Victorian London - Health and Hygiene - Sewers and Sanitation - disposal of London's rubbish


HOW is this great capital saved from burial beneath its own refuse, and kept passably clean, as it undoubtedly is?
    In London there are some 800,000 houses, and to each house there are on the average forty-four square yards of street surface. These 35,200,000 square yards of streets are paved with wood and asphalte, and the granite in the form of pitching and macadam which half a million pairs of wheels and a no less number of iron-shod horses are constantly grinding to powder. With this detritus of the "metal" is daily mixed a cartload of horse-waste for every mile of roadway besides the sooty deposit of a million chimneys; and in wet weather this mixture is churned into the peculiar. gruel known as London mud, of which the watery and gaseous parts are evaporated into the air we breathe, while the solid particles dry into the dust which forms the sweepings of the streets. Add to these sweepings the house refuse from the dust-hole , and we have an accumulation of matter in the wrong place unexampled in the world's history.
    How do we deal with this mighty mass of dirt? How is it collected ? What becomes of it? An interesting theme assuredly, and one of increasing importance in these philo-sanitary days. Let us attack the problem in detail, and let our first example be from the heart of London.
    The cleansing of "the city" is part of the work of the Honourable the Commissioners of Sewers; and the headquarters are beyond the city boundary, on the southern bank of the Thames at Lett's Wharf, just east of Waterloo Bridge, near the Shot Tower, and easily recognisable by the tall chimney with the birdcage on the top. Here is quite a large establishment, well built and well ordered; and it is quite a model in its way of what a dust yard should be, being fully fumished with approved appliances for dealing with the dust and refuse of the busiest network of streets in the world. Gathered here, or controlled from here, are some five hundred men and boys and women, over eighty horses, seventy vans, seventeen water-carts, carts for diseased meat and other horrors, and a stock of brooms, hand and mechanical, of scrapers and squeegees, and other tools needed in every variety of weather on every variety of road and footway.
    The cleansing of the city is in the department of the city surveyor, but it is on the superintendent at the wharf that the responsibility really falls. Everything is under his control. He is "the man that cleans the city." His work never ends. There is no break in the weary round of scavenging.
    At eight o'clock in the evening the night brigade starts on the work which cannot be done in the daytime; at two o'clock in the morning the advance guard of the day staff appears in the twelve miles of main thoroughfares, and begins to sweep or wash them. At five o'clock in the morning the regular work opens, in the course of which the whole of the carriage-ways of the city have to be swept at least once, and many of them to be strewn with sand and gravel.
    At six o'clock the carts in a long procession leave the wharf to start on the removal of the sweepings and house refuse. At half-past seven the light brigade of boys leaves Stoney Lane, at the back of Houndsditch, and swarms out over the four districts of the city in so many companies each under the command of an inspector.
    In the next three hours the whole army is busily employed. The main attack has been delivered, and the effort is gradually decreased. By four o'clock the men and carts are home after their day's work; by five o'clock the boys are all back in Houndsditch; by eight o'clock the day men are all in and the night men are out again to continue the never-ending struggle with waste.
    All night long and all day long the barometer is watched and the weather reports are being telephoned to Lett's Wharf. The weather is not always the same in all parts of the city, and the weather in the city may not be the same as that at the wharf. Every kind of weather needs different tools and different placing of labour. Should a snowfall come - and that is the worst disaster London can experience - the most energetic efforts are made. Extra cartage is required and extra hand labour, and shovels and brooms and ploughs have all to be ready in an hour or or two. The tools are in stock. The cartage deficiencies are supplied from a list of contractors ready for such emergencies. The labourers come in swarms to headquarters, and the only difficulty is in dealing with those disappointed of employment. The cost of a snowfall is a serious matter. In the great storm of 1881 the city spent £5,000 to clear the snow away, and gave employment to more than 1,700 extra men.
    But this is the worst phase of the scavenging problem. The ordinary experience of summer and winter, the normal changes from wet to fair, require much method to meet them. Sunshine means dust that must be swept; a shower may turn the dust to slop requiring the squeegee, or into greasy mud requiring the scraper and the road-brush; and rain on asphalte or wood requires very different treatment to rain on granite or macadam. It is thus of importance that the state of the weather, as affecting the state of the roadway, should be forecast, if possible, and at least known at headquarters without delay.
    That the city is so clean - and it is by far the cleanest part of the huge territory of London - is in a large measure due to the "street-orderlies," officially so called - the "city collectors" of the commercial humorists. The horse-waste is by them cleared off at once; were it allowed to remain the enormous traffic would squeeze it into "grease," which it would almost take scrubbing with soap and water to get off. A more seemingly dangerous occupation than that of a street-orderly boy it would be difficult to find. With his handbrush and peculiar scoop - invented by Mr. Swale, the superintendent - in which the handle bends forwards instead of backwards, so as to bring the weight when full or empty always under the centre of the hand, the boy glides about under the horses' heads and among the crowding wheels in a way that is nothing less than miraculous to the timid on the footway. From his "bin" by the kerb as his centre, he works right and left and across the street, his object being to remove every atom of dirt within the area assigned to him before it has been run over by a wheel. That is his object, but in the throng of London vehicles he is lucky if he manages to clean the road before the dirt has been run over twice or thrice.
