Toilets in a Medieval Castle

Toilets in a Medieval Castle



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The medieval toilet or latrine, then called a privy or garderobe, was a primitive affair, but in a castle, one might find a little more comfort and certainly a great deal more design effort than had been invested elsewhere. Practicality, privacy, and efficient waste disposal were all considered and, even today, one of the most prominent and easily identifiable features of ruined medieval castles is the latrines which protrude from their exterior walls.

Names

Medieval toilets, just as today, were often referred to by a euphemism, the most common being 'privy chamber', just 'privy' or 'garderobe'. Other names included the 'draught', 'gong', 'siege-house', 'neccessarium', and even 'Golden Tower'. Garderobe later came to mean wardrobe in French, but its original meaning was likely just any small cupboard or room and, as space was at a premium in a castle, the toilets were never any bigger than absolutely necessary.

Exteriors

The toilets of a castle were usually built into the walls so that they projected out on corbels and any waste fell below and into the castle moat. Even better, waste went directly into a river as is the case of the latrines of one of the large stone halls at Chepstow Castle in Wales, built from the 11th century CE. Some castles, such as the 11th-century CE Corfe Castle in Dorset, England had latrine shafts emptying directly in the courtyard or bailey while still others hung conveniently over a cliff face, as at Peveril Castle in Derbyshire, England, built in 1176-1777 CE.

At Coity Castle in Wales, there were three tiers of toilets with the shafts emptying into the same courtyard basement.

The protruding shaft of masonry that made up the toilet was buttressed from below or might nestle in the junction between a tower and wall. Some waste shafts were short while others reached almost to the ground. In the latter case, that might prove a dangerous design feature if there were a siege of the castle. Indeed, besiegers used just such a latrine shaft in 1203-4 CE to gain entry to Chateau Gaillard on the River Seine in France, built by Richard I (r. 1189-99 CE) at the end of the 12th century CE. After the siege, to ensure no repeat of the trick, a masonry wall was built around the shaft exit.

Another design was to have tiers of toilets on the outside wall where the shafts all sent waste to the same collection point. Dover Castle, built in the second half of the 11th century CE, had a cesspit at the base of one wall of the keep to collect waste from the toilets above. At Coity Castle in Wales, built in the 12th century CE, there were three tiers of toilets with the shafts emptying into the same courtyard basement. The same arrangement was found at Langley Castle in Northumberland, England, built c. 1350 CE, with the common collection point being a pit which was cleaned out by a natural stream. There were also toilets in ground floor buildings and these had stone drainage channels to drain away waste. Waste from such collection points, or the ditch in general, was likely collected by local farmers to be reused as fertiliser. When castles became larger and more comfortable from the 14th century CE, so the number of conveniences increased. Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, England, for example, had no fewer than 28 toilets emptying out into its moat.

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Interiors

Viewed from the interior, the toilet was set back in a recess or within a mural chamber (a passage within a wall) but not all were given the luxury of a wooden door. A short narrow passageway sometimes led to a toilet, often with a right-angle turn for greater privacy. Pairs of toilets, separated by a wall, were not uncommon and these might share the same waste chute. The chamber of the castle's lord often had a private latrine but even he had, like everyone else, a chamber pot if needed. The castle's priest might also be one of the lucky few to have an en-suite toilet for his own chamber, as at Northampton Castle, England, built in the late 11th century CE. Another sure place to find a castle toilet was in the corner of the Great Hall where audiences and banquets were held.

The toilet seat was made of a wooden bench covering the shaft hole in the masonry. The wood was usually cut with a rectangular or keyhole aperture. Hay, grass, or even moss were used as toilet paper. Toilet hay is referred to by medieval writers, albeit indirectly. Jocelin de Brakelond, the 12th-century CE English monk, recounted the story that a fire had almost broken out in the Abbey of Bury St. Edmonds when a candle had burned dangerously close to the hay in one of the abbey's privies.

Some toilets had a window to let in fresh air, which for the same reason was not shuttered like other windows of a castle. The floor may have been scattered with rushes and aromatic herbs and flowers, just as the Great Hall of the castle was, to deter vermin and offer a more pleasant fragrance than the users could provide. Walls were sometimes whitewashed with a coating of lime-plaster which maximised the light coming from the small window and because lime kills off bacteria.

The toilet was cleaned either by a simple bucket of water thrown down the shaft or by diverting the wastewater from the kitchen sinks. More rarely, rainwater was diverted from gutters above the latrine which might also be collected into a cistern and then periodically opened to flush the toilet shaft. Despite these refinements, there can be no doubt that a castle toilet stank to high heaven. Indeed, it was not uncommon to hang clothing near latrines as the pungent ammonia fumes helped to kill mites. Henry III of England (r. 1216-1272 CE) famously made mention of the problem of unsavoury odours in a letter to one of his castle constables, ordering a no-expense-spared refit of the amenities of the Tower of London:

Since the privy chamber…in London is situated in an undue and improper place, wherefore it smells badly, we command you on the faith and love by which you are bounden to us that you in no wise omit to cause another privy chamber to be made…in such more fitting and proper place that you may select there, even though it should cost a hundred pounds, so that it may be made before the feast of the Translation of Saint Edward, before we come thither. (Gies, 73)

Urinals

Triangular urinals were built into some tower walls so that defenders did not have to leave their post for very long. An example is to be found in the mural passage at Orford Castle in Suffolk, England, built in the second half of the 12th century CE. It seems that even such basic human activities were considered by architects to provide the best possible defence of the castle against all comers in all situations. Intriguingly, at Castle Rising in Norfolk, England, built in the mid-12th century CE, there are two toilets next to each other but in separate rooms, one with a toilet and one with a urinal which might perhaps be evidence of a separation of the sexes.


