|Abstract||We are very apt to take things for granted these days -
I refer to the public utilities, water supplies, lighting,
refuse collection, and by no means least of all, the disposal
of sewage. In the mid-eighties there was no sewer in Tollesbury in Essex
and the population in excess of 1,000 had no piped water supply,
having to rely on three public hand operated pumps, situated
at Mell Road near Nos. 5 and 97 (present day numbering) and at
High Street where Elysian Gardens now enters.
There was also one pump at D'Arcy Road near the present Cemetery.
Most of the houses had brick-lined wells in the gardens, also tanks
and water-butts which received their supplies from roofs rain water.
The water supply was in no way satisfactory, entailing in many cases
long treks to the nearest pump with pails and the arduous task of
pumping, and carrying home the filled buckets or pails.
There was a tendency to use well water, and this gave concern to the
medical profession, as tests carried out proved that in many cases
the water was impure, and surrounding ground sewage sodden.
Due to the efforts of the local and district doctors, a scheme
was prepared in 1907 for the supply of piped water, but this did
not come until 1915.In the mid-eighties the village was contained
between North Lane and The Mount, with the exception of isolated
old dwellings at West Street, Hunts Lane (Station Road), The Green
(The Square) and Mill Lane (Mell Road). There was no sewer, but
unlike some villages, where the residents had to bury or destroy
their own waste, Tollesbury had an efficient sewage collection system.
This most necessary and unpleasant task was carried out by one man,
in a most meticulous manner at night-time when all law abiding
villagers were home or in bed.
To carry out his task the sanitation operator for want of a better
title, was equipped with a "tank" cart, a half-cylindrical galvanized
steel tank, suspended between two large cart-wheels in gimballs, and
by means of a combination of cog wheels, sprockets and chain, operated
by a ship-like wheel, the contents could be capsized into a pit, when
the operation had been completed. The cart was drawn by a patient old
horse, which knew every stop on the route through the village.
As a small boy at school I was told that the job was a well paid one,
which I doubt, and that the man was supplied with an ounce of tobacco
a day, which I am sure he had to purchase himself. Lying in bed on a
hot summer night, one could sense the life of the village coming to the
end of the day. The doors of the public-houses would be slammed shut,
the bolts thrown home into their sockets, and the last farewells shouted
out as the patrons made their various ways home. Barely had the sounds
died away, when one could hear the rumble of the "chariot" and the
jingle-jangle of the horse's harness, as it proceeded on its way through
the village. One night I could not contain my curiosity any longer.
I placed a chest-of-drawers under the high dormer window in my attic
bedroom, climbed out onto the ledge outside and looked down.
Yes, the man, a most kind and gentle man to us children, was smoking a
pipe, and illuminated by a hurricane lamp. He was dressed in an oilskin
smock: or coat, and most surprising to me, he had a yoke, similar to a
milkman's, across his shoulders, from which were suspended two large
shining galvanized pails. The smell emanating from the tank was not
pleasant, and I quickly climbed back into my bedroom and closed the
window. At no time in my young life did I hear one word of complaint
from an elder regarding this nightly operation, which was carried out
so efficiently in very often complete darkness, except for the light
given by an oil lamp.
By 1891 most of the village was sewered, although there was still
no piped water supply, and plans were afoot for sewering the
remainder, but most of the older properties had latrines in the
gardens, always situated some distance from the dwellings.
These latrines or "privvies" were small match-boarded or weather
boarded huts with sloping corrugated or felt covered board roofs,
locally made, with one door, a box like structure inside,
with one or two elliptical type holes in the top, covered by lids
to exclude flies, etc. In the box, which served as a seat, were
one or two large buckets, and in the majority of cases there were
wooden flaps at the rear of the huts, in order that the sanitation
operator could extract the bucket without entering the huts.
In spite of absolute cleanliness, daily scrubbing, liberal use of
carbolic powder in the buckets, they were not very pleasant places
to sojourn in, and as a, small boy who was subjected to alternate bouts
of constipation and diarrhoea, I was very relieved to be able to use
a flush toilet even though it entailed drawing water from the well
Sometime prior to 1891 a sewer and filter bed had been constructed
at Woodrope Green (now the Car Park), and soon after the Great War
1914-18 most of the houses with flush toilets had piped water supply
connected, which simplified matters very much indeed. However, the
more primitive toilets prevailed for sometime afterwards, and it
was not until 1958 that new sewage works were completed at
Woodrolfe, solving the problen of disposal.
Some of the little huts survive, utilised as garden implement sheds,
but their construction and primitive means of ventilation,
"sharks teeth" or "diamonds" cut into the doors discloses their
We should feel very thankful for what has been done for us over the years.