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Today, there are lots of regulations linked to health and hygiene. Laws cover all sorts of things like sewage disposal, rubbish collection and water supplies. In the Middle Ages, however, there were very few regulations and they were very hard to enforce (no police force yet!)

And the quality of food was pretty bad too. There was no such things as a refrigerate and butchers kept their meat on show on their market stalls. In warm weather, the smell of rotting meat must have been terrible… and flies must have been attracted to it from miles around.

Some attempts were made to make the city a cleaner place. In 1372, anyone who had filth outside their house could be fined four shillings and there was a ban on throwing anything out of window. Teams of ‘gong farmer’ were employed to collect dung (‘or gong’) from the streets … and then sell it to farmers! Even tradesmen were targeted – a London by-law stated that butchers were not allowed to sell meat that was ‘putrid, rotten and stinking’.

“…The streets and lanes through which people had to pass were foul with human faces and the air of the city were poisoned to the great danger of men passing.”


1301 – Four women butchers were caught throwing rotten blood and offal into the street.

1343 – Butchers were ordered to use a segregated area for butchering animals.

By the 1380s there were at least thirteen common privies in the city. One on Temple Bridge was bought over the Thames.

Butchers were put in the pillory (stocks) for selling ‘putrid, rotten, stinking and abominable meat’. The meat was burnt in front of them.

House owners living next to steams built latrines over the streams.

Wide streets had two gutters, one at each side. Narrow streets had one gutter in the middle.

Houses away from streams sometimes had their own latrines. In 1391 a latrine built in a house cost £4. The mason dug the pit, and used stone tiles and cement to line it.

By the 1370s there were at least twelve teams of rakers with horses and carts, removing dung from the streets.

Butchers carried waste through the streets, loaded it onto boats and threw it into the middle of the river at ebb tide.

In 1345 the fine for throwing litter in the street was increased to 2d. In 1372 anyone who had filth outside their house could be fined 4d. Anyone throwing water from a window was fined 2d.

There were open sewers carrying refuse to the river.

Wells for fetching water and cesspools for dumping sewage were often close together. Regulations said that cesspools had to be built a certain length from a neighbours soil.

1364 – Two women were arrested for throwing rubbish in the street.

1307 – Thomas Scott was fined for assaulting two citizen who complained when he urinated in a lane instead of using the common privy