Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530) would appear from his home, believed to be in Chancery Lane, every morning at 8 o’clock. He would ride his mule towards Westminster carrying an orange filled with vinegar to ward off the smell of the streets.
In medieval times, animals and people produced 50 tons of excrement a day and despite an ordinance banning the emptying of chamber pots out the window, the practice continued, making pavements all but impassable and the smell all but unavoidable.
Attempts were made at a clean-up. In 1369, King Edward III (1327-1377) banned butchers from slaughtering animals in the City but tanneries still operated and pigs were allowed to roam the streets freely.
In 1345, the dumping of rubbish attracted a huge two shilling fine but enforcement couldn’t keep pace with a growing city ill-equipped to handle hygiene.
Londoners did have a bathing regime, a legacy of the Romans and lessons from the Crusades. In Richard II’s reign (1377-1399) there were 18 public bathhouses in Southwark alone.
Meanwhile, city dwellers had a deep knowledge of the fragrances of the natural world and perfumes formed part and parcel of magic and medicine.
Clothes were rarely cleaned among the general populace but the equivalent of Fabreze was added to the washing water of those of high status. Edward IV (1442-1483) favoured the violet smell of orris root.
And, of course, commoners who did not enjoy such luxuries were simply “nose blind”, which accounted for its longevity and pungency.