Monday, January 20, 2014

Early Victorian Street Sweeping Machine

Monday, January 20, 2014
Frith, The Crossing Sweeper, 1853
Loretta reports:

We take clean streets more or less for granted.  Litter and dog poo are nothing to what our early 19th century ancestors encountered.  Crossing sweeps pushed brooms, and pedestrians were supposed to pay for a clear path. By the late 1830s, with the filth worsening, inventors set about developing mechanical, albeit horse-driven, methods of cleaning streets.  Mr. Whitworth gets credit for the first mechanical sweeper, but by 1843, when his machines were put to work in London, other inventors (scroll down) were applying for patents for similar devices or “improvements.”

This machine, lately brought into operation in the town of Manchester, where it excited a considerable deal of public attention, has lately been introduced into the metropolis, and is now employed in cleaning Regent-street. It is the invention of Mr. Whitworth, of the firm of Messrs. Whitworth and Co., of Manchester, engineers, by whom it has been patented. The principle of the invention consists in employing the rotary motion of locomotive wheels, moved by horse or other power, to raise the loose soil from the surface of the ground and deposit it in a vehicle attached. The apparatus for this purpose is simple in its construction; it consists of a series of brooms (3 ft. wide) suspended from a light frame of wrought iron, hung behind a cart, the body of which is placed near the ground, for greater facility in loading. The draught is easy for two horses, and throughout the process of filling, scarcely a larger amount of force is required than would be necessary to draw the full cart an equal distance.

Two machines are advantageously worked together, one a little in advance of the other. Not only is the operation of cleansing a particular street thus effected more rapidly, but the two drivers can occasionally assist each other, and one of them (at higher wages) may exercise a supervision over both machines.
The success of the operation is no less remarkable than its novelty. Proceeding at a moderate speed through the public streets, the cart leaves behind it a well swept tract, which forms a striking contrast with the adjacent ground. Though of the full size of a common cart, it has repeatedly filled itself in the space of six minutes from the principal thoroughfares of Manchester. This fact, while it proves the efficiency of the new apparatus, proves also the necessity of a change in the present system of street cleaning.

The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume 6, 1843


Unknown said...

A really amazing read. Looking back at these historical bits, a sense of uprightness washes over the modern day person, who'd go about with platitudes about how much has improved, or how much as changed. To me, it is mere continuity that is always in a state of updates, as can be seen with these prototype models which more than resembles our mechanized street sweepers. This should be a fine example of how this kind of street cleaning is important in a fully functioning civilization. And that the job isn't merely up to individuals, but is a shared and community-wide sort of work that demands the same level of organization and the technology to employ it on a wider scale. You can't just pin it on someone who doesn't throw the trash properly, or any of that, while not employing the best sanitation services to begin with. That is what hasn't changed between the Victorian Era and the now.


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