Crafts and Cleanliness: The Regulation of Noxious Business Activity in English Towns During the Fourteenth through Sixteenth Centuries

In In Pursuit of Healthy Environments, ed. Esa Ruuskanen and Heini Hakosalo, 13-26. Routledge, 2020.

Through a study of English town government sources, this chapter argues that local authorities in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries regulated craft businesses with an eye on their outputs to the environment that could have detrimental health effects. Textile manufacturing, leather working, and brewing—three significant urban craft activities—were the target of environmental urban laws. Although industry was vital to the urban economy, premodern local governments were unwilling to overlook the environmental consequences of these operations. The authorities identified potential polluters through their generation of odoriferous wastes and issued targeted laws to limit damage to both property and residents. Restrictions on craft operations included where the activities could take place, how water could be used, and how wastewater and waste materials could be disposed of. Through legislation and enforcement, medieval and early modern urban governments promoted craft cleanliness.

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