A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 52




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 52

Having found that she was living in a house with a shared privy, Adelaide would have the task of emptying the bucket when it was almost full. She would inspect the bucket regularly, pull it out into the courtyard – carefully – remember that young Victorian girls wore long skirts that almost reached to the ground. The she would lift it up and pour the contents into the “Miskin”. The miskin may have been a barrel, or even a fenced off area of the courtyard (this was often called a midden) where this reeking mixture was stored and mixed with the ashes from the fire. In fact, all sorts of things also went in here, broken crockery, dead cats …… anything that was not combustible.

Once a week, if the landlord had paid for the service, the “Night Soil Men” would come around, carry the contents of the miskin out to their cart in the street. Their work was limited to a period between midnight and dawn – you can imagine why! The cart filled with excrement would be taken away and the contents spread on the fields in farms, which were probably not far away. In later days, the contents of the cart would be unloaded into a narrow boat and taken out on the canal to the farms. We know of a place at Tardebigge near to Redditch where fragments of broken crockery can still be seen in the fields near to the canal.

One may ask how Adelaide would know if the bucket was full if it was dark. Well, the answer is simple. She would wrap her thumb over the top edge of the bucket and it got wet, she knew it was almost full – is that were the term “rule of thumb” came from – we doubt it, but it makes a good story! 

The first privy – with the bucket
A close-up of the bucket
A young Victorian girl’s dress
The Night Soil men
Emptying the miskins
Miskins in Stamford Street in the 1950s