Lyme’s smelly past

LYMEONLINE informed us that the Marine Parade toilets are at last going to be subject to major refurbishment.

Elizabethan Lyme did not have a newspaper. If it had, it would have been reporting on measures to curb the unhygienic habits of its residents. It was commonplace to dump excrement and urine in the streets, the river and on the sea shore.

There were no public toilets and dwellings with a privy were rare. If one existed it consisted of a crude shaft running down to a foul-smelling cesspit. One outside privy was built under a neighbour’s window and the nauseous smell drove the afflicted people from their home!

In reality, most people used what was known in Tudor parlance as a ‘piss pot’, its contents being deposited in the street over time forming a dung-heap. Regulations to control such squalid actions were for the most part ignored.

The Court Books record numerous individuals brought before the court and fined. Sauder Durstand simply “cast his filth into the Mill Stream”. Richard Davies was slightly more community-minded; he went to Cobb Gate and “cast his filth on the sea shore about the full sea mark”.

The River Lim was an open sewer, cast into it was human waste, refuse, dead animals and even a barrel of offal. This caused the shingle bank where it entered the sea to become blocked. It had to be frequently dug out due to “filth backing up and causing a very offensive smell”.

Even the cemetery was not sacrosanct; students from the grammar school were defecating within its precinct while other children did likewise “before the market stalls”.

Little wonder a town scavenger was appointed to remove all dung heaps, an unpleasant task that had to be completed before nightfall on Saturday of each week.

Adding to the pollution was the ordure from livestock and domestic animals; a particular problem was the number of pugs roaming freely about the town. It is little wonder that rats and flies thrived in the befouled streets, as did disease.

Life expectancy ranged between 28-41 years, infant mortality was high with 14 per cent of babies dying before their first birthday.

Lyme’s recent problems with its public toilets pale into insignificance compared with the 16th century.

By local historian Peter Lacey

Peter Lacey’s book ‘Elizabethan Lyme Regis with a Biography of Sir George Somers’ is now on sale for £12 – call 01297 443630

Woodmead Halls
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