Hull-istic Medicine: Public Health through Time

Night Soil Collectors 19th and 20th Century

During Victorian times, people didn’t have flushing toilets so men came around every week, like dustbin men, to collect the contents of the toilets or privies as they called them. These people were called ‘Nightsoil Men’. They collected their ‘Night Soil’ on horses and carts as in the photograph here.

In 1873, Dr Holden was the Medical Officer of Health in Hull. He investigated anything that could affect people’s health and he looked into the ‘Night Soil Collectors’ because…

'The contractors could not collect the night soil from any single house in the town without having to disturb the householder in gaining access to the privy. At least 20,000 of the houses had no back entrance which meant that they had to carry it through the houses to the collecting carts in the street’

In 1887, the Medical Officer of Health’s report said that if a Water Closet (WC) couldn’t be built, the privy should be built outside and as far away from the house as possible. Only richer families had WCs though. The Medical Officer saw there was a link between children who lived in areas without running water and doing badly at school. In 1903 though, the citizens of Hull voted against a Bill that would have converted all privies to WCs. It wasn't until the late 20th Century that it was standard for a toilet to be inside the house in new houses.

From 'A Plague on You, Sir!', George Patrick which can be found at L614 in the Hull History Centre.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Hull History Centre | 
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