University researchers discover what fighting dirty really meant for Aberdeen’s medieval citizens

Today you’re most likely to find people kicking up a stink on social media.

But researchers have found medieval Aberdonians used to have far smellier, more repellent, methods of working out their aggression.

Several incidents have been unearthed of people who lived in the Granite City during the 15th Century throwing buckets of excrement at each other during fights.

Documents which were lost for more than 200 years reveal cases where “wattir and filtht” had been thrown during such altercations.

Academics confirmed the contents were probably faeces and urine, but welcomed the findings as providing an insight into the lives of ordinary Aberdonians during that period.

Dr Edda Frankot, of the University of Aberdeen, said: “History in the past has often been of kings and nobles.

“These urban sources are special as they show us the fights of normal people – anybody can get into a fight.”

The information comes from recently discovered copies of medieval burgh records.

The invaluable records were uncovered by Dr Jackson Armstrong.
The invaluable records were uncovered by Dr Jackson Armstrong.

On October 31, 1491, Canny Leis was reported as being convicted of throwing “filth” on David Theman.

She was warned that if she ever did it to him again – or to any other reputable person – she would have to pay a fine of 5 merks which would go to St Nicholas Kirk.

A log from October 10, 1494, shows that Robert Kintor was convicted of “distrubling” Philip Dunbrek, an officer of the court.

He was warned he would be fined if he ever threw “such violent water or filth” out of his house again.

A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue states that water could be used to describe urine.

Another entry from 1491 shows the “wife of John Chalmers” was in the dock for chucking filth around the house.

Although no information is given about locations for the incidents, it is believed most would have taken place in pubs or were the results of disputes between neighbours.

Researcher Claire Hawes added: “The buckets would have been used as toilets, that’s what we think.”

The archive of the city’s earliest council registers is considered to be a national treasure because it is near-complete in its coverage of the period 1398-1511 – with the exception of the missing “third” volume, running from 1414 to 1434.

Information from the lost documents were found by the university’s Dr Jackson Armstrong.

His curiosity was pricked by a reference to “very curious extracts from the records of the city of Aberdeen 1398-1658” in a catalogue of the medieval holdings of ancient universities and colleges produced in 1932.

When he tracked the manuscript, by James Man, he found a number of pages had been copied from the missing volume back in the 1700s.

So far, a dispute between King James I of Scotland and Highland clan chiefs, as well as Aberdeen’s Mediterranean reputation for salmon, have been found in the logs.

The research team will continue to work on the sections that have yet to be deciphered which could lead to further revelations.