    Every morning these boys, about a hundred and fifty in number, muster at Stoney Lane for breakfast. The yard is not a large one. On the left is the office; on the right is what looks like a school-room; on the outer walls of each range in the central yard the numbered racks on which the boys keep their tools. After breakfast the boys file off to work, armed generally with brush and scoop, but sometimes with scraper or squeegee; and from the main thoroughfares they break off into the crossing roads, and thence into the minor streets and courts, each boy with a definite task allotted to him, and most of them anxious to have done with the task as early as possible, and return to the risky work on the main thoroughfares. To control all these boys, scattered off in all ways like rabbits in a warren, is not an easy task, but it is rarely that they give trouble, and a good worker is sure of recognition. The best boy is the one who needs least looking after, and the inspector, very naturally, soon discovers him, and puts him on the list for increased wages. He begins with six shillings a week; he soon gets seven shillings and sixpence a week; he may pass through the hobbledyhoyhood into manhood, and thence into old age, by turns handling scraper and broom, and sorting in the yard, and driving a van, and making himself useful about the wharf, and in some few cases may work through to the end, and retire on a pension of fifteen shillings a week. For there is a " career" open even in the city dust yard, nearly all in the service having entered it as boys, and worked up to fair wages step by step. It is not a career in which refinement or high educational qualifications are in demand, and of this the boys are well aware, to judge by the ill-success which has attended every effort to school them after hours. The day is long, the work requires constant alertness, and when evening comes the street-orderlies are only too glad to hurry home and get to bed.
    Scavengers do not belong so often to a class by themselves as formerly. Not so very long ago scavenging and sorting in the dust yards was a hereditary occupation, whose secrets were transmitted from father to son and from mother to daughter. But now that the municipalities are withdrawing their work from contractors and doing it themselves, they take their labourers from a wider area. One result of this is that woman's work is discouraged, and the woman on the dustheap is yearly becoming rarer.
    The boys then grow into manhood in the service, and in time leave the scoop and hand-brush for the broom, the long scraper, and the squeegee. A wonderfully useful tool the last, "as good as a towel" for many purposes - a mere slip of indiarubber clipped in a slide and fitted with a handle, and lasting for a year in good wear, clearing away slop and mud so effectually as often to leave but a smooth dry track behind. In washing the city asphalte late in the evening, the squeegee is invaluable. This is often done, particularly in the winter, when a good deal of judgment is required not only in using just enough water for the purpose, and no more, but also in applying that water so as to cheat the frost, for a film of ice on asphalte is simply disastrous. Besides the washing of the streets, there is a washing of certain courts every night; and twice a week many of the courts and alleys receive a thorough sluicing. And the quantity of water used runs into large figures, the city washing bill for the year exceeding two and three-quarter millions of gallons. Not only are the roadways cleaned with the squeegees, but in wet weather the footways are also taken in hand, notwithstanding that by Act of Parliament every occupier is required to keep dean· the footway in front of his premises - an obligation which the occupiers generally agree to ignore.
    In time the boy becomes the driver of a van, and journeys round to collect the street sweepings, the slop, the contents of the street-orderly bins, or the house-to-house refuse, and the last is the worst and most thankless of his duties. The difficulty of dealing with the refuse is greater in the city than elsewhere, owing to there being such a traffic and such a number of premises occupied as offices during the day and deserted at night. The permission given to the occupiers of placing their dust and refuse on the edge of the footways renders it more and more difficult to keep the streets clean. They are often made dirty by the reckless way in which the refuse is thrown or placed upon the public ways soon after they have been cleaned by the scavengers. By the Act of Parliament the dust so placed in the streets should be removed by eight o'clock in the morning. But many of the houses are not in private occupation, and the housekeepers are not at all particular, and in the case of the nine o'clock and ten o'clock shops and offices it is indeed a little unreasonable to expect the porters to be at work an hour or two earlier in order to clean out and get the rubbish on the pavement within the statutory time. And so the spectacle is not infrequent of an irregular row of pails and packing cases overflowing with office rubbish appearing on the kerb after the regular cart has passed, and requiring a special cart to clear them away. And then there is the ever-recurring dispute as to what is house refuse removable free, and what is trade refuse for which cartage should be paid, which is often a very nice point to settle, and generally ends in the tenant looking on the dustman as his natural enemy. Somehow or other, the rubbish both from the streets and the houses finds its way to the wharf. A considerable pile it makes. The seventy vans make on an average three and a half loads of about two yards each a day, and the year's total shows about 38,000 loads taken from premises, and 27,000 loads of sweepings from the streets. Averaging, then, 65,000 loads at a ton apiece, we have 65,000 tons of rubbish from within the city boundaries to be dealt with in a year. How is it disposed of?
