London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris.
As the Court of Sewers have recently adopted some of the French regulations concerning cesspoolage, I will now give an account of the cesspool system of France.
When after the ravages of the epidemic cholera of -, sanitary commissioners under the authority of the legislature pursued their inquiries, it was deemed essential to report upon the cesspool system of Paris, as that capital had also been ravaged by the epidemic. The task was entrusted to Mr. T. W. Rammell, C.E.
Even in what the French delight to designate —and in some respects justly—the most refined city in the world, a filthy and indolent custom, once common, as I have shown, in England, still prevails. In Paris, the kitchen and houserefuse (and formerly it was the fæcal refuse also) is deposited in the dark of the night in the streets, and removed, as soon as the morning light permits, by the public scavengers. But the refuse is not removed unexamined before being thrown into the cart of the proper functionary. There is in Paris a large and peculiar class, the chiffonniers (literally, in Anglo-Saxon rendering, the , or ragfinders). These men nightly traverse the streets, each provided with a lantern, and generally with a basket strapped to the back; the poorer sort, however—for poverty, like rank, has its gradations—make a bag answer the purpose; they have also a pole with an iron hook to its end; and a small shovel. The dirt-heaps or mounds of dry house-refuse are carefully turned over by these men; for their morrow's bread, as in the case of our own street-finders, depends upon saleable being acquired. Their prizes are bones (which sometimes they are seen to gnaw); bits of bread; wasted potatoes; broken pots, bottles, and glass; old pans and odd pieces of old metal; cigar-ends; waste-paper, and rags. Although these people are known as rag-pickers, rags are, perhaps, the very thing of which they pick the least, because the Parisians are least apt to throw them away. In some of the criminal trials in the French capital, the chiffonniers have given evidence (but not much of late) of what they have found in a certain locality, and supplied a link, sometimes an important , to the evidence against a criminal. With these refuse heaps is still sometimes mixed matter which should have found its way into the cesspools, although this is an offence punishable, and occasionally punished.
Before the habits of the Parisians are too freely condemned, let it be borne in mind that the houses of the French capital are much larger than in London, and that each floor is often the dwelling-place of a family. Such is generally the case in London in the poorer districts, but in Paris it pervades almost all districts. There, some of the houses contain , not fugitive but permanent, inmates. The average number of inhabitants to each house, according to the last census, was upwards of (in London the average is .), the extremes being to each house in St. Giles's and between and in the immediate suburbs (see p. , ). Persons who are circumstanced then, as are the Parisians, can hardly have at their command the proper means and appliances for a sufficient cleanliness, and for the promotion of what we consider—but the words are unknown to the French language—the of a
"With respect to fæcal refuse," says Mr. Rammell, "and much of the house-slops, particularly those of bed-chambers, the is universally adopted in Paris as the immediate receptacle."
By far the greater proportion of the wet house-refuse of Paris, therefore, is deposited in cesspools.
I shall, then, immediately proceed to show the quantity of matter thus collected yearly, as well as the means by which it is removed.
The aggregate of the cesspool matter of Paris has greatly increased in quantity within the present century, though this might have been expected, as well from the increase of population as from the improved construction of cesspools (preventing leakage), and the increased supply of water in the French metropolis.
The following figures show both the aggre- gate quantity and the increase that has taken place in the cesspoolage of Paris, from to the present time:—
This shows an increase in years of very nearly per cent, but still it constitutes little more than -half the cesspoolage of London.
The quantity of refuse matter which is daily drawn from the cesspools, Mr. Rammell states —and he had every assistance from the authorities in prosecuting his inquiries—at "between and cubic mètres; ( and cubic feet), giving, in round numbers, the annual quantity of cubic mètres.
Mr. Rammell says that, were a tubular system of house-drainage, such as has been described under the proper head, adopted in Paris, in lieu of the present mode, it would cost less than - of the expense now incurred.
