PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham Coventry Leicester Southampton civic works street cleaning repairs paving waste disposal services fees officers sergeant financial administration pavage audits Northampton Norwich London Canterbury
Subject: Road works
Original source: 1. Nottinghamshire Archives, Nottingham court roll; 2. Coventry City Record Office, Leet Book; 3. Leicestershire Record Office, Leicester Hall Book, pp.231-33; 4. Southampton City Archives, Black Book f.1
Transcription in: 1. W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 206; 2. Mary Dormer Harris, ed. The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's Register, Early English Text Society, old series, vol.134 (1907), 21, 23, 58-59; 3. Mary Bateson, ed. Records of the Borough of Leicester, (London, 1901), vol.2, 290-91; 4. A.B. Wallis Chapman, ed. The Black Book of Southampton, vol.I. Southampton Record Society, vol.13 (1912), 12.
Original language: 1. Latin, 2-4. Middle English
Location: Nottingham, Coventry, Leicester, Southampton
Date: Late 14th and 15th centuries


[1. Dispute over private arrangements for street repair at Nottingham, 30 March 1379]

William de Thrumpton complains of Thomas de Bothale concerning a plea of contract, complaining that whereas that same Thomas had made an agreement with him, on a certain day here at Nottingham, that he would be his partner to help him repair a certain street called Cow Lane here in Nottingham, until the work on the street was fully completed, Thomas left William alone on the job before the work and repairs on the street were complete. And he continues to withhold twenty-one shillings that Thomas had collected and received for the work on the street, to William's damages of ten shillings. Thomas comes and denies the force etc., saying that he broke no agreement with him as William has charged, and he requests an enquiry into the same. Therefore the bailiffs are ordered [to arrange for an inquisition].

[2a. Provision at Coventry for street cleaning, 2 October 1420]

It was then decided that William Oteley, who keeps a cart and horses for cleaning the streets, should receive quarterly 1d. per hall door and ½d per shop.

[2b. Provisions at Coventry for keeping the streets clean, 25 January 1421]

Every man is to clean the street in front of his property between now and Thursday, and the same every Saturday afterwards – that is on Saturdays throughout the year – upon penalty of 12d. for any failure to do so (without hope of remission). No man is to rake or sweep from one spot to another when it is raining, upon penalty of 12d. (without hope of remission) and imprisonment for failing in this.

It is lawful for every sergeant and constable to raise the fine mentioned above, or else to distrain for it. Whoever tries to impede them, or resists them, or argues with them about the performance of their duties, is to be imprisoned for 40 days and pay 20s. to the use of the city, without any remission.

Also that no man is to cast dung out of his house into the street, unless he has it removed within 24 hours, upon penalty of 12d. to the use of the city for every offence, without any remission.

Also that no man is to have any timber, stones or posts lying in front of his property, against his wall, or in the high street, upon penalty of 40d. and confiscation of that timber.

[2c. Orders for street repair at Coventry, 6 October 1423]

Every man is to repair the pavement in front of his property between now and the next [session of the] leet, upon penalty of 3s.4d – half to the use of the bailiffs and half to the chamber, and that [levied] by the common sergeant.

[3. By-laws for keeping the streets clean at Leicester, 22 October 1467]

Concerning muck
Also that no man place any muck outside his door, nor sticks, stones, timber, clay or anything else to the nuisance of the king's people – unless he is a builder [working] in the streets of the town – neither inside the 4 gates of the town nor in the 4 streets of the suburbs, without it being removed within 3 days; upon penalty of imprisonment for as long as the mayor wishes etc.

Carcasses in the streets
Also that no man or woman allow any carcasses to lie in front of his door, nor throw any out through his doorway by day or by night – that is, horses, swine, dogs or cats, or any other – neither within the 4 gates nor in the 4 streets of the suburbs; instead they are to dump it in the fields out of the way of people; upon penalty of imprisonment during the mayor's grace etc.

Concerning dirt and sweepings
Also that no man or woman, nor anyone else, is to sweep or throw out sweepings when it rains, [so that it goes] upon his neighbour so that the neighbour is bothered; upon penalty of the person or persons found guilty thereof being imprisoned for as long as the mayor wishes.


