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Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench In England, 1600-1770 (2007)

by Emily Cockayne

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1774110,136 (4.29)3
A not-for-the-squeamish journey back through the centuries to urban England, where the streets are crowded, noisy, filthy, and reeking of smoke and decay Modern city-dwellers suffer their share of unpleasant experiences--traffic jams, noisy neighbors, pollution, food scares--but urban nuisances of the past existed on a different scale entirely, this book explains in vivid detail. Focusing on offenses to the eyes, ears, noses, taste buds, and skin of inhabitants of England's pre-Industrial Revolution cities, Hubbub transports us to a world in which residents were scarred by smallpox, refuse rotted in the streets, pigs and dogs roamed free, and food hygiene consisted of little more than spit and polish. Through the stories of a large cast of characters from varied walks of life, the book compares what daily life was like in different cities across England from 1600 to 1770. Using a vast array of sources, from novels to records of urban administration to diaries, Emily Cockayne populates her book with anecdotes from the quirky lives of the famous and the obscure--all of whom confronted urban nuisances and physical ailments. Each chapter addresses an unpleasant aspect of city life (noise, violence, moldy food, smelly streets, poor air quality), and the volume is enhanced with a rich array of illustrations. Awakening both our senses and our imaginations, Cockayne creates a nuanced portrait of early modern English city life, unparalleled in breadth and unforgettable in detail.… (more)

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Heavily repetitive, a continuous narrative of researched facts on the 'Noise, Filth and Stench'of ancient English cities in the 16 and 1700s and with nearly a quarter of the book taken up with source notes this work reads like a doctorial thesis - and that may well have been its origin.

However; this sometimes heavy read is leavened with over 70 maps and illustrations (many of them the marvelous William Hogarth prints) and sparkling bursts of the actual voices of the citizens of those mud daubed, filth flooded and noisy bedlams. Some treasured nuggets gives us the whimsical spellings of the original English language as it evolved, we read of the crude disposal of sewerage as being; “dampnifyed” and “rite ineffecion” and ‘verye noisome .. whereof maye ensue a pestilent harme”.

With conditions like these it in the poorer streets it is with surprise that we read that even the prestigious Colleges of Oxford suffered flooding with foul water to the extent that “the servants used to punt themselves in a wooden wash tub across the flooded cellar in order to draw beer”.

Among other delightful nuggets that author Emily Cockayne describes are the bedlam of the street’s traffic, with accidents, fisticuffs and “grosly abused” pedestrians. One offered solution, even in the late seventeenth century, was that traffic should keep to the right hand side. How strange then that the English choose instead to drive on the left!

A book to be read and enjoyed by the “history buff” and then added to the collection of books on London, civil works and civilization and the trials of city living.
  John_Vaughan | May 8, 2011 |
I felt greasy and grimy (like gopher guts?) after reading this but it's good grime.
Chapter titles like these:
Give an idea of the visceral "pleasures" within.
Fascinating and painstakingly researched, this is a must for those wondering what life was really like in the 1600s.
Jaw-dropping plates by William Hogarth abound.

"This book inhabits a grubby and squalid world, truffling out details that are vivid, colourful and sometimes downright nauseous. It's a veritage feast of filth and foulness, and I loved every minute of it,' - Christopher Hart, Literary Review

BUY. ( )
1 vote spacegod | Mar 27, 2009 |
A glass-half-empty look at the early modern urban experience (Cockayne suggests a couple of reads highlighting the positive aspects and progress, but that's not her remit in this) which describes bad neighbours, bad hygene, bad noise, and all the negative aspects of living in a crowd. She concentrates on 4 English towns each of which had a different pattern of development. ( )
  nessreader | Aug 27, 2008 |
If you've ever been listed seventeenth-century England as a place you'd most like to time-travel to, I suggest reading this book first. Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Noise, Filth and Stench in England, 1600-1770 (Yale University Press, 2007) is an absolutely disgusting journey through the streets, homes, markets, beds and privies (or "houses of office," as they were known) of early modern England. And it's utterly fascinating. You may want to shower between chapters, but it's worth it.

Using a wide variety of archival sources, from diaries and letters to fictional narratives to court records, Cockayne has created a compendium of annoyances surely unmatched in historical literature. She recognizes the limitations and inherent biases of her sources (most tend to be male, wealthy, and particularly whiny, or as she puts it in the case of Robert Hooke, a "creepy hypochondrical nerd"), and notes that while some exaggerations of grievances is to be expected, even if that's taken into account, life even for the richest of England's people was no picnic in the park.

In aptly-named chapters which, when recited, sound like a bad parody of Snow White's famous companions (Ugly, Itchy, Mouldy, Noisy, Grotty, Busy, Dirty, Gloomy) Cockayne catalogs the daily nuisances faced by every man, woman and child (these would of couse have been all the worse the further down the social ladder one found oneself). From what we would consider ghastly standards of personal hygiene (the noted diarist John Evelyn resolved on a "Course of yearly washing my head," when he was 33, p. 60) to the common ravages of intestinal parasites, fleas and other pests, to rarely (if ever) washed clothes, bedding and wigs, keeping clean and healthy was well nigh impossible.

Hubbub really does touch on just about every imaginable nuisance: pigs in the street, noisy neighbors, bad lighting, rough or nonexistent paving (in some cities well into the eighteenth century, she notes, each property-owner was responsible for paving the road in front of their building - needless to say, that didn't work out all that well), smoke, piles of rotten detritus everywhere ... I could go on. It gets almost comical (if uncomfortably and skin-crawingly so) at times: I have to admit I laughed out loud at this sentence about Samuel Pepys: "On the morning of 20 October 1660 he stepped into a 'great heap of turds' that had escaped from his neighbour's house of office and found themselves in Pepys's cellar" (pg. 144). Doesn't get much more filthy than that.

The move toward solutions to these various dilemmas forms just a small part of Cockayne's treatment, but she does discuss how cities and towns slowly began enacting paving regulations, zoning rules, rudimentary food inspections and other such salutary measures. What surprised me was how long those things took given the long-standing gripes that were clearly being bandied about.

Cockayne's also done an excellent job of finding images to complement her chapters, although Hogarth admittedly did much of that work for her. The only minor flaw is in the reproduction quality of the artwork; the images are printed quite dark, which makes some of the fine background details she discusses almost impossible to see. Aside from some minor repetitions within the text and a touch too little analysis of her discoveries, Cockayne's Hubbub is really a masterful book. The extensive footnotes and bibliography add much, and once again I've found a few interesting sources I'll want to examine further.

Highly recommended for the non-squeamish.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/08/book-review-hubbub.html ( )
2 vote JBD1 | Aug 7, 2007 |
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This book is about how people were made to feel uncomfortable by other people - their noises, appearance, behaviour, proximity and odours.
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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300112149, 0300137567

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