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PeteMC
09-05-2016, 12:22 AM
Hi, hope someone can help with this:

I'm writing secondary world fantasy so this doesn't need to be perfect with historical accuracy, but the setting is roughly early Tudor so I want something that's at least plausible with the available technology and techniques of the time. Basically my characters need to get rid of some dead bodies quickly, and are near a slaughterhouse in a medium-sized city. The line I've written is as follows:

"Moving bodies was harsh work, but there was a slaughterhouse at the bottom of the narrow and slaughterhouses had rendering pits out the back. That was half the reason the place smelled so bad, and a body stripped and shovelled into the lime would be gone come morning."

Is that reasonable, does anyone know? Wiki's page on rendering techniques doesn't have much to say pre-19th century but I'm sure it's been a thing for a lot longer than that.

Any advice greatly appreciated as always.

King Neptune
09-05-2016, 02:51 AM
Why would a slaughterhouse have lime pits? Rendering works cook the fat out. If the rendering vats were large enough, then they could toss the stripped bodies in and they would be cooked down to fat; the flesh and bones would sink to the bottom. A glue factory would be better, because the old cattle and horses that were too old or sick to be edible would just get boiled down and boiled down (after the fat was skimmed off) until there was nothing left but a sticky bunch of glue at the bottom of the vat.
On rendering
http://www.online-literature.com/bierce/2016/

Calder
09-05-2016, 04:14 AM
As has already been said, lime plays no part in rendering and there's no such thing as a 'rendering pit.' Inedible meat and offal was rendered (boiled) in large heated vats. The fat (tallow) floated to the top when the vat cooled. The one problem with dumping bodies into a rendering vat is that when in operation, they were very often attended by people stirring the contents, feeding the fire etc. If you're looking for a place to dump bodies in Tudor times, especially in a city, try the local river. Even today, on average, fifty bodies are fished out of the River Thames every year.
Alternatively, in large cities in the Middle Ages - including Tudor times - an outbreak of plague, or smallpox, or cholera was quite a regular occurrence, you could dump the body in a freshly dug plague pit (massed grave)

jclarkdawe
09-05-2016, 07:18 AM
Decomposing a body takes a lot longer than a few hours. Even cremation takes longer than an hour and that sort of intense heat won't completely destroy the body. Bones are fairly distinct and a human femur would be noticeable in a bunch of animal bones.

Personally I'd go with either feeding the body to the pigs or weighing it down and sinking it in a bog.

But the big question is going to be who is looking and how hard.

Jim Clark-Dawe

PeteMC
09-05-2016, 06:41 PM
Damn, I had a feeling I'd got that all wrong.

Thanks for the help folks - I've already used the river once and we're in the wrong part of town now to do it again, I'll have to have a re-think. I plague pit would work, we've had a recent outbreak of disease in the city, I just need to decide where to put it.

I do love how there are always people who know the answer to questions like this on here! :)

waylander
09-05-2016, 06:49 PM
Pretty antisocial thing to do but they could dump the bodies down the nearest well

CWatts
09-05-2016, 07:48 PM
Pretty antisocial thing to do but they could dump the bodies down the nearest well

Could they put it down a privy pit? Or were people still just dumping into the street?

ironmikezero
09-05-2016, 08:27 PM
As Jim suggested, I suspect the pig solution is far more likely to have been pragmatic (and pretty damned efficient) within your time frame. It's surprising how quickly a herd of pigs (domestic or wild) could dispose of a body.

benbenberi
09-05-2016, 09:41 PM
Problem with using a privy pit is that they generally got cleaned out from time to time (night soil being a valuable commodity). Just your bad luck if you dumped a body in one, and it got hauled out the next week.

If you can't get the body to the river I would also vote for the pigs. Though depending how many there are, how hungry and how closely looked after, they may not completely dispose of the evidence before somebody notices.

Then there's always the Sweeney Todd solution. Meat pies, anybody?

A lot depends, of course, on how long the body needs to stay hidden, and who would care.

Bolero
09-06-2016, 12:09 AM
Going back to the original question because my first thought was "I don't think there were slaughter houses then" - documentary I saw fairly recently on a town, talked about the slaughtering being done by the butchers in the shambles at that period. So cattle/sheep/pigs driven right up to the butchers and bashed on the head, possibly even in the street, then jointed in the butchers and sometimes the head of the animal put outside the shop to show what was for sale and how fresh it was.

Addition - having gone on to google Butchers Shambles, did come up with this
http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/medieval/the-shambles

Which said a lot of the butchers shops had slaughterhouses at the back. But that was personal slaughterhouses.

