I have spent much of the winter reading about our towns history and a pattern emerges. Mostly it is a pattern of disasters interspersed with the occasional slap up feast.
In the 1690s the town crier was paid the sum of two shillings to remind householders and shopkeepers not to let pics run free in Peascod Street. It is not just the smell that is a problem with pigs, but because they are smart, somewhat belligerent and will eat practically anything, they can be a real problem for a town attempting to attract the smart London set to visit more frequently.
Smell wasn’t just a problem in Peascod Street. The warren of streets behind the current Guildhall was once the site of the shambles, Windsor’s meat market. In the days before refrigeration the smell here would have been pretty awful and was one of the factors that convinced the council to add an extension to the Guildhall in the early eighteen hundreds, partly to remove the smelly neighbours. The quiet St Alban’s Street used to be called Fish Street, so we can presume the smell here was equally noisome.
Disease was ever present, although our ancestors had novel ways of stopping it dead in its tracks. During Elizabethan times there were various emergency statues drawn up during plague years calling for the summary execution of people escaping death in London for the cleaner air upstream in berkshire. Woe betide the poor chap who escaped Londons plague only to be strung up on the datchet road simply for having come from London to Windsor. Note also that these laws were not uniformly applied, not being considered sensible for ‘persons of quality’.
When the pigs had been cleared away and the plague died back everyone was in need of a party, but even this was an activity we wouldn’t recognise. Backswording and catching the greased piglets were both popular activities at the hog roasts that took place on Bachelors acre in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Don’t ask me what backswording was, because I haven’t a clue.