Dogs were ubiquitous on urban streets in late medieval and Early Modern times. Reports suggest that more than five hundred dogs were killed in the Westminster parish of St Margaret’s as part of a plague prevention scheme in 1603. These were free-roaming dogs; many more populated the street scene. Certain itinerant tradesmen used dogs to accompany or help them, including bellmen, lantern carriers, tinkers, and knife-grinders. Butchers kept dogs to bait beasts before slaughter. Bigger households kept turnspit dogs, and ladies had lapdogs. Man and dog did not always enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Samuel Pepys mentions the irritation of being kept awake by a barking dog in his diary, and his experience was far from singular.
Noise was not the only concern. The fear of dog attack fueled a fashion for carrying walking sticks and canes. Many people were bitten, and some (mostly children) died. Many towns issued orders forbidding unmuzzled mastiffs or bitches on heat to “go abroad on the street,” particularly at night. In 1668 the Liverpool authorities ordered that all dogs “which can devour children or disturb others” be muzzled; seventeenth-century Manchester had a dozen officers responsible for enforcing a similar law. Many parishes employed dog-whippers to keep nuisance dogs out of congregations.
Using manorial and leet records, civic and borough documents, petitions, diocesan records, quarter sessions material, diaries and personal accounts, coroners’ reports, and trade company minutes, this chapter reveals the nuisances and dangers that dogs posed to people in late medieval and Early Modern English urban settlements. The key cities under study are London, Norwich, York, Portsmouth, Manchester, Southampton, and Oxford.