The Regency And Its Offensive Smells

61l1BkkmGRL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The late Georgian period was full of offensive smells that followed your around, and people did not just always ‘put up with it’. They knew, that wherever there was ‘effluvia’ [Effluvium- an unpleasant or harmful odour or discharge], there were dangers; not always danger of death, but of illness and diseases. Before the germ theory of the later part of the century, people believed that bad smells- ‘miasma’- was the major cause of illness, and they were not far wrong despite not fully understanding the science.

Where did effluvia come from? There were two main origins- manufacturing with chemicals and organic decomposition, and one aggravating factor for both; all of the people of Georgian Britain lived much nearer to decomposition that we do today, the poor particularly so.

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The Nightman..a euphemism!

Decomposition can be put in two broad categories- dunghills and cesspits. Cesspits were avoided by all, except those who earned a living digging them out. In July 1810, a freakish accident showed the dangers of effluvia. James Brooks and his work mates were digging out a latrine in Woolwich. It belonged to the Master Attendant at the Dockyard; and the work, as always was done at night- it was 11pm. James and his colleagues had literally created their own graves; they had already dug out ten   buckets of hardened     and dried excrement, enough space for James to fall into the hole. A ladder was procured, which only made it possible for his loyal colleagues to climb down and be suffocated by the smell themselves. Hugh Jenkins climbed in and died quickly; Isaac Pitcher followed in order to help, not knowing that Jenkins was dead. In all five men died over a two hour period, two of them more or less instantly and the others within the hour.

The Royal Cornwell Gazette was helpful but fatalistic- What could be done for people like colour grinders, feather dressers, wool-carders, gilders and night men – who were ‘doomed’ to follow such dangerous professions? The answer was a face mask, covered the nose, soaked with potash, or acetate of lead. The newspaper nearly, but not quite intimated that it may have been partly their own fault for not having them.

The Scots Magazine of June 1817 crossed that line. It complained that typhus was spreading in Edinburgh New Town because the poor slum dwellers were dirty and their streets were full of dunghills containing sources of effluvia- rotting vegetable matter, dead animals and excrement that did not make it into a latrine because they did not have one. The magazine knew that dunghills were not the direct cause of the disease, because it also killed people in the ventilated and well aired parts of town as well, but was happy with the idea that the death was caused by the demoralised habits of the poor.

Sewers caused noxious smells, and lack of sewers did the same. In April 1812, a visitor to Cheltenham advised the town to invest in a sewer pipe as the poor were now overcrowded into basement dwellings that filled with excrement during floods. A year earlier, radical reformers led by Sir Frances Burdett met in a London public house were distracted by the putrid smell of a sewer running under the floorboards.

Other forms of decomposition were the filthy clothes of criminals who had spend time in the heat and damp of an English prison, dirty pets that were warmed by a fire, broken teeth and diseased gums causing bad breath. Cheap tallow candles stank; fish and meat at markets, continually damp shoes and boots, and fertilisers left lying around in the middle of towns. In January 1816 a letter to the Kentish Gazette complained that, as well as the usual putrid vegetable matter; people were using sprats as fertiliser, softening them up by just leaving them hanging around in heaps. Would it be too much, pleased the author, just to plough them into the ground?

Another source of effluvia was something else that had been badly dug in the ground- people. The graveyards in towns and cities were filling up as medieval graveyards had to cope with a rising population, and people were buried too shallow and too near together. The age of improvement in this area was about to happen but not yet.

Effluvia were also caused by the lack of ventilation- in ships holds, in busy streets and in people’s houses. It was not just the Victorians who encouraged the poor to make themselves cold; they were exhorted to open all doors and windows, not to sleep in a room with a chimney, and if they had to, not block it. This advice was usually given by somebody who could afford the fuel to warm a house that had been allowed to go cold.
Fuel- coal and gas were a case of effluvia. In 1815 there were complaints from the smell of a gas manufactory owned by Frederick Sparrow and William Knight of Dorset Street, Salisbury Square. Some of the more noxious smells were being directed into the Thames by tube- this fact was offered by the defendants as a good thing, but the locals could still smell and feel the effluvia. It was in turns salty and acidic, assaulting the lungs; it smelled like bilge water and tasted like fat in the mouth. Men would not work- one businessman pointed out that his men refused to work and it ‘was no easy matter to turn a coal-heavers stomach’. The men pleaded guilty, and were given six months to put it right.

