A discussion forum for history enthusiasts everywhere
 
HomeHome  Recent ActivityRecent Activity  FAQFAQ  RegisterRegister  Log inLog in  SearchSearch  

Share | 
 

 Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
AuthorMessage
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 11:45

It is an oft-repeated statement of 'fact' that in the Middle Ages everyone in western Europe drank ale and beer, or wine if they could afford it, but never water as it was unsafe to drink. Everyone it seems - young and old, high and low - avoided water and instead universally drank alcoholic beverages: I’ve even seen it claimed that in medieval times most people were almost permanently drunk!
 
Contemporary medical writers certainly did view drinking water as potentially dangerous. For example Andrew Boorde was far from enthusiastic about water. In his Dyetary of Helth, (1542), he wrote that,
"Water is not holsome, sole by it selfe, for an Englysshe man … water is colde, slowe, and slacke of dygestyon. The best water is rayne-water, so that it be clene and purely taken. Next to it is ronnyng water, the whiche doth swyftly ronne from the Eest in to the west upon stones or pybles. The thyrde water to be praysed, is ryver or broke water, the which is clere, ronnyng on pibles and gravayl. Standynge waters, the whiche be refresshed with a fresshe spryng, is commendable; but standyng waters, and well-waters to the whiche the sonne hath no reflyxyon, althoughe they be lyghter than other ronnyng waters be, yet they be not so commendable. And let every man be ware of all waters the whiche be standynge, and be putryfyed with froth, duckemet, and mudde; for yf they bake, or brewe, or dresse meate with it, it shall ingender many infyrmytes."

… but he also gave as his expert opinion that eating raw fruit and vegetables was dangerous, and that sugar was good for one's teeth! Meanwhile the majority of people of both necessity and choice generally ate lots of seasonal fruit and veg’ without any ill-effects, and I suspect they also regularly drank the water from their streams and wells.
 
Certainly people would have avoided obviously polluted or dirty water sources, especially in heavily industrialised or crowded urban environments, but is there any specific reason to believe that people of the time drank proportionately less water than we do today? Did people of the time prefer alcoholic drinks? Probably they did and for the same reason most people today drink liquids other than water: variety and flavour. A young man in a tenth century Saxon colloquy is asked what he drinks and answers: "Beer if I have it or water if I have no beer", which surely is a clear expression that, while he preferred beer, he was comfortable with drinking water.
 
So did people really avoid water? Were most water sources dangerously undrinkable? Indeed was beer drinking a sensible solution, as not all ale/beer production used boiled water? Was avoiding water just a choice for those that could afford to be choosy, or was it more an issue of cultural prejudice? Thoughts anyone?


Last edited by Meles meles on Wed 03 May 2017, 14:42; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typos)
Back to top Go down
Triceratops
Censura
avatar

Posts : 3106
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 11:55

From Medievalists net:

Medievalists

While medieval people rarely wrote about a love of water, that does not mean they avoided drinking it. Several types of sources offer more insight into drinking water during the period. Medical texts and health manuals throughout the Middle Ages often note the benefits of drinking water, as long as it came from good sources. For example, Paul of Aegina, a 7th-century Byzantine physician, writes “of all things water is of most use in every mode of regimen. It is necessary to know that the best water is devoid of quality as regards taste and smell, is most pleasant to drink, and pure to the sight; and when it passes through the praecordia quickly, one cannot find a better drink.”

One can find numerous references to when one should drink water, or add it to another drink. Sometimes medieval physicians even gave advice on when to avoid water. The Regimen Sanitatis Salerni, for example, advises that drinking from a cool spring was good for thirst, but rainwater was even better. However, when having a meal the treatise finds that wine is preferable, as water will chill the stomach. Meanwhile, a 15th-century Italian writer told pregnant mothers to “beware of using cold water, it is not good for the fetus and it causes the generation of girls, especially here in our region, so keep drinking wine.”

Records related to medieval cities also note the importance of drinking water, and the efforts by local leaders to give people access to it. Leon Battista Alberti, the fifteenth-century architect and author of De re aedificatoria, gives the reasons why urban areas needed a good water supply: “Since a city requires a large amount of water not only for drinking, but also for washing, for gardens, tanners and fullers, and drains, and — this is very important — in case of sudden outbreak of fire, the best should be reserved for drinking, and the remainder distributed according to need.”
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 12:00

From my reading of medieval accounts dangerous water sources were well understood (as you indicate also), and in cities in particular if they didn't have an aqueduct or other dedicated potable water supply then they either legislated very strictly to keep some of the natural waterways clean or organised public water distribution in containers. In London the fines and other punishments for messing with the water supply were enormous. If I remember rightly Peter Ackroyd had a chapter about it in one of his books. He reckoned they probably drank even more water than the eejits today who fork out good money for tap water in plastic bottles.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Triceratops
Censura
avatar

Posts : 3106
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 12:03

More about London's Water Conduit;

The Great Conduit
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 12:13

Interesting topic!