Concerning washing clothes
Also that no woman wash clothes or any other dirty thing at the common wells of the town, nor in the high street, upon penalty of imprisonment.


Concerning cleaning the streets
Also that all men and women who reside in the town are to clean the king's streets, every man in front of his property, both within the gates and in the suburbs. Those who have muck, sweepings, and other dirt and filth on their property are to arrange for a cart to carry it away. They are not to have it lying outside their doors for longer than 3 days maximum, upon penalty of imprisonment for as long as the mayor wishes and a fine payable to the king.

[4. Appointment of a paver at Southampton]

Memorandum that at the assembly held in the Guildhall of the town of Southampton on 9 December 1482, before Walter William mayor of that town, his brethren, and the comburgesses of the town, it is agreed, assented to, and by common accord resolved as follows: A paver is to be provided with a house belonging to the town, of the [yearly] value of 13s.4d., in which to live, rent-free. And he is to have each year a gown. With the intent that he, along with a town sergeant, is to scrutinize the pavement of the town, and also to pave all places in the town that need it, and undertake all things in the town that pertain to that office, receiving as wages for his work whatever is usual per toise. With the proviso that the stone and all other supplies required for paving be provided by him or them in front of whose house the pavement is a [public] nuisance or in need of repair.


In fifteenth century provisions for street cleaning and paving, although neither of these functions was new, we seem to see a trend away from isolated efforts to address problems when the need was pressing, towards more systemic solutions – that is, arrangements for regular services, even if communal labour continued to be called on. Maintaining sanitation standards and building latrines and conduits also seem to evidence the same greater determination, even though they too had their origins in an earlier period. But these efforts by the authorities did not meet with universal support from the citizenry.

Street cleaning

Possibly the arrangement for William Oteley to provide street cleaning services, via a special tax on each residence or shop, provoked an outcry or met with some other obstacle (such as difficulty in collecting the payments), since a few months later it was decided to return to the more traditional method of making property-holders responsible for the cleanliness of the street in front of their properties. A communal space such as the marketplace, however, fell to the city authorities to clean. It may have been in compensation for his disappointment that Oteley, in February 1421, was given the post of Common Sergeant by the mayor and council – or perhaps it was some sentiment of poetic justice, for the appointment put him in a position to police the performance by private citizens of a duty he had not been allowed to carry out. In 1424 the sergeant's duties were expanded to include supervising the river-banks to identify anyone dumping dirt or other refuse into the river, contrary to city ordinance. At Southampton too we see an ad hoc approach to garbage removal, with the employment of a labourer in 1433/34 to clean one of the principal streets and dump what he collected into the sea; it would not be until the following century, however, that a permanent official with such duties – the scavenger – was appointed.

By 1452 we find that a garbage collection service had been resumed at Coventry, on the same terms as in 1420, except that the sergeant was ordered to distrain on householders refusing to pay. Whether this service long survived is uncertain, for in 1470 the sergeant was ordered to arrange for a cart to remove muck from a particular part of the city, as a one-shot deal. And in 1493 it was again ordained that there be a cart provided for carrying off dirt accumulated from street-cleaning and sweeping out of houses, with the same source and amount of financial support as in 1420, and again the carter being the collector; by this period there were aldermen and constables of the wards who could be made responsible to ensure the work was done and the contributions paid. From an ordinance of 1509, it would seem that the collection took place on Saturdays, at least for the market area of town. Despite this service, some citizens continued to dump muck into the ditches and gutters.

The garbage was carted off outside the southern city walls, although not far outside; one site it was taken to, known as "town's end", lay just outside the Greyfriars Gate, although by 1480 the city was paying to remove the dung dumped that site or near other gates. Southwest of that gate was Poddycroft, where there was a pit into which butchers were ordered (1423) to dispose of offal from their livestock. The New Gate at the southeast corner of the city was another dumping site, but this got out of hand and in 1428 the authorities ordered that no muck be put adjacent to the (boundary?) cross there, but instead on a muckhill nearby.

