Just inside Monk Bar is a small lane leading under an arch. Today it is called Monk Bar Court, but in the 16th century it was known as Elbow Lane.
All householders in the city were required to keep the street in front of their properties clean and swept of dust, dirt, rubbish, animal droppings and anything else that stopped the road looking neat. These ‘sweepings’ were taken to the nearest midden, which for the inhabitants of Monk ward in 1575 was in a garden in Elbow Lane owned by Thomas Barker.
Far from objecting to having a midden in his garden, Barker seems to have viewed it as a source of profit. The contents of a midden made for good fertiliser, and the neighbours had clearly objected that Barker making people pay for it.
The wardmote jury demanded that he allow free access to the midden ‘for any man to carry away with oute monye’ and that it was not to be sold as it had been. Barker faced a fine of 20s if he didn’t comply, a not inconsiderable sum at the time.*
We don’t know why the civic authorities chose Barker’s garden as the site of the ward midden, but it is surely significant that Elbow Lane is right on the edge of the city, next to the walls. I wrote a whole thesis on rubbish disposal and it’s a subject that fascinates me: the notion of what is considered dirty or unwanted, and the point at which rubbish or dirt is excluded, can tell us a good deal about a society and its priorities.
* YCA E31, fol.14. By kind permission of City of York Council Archives and Local History. www.york.gov.uk/archives