Town life

Daily life in town

Anglo-Norman street scene12th century bread oven baseThe townsfolk of 11th - 12th century England usually worked close to where they lived, often in the same building. Those involved in crafts worked in small workshops each run by a master with a few helpers. Practitioners of many crafts, or groups of crafts, such as cloth workers or metal workers, were often to be found in the same part of the town and this enabled the creation of gilds for mutual support. Almost all work was manual work; the most demanding tasks requiring the management of heat as in metalworking and glass making.

Most townsfolk lived largely on bread, cereals and vegetables. Meat was only eaten in large quantities by the rich. Food was brought into towns from the countryside, but there was also plenty of space in towns themselves where animals were kept and crops grown.

12th century wooden lavatory seat,  Coppergate, York [York Archaeological Trust] Once the digestion had done its work a person resorted to the cess pits which were dug in the backyards behind the houses. Archaeological analysis of pit fill has revealed not only food remains such as seeds and fruit stones, but moss used as toilet paper, and millions of microscopic eggs of the gut parasites which were a constant source of stomach ache! Conditions in the yards were clearly not Musician from Canterbury cathedralhygienic as wells for water were dug next to the pits. Infectious diseases for which there was no cure meant few people lived more than 40 years.

When they were not at work townsfolk enjoyed a variety of diversions including music, dancing and board games. They also spent time in church which was more or less compulsory on Sundays and certain feast days. At same time religious institutions had an important role in the urban economy and provided many townspeople with a living.

previous page  The Anglo-Norman Territories  next page