Toilets through the ages

    • You may use one every day but have you ever considered the history of the toilet? We reveal some strange but interesting facts about this rather whiffy subject.

    Unlike us, the Romans thought nothing of going to the toilet in a public place. They had rooms with stone benches with lots of holes in them where people would go to the loo as they sat next to each other.

    © YAT

    In fact rich Romans would use public toilets as places to discuss the day's news and to maybe even make a business deal. The Romans were in Britain for more than 350 years. They left in AD410 and you can still see some of their buildings today.

    You can still see the toilets they used at Vindolanda in Northumberland, more than 1,500 years ago - luckily there's no Roman poo left in them.

    Segedunum Roman Fort, also in Northumberland, has made a reconstruction of a Roman bath and toilet. You can actually use the baths but don't think about asking to use the toilets - they are only a model.

    Loos in the Middle Ages

    During the Middle Ages, rich people built toilets called 'garderobes' jutting out of the sides of their castles. A hole in the bottom let everything just drop into a pit or the moat.

    © Dave Dunford

    You had to be careful you weren't walking underneath it when someone was in the loo and take care on a dark night not to fall into the moat. In the summer time the smell would have been terrible.

    In fact, people used to store clothes in the garderobes as the pongy smells kept moths away that might otherwise eat holes in them - this is where the word wardrobe comes from.

    Not everyone lived in castles - poor people lived in huts and would have used dirty pits like this for toilets. You can see the plank they would have sat on at this medieval toilet found in York.

    © York Archaeology Trust

    The Industrial Revolution

    During the British Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, thousands and thousands of people moved to towns and cities and lots more houses were needed for them.

    Many of these were very crowded with no room for toilets inside.

    'Back-to-back' houses were very common and had no gaps between them. Several houses would share a small yard where there would be an outside toilet - you might have had to queue up to use the loo while you waited for your neighbour to finish.

    It was still common for people to have an outside toilet until the 1950s - ask your granny or granddad and they might remember all about having to sit on horrible cold toilet seats if they had to get up for a wee in the middle of the night.

    These days almost all of us have flushing toilets - maybe even more than one. It wasn't until a man called Thomas Crapper came along in the mid 19th century, about 150 years ago, that they became widespread.

    But what happens after you flush? Poo, wee and all that water doesn't just vanish into thin air, it goes down the drains and into the sewers.

    © MOSI

    If you want to see what a dark, creepy sewer really looks like but avoid all the smelly poo, then the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester actually has a reconstruction of a Victorian sewer you can visit and lots more about the history of toilets besides.

    Since we're on the subject of loos, what about the Loophonium? This 'wind' instrument is on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

    © National Museums Liverpool

    It's an old toilet connected to a euphonium, an instrument like a tuba, and has a sort of harp instead of a toilet seat - not the sort of thing you'd normally see in an orchestra - it might also be a bit uncomfortable to sit on!


    11 Strange Facts About Medieval Bathrooms

    1. Chamber Pots

    Chamber pots were used by women to collect waste overnight. When they were finished, the contents would be thrown over balcony/out the window with the accompanying words of “garde loo” which is French for “watch out for the water.” Muck-rackers were hired to help keep the streets walk-able. Throwing excrement’s into the street was a Roman practice, which leads us to our next point.

    2. Nosebags – Smell the Roses

    Nosebags were small bags that were filled with flowers and other fragrances that would be used to be able to stomach the smell of streets filled with waste. Men and women would put their noses to their nosebags whenever things got particularly smelly. The lesson here, be thankful for Febreeze and use it.

    3. There Was No Such Thing As Toilet Paper

    Before good old Charmin ever existed, everyone was sitting on the loo without an extra roll in sight. So what did they use? Back then in way back time, people would use leaves, moss, a rag or hay. How civilized. If you were affluent, you had the luxury of wiping your bottom with lamb’s wool.

    4. Public Bathing – Same Water

    You read that headline right people used to bath in public using the same water. Public bathing was popular in the 13th century. Firewood was need to heat the bath to a comfortable temperature but it was so hard to find that people often bathed using the same water. Aren’t you glad you were born in the 21st century?

    5. Urine Was Used to Do the Laundry

    So for some reason, the Romans believed that urine would remove stains. It was until the Medieval Era that people would use a concoction of ashes and urine to get the stains out of their clothes. How this would work, we’ll never know.

    “Bobby, bring your clothes down so I can throw them in the washer.” – “No thanks Mom!”

    6. Castles Were Surrounded by Waste

    The plumbing system of Medieval castles was designed so that waste products would flow straight into the moat that surrounded the castle. These “Garderobes” extended outside of the walls of the castle and had a opening at the bottom that would empty into the moat. The moat was used as a defense mechanism and boy was it smelly. Invaders would be in for a surprise when they tried to cross uninvited. Could you imagine the stench?