The principal place of deposit for the general refuse of Paris has long been at Montfaucon. A French writer, M. Jules Garnier, in a recent work, "A Visit to Montfaucon," says:—"For more than years Montfaucon has been devoted to this purpose. There the citizens of Paris deposited their filth before the walls of the capital extended beyond what is now the central quarter. The distance between Paris and Montfaucon was then more than a mile and a half." Thus it appears that Montfaucon was devoted to its present purposes, of course in a much more limited degree, as early as the reign of King Charles the Simple.
This deposit of cesspool matter is the property of the commune (as in the city of London it would be said to belong to the "corporation"), and it is farmed out, for terms of years, to the highest bidders. The amount received by the commune has greatly increased, as the following returns, which are official, will show:—
It is here that the "," of which I have spoken elsewhere, is prepared. Besides this branch of commerce, Montfaucon has establishments for the extracting of ammonia from the cesspool matter, and the right of doing so is now farmed out for francs a-year ().
Montfaucon is on the north side of Paris, and the place of refuse deposit is known as
|the Voirie. The following account of it, and of the manufacture of poudrette, is curious in many respects:—|
"The area, which is about acres in extent, is divided into irregular compartments:—
. The system of basins.
. The ground used for spreading and drying the matter.
. The place where the matter is heaped up after having been dried.
The basins, standing for the most part in gradations, above another, by reason of the slope of the ground, are in number. The upper ones, which are upon a level, receive the soil upon its arrival at the Voirie; the others are receptacles for the more liquid portion as it gradually flows off from the upper basins.
There is a great difference in the character of the soil brought; that taken from the upper part of the cesspools, and amounting to a large proportion of the whole, being entirely liquid; while the remainder is more or less solid, according to the depth at which it is taken. The whole, however, during winter or rainy weather, is indiscriminately deposited in the upper basins; but in dry weather, the nearly solid portion is at once thrown upon the drying-ground."
The quantity of poudrette sold in was:—
The late M. Parent du Châtelet, a high authority on this matter, stated (in )
|that the emanations from the Voirie were insupportable within a circumference of mètres (about a mile and a quarter, English measure); while the winds carried them sometimes, as was shown when an official inquiry was made as to the ravages and causes of cholera, miles; and in certain states of the atmosphere, French miles (not quite English miles). The same high authority has also stated, that in addition to the emanations from the cesspool matter at the Voirie the greater part of the carcasses of about horses, and between and smaller animals, were allowed to rot upon the ground there.|
To abate this nuisance a new Voirie was, more than years since, formed in the forest of Bondy, miles from Paris. It consists of basins, on each side of the Canal de l'Ourcq, arranged like those at Montfaucon. The area of these basins is little short of square yards, and their collective capacity upwards of cubic yards. The expectations of the relief that would be experienced from the establishment of the new Voirie in the forest have not been realized. The movable cesspools only have been conveyed there, by boats on the canal, to be emptied; the empty casks being conveyed back by the same boats. The basins are not yet full; for the conveyance by the Canal de l'Ourcq is costly, and in winter its traffic is sometimes suspended by its being frozen. In year the cost of conveying these movable cesspools to Bondy was little short of
In the latest Report on this subject () the Commissioners, of whom M. Parent du Châtelet was , recommend that all the cesspool matter at the Voiries should be disinfected. M. Salmon, after a course of chemical experiments (the Report of the Commission states), disinfected and carbonized a mass of mud and filth, containing much organic matter, deposited (from a sewer) on the banks of the Seine.
The Commissioners say, "The discovery of M. Salmon awakened the attention of the contractors of Montfaucon, who employed of our most skilful chemists to find for them a means of disinfection other than that for which M. Salmon had taken out a patent. M. Sanson and some other persons made similar researches, and from their joint investigations it resulted that disinfection might be equally well produced with turf ashes, with carbonized turf, and with the simple of this very abundant substance; and that the same success might be obtained with sawdust, with the refuse matter of the tan-yards, with garden mould, so abundant in the environs of Paris, and with many other substances. A curious experiment has even shown, that after mixing with a clayey earth a portion of fæcal matter, it was only necessary to carbonize this mixture to obtain a perfect disinfectant powder. Theory had already indicated the result.
This disinfection, however, has not been carried out in the Voiries, nor in the manufacture of poudrette.
