Public health in the Middle Ages

To be blunter than the headline above – just how filthy were medieval cities?  Or were they cleaner and healthier than we normally assume?  The evidence for filthy cities is quite compelling.  It can be found in street names.  Houndsditch doesn’t need much explanation – a ditch beyond the city of London walls in to which dead dogs were unceremoniously turfed.

Maiden Lane near Covent Garden is a little harder to link to filth until you realise that the word “maiden” was originally “midden” – meaning dung and other animal refuse.  The Victorians in the 19th century changed a lot of medieval street names that they found disagreeable and Midden therefore became Maiden.

Here’s a reasonable primer on public health in medieval cities.

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