There would have been nothing new about the prohibitions against creating blockages of the street with household refuse or building materials, but in the context of the other provisions it was probably felt advisable to remind townspeople that these were offences. The provisions regarding households cleaning the streets on Saturdays, no sweeping during the rain, and no dumping of dung in the street unless arrangements had been made for a cart to come and remove it, were put into the annual public proclamation of local by-laws that year. The proclamation also directed citizens to specific locations for dumping dung. The concern about sweeping in the rain may have been that the dirt dislodged would be washed into the gutters and thence into the river or other sources of drinking water; in 1444 a fine of 4d. was set for anyone sweeping manure into the gutter. On the other hand, a similar concern at Leicester in the 1467 ordinances above was motivated by the fear that it would result in an annoyance for neighbours.

The requirement for street-cleaning on Saturdays was promulgated anew periodically throughout the century. In 1497 this was accompanied by a provision for the common sergeant and the town crier to perambulate the town each Sunday afternoon and Monday to make sure the work had been done. Any defaulters were to be fined 2d., with half going into the pockets of the two officials who identified the offender (an incentive) and half towards the maintenance of the city conduit; the fine was doubled for anyone refusing to pay. In case the sergeant and crier failed to do their job properly, the mayor's sergeant and sword-bearer were empowered to fine them 4d.

Although too often dung was dumped in a local river, some residents probably accumulated piles of it to manure their fields, gardens or orchards, perhaps in some cases even to sell it (dung was also used by tanners). At Coventry some of the dumping areas for dung became also pick-up places for local farmers, seeking manure.

At Lynn, where street cleaning was again the responsibility of householders, a garbage collection service was experimented from 1426, after an entrepreneurial carter offered his services for £3.6s.8d a year. The borough government ordered that every household contribute a basic 5s. a year towards this cost, with ½d increments based on the value of the property (in terms of annual rent), plus ½d. for every beast kept on the property. The ward constables were instructed to choose an individual per ward to assess the appropriate amounts per house. This initiative took place during a period when various efforts were being made to create more sanitary conditions in the town. In 1439 we hear of special arrangements for butchers to dispose of the entrails of slaughtered beasts. They were to be carted just beyond the town – those from animals killed in the southern section of the town to Le Balle and those in the northern section to Dowshill – and dumped into the Ouse estuary between half ebb and low tide. To reduce the offense caused to the public, it was ordered that the carts or barrows used have covers, in the fashion of those at London. The order about closed carts were repeated in 1446, when it was also specified that carts carrying dung could only only go through the town on Wednesday and Saturday, and fines were set for anyone dumping dung or other filth in the river or ditches.

In many towns, however, responsibility remained squarely in the hands of the residents. This is exemplified at Worcester, in the terse command – part of a set of ordinances compiled in 1466 – that every householder keep the street clean and the pavement sound in front of his property, or paid a 40d. fine. Only communal spaces were the responsibility of the communal government. At Leicester a set of by-laws in 1499/1500 provided for the chamberlains to allocate 13s.4d as wages so that the council could engage someone to clean the marketplace each week and dispose of the rubbish collected in a spot to be designated by the council; weather permitting, he was to complete the disposal between the last market session (Friday) and the following Tuesday evening, so that the marketplace was clean for the next market on Wednesday. At the same time it was prohibited for anyone to place muck in the Saturday marketplace, or to break up the pavement there when installing booths during fair time.


While street maintenance may have been a communal task – the Coventry ordinance of 1423 above being reiterated in 1495, with the added provision that defaulters would not only be fined but obliged to pay the cost of repairs (to be arranged by the sergeant) to their portion of the pavement – the original paving of streets called for greater organization and fell naturally within the scope of activities of local government. In 1442 the leet jury instructed the mayor to arrange for pavers to work on the streets, with their wages to be covered through a special levy on householders; so this might be looked on as a form of commutation of the labour technically due from the community. In 1474 pavers were warned to do their work well, or face having to redo it at their own costs.

