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 Phew, what is that pong?

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Phew, what is that pong?   Sun 16 Feb 2014, 13:19

To the mayor and bailiffs of York, The king, detesting the abominable smell abounding in the said city more than in any other city of the realm from dung and manure and other filth and dirt wherewith the streets and lanes are filled and obstructed, and wishing to provide for the protection of the health of the inhabitants and of those coming to the present parliament, orders them to cause all the streets and lanes of the city to be cleansed from such filth before St. Andrew next, and to be kept clean…. Circa 1332


A really interesting article on the concerns for public health and the urban enviroment in Medieval English cities and towns, with lots of quotes from original sources on the efforts taken to keep their places clean. Contrary to modern misconceptions, our ancestors weren't very keen on wallowing in filth and were as uncomfortable as us about unpleasant odours.

http://hcs.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/hcs/article/view/114/145
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sun 16 Feb 2014, 15:52

ID wrote:
Contrary to modern misconceptions, our ancestors weren't very keen on wallowing in filth and were as uncomfortable as us about unpleasant odours.

Most definitely true, though it is also true that our ancestors' tolerance of unpleasant odours was, through necessity, much greater than ours, at least in those parts of the world where regular washing, tooth-brushing and laundry opportunities are now the norm. Even in my own lifetime I have discerned a change in that respect amongst people of my vintage, and a considerable one at that. Yet I would not at all suggest that we were previously medieval in our sensibilities when it came to odour; hygiene was as highly thought of as now, it was simply opportunity and technique that has changed.

An elderly acquaintance recently made a similar point but in a manner which certainly got me thinking. Her comment was simply that people when she was younger grafted to an extent most people these days could not even contemplate just to keep things clean. Keeping clothes, bodies, houses and streets smelling pleasant took monumental effort, and in that sense one could almost claim that we nowadays commit less of ourselves to the task than our grandparents' generation did. We might feel smug about our deodorised selves and wrinkle our noses when we encounter dog or horse poo in the street, but should oil and electricity disappear overnight how equipped are we really to uphold the standards these (admittedly often smellier) people set?
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sun 16 Feb 2014, 16:49

Yes inded!

I have recently been transcribing my mother's wartime diaries. There are no great revelations but lots of little details about life on the home front.
For example one 1943 entry:

"LEAVE! Leslie [my father to be] arrives 5:31 train. Morning had bath - first in nearly 2 weeks. Then had hair done..."
Which of course isn't to say she didn't usually look after her appearance and hygiene. For the previous fortnight she'd been working 12 hour shifts nearly every day/night and doing overtime too, to try and get some extra leave (she was a telephone switchboard operator). And it was wartime so everyone was being exhorted to save fuel and conserve water,  and soap was rationed. And of course at times one didn't want to strip off for a full bath, only for the air-raid sirens to suddenly sound.

And another entry from 2 years earlier:
"Lovely spring day. Did all the washing with mum. Took all day but all done & dry by 5pm, so for treat we went to pictures."
No automatic washing machine and tumble dryer in 1941 - so the weekly laundry takes two people the best part of a day to do, and it still needed to be ironed if anyone could actually be bothered (and knowing granny I'll bet she did iron it all too, with a flat iron heated up on the range!).

As I say, for  wartime reportage mum's diaries hardly give earth shattering new insights, but in their brief way - due to wartime paper restrictions each diary is barely 2 x 3 inches in size, even smaller after 1942 - they do neverthless give an insight into ordinary people's lives.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 02:13

When I was young, Monday was washing day.  And that meant all day Monday, not just a bit of it.  (Though it was the only washing day, and people didn't expect to change their clothing every day.) I remember doing the washing with a copper boiling the water, (the copper had the result once of burning out whole house down, a most exciting day for a six-year-old, though it would have been better for it to have waited a day when it wouldn't have been my sister's birthday and a party lost), putting everything through the wringer (including once my hair), starting with the next load in the same water, ad infinitum.  What I don't remember is what happened to the washing in the rain - in southern NZ it is quite a regular occurrence and yet I only remember hanging the washing outside. 

And then there was the ironing.  Certainly people bothered about it, handkerchiefs, sheets, pillowcases, all the cotton clothing.  But our iron was by then electric.  And we didn't have a coal range to make everything even harder to keep clean. 

