In days of old

Back in the day…….

Have you ever wondered how our sewage disposal systems came about? No? Well just in case your curiosity overwhelms you, wonder no more!

As the old poem goes…. “In days of old when knights were bold, and toilets weren’t invented, they would dig a hole in the middle of the road, and sit there quite contented!”

Open sewers were a common sight, with effluent flowing freely. If you should happen to be walking down the street in those days, and heard the call “gardyloo!” the last thing you would want to do would be to look up to where the call came from…this call was made by occupants of upstairs rooms (originally in Edinburgh) just before they emptied their chamber pots out of the window into the street below. From the French “regardez l’eau” meaning watch out for the water, or the similar “gare de l’eau” beware of the water, this call was soon commonly heard all over the country.

The practice became obsolete in the 19th century after John Snow (the physician not the journalist!) linked the London cholera outbreak of 1854 to poor hygiene and sanitation. He discovered that this dreadful disease was spread by contaminated water, and his findings then inspired changes in the water and waste systems of London, leading to similar changes in other cities and to a significant improvement in general public health around the world.

John Snow focused his attention on the Broad Street area of London, where in just 3 days, 127 people died. By the 10th day this figure had risen to 500, and the pump in Broad Street was identified as being the common denominator. There was one significant anomaly, however – none of the monks in the adjacent monastery contracted the disease. This turned out to be because they only drank beer, which they brewed themselves – The beer was safer to drink than the dirty water from the Broad Street Pump – but that doesn’t mean beer is better than water these days!!!

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