I’ve recently had a letter from the City of York Council about changes to the rubbish collection arrangements in my street.
For a while we had the use of communal bins, but they have now been removed. Now we will have to put our rubbish outside our front doors for a fortnightly collection. We were warned that ‘Bags must be put out no earlier than 7pm the evening before collection and no later than 7am on your collection day.’ Here’s my bag, dutifully presented to the edge of my property after 7 o’clock on Monday night.
Dealing with the disposal of waste is a problem common to all local governments, although in 1580 the council in York managed to collect rubbish no less than three times a week. Scavengers were appointed for each of the four wards to take away dung, sweepings and ashes. Rubbish was to be laid in heaps outside the doors so that it could be taken away by the scavengers, who, interestingly, got to keep ‘all the donge and filth’ in addition to their wages. They probably sold it on as fertiliser for use in the gardens and fields outside the city walls, and it would have been a valuable perk.* It was a system that makes today’s efforts to reuse and recycle look less than impressive.
This particular entry doesn’t mention what time the rubbish has to be put out, but it’s likely that efforts were made to ensure that it wasn’t cluttering up the streets during the day. Then, as now, 7.00 pm the previous evening seems to have been the cut-off time. In 1577 a barker called Thomas Rogerley was fined 3s 4d for putting out his ‘fylthe’ before 7 o’clock (‘before vij a clocke nightly).** We might insist on wrapping our rubbish in black plastic sacks now, but when it comes to disposing of our dirt in the most convenient way at the most convenient time, it seems that the principle hasn’t changed much in 400 years!
*From House Book YCA B27, fol. 231.This and the following excerpt reproduced by kind permission of City of York Council Archives and Local History. www.york.gov.uk/archives
** From YCA E31, fol. 68v