Other than that, I vote for plague pit - or possibly a pauper pit - they could be left open for a while. You would want to remove decent clothing, boots etc as any pauper would not go in with anything worth having.

PeteMC
09-06-2016, 01:25 AM
I've gone with the plague pit for now as that fits with the world but I'm only in draft so I can always change it - I like the pig idea better I must admit, but we're in a cramped, semi-industrial city (tanneries, forges, coopers etc) loosely based on old Edinburgh.

Would people have kept pigs in any quantity within city walls in, say, 1540-ish? My characters have six fresh corpses to get rid of so I'm guessing I'd need a fair few pigs for that.

As I said in the OP it's fantasy not historical so I have some wiggle-room, but don't want to do anything that will sound too daft.

King Neptune
09-06-2016, 02:11 AM
Would people have kept pigs in any quantity within city walls in, say, 1540-ish? My characters have six fresh corpses to get rid of so I'm guessing I'd need a fair few pigs for that.


Yes, there would have been piggeries within the city. They were garbage dumps and sources of food. As garbage disposals they were necessary near the sources of garbage. Food wasn't wasted the way it is now, but there still was enough to fatten the swine. They would have been kept in odd corners where people were unlikely to go, and preferably on the downwind side, and near the river would have also helped. I would suspect that there was a piggery in the Docklands in London until about a hundred years ago, maybe less, or it may have been across the river from there.

Swine near the sewers according to this.
http://www.localhistories.org/tudorlondon.html

PeteMC
09-06-2016, 09:11 PM
Thanks mate!

dirtsider
09-06-2016, 11:14 PM
If you're interested, you might want to watch Tudor Monastery Farm (from BBC). It covers farming in the year 1500. It has some really interesting information for your story, although not for this particular question.

Perhaps your characters might sell the bodies to a medical school of the time? Or at least leave the bodies at different locations where the medical students were likely to find them? http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/body_snatching.aspx
(http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/body_snatching.aspx)
Another idea is charnel houses or mausoleums or even potter fields where those too poor to afford a decent burial get buried.

PeteMC
09-08-2016, 12:52 PM
Oh thanks, haven't heard of that one. I'll have to see if it's online somewhere.

dirtsider
09-08-2016, 09:06 PM
I think the series may be on YouTube, at least. Make sure it's the one with Ruth Goodman and Peter Ginn. Another series (by the same people) is "Tales from the Green Valley". These I'm pretty sure are on YouTube.

Tales from the Green Valley focuses just on the farm/farming jobs but in the year 1620. So it's on the other end of what you're looking for (it's the time period of the first Stuart king, James I/VI). This was sort of the pilot for the Farm series by the BBC.

The Tudor Monastery Farm focuses on more than just the farm and the work associated with that. On one hand, it addresses the tenant farmer's relationship with the Church and more craft related jobs (such as lead mining and lead's use in making stained glass windows, salt production, etc.).

benbenberi
09-09-2016, 12:44 AM
Ruth Goodman has a book out now called How To Be a Tudor (https://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Tudor-Dawn-Dusk/dp/1631491393) that has a lot of pretty well-researched details about the practical aspects of daily life in the 16c. It may have some useful tidbits for you!

dirtsider
09-09-2016, 11:07 PM
Ruth Goodman has a book out now called How To Be a Tudor (https://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Tudor-Dawn-Dusk/dp/1631491393) that has a lot of pretty well-researched details about the practical aspects of daily life in the 16c. It may have some useful tidbits for you!

Got that one. :lol:

Ian Mortimer has one on the Elizabethan period: The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England.

PeteMC
09-10-2016, 05:44 PM
Ruth Goodman has a book out now called How To Be a Tudor (https://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Tudor-Dawn-Dusk/dp/1631491393) that has a lot of pretty well-researched details about the practical aspects of daily life in the 16c. It may have some useful tidbits for you!

That looks like exactly what I need for this, thank you! Order dispatched :)

Maythe
09-16-2016, 10:35 AM
That's an excellent book. My fantasy novel's setting is a bit later than tudor but that book and the victorian one helped me to think about how people's lives are in my world. The details can bring a setting to life - like victorian people had a mat by the bed to step on in the cold morning and the size and material would depend on the affluence of the family. I wish she would do a Jacobean or Stuart one.

MDSchafer
09-16-2016, 05:01 PM
Another book I would recommend is Life in a Midieval City by Frances and Joseph Gies.

PeteMC
09-16-2016, 07:30 PM
Book arrived this morning and looks perfect for what I need, many thanks for the recommendation.