My grandmother during WWI when she was about 20 wrote occasionally of housework - never without complaint.  "I was in the middle of 'doing' the rooms, washing, ironing. The milkman came & I had the milk to 'tin' then the 'bines', 'luggies', etc had to be washed & scalded. I felt half boiled myself when I was finished. I got the dinner dishes washed about tea-time - so no more will I tease mother when I come in from school & find her washing dishes! By good luck, they came in late or there'd have been no 'parritch' for them.'" And when her mother was away, "Oh! the work that has to be done first. I haven't had time to touch a single room for baking, cooking, making strawberry jam, bossing up the churning! They all came toddling in today - hungry men for dinner - and i couldn't get my jam to thicken! I got some swears! Then it was some hurry with potatoes etc! From all appearances the jam hasn't thickened yet. (What a lovely moon, shining thro' the trees. Oh, that you were here, to let's have a walk in the moonlight! Girl's talk again.) And if 12lbs of black currants hadn't the cheek to arrive this afternoon...Washing, baking, cleaning for tomorrow. I'll sympathise with mother after this. What a fine tale of woe - I mean work!! I cannot get a hair-wash squeezed in at all."

People have got very precious, it seems to me, about cleanliness.  There were comments under some story in our news site about showering or not every day - I am sure people would have been far more sympathetic to a mass murderer than they were to anyone who suggested a daily shower wasn't absolutely essential.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 04:42

Yes, our house at the ancestral village doesn't have any plumbing and all water comes out of the well. It is fun for an occasional summer, but it is really hard work carrying water, and I soon realised exactly how wasteful (and ridiculous) we have become with daily or twice daily showers and hair washing. Not to mention throwing clothes into the washing after only one wear, if people knew the work involved in hand washing clothes for a family of 4 or more they wouldn't be quite so superior there either.

Nordmann poses an interesting question though, if oil and electricity were to disappear overnight, how equipped are we to cope? I'm sure there would be chaos, if the news reports on the floods and power loss in England are anything to go by. People screaming blue murder and expecting someone else (the authorities usually) to do it for them and make it all go away.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 09:46

I always feel sorry for Anne of Cleves - that calm and very sensible lady. Most people know that Henry VIII (possibly) referred to her as the Flanders Mare, but worse was to come. That "true, perfect, gentle knight", our 'Enery, announced to Cromwell (the morning after the wedding) that one of the reasons he had found himself quite unable to consummate the marriage was because of his new wife's unpleasant smell:

"Surely, my lord, I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse. She is not fair, and have very evil smells about her. I took her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens, which, when I felt them, strake me so to the heart, that I had neither will nor courage to prove the rest. I can have no appetite for displeasant airs. I have left her as good a maid as I found her."


There is no record of Anne's comments about how she felt about being groped by a grossly overweight man who had a stinking ulcer on his leg.

Katherine Parr learned from this. The records show she took regular milk baths and she sucked comfits to keep her breath sweet. One telling detail - the very day after her wedding, Katherine requested "fine perfumes" for her bedchamber at Hampton Court, and a month later she ordered a large quantity of sweet-smelling herbs in pouches, specifically for her bed.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 10:03

Anne of Cleeves might have actually been the cutest of all Henry's wives - "cute" in the political sense I hasten to add. The whole "fiasco" could well have been one of the greatest political manipulations of the 16th century. It certainly did no harm to her bank balance and she was by all accounts relieved to escape Cleves which was going rapidly downhill since her brother had become duke. After the annullment she managed to stay in not only with Henry but with both of his daughters (changing religion as a matter of courtesy to whoever was in charge at any particular time) and besides one ugly episode where she was turfed out of one of her residences by some of Henry's cronies managed to live out the rest of her life in luxury, leisure and peace (how many of her ilk could say that?). ""A ladie of right commendable regards, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and verie bountifull to hir seruants." So said Raphael Holinshed and who are we to disagree? Don't know how she smelt normally though.

Where I came from there was a conviction held by us youngsters that ladies upon reaching 60 were secretly kidnapped by their elders and dipped in lavender in the dead of night, ever to reek of the stuff afterwards (Healey the farmer kept sheep so his place was the agreed location for the dirty deed, though as a mere male Healey of course wouldn't have been privy to the dark acts performed in his dip by the sisterhood).
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 11:25

Ann of Cleves didn't quite live out the rest of life in luxury and peace. After Henry's death there is a letter from Ann to her brother begging for more money, she couldn't pay staff, food and expenses and was in quite dire straights.

Whilst he was alive, Henry seems to have been generous in Ann's upkeep, but his heirs didn't seem to be quite as forthcoming. Although possibly this was during Edward's short reign, and Mary and Elizabeth were more generous? It has been a while since I read all this and am working from memory.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 12:15

ID wrote:
After Henry's death there is a letter from Ann to her brother begging for more money, she couldn't pay staff, food and expenses and was in quite dire straights.