    Let us go to the wharf and see. The chief object is the destructor - a furnace, or rather a set of ten furnaces - in which the rubbish is cremated after everything worth picking out has been removed. To look at, it is a range of very dirty boiler-fires, which are fed with fuel from the front, and with rubbish from the top. The "cells" are back to back, over a dust-chamber, 10ft. 4 in. wide and 6 ft. high, the flue from which leads to a 30 horse-power boiler, and to a chimney shaft of  150 ft.
    Night and day the fire is kept up, from Sunday midnight to Saturday at half-past eight in the evening. During the year over 19,000 loads of refuse are shot into it, and these produce a residuum of some 4,000 loads of ashes and cinders more or less hard, not only valueless, but for the removal of which money has to be paid - of which difficulty we shall have more to say presently. The men work the dest:uctor in three shifts of eight hours, there being three men on the top to feed the furnaces, and three below tiring and removing the clinkers and ashes.
    We mount to the top of the furnaces with the superintendent, and stepping gingerly behind him on a very warm layer of odds and ends, and carefully avoiding sundry small sloping gullies leading down to the fires, we stand in safety on an iron platform. Overhead runs a travelling crane; behind us is the engine-house; in front of us is the space on which men loaded with big baskets are throwing down one after another in constant succession almost every variety of dry unsaleable refuse. As the heaps fall they are attacked by the three men with long pokers or peels, and pushed down the sloping gullies into the fire. They are dealing with the refuse in retail; we are to see it treated in wholesale.
    A van drives in to our right, and takes up its position under the crane. Its contents are known - nothing worth troubling about in that lot. The claws of the crane sink threateningly on to it. There is a loosening of bolts and springs in the body of the van. Down go the crane claws and clutch hold of it. The chains tighten. Slowly and resistlessly the body of the van is lifted up from the framework, and hung in the air. Higher, higher it comes until it is above our heads. Then the vertical movement becomes a horizontal one. Slowly along the double rails the crane and its burden travel towards the gullies of the fire. It stops. There is a clanking of chains, a rattle, a jingle, and a roar, and the stuff is shot in an avalanche before the men, and rammed out of sight to pass through the furnace. The empty van body slips back to its level, glides horizontally to the rail end, sinks on to the framework, with a slide and a click the whole thing is a dust-cart again, and away it drives for another load to bring to destruction in the same way. Every morning there comes a van from a hospital into whose contents no man pries; it is brought under the crane, and lifted aloft, and run over the fire; but its doors fall open only as it touches the gully, and no one sees what it has brought to be destroyed. Often a less horrible cartload comes with diseased meat or other condemned food to be lifted by the crane, and similarly converted into ashes or clinker.
    The dividing of the body of the van from the framework has many advantages. There is no advantage in an excessive stock of wheels. The frames do double duty. The van bodies are replaceable by water-tanks. Slide off the body, and slip on the tank, and there is a water-cart complete - a capital arrangement, for when there is most need of dust-vans there is no need for water-carts.
    The load we have seen dealt with was one of hopeless rubbish; let us inquire into the fate of a more mixed accumulation now entering the yard. Along the yard-side is a row of heaps over each of which a gang of pickers are busy. In one place the centre heap has disappeared, sorted out into smaller heaps, or carried off to the destructor opposite. The van is backed into the vacant space, and the contents deposited on the ground. A gang sets to work on it, consisting of three women and a man, for the women, though surely disappearing, have not yet died out even in the city yard. The "leading woman" is in charge; next to her is the man who is known as "the filler." The woman works by contract at so much a load, and the members of the gang earn from twelve to seventeen shillings a week apiece. The fuel is here their perquisite. They sort out the paper, the string, the bones, the tins, the oyster shells; and, speaking generally, their performances are more curious than pleasant, and one is not very sorrowful to hear that the profit on what they do is so near extinction that in a few years their trade will be unknown. Women smoking short pipes and wearing strawboard gaiters and torn bonnet-boxes for pinafores, are perhaps worth seeing by students of so-called "life," but the fewer we have of them the better. A strange notion this of hereditary pickers; mother to daughter, mother to daughter, going on the heap, generation after generation-a caste or class by themselves, a profession indeed quite exclusive, and a special inheritance of the spindle side.
    The paper and pasteboard, bundled up into trusses about as large as a bolting of straw, are loaded into barges and sent to Germany to be made into such paper as no English manufacturer can make a profit out of. The string goes to the mat-makers; the bones to the glue-makers; the tins and cans and old buckets and rusty saucepans are taken - when some one can be beguiled into taking them - to be melted down for the sake of the solder, which is the most valuable thing they have about them. The oyster shells go to the three mortar mills worked from the destructor's boiler, and are ground up into manure. That "nothing is wasted" may be true, but unfortunately the utilisation of such waste as this has an arch enemy in sanitary science, and the dust heap is no longer the gold mine it used to be.
