What to do with waste? The challenges of waste disposal in two late medieval towns

in Living cities: An anthology in urban environmental history, ed. Matthias Legnér and Sven Lilja (Stockholm: Forskningsrådet Formas, 2010), 34–55.

Living in an urban setting comes with a price. Waste disposal in these crowded settings often becomes a problem. In the late medieval towns of York and Coventry, the town councils recognised and attempted to address their waste dilemmas for the betterment of the urban population at large. Individual inhabitants sometimes saw disposal in rivers and streets as a convenient solution to their own problems. But the local government had to take into account all of the users of the rivers and streets. Rivers and streets had to be seen as two parts of the same environmental issue because waste disposal in upstream gutters caused downstream river blockage. The town councils therefore developed legal and physical solutions to waste disposal. The councils forbade certain disposal practices and mandated others. They created urban services and appointed officers to monitor citizen behaviour. The evidence from the urban records reveals that when individuals violated common waste disposal norms, the issue was addressed by the civic authorities.

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