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How Things Work: Keeping the Streets Clean

During the Middle Ages, street maintenance was considered the duty of individual property owners but such maintenance was uneven (that was a pun) so the City of Coventry (which is north of London) has hired street pavers for regular street maintenance and charge the property owners for the service. By 1474 the job of "paver" will be a recognized occupation and the city pavers of London will become a formal organization in 1479. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
There is evidence that towns in Sweden are also engaged in formal paving of the streets and marking the center line. The paving is done by laying down stone into patterns. Those paving patterns are also used to mark the borders of individual properties so that the owners know where the limits of their responsibility are for keeping the street clean. In the modern day one's property extends to the center-line of the street but that part of your property is usually gifted to the city for maintenance purposes. Other liens may apply such as the placement of electrical lines and access to those lines for maintenance purposes. While this makes practical sense, property owners still retain some control over who has access to their property... theoretically... but if the owner presses this point too hard, the authorities often take drastic measures to enforce their access rights. This system only works as long as everyone is reasonably flexible.

The Grand Sergeant: The Next Best Thing to Immortality

There is no good way to say this so let's quote the historian directly regarding jobs and the reason they exist in the 15th century... it's a religious thing...

In matters of utility or of ceremony medieval authority creates a special organ for every function, because it regards the function as an idea and considers it as an actual thing. The “grand sergeant” of the king of England comprised a dignitary whose office it was to hold the king's head when he crossed the Channel and was suffering with sea-sickness. A certain John Baker held this office in 1442, and after his death it passed to his two daughters.

-- Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages[3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Apparently jobs exist because God demands that certain jobs exist and not because it makes much sense. While one can imagine hiring some fellow to hold up the King's head when he gets sea sick, it is difficult to imagine such a job being a permanent position, much less an inheritable one unless one really believed that God ordained that such a job exist. No wonder a government program is considered the next best thing to immortality. It never dies.

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1442, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Jorgensen, Dolly. Cooperative Sanitation: Managing Streets and Gutters in Late Medieval England and Scandinavia. Technology and Culture, Vol. 49, No. 3, Water (July 2008), pp. 547-567 (JOURNAL) Quote: "Even though the cities demanded the individual participation of residents in maintaining the streets, they did not necessarily think that every individual would physically install new pavement. Instead, the Coventry council expected residents to pay for the services of professional pavers. In 1442, it ordered that the mayor hire street pavers, whose wages would be paid by collecting money from all free tenement-holders."
  2. Coventry - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  3. Huizinga, Johan. The Waning of the Middle Ages. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1985. pp. xx-xx. ISBN 0312855400. (BOOK) Quote: "All that acquires a fixed place in life is considered as having a reason for existence in the divine scheme."

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