    The amount of organisation necessary to gather the rubbish to one centre is apparent as we visit the pleasanter portions of the yard. The stables for the horses - splendid animals these horses, costing £80 a piece, and having a life expectation of only eight years; the shops for the farriers and wheelwrights who do all the repairs on the premises; the fodder-loft, with its mixing elevator; the stores with the spare tools; the park of vehicles ready for emergencies - all witness to the work required behind the scenes to make matters move smoothly. And among other excellent arrangements there is a large room with a kitchen attached for the men's use. In this room the men assemble in the morning to have hot coffee before they start on their rounds, the coffee being found at the city's expense, though the men are encouraged to contribute sixpence a week towards a sick and self-help fund as a trifle of acknowledgment, the fund being administered without deductions. And in this room every man has a locker, in which we suppose he keeps his "plated harness" ready for his "going into black" in the morning.
    At the river front is a fleet of barges which come to the neighbouring wharves loaded with bricks, and return from here with the bulk of the refuse, bound mostly for the Medway. The street sweepings go away direct, and with them such of the wet stuff - the "soft core," so called - as is available for manure. Some barges will load up entirely with this; others will load with "dry core," half ashes for the bricks and half "breeze" to burn them by. Seven barges at a time can be loaded, and three barges a day can be despatched full from each berth, so that as a barge-load averages seventy tons, the facilities for getting rid of the rubbish are equal to any pressure.
    The difficulty is to make sufficient profit out of it to pay for the removal. Year by year the prices fall; and what at one time the contractor was glad to buy he has now to be paid to take away. It costs over £30,000 a year to keep the city clean, and not a tenth of this comes back by the sale of the sweepings and refuse.


ONE and a half millions of tons! That is the weight of the house refuse and street sweepings annually removed from London. What do these figures represent? Let us put the dirt in the dirtiest place and see what the heap is like. What is the dustiest place in London? London Bridge. "As dusty as London Bridge" is a proverb; it is only with great effort that its ways can be kept clean; more dust is removed from it than from any equal length of road in the world. Now, by a singular chance the Paris tower, "the tallest monument on earth," is just as high as London Bridge is long, and it is just the length for our measuring-stick. Pack the year's refuse of London on to London Bridge in one solid rectangular mass flush with the sides, the mass will be 1,000 feet high and 1,000 feet wide: so high will you have to pack it, that it will overtop the Eiffel Tower!
    There is no profit in this heap - except to the never-satisfied contractor. What little traffic there is in it results in a gigantic loss. Its gathering, its cremation, its clearing away to the unknown with the fewest of questions asked, costs London over £320,000 a year. To clean the town we have a park of 1,500 dust and water-carts, a brigade of over 3,000 men, and a fleet of 150 barges.
    The control of these is in the hands of forty different local authorities-some calling themselves "Vestry," some "District Board of Works" - to each of which, with a view to this article, we sent a circular asking for certain detailed information. The result of that circular we have herewith.
    The ways in which the work is done are many. In some cases the local authority collects the house-refuse and the sweepings and disposes of them at its own risk; in others the dust is removed by a contractor. In some both houses and streets are let out to contract; in others the contract only extends to the cartage and disposal of the refuse. Some of the vestries have dustyards; others have not, but shoot their refuse at once into barges. Some have "Destructors" and cremate all that is crematable; others get rid of it, unsorted, as collected into barges; others send it by railway truck into the country.
    What becomes of it all? New York clears itself of its refuse, amounting to 800,000 tons a year, by dropping it out of hopper-barges into the sea. Liverpool has two steam hopper-barges of 350 tons burden each, and sends yearly about 89,000 tons of refuse, not otherwise got rid of, eleven miles outside the bar of the Mersey. Dublin, in 1885, sent about 36,000 tons of unsaleable refuse to sea in a similar manner; Sunderland and other sea-side towns adopt the same course; and London, on the quiet, does much the same-at least, it seems so from the report of the Inspector of Fisheries, who tells us that in the year 1887 no less than 37,500 loads of rubbish were thrown into the Thames. "There is no reason to disbelieve the statement," says the Clerk of the Board of Works for the Poplar District, who has been inquiring into the matter, "that the greatest offenders are the country bargemen, hailing more particularly from the Medway river, who, having to return home with empty craft, unless fortunate enough to obtain a freight of manure, or of ashes and breeze, load their vessels with the refuse at the various wharves at which house-refuse is shot throughout the metropolis, and, under the pretence of taking it for brickmaking, do throw it into the river when beyond the jurisdiction of the Conservators of the Thames and the Medway. There are also a few London men who are dust contractors and barge-owners combined, whose names are very well known as offenders, and who largely contribute to the deposit said by Mr. Fryer to exist in the estuary of the Thames."
