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Unraveling The Medieval Hygiene Struggles

Illustration for article titled Unraveling The Medieval Hygiene Struggles

Found on zildchurch.files.wordpress.com

Insights And Assumptions

Most people today still huff and puff when reminded or ordered to clean. You and me included! But in comparison with for example a century ago, we have it so easy! Sadly, few dare to contemplate, let alone imagine and compare our modern lives with the lives of our great great grandparents or their great grandparents and so forth.

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Even considering the most basic of cleaning products and materials available these days, we must but acknowledge the great technological advancements made since a few hundred years ago. High metropolitan areas such as Paris or London even have designated road cleaning teams. So what did most people have to work with in the Dark Ages and how did we clean then? Let’s find out what and how in Medieval times and the great deal of smelly funlessness they “enjoyed” at the time. Some records have remained about this time period and despite our desire to bring you insights about cavemen cleaning procedures, no cave wall drawings have been left to even hint at the idea.

But How Did They Do it?

Illustration for article titled Unraveling The Medieval Hygiene Struggles
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Illustration for article titled Unraveling The Medieval Hygiene Struggles

Giving the social hierarchy at the time, women were often put to physical labour - fetching water, cleaning, laundry, farming. Another reason goes out to necessity and availability of resources simply because men were often engaged in war or were just in short supply, again because of the latter. Such was life in medieval times.

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First and foremost, we need to picture the typical medieval house. The walls are made of wood, some are cladded with clay and a ladder or simple stair. Those houses mainly featured a dirt floor sometimes covered in straw and a straw roof as well.

It should be noted that peasants lived in those houses, all tucked in 1-2 rooms at most. When raids ocured, it was very easy to destroy whole villages just be throwing torches around. “Pillage & burn” is a phrase that certainly comes from those ages.

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Found on Pinterest

Illustration for article titled Unraveling The Medieval Hygiene Struggles
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We know wooden buckets were available, mostly used for throwing out garbage and excrements. Cloths were used to brush floors and surfaces for handheld scrubbing, of course done on hands and knees! Let’s not imagine the smells that came from under the straw or rushes since there was no actual plumbing installed and various food remains as well as other general dirt rots away releasing its foul odours. When the straw was meant to be refreshed, herbs were mixed into in order to counter future bad smells. The importance of hygiene was nowhere near its current levels.

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Found on Pinterest

However that would be a thing for medieval castle floors, practically the only buildings with stone floors. Sweeping the dirt floor is more obvious but what about the straw covered ones ? Well, depending on who managed the building in question it could have been once a month to up to once a year!

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Illustration for article titled Unraveling The Medieval Hygiene Struggles

Another important fact was that poor hygiene was one of the main causes for the high mortality rate caused by pandemics, the Black Death alone claiming from 75 to 200 million lives according to Wikipedia. The Black Death facts are absolutely staggering considering the disease (also known as Black Plague or bubonic plague) swept across Europe and managed to send millions in the afterlife just for the duration of 4 years! This event caused much concern in aristocratic circles, paving the way for major organisational and legislative changes that followed imminently.

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Found on Pinterest

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Found on theonion.com

No wonder so many people lost their lives to the Black Death. Just look at the doctors they had at the time:

Found on Pinterest

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These pigeon costume wearing medicine wannabe’s firmly believed their herb-stuffed beak will protect them from picking up the disease. Canes were used to examine patients from distance and to keep infected people away. Welcome to the great medieval hygiene practices!

Little did they know how exactly the Black Plague was actually spreading and they cloth + glove, hat and beak alleged protective gear will provide little-to-no value at all but to keep “evil” smells away.

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Cudos for trying to help others at least. Many of them doctors died in the process but that was a common, yet unfortunate professional hazard.

There was no one else to clean up the mess though aside from hiring cheap labour to ditch the bodies into mass graves and on occasion - individual ones should the deceased was somehow respected and/or wealthy.

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There was no option to call upon a specialised cleaning firm there like we do now in London - no firms, no phones, no freaking vacuum cleaners! Let’s see… In some cases women would have cleaned walls and floors with lye soap - a self made product mixing lard with ash of burned trees and shrubs. This substance could remove even the hardest, greasiest of stains - something today’s tenancy cleaning professionals are unlikely to be aware of. Used up into the 20th century maybe still these days as a Belgian friend’s childhood neighbour using it in his workshop as he manufactured chains for a living so the place was smothered in axle grease. This was the early 1980’s.

Comparing Before And Now

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Found on johndclare.net

Quite cosy, isn’t it? London changed into this... after a few hundred years.

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Found on aoteaglobal.co.uk

So, was it easier to do the cleaning in medieval times? Perhaps you might think so since not that much attention was clearly paid at house or domestic cleaning. Therefore, the less people care, the less they clean and as a result - less troubles, right? However, we also do have the easier option as earlier referred to. Choose a firm, pick up the phone, dial a number, order a cleaning service and you are ready to go (considering you have the income to afford). These days, though, this is no longer an exclusive service providing branch for the rich and famous as it was for a very long time.

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Cleaning With Or Without Maids

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It is noteworthy that back in the Middle Ages food and a bed were provided in exchanged for hard labour around the house, hence the cleaning maids (or their historic enslaved versions at least). Although some of us may be inclined to picture a great lord receiving sexy maid service, most of these house helpers were either too old, dirty or sick to be as much as considered by the powerful and wealthy. The aforementioned Belgian friend of mine grew up in a house with a cleaning lady, he shares. He even ended up hiring two of them after he got married. At the time, he had two separate businesses and 3 teenagers to care

and provide for which left him with no time to do any of the household tasks except for

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washing their many vans and cars. He says, this particular cleaning task was

Found on Pinterest

something they really liked doing themselves on the weekend as they owned a people carrier transport business

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and private ambulance service. They also owned a pastry and sandwich bar not far from their house which was constantly meticulously cleaned to levels of unprecedented perfection.

In Conclusion…

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Found on Pinterest

Modern lifestyle is both cleanliness demanding and fruitful in opportunities to handle this task with relative ease. One way is to stuff up on cleaning supplies and get down to business or simply request (and pay for) accredited assistance. None of the above was readily available in medieval times. All things considered, we are truly blessed with vacuum cleaners, dust pans, steam mops and advanced chemical cleaning solutions.

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Bonus Pictures

Pictures of medieval castles (as far as architectural style is concerned) could be found below.

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Just try and imagine them fair maidens shown above to clean one of the following:

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Pendennis Castle, UK

Found on wikipedia.org

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Peckforton Castle, UK

Found on aeroengland.photodeck.com

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Cholmondeley Castle, UK

Found on helenraephotography.co.uk

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Cinderella Castle, Japan

Found on: galleryhip.com

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Wray Castle, UK

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