Thursday, 28 October 2010

Historical Toilets, Baths and Kitchens - a Useful and Humbling Lesson

We gather this interesting and useful information from the Castle Museum in York.

In the beginning, there was the chamber pot. It came in handy at night, when one didn't, perhaps, fancy a trek to the outside lavatory in the rain.


Then came Moule's Earth Closet, which was patented by the Reverend Moule in 1860. The tank held dry earth, a measure of which was emptied into the toilet after use.  This fertile mix was then used in the garden.  Let us not dwell on the hygienic aspects of fertilising your kitchen garden with human excrement. Perhaps it was no wonder that the water closet became more popular.

The pan closet was extremely decorative.  However, it was also desperately unhygienic. According to the Castle Museum, "these closets where condemned by 19th-century sanitary inspectors as being truly filthy, as it was impossible to clean the container, and although there was a water seal when the pan was in position, foul smells escaped every time the pan was emptied".

The next stage in the evolution of the toilet was the high-level, wash-down closet.  During the 1880s, the ever-informative Castle Museum reveals, "Thomas Crapper developed the 'Valveless Water Waste Preventer' cistern, which is the mechanism that modern flush cisterns are based on". Hardly any technical progress has been made in the British Isles since Crapper's day.

Toilet roll soon entered the scene. The Castle Museum informs us that "the first toilet paper appeared in 1857. To avoid embarrassment chemists sold it from under the counter. The first roll of toilet paper was introduced in 1928, followed by soft paper in 1932 and coloured paper in 1957. Alternatives to bought toilet paper included newspaper cut into squares. Evidence from archaeological digs suggests that sponges, leaves, moss, stones and old clothing cut into squares were used before toilet paper was introduced".

Before there were taps, functioning or not, servants carried water for baths.   The bathroom was comfortable, with wallpaper, pictures on the wall and a fire. 

Tin bath
Poorer people had a tin bath, where the whole family could tend to their hygiene. 

The British tradition of scalding one's left foot while in the bath is a long and proud one.

During the 20th century, indoor plumbing became more and more common, and soon taps were introduced.

Scalding hot water comes
from a scary electric contraption
A 1940s kitchen
Kitchens, too had taps installed.  Hot water, naturally, came from a separate tap, as indeed it still does.

A rustic kitchen tap

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