Presentation on theme: "The Topsoil Project Ralph Mills. The Topsoil Project Until the introduction of water and sewerage systems, human waste was often collected and used to."— Presentation transcript:
The Topsoil Project Ralph Mills
The Topsoil Project Until the introduction of water and sewerage systems, human waste was often collected and used to improve soils. It carried with it scraps of evidence about the lives of the communities from which it came. This project looks at that evidence, and its potential as an archaeological resource.
Privies Many homes had an outside toilet, often called a “privy.” Waste was collected in a bucket. People often tipped yard- sweepings and other rubbish into the privy.
Night Soil People were employed to empty the privy. They usually worked at night, and so the waste became know as “night soil.”
Night soil men The night soil was collected in carts, and then taken to nearby fields, where it was spread on the surface. It was ploughed into the soil as a fertiliser.
Whitemoor Allotments Before 1919, the site of Whitemoor Allotments, in a suburb of Nottingham, was open fields. It is almost certain that night soil was spread onto these fields.
Allotment 45 My allotment was been cultivated continuously since Scattered in the topsoil are tiny fragments of nineteenth century pottery that probably came from night soil.
Fragments of the past
Castles and mysteries
Miniatures Miniatures were very common in the nineteenth century. This is the head of a miniature figure:
Other finds Clay pipe stems are very common. They include one stamped “J. Daft” who manufactured pipes in Burton Street, Nottingham, in the 1880s.
Coins, common and not… Although an 1885 farthing is an expected find, an 1867 Spanish 10 centesimi is not. How did it get here?
Stories? By analysing the pottery from the topsoil of my allotment I may be able to learn something about the people who originally owned and used it.
Stories? For example, they liked pattered pottery more than plain white They liked light blue colours more than dark blue.
Stories? They didn’t possess much “exotic” pottery (as in designs which featured scenes) but liked floral designs…
Stories? …and “Willow Pattern.”
The Topsoil Project By collecting potsherds as I dig my allotment I have just sampled a very small area of Nottingham. It would be good if others collected material from their gardens, wherever they are. This would build a much more detailed sample from which more reliable conclusions could be drawn.
What to do Simply collect every sherd of pottery you come across whilst digging your allotment garden, even the smallest scrap. After several seasons, sort the pottery by colour. Look for exotic designs. You might enjoy recording the most dramatic designs using a flatbed scanner. Watch out for other finds also.
The results When you have built up a reasonable sample, share the results. It is important to know when the allotment gardens were established, because this gives an end-date after which night soil was rarely used. What might these results tell us about the nearby community?
Secrets of the privy! Was the community a wealthy one or a poor one? What were their tastes in pottery and other possessions? Are there any surprises?
Get in touch If you’d like to join the Topsoil Project, let me know: