London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis.


I HAVE already shown—it may be necessary to remind the reader—that there are modes of removing the wet refuse of the metropolis: the by carrying it off by means of sewers, or, as it is designated, and the other by depositing it in some neighbouring cesspool, or what is termed

The object of sewerage is "to transport the wet refuse of a town to a river, or some powerfully current stream, by a series of ducts." By the system of cesspoolage, the wet refuse of the household is collected in an adjacent tank, and when the reservoir is full, the contents are removed to some other part.

The gross quantity of wet refuse annually produced in the metropolis, and which consequently has to be removed by or other of the above means, is, as we have seen,—liquid, gallons; solid, tons; or altogether, by admeasurement, cubic feet.

The quantity of this wet refuse which finds its way into the sewers by street and housedrainage is, according to the experiments of the Commissioners of Sewers (as detailed at p. ), cubic feet per day, or cubic feet per annum, so that there remain about cubic feet to be accounted for. But, as we have before seen, the extent of surface from which the amount of so-called sewage was was only square miles, whereas that from which the calculation was made concerning the gross quantity of wet refuse throughout the metropolis was square miles, or double the size. The miles measured by the Commissioners, however, was by far the denser moiety of the town, and that in which the houses and streets were as to ; so that, allowing the remaining miles of the suburban districts to have produced times less sewage than the urban half of the metropolis, the extra yield would have been about cubic feet. But the greater proportion, if not the whole, of the latter quantity of wet house-refuse would be drained into open ditches, where a considerable amount of evaporation and absorption is continually going on, so that a large allowance must be made for loss by these means. Perhaps, if we estimate the quantity of sewage thus absorbed and evaporated at between and per cent of the whole, we shall not be wide of the truth, so that we shall have to reduce the cubic feet of suburban sewage to somewhere about cubic feet.

This gives us the quantity of wet refuse carried off by the sewers (covered and open) of the metropolis, and deducted from the gross quantity of wet house-refuse, annually ( cubic feet), leaves cubic feet for the gross quantity carried off by other means than the sewers; that is to say, the cubic feet, if the calculation be right, should be about the quantity deposited every year in the London cesspools. Let us see whether this approximates to anything like the real quantity.

To ascertain the absolute quantity of wet refuse annually conveyedinto the metropolitan cesspools, we must ascertain the number and capacity of the cesspools themselves.

Of the city of London, where the sewercess- pool details are given with a minuteness highly commendable, as affording statistical data of great value, Mr. Heywood gives us the following returns:—

 "The total number of premises drained during the year was . . 310 
 "The approximate number of premises drained at the expiration of the year 1850 was . . . . . 10,923 
 "The total number of premises which may now therefore be said to be drained is . . . . . . . 11,233 
 "And undrained . . . . . . 5,067 

I am induced," adds Mr. Heywood, "to believe, from the reports of the district inspectors, that a very far larger number of houses are already drained than are herein given. Indeed my impression is, that as many as 3000 might be deducted from the 5067 houses as to the drainage of which you have no information.

Now, until the inspectors have completed their survey of the whole of the houses within the city," continues the City surveyor, "precise information cannot be given as to the number of houses yet undrained; such information appears to me very important to obtain speedily, and I beg to recommend that instructions be given to the inspectors to proceed with their survey as rapidly as possible.

Hence it appears, that out of the houses comprised within the boundaries of the City, rather less than - are to


have cesspools. Concerning the number of cesspools without the City, the Board of Health, in a Report on the cholera in , put forward of its usual statements.

At the last census in 1841," runs the Report, "there were 270,859 houses in the metropolis. It is KNOWN that there is scarcely a house without a cesspool under it, and that a large number have two, three, four, and MORE under them; so that the number of such receptacles in the metropolis may be taken at 300,000. The exposed surface of each cesspool measures on an average 9 feet, and the mean depth of the whole is about 6 1/2 feet; so that each contains 58 1/2 cubic feet of fermenting filth of the most poisonous, noisome, and disgusting nature. The exhaling surface of all the cesspools (300,000 X 9) = 2,700,000 feet, or equal to 62 acres nearly; and the total quantity of foul matter contained within them (300,000 X 58 1/2) = 17,550,000 cubic feet; or equal to one enormous elongated stagnant cesspool 50 feet in width, 6 feet 6 inches in depth, and extending through London from the Broadway at Hammersmith to Bow-bridge, a length of 10 miles.

This," say the Metropolitan Sanitary Commissioners, a body of functionaries so intimately connected with the Board, that the one is ever ready to swear to what the other asserts, "there is reason to believe is an under estimate!

