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‘Privies and Other Filthiness…’ The Environment of Late Medieval Aberdeen c.1399-1650
By Chris Croly
Published by Aberdeen City Council
Introduction: This talk will look at aspects of public hygiene in medieval Aberdeen with specific focus on the streets.
It was the role of the Council of the Royal Burgh then, as it is now, to deal with dirty streets. Council statutes dealing with street cleaning and maintenance begin in the mid-fifteenth century and this seems to be the same case across Scotland. To a limited extent, I will compare and contrast Aberdeen to other Scottish burghs and European cities generally looking at why they sought to clean their streets.
I want to deal with two issues; firstly who and what produced waste and secondly how that waste was dealt with. ‘While urban environmental pollution is mainly industrial today, it was organic in the late Middle Ages.’ Principally, manure from all the beasts and offal from those slaughtered by the fleshers.
There were a large number of animals in medieval Aberdeen. Most households and families would have had sheep, chickens and possibly cows whilst it was incumbent upon all burgesses to have a horse. In terms of archaeological remains, large amounts of animal bones have been recovered from various digs throughout the city. The sheer number of animal bones is in one sense testimony to the extent of the problem.