Violent Water and Filth? People Fought Dirty in the Medieval Streets of Aberdeen, Scotland
City of Aberdeen, Scotland Medieval records show people took fighting dirty to a whole new level as they may have been throwing urine and feces at one another during arguments. Newly discovered documents say the city’s residents threw “watter and filtht” and “violent water or filth” at each other.
The burgh documents were lost for more than 200 years, until Jack Armstrong of the University of Aberdeen found them. Water was a synonym for urine back then.
Another professor at the university, Edda Frankot, told The Evening Express: “History in the past has often been of kings and nobles. These urban sources are special as they show us the fights of normal people – anybody can get into a fight.”
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And they certainly did fight. For example, Canny Leis was convicted on October 31, 1491 of throwing filth at David Theman, the Evening Express says. She got a warning that if she repeated such behavior she would be required to pay a fine that would be given to St. Nicholas Kirk (Church).
The former Kirk (Church) of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen was a site of much sad history during the Great Witch Hunt of 1596-1597. (AberdeenBill/CC BY SA 3.0)
The disgusting fights didn’t just happen in the streets either. Also in 1491, the wife of John Chalmers was charged with throwing filth about the house.
And in October 1494 Robert Kintor was found guilty of “distrubling” an officer of the court named Philip Dubrek. The authorities warned him he’d be fined if he threw “such violent water or filth” from his home again.
Researchers believe the altercations happened in pubs or between neighbors. As researcher Claire Hawes told the Evening Express: “The buckets would have been used as toilets, that’s what we think.”
But the fighting wasn’t just about feces flinging, there is also a recorded dispute between Scotland’s King James I and Highland clan chiefs.
"MacNab". A plate illustrated by R. R. McIan, from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, published in 1845. (Public Domain) The Aberdeen documents record a dispute between Scotland’s King James I and Highland clan chiefs.
On a completely different topic, there is mention of Aberdeen’s fine salmon fishing in the Mediterranean area too.
Even with these bizarre tales from the past, the archives of Aberdeen’s early council documents have been called a national treasure. They are complete from 1398 to 1511, except for the period of 1414 to 1434.
The documents about Aberdeen are nearly complete from the era of 1398 to 1511. (Evening Express photo)
Dr. Armstrong came upon this discovery when he saw a reference to passages from the city’s records from 1398 to 1658 in a catalog of medieval documents from ancient universities and colleges. That catalog was made in 1932. Dr. Armstrong then tracked the manuscript and found several pages that were copied from the missing volume in the 1700s.
The researchers intend to do more work to decipher other sections of the documents and make more revelations on life in the past in Aberdeen.
A few details about Aberdeen during the Medieval era and shortly after have made the news in recent years.
Ancient Origins reported on a mass grave with 25 bodies from the Medieval era excavated “just a couple of feet below” on the grounds of a private college in Aberdeen. The bodies, some from the 13th century, were discovered when workers were digging in the yard, where students and faculty walked daily for many decades since the college was founded in the 18th century.
Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, Scotland. (AbedeenBill /CC BY SA 3.0) Ancient Origins previously reported that 25 bodies from the Medieval era were discovered at this site.
We also reported on architectural features in a church in Aberdeen, Scotland, where accused witches may have been held during the Great Witch Hunt of 1596-‘97 and later strangled as an act of “mercy” and burned at the stake. One of the features is a ring attached to a stone pillar in St. Mary’s Chapel of the Kirk (Church) of St. Nicholas. The pillar is in one of two features where the accused were imprisoned: the chapel of St. Mary’s and the steeple of the kirk.
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An 1868 drawing of St. Mary’s Chapel, where accused witches were imprisoned in the 16th century as they awaited trial in Aberdeen. Credit: Open Space Trust/Mither Kirk Project
This is the same St. Nicholas mentioned earlier in this article. St. Nicholas underwent archaeological excavations in 2006 and 2007 to prepare for redevelopment. Remains of witches were not found because they would have been buried on ground that was not hallowed (holy). However, archaeologists did disinter 2,000 bodies, including 1,000 complete skeletons, of people buried under church buildings on the site in Aberdeen from the 11th to the 16th centuries.
Top image: Peasants Fighting (Public Domain)
By Mark Miller