See what I mean? Cute lady! (The lassie owned about ten properties and had leased out eight of them, I believe, for substantial rents)

On the subject of smelliness it is worth remembering that the most vocal complaints within cities against bad odour for many centuries were by far those directed against industry itself, not sewage. Feltmaking and chandleries, two quite innocent occupations in our eyes today, bore the brunt of the majority of these. In London the problem was more or less solved by the great fire which provided a natural cut-off point for relocation of industries. However most other cities had to do it all piecemeal and even up to the 20th century knackers yards and abbattoirs, amongst others, were still to be found near the heart of several towns. In Dublin the second oldest maternity hospital - which was also the "Catholic" one so accounted for about nine tenths of the births of Dublin citizens - was situated right next door to a huge knackers yard. Dublin children had no doubts therefore right from the offset what they were landing themselves in upon arrival on this earth, and Dublin mothers once having been guests of the place generally thought of it all as a kind of psychological contraceptive device.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 13:18

Worst smell I've ever worked with came from a neighbouring company - "The Butchers Hide, Skin and Wool Company" and came from the preparation of ox runners and sheep's ropes.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 14:04

nordmann wrote:
ID wrote:
After Henry's death there is a letter from Ann to her brother begging for more money, she couldn't pay staff, food and expenses and was in quite dire straights.

See what I mean? Cute lady! (The lassie owned about ten properties and had leased out eight of them, I believe, for substantial rents)

Ah, ok I see what has happened. I'm not familiar with that particular meaning of cute, can you explain Nordmann?
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 16:01

Regarding washing, before showers (as bathroom features not the ongoing weather problems we are enduring in Britain at the time of typing this) became as common as they are now - didn't people used to "strip wash" in the old days?  That's what I was told anyway.  When I was a child and the hot water tank was at the back of the fire, from what I recall baths were weekly and one was expected to have a good wash the other days.  There was also a saying about "dirtying out" clothes before washing though I suppose if they were dirtied too much the washing would be more difficult.  There was a Chinese laundry in town I remember and I think a neighbour who was a widower with one child used that to get his laundry done.  Visiting relatives in Liverpool and going to the launderette or "whirly wash" was something of a novelty to my small town self in the 1950s.  There used to be a glue factory in one of the outlying villages to my town which rendered down the parts of animals the knackers left.  It was closed eventually because even though it was some miles out the prevailing winds often brought the stink over and people complained and complained and complained. It isn't the Government's fault that we have had exceptional rainfall of course though it is their job to put contingency plans in place.  I am fortunate in that I live the side of a hill up steps but I do feel sorry for the people who are having the worst of the current bad weather ....
Edit: Can't believe I put "there job" instead of "their job" but I did.  I had previewed the post too.  I've got bronchitis so I'm not 100% [got to have some excuse].
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 17:30

It appears people in the Middle Ages bathed quite a bit, more often than their descendants right up to more modern times. 

Portable wooden tubs lined and padded with cloth and cushions are much associated with this period but it was not unknown for royal bathrooms to contain the type of bath we know today, cased in, set on a tiled floor and with bath mats surrounding it.

King John only bathed once every three weeks but he may have followed a similar regime to Edward IV whose household accounts show that his barbour was paid 2 loaves and a pitcher of wine every Saturday night 'if it please the Kinge, to cleanse his head, legges or feet, and for his shaving…'

One of the practises hitherto unknown that the Crusaders brought back with them from the Middle East concerned public bath houses. The Stews. Under Richard II there were 18 stews in the Southwark region of London alone. Young boys were often seen running through the streets shouting out that the water was now hot. The baths were open for business.

http://www.triviumpublishing.com/articles/smellofthemiddleages.html
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 18:45

Quote :



Ah, ok I see what has happened. I'm not familiar with that particular meaning of cute, can you explain Nordmann?
I have to plead innocent of being Nordmann, (who I'm sure will furnish a helpful reply in due course) Islanddawn, but I think it means canny or "sharp" as in the sense of "acute".  My late mother used it.  I've a feeling the different meanings of "cute" were discussed on another thread some while back but I just can't think which one.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 19:39

Thanks LiR! I have a memory like a seive these days.  Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 20:10

Now what on earth has happened? I have had lots of trouble this morning.  Perhaps should get rid of the italics I wanted to use. 

My grandmother took what she called a sponge bath, probably a couple of times a week.  Years ago I wrote some family stories for my sister's 50th birthday and wrote: Uncle Stewart rarely had a bath or shower.  That seems very unusual now, when people shower every day. Perhaps it was odd then too.  I don’t even remember him having “sponge- baths” like Gran did.  She would undress and stand in or by the bath sponging herself down with a facecloth, but Uncle Stewart didn’t do that.  It is perhaps no wonder Gran complained about washing his clothes.  I doubt that he changed very often; none of us did really. [/size] 
 
"Rarely" in the first sentence was a euphemism for the benefit of my aunt (his niece), but actually my great-uncle never bathed, showered or swam as far as I recall. My attempt at tact was unsuccessful; my aunt was still offended on my uncle's behalf. 
 
I am reading Mao's Last Dancer a memoir by Li Cunxin, who was picked from his rural poverty-stricken village to learn to dance (eventually he defected to the USA).  At his training school in the mid-70s he is at first frightened when he has his first shower, something heard of in his commune but never before seen. He loves the first warm one, though later they have cold ones, considerably less pleasurable. 
 