    7. Washing and Bathing Was Very Uncommon

    In medieval times, the wealthy would take a bath every other month. If you were poor, you’d be lucky to bath 4 times per year. There was no hot water so it had to be carried in through a well and then heated over a fireplace.

    Fun Fact: It is said that Queen Elizabeth I only bathed once a year.

    8. Bench Toilets

    Romans had public toilets that were made of stone benches with holes carved in the tops. There would be multiple people sitting next to each other, without any privacy. Interestingly, it was common for people to hold meaningful conversations and even settle business deals with the shake of the hand, all while sitting on the loo.

    Fact: It wasn’t until the 1880’s that Thomas Crapper invented the modern toilet.

    9. Urine Was Used as an Antiseptic

    In the absence of modern medicine, urine was occasionally used as an antiseptic in during Medieval Times. In 1666, a physician named George Thomson recommended urine to be used to cure the plague.

    10. People Didn’t Wash Their Hands Often

    Wash basins were often located outside or a ways away from the dining area. Because of this, most people didn’t wash their hands when consuming food. It didn’t help that there weren’t any forks in Medieval times so everyone ate with their hands. Think about all the things you have to wash your hands after touching.

    11. Master of the Chamber

    The king had a servant that was dedicated to servicing the king in the bathroom but don’t think that this was a lowly held position. The Master of the Chamber was highly regarded and was often one of the most trusted servants of the king. This didn’t come without the responsibility of helping the king wipe. “Your majesty, I believe we are out of Charmin.”


    Medieval toilet wipes

    For a large occasion, the host would have an area outside dug up and prepped as a toilet , and/or would have pots and buckets filled with hay and herbs in a separate room.

    Guests would wipe or scrape with the hay and leaves at hand, or with the sticks, flat stones, shells or pieces of cloth they would bring along.

    (Gives a new meaning to B.Y.O.)

    The other option was to walk off and wear brown in town.

    Toilet hay is referred to by medieval writers, albeit by the way.

    Jocelin de Brakelond, the 12th-century CE English monk, recounted the story that a fire had almost broken out in the Abbey of Bury St. Edmonds when a candle had burned dangerously close to the hay in one of the abbey’s privies.

    Rabelais relates, in Gargantua, that the best wipe of all is a goose. But that’s in the posher 16th century.

    Some castles were equipped with Medieval toilet/poop chutes : latrines that were hanging above the moat or an internal chute, but they were few and mostly used by the guards.

    The castle’s priest might also be one of the lucky few to have an en-suite toilet for his own chamber, as at Northampton Castle, England, built in the late 11th century CE.

    There can be no doubt that the Medieval toilet stank to high heaven.

    It was fairly common to hang clothing near latrines as the acrid ammonia fumes helped to kill mites!

    The stench of a badly maintained latrine or cesspit was considered a reminder of the weakness of human flesh.

    Miracle stories are full of demons lurking in latrines and emitting foul odors.

    The King was lucky enough to be able to pack up and go “on progress”- leave the stinky castle every few weeks to live for awhile in another of his many castles, or visit various subjects throughout the kingdom.

    Henry III of England (r. 1216-1272 CE) famously made mention of the problem of unsavory odors in a letter to one of his castle constables, ordering a no-expense-spared refit of the amenities of the Tower of London:

    Since the privy chamber…in London is situated in an undue and improper place, wherefore it smells badly, we command you on the faith and love by which you are bounden to us that you in no wise omit to cause another privy chamber to be made…in such more fitting and proper place that you may select there, even though it should cost a hundred pounds, so that it may be made before the feast of the Translation of Saint Edward, before we come thither.

    King Henry VIII, in his obsession with cleanliness – which was considered odd among other royals who bathed maybe 5 times per year – went on progress nearly 30 times a year to escape the nasty smells.

    He even had pipes installed which ran from the bottom of garderobes out into the Thames river.

    He hired “gong scourers” – little boys (or anyone small enough) to crawl through the pipes and push out clogged poo.

    If you enjoyed this, maybe you’d like to see what job was worse than a Medieval executioner?


    Toilets in a Medieval Castle - History

    Have you ever dreamed of being a prince or princess, living in a castle during the European Middle Ages? You may rethink this fantasy after seeing what going to the bathroom was like during the medieval period.

    This medieval toilet is located inside Bunratty Castle in County Clare, Ireland, along the River Shannon. The iron bars are new (to protect the tourists), and the toilet has been stopped up with cement. Still, this photograph is enough to give you some idea of what going to the bathroom was like during the Middle Ages.

    Quite simply, if you weren't going in a chamber pot, you were sitting down upon one of these stone thrones, or standing over one. These so-called bathrooms were located along the outer edges of castles and towers. The bottoms of these toilets were open, so that waste simply fell down outside the building's outer walls.


    On the throne a look at the medieval toilet.

    Published March 11, 2013 in Medieval Ruins

    The medieval toilet was an experience many today would struggle with. The most common medieval privy was the cesspit just a hole in the ground which was sometimes lined with stone or wooden staves. In castles, things werent much better. While the powerful and wealthy could afford a somewhat more sophisticated toilet the garderobe, this was still a far cry from the most basic modern toilet. The garderobe was a small chamber with a platform over a hole in the floor. This is what remains of the garderobe at Ballyloughan castle in Co. Carlow. The garderobe would not have been this grim five hundred years ago. There was almost certainly a platform above the hole and the walls would most likely have been white-washed.

