Friday, 7 October 2011

The Privy Counsel Book Club: At Home

It is time for another Book Club update, and this time we choose a quote from Bill Bryson, that entertaining yet informative author. In his book At Home (Doubleday, London 2010), Bryson devotes a chapter to the history of the bathroom. Explaining the resistance the idea of having a bathroom could sometimes meet in Europe, he writes,

  Until quite late in the nineteenth century many houses had plumbing to their kitchen and perhaps to a downstairs toilet, but lacked a proper bathroom because there wasn't enough pressure in the pipes to get water upstairs. In Europe, even when pressure allowed, the rich proved unexpectedly reluctant to bring bathrooms into their lives. 'Bathrooms are for servants', sniffed one English aristocrat. Or as the Duc de Doudeville responded loftily when asked if he would be putting in plumbing in his new house: 'I am not building a hotel.' Americans, by contrast, were much more attached to the satisfactions of hot water and flushing toilets. When the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst bought St Donat's, a Welsh castle, the first thing he did was install thirty-two bathrooms. (pp 397-398)

A genuine Crapper toilet at St Donat's castle. (Image from

The reluctance of those able to afford to have their water and bodily excretions carried by servants, to install plumbing, is further described by Judith Flanders in her excellent book The Victorian House, an old favourite of ours which we may have mentioned once or twice before. Does this, in fact, explain some of the many plumbing-related peculiarities still dogging Britain today?

Related Reading:
Victorian Servants Have Taken over the Book Club

Lucy Worsley and Jane Austen: Historical Toilet Etiquette

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