Thursday, April 7, 2016

One Man's Garbage

I was recently reading an article about a Victorian-era find of garbage, and what it revealed. It was mentioned that "rooting around in personal trash  dumps allows license to excavate a narrative about a specific family. You can work out what sort of illnesses they had, what sorts of luxuries they enjoyed. You can match the objects to the people."
How true that it! So I decided to look into the 18th Century garbage can, as it were. Following Industrialization and urban growth, the buildup of waste in the cities and its management became more and more difficult to tend to. Streets, for instance in London, became choked with filth, with poor clearance regulations. Calls for the establishment of waste removal began in 1751 for the health and well-being of the citizens. It was proposed by Corbyn Morris that city cleaning would be put into one public management system, the waste conveyed to the Thames River.
The first occurrence of an organized system appeared, with waste collection established around the "dust yards", the "dust" being coal ash, which had a market value for brick-making and soil improver. Dust-contractors recovered  100% of the residual wastes remaining after readily saleable items and materials had been removed by the informal sector in the streets ('rag-and-bone men'). Kind of a recycle of product.
But cities were filled with horses and their waste material. Raw sewage ran through the streets. People threw waste out their windows from chamber pots, and fruits, vegetables, spoiled meats were left out in the street to rot. What a different picture, when we love to romanticize about a sweet little muse on a London square! Butcher stalls in the marketplace featured the "lovely" sight of entrails scattered on the pavement.
I read once account stating, "In 18th-century London, water was delivered to the city's residents through hollowed-out tree trunks running beneath the streets. Wealthier customers could buy spring water from private companies, but most residents used the sluggish, murky water of the Thames. Like many European rivers, the Thames was both the source of the city's drinking water and the repository of its discharge. It was also crowded with boats and barges, since it served as the city's main thoroughfare for commercial shipping. No attempt was made to filter the water or protect it from pollution until the middle of the 19th-century." No wonder a huge gin craze swept over London!
The sewers in London were designed to carry rainwater rather than sewage, and the pipes were poorly constructed at that!
Basically, it's not easy to find trash left behind considering the urban landscape, but at Fort Williams in Lochaber, Scotland, in 2007 a treasure trove of domestic waste was found, which included fragments of wine bottles, pottery, clay pipes and buttons! The pipes were generally long in shape, and allowed a cooler smoke, but broke more easily so they were often just thrown away after use. There are many to be found, equivalent to smoking a cigarette and tossing away the butt wherever. Nothing's changed here. 


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