As reported by the London Bills of Mortality for the week of 2nd February 1731:
1 cut his own throat being a lunatick at St Giles without Cripplegate;
3 found dead – 2 in the street at St Peter Cornhill and 1 at St George in the East;
A man killed by a large quantity of earth at St Giles without Cripplegate.
‘Two men digging under a laystall at Mountmill near Islington, a great quantity of earth fell upon them, whereby one was killed the other much hurt.’ The Gentleman’s Magazine, 5 February 1731.
London’s waste swept from streets and gutter, or extracted from cesspits, was collected and disposed of during the 17th and 18th centuries by being dumped at a number of sites on the outskirts of the built-up area of the city. Over the years such dumps, or laystalls, often became significant local landmarks forming mounds or mounts several tens of feet high (see the section of Rocque’s 1747 map shown below which indicates at least four of Islington’s laystalls; one of which may have been known as the ‘Mountmill’).
The material that made its way onto these laystalls was frequently scavenged by the poor for objects or materials that could be re-used, sold on or simply burnt as fuel. It would seem that on this occasion, as on several others, the unfortunate diggers undermined the inherently unstable mound and were buried alive in its filth and waste.
Section of Rocque’s map of 1747 showing the laystall mounds in the vicinity of the Islington Roads to the north ofLondon(the lower mound in the centre is possibly the ‘Mountmill’ in question as a road of that name is just to the south of this area).
For a modern take on this type of event see this blog entry on rubbish tip landslides, (see post of 22 June 2008).