Here's a dustman from Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor.
'The lane behind the terrace was waterlogged and as he went down it slowly, choosing his steps amid heaps of wet rubbish, he heard a mad nun screeching in the nuns’ madhouse beyond the wall.
—Jesus! O Jesus! Jesus!
'I hid my books in the long grass near the ashpit at the end of the garden where nobody ever came and hurried along the canal bank.'
'The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness.'
|From the Irish Times report on the dig|
'Magic lantern slides in a suburban garden ash pit seem a long way from the usual investigations of cist burials and bog butter, but the archaeological nature of the discovery and the possible connection to important historical persons and events fit perfectly with the discipline of archaeological inquiry....The excavation of the ash pit took place over a week in February 2013, directed by Andy Halpin. Excavating an ash pit is not unlike excavating a Bronze Age cist burial, as the area to be excavated, confined by its concrete walls, is similar and the ashy deposit is also reminiscent of cremated deposits.'
|Cist burial, from Davis and Thurman's Crania Britannica, 1865|
|A John Lizar's magic lantern|
THE ASHPIT BOOKS
'Somebody found at the end of the garden two books which the children nicknamed 'the ashpit books'. One was a song-book, the first pages of which were missing. It contained a large and miscellaneous collection of classical and traditional songs, popular ballads and many so-called comic songs, the humour of which always remained a mystery to me. The other was a closely and badly printed collated edition of the four gospels in a red cloth cover. The former tenants of the house were Protestants...As the little volume was still quite presentable, though the cloth of one cover was detached from the cardboard owing to exposure to weather, I put it on my shelf.'
Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper, p113-114
John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello, John Stanislaus Joyce, Fourth Estate, 1997, p227
The ashpit books recall the discovery in Finnegans Wake of a letter in a 'fatal midden' by Biddy the hen. 'Midden' is an archaeological term for a mound of domestic refuse, often food remains (kitchen middens).
J.S.Atherton, The Books at the Wake p62-3
|Oxyrhynchus 1, The Gospel of Thomas|
'The bird in the case was Belinda of the Dorans...and what she was scratching at the hour of klokking twelve looked for all this zogzag world like a goodish-sized sheet of letterpaper originating by transhipt from Boston (Mass.) of the last of the first to Dear whom it proceded to mention Maggy well & allathome’s health...'111.05-11
In the heat of the midden, this Boston letter has been transformed, like a melting photographic negative of a horse:
'If a negative of a horse happens to melt enough while drying, well, what you do get is, well, a positively grotesquely distorted macromass of all sorts of horsehappy values and masses of meltwhile horse....this freely is what must have occurred to our missive.... Heated residence in the heart of the orangeflavoured mudmound had partly obliterated the negative to start with, causing some features palpably nearer your pecker to be swollen up most grossly...' 111.26-36
|A photographic slide from the ashpit|