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Trade card of Ann Hallmarke, Night-soil and rubbish carrier, Oxford street
P.12983-R

A full transcription of the bill is available on the museum's online collections explorer.

Although they could escape London during the hotter, summer months, even a well-off family like the Blathwayts would have had to cope with the city's basic sanitary system while resident in London. Non-flushing toilets or cesspits were often built outside houses, to keep human waste well away from the main building. Chamber pots would be used in bedrooms and brought downstairs by servants. The cesspits were emptied periodically by nightmen (who also swept chimneys). This chamber pot from the Fitzwilliam's collection is a particularly rare and unusual piece of English delftware, decorated in a Chinese famille-rose pattern.


For town houses with no back or side access, nightmen would need to traipse through the ground floor of the premises to carry the waste to a cart on the street. Even after workers had finished their task there was no guarantee that it was the end of a customer's troubles. In February 1768 a complaint was issued to the Commissioners of the Sewers, Lamps and Pavements to report that nightmen were emptying their carts into the public streets on a frequent basis. A reward of 40 shillings was offered for information. The bill written below this trade card is dated a year after an Act of Parliament restricted the hours nightmen could work (after 11pm and before 5am) and forbade wilful or negligent spilling of excrement. The Act enabled law enforcers to place offenders in Bridewell prison for a minimum of 10 days, maximum one month, to carry out 'hard labour'. Another notice in a newspaper suggests that penalties could be reduced if culprits showed signs of remorse: In 1773 a nightman publicly apologised for 'shooting night-soil upon the turnpike road called Cannon street road', causing damage and annoying the public. The need to differentiate herself from the worst offenders is perhaps the reason Ann Hallmarke used this exclusively text-based trade card. She promises she has 'proper Persons to attend the work to prevent the abuses too frequently complain'd of. And to the intire satisfaction of those who please to employ her'.

In Ann Hallmarke's bill the Blathwayts are charged 6s for each ton of 'soil' removed, which equates to just over 3d for every cwt (hundred weight). Unfortunately, Ann's is the only bill from a night-soil carrier in the collection, so we do not know how frequently the Blathwayts required this service. However, the bill does show the Blathwayts were charged for beer for the workers to drink and candles to light their way in the dark. It was normal for nightmen to expect drink (and even food) during their shift.

For more about women in business see Hinchliff.

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