King's Lynn dump dig reveals secrets of Victorian rubbish

PUBLISHED: 10:12 29 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:13 29 October 2015

The dig in process. PICTURE: BBC

The dig in process. PICTURE: BBC


One person's rubbish can be another person's looking glass into the past.

Lid from an ointment pot. PICTURE: BBC.Lid from an ointment pot. PICTURE: BBC.

And at a Victorian rubbish tip excavation in King’s Lynn, history buffs were able to uncover the habits of a increasingly throw away society.

The investigation, shown on the BBC’s Inside Out East, took place at the end of Horsley’s Chase close to the location of the old civic amenity site.

It was part of a county-wide project, carried out by the University of East Anglia.

Tom Licence, director at the Centre of East Anglian studies, was joined by volunteers from North Norfolk Bottles to dig deeper into what products households used and what they threw away.

Victorian bottles found at the dump. PICTURE: BBCVictorian bottles found at the dump. PICTURE: BBC

Dr Licence said the researchers began by digging up individual dumps in back gardens but now they were working on a bigger scale in a bid to learn more about the past and to contribute to the record of historic landfill sites on the Environment Agency database.

“What we are trying to do it make our research useful and usable.

“People are really fascinated by this and they want to know more about it.”

According to environmental health manager at West Norfolk Council, Dave Robson, many of their finds included ink bottles, medicine bottles, mineral water and ginger beer bottles as these had less resale value.

Authority decided against purchase of ‘destructor’

In September 1907, the borough surveyor was commissioned to report on the provision of an incinerator - which they called a ‘destructor’ - but the council decided not to order one.

Instead it advertised in the paper for applicants to cart the town refuse from the tip, free of charge.

In 1912, the council identified a new landfill site at the nearby Harding’s pits, and began tipping in August 1914.

In 1928 a tender was agreed to erect a brick incinerator for burning paper and rubbish at Horsley’s Fields at a cost of £75.

Then in September 1929, it was resolved that the Harding’s pits tip be discontinued and the original dump on Horsley’s Chase be used again.

Mr Robson’s interest stemmed from a human health perspective as the site is up for redevelopment.

He added some of the outstanding discoveries were beehive shaped honey jars, delicate perfume bottles and fish paste jars, which he said looked much the same as those available today.

The site, which was a sorting yard and waste transfer depot, dates back to the 1880s and was levelled by filling it with waste in the 1930s.

Mr Licence, who has led digs in Castle Rising and Diss, said: “There was a massive growth of rubbish generated by the population. It was due to so many products coming out and people having money in their pockets.”

He added among the more recent rubbish they found brands, including Bovril, and international products creeping in whereas the older waste featured items from local manufacturers.

To find out more about Dr Licence’s work go to
Inside Out East is available to watch on BBC Iplayer.

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