    This restored garderobe at Barryscourt castle, Co. Cork, was designed to facilitate two people at the same time, privacy was clearly not a concern.

    Below the platform, the hole lead to a chute which dumped waste outside the castle walls. This is the view looking up a garderobe chute at Ballymoon castle, Co. Carlow.

    There are two gardrobe chutes at the base of the tower in the centre of this picture taken at Ballymoon castle in Co. Carlow. With defence being the primary concern, the garderobe chutes were often covered right down to ground level with access barred by a metal grid. This was designed to stop an attacker climbing up the garderobe chute. However some simply dumped their contents high on the castle wall. This was the system employed at Liscarrol castle Co. Cork. The platform to sit on was supported by a stone frame, the remains of which can be seen on the right of the picture. There was no chute instead the waste was dumped directly onto the castle wall through the slit in the bottom right. Aside from displaying faeces right beside the entrance to the castle, this toilet must have been freezing in winter. Situated at least 10 metres above ground level wind still gusts through the slit.

    The garderobe slit is the horizontal window-like opening on the right of the gatehouse, below the two arrow loops. The wall below must have been covered with decaying faeces while the aroma in summer can only have been awful.


    Medieval toilets in castles

    The medieval toilet was called latrine but also privy or garderobe as a euphemism. Other names included: ‘privy chamber’ or just ‘privy’, but also draught, gong, siege-house, necessarium, and even golden tower. The term garderobe later came to mean wardrobe in French and its original meaning was because of space which in castle toilets was never bigger than necessary. The medieval toilet was basically primitive, except for castles where one might find a little more comfort than elsewhere but also more privacy and efficient waste disposal. Castle toilets are still easily identifiable because they protrude from exterior walls.

    Toilets were usually built into the walls so that they projected out on corbels and any waste could fall below into the castle moat. Sometimes, waste went directly into a river, and some castles, instead, had latrine shafts emptying directly in the courtyard or bailey while still others hung conveniently over a cliff face.

    The protruding shaft of masonry that made up the toilet was sustained from below or might nestle in the junction between a tower and wall. Some waste shafts were short while others reached almost to the ground. In the latter case, that might prove a dangerous design feature if there were a siege of the castle.

    Another design was to have tiers of toilets on the outside wall where the shafts sent waste to the same collection point. There were also toilets in ground floor buildings and these had stone drainage channels to drain away waste. Waste from such collection points, or from the ditch in general, was likely collected by local farmers to be reused as fertilizer. When castles became larger and more comfortable from the 14th century C.E., the number of conveniences increased accordingly.

    From the interior, the toilet was set back in a recess or within a mural chamber. A short narrow passageway sometimes led to a toilet, often with a right-angle turn for greater privacy. Pairs of toilets, separated by a wall, were not uncommon and these might share the same waste chute. The chamber of the castle’s lord and the castle’s priest often had a private latrine including a chamber pot if needed which was an accessory everyone had.

    In addition, some toilets had a window to let in fresh air, which for the same reason was not shuttered like other windows of a castle. The floor might have been scattered with rushes and aromatic herbs and flowers to deter vermin and offer a more pleasant fragrance. Walls were sometimes whitewashed with a coating of lime-plaster which maximized the light coming from the small window as well as killing off bacteria.

    The toilet was cleaned either by a simple bucket of water thrown down the shaft or by diverting the wastewater from the kitchen sinks. More rarely, rainwater was diverted from gutters above the latrine which might also be collected into a cistern and then periodically opened to flush the toilet shaft. Because of the stank, it wasn’t uncommon to hang clothing near latrines since ammonia fumes helped to kill mites.

    Lastly, there also were urinals. They were triangular holes built into some tower walls so that defenders did not have to leave their post for very long.

    Apparently, the concept of privacy and discretion came right from the noble toilets while common people used to use toilets in groups without problems, indeed, it was also an opportunity for sociability.


    Neuschwanstein Castle

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    Neuschwanstein Castle, German Schloss Neuschwanstein, elaborate castle near Füssen, Germany, built atop a rock ledge over the Pöllat Gorge in the Bavarian Alps by order of Bavaria’s King Louis II (“Mad King Ludwig”). Construction began in 1868 and was never completed.

    Louis II spent much of his childhood at Hohenschwangau Castle, a neo-Gothic, medieval-inspired castle elaborately decorated with scenes from legend and poetry. After his accession to the throne in 1864, Louis set out to build a “New Hohenschwangau Castle”—as Neuschwanstein was called until after his death—which he intended to be an even better reproduction of a medieval-style castle in line with his fairy-tale vision of monarchy. The Romanesque designs were drawn by scene painter Christian Jank, and these were translated into architectural plans by Eduard Riedel. In 1874 Riedel was succeeded as chief architect by Georg von Dollmann, who in turn was succeeded by Julius Hofmann in 1886.

