Beadles, Dunghills and Noisome Excrements: Regulating the Environment in Seventeenth-Century Carlisle

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In the current, popular, historical imagination, early modern British towns have become synonymous with images of the contents of chamber pots being thrown from windows onto streets and other public spaces below. This article provides an in-depth case study of how waste was produced, disposed of, and regulated in seventeenth-century Carlisle, including the regulation of so-called “noxious trades”, such as tannery, skinning, and butchery. It reveals that far from the common misconception, that urban inhabitants were disinclined to establish and maintain a sanitary standard in the outdoor public spaces in which they lived and worked, Carlisle’s inhabitants, Carlisle Corporation, and the city’s Court Leet Jurors invested considerable time, money, and effort into cleaning the streets, ensuring the sewers flowed efficiently and that dung and other “rubbidge” was carted out of the city. Some townspeople flouted by-laws and created malodorous, insanitary nuisances, but they constituted only a relatively small minority of Carlisle’s population. The article is split into two sections. The first describes how waste was produced in seventeenth-century Carlisle and the waste-disposal facilities and systems that were available to inhabitants. The second section explains the symmetry between Carlisle Corporation and inhabitants’ efforts to maintain outdoor cleanliness, the socio-economic context of adherence to sanitation by-laws (by relating Court Leet presentments to Hearth Tax data), and how waste management changed over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-62
JournalInternational Journal of Regional and Local History
Issue number1
Early online date12 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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