I've got to go out now, but I'll have a look in the Ackroyd book later. I've got it here.
Back to top Go down
Triceratops
Censura
avatar

Posts : 3106
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 12:29

Though water borne infections certainly happened:

The bloody flux and others
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 03 May 2017, 17:46

@Triceratops wrote:
Though water borne infections certainly happened:

.... and still happen.

I'm not trying to downplay the enormous benefits of having clean water nor minimise the huge problems that still exist worldwide through having poor access to clean water supplies .... but the water supply to my house, ie the water that actually flows out of the taps, still comes from a surface spring. And before you all think of Volvic and Evian or even Lourdes ... by spring I mean it comes out of a crack in the rock (at about 4°C) and flows into a small, rather muddy, concrete-lined basin on the forest floor which the wild boar tend to treat as their personal paddling pool. From there it is piped away to the house (about 500m away and 100m lower) where it is filtered to remove most of the leaves, twigs, mud, silt, sand and tadpoles - principally to avoid damage to the dishwasher and washing-machine - but it still comes out of the house taps chemically untreated. Nevertheless I have always drunk it just like that, completely untreated, and neither I nor anyone else as far as I know has ever had a problem (though I do tell people and offer families with young kiddies bottled water to drink). All my neighbours have similarly rustic arrangements.

There is still an old hand-cranked pump in the back garden which was once used to lift water up to the level of the house from an open conduit that flowed at about 4m lower, and which in turn took water direct from the adjacent river at about 500m upstream. I believe this pump system was still the principal source of water to the house until about 1900-1920, perhaps even later, which was when I think the pipes were first laid to the current spring/puddle, although the location of the source itself is recorded on plans and maps from much, much earlier.
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 07:12

@nordmann wrote:
If I remember rightly Peter Ackroyd had a chapter about it in one of his books. He reckoned they probably drank even more water than the eejits today who fork out good money for tap water in plastic bottles.



I've just had a look in Ackroyd's  London: the Biography (absolutely superb book, by the way). His Chapter 37, A Little Drink or Two, looked hopeful. Unfortunately, nothing about water drinking, just lots of interesting information about alcohol consumption and tea-drinking (tea was at one time considered as dangerously addictive as gin and Samuel Johnson, like me, was a notorious tea-addict). But Ackroyd does, in Chapter 70, note that in Endell Street (near Covent Garden), there was once found an "ancient bath" of unknown date "fed by a fine spring of clear water, which was said to have medicinal qualities". This made me think about "taking  the waters" in places like Bath. The spring waters there have been bathed in - and drunk - since before the Romans. I once took a glass of the stuff in the Pump Room. It looked horrible - very discoloured - and tasted absolutely foul, but it did not kill me. As with MM's water, peculiar colour and taste do not always suggest harmful impurities, but can rather indicate the presence of minerals that are actually beneficial to health. People these days have expensive filters in their kitchens to purify tap water of harmful chemicals put there by modern water companies. Fluoride, supposed to be good for teeth, is added to water and apparently can actually be harmful. Chlorine kills the nasties, but is not very good for us otherwise.

And it is the bugs in the water that have always caused the problems, of course, from a simple upset tum to typhoid or cholera. Burial grounds near water sources were lethal - as in the Brontes' village at Hawarth. The Babbage Report on water pollution in Hawarth during the 19th century makes grim reading - you can read extracts from it here:

Water Pollution in Hawarth

It was the Reverend Patrick Bronte who caused a stink about the conditions in the village - the Babbage Report was the result of his efforts. Ironically, it is now thought that typhoid, not tuberculosis, caused the death of his last surviving child, Charlotte Bronte.


Last edited by Temperance on Thu 04 May 2017, 07:34; edited 1 time in total
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 07:30

Going back to the OP (although other water thoughts are really interesting, and I'm sure MM would not mind a bit of meandering), it is said that Elizabeth I always drank water with the addition of just a little bit of wine as a health precaution - to "purify" her drink. Perhaps she simply preferred water because she had to be so very, very wary all the time. Loss of control was something she dreaded - imagine what she might have said to the Spanish ambassador or someone after the fourth glass of strong Burgundy! Did people back then actually understand about bugs in the water? Surely not!

PS I found this question on Yahoo Answers. it made me smile.


How can I purify water with alcohol when camping?


  In olden times, people would mix water and wine. The alcohol in the wine would kill pathogens in the water and the added water would keep people from getting drunk. I'm trying to find out how much alcohol (say 190 proof) is needed to purify water when camping and whether there would be any drawbacks. It should be possible to dilute the alcohol enough that you wouldn't actually get drunk off of it (some ancients mixed 1 part wine with 10 parts water), so please don't list drunkenness as a drawback. Mainly, I want to know if it's possible to do this safely. Please give a citation or two! Thanks!