    Neuschwanstein stands on the site of two smaller castles, the ruins of which were cleared away in 1868. The foundation stone for Neuschwanstein was laid in September 1869. Although Louis expected the entire project to be completed within three years, only the gateway building was inhabitable by 1873. The topping-out ceremony was held on January 29, 1880, but even then the castle was still under construction. The technical fittings were completed some four and a half years later, and the castle remained incomplete in 1886, when Louis died by drowning himself. He had lived there, off and on, only some six months in total. Several weeks after his passing, the unfinished castle was opened to the public as a museum. Simplified versions of the castle’s bower and square tower were not completed until 1892, and only about a dozen rooms were ever finished.

    Neuschwanstein is known as a castle of paradox. It was built in a time when castles were no longer necessary as strongholds, and, despite its romanticized medieval design, Louis also required it to have all the newest technological comforts. The lavish structure is complete with a walled courtyard, an indoor garden, spires, towers, and an artificial cave. In contrast to the medieval castles it was modeled after, Neuschwanstein is equipped with running water throughout, including flush toilets and hot water in the kitchen and baths, and has a forced-air central heating system. The dining room is serviced by an elevator from the kitchen three stories below. Louis even made sure the castle was connected to telephone lines, although at the time of its construction very few people had telephones.

    In keeping with its romantic design, the castle’s two-story throne room—which still did not contain a throne at the time of Louis’s death—is modeled after a Byzantine basilica stars decorate its blue vaulted ceiling, which is supported by red porphyry columns. Louis was a patron of Richard Wagner, and wall paintings throughout the castle depict the legends that inspired the composer: the life of Parsifal in the fourth-floor Singers’ Hall the Tannhäuser saga in the study and Lohengrin in the great parlour. Despite remaining unfinished, Neuschwanstein Castle became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe, receiving about 1.3 million visitors each year. It also served as inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.


    Tales of the toilet: a historical A–Z

    Although Elizabethan writer and courtier John Harrington wasn’t the first person to design a flushing toilet – Londoner Thomas Brightfield had done so in 1449 – he was the first to provide a written specification for one. In 1596, he penned his Metamorphosis of Ajax (a pun on ‘jakes’, a slang word for a privy) in which he described a remarkably modern-sounding device that he’d installed in his house. This incorporated a pan with a seat and a cistern filled with water. When a handle was turned, the water washed the contents of the pan into a cesspool. Although Harrington installed one for Queen Elizabeth I in Richmond Palace, cost, problems of water supply, and lack of sewers meant that the idea wouldn’t catch on for centuries.

    B… is for Bazalgette

    By the 1850s, London’s growing population was producing unmanageable amounts of sewage. Cesspools leaked and overflowed, contaminating water supplies, and matters weren’t helped by the outpourings of the increasingly popular water closet. London’s Commission of Sewers had ordered that cesspools and house drains should be connected to sewers, but these fed directly into an increasingly noisome River Thames.

    Following the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, when the smell from the river was so bad that MPs even considered abandoning Westminster, the Metropolitan Board of Works was tasked with overhauling London’s sewerage system. Civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette (1819–91) was put in charge of operations. His 16-year project included embanking parts of the Thames, constructing 1,100 miles of street sewers, 82 miles of main interceptor sewers and building four monumental pumping stations, all designed to take the sewage eastwards to be discharged into the river away from heavily-populated areas.

    C… is for Crapper

    In 1866, Yorkshire-born industrialist and plumber Thomas Crapper opened the world’s first bathroom showroom in Chelsea. For the first time, people could actually see sanitary products in place. Some were even plumbed in so that potential customers could try before they bought. In the late 1880s, Crapper was asked by the Prince of Wales to install lavatories at Sandringham, and he went on to supply sanitary ware for both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

    The idea that one of our more robust terms for a bowel movement is derived from his name is a myth – that word was in use well before Crapper became famous. However, it is possible that the American word ‘crapper’, meaning a lavatory, became popular after US soldiers in Britain in 1917 saw his name stamped on the cisterns in some public toilets.

    D… is for Dung

    The infamous 1618 Defenestration of Prague, which saw three Catholic officials thrown from a third-floor window in Prague Castle, helped trigger the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. Remarkably, all three survived the 50-foot fall. Catholic sources claimed they were saved by divine intervention, while Protestants ascribed their survival to the fact that they landed on a huge pile of dung beneath the window.

    E… is for Espionage

    It’s hard to believe that the unremarkable public toilets in the small Hampshire town of New Alresford played a part in the Cold War. But they did. Harry Houghton used them as a dead letter box in his dealings with Soviet spy ‘Gordon Lonsdale’.

    A plaque on the toilet wall recalls how in 1961, Houghton was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for his part in the Portland Spy Ring, which sold secret information from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment to the Soviet Union.

    F… is for Fleet Street

    Inspired by the success of Jennings’ toilets at the Great Exhibition (see ‘J’), the Royal Society of Arts tried to cash in on the act. On 2 February 1852, it opened London’s first modern public toilet (for men) at 95 Fleet Street. Women had to hang on a little longer the first female public toilet opened at Bedford Street nine days later.

    Delicately dubbed ‘public waiting rooms’, they featured water closets in wooden surrounds and cost two pence to use. But, despite being extensively promoted by handbills and even an advert in The Times, only 58 men and 24 women used the rooms in the first month. Within six months, they were closed.