    But what is to be done? The refuse of a place like London is enough to choke every brickfield in the home counties; and as to manure, why, the scientific farmer laughs at it! It might do for foreign consumption, when the freightage would probably be less, but for home use it is not as economical as nitrates from Chili. Last year Mr. Thomas Codrington, the Engineering Inspector of the Local Government Board, was instructed to journey over the kingdom and report as to the destruction of town refuse, and a very interesting report he made.
    "Town refuse," he says, in one place, "consisting of the contents of ash-pits and dust-bins, market and trade refuse, and the sweepings of paved streets, includes materials which, when sorted out and separated, may yield a small return, or can be utilised in some way. But this part of the refuse has, from various causes, lost much of whatever value it formerly had, and the sanitary objections to the handling of an offensive material for the sake of a small gain are now more generally recognised. It has also become more and more difficult to get rid of that part of the refuse which is absolutely worthless. The practice of filling up pits, quarries, and hollows with materials containing offensive and putrescible matters, sometimes afterwards to be built on, is now properly condemned on sanitary grounds, and town authorities, when places for deposit within their own boundaries are no longer available, find neighbouring authorities more and more averse to allow refuse to be accumulated within their districts. The disposal of town refuse has thus become almost everywhere a troublesome question."
    The Fulham surveyor tells us that "during the past year the expense of getting rid of the dust has become a serious item. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners stopped the Vestry tipping at the Bishop's Meadow or on the Ranelagh Estate, and the Vestry were therefore compelled to barge it away at a cost of two shillings and ninepence a load." And we have the great Vestry of Kensington forced to go as far away as Purfleet, in Essex, sixteen miles below London Bridge, before it can get a wharf where its refuse can be dealt with. To burn the refuse in the open air is an old practice still familiar to us in certain districts, but the nuisance from that method of treatment is so obvious that no wonder can be felt at its gradual abandonment. Nowadays it is sought to destroy the worthless rubbish in furnaces, the pattern generally adopted being that designed by Mr. Alfred Fryer in 1877. It consists of a group of furnaces, each about 9 feet long and 5 feet wide, covered by a fire-brick arch 3 feet 6 inches high. The surface has a slope of  1 in 3 from back to front, and the bottom consists of a fire-brick hearth for the upper 4 feet, and a fire-grate for the lower 5 feet. On one side of the furnace the upper end of the hearth is prolonged with a steeper slope under an opening for the admission of the refuse from above, and on the other side is a passage whereby the products of combustion pass downwards to the main flue, a wall in the middle line of the furnace dividing the feed-hole from the flue-opening. The main flue is under the hearth, and is of large size, so as to form a dust-chamber. It was a Destructor such as this we saw at Lett's Wharf, and others are at work at Battersea, Hampstead, Mile End, and Whitechapel.
    The Whitechapel Destructor cost nearly £13,000. It is in a densely-populated neighbourhood, and the brickwork of its cells is within a foot of the walls of adjacent houses. Into its eight cells 20,000 tons of rubbish are shot in a year. Of the stuff burned there is a residuum of 18 per cent. in clinker, and from 12 to 15 tons of fine dust are cleared out of the flue every month. "No return is derived from anything, and the removal of dust and ashes has to be paid for." It is the same story at Battersea, where passengers by the railways near Shaftesbury Park can read on the chimney wall, "Clinker and fine-ash given away"- if only people would accept it. In the North of England the refuse of the Destructors is of some slight value, but the character of the London ash and clinker seems to be different. It was hoped at one time that the ash would do for mortar, but it has been found to be unsuitable; and clinker was to be good for road-making and rockery-making; but, alas! the demand for roads and rockeries is not an unlimited one. At Battersea, where the clinker-heap was accumulating threateningly, the very excellent resolution has been adopted of making it into concrete and building the parish stables out of the parish waste!
    The cost of clearing off the dust and sweepings is generally dependent on the distance from a wharf; in other words, the nearer the barge the less the cartage. But so different are the conditions that it is not easy to compare the prices with a view to a standard of economy. All that can be done is to take a few typical instances.
    In Hampstead the slop is swept or scraped to the sides of the forty-five miles of roads by men in the employ of the Vestry, and removed therefrom, at a cost of £2,590, by contractors, who find all carts, drivers, and tools. All that is taken away becomes the property of the contractors. The number of sweepers employed by the Vestry is forty in the summer, and fifty in the winter; besides five orderly-boys and four sweeping machines, with horse and man. Of the house dust and ashes the Vestry takes entire charge. The amount in one year is 16,990 tons, which is collected by eighteen carts in July, August, and September, and by six more in the other months of the year, and taken to the Destructor on the banks of the Grand Junction Canal at Willesden. All of it is not burnt; some of it is shot at once into barges, and carried off  "chiefly for use on land."
