Thursday, October 28, 2010

Emily Cockayne, Hubbub; Filth, Noise & Stench in England 1600-1770

Emily Cockayne, Hubbub; Filth, Noise & Stench in England 1600-1770, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007.

Whereas now the stress is on dangers through careless ingestion, gravid women were considered to be just as much at risk form damaging sights, smells and sounds. According to Tyron, pregnant women should keep calm and avoid ‘Unclean Places, as also all terrifying and melancholy Sights, remembering that all things have an innate Power to impress their signatures on the tender Fruits.’ (17)

Therefore, you can hold your nose at bad smells, or breathe through the mouth, which, bypassing the sense of smell located in the nose, means that the ill smell cannot be communicated to the ‘Central Parts of the Body’. (17)

Even in the mid-eighteenth century the ideas that the senses were corruptible (and corrupting) was still current. (18)

Another example would be pits. There was a perpetual battle to contain the numerous swine that roamed city streets because they annoyed citizens in various ways. Their sties and dung were sources of offensive smells and their odours were even thought to tarnish metal and discolour linen. Pigs formed obstacles in busy city streets and savaged sacks of cereal in the market. Their rooting could even damage structures. (18)

Both in life and at the point of death , they made shrill and unpleasant noises. … The noise of slaughter was distressingly high-pitched and traveled long distances. (19)

Generally, in legal terms, a nuisance was ‘an actionable annoyance which interferes with the ability of another to use or enjoy his land’. As the legal writer William Blackstone put it, a ‘Nusance, nocumentum, or annoyance, signifies any thing that worketh hurt, inconvenience, or damage’. There were two basic types of legal nuisance: public (or common) nuisances and private nuisances. (19)

Common nuisances included a surprising range of activities considered to be immoral, as well as those that the modern reader might expect. They included keeping disorderly alehouses, gaming houses or bawdy houses; being a common scold or barrator; setting up stages for mountebacks or rope dancers; littering bridges, highways and rivers with dirt or obstructions; building unlawful cottages; eavesdropping (i.e. listening at the doors or windows of others—rather than allowing water to fall from roofs); throwing fireworks; using a speaking trumpet (a primitive loudspeaker invented by Samuel Morland, Samuel Pepys’s Cambridge tutor); and running brewhouses or ‘melting-houses for Candles’ in inappropriate locations. Playhouses could also be regarded as a common nuisance if they tempted the idle and drew disorderly crowds. A common nuisance would need to be suppressed; a structure could be pulled down or taken away. For the more obviously immoral infringements the wrongdoer could be punished with fines and imprisonments or by corporeal means; for example a scold could be ducked and a brothel-keeper whipped. (19)

An action (private litigation) would not be taken against a public common nuisance. This avoided an unwieldy number of cases issuing from one nuisance. Rather than a multiplicity of suits for damages, a single case in the monarch’s name was made on behalf of all subjects. The judgment would be more likely to lead to an abatement of the nuisance rather than the recovery of damages, and would therefore benefit the commonweal. The only exceptions were made for those people who suffered extraordinary damage form a common nuisance. For example, if a ditch was dug across a public highway, the digger would be prosecuted for committing a common nuisance, but if a person or their animal suffered an injury by falling into the ditch, they could take an action for damages against the ditch maker. (20)

Private nuisances included the stopping (i.e. blocking up) of other people’s windows, rainwater falling from the eaves on to another person’s property (20)

Samuel Johnson’s pockmarks added to scars he already had following an operation on his lymph nodes in infancy. (23)

While being disfiguring, the tell-tale marks left by smallpox…would have made servants more employable, as they denoted immunity. (23)

Archaeological surveys suggest that the majority of early modern adults suffered tooth decay. (23)

Refined Georgians preferred a pale complexion; the sun was avoided and numerous recipes claimed to remove freckles. Away in London for long periods, the poet and stenographer John Byrom wrote home urging his wife to keep herself and the children out of the sun, fretting, ‘Prithee let the children have some sort of things that will keep th sun off’em; why should one let their faces be spoiled when a little custom might prevent it?’ It was, however, possible to be too pale. A contemporary expert on occupational diseases singled out wan mathematicians as men needing to get out more. These proto-nerds are described as ‘nearly all dull, listless, lethargic, and never quite at home in the ordinary affairs of men.’ According to his biographer, John Aubrey, the mathematician and theologian Isaac Barrow was ‘a strong man but pale as the candle he studied by’. /
Tans and freckles were associated with country folk and outdoor labourers such as hawkers and construction workers. (24)

