History

English Freedom, Circa 1700

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this lively Literary Review take by Christopher Hart on Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770, by Emily Cockayne:

The personal liberty of every freeborn Englishman and woman to spit, dump and defecate meant considerable misery for everyone. In the streets of London you would stumble over 'the disagreeable Objects of bleeding Heads, Entrails of Beasts, Offals, raw Hides, and the Kennels flowing with Blood and Nastiness'. I never knew that 'Mount Pleasant', near Gray's Inn, was actually a bitterly ironic name for a huge man-made heap of the most nauseous offal and ordure. It is now, of course, home to the Guardian newspaper….

Our Health and Safety goons may be completely deranged with power, but back then, every potter had 'sallow, pale skin due to lead poisoning', while painters had withered limbs and blackened teeth, if any. You may feel a certain nostalgia for the sheer street liveliness and ebullience of our past, so far removed from our own sterile and neurotically manicured townscapes, infested with surveillance cameras and 'community support officers': the open prison that is contemporary England.

Read the whole stinking, and highly entertaining, mess here.