    Very careful accounts are kept of the Destructor's work, and much interesting information is thereby made available. The quantity of refuse actually consumed, or, in other word, the quantity converted into gas and passed up the chimney, and dispersed into the atmosphere, is 78 per cent. of the total weight; while the average of fine ash on the total weight is only 7 per cent. The proportion of fine ash varies with the skill displayed in the management of the furnaces; the less the quantity of ash the greater being the skill, providing that the refuse is of the same character. In all refuse there is a large percentage of absolutely incombustible matter, and the only effect of fire on this is to reduce it either to dust Or clinker. The greater the average temperature the less the ash, for intense heat melts the ash into clinker. From the report drawn up for the Local Government Board by Mr. Codrington, it would seem that the quantity of this incombustible matter throughout the country varies from 25 to 33 per cent. of the refuse; but the latest return of this Hampstead Destructor shows the proportion obtained to be only 22 per cent.; and, again, while Mr. Codrington found the work of the country Destructors to range from 30 to 35 tons per cell per week, the Hampstead surveyor is throwing in 38 tons per cell per week; and thus not only consuming a larger percentage of the refuse, but producing a greater quantity of the incombustible for the inevitable barge.
    And how the barge rate varies! Hammersmith barges away all its refuse for twenty pence a ton; Woolwich gets rid of its refuse, shot direct into the barges, at a shilling a cubic yard; Bermondsey clears off its 30,000 loads a year at ninety shillings per barge cargo for its ashes, and sixty shillings for its street-sweepings, which are a more saleable commodity.
    Hackney has no Destructor. The dust is taken from the houses by the Board's own workmen, and put on to contractors' carts, by which carts it is taken away at so much a load of 60 cubic feet, the prices paid being two shillings and ninepence per load in two divisions of the district, and sixpence halfpenny less in the other division. To remove this dust, which becomes the contractors' property, thirty-one carts are employed and forty-nine men ; and in the course of the year this comparatively small staff deals with the very respectable quantity of 31,739 loads. In scavenging the district is cut up into four divisions, the roads being swept and the sweepings heaped by the Board's own men. The heaps are then taken up and carted away by the contractors at a cost of £4,606. What the contractors make out of the cart-loads is, of course, a mystery. The contract being by lump sum, no record is kept of the number of loads taken away, or of the number of carts at work; but probably nearly 50,000 loads per annum are removed. For the sweeping about sixty-five men are employed, and four machines; and the annual cost, including the working of the machines, is about £3,800.
    Outside the city, the cleanest of the London road ways is that between Chancery Lane and Tottenham Court Road. It is under the control of the Board of  Works for the St. Giles' District, which includes Seven Dials, Bedford Square, Russell Square, and Lincoln's Inn Fields. To cleanse this area costs £5,000 a year, in addition to £2,500, contract money for the removal of the dust. Fifteen boys, in neat black and blue jerseys, clear the footways during wet and sloppy weather, and in dry weather collect the horse-waste from the wood and asphalte pavings, and these carriage ways are frequently washed by means of watering carts and machine brooms. Every Sunday, when the traffic is at its minimum, between six and ten o'clock in the morning, eighteen of the main streets are washed; and at the same time many of the streets inhabited by the poorer classes and the market streets are also cleansed; twenty-five of them getting a second cleansing in the afternoon, when they are copiously watered with a weak solution of permanganate of potash.
    In St. George's, Southwark, another poor neighbourhood, there is a similar cleansing of courts and alleys, but there the washing takes place twice a week, and the disinfectant used is carbolic acid. Southwark has to deal with an annual total of 35,000 loads of refuse, and gets rid of it at the very moderate cost of £7,000 - at present. But the contractors everywhere complain that the work does not pay them. Shoreditch, for instance, now pays £9,400 for its rubbish removal, a rise of £2,000 on the previous contract. The fullest development of the contract system is in operation at Westminster, where "the contract includes everything, even the street orderly-boys, and washing the wood pavement." There is no doubt, however, that the contract system is doomed. All over the country the municipalities are doing their own dirty work, and the London Vestries, urged by the remonstrances of the householders and the reports of the medical officers of health, are one by one elbowing the contractors out. One of the last to tackle the problem for itself was the Vestry of St. :Martin's-in-the-Fields, which has only just completed its first year's work.
    In St. George's, Hanover Square, a contractor takes away the house dust for £5,305 per year, but the Vestry deals with its own street refuse and sweepings, which amount to 26,567 loads, and require twenty-two carts and 126 men to get them to the shoots. Some years ago the Vestry inquired into the expense of the removal of the dust of the whole parish by their own plant, but it seemed that only £1,000 a year would be saved even if the annual refuse could be sold for £5,000 ; and the margin, based on estimate, was not sufficiently tempting for the Vestry to launch into the entire business on their own account.
    In St. James's, the dust is removed by contract for £2,900, and shot at Battersea. The district is not a large one, the amount dealt with by the contractor being only 3,224 van-loads, and 3,537 cart-loads. The roads are swept by the Vestry, and the sweepings removed by contractors at a yearly cost of £1,600. To sweep the roads the Vestry employs three horse-brooms, eighteen scavengers, and sixteen orderly-boys; and the 4,639 van-loads and 526 cart-loads resulting from their labours, are tipped into boxes at Paddington canal basin.
