London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil.


IT would appear, according to the previous calculations, that of the cubic feet of house-refuse annually deposited in the cesspools of the metropolis, about cubic feet are pumped by the French process into the sewers; consequently there still remains about cubic feet, or about loads, to be disposed of by other means. I shall now proceed to explain how the cesspoolage proper, that is to say, that which is removed by cartage rather than by being discharged into the sewers, is ultimately got rid of.

Until about months ago, when the new sanitary regulations concerning the disposal of night-soil came into operation, the cesspool matter was "shot" in a night-yard, generally also a dust-yard. These were the yards of the parish contractors, and were situate in , Paddington, &c., &c. Any sweeper-nightman, or any nightman, was permitted by the proprietor of of these places to deposit his night-soil there. For this the depositor received no payment, the privilege of having "a shoot" being accounted sufficient.

There were, till within these or years, I was informed, places where cesspool manure could be shot. These included the nightmen's yards and the wharves of manure dealers (some of the small coasting vessels taking it as ballast); but as regards the cesspool filth, there are now none of these places of deposit, though some little, I was told, might be done by stealth.

Of of these night-yard factories Dr. Gavin gave, in , the following account:—

On the western side of Spitalfields workhouse, and entering from a street called Queenstreet, is a nightman's yard. A heap of dung and refuse of every description, about the size of a tolerably large house, lies piled to the left of the yard; to the right is an artificial pond, into which the contents of cesspools are thrown. The contents are allowed to desiccate in the open air; and they are frequently stirred for that purpose. The odour which was given off when the contents were raked up, to give me an assurance that there was nothing so very bad in the alleged nuisance, drove me from the place with the utmost speed.

On two sides of this horrid collection of excremental matter was a patent manure manufactory. To the right in this yard was a large accumulation of dung, &c., but to the left there was an extensive layer of a compost of blood, ashes, and nitric acid, which gave out the most horrid, offensive, and disgusting concentration of putrescent odours it has ever been my lot to be the victim of. The whole place presented a most foul and filthy aspect, and an example of the enormous outrages which are perpetrated in London against society.

It is a curious fact, that the parties who had charge of these two premises were each dead to the foulness of their own most pestilential nuisances. The nightman's servant accused the premises of the manure manufacturer as the source of perpetual foul smells, but thought his yard free from any particular cause of complaint; while the servant of the patent manure manufacturer diligently and earnestly asserted the perfect freedom of his master's yard from foul exhalations; but considered that the raking up of the drying night-soil on the other side of the wall was 'quite awful, and enough to kill anybody.'

Immediately adjoining the patent manure manufactory is the establishment of a bottle merchant. He complained to me in the strongest terms of the expenses and annoyances he had been put to through the emanations which floated in the atmosphere having caused his bottles to spoil the wine which was placed in such as had not been very recently washed. He was compelled frequently to change his straw, and frequently to wash his bottles, and considered that unless the nuisance could be suppressed, he would be compelled to leave his present premises.

This and similar places were suppressed soon after the passing of the sanitary measures of .

The cesspool refuse, which was disposed of for manure, was at that time shot into recesses in the night-yard, where it was mixed with exhausted hops procured from the brewhouses, which were said to absorb the liquid portions, when stirred up with the matter, and to add not only to the consistency of the mass, but to its readier portability for land manure or for stowage in a barge. It was also mixed with littered straw from the mews, and with stable manure generally. An old man who had worked many years—he did not know how many—in of these yards, told me that when this night-soil was "fresh shot and mixed" (with the hops, &c.), the stench was often dreadful. "How we stood it," he said, "I don't know; but we did stand it."

In of the night-and-dust-yards, I ascertained that as many as loads, half of them waggon-loads, have been shot from the proprietor's own carts, and from the carts of the nightmen "using" the yard, in morning, but the average "shoot" was about loads (half a waggon) a-day for days in the week.

Of the mode of manufacture of this manure, a full account has been given in the details of the cesspool system of Paris, for the process was the same in London, although on a much smaller scale; and indeed the manufacture here was chiefly in the hands of Frenchmen.

The manure was, after it had been deposited for periods varying from month to or , sold to farmers and gardeners at from to the cart-load, although , I was in-


formed, might have been the general average. The cesspool matter, considered , was not worth, of late years, I am told, above a ton (or a load, which is sometimes rather more and sometimes less than a ton). It was when mixed that the price was to a ton. This cesspool filth was shot on the premises of the manufacturer gratuitously, as it was in any of the night-yards. It was not until it had been kept some time, and had been mixed (generally) with other manures, and sometimes with road-sweepings, that this manure was used in gardens; for it was said that if this had not been done, its ammoniacal vapours would have been absorbed and retained by the leaves of the fruit-trees.

This night-soil manure was devoted to purposes—to the manufacture of deodorized and portable manure for exportation (chiefly to our sugar-growing colonies), and to the fertilization of the land around London.

When manufactured into manure it was shipped—in new casks generally, the manure casks of the outward voyage being transformed into the brown sugar casks of the homeward-bound vessels. I was told by a seaman who some years ago sailed to the West Indies, that these manure casks in damp weather gave out an unpleasant odour.

It was only to the home cultivators who resided at no great distance from a night-yard, from to miles or a little more, that this manure was sold to be carted away; their attendance at the markets with carts, waggons, and horses, giving them facilities of conveying the manure at a cheap rate. But upwards of -fourths of the whole was sent in barges into the more distant country parts, having a ready water communication either by the Thames or by canal.

The purchaser nearer home conveyed it away in his own cart, and with his own horses, which had perhaps come up to town laden with cabbages to Covent Garden, or hay to Cumberland-market, the cart being made watertight for the purpose. The "legal hours" to be observed in the cleansing of cesspools, and the transport of the contents upon such cleansing, not being required to be observed in this transport of the cesspool manure, it was carted away at any hour, as stable dung now is.

It is not possible at the present time, when night-yards are no longer permitted to exist in London, and the manufacture of the night-soil manure is consequently suppressed, to ascertain the precise quantities disposed of commercially, in a former state of things.

The money returns to the master-nightman for the manure he now collects need no figures. The law requires him to refrain from shooting this soil in his own yard, or in inhabited part of the metropolis, and it is shot on the nearest farm to which he has access, merely for the privilege of shooting it, the farmer paying nothing for the deposit, with which he does what he pleases. It is mixed with other refuse, I was told, at present, and kept as compost, or used on the land, but the change is too recent for the establishment of any systematic traffic in the article.

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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