Muck and Rubbish

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Summer 2017

Christopher M Jones

Chris M. Jones looks at how canal boats were once used to carry sewage and refuse from major centres of population, like Birmingham and London, and the legislation that had to be adhered to

The disposal of human waste and refuse has been a problem for generations and back in the days of working waterways, several major towns and cities successfully utilised canal boats as a means of taking away their unwanted substances. Until the Public Health Act of 1875 there were no definitive rules about refuse disposal. Once the Act was passed, each local council had to decide, based on its own circumstances, how refuse was collected and disposed of. ‘Refuse’ included many different materials, including vegetable matter from markets, fish and various types of offal, street sweepings including animal excrement, shop refuse and manufacturers’ or trade waste. There was also slop water from cleaning streets of horse dung, mud and dust, and surface drainage water. On top of this, there was household rubbish to get rid of, which including the contents of ash or dustbins containing cinders and ashes (known as ‘breeze’), vegetable and animal waste, paper, stra…

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