Paving the marketplace and the principal streets was a fairly common activity in the fourteenth century and is documented in some towns even in the thirteenth century. For instance, at Leicester in 1341/42 the authorities paid two pavers and an assistant to work on part of the cattle market for about a week, with another labourer paid just to break up the stones carted there, and the original Guildhall Lane was also worked on. Although the community could be called on for upkeep of the pavement, the original laying of pavement represented a new expense for which the authorities had to find some source of funding. In 1379 it was clearly acknowledged at Leicester that the borough chamberlains were responsible for financing the repair and maintenance of town gates, walls, ditches, bridges, pavements, houses and any other part of the urban fabric belonging to the community; previously the mayor had been the official accountant.

At Exeter it was decided to use a special revenue, granted them by the king for the purpose of wall building or repair, for other public works. The murage account of 1341/42 included a section on the repair of a particular road. Whether such work was typically within the purview of the muragers is unclear, but the principal financial officers of the city (called receivers) make little reference to such in their accounts; the muragers dealt not only with maintenance of the walls but also with the conduit, and perhaps road maintenance generally, although repairs to the Guildhall remained the responsibility of the receivers, and bridge maintenance had a dedicated officer.

Just as towns could sometimes persuade the king to grant them the right to collect murage, we find also grants of pavage. These begin to appear in the latter years of Henry III's reign Grimsby, for example, was given permission in 1261 to levy specified tolls for four years, to finance repairing its port, paving, and walling the town, and in 1268 Shrewsbury was conceded a three-year pavage toll on grain. The latter may be associated with the approval he gave for the relocation of the marketplace to Gombstall Street (the High Street) from the churchyard of SS. Alkmund and Juliana, on the grounds that the latter was too muddy and filthy; this relocation was in 1276 reiterated as explanation for Edward I's confirmation of a renewal, which was further extended in 1278 for five years. The following year the bailiffs and men of Chester were granted a toll of ½d. per cartload of firewood or coal for three years.

Edward I was fairly liberal in grants of special tolls such as murage, quayage, pontage and pavage. Pavage grants were, however, not common before 1300, only a handful leaving a trace in the records and these to a mixed bag of towns: Grimsby and Chester still active, the episcopal towns of Canterbury and Lichfield (the latter at least at the incentive of the bishop), and some smaller towns such as Gainsborough. In the last case we see the example of a town whose lord, in encouraging paving, was seeking to increase the attractiveness of the place to settlers and traders, and thereby enhance the revenues he earned from the town; the attempt to develop new towns appears to be a recurring theme in the early history of pavage. That our records are, however, incomplete is indicated by the case of Cambridge, for which we find no pavage grants, but periodic references to auditing of pavage accounts, and orders to the town authorities to ensure that the collectors appeared before the auditors; since the only other recipient known to have been audited was Beverley, perhaps the problem at Cambridge was related to the town-gown tensions (the chancellor of the university always being among the auditors).

In the last years of Edward I's reign the number of pavage grants was on the increase, but it was with the accession of Edward II that the floodgates opened. Just a few months after coming to the throne he granted the earl of Lancaster's request for a two-year pavage for the earl's burgesses of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and renewed for three years his father's grant to Huntingdon. In 1308 the earl of Richmond, one of the lords of Boston, obtained a five-year grant for his town; after its renewal for another five years, another of the town's lords, William de Roos obtained his own grant of both pavage and pontage. Lincoln, Derby and Spalding also obtained pavage grants in 1308, although only for three years, and York a four year grant of murage, pontage and pavage. How the citizens of York were to decide which wares brought to the city for sale would be subject to which tax was not specified; this was, or became, a matter of concern for the royal government, which in some later instances specified that no wares should be subject to more than one type of tax at a time, and even ordered the collection of one tax to be suspended during the period another was levied. Similarly, he ordered quayage not to be collected at Scarborough on any goods on which pavage and murage were levied, during the seven-year term of a grant (1308); this did not, however, prevent an eight-year renewal, in 1312, of Edward I's grant of quayage, so evidently certain wares remained that were not subject to the other tolls.