Update:  P.S. I'm NOT asking about other ways to purify water such as boiling or iodine. I'm already aware of those.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 08:01

Temp wrote:
Did people back then actually understand about bugs in the water? Surely not!

Surely!

Though they saw illness as humour-transmitted, humours being transferable between people (and therefore cured) elementally. Water has always been correctly classified as an element, so within this mistaken logic it still presented itself as a medium that was both a major cause of illness and of course part of many cures.

It was in fact so potent a medium for the transfer of humours that pregnant women (vulnerable to every humour-based malady) were instructed not to drink the stuff at all during critical stages within the gestation period and to stick to wine. This ensured that the end product would be "male, healthy, warm, and dry-tempered", as the Italian physician Rosetti stipulated in his seminal 16th century pregnancy text book based on Galen's ancient advice. His colleague Michele Savonarola, in his own definitive "De Regime Pregnantium", refined this advice to include a cautionary note about temperature and local geography: “Beware of using cold water, it is not good for the foetus and it causes the generation of girls, especially here in our region, so keep drinking wine.”

What the lads were primarily worried about was melancholia - their dietary advice applied to everyone wishing to avoid a touch of the dreaded "black bile". However pregnant women were especially targeted since, though they could recover, the foetus grown in the meantime was bound to retain traces of the bile throughout their subsequent existence. Pomegranates were also therefore to be shunned.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 08:30

Temp, I think it may have been Ackroyd's "London Under" that I was thinking of earlier. If you like his "Biography" you will definitely enjoy "Under" too.

It ends, after having examined streams, sewers, conduits, bunkers, train lines, electricity generation stations, and everything else below ground level in the city, with the following sentiment: "... the underworld... repels clarity and thought. It may offer safety for some, but it does not offer solace. London is built on darkness." Lovely prose, that man.

I also heartily recommend his "Thames: Sacred River".
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 08:42

@Temperance wrote:

How can I purify water with alcohol when camping?

  In olden times, people would mix water and wine. The alcohol in the wine would kill pathogens in the water and the added water would keep people from getting drunk ............ etc

This, like the idea that the British in India drank gin because it sterilised the water, is a bit of a myth, as anyone who has got sick from the impure ice-cubes added to their G'n'T should know. To sterilize a litre of dodgey water I think you have to add about one and a half litres of pure (200 proof) ethanol to it. Though if you've got access to that amount of voddy or gin I can't think why you'd want to adulterate it with dirty water.

That of course also quashes any idea that the alcohol in beer made it safe ... it was of course boiling the water that sterilised the beer. However I'm pretty sure that it was quite common to make hopless ale, without necessarily getting the water to a rolling boil, so the resulting drink wouldn't really have been any safer than the untreated water.
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 08:55

St Hildegard of Bingen had quite a bit to say about water consumption. Writing in the middle of the 12th century in her book Cause et Cure ('Causes and Cures'), she said: "Whether one is healthy or infirm, if one is thirsty after sleeping one should drink wine or beer but not water. For water might damage rather than help one’s blood and humours …beer fattens the flesh and … lends a beautiful colour to the face. Water, however, weakens a person."

However in her book Physica Sacra (c. 1150) she states clearly,"It is more healthful and sane for a thirsty person to drink water, rather than wine, to quench his thirst". She also wrote: "One whose lungs ail in any way … should not drink water, since it produces mucus around the lungs … Beer does not harm him much, because it has been boiled,” ... so clearly she understood the function of boiling water to sterilise it.

In addition, in Physica Sacra she commented on the waters of various German rivers, saying of the Saar: "Its water is healthful neither for drinking fresh nor for being taken cooked in food." On the Rhine, she wrote: "Its water, taken uncooked, aggravates a healthy person … if the same water is consumed in foods or drinks, or if it is poured over a person’s flesh in a bath or in face-washing, it puffs up the flesh, making it swollen, making it dark-looking." The Main she thought was OK: "Its water, consumed in food or drink … makes the skin and flesh clean and smooth. It does not change a person or make him sick." However, the Danube was not recommended: "Its water is not healthy for food or drink since its harshness injures a person’s internal organs."

Hildegard, therefore, did not universally condemn water, and indeed praised it as a thirst-quencher, but she certainly felt people had to be careful of water, on occasions, when drinking it.
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 09:00

@nordmann wrote:
Temp, I think it may have been Ackroyd's "London Under" that I was thinking of earlier. If you like his "Biography" you will definitely enjoy "Under" too.

It ends, after having examined streams, sewers, conduits, bunkers, train lines, electricity generation stations, and everything else below ground level in the city, with the following sentiment: "... the underworld... repels clarity and thought. It may offer safety for some, but it does not offer solace. London is built on darkness." Lovely prose, that man.

