Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet



The Night Soil Man

(not for those with a delicate disposition)

During the early 1930`s a Parish Council Meeting discussed the possibility of bringing mains sewage disposal to the village at a cost of £3976. There was no means of raising this large amount of money and nothing was achieved until two decades later, when the financial outlay increased by ten fold to £30k

During the late 1930`s and until the mid 1950`s, the village waste such as Slaughterhouse effluent and Human waste was collected by the "Night Soil" man.
The term "Night Soil" was used as this task was carried out late at night.

This basically consisted of a horse and cart which would transport the effluent to a site just outside the village centre

A Typical "Tip Cart" is described here >>>

This task was not unique to Bures, it would have been carried out throughout the country.

Free Press and Post, January 8th 1938

Notes taken from Bures St Mary Parish Council Records 1938.

Three tenders were received to deal with the village waste.

Fee for Bures Hamlet
Fee for Bures St Mary
W Cardy, Grove Cottage, Cuckoo Hill
A Willingham, 6 Council House, Nayland Rd
Herbet Clark, Cuckoo Hill

Although the Parish Council dealt with the local issue of contractor and equipment, Long Melford District Council made the ultimate decisions.
Herbert (Bert) Clark was duly granted the contract as "village scavenger"

The contract for "Emptying Cesspits, and pail closets, earth closets and house refuse collection" was very lengthy and precise in its detail such as:-

(a)No excremental refuse to be in the streets between 0800hrs and 2200hrs during April and September or between 0900hrs and 2200hrs from October to March.
(b)The contractor is forbidden to ask for any fee or gratuity
(c) The contractor will be required to collect and dispose of the refuse from the earth closets and pail closets once weekly.
(d)The contractor when requested by a householder will properly empty, discharge and cart away all the excremental refuse contained within the different receptacles
(e)If any waste was to be found on the highway or pavements the contractor had a qtr ton of Chloride of Lime at hand. As we know today this was a very toxic chemical to use, easily burning the skin.

Tenders were received from Brands of Bures, Webbs of Long Melford, Ransomes of Ipswich and Joslins of Colchester to supply a cart suitable for the transportation of wet material.
Brands of the High Street were very adamant, that as a local firm and a large ratepayer they should be awarded the contract.
Letters indicate their great displeasure on hearing others had been asked to tender for the cart.

Finally Long Melford DC granted the contract to Webbs of Long Melford.

The tank had a capacity of 150 galls made from 3/16th steel with rubber tyres. The tank was tipped by turning the hand wheel. The lid to be totally sealed to avoid spillage

This news could not have been received very favorably by "Brands" in the High Street. They had been quite scathing about their competitors quality of build.


From records it appeared Bert worked on a 2 year rolling contract.

Only two years after gaining the contract, he wrote this letter to the Parish Council seeking an increase.

The Parish Council thought this was totally justifiable and awarded him £160 per annum just for Bures St Mary.
This included a fee of £32.12.3d which was the additional fee for scavenging and the collection of house refuse due to the increase in evacuees.

Before starting work, Bert and his helper "Cardy" used to visit "The Swan" for refreshments to see them through the night.
Another of Berts helpers was Albi Austin, so the job couldn't have been that bad !
Parishioners were always complaining to the Parish Council about excrement left on the pavements after these two passed by.

No doubt worse for wear with the drink!

The local rhyme about Bert went as follows:

Hark, Hark, here comes Bert Clark
The dykeman has come to town
With his apron bag he collects his swag
and his favourite colour`s brown



Parish Council meeting September 1943
Where to dispose of the Night Soil ?

Reported in the "Suffolk and Essex Free Press, 23rd September 1943"


The location was described as "plot of land adjoining the Bures to Nayland Rd at Clicket Hill. Access to field by single farm gate for night soil deposit. The material would have been deposited in trenches rather than just spread across the field.
This would have been the field on the right looking towards the river, as you pass along the top of Clicket Hill.

Today's modern sewage plant stands on the same field.

Suffolk Free Press, March 25th 1948


Bert Clarke lived along Cuckoo Hill in the cottage half way up, we now know as "Cuckoos Nest".
He generally helped out at Fysh House Farm and gardens during the day.
Bert stabled the horse in the black barn along the track, between the Farm and Clickett Hill.

It`s not known when Bert retired but it must have been late 40`s or early 50`s.
Before the arrival of mains sewage, a Cambridge slurry firm used to visit the village once a week with a tanker.

Mains sewage came to the village circa 1955/6


Chris Clarke, Bert Clark and Frank Clark

(were they brothers ?)

Bert with his trusty horse "Nelson"


In all the time the Night Soil man was working (1938 to 1955) not one single case of an infectious (reportable) disease was notified.
Does this back up the case whereas today our immune system is so weak, we seem to get ill at the slightest contact with infection - ed.

Disposal of waste before the Night Soil man.
Disposed of locally by the householder !
Thrown into the River !