Multiple tolls could of course present a disincentive to trade, and result in complaints, such as that of the "poor inhabitants" of London in 1309, who accused the city rulers of levying excessive local taxations and tolls (including murage and pontage), as well as court fees, and then of misappropriating the proceeds; this was in the context of a looming political struggle between reform and conservative factions in the city. And during the term of York's pavage grant the king received complaints from the abbot of St. Mary's and the master of St. Leonard's hospital that the mayors were levying pavage, murage, pontage and other tolls and tallages from the men of their liberties, although again these complaints have to be understood in the wider context of the jurisdictional disputes going on. It was not uncommon for town authorities to be given an inch and to try to take a mile.

A sequence of pavage grants, totalling twelve years, had been made by Edward I to Beverley and in 1309 this was continued by his successor for a further seven years. Middlewich obtained a grant for three years, as did Grimsby, the latter being renewed for a like period in 1312. Apart from the renewals already mentioned, 1312 saw a three-year grant to Hereford and – again a renewal of a grant by Edward I – eight further years of pavage allowed to Lichfield, although the reason for that grant, made to the Bishop, was partly to build a wall around the cathedral precinct and the pavage planned may also have been for the same vicinity.

The next few years saw a number of towns, large and small, jump on the band-wagon. Recipients of pavage grants in 1314 included Pontefract (three years), Nuneaton (five), Worcester (four), Ilkeston (three), Ely (eight), Lincoln (seven), as well as a seven-year extension to Hereford. The earl of Lancaster, having as mentioned won favour in his request on behalf of Newcastle, tried his luck again, and obtained in 1314 a five-year grant on behalf of Preston-in-Amounderness (Yorkshire); in July 1316 he asked the same for Lancaster and Leicester and was given seven-year grants for each. In 1315, Dudley, Southwark, Stafford, Warwick, Peterborough, Weobley were beneficiaries, and Spalding obtained a new grant. The following year it was the turn of Doncaster, Droitwich, and Wisbech, besides those towns already mentioned. Tamworth and Kingston-upon-Hull had their opportunity in 1317, Tonbridge in 1318. The following year saw new or repeat grants to Atherstone, Boston, Birmingham, Weobley, Worcester York; in 1320 it was Barton-upon-Humber, Canterbury, Exeter, Lichfield, Tamworth again, and London, and in 1321 Droitwich, Bristol, Gloucester, and Worcester once more.

In the last years of Edward II's reign the number of pavage grants dropped off, perhaps reflecting the preoccupation of the royal government with political problems. Those problems are reflected in the single largest pavage grant made, of ten years duration, to Tewkesbury, of which Hugh le Despenser junior was lord. It was certainly one of the characteristics of grants that a number were made at the request of some dignitary with the ear of the king; but many have no such affiliation. The only other issue of note during these years were investigations of Southwark's administration of pavage, on suspicion of misappropriation of funds, which went beyond audits to an inspection of the state of paving there; within a year of Edward's overthrow, the new government turned over partial administration of one of the Southwark manors (held by the king)to the London authorities and in November 1327 appointed four of the most prominent Londoners – mayor Hamon de Chigwell, Nicholas de Farndon, Henry de Sechford and Gregory de Norton – as auditors, with instructions to remove pavage proceeds from the hands of the collectors, ensure it was applied to paving, and to punish the collectors according to the gravity of their crimes.

That pavage grants could sometimes be a political football is also indicated by the case of Cambridge, mentioned above, and those of Blyth (Nottinghamshire) and Pontefract, both of whose pavage grants were revoked (respectively, 1305 and 1327) after complaints that they had been obtained without community consent; the Pontefract complainants went so far as to say the grant would work to their disadvantage – perhaps they were concerned about a disincentive to commerce. However, within a couple of years in each case – a shrieval investigation having first been required at Blyth – new grants were sought and obtained.

