By Liza Picard
Last updated 2011-02-17
20th October 1660 'This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one that Sir W Batten had stopped up; and going down my cellar to look, I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me; but I will have it helped.'
London had had sewers for centuries but they only carried surface water. Excrement went into the cesspit under the house or in the garden, and was - in theory - regularly emptied. There was a system for rubbish collection, but somehow there were always dead dogs and cats, and food refuse, and an overwhelming amount of animal faeces in the streets.
Water had to be bought from watercarriers unless you were so poor that you collected your own from the river or one of the few public wells, or so rich that you subscribed to a private water company such as the New River. Their mains were made of elm trunks, and the domestic supply pipes were lead. The supply ran only a few hours at a time, so you had to store your water in lead tanks. No wonder it tasted foul, but it sufficed for boiling meat, and for very limited personal ablutions (Samuel Pepys was sure he caught a cold by washing his feet). Household washing used lye made from ashes and urine.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.