‘The greatest and most offensive nuisance that ever disgraced the capital of a kingdom’: The slaughterhouses and shambles of modern Edinburgh

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MacLachlan, Ian
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University of Edinburgh
The slaughter of domesticated animals and their butchering for food has been an important component of urban economic activity since the Neolithic revolution. But since the dawn of the modern period, butchery has been cast in a pejorative light, and the slaughterhouse has been gradually excluded from urban life either by forcing its relocation to the margins of settlement or concealing it from the public gaze. Livestock slaughter is among the earliest examples of a common nuisance and strictures on the location of animal slaughter are among the earliest examples of urban land use regulation in Britain. In medieval cities, the marketing and slaughter of livestock was often proscribed within the walls of the city, forcing livestock markets to locate outside the gates. The enforced removal of slaughterhouses to the margins of the city became a recurring problem as cities grew out and around what had been the urban periphery. Yet meat was a perishable product and in the pre-industrial era, butchers needed to slaughter close to the marketplace to avoid decomposition. To avert enforced suburban banishment, the butchers of Edinburgh had only one option: to conceal their activities and minimize the nuisance caused by uncontrolled livestock slaughter which accounts for five distinct regimes in the location and spatial organisation of slaughterhouses in Edinburgh from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. This paper describes the locational dynamics and material culture of Edinburgh's Fleshers and their urban livestock processing industry. By providing an empirical account of the national and municipal regulation of animal slaughter, this primary research may inspire further study into the place of the Fleshers in the development of the urban crafts and of health conditions in Scotland's capital city.
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Slaughtering and slaughter-houses – Edinburgh (Scotland) , Edinburgh (Scotland) -- Slaughtering and slaughter-houses
MacLachlan, I. (2005). ‘The greatest and most offensive nuisance that ever disgraced the capital of a kingdom’: The slaughterhouses and shambles of modern Edinburgh. Review of Scottish Culture, 17, 57-71.