It was the night the effluent hit the Redditch fan. Or to be a little more specific, hit the houses. Because the pebbles on the exterior walls suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
These days, citizens of the city flush toilets thousands of times a day without really wondering where it is going. In the Severn Trent sewers and presumably out of sight. But it wasn’t always like that.
In the first half of the 20th century, there were areas of Redditch that were not on the sewer. The “installations” generally consisted of a shed in the courtyard containing a wooden seat with a hole in it, under which a large bucket was pushed. The contents were emptied under cover of darkness by the Night Soil Man, who arrived with his horse and cart while most people were asleep. Similar to Santa Claus, but take rather than give.
This nocturnal savior would remove the heavy bucket and carry it, sometimes on his shoulder, and spill the contents into a large tank on his cart. He would then replace the empty bucket ready for family use the next day. The nocturnal soil was an excellent agricultural fertilizer.
The system functioned satisfactorily for many decades until the onset of World War II and with it the blackout. A lot happened during the blackout and in Redditch one of them was a very dirty collision between an army truck and a night cart in the early hours of the morning. The truck was returning to camp with a group of soldiers when it collided with the unlit cart in the dark, smashing the tank cover and generously distributing the contents around the neighborhood.
What followed was described graphically by local author Anne Bradford in her new book Secret Redditch, with a nod to the writings of former local government man Arthur Newbould, who at the age of 17 s ‘is found in charge of the cleaning operation.
“When I got to the scene, I could see that half the load seemed to be stuck on the windows and facades of neighboring houses,” Arthur said. “I remember in the light of a policeman’s torch I saw a triangular piece of the Birmingham Post hanging from the handle of a front door. There were a lot of other pieces, some in mailboxes. It was important that everything be moved and out of sight before the disgusted ones rushed to work.
So Arthur called the fire department to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, too much hose pressure was used and the jets shattered the windows, sending the glass with its accompanying nocturnal soil straight into various rooms and through all the other open openings. Over the following weeks, Arthur Newbould’s name became a local government secret!
Redditch, which dates back to the 1200s, was transformed in the 1960s when it was designated a new town, with new housing projects doubling the population. But Anne Bradford has delved into “old” Redditch’s past to come up with some weird and wonderful tales. Like a hidden cemetery left by the monks of Bordesley Abbey, a memorial stone to a notorious murderer and another memorial to the death of a couturier. There is a chapter on the lost farms of Redditch, the war work of its factories, and the bombing of the town in October and December 1940.
The bombing obviously meant a lot of rebuilding, but Redditch’s greatest feat of engineering would be the rail tunnel on the now defunct line to Evesham. It was dug by navvies in the 1860s and is 353 meters long. Beginning at Ipsley, a small tube large enough to take a railroad car was first dug the length of the eventual tunnel. A series of shafts were then dug from above and the small tunnel widened, the soil being washed away in the wagons. The line opened in 1864, but fell victim to the Beeching cuts and closed in 1963
Finally, what’s in a name? A contentious choice if you live in Redditch. In 1974, when the city’s high school was part of a complete system, a new name was clearly needed. Much was said of Lady Harriet, who had been Baroness Windsor of Hewell Grange and wife of Clive of India. Indeed, Lady Harriet’s Lane ran along the back of the school grounds. It looked like a shoe in it, until the PE boss, a woman, let it rip. “No way,” she protested. “I don’t have girls on my hockey team being cheered on by boys shouting ‘Up Lady Harriet’s’!” After rethinking, the school was called The Abbey.