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Health and the City: Disease, Environment and Government in Norwich, 1200-1575

Isla Fay
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Health and the City
    Book Description:

    In 1559, William Cuningham MD published an image of a quintessentially healthy city. The source of his inspiration was Norwich, one of England's largest and wealthiest provincial boroughs. Though idealized, Cuningham's "map" fairly represented the municipalities' attempts to rebuild and improve the infrastructure. But his image also covered up many problems: Norwich in reality was pocked by decayed housing, deteriorating streets and polluted waterways, and was home to significant numbers of sick and impoverished residents. This book brings both viewpoints to life. Cuningham's particular brand of "environmental health" imitated ancient ideas (in particular the Hippocratic text Airs, Waters, Places), and drew upon astrology, the study of the weather, and local topography. The book shows that amongst the citizens, a complementary form of medical culture existed that put individuals under the spotlight. It included neighbourhood reactions to illness and disability; the responsibilities of the governing elite for sanitation; and judgments about the lifestyles of different members of the community. Hygiene from this perspective was not only about cleanliness, but also about behaviour, hierarchy, and property. The study draws together a wide range of source materials (including images, medical notebooks and objects, human remains, the corporation's archives, and civic ritual and drama), considering both high and low culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-418-5
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1559, the physician and cosmographer William Cuningham published a long and beautifully produced textbook under the titleThe Cosmographical Glasse.One of the most arresting features of the text was a printed illustration of what was, in the physician’s opinion, an exceptionally ‘healthfull and pleasant’ city (fig. 1).¹ The city was Norwich in the county of Norfolk, then England’s largest and wealthiest provincial centre, and the place in which Cuningham was born. In the woodcut, Norwich appears as a paradigm of urban hygiene: it is well situated in the landscape; blessed with enviable natural resources; beautifully adorned with fine...

  8. Part I: Health and Place in Texts and Images

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 27-32)

      Thus the scriptwriters of the successful television comedy ‘Blackadder II’ (1986) satirized a prevailing belief that life in medieval England was unremittingly squalid, and the populace slovenly. Mrs Pants’s retort (it’s what you expect that matters) is reminiscent of an anthropological dictum: attitudes to dirt and disease are relative, circumstantial and socially constructed. Because of this, it is considered anachronistic to transpose biomedical notions of antibacterial sanitation on to the evidential record. Now historians are asking: by what standards did men and women of the period evaluate cleanliness, and what steps did they take to foster it? Part I of...

    • 1 Air and Smell: Hygiene and Networks of Authority in an Urban Context
      (pp. 33-60)

      In the pre-modern natural philosophical scheme all animate and inanimate things located in the elemental spheres of the world were conceived as composites of the ‘pure and unadulterated’ qualities of heat, coldness, dryness and moisture.² It followed that each of the four humours (the bodily fluids present in man which were named in the English tradition as blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy) were mixtures of the absolute elements, and were sensitive to environmental and cosmological changes.³ Theoretically, an optimally functioning body required appropriate levels of each of the different humours.

      However, the ideal seemed impossible to achieve in practice. The...

    • 2 An Epitome of Hygiene: William Cuningham’s Prospect Plan
      (pp. 61-86)

      Cuningham’s plan of Norwich (fig. 1), published in hisCosmographical Glasse(1559), has been called both a realistic reconstruction of Norwich as the surveyor ‘actually saw it’, and a manipulated and idealized image.² Alongside important institutions and facilities, such as the cathedral, parish churches and the city’s water-driven corn mills (to the left of the panorama), the most striking elements of the image are the gardens, pastures and orchards, the width and order of the streets, and the relationship between the urban centre and the open countryside around it. The splendid architecture and lush vegetation were not simply devices to...

