Review: Filthy Cities – Medieval London

Review: Filthy Cities – Medieval London

Dan is about two blocks from my work in this photo

Well, my particular forest is quite disgusting.

To be honest, that’s one of the things I adore about it. Only a couple of places in the world have a continuous, multi-thousand-year history of dog-eat-dog hustle that can hold a candle to London’s particular mercantile chaos.

London. The original, the template for that particular foul-smelling, winner-take-all global arena. For much of its history it has been literally full of shit.

And weirdly, shit is something Dan Snow seems genuinely interested in.

Oh Dan, like I wasn’t already obsessed enough with your piercing blue eyes, Oxbridge accent and unstoppable nerd-passion for history. Now you have to go and computer animate medieval London and show everyone how crazy and disgusting it was? All I can say is that I can’t be blamed if the constabulary find me crying and going through your garbage in the middle of the night.

Now you’re pouring medieval waste onto the streets I walk down to buy my frikking lunch?! Amazing.

This is genuinely fascinating stuff. If you haven’t seen Dan in action before then you are in for a treat. His passion for history is absolutely infectious.

One of the key reasons I like programmes like this is that they serve as antidotes to that all-too-often indulged romanticisation of the past that magical folk tend to indulge in. Sure, the past was amazing but it was also so covered in shit that they had to invent platform shoes to go on top of their existing shoes just to walk down the street.

I watch a lot of documentaries. I think about reviewing them on this blog. But then I look for the magical angle and wonder if it isn’t too tenuous.

For instance, one of the BBC’s best documentary series last year was the Normans. In the first episode, the presenter explains how in northern France Christianity overlaid oven the Norse beliefs of payment and sacrifice to the gods and this more than anything, is why the North of England (and France) have such amazing Norman abbeys. You see, once you had butchered/conquered/raped/invaded an area, you kinda needed to buy back God’s forgiveness. Now that God wasn’t Thor or Odin, that meant you built enormous abbeys and filled them with monks to pray for your soul and balance it out.

I love this idea simply because it shows that amazing Nordic pragmatism is at least a thousand years old. You could also spin it into a couple of posts about sacrifice and offering and the pre-Afro-Caribbean origins of paying the spirit world for physical effects in European magic and so on… But… Nah… This is a blog of action, of real world advice.

And my real world advice?

Watch this. Based on my Google Analytics you either live somewhere near London or live somewhere that London served as a template for (as well as a place to get the fuck away from). Documentaries are where it’s at at the moment.

It’s good, engaging history. You’ll get a lot out of it. And besides, the next one is about Paris. Filthy, filthy Paris. Brilliant!

If you’re in the UK you can watch it here. If you’re not in the UK… well… you know what to do.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a moderately attractive TV presenter saying dirty words in an Oxbridge accent. (This is seriously about 200 metres from my office. I’m annoyed I didn’t see them filming it.)


Add yours
  1. 1

    i have yet to understand the fascination with renaissance or medieval ‘fairs’ that so many people have. it was a hard life to live, short & uncomfortable. *sigh* i obviously don’t know what to do as i can’t find filthy cities anywhere online…

  2. 2
    Sandra Elton

    Very good, very informative, one thing missing though; Blackheath.
    The rows of people subsequently found, laid gently side by side, must have been the gentry of the day. Common people were buried in a communal grave in Blackheath – hence the name. Thousands of people were laid to rest in this communal burial ground and should have been mentioned.

  3. 4

    @Jonquil it’s pretty new and only 1 episode into its run so I’m sure it will show up on the usual sites in the next few days.

    Whoops! I mean I’m quite sure I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Good day to you, sir. I said good day!

  4. 5
    A Harding

    @Sandra Elton
    Blachehedfeld and means the ‘dark coloured heathland’

    There has never been any proof that there were burials in the heath. Firstly the soil is very poor and you wouldn’t get very far, also it was close to the Royal palace and grounds. I have loved the idea that it was true but alas it is not.

    The show itself was great if rather full on I’d say. Always wondered why Seething Lane was called Seething Lane…

  5. 6
    Janice Dutton

    I have just watched the first episode of “Filthy Cities”. I was sure that I would find it interesting but was not expecting quite what I saw. I have not been entertained so much for a long time! Dan Snow deserves a medal for what he has done for history programmes. I cant wait for the next episode.

  6. 8
    David Braniff

    I have now watched all episodes and was thoroughly entertained by all three. My question is, can we look forward to any more in the future, as I’m sure there are many other cities that have a similar disgusting (or worse) history.

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