    Paddington does its own work. In the wharf by the canal side, a hundred yards or so from the Vestry Hall, the chief object is a huge machine as large as a good-sized house, in which a series of iron buckets on each of three of its sides are perpetually travelling heavenward like the mill-sacks in a German toy. The carts shoot their loads on to a wide iron grating, the rubbish falls through on to other gratings, to be shaken about, and sifted and sorted and carried aloft, and sifted and sorted again, and rattled out into qualities, and dropped from a lofty shoot into the barges moored at the wharf. A queer-looking affair is this dredger-like machine with the flat iron buckets continually ascending, amid such a clanking, jingling and shivering as though something serious had happened in its hidden interior. The machine is not a recent invention; it was one of the fixtures in the yard when the Vestry took it over from a contractor; and it is said to do its. work efficiently, though around its base are the familiar pickers with their fillers and leading ladies. The sifting of this Paddington dust is duly tabulated.
    The year's picking yielded, among other things, 15 tons of coals, 63 tons 6 cwt. of bones, 100 tons of rags, 59 tons 4 cwt. of old iron, 5 tons 13 cwt. of miscellaneous metal, 13 tons 14 cwt. of white glass, and 52 tons of black glass. In 1886, 20,600 tons of dust were collected, and the materials when sorted out were in the following proportions per 1,000 tons: ashes 536 tons, cinders 288 tons, soft core (being animal and vegetable refuse) 142 tons, hard core (being. broken pottery, etc.) 29 tons, coals 1½ tons, bones 2½ tons, rags 4¼ tons, old iron 3½ tons, brass, pewter, etc., 5 cwt., white glass 15 cwt., black glass 2¼ tons. It is curious to compare a fair sample of London refuse like this with the refuse of a large provincial town. At Manchester, for instance, the proportions per 1,000 tons are as follows: Ashes and excreta in pails, 645 tons; dust and cinders, 345½ tons; fish and bones, 1½ tons; dogs, cats, hens, rabbits, etc., 10 cwt.; boots, rags, hats, paper, etc., 10 cwt.; vegetable refuse 10 cwt. ; glass, pottery, bricks, etc., 6 tons: old iron and tinware, 10 cwt. "There is considerable difference in the nature of town refuse under different circumstances," says Mr. Codrington; "where coal is cheap a large proportion of cinders and unburned fuel might be expected, but this is not always the case. People who burn their own coal are generally less wasteful than a higher class of population at the mercy of servants, and this is often shown in different quarters of the same town. The superintendents from several large towns, who visited with me a dust-yard near the west end of London, expressed surprise at the large quantity of cinders and coal in the refuse. In Glasgow, on the other hand, there is said to be most cinders in the ashes from the poorer classes of the city." One distinguished foreign guest was most amused at the Paddington yard at the number of unemptied medicine bottles among the "white glass."
    Besides the 20,000 loads of house refuse, Paddington has to provide for 23,000 loads of street scrapings. The" slop" is in wet weather disposed of in an ingenious way. A dock is built, approached by an inclined plane, in which the planks are three or four inches apart, the intervals being stuffed with straw. The slop is tipped into the dock, the water filters away through the straw lines, and the sediment sinks into solidity, to be barged away at a cheap rate - so cheap a rate indeed as to be almost a gift. So difficult is all refuse to be got rid of now that the more or less supposititious "brickfields" are under a cloud.
    This slop-dock treatment is much on the lines of the plan adopted at Newington, where the Vestry is quite famous for its "mixture." The Newington mixture is thus made. A bed of old straw is laid eight inches deep; on this is shot the soft core with all the paper and rags, just as received; then the old straw is heaped up at the edges to form a tank four feet deep. Into this in wet weather the slops are emptied, and dry dust is sprinkled on the top, and it is allowed to stand for week, when the soft core is rotted and the water has drained away. The passengers by the Chatham and Dover Railway can see the mixture in progress any day by the side of the line near Walworth Road Station. The yard communicates with the rail, and the stuff thus made into decent manure is sent away in trucks to the neighbourhood of  Meopham, in Kent. To the same place, which is about twenty-five miles from London, the house refuse from Clapham is sent, the amount of the Clapham contribution being over 6,000 tons per year. Clapham is part of that extensive area known as the Wandsworth District Board of Works, which, before Battersea set up its Destructor and Clapham carted to Newington, had to clear the dustbins-by contract - along 105 miles of roadway.
    At Islington, which has done its own work since 1875, there is another mode of treatment; the sweepings are washed for the sake of the sand. This sand is the result of the detrition of the granite and flint which form the blocks and metal of the roads. It consists of sharply broken angular fragments of quartz.
