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It could be worse... You could be a Victorian night soil man

The Findmypast team
29 December 2015

Yes, back before the
invention of the flushing toilet, someone had the honour of writing down "night soil man" as their occupation. I'm sure this delightful job title doesn't need much description.

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Basically, thanks to these men who worked through the night, via a system of buckets and carts, the products of a whole town's digestive system would be gone by morning,
often taken away to be used as fertiliser.

All the night soil men wanted to do was collect the faeces, pocket their 23 shillings at the end of the week, around £75 today, and go home. It wasn't the WORST job in the world. Even if people avoided you and wrote disgusted letters to the newspapers complaining of the stench from your carts (really, no need to thank those men ridding the streets of your business).

Bradford Observer - Wednesday 30 March 1870© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

But if the very act of emptying privies in the black of night wasn't unappealing enough, working antisocial hours turned up some interesting events not listed in the job description. There are reports of night soil men catching burglars in the act, or being called to bloody scenes by members of the public to provide alibis.

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One article describes the moment a man came downstairs for a glass of water in the early hours of the morning to make a shocking discovery. Luckily for him, a night soil man was awake to assist:

(Be warned- the newspapers liked to spare no details on these gory discoveries, as you'll see in the examples below)

Grantham Journal - Saturday 15 August 1863© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Perhaps the most disturbing of all was the bodies. Men, women and children were found by night soil men on a worryingly regular basis, most of whom were likely victims of murder.

Grantham Journal - Saturday 23 July 1870© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

So if you're worn out by the tumultuous passing of Christmas, overwhelmed by the sneaking up of another new year, or simply having one of those days, just remember: it could be worse.

Meet John, the man who invented Britain's first flushing toilet for an ungrateful Elizabeth I...