Greenmoor Wharf rubbish depot, Bankside: 20th century
© George Davison Reid. c. 1930
‘…a tract of
suburban Sahara, where tiles and bricks were burnt, bones were boiled, carpets
were beat, rubbish was shot, dogs were fought, and dust was heaped by contractors…’
Description of a Victorian dust heap, Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
In the days before fortnightly bin collection, London was kept clean by "dust men", established in 1670 to go door-to-door gathering "rubbish and filth" to stop the residents from leaving it to rot in the streets. At first paid by the City, dust-men made such a profit from recycling rubbish that they soon bid against each other to get the job. Almost any waste could be sold to someone. In the print above, a street hawker sells brick dust to a housemaid. This was used as a scourer, to clean tough surfaces.
dust contractors of 18th- and 19th century London were
often quite wealthy. Charles Dickens’s ‘Golden Dustman’ in
Our Mutual Friend presided over an extensive empire of London dust
heaps which were maintained and picked over by a team of scavengers whose duties
cleansing and carting away, all
the soil, filth [and] dirt’
. To supplement their income, they removed
anything which could be sold on for profit including materials for agricultural
fertilizer and ‘breeze’ (coal dust) for brick-making.