“Gardez l’eau!” was the watch-cry of English town-dwellers from Norman times, to warn pedestrians of the imminent arrival of the contents of a chamber-pot being emptied from an upper story window. Although the English no longer dispose of their waste in this way, the cry lives on in the nick-name for the room now devoted to the purpose – the loo.
Humans have always produced waste. For dispersed populations this has not been a problem, but even the most modest degree of urbanisation brings the need for some form of waste management. Until the middle of the 18th century, English towns relied on householders to do their bit, or whatever they saw as their bit, to keep the streets clean. There was some assistance from industry, though, as solid waste (particularly canine) was much sought-after for tanning, and as a source of saltpetre for making gunpowder. The demand for nightsoil and “pure”, as the canine version of this resource was then known could not, however, keep up with the supply, and English urban streets were indescribably filthy, with predictable consequences for public health. Streets like this could not be “swept” in the way we understand the word.
The first proposal that London street cleaning should be a public responsibility came in 1751 from a customs official called Corbyn Morris, who proposed that “…as the preservation of the health of the people is of great importance, it is proposed that the cleaning of this city, should be put under one uniform public management, and all the filth be…conveyed by the Thames to proper distance in the country”. Not much came of this, and London continued to grow and to befoul its streets and watercourses.
By the middle of the 19th century, urban pollution was catastrophic and outbreaks of cholera were regular. Parliament was finally moved to act, and in response pioneers like Bazalgette engineered massive systems for draining the city of its liquid waste. At the same time, more and more earthen streets were being paved and pavements laid, to segregate pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Finally, there were streets to sweep!
The new cities of the industrial North had more new streets than anywhere else, and their burghers were inordinately proud of them. They also had an almost religious faith in the power of machinery to solve life’s problems. It’s no surprise, then, that the first patent for a street sweeping machine should be awarded in 1843 to a Manchester man for a horse-drawn street sweeping machine. Across the Atlantic six years later an African-American called CS Bishop came up with a similar device. The first motorised street cleaning machines appeared just before World War One.
These machines were literally sweepers – attempts to remove finer material than could be captured with a bristle brush had to wait until the latter half of the 20th century.
By the 1960s there was a growing realisation that the fine dust left behind by contemporary sweepers posed a variety of challenges to human health. It contained substantial quantities of asbestos from braking materials, and created an extra burden on the waste water if allowed to simply be washed away in the rain, as was then the practice. Serious attention began to be paid to designing cleverer street cleaning machinery.
The world leader today in street cleaning machinery is Hako. Hako was founded in 1948 and originally made light agricultural machinery. It made its first street sweeper in 1961, but the real milestone came in 1975, with the first European scrubber-drier.
Since then, Hako has remained at the forefront of indoor and outdoor floor cleaning, and its products extend from small, agile walk-behind sweepers to the road-going Citymaster range.
If you would like to learn more about our street and floor cleaning products, just send us a contact request here.