Thursday, 30 May 2013

Detecting in Birmingham night soil with the clodhoppers.

Sunday 26th May 2012.

Typical night soil finds.

These items came from a site just outside of Birmingham and adjacent to the canal. The whole place was littered with broken crocks etc. Most of the finds came from the contents of the night soil that was spread over the field back in or around the industrial revolution era. the whole industry of night soil is rather interesting, with many stories, true or false associated with it.
During the early days of the industrial revolution, Birmingham grew fast. Housing was basic and running water was non existent. People would do their business in toilets which were often shared (fode). The result was that vast amounts of sewerage would gather in cuss pits. This would need to be removed to allow the continued use of the toilets. This is where the night soil men came into it. They were only allowed to work during the night, due to the smells generated while they did their business. The night soil men would go to each dwelling with wooden wheelbarrows and firstly remove the ash generated by the solid fuel burners. Each house would have a miskin (pile of general household waste). This would be piled up in the street by the night soil men and formed into a large circle with a depression in the centre. They would then scoop/ladle out the contents of the fode, and barrow it into the depression in the centre of the ash. Then it would be mixed up, like mortar is mixed on building sites. Once the mix was of suitable consistency it would be put on a tipping horse drawn cart and taken to the local night soil wharf. Here it was loaded onto barges; once the barges were full they would make their way out of the city and into the farmlands. Farmers would pay good money for the nightsoil as it vastly improved the yields of their crops. On this site there is a very narrow field, only about 12 meters wide which runs from the canal to a nearby lane. Story has it that a farmer who was desperate to get the nightsoil had to purchase the strip off one of his fellow farmers. He then used the strip to access the canal with his carts, and thus was able to use the night soil on his farm. Another story about nightsoil is that the Tipton slasher, William Perry was a night soil man, well kind of.
The Tipton slasher. picture courtesy of Sandwell museum, unknown artist.

 Story goes that he learned his fighting skills by having many punch ups with barge owners. You see, having to queue for locks was not good for business and a punch up would often decide who went through first. Once he gained his notoriety for fighting he made it to the top of the country’s pugilists. William managed to buy a public house before he lost his title to the legendary Tom Sayers. William Perry then retired to his public house (Champion of England) until he decided to make a comeback. He sold his pub and all his belongings to fund his comeback in 1857, which was a brutal rematch with Tom Sayers. The fight lasted for 2 hrs with Sayers eventually coming out as winner….Perry was a broken man. Perry returned to working the canal boats, and died of a lung disease in 1880. Its fanciful to think some of my finds could have been transported by the Tipton slasher himself to the field where I found them. It may be a little to far from Tipton…….or maybe not.
Tiny teapot lid found on surface of field.

Any thoughts on what this is?

Buttons, may be they fell into the bog ole when taking a dump.

Ship halfpenny 1942, probably lost at harvest time.

Traders token, many were found.

Club digs are all about socialising with people who are turned on by the same things as yourself, namely history. 
Everyone gathers in the morning, talking of their recent finds and often displaying them. New detectors are displayed and explained to enthusiastic onlookers. The aroma of thermos coffee fills the air, while members dress themselves in their detecting garb. A nervous voice raises above all others and beckons the members around for the briefing before the big off. 
And there you go 40+ detectorists heading into the distance, at times it brings to mind something from the walking dead. i am sure if it were a misty day and some one happened upon a dig just after the off, they would sh!t themselves thinking a colony of zombies were coming for them.

Thanks for reading and God bless.


  1. nice bit of video. shows what a friendly bunch
    we metal detectorists are.

    1. couldn't agree more mungo, a good breed us detectorists. Thank you for reading.

  2. Very interesting,brought back some childhood memories.can remember the nightsoil men coming to my grandadsin the fourty' a pit villlage,although only 20 miles from LEEDS,(were we lived).it was like living in another century.Mike aka.Midas.

    1. I am so glad my post brought back memories for you. I found out after i wrote it that one of my own relatives was the night soil man for my home town.