Medieval Townships <3; DominiquePosted: November 11, 2011
A basic knowledge of health and hygiene didn’t exist in the Medieval ages. Towns in England reflected that lack during this time. They were dirty and there were no sewage systems. A common way of discarding toilet waste and other rubbish was to simply throw it into the street. Rats were very common in town areas and their great number led to the great spread of the Black Death. Pigs were used to ‘clean’ the rubbish found in towns. Even the water available to townspeople was polluted as a result of toilet waste having been thrown into it.
Towns were the home of many people, all with different means of making a living or trade. They were the homes of merchants, carpenters, butchers, bakers and others. Larger towns were sometimes fortified by walls, with houses of townspeople being built inside or against the walls of the town.
Many towns were situated next to or near roads that were part of trading routes. There were many narrow streets inside the town walls and carts drawn by horses could be seen along these. These carts were often piled high with goods to be traded. Many small shops lined the narrow streets of the town, often with an added storey for the owners of the shops to live in.
Towns were quite small in both size and population initially. However, as more and more people moved into the towns, the towns grew in size and became quite cramped. Organisation of the town and its people were poor and the towns started to become the filthy places that they are now known for having been. The fact that much of the garbage thrown into the streets was left to rot there led to common illness and disease.
Many stables opened out onto the street and the muck from these would also lie on the roads. Everyone was expected to be responsible for keeping the small area surrounding their ‘house’ clean but in reality, this was only done should an
outbreak of serious illness occur or a royal member visited the town.
Living conditions in the town also grew worse. Those with their own form of trade or shop were able to survive off the payments of others but many worked for others in exchange for food and shelter, or were left to beg. However, this didn’t stop the rapid rise of those arriving in the towns, escaping their former lives as serfs on a manor.
The location of a medieval township was also important. Many were built on high ground so that a view of the surrounding area and any potential attackers was offered. Others were built near castles as a way of gaining protection from raiders and other dangers. It was also important that a township be built near a supply of water such as a dam as there was no running water in those days and all water had to be collected from a natural source.
Medieval towns were generally dangerous places to live. Fire hazards were a great risk as town buildings were constructed out of wood, which fire burnt easily. It was also dangerous to walk around at night. There was no organised police force to deal with the common crime of townships and it was dangerous to break the ‘curfew’ that all townspeople were given to be in their homes. The carrying of weapons was also regulated in towns.
Bells were used to tell time and make announcements in towns. A bell would be rung as an alarm in the case of a fire or an attack but would also be used to call meetings or courts. Another form of announcement was the town crier, a person who would walk throughout the town ringing a hand bell and calling out announcements. Town criers were the main source of news for townspeople as in those days there were no newspapers or other forms of media.
Many shops could be found in towns and these would open early in the morning, at around 6AM. The first meal of the day was typically eaten at 9 to 10AM and so many would shop early in the morning before eating their first meal. Markets were also most busy in the morning before quieting down in the afternoon, the time that most shops also closed. However, other places such as barbers and blacksmiths were often kept open until curfew.
Medieval towns, as dangerous and routine they were, were not without leisure and entertainment for its people. After townspeople attended church on Sunday mornings, they were able to take part in activities which included bowling, wrestling and other forms of physical activity. Folk dancing was also popular and certain days and events called for different forms of entertainment. Fireworks were often used for royal visits and parades would be held for weddings. Plays and feasts were also held.
The entertainment and trades provided in medieval townships helped to bring some fun into the otherwise boring and routine lives of the townspeople.