Grandad's Watton

Treatment Plant where the Youth Centre now stands

The lack of mains supplies and the wide range of alternatives which applied to water applied also to drainage and sewerage. In about the middle of the 19th century a brick sewer was constructed which served the High Street, and a very small part of Norwich Road, and this led to what I suppose could be called a treatment plant situated on the edge of a field adjacent to the land on which the Watton Youth Centre now stands. I gather that this plant consisted of two more or less filtration tanks, and an open pit where wind and weather were entrusted to continue the work of purification. The surplus, now hopefully de­contaminated fluid, was then piped to the stream which forms the boundary between Watton and Saham Toney and about half a mile from the little bridge on the left hand side the low wall which was built as a weir to speed the flow can still be seen.

For those few houses fortunate enough to be connected to this sewer the lack of mains water meant that the problem of 'flushing' still remained. For some this was achieved by connecting the system to a high level tank which, in turn was filled by a pump from the well, but most people found a more simple solution. On their visits they took a pail of water with them and applied the method of 'bucket and chuck it'!

Primitive as it was, those who had access to this old sewer were much luckier than those who did not, and for the remainder, various methods of disposal were called into use. At some of the older cottages the 'vault' was still being used. This was simply a deep earth-lined hole into which a pailful of lime was thrown now and again and which, of course did require manual emptying, but I think we can do without too much detail of this process. With passing years the vaults did become disused and by the 1920s practically every house not on the sewer had a bucket-type lavatory. This was usually located 'down the garden' in a sort of draughty wooden hut which offered little protection from the East winds, and not many people took a book to read on a cold and frosty night. The equipment consisted of a wooden, box-like structure which provided the seating accommodation, and which had a little door at the front through which the bucket could be withdrawn for emptying. This task was the responsibility of the householder, a nocturnal exercise involving a spade, a hole in the garden and a cigarette or two. From the early 1930's the head of the household became free of that chore for by then the District Council had introduced a 'night cart' collection service and with their horse-drawn cart which looked like a large water tank on wheels two men toured the backyards of the own emptying those malodorous buckets. It was nothing unusual to meet this vehicle when coming home from a late picture show or a dance.

A gentle breeze wafting in the right direction would bring the first indication that you were not alone on the streets, and then through the gloom would come the flickering oil cart-lamps and the clop-clop of heavy hooves. 1 recall that the animal between the shafts walked slowly, head down, and had a rather sad and forlorn expression on its face, but I think that perhaps I might not have been too happy if I had been as near to that cart as the poor old horse was.

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