Tom-Turd-Men

Just a really quick one today. I’m reading Matthew Beaumont’s Night Walking (2016) and found this ridiculous piece of information.

The whole book explores who was–or wasn’t–allowed to walk at night in Western culture over the last thousand years or so. I didn’t realize quite how much legislation there’s been over the centuries restricting movement at night and imposing strict curfews (and, barring restrictions and curfews, how much social taboo there was in night walking–it goes so much deeper than the general associations with crime and prostitution).

Anyway, in the eighteenth-century in England, there was a shift in social interpretations of night walking, since new technology enabled street lamps to be installed all over major cities in England.

“The shift might be characterized at its simplest in terms of the development of nightlife. The streets after sunset became more and more populous. They pulsed with restless social activities as middle-class citizens, in addition to aristocrats, encroached on the night, seeking entertainment in shops, taverns and theatres, in coffee-houses and pleasure gardens. Artisans and the poor, for their part, increasingly worked after dark. Bakers, brewers, shoemakers and tailors laboured to meet morning deadlines.

“Night-men (or ‘Tom-Turd-Men‘), gold-finders and rag-pickers, meanwhile, sifted the detritus of the streets, or disposed of it, during the dead time of night – in a desperate attempt to alchemize the city’s shit into precious pennies. Night in the city was socialized in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (114).

According to A New General English Dictionary by Thomas Dyche (1760), “Night-men” are “those who open and cleanse privies, commonly called tom-turd-men.”

I never thought I’d be excited to clean my toilet, but with a job title like that, HOW CAN YOU NOT BE?

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