Trying to preview this last time to ensure the type was roughly even meant I lost it all, so you will just have to put up with how this arrives this time, sorry. 


Aargh, why won't this show up?  Something to do with the copy and pasting of the quote, I presume.  I have to go out soon, but will try and fix it up later.


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 17 Feb 2014, 23:29

Now let's try this again, and then hopefully delete the others.

My grandmother took what she called a sponge bath, probably a couple of times a week.  Years ago I wrote some family stories for my sister's 50th birthday and wrote: Uncle Stewart rarely had a bath or shower. That seems very unusual now, when people shower every day. Perhaps it was odd them too. I don’t even remember him having ‘sponge baths’ like Gran did. She would undress and stand in or by the bath sponging herself down with a facecloth, but Uncle Stewart didn’t do that. It is perhaps no wonder Gran complained about washing his clothes. I doubt that he changed that often; none of did really."  "Rarely" in the first sentence was a euphemism for the benefit of my aunt (his niece), but actually my great-uncle never bathed, showered or swam as far as I recall. My attempt at tact was unsuccessful; my aunt was still offended on my uncle's behalf. 
 I am reading Mao's Last Dancer a memoir by Li Cunxin, who was picked from his rural poverty-stricken village to learn to dance (eventually he defected to the USA).  At his training school in the mid-70s he is at first frightened when he has his first shower, something heard of in his commune but never before seen. He loves the first warm one, though later they have cold ones, considerably less pleasurable.
 
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Tue 18 Feb 2014, 09:09

Islanddawn wrote:
It appears people in the Middle Ages bathed quite a bit, more often than their descendants right up to more modern times. 


For the medieval person of middling wealth it actually made a lot of sense (even with their misgivings about the health risks), to bathe reasonably often. When the only common degreasants were based on lye (extacted from wood ash) and the only readily available bleaching agent was stale urine, it was a lot easier to keep one's body clean and so avoid soiling ones garments, than it was to clean expensive silks, satins, felt and furs, which even with modern detergents are tricky things to treat.


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Tue 18 Feb 2014, 10:14

ID - you are right about Anne of Cleves. Despite her very generous divorce settlement, she did get into financial difficulties during the reign of Edward VI - all to do with inflation and currency issues after Henry's death. But this isn't the thread to explain, I suppose.

People changed their "linen" often - sometimes two or three times a day. Having clean linen - shirts/chemises/smocks/shifts - was very important, and laundresses who could wash and iron these often beautifully worked - and expensive - garments worn beneath the silks and velvets and fur, but also visible (on show) at the neck, sleeve and cuff, were skilled and valuable servants.

 

Gentleman's shirt in Bath Costume Museum - dated between 1585 - 1620.

 Not an M&S nightie, but an Elizabethan smock.


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Tue 18 Feb 2014, 10:42

And even when industrially made soap was cheaply available not everyone used it that frequently,  Wink 



1893 Pears Soap advert, using a cartoon from 'Punch' magazine.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Tue 18 Feb 2014, 11:08

Re the Elizabethan/Jacobean gentleman's shirt .... I'm surprised by the length of the shirt tails, why so long and where did it all go when it was tucked in?

Small wonder then, that in this painting of Lord Darnley and Mary Stuart, his hose are so stuffed that he looks like he's wearing a pouffe .... 

Darnley's the mincing poof on the left  Wink 

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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Tue 18 Feb 2014, 11:25

Weren't the long shirt tails for tying between the legs MM? As underpants or knickers werent' worn in those days.  I remember reading somewhere that the Scots wore quite long shirts under their kilts as well, convenient for tying and preserving the modesty if the kilt needed to be removed. Or something like that anyway, I dont' have time to check now.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 14:52

Islanddawn wrote:
Weren't the long shirt tails for tying between the legs MM? As underpants or knickers werent' worn in those days.  I remember reading somewhere that the Scots wore quite long shirts under their kilts as well, convenient for tying and preserving the modesty if the kilt needed to be removed. Or something like that anyway, I dont' have time to check now.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirt

The shirt was an item of men's underwear until the twentieth century. Although the woman's chemise was a closely related garment to the man's, it is the man's garment that became the modern shirt. In the Middle Ages it was a plain, undyed garment worn next to the skin and under regular garments. In medieval artworks, the shirt is only visible (uncovered) on humble characters, such as shepherds, prisoners, and penitents.[4] In the seventeenth century men's shirts were allowed to show, with much the same erotic import as visible underwear today. In the eighteenth century, instead of underpants, men "relied on the long tails of shirts ... to serve the function of drawers. Eighteenth-century costume historian Joseph Strutt believed that men who did not wear shirts to bed were indecent. Even as late as 1879, a visible shirt with nothing over it was considered improper.

