Local History

Joe Goodyear’s Night Cart

An extract from Hampshire Privies by Ian Fox1, used with permission of the publishers.

Joe Goodyear of St Mary Bourne didn’t enjoy such luxuries as a tanker lorry and suction pipes. For some 35 years he emptied privy buckets using nothing more than a huge iron tumbler, like an enormous barrel slung between two wheels, drawn through the country lanes by a horse and later by a tractor. He reckons it weighed about two tons when fully laden with ordure. Turning a small wheel operated a chain to slowly tip it up for emptying.

Joe learned his trade by working with his father, George, who for many years was contracted by Kingsclere and Whitchurch District Council to ‘remove night soil’ in St Mary Bourne, Stoke and Hurstbourne Priors. ‘In the end, father asked if I thought I could manage by myself and I said yes.’ he told me.

From the late 1930s the big tumbler was drawn by George’s horse, a powerful beast that once pulled guns for the army and still bore the military broad arrow and regimental number on his rump. When Joe came out of the army himself, in 1947 , they got a tractor instead.

But I’ll let Joe tell his own story. ‘We were supposed to be the night cart. The council said we shouldn’t start before ten at night but people didn’t want to wait up and unlock their sheds for us. Half the time the karzies were in their coal houses and they kept them locked. There were even some indoors buckets, like the one at the post office. It was up the stairs and we had to carry everything downstairs.

‘So father told the council and they said to ask people when they wanted us to call. Well, half of them said, “The earlier you comes the bloody better, George”, so that’s what we done. We used to go out about half past seven and we’re back home half past nine or quarter to ten.

‘We’d take two empty pails up to the karzies and pour the much into them to save going up and down the gardens, otherwise you’d have been at it all night, but some of their buckets held so much we still had to make two trips. If it was a bit watery, father used to say, “Stand it on the garden, boy, and drain it off – just take the solids.”

‘Funny thing, the buckets never froze up, even in the coldest weather. Just round the edges, perhaps, but that’s all.

‘At the start there was no lid on the cart so it used to slop out a bit. While I was away in the army a couple of blokes helped father and instead of sitting on the shafts of the cart they sat on a board across the tumbler. One night one of then slipped off and went straight in. After that they had a lid, hinged in the middle so half would open to pour the buckets in.

‘Of course it used to smell. People closed their windows when they heard us coming but it wasn’t as bad as some made out. There was a nice couple in the village, a retired RAF officer, and they would walk past quite happily and wish us a good evening but others would go over the other side of the road and make a show of holding their noses and screwing up their faces.

‘We emptied the tumbler in the farmers’ fields, building it up until it was about eight feet deep. Ashes, straw and other stuff was mixed in, then it was left to settle. You could see it going down gradually, week by week, as water eased out.

‘Eventually the farmer would spread it over his land and plough it in. By then you wouldn’t have known what it was. There was no smell and it didn’t show no paper nor nothing, but tomatoes used to sprout up all over the fields.

‘My two nephews aged about eight and ten visited us from Birmingham once and we took then up to the fields where we were harvesting. They’d never been in the country before. The played about for a while but then they dashed across and jumped into what they thought was just a big pile of straw. We shouted but it was too late. The sank right down into all that muck.

‘God, it was evil! We took them home and my missus took one look and said, “Right, you can strip off outside the door!”

‘One old gentleman who never had his bucket emptied won all the prizes at the flower show. His vegetables were great, too. Plenty of other people used to keep it for the garden. The old boys used to dig it in, every Friday night. In those days we had good, wholesome food, everything was really worth having, but not now the crops are all treated with chemicals.’

Joe was quiet for a while. Then he sighed wistfully. ‘Ah, they were good old days. But after they were put on the mains, folk said we don’t need the karzi now, we’ll take it down and use that wood for something else, perhaps build some chicken houses. I suppose they chucked the buckets out for scrap.’

  1. Fox, I. (1997). Hampshire Privies. Newbury: Countryside Books. Pg’s 73-76. ↩︎

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