Wednesday 6 April 2011

Phew! The streets of London, 14th-century style.

Last night I watched a BBC2 programme about medieval London and its sanitation problems. Dan Snow's vivid and interactive account - there was a small scratch-card, supplied by the Radio Times, which I sniffed at the right moment - told me much I already knew but it was overwhelming seeing and smelling it all at once. By the 14th century, London was a city of over 100,000, a teeming, dark, filthy smelling and sewerage-filled place. I was fascinated by the platform shoes medieval Londoners wore to try to wade through the sloppy streets and also by the work of the gong farmers - cleaners armed with rakes and shovels, working at night, trying to clean the streets.

This was a gruesome account at times, especially when Dan spoke of the medieval butchers and tanners, and then the horrors of the Black Death, which raged in London for two years (1348-50) but I shall be watching again next week, when the series recreates the stench of pre-revolution Paris.

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