B1508 Main Road
This road between Bures Hamlet and the Mount Bures turn off, was once called Shytbourne or Shithorne Street.
During the late 1840`s and early 1950`s the Night Soil cart could often be seen leaving Bures Hamlet along this road.
During this time the owner of Bures Hall ( or Mount Bures Hall) made a profitable practice in collecting this residue to spread on his farm land
Ref Ida McMaster book


Extract of School Documents made by Mr Creek Headmaster circa 1933:-

At the far side of the playgrounds was a long narrow building for the lavatories, one end for the girls and infants, and the other for the boys. There were no facilities for washing hands except in the main building. The boys urinals were unroofed. The row of privies, each with its bench-seat, had a bucket beneath, which was emptied from a passage at the back of the building once a week by the man with a horse-drawn nightcart - there was no other sewage system in the village.

A similar scheme to the one detailed above must have been in operation - ed

Extract of letter from resident of Ropers Cottages to the Chairman of the Parish Council, June 1947
Dear Sir
The Lavatory Pails in this group of cottages have not been attended to for many months. Has this local service been suspended?


1950 report of the local Medical Officer of Health:
The sanitary system of Bures in the main consists of pail closets, a few cesspools and open drains, none of which from a health point of view are in any way acceptable.............................


Bures St Mary Parish Council.
There was also much correspondence in 1937-8 over tenders for a new sanitary cart. At that time emptying of pail closets took place once a week. (Cesspits were emptied as required, and house refuse collected once a month) In the late evening, a carthorse dragged a metal tumbler cart, with clanking buckets behind, stopping and starting, through the village. At the school it would come into the boys' playground, empty the buckets in the girls' and boys' privies, and then go to the far end of the playground, where a little cupboard-like door at ground level was unlatched, and the buckets from the school house outdoor· privy was emptied. One resident who hated the eerie sound of the heavy horse and clanking buckets in the quiet traffic-free evenings, was always afraid the cart would come to empty the pail while she was out for a last visit to the lavatory before bedtime

Mains sewerage came to the village approx 1955, at an approx
cost of £30,000
This was at the time of the
Suez Crisis. Work installing the pipework was hindered somewhat, by the shortage of petrol.
One incident recalled was a supply of 40gall barrels of petrol arriving as an emergency supply for the machinery, diggers etc. These were stored overnight in the Sewerage Station in Nayland Rd, which was under construction.
However, on opening up next morning, the barrels had mysteriously vanished!!
CLICK HERE for Mains Sewage information

Additional Notes.
Apart from using Night Soil as a fertiliser for agriculture, it was also used (urine) in the fulling of cloth.


Additional text written by John manning in his book "My name is John"

In one of the cottages on the left, known as 'Cuckoo's Nest' lived Herbert ('Bert') Clark, the famous Night Soil Man known by many as 'Clarky'

In 1938 the Parish Council records show his appointment as 'village scavenger' for a contractor for 'emptying cesspits, pail and earth closets, and for house refuse collection' at an annual charge of £118.50 for Bures Hamlet plus£79 for Bures St Mary. . . .a total for the whole village of £197.50.
I reckon that was a pretty 'foul' salary even in 1938 for that sort of job! The terms stated that no excremental refuse was to be in the streets between 0800 and 2200 hrs during the months of April and September and between 0900 and 2200hrs from October to March...it seems he had a free all hours hand for the summer months only from May to August!
He was supplied with a quarter of ton of Chloride of Lime to deal with the consequences of spillage. . .a very toxic chemical prone to skin burning.

No holes in your gloves Clarky if you wanted to keep your fingers! His 150 gallon horse pulled cart had two rubber tyres and a steel tank with sealed lid which would be tipped by operating a hand wheel. The refuse dump was a plot of land accessed by a single
field gate on the left situated about a mile and a half from the school on Nayland Road.
The sewage was deposited in trenches rather than just spread across the field. . .not a popular dog walk I would have thought!
The present modern works are situated on this same site.
Bert had a 2 year rolling contract and, following his request for a revision because of an increase in the cost of living including the feeding and maintenance of his horse, he was granted an extra £81.00 for Bures St Mary which included taking into account the influx of evacuees. He would have retired by about 1950 and until the mains sewage came in 1956 the service was then provided by Alf the service was as good as old Berts?

I bet it cost a heck of a lot more! During the day he did odd jobs at Fysh House Farm at the top of Cuckoo Hill and stabled his horse in that big black barn along the track at the top of the ClayPits The continuation of that track led down to the sewage dump in the field next to what was known as Clickett Hill on Nayland Road so you can see he had a very convenient location to live and carry out his work. Bert had a helper 'Cardy' and they used to fortify themselves for the night's work at the Swan and when complaints were sometimes made to the Council about spillages there was a natural suspicion that on occasions they were the worse for drink.
However, during this period not one case of reportable infectious diseases was notified.
Before the Night Soil Man was appointed waste was 'disposed of locally by the householder' ...guess you had to watch your

Information supplied by:-
D & K Frost/David Rutt/Ezra/Philip Powell/David Cawdell
Thanks to Pat Creek for the miscellaneous papers kept by her father.
Updated 10/05/2016 with rhyme
updated 13/01/2017 with Press reporting Council Meeting
updated 23/02/2017 with Hamlet Newspapaer cutting
updated 25/02/2017 with Joseph hayward Press Cutting