London’s past is often seen as a grimy one; from the unsavoury sanitary conditions of the Middle Ages, to the thick, smoggy air of the Victorian era. In the 21st century, however, we have a city that’s arguably cleaner than it’s ever been before. Keeping London clean is easier said than done, though. In this blog, we salute the unsung cleaners of the city.
When the Underground closes (always a little too early) every evening, the fluffers emerge. These are teams of workers who slowly make their way along the tracks, picking up debris that’s accumulated during the day. If debris is not removed regularly, it soon becomes a fire hazard. Because of the precise nature of the job, little has changed since the fluffer’s role began. They still inch their way along the track by foot, and remove debris manually.
Many of London’s cleaners are also volunteers. Take Capital Clean-up for example; this group encourages people to give up their time to engage in litter picking and graffiti removal. Because there’s a focus on the environment and sustainability, Capital Clean-up volunteers also do planting and food growing. Thames21 is a setup dedicated to the cleanliness of London’s major river. In 2012, 13,776 volunteers did their bit to make the Thames a cleaner stretch of water.
Back in olde London, crossing sweepers were the norm. Crossing sweepers would clear the street of manure to create a path for whoever was walking behind them. Now, there is a distinct lack of horse muck to clear, and London’s street-sweeping schedule is much more rigorous. Sweepers and cleaners work ‘beats’ to cover every part of the city on a regular basis. In Westminster, for example, there are 300 cleaners working round the clock. Even when you’re tucked up at three in the morning, someone is out there doing their bit.
In many ways the job of a flusher is similar to that of a fluffer. Except that when you’re a flusher, the role usually smells a lot worse. It is, after all, their job to clean the sewers beneath London. With so many millions of people ‘using’ the sewer network, this is no small task. It’s thought Thames Water spends around £12 million alone on clearing blockages from the London and Thames Valley sewer network. In 2010, a group of flushers cleared enough putrid fat from the walls of the sewers under Leicester Square, to fill nine double decker buses. Yummy.