From the account of the general refuse depositories of Paris we pass to the particular receptacles or cesspools of the French capital.
The Parisian cesspools are of sorts:—
. Fixed or excavated cesspools.
. Movable cesspools.
"The movable cesspools are of kinds; the ," says Mr. Rammell, "extremely simple and primitive in construction, the other more complicated. The former retains all the refuse, both liquid and solid, passed into it; the latter retains only the solid matter, the liquid being separated by a sort of strainer, and running off into another receptacle.
Indeed, the movable system of cesspools (it appears from further accounts) seems to be now adopted only in those places where fixed cesspools could not be altered in accordance with the ordonnance, or where it is desired to avoid the cost of a fixed cesspool.
An ordonnance of enacts peremptorily that cesspools, fixed or excavated, then existing, shall be altered in accordance with its provisions upon the subsequent emptying after the date of the enactment, "or if that be found impracticable, they shall be filled up." This full delegation of power to a centralised authority was the example prompting our late stringent enactments as to buildings and sewerage.
The French ordonnance provides also that the walls, arches, and bottoms of the cesspools, shall be constructed of a very hard description of stone, known as "pierres meulières" (millstone); the mortar used is to be hydraulic lime and clean river sand. Each arch is to be to centimètres ( to inches) in thickness, and the walls to centimètres ( to inches); the interior height not to be less than mètres ( yards inches). A soil-pipe is always to be placed in the middle of the cesspool; its interior diameter is not to be less than / inches in pottery-ware piping, or / inches in cast iron. A vent-pipe, not less than / inches in diameter, is to be carried up to the level of the chimney-tops, or to that of the chimneys of the adjoining houses. This is, if possible, to divert the smell from the house to which the cesspool is attached.
"It is estimated that, in the better class of houses, the daily quantity of matter, including the water necessary for cleanliness and to ensure the passage of the solids through the soil-pipe, passing into the cesspool from each individual, amounts to litre (. English pints). Foreign substances are found in great abundance in the cesspools; the large soilpipes permitting their easy introduction; so that the cesspool becomes the common receptacle for a great variety of articles that it is desired secretly to get rid of. Article of the Police Regulations directs that nightmen finding any articles in the cesspools, especially such as lead to the suspicion of a crime or misdemeanor, shall make a declaration of the fact the same day to a Commissary of Police."
In all such matters the police regulations of France are far more stringent and exacting than those of England.
"The cesspools vary considerably in foulness," continues the Report; "and This is accounted for by the increased quantity of sulphuretted hydrogen gas evolved: and is more particularly the case where, from their large size, or from the small number of people using them, much time is allowed for the matter to stagnate and decompose in them. Soap-suds are said to add materially to their offensive and dangerous condition. FOULNESS CLEANLY Where urine predominates ammoniacal vapours are given off in considerable quantities, and although these affect the eyes of those exposed to them—and the nightmen suffer much from inflammation of these organs—no danger to life results. The inflammation, however, is often sufficiently acute to produce temporary blindness, and from this cause the men are at times thrown out of work for days together."
The is the next point to be considered.
No cesspool is allowed to be emptied in Paris, and no nightman's cart, containing soil, is allowed to be in the streets from A.M. to P.M. from to , nor from A.M. to P.M. from to . In the winter season the hours of labour permitted by law are , and in the summer season , out of the ; while in London the hours of night-work are limited to , without any distinction of season. These hours, however, only relate to the cleansing of the fixed cesspools of Paris.
Fixed or excavated cesspools are emptied into carts, which are driven to the receptacles. As far as regards the removal of night-soil along the streets, there are far more frequent complaints of stench and annoyance in Paris than in London. None of these cesspools can be emptied without authority from the police, and the police exercise a vigilant supervision over the whole arrangements; neither can any cesspool, after being emptied, be closed without a written authority, after inspection, by the Director of Health; nor can a cesspool, if found defective when emptied, be repaired without such authority.
In opening a cesspool in Paris, precautions are always taken to prevent accidents which might result from the escape or ignition of the gases.
