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Environmental Regulation in Edinburgh and York, c.1560-c.1700
With Reference to Several Smaller Scottish Burghs and Northern English Towns

SKELTON, LEONA,JAYNE (2012) Environmental Regulation in Edinburgh and York, c.1560-c.1700
With Reference to Several Smaller Scottish Burghs and Northern English Towns.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis challenges the deeply entrenched stereotypical image which depicts early modern urban dwellers throwing rubbish and effluent directly out of their windows and doors into the streets below almost as is this was a normal and widely permissible waste disposal practice. This ‘chamber pot in the window’ myth has become almost synonymous with the early modern period itself in the current, popular, historical imagination, especially in relation to urban settlements. But the majority of urban inhabitants and their local governors alike valued clean outdoor public spaces. They had a vested interest in keeping the areas in which they lived and worked clean and they invested substantial time and energy into upholding their collective standards of acceptable cleanliness in the neighbourhoods, wards, towns and cities of which they were so proud. The small minority of householders who flouted sanitation bylaws by disposing of their waste problematically and by creating insanitary nuisances in public spaces encountered substantial resistance from their neighbours. Contemporaries were not afraid to approach the courts to complain about less fastidious neighbours, whose inadequate waste disposal arrangements and noxious trades threatened to undermine their daily life quality. While the contents of chamber pots were thrown from some early modern urban windows, this was by no means a normal, common or widespread practice, at least before 1700.

The main task of this thesis is not to establish how clean early modern urban streets actually were, but rather to explore cultural attitudes towards outdoor salubrity and waste, both among local governors and urban inhabitants. The thesis focuses on Edinburgh and York in a comparative framework, shedding light on the complex relationship between how governors organised street cleaning, managed waste disposal and regulated the cleanliness of the outdoor environment, top-down, and how typical urban inhabitants self-regulated their neighbourhoods, bottom-up. The ways in which the respective cities' waste disposal and sanitation systems and processes were undermined, adapted and improved over time, as inner Edinburgh’s population swelled while York’s remained relatively stagnant, are also analysed.

While focusing on Edinburgh and York, the thesis also discusses the challenge of pre-modern urban waste disposal, in the context of both necessary urban agriculture and rudimentary technology, in a much broader context and with reference to several smaller towns in Scotland and northern England. The relationship between neighbourhood, urban and national politics is a recurring theme in the thesis and the relevant sub-topics of the urban-rural manure trade and Sir John Harrington’s water closet invention of 1596 are also analysed.

The thesis is split into five chapters. The first is an introduction to the topic, to the cities of Edinburgh and York, to the existing historiography, to the modern-day misconceptions surrounding the topic and to the methodology. The second chapter explains the character of the environmental challenge in early modern urban Britain. The third chapter explains the legal, governmental and administrative context of environmental regulation in Edinburgh and York, respectively. The fourth chapter compares the management and provision of street cleaning and waste disposal in Edinburgh and York while the fifth compares how insanitary nuisances were regulated in the two cities. The conclusion relates the two case studies to the
rest of early modern Britain, comparing them to several smaller urban settlements in lowland Scotland and northern England, as well as highlighting just how differently, and sometimes just how similarly, this area of urban government was managed in different urban settlements.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Urban; sanitation; hygiene; manure; waste; Edinburgh; York; sewerage; drainage;
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 May 2013 12:08

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