I also heartily recommend his "Thames: Sacred River".

He is a superb writer and historian. It is indeed a joy to read the man's prose. His Chapter 58 of the London "biography" - Dark Thames - came to mind when I read your own excellent Prologue to your novel. Ackroyd notes that the derivation of the name "Thames" is "tamasa" - "dark river". He says this is "pre-Celtic". Conrad also understood the darkness of this waterway: of one particular stretch of the Thames he wrote: "...and this has been one of the dark places of the earth."

MM - didn't the colonial G&T drinkers avoid not only ice cubes, but also any salad or fruit that had been washed?

Crossed posts - MM has just posted something else.
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 09:08

MM wrote:


However in her book Physica Sacra (c. 1150) she states clearly,"It is more healthful and sane for a thirsty person to drink water, rather than wine, to quench his thirst". She also wrote: "One whose lungs ail in any way … should not drink water, since it produces mucus around the lungs … Beer does not harm him much, because it has been boiled,” ... so clearly she understood the function of boiling water to sterilise it.

That's really interesting, MM - had no idea anyone that early knew about boiling water to make it OK to drink.

What about the Romans and Greeks? The Romans were big fans of water, but did they actually drink the stuff? Did the Greeks know about sterilisation through boiling?
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 09:29

The Romans, and not just the poor, certainly drank water, but then they always made sure they had good water supplies. Patrick Faas in 'Around the Roman Table' (English Edition, 2003) says,

"The Romans originally took rainwater from the impluvium [a water tank/pool, usually located in the atrium where all the rainwater from the rooves was collected]. However once aqueducts had been built to bring great quantities of water to Rome, households were increasingly connected to the city water supply. This provided the opportunity for runnning water in every kitchen as well as the installation of bathrooms and toilets (latrinae)..... Less affluent Romans collected water from the fountains on street corners and in squares, which contributed to the health of poor and rich alike: the spring water they supplied was rich in minerals, such as calcium, unlike rainwater. It was a mixed blessing, though, because the pipes were made of lead, and lead poisoning soared among Rome's inhabitants.

While most people drank water from wells or collected rain, Nero had hit upon the idea of boiling it then cooling it in snow, which we would consider a sensible hygiene precaution, but the Romans thought this absurd and decadent.

Snow was eaten on its own and sometimes flavoured with spiced wine and mulsum. Melted snow was drunk for its purity and snow was used in cooking as a cooling agent. In winter snow and ice were stored between layers of straw in well-insulated cellars. During spring and summer, Romans fetched their ice in small but rapid horse-drawn carts, from the Penniculus mountains thirty-five kilometres away, as long as it was snow covered."


Last edited by Meles meles on Thu 04 May 2017, 09:47; edited 1 time in total
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 09:45

Thank you, MM. This is all so interesting!
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 10:12

I was checking out water distribution in medieval London and came across a rather obvious origin to the surname Waterman - the family these days like to think they are linked to some mythical Norman nobleman "Walter" (insert any suitable noble Norman surname of your pleasing) but are most likely descended - understandably enough - from the blokes whose job it was to carry potable water from the conduits to people's front doors.

So ubiquitous were these chaps (and they were always chaps apparently) that their vessels, "bougets", later Anglicised as "water-budgets", ended up in stylised forms on many coats of arms, most notably that of the Bannisters.

Like today's Watermans, modern Bannisters like to think their name stems from the Norman French "Balestiers" (cross-bow soldiers), though in fact any city-based Bannisters seem to have originally opted for that surname upon the introduction of William's Poll Tax because they were "bainsters" by trade - those who ran public baths and therefore employed a lot of the Watermans' ancestors, along with their budgets.


This is the stylised water-budget symbol (always in pairs as they were thus balanced over the shoulders by the bearer). An individual "bouget" became a humble bucket in English.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 14:24


@nordmann wrote:
If I remember rightly Peter Ackroyd had a chapter about it in one of his books. He reckoned they probably drank even more water than the eejits today who fork out good money for tap water in plastic bottles.


Oh dear. A wild night for me these days usually involves several bottles of fizzy water, especially the posh Italian "sparkling" stuff - see below.


The quote above got me wondering as to when the craze for bottled water began. It's still going strong and most supermarkets now have a whole aisle dedicated to the many brands of water, still, sparkling and spring. The industry makes millions  They can't all be a con, can they? And better water than sugary soft drinks.


Wiki actually gives some interesting historical information about bottled water:


Although vessels to bottle and transport water were part of the earliest human civilizations, bottling water began in the United Kingdom with the first water bottling at the Holy Well in 1621. The demand for bottled water was fueled in large part by the resurgence in spa-going and water therapy among Europeans and American colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries. The first commercially distributed water in America was bottled and sold by Jackson’s Spa in Boston in 1767. Early drinkers of bottled spa waters believed that the water at these mineral springs had therapeutic properties and that bathing in or drinking the water could help treat many common ailments.