    G… is for Garderobe

    Originally a term for a storeroom for clothes and valuables, a garderobe is now usually used to describe a medieval privy, particularly in a castle. Actually, the two uses were by no means mutually exclusive, as the ammonia from urine helped deter moths and other parasites. Many garderobes were built into the thickness of an outer wall, and consisted of a stone or wooden seat over a vertical shaft. Others were sited in a projecting turret over an open drop.

    Depending on the design, the excrement would either hit the ground or land in a pit (which had to be periodically cleared out by an individual known as a ‘gong farmer’), or drop into a moat or river. The garderobes of some coastal castles, like St Andrews, simply projected over the sea and let the tide do the work. Garderobes could be a weak spot in a castle’s defences. During the siege of the mighty Château Gaillard in 1204, the French captured its middle bailey after sneaking up one of its garderobe chutes. When Henry III commissioned a new privy for Guildford Castle, the Clerk of Works was specifically told to fit bars to its outlet to deter intruders.

    H… is for Hampton Court

    To cope with the sanitary needs of the vast numbers of Tudor courtiers who assembled there, Hampton Court Palace boasted a huge communal garderobe.

    Known as the ‘Great House of Easement’, it was two storeys high and could accommodate 28 people simultaneously. Occupants sat side by side on oak planks and their waste was carried into the Thames via brick-lined drains. The building still stands today, although now it has a different function: it’s the office of the Chief Executive.

    I… is for Ironside

    It’s always a good idea to check that a vacant toilet really is vacant. The 12th-century writer Henry of Huntingdon gives this account of the death in 1016 of English King, Edmund Ironside: “When Edmund, fearful and most formidable to his enemies, was prospering in his kingdom, he went one night to the lavatory to answer a call of nature. There the son of Ealdorman Eadric, who by his father’s plan was concealed in the pit of the privy, struck the King twice with a sharp knife in the private parts, and leaving the weapon in his bowels, fled away.”

    J… is for Jennings

    When the Great Exhibition opened in 1851 in Hyde Park, one of its landmark attractions was Britain’s first paid-for flushing public toilets, which were designed and installed by Hampshire-born plumber George Jennings. For the price of a penny, visitors were provided with a clean toilet seat, a towel, a comb and a shoe shine. Records show that during the exhibition, over 675,000 pennies were spent.

    K… is for King

    Elvis Presley wasn’t the only King to die on the toilet. On 25 October 1760, George II’s valet was waiting outside the water closet for his master to finish his morning ablutions when he heard what he described as “a noise louder than the royal wind” followed by a crash “like the falling of a billet of wood from the fire”. He rushed in to find the King dying on the floor. A subsequent post-mortem revealed that he had died from an aortic aneurysm, which had probably been caused by straining.

    L… is for Luther

    Was the Protestant Reformation thought up on the toilet? It’s quite possible. Martin Luther, the German Augustinian friar who was a seminal figure in the Reformation, suffered from constipation. He spent many hours in contemplation on the toilet, and later wrote that he was “in cloaca” – or in the sewer – when the belief that salvation was gained through faith not deeds came to him.

    M… is for Monasteries

    Many of Britain’s medieval monasteries still retain the remains of their communal toilets. Dubbed necessaria (for obvious reasons) or reredorters (because they stood behind the dorter or dormitory), they could be quite extensive in size. One of the most impressive can be found at Muchelney Abbey in Somerset. Unique in having a thatched roof, it’s a two-storey affair that the monks entered at first-floor level from their dormitory.

    N… is for Nightmen

    In the days before sewers, people in towns had to find a way of disposing of their excrement. This is where the nightmen came in. So-called because by law they could only work at night, it was their job to empty the excreta from people’s cesspits and cart it away. They usually operated in teams of four. One man, the ‘holeman’, went into the cesspit and filled a tub lowered by a colleague called the ‘ropeman’. Once full, it was pulled back up and two ‘tubmen’ carried it to a waiting cart. The night soil was then taken away and mixed with other rubbish before being sold to farmers as manure.

    O… is for Orford

    For those with an interest in medieval toilet arrangements, Orford Castle in Suffolk is a must-see. Its 12th-century keep is equipped with garderobes served by a system of chutes, which directed their discharge to a single area at the back of the tower. Like most castles, the majority of Orford’s toilets are of the sit-down variety, but it also boasts a rarity – a stand-up, triangular ‘poke and pee’ urinal in the corridor outside the constable’s chamber. Handily placed to save a night-time walk to one of the main garderobes, it now offers modern visitors an almost irresistible photo opportunity.

    P… is for Pepys

    An entry in Samuel Pepys’ diary offers an insight into the rather ramshackle state of 17th-century London’s sanitary arrangements, even for the well-to-do: “20 October 1660: This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar… and going down my cellar to look, I put my foot into a heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me…”

    Things weren’t any better at court. The antiquary Anthony Wood acidly commented that when Charles II and his court descended on Oxford in 1665, “though they were neat and gay in their apparel, yet they were very nasty and beastly, leaving at their departure their excrements in every corner, in chimneys, studies, coalhouses, cellars”.

    Q… is for Queen

    If the 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey is to be believed, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, may well have regretted not paying a precautionary visit to the privy before being presented to Queen Elizabeth I. In his Brief Lives, a splendidly scandalous collection of anecdotes about the great figures of Tudor and Stuart England, Aubrey writes: “This Earl of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to fart, at which he was so abashed that he went to travel for seven years. On his return, the Queen welcomed him home and said ‘My lord, I had forgotten the fart’.”