Good grief - so in the 17th century a glimpse of shirt had "erotic import".  Shocked 

Laundresses were good spies. They were often quizzed about the intimate personal details of their royal masters and/or mistresses. Cecil - and foreign ambassadors - were kept informed of Elizabeth Tudor's menstrual cycle - or its absence - by her laundresses.

PS That has reminded me of that awful "understains" advertising campaign from years ago - was it Daz or OMO - surely it wasn't Persil?
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 15:31

I have looked for an image advertising the soap powder that promised to banish all those embarrassing understains, but I can't find one anywhere.

Having whites whiter than white has always been the hallmark of the good wife - this thinking still persists: I hate it when towels etc. get that greyish tinge. There are all sorts of remedies on offer these days, none of which work. Good old bleach is the only answer, but not to be used if you have a septic tank. Found this interesting site about the relentless female pursuit of whiter whites:


http://kbda.com/c3/library/070397bleach.html
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 16:08

Est-ce que c'est pour le omo ou pour l'homo?

A gallic ripost to my comment about le poof avec la pouffe peut-être.

OK I'll get my coat....




EDIT : Oh Temp, you've removed your French OMO ad'!


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 16:12

I decided to delete it, MM - the advert was rather big. I was going to make a riposte about Omophobia, but decided against that too.

Alors, ou est aussi mon manteau?

EDIT: Found a smaller one. Trouble is you can't read the words - all about the chap with the drill on the building site getting admiring looks and praise for his spotless maillot (T-shirt? vest?).   Smile 


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 16:44

Your link all about the History of Household Bleach was very interesting, but it doesn't mention the Romans', and others', use of stale urine as a whitening agent (due to the ammonia it gives off as it decomposes). Roman laundries usually had a public latrine attached - often nothing more sophisticated than an open vat - for the relief of the public and to secure a ready supply of a useful material. Ironically the snowy-white togas, so beloved of the senatorial class, could only be rendered thus by using the piss of the plebs!
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 17:07

Chalk was also rubbed into the togas for whitening and any back slapping must have enduced a cloud of dust. Or even just walking behind a toga clad big wig on a windy day would have been hazardous.  Smile  

Of course pee wasn't just used for whitening, it used as a mordant for fabric dyes and also used by tanners right up to the modern era. Vats of the stuff must have been everywhere waiting for collection, now that's what I call re-cycling. The smell can't have been too pleasant though.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 17:31

A few years ago on Cyrpus archaeologists found remnants of a perfume factory dating to 1850 BC with stills, mixing jugs and scent bottles that contained remains of the worlds oldest perfumes. They also found 4 fragrance receipes and identified 14 fragrances native to the Med that were used in production, anise, pine, coriander, bergamont, almond and parsley. 

Seems like idea of smelling good was to smell like a salad? Perhaps these were used for men's fragrances, they don't sound particularly feminine anyway.

The fragrances were recreated in Italy and here are the results

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/03/070329-oldest-perfumes_2.html
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 19 Feb 2014, 20:47

Temp wrote:
Good old bleach is the only answer, but not to be used if you have a septic tank.


We had a septic tank for over twenty years and I used bleach quite regularly, as far as I know with no problems.  The septic tank cleaner, who came every two or three years, never queried our sludge when he cleaned it out, and the garden grew much more greenly where the sewage ran (to the river? I suppose/hope it had been absorbed by the earth before it got that far).  He did smile a little when I insisted on gathering up some of it, which was full of worms, to add to the garden.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Thu 20 Feb 2014, 19:18

And there there is so much bleachy stuff and/or weird enzymes (and goodness knows what else) in modern soap powders and loo cleaners that I suppose a bit of pure bleach really wouldn't make much difference. Septic tanks just don't work the way they used to in the old days, I suppose, now that so much detergent - not to mention shampoos and shower gels - are emptied into them. Ours never smells though, and seems to function perfectly. It is emptied once a year, which again didn't happen in the past: the "good" microbes were just left to get on with their work.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Fri 21 Feb 2014, 15:52

Being a "night-soil man" was not everyone's idea of a great profession, but apparently it paid well:

https://suite101.com/a/night-soil-men-the-human-waste-collectors-of-georgian-london-a226849

Night-soil men were compensated for their hard and unappealing labour by earning a wage that was two to three times the salary of a skilled man. As the city grew and expanded, and the distance that night-soil men had to travel to remove the wastes increased, their prices soared. Soon, the night-soil men were charging a shilling per cesspool. This amount often represented a poor working man's, woman's or child's wage for a week. With the cost of night-soil removal becoming prohibitive, human waste began to accumulate in the poorer sections of London.




In 1326, one such worker had a nasty accident. Richard the Raker is recorded as having fallen into a cesspit during the course of his work. The unfortunate Richard apparently drowned.

EDIT: not during the course of his work - Richard apparently fell into his own cesspit.