Burning coke in a damp English winter produced effluvia. Kitchens in coaching inns and public houses were left open to create a draft to avoid what we might call carbon monoxide poisoning. This was happened at an inn at Belmont, near Hereford in December 1810, when the room was closed for the evening and the coke fire expected to die down. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding meant that another pile of coke was added to fire, which burned all night. Upstairs, a seventeen year old groom and a coachman were sleeping; the young man was found dead the next morning and the older coachman did not revive. He was bled copiously to aid recovery; and, unsurprisingly, it did not work.

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The Slaughter House- the stink of blood and bone 

Manufacturers using or making raw materials produced effluvia. It could be as simple as cotton dust, or dust from feathers; lead smelting and lime kilns were an appalling toll on the lungs; the smell of a tannery is never forgotten once experienced. Bone crushers and slaughterhouses were in the centre of town. Ironically, soap manufacturers could stink because they burnt coal and melted down fat. Baron Von Donick, making soap in Wapping in 1815 offended the locals by burning rancid meat and diseased animals to get fat, then grinding their bones to make black ash. He promised to do better. Whether he did or not, it is a fair comment that the Regency stank, and many of the people who lived at the time were well aware of it.

 

61l1BkkmGRL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_If you got to the end of the blog, please consider my book on Regency Britain. All new material.

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You’re rich in the Regency and your dog is missing. What happens next?

By James Hobson

Twitter @about 1816

Regency newspapers regularly carried advertisements for ‘lost’ items of property- clothes, banknotes, watches, horses and poneys (as they used to spell it), legal documents and dogs. In the case of dogs, ‘lost’ was often a euphemism. They had had been kidnapped, or found in the street and kept by somebody who would not wish to hand it over without a reward. The distinction between a reward for a finder and a ransom for a thief was not always clear.

These were not working dogs- the occasional advertisement for strayed foxhounds was probably genuine. There were the only two types of canine that had a resale value- the working animals of farmers and the landed gentry, and the pets of the metropolitan rich. Both were advertised in the newspaper. Lost dog advertisements- for spaniels, pointers, poodles ,greyhounds, setters and pugs appeared mostly in the London newspapers from people living in Portman Place, Manchester Square, and Parliament Street and less often for the rich families in the provinces.

This example, from the up- market Morning Post of January 1810 was from Old Bond Street.

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Some typical characteristics include the use of the word ‘lost’. Most of them used this word only; some opted for ‘lost or strayed’ and a few went for a direct ‘ lost or stolen’, but the latter were different in tone and tended to come from different kind of people. Given the draconian punishment for theft, many advertisers avoided the word if they wanted to get the dog back.

Another common feature was the use of an intermediary to collect the dog. It may be that the Bond Street gentleman did not want to see the person, but it also made it easier to hand it over the beloved pet without too many awkward questions. Less typical here is the vague nature of the reward; most lost dog advertisements offer a half a guinea- which would feed a modest family for a week. Another difference is that Doll has the owner’s name and address on her collar, which would make it easy for the pet to be returned even without an advertisement in the paper. What the advertisement is actually saying is that ‘a wealthy person has lost his dog-whether you stole it or found it, it’s your lucky day’

It was assumed that dogs that ended up by accident in the hands of poor would not be handed over voluntarily. This example is from 1810;

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Rattle had ended up ‘in the arms of a man in a smock-frock’. A terrible fate for the dog of the Reverend Cotton, who, though he did not know it at the time, was to become a major establishment figure in the established Church in Ireland. He had clearly had the dog during his time at Christ Church College, Oxford, according to the collar. By offering the chance to pass the dog to him personally, he was absolving the rustic peasant of any blame; but he was still offered the chance to hand it over to a landlord in a pub.