Some potters had cadaverous faces, and sallow, pale skin due to lead poisoning and damp working conditions. (30)

…the apothecaries who mixed the potions and pills to beautify and mollify their customers’ skin could themselves be palsied and rendered blear-eyed and toothless by toxic concoctions containing lead and mercury. Ramazzini described the plight of one chemist: the ‘mere sight of him was enough to ruin the reputation of the medicaments, the cosmetics especially, that he used to sell.’ (30)

Henry, Lord Kames, discussing ‘risible objects’ in the mid-eighteenth century, asserted that a ‘nose remarkably long or short, is risible, but to want the nose altogether, far from provoking laughter, raises horror in the spectator’. ‘The syphilitic nose marked the body as corrupt and dangerous’, notes a modern cultural historian, who explains how the collapsed cartilage of the nose combined with infections to sink the nose into the face, casting the noseless as ‘polluted and polluting’. The maid pouring tea in plate VI of William Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress had a nibbled nose and a beauty spot, suggesting she was in an advanced stage of syphilis (see figures 25 on p. 71). Lost noses might be congenital rather than the result of disease, but the taint of syphilis was unavoidable. In Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760-7) the eponymous protagonist was born without a nose (possibly due to forceps mismanagement) and suffered the stigma of noselessness. Face were judged for symptoms of disease. Noses were not the only facial casualties of syphilis: teeth would also decay as the disease progressed, especially if treatment was sought in the form of mercury pills—contributing to the ‘equation of loose teeth with loose morals’. (31)

Nonetheless, the ‘normal’ body was not recognized as ‘perfect’, and minor physical anomalies were accepted, especially in the male physique. Even those with fairly extreme physical deformities were deemed able to work for their living. Mr Powell, ‘a crooke legged man’, had gone to school with Samuel Pepys, and later preached a good sermon. In 1761 Count Kielmansegge watched a ‘humpbacked’ jockey at the Newmarket races ‘who seemed to make up for this deformity in skilfulness’. Oxford colleges occasionally employed men with physical deformities. A ‘dwarff’ called Edward Price was among the staff of Merton College in the 1660s. (32)

Women with deformities experienced more negative reactions and could be considered unmarriageable. … Such a woman should not be taken as a ‘breeder’, as this would ‘leave your name running in the winding-Chanel of a crooked deformity’. Counselling his son to take the most handsome woman available, he reminded him that ‘comely’ mothers produce ‘comely’ daughters, and these were more easily dispatched with smaller dowries, to greater marital effect. (32)

Many men changed their jobs during their later years, taking other forms of employment that were not necessarily less arduous, but would have been less skilled, such as portering or hawking. (36)

The creators and traders of cosmetics and potions to enhance or cover the skin played on fears of ageing. With no advertising standards to uphold, claims could be wild. (38)

Men could also fail to dress appropriately for their age. When Huygens visited the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1652 he found the sickly sexagenarian dressed ‘in the French manner’ in trousers with points, white buttoned boots with ‘fashionable’ tops and a long dressing gown. (38)

Men should look like men. The university authorities struggled to prevent the scholars abandoning their academic garb and embracing fussy fashions. In 1636 a Cambridge college master worried about scholars with ‘fair Roses on the Shoe, long frizzled haire upon the head, broad spred Bands upon the Shoulders, and long large Merchants Ruffs about the neck, with fayre feminine cuffs at the wrist.’ Anthony Wood thought that the 1660s were a ‘strang effeminate age when men strive to imitate women in their apparel, viz. long periwigs, patches in their faces, painting, short wide breeches like petticotes, muffs, and their clothes highly sented, bedecked with ribbons of all colours’. (41)

The ultra-fashionable fops attracted much criticism in this period for their subversion of status and gender. These fashions arrived from the continent, causing John Evelyn to fulminate against the ‘Forreign Butterflies’ who fluttered about town. Critics grumbled about beaux bedecked with frizzled curls and wanton ringlets, and bemoaned the clouds of powder and pomatum. (41)

