The Brunel Engine House - the Miner's Life Exhibition

Water Supplies & Cess Pits


'London Nighmen'

The houses in which the miners lived were unlikely to have had running water, as working families often depended on taps in the courtyards; if running water was supplied, it was usually only for a limited period every day. Before waterclosets became commonplace later in the century, the 'privy' drained into a cess-pit. This was emptied by a 'night-man', or, in some cases, left to overflow, as sometimes residents could not afford to pay regularly for the service.

Cess-pits sometimes leaked into wells, contributing to the spread of Cholera. In the very worst alleys and courts inhabited by the very poor there were often no sanitary arrangements except throwing waste out into the street. Many of the small streets may have been little more than unpaved lanes, and the mixture of horsedung, human excrement and refuse would have provided a distinctive smell.

Southwark obtained its drinking water at this time from the Thames which was so highly polluted that it could no longer support fish and was described (as late as 1957) as almost devoid of life. The public often preferred to drink ale to water which being fermented was a safer option. St. Thomas' Hospital, for example, provided each patient a ration of 3 pints of ale a day.





Email the Museum. Page Last Updated on 20 April 2002. Designed by Kevin Flude of Cultural Heritage Resouces