, pluming themselves on the delicacy and discrimination of their nasal organs. What we perceive in other cities, as strangers, those who visit London detect in our streets—that they smell of dung like stableyards. It is idle for London denizens, because they are unconscious of the fact, to deny the existence of any such effluvia. I have met with nightmen who have told me that there was "nothing particular" in the smell of the cesspools they were emptying; they "hardly perceived it." man said, "Why, it's like the sort of stuff I've smelt in them ladies' smelling-bottles." An eminent tallow-melter said, in the course of his evidence before Parliament during a sanitary inquiry, that the smell from the tallow-melting on his premises was not only healthful and reviving —for invalids came to inhale it—but agreeable. I mention these facts to meet the scepticism which the official assertion as to the stable-like odour of the streets may, perhaps, provoke. When, however, I state the of horsedung and "cattle-droppings" voided in the streets, all incredulity, I doubt not, will be removed.

It has been ascertained," says the Report of the National Philanthropic Association, "that four-fifths of the street-dirt consist of horse and cattle-droppings.

Let us, therefore, endeavour to arrive at definite notions as to the absolute quantity of this element of street-dirt.

And, , as to the number of cattle and horses traversing the streets of London.

In the course of an inquiry in , into Smithfield-market, I adduced the following results as to the number of cattle entering the metropolis, deriving the information from the experience of Mr. Deputy Hicks, confirmed by returns to Parliament, by the amount of tolls, and further ratified by the opinion of some of the most experienced "live salesmen" and "dead


salesmen" (sellers on commission of live and dead cattle), whose assistance I had the pleasure of obtaining.

The return is of the stock sold in Smithfield-market, and includes not only English but foreign beasts, sheep, and calves; the latter averaging weekly in (the latest return then published), beasts, ; sheep, ; and calves, .

 224,000 horned cattle. 
 1,550,000 sheep. 
 27,300 calves. 
 40,000 pigs. 
 Total . . 1,841,300.   

I may remark that this is not a criterion of the consumption of animal food in the metropolis, for there are, besides the above, the daily supplies from the country to the "dead salesmen." The preceding return, however, is sufficient for my present purpose, which is to show the quantity of cattle manure "dropped" in London.

The number of cattle entering the metropolis, then, are per annum.

The number of horses daily traversing the metropolis has been already set forth. By a return obtained by Mr. Charles Cochrane from the Stamp and Tax Office, we have seen that there are altogether

 In London and Westminster, of private carriage, job, and cart horses . . . 10,022 
 Cab horses . . . . . . . . . 5,692 
 Omnibus horses . . . . . . . . 5,500 
 Horses daily coming to metropolis . . 3,000 
 Total number of horses daily in London 24,214 

The total here given includes the returns of horses which were either taxed or the property of those who employ them in hackney-carriages in the metropolis. But the whole of these horses are not at work in the streets every day. Perhaps it might be an approximation to the truth, if we reckoned -sixths of the horses as being worked regularly in the public thoroughfares; so that we arrive at the conclusion that horses are daily worked in the metropolis; and hence we have an aggregate of horses traversing the streets of London in the twelvemonth. The beasts, sheep, calves, and pigs driven and conveyed to and from are, we have seen, in number. These, added together, make up a total of animals appearing annually in the London thoroughfares. The circumstance of cattle-market being held but twice a week in no way detracts from the amount here given; for as the gross number of individual cattle coming to that market in the course of the year is given, each animal is estimated as appearing only once in the metropolis.

The next point for consideration is—what is the quantity of dung dropped by each of the above animals while in the public thoroughfares?

Concerning the quantity of excretions passed by a horse in the course of hours there have been some valuable experiments made by philosophers whose names alone are a sufficient guarantee for the accuracy of their researches.

The following Table from Boussingault's experiments is copied from the "Annales de Chimie et de Physique," t. lxxi.

   Weight in a fresh state in grammes. Weight in a fresh state in pounds.   Weight in a fresh state in grammes. Weight in a fresh state in pounds. 
       lbs. oz.         lbs. oz. 
 Hay . . . 7,500   20 0     Excrements . 14,250 38 2 
 Oats . . . 2,270   6 1     Urine . . . 1,330 3 7 
     --------     --------         
     9,770     26 1         
 Water . . .   16,000     42 10         
 Total . .   25,770     68 11 Total . . . 15,580 41 9 

Here it will be seen that the quantity of solid food given to the horse in the course of the hours amounted only to lbs.; whereas it is stated in the Report of the National Philanthropic Association, on the authority of the veterinary surgeon to the Life Guards, that the regulation horse rations in all cavalry regiments is lbs. of solid food; viz., lbs. of oats, lbs. of hay, together with lbs. of straw, for the horse to lie upon and munch at his leisure. "This quantity of solid food, with gallons of water, is considered sufficient," we are told, "for all regimental horses, who have but little work to perform, in comparison with the draught horses of the metropolis, many of which consume daily lbs. and upwards of solid food, with at least gallons of water.