The general, not to say universal, mode of emptying the fixed or excavated cesspools is to pump the contents into closed carts for transport.
The total weight of of these carts when full is about tons and cwt. This is somewhat more than the weight of the contents of a London waggon employed in night-soil carriage. horses are attached to each cart.
When an opening into the cesspool has been effected, a suction-pipe on the pneumatic principle is laid from the cesspool to the cart. This pipe is / inches in diameter, and is in separate pieces of about feet each, with others shorter (down even to foot), to make up any exact length required. kinds are commonly used; made of leather, having iron wire wound spirally inside to prevent collapse, the other of copper. The leather pipe is used where a certain degree of pliability is required; the copper for the straight parts of the line, and for determined curves; pieces struck from various radii being made for the purpose.
Gutta-percha has been tried as a substitute for leather in the piping, but was pronounced liable to split, and its use was abandoned. So with India-rubber in London.
The communication between the suctionpipe and the vehicle used by the nightmen is opened by withdrawing a plug by means of a forked rod into the "recess" (hollow) of the machine, an operation tasking the muscular powers of men. This done, the cesspool contents rush into the cart, being forced up by the weight of the atmosphere to occupy the existing vacuum; this occupies about minutes. The cart, however, is then but -fourths filled with matter, the remaining being occupied by the rarefied air previously in the cart, and by the air contained in the suction-pipe. This air is next withdrawn by the action of a small air-pump, worked usually by , but sometimes by man. The air-pump is placed on the ground at a little distance from the cesspool cart, and communicates with it by a flexible India-rubber tube, an inch in diameter. The air, as fast as it is pumped out, is forced through another Indiarubber tube of similar dimensions, which communicates with a furnace, also placed on the ground at a little distance from the air-pump, the pump occupying the middle space between the cart and the furnace, the furnace and the pump being portable. To ascertain when the
|vehicle is full, a short glass tube is inserted in the end of the air-pipe (the end being of brass), and through this, with the help of a small lantern, the matter is seen to rise.|
"The number of carts required for each operation," states Mr. Rammell, "of course varies according to the size of the cesspool to be emptied; but as these contain on the average about cart-loads, that is the number usually sent.
I have hitherto spoken of the System of emptying the Parisian cesspools. The results of the System are so similar, as regards time, &c., that only a brief notice is required. The hydraulic pump is worked by men; it is placed on the ground in the place most convenient for the operation, and the cart is filled in the space of from to minutes.
A furnace is used.
An indicator is also used to show the advancement of the filling of the cart; a glass tube and a cork float are the chief portions of the apparatus of the indicator.
Of these systems the pneumatic is the more costly, and is likely to be supplanted by the hydraulic. Each system, according to Mr. Rammell, is still a nuisance, as, in spite of every precaution, the gases escape the moment the cesspool emptying is commenced, and vitiate the atmosphere. They force their way very often through the joints of the pipes, and are insufficiently consumed in the furnaces. Mr. Rammell mentions his having twice, after witnessing of these operations, suffered from attacks of illness. On the occasion, the men omitted to burn the foul air, and the atmosphere being heavy with moisture, the odour was so intense that it was smelt from the Rue du Port Mahon to the Rue Menars, more than yards distant.
The emptying of the cesspools is let by contract, the commune acting in the light of a proprietor. To obtain a contract, a man must have license or permission from the prefect of police, and such license is only granted after proof that the applicant is provided with the necessary apparatus, carts, &c., and also with a suitable dápôt for the reception of the pumps, carts, &c., when not in use. The stock-in-trade of a contractor is inspected at least twice a-year, and if found inadequate or out of repair the license is commonly withdrawn. The "gangs" of nightmen employed by the contractors are fixed by the law at men each (the number employed in London), but without any legal provision on the subject. The terms of these contracts are not stated, but they appear to have ceased to be undertakings by individual capitalists, being all in the hands of companies, known as (filth companies). There are now companies in Paris carrying on these operations. More than half of the whole work, however, is accomplished by company, the "" The capital invested in their working stock is said to exceed francs (). They now require the labour of horses, and the use of vehicles of different descriptions.
