Friday, 29 October 2010


 'Tis the season for unbridled horror and spine-chilling spookiness. Thus we bring you a look at the  toilet- and washing facilities of the average British workplace. Starting with the toilet, it is so revolting that we prefer not to dwell on it, especially not on the sticky spot on the floor.

This toilet had recently undergone some serious cleaning

Moving on to the tap, it takes horror and doom to new heights.  The mixer tap, predictably, only supplies cold water, and hot water is supplied by an electric contraption, which supplies either cold or scalding hot water.

The mug says "twat!"

Lest we upset our more sensitive readers (safety and comfort being ever our watchwords), here's a picture of a similar arrangement in a 1940s kitchen, at the Castle Museum in York:

Historical precedent!
 It's all very normal and safe, as you can see.
We shall pass over the hygienic aspects of washing one's hands in the same sink where one does one's washing-up.
Toilet roll is plentiful. There is no soap; however, washing-up liquid is supplied. The towels are imaginary and frightful.

Total points: -47

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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

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Brigantes Pub

If you're the kind of person who enjoys wearing a flat cap and gets a kick out of seeing three thousand beer mats displayed on a wall, then the Brigantes pub is for you! The beer is called "ale", a spade is called a "spade", and the food is really very good. The toilets, however, leave something to be desired.

The first thing one notices is the smell - like mould in drag. Moving on, the toilet roll is plain white and hygienically encased in a holder. The bin is covered, and at a comfortable distance from one's thighs. The flush is of the horizontal lever type, not too hard to pull, but not particularly easy either. The toilets are clean, but there is a disturbing water leak visible on the floor.

Water leak
There is a depressing air dryer, and incredibly depressing separated taps, with only cold water coming from the hot water tap.
Incredibly depressing

 The soap is unscented and comes, for some reason, with instructions.

Instructions for use

The coat hook is perfectly good. It is not possible to exit without touching the door handle; however there are amusing French prints on the walls.

Points:  4/15

Visited: 23 October 2010

Brigantes Bar and Brasserie
114 Micklegate
York YO1 6JX
Telephone: 01904 675355

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Roman Bath Museum - Crap on a Stick

The Roman Bath Museum is a little gem tucked away in a quiet corner of York. It exhibits the remains of the Roman baths, erected in order to keep the soldiers of Eboracum clean and hygienic, and stop them from declining and falling all over the place.

The Roman Baths - how it might have looked
The museum's Assistant Curator, Brad Kirkland, explains to the Privy Counsel how the Romans used advanced technology to make the walls of their baths heat-transmitting and waterproof. A giant furnace contained a boiler, partially encased in concrete, from which water was transferred into lead pipes and, Mr Kirkland assures us, extracted from a mixer tap! If only Roman technology were reintroduced into these barbaric lands!

A Roman bog
Each soldier had his own "bog roll on a stick", consisting of a stick with a sponge attached to it, for wiping his bottom. Should he lose his own stick, he need not despair - a bucket of communal sponges, hygienically soaked in vinegar, was available if times became desperate. Does the "good Roman" of New Testament fame suddenly appear in a new light?

The museum's Assistant Curator, Brad Kirkland, demonstrating the Roman "bog roll on a stick"
A happy archaeologist in a Roman sewer. Such an elevating profession!

The Roman Bath Museum
9 St. Sampson's Square
York YO1 8RN
01904 620 455

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Castle Museum

A very clean, if slightly antiquated, toilet

Continuing the museum theme, today we review the toilets at the Castle Museum.  This is a delightful museum, exhibiting, among other things, a Victorian street, famous jailbirds of York, and domestic interiors from different times. The Privy Counsel especially likes the different types of toilets on display, but you'll have to contain your excitement, as we will be writing about those another day.

The museum toilets have covered loo roll holders, with plain white loo roll. The bin is covered and does not push against one. The flush is the horizontal lever type, but is nonetheless easy to turn. The coat hook is exemplary, being sturdy enough for a rucksack and having space for a bag and a coat.

An excellent coat hook
The toilets are clean, but unfortunately sport an antiquated air dryer that gives The Privy Counsel the shivers. However, the taps have push levers, with a most amusing sign showing visitors how to use them.

