…the shit ran freely in the streets.
An excerpt from Christine A. Powell’s excellent online essay, “A Matter of Convenience”—
In Renaissance Scotland, the housewives threw their chamberpot contents and slops out the windows with the cry “Gardy Loo!” (This evidently derived from the French “Gardez l’eau,” meaning “Look out for the water!”) Unfortunately, the sound of the cry and the discarded material often arrived simultaneously. Woe to the one who looked up to see what was happening. It is believed that this may be the origin of the British term “loo” for a toilet (Pudney, 28-9). The high-rises of Edinburgh were hardly the only places in Europe to present a sanitation problem during this era.
Indeed, the period from 1550 to 1750 has been called the “two rather insanitary centuries.” When the court of Charles II spent the summer of 1665 in Oxford, the local diarist Anthony Wood observed they were “nasty and beastly, leaving at their departure their excrements in every corner, in chimneys, studies, coalhouses, [and] cellars.” Contemporary accounts and engravings frequently illustrate the morning ritual in English and Scottish cities of emptying one’s ordure out of upper-floor windows into the streets beneath (Wright, 75-8). It was not until the mid-1800s, when Dr. John Snow proved the connection between cholera and sewage-polluted drinking water, that cities began to control their waste (Colman, 46). There is no reason to suppose that Port Royal and other contemporary cities in the colonies were any cleaner than those in Europe during the “insanitary centuries.” (source)