IT was the night the effluent hit the fan in Redditch. Or to be a bit more accurate, hit the houses. Because pebble-dashing the outside walls suddenly took on a whole new meaning.

These days the town’s citizens flush the loo thousands of times a day without a whole lot of thought as to where it’s all going. Down the Severn Trent sewers and out of sight presumably. But it’s not always been like that.

In the first half of the 20th century, there were areas of Redditch that weren’t on mains drainage. The “facilities” usually consisted of a shed in the yard containing a wooden seat with a hole, under which was pushed a large bucket. The contents were emptied under cover of darkness by the Night Soil Man, who arrived with his horse and cart while most people slept. Similar to Father Christmas, but taking rather than giving.

This nocturnal saviour would remove the heavy bucket and carry it, sometimes on his shoulder, and tip the contents into a large tank on his cart. He would then replace the empty bucket ready for family use the following day. The night soil made excellent agricultural fertilizer.

The system worked satisfactorily for many decades until the Second World War arrived and with it the blackout. A lot of things happened during the blackout and in Redditch one of them was a very mucky collision between an army lorry and a night soil cart in the early hours of one morning. The lorry was returning to camp with a party of soldiers when it hit the unlit cart in the dark, smashing off the tank lid and distributing the contents liberally around the neighbourhood.

What followed has been graphically described by local author Anne Bradford in her new book Secret Redditch, with a nod to the writings of former local government man Arthur Newbould, who at the age of 17 found himself in charge of the clean-up operation.

“When I arrived at the scene I could see that half the load seemed stuck on the windows and fronts of the houses nearby,” said Arthur. “I remember by the light of a policeman’s torch seeing a triangular bit of the Birmingham Post caught on the door handle of a front door. There were lots of other bits, some in letter boxes. It was important to get it all shifted and out of sight before the squeamish went retching past to work.”

So Arthur called in the Fire Brigade to wash away the mess. Unfortunately too much hose pressure was used and the jets smashed the windows, sending the glass with its accompanying night soil straight into various bedrooms and through any other open apertures. For the next few weeks the name of Arthur Newbould became a local government secret!

Redditch, which dates back to the 1200s, was transformed in the 1960s when it was designated a New Town, with new housing developments doubling the population. But Anne Bradford has delved into the past of “old” Redditch to come up with some weird and wonderful tales. Like a hidden cemetery left by the monks of Bordesley Abbey, a memorial stone to a notorious murderer and another memorial to a needleworker’s death. There’s a chapter on the lost farms of Redditch, the war work of its factories and the bombing of the town in October and December, 1940.

The bombing obviously meant much rebuilding, but Redditch’s greatest engineering feat is said to be the railway tunnel on the now defunct line to Evesham. It was dug by navvies in the 1860s and is 353 yards long. Beginning at Ipsley, a small subway large enough to take a railway wagon was first dug to the length of the eventual tunnel. A series of shafts were then dug down from above and the small tunnel expanded, the soil being taken away in the wagons. The line opened in 1864, but fell victim to the Beeching cuts and closed in 1963

Finally, what’s in a name? A contentious choice if you live in Redditch. In 1974 when the town’s grammar school was becoming part of a comprehensive system, a new name was obviously needed. Much touted was that of Lady Harriet, who had been Baroness Windsor of Hewell Grange and wife of Clive of India. Indeed Lady Harriet’s Lane ran along the back of the school grounds. It seemed a shoe-in, until the head of PE, a woman, let rip. “No way,” she protested. “I am not having girls in my hockey team being cheered on by boys shouting ‘Up Lady Harriet’s’!” After a re-think, the school was called The Abbey.