    R… is for Rome

    Toilet walls have always been a temptation for idle scribblers, and things were no different in the days of ancient Rome. One such wall in a house in the Roman town of Herculaneum (which, like Pompeii, was destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius) bears the words “Apollinaris medici Titi Imperatoris hic cacavit bene” – roughly translated, that’s “Apollinaris, physician of the Emperor Titus, had a good crap here”.

    S… is for Stool

    One of the most sought-after jobs in the Tudor court was the position of Groom of the Stool. The Stool in question was a ‘close stool’, a fixed or portable commode, and the Groom’s job was to help the king undress before using it and to supply him with water, towels and a washbowl when he had finished. Whether the Groom was actually required to wipe the Royal Bottom is a matter of debate.

    The reason why this apparently lowly job was so desirable was the fact that it gave the holder an intimate access to the king that no other office holder enjoyed. Because a word in the king’s ear could make or break a courtier, it was important to keep on the right side of the Groom, and people would often petition him to pass on their concerns or requests to the monarch.

    As time went on, the Groom’s duties expanded until they came to act more as personal secretaries. Sir Anthony Denny, Henry VIII’s last Groom of the Stool, was also given the great responsibility of caring for the ‘dry stamp’, which was used to sign the king’s name on documents. In addition to the influence they enjoyed, Grooms of the Stool enjoyed high pay and a range of perks, including being given the king’s old clothes and furnishings.

    T… is for Torrens

    In 1868, William McCullagh Torrens, Liberal MP for Finsbury, introduced the Artizans and Labourers Dwellings Act, enabling local authorities to clear away houses without proper sanitation and erect decent dwellings for the working classes. Despite powerful opposition, the bill was passed.

    U… is for U-Boat

    In April 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II, German submarine U-1206 was cruising in the North Sea off Peterhead at a depth of about 60 metres when problems with the pressurised flushing system of its on-board toilet caused a leak, which flooded the hull with seawater. When this came into contact with the ship’s batteries, poisonous chlorine gas was created, leaving the captain with no option but to surface. U-1206 was quickly spotted and attacked by Allied aircraft, forcing the captain to order his crew to scuttle the U-boat and abandon ship.

    V… is for Vespasiennes

    Vespasiennes were metal open-air public urinals that were first erected in Paris in 1834, in a bid to put an end to indiscriminate public peeing (by men).

    They took their name from the Ancient Roman emperor Vespasian who, according to legend, imposed a tax on the collection of urine (which was used in tanning and laundries) from Roman public toilets. Vespasiennes were once a common sight on the streets of Paris in the 1930s, there were over 1,200, but now, only one remains – on the Boulevard Arago in the 14th Arondissement.

    W… is for Westonzoyland

    After the Duke of Monmouth’s defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor in July 1685, the nearby church of St Mary’s, Westonzoyland was pressed into service as a temporary prison for hundreds of Monmouth’s defeated rebel followers. Two comfortable toilets have recently been installed in the church, but no such facilities existed in Monmouth’s time… the church accounts record the expenditure of 5s 8d on frankincense, pitch and resin to fumigate the soiled building after the prisoners had been removed.

    X… is for Xylospongium

    How did Romans wipe their bottoms? They used a sponge on a stick called a xylospongium. In communal toilets, they were kept in tubs of water in front of where you sat. You took one, rinsed it, used it, and then put it back. The well-preserved Roman latrine at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall still has the channel which contained the running water used to wash the sponges.

    Writing in the middle of the first century, the philosopher Seneca described how a Germanic gladiator used a xylospongium to commit suicide: “He withdrew in order to relieve himself – the only thing he was allowed to do in secret and without the presence of a guard. While so engaged, he seized the stick of wood tipped with a sponge, devoted to the vilest uses, and stuffed it down his throat.”

    Y… is for York

    Although pay toilets didn’t appear until the 19th century, the towns and cities of medieval Britain appear to have been well-equipped with public privies. The first recorded public convenience in York was sited in an arch of the old Ouse Bridge. In 1380, one William Graa left 40d a year in his will to provide “a light in the common jakes at the end of Use Bridge”. One section of Conwy’s town walls houses a group of 12 projecting stone latrines, while London boasted Whittington’s Longhouse, a huge public toilet over the Walbrook river. Opened in 1421, it had seats for 64 men and 64 women.

    Z… is for Zagreb

    If you visit the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, check out Croatia’s most historic toilet. A magnificent blue-and-white porcelain creation, it was installed for the visit of Emperor Franz Joseph I when he opened the neo-baroque theatre in 1895. Use it and you’ll be sitting where a range of historical figures have sat over the years, including Franz Joseph, Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić and Marshal Josip Broz Tito.


    Amazing Facts from Historic Journey of Toilets from Indus Valley Civilization to Modern India

    Today is the World Toilet Day. The world celebrates the day to get rid of insanitation, deliver lessons of personal hygiene and save environment from open defecation. Evolution of toilet as a basic need of existence is a most important chapter in the history of human civilization. This basic sanitary system is a link between life and health, society and environment. In India, the journey of toilets began from the Indus Valley Civilization and has been continuing till date.

