Refuse Collection

Before the later 19th century, there was little need for refuse collection, with the exception of nightsoil. Ripley was too small, and not affluent enough.

Everyone had an open fire, and anything combustible was burnt. Rubbish was collected by private contractors: ashes from the open fires for brickmaking and soil enriching and nightsoil (the contents of the privies) for sale to farmers as manure. Other items like cloth (for paper-making) and bones (for glue-making) were collected by the rag and bone man who would sell most of it for scrap; for recycling, in fact.

Firms like the Butterley Company had waste products to dispose of, but again they were mostly reused, the ash and cinders from the blast furnaces being used to resurface the Market Place, for example, or the slag being used for walls, like the one that still exists in Bridle Lane.

After the 1875 Public Health Act, each local authority had to have a Medical Officer and a Sanitary Inspector. Local authorities gained a responsibility for public health, but their priority was building sewers and providing clean water to prevent diseases like typhoid and cholera; collection was limited to a weekly nightsoil collection. However, many of the Act’s provisions were not compulsory, and were slow to be adopted. In 1899, for example, Ripley Urban District Council was considering the economics of taking on the collection of nightsoil, replacing the private contractors who, it was felt, were overcharging the council. A Mr Ward, for example, tendered for the removal of nightsoil from No 1 district for £180 per annum. Taking the removal in-house involved the purchase of two carts and horses, their stabling and harnesses and four mens’ wages and tools, though the sale of the nightsoil to farmers offset the cost.

Fred Miles in his “Recollections of Ripley” remembered that in the 1920s “one other custom, or should I say “service”, now forgotten was when, one night a week, the “night soil men” came up Grosvenor Road. It was round about midnight. Their job was to take two buckets down a yard, empty the privy contents into them, go back to their tanker cart, and empty the buckets there. This was the time when the smokers lit up their cigarettes and pipes!”

In the 1920s, rubbish collection was still by horse and cart, though by the late 1920s, RUDC had begun to buy motor vehicles. It was, however, not until 1934 that RUDC took over refuse collection in some districts, like Heage and Ambergate. In 1939 they were advertising for the purchase of a Shelvoke and Drewry Chelsea type freighter, like the one shown here.

This is the kind of dustcart on Ripley’s roads in the 1940s

The 1936 Public Health Act controlled to some extent the disposal of waste into rivers, and also introduced the idea of a “standard receptacle” for household waste – the galvanised metal dustbin. Ripley’s dustbins must have been especially heavy, as they were full of coal ashes, a product of the miners’ free coal allowance. By then, ashes were not so much in demand, and councils had to look for somewhere to tip the rubbish, though most of it would still decompose.

In both World Wars, recycling became very important, as the supply of raw materials was limited. In 1940, RUDC collected and sold paper to the value of £465 and people were urged to donate scrap metal, and even food waste for pig food. Bones were collected for use in making cordite – ammunition!

By 1948, the RUDC accounts show that for the year ending 31 March 1948, the council spent £8707 on the collection and disposal of refuse, 14.5% of its total expenditure. By the early 21st century, this had fallen to between 7% and 9% of expenditure. By 1950, about 7000 tons of rubbish were being collected annually. A dustman then was estimated to walk 9 miles a day.

A 1967 Government report into waste disposal showed the way waste had changed. In 1933, more than half of household waste was made up of fire ashes; as central heating replaced open fires, (and Clean Air Acts discouraged burning coal) this fell to 21% in 1967 and just 4% in 1992. Food waste increased over this period, and the amount of paper thrown away doubled. Only 1% of waste was plastic in 1967, but 10% in 1992.

Amber Valley took over from RUDC in 1974 and introduced wheelie bins in the 1980s, though at first some had to have notices on them reminding people not to put hot ashes in them, as they had done with the metal bins. The amount of rubbish thrown away increased!  

Originally just one bin, in 2004 they added boxes for recycling, replaced in 2008 by a grey bin with glass recycling caddy.

Although campaign groups like Friends of the Earth were active from the early 1970s, it took until the 1990s before government set targets for recycling, realising that we couldn’t just carry on dumping more and more rubbish which would never rot away.

AVBC recycled 2% in 1999, 8% in 2003 and 32.9% in 2019. (but this counts materials the contractor can’t recycle and therefore sends to landfill).

 A far cry from the days of the nightsoil and rag and bone men (or is it?).