The caricature of the butcher was diametrically opposed to the fop. In The Cockpit a man towers over the central character taking bets. He has one arm over the back of the arena in an aggressive stance. He appears to be a butcher, with a stocky physique, wearing oversleeves, cap and jacket, carrying a knife or steel, and seemingly blood-spattered. Butchers had enjoyed a respectable status in most provincial centres in the medieval period, and it was common to find members of their trade in positions of local governance. Their status declined during the early modern period, perhaps due to heightened sensibilities. City butchers were connected with corrupt meat, spilled blood, and pavements covered with offal. Their trade offended the olfactory and visual sense. Their animals obstructed traffic, polluted streets and poisoned consumers. By the eighteenth century the caricatured butcher was a common sight in images depicting the unruly mob. (41)

Living down to her name in 1611, Mary Beast conducted lewd acts and was punished by the Westminster burgesses by being stripped naked from the waist upwards, fastened to a cart, and whipped through the streets on a cold December day. (48)

…distinguished honest from dishonest women. Crudely daubed maquillage suggested whoreishness. The arch-puritan Phillip Stubbes moaned about women who busied themselves with such beautification. To this purist, cosmetics were a ‘putrificaiton’, and he likened a painted women to ‘a dunghil covered with white & red’. (49)

Ducking stools or cuckstools were equipment for punishing scolds and were items of town furniture. Although such devices were not in common use, they were still used as a deterrent in the eighteenth century. [51] … It was a way of meting out punishment on behalf of the entire community, as the whole neighborhood was thought to suffer with a scold in their midst. (51-2)

Across the country the civic authorities ensured that their cuckstools were functioning. In 1603 the Southampton authorities complained that ‘the Cucking stoole on the Towne ditches is all broken’ and expressed their desire for anew one, to ‘punish the manifold number of scoldinge woemen that be in this Towne’. (52)

Muffet remarked that fleas, while troublesome toall, do not stink like ‘wall-lice’ (bedbugs), and added that it is no ‘disgrace…to be troubled with them, as it is to be lowsie’. (57)

Passing down through the generations, these beds became fetid and unclean. Tyron believed that bed sharing was the cause of many diseases, and worried that although evil stinking beds were ‘the most injurious to the Health and Preservation of Mankind’, few took the hazard seriously. (57-8)

For poorer citizens, with limited space or no outdoor land, washing and drying linen would have been a challenge. Water could be difficult to obtain, and fuel to heat water or dry clothes was costly. Their ingrained, worn and moth-eaten clothing would be weak and less able to withstand washing. (59)

Cleaning was more often a dry process, with a rub down using a brush of pig’s hair to dislodge the lice. ‘Rub the Hair with a Napkin is to dry it from its swettiness and filth in the head’ was included among the descriptions of the barber’s work in Randle Holme’s The Academy of Armory (1688) (60)

Samuel Pepys rarely mentions washing himself, and for him cleansing did not need to involve water—on 5 September 1662 he records ‘rubbed myself clean’. It is unlikely that soak featured much in the cleansing routine. Made from rancid fats and alkaline matter such as ashes, most cakes of soap would have been quite greasy and would have irritated the skin. The finest soaps were crafted from olive oil, and were kinder to the skin, but these were expensive and would not have been used widely. (60)

Tobias Smollett was another aficionado of the cold bath. The implication was that the value of bathing was more to give a shock to the system and bring it back into working order than to slough away dirt and dead skin cells. (60-1)

Despite the pollution Londoners used the Thames for bathing. John Evelyn noted that even when they bathed in water ‘some Miles distance from the City’, they still became coated in a ‘thin Web, or pellicule of dust’ gathered from the clouds of the city smoke by falling rain. (62)

Paul Hentzner, a German lawyer who traveled to England at the end of the sixteenth century, reported that Queen Elizabeth had black teeth from the English habit of making ‘too great use of sugar’. He noted that it was common to put great quantities of the stuff into the drinks. (65)

The barber-sugeons provided services to protect and care for the external features of the body. The concerns were with skin and hair and mouths—with shaving, dentistry, cleansing, plucking, treating skin complaints and, later in the period, wig-making. Male middling sorts and professionals usually displayed a smooth beard-free face. Pepys used a pumice to remove facial hair in 1662. The shabby street hawkers depicted by Marcellus Laroon and Paul Sandby often sport face fur, indicating their lowly status and lack of concern for personal hygiene. (65-6)

Citizens could apply powder to soak up greasy secretions. However, these products would clog the hairs at the roots and needed to be combed out. The combs of Celia, Jonathan Swift’s lady in her dressing room, were choked with ‘Sweat, Dandriff, Powder, Lead and Hair’. (66)