The popularity of bottled mineral waters quickly led to a market for imitation products. Carbonated waters developed as means for approximating the natural effervescence of spring-bottled water, and in 1809 Joseph Hawkins was issued the first U.S. patent for “imitation” mineral water. As technological innovation in nineteenth century lowered the cost of making glass and improved production speed for bottling, bottled water was able to be produced on a larger scale and the beverage grew in popularity. Bottled water was seen by many as a safer alternative to 19th century municipal water supplies that could be contaminated with pathogens like cholera and typhoid. By the middle of the century, one of America’s most popular bottlers, Saratoga Springs, was producing more than 7 million bottles of water annually.

In the United States, the popularity of bottled water declined in the early 20th century, when the advent of water chlorination reduced public concerns about water-borne diseases in municipal water supplies. However, it remained popular in Europe, where it spread to cafes and grocery stores in the second half of the century. In 1977, Perrier launched a successful advertisement campaign in the United States, heralding a rebirth in popularity for bottled water. Today, bottled water is the second most popular commercial beverage in the United States, with about half the domestic consumption as soft drinks.



I'm sure nordmann will pounce with glee on the fact that that the Church was the first company to make a goodly profit flogging water -  "Holy Water".  Smile


I particularly like San Pellegrino water which is dead posh and is a real treat. The San Pellegrino website gives some interesting info about the "heritage" of this particular old Italian brand, and their "gallery" of vintage ads is worth a look. I'll try and reproduce one of them here.


Eejit Temp's Favourite Bottled Water Company Founded 1899



Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 14:34

What does "Evian" spell backwards? Cheers
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 14:43

EDITED: Well, naïve or not, I just like the taste and the bubbles, so there. And it makes me feel all healthy and purified.

There are dafter ways of wasting one's money. At least fizzy water won't kill me or make me fat - well, at least I hope not.

But back to the OP. Have found out some more info. See below.


Last edited by Temperance on Sat 06 May 2017, 15:08; edited 2 times in total
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 14:54

Bottled water, whether it's fancy Evian or just a cheap supermarket brand, is very commonly drunk in France in preference to tap water ... but I think that's largely because as I mentioned above, a lot of people still get their household water from fairly basic sources. My village used to get its water from a natural spring which supplied a public fountain, but now I think it comes from a borehole although as far as I am aware it is still completely untreated so no fluoride or chlorine etc.

Here's the old village fountain (under the main arch, with a lavoir for washing clothes to the left) ... it's still running although it is now is marked "eau non potable".

Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Thu 04 May 2017, 16:08

I wrote:


I'm sure nordmann will pounce with glee on the fact that that the Church was the first company to make a goodly profit flogging water -  "Holy Water".


I got this quite wrong: Holy Well was nothing to do with the Church making profit. The Malvern monks originally distributed the Holy Water for free to the elderly and infirm. How odd that no one corrected me! The profit making came after the Reformation.

First Bottled Water in England

The Holy Well spout.

Her Majesty the Queen is another naïve eejit who wastes money on tap water: she has always drunk the extremely posh Malvern Water. In 2010 it looked as if the bottling of this of this ancient drink would stop:

Malvern Water Enjoyed by Elizabeth II

However, the company did not fold:

Good News For Her Majesty

The titles of two books given in the "further reading" section on the Wiki page look interesting:

Rose Garrard: 2006, Malvern: Hill of Fountains — Ancient Origins, Beliefs and Superstitions surrounding Wells and Well Dressing ISBN 1-905795-01-7
Bruce Osborne & Cora Weaver: 1994, Aquae Malvernensis — The Springs and Fountains of the Malvern Hills ISBN 1-873809-07-7
Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Sat 06 May 2017, 16:09

Thought I'd look in my copy of Liza Picard's Elizabeth's London (2003) to see if she said anything about drinking water. To my delight I found a lot of information in her Chapter 2: The Main Streets, Water Supply and Sewerage.

Picard devotes a couple of pages to describing the importance of conduits. "Conduit" here means both the fountain from which the water spouted and the actual pipe leading to the fountain. There were also "bosses" which were very small conduits, sometimes built into the wall, particularly a church wall (like the one in the photo of the Holy Well spout which I posted above). They resembled small Victorian drinking fountains. As early as the thirteenth century apparently, London's natural springs and wells were proving inadequate to provide for the increase in the capital's population - a population who, it would seem, demanded a reasonably pure supply of water to drink. In 1237 the Picardy merchants gave £100 - a huge sum in those days - towards the cost of bringing fresh water from the springs at Tyburn ( Shocked), in return for trading privileges. The famous Richard Whittington endowed two conduits, one at Billingsgate and the other at St. Giles Cripplegate. He also paid to have drinking water laid on to the prisons at Newgate and Ludgate in 1432. One William Lambe rebuilt Holburn Conduit in1564 for £1500 - Lord knows how much that would be in today's money - a couple of million? Lambs Conduit St. is named after him still, but his extremely expensive pipes are long gone. Other rich Tudors donated money for the provision of water which Stow sourly remarked was "for the poor to drink and the rich to dress their meat (cook with)". No mention was made of washing. That said, Wolsey had, at enormous expense, arranged for a private supply of piped water to brought to Hampton Court: Henry VIII was able to have a rather splendid bathroom there - with running water supplying his bath.