The construction of a cesspool in Paris costs about as an average. The houses containing from to inmates may have , and occasionally more, cesspools. Taking the average at and a half, the capital sunk in a cesspool is Mr. Rammell says:—
The following, among others before shown, are the conclusions arrived at by Mr. Rammell:—
. "That with the most perfect regulations, and the application of machines constructed upon scientific principles, the operation of emptying cesspools is still a nuisance, not only to the inmates of the house to which it belongs, but to those of the neighbouring houses, and to persons passing in the street.
. "That the cesspool system of Paris presents an obstacle to the proper extension of the water supply, and consequently represses the growth of habits of personal and domestic cleanliness, with their immense moral results; and that in this respect it may be said to be inconsistent with a high degree of civilization of the masses of any community.
. "That, compared with a tubular system of refuse drainage, it is an exceedingly expensive mode of disposing of the fæcal refuse of a town."
 Mr. Rammell supplies the following note on the use of "Poudrette." "In connexion with this subject," he says, "a few observations upon the application of poudrette in agricultural process may not be without interest. "With regard to the fertilizing properties of this preparation, M. Maxime Paulet, in his work entitled 'Tháorie et Pratique des Engrais,' gives a table of the fertilizing qualities of various descriptions of manure, the value of each being determined by the quantity of nitrogen it contains. Taking for a standard good farm-yard dung, which contains on an average 4 per 1000 of nitrogen, and assuming that 10,000 kilogrammes (about 22,000 lbs. English) of this manure (containing 40 kilogrammes of nitrogen) are necessary to manure one hectare (2 1/2 acres nearly) of land, the quantities of poudrette and of some other animal manures required to produce a similar effect would be as follows:— Kilogr. "Good farm-yard dung, the quantity usually spread upon one hectare of land . . 10,000 Equivalent quantities of human urine, not having undergone fermentation . . . 5,600 Equivalent quantities of poudrette of Montfaucon . . . . . . . . 2,550 Equivalent quantities of mixed human excrements (this quantity I have calculated from data given in the same work) . . 1,333 "Equivalent quantities of liquid blood of the abattoirs . . . . . . . 1,333 Equivalent quantities of bones . . . 650 Equivalent quantities of average of guano (two specimens are given) . . . . 512 Equivalent quantities of urine of the public urinals in fermentation, and incompletely dried 233 M. Paulett estimates the loss of the ammoniacal products contained in the fæcal matters when they are withdrawn from the cesspools, by the time they have been ultimately reduced into poudrette, at from 80 to 90 per cent. I have not been able to meet with an analysis of the matters found in the fixed and movable cesspools of Paris, but in the 'Cours d'Agriculture,' of M. le Comte de Gasparin, I find an analysis by MM. Payen and Boussingault of some matter taken from the cesspools of Lille, and in the state in which it is ordinarily used in the suburbs of that city as manure. This matter was found to contain on the average 0.205 per cent of nitrogen, and thus by the rule observed in drawing up the above table, 19.512 kilogrammes of it would be necessary to produce the same effect upon one hectare of land as the other manures there mentioned. The wide difference between this quantity and that (1333 kilogrammes) stated for the mixed human excrements in their undiluted state, would lead to the conclusion that a very large proportion of water was present in the matter sent from Lille, unless we are to attribute a portion of the difference to the accidental circumstance of the bad quality of this matter. It appears that this is very variable, according to the style of living of the persons producing it. 'Upon this subject,' M. Paulet says, 'the case of an agriculturist in the neighbourhood of Paris is cited, who bought the contents of the cesspools of one of the fashionable restaurants of the Palais Royal. Making a profitable speculation of it, he purchased the matter of the cesspools of several barracks. This bargain, however, resulted in a loss, for the produce from this last matter came very short of that given by the first.' Poudrette weighs 70 kilogrammes the hectolitre (154 lbs. per 22 gallons), and the quantity usually spread upon one hectare of land (2 1/2 acres nearly) is 1750 kilogrammes, being at the rate of about 1540 lbs. per acre English measure. It is cast upon the land by the hand, in the manner that corn is sown. Poudrette packed in sacks very soon destroys them. This is always the case, whether it is whole or has been newly prepared. A serious accident occurred in 1818, on board a vessel named the Arthur, which sailed from Rouen with a cargo of poudrette for Guadaloupe. During the voyage a disease broke out on board which carried off half the crew, and left the remainder in a deplorable state of health when they reached their destination. It attacked also the men who landed the cargo; they all suffered in a greater or less degree. The poudrette was proved to have been shipped during a wet season, and to have been exposed before and during shipment, in a manner to allow it to absorb a considerable quantity of moisture. The accident appears to have been due to the subsequent fermentation of the mass in the hold—increased to an intense degree by the moisture it had acquired, and by the heat of a tropical climate. M. Parent du Châtelet, to whom the matter was referred, recommended that to guard against similar accidents in future, the poudrette intended for exportation, in order to deprive it entirely of humidity, should be mixed with an absorbent powder, such as quicklime, and that it should be packed in casks to protect it from moisture during the voyage."