Among men the fashion for wig-wearing really took off in the Restoration period. Initially the most fashionable wigs were the longest and bulkiest (66)

The vast majority of the wigs Harrold made were crafted from human hair—although he did once buy a second-hand long horsehair for nine shillings. Harrold wore a wig himself. He sold one of his own cast offs for nine shillings and six pence. Wigs freshly woven from the hair of country women were the most desirable, as this was thought to be free of city miasma. During the plague, concerns were raised that wigs had been made from the hair of victims of the epidemic. /
Initially wig-wearing attracted Puritan disapproval. The author of Coma Berenices; or, The Hairy Comet (1674) saw the donning of wigs as criticism of God’s handiwork… (66-7)

The country poor were shorn like sheep to maintain the ‘ignoble Traffick and Pride of the City’. The men who bought wigs crafted form women’s hair donned ‘unmanly disguises’ and looked like ‘Women in mans Apparel’. The practice of topping male heads with tresses from lasses also made the Quaker Richard Richardson bridle. (67)

Heads were usually shaved or cropped closely to accommodate the wigs. This would have reduced the likelihood of infestation with lice and improved the potential for scalp cleanliness but may have made the head itch with hair regrowth, or be irritated by the coarse underside of the wig. Women did not enter so wholeheartedly into the fashion for false hair, probably because of the need for shaving. (67)

For men wigs gave signals about rank, profession and gravitas. Some professional men took to wig-wearing with enthusiasm and sphysicians became especially associated with big, full-bottomed wigs. The big wigs… (67)

To James Boswell’s chagrin, the physicians started to abandon their fulsome wigs in favour of smaller and lighter bag-wigs in the late 1770s. However, the lawyers retained their characteristically big wigs, and members of the bar are still associated with wig-wearing. (68)

By the mid-eighteenth century even clergymen had adopted the practice of wig-wearing, partly to distinguish themselves from the laity. (69)

The popularity of heavy wigs and waned among non-professionals by the mid-eighteenth century; they made scalps hot, especially in the summer. Wigs became shorter and less full during the eighteenth century, and a market developed for scratch wigs—shorter wigs allowing fingers to access the scalp. (70)

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries… The market was made-to-measure—clothes were crafted to fit the original owner. (72)

Jones reminded his readers that ‘Persons of Figure, when they chuse to amble the Publick streets, should always appear in a Dress suitable to their Dignity’—otherwise they risk losing the right of way, the pavement nearest the buildings, and respect, so might attract insults. (74)

A high demand for second-hand clothing meant that garments constituted a considerable proportion of property that was stolen. Thomas Sevan was apprehended at the Hayes turnpike wearing three stolen shirts in 1724. He had left his old ragged shirt behind at the scene of the crime. Elizabeth Pepys’s new farandine waistcoat was snatched form her lap as she sat in the traffic in Cheapside. (77)

Umbrellas were black so that the sooty rain did not stain them. (78)

The poor … also consumed more cheese. The physician Thomas Cogan cast cheese as ‘no good meat for students’, but added that ‘labouring men commonly use it without harm’. Cogan was especially disparaging about ‘rosted’ cheese, favoured by the Welsh. He thought it was best saved for the mousetrap. (84)

Much food bypassed the markets and shops, carried directly from the producer to be hawked by street vendors. By the time the street vendors were officially permitted to stock up, and good produce had gone. Meat sold illicitly outside permitted trading hours was not subject to any checks, and it was difficult to examine produce during sales conducted after dark. Butchers could be fined for selling at unlawful hours: ‘whereby bad & unwholesome Meat is often Sold by Escaping the Notice of the Officers’. (91)

Butchers’ shops, like other sales premises, were commonly open-fronted, and therefore produce was vulnerable to smutting, mud splashes and insect contamination. (91)

Of greatest civic concern was the common offence of making underweight bread. Baking rank bread was also punished. In 1603 six Southampton bakers were found with all sorts of bread described as ‘verie unwholesome for mans boddie of mustie meale’. Some loaves were deliberately adulterated with stone and other items to bulk them up. … This sort of practice would have been widespread—the baker could claim that the stone had not been removed in milling, and blamed the miller. Stones, grit and other unwelcome contaminants would have posed dangers to the teeth of the unwary. (91)

The cries who touted exotic or seasonal foods on the city streets were more respected than those selling mundane ones such as turnips. Appearing for only two months a year, dill and cucumber purveyors enjoyed great popularity, unlike the scorned sellers of cabbages that were available all years and distinctly bucolic. (93)

