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Medicine And Sanitation In Medieval Towns.

2068 words - 8 pages

One of the principal areas of concern and focus for management was the water supply. Water was of course one of the most important resources for a community. The sitting of settlements was influenced strongly by proximity to water. Whether coastal or inland, the commercial activities of most towns relied heavily on water transportation, and so the navigability of rivers or harbors had to be assured. Water contributed to the protection of the community, whether it was through the natural barrier of a river itself, or in ditches or castle moats, or to help with fire-fighting. Water was needed for the irrigation of the townspeople's fields, orchards, and gardens, and for watering their livestock. Water was a source of sustenance, both in terms of food (fish and shellfish) and drink. It supplied both domestic and industrial brewing, and was important - either as ingredient or power-source - to other key industrial activities, such as grain-milling, cloth-finishing, and tanning. Other domestic needs were for cooking, cleaning clothes, and washing/bathing.Local streams or rivers were of course a major source of water for domestic and industrial uses. Those whose property was adjacent might dig a private channel from the watercourse. Other households whose owners could afford it might have a private well dug. Some, perhaps many, towns had public wells (e.g. Yarmouth), although it is difficult to know at what period these were introduced. Other towns built conduit systems, but these were by no means ubiquitous; Leicester for example relied on private and public wells, in addition to the River Soar, for the greater part of the Late Middle Ages, and no conduit is heard of before the sixteenth century.In 1235 the authorities of London, always at the forefront of development, began an initiative to construct what would eventually become a complex of conduits serving several parts of the city. Such systems, of varying extent, are found in a number of towns by the fifteenth century. The line-ups at the designated places for tapping water from the conduits included private citizens or their servants seeking domestic supplies, craftsmen requiring supplies for their industries - this demand on the water supply being one that town authorities became concerned to divert to other sources - and sometimes water bearers. These porters of water, whether from conduits or a local river, offered a fetching service for a fee or on a contractual basis.Street cleaning, paving, and garbage disposal were likewise matters primarily for individual householders. Apart from kitchen waste and the contents of chamber-pots, there were various others sources of rubbish in medieval towns such as London:The rushes strewn on the floors of London houses had from time to time to be renewed; new buildings had to be erected and old ones repaired or torn down; and earth from excavations, and building refuse had to be carried off. Cesspools, especially of latrines or privies, had to be cleaned;...

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