London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


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.

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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