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Book and Media Reviews
January 2, 2008

Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England

JAMA. 2008;299(1):97-102. doi:10.1001/jama.2007.24

This book chronicles elements of the urban environment that irritated people and in some cases harmed their health. It explores a period of English history often overlooked by historians of public health, that preceding the sanitary-suburban revolutions of the late 19th century and the Georgian rebuilding programs of the late 18th and early 19th, to which we owe wide streets and airy squares. Emily Cockayne's evocative chapter titles—“Ugly,” “Itchy,” “Mouldy,” “Noisy,” “Grotty,” “Busy,” “Dirty,” and “Gloomy”—bring before us the hot, scratchy clothing people wore; the nauseating things they ate; the uneven, hole-ridden, and excrement-saturated surfaces over which they stumbled; the invasive cold and inescapable damp; and the clamor and stench from the intermingling of dwellings with the workshops in which noisy and noxious trades were conducted. The background shoutings of vendors, rattlings of wagons, and screams of animals in slaughter likewise contributed to the rich rot of everything organic.