Nuisances and their punishment in eighteenth century Kilkenny
Edward J. Law (2013)
In the 1770s Kilkenny was a fashionable city, the centre of social life for the gentry of the county and beyond, priding itself on its gentility and urbanity. There was a lengthy theatre season which attracted theatrical troupes and visitors, from around the country. Because of the prosperity which accompanied the season the city elders were careful to uphold the agreeable atmosphere and regulated against nuisances and abuses which might reflect adversly on the character of the city.
Those who served the city as Mayor during the decade included Lord Desart and the Earl of Wandesford. The former receiving advice in the columns of the local newspaper, Finn’s Leinster Journal, to guard against milk being brought to market smoking as if newly drawn from the cow, when it had been skimmed and heated over a fire. The same correspondent warned of noggins of watered brandy being sold for the same price as unadulterated spirit.
In 1770 the Mayor had introduced a novel form of punishment for minor misdemeanors, a cage of a size sufficient to contain two or three people was suspended between two columns of the Tholsel. Miscreants were confined in the cage, to be spun around at the will of the passing populace. Among the early occupants of the cage were three fish-jolters or itinerant fishmongers, who were confined for quarrelling. This form of punishment was preferable to the more severe penalty of being whipped round the city streets which befell a hawker who tried to sell dried leaves as Bohea tea, and which there was no hesitation in administering to women.
In 1773 the Mayor, Ralph Gore, issued a proclamation dealing with a number of malpractices. While the city’s poor received relief, sturdy beggars and vagrants were encouraged to quit the city on pain of being brought before the Justices of the Peace and committed to hard labour. In an attempt to avoid frauds the city bakers were required to mark each loaf with their name, the quality and price; any found to be practicing frauds were to be fined and their names published in the newspaper. It seems that this deterrent was not entirely effective for there were regular notices of transgressors in the newspaper. Similar public humiliation faced others who used short weight or measure to defraud their customers, though a more humiliating penance was being made to sit in the stocks at the Market Cross. Butchers ignoring the statute against killing livestock in the area of their market stalls or indulging in any deceitful or unhealthy practices, were to be fined and imprisoned.
Although the city had scavengers to clean the streets, householders were to be fined five shillings if they disfigured streets, lanes or alleys by throwing out ashes, rubbish, dung or other filth. The imposition was one shilling on any inhabitant who failed to sweep the area in front of their premises before ten in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays, to enable the scavengers to collect and remove the dirt, filth and soil.
Free-range pigs roaming the streets for food were a common problem, and owners of the straying animals were to pay a fine of one shilling for each such swine; failure to pay would have led to the slaughter of the animal, with its flesh being distributed to the poor.
It seems that carters and draymen were felt to have more control of their vehicles when leading them for they were cautioned against riding on them through the streets. The streets had been made safer in the evenings with the erection of lamps. However, the elegant globes which were set on the battlements of John’s Bridge needed to be safeguarded, by the provision of a watch-house, from the destructive attentions of the city’s bucks, who were also partial to stealing door-knockers.