This story of the Jew of Tewkesbury seems funny at first for the pig-headed stubbornness on display – until one considers the undercurrent of anti-semitism… and, of course, the revolting undercurrent in the privy pit (although one scholar has claimed that the story is not anti-semitic).
And in this year, that is to say the year of our lord 1258, there fell a Jew into a privy at Tewkesbury upon a Saturday, the which would not suffer himself to be drawn out of the privy that day for reverence of his Sabbath day: and Sir Richard of Clare, then Earl of Gloucester, hearing thereof, would not suffer him to be drawn out on the morrow after, that is to say the Sunday, for reverence of his holy day; and so the Jew died in the privy.
(Fabyan’s Chronicles 1516)
Amazingly, these accidents were not that uncommon. In 1326, one Richard the Raker, a latrine cleaner, fell through the rotten boards over his privy and drowned ‘monstrously in his own excrement.’ It’s hard to know if it’s better to drown in one’s own excrement or somebody else’s.