The biggest conduit in London was the aptly named Great Conduit in the middle of Cheapside: it had been the first and remained the most important of London's public water fountains. I wonder how these fountains were adapted to spout wine on great public festival days? The plumbing of that must have taken some careful thought!

The conduits, by the way, were, like those of the Romans, usually made of lead. Since lead, then as now, had a value on the open market the pipes were occasionally stolen. In 1560 two daring thieves cut off almost the whole water supply to London: they were caught and soundly whipped - surely a pretty lenient punishment for the aggravation they must have caused! I'm surprised they weren't lynched.

The rich of course usually abused the system and took far too much water - the Essex House "quill" (small conduit or pipe leading to house) had to be cut off because the Countess' staff were wasting so much water the main public conduit was running low and the poor were becoming "clamorous" about it. The Lord Mayor actually wrote to the Lord Chancellor reporting the abuse, saying that complaints mentioned "the extraordinary waste of water in Essex House, it being taken not only for dressing of meat (cooking), but for laundry, the stable and other offices which might be otherwise served." Essex House was on the banks of the Thames so the Lord Mayor did well to pass on the complaints - the Essex household was obviously doing the Tudor equivalent of washing their Rolls Royce and sprinkling their lawns during a hose-pipe ban - in full view of the irate Londoners!

PS Re understanding that boiling drinking water was a good idea - found another snippet about this. Andrew Boorde, in his Compendious Regiment of Health (1547) notes that "Water is not a wholesome food by itself. If you must, drink rainwater or water from the conduits which should be filtered and allowed to stand for two or three hours if it is to be used for brewing or cooking. If you propose to add it to wine, boil it first."

Boorde also suggests that distilled waters can be added to wine, especially strawberry or dandelion water. What does he mean by this? What is distilled strawberry water?
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Sat 06 May 2017, 18:39

@Temperance wrote:

Boorde also suggests that distilled waters can be added to wine, especially strawberry or dandelion water. What does he mean by this? What is distilled strawberry water?

Typically at this time it meant a cordial made by steeping strawberries (or other fruit) in brandy or aqua vitae, eg this from 'The Queen's Closet Opened' (1655):

A Cordial water of Sir Walter Raleigh
Take a Gallon of Strawberries, and put them into a pint of Aqua vitae, let them stand so four or five daies, strain them gently out, and sweeten the water as you please, with a fine Sugar, or else with perfume.

But it could also mean the fruit, with other spices, is added to wine and then distilled, eg like this from the same book:

The Lord Spencer's Cherry-water
Take a pottle of New Sack, four pound of thorough ripe cherries stoned, put them into an earthen pot, to which put an ounce of Cinamon, Saffron unbruised one dram, tops of balm
[lemon balm], Rosemary or their flowers, of each one handful, let them stand close covered twenty four hours, now and then stirring them: then put them into a cold Still to which put of beaten Amber [ambergris?] two drams, Coriander seed one ounce, Alkerms [a powdered confection made from the crushed bodies of the 'kermes' or scarlet grain beetle, which was generally thought to be a berry. Its use as a red food dye was eventually replaced by cochineal - which is also extracted from an insect - imported from Mexico and the West Indies], one dram, and distill it leisurely, and when it is fully distilled put to it twenty grains of Musk. This is an excellent Cordial, good for Faintings and Swoundings, for the Crudities of the Stomach, Winde and swelling of the Bowels, and divers other evil symptomes in the body of men and women.


So basically it's spicy voddy flavoured with cherries, whale mucus, crushed beetles and the secretions from a beaver's backside! No wonder it's good for "Faintings and Swoundings", ... being offered that would bring anyone round pretty damn quick, I'd have thought. Shocked




Back to top Go down
Temperance
Virgo Vestalis Maxima
avatar

Posts : 5373
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : The Sceptred Isle

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Sun 07 May 2017, 08:57

Ah - a bit like sloe gin, in fact?

I thought clever old Boorde was talking about distilling water - then adding a couple of dandelion leaves or a strawberry or two to the purified result to restore a bit of flavour or goodness. Distilled water, if I remember from chemistry lessons in the last century, produced absolutely pure H2O - nothing else. You can get "medical-grade" distilled water - I suppose for people whose bodies cannot tolerate certain minerals. I know patients with severe kidney problems have to be very, very careful what they drink. Some minerals, even those usually considered beneficial, can cause them dreadful problems.

