MORTICIAN: Who’s that then?
CUSTOMER: I don’t know.
MORTICIAN: Must be a king.
MORTICIAN: He hasn’t got shit all over him.
That great historical documentary Monty Python and the Holy Grail was as accurate as ever. Sewage disposal in Roman times (if you were lucky enough to live in a town) was usually an open sewer in the street. Though there were some underground sewers they were rare enough that the Latin word for gutter is the same as the word for sewer. After the Romans left the Britain things went downhill a bit.
Stinging nettles like nitrogen rich soil, so they tend to grow where there has been a cesspit. They grow all over the place in the UK. They particularly seem to like canal towpaths, probably because of the century or two when canal boats were horse drawn, and barges did not have holding tanks.
While the germ theory of disease did not become fully accepted until about 1880, the previous miasma theory of disease said, basically, that you got sick from things that smelled bad, which is OK as a first approximation, and would also seem to indicate that sewers were a good idea. I was interested to discover on our recent visit to Tamworth that there was an Anti-Sewer lobby in the 1800s, similar to our climate change deniers today. From a display in the castle:
In 1853 a report into [Tamworth’s] sanitation was submitted to the General Board of Health. They found that epidemic diseases were frequent and more people died from them than the national average… Many streets had no drains of any kinds, while pig-sties, privies, dung and manure were all to close to some homes. There were just too many pigs.
Fourteen years later nothing had changed. Uncovered cess pits give off poisonous fumes, while fever and cholera raged. The wells were between five and ten times as polluted as those in London. Some ratepayers claimed the cost of laying more drains would be “ruinous and unbearable”. The Anti-Drains group sent the bellman round the town with leaflets protesting at such a ‘waste’ of money.
So remember, if the conservatives had had their way we would all still be covered in shit.
Today we skirted Nuneaton and turned up the Ashby Canal. Nuneaton does not present its best face to the canal, if it has one, but we did pass by some interesting back gardens. English houses all look similar, so the English express their individuality via their gardens.
This one has a garden shed that is bigger on the inside.
The Ashby Canal wanders twenty two miles through the countryside without any locks, and then dead ends, so we will have to turn round and come back again, but a few days without locks will be a treat. While is is mostly rural, we did pass the Triumph motorcycle factory.
I celebrated by revving the boat up to a majestic 4mph (the speed limit on the canals) and shouting “Vroom! Vroom!”