"At a conference held with the secretary and professors of the Veterinary College in Collegestreet, Camden-town," continues the Report,


"those gentlemen kindly undertook to institute a series of experiments in this department of equine physiology; the subject being which interested themselves, professionally, as well as the council of the National Philanthropic Association. The experiments were carefully conducted under the superintendence of Professor Varnell. The food, drink, and voidances of several horses, kept in stable all day long, were separately weighed and measured; and the following were the results with an animal of medium size and sound health:—

'Royal Veterinary College,


 "'Brown horse of middle size ate in 24 hours, of hay, 16 lbs.; oats, 10 lbs.; chaff, 4 lbs.; in all . . . . . . . 30 lbs. 
 Drank of water, in 24 hours, 6 gallons, or . . . . . . . . . . 48 lbs. 
 Total . . . 78 lbs. 
 Voided in the form of fæces . . . 49 lbs. 
 Allowance for nutrition, supply of waste in system, perspiration, and urine 29 lbs. 



'Demonstrator of Anatomy.'

Here we find the excretions to be lbs. more than those of the French horse experimented upon by M. Boussingault; but then the solid food given to the English horse was lbs. more, and the liquid upwards of lbs. extra.

We may then, perhaps, assume, without fear of erring, that the excrements voided by horses in the course of hours, weigh, at the least, lbs.

Hence the gross quantity of dung produced by the horses which traverse the London streets in the course of the twelvemonth will be X , or lbs., which is upwards of tons. But these horses cannot be said to be at work above hours each day; we must, therefore, divide the above quantity by , and thus we find that there are tons of horse-dung annually dropped in the streets of London.

I am informed, on good authority, that the evacuations of an ox, in hours, will, on the average, exceed those of a horse in weight by about a , while, if the ox be disturbed by being driven, the excretions will exceed the horse's by about a . As the oxen are not driven in the streets, or detained in the market for so long a period as horses are out at work, it may be fair to compute that their droppings are about the same, individually, as those of the horses.

Hence, as there are horned cattle yearly brought to London, we have X lbs. = lbs., or tons, for the gross quantity of ordure dropped by this number of animals in the course of hours, so that, dividing by , as before, we find that there are tons of ordure annually dropped by the "horned cattle" in the streets of London.

Concerning the sheep, I am told that it may be computed that the ordure of sheep is about equal in weight to that of oxen. As regards the other animals it may be said that their "droppings" are insignificant, the pigs and calves being very generally carted to and from the market, as, indeed, are some of the fatter and more valuable sheep and lambs. All these facts being taken into consideration, I am told, by a regular frequenter of market, that it will be best to calculate the droppings of each of the sheep, calves, and pigs yearly coming to the metropolis at about - of those of the horned cattle; so that multiplying by , instead of , we have lbs., or tons, for the weight of ordure deposited by the entire number of sheep, calves, and pigs annually brought to the metropolis, and then dividing this by , as usual, we find that the droppings of the calves, sheep, and pigs in the streets of London amount to tons per annum.

Now putting together all the preceding items we obtain the following results:—


 Horse-dung . . . . . . . . 36,662 
 Droppings of horned cattle . . . 1,125 
 Droppings of sheep, calves, and pigs 1,805 

Hence we perceive that the gross weight of animal excretions dropped in the public thoroughfares of the metropolis is about tons per annum, or, in round numbers, tons every week-day—say tons a day.

This, I am well aware, is a low estimate, but it appears to me that the facts will not warrant any other conclusion. And yet the Board of Health, who seem to delight in "large" estimates, represent the amount of animal manure deposited in the streets of London at no less than tons per annum.

Between the Quadrant in Regent-street and Oxford-street," says the first Report on the Supply of Water to the Metropolis, "a distance of a third of a mile, three loads, on the average, of dirt, almost all horse-dung, are removed daily. On an estimate made from the working of the streetsweep- ing machine, in one quarter of the City of London, which includes lines of considerable traffic, the quantity of dung dropped must be upwards of 60 tons, or about 20,000 tons per annum, and this, on a City district, which comprises about onetwentieth only of the covered area of the metropolis, though within that area there is the greatest proportionate amount of traffic. Though the data are extremely imperfect, it is considered that the horse-dung which falls in the streets of the whole metropolis cannot be less than 200,000 tons a year.