EDIT 2: for all the lovers of scatology out there, some more privy tales here. I like the one about Frederick I.

http://lavatoryreader.typepad.com/the-lavatory-reader/page/3/
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 07:42

I wonder if poor Roger the Raker really did fall through the rotten floorboards of his own privy, or rather given his profession, he actually slipped and fell into the pit he used to collect all the results of his work. The contents of cesspits and dungheaps - any large city was home to thousands of horses too - were very valuable. Human and animal waste were used as fertilizer and later were the prime source of saltpetre essential for the manufacture of gunpowder.

In the 17th century an act was passed to commission agents, the salpetre-men, to collect nightsoil from any suitable privies, cesspits, dovecotes, stables etc. These commissioners had sweeping powers: they had the right to enter any property including private houses to dig for suitable material and the householder himself was obliged to pay for it to be carted away. Accordingly the saltpetre-men were universally hated for their powers of entry and for the damage they often did - ripping up floors, undermining structures etc - and generally intruding on peoples' privacy. But there was a lot of money to be made, not the least in the bribes from householders hoping to be left alone, and so the post of Chief Commissioner, ie the bloke in charge of the thugs that actually barged into peoples' homes and dug the stuff out, was a much sought after sinecure.


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 08:23

How interesting are the subjects that come up on these threads - I knew nothing about these saltpetre-men, MM. Knew nothing about saltpetre, actually.

Here's legislation from 1643 - the bullying of the sh*t-shifters was causing really bad feeling in the country - and had done in the years leading up to the Civil War. Seems Parliament recognised something had to be done:

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=55881


Nevertheless, to prevent the reviving of those Oppressions and Vexations exercised upon the People, under the colourable Authority of Commissions granted to Salt-petre-men, which Burthen hath been eased since the Sitting of this Parliament, and to the End that there may not be any Pretence to interrupt the Work, it is Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, That such Persons as shall be nominated and allowed by the said Lords and Commons in Parliament shall have Power and Authority, by this present Ordinance, to search and dig for Salt-petre, in all Pigeon-houses, Stables, and all other Out-houses, Yards, and Places likely to afford that Earth, at fit seasons and Hours, between Sun-rising and Sun-setting (except all Dwelling-houses, Shops, and Milkhouses); the said Salt-petre-men, at their own Cost and Charges, levying the Ground, and repairing any Damage which shall be done by them; wherein if the said Petre-men do fail to give Satisfaction to the Contentment of the Owners, then, Notice given by the Parties grieved unto the next Deputy Lieutenant, or other Committees appointed by Parliament, the said Deputy Lieutenants, Committees, or any one or more of them, shall havePower to compel the said Petre-men to lay the Ground in as good Order as before the breaking up (Working only excepted); and likewise to give such reasonable Satisfaction for the damage, as he or they, in his or their Discretion, shall think fit; which not being obeyed, the Name and Offence of such Person or Persons refusing shall be returned to the Parliament:


This article is really interesting, especially the account of the dispute Giffard v. Browne.


http://mercuriuspoliticus.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/the-politics-of-saltpetre/




Collecting saltpetre could prove enormously disruptive to local areas. Backed by support from the centre, the saltpetre men seem to have pushed their weight around in communities:

"The saltpetre men care not in whose houses they dig, threatening men that by their commission they may dig in any  man’s house, in any room, and at any time, which will prove a great grievance to the country. In the town where the writer lives they have digged up some malting rooms, and threaten to dig more. They dig up the entries and halls of divers men. If any oppose them they break up men’s houses and dig by force. They make men carry their saltpetre at a groat a mile, and take their carriages in sowing time and harvest, with many other oppressions."

Sir Francis Seymour to Secretary Coke, 14 February 1630 (CSPD)

This clash of priorities has been used by Conrad Russell amongst others to illustrate tensions between crown and gentry during the early seventeenth century as costs and methods of warfare grew during the military revolution of the early modern period. But it also provides examples of clashes of priorities at a much more local level too.

John Giffard was one of the bullying saltpetre men Seymour mentions. He was described by Sir Thomas Roe as “such as would reign over poor
men in their office”. He appears to have come from the Forest of Dean, but crops up as a saltpetre man across the south west of England.


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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 08:33

The need for saltpetre-men declined once Britain had secured the supply of mineral nitrate deposits in India. But France, denied access to this supply, was forced to continue using them until the beginning of the 19th century. As in England the French saltpetre-men had the droit de fouille or "right to dig" for nitrates, and to demolish buildings without compensation to get it ... and so they were equally detested.

In 1774 when Louis XVI ascended the throne he discovered that France was not self-sufficient in gunpowder. A Gunpowder Administration was established and to head it he appointed a lawyer, Antoine Lavoisier. Lavoisier instituted a crash program to increase saltpetre production, revised and later eliminated the droit de fouille, researched best refining and powder manufacturing methods, instituted management and record-keeping, and established pricing that encouraged private investment in works. After just a year France had a surplus of gunpowder and had started to export it - a chief beneficiary of this supply being the American colonies then in revolution against Britain.

