Let’s Talk About Mud Baby!



Photo from Lanark  Heritage Transportation Project

I have written about being a settler and having to deal with swamps and now, because it is Spring we should consider ourselves lucky we did not have to deal with the mud. Here is a fictional letter from a woman from Carleton Place based on non-fictional facts.

March 11, 1890.

Dearest Margaret,

The land here is little above the level of the lake and river, and the day after a rain the soil has the consistency of glue. My delicate muslin gowns are barely surviving the harsh laundering that is required to remove stains made from dusty floors and muddy pathways.

Even the grandest ladies in this town, which seem to be few, are still wearing their most expensive dresses promenaded on gravel walkways or shopped along city or village streets. Sometimes the sidewalks are almost impossible to find on our village streets.



As I said, the village streets of Carleton Place are especially notorious for becoming muddy quagmires during rainy days.  Last week contractors did a poor job of removing ‘mud’—largely composed of horse dung—from our local streets. The work was usually performed by the same firm who had obtained the much more remunerative ‘dust’ contract, and thus much neglected. This created a space for a lowly class of entrepreneurs they call crossing-sweepers.

I am aghast that people still sometimes toss out their garbage from their windows, and horse droppings make crossings all but impassible for pedestrians when out and about. Of course our  village streets are barely better than country roads. Some of our local ladies never raise the dress, but walk through thick and thin, with real or affected indifference to mud. Then there are those ladies married to farmers, who I am sure have never been abroad, and allow the mass of underclothes, like mud-carts to collect the mud and beat it up to the middle of the leg. I do miss the city so please visit soon before I go insane.



Photo from Lanark  Heritage Transportation Project



Crossing sweep 18_ Nat Archives

Photo from the National Archives

August 1893- Almonte Gazette

Mr. Wm. Willoughby had the misfortune to slip on the sidewalk last Thurs­day evening and sprain his ankle, and also fractured one of the’small bones. He has been confined to his home since as a consequence.

A crossing sweeper was a person who would sweep a path ahead of people crossing dirty urban streets in exchange for a gratuity. This practice was an informal occupation among the urban poor, primarily during the 19th century.

Thackeray once wrote a story the hero of which was a crossing sweeper who lived like a gentleman on the profits of his crossing opposite the Bank, and on the strength of this legend it has been very generally though vaguely assumed that the profession is a very remunerative one. So far as facts have ever come out I do not think that this idea has ever been justified, although, no doubt, there have been exceptional cases of sweepers doing very well. And, even if they do, there is not much to grumble at. The life cannot be one of many charms.
—Excerpt from Household words: a weekly journal, Volume 4, Charles Dickens.


Related Reading:

Living In Constant Sorrow in a Lanark Swamp

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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