    The history of toilets in India is as old as the Indus Valley Civilization, which had grown in and around Harappa and Mahenjodaro. The archaeological remains of the Indus Valley Civilization bear evidence to the use of water-borne toilets by the Harappan people living at Lothal, which is only 62 km from Ahmedabad. Each house in Harappa had a private toilet with link to the covered drains outside. The architects of the Indus Valley were in the know of sanitary engineering science, which got buried in the grave of the Indus Valley Civilization, thereby leading to the practice of open defecation.

    According to some historians, the invention of sitting-type toilet dated back to the Minoan Civilization in Greece, which is older than the Indus Valley Civilization. The Minoans of Crete are credited for the first flushing human waste management system. Rome has its own history of public and private toilets in the bygone times. In ancient Rome, the public toilets had side-by-side seats without any partition. Each seat had a hole, and water kept flowing to flush away excreta. Archaeologists have confirmed the existence of the same toilet system in the Egyptian Civilization, too.

    Legend says that the slaves in Rome used to hold urine pots made of silver whenever the members of the royal / aristocratic families felt like urinating while playing cards at dinner parties. Evidences of the use of stools with keyhole for urination and defecation have been unearthed in Thailand and Sri Lanka. The ruins of the Housesteads Roman Fort in Britain have the remains of public loos consisting of seats with holes and without partition. The men used to gossip about everyday matters while using the loos and had sticks padded with sponge to clean the behind.

    England witnessed a major development of toilet system in the late 1500s. The invention of the first modern indoor flushing system is credited to John Harrington, who devised the toilet flushing mechanism and installed it for Queen Elizabeth 1. In the 1800s and 1900s, flushing toilets were no longer confined in the royal households. It was gradually reaching out to the common man.

    Some stories in the scriptures of India refer to the close relation between men’s frequency of using toilets for defecation and their saintliness / manliness. In those days, wrestlers were believed to be weak if they defecated frequently due to their poor digestive system. Similarly, saints were not expected to defecate much because they were supposed to eat as much as needed. Infrequent defecation was considered a saintly habit in some communities of ancient India, while it was a sign of manliness in some other communities. It is said that the menfolk of the Chaga tribe blocked their anus when they attained manhood, in order to exercise their superiority over the fair sex. The ancient Greeks used to believe in the practice of swallowing something and not taking it out.

    It was a dark period of human hygiene in the history of civilization from 500 AD to 1500 AD. Protrusions were used for defecation in aristocratic households and forts across India. The excreta were dumped on to the ground and into rivers. The fort of Jaisalmer bears testimony to this offbeat reference to the Indian history of toilets and defecation. In the medieval period, toilets were simple pits with wooden seats on ground. Besides, the primitive practice of covering human waste with earth was prevalent in some parts of the Mughal Empire. In the medieval castles of Europe, toilets were vertical chutes with stone seats on the top. These were called “garderobe,” which became wardrobe in the course of time. In Europe, the well-to-do people would wipe their behinds with rags.

    The history of toilets for public use is full of twists in several countries. Poor maintenance of public toilets has always been a concern about the wellbeing of people. The Mughal Emperor Jehangir had commissioned the construction of a public loo to be used by as many as 100 families, 125 km away from Delhi, in 1556. But poor maintenance drove the people to defecate in the open. In 1872, the French municipalities mandated private organizations to fund maintenance of public toilets for 20 years.

    Several countries implemented measures to improve sanitary conditions. Provision of toilets and construction of cesspools were made compulsory in 1519. The British issued the first sanitation law in 1848 in England. The first sanitation law came to effect in India in 1878. The municipalities were mandated to construct toilets in the slums of Calcutta (now Kolkata), the capital of British India. Toilets got curtains in 1880. The trend came to be known as Belleepoque in France and Edwardian in England. With the onset of 1900, bathroom with loo became an institution all over Europe. It was called Gushalkhana by the Mughal kings in their times.

    The history of toilets has come a long way with evolution of human living and hygiene. Though the developed countries of the world have put an end to open defecation, the developing countries including India, Indonesia, China and Korea are still grappling with the challenges of controlling open defecation. In 2001, the World Toilet Organization was formed to encourage construction of toilets for the sake of public well-being in the developing nations. The journey of toilets will continue in India until every household has access to basic sanitary facilities.

    The capital of India got a museum of toilets in 1992. It exhibits different toilet models from 50 countries across the world in three sections – Ancient, Medieval and Modern – spanning from 3000 BC till the 20 th century end. The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi is one of the most offbeat places to visit in India. – Indian Eagle

    This story about the history of toilets in India is brought to you as part of the campaign, “Explore India with Indian Eagle”, aiming to promote what is lesser-known about India through our overseas Indian community portal, Travel Beats. Travel Beats is a subsidiary of Indian Eagle Travel, a leading international air travel booking partner of Indians abroad.

    2 thoughts on &ldquo Amazing Facts from Historic Journey of Toilets from Indus Valley Civilization to Modern India &rdquo

    Minoan civilization is not older than Indus Valley Civilization.

    Please mention INDUS TOILET as WORLD first PERSONAL TOILET SYSTEM with a drainage & multiple personal toilets ending in a common space for final exit. ( not public or common village toilet or public toilet with no draiage ) . Otherwise a JUNGLE TOILET IN STONE AGE become WORLD FIRST TOILET.


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