Let us now compare this statement, which declares it to be that there is scarcely a house in London without a cesspool, and that many have , , , and even more under them—let us compare this, I say, with the facts which were elicited by the same functionaries by means of a house-to-house inquiry in different parishes—a poor, a middleclass, and a rich —the average rental of each being , , and

 St. George the Martyr, Southwark. St. Anne's, Soho. St. James's. 
 From which replies have been received . (Number) 5,713 1,339 2,960 
 With supply of Water—         
 To the house or premises . . . (Per cent) 80.97 95.56 96.48 
 Near the privy . . . . . . " 48.87 38.99 43.42 
 Butts or cisterns, covered . . . (Number) 1,879 776 1,621 
 " " uncovered . . . . " 2,074 294 393 
 With a sink . . . . . . . (Per cent) 48.31 89.29 86.70 
 With a Well—         
 On or near premises . . . . . " 5.32 13.97 13.85 
 Well tainted or foul . . . . . " 46.92 3.71 7.36 
 Houses damp in lower parts. . . . . " 52.13 30.90 26.67 
 Houses with stagnant water on premises . . " 18.54 7.95 2.95 
 Houses flooded in times of storm . . . . " 18.15 5.04 4.05 
 Houses with Drain—         
 To premises . . . . . . . " 87.56 97.12 96.42 
 Houses with drains emitting offensive smells " 45.11 37.62 21.41 
 Houses with drains stopped at times . . " 22.37 28.50 13.97 
 Houses with dust-bin . . . . . . " 42.69 92.34 89.80 
 Houses receiving offensive smells from adjoining premises . . . . . . . " 27.82 22.54 16.74 
 Houses with privy . . . . . . " 97.03 70.63 62.53 
 Houses with cesspool . . . . . . " 82.12 47.27 36.62 
 Houses with water-closet . . . . . " 10.06 45.99 65.86 

In this minute and searching investigation there is not only an official guide to an estimation of the number of cesspools in London, but a curious indication of the character of the houses in the respective parishes. In the poorer parish of St. George the Martyr, , the cesspools were to every houses as .; in the aristocratic parish of St. James, , as only .; while in what may be represented, perhaps, as the middle-class


parish of St. Anne, Soho, the cesspools were . per cent. The number of wells on or near the premises, and the proportion of those tainted; the ratio of the dampness of the lower parts of the houses, of the stagnant water on the premises, and of the flooding of the houses on occasions of storms, are all significant indications of the difference in the circumstances of the inhabitants of these parishes — of the difference between the abodes of the rich and the poor, the capitalists and the labouring classes. But more significant still, perhaps, of the domestic wants or comforts of these dwellings, is the proportion of waterclosets to the houses in the poor parish and the rich; in the they were but . per cent; in the other . per cent.

These returns are sufficient to show the extravagance of the Board's previous statement, that there is "scarcely a house in London without a cesspool under it," while "a large number have , , , and more," for we find that even in the poorer parishes there are only cesspools to houses. Moreover, the engineers, after an official examination and inquiry, reported that in the "fever-nest, known as Jacob's-island, ," there were dwelling-houses and cesspools, or not quite cesspools to houses.

In rich, middle-class, and poor parishes, the proportion of cesspools, then, it appears from the of the Board of Health (their are of no earthly value), gives us an average of something between or cesspools to every houses. A subordinate officer whom I saw, and who was engaged in the cleansing and the filling--up of cesspools when condemned, or when the houses are to be drained anew into the sewers and the cesspools abolished, thought from his own experience, the number of cesspools to be less than -half, but others thought it more.

On the other hand, a nightman told me he was confident that every houses in throughout London had cesspools; in the City, however, we perceive that there is, at the utmost, only house in every undrained. It will, therefore, be safest to adopt a middle course, and assume per cent of the houses of the metropolis to be still without drainage into the sewers.

Now the number of houses being , it follows that the number of cesspools within the area of the metropolis are about ; consequently the next step in the investigation is to ascertain the average capacity of each, and so arrive at the gross quantity of wet houserefuse annually deposited in cesspools throughout London.

The average size of the cesspools throughout the metropolis is said, by the Board of Health, to be feet by , which gives a capacity of cubic feet, and this for houses = cubic feet. But according to all accounts these cesspools require on an average years to fill, so that the gross quantity of wet refuse annually deposited in such places can be taken at only half the above quantity, viz. in round numbers, cubic feet. This by weight, at the rate of . cubic feet to the ton, gives tons. This, however, would appear to be of a piece with the generality of the statistics of the Board of Health, and as wide of the truth as was the statement that there was scarcely a house in London without a cesspool, while many had But I am credibly informed that the average size of a cesspool is rather more than feet square and deep, so that the ordinary capacity would be X X = cubic feet, and this multiplied by gives an aggregate capacity of cubit feet. But as the cesspools, according to all accounts, become full only once in years, it follows that the gross quantity of cesspoolage annually deposited throughout the metropolis must be only -half that quantity, or about cubic feet.

