Filthy Cities: Medieval London

Sep 17, 2023 | History, Videos

The city of London is one of the oldest and most historically-rich cities in the world. Hidden away in its past, however, lies an unknown and unsightly secret; The London we know today is built atop a seething cesspool of disease and filth from the 14th century. Through a unique documentary series hosted by historian Dan Snow, viewers can take an imaginative tour through the streets of 14th century London and understand what life was truly like for its citizens.

At this point in London’s history, population had exploded to nearly 500% more than it had been only two centuries prior, leading to overcrowding throughout the city. The streets were filled with people and animals alike, so much so that traffic was only permitted to move along a single lane. Shop fronts opened directly onto roads while animals freely roamed about, leaving their waste behind as they went.

What lay beneath these citizens’ feet made matters even worse. Foreigners came to London for its reputation as a great trading hub and general freedom of life, yet they found dirt instead of gold when they arrived. Mud and animal dung mixed with rotting fish, beer, urine and human excrement created a moist layer on top of which the city dwellers would walk – all filled with disease-ridden bacteria and filth. Shoes were specifically created to lift people up above this muck while walking around – breathing a bit easier – thus giving rise to street names such as Seething Lane, Gutter Lane, or Staining Lane.

Snow takes us back through historical documents as well as staged reenactments to give us an honest look at life in the 14th century London – one that’s almost hard to fathom now 700 years later! To learn more about the unspoken secrets of medieval London and gain insight into the lives of its citizens during this period in time tune into Dan Snow’s “14th Century London” documentary series today!

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David B