Most of the advertisers knew that they were in negotiation with the people who had their dog. Some common phrases include – ‘Not to be repeated’- meaning that there would be no better offer, and the more strident ‘any person detaining him, after this notice, will be prosecuted as the law directs’. This comment would be largely seen as an empty threat; the owners would have to locate the thief themselves, pay for the prosecution privately .Some ask for intelligence about the location of the dog- invitation to inform on the thief.

The lost spaniel (below)  with no name is an interesting example of a more robust approach. Mr Scott is as interested in justice as he is in the return of the dog, as the reward for information about the thief is five times higher than the reward for the dog.

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This type of advertisement was relatively uncommon but appeared occasionally. Mr Scott is probably a member of his local Society for the Apprehension of Felons, groups of farmers or businessman who protected their property by offering rewards for informers as a replacement for a lamentable bad law enforcement system, especially outside of London. It did not normally cover pets.
This one is similar. Mr Hunnings had the weight of the Boston Association for the Prosecution of Felons behind him;

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The next advertisement says explicitly what many advertisements merely hinted at- that if a gentleman had his dog, it would be handed back gratis; but a poor person would require payment.

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The owner clearly loved his dog, but was still prepared to sack his servant if he was not returned. As did  the owners of Rufus, Ponto, Poodle (who was a poodle), Tippoo, Buzz, Truro (owned by an unimaginative Cornishmen). Captain, Fanny, Rag, Turpin (who was lost when he chased a coach) Rover, Prince, Nero, Jupe, Basto (who went missing/ was stolen from the Castle Inn Warminster) Lion (owned by the Bishop of Winchester) Rough, David, Brush and Sancho.
And then there was Pug the pug, with an excessive reward, the same as the Bishop of Winchester offered for the return of Lion the Newfoundland dog, and echoing down the centuries the cries and lamentations of the dog’s owner.

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   My books- Passengers and  Dark Days of Georgian Britain.    Hardback, Kindle and Kobo  available.  

The Slaughterhouse in Georgian Britain

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If you visited a butcher in Regency Britain and you were poor, you may have been offered some ‘slaughterhouse pork’. This name might not have bothered you; all animals were killed in a slaughterhouse, and it sounded like a statement of the obvious. It wasn’t.

For a start, the pig would have come from a knackers’ yard- a place for killing horses that were no longer of any use. There, pigs, and ducks and chickens would have been feed on the flesh, blood and organs that would have lain around the knacker’s yard. They were in the slaughter house not to be slaughtered, but to be fed. This was not a niche market- up to 5000 pigs per from horse offal were sold in London per week, many becoming sausages for consumption by the poor. It was also called “knackers’ pork” or “dust hill pork”, but it was an expression that the industry only used amongst themselves.

A horse slaughterer’s yard was not necessarily a place for killing horses either. Like every business, it was dependent on supply and demand, and if trade was not brisk the horses would be kept alive until needed. They would not be fed; sometimes the horses would be hired out by the knackers to squeeze an extra week’s work out of them. They were sold to a dust cart or Hackney Cab owner; the latter would only use it at night in case their gentlemen passengers’ objected. Those in the yard would to left to rot, slowly starving to death. If the eventually aim was death anyway, this did not matter. The famous prison reformer John Howard was also concerned about slaughterhouses; he would never part with any of his horses after they had outlived their usefulness- he organised their killing himself.

There were few rules about slaughterhouses; they were mostly small scale private businesses. There was a Horse Slaughterers Act in 1786, but that was more concerned with stopping stolen horses being fenced through knackers’ yards. When there were prosecutions, it would be as a public nuisance, not in the name of humanitarianism. Most of slaughterhouses were in the centre of towns; today we think we can imagine the smells of an insanitary town because we experience them ourselves now and then, but we know little about the putrid smell of dead and starving animals in a morass of excrement , rotting body parts and pungent horse skins.

