logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Refuse collection from houses
in the early 1900s

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A typical galvanised dustbin as used in the early 1900s

A typical galvanised dustbin as used in the early 1900s. Note the handles at each side and on the lid.

When I was a child in the early 1900s, the Urban District Council was responsible for refuse connection. The collection was weekly from a dust cart drawn by a horse.

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What dustbins were like

Every household had its own dustbin for the family's rubbish. Dustbins were all different sizes and shapes, because householders bought their own according to their needs. All the dustbins were the same dark silver colour, though, because they were all galvanised to prevent them going rusty. There were of course no plastics. Each dustbin had two handles at the side for lifting, and the lid had a handle in the middle.

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Where dustbins were kept

Dustbins were always kept as much out of sight as possible, but they had to be kept in front gardens because the only access to back gardens in our Victorian style terraced houses was through the house. (Larger houses had an alleyway going through to the back.) My father was a very particular person, and quite a handyman. So our dustbin stood on tiles with a privet hedge on one side to make it as inconspicuous as possible. Apart from on collection day, it couldn't be seen from the street or parlour window.

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What happened on rubbish collection day

On collection day one of my parents would carry the dustbin out onto the pavement. Then once the bin was emptied, they would carry it back behind its privet hedge and disinfect it with a pink powder.

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The dustman's hat

Dustmen had a lot of dirty lifting to do and they often wore special hats with a flap at the back to protect their necks and backs. There is a song about it:

My old man's a dustman
And he wears a dustman's hat
...

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Tipping dustmen

'A few coppers' - a typical Christmas Box in the early 1900s in recognition for good service during the year. This sample is an Edwardian penny, a Victorian penny, a Victorian halfpenny and a Victorian farthing.

'A few coppers' - a typical Christmas Box for dustmen in the early 1900s in recognition for good service during the year. This sample is an Edwardian penny, a Victorian penny, a Victorian halfpenny and a Victorian farthing.

The dustbins tended to get a lot of bashing. How much would depend on how the dustman was treated. It was common practice to tip him a few coppers as a Christmas Box on Boxing Day. Quite apart from that, for a few coppers tip at any time of the year, dustmen would take away larger things that we no longer needed. This was quite a source of income for them because they invariably knew how to dispose of most things profitably.

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Recycling

There seemed to be less rubbish then than now because everything that might possibly be useful was used in some way - recycled to use the modern term.

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