Nursery Rhymes

Middle Ages Hygiene

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Middle Ages Hygiene
Middle Ages hygiene was extremely basic in terms of the disposal of waste products and garbage. However, personal hygiene was better than the perception of Middle Ages Hygiene. People did wash, bath and clean their teeth. The terrible outbreak of the Black Death made Medieval people look for a link between health and hygiene. The words of men who lived during the Middle Ages provide a fascinating and informative first-hand view of different aspects of hygiene during the Medieval era.

Medicine in the Middle Ages
Health in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages Doctors
Black Death

Middle Ages Hygiene - Personal Hygiene
During the Middle Ages the crusaders brought soap back from the far East to Europe. People generally washed in cold water unless they were wealthy when hot water would be provided for bathing purposes. Bathing was usually conducted in wooden barrels but simply designed bathrooms were added in Medieval Castle interiors for the lords. Before people entered the Great Hall for meals they washed their hands. As cleanliness and hygiene improved during the Middle Ages lavers were introduced which were stone basins used for washing and provided at the entrances of castle dining halls.

Middle Ages Hygiene - Dental Hygiene
During the Middle Ages people did pay attention to dental hygiene. There was only one remedy for a bad tooth - it would be pulled out without the use of any anaesthetic or pain killer - the pain must have been excruciating. There were no false teeth, or dentures and women especially would have been very concerned about losing their teeth. Teeth were cleaned by rubbing them  with a cloth. Mixtures of herbs or abrasives were also used including the ashes of burnt rosemary.

Middle Ages Hygiene - Garderobes or Privies
There were many lavatories, called garderobes or privies, included in large Medieval buildings such as castles, monasteries and convents. The Garderobes or Privy chambers were positioned as far away from the interior chambers as practical and often had double doors added to reduce the smell! Chutes were provided for the discharge which often led to the castle moat. Privy seats were made of wood or stone.

Threat to Middle Ages Hygiene - Rush Flooring
The practice of covering floors with rushes was a a real threat to hygiene and health during the Middle Ages. Following the Black Death a limited number of carpets and mats were introduced to replace the floor rushes but floors strewn with straw or rushes were still favoured. Sweet smelling herbs such as lavender, camomile, rose petals, daisies and fennel were added to disguise the bad smells which were prevalent due to the inadequate plumbing systems and the rushes.

Threat to Middle Ages Hygiene - Waste Disposal
Following the devastating outbreak of the Black Death in England (1348-1350) a link appears to have been made between health and hygiene. In 1388 the English parliament issued the following statute in an effort to clean up England and improve Middle Ages Hygiene:

"Item, that so much dung and filth of the garbage and entrails be cast and put into ditches, rivers, and other waters... so that the air there is grown greatly corrupt and infected, and many maladies and other intolerable diseases do daily happen... it is accorded and assented, that the proclamation be made as well in the city of London, as in other cities, boroughs, and towns through the realm of England, where it shall be needful that all they who do cast and lay all such annoyances, dung, garbages, entrails, and other ordure, in ditches, rivers, waters, and other places aforesaid, shall cause them utterly to be removed, avoided, and carried away, every one upon pain to lose and forfeit to our Lord the King the sum of 20 pounds..."

Life in the Middle Ages
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