In 1826, the Parish of St Pancras prosecuted a slaughter house in Maiden Lane, Highgate, but it was for stench rather than cruelty. When investigating the foul smells, they found starving houses eating each other. This description comes from the Voice of Humanity (1827);

Before we arrived In the first we entered we saw the usual living skeleton appearance of the poor horses in the yard some in the worst stage of glanders, some suffering acute pain from diseases or injuries some from famine… attempting to eat the filth of the place, some dying from disease and some among them lying dead whose sufferings were just terminated by death Several bull dogs There were a considerable number of pigs and ducks designed for the London market who were revelling in the luxury of the refuse of the slaughterhouse and combining the putrid flesh of the diseased and glandered horses with their own systems with all possible avidity

Glanders is horrible. Untreated, it kills slowly and painfully, and can spread to other animals and humans. Symptoms include, fever, ulcers and the release of an infectious nasal discharge, followed by septicaemia. It is not a disease designed to enhance the food chain.

The treatment of lambs and calves was anything, even worse. Calves were hanged from the ceiling, alive, until the butcher chose to kill them; animals were skinned before they were dead. Iron hooks were ripped into their faces to better collect the blood. All animals were stored by being thrown into dung and carcass filled cellars, where they broke their jaw or legs as they were thrown in.

Best practice was found in the Jewish slaughterhouses. Animals were killed immediately, with a single razor sharp knife (a foot long for a sheep) which cut all arteries quickly, with death from the rapid loss of blood. The Voice of Humanity went on to make a kind of joke- ‘there would be nothing unchristian in appointing inspectors to regulate the slaughterhouses’.

The Voice of Humanity, published regularly after 1830, was a breakthrough in the treatment of animals, largely because of what it did not say. It did not abhor cruelty for religious reasons, or want to ban the cruel animal sports of the poor to improve their morals. It was purely a matter of avoiding unnecessary cruelty and it also applied to animals that were not used for recreational purposes. Indeed their magazine compared the death in a hunt favourably to that in a slaughter house; death took hours and not days, and the meat could actually be eaten.

The French did all of this much better- something that the average Briton did not want to hear. The Voice of Humanity noted an abattoir ( to use the new fangled term) in Montmartre  which was  large, clean, used  water  diverted from local rivers to carry away the stench.  The whole operation was inspected by the police. In Briton there was no police to inspect anything, and slaughterhouses had the right to continue their cruelty any way they wanted because they were private property- like the animals they mistreated.  However, this does not seem to be the whole story; poor practices in France seemed to continue as well, as can be seen in this blog*, which also explains more about the conditions of animal slaughter houses in general.

 

*https://storvaxt.blogspot.com/2016/02/montfaucon-rats.html

My four books on Georgian and Victorian Britain

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain is a social history of the period 1815 to 1819 with an emphasis on the poor .

Passengers is a social history of the wider period 1780 to 1840, focussed on the stagecoach and the inn but covering lots of other issues, like the treatment of horses.

Radical Victorians explores the lives of social reformers of the era who were not much appreciated in their time.

Voices of the Georgian Age is the story of a 100 years of history through the letters, diaries and journals of those people who lived through it. Amazon link here   

 

Thomas Erskine – Georgian Animal Rights Activist

 

“They are created indeed for our use, but not for our abuse.”

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A young Thomas

After 1815, the British were much more likely to condemn animal cruelty, especially towards horses and dogs, who were very much their favourites. Dogs were pets and horses were visible in the streets being clearly overburdened. Donkeys received some sympathy, especially when they were yoked to carts to avoid paying fees when going through toll gates.

Opposition to animal cruelty had a few roots; a new emphasis on human feeling ; religion; and social prejudice. The barbaric sports of the vicious lower orders needed to be eliminated. As this article from the Bath Chronicle ( 1810) shows, motives were mixed

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“Throwing at Cocks” did what it said. A cock was tethered to a post and people threw stones at it. The winner was the one who finally killed it. Mayor of Bath John Palmer- the man who also invented Britain’s first efficient Post Office- opposed for humanitarian reasons, but one that has its basis in religion. There was no licence to treat even the meanest of God’s creatures in this way. It made you insensible to the sufferings of humanity. Both arguments resonate today and most people’s opposition to animal cruelty derive from one or both of these propositions.

