London the Biography: The chapter on Waste Matter - Shit Paintings?!

London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

It's a giggleworthy subject if you're in elementary school, but it's one that social historians find lots of er, material in - how people dealt with waste. And when you have a city the size of London that's a vast issue.


I'm afraid this will end up more than one post because wow, such material.


p 333

"...London memoranda in Samuel Pepys's words from Seething Lane: "Going down to my cellar, I put my foot in a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar."


Londoners are fascinated by excrement. English of the same century [of Thomas More] homage was paid to human excrement with the nickname of "Sir-reverence." In the late twentieth century those quintessentially London artists, "Gilbert and George" of Spitalfields, arranged large exhibitions of their Shit Paintings."


And for more on those artists: 


Gilbert and George: Everyone Said We Wouldn't Last

Telegraph, 7 Jul 2014

"...Although Gilbert and George may be very clean, their art is not clean at all. Over the years they have made pictures featuring sperm; urine; penises – their own; faeces – again, their own; and pubic lice. It’s odd to think of their collectors – who often pay in excess of £1 million for one of their pictures – sitting in some chichi Manhattan apartment with one of their enormous turd pictures on the wall."


Oh and the toilet WAS the trash can for everything - ponder your own trash use with that in mind, especially thinking about what throwing out the weekly trash would mean.


p 334

"In the period when Pepys was complaining about the substances in his cellar, the privy was being used in most households for kitchen and domestic as well as human refuse."


I always love how this is rarely if ever covered in romance or history novels - the people wearing lovely satins and silks at diner would retire to the next room and pee in a corner. Hopefully in a container - but not always, sometimes literally on the floor in a corner, or in the fireplace. All male groups at dinner would often just use a pot brought in a room while the rest continued to eat and talk. And of course public lavatories were long board benches with holes where you'd sit right next to someone and do what you needed to. It wasn't just a rich/poor thing - the rich weren't really more hygenic or careful.


Now that last bit I didn't get just from this book at all - but annoyingly I can't remember which couple of books I culled it from. Sadly there's no big book of poo in history I can recommend - and er, I think I'll wait til after lunch to google...