Didactic literature aided the shopper’s hunt for good-quality meat by highlighting tricks of the butchery trade. These included painting stale flesh with fresh blood. … Butchers were apt to wrap veal in wet cloths and Eliza Haywood advised ‘you cannot be too careful in examining the Scent… what looks beautiful to the Eye may prove musty’, adding that London butchers were known to inflate meat with their breath, a practice known as blowing. Others stuffed rags into cavities to bulk out a carcass. (95)

Pork was potentially a more dangerous product than beef; it deteriorated more quickly, and carried a greater number of communicable diseases. Since the early seventeenth century, the ordinances of the London Butchers’ Company had set a closed season for the slaughter of swine, both to preserve supplies and to prevent heat decay. (95)

The market lookers singled out some butchers in particular and their wares were scrutinized carefully. The fist cases do not appear until after the period of the civil wars. This suggests that in the early seventeenth century the market officials dealt with corrupt meat sales on an informal basis, or through unrecorded confiscation. (96)

Britian was an island surrounded by fish, but fish were not especially popular in England in this period. Problems transporting sea fish inland may have decreased their popularity and pond fish were notoriously muddy. Dried salt fish, once a larder staple, were also falling out of favour. (98)

Until the development of the railways most country milk was churned to butter or worked into cheese. In London fresh milk came from the keepers of dairy cows in the city and suburbs, and like mackerel, it was a foodstuffs traders were permitted to sell on Sundays, as it would not keep until the next day. Bramble reserved his thickest bile for a description of London’s milk: … London supplies were not all so terrible, and fresh drinking milk was available in small quantities from cows that were walked along the streets, as mobile bovine vending machines. (99-100)

Butter was eaten in great quantities in the eighteenth century. The overfed cooked with it, melting it over vegetables until they swam. It was so indispensable that the price of butter fluctuated according to the availability of vegetables. The underfed spread butter thickly on bread (this was often necessary to facilitate swallowing dark or stale bread). Cheap butter was poor grade, akin to grease and was often imported from Ireland. (100)

All kinds of horrors could be concealed in a pie. Pies were originally packaging and contents in one. The pastry outer was not intended for consumption, but to contain the filling during baking until consumption, when the content were scooped out with a spoon. The pork pie is a throwback to such pies, but it has survived thanks to an edible pastry case that keeps the meat moist and clean in a neat enough package to eat with the fingers. By the eighteenth century, pottery vessels had largely replaced the thick pastry walls. Piecrusts remained on top, often with chimneys through which clarified butter might be added to prolong the pie’s shelf life. … Pies could be eaten hot or cold, and would store for fairly long periods, providing they were not nibbled by vermin. (103)

Modern researches have identified naturally occurring antibacterial qualities in silver, and thus those who ate from silver spoons might have enjoyed added benefits. (104)

Noises made at night were more likely to disturb. Curfew rules and conventions meant that the streets should, theoretically, have been devoid of noisy people at night, but they were generally neither observed nor enforced. The night-time economy boomed in the cities. Diners and drinkers could visit taverns, inns or other eateries. (107)

Between midnight and one o’clock in the morning on a Sunday in June alehouses keepers are portrayed encouraging their patrons (‘noisy Fools and Drunkards’) to leave the premises for fear of prosecution. According to this account, traders were still active at this hour, as were prostitutes and itinerant musicians. During the following hour the streets gradually quieted, ‘as the Whores, Bullies and Thieves have retir’d to their Apartments; noisy drunken Mechanicks are got to their Lodgings, Coachmen, Watermen and Soldiers are mostly asleep’. The noise of the morning swelled after five o’clock, when the dog-skinner, with strays in twon, searched for more, and bells tolled for morning services. (108)

The constable or members of the watch were empowered to take anybody acting suspiciously, or ‘nightwalking’, to a house of correction if they could not provide a reasonable excuse for their whereabouts during curfew hours. … Watchmen were supposed to keep a check on the streets during the curfew, but many failed in their duty. Citizens frequently complained that the watch was comprised of men too old, drunk or weak to pay attention or stay awake. … Some watchmen were even blamed for causing much of the noise nuisances at night themselves. Matt Bramble complained, ‘I start every hour from my sleep, at the horrid noise of the watchmen bawling the hour through every street, and thundering at every door; a set of useless fellows, who serve no other purpose but that of disturbing the repose of the inhabitants.’ (108-9)


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