Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Question from Jess - Follow-up to question on lawns and gardens

This is regarding a post that was submitted on 5/6/2008 about the gardens. the original question asked about maintaining, the response was a theory of animals, particularly sheep doing the "mowing". My question is if they were using animals to do the lawn work, would the "servants" really take the time to pick up after the sheep (i.e. droppings)? I can't envision the servants stopping to pick up droppings. And would this be done during the day? If this was done at night, it seems like messes would missed. Daylight doesn't seem to fit into to the lifestyle. Can you imagine the Royals strolling through while yard work is taking place? What a sight! :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your question is a very good one, and conjures up some graphic visual images! While I cannot answer it with a firm yes/no answer, I can offer an indirect observation. Recall that the 16th century was not a particularly sanitary period. Flush toilets and running water were not available, even to the wealthy. Instead, one "did one's business" in a chamber pot which was then emptied by servants ... or you emptied it yourself. And the most common way to empty a chamber pot was out the nearest window! In some cities, "nightsoil" collectors might come along and scoop up the solid waste from the street and haul it away, but in less urban or affluent areas it sometimes accumulated. And during the daytime, people going about their daily activities often paused for relief in whatever corner was available, whether it was a public or private one. There are numerous surviving court records for cases of people charged with relieving themselves on church steps (or against the columns inside!) and in the entryways of public buildings, indicating that the practice was fairly common even when officially banned. Stairways in large houses and royal palaces were often used for urination, if not other functions. Visitors today to any number of medieval castles in the UK are often either amused or disgusted at the sight of castle "toilets," which usually consisted of a hole in the floor along an outer wall over which one squatted (or in posher quarters, sat on a stone or wooden bench), allowing waste matter to drop outside where it could and did stain the walls and accumulate at the base. And that's just the human waste problem. Animal waste within urban areas was an even larger presence. I have actually seen Tudor-era court cases in which persons were charged with sexual offenses and was horrified to read that the offense was committed literally ON the neighborhood "dung heap," with "dung heap" stated in the record with such off-handedness that it appears to have been a common and locally notorious site for such activity, not unlike a "lover's lane" today.
In light of this apparent omnipresence of waste matter, it seems unlikely that even "royals" would have wrinkled their noses at a little animal waste on their lawns and in their gardens.
And even today when one visits some of the UK's great houses, sheep are still used to maintain lawns, sometimes quite close to the house, without undue accumulation of waste matter(Althorp comes to mind as an example). Judging by the modern experience, the animal waste issue in Tudor gardens was undoubtedly far, far less than the combined human and animal waste problem in the streets out front!