This unscientific sample survey suffices to show how widespread was the demand for subsidization. Does it reflect an intensification of urban initiatives to pave the streets, or at least the marketplaces, in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries? Or was it simply that urban authorities saw a revenue available for the asking, and took advantage of the opportunity for whatever end? We cannot be sure. However, the king was not entirely careless in disposing of these opportunities to reap a small financial harvest. He expected the towns to be accountable, which entailed keeping records of how much money was collected and how it was spent. It may not have universally been the case, but at least some of the pavage accounts were audited. Occasionally this was in reaction to some complaint – whether well-founded or scurrilous we are again uncertain – that pavage revenues were being put to other, usually private, uses. Such was the case at Beverley, at the end of its granted term, in 1316; that there was no renewal may suggest that the investigation turned up something, or it may simply mean that Beverley had no further needs at that time. In 1313 the Lincoln accounts were subject to examination after a similar complaint, but the renewal it received the following year suggests exoneration.

On other occasions, an audit appears to have been more a routine procedure. A few days after renewing Huntingdon's pavage in 1307, the king ordered an audit of the grants made by Edward I. By contrast, the king had the accounts of two pavage terms audited before renewing Beverley's pavage (1308). The grant that same year to Derby was conditional upon the account being rendered at the Exchequer, but this had something to do with the status of the commissioned collector, who was a royal servant. Instead, however, a commission was appointed to handle the audit, after the collector himself charged that one of the men to whom he had delegated the duty had collected a good deal of money but converted it to personal use and left the pavage unfinished. On the whole it seems likely that pavage revenues were indeed collected for purposes of improving the public thoroughfares, but a proper study of the subject is still awaiting its historian.

Pavage grants continued to be made throughout the fourteenth century, although there was not the same volume of demand as found in its opening decades. The fifteenth century saw far fewer grants, perhaps because marketplaces and principal streets were already paved in many towns, and maintenance costs were now being more commonly borne from the borough budgets.

At Leicester it was the lord of the town who once more took the initiative and levied pavage in 1344/45, so that two approach roads to the East Gate could be paved, with the mayor organizing the work. Mary Bateson has suggested [Records of the Borough of Leicester, vol.2, xxxix] that it was to avoid this unwelcome intervention that the local authorities seem to have been particularly zealous about cleaning and repairing roads and bridges whenever royalty or other dignitaries were about to visit, so that no complaints reached the ears of their lord. Southampton received a series of royal grants, each lasting several years, in 1384, 1391, and 1398, for example. Yet in 1477 when the major thoroughfares were again said to be in bad shape, the solution pursued by the authorities was to obtain orders from the king requiring every householder in those particular streets to finance repairs to the part in front of their houses. This responsibility remained in effect for almost three centuries, but the appointment of the town paver a few years later assured the expert labour needed for the work.

Northampton had earlier (1431) successfully petitioned the king, through parliament, for letters patent approving an ordinance the corporation had drawn up, again applying to selected major streets in the town, but without the likely exaggerated pleas of poverty that Southampton authorities had used. In the case of both towns the householder's responsibility extended "from the front of the messuage or tenement as far as the middle of the channel of the highway, and in breadth from one corner of the house to the other" [C. Markham, ed. The Records of the Borough of Northampton, vol.1 (1898), 287]. A limitation was placed on the liability of householders in the marketplace, so that they were responsible only for the pavement thirty feet out in front of their houses; the remainder of the marketplace was the to be paved and repaired at the expense of the community. Northampton's mayor was authorized both to compel householders to comply, after three months grace following a warning, and to require juries to report on roads in need of repair; the compulsion allowed was not only the usual form of distraint, but also garnishing of rent due from the property.

Gloucester likewise petitioned parliament in 1455 for a statute to allow it to order property owners to maintain the pavement in front of their properties and, should they fail to comply, to be able to distrain them for the cost of repairs. Its request was unsuccessful.

