London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Cesspool System of London.
A CESSPOOL, or some equivalent contrivance, has long existed in connexion with the structure of the better class of houses in the metropolis, and there seems every reason to believe—though I am assured, on good authority, that there is no public or official record of the matter known to exist—that their use became more and more general, as in the case of the sewers, after the rebuilding of the City, consequent upon the great fire of .
The older cesspools were of kinds— "soil-tanks" and "bog-holes."
"Soil-tanks" were the filth receptacles of
|the larger houses, and sometimes works of solid masonry; they were almost every size and depth, but always perhaps much deeper than the modern cesspools, which present an average depth of feet to feet.|
The "bog-hole" was, and is, a cavity dug into the earth, having less masonry than the soil-tank, and sometimes no masonry at all, being in like manner the receptacle for the wet refuse from the house.
The difference between these old contrivances and the present mode is principally in the following respect: the soil-tank or boghole formed a receptacle immediately under the privy (the floor of which has usually to be removed for purposes of cleansing), whereas the refuse is now more frequently carried into the modern cesspool by a system of drainage. Sometimes the soil-tank was, when the nature of the situation of the premises permitted, in some outer place, such as an obscure part of the garden or court-yard; and perhaps or more bog-holes were drained into it, while often enough, by means of a grate or a trapdoor, any kind of refuse to be got rid of was thrown into it.
I am informed that the average contents of a bog-hole (such as now exist) are a cubic yard of matter; some are round, some oblong, for there is, or was, great variation.
Of the few remaining soil-tanks the varying sizes prevent any average being computable.
What the old system of cesspoolage may be judged from the fact, that until somewhere about no cesspool matter could, without an indictable offence being committed, be drained into a sewer! , no new house can be erected, but it is an indictable offence if the cesspool (or rather water-closet) matter be drained anywhere else than into the sewer! The law, at the period specified, required most strangely, so that "the drains and sewers might not be choked," that cesspools should "be not only periodically emptied, but by nightmen."
The principal means of effecting the change from cesspoolage to sewerage was the introduction of Bramah's water-closets, patented in , but not brought into general use for some years or more after that date. The houses of the rich, owing to the refuse being drained away from the premises, improved both in wholesomeness and agreeableness, and so the law was relaxed.
There are kinds of cesspools, viz. and
The are those situated in courts, alleys, and places, which, though often packed thickly with inhabitants, are not horsethoroughfares, or thoroughfares at all; and in such places , , or more cesspools receive the refuse from all the houses. I do not know that any official account of public cesspools has been published as to their number, character, &c., but their number is insignificant when compared with those connected with private houses. The public cesspools are cleansed, and, where possible, filled up by order of the Commissioners of Sewers, the cost being then defrayed out of the rate.
The are cleansed at the expense of the occupiers of the houses.