9 O'clock Horses

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Way back over 150 years ago in cities like Leicester, all domestic waste was either thrown into ditches, stock piled in back yards (if you were lucky enough to have one), or placed in communal neighbourhood yards, human waste being treated just like ordinary domestic waste and usually joined the same piles and awaited colection. At this time local butchers shops usually carried out the slaughter of animals for meat on their own city cente premises. Waste products from this process were just left lying around in heaps waiting to rot down. As a result, local ditches became blocked and any rivers flowing through a city became the main sewer for the city.

Now how was this waste dealt with? Well, it was collected by local farmers for use as manure for spreading on the land, so only the best, the well rotten was preferred.

A tale long told to children was that they should all be in bed and fast asleep by 9 o'clock or the bogie men or the 9 o’clock horse would get them.   Well there is some truth to these tales.  

In the night, farm labourers would come into a city to collect waste products to use as manure on surounding farmland. These were called the Night Soil Men. Leicester had a local bye law which stated that the Night Soil Men could not come in to the City to collect the waste until after 9 o’clock at night.  Sometimes they paid for the waste, but this had to be the best quality, well rotted down and ready to be used immediately.   At this time people were moving out of the countryside in to the City to earn their fortune, so farm labour was scarce.   Child labour was cheap, so any child caught wondering the streets of the City could also be collected and taken back to farms as a labourer.   The pay for child farm labourers was just basic food and accommodation.

There is a story (how true it is I will leave you to judge), that there were a couple of these Night Soil Men collecting the waste one night.   It was a warm night and one of the men had taken his coat off and placed it on the cart’s driving seat.  Loading was preceding well and they had a nearly full cart load of good quality manure.  There was still more to be had so they decide to load the cart some more when the horses were startled and the man’s coat fell of the seat into the back of the cart.   Without hesitation the man climbed into the back of the cart to retrieve his coat, whereupon his mate said “Surely you are not going to wear that again”, to which he replied “No, But my sandwiches are in the pocket”.

Remember all children should be safely tucked up in bed by 9 o'clock, so that the 9 o'Clock Horses or the Bogie Men won't get them!

LMTA Leicester City Council