    The sand of the sea-shore, or of the river-bed, either in its course of formation to-day, or completed and embedded in due order among the stratified rocks, consists of rounded, or at most, subangular grains, as a peep through any lens will show. Such rounded sands have their uses in our industries, but for all purposes of cutting they cannot hold their own for a moment with the sand from the road grit. And among marble cutters and stone workers, the sharp sand of Islington is in increasing demand. To deal with the grit, there are at Ashburton Grove three brick-built wash-mills, and a 12-horse power steam engine with brick receivers, etc., etc. And the work pays. It is the only item for which the returns increase. In 1885, Islington sold its sand for £393; in 1888, the sales realised £614.
    A strong contrast this to the course of the ashes market! In 1885, Islington sold its ashes for £852; in [888, all it could get was £121! And how insignificant are these items compared to the total cost! To cleanse Islington the annual expenditure is over £21,000. It takes 60 carts, and 207 men, and the last year's work ran to 39,362 loads of dust, and 41,532 loads of sweepings.
    This washing of the sweepings of streets appeared to be so promising that, in 1885, a series of experiments was conducted at the Kennington parish wharf with a view of discovering from which roads the most profitable refuse came. Six samples were washed-a cubic yard of each. Dry sweepings from a wood-paved street yielded four cubic feet of sand, half a foot of shingle, a quarter of a foot of stones, and thirteen feet of vegetable matter, consisting chiefly of horse dung, leaves, and bits of hay. Wet sweepings from the same sort of road yielded two cubic feet of coarse sand, a quarter of a foot of pebbles, and fifteen cubic feet of vegetable matter. Dry sweepings from a macadamised road yielded eight cubic feet of coarse sand, half a foot of fine sand, a foot of pebbles, an eighth of a foot of stones, and eight feet of vegetable matter, while the wet slop from the same road yielded six cubic feet of coarse sand, a quarter of a foot of fine sand, a foot of pebbles and stones, and six feet of vegetable matter. From flint roads came a very different return. The dry sweepings yielded fifteen cubic feet of coarse sand, a foot of fine sand, two feet of pebbles, half a foot of stones, and six feet of vegetable matter; while the slop yielded even and a half feet of coarse sand, half a foot of fine sand, a foot and a half of pebbles, a quarter of a foot of stones, and five feet of  vegetable matter. In each case the balance of the twenty-seven cubic feet passed away with the overflow. To wash the flint sweepings cost two shillings a yard, to wash the macadam samples cost threepence more, to wash the wood sweepings cost sixpence more than that. On the other hand, the yield from the dry flint was three-quarters valuable to one-quarter waste; from the wet flint, two-fifths valuable to three-fifths waste; from the dry macadam, it was one-third valuable to two-thirds waste; from the wet macadam, one-quarter valuable and three-quarters waste; while the wood sweepings, dry, held only one-fifth part valuable, and wet only one ninth part valuable - from which it is clear that, while it may pay to wash the detritus of flint roads, it hardly does so to wash that of wooden ones.
    Kensington is a large parish with seventy-five miles of streets under its control. In 1878 its dust brought in  £2,318; in 1885 it fetched £11 8s.; in 1886 it fetched nothing, and nothing is its present value. The figures are eloquent; comment as to the fall of fortune in the dust heap is superfluous. Last year the Kensington authorities collected over 40,000 loads of dust, and nearly 32,000 loads of street sweepings, employing some 260 men in doing so, and spending over £34,000.
    The surveyor has given great attention to this mighty dust question, and his 1888 report is very much to the point. "The collection of ashes and miscellaneous refuse from nearly 22,000 inhabited houses, spread over an area of 2,200 acres, and to the extent of 40,500 loads in a single year is no light task," he says. That it is on the whole satisfactorily performed may be inferred from the fewness of complaints, which, it may be said, were begun when the work was in the hands of contractors. Comparatively few as the complaints now are, a not inconsiderable proportion of them results from the refusal of domestic servants to allow the refuse to be removed when the periodical call is made. The work of dust collection has been systematised by the division of the parish into districts, and provision has been made for inspection of dust-bins and oversight of dusting gangs. A call is now made at every house once a week, and further improvement is scarcely possible until the objectionable practice of refuse harbourage shall have given place to the only rational system of daily, or at any rate frequent, collections from moveable receptacles, to be provided either by the sanitary authority, or by the householder. In some portions of the metropolis the system of frequent collection is in vogue, the sanitary authority providing pails for the temporary storage of the dust; and as there can be no doubt as to the desirability of the system being made general by legal enactment, the day is not distant when the metropolis will have been freed from the contaminating influence of the foul dust-bin.
    Taking the whole of London through, a ton of house refuse and street sweepings has to be got rid of each year for every three of its people. In other words, the cleansers of London have to deal with two pounds of rubbish per head per day. Only two pounds! But that modest quantity, multiplied by the number of London's population, means a year's work of over 1,300,000 cart-loads; and 300 of such carts, paraded in single file, with horses complete, would occupy a mile; and a line of such carts laden with the rubbish of a single day, would stretch right through London from Poplar to Hammersmith.


Leisure Hour, 1889