Dug out my The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. On page 174 he says this:


As most prosperous peasants have an aversion to drinking water - which is liable to convey dirt and disease into their bodies - they drink ale exclusively. Only the single labourer and widow, living alone in their one-roomed cottages, drink water (rainwater is preferred, collected in a cistern in the yard).


People round here still have old beer barrels for collecting water - for the garden, not for drinking, of course, but I wonder if barrels, rather than "cisterns" were the norm. I like the old beer barrels - the new plastic ones are an abomination.



But I am now totally confused. Did people drink water or not? Mortimer says they didn't, but other sources seem to indicate they did. Perhaps Londoners, with their posh conduits and water fountains dating from 1237 were, as ever, different from the rest of the country. The real money, needed for such ambitious projects, has always been in the South-East!

PS Work actually began on the construction of Great Conduit in 1245; it was the Tyburn springs that were purchased in 1237. Took them eight years to actually get the pipe-laying underway!
Back to top Go down
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Sun 07 May 2017, 09:18

Quote :


But I am now totally confused. Did people drink water or not? Mortimer says they didn't, but other sources seem to indicate they did. Perhaps Londoners, with their posh conduits and water fountains dating from 1237 were, as ever, different from the rest of the country. The real money, needed for such ambitious projects, has always been in the South-East!

My personal feeling is that it was probably the other way round. City people, despite all the bold projects to get clean water supplied to the heart of the metropolis (which could itself be taken as indicative of how poor the local water situation was), were still probably suspicious of water and no doubt with good cause ... how did you really know that the waterman selling you the stuff from the barrel that he said he'd filled up that morning at Sadler's Wells or some other out-of-city spring, hadn't just topped it up from the Thames itself? Or that the pipe supplying the Great Conduit wasn't cracked or passing close to someone's illegal cess pit? Country people, and that's the majority of the population, who knew their own land and carefully managed their resources, probably trusted their own well or stream and so happily drank from it "as they'd always done". Besides, drinking water was certainly cheaper than always brewing beer, although certainly in the absence of any tea or coffee etc, a huge amount of beer and ale was drunk. 

But as I say I really don't know ...  although I still suspect the popular refrain, that people didn't drink water, is a bit of a myth


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 07 May 2017, 17:03; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : some very mangled language)
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Sun 07 May 2017, 10:32

@Meles meles wrote:
how did you really know that the waterman selling you the stuff from the barrel that he said he'd filled up that morning at Sadler's Wells or some other out-of-city spring, hadn't just topped it up from the Thames itself?

You couldn't with absolute certainty. However people's solution to that dilemma was probably not the one you would naturally assume with a modern knowledge of sanitation and pollution. So many people in fact distrusted the cobs' wares and availed of the Thames as a free and convenient water source that as the city grew the residents of streets leading down to the source clubbed togather in the early 18th century and tried to form a company exacting tolls to approach the waterway. They nearly got away with it too - the Corporation of the city was leaning towards allowing them to continue as long as they paid tax, up until the owners of the existing conduit system strenuously objected.

The point, I suppose, is that people cannot "not" drink water. It is unavoidable, even for people who may have the means to source clean water elsewhere or drink it in some other potion. In a city of any size the polluted and the cleanly sourced water is bound to commingle and cross-pollute in the supply chain, and no amount of diligence could guarantee immunity from being poisoned as a result. Both rich and poor therefore took their chances, all understanding the risk full well (drawing water daily from the Thames meant you were in daily close proximity to an open sewer so could have been in no doubt), and all taking as sensible precautions as they could within their means and as opportunity allowed.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Sun 07 May 2017, 12:02

And surely the same still holds today ... many cities worldwide have less than ideal water provision: their citizens may get potable water out of the tap, or they may not; they may choose to buy 'clean' bottled water, only drink tea, and avoid ice-cubes in the local bars; or they may because of their circumstances still have to rely on the local standpipe, well, or even an urban river. Yet despite all the obvious risks - which these days are well known, at least to the authorities - cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Dhaka, Jakarta, San Paulo, Lagos, Shanghai ... still seem to be thriving and continue to grow, despite the personal worries and misgivings of the local populations.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Mon 08 May 2017, 10:27

There are a huge amount of variables regarding city life and what one has to consider is "safe" water prior to the introduction of manageable water sources made universally available. For example, take a typical resident of Stuart-period London and look at the challenges facing them if they didn't elect to use Thames water;

