Friday, September 19, 2008

Ah, yes, the Elsans ...

No account of the first ten years of the excavation would be complete without a note on the Elsans. Providing lavatory facilities on top of the Cotswold scarp where you're a mile from running water was always a challenge. It was not until about 1979 or 1980 (update: the latter) that the current building by the car parks that contains the modern lavatories and the display room was built. To get the water up the hill involved laying the pipes and putting in a pumping station halfway up the approach road to boost the water to the top. It took a long time before the Council thought it worthwhile making that doubtless considerable investment.

Before that time, all water had to be transported: one of the chores PWD unfailingly did was the water run. Water was needed for 3 main purposes: drinking, (both cold and in tea or coffee), washing the excavation finds, and washing hands after going to the loo. Bear in mind that the excavation season was the middle of summer and the weather was often hot: more than 100 thirsty diggers, quite a number of whom on any day were engaged in hard physical work, could get through a considerable volume of water. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon several 5 gallon jerrycans would be filled with fresh water at Ullenwood and taken up to site.

The loos themselves consisted of a pair of chemical toilets which were quite basic: cream-painted circular metal drums with a plastic seat attached and an inner metal can with a handle round the rim. These were housed in rectangular 3' x 3' x 7' high tents with poles at all 4 corners and guy ropes. There was always an art to finding a spot on the top of the hill where you could get the pegs far enough into the ground to hold the tents securely. The door flaps were secured by three sets of tapes one could tie in a bow. The loos were primed with Elsan Blue fluid which overpowered the worst of the smell. Good to see they're still in business:

For several seasons one of my periodic duties was emptying the Elsans. We used to dig, with pick axe and shovels, a large hole: I remember at least once Mike Webb and I digging the pit together: I caught myself on the front of the left shin with the pick axe when it bounced off the rock. Brought tears to the eyes and doubtless the odd oath was uttered! I used particularly to favour that area of the quarries outside the rampart that is now the picnic area. Little do the day trippers know what lies buried under their feet as they enjoy their lunches...


PennyH said...

I seem to remember the song which went with them:

"Beans for breakfast, beans for tea
Makes my work more hard for me
If you could see what I could see
When I'm cleaning Elsans"

Also the episode of Anna's trowel, not removed from back pocket when a visit was paid - sliding effortlessly into the depths. Gallons of Elsan blue made no difference to the "marinated quality"..


Jim said...

Still one of my favourite Crickley memories was when Crickley Hill Man (I believe) handed said Anna her (newly recovered and cleaned) trowel during lunchbreak.

She absentmindedly said thanks, took the trowel, and carried on talking for a second or three.

Suddenly realising what she held in her hand she shrieked and hurled said trowel some distance!

Kate said...

The elsans were still there and in use in 1980 (and possibly 1981?). I was working on the section that was the furthest away from anything. I recall that there was a choice of a 10-15 min there-and-back walk to the toilet block or a quick couple of minutes dash to the elsans. I remember the supervisor's glares as I choose the former option... The smell of that wretched chemical - I can still recall it nearly 30 years later!