The calculation may be made another way, viz. by the experience of the nightmen and the sewer-cesspoolmen as to the average quantity of refuse removed from the London cesspools whenever emptied, as well as the average number emptied yearly.

The contents of a cesspool are never estimated for any purpose of sale or labour by the weight, but always, as regards the nightmen's work, by the load. Each night-cart load of soil is considered, on an average, a ton in weight, so that the nightmen readily estimate the number of tons by the number of cart-loads obtained. The men employed in the cleansing of the cesspools by the new system of pumping agree with the nightmen as to the average contents of a cesspool.

As a general rule, a cesspool is filled every years, and holds, when full, about tons. man, who had been upwards of years in the nightman's business, who had worked at it more or less all that time himself, and who is now foreman to a parish contractor and masternightman in a large way, spoke positively on the subject. The cesspools, he declared, were emptied, as an average, by nightmen, once in years, and their average contents were loads of night-soil, it having been always understood in the trade that a night-cartload was about a ton. The total of the cesspool matter is not affected by the frequency or paucity of the cleansing away of the filth, for if cesspool be emptied yearly, another is emptied every , , , or year, and, according to the size, the fair average is tons of cesspoolage emptied from each every other year. master-nightman had emptied as much as


tons of night-soil from a cesspool or soil-tank, and a contractor's man had once emptied as many as eighteen tons, but both agreed as to the average of tons every years from all. Neither knew the period of the accumulation of the or the eighteen tons, but supposed to be about or years.

According to this mode of estimate, the quantity of wet house-refuse deposited in cesspools would be equal to X , or tons every years. This, by admeasurement, at the rate of . cubic feet to the ton, gives cubic feet; and as this is the accumulation of years, it follows that cubic feet is the quantity of cesspoolage deposited yearly.

There is still another mode of checking this estimate.

I have already given (see p. , ) the average production of each individual to the wet refuse of the metropolis. According to the experiments of Boussingault, confirmed by Liebig, this, as I have stated, amounted to lb. of solid and lb. of liquid excrement from each individual per diem (= lbs. for every persons), while, including the wet refuse from culinary operations, the average yield, according to the surveyor of the Commissioners of Sewers, was equal to about lbs. for every individuals daily. I may add that this calculation was made officially, with engineering minuteness, with a view to ascertain what quantity of water, and what inclination in its flow, would be required for the effective working of a system of drainage to supersede the cesspools. Now the census of shows us that the average number of inhabitants to each house throughout the metropolis was ., and this for houses would give people; consequently the gross quantity of wet refuse proceeding from this number of persons, at the rate of lbs. to every people daily, would be tons per annum; or, by admeasurement, at the rate of . cubic feet to the ton, it would be equal to cubic feet.

A small proportion of this amount of cesspoolage ultimately makes its appearance in the sewers, being pumped into them directly from the cesspools when full by means of a special apparatus, and thus tends not only to swell the bulk of sewage, but to decrease in a like proportion the aggregate quantity of wet houserefuse, which is removed by cartage; but though the proportion of cesspoolage which finally appears as sewage is daily increasing, still it is but trifling compared with the quantity removed by cartage.

Here, then, we have different estimates as to the gross quantity of the London cesspoolage, each slightly varying from the other .

   Cubic Feet. 
 The first, drawn from the average capacity of the London cesspools, makes the gross annual amount of cesspoolage 14,775,000 
 The second, deduced from the average quantity removed from each cesspool . . 13,462,500 
 And the third, calculated from the individual production of wet refuse . . . 16,670,950 

The mean of these results is, in round numbers, cubic feet, so that the statement would stand thus:—

 The quantity of wet houserefuse annually carried off by sewers (chiefly covered) from the urban moiety of the metropolis is (in cubic feet) . . 3,650,000,000 
 The quantity annually carried off by sewers (principally open) from the suburban moiety of the metropolis . . 150,000,000 
 The total amount of wet house-refuse annually carried off by the sewers of the metropolis . . . . . 3,800,000,000 
 The gross amount of wet house-refuse annually deposited in cesspools throughout the metropolis . . . 15,000,000 
 The total amount of sewage and cesspoolage of the metropolis . . . . . 3,815,000,000 

Thus we perceive that the total quantity of wet house-refuse annually , corresponds so closely with the gross quantity of wet houserefuse annually , that we may briefly conclude the gross sewage of London to be equal to cubic feet, and the gross cesspoolage to be equal to cubic feet.

The accuracy of the above conclusion may be tested by another process; for, unless the Board of Health's conjectural mode of getting at be adopted, it is absolutely necessary that statistics not only upon this, but indeed any subject, be checked by all the different modes there may be of arriving at the same conclusion. False facts are worse than no facts at all.