Hence, although the data are imperfect, the Board of Health do not hesitate to conclude that


the gross quantity of horse-dung dropped throughout every part of London—back streets and all— is equal to -half of that let fall in the greatest London thoroughfares. According to this estimate, all and every of the London horses must void, in the course of the hours that they are at work in the streets, not less than lbs. of excrement, which is at the rate of very nearly cwt. in the course of the day, or voiding only lbs. in the hours, they must remain out altogether, and never return to the stable for rest!!!

Mr. Cochrane is far less hazardous than the Board of Health, and appears to me to arrive at his result in a more scientific and conclusive manner. He goes to the Stamp Office to ascertain the number of horses in the metropolis, and then requests the professors of the Veterinary College to estimate the average quantity of excretions produced by a horse in the course of hours. All this accords with the soundest principles of inquiry, and stands out in startling contrast with the unphilosophical plan pursued by the Board of Health, who obtain the result of the most crowded thoroughfare, and then halving this, frame an exaggerated estimate for the whole of the metropolis.

But Mr. Cochrane himself appears to me to exceed that just caution which is so necessary in all statistical calculations. Having ascertained that a horse voids lbs. of dung in the course of hours, he makes the whole of the horses in the metropolis drop lbs. daily in the streets, so that, according to his estimate, not only must every horse in London be out every day, but he must be at work in the public thoroughfares for very nearly hours out of the !

The following is the estimate made by Mr. Cochrane:—

Daily weight of manure deposited in the streets by horses X lbs. = lbs., or tons, cwt., lbs.

Weekly weight, tons, cwt., lbs.

Annual weight, tons, cwt.

Tons or cart-loads deposited annually, valued at X =

It has, then, been here shown that, assuming the number of horses worked daily in the streets of London to be , and each to be out hours , which, it appears to me, is all that can be fairly reckoned, the quantity of horse-dung dropped weekly is about tons, so that, including the horses of the cavalry regiments in London, which of course are not comprised in the Stamp-Office returns, as well as the animals taken to , we may, perhaps, assert that the annual ordure let fall in the London streets amounts, at the outside, to somewhere about tons weekly, or tons per annum.

The next question becomes—what is done with this vast amount of filth?

The Board of Health is a much better guide upon this point than upon the matter of quantity: "Much of the horse-dung dropped in the London streets, under ordinary circumstances," we are told, "dries and is pulverized, and with the common soil is carried into houses as dust, and dirties clothes and furniture. The odour arising from the surface evaporation of the streets when they are wet is chiefly from horse-dung. Susceptible persons often feel this evaporation, after partial wetting, to be highly oppressive. The surface-water discharged into sewers from the streets and roofs of houses is found to contain as much filth as the soil-water from the house-drains."

Here, then, we perceive that the whole of the animal manure let fall in the streets is worse than wasted, and yet we are assured that it is an article, which, if properly collected, is of considerable value. "It is," says the Report of the National Philanthropic Association, "an article of Agricultural and Horticultural commerce which has ever maintained a high value with the farmers and market-gardeners, wherever conveniently obtainable. When these cattle-droppings can be collected , in dry weather, they bear an acknowledged value by the grazier and root-grower;—there being no other kind of manure which fertilizes the land so bounteously. Mr. Marnock, Curator of the Royal Botanical Society, has valued them at from to per load; according to the season of the year. The United Paving Board of St. Giles and St. George, since the introduction of the Street Orderly System into their parishes, has wisely had it collected in a state separate from all admixture, and sold it at highly remunerative prices, rendering it the means of considerably lessening the expense of cleansing the streets."

Now, assuming the value of the street-dropped manure to be per ton when collected free from dirt, we have the following statement as to the value of the horse and cattle-voidances let fall in the streets of London:—

 52,000 tons of cattle-droppings, at 6s. per ton . . . . . £ 15,600 0 0 

Mr. Cochrane, who considers the quantity of animal-droppings to be much greater, attaches of course a greater value to the aggregate quantity. His computation is as follows:—

 118,043 tons of cattle-droppings, at 6s. per ton . . . . . £ 35,412 19 6 

It seems to me that the calculations of the quantity of horse and cattle-dung in the streets, are based on such well-authenticated and scientific foundations, that their accuracy can hardly be disputed, unless it be that a higher average might fairly be shown.

Whatever estimate be adopted, the worth of street-dropped animal manure, if properly secured and made properly disposable, is great and indisputable; most assuredly between and in value.

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 Title Page
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work