Incidentally Lavoisier, although a lawyer, was also a keen amateur scientist (which he was able to fund from his lucrative government contracts) and it is for his scientific discoveries that he is now best known. He discovered and named oxygen (1778) and hydrogen (1783), and compiled the first extensive list of elements from which he predicted the existence of silicon (1787). He established the important chemical principle that although matter may change its form or shape its mass always remains the same. He was also on the committee that devised the metric system. But at the height of the French revolution he was accused by Marat of selling adulterated tobacco amongst other crimes, and was guillotined.


Last edited by Meles meles on Sat 22 Feb 2014, 11:44; edited 4 times in total (Reason for editing : swapped this with following post)
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 09:20

Whilst obnoxious smells were universally disliked and usually seen as producing "contagious miasmas", not everyone saw them as dangerous. There was a medieval school of thought that "like destroys like" and so according to this axiom bad could drive away bad. Thus to imbibe foul odours was a useful if not infallible protection against disease.

Dionysius Colle (De Pestilentia, Pisa 1617) referring specifically to precautions to be taken against plague wrote: "Attendants who take care of latrines and those that serve in hospitals and other malodorous places are nearly all to be considered immune." And so he records that apprehensive citizens of a plague-struck city would often spend hours every day crouched over the latrine absorbing, with apparent relish, the foetid smells.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 10:04

Twenty-odd years ago, when I first moved to the West Country, I was amazed  by the doings of Fred, the local septic tank man. Fred wore no gloves as he performed his unpleasant tasks and, to my horror, having emptied our tank, he asked if he could have a pear off my pear tree. He then proceeded to eat said pear without washing it or - more to the point -  his hands, hands which, just moments before, had been splashed with the contents of our septic tank.

Typhoid or cholera or just ordinary tummy bugs - Fred was apparently immune to everything. He clearly had his own set of Health and Safety rules.

Perhaps we are too hygiene conscious these days.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 22 Feb 2014, 10:30

I'm sure they were immune Temp. In Aust. we didn't have cess pits, rather big tin drums that had a wooden seat on top which were taken away and replaced with a clean drum once a week. We had Dennis who was known by one and all as Dennis the Dunny Man, I remember him lifting the full drums onto his shoulder to carry to the truck and if they were particularly full the contents would splash all over him as he walked. This is what he did all day every day for his working life, how these men never got sick I'll never understand.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Fri 28 Feb 2014, 17:40

At the moment I'm reading a Falco novel and was interested to read a description of a Roman laundry.

"They use woodash. They also use carbonate of soda, fuller's earth, and pipeclay for the brilliant robes of election candidates. But the pristine togas of our magnificent Empire are effectively bleached with urine, obtained from the public latrines. The Emperor Vespasian, never slow to light on brisk new ways of squeezing out cash, had slapped a tax on this ancient trade in human waste."

And another way of whitening which I hadn't heard before was by spreading garments over wicker frames above braziers of burning sulphur to smoke in additional whiteness.

The combined fumes coming from laundries must have made the eyes water.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Fri 28 Feb 2014, 20:47

Odoriferous if less immediately unpleasant, in my parents youth, a child with a heavy cold, asthma, or other difficulty in breathing, was frequently prescribed by the local wise woman (such as my great-grandmother) a visit to the gas works, to smell the tar. I suspect that the sulphur dioxide in the effluvia would have been the main active ingredient (and would have been a powerful bleach, too - less destructive than chlorine, which led to it being used in the bleaching of straw for hats).
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sun 02 Mar 2014, 10:23

Returning to the doings of the saltpetre-men for just a moment .... it must have been doubly annoying when they ripped up your floor boards to excavate what actually originated from your neighbour, which was a distinct possibility. As Samual Pepys noted on October 20, 1660:

"Going down into my cellar I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turners house of office [privy] is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me."
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sun 02 Mar 2014, 10:41

Pepys had a modern nose that sometimes found objection to odours about which his contemporaries appeared unconcerned. For example, how his aunt must have been touched by her nephew's obvious concern while visiting her at the height of her recent grief in losing her husband ...

"Waked this morning with news, brought me by a messenger on purpose, that my uncle Robert [Of Brampton, in Huntingdonshire.] is dead; so I set out on horseback, and got well by nine o'clock to Brampton, where I found my father well. My uncle's corps in a coffin standing upon joynt-stooles in the chimney in the hall; but it begun to smell, and so I caused it to be set forth in the yard all night, and watched by my aunt."
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sun 02 Mar 2014, 11:36

It is often said that despite the appearance of gentilesse and incredible opulence the Palace of Versailles thoroughly stank. I’m sure Louis XIV himself had the very best and most modern facilities, but for the rest of the court it was another matter. The problem at Versailles was simply the size of the place and its huge number of inhabitants. At any one time the palace was home to some 2000 courtiers and their families and over 12,000 functionaries, flunkies, retainers, servants and soldiers. But despite the amazing plumbing system which supplied water to hundreds of fountains in the gardens, in the palace itself there were only limited bathing and toilet facilities, and so apparently it was common for people to relieve themselves in any convenient corner.