A most amusing sign

Nonetheless, despite the lever design giving The Privy Counsel hopes of being able to wash our hands in pleasantly warm water, we were disappointed, as there isn't any.  The soap is unscented, and gets the thumbs-up for having been awarded the Scandinavian eco label.

Exemplary soap

 It is not possible to exit without touching the door handle, and the stalls are potentially very noisy and embarrassing on a busy day.

Total points: 7/15

Visited on 21 October 2010.

York Castle Museum, Eye of York, York YO1 9RY T: +44 (0) 1904 687687

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Historical Toilets, Baths and Kitchens - a Useful and Humbling Lesson
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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Yorkshire Museum


The Yorkshire Museum was reopened in August after extensive renovations. As is becoming well known, the museum itself has caused widespread disappointment and depression among medieval scholars. However, the new toilets are a joy to behold, and warm the heart of a cynical toilet critic.

Starting with the toilet itself, it has a water-saving flush, which is easy to operate without strong mechanical force. The loo roll holder is hygienically covered, and the toilet roll is plain white. There is a coat hook inside the cubicle, which is sturdy enough for a rucksack. The bin is clean and doesn't press unpleasantly against the thighs when sitting down. The cubicle is very clean. 
Moving on to the tap, it  is photo-cell operated. The water is pleasantly warm. The soap doesn't have a pleasant scent, being unperfumed, but perhaps that is all to the good, bearing our allergic friends in mind. There are only air dryers.  On the whole, the toilets are extremely clean and pleasant. It is not possible to exit without touching the door handle.

Points: 11/15.

Visited 18 October 2010.

Yorkshire Museum & Gardens, Museum Gardens, York, YO1 7FR T: +44 (0) 1904 687687

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Monday, 18 October 2010

The Victorians - an Edifying History Lesson

For millennia, servants have carried water for their masters' ablutions.  The Romans built aqueducts to facilitate the transport of water.  They even devised mixer taps - that worked.  Then, for centuries, there was very little development. Edward III was a pioneer in British plumbing; he had running hot and cold water installed (Mortimer 2009, 196). Then nothing happened until the Victorian era. Servants carried hot and cold water up and down stairs.

The Victorians, as is well known, were a barbaric people who delighted in such unhygienic and downright dangerous practices as sideburn cultivation, wall-to-wall carpet installation, and lace-curtain twitching. Britain has still not recovered from the devastating effects of their ruinous activities. The Victorians also tried their hand at plumbing development, with very little success.  They discovered that it was possible to have hot water coming from a tap, as well as cold.  They left it at that, and no progress has been made since. Thousands of people daily suffer the devastating effects of scalding hot water coming from one tap, and freezing cold water from another. On the other hand, servants no longer have to carry water. (For a well-written and informative account of plumbing in Victorian households, see The Victorian House by Judith Flanders.)

One famous Victorian was that notorious cultivator of sideburns, Thomas Crapper. He is popularly believed to have invented the modern toilet, but the patent for the flush-out toilet was in fact taken out by Edward Jennings, in 1852 ( Nobody in Britain has considered it necessary to improve this design since.


Flanders, Judith. The Victorian House. London: Harper Perennial, 2004.
Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. London: Vintage, 2009. Accessed 2010-10-18.

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Toilet Paper - Puppy Love

Did you know? It's important to be kind to your behind!

Where does the British obsession with soft toilet paper come from?  Why does bog roll have to be quilted? (Of all things, why quilted?) Is it due to the humiliations suffered during the Second World War, when millions of Britons were forced to keep a stiff upper lip while wiping their bottoms with newspaper?

Really, really, really soft

And while making a connection between a soft, fluffy puppy and soft, fluffy toilet paper might make sense from a marketing perspective, isn't it slightly alarming? Who in their right mind wants to wipe their behind with a labrador?

The key to confidence - to be found in the most unexpected places!

Mixer Taps - The Controversy

Most British people see no need for mixer taps, as when they do exist, they don't work anyway.  The rest of the world disagrees.  The controversy continues.

Image from
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