A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 54




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 54

We are concluding our virtual tour by discussing the delights of disposing of effluence – dirty water or wee and poo.

Many towns and cities in Britain were built on the coast or on a navigable river which meant there was no problem getting their waste water away swiftly. Birmingham did not have this advantage and the couple of small rivers that ran through the town were certainly not enough to cope with a population that was growing. This was from about 60 thousand in 1801 to over half a million by 1901. In fact, they were becoming fetid ditches in the attempt. So, by the 1870s the population of Birmingham started to have the advantage of mains drainage as well.

This brings us to another Brummie word – the drain in the courtyard became known as “The Stuff”. If anyone has any idea why – please get in touch!

By the 1870s, the Levy family had moved on, but we can imagine the generations of young “Adelaides” that benefited from not having their lives ruled by buckets!

So, it’s the 1870s. We have piped water. We have mains drainage. So, this means we can have (fanfare of trumpets please) a flush toilet!

Gone are the miskins complete with their reeking contents, however it seems the word “miskin” went on to be used by generations of Brummies right up to the 1960s, as the term for a refuse bin.

The journey across the courtyard in the freezing cold still went on. The company of large spiders, rats and mice was still a reality – although it is said that the gap under the privy door would be useful as you could kick the door before you went in to scare off the rats and mice who could escape though the gap!

Not much now for the younger offspring of Herbert Oldfield to do lavatory-wise in the 1870s, except that they would constantly be collecting old newspapers, cutting them into small squares and threading them onto a piece of string to hang on the back of the door. And we all know what that was used for.

“Wouldn’t you get ink on your bottom?” said a horrified young visitor on a tour in 2015.

“Yes.” Replied the tour guide “And you only had a bath once a week!”

The Stuff
The second privy (1870)
The gap under the privy door
Sheets of newspaper, cut up and hung on a piece of string