“I have seen people made sick in the street from the horrible stench, and others unable to eat their food.”
A local councillor on Barking in 1889
Barking’s market gardens needed soil enriching fertilizers and there was a ready supply close by - London was “drowning in horse manure”. In 1900, there were over 50,000 horses on London’s streets transporting people and goods around the city in horse. These horses produced over 600 tons of manure every single day, much of which made its way by barge to Barking.
The Town Quay was crowded with manure barges. Dumped on the quayside, the pungent fertilizer was loaded onto open carts and transported through the main streets of the town to reach the farms and market gardens on the other side.
“Numerous complaints have been made to the Board on the subject of the inhabitants of the lower part of the Town and as the unloading of the Barges and carrying away of the manure by carts through the Town are continued from 2 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock in the evening the houses in the locality during the greater part of the day are rendered almost uninhabitable.”
Barking Local Board of Health Minutes, 1854
The smell from the manure was so strong that a song was written about it:
“The barges by the river
Bring the savoury London muck
Which at pleasant Barking station
Is shifted to the truck
And so pungent is its odour
By that station as you go
That Barking causes biting
To eyes and nose also”
Punch magazine, 1869
Sloshing off the sides of the carts, splattering people’s homes and even flying through open windows, the manure got everywhere. To make matters worse, it wasn’t always just made up of horse poo. ‘Night soil’ from people’s cesspools, along with waste from slaughterhouses in the city, were mixed in, making for a smelly mass that disgusted the people of Barking. The stench was reported as being offensive and unbearable.