The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1451  Monday, 11 June 2001

From:           Nicole Imbracsio <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 9 Jun 2001 13:49:34 -0700
Subject: 12.1381 Scavenging Pigs and Trash
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1381 Scavenging Pigs and Trash

Frank Whigham asks:

>A novel I'm reading says that Elizabethan London's streets were offal
>during the night by herds of pigs that were driven through the city to
>consume unwanted waste. This statement raised two questions for me:
>(1) Is it true? If so, what's a good historical source to read about it?

Yes. In fact, even in the U.S. well into the 20th century, although
garbage was collected by municipalities it was distributed to pig farms
for consumption.  This was also practiced on the Continent and
interestingly, in 1131 a law was passed in Paris prohibiting pigs from
running lose in the city after King Philip, son of Louis the Fat, was
killed in a accident caused by a roaming, trash-eating pig!  However,
monasteries were exempt from this law because pigs were their main
source of income. Some good sources of information on this are:

Martin Melosi "Garbage in the Cities: Refuse Reform and the Environment,
1880-1980" 1981, Texas A&M Univ. Although this book covers primarily the
Victorian era onwards, the introduction begins with the city-states of
ancient Greece and proceeds chronologically to 1880.

William Rathje and Cullen Murphy "Rubbish! The Archeology of Garbage"
Harper Publ. Discusses the uses of midden-heaps and garbage dumps in
archeology. A lot of the book is about the Dutch colonization of
Manhattan, but does talk about Elizabethan trash practices as well.

Susan Strasser "Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash" 1999,
Metropolitan Books. Again, Strasser speaks mainly about American
Victorians and American consumption history... but the early chapters
discuss the Renaissance onwards.

A good look into the bibliography of any of the books will help you
discover specific works dealing with Elizabethan trash.

>(2) More largely, what, for Elizabethans, was trash? What did they throw
>away? (Besides the edible contents of chamberpots and kitchen waste.)

The composition of Elizabethan trash would have been much more organic
than compared to 20th century standards, of course, and would have
included human waste, animal bones, rags, vegetable peels, corn husks.
Anything that was manufactured would not have been discarded unless it
was completely unusable (broken dishes mended, metal reforged, cloth
stitched, etc.).

Hope this helps you out.  My fiance is an Environmental Scientist and
has recently taken a course on materials use and waste disposal...
there's some interdisciplinary work in action!


University of Massachusetts, Boston
English Department

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