Street cleaning

The cleanliness of Bristol’s streets is often the subject of criticism. It has always been so! Before 1579 the owner of each property fronting the street was required to repair one half of the street – as far as the waste disposal gutter which ran down its centre. Each owner fulfilled his duty at his own time and in his own fashion so the result left much to be desired.

About 1650 the condition of the banks of the rivers Avon and Frome running through the centre of the city was, at low water, even more sickening than that of the streets due to deposits from sewers and filth cast in by the neighbouring inhabitants. The channel for carrying off waste in the middle of the street was often filled with mud or worse!

In about 1700 two woollen drapers apprentices (one of whom, Matthew Brickdale, was to be for many years Member of Parliament for the city) were accustomed to play a nocturnal joke on their neighbours by sweeping the filth off the High Street gutter into the dark and narrow passage under the archway of the city gate, then adjacent to St Nicholas’ church (photo above). The results to the unwary pedestrians may be imagined.

A local newspaper in 1799 complained that “Pigs, goats and other animals are suffered to wander about the streets with impunity; at the same time the lives of inhabitants are nightly endangered by heaps of mortar, ashes and rubbish”. The sprinkling of feeble lamps often became extinct about midnight through lack of oil. From occasional broad insinuations in the public press the night watchmen employed by the Corporation were frequently decrepit old drunkards and sometimes worn-out servants of members of the Corporation. They were not merely inefficient but suspected of conniving at nocturnal offences.

Scroll to Top