 "It is in the upper basins," adds the Reports, "that the first separation of the liquids and solids takes place, the latter falling to the bottom, and the former gradually flowing off through a sluice into the lower basins. This first separation, however, is by no means complete, a considerable deposit taking place in the lower basins. The mass in the upper basins, after three or four years, then appears like a thick mud, half liquid, half solid; it is of depth varying from 12 to 15 feet. In order entirely to get rid of the liquids, deep channels are then cut across the mass, by which they are drained off, when the deposit soon becomes sufficiently stiff to permit of its being dug out and spread upon the drying-ground, where, to assist the desiccation, it is turned over two or three times a-day by means of a harrow drawn by a horse. The time necessary for the requisite desiccation varies a good deal, according to the season of the year, the temperature, and the dry or moist state of the atmosphere. Ere yet it is entirely deprived of humidity, the matter is collected into heaps, varying in size usually from 8 to 10 yards high, and from 60 to 80 yards long, by 25 or 30 yards wide. These heaps or mounds generally remain a twelvemonth untouched, sometimes even for two or three years; but as fast as the material is required, they are worked from one of the sides by means of pickaxes, shovels, and rakes; the pieces separated are then easily broken and reduced to powder, foreign substances being carefully excluded. This operation, which is the last the matter undergoes, is performed by women. The poudrette then appears like a mould of a grey-black colour, light, greasy to the touch, finely grained, and giving out a particular faint and nauseous odour. The finer particles of matter carried by the liquids into the lower basins, and there more gradually deposited in combination with a precipitate from the urine, yield a variety of poudrette, preferred, by the farmers, for its superior fertilizing properties. In this case the drying process is conducted more slowly and with more difficulty than in the other, but more completely. In general the poudrette is dried with great difficulty; it appears to have an extreme affinity for water; few substances give out moisture more slowly, or absorb it more greedily from the air. A good deal of heat is generated in the heaps of desiccated matter. This is always sensible to the touch, and sometimes results in spontaneous combustion. The intensity of this heat is not in proportion to the elevation of temperature of the atmosphere. It is promoted by moisture. The only means of extinguishing the fire when it is once developed is to turn over the mass from top to bottom, in order to expose it to the air. Water thrown upon it, unless in very large quantities, would only increase its activity."
 I did not hear any of the London nightmen or sewermen complain of inflammation in the eyes, and no such effect was visible; nor that they suffered from temporary blindness, or were, indeed, thrown out of work from any such cause; they merely remarked that they were first dazzled, or "dazed," with the soil. But the labour of the Parisian is far more continuous and regular than the London nightman, owing in a great degree to the system of movable cesspools in Paris.
 It must be recollected, to account for the greater quantity of matter between the cesspools of Paris and London, that the French fixed cesspool, from the greater average of inmates to each house, must necessarily contain about three times and a half as much as that of a London cesspool. If the dwellers in a Parisian house, instead of averaging twenty-four, averaged between seven and eight, as in London, the cesspool contents in Paris would, at the above rate, be between four and five tons (as it is in London) for the average of each house.