  9. Part II: Health and the Landscape

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 87-88)

      What people think can be determined in two ways: firstly, from what they profess (write, depict or say), and secondly, from the evidence of what they do. Having established what men and women in Norwich and the region professed to believe about the interconnected nature of the human body and the wider environment, we can now determine how they actually used the space around them when prioritizing concerns about health and about disease. Part II of this book contrasts the idealized image of the city constructed by Cuningham with circumstances ‘on the ground’. It brings together evidence from archaeology, osteoarchaeology...

    • 3 Placing Disease in the Urban Landscape: The Osteoarchaeological Evidence
      (pp. 89-116)

      Entrenched in the Hippocratic tradition was the notion that the nature of a place determined the characteristics of people who lived there. This would have seemed self-evident to Norwich’s residents who could observe at first-hand that more or less salubrious localities contained more or less healthy-looking individuals. In 1570, the civic authorities conducted a citywide census of the poor, that is, it made a house-by-house survey to identify all paupers who were apparently fit enough to work for a living and to distinguish them from those who were dependent, or might become dependent, on financial assistance from the community. The...

    • 4 Placing Health in the Urban Landscape: The Gardens of Norwich
      (pp. 117-136)

      In the previous two chapters – whilst analysing both Cuningham’s plan and the burial treatment of the scarred, deformed and injured – we have identified areas of Norwich that were fire-damaged, dilapidated and impoverished. But Cuningham’s image of a ‘pleasant and healthful’ city could claim at least one basis in reality; the lush greenery depicted inside the mural defences of Norwich had actual counterparts. The city reallydidcontain many gardens, orchards and open spaces. According to medieval medical culture, gardens (like clean water supplies and a wholesome situation) were a clear indicator of a place’s sanitary credentials. What was their significance...

  10. Part III: Governing the City and the Self

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 137-140)

      In Norwich during the month of June 1556, a pageant was performed in honour of the mayor, Augustine Steward (then in his third stint in the office), which listed the virtues with which all civic leaders ought to be endowed. The pageant’s author, a local grammar school master named Boucke, explained that Norwich surpassed ancient Rome in certain qualitative aspects, not least in the calibre of its governors. In electing Steward, Boucke went on to explain, the citizens had chosen a man destined to improve standards of human welfare. Steward’s remit thus conceived included keeping the city fabric ‘in coomlye...

    • 5 Cleaning Up: Reforming the Urban Environment 1300–1570
      (pp. 141-166)

      Norwich’s residents from all backgrounds had a duty to preserve the condition of communal spaces. In the following sections of this chapter, we will look first at the legal frameworks, customary obligations and mandates by which residents and governors attempted to enforce ob servance of this duty from the close of the thirteenth century onwards, before narrowing our focus to examine civic attitudes to waste in the period 1530–70 (that is, in the immediate wake of the publication of the reformed version ofAirs, Waters, Places). Over this period of about 250 years, we will observe particular constants: the...

    • 6 Housing, Self-Management and Healing in the Tudor City
      (pp. 167-188)

      The concern elicited amongst the governors of Norwich over the state of the watercourses and streets was matched by an equal concern for the state of the city’s housing stock and other buildings.¹ Thomas Starkey summed up the relative shortcomings of English towns compared to those on the Continent. No one, he suggested, could ‘be so blynd or obstynate to deny the grete dekey, fautys and mysordurys ... of our commyn wele ... when he lokyth apon our cytes, castellys and towyns, of late days ruynate and fallen downe’.² Norwich merchants who sat on the city’s ruling council, and who...

    (pp. 189-196)

    In the years immediately following the publication of Cuningham’s plan (1559), life in Norwich underwent a series of marked developments. Specifically, the city experienced a social revolution. In 1564–65, Dutch and Walloon textile workers were invited by the corporation to settle in Norwich in order to stimulate its flagging textile manufacturing sector. From an initial few hundred, the number of incomers had risen to 4,000 by 1571, an increase of about thirty-five per cent of the size of the population of the time.¹ On occasion, the new arrivals were treated with outright hostility by individual citizens, whilst the attitude...

    (pp. 197-204)
    (pp. 205-205)
    (pp. 211-234)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 235-246)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-251)