Yet in 1478 four towns – Canterbury, Taunton, Cirencester and Southampton – petitioned for the same, and all received a favourable response. Much of the wording of these petitions is sufficiently similar as to suggest a coordinated effort, or at least employment of the same lawyer. What was common to these petitions was the request to require householders to keep in good repair the pavement in front of their properties, as far as the gutter in the middle of the street. And, if they failed to do so in a prescribed period (three to six months) following receipt of an official warning to carry out maintenance, for the borough authorities to have the right to effect the necessary work and distrain on the residents and the owners of any rents issuing from the properties, until the costs incurred in that work were recouped; tenants renting the properties were likewise to be allowed to withhold rent payments to recover their losses resulting from any distraint, or (in the cases of Taunton and Southampton) sue their landlords for debt.

The petitions also reflect some variation to the individual towns. Three of them justified their petitions on the grounds that paving in a poor state or no paving at all was a public danger, and there had been serious injuries in consequence. Canterbury, however, took a different tack, associating the lack of pavement with dirty and smelly conditions that brought the city – claiming to receive, as a pilgrimage site, more visitors from outside than any other in the realm – a bad reputation. All stated that the borough had no revenues dedicated to paving or maintaining pavement. Three indicated the particular streets they wished to target. In the case of Canterbury it was the entire high street from Westgate to Newgate, the street between Burgate and the marketplace outside the entrance to the cathedral precinct and then continuing west as far as the Blackfriars, and the lane connecting the marketplace and high street and then continuing south through St. Margaret's parish as far as the Iron Cross at the corner of St. Margaret's Street and Watling Street; these being considered the main thoroughfares for visitors to the city. Taunton specified its four main streets: North Street, East Street, Fore Street and High Street. Southampton had in mind its backbone route, English Street, between Bargate and the Watergate, as well as two other streets, unnamed but said to be very busy (probably Bull Street and French Street). The wording of the petitions did not preclude the authorities from applying their new power to paving elsewhere, however. Cirencester alone incorporated the request that its householders be empowered to assemble each Michaelmas and elect two wardens of the pavement. But it may be no coincidence that we hear of provisions for a paving supervisor at Southampton just four years later.

These towns, and probably others, were starting to perceive the necessity of greater control and direct involvement in maintaining the fabric of the streets. The same concern would also seem to be indicated by efforts at London, Oxford and Lynn to ban carts whose wheels were bound with iron from passing along urban streets. At Oxford, where the city and university administrations were often at odds, including over authority for street maintenance, the king had to intervene on numerous occasions throughout the fourteenth century to order the two to cooperate in enforcing the repair of streets by householders and in suppressing messy activities such as slaughtering. Following the riot of 1355 the king turned over responsibility for the city streets to the university; keeping public spaces such as the marketplace clean and paved, however, was the job of the borough authorities, although no office was created in relation to street cleaning until the sixteenth century.

At Nottingham we again see a transition from communal labour to government service underway. The case of Thrumpton vs. Bothale is one of several found among the court records in which an apparently private arrangement for road work went sour. In 1398 John Fullwood was suing Richard de Crophill for 3s.7d in wages for working with him on a causeway through the meadows, and in 1418 Thomas del Street sued John Crophill skinner for several debts, including 3s. he had loaned John as the latter's contribution towards the cost of paving in Pepper Street. Although we have no further details on the nature of these initiatives, the impression is of fulfillment of the obligations of householders to keep their street in good repair; rather than the entire neighbourhood working on these projects, they would contribute money to hire men to do the work.

By the close of the Middle Ages, the borough authorities had taken a hand. We cannot tell exactly when this began, due to the loss of many medieval records, but the chamberlains' account of 1463/64 has a brief section on paving costs and refers to the work of a paver, who was paid 6d. per toise, 44s. in all, while the town paid for stone and sand as well as spending 10d. on a wheelbarrow. The 1485/86 account has a much lengthier section detailing costs on road works – both repairs and new paving. For at least some of these a paver was hired on a per-project basis. Possibly minor jobs were handled by borough staff, as an account that has survived from 1499/1500 for one of the sergeants includes a claim for 18d. for road repairs and cleaning undertaken by him.