Palmer fails to mention that many of the ruling class were worried by orchestrated examples of the lower orders enjoying themselves in this manner; but there is some indication here of a slight reformation in manners that was evident in the late Georgian period. It is also interesting that there was no assault on hare coursing or fox-hunting in the early nineteenth century; both as barbaric as cock throwing, but enjoyed exclusively by the upper classes.

Thomas, Lord Erskine was the “morning star” of the new movement to be kind to animals. He deserves much of the credit for changing deep-seated traditional views. It was he who tried to push  “A bill to prevent cruelty to brute animals”  through the House of Lords  in 1809.  His speech on the 15 May 1809 was perhaps the first speech in a British Parliament to put the intellectual case against animal  cruelty.

Like John Palmer and the leading citizens of Bath, part of Erskine’s argument was that prevention of cruelty was needed to redeem the lower orders- they, in their unthinking state, were responsible for much of the cruelty and were the hardest to reform- the law was needed as they would not be capable of doing it themselves. Erskine was referring to the mistreatment of dogs and horses; he deliberately omitted bull-baiting and cock throwing from his bill because he knew that too many Lords believed that these activities encouraged manly vigour.

These unmanly and disgusting outrages are most frequently perpetrated by the basest and most worthless; incapable, for the most part, of any reproof which can reach the mind, and who know no more of the law, than that it suffers them to indulge their savage dispositions with impunity.”

When animal abusers were challenged, according to Lord Erskine- “ what is it to you?”- was their answer. In order to refute this argument, Erskine had to reject two key Georgian beliefs; the immunity of the servant when ordered to do something  by a master; and that owning a creature was a justification for any kind of treatment. His denial of the absolute right of a property was radical for the time. His 1809 speech called it a “stupid defence”

Erskine used theological arguments too. Mankind, despite his “ God- like qualities” would be helpless without the contribution of animals. They were creatures created by God, and the dominion over the animals that is declared in Genesis is not a carte blanche to do anything. The very usefulness of the lower creatures was perfect evidence that they were a gift from God’s creation; looking after them was a trust and abusing them was a sin- there was already a Georgian society called the Society against the Sin of Cruelty to Dumb Animals

Animals had rights because they were created with similar features to humans. This did not imply equality, but inequality was no justification for abuse”

Almost every sense bestowed upon man is equally bestowed upon them; seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking; the sense of pain and pleasure; the passions of love and anger; sensibility to kindness, and pangs from unkindness and neglect, are inseparable characteristics of their natures as much as of our own”

Erskine was not a vegetarian. He did not imbue animals with the same characteristics of man, but did not see this a justification for their suffering;

They have, besides, no knowledge of the future, and their end, when appropriated fitly for our food, is without prolonged suffering.”

Although Erskine had intellectual agreements in favour of kindness to animals, he also liked them to an extent that modern readers would recognise. In 1811, he rescued a dog from the street that was about to be killed by some boys. He had his own adored Newfoundland dog, Toss, who he taught to do tricks. He had a macaw, a goose that followed him around and two leeches who he believed had saved his life in a medical procedure. He gave the leeches names, could distinguish between them and believed that they knew and liked him. So he was “guilty” of anthropomorphism way before it became popular.

Erskine’s Bill failed in the Commons on two occasions in 1809 and 1810. It was lost very narrowly in the Commons, because too many members were worried that horse racing and fox hunting would be next on the list.

Despite the defeat, Erskine predicted that future generations would treat the lower orders of animals with more respect. He did not have to wait long. The first animal protection law ( for cattle) was passed in 1821; an organisation for the protection of animals, the forerunner of the RSPCA, was formed in 1824. The crude Georgian attitudes to living creatures were passing.

Further reading
International Vegetarian Union
https://ivu.org/history/england19a/erskine.html

 

My three nineteenth century  books are below

Passengers is a social history of the period 1780 to 1840, with a focus on transport and hospitality. My blog about the book here. 

Dark Days of Georgian Britain  is a political and social history of 1815- 1820. My blog about the book is here.

Radical Victorians is a study of 19 advanced thinkers of the nineteenth century. My blog about the book is here.

More about me and my five books ( Regency and English Civil War) here