I’m not sure how true this enduring image is or whether it is due to nineteenth century republican historians who were keen to denounce the Ancien Régime as decadent and dirty. Nevertheless contemporary observers do record some rather unsavoury details of life at the court of the Sun King:

The Duchess of Orleans wrote in her diary: "There is one dirty thing at Court I shall never get used to - the people stationed in the galleries in front of our rooms piss into all the corners.", a Swiss visitor, Siegfried Giedion, noted that, "the most elementary sense for cleanliness was lacking", and the Duc de Saint-Simon wrote of the Princesse d'Harcourt, "... leaving a dreadful trail behind her that made the servants wish her to the devil."
 
affraid

EDIT : And things were apparently no better at the palace of Fontainebleau. There the usual practice was to wait until dusk whereupon everyone, from the highest to the lowest - dukes, duchesses, servants, soldiers -  headed out into the gardens to relieve themselves there, each trying studiously to ignore everybody else around them ....  which must have made an evening stroll around the rose gardens neither pleasant, peaceful nor delightfully perfumed.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 29 Mar 2014, 10:03

Islanddawn wrote:
Nordmann poses an interesting question though, if oil and electricity were to disappear overnight, how equipped are we to cope? I'm sure there would be chaos, if the news reports on the floods and power loss in England are anything to go by. People screaming blue murder and expecting someone else (the authorities usually) to do it for them and make it all go away.

A similar question was posed when there was some snow in the winter of 2012-13. This coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Big Freeze of 1962-63. It was suggested that if there were to be a repeat of that weather then there would almost certainly be a shortage of shovels in the UK.

Staying with the early 1960s - it's interesting to note from this article that when John Kennedy was President, people in America were still in the habit of scrubbing the front step of their homes.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Mon 31 Mar 2014, 20:26

Not just in USA, Viz, in the 60s up here, a woman was still judged by the state of her doorstep. The state of the stairs in the close was as important, woe betide the dirty besom who missed her turn to wash them,

There's some interesting descriptions here of New York in the 19th and early 20th centuries, underground cows! http://c-u-d-i.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/yes-virginia-there-were-cows-in-tunnels.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+blogspot/BDJVi+(Can+you+dig+it?)
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 02 Apr 2014, 18:58

Archaeologists are very excited to have found barrels full of 700yr old Danish poop at Odense.

The content of the barrels was immediately identifiable from the odor which was still pungent after 700 years in barrels under layers of the city. The first round of analysis found that 14th century Odensians were fans of raspberries, as well they should be. Scientists also found fragments of moss, leather and fabric all of which are thought to have been used as toilet paper. (Moss toilet paper? Would it have been, like, a clump attached to soil? How does it stay intact otherwise? Because if the structural integrity issue was dealt with, I imagine moss would make a pretty comfortable tp.)

http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/category/medieval
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Wed 02 Apr 2014, 19:06

I can vouch for sphagnum moss.... it's tough, yet soft, and thoroughly absorbant.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Thu 03 Apr 2014, 08:56

If the contents is still odorous after 700 years in a barrel then that does make one wonder what on earth goes through the minds of that minority of dog owners in the UK who put their dog's poo in a plastic bag and then leave it on the side of a path or even hang it up on the branches of bushes or trees. What do they think is going to happen to the poo in that air-tight environment and, moreover, who do they think is going take the bags away and dispose of the contents? When I'm walking the dog I tend to use the stick-and-flick method.
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Thu 03 Apr 2014, 15:12

Why do you believe they think beyond "I don't want this bag of $h!t!! Is anyone watching? No? Good!"?
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PostSubject: Re: Phew, what is that pong?   Sat 05 Apr 2014, 15:18

One has to believe that something is going on inside their minds Gil. After all if they don't want a bag of poo then it doesn't make any sense as to why they have gone to all the trouble of bagging the poo in the first place.

By throwing a plastic bag of poo aside or hanging it on a branch (or even putting it in a bin), all they're doing is leaving a bizarre package for their grandchildren to have to deal with. Moreover if it's in woodland or parkland etc then they've spoiled that walk indefinitely and not just for others but also for themselves the next time they take that route. The bag will still be there. Heaven knows what health insurance premiums future archaeologists will have to pay if they decide to excavate the early 21st Century.

I'd be interested to know if these 'fragrant flowers' are a phenomenon evident in other countries, or if it is yet another example of the UK's chronic inability to deal with its litter and waste problem.
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