The chamberlains' account for 1493/94 has no section for road works, but there are a few items clearly associated with that kind of work; they include 1d. for hiring a paver for one project, but this can hardly refer to his wages (particularly since 8d. was paid to another person just to fetch the paver); the "fees" section of the account includes 15s. paid to the paver, probably not a full year's salary. In the 1495/96 account the road works section reappears; but apart from labourers setting in posts for causeways, there is no mention of a paver. However, in 1501 we have a document embodying the terms of engagement of a town paver, one Harry Chetill, who was to be paid a salary of 33s.4d and given a gown; his materials were to be supplied by the chamberlains. He was already at work on a paving project for the corporation, which was now made part of his salaried tasks. In the chamberlains' account for 1503/04 we find him still at work, although not apparently on the same basis, for in the list of fees he is paid only 3s.4d and he receives other payments for particular projects.


The tentative steps we see that some towns took towards instituting refuse collection and road works services may only represent initiatives in a few places. Most towns probably continued to rely predominantly on communal responsibility, as at Norwich where, in 1467, on the grounds of protecting the integrity of the river, the city assembly decided:

that every one dwelling in this City, poor people however oppressed with want alone excepted, shall apply his helping hand towards the following [works] in labour or money. That is to say thus, that every one whether he be occupier, owner, or farmer shall heap up over against his dwelling before the [...] day of May now next coming, all the filth in the streets opposite his dwelling to the middle [of the street] and then the owner of that dwelling shall be bound to cause to be carried away and removed all the dirt and filth out of the King's Street before the said day. And they have further ordained that when the said streets are dried up by the fineness of the weather, every owner of every dwelling shall level the street to the middle with sand or stone pavement, before the [...] day of June then next coming. Provided however that a beginning of the leveling shall be made at the higher part of the ancient water drain, so that the water falling in future may run down to the lowest part of the street as far as the great gutters called the Cokeys, or directly to the river, and that no one in future shall do injury to this drain by raising it too much or covering it with sand or pavement.
[J.C. Tingey, ed. Records of the City of Norwich, vol.2 (1910), 97]



It was not uncommon in the case of offences against the community for a heavy fine to be imposed to cow the offender; but – if the offender showed contrition – a substantial portion of it was then remitted, or held over the person's head as leviable should he or she re-offend.

The original has corruption, which Bateson thought referred to dead animals. It may perhaps refer to animal faeces, but the term corruption is, in this period, more commonly used in association with death.

"Concerning washing clothes"
A marginal notation suggests this clause was not proclaimed publicly with the rest; the council had presumably given it second thought.

I.e. the aldermen.

A measure of length used in France before the metric system and comparable to the English fathom of 6 feet; but since the Paris foot was slightly longer than the English, equivalent to 6ft. 4½in. When used to refer to area, it was equivalent to about 4.5 sq.yds. This measure was also used at Nottingham for assessing the amount of work completed in road paving, at 6d. a toise in 1486. At Leicester in 1341/42 the work seems to have been paid on the basis of a measure of area, the rod (if Bateson's translation is correct), at 1s. a rod.

"those at London"
Besides these special carts at London, the authorities ordered in 1369 that 12 two-horse carts be assigned to garbage removal. My survey here ignores London, partly because it was atypical and partly because street cleaning there has been well addressed in an article by Ernest Sabine (see bibliography to the introductory essay). A few key points may be mentioned here. By the late thirteenth century the ranks of city bureaucracy included scavengers, who supervised the state of the streets and dealt with those responsible for problems; from the late fourteenth century a "sergeant of the channels" had overall responsibility for supervising the streets. There were also rakers, who undertook the street cleaning. It was they who were served by the carts mentioned in 1369, which Sabine [p.24] notes was only an addition to an existing fleet perhaps three or four times that large. Some of the refuse was taken to the Thames for loading into dung-boats, which shipped it to some dumping ground outside the city. Each ward had four supervisors of pavement tempore Edward I, while in 1316 the city arranged for its masons to choose 6 men to carry out paving repairs. The ward aldermen were also empowered to hire pavers or additional cleaners for specific projects.

"fairly common activity"
For example, during the 1336/37 fiscal year at Lynn, 65s.10d. were spent on paving the marketplace.

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Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: January 7, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2019