Sunday, 9 October 2011

Victorian Servants Have Taken over the Book Club

Victorian servants - a jolly lot!
(Image from Caro Interiors)
We have been reading At Home (Doubleday, London 2010), by Bill Bryson, some more. (Read our previous blog post here.) The question of the relationship between indoor plumbing and the Victorian servant rears its ugly head again, and we feel compelled to quote some more Bill Bryson at you, for your edification and amusement.

  Before the advent of indoor plumbing, water had to be carried to each bedroom and then taken away again once used. As a rule each active bedroom had to be visited and refreshed five times between breakfast and bedtime. And each visit required a complicated array of receptables and cloths so that, for instance, fresh water didn't ever come up in the same receptable that waste water went down in. [...] If a guest or family member wished for a bath the workload rose dramatically. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds and a typical bath held 45 gallons, all of which had to be heated in the kitchen and brought up in special cans - and there might be two dozen or more baths to fill of an evening. (p. 98)

  This business of carrying water and waste up and down the stairs could, apparently, cause embarrassment. Until those enterprising Victorians thought to build separate staircases for servants! Bill Bryson quotes Mark Girouard telling us that,
 The gentry walking up the stairs no longer met their last night's faeces coming down them. (p.105)

  Aren't you glad you live in a house with plumbing, however British, eccentric and decaying?

A cheerful lady using a chamber pot.
(Image from Summertime 75.)

Related Reading
The Privy Counsel Book Club: At Home
Lucy Worsley and Jane Austen: Historical Toilet Etiquette

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