The number of nightmen may be summed up as follows:—

 Masters . . . . 521 
 Labourers . . . . 200,000 

The number of cesspools emptied during the past year by these men may be estimated at ; and the quantity of soil removed, loads, or tons, and this at the rate of . cubic ft. to the ton gives a total of cubic ft.

It might, perhaps, be expected, that from the quantity of fæcal refuse proceeding from the inhabitants of the metropolis, a greater quantity would be found in the existent cesspools; but there are many reasons for the contrary.



prime cause of the dispersion of cesspoolage is, that a considerable quantity of the night-soil does not find its way into the cesspools at all, but is, when the inhabitants have no privies to their dwellings, thrown into streets, and courts, and waste places.

I cannot show this better than by a few extracts from Dr. Hector Gavin's work, published in , entitled, "Sanitary Ramblings; being Sketches and Illustrations of , &c."

"—Part of this place is private property, and the landlord of the new houses has built a cesspool, into which to drain his houses, but he will not permit the other houses to drain into this cesspool, unless the parish pay to him , a sum which it will not pay." Of course the inhabitants throw their garbage and filth into the street or the by-places.

Whisker's-gardens.—This is a very extensive piece of ground, which is laid out in neat plots, as gardens. The choicest flowers are frequently raised here, and great taste and considerable refinement are evidently possessed by those who cultivate them. Now, among the cultivators are the poor, even the very poor, of Bethnal-green. . . . . Attached to all these little plots of ground are summer-houses. In the generality of cases they are mere wooden sheds, cabins, or huts. It is very greatly to be regretted that the proprietors of these gardens should permit the slight and fragile sheds in them to be converted into abodes for human beings. . . . Sometimes they are divided into rooms; they are planted on the damp undrained ground. The privies are sheds erected over holes in the ground; the soil itself is removed from these holes and is dug into the ground to promote its fertility.

Three Colt-lane.—A deep ditch has been dug on either side of the Eastern Counties Railway by the Company. These ditches were dug by the Company to prevent the foundations of the arckes being endangered, and are in no way to be considered as having been dug to promote the health of the neighbourhood. The double privies attached to the new houses (22 in number) are immediately contiguous to this ditch, and are constructed so that the night-soil shall drain into it. For this purpose the cesspools are small, and the bottoms are above the level of the ditch.

It would be easy to multiply such proofs of night-soil not finding its way into the cesspools, but the subject need not be further pursued, important as in many respects it may be. I need but say, that in the several reports of the Board of Health are similar accounts of other localities. The same deficioncy of cesspoolage is found in Paris, and from the same cause.

What may be the quantity of night-soil which becomes part of the contents of the street scavenger's instead of the nightman's cart, no steps have been taken, or perhaps can be taken, by the public sanitary bodies to ascertain. Many of the worst of the nuisances (such as that in ) have been abolished, but they are still too characteristic of the very poor districts. The fault, however, appears to be with the owners of property, and it is seldom are coerced into doing their duty. The doubt of its "paying" a capitalist landlord to improve the unwholesome dwellings of the poor seems to be regarded as a far more sacred right, than the right of the people to be delivered from the foul air and vile stenches to which their poverty may condemn them.

There is, moreover, the great but unascertained waste from cesspool evaporation, and it must be recollected that of the lbs. of cesspool refuse, calculated as the daily produce of each individual, lbs. are liquid.

The gross cesspoolage of Paris should amount to upwards of cubic mètres, or more than cubic feet, at the estimate of pints daily per head. The quantity actually collected, however, amounts to only cubic mètres, or rather more than cubic feet, which is cubic feet less than the amount produced.

In London, the cesspoolage of houses should, at the rate of lbs. to each individual and inhabitants to every houses, amount to cubic feet, or about loads, whereas the quantity collected amounts to but little more than loads, or about cubic feet. Hence, the deficiency is loads, or cubic feet, which is nearly half of the entire quantity.

In Paris, then, it would appear that only per cent of the refuse which is not removed by sewers is collected in the cesspools, whereas in London about per cent is so collected. The remainder in both cases is part deposited in by-places and removed by the scavenger's cart, part lost in evaporation, where as a large proportion of the deficiency arises from a less quantity of water than the amount stated being used by the very poor.

We have now to see the means by which this cubic feet of cesspoolage is annually removed, as well as to ascertain the condition and incomes of the labourers engaged in the removal of it.


[] In one of their Reports the Board of Health has spoken of the yearly cleansing of the cesspools; but a cesspool, I am assured, is rarely emptied by manual labour, unless it be full, for as the process is generally regarded as a nuisance, it is resorted to as seldom as possible. It may, perhaps, be different with the cesspool-emptying by the hydraulic process, which is not a nuisance.

[] It was ascertained that 3 gallons (half a cubic foot) of water would carry off 1 lb. of the more solid excrementitious matter through a 6-inch pipe, with an inclination of 1 in 10.

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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