1. Disappearing sources (the first great period of conversion of streams into sewers - the next being the Victorian era)
2. Astronomic escalation in cost of using alternatives (not always due to avarice - but because clean water was coming from filter beds situated miles outside the city with no real infrastructure in place to deliver it)
3. Contamination of infrastructure (porous and broken wooden pipes, where pipes existed - and lead pipes for distribution within premises)
4. Contamination of alternatives to infrastructure (clean water having to be transferred between receptacles up to twenty time between source and delivery)
5. Seasonal and weather related deterioration in quality of clean water source (everything from filter bed stagnation to water-borne parasites and bacterial infestation due to drought, warmth, deluge etc)
6. Contamination of private wells (normally in close proximity to several cesspits)

In a "perfect storm" situation an unlucky resident could easily end up with guaranteed instant death should they avail of their "clean water", and in fact had a better chance of survival by drawing water directly out from under the floating shit on the Thames, and then doing what they knew had to be done to make it reasonably safe. This applied especially to cholera, the bacterial pathogen being at an infinitesimal level in free flowing water but of almost soup-like consistency in water allowed to sit for appreciable periods or which had been stored in limited volume in self-contained vessels - both of which featured in the delivery system of "clean" water. The "golden rule" well understood in London was to draw water east of the bridge, not west of it. Sticking to that simple rule increased one's chances of survival at times by factors exceeding several hundred percent.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 24 May 2017, 11:27

On a related tack …

When and how did springs of pure water drinking get combined, as a concept, with hot springs for bathing … to create the whole health spa, "taking the waters" experience, at Bath, Buxton, Baden, Spa and other resorts throughout Europe?

I assume it probably started out with holy wells, perhaps ones dedicated to a particular saint, becoming associated with miraculous cures, either through drinking or bathing in the waters. So somewhat like Lourdes has become today where, as well as the grotto being a place of pilgrimage, the resurging cave stream is reknowned for its supposed miraculous cures, and the water is deemed "non-liturgical holy water". The water at Lourdes, although claimed to have unique medicinal properties, is actually fairly pure as it comes out of the cave, but certainly isn't once people have bathed in it. As Émile Zola wrote after his visits to Lourdes in 1891 and again in 1892:

"And the water was not exactly inviting. The Grotto Fathers were afraid that the output of the spring would be insufficient, so in those days they had the water in the pools changed just twice a day. As some hundred patients passed through the same water, you can imagine what a horrible slop it was at the end. There was everything in it: threads of blood, sloughed-off skin, scabs, bits of cloth and bandage, an abominable soup of ills... the miracle was that anyone emerged alive from this human slime."

Zola declined to even wash his hands in it, yet he describes how even at the end of the 19th century people still regularly drank it, and with apparent relish. (Nowadays the water for drinking is piped away before it goes to the baths).

The natural warm springs, at for example Bath/Aquæ Sulis, were being used as baths and as a religious/votive site, from before the Roman invasion … but whoever first came up with the strange idea that drinking the foul-tasting, sulphurous stuff might do you good?
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 24 May 2017, 11:45

The sulphur content was the key with hot springs, I reckon. Bathing in sulphurous water tightens the skin and feels invigorating, and if it also has a high magnesium content then it would also have been noticed that many rash-like conditions and similar conditions often cleared up after a series of "treatments". It was only a matter of time before people deduced it should go inside one too. And in fact if one can bear the taste then one is also dosing oneself with pretty generous dollops of sodium, boron, potassium, selenium, silica, lithium and (just for good measure) arsenic. Instant arthritis relief, muscle toning, bone growth, depression relief, skin toning and athlete's foot removal.

Cold springs and their association with religious belief has to be because they tick all the metaphysical boxes most religions present as intellectual itches waiting to be scratched. Purity, source, life-giving, literally "springing" from nothing, and so on.
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Meles meles
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2911
Join date : 2011-12-30
Location : Pyrénées-Orientales, France

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 24 May 2017, 12:05

So basically you're suggesting that, regardless of the real health benefits, whether its drinking foul-tasting sulphurous water, or bathing in freezing spring water, a lot of the perceived benefit probably came down to the old, rather penitential and somewhat masochistic idea, that if it's unpleasant it must be doing you good ... or "no pain - no gain".

I can largely go along with that.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5747
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 24 May 2017, 12:43

That's about it, I suppose. But with the warm springs people could really notice benefits, even if they probably misinterpreted and exaggerated what was going on.

In Ireland "holy wells" abound, and are nearly always typified by being surrounded by sitting water and/or in areas with a high water table. This water would have been suspect, especially at certain times of the year, whereas the flowing spring was always good to taste and one didn't get gippy tummy afterwards. Hallelujah! (etc)
Back to top Go down
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Triceratops
Censura
avatar

Posts : 3106
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?   Wed 24 May 2017, 12:53

You don't to be particularly religious, or even human, to enjoy hot springs:

Back to top Go down
 

Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?

View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
Res Historica History Forum :: The history of people ... :: Customs, traditions, etiquette and ethics-